Sunday, May 19, 2019

Year C Fifth Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 14:21-27; Ps 145:8-13; Rev 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a.34-35

In our second reading, taken from Revelation, we heard these words: “I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”1 Then we heard these words: “Behold, 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 as their God.”2 These words convey a very important message. The message these words convey is so important that not to receive it is to compromise the mission of the Church, which, as our reading from Revelation also tells us, is the bride of Christ.

What is the message? The message is that heaven is not up in the sky. To conceive of it as such is to let your faith disconnect you from reality. Christ calls us to engage reality according to all the factors that constitute it. That heaven will be on earth is clearly attested to by Scripture and the Church fathers.

Just as our bodies will be resurrected, the earth will be renewed with eternal glory. Because we exist forever as embodied beings, we need a place to inhabit. Rather than a garden paradise, the kingdom of God is a city, a new Jerusalem, a holy city inhabited only by saints. As Christians, we revere Jesus as Emmanuel, or “God-with-us.” It has been pointed out that the “Event of God becoming human is so earth-shattering that it enacts something akin to the psychoanalytic concept of trauma” on the cosmos.3

Since our observances of the Ascension and Pentecost are rapidly approaching, it is important to note that Jesus did not abandon his disciples when he ascended. Rather, he sent his Holy Spirit, who is also the Spirit of the Father. It is by means of the Holy Spirit that the risen Lord remains present in us, among us, and through us. It is by the power of the Spirit that Christ is really present to us in this Eucharist in four distinct but inextricably related ways: in the gathering of the baptized, in the person of the priest, in the proclamation of Scripture, and in the consecrated bread and wine, our partaking of which makes together the body of Christ.4

None of these four ways in which Jesus is really present stands alone. On their own, each of these ways makes no sense whatsoever. Even so, as one of the men in white told the astonished apostles at Christ’s Ascension: “This Jesus who has been taken up from you… will return in the same way as you have seen him going [up].”5 This proclamation is preceded by the question, “why are you standing there looking at the sky?”6 And so, “we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”7

This prompts the question, what shall we do in the meantime, in the time between the Lord’s Ascension and his glorious return, which will precede the arrival of the city of God? It’s quite simple: we are to usher in the reign of God, making the kingdom present in the form of a mustard seed until it is fully established.

Love One Another, by Ivan Guadrrama, 2018

What does living in this way look like? Our first reading from Acts gives us a clue. In the first instance, like Paul and Barnabas, we are to proclaim the good news. The good news is Jesus Christ crucified and risen. As Pope St. Paul VI noted: in our day people listen “more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if [they do] listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”8 Just as Jesus told anyone who would follow him they must be willing to take up their cross, Paul and Barnabas teach those who would be Christians, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”And so, “we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”9

It is not easy being a professing Christian today. At least in the United States, this is not due to the fact that we are being persecuted. It stands to reason that as the number of professing and practicing Christians declines, the Church will continue to lose political clout, which, in light of the Gospel, is a good thing. What makes being a Catholic right now so difficult is the Church’s seeming counter-witness to the good news. To many, those of us who remain faithful members of the Church look willfully ignorant or even hypocritical. No amount of apologetics will resolve this state-of-affairs.

Rather than a bad thing, exposing sin is a step in the right direction. We need to be reminded that Christians are not hypocrites because we’re sinners, or even because, in our shame, we seek to hide our sins in the same way Adam and Eve tried to hide from God after eating from the forbidden tree.10 Such behavior is indicative of our deformed humanity. But it is never pleasant to experience the dissolution of our often carefully-crafted façade. Doing away with what The Who, in one of their hit songs, referred to as an “Eminence Front” is a good thing because the “eminence front” is always “a put-on.”

Acknowledging that behind the whitewash is a sepulcher is necessary for true repentance. I don’t know about you, but it’s because I am a sinner that I am a Christian. In Jesus, I have met someone who, through the grace of God, helps me to see that I am greater than the sum of my failures. Because of Christ, my identity is not reducible to the worst thing I have ever done, far from it! It is Jesus who takes away my guilt and shame, thus restoring me to my dignity and conforming me more while more to his image.

Because as Christians we have experienced the mercy of God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit first-hand, we must bring this good news to each other in concrete ways. Because God has forgiven us in Christ, it is imperative that we forgive one another, bear with each other in our weaknesses and through our failures. This is easy to say and hard to do. As the first Christians in Ephesus were exhorted: “be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”11

This is exactly what Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel by giving his disciples (you and me) “a new commandment” – “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”12 The obverse of this is failing to love one another in a Christ-like way. If we fail to do this we are not a community of Jesus’s disciples. Taking our cue from Tertullian, one of the earliest Church fathers, when people look at St. Olaf parish their response should be “See… how they love one another.”13

This, my friends, is how we live God’s kingdom as a present reality. This is how we live and bear witness to the good news. It is by living this way that we allow Christ to make his dwelling among us, acknowledging him as Emmanuel, God-with-us. Living this way is the only convincing proof that God is with us. This is how we build the city of God, a new Jerusalem, a holy city. We cannot do this if we remain standing around looking up at the sky.

1 Revelation 21:2.
2 Revelation 21:3.
3 John Milbank, Slavoj Žižek, Creston Davis, Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology, 7.
4 Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [Sacrosanctum Concilium], sec. 7.
5 Acts 1:11.
6 Acts 1:11.
7 The Roman Missal, “The Order of Mass,” sec. 125.
8 Pope Paul VI. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, sec. 41.
9 Acts 14:22.
10 See Genesis 3:6-12.
11 Ephesians 4:32.
12 John 13:34-35.
13 Tertullian, Apology, 39.

Friday, May 17, 2019

I still don't want to be the hollow man

Here we are at the end of the Fourth Week of Easter. Before we know it we'll be observing the Ascension and then Pentecost! I have to say, the commencement exercises at Mount Angel Abbey & Seminary last weekend were wonderful. It was a privilege to participate. It seems to strange to have an earned doctoral degree. It's been a dream of mine for decades, one that I really did not think I would ever realize. At 53, all I can say is, "Better late than never."

I've been thinking a lot about the Friday traditio this week. After much thought, I decided to reuse REM's song "Hollow Man" off their penultimate album Accelerate. Accelerate is a tremendous album. I rank it right up there with my favorite REM albums: Life's Rich Pageant and Document.

I posted "Hollow Man" before as a Friday traditio back in May 2008 about a month after Acclerate was released. As I was thinking about this song, I recalled a conflict that kicked up nearly six months after I initially posted it. Back in the early years of my blog, I had a persistent antagonist. Like most internet trolls, this person posted anonymously. I am pretty confident I know who this person is. But thinking about this yesterday reminded me of how easily I can let myself be lured into idiotic online conflicts.

Over time, I grew wise to trolling tactics and stopped publishing critical comments posted anonymously. Guess what? Pretty quickly such comments stopped. I slowly learned to stop being lured by this kind of bait. I still invite my readers to hold me accountable. If I am in error, please correct me. If you disagree with me, I don't mind you commenting about what it is you disagree with me about and why you disagree. I do, however, insist that you do so in a charitable way and own your criticism by identifying yourself. These days I don't address the broad range of topics I used to mainly due to the fact that I don't post nearly as often as I did back when blogging was relatively new to me. Of course, this helps keep things calmer in this small patch of cyberspace.

As I mention from time-to-time with regard blogging for as long as I have, I do it primarily because it is a readily accessible means of growth. Hence, I don't worry too much about how many people read what I write. Over the years, the popularity of Καθολικός διάκονος has ebbed and flowed. Nonetheless, from what I can I tell, I have a solid core of readers. Blogging has helped me with my on-going human, spiritual, and pastoral formation. When I look back on my blogging career, it is easy for me to see that it took me five years to really hit anything that can be called a stride. Or, to employ a cliché about writing, it took me five years or so to "find my voice."

I don't claim to be a very good writer. I don't think I am a particularly perceptive, insightful, clever, or creative person. By working at it over time as I journey through life, I can confidently assert that I am better than I was. Maybe this is simply a movement from terrible to bad and from bad to mediocre. Despite earning a doctorate, the older I get the less I know, especially about ultimate things.

