Saturday, November 28, 2020


Readings: Isa 63:16b-14; 64:2-7; Ps 80:2-3.15-16-18-19; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37

Sundown today marks the beginning of a new year of grace. Today we begin another liturgical year. It feels nice to turn a temporal page right now.

Many of us, myself included, have joked about 2020 being apocalyptic, having the feel of the end of the world. Apokalupsis," in Greek, is a feminine noun that refers to "an unveiling." It is with reference to this unveiling that we translate the word into English as "revelation." What is revealed? God's Kingdom, which is ruled by Christ the King. God's Kingdom is not located up in the sky. Rather, the city of God, the new Jerusalem, will come "down out of heaven from God" (see Revelation 21:10-27).

It's easy to get caught up in all kinds of end-time nonsense. None of this has anything to do with the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. When I think about the things Jesus says will precede "the end," it is impossible for me not to think of any era of history in which those things did not occur. They are certainly happening now.

The new liturgical year marks a shift in the Sunday lectionary from Year A to Year B. During Year B we read primarily from Saint Mark's Gospel. According to the four-source hypothesis, Mark's is the first of the canonical Gospels to be written. Mark was used by the inspired authors of Matthew and Luke as a source. In chapter thirteen of the Gospel According to Saint Mark Jesus tells about events that will precede "the end" (Mark 13:4). This comes from the same chapter from whence our Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent is taken.

The first sign of the end is that the Jerusalem Temple would be thoroughly destroyed. Jesus says of its destruction "There will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down" (Mark 13:2). He goes on to tell about the proliferation of false prophets, about persecutions his followers would endure, about wars, famines, and earthquakes (see Mark 13:1-8).

Of course, the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. The nascent Christian community, however, fled from Jerusalem to avoid the brutal Roman siege of the holy city, which preceded the Temple's demise. Without a doubt, the destruction of the Temple must've seemed to many like the end of the world. It was certainly the end of the world as they knew it. Judaism as it is understood and practiced today is the result of this event.

My point is that it is always the end of the world until the end of the world. This is the point of at least the first two weeks of Advent. This is why, in the first Gospel reading of this liturgical year Jesus urges us to "Watch!" (Mark 13:37). In this same passage, the Lord uses an allegory. In this allegory we, his followers, are the servants the man who traveled abroad left in charge.

Identifying with the servants in Jesus's allegory, the question we should ask ourselves is "Am I being diligent in the building of God's kingdom or am I just lazing about?" Just what God's kingdom entails was spelled out beautifully in the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer for last Sunday's Solemnity of Christ the King: "a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace" (Roman Missal, "Solemnities of the Lord," Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe).

The Master, according to Saint Paul in our New Testament reading, has not left us without the resources necessary to carry out the tasks he's entrusted to us. This why Paul assures the Christians of ancient Corinth- "you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:7). Each of us possesses spiritual gifts, call them "talents," for the building up of God's kingdom. If you seek only to save yourself, you are already lost.

I am not suggesting something along the lines of "Look busy. Jesus is coming!" What I am saying is that each one of us needs to have a change of heart, a conversion. We need to repent, which means to turn around and walk in a different direction. Such a conversion makes seeking daily to build up God's kingdom your joy, your delight, your raison d'etre. As the witness of many martyrs have shown us, it is worth your very life. Having the necessary change of heart is what allows you with Saint Francis to keep tending your garden or with Martin Luther to plant that apple tree. You see, urgency be the agent of anxiety.

