Thursday, December 30, 2021

Καθολικός διάκονος: Last post of 2021

I try hard not to blog (if I may use that as a verb) about blogging. I think it's okay at the end of the year. While I didn't mark it at the time, 19 July 2021 was my fifteenth anniversary of blogging in earnest. Of course, I started this little virtual endeavor on 16 August 2005. Again, for perhaps the one reader who does not know the story, this blog began life under the title Scott Dodge for Nobody. This title was shamelessly stolen from a late-night radio program here in Salt Lake, which aired on KRCL, a community radio station, called Tom Waits for Nobody. From the end of August 2005 until mid-July 2006, this cyberspace lay fallow.

The title of my 19 July 2006 post was "How Occasional?" Well, for the next eight years I posted on many, many occasions. Initially, the answer to the question was "Quite frequently." For the last five years, my blogging, while still quite frequent (about 10 times per month, on average), has tapered down to a much more manageable level of effort.

It's funny how important cultivating this small cyberspace has become for me. Do I sometimes think about hanging it up? Sure. As I tell forlorn deacons on occasion: If you don't think about quitting the ministry and walking away once in a while, you don't really care. After all, the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference. Far from being indifferent about what I do here, virtually speaking, I remain quite passionate about it.

I don't blog for popularity. Over the years, the popularity of Καθολικός διάκονος has ebbed and flowed, waxed and waned. I figured out in the early years of blogging when my posts were really not read by anyone, that blogging is a vehicle of personal growth for me. If you were to read Καθολικός διάκονος start-to-today (something I definitely don't recommend), hopefully you would see steady growth and evolution. That alone is enough to make blogging worth the effort.

I am grateful that there are people who find value in what I post. This certainly encourages me to continue blogging. After all, I do see my effort on Καθολικός διάκονος as something as an extension of my ministry.

At the end of past years, I have selected and posted links to what I think have been the best posts of each month. Especially given that besides the Friday traditio, reflections on the Sunday readings, and my homilies, I haven't posted much this year, I am going to post links to all my posts that aren't any of those three.

January- "Not being afraid because God is with us"
               "Anniversary reflections on being a deacon"

February- "Addendum: angelic ministry is diaconal"
                "Evening notes for the Second Sunday of Lent"

March- "Jesus on the Cross: facing our fear of death"
             "Faith is decisive"
             "Talk About the Passion"

June- "Belated thoughts on Corpus Christi"

July- "Thoughts for a Saturday"

August- "Deacons Are Catechists"
             "Keeping God's Law"

December- "Pooping in St. Paul's and the Incarnation"
                   "Traditionis custodes and deacons"

I don't mind saying that 2021 was for me a far more difficult year than 2020. Without a doubt, the most painful aspect of this year was the loss of some dear friends, people my age, who seemed and still seem far too young to die. These are people whose absence from the world makes me more than a little anxious, more than a little sad. I have tears in my eyes writing about this.

In trying to explain 2021 to my wife last week, the best description I could come up with was that it felt like I was walking uphill all year. No wonder my knees hurt.

While I realize that how we reckon time is somewhat of an arbitrary imposition, years matter to me. I always find some hope in the dawning of a new year.

Last night, we went to the grocery store at dusk. The skies here along the Wasatch Front have been gray. It's been cold and snowy for the past two weeks. An actual winter! I am enjoying it a lot. As we walked through the parking lot toward the store, out on the Western horizon, just above the mountains that rise to the West of the Great Salt Lake (such as it is now- not so "Great"), there was a streak of bright orange. Above and to the sides of the glowing streak were incredibly black clouds. Catching a glimpse of that sunset, quite unconsciously, I said out loud: "That's what hope looks like." Hearing me say something, my wife, asked what I'd said. I replied with "Oh, nothing, really. Thinking out loud."

Happy New Year, dear reader! I will catch you on the other side. May 2022 be all you want it to be and more. I give you my humble, diaconal blessing.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Year C Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, & Joseph

Readings: Sir. 3:2-6.12-14; Ps. 128:1-5; Col. 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52

In Jesus’s day, it was Jewish practice for every observant male to go to Jerusalem to make an offering in the Temple three times a year: on Passover, which commemorates Israel’s deliverance from Egypt; Shavout, or, in Greek, Pentecost, which recalls God’s giving the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai; Tabernacles, which marks Israel’s forty-year sojourn in the desert. In today’s Gospel Jesus had just reached the age at which he was required to fulfill this obligation.

Like the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, eight days after his birth, Saint Luke uses this episode to highlight the Holy Family’s fidelity to Torah. Like so many episodes in his life, this observance results in a surprise: an early manifestation of Jesus’s messianic and divine identity. What is surprising about this narrative is what appears to be our Lord’s impertinent answer to his mother’s question, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety,” an anxiety that any parent would feel upon realizing a child was missing or lost.1 For those of us who are parents, just think about what goes through your mind when you lose track of a child at a busy store.

But Jesus responds, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”2 Finding Jesus in the Temple is the fifth Joyful mystery of the Holy Rosary.

Our Lord’s seemingly impertinent response to his mother leads us to consider our reading from Sirach, which is seen by many scholars as a commentary on the fourth commandment, which enjoins us to honor our father and our mother. This commandment serves as something of a bridge between the first three commandments about loving God and the final six about loving your neighbor. In this schema, parents are rightly situated between God and other people. This unique place parents occupy in our lives entails mutual responsibilities. We should honor our parents because they gave us life and our elders because they are the repositories of life’s wisdom. Very often it is their hard work and selfless sacrifice that earned the benefits we enjoy.

There is much said and written today about the Church’s magisterium, her teaching authority. Most of this speaking and writing focuses on the authority of the papacy or the episcopacy. On this feast, we are reminded that parents, because their authority is also divinely derived, constitute part of the Church’s authentic magisterium because, as we read of the Compendium of the Catechism: in “Christ the family becomes the domestic church because it is a community of faith, of hope, and of charity.”3

With authority comes responsibility. Hence, the responsibilities of parents exceed the duties of their children. When presenting their children for baptism, after requesting the sacrament for their children, Christian parents willingly accept “the responsibility of training [them] in the practice of the faith.”4 They assume the “duty” of bringing their children “up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor.”5 Parents are the primary catechists of their children. And so, faith must be lived, practiced, taught, and handed on at home.

Much of every child’s image of God is derived from his/her parents. Therefore, Christian parents must be mindful that their authority, like that of the Church, “is not above the word of God, but serves it.”6 In order to serve the word of God, parents must listen “to it devoutly.”7

In our second reading from Colossians, we are given a list of values that are to be nurtured in God’s family, the Church, and in our families, the domestic Church. More fundamentally, the family has a value that itself needs nurturing. As Pope Benedict XVI observed some years ago: “The family is the indispensable foundation for society and a great and lifelong treasure for couples.” The family, he continues, is also “a unique good for children, who are meant to be the fruit of love, of the total and generous self-giving of the parents.”

Total, generous self-giving is a tall order. It sounds good at Church but presents difficulties in life. It is one that can be fulfilled by Christian parents, strengthened by sacramental grace, as the seek to live matrimony as a holy state of life, a sacrament, that is, a visible and tangible sign of Christ’s presence in and for the world.

It’s important to keep in mind that, along with holy orders, holy matrimony is a sacrament at the service of communion, which two sacraments Owen Cummings has called “diaconal” because of their service-oriented nature. This seems fitting on the day that would otherwise be the Feast of Saint Stephen, whom the Church reveres as one of the first seven deacons and who is the Church's first martyr.