As I noted way back when, being able to deal gently with my faults, foibles, and failures is a victory hard-won. I have a penchant for being tremendously hard on myself. But as the suicide of a friend several ago taught me, it is important to be gentle with myself as well as with others. I am tempted to write that you must learn to be gentle with yourself before you can be gentle with others. My experience, however, indicates the opposite: it is by feeling and acting gently towards others than I have learned to be gentler with myself.

It was the same Nietzsche who asserted that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger who also believed thought that during life one must die many times. This implies rising from all those graves.

Oh yeah, did I mention that T.S. Eliot composed a poem entitled The Hollow Men?

Remember us - if at all - not as lost

Violent souls, but only

As the hollow men

The stuffed men.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Te deum laudamus- Doctor of Ministry commencement

Since I am heading to Mount Angel Abbey & Seminary tomorrow to participate in commencement exercises this weekend upon completion of my Doctor of Ministry degree, I won't post a Friday traditio or a reflection on this Sunday's readings. I am, however, posting a Wednesday traditio in honor of the first Doctor of Ministry (DMin) class to ever to graduate from Mount Angel Seminary. Founded in 1889, Mount Angel is oldest seminary in the Western United States. The DMin program was established by the seminary at the request of several bishops who send seminarians there to be formed for ministry.

Abbey Church of Mount Angel Abbey, Oregon

Six of us make-up the first DMin class of Mt Angel. We started with 7 but one of our number, a priest of the Archdiocese of Portland, was named to his first pastorate prior to the beginning of second year and so needed immerse himself in his assignment. The director of Mt. Angel's DMin program is Dr. Owen Cummings, who is also a deacon of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Dr. Cummings also suffers the humiliation of serving as my dissertation director. The title of my work is Diaconal Spirituality: A Systematic Exploration.

My classmates are:

Ms Nancy Holt, Mount Angel Seminary
Deacon Scott Pearhill, Diocese of Boise
Father Thomas Koller, Order of Discalced Carmelites
Father Peter Arteaga, Missionaries of the Holy Spirit
Msgr Joseph Betschart, Archdiocese of Portland and Rector of Mount Angel Seminary
Last and most certainly least is yours truly

It's been a laborious and fast-paced three years. As a DMin program is supposed to do, it has benefited me pastorally in many practical ways. It is no small thing to undertake such an endeavor in late middle age. Frankly, I found it more refreshing than I did tiring. Nonetheless, I will not lie. It feels good to be nearly done.

In light of this festive occasion, our traditio for this Third Week of Easter is Franz Joseph Haydn's Te Deum n. 2 in C.

I give thanks, too, that my little cyber effort - Καθολικός διάκονος - survived throughout this time. It very nearly did not. Also, I didn't bore you senseless by posting large extracts of my academic writing as a substitute for blogging.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Friendship with Jesus

Readings: Acts 5:27-32.40b-41; Ps 30:2.4-.11-13; Rev 5:11-14; John 21:1-9

Our readings for this Third Sunday of Easter are very rich. Among a number of other things, our Gospel features Jesus effectively forgiving Peter for the three times Peter betrayed him at the start of his Passion. Our reading from Revelation tells about the triumph of those who, by following Jesus, won by losing. Our first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, ends with the apostles praising God, not for getting off lightly, which they did, but for the privilege of experiencing some indignity for Jesus's sake.

All of that sounds glorious or at least not too demanding. It is precisely because it sounds so non-threatening that I am hesitant to link it the church bombings that rocked Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Why? Because that is gruesome and horrific, not to mention very difficult. My sisters and brothers who arose to celebrate Christ's resurrection that morning had no idea that they would be killed and injured while doing so precisely for doing so. Where was God? Well, the body of God's only begotten Son was the target of the bombs. Therefore, I have to say that he was in the bloody middle of the blasts.

The whole idea of adding by subtraction and winning by losing is not attractive when you stop to consider what this really means. Rhetorically, it can be dressed up and used to indoctrinate people. Either way, the paradoxical nature of following Jesus, which requires you to make God's reign present wherever you are, thus making the kingdom present in a mustard seed-like manner, is a dangerous idea. When not dangerous, endeavoring to live the Gospel is often inconvenient. In short, being Jesus's disciple is not as glamorous as it sometimes sounds. For most of us, it consists of what the recently departed Eugene Peterson called "long obedience in the same direction."

As Jesus's disciple, you don't do good in order to feel good. You live life as if God's reign is already established. By doing this, you quickly come to the realization of how far away God's kingdom is, especially these days. The more good you do, the more you realize the overwhelming scope of what needs to be done and how little impact, in the aggregate, your own paltry efforts make. Nonetheless, your efforts make a world of difference to those who need your help.

Far from being cathartic, I imagine how painful it must've been for Peter each time the resurrected Jesus asked him "Do you love me?" It is easy to sense Peter's frustration when answering the question for the third time, he replied: "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." I can almost hear him mutter, "Geez, knock it off. Leave me be."

In querying Simon Peter for the third time, Jesus used a different word than he did the first two times. The first and second time Jesus asked Peter he used the word: agapas. Querying him for the third time, the risen Lord used the word phileis. What is odd about this is that phileis is a weaker word than agapas. Phileis means something like being fond of, or liking. Being derived from agapé, agapas means something like loving another in a self-sacrificing way.

In this exchange, Peter never says he loves Jesus using agapé. Each time he responds, Peter uses philos. This can mean a lot of things. Perhaps it means that you never love Jesus as much he loves you. Proof of this is that, like Peter, you can callously deny Jesus and he still loves you in an utterly selfless way. Maybe Peter grasped his own limitation and, being chastened by his lying about whether he knew Jesus, now feels compelled to be completely honest. Hence, he cannot bring himself in good conscience to say what he knows to be untrue. In response, Jesus meets him where he's at.

Isn't that the gist of it? It is never a question of whether or not Jesus loves you. It always a question of whether you love him and how much. You love Jesus by loving others as you love yourself, especially those who are on the margins.

Statue of Jesus flecked with blood in the church of St. Sebastian, Negombo, Sri Lanka- St. Sebastian, the patron of this church was himself a martyr

Today, I don't feel like I can tie this up into a neat little package. But then our tendency to tie scriptural readings up into neat little packages constitutes a good part of what ails us. I do know that in St. John's Last Supper discourse Jesus calls his disciples, not servants, but friends. The Greek word for "friends" in John 15:15 is philous. So, it seems that Jesus seeks to re-establish his friendship with Peter, a friendship Peter no doubt felt broken by his betrayals. In John's Gospel, the section that follows Jesus inviting his disciples to be his friends, the Lord tells them what this friendship might cost them (see John 15:18-27).

But you don't need to leap all the back to the Last Supper. All you need to do is keep reading to see what lay in store for Peter. In essence, Jesus bids Peter to follow him to the cross. Tradition tells us Peter did just that.

What would you not do for a true friend? What would a true friend not for you? Novelist E.M. Forster once quipped- "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."

Jesus doesn't just want you to be his disciple, which is something of a formal relationship, one of a master to an apprentice. He wants to be your friend. In turn, he wants you to be his friend. Then you, like the apostles after they were drug before the Sanhedrin, can rejoice when you suffer a little indignity for his name.

One of the hallmarks of those friends of Jesus who wind up enduring more than a little indignity, who suffer imprisonment, torture, and sometimes even death, is to forgive and ask God to forgive those who inflict these things on them. They do this because Jesus forgives them and restores them as his friends whenever they betrayed him by ignoring or denigrating the downtrodden, failing to stand up for someone who is being run-down, refusing or neglecting to assist someone in need, wittingly participating in the exploitation of others, etc. It's true, we usually sin more by omission than commission. This realization is what prompted Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was indisputably a friend of Jesus, to observe: "It is not the sins of weakness, but the sins of strength that matter."

