Friday, April 30, 2021

On cusp of May, the month of Mary

Friday! Today is the last day of April. Tomorrow is May Day, the international day of workers and, for us Roman Catholics, the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker. An important aspect of Church Social Teaching has to do with workers. Sadly, in the U.S. the Church's long-time collaboration with labor unions is a thing of the past. We're all the worse off for it. Anyway, I don't look for that collaboration to be revived anytime soon.

While it begins with a feast in honor of her husband, May is the month of Mary, the month for May crowings. As of today, 120 days of 2021 have passed. Have you prayed 120 Rosaries? If not, don't worry. I urge you to pray 31 Rosaries in May.

The fundamental dogmas of the Christian faith are paradoxical: One in three, human and divine, etc. One of these, as we note whenever we say or sing the Divine Praises is "virgin and mother." Our Blessed Mother occupies a unique place: latria, dulia, hyperdulia. Loosely translated in order: worship, veneration, super-veneration that falls short of worship.

We worship God and only God. We venerate those holy women and men who are saints. Hyperdulia pertains to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Just as in the Ten Commandments the fourth commandment to honor your parents falls between the commandments about loving God and those concerning love of neighbor, Mary, as our Mother, occupies a unique space. Parents, even absent parents, occupy a unique space between God and other people.

Sung by a virtual 450 voice choir, our traditio for this final day of April is Salve Regina:

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Listening for the Shepherd's voice

On Good Shepherd Sunday I think it bears noting that there is but one Good Shepherd: Jesus Christ. For the most part, clergy are hirelings. Not all hirelings are bad, many care and are not driven exclusively by self-interest or self-preservation. On other hand, some are driven by less than laudable motivations. Like most human beings and human relationships, it is a mixed bag, to say the least.

Another thing that is worth pointing out is that being compared to sheep is far from flattering. Just as Jesus did not demand unquestioning obedience, Catholics are not to be blind followers. Mature faith requires a certain critical conscientiousness, which is informed by the Gospel and by Church teaching. Even when accepted in principle, infallibility, problematic in itself, is pretty restricted.

The English word "obedience" finds its root in the Latin word that means "to listen." Hence, being obedient does not mean simply doing what you're told. It also doesn't mean just doing what you want. To have faith is to accept Jesus as Lord. In the circumstances of our lives, we need to listen for his voice. It takes time and a lot of listening to be able to discern the Shepherd's voice, which has a lot of competition both internally and externally. Besides, don't we learn to trust through experience?

It is in the second reading from 1 John that the language employed is less analogous and more real: "Beloved, we are God’s children now." We are children not merely of a loving Father but of a Father who, with his Son and their Spirit, is love.

Doctrine is regulative, not prescriptive. If it were otherwise, Christianity would simply be a matter of following the rules. If there's one thing Jesus demonstrates over and again, this cannot be the case. Variances from the norm can and must be permissible. If this were not the case, would there be the need for pastors or pastoral ministers? Would there be a need for seminaries and schools of pastoral ministry? From the Council of Trent until the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church became very dogmatic. What I mean by that is many teachings, quite far removed from the fundamentals of Christian faith found in divine revelation, have been promulgated with an authority such teachings can never claim.

Enforcing the rules is not pastoral ministry. Far from seeking to make us uncritical and unquestioning followers, Jesus's shepherd analogy is about his care for us, his willingness to lay down his life for those in his care, to look out especially for the most vulnerable. His love extends beyond laying down his life. It reaches out to his taking his life up again. Jesus didn't just die for us, he rose for us. Love is the power that raised Jesus from the dead.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Languishing and thriving- the beat of life

This week I have been in St. Louis attending my first annual convention of the National Association of Diaconate Directors. It's my first time traveling since January of last year when I went to southern Georgia for my primary job. While the convention, on the whole, has been fine, this week reinforced that the older I get the less I like business travel.

Despite being able to travel and attend a convention, the pandemic is still a reality. As a result, there isn't much socializing. Evenings are pretty free. In a first, I have used Uber Eats to order supper every evening. Being on my own for a day or two is usually a nice break. But beyond that, I begin to miss my wife, my children, my co-workers, etc.

This week highlighted for me how much I need the people in my life, beginning with my wife. I guess being married for nearly 28 years cements a deep bond. When we're apart for extended periods, sappy as it sounds, it's like a part of me is missing- the best part. I could wax eloquently about what I miss when we're apart but that important thing, it seems to me, is to learn to cherish her more when we're together. If there's one thing I don't do well it's being alone for days. Another thing I find difficult is having a lot of free time. By myself and unencumbered by daily demands I tend to languish.