Getting back to Jesus’ response to his mother, on closer examination, we see that Jesus is not being impertinent or disrespectful. While he is and will always be the son of Mary and was beholden to Joseph as to a father, he is most profoundly the Son of God. His words, therefore, are a reminder to Mary and Joseph bear in mind the reality of who he is, as they daily encounter the great mystery of God-made-man for us. It is also a subtle reminder that the Holy Family is not a “traditional family,” in the strictest sense. As Christians, we need to remember that the water of baptism, through which we are reborn, is thicker than the blood of hereditary relation.

Our Gospel ends with a portrait of family life that gives us some insight into the life of Jesus between the ages of twelve the beginning of his public ministry:
He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man8
By humbly submitting himself to the parental authority of Mary and Joseph, Jesus made known to them what they were not able to understand that day in the Temple. It is by our humble obedience to the Father that we make the Lordship of Jesus Christ known to those who do not understand. As you continue to enjoy your celebration of Christmas, may all of you enjoy the sweetest fruit of all, which fruit we contemplate as that of the fifth and final Joyful mystery of the Rosary: the joy of finding Jesus, who is Christ the Lord.

1 Luke 2:48.
2 Luke 2:49.
3 Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 456.
4 Rite of Baptism for Several Children, sec. 39.
5 Ibid.
6 Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation [Dei Verbum], sec. 10.
7 Ibid.
8 Luke 2:51-52.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Urbi et Orbi- Christmas 2021


Christmas 2021

Dear brothers and sisters, Happy Christmas!

The Word of God, who created the world and who gives meaning to history and to humanity’s journey, became flesh and came to dwell among us. He came like a whisper, like the murmur of a gentle breeze, to fill with wonder the heart of every man and woman who is open to this mystery.

The Word became flesh in order to dialogue with us. God does not desire to carry on a monologue, but a dialogue. For God himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is dialogue, an eternal and infinite communion of love and life.

By the coming of Jesus, the Person of the Word made flesh, into our world, God showed us the way of encounter and dialogue. Indeed, he made that way incarnate in himself, so that we might know it and follow it, in trust and hope.

Sisters and brothers, “what would our world be like without the patient dialogue of the many generous persons who keep families and communities together?” (Fratelli Tutti, 198). In this time of pandemic, we have come to realize this more and more. Our capacity for social relationships is sorely tried; there is a growing tendency to withdraw, to do it all by ourselves, to stop making an effort to encounter others and do things together. On the international level too, there is the risk of avoiding dialogue, the risk that this complex crisis will lead to taking shortcuts rather than setting out on the longer paths of dialogue. Yet only those paths can lead to the resolution of conflicts and to lasting benefits for all.

The Nativity of the Lord, Mass during the Night

Readings: Isa 9:1-16; Ps 96:1-3.11-13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”1 These words, written some seven centuries before the Lord’s birth describe well what his coming into the world meant and continues to mean. “[U]pon those dwelt in a land of gloom a light has shone,” the oracle continues.2 Didn’t entering into the Church this evening, coming into this warm, bright, welcoming place from a cold dark night, give you an inkling as to what these words mean?

It is easy to lose sight of the wonder of the Incarnation, of the birth of the Father’s only begotten Son through the Virgin Mary in the humblest of circumstances. Jesus’s birth did not happen in a warm, well-lit place. It happened in a cave that served as a barn. After his birth, he was cleaned, wrapped in rags, and laid in a feeding trough. The phrase "swaddling clothes" is just a sophisticated way of saying "rags."

Jesus, son of Mary, was born a marginal man, among a marginal people, in a marginal, if troublesome part, of the Roman Empire. This is what the kenotic hymn, found in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, alludes to when it tells us the Son of God, Jesus Christ, “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.”3

As Pope Francis said this week: “the mystery of Christmas is the mystery of God who enters the world by the path of humility.”4 Saint Luke’s Nativity portrays, the Holy Father continued, “a scene of poverty and austerity, unsuited to sheltering a woman about to give birth.”5 Nonetheless, God enters the world not by creating a huge spectacle, “but by causing a mysterious pull in the hearts of those who feel the thrilling presence of something completely new, something on the verge of changing history.”6

Humility, the Pontiff insisted, is the doorway through which God enters the world. On Christmas, Christ invites us through the doorway of humility. Because pride plays some role in nearly every sin, it is impossible to advance spiritually without humility. Being humble means knowing how to be human. It’s been observed: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.”

Humility requires that we accept our frailty, our need, the poverty that constitutes our humanity. Refusal to do this is tantamount to insisting that you do not need a Savior. Humility, noted Pope Francis, means
to look upon our poverty with the same love and tenderness with which we look upon a little child, vulnerable and in need of everything. Lacking humility, we will look for things that can reassure us, and perhaps find them, but we will surely not find what saves us, what can heal us7
The Nativity, by Sandro Botticelli, ca, 1473-1475

Our reading from the Saint Paul's Letter to Titus, which is quietly slipped between Isaiah’s great oracle, the ending of which puts many of us in mind of that glorious passage from Handel’s Messiah, and Luke’s wonderful telling of Jesus’s birth, puts some flesh on the bones of what it means to “have seen a great light.”

This passage from Paul's Letter to Titus focuses our attention not on Jesus’s birth or his passion and death, but on his glorious return and, by implication, his resurrection, and our ultimate destiny. He refers to Jesus Christ as “God’s grace.”8 Indeed, Jesus is grace in the flesh. Jesus saves us. As Catholics, we believe that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit (the seven fruits of the Holy Spirit can be summed as the virtues that make one humble), the Lord trains
us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ9
Living temperately, devoutly, and justly in this age with an eye on the age to come is the spirit of Christmas. The true spirit of Christmas is the Spirit of Christ, that is, the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

After being visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, a humbled, if not humiliated, Ebeneezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’s most Christian of books, A Christmas Carol, swears to the Ghost of Christmas Future: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.”10 Essentially, Scrooge vows to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, who humbly came to us as a child in Bethlehem, who comes to us now in word, sacrament, as well as in our neighbor, especially the person in need, and who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

The final paragraph of A Christmas Carol reports that Scrooge “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”11 To this Dickens adds, “May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”12 May we all accept the Lord’s summons to enter through the door of humility, the passage to life eternal.

1 Isaiah 9:1.
2 Isaiah 9:1.
3 Philippians 2:7.
4 Pope Francis, "Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia." 23 December 2021
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Titus 2:11.
9 Titus 2:12.
10 Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol, Stave IV, “The Last of the Spirits. Project Gutenberg.
11 A Christmas Carol, Stave V, “The End of It.”
12 Ibid.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Monday Fourth Week of Advent, Year II

Readings: Isa 7:10-14; Ps 24:1-6; Luke 1:26-38

It is both fitting and wonderful that Monday of the last week of Advent features once again the Annunciation. In a real sense, it is back to the beginning of this holy season. Our first reading is from the beginning of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, from that part of that book known as “Proto” or “First”-Isaiah. Judging by its use in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, this passage has been understood by Christians practically from the beginning as a prophecy about Jesus Christ.1

In context, however, this passage was an attempt to dissuade King Ahaz, who ruled the southern kingdom, which included Jerusalem, from joining with the northern kingdom and Syria to rebel against the Assyrians. What is going on is that the prophet instructs the king to ask for a sign that what the prophet is saying is what the king should do. But the king refuses, saying one should not tempt God. “Therefore,” says the prophet, “the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.”2

It is not clear who the woman or the child are. In the context of the prophecy it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the span of time: by the time the child is conceived, born, and learns the difference between good and evil, the two kingdoms Ahaz is considering joining in rebellion will be defeated.