There is a story attributed to St. Teresa of Ávila that expresse well what I am trying articulate. Someone who investigated the authenticity of this story, which is sometimes held to be apocryphal, found that it appeared in a 1912 English translation of a book entitled The Life of St. Teresa. The original seems to have been written in French by a Carmelite nun (see "St. Teresa of Ávila: 'If this is how You treat your friends…'").
Teresa describes the journey thus: “We had to run many dangers. At no part of the road were the risks greater than within a few leagues of Burgos, at a place called Los Pontes. The rivers were so high that the water in places covered everything, neither road nor the smallest footpath could be seen, only water everywhere, and two abysses on each side. It seemed foolhardiness to advance, especially in a carriage, for if one strayed ever so little off the road (then invisible), one must have perished.” The saint is silent on her share of the adventure, but her companions relate that, seeing their alarm, she turned to them and encouraged them, saying that “as they were engaged in doing God’s work, how could they die in a better cause?” She then led the way on foot. The current was so strong that she lost her footing, and was on the point of being carried away when our Lord sustained her. “Oh, my Lord!” she exclaimed, with her usual loving familiarity, “when wilt Thou cease from scattering obstacles in our path?” “Do not complain, daughter,” the Divine Master answered, “for it is ever thus that I treat My friends.” “Ah, Lord, it is also on that account that Thou hast so few!” was her reply
What a friend we have in Jesus! I don't mean that (too) sarcastically. Being Jesus's friend means trusting him completely, no matter what circumstances you face. Jesus trusted the Father in this exact way when he surrendered himself to his Passion and he when commended his spirit to the Father as he expired on the cross (see Luke 23:46). Failing to do this renders "Jesus, I trust in You," which resounded so loudly last week, just another empty slogan.

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Grace of Creation is the Grace of Redemption

It's difficult to believe we're nearing the end of the Second Week of Easter. One concrete proof for the theory of time's relativity is that as I grow older time seems to pass more quickly, despite moving at the same pace it has since its beginning.

I had a discussion today with a friend about certain aspects of soteriology. What does Christ save us from? How does Christ save us? What sparked the discussion was my friend's understandably "visceral" reaction to the insistence of another friend of hers, who is an Evangelical Christian, not only to Penal Substitutionary Atonement but also to its companion doctrine: forensic justification.

Penal Substitutionary Atonement, for those who are curious, holds that instead of torturing and killing you for your sins, the Father allowed his Son to be tortured and killed on your behalf. According to this view, the torturing and killing of Jesus somehow satisfied the Father's bloodthirsty justice. Such a God makes Greek and Roman deities look positively benevolent and gives Moloch and Baal a run for their respective monies. In short, a visceral reaction is an appropriate response to such a monstrous theology, one that is wholly incompatible with God who "is love" (see 1 John 4:8.16).

Forensic justification, to use a metaphor employed by Martin Luther, holds that Christ's atonement "covers" your sins like a blanket of freshly fallen snow covers up a pile of crap. In other words, because of your sinfulness, without Christ's "covering" you look to God like a pile of crap. Here's some great news: nothing could be further from the truth!

A third faulty theological idea, one that underwrites Penal Substitutionary Atonement and forensic justification is Total Depravity. Total Depravity holds that, due to the fall, human beings are utterly depraved until they are regenerated by grace, which regeneration happens either when you say the sinner's prayer or when you're baptized, depending on which faulty perspective you take.

This troika of false dogma, which I am stating in a very forthright manner for the sake of clarity, also posits a real difference between the orders of nature and grace, treating them as separate and distinct, ignoring that creation finds its origin and completion in and through grace. Such a fundamental theology is not Catholic.

It's important to point out that God's plan was not thrown off-track by the Fall. Therefore, Jesus is not God's Plan B or Plan C. Jesus is not even Plan A. He is God's only plan from the beginning.

Even before discussing the above with my friend, I felt the need for a little redemption this morning. So, driving to work I put Jennifer Knapp's album Lay It Down in my CD-player (yes my vehicle is equipped with one). I wound up listening to the first track three times. What else is our traditio going to be if not "A Little More"?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

On reading the signs of the times

Since the events of last summer, beginning with the Pennsylvania grand jury report, I have sought to intelligently follow developments in the Church's on-going struggle with priestly sexual abuse here on Καθολικός διάκονος. A few weeks ago, I posted on Ratzinger's strange and reactionary letter about this seemingly never-ending saga (see "Confusion and division must not continue: Benedict's letter"). In addition to offering some critiques of his letter, I noted how, whether intentional or not, it serves to undermine Pope Francis's reform efforts, not least of which because his shallow diagnosis of the root causes diverges dramatically from that of Francis, especially as the latter articulated these in his "Letter to the People of God."

In his article for the Times of Malta, "Benedict XVI and the 1960s: An ill-judged essay placed blame in all the wrong places," published today, Martin Scicluna touches, albeit more forcefully, on several of the themes I took up in my post. Like most public opiners, I am gratified when my expressed views are validated.

Ratzinger's letter (I am retiring my use of "Pope Emeritus," a more untenable title could not be invented - it is the nature of the papacy to have one Pope at a time) deserves to be called out for several reasons, not least among which is that, as Scicluna observes: "inside the Vatican itself the more emotionally intelligent approach adopted by Pope Francis is resented, and being resisted, by conservative clerics and laity."

The long and short of it is that, when it comes to the events of 1968, which Ratzinger personally found and still finds so traumatic, events that prompted him to resign from Tübingen in order to go to a relative backwater - Regensburg - he is simply not a reliable or particularly insightful commentator. Rather, as his letter amply demonstrates, he remains a reactionary vis-à-vis events that happened more than 50 years ago. Solutions and reforms rooted in such reactions can only prove disastrous, as recent history shows.

The events of 1968 and their aftermath did not, as Scicluna points out, alter the landscape in quite the dramatic way Ratzinger insists it did. For example, "Sexual standards have indeed changed, sometimes in ways one might shudder at, but the thoughtless, anything-goes culture is far from universal. Faithful intimacy was – and still is – regarded as a treasure by the vast majority." At least in my personal and pastoral experience, sometimes this treasure is cherished more by non-religious people than by religious ones. But then Christianity is a religion for screw-ups or it is nothing.

How can anyone fail to see in Humanae vitae's "unitive" dimension of marital sexuality a trace of the sexual revolution? (see sec. 12). And is that not, indeed, a good thing? We need to learn, as Gaudium et spes bids us do, to read the signs of the times (sec. 4). Inherent in this reading is the realization we can't go back to the future.

Insisting that we can't move backward on time's linear continuum does not mean forsaking or eschewing history. At least for those who bother to study it, as opposed to mining it in order to construct an overly simplified ideological narrative, even Church history is rather complex and multi-faceted. Referring to those he insisted were "not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure," Pope St. John XXIII, himself a historian, in his speech opening the Second Vatican Council, noted that such people say our times, "in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, nonetheless, the teacher of life."

Historically-speaking, Church reform, at least what Yves Congar would call "true reform," moves the Church forward, not backward. To take just one example of true ecclesial reform, look at the revolutionary nature of the rise of the mendicant orders (i.e., Franciscans and Dominicans) in the thirteenth century. Now, some would say we need a reform "like" that now. Whether or not I agree with that assertion depends entirely on that to which "like" refers.

Given the reality of Ecclesia semper reformanda, the Church always stands in need of being reformed until she realizes the full stature of Christ. So, if the insistence that we need a reform "like" the one wrought by the mendicants refers to this, then count me in. If you mean the mendicant-led reform needs to happen again, then you're dreaming. Don't exaggerate my answer. I grasp that true and lasting reform is brought about by Christians who give themselves wholly to Christ by living out his teachings. But this will look different in every era. Another pitfall, given the statist and corporatist nature of advanced Western society in our day, is being content to only seek institutional reforms. While our present moment certainly requires some institutional reforms, accountability of bishops being at the top of the list, settling only for these reforms comes at the expense of the kind of conversion called for by the Second Vatican Council.

