Saturday, October 31, 2020

Reformation Day: a remembrance

In the fall of 2017, I was asked by my bishop to participate in an ecumenical series marking the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Of course, it makes more sense to speak of reformations, which this series, which included Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Roman Catholics, sought to highlight.

Traditionally, 31 October, All Hallows Eve, is known as Reformation Day. The title of my presentation, which was the last in the series, was entitled What the Catholic Church learned from the Reformation. Today, I am posting the part of my presentation that came after my introduction, which served as my jumping off point for the 5 major lessons the Catholic Church learned as a result of the Reformation.

Poster for our 2017 Observance of the 500th Annversary of the Reformation


Instead of a written reflection on the readings for tomorrow's solemnity, this post will serve as my reflection for All Saints.

_______________________________________________________________

Historical Overview:

The title of my presentation, “What the Catholic Church Learned from the Reformation,” assumes that the Catholic Church has learned things from the Reformation. Some of the lessons were learned rather quickly and others were learned gradually over time. Was the sixteenth century split the only way for the Church to learn, or, as was the case with many things, be reminded, of certain things? I am inclined to say no, but not without some reservations.

Given the state Church found herself in the first quarter of the sixteenth century, a declining state for roughly the previous 200 years, one could make an argument that the unfortunate split was necessary. Being cautious, I would suggest that in the abstract it was not necessary for a schism to happen for the Church to be reformed. The concrete historical circumstances suggest otherwise. After all, it is what happened.

Given those, like Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More, the latter of whom would die as a Catholic martyr during the English Reformation, to name perhaps the two most prominent voices calling for reform, it seems that in the second decade of the sixteenth century the Church arrived at a moment of reckoning. Pope Julius II, who preceded Leo X, the pope who dealt with (and who greatly exacerbated) the crisis precipitated by Martin Luther, was selected as pope, at least in part, due to an oath he swore to call a reforming Church council.

Julius II’s papacy began in 1503 and ended with his death in 1513. Upholding his oath, in 1511 he called the Fifth Lateran Council, which, according to how the Catholic Church numbers ecumenical councils, was the eighteenth council and last one prior to the Reformation.

Acting in accord with the Council of Constance’s decree Frequens, which sought to establish conciliarism (the idea that a properly convened and carried out council trumps the authority of the pope), a position that the Church has since definitively rejected, the so-called conciliabum of Pisa was called in 1511. Five cardinals participated in this gathering. Each cardinal participated either at the behest of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I and/or the French king, Louis XII.

The involvement of the Holy Roman emperor in the conciliabum is important because it highlights something that would very much come into the play with the split that resulted from Luther’s activity: the tension between the Holy See and the Holy Roman Empire, which traces back to what we discussed in our opening session, namely the political and economic issues that contributed to the Reformation split. All of the cardinals who participated in the conciliabum of Pisa were excommunicated by Julius II.

With a papal bull, promulgated 18 July 1511, Pope Julius II, convoked Lateran V. The council opened in the Spring of 1512. Julius II died in 1513. Giovanni di Lorenzo de’Medici, a member of the powerful de’Medici family of Florence, who took the name Leo X, succeeded Julius, the so-called “Warrior Pope.”. It was during the papacy of Leo X that Lateran V concluded in 1517. Seven months after the council ended, Luther posted his 95 Theses. Suffice it to say, the reforms called for by Lateran V, which Pope Leo did not set about vigorously enacting, were quite modest, falling short of the reform needed.

Much more could and perhaps should be said about the two hundred years leading up to 1517. Bishop Denis Madden, an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, recently summed this up quite well:
It was not out of the blue that [Luther's protest] happened. The society, the church, the way things were being done at that time, called for reform, and there were very few courts of appeal where that reform could begin1
The Council of Trent, which was held between 1545-1563, was the Catholic Church’s immediate response to the Reformation. While there are certainly some reactionary elements in the council’s documents and decrees, this was much more the reforming council the Catholic Church needed.

In my view, it was not until the Second Vatican Council that Catholic Church thoughtfully and thoroughly responded to the Reformation. This is the reason I insisted on putting Pope Paul VI on the promotional poster for this series along with Luther, Calvin, Henry VIII, and John Wesley.

The era between the two councils, which includes another ecumenical council, is known as the Counter-Reformation. The First Vatican Ecumenical Council (Vatican I), which took place in 1870 and was never to brought to a formal conclusion – though this was never publicly used by Pope John XXIII as a rationale for convening the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) – gave us two dogmas concerning the papacy that have greatly complicated ecumenism with both Protestants and the Orthodox: the immediate and universal jurisdiction of the pope over the whole Church and the better-known dogma of papal infallibility.

As Catholic theologian John Borelli noted: "In many ways, Vatican II was Luther's council."2 The Council, despite a very vocal minority of Catholic who never tire of intra-Christian polemics and are sadly not limited to the Lefevbrist Society of St. Pius X, marked the beginning of the end of the Counter-Reformation. Unitatis redintegratio, the Council's Decree on Ecumenism, begins with these words: "The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council."3


1 Tom Gjelten, "The Reformation 500 Years Later," National Public Radio, October 27, 2017, accessed 31 October 2020.
2 Ibid.
3 Second Vatican Council, Unitatis redintegratio [Decree on Ecumenism], sec. 1. Vatican website, November 21, 1964, accessed 31 October 2020.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Pandemic evangelization or lack thereof: Advent is coming

There is so much happening right now. It's hard to take all it in. Sars-Cov-2 continues its unabated path through the populations of the majority of U.S. states, increasing hospital occupancy to alarming levels and leaving more people dead. The presidential election is winding down with election day next Tuesday and all that comes goes along with that. In short, it's easy to despair and be overwhelmed.

It will be interesting to see where the Church stands once we've made it through these trying times. As a member of the clergy, though not one who makes my living from my service, it is tempting to worry. But why worry? Worry solves nothing. Parishes and congregations that have simply gone into maintenance mode, a kind of ecclesiastical half-life, will be surprised when not close to everyone comes back. Whereas those that have actively reached out, adapted in creative ways, viewed what's happened as an opportunity will be just fine and perhaps even better off. Things will be different when the pandemic ends.