Perhaps the best way to express the shape of this hope is through the poetry of the Psalms:
How lovely is Thy dwelling place,
   O Lord of hosts to me.
My soul is longing and fainting
   the courts of the Lord to see.
My heart and flesh, they are singing
   for the joy of the living God.
How lovely is Thy dwelling-place,
   O Lord of hosts, to me
(Psalm 84, translation from Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings from the Northumbira Community, 69-70)
Anticipating God's kingdom, which end of liturgical year and the beginning of Advent bids us do, doesn't give us hope. Living the tension between the already and the not yet is our hope. Being a Christian means loving God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength by loving your neighbor as you love yourself. While love of God and love of neighbor can be distinguished in certain ways, they are inextricably bound together. Being a Christian is about loving in self-sacrificing ways, loving in the same manner that caused God's Only Begotten Son to become incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

With the psalmist, we implore God to "take care of this vine, and protect what your right hand has planted" (Psalm 80:15-16). But can't just pray to be preserved. The Church of Christ is about mission, not maintenance. And so, we should not only pray to be preserved from the tribulation that marks every age but to shine as a light in the darkness. We pray that when the Lord comes he "might meet us doing right" and being "mindful of [him] in our ways" (Isaiah 64:4).

This reflection on the readings for the First Sunday of Advent brings the penultimate (a good time to use this word) month of 2020 to a close.

Friday, November 27, 2020

A Friday at the end of the world

And so, we arrive at the ultimate Friday of this Year of Grace. The end of time, as it were. It seems a good day to reflect on the Church. Needless to say, the Church, whether you conceive of it as the Catholic Church or, like me, much more broadly to include churches, denominations, and congregations of baptized Christians, is experiencing difficult days. Most, perhaps all, of the difficulties the Church is experiencing are self-inflicted. Rather than returning to our first love, Jesus Christ, much of the time we seem to want to double-down on what landed us here. Christendom is over and done. Thanks be to God!

Despite Christendom being a thing of the past, many Christians in the West, especially in the United States, confuse the loss of political hegemony as persecution. It surely is not. As I approach the end of Born From the Gaze of God: The Tibhirne Journal of a Martyr Monk (1993-1996), which is the published journal of Blessed Christoph LeBreton, OSCO, who is one of seven Cistercian martyrs of Tibhirine, Algeria, who were kidnapped and killed by Islamist forces in 1996, I read something that Bl. Christoph copied from another book.

The book from which he copied it was L'honneur de la liberté by one J. Sommet. Christoph copied these words into his journal by hand during Advent 1995, which proved to be his final Advent, his final period of waiting and preparation for the Lord. He even noted that the title of the chapter of the book: "Dachau...Typhus." Here are is the passage that I think relevant on this Friday at the end of the world:
There I assist at what I call the birth of the Church. It is more a matter of reconstituting a community that gives meaning to each individual's freedom, and that also remains an authentic source of that same freedom, because it does not accept being in a situation of power... This is what constitutes a true Church, a society of gratuity and powerlessness, a community without the means of physical or biological resistance, without hidden arms. These men jump in the fray with bare hands. Here we are before a Church that reinvents herself as a place of the heart and of the freedom of people together, each one existing by virtue of the others[...] Such a Church refuses to become a locus of power, of damnation, of constraint imposed on other groups (197)
I shudder to think where the Church would be today without the witness, ministry, and teaching of Pope Francis.

When Francis became pope, much was made of him perhaps being the first "post-secular" pontiff. What is meant by "post-secular"? Stated simply, maybe overly so, post-secular refers to the persistence or resurgence of religious beliefs or practices in the present. The "post" in post-secular, in this instance, refers to after the end of secularism. "Post-secular" goes hand-in-glove with "post-modern." For those who keep up with the magisterial teaching of the Holy Father, his body of teaching is a great guide for being Christian in our post-secular, post-modern world, a world in which institutions are in decline and held in suspicion by most people.

Being awake means not retreating into dreams of what once was intending to make it that way again. Kierkegaard was quite right in his unsparing criticism that insisted Christendom was the worst thing that ever happened to Christianity. Kirkegaard was adamant that Christendom was a betrayal of the Gospel because it robbed the teaching of Jesus of radicality.

Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino, who is best known as one of the leading lights of liberation theology, in an essay entitled "The Kingdom of God and the Theological Dimension of the Poor" insisted "Forgetting the poor has gone hand in hand with forgetting the Kingdom of God." Circling back to Christendom, specifically to its origin in the Church's early conciliar period, Sobrino rightly notes: "By the time of the fourth-century conciliar debates it is clear that the Kingdom of God plays no role whatsoever in Christology" (essay in Who Do You Say That I Am?: Confessing the Mystery of Christ, 109-145).