Looking at the Protestant side of Church history, I have been re-reading Leslie Chamberlain's Nietzsche in Turin. While Chamberlain is noticeably more hostile to Christianity than was Nietzsche (as well as more ignorant of it), she insists, quite rightly I think, that German idealism and the intricate speculative metaphysical systems it spawned (think Hegel, Kant, Fichte, Leibniz, etc.), which Nietzsche so despised, are the product of the Reformation. On her view, for Nietzsche this made the Christian religion primarily a matter of the head and led in turn into a denial of life instead of an affirmation of it.

In perhaps not such an intuitive way, this is a result of Luther's insistence that theology should avoid contact with philosophy. It would've been useful for Chamberlain to contrast the bass line that Nietzsche's philosophy amounts to a rejection of the Reformation, which gives rhythm to the first third of her book, with her insistence that it is absurd to take seriously that the Shroud of Turin might be the burial cloth of Jesus in light of Nietzsche's philosophy (see "The Shroud of Turin: Short Take"). Relevant to my purposes, it is important to consider how these disembodied, idealistic (in the philosophical sense) metaphysical systems, among Catholics most particularly neo-Thomism, led to the kind of bizarre and inhumane sexual ethics to which Ratzinger wants to return (see "Humanae vitae at 50").

While the past must and inevitably does shape the future to some extent, the future does not now nor has it ever lain in the past.

St Joseph the Worker on May Day

Today is May Day. I am old enough to remember celebrating May Day with May Poles and a field day at school. In the two places I lived when I was young, nobody was rich and everyone worked. Having a college degree was practically unheard of. I had many friends who, once they were old enough to get a job, went to school, worked their job, and did nothing else. The transition from school to a life of work was pretty seamless for them.

I was considered to be a bit of an idler, even by my parents. I have always loved the quote from Ian Curtis, lead singer of the band Joy Division: "I used to work in a factory and I was really happy because I could daydream all day." Well, I suppose that is one way to overcome alienation. To this day I will stick with the Bible in insisting that work is a curse, not a blessing. I do know what it means to put in a day of hard, physical work, however.

Going back at least a few centuries, May Day is (was- past tense is probably more accurate these days) a big day for workers and unions. May Day was a huge festival in communist countries. Even if not much observed today, it was and remains the Day of International Solidarity Among Workers. The fading of May Day is a loss. Fearing communism, Pope Pius XII established the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker in 1955.

On the liturgical calendar, 1 May is an optional memorial and not a feast. This is truly sad. St. Joseph the Worker should be universal feast of the Church. Rather than eschew the Day of International Solidarity Among Workers in favor of the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, I take the Catholic et/et approach.

Venerable Matt Talbot

If you accept the basic historicity of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, at least with regard to some of Jesus's earliest life, Joseph of Nazareth was a worker. He was a tekton, which likely refers to multi-skilled tradesman. On this basis it seems a safe assertion that Joseph taught Jesus his trade. Perhaps for a time they worked side-by-side, not only with each other but with their fellow laborers. Most of the work in the region of Galilee from whence they hailed at that time was probably to be found building the city of Sepphoris, which was a massive undertaking by the tetrarch Herod Antipas.

Another holy worker comes to my mind today: Venerable Matt Talbot. How I dearly desired that during his visit to Ireland Pope Francis would've pronounced Matty Blessed, thus moving this saint whose intercession has been so effective for so many people, including myself, one step closer to canonization. Matt worked in a lumber yard as a manual laborer until that Trinity Sunday in 1925 when he died making his way to Mass along Granby Lane in Dublin.

The Labor movement in the United States was aided and abetted by the Church. Many of the hard-won victories of the labor movement have been lost and most of those that remain are on unsteady ground. We need more than a day of international solidarity among workers. We need a new and energetic labor movement!

It seems fitting that the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker falls on the first day of the month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is a parish in my diocese, located in what was and largely remains a working class part of Salt Valley dedicated to St. Joseph the Worker.

St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Doubting Divine Mercy

Readings: Acts 5:12-16; Ps 118:2-4.13-15.22-14; John 20:19-31

As a Catholic Christian and clerical blogger, April (sometimes March) leaves me feeling a bit spent blogging-wise because, well, the Triduum and Easter. I can certainly say that on this Second Sunday of Easter, which we Roman Catholics observe as Divine Mercy Sunday, I am not at my most imaginative or creative. I remember years ago in a homily for Divine Mercy Sunday hearing that the Sacrament of Penance is the first gift given by the resurrected Jesus to his nascent Church. If one takes today's Gospel reading as St. John's account of the institution of this sacrament, then that seems to be the case.

I think it is important when considering the Johannine account of Jesus's resurrected appearances to his disciples (there no "apostles" in the Gospel of John) not to view Thomas's doubt as sinful in the least. Up to the point of his own encounter with the risen Lord, Thomas had only heard his companions telling him the story of their experience of seeing the Crucified alive. How would you respond to such reports, even if those telling you seemed sincere? Do the dead really come back to life?

It is important, I think, to point out that Thomas did not divorce himself from the community of disciples even though he clearly did not believe what they told him. Was he not with them the very next week, on what we call Sunday? It is important to point this out because it is not only okay but important to bring your doubts to Mass. After all, where else might you touch and taste the wounded and risen Jesus?

We experience doubt whenever we wonder whether God will forgive us again. As Pope Francis noted during the Jubilee of Mercy several years ago: you will grow weary of asking God for mercy well before God tires of being merciful toward you. His mercy endures forever. Divine Mercy has the peculiar attribute of seeming too good to be true.

As to the matter of apostles, in today's Gospel Jesus sends his closest disciples just as the Father sent him. An apostle is one who is sent forth. At the end of each Mass you are sent forth. Hence, if you limit the Church's apostolicity merely to apostolic succession, you have a very truncated view of what it means to profess the Church as apostolic. More than that, if that is your view, you let yourself off the hook far too easily. If your understanding of what it means to say the Church is apostolic is limited to apostolic succession, then in what sense can you consider yourself a disciple of the Risen One?

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which occurs post-Pentecost, Peter's healing shadow is the shadow of the crucified and risen Christ, who brings healing in his wake. Forgiveness of your sins is the healing that brings the wholeness for which you so desperately long. Like Peter, as Christ's disciple, your shadow should be the shadow of the Risen One. Stated in a more concrete way, worship that does not result in service is not Christian worship. Again, this is why our worship concludes with being sent to make Jesus Christ present wherever you go. This is what it means to cast the shadow of him who died, rose again, and now lives forever. Christ's Easter victory is your Easter victory. Healed and given new life impels the one who receives these great gifts to share them with others.

Notice that the resurrected Jesus asks Thomas if he believes only because he has seen and touched him. It's an unanswered question. Or is it? I think Thomas's profession "My Lord and my God" is one that can only be sincerely made by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). As Jesus tells Peter in St. Matthew's Gospel after Peter has confessed Jesus as Christ and Lord, "flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father" (Matthew 16:17). In my view, a very good case can be made that Thomas's implied answer amounts to - "No, Lord, I do not believe only because I have seen, touched, and felt your resurrected body."

It is the Spirit of the resurrected Jesus that enables those who have faith to believe. This brings us quickly to a paraphrased version of an observation made by Dostoevsky: a person does not come to believe because she experiences a miracle; a person experiences a miracle because she believes. Or, as St. Anselm of Canterbury put it: "I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand." In short, knowing the what of something does not satisfactorily answer that most human all questions - Why?

In his wonderfully eccentric autobiography, Ecce Homo, Friedrich Nietzsche refers to "Christians and other nihilists." There is a sense in which one can believe Christ rose from the dead and utterly fail to grasp what this means for his own life. "Christ is risen. So what?" There is a way of considering one's self a Christian in which one merely takes, as opposed to gratefully receiving, what God has given us in Christ. Because it amounts to taking, such a belief does not rise to the level of faith and so has no effect on how such a person endeavors to live.

"For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world."

