Sunday, April 28, 2019
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
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.
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
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!
OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
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
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.↩
10 Revelation 21:27..↩
11 “Preaching on Easter Sunday isn’t about convincing people.”.↩
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."4Circling 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.↩
4 Maggie Johnson, "Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: A Study Guide." Scribd Website, accessed January 26, 2018, https://www.scribd.com/doc/137704505/Waiting-for-Godot-Study-Guide.↩
5 Esther de Waal. A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1995,189.↩
7 Ibid., 189-190.↩
8 Ibid., 190.↩
Friday, April 19, 2019
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.
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
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
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
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?
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
Friday, April 12, 2019
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
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.
Sunday, April 7, 2019
Our first reading from Isaiah bids us not to dwell on things that are past, to obsess over what happened long ago. Rather, we are encouraged to look and see that God is at work “doing something new!”1 It’s easy on a Spring morning to believe that God is at work as we hear birds singing, see and smell the trees and flowers coming back to life, and see the grass becoming green.
More than half-way through Lent, it is important to be reminded that “Lent” is an old English word that means “springtime.” During Lent, the church invites us to open ourselves in an intentional way to the new thing God is doing in each of our lives and in our life together.
God’s work is bringing joy from sorrow and wholeness from brokenness. Above all, God brings life from death. A few weeks ago, our Gospel reading from Luke was about Jesus’s Transfiguration. This preview of the resurrection was witnessed by Peter, James, and John. On Luke’s telling, it is clear that these disciples were confused by what they saw and heard. What they heard was Jesus discussing with Moses and Elijah the “exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.”2 The text makes clear that Peter’s suggestion of building three tents was the result of not knowing what else to say.3
Making sense of a mystery is difficult. If the Lord’s Transfiguration is a mystery, then how much more mysterious is his resurrection? It’s easy to say that Jesus died and three days later he rose from the dead. In fact, believing this is the most fundamental profession Christians make. While it’s important to believe that because of Jesus’s resurrection we, too, will rise from the dead, what does Christ’s resurrection mean in the here and now? How do we experience this new thing God is doing?
A number of years ago, a friend of mine, who is not Catholic, was going through a divorce. In the midst of this, her soon-to-be ex-husband took his own life. Understandably, this was devastating for her. Knowing my beliefs, she asked if I really believe in life after death and in the resurrection and, if I did, how I could be sure? In other words, she wanted to know if my belief in the resurrection is wishful thinking or if it is rooted in something more solid. I responded by telling her I in believe the resurrection of the dead because it is something I have experienced for myself.
How does one experience resurrection? First, in baptism you died, were buried, and rose with Christ to new life.4 What baptism demonstrates is that eternal life starts the moment you are reborn of water and spirit. I was baptized as a young adult and so I remember my baptism. It remains one of the two or three profound moments of my life. But whether you remember your baptism or not, if you were baptized, you were reborn to eternal life. How else is resurrection experienced? This is where our Gospel reading today comes to our assistance.
Like the story of the Prodigal Son, which we heard last week, the story of the woman taken in adultery is a Bible story that, even now, almost everyone knows. It shows us, as did the Parable of the Prodigal Son, that God deals with sin and evil by extending mercy and not by punishing. So, like last week’s Gospel, this week’s contains a revelation about the nature of God.
While the story of the woman caught in adultery raises some questions, like where is her partner in crime, the fact remains that she was caught doing something for which the Law of Moses required her to be stoned to death. It is essential to the story to recognize that she is guilty. After no doubt being publicly shamed and humiliated, she is brought to Jesus. The leaders of the mob remind him what the Mosaic law demanded- that she be put to death for her sin. Testing him they ask Jesus, “So what do you say?”5
Recognizing that the mob was trying to trap him so they could bring a charge against him, he did not answer their question immediately. Rather, he bent down and wrote in the dust with his finger. As he wrote, the mob continued pestering him for an answer.