To start with a slightly critical point, "languishing" has become something a buzzword used to describe what a lot of people are feeling due to the disruption of social patterns caused by the pandemic. The dictionary definition of "languish" is to lose vitality or even growing weak and feeble. My guess is, languishing is the term of choice because it stops short of depression, especially clinical (i.e., diagnosed) depression. In that regard, I suppose it suits this purpose.

Languishing is a precarious predicament for me, there are some potential pitfalls. One is too much introspection and the other is what I might do to distract myself so I don't become overly introspective. A personal challenge moving forward is to have free time and to use it well, to both plan and then enjoy the time without mentally burdening myself with the other things I "should" be doing. It's easy to put all my eggs in the basket of work and to gauge my own worth by how much I get done and accomplish. Theoretically, I completely get the need to have unproductive time and to recreate. Practically, it's a different story.

One of the results of having a lot to do, completing it, and then doing more is that it starts to seem to me that my worth to other people is calculated by what I do for them. In all honesty, that is my relationship with some people. This is alright because it is the nature of some relationships, like professional ones.

Even professional relationships shouldn't be exclusively defined in such a pragmatic and calculating way. It's when every relationship starts to seem that way to me that it becomes problematic. Being in ministry definitely exacerbates this issue. As a deacon, I exist to help and serve others unselfishly without expecting anything in return. This gets back to compartmentalization except understood as healthy boundaries.

Especially for middle-aged men, building genuine friendships isn't easy. Even setting out to intentionally live an integrated life, it seems to almost be the nature of late modernity to compartmentalize the various aspects of life. There is probably even some necessity to do this to some extent.

I also need to keep in mind that the need and desire for friendship render me vulnerable in certain ways. There are those who can take advantage of those vulnerabilities, even if in so doing they're quite unaware. In their "giving," they are really taking. As long as I know I am giving and not expecting anything, this can be okay. Knowing what's what matters. Life requires discernment, which often occurs after-the-fact. It should go without saying, but doesn't, that I only experience things from my perspective. As important as it is to try to broaden my perspective, I really only know how it seems to me.

Understandably and by necessity, there are limits to how much most care for you. In truth, there are precious few people who care about me, or any of us, completely, in season and out, good days and bad days, fair weather and foul weather. Therefore, it's important to cherish the few people who care completely. Being human, even on our best days and, again, without perhaps knowing it, we relate to others on the basis of mixed and mixed-up motives. I certainly don't exclude myself from this.

Living as we do in an alienating and alienated culture and society, our longing for someone who cares about us not just always but completely and totally and without condition reveals the transcendent dimension of our humanity.

Earlier this week, a friend posted an article on languishing by an organizational psychologist, Adam Grant: "There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing." Grant provides the closest thing to a tidy conclusion: "The lesson of this simple idea is to treat uninterrupted blocks of time as treasures to guard. It clears out constant distractions and gives us the freedom to focus. We can find solace in experiences that capture our full attention." It's silly to think that there is a remedy for what came to the fore this week that doesn't require effort on my part.

Our traditio for today is The Go-Go's lockdown version of "We Got the Beat." They performed this on the Today show last year.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Year B Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-15.17-19; Ps 4:2.4.7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:25-48

“You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells his incredulous disciples at the end of today’s Gospel reading.1 What things are they witnesses to? Initially and perhaps primarily, they are witnesses to his death. Even if not yet fully convinced, they are also witnessing his resurrection.2

After the risen Lord opens “their minds to understand the scriptures,” they are witnesses that his death and resurrection are the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.3 This is something the risen and disguised Christ also makes clear to his two disciples as walks the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus with them. Hence, it is not just very important, it is crucial for our faith and so for our witness to understand what the scriptures convey on a deep level.

It’s too bad that we often engage the scriptures superficially, if at all. Or, worse yet, we read the scriptures through the lens of our preconceptions, imposing on them a narrow field of meaning in attempt to reduce God to our measure. And so, instead of letting God’s word shape and form us, expand and broaden us, we attempt to keep revelation, which “is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword,” within the safe boundaries we establish4 We read scripture instead of letting the scriptures read us. Let yourself be challenged, changed, converted. This is what it means to repent.