Friday, April 26, 2019

"Love is a rebellious bird"

Holy Week and especially the sacred Triduum are intense times. As a result, Καθολικός διάκονος has lain fallow since Easter Sunday. In an ideal scenario, Easter week is a time to relax and bask in the glow of our glorious celebration of Christ's resurrection. At least for me, after Easter Sunday, life continues apace. This is alright, despite my interior protest.

This week I finished reading Sue Prideaux's I Am Dynamite: A Life of Nietzsche. Alongside this latest Nietzsche biography (in years past I have read Leslie Chamberlain's Nietzsche in Turin and Rüdiger Safranski's Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography), I re-read what amounts to Nietzsche's own idiosyncratic autobiography, Ecce Homo. It is his utter originality that makes Nietzsche so captivating.

Friedrich Nietzsche, by Edvard Munch, 1906

Don't worry. I am not going to go off on a philosophical digression- though one would be fitting today because is the birthday of my dear Ludwig Wittgenstein. I will note that Nietzsche's philosophical project was at the service Amor fati, that is, loving one's fate. In other words, life's agon, struggle, or battle consists not only of accepting your life as it is but of loving it to the point of not desiring it to be otherwise. If you are familiar in the least with Nietzsche's life, he set himself no small task by placing amor fati at the center of his enterprise.

Msgr Luigi Giussani talked about loving your destiny. Now, fate and destiny can be seen as two different things or one can attempt to harmonize the two. In essence, they are the same thing because they refer to where you've been, where you are now, and where are going. Past, present, and future are inextricably linked. Nietzsche's concept of eternal recurrence, which is the only part of his philosophy that came to him in a revelation-like manner, sought to unravel this intertwining. On first consideration, the difference between fate and destiny is that fate is blind and destiny is guided. Regardless as to whether it is chance or the result of providence, anyone who pays attention to her own life understands that the continuum of past, present, and future consists in far more than mechanistic cause and effect. In other words, even for those of us who adhere to destiny, there is a heavy dose of what we might call chance/luck/fortune that comes into play. Despite what the peddlers of success through time management say, life does not work in the manner of "Do x and y will inevitably follow." Such a view amounts to deception about reality.

Nietzsche found in Bizet's opera Carmen something of an affirmation of all this. In his book The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche sees Carmen as expressing healthy exuberance expressed through the “Mediterraneanization of music.” For him, Carmen represented a “return to nature, health, cheerfulness, youth, virtue!” (The Case of Wagner, sec. 3). Bizet's music “liberates the spirit” and “gives wings to thought” (The Case of Wagner, sec. 2). I don't usually recommend reading the comments for anything on-line, but I loved reading the comments for the Royal Opera production of Carmen from which the aria that is today's traditio is taken. Many of them capture the exuberance that Nietzsche found so appealing. My favorite is- "personally, I wouldn't mind being that guy whose butt she slaps at the end..."

So, on this Friday in the Octave of Easter, love your destiny, which is eternal. Only something or someone infinite can satisfy your infinite longing, a longing that persists and, indeed, grows stronger, rather than being satisfied, when a dream or an aspiration is realized. Sunday afternoon, after the last Mass, I tried to relax but could not. I went to back to the church, entered, then walked around and prayed. I felt restless, but my restlessness seemed confirmed, natural, whole. How can resurrection leave you in anything but an unsettled state?

As indicated, our Friday traditio, which, given the Octave, is really a Sunday traditio, is the aria popularly known as "Habanera." "Habanera" refers to the music or dance of Havana. The actual name of the aria is "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle." In English: "Love is a rebellious bird." Our rebellion against love often consists of hating our fate. Maybe a way of harmonizing fate and destiny is to say that fate is your path to destiny. Where Giussani and Nietzsche converge is Giussani's insistence that you must learn to consciously "use" your fate, your present circumstances, to realize your destiny.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

"Hear the bells ringing"

It is not Easter for me until I listen to Keith Green's "Easter Song." I am not really certain where I'd be, who I'd be if I had not encountered the risen Jesus. During the early Mass this morning, my eyes filled with tears during the sprinkling rite. My tears were tears of joy. As I prayed the Universal Prayer, however, my tears turned to those sadness as we prayed for our sisters and brothers in Sri Lanka, who were killed or injured in Easter bombings.

Resurrection of Christ, Hendrick de Clerck, ca 1575

I was buoyed up by Pope Francis's plea for peace in his Urbi et Orbi message. The world needs resurrection! As Pope Benedict said in his first Easter Urbi et Orbi message: Christus resurrexit, quia Deus caritas est! Christ is risen because God is love.

Happy Easter to both of my readers!

Urbi et Orbi- Easter 2019


Easter 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Easter!

Today the Church renews the proclamation made by the first disciples: “Jesus is risen!” And from mouth to mouth, from heart to heart, there resounds a call to praise: “Alleluia, Alleluia!” On this morning of Easter, the perennial youth of the Church and of humanity as a whole, I would like to address each of you in the opening words of my recent Apostolic Exhortation devoted especially to young people:

“Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world. Everything he touches becomes young, new, full of life. The very first words, then, that I would like to say to every young Christian are these: Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive! He is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you. However far you may wander, he is always there, the Risen One. He calls you and he waits for you to return to him and start over again. When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, he will always be there to restore your strength and your hope” (Christus Vivit, sec. 1-2)

Dear brothers and sisters, this message is also addressed to every person in the world. The resurrection of Christ is the principle of new life for every man and every woman, for true renewal always begins from the heart, from the conscience. Yet Easter is also the beginning of the new world, set free from the slavery of sin and death: the world open at last to the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of love, peace and fraternity.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Easter Vigil

Readings: Gen 1:1-2:2; Gen 22:1-18; Ex 14:15-15:1; Rom 6:3-11; Luke 24:1-12

The liturgy we are now celebrating is the mother of all liturgies. The Easter Vigil is the most important celebration of the entire liturgical year. Tonight our Christian high holy days reach their zenith. Tonight, sisters and brothers, we celebrate the true Passover: Jesus Christ.

Jesus alone, the only begotten Son of God in the flesh, was able to pass over from death to life everlasting. The opening words of Pope John Paul II’s first encyclical letter, Redemptor Hominis, sum this up well: “The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history.”1

Christ’s resurrection from the dead marks the final stage of God's plan of creation. God did not create in vain. By virtue of our common Baptism, God invites us to be his co-creators in bringing creation to full realization.

The Easter Vigil is not a commemoration of something that happened nearly 2,000 years ago. The question we ask this holy night is - Where is the risen Jesus now – for us?2 Rather than questioning Christ’s resurrection, we need to let his resurrection interrogate us. In a few minutes, you will have the opportunity to let yourself be interrogated by Christ's resurrection.

The interrogation in which you are invited to engage takes the form of renewing the promises you made at Baptism. The main purpose of Lent, after all, is to prepare for renewing your baptismal promises at Easter. When answering these questions, it is important not to engage in empty ritualism, simply going through the motions, as it were. You need to listen to each question, examine your conscience, and answer or choose not to answer, from your heart. Interrogating yourself using these ultimate questions demands nothing less of you.

Resurrection is something you can see and experience. In a few moments, you will witness Katie’s paschal death, burial, and rising to new life with Christ through the waters of Baptism. I am not being overly dramatic in stating it in that way. In our epistle reading, we heard the words with which St. Paul interrogated the Christians of ancient Rome: “Are you unaware,” he asked them, “that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”3 Answering his own query, the apostle continued: “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death.”4 Because we died and were buried with Christ in Baptism, Paul concludes: “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”5

St Paul’s point is that eternal life does not start after mortal death. For those of us who are baptized, eternal life is now! Living your new life in Christ requires you to constantly be open, allowing yourself to be interrogated by the Holy Spirit.

When they went to the tomb in which Jesus had been laid in order to dress his dead body according to Jewish burial custom, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James found the tomb empty, they were interrogated by the two angels, who asked them- “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?”6 The same question posed to the women by the angels might well be asked of us and often.