As Catholics, we talk about this thing called "the new evangelization" a lot. Yet, at least where I live, I see a lot of missed opportunities for evangelization. This moment is ripe for evangelization. How does my faith help me in times like these? How can a more holistic practice of my faith assist me when things are difficult, strange, stressful? How many parishes have attempted to teach people how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, formed Zoom Rosary groups, conducted on-line Bible studies, discussed the USCCB's Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship during this election year? How many parishes have endeavored to teach parents how to conduct something like a children's Liturgy of the Word in their homes and/or recommended or helped with acquiring resources for these purposes? How much sharing of the practice of lectio divina, centering prayer, recommendation of useful apps, like 24/7 Prayer's Lectio 365 has occurred? How many of our clergy have a deep, consistent personal prayer life?



Livestreaming a Sunday Mass is great and probably something that should continue beyond the pandemic but it can't be all that is done. Even in this regard, how many parishes have worked on improving the production of their live-streamed Masses? How many have invested in better equipment, reviewed what they're doing, sought feedback, and made improvements? How many have developed social media strategies for outreach to encourage and help people?

Anyway, these are thoughts that have been running through my mind the past few weeks. Yes, it's easy to make recommendations. If I weren't working two jobs and still managing a certain amount of parish and pastoral ministry, I'd be better able to help with the execution of some of what needs to be done. I am past the age at which I think trying to do everything is a good idea. I am not worried. But I think that in the years following the pandemic dioceses will have to look at major realignments. For their part, parishes need to attend to adult faith formation and a much bigger portion of this formation needs to be focused on equipping people to practice their faith more holistically and practically.

What's bound to happen is that a lot of people who formerly attended Mass regularly and whose only practice of the faith was attending Mass every week or nearly every week (this is a lot of Catholics) will get used to not attending and, frankly, see very little difference in their lives as a result of not attending. This will be especially true of many people who've heard nothing from their parish during this period of time. I don't think it will be an angry response, it will simply be their new normal. Some will revert being Christmas and Easter church-goers and some will not even while perhaps continuing to identify as Catholics. Others will have perhaps discovered more support and uplift in other Christian communities, ones that have seized this time.

I know, a rather pessimistic picture but not entirely so. The pandemic with all its restrictions continues and will continue throughout the winter and into the Spring. There is Advent, Christmas, Lent, and likely Easter. What is the strategy beginning with, say, Advent, which starts in less than a month? Isn't this a major theme at the beginning of Advent: "Awake, arise, it's later than you think"? Parishes need to heed this call.

Strangely, I haven't been listening to a lot of music lately. So, choosing a traditio for the last Friday of October was a bit more challenging than usual. Because I love the Irish comedy Moone Boy, especially the Halloween episode, "Ghost Raft," which features this song, I chose to go with Enya's "Orinoco Flow" as done by Choir! Choir! Choir! There is a bit of bad language up-front. Won't it be wonderful when we can do things like this in-person again?

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Addendum to the Sunday readings: just love of self

If I had actually preached today, it would've been important to spend a little time talking about love. I think it would've been necessary to mention what is traditionally called "the just love of self." Taken to its extreme, self-love is narcissism. On the opposite end of the self-love spectrum is self-abnegation, which means renouncing or rejecting yourself. In this schema, the just love of self falls right in the middle and holds these in tension.

It's important to note that in today's Gospel the word the inspired author of Matthew places on Jesus's lips when giving the two great commandments to love is the appropriate form of the verb agape. At least in Christian parlance, agape refers to self-giving or self-sacrificing love. The word for "love" in both commandments transliterates as agaphseis. This is important because it makes clear that loving my neighbor as I love myself does not start with a love of self but with the love of God, which is given us in Christ.

I often find it difficult, even impossible at times, to love myself. I tend to be very hard on myself, even harsh with myself sometimes. This often leads me to be less than loving towards others, especially those closest to me. A genuine love of neighbor begins with the love of God, moves through a just love of self, which is rooted in my experience of being loved, and then to genuine love of neighbor.



Speaking from my own experience, I can only love myself in a healthy manner because I know I am loved unconditionally. Scripture teaches: "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). This, dear reader, is agape.

Jesus makes clear that these two commandments, which really amount to one commandment, contain the whole of the law and the prophets. This really comes into focus when you realize that both commands come directly from the Law: Deuteronmy 6:4-5 and Levticus 19:18. Earlier in Matthew, Jesus teaches the Golden Rule, which bids us "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12). Again, he insists "This is the law and the prophets" (Matthew 7:12).

You see, in order to love, I must know that I am loved. I am very fond of the saying- "God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it." This knowledge is what gives me the freedom, the confidence, and the courage to love without counting the cost. Our refusal to love others as God loves us is often the result of fear. This fear arises from not experiencing the love of God for yourself.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Love God by loving your neighbor concretely

Readings: Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18: 2-4.47.51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40

"To the degree possible," we read in the part of the Introduction to the Lectionary that discusses the readings for Sundays in Ordinary Time, the Old Testament "readings were chosen in such a way that they would be short and easy to grasp" (Introduction to the Lectionary, sec. 105, 2). Care was also taken to ensure that "texts of major significance" are read on Sundays (Ibid.). These readings, it is further disclosed, "are distributed not according to a logical order but based on what the Gospel reading requires" (Ibid.- italics are mine).

So, unlike Paul's major letters or the Gospels themselves, which are read in a semi-continuous way on Sundays in Ordinary Time, the Old Testament reading is harmonized with the Gospel reading. And so, looking at the past month, including this Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, our readings from the Old Testament in reverse chronological order have been from Exodus, Isaiah (this book is drawn upon heavily in the Sunday lectionary), Isaiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel. Even the consecutive weeks of reading from Isaiah we do not do so in a semi-continuous way: Isaiah 5:7, Isaiah 25:6-10a, and Isaiah 45:4-6.

My point with the above is to point out the relationship and even the correlation between the Old Testament reading and the Gospel during Sundays in Ordinary Time. In addition to the readings from Sacred Scripture, Sunday Masses during Ordinary Time, regardless of whether the Church is observing Year A, B, or C of the lectionary, have a major theme or focus.

If you take the time to examine the readings for all three years of the Sunday lectionary for particular Sundays, you will find they cohere across years. One the reasons we call Matthew, Mark, and Luke, when considered together, the "Synoptic Gospels" is because they present something of a common view of the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This major theme or focus is placed into discernible relief by the Collect, the Prayer over the Gifts, and the Prayer after Communion. Of course, the Prayers of the Faithful, in which we always pray for the Church, the world, those in need, those who are sick, and those who have died, should also pick-up on these themes.