It is also important to note that the word in the Hebrew original often translated as “virgin,” almah, simply means “young woman.” “Virgin” comes into play because the author of Matthew, taking his text from the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, uses the Greek word parthenos, which does mean “virgin.”

It is easy to see why this verse is seen as a prophecy of Christ. Jesus is, in word and in deed, Emmanuel, God with us. This one word can be used to sum up Christianity, at least in its essence, in its existential reality. Sometimes God's word is just that: one word.

The Annunciation, by Andrea Solario, 1506

In our Gospel, Mary is puzzled at the greeting given her by the archangel Gabriel. She is puzzled because it is such an exalted greeting. Why would anyone, let alone a glorious heavenly being, greet a marginal person, a poor young woman in backwards village, in such a way? The answer to this question lies at the end of the passage, when, after hearing what God has in store for her, Mary says: “May it be done to me according to your word.”3 This affirmation and acceptance of God’s will, we call Mary’s fiat.

Fiat is something like the Latin equivalent of the Hebrew “Amen.” But it means more than merely “so be it,” it means to willfully create something. In this moment Mary’s will was God’s will and vice-versa. As we heard about Christ in our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews yesterday, “I come to do your will, O God.”4

Doing God’s will is the way Christ is born in and through you. As Mary, who is the model disciple, shows us: doing God’s will isn’t always easy. It is often the case that successfully doing God’s will looks like failure. How can doing God’s will result in a young woman turning up pregnant with a child not conceived with her betrothed? How can God’s will result in the cross, or in the many different experiences of Christian martyrs throughout two millennia?

We know that it is God’s will that we gather around this altar and listen to his word. Through the Eucharist we are strengthened to live according to what we’ve heard. At the end of Mass, we are sent to do it.

As we prepare for a New Year, just as we constantly hear talk about evangelization, most of it quite fuzzy, we also hear rumblings about a “Eucharistic revival.” But just as evangelization consists of telling others what Jesus has done for you, what difference knowing Jesus makes in your life and how you live it, what a Eucharistic revival needs, to borrow the words of Michael Sean Winters, is “those who claim to follow the Lord to follow him, to empty themselves as he emptied himself, to take up their cross as he did, to cling obediently to the Father's will."5

1 Matthew 1:23.
2 Isaiah 7:14.
3 Luke 1:38.
4 Hebrews 10:7.
5 Michael Sean Winters. “US bishops lost about how to engage a culture they don't understand,” in National Catholic Reporter online. 19 November 2021

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Traditionis custodes and deacons

I finally had the opportunity to read the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments's Responsa ad dubia, its response to questions posed as a result of the motu proprio Traditionis custodes. This motu proprio, issued last 16 July, was promulgated for the purpose of restricting celebrations done according to liturgical books promulgated prior to the Second Vatican Council.

The Congregation's response to questions asked by bishops from throughout the world with regard to Traditionis custodes was published last Friday, 18 December.

Of note for deacons is the response to this question (i.e., dubia): "Do Deacons and instituted ministers participating in celebrations using the Missale Romanum of 1962 have to be authorised by the diocesan Bishop?" The Congregation's response is "Affirmative."

I assume "instituted ministers" refers to those who have canonically been instituted into what are now called the "lay ministries" of lector and acolyte. These ministries may now, according to the revised Canon 230 § 2, which revision was made by Pope Francis motu proprio in January of this year (see Apostolic Letter Spiritus Domini), be conferred on men and women. These were formally known as "minor orders" because they were reserved exclusively for men moving towards ordination (i.e., major orders- deacon and priest). I appreciate a brother deacon reminding of this change, thus prompting my revision of this paragraph.

Regarding deacons, being clergy and, as such, participating in the sacrament of orders, this is quite clear. Deacons serving at celebrations according to the Extraordinary Form, must be specifically authorized by their bishop to do so.

I understand that many dioceses are still in the process of figuring out some of the hows and the whens of implementing Traditionis custodes. I know mine is. Hence, many bishops are permitting the status quo ante. I think with the publication of this Responsa ad dubia, things become clearer. As ordained ministers, it is important for deacons to keep up with what is going on in this regard in our dioceses or jursidictions.

Spirit of Christmas

My approach to today's readings is going to be quite casual. Among other reasons, I have a pretty heavy preaching schedule over Christmas. I want to note, again, that this year Advent is almost as long as it can possibly be. Therefore, if you haven't yet, set aside some time over the next few days to quietly contemplate the mystery of God-made-man-for-us. Who knows, perhaps what you find here may be useful for that.

Before coming to the readings, it seems significant to me that the Collect, or Opening Prayer, of the Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is the same prayer we say at the end of the Angelus:
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we to whom the incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection
Apart from exempting the whole of his life (something that seems a constant in these matters), this is a pretty good summary of the Paschal Mystery, into which the liturgy seeks to immerse us. Noting this lacuna is what led Pope Saint John Paul II to promulgate the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary in his 2002 Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae.

Our Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year C of the Sunday lectionary is a primer on the second mystery of the Joyful Mysteries of the Virgin Mary's Rosary. By way of reminder, this mystery is Mary's Visitation to her kinswoman, Elizabeth. The fruit of this mystery is love of neighbor. Of course, it is the Holy Spirit who is operative in the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth.

Because it comes from The Letter to the Hebrews and this letter, which many New Testament scholars believe is actually an extended sermon of sorts, is the longest "book" in our unquely Christian scriptures apart from Saint Paul's Letter to the Romans, and because it is a book I personally find fascinating, I want to focus on it.

Too often, Hebrews, as it is abbreviated, is dismissed as some kind of Platonistic anomaly. In fact, it is a great treatise on Christian life and discipleship, especially in adverse circumstances. In its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council, turned to the Letter to the Hebrews for its image of the Church as the Pilgrim People of God.

While, like the Collect, our reading from Hebrews seems to jump from birth to sacrificial death, skipping Jesus's life and ministry, I think there is significance in the opening lines from our passage: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me" (Heb 10:5). While a body is certainly a prerequiste for being nailed to the cross, at this point in the passage, the reason for being incarnated, as it were, is to do God's will (Heb 10:7). A body is necessary for enacting, incarnating, making concretely "real," the will of God.

We need to tread lightly when insisting it was the Father's will that his Son should suffer and die. If nothing else, this lets us off the hook far too easily. By his Incarnation, life, passion, and death, Christ accomplished in his own person what Israel, or any group of human beings, could not accomplish in/through its history: to fulfill the Law of God in letter and in spirit, thus accomplishing God's purpose in/through/for creation.

Christ fulfilled the Law, thus doing away with the need for "Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings" (Heb 10:8). A further effect of this is opening the one covenant God seeks to establish to all people. Hence, joining God's Pilgrim People is open to anyone who is up for the journey. As Michael Card so beautifully sings, "There Is a Joy In the Journey."

As Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol (a most Christian story) reminds us year-after-year, Christmas is a time of conversion, a time to turn around and follow Jesus. May we, like Mr. Scrooge, come to realize the saving effects of the Incarnation in and through the circumstances of our own lives. I think this gives some reality to the petition asking God to "pour forth" his grace into our hearts. God's grace, as our Gospel shows, once poured into our hearts flows out to others. This is the "Spirit of Christmas."

Friday, December 17, 2021

Liturgical reflections

Today is the Third Friday of Advent. Hey, one more week of Advent to go! It's hard to believe that Christmas Eve is a week from today. So, at sundown next Friday, Christmas truly starts.