One of the things I am going to do this holiday weekend is set aside time to listen to my favorite U2 album, The Unforgettable Fire, in its entirety. Therefore, it seems fitting, at the expense of too much U2, that our traditio for this ultimate Friday of the liturgical year be a cut off that album. I am going with one of the less well-known tunes: "Promenade."

In the short entry, written on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, that is, 8 December 1995, Bl. Christoph simply noted: "Guileless MARY, born free" (196).

Thursday, November 26, 2020

A few thankful thoughts

Here we are. Thanksgiving 2020 in the U.S.A. What a long, strange, and perilous year it's been so far. I turned 55 a few weeks ago. It's safe to say that in all those years, I haven't experienced a year like this year.

I know for those of us who are relatively comfortable it's funny to joke about 2020 seeming like the end of the world. But for many people who aren't comfortable, life usually, perhaps always, feels unstable, precarious, scary. I think it is important to keep that in mind.

It's also sobering to consider that just in this country, more than a quarter of a million people have died as a result of being infected with the sars-cov-2 virus and contracting COVID-19. Many more people who contracted COVID-19 will suffer chronic effects from the disease. The question remains, how ready might we be when, not if, another novel virus infects the human population. Hopefully, we're much more ready than we were for this novel coronavirus, which caught the U.S. unawares and flatfooted. Of course, a lot of this has to do with responsible leadership.

Speaking of responsible leadership, here's a link to a video President-elect Biden and his wife, Jill, did to deliver a Thanksgiving message of hope to a greiving nation: click here.

Obviously, finding effective ways to get the spread of sars-cov-2 under control while keeping the economy afloat will be his first order of business once he takes office. An important part of his requires securing another stimulus package. In my view, any stimulus package needs to be aimed at putting money directly into the hands of people who need it and to help small business owners. Putting money directly into the hands of people, who will spend it for life's necessities, is the best way to stimulate the economy.

Despite my family being afflicted with COVID-19 back in March, I am grateful for many things this year. Even though my wife continues to suffer some lingering respiatory effects, which are the result of getting COVID-19 after having had a nasty case of pneumonia more than 10 years ago, I am thankful we all recovered intact.

I am also grateful for the gift of faith. I am thankful for my wife and 6 children. I am thankful for many friends and especially for a few close friends, people who know virtually everything about me and yet, by some miracle, still love me. I am thankful for my diaconate, which privileges me to serve others in various ways. I am grateful for the ministry of overseeing the deacons and the formation of new deacons with which my bishop entrusted me this year. I am grateful for a decent job and good work colleagues. I am thankful that I live in a beautiful city, a place called Bountiful.

Today I am not interested in tracing the history of the first Thanksgiving or even going back a revisiting President Roosevelt's designation of the penultimate (I get to use it again!) Thursday in November as the fixed of the holiday, which was later overruled by Congress several years later, putting it back on the ultimate Thursday of November. I am grateful that our nation sets a day aside specifically to give thanks to God Almighty. I am also grateful that nobody is compelled to give thanks to God or even to give thanks. But, as Brother David Steindl-Rast observed: "Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted."

So, today let's not take everything, or anything, for granted. Let us also be mindful of those who have not. Since today is a civic holiday, albeit one with religious overtones, as Americans, let's commit ourselves to forming an ever-more-perfect union. In light of the current divisions, this is going to take a lot of intentional work.

As a Christian, I am put in mind of these words from the Preface for the Eucharistic Prayer for last Sunday's celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King:
For you anointed your Only Begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, with the oil of gladness as eternal Priest and King of all creation, so that, by offering himself on the altar of the Cross as a spotless sacrifice to bring us peace, he might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption and, making all created things subject to his rule, he might present to the immensity of your majesty an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace
I am also grateful for the opportunity the global pandemic has given nations to re-set their economies vis-à-vis human equity and the environment.