“To be a Christian,” Luke Timothy Johnson insists, “means to assert that Jesus is alive...”7 “To consider Jesus simply as a figure of the past,” he continues, “means to consider Jesus not from the perspective of a Christian but from that of one who stands outside of Christian conviction.”8 “If Jesus is dead,” Johnson points out, “then his story is completed. If he is alive, then his story continues.”9

Jesus’s story continues through the Church, which is his very Body. Jesus’s story is truly the never-ending story. By our Baptism, Confirmation, and on-going participation in the sacramental life of the Church, particularly the Eucharist, Jesus’s story becomes our story. Stated a bit more poetically, Jesus writes us into his story. One scriptural phrase that captures Jesus writing us into his story is “those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”10

Katie, at the beginning of Lent your name was written in the Book of the Elect. Tonight your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. You and Piper being fully incorporated into Christ’s Body mark the beginning of new chapters in Jesus’s story.

On this holy night, it is important to be reminded that “Easter is not something we remember.” Rather, as Christians, Easter “is something that we live and breathe.”11

1 John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, sec. 1.
2 Jim Friedrich, "Preaching on Easter Sunday isn't about convincing people," The Christian Century.
3 Romans 6:3.
4 Romans 6:4.
5 Romans 6:4.
6 Luke 24:5.
7 Luke Timothy Johnson, Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel, 5.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 Revelation 21:27..
11 “Preaching on Easter Sunday isn’t about convincing people.”.

Triduum: Holy Saturday

Without a doubt, Holy Saturday is the weirdest day of the entire church year. It is the day we observe Christ laying dead in the tomb. An ancient Christian homily, which is the second reading for the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday, imagines what Jesus's was doing on this day between his death and his resurrection. Cutting to the chase, the preacher of this homily imagines Christ entering the shadow world, something akin to what the Greeks called "Hades." Christ's purpose for going there is to liberate those who have died from this shadow life.

In his journey to the underworld, Christ carries his cross, which the preacher identifies as the weapon with which he won his victory over death. He enters the shadowlands, the dark valley of death, to convey his victory to the souls of the just, who cannot reach their destination without crossing the bridge from the abyss to their eternal rest. At least on my telling (there is no mention of a bridge in the homily) the bridge over which they cross is Christ's cross.

Today the tabernacles in all churches are empty with their doors open to show that they are empty. The Blessed Sacrament is in the chapel or on the altar of repose, which serves as Christ's liturgical tomb. In fact, the church itself, sans the Blessed Sacrament, sits in tomb-like emptiness, dark and quiet. No masses, no weddings, no baptisms or confirmations (except perhaps for those who are in danger of death- these do not happen in the church) are celebrated today.

Usually confessions are heard on Holy Saturday. Penitents come into the dark, quiet, empty church to confess the many ways they deal in death. This death-dealing has a shorter name: sin. Going to confession on Holy Saturday, penitents speak their sins in the emptiness of the tomb. So, when they depart, having been absolved and (presumably) having made satisfaction, they do so with the assurance that their sins are dead and buried. By grace, they pray that these death-dealing words, thoughts, and actions will never again come to life in them.

The effect of sin is make you a spiritual zombie. Sin is never resurrected life. Sin is always a parasite on life. Honest penitents know themselves well enough not to be overly confident about succeeding because their strategies have largely to do with self-help methods. While such methods may help one cope, they cannot impart life eternal. Instead, the true penitent places her hope in the Lord, who is kind and merciful

A snippet from my unfocused paper on Samuel Beckett from last year seems fitting for Holy Saturday:
Heidegger once noted "absence is not nothing."1 It has been pointed out that Beckett’s works stand as "a testimony" to the truth of Heidegger’s assertion.2 The presence of God’s absence, which is most explicit in Waiting for Godot, turns into "an experience of transcendence."3 Referring to his own work, Beckett wrote: "I feel the only line is to refuse to be involved in exegesis of any kind… We have no elucidations to offer of mysteries that are all of their own making."4
Circling back to the Office of Readings for today, the first reading, which always comes from the Scriptures, is from the fourth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews (vv. 1-13). Many exegetes hold that, like the ancient sermon for Holy Saturday, this book of the New Testament was originally a sermon.

Referencing Psalm 95, which I prayed as the first Psalm for the Office of Readings because I have been using Psalm 24 as the invitatory Psalm during Lent and now in the Triduum, noting how the generation that God liberated from Egyptian servitude was not permitted to enter the Promise Land because of their disobedience, the inspired author of Hebrews discusses entering into the Sabbath rest. This is the very same rest to which Christ invites our first parents in the ancient sermon. Again, citing Psalm 95, the author of Hebrews urges these ancient Jewish Christians, many of whom were tempted to renounce their faith in Christ Jesus, not to harden their hearts with regard to what they've heard God speak in and through Christ.

In another wholly unplanned occurrence this morning, similar to unexpectedly praying Psalm 95, I read the final chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict. Upon completing my reading of the Rule, I read Esther de Waal's commentary on that chapter. It was de Waal's commentary that struck the harmonizing chord with the Office of Readings. Noting that in the final chapter of his Rule Benedict asks his reader - "Are you hastening toward your heavenly home?," de Waal makes the connection with the passage from Hebrews 4: "The fullness of that question comes when I read these words in the context of those poetic images from Hebrews (4:11; 11:14-15)."5 These poetic images, she notes, are "of seeking a country, and of that city that God has prepared for us."6 Both the image of the country in Hebrews 4 and of the city in Hebrews 11 are "images of home that capture the imagination."7

De Waal captures beautifully how I am thinking and feeling on this Holy Saturday morning: "The need to come home, the desire to be where I belong, is something that touches one of the deepest chords in all human experience."8

I think it is very important not to be too quick to leap over Good Friday and Holy Saturday in a mad rush to celebrate the resurrection. Making our way prayerfully through the first two-thirds of the sacred Triduum makes the Easter Vigil all the more glorious.

1 Martin Heidegger, “The Thing: Epilogue,” in Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. by Alfred Hofstadter. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1971, 184.
2 Sandra Wynands, Iconic Spaces: The Dark Theology of Samuel Beckett’s Drama. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007, 6.
3 Ibid.
4 Maggie Johnson, "Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: A Study Guide." Scribd Website, accessed January 26, 2018,
5 Esther de Waal. A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1995,189.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid., 189-190.
8 Ibid., 190.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Triduum: Good Friday

Reading: Luke 23:46

For our Good Friday traditio, I am sharing the homilette I delivered in 2007 for the seventh of Jesus's Seven Last Words. 2007 marked the first year I preached the Seven Last Words. Sadly, even at the Cathedral where I formerly served, they no longer reflect on the Lord's words from the Cross as part of Good Friday worship. Formerly, we reflected on the Seven Last Words immediately following the Good Friday service and just prior to the choir singing the Stabat Mater. In my view, when prepared for diligently, reflecting on Christ's words from the Cross as likely re-imagined and handed on by the four evangelists, are deep reflections on Christian discipleship. Anyway, for about seven years, I preached on some or all of the Lord's words from the Cross each Good Friday. Preparing my reflections comprised a health part of my Lenten spiritual practice.


"Commendation" is what we do at the graveside when we commend our sister or brother, not to the earth, but to God. Just as “Do this in memory of me” means ever so much more than a remembering- it is a calling-to-mind in order to make present- to commend means more than to merely hand-over, or leave. In baptism, we commended ourselves to God by dying and rising in Christ to new life.

"Commendation" means to present or mention as worthy of confidence, notice, or kindness. Further, it means to entrust, to deliver with confidence, to give charge to the one who is worthy of confidence and trust. So, when our Lord commends his spirit over to the Father, he gives himself over to the One who is trustworthy, the One in whom he can place his trust and his entire being.