Clearly, the major theme of the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time is loving God with your entire being and loving your neighbor as you love yourself. Stated more coherently: loving God with your entire being by loving your neighbor as you love yourself. So, in the Collect we ask God to "increase our faith, hope and charity, and make us love what you command" (Roman Missal, Ordinary Time on Sundays and Weekdays, Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time).

What God commands is summarized in the two commandments of love, which can be viewed as one command. In the Prayer over the Offerings, we ask God to look favorably on the offerings we make to the divine majesty (the bread and wine along with the collection symbolize the offering of ourselves to God through Christ by the Spirit's power) so that "whatever is done by us in your [God's] service may be directed to above all to your [God's] glory" (Ibid.). In the Prayer after Communion, we pray that the sacraments "perfect what lies in them" (and now in us) that what we now celebrate symbolically may one day realized more completely (Ibid.).



And so, at long last, we come to the readings for this Sunday, particularly the Gospel and its corresponding reading from the Book of Exodus. Since the primary but by no means the only way I love God with my whole self is by loving others as I love myself, it is important to be clear about what this means, practically speaking.

When it comes to loving my neighbor, the obvious question is: "Who is my neighbor." In answer to just that query, the inspired author of Luke's Gospel included the Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37). This parable remains instructive by telling us that my neighbor is the person I encounter who needs my help, even when, perhaps especially when, that person doesn't belong to my tribe, my nation, my religion, my parish, etc. In other words, my neighbor may well be a stranger, a foreigner.

As to foreigners, our reading from Exodus supplies "what the Gospel reading requires" (Introduction to the Lectionary, sec. 105, 2). What does the Gospel require? A specific focus. The specific focus supplied by our reading from Exodus, is that what it means to love God with my whole being by loving my neighbor as I love myself is to look after (i.e., treat humanely) "aliens" or foreigners, not wrong widows and orphans, who were vulnerable in a society without what we might call a "social safety net," and not to exploit (i.e., take advantage of) the poor. Therefore, any practices or policies that ignore what the word of God enjoins on us are to be eschewed and rejected. You can see by the warnings that these things are very important to God.

To reinforce how important these precepts are to God and since we're reading from Matthew's Gospel during this liturgical year, let's not forget Matthew 25. In this chapter, Jesus gives us the criteria of the final judgment, which are basically the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned (see Matthew 25:34-46)

Elsewhere in the New Testament, our uniquely Christian scriptures, we read:
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:20-21)
Another important observation is that worship that does lead to service is not Christian worship.

It is the job of the preacher to effectively communicate what the scriptures enjoin us to do. Therefore, when this is done faithfully, no one should dismiss such exhortations as "liberal rhetoric" or as "being political." The message conveyed by the readings should be proclaimed in season and out. As Christians, it is crucial that we look at politics through the lens of the Gospel and not the other way around.

Yes, not only immigration but how we treat immigrants, be they refugees or those who are simply seeking better lives for themselves and their families, is a matter of contemporary political concern not only in the U.S. but throughout the developed world. This touches on issues of economic justice as well as war and peace. As people who claim to be Jesus's disciples, we need to let ourselves be challenged and even provoked by the Scriptures. Leaders come and go. Nations come and go. The word of God stands forever.

There is a fairly old saying repeated among many preachers: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. This strikes me as a pretty good summary of our Lord's approach and method.

Friday, October 23, 2020

"Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevæ"

Recent events have prompted a few more posts recently. Honestly, it's been nice to re-engage here on current events. Of course, the election draws near. Like many of my fellow citizens, I voted early. So, in this regard, my civic duty is done.

Being apolitical is very much akin to choosing not to decide. By choosing not to make a choice, you've made a choice. Being apolitical is a political stance. You live in a polity. This implicates you whether you want it to or not.



It seems that what a lot of self-claimed apolitical people value is non-confrontation, not arguing, disagreeing, etc. This is not the same as valuing peace. Peace is not mere passivity, avoidance of conflict, etc. I recently began reading Rowan Williams's latest book: The Way of St. Benedict. It is a collection of essays, talks, articles Willams has written on the Rule of Saint Benedict over some years. In chapter two, entitled "The Staying Power of Benedict," he makes this observation:
Peacefulness... does not... mean a bland denial or evasion of conflict. What it does mean is a resolution to address conflict without despair, in the confidence that not everything must be dictated by rivalry or violence. So the question is here how we inculcate a political culture of willingness to go on arguing civilly, staging and negotiating real difference without premature panic or resort to the familiar urge to cancel the other. Civil disagreement is part of the health of a working society, a natural next step when we have been talking about honesty in debate. And if we're afraid of, nervous about, honesty because we're afraid of some kind of exposure of weakness, we need to be reminded of the strength that comes from solidarity and mutual trust as opposed to constant struggle and isolation. Perhaps we can yet learn how to conduct arguments well, how to live as what I've sometimes called in the past an argumentative democracy- that is, not simply a formal democracy with voting and representative protocols, but one where civil society is articulate and brave enough to have arguments about fundamental issues in public without fear of the descending into recrimination, abuse, and ultimately violence
I realize these kinds of opinions come across as fairly idealistic. But shouldn't ideals guide our politics? Something of a corollary to this is Vàclav Havel's non-political politics.

Given the very high premium placed on individuality in the United States, it's easy to say and to see that we usually lack solidarity. When people look back longingly on the immediate aftermath of 9/11 what they long for is the solidarity that horrible event fostered. Should it really take a major catastrophe for us to realize solidarity to a meaningful degree? Simply stated, solidarity is unity or agreement of feeling or action, among individuals with a common interest. Our common interest should be the common good, what the preamble to the U.S. constitution calls "the general welfare." What is the common good except fostering those conditions that allow everyone to achieve her/his full potential?

We can't even seem to agree any more on the ends to be achieved. Take healthcare as an example. Is it not a desirable end to make quality, affordable healthcare, including preventative care, available to everyone? This is an end. How we might go about achieving that end (i.e., the means) is what should prompt a debate, provoke different proposals, and lead to compromises, thus realizing the desired end.

Lack of solidarity is a recipe for division. Divisions, when they become pronounced, can be politically manipulated. When this happens, violence often ensues. In addition to the pandemic, 2020 has been a violent year. Here's a question: Are armed militias operating in the open a sign of our nation's health?