As Pope Francis has tirelessly pointed out, we have opportunities for positive change, to establish a new and better normal. On this Thanksgiving, I pray for our national, state, and local leaders that we can, to borrow the motto of President-elect Biden's Transition: "Build Back Better."

Friday, November 20, 2020

"I am going to make it through this year if it kills me"

Hey, I get to use "penultimate" again! Today is the penultimate Friday of November 2020. For Roman Catholics, this Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, or Christ the King for short. On Christ the King, we celebrate the end of the world as we know it. This should make us feel fine, give us hope.

I've been writing a lot lately. As a result, I feel like I can kind of ease off today. I do want to note that President-elect Joe Biden turns 78 today. He will far-and-away be the oldest president ever to be inaugurated. In January 2017, President Trump was the oldest at 70. Today is also the birthday of Bobby Kennedy. He was born 95 years ago.

The United States has never really recovered from 1968. It was in 1968 that both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.and Robert Francis Kennedy were assassinated. It's interesting sometimes to think about what might've been had that pivotal year not proven so violent. Yes, it's easy to imagine things much better than they likely would've been in reality. As long as that caveat is kept in mind, such "what if" moments can be most useful.

The Sunday after Christ the King is the First Sunday of Advent. First Vespers (or First Evening Prayer) is the premier liturgical celebration of the new Year of Grace, that is, the new liturgical year. I suppose, in a sense, one can say 2020 is over. With good news regarding vaccines in the offing, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, I wonder how many will be infected, how many of those people will become ill and suffer lingering effects of COVID-19, and how many more people will die. This week, the U.S. passed 250,000 COVID deaths. A quarter of a million people!

Listening to a story about the National Book Awards, which were held virtually this year, I learned of a song by the band The Mountain Goats: "This Year." Recorded in 2005, it seems perfect for 2020. A kind of anthem, perhaps?

Another takeaway from the story on the National Book Awards is that there is a new biography of Malcolm X: The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X. I have read The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley and watched Spike Lee's very good movie Malcom X (see "Malcolm X: Spike Lee's biopic is still absolutely necessary"). I look forward to reading this book. Apparently, the book was begun by journalist Les Payne. Les died before finishing the book. So, his daughter, Tamara, finished it. The book won the 2020 National Book Award for non-fiction. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965.

Sorry for the digression. Our traditio for this penultimate Friday of November and of this Year of Grace is The Mountain Goats singing "This Year"-

As a bonus, you can watch and listen to Stephen Colbert sing along here. Hang in there, the Lord is near. He is always near. Easter is always on the way.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Hope means investing in the future

Readings: Pvbs 31:10-13.19-20.30-31; Ps.128:1-5; 1 Thess 5:1-6; Matt 25:14-30

The end of one liturgical year shades gracefully into another. At the end of each liturgical year, we call to mind the end of time, the so-called eschaton or parousia. This culminates, of course, with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Even though it is a relatively short season, Advent begins in the same vein. It begins by reminding us that we are waiting for Christ's return. With the Third Sunday in Advent, the season takes a turn. We turn from looking ahead (toward the not-yet of Christ's return) to looking back (the already- the Incarnation of the Son of God).

On this penultimate (Sorry, I can't pass up the opportunity to use that word) Sunday of this Year of Grace, we hear Saint Paul, in what is likely the first book of the New Testament to be written, telling the Christians of ancient Thessaloniki that there is no way to know when Christ will return. He insists that it could happen at any time.

Indeed, the earliest Christians thought Jesus's return was imminent. One of the things that prompted Paul to write this letter was the fact that the Thessalonian Christians were growing anxious because the Lord had not yet returned. First Thessalonians was written in about 50 AD. Knowing the Lord could return at any time should prompt the believer to remain "alert and sober." To live after the manner of the Gospel and then simply trust in God.

Last week I used the story of Saint Francis of Assisi tending his garden. Martin Luther made a similar observation that is worth noting: "Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree." Planting the apple tree, you see, is an act of hope.