Finally, Jesus stood up and said the words that most people still know by heart: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”6 After saying these words, the Lord bent back down and resumed writing in the dust. As he did so, one by one the mob dropped their stones and walked away.
The point of the story is clear: Jesus’s intervention brought this woman back to life from certain death. After saving her, the Lord invited her to live a new life, one no longer tainted by sin, shame, and guilt; a life not lived in the valley of the shadow of death. By refusing to condemn her, Jesus did a new thing for her, a surprising thing. Speculating, perhaps what Jesus wrote in the dust was “Choose life.”
On Ash Wednesday you were urged to remember that you are dust to dust you will return. Like the woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus seeks to raise you from the dust to life eternal.
Getting back to how you experience Christ’s resurrection in the here and now beyond your baptism, you have this experience each time you receive God’s forgiveness. Being an extension of the sacrament of baptism, upon making a good confession and completing your penance, it is through the sacrament of penance that God, in his mercy, restores you to the state of grace. Making your Act of Contrition, you promise to go your way and sin no more. In other words, you say “Yes!” to Christ’s invitation to eternal life.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus provides us with a concrete example of what St. Paul writes about in our second reading: not having any righteousness of your own based on the law. It was precisely on this point that Jesus challenged the would-be stone-throwers, all of whom apparently realized that they, too, were guilty of serious transgressions against God’s law.
In Hebrew, “Satan” means “accuser” or “adversary.” Scripture tells us that the devil accuses us “before our God day and night.”7 What the devil accuses you of before God are not false charges. He accuses you of your sins, imploring God to give you your just desserts. Your righteousness, as Paul points out, comes “through faith in Christ,” who is himself the righteousness of God and the mercy of God.8 And so, even as Catholics, we can say that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
The sacraments are the primary and surest means for receiving the grace that saves you. It is faith that causes you to hunger and thirst for God's grace. Faith prompts you to get up and come to Mass on Sunday morning. Faith prompts you to go confession. It is faith, which is a gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, that urges you to say, “Jesus, I trust in You.”
Friday, April 5, 2019
First, I have an amazing wife who I love very much. For reasons I can never quite fathom, she loves me
Second, I have six wonderful children, all of whom I love very much
Third, I went to confession today with my usual confessor
Fourth, looking at the apricot trees in blossom on my morning walk, it's clear that here along the Wasatch Front Spring has sprung Finally, yesterday I presented the findings of my Doctor of Ministry dissertation to my committee and completed my comprehensive oral examination
I will participate in next month's Mount Angel Seminary commencement as a graduating member of the seminary's first Doctor of Ministry class. Oh yeah, I had nachos for lunch!
Not bad for a Lenten Friday. I know that going four months between confessions is too long.
I took the entire week off prepare for yesterday's presentation and exam. While I have not gotten everything done that I hoped, I did finish what I needed to finish. There is always more ahead, like preparing to preach at a parish I am visiting this weekend. Of course, in addition to school, I had a number of other things to do. Some of these were planned and others kind of popped up.
For today's traditio I am reaching back about twenty-five years. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones song "The Impression that I Get" is our Friday traditio. Why? For whatever reason, today I remembered that that my oldest son and I, when he was toddler, would put this song on the stereo and sing and dance to it. Since he was born 11 months after my wife and I married, the venue for this activity was the living room of our first apartment. Calling this to mind today made it seem like it wasn't that long ago. Where does the time go? For some reason, the passing of time has been on my mind a lot during this Lenten season. I do think that in our fast-paced and relentless world that values memory less and less, it is important to remember that memories matter.
Let's not forget that traditio refers to what is handed on. Tradere, a verb, is the act of handing on. So, the Friday traditio is always tinged with memory.
Monday, April 1, 2019
Because it is Lent, I will resist the temptation to digress backward starting with Jansenism, moving to Calvinism, then to Scholasticism, before arriving at Stoicism.