The life of the disciple of Christ, who is not greater than the Master, is not merely a Via Delarosa, it is a death, even a crucifixion, a kenotic emptying-out of oneself for others. When will we learn that happiness and fulfillment does not come from pursuing one’s own agenda, but seeking the good of the other? Who is this mysterious other? The other is certainly the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick, the imprisoned, the addicted, and certainly those who have died. Further, the other is the sinner, the ignorant, the doubtful, the sorrowful, the injured, the unjustly accused and condemned. The other is also one’s spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends, and fellow parishioners. The Christian term for this other is neighbor. It is by redefining who our neighbor is that reveals the revolutionary nature of our Lord’s teachings as given in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Crucifixion, by Graham Sutherland, 1946

Writing about the Song of Songs, that great allegory of God’s love for his People, Pope Benedict wrote:
In this context it is highly instructive to note that in the course of the book two different Hebrew words are used to indicate ‘love’. First there is the word dodim, a plural form suggesting a love that is still insecure, indeterminate and searching. This comes to be replaced by the word ahabà, which the Greek version of the Old Testament translates with the similar-sounding agape, which, as we have seen, becomes the typical expression for the biblical notion of love. By contrast with an indeterminate, ‘searching’ love, this word expresses the experience of a love which involves a real discovery of the other, moving beyond the selfish character that prevailed earlier. Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice (Deus Caritas Est, sec. 6)
God’s love is brilliantly revealed in Christ hanging on the cross. This love, this caritas, is a perfect unity of eros and agape. Rather than a divine discourse transmitted through a human messenger and written down, God gives us his Christ- his Son hanging alone on a cross. Furthermore, Jesus calls us to imitate him by taking up our cross and dying with him. But we do so in the confidence that as we die, like our Lord, we commend ourselves, again, as we did at our baptism, to the Father with trust and confidence that, in and through Christ, new life will come from our dying, a life without end.


This Good Friday, I am particularly struck by the thought that a Christianity that is historically and philosophically unassailable is no Christianity at all.

Our traditio is Dan Schutte's lovely hymn "Behold the Wood of the Cross" in a very simple arrangement:

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Triduum: Holy Thursday

Readings: Ex 12:1-8.11-14; Ps 116:12.13.15-16c.17-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

Very often the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which marks the beginning of our Christian high holy days, is reduced to the institution of the ministerial priesthood. But linked as this evening’s celebration is with Baptism, we celebrate Christ’s institution of the priesthood of all the baptized and of the Eucharist. On this holy night, Jesus once again calls you to be his disciple. Being a disciple of Jesus means not only doing the things he tells you to do, but doing what he does.

Being Jesus’s disciple means not only doing the things he commands, but doing what he does. This is exactly what Jesus instructs those whose feet he washes to do: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,” the Lord tells them, “you ought to wash one another's feet.”1 “I have given you a model to follow,” he says, “so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”2

In St. John’s Gospel there are no apostles. The fourth Gospel features only disciples. Recognizing him as Lord, Peter at first steadfastly refuses to let Jesus wash his feet. After the Lord tells him that if he does not permit him to wash his feet, he does belong to him, Lord, Peter, in a clear reference to Baptism, demands that Jesus wash “not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”3

In Baptism, the Lord not only washed you, but immersed you into the very life of God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit. Jesus washing the feet of his closest followers is St. John’s version of Jesus’s institution of the Eucharist. In the Synoptic Gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke) we find accounts of the Last Supper in which Jesus blessed the bread, broke it, and gave to his disciples, saying “this is my body.” And then blessed the wine and gave it to them to drink , saying “this is my blood.” Rather than that, John’s Gospel gives us the account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.

In his book The Kingdom, French writer Emmanuel Carrère writes about a retreat he went on at a L’Arch community in France. What he describes is a foot-washing ritual. For the ritual, retreatants broke up into small groups. After a short Liturgy of the Word, featuring the same reading as our Gospel for tonight and a short reflection, the groups of retreatants began washing each other’s feet. Thinking about this ritual, Carrère notes: “things could have happened differently: that the central sacrament of Christianity could be foot washing and not Communion.”4 Continuing his musing, he points out that ritual foot-washing “could be what Christians do every day at Mass, and it wouldn’t be any more absurd – less, so in fact.”5

What Carrère and many others seem to miss about John’s institution narrative is that it highlights the relationship between Baptism and Eucharist. As Catholics we affirm that there are seven sacraments. But the sacramental life of grace arises from Baptism and finds its full realization in the Eucharist.

Our second reading, taken from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, clearly shows that celebrating the Eucharist constitutes the Church’s most fundamental tradition. It is by receiving communion that you proclaim the Lord’s salvific death until he returns.6 In his Letter to the Romans, in a passage that is part of the epistle reading for the upcoming Easter Vigil, St. Paul asks the Christians in ancient Rome if they are “unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”7

As our first reading from the Book of Exodus indicates, the Eucharist is our Passover. Since the Eucharist is Jesus Christ, he is our Passover. Just as the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites who had marked their doorposts with the blood of the Lamb, we who have been washed by the blood of the Lamb of God pass over from death to life. If the Passover meal is a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, then passing through the sea on dry ground is an image of Baptism. Christ rescues us from sin and death through Baptism and the Eucharist.

As Catholics we affirm that you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This confession brings up two important questions. What is faith? How do we receive God’s grace?

Answering the first question, the fruit of faith is loving your neighbor. Loving your neighbor is not primarily how you feel about him or her. You love someone by concrete acts of care and concern. Faith without works is dead.8 “Above all,” the Scriptures teach, “let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.”9

We receive the grace that saves us, the grace that impels us to acts of charity, in the sacraments. The sacraments are the means by which God communicates grace, which is the divine life of the Blessed Trinity, to our souls. In communion we receive Christ. Receiving Christ together is what makes us Christ’s body. The Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist. The Eucharist and nothing else makes St. Olaf Parish.

At the end of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, as we process with the Blessed Sacrament to the chapel of repose, we sing the exquisitely beautiful hymn Ubi Caritas. The first verse of this hymn sums up very well what this evening’s Mass is all about:
Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ's love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart

1 John 13:14.
2 John 13:15.
3 John 13:9.
4 Emmanuel Carrère, The Kingdon, 381.
5 Ibid.
6 1 Corinthians 11:26..
7 Romans 6:3..
8 James 2:17..
9 1 Peter 4:8..

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Hope in desolation: the burning of Notre Dame

Yesterday's belated Palm/Passion Sunday post felt right. Sometimes I get carried away with words. Once in awhile, I think, I manage to say something worth reading or listening to. In his song about the Incarnation, Michael Card sings: "You and me we use so many clumsy words/the point of what we often say is not worth being heard." This rings very true with me, especially in this age of instantaneous electronic communication that tempts me to weigh in an anything and everything.

The first casualty of my wordiness is silence. Observing Holy Week, especially these few days between Palm Sunday and the beginning of the Triduum, requires a heavy dose of silence.

I don't know about you, but watching in horror yesterday as Notre Dame de Paris burned summoned forth no words, just a gasp and feeling of great sorrow and loss, the beginnings of grief. Like virtually everyone else, I was forced to helplessly watch the fire at a distance as the fire brigades of Paris did desperate battle with the flames. What could I say except perhaps a Hail Mary or a Memorare, invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin as a beautiful cathedral dedicated to her was besieged by fire?

Photograph taken in the nave of Notre Dame after yesterday's fire

It seems to me that in the wake of such a loss, I need to remind myself that the Church is made of living stones. Yes, the burning of Notre Dame cathedral is a painful way to be reminded of this! Another reality, one of which I was reminded on Ash Wednesday, is that, sooner or later, everything will be reduced to dust, including myself. I suppose my consolation is my belief that I will not remain dust.

Like the woman taken in adultery, I hope that Christ Jesus will lift me from the dust, making me a new creation. The audaciousness of this hope is often lost on me. I am not sure how such a belief ever becomes routinized. Yet, somehow I succeed in doing just that. Witnessing the burning of Notre Dame is but one more proof not only that hope lies beyond optimism but that desolation is the soil from which of hope arises.