None of us saw Jesus die on the cross or have seen for ourselves the wounds in his hands and feet. None of us witnessed him eat the baked fish.5 Yet, we are convinced he rose. Your participation in this Mass is proof you believe. Would there be any reason to be here doing what we’re doing if Christ is not risen from the dead?

It is only because Jesus is risen that he can be present here, effecting what we Roman Catholics call his “Real Presence.” Just as we tend to reduce the Church’s apostolicity only to apostolic succession, we tend to reduce the risen Lord’s real presence to the consecrated bread and wine. It is because both apostolic succession and the understanding that by the power of the holy Spirit the bread and wine become for us Christ’s body and blood are necessary aspects of Catholic faith that we must not reduce them to one aspect.

According to the Second Vatican Council, the risen Christ’s real presence in the Mass happens in four distinct but interrelated ways. All of these together make the Mass what it is. First, Christ is present in the assembly, in the gathering of the baptized. The assembly, therefore, acts in persona corporis Christi, in the person of the body of Christ. Second, he is present in the person of the priest, who acts in persona Christi captis, in the person of Christ the head. The deacon acts in persona Christi servi, in the person of Christ the servant.6

When gathered around the altar, the Church constitutes what Saint Augustine called the totus Christus, the total or complete Christ. This is necessary for Christ to be really present in the proclamation of the scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. No Church, no Christ.

As in the episode of the disciples walking seven miles with Jesus, whom they did not recognize, in today’s Gospel the risen One expounds the scriptures and then eats. In both instances, as we might expect from Luke’s Gospel, which is very centered on the Eucharist, what we hear about is a Liturgy of the Word and a Liturgy of the Eucharist.

This is not just an exegetical/theological digression. Something that’s kind of neat to know. Grasping this is vital if we are to understand what we not only witness but participate in. We must understand so that we can bear witness. Our Gospel today is about how Christ remains present not merely to us, or even among us, but in us and through us. He is made present in us not merely by receiving communion but by hearing his word, that is, the scriptures. Hearing is a different mode than reading.

While it is a great practice to spend time with the Sunday readings before coming to Mass when we’re gathered and the scriptures are proclaimed they enter us through our ears. The scriptures are proclaimed orally and received aurally. Of course, the readings need to be proclaimed in such a way that it is not necessary for those who can hear to read along. As Saint Paul wrote to the Christian community in ancient Rome: “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.”7

Doubt is necessary for faith, especially a vibrant faith, one worth sharing and one that can be shared. Faith is not shared when it pretends to a certainty it cannot possess. Apologetics is not evangelization. Something easy to miss in our Gospel for this Third Sunday of Easter is that despite being “incredulous,” Jesus’s disciples, on seeing him, were filled with joy.8

Being “incredulous” means being unwilling and/or unable to believe something. While we might, at times, find it difficult to believe, we, who have experienced the mysteries we are celebrating, should never be unwilling to believe.

Jesus ‘s resurrection often seems too good to be true. Like his disciples immediately after the Transfiguration, upon hearing Jesus tell them he must die and rise on the third day, we’re still interrogating the meaning of his rising from the dead.9 Our questioning of just what Christ’s rising means intensifies in the face of suffering. But it is by persisting through suffering that we experience what it means to die and rise.

And so, we should heed Saint Paul’s exhortation and “Rejoice always,” especially when the chips are down.10 Our joy is perhaps the most powerful witness to what we see, hear, touch, and taste at Mass. And so, “I shall say it again, rejoice.”11 My dear friends in Christ, the Lord is not only near, he is now here.

1 Luke 24:48.
2 Luke 24:41.
3 Luke 24:45.
4 Hebrews 4:12.
5 John Martens, The Word on the Street: Sunday Lectionary Reflections, Year B, 42.
6 Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [Sacrosanctum Concilium], sec. 7.
7 Romans 10:17.
8 Luke 24:41.
9 Mark 9:10.
10 Philippians 4:4.
11 Philippians 4:4.

Friday, April 16, 2021

"Upon the desert slope is so impeded..."

One of the temptations I frequently have to resist is to blog about blogging. Suffice it to say, this past week was another doozy. I will spare you the details. One thing is clear that next week, while I am gone away from home and work, I have more serious discernment to do. I hate to seem wishy-washy, especially to myself, but I hate to consistently go through what I've been going through weekly. As usual, I have nobody but myself to blame.

So, how is your Easter going? Yes, it is still Easter. It will be Easter until 23 May! I had a lovely Triduum, a beautiful Easter, and a superb Easter Monday. In all honesty, it's been downhill since then. Nothing utterly horrible- though a fear, but mostly just too much to do.