This segues nicely into the point of our Gospel for this week. Our reading immediately precedes the sobering account of Jesus's return to judge the living and the dead as set forth by the inspired author of Matthew's Gospel. "Talents are equal to several years; wages" (The Jewish Annotated New Testament, footnote to Matthew 25:14-30, Aaron M. Gale, 57). So, even one talent was a relatively large sum of money. Apparently, it was not unusual in ancient times for people to bury money to keep it safe from thieves. Of course, putting money in the ground yields a poor return on investment.

To invest in anything, even in something as simple as planting an apple tree, is an act of hope. It is hopeful because one invests with the idea that the future bodes well for the investment. In other words, the investor deems her investment to be worth it. At the heart of the parable that constitutes our Sunday Gospel is a metaphor. Jesus is not speaking about money. He is speaking about our God-given gifts.

The homiletic point, therefore, is the exhortation to place your gifts and talents at the service of the Church and the world for the sake of God's Kingdom. Elsewhere in scripture we read: "As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace" (1 Peter 4:10).

As you can see, scripture assumes you have gifts, that is, resources and abilities to share and to give. So, it is not a question of whether or not you have anything to give. You do! How a gift is appreciated, enjoyed, developed is by using it. It has been said that your talents are given to you by God and that your use of these is your gift back to God.

In its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council had this to say about the laity:
by their very vocation, [they] seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven (sec. 31)
This is not some third-rate, knock-off, consolation prize vocation. In a very real sense, there is only one Christian vocation: follow Christ.

Through baptism, Christ calls you to follow him. You receive a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit at confirmation to heed this call. This call is renewed in every Eucharist, at the end of which you are sent to make the risen Lord present wherever you go- this is your mission. There is also the state of life through which you live out heed Christ's call to follow him: marriage, orders, religious life, being single. As indicated in Lumen Gentium, what you do for a living should also be a way of following Christ.

We must never forget that it is baptism, along with confirmation, which deepens and strengthens it, that is the fundamental sacrament of the Christian life, not the sacrament of orders. Those of us who are ordained are put at the service of the rest of the baptized. This is why all in orders are first ordained deacons.

Just as there is a priesthood of all the baptized, there is also a diaconate of all the baptized. Observing the commandment to love your neighbor as you love yourself puts you at the service (i.e., diakonia) of your neighbor. By using your God-given gifts you engage in diakonia. Diakonia is kenotic, meaning it is something done sacrificially. It is a recognition that God's gift are not given to you solely, or even primarily, to benefit yourself. Using your gifts for the sake of God's Kingdom represents your investment in its full realization. It is an act of ultimate hope, especially when your efforts don't seem to yield much fruit.

This week's readings should prompt the question for each one of us- How can I better love and glorify God by serving my neighbor? Given that we're about to begin a new Year of Grace, it's an ideal time to ponder this question, to seek an answer, and commit or recommit to living in this peculiar way.

Friday, November 13, 2020

"Above earth´s lamentations..."

Today is not just any old Friday. It's Friday the thirteenth in the year 2020! Sorry, I couldn't resist starting out on an ominous note. I suppose being possessed of (by?) the requisite Celtic spirit, which includes what no less than Rowan Williams described as "the Celtic gloom," I am predisposed to the idea that things can always get worse. Believe it or not, it's precisely that realization which sometimes helps me not to worry too much. Such a mindset even allows me the gallows humor I need to move ahead.

It's weird living through the Trumpian farce. What's weirder is how many people believe his baseless claims. I am confident that there are enough people who grasp the peril the country is facing as a result of this farce and we will pull back from the brink. Clearly, if we're going to maintain anything resembling a healthy democratic republic there needs to be a concerted effort to help people sort facts from fiction and look for reality through all the smoke and mirrors of social media. This effort must include religion. It would be very nice if between now and 2024 the USCCB were to take seriously the title of their instruction on voting: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.