As things tend to be with tradition, reckoning when Christmas ends isn't straightforward. Christmas either runs for 12 Days or until 2 February. Most Roman Catholics celebrate Epiphany on the traditional date of 6 January. Liturgically, the season of Christmas ends on Epiphany for Catholics in places where this is the case.

Roman Catholics in the United States observe Epiphany the second Sunday after Christmas Day (the first Sunday after Christmas Day is the Feast of the Holy Family). This year (meaning this liturgical year), Catholics in this country will observe Epiphany on 2 January. For Roman Catholics, Christmas in the U.S. doesn't end on Epiphany. It ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which falls this year on Sunday, 9 January. Both historically and contemporaneously, the case can be made that Christmas endures until 2 February, the Feast of the Presentation (of Jesus in the Temple), also known as Candlemas.

This year Christmas seems to me to be a twelve-car pileup. Because Christmas Day is on Saturday. So, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, then on the evening of Christmas the vigil for the Feast of Holy Family, and then Sunday, the Feast of the Holy Family. The following weekend, on New Year's Eve, the vigil of the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, is observed. On New Year's Day the solemnity itself on Saturday, followed on Saturday evening by the Vigil Mass for Epiphany and then Epiphany Sunday.

On the plus side, Advent is quite long this year, as it will be next year too. When Emmanuel finally comes this year, it will be a robust event!

Today, 17 December, the Church starts the O Antiphons. 17 December is also Pope Francis's birthday. He turns 85 today. And so, iFeliz cumpleaños!

There are seven O Antiphons. Liturgically, the O Antiphons occur in Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. These are antiphons recited with the Canticle of Mary, which occurs between the Responsory to the scripture reading and Intercessions.

The first of the O Antiphons is O Wisdom. In their modern version, according to the International Commission on English in the Liturgy translation, the first of the O Antiphons is:
Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation
The verses of the well-known Advent hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel are metrical paraphrases of the O Antiphons

It seems fitting that our traditio for this Advent Friday is the Choir of King's College Cambridge singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel:

Monday, December 13, 2021

Memorial of Saint Lucy

Readings: Num 24:2-7.15-17a; Ps 25:4-9; Matthew 21:23-27

Today the Church celebrates another great Advent feast: the Feast of Saint Lucy (i.e., Santa Lucia). During Advent, we also observe the Feast of Saints Andrew, Nicholas, Ambrose, and Juan Diego, along with the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Advent is such a rich liturgical season.

Santa Lucia lived in the late third/early fourth century. Along with Saint Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Agnes, Cecilia, and Anastasia, and, of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Lucia is one of the eight women named in Roman Canon, which we typically call Eucharistic Prayer I. All of these women, apart from the Virgin Mary, were martyred.

At a young age Lucia committed to remaining a virgin. Unaware of her daughter’s commitment to virginity, her mother arranged a marriage for her, which was the custom of her culture at the time. Because she was determined not to marry, she intended to give the money set aside for her dowry as alms to the poor. Her prospective bridegroom was not pleased at losing her dowry and denounced her to the Roman governor as a Christian. After being tortured horribly, including having her eyes gouged out, Lucia was killed. Examples like this lend some gravity to the question “If you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Young Lucia insisted on the validity of her vow of virginity and her commitment to the poor by the same authority Christ invoked in today’s Gospel: love of God and neighbor. This authority is in no way coercive. In fact to bring any kind of coercion or manipulation into it nullifies it. In other words, it is a matter of the heart and not a matter of law, unless it is divine law.

Divine law is simple: love God with your entire self and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Because “God is love,” divine law is the law of love. You see, divine law is nothing other than God himself. The law, such as it is, isn’t something apart from God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Simone Weil importantly noticed: God is always subject, never object.

As Jesus’s followers, we are to live and to teach- mostly by example, like Santa Lucia and the other women martyrs- by the same authority with which Christ lived and taught; the authority of God, which is the love of God. In our Gospel this evening, not only was Jesus cannily avoiding being trapped, he understood that because it is firstly and lastly a matter of the heart.

In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Saint Paul VI pointed out that people today listen “more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”1 Pope Paul continued by pointing out that “St. Peter expressed this well when he held up the example of a reverent and chaste life that wins over even without a word those who refuse to obey the word.”2 And so, it is “primarily by her conduct and by her life,” he continues, “that the Church will evangelize the world.”3

Showing is more powerful than saying. Setting the example is more attractive than directing, demanding, and certainly better than damning. If you are concerned about the sanctity of marriage and you are married, live your marriage in a holy manner. If, like Santa Lucia, you want to highlight the value of celibacy, then live celibacy in a Christ-honoring, that is an other-honoring, way. This is true across the spectrum of so many issues the Church faces today. It costs you nothing to take a political position, or voice your views on social media. It costs you time, effort, and resources to concretely help another.

Observing a holy Advent teaches you what it means to await the joyful hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. In a very real sense, most of human history- both before and after the birth of Christ- is an Advent. An Advent well-observed also prepares you for the celebration of the Incarnation of the Son of God. What Advent teaches is that Christ is not really born until he is born in you. Christianity is more than theory. In fact, as a theory, Christianity lacks. Christianity is incarnational.

Christian faith is not just some things that you do, or even merely a way of life. Being Christian is a mode of existence. As the martyrs show us, being Christian is ecclesial being. There is a subtle but importance difference between being a Christian and being Christian. One cannot be a Christian on one’s own. Hence, the Church is not incidental but necessary for accomplishing God’s purpose in and for the world. Where else but in the Church are people like Santa Lucia remembered? We remember her because, along with others, like six woman whom we also recall in the Roman Canon, she shows us what being Christian is all about: self-emptying, self-sacrificing love. This is how we bear witness to Christ.

1 Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization in the Modern World [Evangelii Nunitiandi], sec. 41.
2 1 Peter 3:1.
3 Evangelii Nunitiandi, sec 41.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Year C Third Sunday of Advent

Readings: Zeph 3:14-18a; Isa 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18

Shout for joy! Sing joyfully!1 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”2 Today, the Third Sunday of Advent, is known as Gaudete Sunday. As you might’ve guessed, Gaudete in Latin means “rejoice”. It’s the Sunday we light the pink candle.

On this Sunday the season of Advent takes something of a turn. During the first two weeks of Advent, as an extension of the Feast of Christ the King, which we celebrate the last Sunday of each liturgical year, the liturgy focuses intently on Christ’s glorious return. Hence, the singular message of the first half of Advent is simply “Repent!”

Finding its meaning in the Greek word metanoia, repentance means to have a change of mind and heart, to change from within. Another word for “change” is convert. The start of Advent calls us to live each day, each minute, in anticipation and expectation, not growing tired, complacent, or losing hope. Because Christians are to live life with meaning and purpose, we are to be sober, vigilant, awake, alert. Above all, as Saint Paul indicates, we are to be joyful. Friedrich Nietzsche once quipped: “I might believe in the Redeemer if his followers looked more redeemed.”

In its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes, meaning “Joy and hope”), the Second Vatican Council teaches: “the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.”3 The Church is not merely the hierarchy (i.e., the Pope and the bishops) but all the faithful.

The Spirit leads us ever forward to the coming of Christ, to the full realization of God's reign, and not backwards to an imagined time when, in the words of Pope Saint John XXIII, “everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea...”4 Historian that he was, he went on to point out that there never was such a time. So, with Good Pope John, we too, “must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster as though the end of the world were at hand.”5 Hope, the flower of faith, not despair, is what enables us to rejoice always. Joy is the nectar of the flower of hope.