As someone who prays the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary daily, I always feel that we need the intercession of our Blessed Mother. Especially in these times, I know we need her maternal care. And so, our traditio for this autumnal Friday is a virtual international choir beautifully chanting the Salve Regina:

Sunday, October 18, 2020

You gotta serve somebody

Readings: Isaiah 45:1.4-6; Ps 96:1.3-5.7-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5a; Matthew 22:15-21

What does it mean to render? The first definition, interestingly enough in light of today's Gospel, is "to meltdown." Melting down a minted coin is to render it mere metal. Secondly, to render means to transmit to another. The Greek verb translated as "render" or, as in the New American Bible, the version on which the U.S. Catholic lectionary is based, "repay," transliterates as apodote. Apdote, literally means, "to give" or "to pay."

As our first reading and responsorial Psalm make clear, everything is God's. When you think about the theory of money, especially in our advanced age, it's a pretty flimsy thing. Inherently, that is, in and of itself, money is nothing. Caesar mints a coin, you somehow come to possess some Caesar-minted coins, Caesar asks for some coins back. To you and me the question Jesus is asked and answered prompts "What's the big deal?" To the Jews of Jesus's day, the question was a bit more vexing both religiously and politically.

I suppose one can go two ways when thinking about putting "In God we trust" on our money. In one sense, it can be looked at as an acknowledgment that money has no lasting value. In another sense, it can be seen as blasphemous. It's safe to say that money is a very tempting idol. This is revealed by clichés like, "Everybody has her/his price." Judas's, of course, was thirty pieces of silver.

The fact the Jesus was betrayed for money is significant in this regard. There is an ancient tradition that holds Judas was pilfering from the common purse. This is rooted in his protestation at how much the precious ointment a woman poured on Jesus's feet could be sold for (see Matthew 26:6-13). Jesus basically told Judas to relax because this unnamed woman was rendering to God what is God's.



Rather than seen as a strong statement about the necessity of worldly governments, this passage should be viewed through a double lens. The lens of Jesus's exhortation to worldly poverty and the lens of the apocalyptic ever-present in the Synoptic Gospels, which holds that the world is ending. This way of looking at things is relevant to us, too. If nothing else, your life is fleeting.

Consider Psalm 49:6-9:
Why should I fear in evil days,
with the iniquity of my assailants surrounding me,
Of those who trust in their wealth
and boast of their abundant riches?
No man can ransom even a brother,
or pay to God his own ransom.
The redemption of his soul is costly;
and he will pass away forever.
Beyond that happiness, fulfillment, contentment, satisfaction does not lie in wealth. Rather, it comes from relationships. Jesus invites you into a relationship. This is realized by the power of the Holy Spirit. You relate to the Father through the Son by the Spirit's power. In this way, you render yourself to God. The Gospel does "not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction" (1 Thess 1:5a).

The gifts of bread and wine, along with the collection, symbolize the offering of ourselves to God through Christ by the power of their Spirit. This verse from the Book of Joshua comes to mind:
If it is displeasing to you to serve the LORD, choose today whom you will serve, the gods your ancestors served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD (Joshua 24:15)
On a side note: it's nice to reflect and write and not have to edit, re-edit, then edit some more. It's also nice that people can read what I write or ignore it as they choose. Much better than the mundane and largely unpleasant chore of "preaching," which may be the world's least effective form of communication.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Thoughts on a fall Friday with a musical guest

It's been an unexpectedly busy month here on my modest, independent Catholic blog. A lot is going on, I guess. Thinking more about my take on what it means to be pro-life- it's much bigger than one issue and, from a Catholic perspective, neither party is truly pro-life both for different and some of the same reasons- I have to say, on the whole, my take is quite apolitical.

Whether it's abortion, suicide prevention, ending firearms violence, etc., it's really more about what you do than it is about how you vote- though your vote can influence some issues more than others. Again, abortion is a prime example of this. It seems to me it's much better to focus my effort on actually helping women in so-called "crisis" pregnancies than it is to be sold yet another bill of political goods. It is also important to help the many women who have had abortions, who often carry around a huge burden of guilt.

Especially in the age of social media, it's much easier to take a political position and convince yourself you've done something than ever before. Orthopraxis trumps orthodoxy every time. This is one of the most fundamental tenets of Christianity.

In the end, people who complain about someone else being too political are usually complaining about that person having a different view of politics than they do. The same goes for partisanship: to the partisan someone who is non-partisan seems really partisan. This results from having an unsustainable certainty about the correctness of their position. I simply cannot take that seriously.



The very red county in the very red state in which I live sent out ballots this week. We've been voting by mail 2012. Since I had time the day I received my ballot, I went over it thoroughly, researched what I needed to research, filled it in, then dropped it off at one of the designated locations. So, that is done. I can turn my focus to other things, not that I really bogged myself down with the election.

In this age of access to the worldwide web, one can easily have an exaggerated sense of one's influence, it's tempting to think you can shift elections by yourself. You can't. You can vote. Your vote is a drop in the ocean. But then, no drops, no ocean.

In my more cynical moments, I am tempted to adopt this insight: "If voting mattered, they wouldn't let you do it." I guess I would say, voting matters but not as much as we're sometimes inclined to think. Prudential judgment rooted in sound proportional reasoning is the way to determine how to vote and or whom you vote.

Think critically, think independently, have criteria against which to judge candidates, propositions, etc. and then make your selections. In the most general term, the criteria is voting according what best serves the common good.

It's a beautiful October here along the Wasatch Front of the Rocky Mountains. We even had a nice, long rainstorm last weekend, which we badly needed. I love fall! It's far-and-a-away my favorite season of the year.

I've long enjoyed Jack White's music. Last Saturday, he was the musical guest on SNL. His two performances were electrifying. I particularly enjoyed his first mini-set. That is our Friday traditio for this mid-October week. I am cool with Rocktober!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Supreme Court: thoughts of a citizen: Addendum

I posted this last night on Facebook. As you might imagine, this is a bit long for that platform. I used to post here on political matters quite a bit. Frankly, that came to be exhausting. Like many of those posts from yesteryear, this one is not particularly religious or theological in its focus. What follows is nothing more than the view of a citizen with more than a passing interest in the law but who claims no legal expertise. Since I do not personally know those who sit on Supreme Court or Amy Coney Barrett, who is in the process of being confirmed as an associate justice of the court, this post contains ZERO personal barbs. I am hopeful that if the last four years have taught us anything, it's the need to regain some semblance of decency and honesty in our civic and national life.