On Easter afternoon, was able to spend a little time listening to some music. I listened to the Psychedelic Furs. The Furs are one of those bands everyone my age has heard of and even knows some of their songs. In retrospect, it's amazing how consistently good their songs are. I was able to see the Furs live, along with The Fixx, and X on 31 July 2018, which seems like a lifetime ago. I wrote a bit about that but more about Pope Francis on the death penalty (see "State your piece tonight").

The song that has stuck with me since Easter Sunday is "Until She Comes." An underrated song by an underrated and sometimes overlooked band. So, "Until She Comes" is our traditio for this Second Friday of Easter. It's kind of a dreamy song.

I plan to write a bit more about Dante in light of Pope Francis's Apostolic Letter written for the 700th anniversary of the poet's death, Candor Lucis Aeternae. This is not as unrelated as it might seem. Given the dreaminess of the song, it makes me think...but maybe everyone doesn't have a Beatrice. The relevant lyric from the song is: "And with her need, I find I'm saved."

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Divine Mercy Sunday

Similar to Friday, I do not have a lot to write or say on the Second Sunday of Easter. Among Roman Catholics, the Second Sunday of Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday. Of course, in today's Gospel, taken from the Gospel According to Saint John, the resurrected Jesus breathes on his disciples, thus infusing them with the holy Spirit (John 20:19-31). He tells them they have the power to forgive and retain sins. This passage is taken as Jesus's institution of the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation/confession).

Retain sins? Well, theologically, it can't be the power to retain sins that a person recognizes as wrong, feels sorrow for having done, and that s/he is committed to trying not to repeat. In other words, granting divine authority is different from granting arbitary power! The determination to turn over a leaf, as it were, is repentance, which is distinct from contrition, or being sorry- though, it seems, one often stems from the other.

The point is that the first gift the resurrected Lord gives to his Church, which, at this point, consists of not many followers, is mercy. He forgives them of their betrayal- this is brought home very powerfully in the next chapter of John's Gospel in the risen Lord's threefold forgiveness and reconciliation with Peter (see John 21:15-18). Being forgiven and reconciled, they are now empowered to forgive and reconcile, they are made ministers of reconciliation.

Mercy means to be compassionate toward and forgiving of someone who it is within your power to harm or to punish. God is merciful. As the title of a book by Pope Francis states: The Name of God is Mercy. It doesn't seem too much to say that if the name of God is Mercy then the name of Mercy is Jesus.

Jesus, I trust in You.

Being a Christian means being a person who recognizes and gratefully receives God's mercy given in Christ Jesus. One's ability to recognize God's mercy in Christ is itself work of Divine Mercy, that is, of the holy Spirit. But it is not enough to receive God's mercy. Being a Christian means being merciful- full of mercy. As you freely receive so must you freely give. Clearly, as Christians, we don't seem to be very good at this.

Why do we fail to be merciful? Because even though we're Christians, we remain human beings. Hence, it is all too natural for us to default to the lex talonis, which demands an eye-for-an-eye and a-tooth-for-a-tooth. As Tevye notes in Fiddler on the Roof, the result of this is that everyone ends up blind and toothless. As Christians, we must be dedicated to a world inhabited by people with eyes and teeth so they can taste and see God's goodness (Psalm 34:9).

While not opposed to justice, grace stands in contrast to karma. It seems to me that karma is a dogma. Karma is a destructive dogma in the way it is usually invoked; hoping someone who has wronged you gets what s/he has deserves. I realize that karma also holds that good is the return for good, which, while a nice idea. This idea seems to fly in the face of experience and to be somewhat incongruent with the Christian view of reality. Briefly digressing, I will say that the Christian teaching on indulgences, in its unperverted form, has something in common with the positive aspect of karma (see Pope Saint Paul VI's Indulgentarium Doctrina, especially Chapter 4).

As the late Rich Mullins sang:
Let mercy lead
Let love be the strength in your legs
And in every footprint that you leave
There'll be a drop of grace
For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Talk About the Resurrection- but what to say?

Easter Friday. Today is the sixth day of the Easter Octave. What to say? He is risen! He is resurrected. To say this is at one and the same time to say too much and too little. What is resurrection? It can't be merely be dying and physically coming back to life, the body of a dead person being revived. There's more going on in Christ's resurrection than just the revival of his body.