Why does Saint Paul exhort the Christians of ancient Philippi to rejoice? Because “The Lord is near.”6 It is important during Advent to note that “Advent” means coming. We begin this season by being reminded of what we frequently recite in the Creed: “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”7 Then, at Christmas we celebrate the Son of God’s coming into the world through the Virgin Mary, that moment when eternity stepped into time.

But it is also important not only to know about but to experience the reality of Christ’s presence in the here and now. He is present in a variety of ways. As the priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins so beautifully observed:
for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces8
Most powerfully, he is really present whenever and wherever the Church celebrates the Eucharist. Christ’s real presence in the Eucharistic liturgy is fourfold: he is present in the gathering of the baptized, in the person of the priest, in proclamation of the scriptures, and in the consecrated bread and wine.

Rejoice! The Lord is not only near but here, now! By your communion, the Lord is not only with you. He is in you for the purpose of acting through you. This is what it means to have the Holy Spirit, who is the way Christ remains present in the here and now, prior to his return in glory.

Esta sigue siendo la celebración de la Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe para los gringos. Esto está bien. Yo soy un gringo.

Este año, la Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe cae el domingo de Gaudete. Esto nos da una razón más para regocijarnos. El martes y miércoles pasados, celebramos la Solemnidad de la Immaculada Concepción de la Santísima Virgen María. Bajo la bandera de la Immaculada Concepción, la Santísima Virgen es patrona de los Estados Unidos. Bajo el título de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, es la patrona de las Américas: Norte y Sur, y patrona secundaria de la diocesis de Salt Lake City.

This year, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe falls on Gaudete Sunday. This gives us a further reason to rejoice. Last Tuesday and Wednesday, we observed the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Under the banner of Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Virgin is patroness of the United States. Under the title Our Lady of Guadalupe, she is the patroness of the Americas: North and South, as well as the secondary patroness of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

Estas diferentes manifestaciones culturales de la Virgen sirven para señalar no sólo la universalidad de la Iglesia, sino su diversidad. Sólo un Dios-Padre, Hijo y Espíritu Santo- es una comunión de personas, una unidad en la diversidad, la Iglesia también lo es. Estar unidos en la fe no es ser esclavizado por una uniformidad impuesta. Como San Pablo escribe en su Carta a los Gálatas: “Es por la libertad que Cristo nos ha hecho libres.” La fe en Cristo nos libera para ser quienes Dios nos hizo ser tanto individual como colectivamente.

These different cultural manifestations of Our Lady serve to point out not only the Church’s universality but its diversity. Just as God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- is a communion of persons, a unity in diversity, the Church is also. To be united in faith is not to be enslaved by an imposed uniformity. As Paul writes in his Letter to the Galatians: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”9 Faith in Christ frees us to be who God made us to be both individually and collectively.

Para los cristianos, “el agua es más espesa que la sangre, es decir, el agua del bautismo es más espesa que la sangre de la herencia biológica". Renacemos en el bautismo como hijos de Dios a través de Jesucristo por el poder del Espíritu Santo. Por lo tanto, pertenecemos a la familia de Dios, la Iglesia. Al participar de la Eucaristía estamos plenamente incorporados al Verdadero Cuerpo de Cristo. Al igual que la Virgen María y Juan el Bautista, debemos ser precursores la segunda venida de Cristo viviendo y predicando las buenas noticias por el poder del Espíritu Santo.

For Christians, “Water is thicker than blood- that is, the water of baptism is thicker than the blood of biological inheritance.”10 We are reborn in baptism as children of God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we belong to the family of God, the Church. By our partaking of the Eucharist, we are fully incorporated into Christ’s True Body. Like the Blessed Virgin and John Baptist, we are to be forerunners of Christ’s return by living and preaching the good news by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Debemos hacer todo por el poder del Espíritu Santo. De ahí que la invocación Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam, como señaló Luigi Giussani, “es la síntesis de todo lo que nos dice el año litúrgico. Es la síntesis de todo lo que nos dice la memoria de la vida cristiana. Porque todo, todo viene del Espíritu Santo”.

We are to do everything by the power of the Holy Spirit. Hence, the invocation Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam (i.e., Come Holy Spirit, come through Mary), as Luigi Giussani noted, “is the synthesis of everything the liturgical year tells us. It is the synthesis of everything the memory of Christian life tells us. Because everything, everything comes from the Holy Spirit.”11

Because the Holy Spirit is the mode of Christ’s resurrection presence in us, among us, and through us until he returns in glory and because of Mary’s “Yes!” in accepting God’s will for her, the Holy Spirit does, indeed, veni per Mariam- ven a través de María-come through Mary.

1 Zephaniah 3:14.
2 Philippians 4:4.
3 Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et spes], sec. 4.
4 Pope John XXIII, “Pope John’s Opening Speech to the Council,” in The Documents of Vatican II: With Notes and Comments by Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Authorities. Ed. Walter M. Abbott, S.J. and Very Rev Msgr Joseph Gallagher. New York: Guild Press, 1966, 712.
5 Ibid.
6 Philippians 4:5.
7 The Roman Missal, Order of Mass, Liturgy of the Word, sec. 18.
8 Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” in Hopkins: Poems and Prose, Tenth Printing. Ed. Peter Washington. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 18.
9 Galatians 5:1.
10 Giles Fraser, Chosen: Lost and Found Between Judaism and Christianity, 133.
11 Luigi Giussani, “Notes from Remarks at the Memores Domini Spiritual Retreat” at La Thuile, 2 August 2001​.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Pooping in St. Paul's and the Incarnation

These days I rarely post more than twice a week, let alone twice in one day. What prompts me to put up a second post today is something that I just read. This something comes from Giles Fraser's book Chosen: Lost and Found Between Christianity and Judaism.

For those unfamiliar with Fraser, he is a priest of the Church of England. In addition to having a Jewish lineage on his Dad's side, his wife is an Israeli Jew. Hopefully, this little bit of background helps explain the subtitle of his book.

For those who remember back slightly more than a decade ago, the Occupy movement was big. In London, the movement occupied ground connected to Saint Paul's Cathedral. At that time Fraser was the Canon Chancellor of the Cathedral. Unlike a number of his clerical colleagues, Fraser was sympathetic to and somewhat supportive of Occupy's occupancy of the land around the cathedral.

Ultimately, the Church decided to team up with the City of London to forcibly evict Occupy, which led Fraser to resign from his position. His resignation led to a personal crisis. He went through a divorce, had life-threatening health issues, and had to find a new place of ministry. The first part of his book is about these events.

The second part of the book is a good (by no means perfect) account of the history of relations between Jews and Christians. He especially focuses on the early centuries of Christianity's existence. He is quite superb in discussing the role of the Temple in pre-Jewish Judaism. It was the Temple and not "orthodoxy" that held Israelites together.

Moving on from his discussion of the Jerusalem Temple, Fraser moves back to the joint decision by Saint Paul's Cathedral and the City of London to forcibly evict the Occupy occupiers from the vicinity of the cathedral. Citing a report given to London's Metropolitan Police, he notes the complaint that on a few occasions people had pooped inside the Cathedral. It is his subsequent treatment of this that prompted this post.

This morning I noted how really appalling were the circumstances of Jesus's birth, at least according to Saint Luke's account. No matter how historical this account may or may not be, the inspired author's point is that the Son of God became incarnate in the most "real" of circumstances. I went on to note that for Christ to be born in us, it has to happen in the messiness of our own lives to be real.