At the risk of sounding like a scratched record, this must include a concerted effort at getting across how prudential voting judgments are made by the use of proportional reasoning. When it comes to the "preeminent" issue, what then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to the U.S. bishops needs to be grasped: a Catholic should not vote for a candidate because s/he supports abortion. However, when one looks at the issues proportionally one may, in good conscience, vote for a pro-choice candidate. Even when it comes to life, I reiterate that there are several issues: abortion, physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia (which is often followed by the legalization of physician-assisted suicide), access to healthcare, domestic violence, the death penalty, war, and, yes, firearms violence.

It is always a mistake to attempt to make something rather complex simple. Faithful citizenship requires a well-formed conscience. Frankly, the Church in the U.S. has not done a good job of this and, as a result, experiences a lot of unnecessary division and tension. One's eyes should be open to the tendency of both major parties to manipulate voters on certain issues. This is usually described as throwing red meat to their respective bases, telling those who already support them what they want to hear. This is how the country becomes as polarized as it is at present. Everything becomes a zero-sum game. There is no room even for civil discussion, let alone substantial argument, and legitimate compromise.

Each party uses so-called "wedge" issues to gain votes with no real commitment to following through. Following through means surrendering that wedge issue as a means to gain votes. Something about being as gentle as doves and wise as serpents comes readily to mind. From a Catholic perspective, you must vote your conscience. You also must actively form and inform your conscience. One means to this end is reading Mark Shea's new book The Church’s Best-Kept Secret: A Primer on Catholic Social Teaching.

In short, all the non-negotiable nonsense needs to go. Democratic politics is nothing if not an on-going negotiation. This does not and cannot mean surrendering one's principles. As Christians, our commitment to the dignity of each and every person must remain firm. This commitment is much larger than one issue and even bigger than immediate life issues. It extends to things like a just wage, racial and gender equality, environmental protection (which may be the biggest and most important life issue), immigration policy, particularly the humane treatment of immigrants and refugees, the distribution of wealth, the right of workers to organize, etc.

There's a reason that Catholic Social Teaching is called the Church's best-kept secret. Over the next four years, it would be nice for this secret to be more revealed. At the risk of being too frank, I need to note that the only people to whom this sounds partisan are those with a bedrock ideological commitment. Being human, they chafe at being challenged. Especially for those of us who are relatively well-off and comfortable, the Gospel challenges us as much as it comforts us. If you don't agree with that or you simply don't like it, this is not a safe space for you.

It's a sunny but chilly day here along the Wasatch Front. I am feeling my oats today. As a result, our traditio for this Friday is the New York City Virtual Choir and Orchestra with the lovely hymn "How Can I Keep from Singing?"

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

"Jesus can you take the time..."- a birthday reflection

Feast of Saint Martin of Tours, Armistice Day, Veteran's Day, my birthday. Today I am fifty-five (55) years old! It hardly seems possible. In years past I have posted on my birthday. I have often written something very long. As a result, I sometimes feel like I've said most if not all of what I have to say and worry about repeating myself, going in a big (or small) circle.

As most people who have long since crossed the threshold of middle age know, the way you approach your birthday changes. I don't think it becomes less significant. Rather, I think it becomes more significant, which is why you don't require so much fanfare. It becomes more than enough that people remember and, by wishing you "Happy birthday!," affirm your existence in the world.

As I mentioned on my fiftieth birthday, it's not so much that I feel old as it is I can no longer think of myself as young. Perhaps I'll live long enough to think of myself as an old man. I am not there yet. By "not young" I refer to my awareness that I likely have more years behind me than in front of me. I suppose I could live to be 110. Frankly, I am not sure I want to live to be that old. One hundred, perhaps.

Given the convergences that happen on this day, which I mentioned at the beginning, I always pray for peace on my birthday. Man, do we need peace more now than ever!

Saint Martin of Tours, who, along with Saint Stephen, is my patron saint, on this your feast day, pray for us.

I love the relief below. It is Saint Martin of Tours depicted as a WWI British soldier. It was composed by the English artist Eric Gill. Yes, I know Gill is a controversial figure and a very tortured soul (see "The Cruciform Shape of Art: The Intersection of Faith and Life").