If you want to discuss the constitution and original intent, you'd have a difficult time defending the role the Supreme Court has come to play in our republic on that basis. What is that role? To decide virtually every matter of fundamental importance undemocratically. Along those lines, several months ago I listened to an episode of Giles Fraser's Confessions in which he interviewed Jonathan Sumption. Sumption is a historian and retired justice from Great Britain's Supreme Court. During their conversation, Sumpton mentioned that the reason abortion remains such a divisive issue in the U.S. is because, like an increasing number of important issues, it was decided by the Court and not by the people. Hence, many people feel it was imposed on them. By all indications, the nationwide democratic consensus would not likely ban abortion outright. But it seems clear it would place more restrictions on it than we currently have.

If one wants to take a straight-up originalist standpoint, it's doubtful the constitution grants the Supreme Court the power to invalidate federal laws. In short, we really shouldn't care about who is on the Supreme Court as much as we do. We should care much more about what our elected representatives, senators, and the president does. Citizens of the U.S. need to learn to be far more pragmatic about politics.

Additionally, instead of batting around the term "socialist," the meaning of which is lost on most who use the term, we need to grapple with what serves the common good, which includes the ability to make the proper distinctions between private and public goods. Healthcare, for example, which we treat as a private good, is a public good, like roads and fire protection. If you're Catholic, the Church teaches access to healthcare is a human right. The case facing the Court that could potentially result in many people in the U.S. losing their healthcare is hugely important. I'll say it: access to healthcare is a pro-life issue. Without such access, people die.

Coming back to the Court, as frustrating as it is at times, I prefer Chief Justice Roberts's default to precedent (no matter what the precedent is), his reliance on the doctrine of stare decisis, to originalism. Roberts's approach is truly a non-activist judicial approach, which is both its strength and its weakness. "Originalism," which is a secular form of textual fundamentalism, on the other hand, at this stage of U.S. history, far from being conservative, is an activist judicial philosophy.



On the whole, reliance on stare decisis is not a bad position for the Chief Justice to hold. Barrett published a paper: "Stare Decisis and Due Process." In that paper she pointed to what she thought were erroneous decisions, among those was the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey (see "Profile of potential nominee: Amy Coney Barrett," which contains a link to both this paper and to the Casey decision). While she does not reject stare decisis, she is clearly not as bound by it as someone like Roberts. Of course, even those inclined to the doctrine of stare decisis don't do so in an absolutist manner. They simply set the threshold for overturning a ruling very high. In other words, there needs to be a glaring flaw in a decision for it be overturned.

Without a doubt, Roberts will come to be viewed ideologically as more "liberal" after the new associate justice is confirmed. It's easy to forget that Roberts was actually quite forthcoming in his nomination hearings about his views on Roe, predictably acknowledging it as settled law. Judicially-speaking, he's a true conservative.

The activists, then, will be Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, and probably Barrett. Especially on social issues, Gorsuch will become a moderating justice. We've seen hints of activism already with Alito & Thomas concerning Obergefell.

Again, the Democrats changing the rule on judicial nomination filibusters was a short-sighted fix to Republican intransigence during the Obama years with long-lasting, wide-ranging repercussions. It was a minor tactical win but a strategic blunder. Neither Kavanaugh, who was the first real test, nor Barrett would've been confirmed, or likely even nominated, under the former rule. Gorsuch, in my view, would've been viable.

I'll be honest, my biggest concern with Barrett was also my biggest concern with Kavanaugh: her views on executive power, which she seems to think has few limits and are matters to be adjudicated. To wit: the president does not have the power to cancel or postpone elections, the president does and, in fact, cannot have the power to pardon himself (Nixon, I believe, set a powerful precedent here- resigning and letting his successor decide on a pardon, which Ford gave him), etc. The ability of a president to pardon himself effectively puts the chief executive above the law. The virtually unconstrained power of the president to pardon, which legitimately arises from the constitution, is problematic enough. Trump is by no means the only president to use that power in dubious ways.

There are other concerns, too, that arise from some of her judicial rulings (see "Why Amy Coney Barrett Should Not Be On the Supreme Court"). None of those have to do with abortion, one on immigration and one on healthcare, which seems to indicate government officials can act somewhat arbitrarily and even unjustly. Again, none of this matters because her confirmation is a done deal.

__________________________________________

Addendum:

My fellow Catholics and others who think Amy Coney Barrett has been attacked for her Catholic faith during her confirmation hearings have not watched the hearings. It simply hasn't happened.

Would you want the Senate not to vigorously enact its constitutional role of advice and consent? Come on. Get serious. Live in reality. Hard questions are supposed to be asked. Ideally, hard questions are asked by both sides. It's not personal. All the people asking the questions have endured similar scrutiny.

Even without Coney Barrett, there are 5 Roman Catholics currently sitting on the Supreme Court. Arguably, we're overrepresented. This makes it prety hard to take claims of anti-Catholicism seriously. Since there is no religious litmus test, it doesn't matter.

Imagining a persecution is a counter-witness to the Gospel.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Does this shirt make me look sinful?

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10a; Psalm 23:1-6; Philippians 4:12-14.19-20; Matthew 22:1-14

At the beginning of my reflection on this Sunday's readings, I think it's important to note that tomorrow, 11 October 2020, marks the 55th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. While it is nothing more than circumstance, I take some joy from the fact that the Council opened one month to the day before I was born! Among the many gifts of the Council is the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. In addition to providing sound general guidance on how to read the Sacred Scriptures, Dei Verbum encouraged all Catholics to read, ponder, and pray with the Scriptures, to diligently study them. To read the scriptures is to drink from the fount of divine revelation.

As someone who preaches, even as a preacher who is taking an indeterminant hiatus, it's important to preach the scriptures. The beauty of blogging something akin to a homily is that only those who want to read it will read it. There's great freedom in doing this, a freedom I need presently.

Preaching should consist of more than sugar-coating the challenging messages with which the Sunday lectionary frequently presents us. It is tempting to attenuate what we hear proclaimed for a variety of reasons, not all of them bad. The approach taken depends on certain factors, not least of which is considering to whom you are preaching. When taking a straight-forward, expository approach to challenging readings, God's mercy and fidelity should always be kept in the frame.

As we approach the end of this liturgical year, the readings from Saint Matthew's Gospel are tremendously challenging. This Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time is no exception. As I reflect on the challenges presented in light of my own life, I am sometimes tempted to despair. But God is good and actively seeks to save me. If I know one thing for certain it's that I need God's help.

I urge people to attend closely whenever a Gospel parable or narrative begins with the words "the kingdom of God is like," or, as with today's Gospel reading, "the kingdom of God may likened to..." (Matthew 22:2).