Fraser first points how effectively shitting insider the cathedral rallied public opinion in favor of forcibly removing the protestors. But, he correctly grasps, "At stake here was something surprisingly theological- in Christians terms, what is the proper relationship between a church and the messiness of the world?" (146) This is a great question in societies full of need in which churches sit on large swaths of prime real estate empty most of the time. It bears noting that the term "Emergent Church" was first coined by German Catholic theologian Johann Baptist Metz. What he addressed was the fact that, at least in most advanced Western societies, Christianity has become a largely bourgeois phenomenon (see The Emergent Church: The Future of Christianity in a Postbourgeois World).

Fraser goes on to ask: "Does the church seek to maintain and protect a cordoned-off sanctuary of purity, a pollution-free space for a pollution-free God? Or is the whole point of the incarnation that God becomes human, thus collapsing the barriers between the sacred and the profane, between God and shit?" (146-147) At least for me, these are rhetorical questions; the respective answers to which are No and Yes respectively. Further, when we consider the full and complete humanity of Jesus Christ, as insisted on by Christian orthodoxy, God evacuated his bowels the same way all human beings do. While in the flesh, God took dumps. While it isn't something one need fixate on, it does bear noting that denying this is denying Christ's full humanity,

Early on in the second part of Chosen, when considering how the Council of Nicea was intent to brighten and embolden the line of demarcation between nascent Rabbinic Judaism and the nascent Church, along with Spanish liberation theologian Jon Sobrino (specifically his essay "The Kingdom of God and the Theological Dimension of the Poor: The Jesuanic Principle," which can be found in the compilation Who Do You Say That I Am?: Confessing the Mystery of Christ, pages 109-145), Fraser notes how quickly Jesus's radical preaching and teaching about God's kingdom disappeared.

While this could serve as a springboard for my deep dislike of this least wonderful time of the year, I will limit myself to noting it passing and leaving both of my readers to ponder this for themselves.

Turning into reality

Here it is a dark, cold snowy morning. I have yet to go out for my morning walk. Every fiber of my being wants to stay in my recliner here in my den. But, after composing this, I will dress and walk, praying my morning Rosary as I make my way along the street. It's good for me to push myself, up to a point.

The trouble is, I can't locate that point. Meanwhile, mentally, I vacillate between feeling I don't push myself enough and that I push myself way too hard. I am told there is a balance and that it can be achieved. I remain skeptical about this.

It's funny when I was younger, I always envisioned my mid-50s as a time when I kind of had life figured out, at least the practicalities of life. In reality, I find myself struggling with the same things with which I struggled in my thirties and forties. You see, I didn't really get up and running, in the worldly sense, until I was thirty-one. Looking back, I take pride in the fact that I spent my twenties mostly doing what I wanted to do- for better and for worse.

My point? The same one I make with some frequency in these Friday posts: life goes by fast! Acknowledging this seems fitting as the Second Week of Advent comes to an end. On its Third Sunday, the Advent season takes a turn. It turns from focusing intensely on Christ's so-called Second Coming (he's never left) to looking forward to our celebration of his Nativity and, moreover, to his abiding presence as we await the fulfillment of God's creation.

Over the course of this Advent, a sentence keeps popping into my mind: "Christ is not really born until he is born in you." I think that sums the direction Advent takes after its turn mid-way through. This year, with Christmas happening on a Saturday, Advent is as long as it can possibly be. So, we have quite a lot of time to prepare ourselves to receive Christ again on the Feast of His Nativity.

Just as Jesus's birth happened not merely in "humble circumstances"- surely a euphemistic phrase in this context- but in what we would consider an appalling situation, so his birth in us has to happen in the messiness of the reality of our own lives. Typically, he does come screaming in from above, like a meteor, or creeping around from the edges of the circumstances we daily face. No, he comes in and through people and events. Usually in and through the most unexpected people and circumstances.

In my experience, grace is not some clean, shiny thing that is clearly distinct from reality as I experience it. It is right there in it, present in and through the opaque transience of my life. This, I'm pretty sure, is what is meant by the adjective "incarnational." Rather than absent ourselves from the nitty-gritty of life, putting our heads in the clouds, as it were, following Christ is to turn into reality.

In anticipation of the turn, our traditio for this Second Friday of Advent in the Choir of Saint John's College Choir, Cambridge, with "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus."

Monday, December 6, 2021

Monday Second Week of Advent, Year II

Readings: Isa 35:1-10; Ps 85:9ab-14; Luke 5:17-26

According to Jesus, it is harder to forgive sins than it is to heal the lame. The main reason Jesus spent a lot of time talking to the Pharisees is because they were the Jews with whom he had the most in common. Here’s something about the Pharisees: they understood the gravity of sin. Too often, we don’t. Hence, we continue to think that it’s a greater miracle to make a paraplegic walk than it is for God to our forgive sins through Christ.

Of course, Jesus can forgive sins because he is “True God from true God.”1 Just think of how difficult it is sometimes to forgive someone who has wronged you. Usually, we don’t just want to forgive. We long to be reconciled. But being reconciled requires that the wrong-doer acknowledge her/his offense and ask the one s/he has acted badly towards for pardon.

Forgiving means letting it go, not seeking revenge, not trying to get even. It is possible and, in fact, often the case that we forgive and remain hurt, even angry, sometimes justifiably so. Reconciliation requires speaking, hearing, and then reckoning together with the truth. A reckoning is the settling of an account.

We all need not only God’s forgiveness but to be reconciled to God. Why? In his Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul provides the answer: “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.”2 It is the work of Christ to reconcile us and the whole of creation to God. God deeply desires to share his glory with you.

You don’t go to confession to find our whether or not God will forgive you. As Jesus demonstrates in today’s Gospel, in and through him, you are always already forgiven. Confession is where you go to be reconciled with the Father, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the Sacrament of Penance you are also reconciled to your sisters and brothers, that is, the Church. This is why we also call this the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Christ Healing the Paralytic at Capernaum, by Bernhard Rode, 1780

In confession, you face the truth by acknowledging your sins and, in the Act of Contrition, telling God you are sincerely sorry for them. Then, by doing your penance to show the sincerity of your promise to amend, you receive the full grace of the sacrament. It is with the help of God’s grace, his unmerited favor toward you, his love of you, that you can truly repent.

Repentance means changing your heart and your mind. These must change before your behavior changes. As Jesus teaches in the next chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel:
A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good,
but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil;
for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks3
Later in Luke, a rich man says to Jesus: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” To which Jesus responds: “No one is good but God alone.”4 As novelist Philip Roth wrote: “whoever imagines himself pure is wicked.”5

The first two weeks of Advent pick-up where Christ the King left-off: looking forward to Jesus’s return in glory. As a result, these weeks really have one theme: our need to repent, to be converted. To convert is to change. By grace, we are to be changed into the very image of Christ. In the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern Church, Gaudium et spes, the Second Vatican Council stated this powerfully: Jesus Christ
Who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), is Himself the perfect man. To the [children] of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every [person]6
This is summed up nicely by the whispered prayer said during Mass when the water is added to the wine on the altar: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”7 At root, this is what the Incarnation of the Son of God is about.

1 The Roman Missal The Order the Mass, The Liturgy of the Word, sec. 18.
2 Romans 3:23.
3 Luke 6:45.
4 Luke 18:18-19.
5 Philip Roth, Sabbath's Theater.
6 Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et spes], sec. 22.
7 The Roman Missal, Order of Mass, The Liturgy of the Eucharist, sec. 24.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Hopefully waiting

Today is the First Friday of Advent and First Friday of December. It also the feast day of that great Jesuit missionary, Saint Francis Xavier.