What is the connection between Christ's resurrection and his ascension? What is the connection between his ascension and the holy Spirit's powerful coming? What is the holy Spirit if not the mode of Christ's resurrection presence? Isn't this presence a "closer," more intimate, one than if Christ had remained present in his body?

Resurrection, by Matthius Grünewald, Isenheim Altarpiece

In the Gospel accounts, what's up with virtually nobody recognizing or at least having a hard time recognizing Jesus after his resurrection? Is this lack of recognition a way of denoting his new way of being present? It's too glib to say "He's present by his absence." What is the difference between "present to" and "present in," and/or "present among"? How does this relate to Eucharist and the other sacraments? Well, epiclesis certainly has something to do with it.

Just like God does not exist if by "exist" you mean as an entity in the universe, Christ's resurrection is not just an event that happened at a certain time, on a specific day, during a particular month, in a given year- no matter which clock or calendar you use. It's something more, much more, must be.

Anyway, while it's longer than the ideal, I urge you to listen to today's traditio in its entirety- all thirteen minutes. It is the final part of Mahler's Symphony No. 2, known as the Resurrection Symphony:

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Urbi et Orbi- Easter 2021


Easter 2021

Dear Brothers and Sisters, a good, happy and peaceful Easter!

Today, throughout the world, the Church’s proclamation resounds: “Jesus, who was crucified, has risen as he said. Alleluia!”

The Easter message does not offer us a mirage or reveal a magic formula. It does not point to an escape from the difficult situation we are experiencing. The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor. Nonetheless – and this is scandalous – armed conflicts have not ended and military arsenals are being strengthened. That is today’s scandal.

In the face of, or better, in the midst of this complex reality, the Easter message speaks concisely of the event that gives us the hope that does not disappoint: “Jesus who was crucified has risen”. It speaks to us not about angels or ghosts, but about a man, a man of flesh and bone, with a face and a name: Jesus. The Gospel testifies that this Jesus, crucified under Pontius Pilate for claiming he was the Christ, the Son of God, rose on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, just as he had foretold to his disciples.

The crucified Jesus, none other, has risen from the dead. God the Father raised Jesus, his Son, because he fully accomplished his saving will. Jesus took upon himself our weakness, our infirmities, even our death. He endured our sufferings and bore the weight of our sins. Because of this, God the Father exalted him and now Jesus Christ lives forever; he is the Lord.

Triduum: Easter Vigil

Tonight, our celebration of the great mystery of faith reaches its culmination as we celebrate with great joy the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. Tonight, we celebrate our creation in God’s image and likeness, our fall, and, above all, our redemption. You might ask, “Celebrate our fall, are you serious?" I am serious. To support this bold assertion, I appeal to these stunning words of the great Exsultet, sung at the beginning of this Vigil:
O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ/
O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a redeemer
Think about it, it’s mind blowing: Our sin, our fault, our rejection of God, did not earn us God’s wrath, but earned us Divine Mercy. How good is God? Only God can take our rejection of him, our attempt to displace him and establish ourselves on his throne and turn us back to himself through love and not by punishing us.

The orders of nature and grace go together, the one, nature, being brought into existence by the other, grace. Created in the image and, at least initially, in the likeness, of God, human beings are created for communion with God, with each other, and with the rest of creation. Being created for communion means being made to participate in God’s divine life - the life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Stated simply, we are made for eternal life.

Life eternal is that longing you feel when you find that even your satisfaction has a limit. When your satisfaction reaches that limit, it dissolves into dissatisfaction.

While the image of God is ineradicable and can never be lost, our likeness to God is lost through sin. Losing our likeness to God through sin while retaining the imago Dei, the image of God, is perhaps best described as a divorce between the orders of nature and grace. The best proof of this great divorce is sin, which results in the punishment of humanity by humanity and ultimately death.

According to St. Paul, sin results from death. You see, death threatens to make everything seem futile, worthless, ephemeral, and passing, lacking in ultimate meaning. It is through this crack that sin seeps in. Death is a sign that something is deeply wrong with us and with the world.

While death is a part of nature, and so, natural, it is only “natural” because the order of nature has been disconnected from the order of grace. Christ came to restore this vital connection. He did it by his passion, death, and resurrection, thus proving that love is not only as strong as death, but stronger than death.

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, considering Christ’s triumph, the apostle Paul taunts death:
Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting? (15:54b-55)

Just as God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage through the waters of the Red Sea, he delivers us, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, from sin and death through the waters of baptism. This is exactly what St. Paul was getting at in our reading from Romans. “Are you unaware,” the apostles asked his readers, “that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” In baptism we die, are buried, and rise to new life, “so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-5).