Looking at stories and parables that describe God's kingdom, for the coming of which we continually pray, it becomes quickly apparent what a different reality the kingdom of God is. Very different from our own experience of society, family, work, and even church. Of course, in this portion of Matthew, the inspired author has Jesus addressing "the chief priest and elders of the people." This is important. Matthew's largely Jewish Christian community, which is beginning to experience an influx of Gentile converts, a situation that, as the Gospel is being written, produces a bit of a crisis, has some beefs with Jews but none with Judaism. For the most part, Matthew's antagonists are the Jewish leaders.

Though narratively linked, today's Gospel features two parables, not one. The first parable is another way to illustrate the same point as the parable in last week's reading. God invited Israel to the feast of salvation. Not only did they not accept the invitation but, at least in some instances, they beat and killed those who were sent to issue the invitation. Those who were beaten and killed were, once again, the prophets.

In this parable, the invitation is also issued to the mass of Jewish people who, while not mistreating the messengers, still choose not to attend the banquet. The banquet is the one described in our first reading from Isaiah: "the eschatological banquet which God prepares for his Son, to be celebrated at the end of time" (John P. Meier, The Wisdom of Matthew: Christ, Church, and Morality in the First Gospel, 153).

Wedding Feast at Cana, by Jacopo Tintoretto, 1561


When the invited guests refused to come, an invitation was sent far and wide, extended to anyone who would accept it. This is where the really problematic part of the Gospel comes and where the transition from one parable to the next occurs. One of the guests who accepted the invitation turns up improperly attired. He is not asked to go change clothes or simply asked to leave. He is tied up and thrown outside into the darkness. At this point, both parables reach the same conclusion: "Many are invited, but few are chosen."

I don't know about you but this strikes me as a bit scary. What is going here? Especially to our contemporary sensibilities, which countenances turning up to weddings and funerals in very casual clothing, this seems frighteningly harsh. Could it be that even someone who accepts God's gracious invitation is rejected by God? I thought God was kind, merciful, and all that jazz. What's going on here?

A very narrow reading of this might result in a homily that insists on the necessity of dressing up to come to Mass. I've heard these kinds of homilies and have generally succeeded in stifling the impulse to roll my eyes and groan.

The second parable is about the Church, not Israel. The point is that, like Israel, the Church remains subject to judgment. As Fr. John P. Meier, a deeply respected New Testament scholar much of whose scholarly research has focused on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, notes: "The boor without the clean wedding garment is the Christian who may have accepted the missionary call to Christianity but who has not earnestly prepared himself for the eschatological banquet by repentance and a life filled with fruits of repentance. He has no excuse for his sordid state; he is as unworthy as were the Jews" (The Wisdom of Matthew, 153-154.)

In the Rite of Baptism, the celebrant presents the newly baptized with a clean, white baptismal garment with the words:
You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ.
See in this white garment the outward sign of our Christian dignity.
With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.
Call it political if you like but, as Jesus insisted in last week's Gospel, the Church must be the people who produce the fruits of the kingdom. Producing the fruits of God's kingdom is a metaphor for living according to Jesus's teachings. In Matthew's Gospel these teachings are summarized in the Sermon on the Mount and, in an even more concentrated way, in the Beatitudes. If I am going to get "political" for a moment, I think what is important is for Catholics is to look at politics through the lens of the Gospel and not vice-versa.

God isn't simply merciful. "Mercy is the expression of [God's] divine essence" (Walter Kasper, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life, 51). We can always repent, turn our lives around, and use every opportunity to follow Christ by living according to his teachings. When saying the Act of Contrition after confessing our sins and before receiving absolution, we pledge: "I firmly intend with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin."

Maybe what binds us and puts us in the dark is not God's angry wrath. "God's wrath," Cardinal Kasper points out, "does not mean an emotionally surging rage or an angry intervention, but rather God's resistance to sin and injustice" (Mercy, 53). Perhaps it is our sins, which amount to our reluctance or outright refusal to accept God's invitation to live his kingdom as a present reality, that bind us. Again, in the Act of Contrition, we acknowledge that "in choosing to do wrong and failing to do good I have sinned against you, whom I should love above all things."

In and through Christ Jesus, God seeks to unbind us. To live in sin is to live in the dark. Jesus is the light of the world. May we always walk as children of light as we continually pray "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Doesn't it defy our expectation that it is our Old Testament reading and Psalm that provide us hope by describing the beauty and desirability of living solely under God's reign? God's kingdom, it bears noting, is not imposed. It is a banquet to which you're invited. Will you attend?

Friday, October 9, 2020

Aging, adversity, and "Little Guitars"

Guitarist Eddie Van Halen died this past week at age 65. Like most older Gen Xers, the music of Van Halen was part and parcel of my teenage years. Deaths like Eddie's always strike a bit of an ominous note, one that reminds me nothing lasts forever. Now in my mid-50s, I have come to realize how fleeting youth is.

Almost five years ago, when I turned 50, I wrote something like- while I don't consider myself old, I realize I am no longer young. Even more starkly, unless I live to be unusually old (I am not sure I want to), more of my life is behind me than in front of me. At least for me, middle-age is a strange phase of life, very different from what I expected.

I don't mind sharing with both my readers that this week has been vexing. But the vexation I've experienced has been fruitful. It helped me clarify something very important: what I can reasonably do time-wise while maintaining my sanity and having some semblance of a life apart from duties and responsibilities. It sort of forced me to grapple, again, with my priorities, to refigure them and make some decisions based on them.



Mostly, I am working on boundaries because I need better-defined ones. More than anything else, how you spent your time and resources reveals what your priorities are. Frankly, since mid-May, I have been rather overwhelmed. I have no one to blame but myself. "Discernment" is a word that is bantered about quite a bit among Christians, especially Catholics. At least about important matters, discernment requires some work and dedicated effort. It also requires follow-through.

Adversity, as unpleasant as it is, often helps me see things more clearly. What I've gone through this week is a great example of that somewhat scary assertion. But then, I've always taken life seriously. Truth be told, even now, I usually take life with too much seriousness. I could go on but I will spare you. Suffice it to say, I feel I've done my penance this week in advance of Friday!

Getting to the main purpose of my Friday post- Album-wise, my favorite VH recordings are Van Halen II and Diver Down. Yes, I am a VH purist. To me, Van Halen is Eddie, his brother Alex on drums, Michael Anthony on bass, with David Lee Roth as frontman. My favorite cuts off Diver Down are two pieces both entitled "Little Guitars," consisting of a 43-second guitar lead-in followed by the song. I like the song's wide-open sound, which has the ring of freedom. "Little Guitars" is this week's Friday traditio. Requiscat, Eddie, in pace.