In with the new- a new Year of Grace and a new month, even if it is the final month of 2021. As I noted in my homily last Monday, as a Christian, I appreciate always being able to start again over and over again. It gives me hope. Who knows, with the help of God, maybe one of these times I'll "get it right"? That's the hope: my desire to get it right. Without that desire, there is no reason to be enthusiastic about being able to start again.

Saint Joseph Church Monticello, Utah

Perhaps in the missionary spirit of St. Francis Xavier, I am traveling today with my Bishop. We are headed to southeastern Utah. Specifically, paying pastoral visits to to Moab and Monticello- the parishes of Saint Pius X and Saint Joseph, respectively.

It will be nice to get away. The past few months have been incredibly busy. I've been busy to the point of nearly being overwhelmed. So, while there are places to be and things to do during this trip, the drive, the little bit of hiking, the quiet of a room, will be a nice, if brief, respite.

So, I am off today to Utah's beautiful red rock country. In the spirit of Advent, I am keeping today's post both simple and hopeful.

Our traditio for today. J.S. Bach's Jesu, joy of man's desiring as sung by the Choir of Somerville College, Oxford:

Monday, November 29, 2021

Monday First Week of Advent, Year II

Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5; Ps 122:1-9; Matthew 8:5-11

At Mass, just prior to receiving communion, we echo the words uttered by the Roman centurion in this evening’s Gospel: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”1 The acknowledgement of our unworthiness implies that our souls need healing.

Here’s the thing about Jesus, as demonstrated by his healing the centurion’s servant: when we sincerely ask, he always says the healing word! We only learn that the servant of the centurion is healed two verses after the final verse of our reading, when the inspired author writes: “And Jesus said to the centurion, ‘You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.’ And at that very hour [his] servant was healed.”2

Why this Gospel today, the second day of a New Year of Grace? Because with the advent of Advent we are invited to begin again, again. Important for Christian hope is the belief that because of God’s love for us given in Christ Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit we can always begin again. As Pope Francis noted: you will get tired of asking God’s forgiveness long before God tires of forgiving you.

Jesus Healing the Servant of a Centurion, by Paolo Veronese, 16th century

Just as it is arrogance, not humility, to think your sins are too great for God to forgive, to think God will tire of forgiving you before you tire of sincerely repenting is to give yourself too much credit and God too little.

What is the healing word that Jesus says? It is absólvo or, in English, “absolve.” After confessing and expressing sorrow for your sins, the priest, acting in persona Christi, as part of Absolution in the Sacrament of Penance, says, Et ego te absólvo a peccátis tuis- “and I absolve you from your sins.” Apart from saying something fancy sounding in Latin, to say the priest acts in persona Christi is to say that it is Christ himself who absolves your sins, who says the healing word. Of course, Christ is himself the healing Word.

The main pastoral reason the Sacrament of Penance is encouraged and made more available during Advent is so that we can truly begin again, again. The grace we receive in and through the Sacrament of Penance, which is a unique grace- the restoration of sanctifying grace, the renewal of your baptism- prepares us to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus, the Incarnation of the Son of God. It is through the sacraments that Christ is born and abides in us to accomplish his purposes through us. At the end of each Mass, you are sent to make him present wherever you are.

1 The Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, sec. 132.
2 Matthew 8:13.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Abounding love

Readings: Jer 33:14-16; Ps 24:4-5.8-10.14; 1 Thess 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28.34-36

Central to the philosophical project of Martin Heidegger was the recovery of the question of Being. The question of Being Heidegger sought to recover was just that, a question, not an answer, let alone the answer. What is the question of Being he sought to recover? Stated inexactly it takes the form of Why does any-thing exist rather than no-thing? Why are there beings who can ask and wonder about Being?

Maybe it's the word wonder that is the key to the recovery of the question. I mean wonder in a dual sense: wondering about Being, about our own being, as in pondering it and wonder, as in being struck by the self-conscious nature of my being.

Judging from some of Heidegger's early work, like his lecture on Saint Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians, what concerned him was how to live with meaning, purpose, even urgency. Maybe all these coalesce into a key Heideggerian term: authenticity. How does one live authentically? These are big questions and raise big issues.

First Thessalonians may well be the first of the uniquely Christian scriptures, known collectively as the New Testament, to be written. Its rival for being the earliest New Testament composition is Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. First Thessalonians, one of the seven authentically Pauline compositions (i.e., written by Paul himself) in the Christian scriptures, was likely composed in about AD 50, which is probably 20 years before the first written Gospel (i.e., The Gospel According to Saint Mark, presumably written shortly after AD 70).

One of the things that prompted the apostle to write to the Church in Thessaloniki was in response to their anticipation of Christ's imminent return. This brings us to the passage from the end of the third and beginning of the fourth chapters of the letter that comprises our second reading for this First Sunday of Advent in Year C of the three-year Sunday cycle of readings. One way to frame our readings for today is that each of the three tells about one of Christ's comings.

In the first reading from Jeremiah, we hear what the Church takes to be a prophecy about the Lord's birth. Our Gospel, while contextually about the destruction of the Second Temple, which occurred in AD 70 and had already occurred when the Gospel of Luke was written, is about Christ's return in glory. Our reading from First Thessalonians, meanwhile, is about Christ's presence in the here and now.

You see, Christ wasn't born, lived, died, rose from the dead, and then, with his Ascension, taken away. On Pentecost, he sent the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the third Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, which is the Spirit's descent at Pentecost, is God's love for us. God shows his love for us by always being with us, not leaving us orphans. The Holy Spirit is nothing other than the mode of Christ's resurrection presence in us, among us, and through us.

It is just this that Paul addresses in the passage that is our New Testament reading: "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, to strengthen your hearts" (1 Thess 3:12). It is through such love that the hearts of believers are strengthened for the Lord's return. It is by abounding love that Christ is present in, among, and through us.

In our Gospel, the signs about which Jesus speaks are ambiguous insofar as they are things that always happen. When has there not been natural disasters, strange interstellar events, and the like? Tribulation is always imminent, is it not? Jesus urges his followers not only to not be afraid, but to "stand erect and raise your heads" when these things happen. Why? Because when you experience these things "your redemption is at hand." As the Second Vatican Council put it in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: "Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful. Apart from His Gospel, they overwhelm us" (Gaudium et spes, sec. 22.)

"Be vigilant at all times," Jesus tells us. Don't let the anxieties of daily life obscure your ability to read the signs of the times by the light of faith. Don't let trials and tribulations overshadow the reality and inevitability of your own death and what lies beyond. Christians live life with purpose and urgency, that is to say, with passion. In essence, passion means to suffer. The Buddha was correct- to live is to suffer. In and through Christ we overcome suffering and even death. This overcoming happens through experience, not avoidance. Because of Christ, we can truly live!

While Advent is a short season, consisting of only four Sundays- this year Advent is almost as long as it can possibly be (next year, it will be as long as it can be)- it is polyvalent. Picking up from Christ the King, Advent starts as a season of penance, looking forward to Christ's return and his judgment of the living and the dead. On its Third Sunday, known as Gaudete Sunday, Advent takes a more hopeful turn, directing us to Christ's birth and the effects of that, namely that Christ is not really born until he is born in you! This gets us back to abounding love. "Abound" means to have or, in the case of love (i.e., agape), to give in large amounts.