Bas relief of Saint Martin of Tours giving hi cloak to a beggar, by Eric Gill, 1935

I know there is a lot to keep track of in this busy, interconnected world. It's important for me not lose track of my fellow veterans who were traumatized by combat, those who are homeless, addicted, and those who have taken their own lives because they couldn't live with themselves. There's more of these than you're led to believe on days like today. I think this adds a necessary sobriety to Veteran's Day. War is hell on everyone involved and it unleashes hell on the earth.

Anyway, as always, I have several resolutions. Who knows, maybe I'll keep one or two?

As I wrote last Friday, I purchased the double-disk 20th-anniversary edition of U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind album. I've thoroughly enjoyed listening and re-listening to it this past week. It seems only fitting to post an appropriate, out-of-synch, traditio for my birthday. Given the focus I place on peace, which I know begins with me, on my birthday "Peace On Earth" seems like a good choice. I love the children's illustrations that comprise the video.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Love of neighbor is the oil for your lamp

Readings: Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63:2-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

With everything else going on, it's been hard to put together a reflection on this week's readings. But the theme that really emerges this week is that of wisdom. Despite being in the Old Testament, the Book of Wisdom was not written in Hebrew. It was written in koine Greek, the same language as the New Testament. As I suppose almost everyone knows, the Greek word for wisdom is sophia.

Philosophy means "love of wisdom." In a very real sense, to love wisdom is to love God. Towards the beginning of his underappreciated one-volume systematic theology, Christianity and Creation: The Essence of the Christian Faith and Its Future among Religions, recently deceased Irish theologian James P. Mackey wrote beautifully about the figure of Sophia.

Sophia, Mackey notes, "is like a twin to Logos" (Christianity and Creation, 42). They're twins, he asserts, because both connote "a rational construction of knowledge or truth that is then operative in the execution of creation" (Ibid). Sophia is "the personified agency... through whom God creates the world" (Ibid). This personified agency who is operative in God's on-going act of creation is feminine.

Today's Gospel is about the end, is it not? But if wisdom is the beginning, it is also the end for which we are made. What does it mean to keep your lamp trimmed and burning? In the first instance, it means being wise. What is the way of wisdom? Well, let's not forget all those very challenging teachings we've heard week-after-week for the past few months.

To live in the way Jesus taught iss what it means to be live wisely. In other words, how we wait wisely is to live as if God's kingdom- about which Jesus constantly speaks in Matthew's Gospel, including in today's Gospel- is already fully established.

Expounding on the metaphor found in our Gospel, the ten wise virgins can't give the ten foolish virgins any oil. In other words, they're not being stingy. It's simply too late. You see, it's the difference between what Francis of Assisi is said to have answered when, while he worked in the garden, he was asked what he would do if the Lord were to return at that moment, and how we might answer.

Francis said that if the Lord was to return right then he would simply keep tending his garden. Whereas, a common answer we might expect is "I would hurry and go to confession" or, if there was some time, perhaps "I'd shape up and start living right." But the point is now is the time to live right! You don't know the length of your own life and you certainly don't know when the Lord might return.

Your lamp is to be lit and kept burning. This is how you become the light of the world Jesus calls you to be (Matthew 5:14). This is the way of wisdom.

It is the hope we have because Jesus died and rose that enables us to follow the way of wisdom, which is the way of love. Later in this same chapter of Matthew Jesus gives the criteria for judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). Essentially, it boils down to the Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison. To coin a few phrases, this amounts to loving your neighbor as you love yourself or doing unto others as you would have them to do you.

Love of neighbor is the oil that allows you to keep your lamp lit in anticipation of that day when God will be "all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Friday, November 6, 2020

"You gotta leave it behind"

What a Friday as we await the results of Tuesday's election! Don't worry, I am not going to take too much of a political turn here. I think we're inundated with that right now. I will say that I think our country pulled itself back from the brink. I write that in the confidence that many people who are more conservative than I agree with that assessment. I will draw your attention to this for some perspective: an interview with Jack Goldsmith, former legal counsel to George W. Bush, from Fresh Air with Terry Gross: Reconstructing the Presidency After Trump.