Tuesday, October 6, 2020

USCCB on Human Life

I offer this as an addendum to my last post. From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship - Part II - Applying Catholic Teaching to Major Issues: A Summary of Policy Positions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Human Life. The three sections below are the entire section dedicated to human life in the document, no cutting or clipping:
64. Our 1998 statement, Living the Gospel of Life, declares, "Abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human life and dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental good and the condition for all others" (no. 5). Abortion, the deliberate killing of a human being before birth, is never morally acceptable and must always be opposed. Cloning and destruction of human embryos for research or even for potential cures are always wrong. The purposeful taking of human life by assisted suicide and euthanasia is not an act of mercy, but an unjustifiable assault on human life. Genocide, torture, and the direct and intentional targeting of noncombatants in war or terrorist attacks are always wrong.

65. Laws that legitimize any of these practices are profoundly unjust and immoral. Our Conference supports laws and policies to protect human life to the maximum degree possible, including constitutional protection for the unborn and legislative efforts to end abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. We also promote a culture of life by supporting laws and programs that encourage childbirth and adoption over abortion and by addressing poverty, providing health care, and offering other assistance to pregnant women, children, and families.



66. The USCCB calls for greater assistance for those who are sick and dying, through health care for all and effective and compassionate palliative care and hospice care. The end of life is a holy moment, a moment that marks a preparation for life with God, and it is to be treated with reverence and accompaniment. The end of life is as sacred as the beginning of life and requires treatment that honors the true dignity of the human person as created in the image of the living God. We recognize that addressing this complex issue effectively will require collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors and across party lines. Policies and decisions regarding biotechnology and human experimentation should respect the inherent dignity of human life from its very beginning, regardless of the circumstances of its origin. Respect for human life and dignity is also the foundation for essential efforts to address and overcome the hunger, disease, poverty, and violence that take the lives of so many innocent people.

67. Society has a duty to defend life against violence and to reach out to victims of crime. The Catholic Church has accepted the death penalty in the past for particularly egregious crimes when there was a serious continuing threat to society and no alternative was available. But our nation's continued reliance on the death penalty cannot be justified. Because we have other ways to protect society that are more respectful of human life, the USCCB supports efforts to end the use of the death penalty and in the meantime to restrain its use through broader use of DNA evidence, access to effective counsel, and efforts to address unfairness and injustice related to application of the death penalty (emboldened words in original, I added italics)
It is well-known that the injustice and unfairness of the application of the death penalty touches on racial injustice as well as poverty. For more on life issues, I refer you to Pope Francis's latest encyclical letter, Fratelli Tutti, especially sections 255-270, which discuss war and the death penalty, 97 that takes up racism, and 29, to pick just a few from this compendium of Church social teaching. It stands to reason that being pro-life means working to prevent suicide and to end firearms violence, which does not require doing away with private ownership of firearms.

Be more pro-life

Three statements strike me as non-controversial: being pro-life is bigger than one issue; when you take Church teaching on life in its totality, it becomes clear that both major political parties in the U.S. fall short of being pro-life; opposing abortion is a necessary but not sufficient for being pro-life. As a Christian, I always try to be more pro-life.

In my view, the best way to prevent abortions is by supporting public policies that have been empirically shown to decrease abortions and materially assisting women in crisis pregnancies. Of those two, the most important, it seems to me, is the latter. It's difficult because it requires you to do something more than just take a political position. It is a powerful way of preaching the Gospel without using words.

When I look across the issues that impact human life and dignity, at least in the United States, abortion is the issue that voting has the least impact on. This remains true, I think, even taking into account the chimera of Supreme Court appointments. When one considers other life issues, which include but are not limited to physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, the death penalty, suicide, access to health care, firearms violence, domestic violence, racial injustice (it can be deadly being black in America), the humane treatment of immigrants and refugees, meaning opposing things like family separation and inhumane conditions, it becomes clear that voting has a more direct impact on these issues.

I understand that addressing these things at all, no matter what your perspective, is likely to stir people up. Being stirred up is not always a bad thing. When done too often it is exhausting. I certainly don't expect everyone to agree with me and I am interested in hearing other peoples' perspectives, especially when they are offered constructively and respectfully. Of the feedback I've received concerning my homily last Sunday, the majority has been positive and encouraging. Those who have taken some exception to it have been reasonably charitable. I am grateful for that.



Anyone who wishes to provide me "feedback" is free to do so. Doing that is easy enough. I think it's important to provide your feedback publicly and with your name on it. If you leave a critical comment anonymously, I will delete it. I take responsibility for what I write and say. I preach publicly. I post my homilies here, linking to them from Facebook, Twitter, and MeWe. You may leave a comment here or make a comment on any of those social media platforms- Twitter is the easiest.

Making sound prudential judgments by the use of proportional reasoning is the best way to form our consciences and a good way to decide for whom to vote. I don't tell anyone who to vote for and I don't reveal my vote to anyone. We've sort of lost track of how important secret balloting is for a healthy democracy. I certainly try to respect the consciences of others. I would never ask anyone to tell me for whom they cast their vote for any office, including my wife. If someone chooses to tell me and it turns out they voted for someone different than me that is fine.

This past Sunday was Respect Life Sunday. The whole purpose of Respect Life Sunday is to bring to the fore how important it is to safeguard human life and dignity. At root, this means standing up for the most vulnerable members of our society. The unborn certainly count as vulnerable people who need protection but others are vulnerable to the culture of death as well. No matter what their personal views might be, I think most Mass-attending Catholics understand very well what the Church teaches concerning abortion. Non-Mass-attending Catholics are a different story but they are not listening to my homilies. I can think of few things more useless than preaching to the choir. I felt that mentioning what it means to be pro-life in toto was very important.

I am sure members of the clergy who preached last Sunday covered the depth, width, and height of pro-life issues. I am also sure some didn't really give it any heed in their homilies (they're either the wise or the timid ones- I can't decide). I've been pondering something a priest whom I respect mentioned recently: perhaps having Respect for Life Sunday a month before the election isn't very prudent. But, then, that isn't my call.