Abounding love is how one lives life with purpose and passion. To love is to live authentically. It is Christ who "fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear" (Gaudium et spes, sec 22). Our existence is an act of love. Without love there is nothing.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Sober thoughts

Last Friday I fully intended to post something for the weekly traditio. But true to form these daze, I was overcome by events. Well, life trumps blogging, right? It's funny how much energy writing takes. Besides energy, writing takes time.

This morning, the day after Thanksgiving and the penultimate day of this Year of Grace (i.e., liturgical year), I seem to have both the time and the enrgy. It's made a bit easier by the fact that I hand-wrote what I was going to post last week.

In addition to Morning Prayer, my daily spiritual praxis consists of reading a chapter (or a portion of a chapter) of The Rule of Saint Benedict. I also usually listen to 24/7 Prayer's Lectio 365. I also pray the Rosary.

Saint Benedict, ca. 480-ca. 550

Several years ago, for a variety of reasons, I quit drinking alcohol. I won't bore you with the details of my long, winding relationship with that substance. Suffice to say that it will be three years this 26 December, the Feast of Saint Stephen, that I quit for good. Along with Saint Martin of Tours, on whose feast day I was born, Saint Stephen is my patron saint. My middle name is "Stephen" from birth. Stephen was my Dad's first name.

Of course, as a Catholic deacon I drink wine at Mass, even during the pandemic. Since I serve at 3-5 Masses weekly, my wine consumption probably amounts to one small-to-medium size glass of wine per week. So, whatever health benefits moderate wine and/or alcohol consumption might provide, I receive.

Last Thursday morning, my reading from The Rule of Saint Bendict was the fortieth chapter. The title of this section of the Rule is "The Quantity of Drink." At least for me, this chapter captures well the issue with alcohol consumption, especially as one grows older.

In his distinctive way, Saint Benedict begins by noting the problems that naturally arise from limiting how much another person can eat and drink. I start with this because I don't judge anyone who drinks. Since I am not their abbot, bishop, spouse, parent, etc., it is not my place to seek to place limits on anyone else. According to his moderate sensibility, Benedict does not prohibit monks from drinking wine. He does assert that "those to whom God grants the strength should abstain [from wine]."

Father Benedict goes on to state something rather interesting about those who abstain. He insists that they "earn a special reward." True to his grounded spirituality, I can only imagine that Benedict understands that abstaining from alcohol is its own reward. This is certainly true for me. As the late Scottish writer, William McIlvanney wrote in the final installment of his Jack Laidlaw trilogy, Strange Loyalties: "To pretend that subjective conviction is objective truth, without testing it against the constant daily witness of experience, is to abdicate from living seriously." Even though it is monastic, or maybe precisely because it is monastic, Benedictine spirituality is existential, that is to say, grounded in experience.

Our traditio for this last Friday of the Year of Grace 2021 is an the Introit for Mass for the First Sunday of Advent:

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Year B Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Readings: Deut 7:13-14; Ps 93:1-2.5; Rev 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37
That’s great, it starts with an earthquake/
Birds, and snakes, an aeroplane/
Lenny Bruce is not afraid...1
Many of you are probably asking yourself, “What in the world is he talking about?” But for those of us of a certain age, REM’s song “It’s the End of the World” is the best apocalyptic anthem ever!

Indeed, on this Solemnity of Christ the King, the final Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrate the end of time and we look forward to the end of the world as we know it. It is an article of Christian faith, which we confess each time we profess the Creed that Jesus Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” and to fully establish God's Kingdom.2

We do not know when and or really how the Lord will return. Whenever Jesus spoke about his second coming, he was, I believe, deliberately ambiguous. As his followers, we just believe that he will return as he promised. This belief coupled with the fact that we don’t know when or how he will come back should help shape how we live our lives.

Insisting that our belief in Christ’s return should inform and, at least in part, form our lives is not to say that we should live in fear. Christians, those whose lives are shaped and formed by Jesus’s teachings, await the Lord’s return with hopeful anticipation. They are the ones who pray one of the most ancient Christian prayers. A one-word prayer, found in Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians as well as in the ancient Christian document known as the Didache: Maranatha!3

Maranatha is an Aramaic word that means “Come, our Lord.” Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we hear a form of this when, between the two parts of the Lord’s Prayer, the priest prays “as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”4

Jesus Christ is our blessed hope. He is the hope that lies beyond all our optimism and all our pessimism. It is a dangerous thing, in terms of your faith, to mistake optimism for hope. Optimism is about what I want to happen, how I would like to see things turn out, what I think would be best. This often consists of having pretty specific ideas not only about the result but how that result is to be realized, often including a sequence and timeline.

Crucifixion, by Unknown Hungarian Master, ca. 1476

As I think most of us know from experience and/or reading the Bible attentively, God, while utterly faithful, is in no way bound to bring about your desired ends, let alone doing it in the way you prescribe or according to your schedule. This is dangerous for your faith because it can be discouraging. Unchecked discouragement can easily turn into despair. Just as pessimism is the opposite of optimism, despair is the opposite of hope. Despair is the mother of many sins.

Understanding this gives you some idea of the kind of king Jesus is. Because his kingdom is not of this world, Jesus is not a worldly king, a monarch who ruthlessly wields absolute power. What makes him a different, even puzzling, kind of king in our Gospel is his refusal to fight violence with violence. “If my kingdom did belong to this world,” Jesus tells the quizzical Pilate, “my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.”5

Jesus is the kind of king whose attendants (i.e., his disciples), rather than fight, run away. It’s easy to be bold until your boldness entails a cost, especially if that cost is your life. But Jesus was undaunted by his abandonment, even later forgiving them. Knowing that his power lay precisely in his seeming powerlessness, instead of fighting violence with violence, fighting fire with fire, he countered violence with peace. He fought fire with water.

Jesus’s throne is the Cross. Several chapters earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells a crowd, “Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”6 It is by being lifted up- and by no other means- that Christ drives out “the ruler of this world” to establish God’s kingdom. You see, Jesus doesn’t teach one thing and then, when push comes to shove, does another.

Saint Paul came to the realization that “when I am weak, then I am strong” in a dramatic way.7 By contrast, during his life and ministry, Jesus always grasped that his power, at least in worldly terms, lay in his powerlessness. In light of our own lives lived in the “blessed hope” we joyfully await, Vaclav Havel, in his essay “The Power of the Powerless,” observed: “There are times when we must sink to the bottom of our misery to understand truth, just as we must descend to the bottom of a well to see the stars in broad daylight.”

To be a Christian means to be comfortable living a paradox: when I am weak, then I am strong; when I am powerless, then I am powerful; I win by losing; it is by dying that I truly live. As Havel and Saint Paul both demonstrate, the truth of these paradoxes can be grasped intellectually but are only understood experientially. It is your life, the things you experience all day every day, that provide you opportunities subject yourself to Christ’s kingship.

Our reading from Revelation refers to how Jesus, by his blood, has made us a kingdom of priests.8 Priests offer sacrifices. It is by sacrificing our hopes, our fears, our disappointments that we render ourselves fit subjects for the Kingdom of God. This is how we can consider the end of the world as we know it and feel not just fine but joyful. We make the Lord present whenever and wherever we help someone in need. This is how we fulfill the priestly calling we received in baptism. This is how we pray very day, Maranatha! Come, our Lord!

1 REM, “It’s the End of the World,” 1987.
2 The Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, sec. 18.
3 1 Corinthians 16:22; Didache 10:6.
4 The Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, “The Communion Rite,” sec. 124.
5 John 18:36.
6 John 12:31-32.
7 2 Corinthians 12:10.
8 Revelation 1:6.

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 ...