Autumn is my favorite time of year. Hey, my birthday is next week. I am turning the double-nickel: 55. It seems incredible to me. Nonetheless, I am ready for it. I don't have much to complain about in life. Nonetheless, I still complain.

One of the early birthday presents I purchased for myself is the 20th-anniversary double-disk edition of U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind album. As a 55-year-old, I have no hesitancy expressing how I much I really like this band. A lot of their music has meant a great deal to me over decades. But then, the first U2 album I had was War way back in the early '80s. I bought it on cassette tape.

My top 4 U2 albums in ranked order are:

The Unforgettable Fire
All That You Can't Leave Behind
Joshua Tree

As you might imagine, our Friday traditio this week is U2. I am going with their 2001 live performance of "Walk On" at Slane Castle in Ireland. It is, in a word, ecstatic. I've posted this before but it's been years. It shows the kind of charisma that constitutes me as a charismatic.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

All Saints: an occasion for ecumenism

This morning I participated in an online ecumenical service that originated in Scotland. Those who led the service were the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Anglican Primus (Bishop) of Scotland, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of St. Andrews-Edinburgh. It was essentially a 15-minute Liturgy of the Word. I can't think of a better worship experience for me this morning. Yes, this includes worshiping live.

And so, today I want to offer to further things on ecumenism. The first is from a very good book I just finished. The book is The Way of St Benedict. The author of this book Rowan Williams. It is one of those books that is a compilation of previous works on the Rule of St. Benedict that is collected in one place. In my view, it is more valuable for that. Practically throughout these works, Williams emphasizes the importance of chapter 4 of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Along with chapter 11, the fourth chapter constitutes something like the core of the rule for those interested in "Benedictine spirituality."

Incidentally, it is in chapter 4 of The Way of St Benedict that Williams takes up ecumenism. The chapter is entitled "From Solitude to Communion: Monastic Virtues and Ecumenical Hopes." What I offer are a few critical insights from this chapter. Towards the beginning of the chapter, he identifies the tension inherent in seeking "to hold together the community life and the vocation to solitude" (55). He then moves, in his seemingly effortless manner, to the fundamental observation that seeking "to hold together what seems like opposites is, of course, grounded in a deeply Christian anthropology" (55). Before moving to the importance of community, Williams points out that it is in solitude that "we allow God to challenge and overcome our individualism" (55). It is "in solitude," he continues, that "we are led to recognize the strength and resilience of our selfishness," which points to how much we "need to let God dissolve the fantasies with which we protect ourselves" (55).

As to the need for community, he summarizes with Tertullian's quote: unus christianus nullus christianus- "no Christian is a Christian alone." Stated more simply, one Christian is no Christian, just as one person is no person. What I mainly wanted to pass along is this:
One of the hardest yet most important lessons the different Christian communities today have to learn is that they cannot live without each other and that no single one of them in isolation possesses the entirety of the gospel. God has used the often-tragic divisions of Christian history in such a way that each community has been permitted to discover new depths in this or that emphasis in doctrine and devotion. And the challenge of the Lord of the Church is that we should recognize this diversity of providential discovery in one another (56)
I'll end with the ending from my November 2008 ecumenical presentation, "What the Catholic Church Learned from the Reformation"-
Tone deaf Catholics puzzle over why Christians would celebrate the split of the Western Church in the sixteenth century. But people who listen and attend grasp that while the split is lamentable and even scandalous, who recognize there is enough blame to go around, what we celebrate on this 500th anniversary of the Reformation is both the commitment to unity and the concrete steps Christians have taken to reconcile with each other and work towards unity. As Catholics, we rejoice that the Church has been diligent in its ecumenical commitment over the past 50+ years. I think much reconciliation has been achieved between Catholics and Protestants. It is on the basis of our reconciliation that we can continue to walk toward the goal unity, the goal of communion
Such a communion can only be unity in diversity, not uniformity, lest the salt lose its savor.

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hosea 2:16.17c.18.21-22; Ps 145:2-9; Matthew 9:18-26 Our Gospel today is Saint Matthew’s version of events first written about ...