Feel free to disagree with any or all of the above. Do not accuse me of failing to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do not accuse of me ignoring or failing to adhere to Church teaching on the importance of protecting human life and dignity. Do not accuse me of being pro-abortion. Do not accuse me of furthering a partisan agenda. Do not treat me like my views on this issue were formed overnight. If that is not how you would've treated Respect Life Sunday, fair enough. I urge you find a way to articulate your own views on the broad and relatively complex matter of being pro-life in the U.S.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isaiah 51:1-7; Psalm 80:9.12-16.19-20; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43

During Ordinary Time, the Sunday lectionary seeks to harmonize our reading from the Old Testament with the Gospel reading. Today’s readings make this very apparent. No similar effort is made to harmonize the second reading, which follows the Responsorial Psalm. This, too, is evident in today’s readings. Sometimes the second reading “fits in” and other times it strikes a discordant note.

Our readings today from Isaiah and the Gospel According to Saint Matthew are both seem a bit anxiety-inducing. Whereas, we hear Saint Paul, in our reading from his Letter to the Philippians, tell us to “have no anxiety at all.”1 As with all Scripture, our second reading has an immediate context.

At the beginning of the fourth chapter of Philippians (the chapter from which our second reading is taken), Paul names two women: Euodia and Syntyche. Although both women labored together with Paul to spread the Good News, they came to be at odds with each other. Apparently, their dispute threatened the stability of this new Christian community. In our reading today is Paul urging the community to come together and be reconciled.

What better way to come together than through prayer? In exhorting the community not to be anxious, the apostle urges the Christians in ancient Philippi to make their desires known to God “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.”2 Indeed, disunity, dissension, and unkindness, cause anxiety. We live in an age of anxiety.

Even before the pandemic, which has raised it to a new level, many people in our society, in our community, struggled with anxiety. Belonging to a Christian community, being a member of a parish, should be different than any other kind of belonging. But, as most of us know first-hand, “church” can sometimes be a brutal place. Our second reading today shows this is nothing new. But that is cold comfort.



It is important not just to know but to experience how gathering around the table of the Lord, listening to God’s word, and responding to it, along with partaking together the bread that makes us one body, enables us to overcome all that separates us from each other.

In the Preface for the second Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation we pray:
For though the human race
is divided by dissension and discord,
yet we know that by testing us
you change our hearts
to prepare them for reconciliation3
The Church’s work of reconciliation for which the Eucharist prepares us requires every member to be a minister of reconciliation. The ministry of reconciliation with which God has entrusted us is too big, too important to confine to small space at the back of the Church. It bears noting that today is Sunday is Respect Life Sunday. One major work of reconciliation that we, as Christians, are called to undertake is defending and advocating for human life. Being pro-life is bigger than one issue.

In addition to making it easier for women in crisis pregnancies to choose life, being fully pro-life means advocating for and assisting the elderly and those who are chronically and terminally ill. Access to healthcare is a major life issue. Being for life means working to end the death penalty and seeking constructive ways to eliminate firearm violence, which, among advanced countries, is a particular scourge in the U.S. It also means working to prevent suicide, which means understanding what people are at the highest risk for taking their own lives, like middle aged men, older people who feel they've outlived their usefulness, and LGBTQ youth. Being an advocate for life also means working for racial justice as well as assisting immigrants and refugees. Another name for the Eucharist is “the Bread of Life.”

This is a tall order! Perhaps so tall as to induce some anxiety. From the perspective of Church teaching on the inherent value of human life from conception to natural death taken in its totality, both major parties fall short. Therefore, heeding the teaching of our bishops, when voting, it is important to make sound prudential judgments, which we do by utilizing proportional reasoning.

Presumably, it is our desire for changed hearts that brings us to this table. Without this desire, everything we do is for naught. In the Prayer after Communion today, we ask God to transform us “into what we consume.”4 What do we consume? The Body of Christ. What, then, do we pray to become? The Body of Christ.

If today were not Sunday, we would observe the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. The Prayer of Saint Francis begins with these words:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy5
In today’s Gospel, Jesus provides an allegory about the coming of God’s Son and his rejection by those to whom he is sent. The tenants are the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees. The slaves are the prophets. Remember the role of prophecy in ancient Israel was not to magically foretell the future but to call God’s Chosen People back to fidelity to their covenant with God and to warn them of the natural consequences of their failure to repent. Their infidelity had mostly to do with social injustice: neglecting the widow and orphan, mistreating the foreigners who lived among them, cheating the poor, etc.

The son, of course, is Jesus. This same warning can be just as true of the Church as it was of ancient Israel. This happens whenever we become enclosed, self-absorbed, or, to use Pope Francis’s phrase: “self-referential.” It is by overcoming these all-too-human tendencies that we become people who produce good fruit.6


1 Philippians 4:6.
2 Philippians 4:6.
3 Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation II.
4 Roman Missal, Ordinary Time: On Sundays and Weekdays. Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time.
5 Peace Prayer of Saint Francis.
6 Matthew 21:43.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Guardian Angels

On this first Friday in October, Roman Catholics throughout the world observe the Memorial of the Guardian Angels. Yes, the Church teaches that we have a Guardian Angel. As an adult convert, I cherish the Prayer to My Guardian Angel. Most Catholics learn this prayer as children:
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God's love commits me here.
Ever this day be at my side.
To light, to guard.
To rule and guide.
In the Creed we profess that God is the "maker... of all things visible and invisible." Angels, of course, belong to the invisible order of God's creation.

Guardian Angel. by Pietro de Cortona, 1656


In one of his sermons, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, preached:
He has given his angels charge over you to guard you in all your ways. These words should fill you with respect, inspire devotion and instil confidence; respect for the presence of angels, devotion because of their loving service, and confidence because of their protection. And so the angels are here; they are at your side, they are with you, present on your behalf. They are here to protect you and to serve you. But even if it is God who has given them this charge, we must nonetheless be grateful to them for the great love with which they obey and come to help us in our great need
It's easy to be silly about such beliefs and we often are. But all one needs to do take the invisible order of creation more seriously is to read Saint Paul. In both the 7 seven authentic Pauline letters and in the several of the deutero-Pauline letters repeated reference is made to powers, dominions, etc.

I remain of the opinion of Shakespeare's Hamlet, who, while communicating with the ghost of his murdered father, says, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy (Hamlet, Act I Scene 5, 167-168).

Our Friday traditio for today is Amy Grant singing "Angels Watching Over Me." What else?

Year B Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-15.17-19; Ps 4:2.4.7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:25-48 “You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells his incredulous...