Salvation history shows us time and again that the opus Dei is bringing hope from desolation by bringing life from death. This is what Holy Week invites us to experience, whether we observe it in a magnificent cathedral or in the crudest of chapels.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Palm Sunday: Holy Week begins

Prepare ye the way for the Lord; prepare ye the way for his Kingdom

Blessed is the king who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven
and glory in the highest
(Luke 19:38)

Better late than never

Friday, April 12, 2019

Good Friday, Black holes, fascination w/ nothingness

It's the final Friday of Lent. Next Friday is Good Friday. Last night my diocese celebrated our annual Chrism Mass. We celebrate our Chrism Mass the week before Holy Week because our diocese consists of the entire state of Utah, some 85,000 square miles. Therefore, it would be impossible to celebrate it during the day on Holy Thursday and for everyone to be back in time to celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper. It is always moving for me to participate in the Chrism Mass. I look forward to Holy Thursday because at the Mass of the Lord's Supper when my parish will receive the oils consecrated by our bishop into our parish for use during the ensuing year.

Even though is is 12 April, here along the Wasatch Front of Northern Utah we received several inches of snow overnight. Yes, snow. When I arrived home from the Chrism Mass last night about 9:45 PM, I went for a walk. It was lovely, a bit warm. As I was finishing my walk, it began to rain a bit. Then, about 3:30 AM this morning, my wife, who had gotten up to get a drink of water, told me it was snowing. Yes, the snowplows are out this morning.

Anyway, this week we all saw the first picture of a black hole. This was made possible by the diligent work of a brilliant young woman named Katie Bouman. Our Friday traditio, then is the late Chris Cornell with his early grunge group, Soundgarden, singing "Black Hole Sun." I was told by a friend, after posting this video on FB, that NPR used this as the lead-in and fade to their story on the picture of a black hole.

When you think of it, picturing Jesus on the cross, which is the image of Good Friday, we see something like the black, existential hole that life sometimes seems to be. For some, it often or always seems this way. What Don Giussani asserted is true: "[Jesus] mounted the Cross to free us from the fascination with nothingness, to free us from the fascination with appearances, with the ephemeral." In light of all this, I would invite you to look back at my post "Dreams have never made my bed".

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Confusion and division must not continue: Benedict's letter

I suppose at least some of my readers know about the ill-advised letter composed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (see "Full text of Benedict XVI essay: 'The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse'") that became public over the past few days. Writing the letter was ill-advised. Making the letter public comes close to a catastrophe. I have no desire to denigrate a very old man who, as the letter indicates, is clearly not at the top of his powers. I cannot imagine that those close to the former pope did not dissuade him from writing about this. Failing that, how did it leave his dwelling?

I don't mind stating up-front that I hold Pope Benedict XVI in the highest regard. Over the decades I have been Catholic I have benefited enormously by reading the theology of Joseph Ratzinger. When it comes to the issue of the sexual abuse of children and young people in the Catholic Church, Josef Ratzinger did a lot. First and foremost, he recognized it as a problem that needed to be dealt with. To the extent that priestly sexual abuse was acknowledged and dealt with at all during the papacy of John Paul II it was largely due to the efforts of then-Cardinal Ratzinger. When he became pope, the matter began to receive the attention that it deserved. He sustained this throughout his papacy. As we all know, it took Pope Francis some time to come to grips with this issue himself, despite the efforts of his predecessor.

Back to the letter- I am amazed at its anecdotal and rather shallow contents. At least to me, it reads like a tightly-written apologetic tract, the kind that makes a very tight but not very cogent argument, one that ignores many relevant facts and issues. If one were to take the letter at face value, it would seem that there was no pedophilia or ephebophilia in the church until the mid-to-late-1960s. But my own diocese's disclosure is enough to disprove this. One can read the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. Even with its flaws, you can see that the analysis applied in this letter fails to account for a healthy number of cases that happened before the much-vilified sexual revolution. For these instances, Benedict's letter has no explanation whatsoever.

The so-called sexual revolution certainly had many downsides and created a lot of causalities. However, there were some good things that emerged from this societal movement. Some of the good things found their way into Humanae Vitae. For instance, in teaching that sexual intercourse has a "unitive" dimension, Pope Paul VI was quite revolutionary. Progress that is true progress usually requires some short, tentative, incremental steps before gaining momentum.

If you don't believe there wasn't sexual weirdness among ecclesiastics before the 1960s, I urge you to pick up a copy of Hubert Wolf's The Nuns of Sant' Ambrogio: The True Story of a Convent in Scandal. It is an engrossing book. Wolf tells the tale of a rather lengthy and strange series of events that happened in Rome on the eve of the First Vatican Council. In this book, Wolf also provides deep insight into how inhumane church teaching had become with regard to sexuality. For example, confessors manuals and moral theology works held that French-kissing between spouses was a mortal sin (see "Humanae Vitae at 50").

Even if one takes the sexual revolution as the starting point, the sexual abuse of children and young people, male and female, was at least as prevalent among traditionally-inclined priests as it was among so-called progressives, if not more so. I will just note in passing that Benedict's characterization of what is called "revisionist" moral theology amounts to a gross caricature. Often revisionist moral theologians, like Bernard Häring, were more aware of the complex and ambiguous nature of human sexuality and understood that one could apply an atemporal set of norms to govern this unruly aspect of humanity. I write this as someone who, along with my wife, has sought to adhere to church teaching on marital sexuality throughout our marriage. We still do. So, I am not dismissive of the church's teaching in least.

One could drive a truck through the gap between Benedict's admission that it is impossible to build a systematic sexual ethic on the basis of Scripture alone. In his letter, Benedict points to the efforts of one moral theologian to do just that. His summarily dismissive attitude toward contemporary moral theology as it seeks to address human sexuality in light of the paucity provided by the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, as well as accounting for the deeper understanding we have the human person overall and human sexuality in particular.

As an amusing side note, I was unaware of something Benedict asserts in his letter, namely there was a time when one could watch "sex movies" on commercial airliners. And that this was a bad idea because violence would break out. Yeah, anyway...

I could go on, but I will limit myself to 3 further observations:

1- Benedict's "history" is narrow, incomplete and overly simplistic to the point of not only being misleading, but laughable

2- Isn't it interesting that nowhere is clericalism (a term that I grasp is rapidly being overused and misused) part of his diagnosis? This stands in stark contrast to Pope Francis's Letter to the People of God, written last August from last summer. In that letter Francis grasp the really troublesome dynamic in play, which he identifies as "clericalism." Rather than being the source of the problem, for Francis the communion ecclesiology of Vatican II, characterized by the phrase given us by the Council, "hierarchical communion" (communion modifies and flattens hierarchy), is the solution, not the problem

3- Back to the issue of Christian sexual ethics, natural law and Stoicism are poor substitutes for the Gospel. Perhaps some things do not lend themselves to the kind detailed systematic approach the church has sought to impose on human sexuality

If popes resigning becomes a common feature of church life, then we require clearer guidelines about the comportment and engagement of former popes. Taking my cue from many people who are more knowledgeable about these things than I am, I think there should be no such title as "Pope Emeritus." There can only be one pope at a time, lest there be confusion. One of the major reasons for the existence of the papal office is to guarantee authoritative teaching.

Therefore, should a pope resign, he should be designated as "Bishop of Rome Emeritus." He should be forbidden the use of any and all papal insignia, including wearing white. Rather than being known by his papal name, he ought to revert to using his given name.

While it may be lost on Benedict/Ratzinger, it is not on those close to him that his unfortunate letter plays into the hands of those who seek undermine Francis and the important work of reform he is undertaking. As a result, it compounds division in the church. To say I am deeply disappointed in this development is to state my feelings in a muted manner.



This morning, I ran across Austin Inverleigh's piece on Pope Emeritus Benedict's letter- "Pope Benedict's letter on sex abuse is not an attack on Francis (or Vatican II)". It is a good piece but ultimately unconvincing article. I don't see the intent of Ratzinger's letter as an attack on anyone or on the Council. However, I think the letter plays into the hands of Francis's enemies. They will weaponize it. I do not back down on my view that the letter is embarrassingly shallow. Again, I wish Benedict and the church had been better served by those around him.

Year C Fifth Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 14:21-27; Ps 145:8-13; Rev 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a.34-35 In our second reading, taken from Revelation, we heard these word...