As Marx demonstrates, this Stoic-inspired mindset, which he correctly characterizes as bourgeois, has deep social roots. The trunk and barren branches that sprout from these roots are the economic and political implications revealed by Marxian analysis. This only serves to show us our need to do what Bob Marley urged us to do: free our minds. Jesus came to enable us to do just that! As an aside, I don't mind admitting that I find Alasdair MacIntyre's leap from Christianity and Marxism to After Virtue quite incomprehensible.
As proponents of Stoicism would no doubt insist, what I have described is not only a reduction of Christianity, Buddhism, et al., but of Stoicism as well. Even so, I cannot personally square Stoicism with Christianity. My experience of it amounts to what I can only describe as spiritual constipation. What a lot of people still don't recognize is that many forms of Christianity are really just forms of warmed-over Stoicism.
If we take "faith" to mean what the late Anglican systematic theologian John Macquarrie insisted it means- a mode of being- then its concrete aspect is a way of life, which, in turn, gives birth to particular lifestyles. Taking "way of life" to refer to Christian praxis, which comes in threes: faith, hope, and love; leitourgia, martyria, diakonia; prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, there should be as many Christian lifestyles as there are Christians. Christianity is a mode of being not merely in but for the world.
Like a lot of people, I experienced a very moralistic religious upbringing. It was an upbringing that traded in guilt and shame. Being made to feel guilt and shame for being human malformed how I perceive myself. Without going into detail, one example of this is that for decades after becoming sexually aware, I lived with a very fractured sexuality. This fracture was the result believing, deep down, that sex is inherently dirty and having sexual desires is depraved. This meant I saw myself as a depraved person for having sexual desires and urges. My experience has taught me that denying every pleasurable impulse is at least as destructive as giving into every pleasurable impulse, if not more so.
This was all brought to mind this morning by reading a section of John O'Donohue's Anam Cara. In this section, as he does throughout the book, he writes of the importance of being gentle with yourself, the importance not only of being a friend to yourself but, in this instance, of being a kind parent to your own waywardness:
In a sense, you are called to be a loving parent to your delinquent qualities. Your kindness will slowly poultice their negativity, alleviate their fear, and help them to see that your soul is a home where there is no judgment or febrile hunger fir a fixed and limited identity. The negative threatens us so powerfully precisely because it is an invitation to a art of compassion and self-enlargement that our small thinking utterly resistsAs any reader of my blog can quickly learn, I am not opposed to practicing disciplines, be they spiritual, physical, or intellectual. I just don't want to judge myself, let alone others, on that basis. After all, disciplines are but means to ends. Too often we mistake them as ends in themselves. Mistaking disciplines as ends instead of means is one example of our tendency to think small.
Several years ago, a beautiful friend of mine, Casey, suddenly took his own life. He was a popular, kind, and successful person. I met Casey in one of my annual confirmation prep classes for adults. We remained friends until his untimely death at his own hand. At the banquet celebrating his life, every place-setting featured a note printed on card-stock:
O'Donohue, a native of Western Ireland, uses the image of a hearth with a fire in it as the image of one's soul. I like this because it is consistent with the ancient Christian "divine spark" anthropology. We encounter the divine within in the most immediate way we are capable of encountering it. In O'Donohue's thought, the Celtic equivalent for a burning bush becomes burning dried peat in the fireplace. This is very earthy. Earthiness is important because earth is the "stuff" of which we are wonderfully made. Besides, as the inspired author of the Letter to the Hebrews avers: "our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:29).
For those like me, who are wondering "febrile," "poultice"? In this context, "febrile" means "having or showing a great deal of nervous excitement or energy." "Poultice" refers to "a soft, moist mass of material, typically of plant material or flour, applied to the body to relieve soreness and inflammation and kept in place with a cloth."
Hey, it's April! One quarter of 2019 has come and gone. As the Smothers' Brothers sang years ago: Whatever happened to time?/It doesn't come around anymore/The last time I saw time/It was walking out the door. Play a friendly trick on a few people today.
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