The new life we have in Christ does not begin at mortal death; it begins at baptism with our paschal death and resurrection. Eternal life begins with our re-birth, with our dying, being buried, and rising with Christ to new life in baptism. Life eternal is not a dream deferred, let alone just a nice idea. Eternal life is now!

Our baptismal vocation is to make God’s reign a present reality. It is not an easy call to fulfill. Heeding your vocation can even mean being killed, which is why it is the only way to be truly alive. Our Lord told his followers, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more” (Luke 12:4). Because you died and rose with Christ in baptism, you cannot be killed.

If Christ was not raised from the dead, then, taking a cue from Monty Python, baptism is a farcical aquatic ceremony signifying nothing at all. As St. Paul wrote to the church in ancient Corinth, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins,” before concluding, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all” (1 Cor 15:17.19).

Christos anesti. Alithos anesti – Christ is risen! Truly he is risen! And so, we are not the most pitiable people of all. Through Christ, we have conquered death. Christ’s Easter victory is our Easter victory! To view Jesus as an historical figure is to “seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified” still in the tomb, instead of the Son of God who “has been raised” from the dead and who is now present in a more powerful way, by means of the holy Spirit (Mark 16:5-6).

My friends, Jesus Christ is alive. He remains present in us and among us by the power of his holy Spirit, who is also the Spirit of the Father. We will witness this for ourselves when the holy Spirit is called down upon the waters of the font, when the Spirit is sealed on the foreheads of the newly baptized, empowering them to live for Christ, and when this same Spirit, who is the mode of Christ’s resurrection presence in us and among us, transforms the bread and wine and, in turn, us into Christ’s very body- the holy Church of God in Christ, established and perpetuated by the power of the holy Spirit.

But the surest proof that someone has encountered the risen Lord is that s/he feels impelled to become a witness. The Greek word for witness is martyr. And so, like the two Marys in our Gospel, you are sent to tell others, to bear witness to your encounter with the risen Christ.

So, sisters and brothers, let us go forth from this place, filled with joy, bearing witness to Christ’s death and resurrection by loving our neighbors and our enemies, demonstrating our faith by our works, bearing good fruit. This is the mission Christ entrusts to his Church until he comes again. This is the mission on which we are sent at the end of this sacred Triduum, when we are finally dismissed after two solid days of prayer and fasting, by which we have been preparing to renew our baptismal covenant, to renew our acceptance of God’s call.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Triduum: Good Friday

Readings: Isa 52:13-53:12; Ps 31:2.6.12-13.15-16.17.25; Heb 4:4-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

Apart from Holy Saturday, Good Friday is the strangest day of the year. For Christians, it is a day that naturally lends itself to quiet contemplation. Ideally, quietly contemplating Christ’s crucifixion is the best way to spend Good Friday.

The perennial question of whether or not it was necessary for Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made-man-for-us to die in this horrible way cannot be answered simply. Love and death seem to go together. In sacred scripture a verse from the Song of Songs makes this clear:
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
For Love is strong as Death,
longing is fierce as Sheol.
Its arrows are arrows of fire,
flames of the divine1
His passion and descent into hell demonstrate Jesus Christ’s fierce longing for us. Because of his death, we can be assured that he is with us even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.2

“In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”3 It is because we are loved that we can, in turn, fulfill God’s command to love God by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. Otherwise, love is too great a risk for us most of the time.

In the theology of the Letter to the Hebrews, one of the lengthier books of our uniquely Christian scriptures, we do not find a doctrine of merit by good works. “Nor is there any suggestion of a recompense for services rendered.”4 Rather, we find love “which must issue in good works if it is real love. Love brings its own reward, both now and in the future.”5 Love is the end in itself.

Failure to love, too, brings its own reward or, rather, its own punishment. It is really both a non-Christian and un-Christian idea to think each person’s suffering is somehow divine justice for their sins. But, in reality, “the punishment for sin is a self-inflicted punishment by humanity on humanity.”6 While karma is real, it has nothing to do with love and so nothing of grace about it.

What is karma but the cosmic projection of the lex talonis, which demands an-eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth? Let’s face it, nothing seems more natural to us than this. Jesus came to abolish the lex talonis and to establish divine order, the order of grace. How does this happen? It happens by doing God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven, to quote a prayer we pray together frequently.

In a book-length interview published some years ago, discussing his faith, Bono of U2 stated:
Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts… the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff7
Love interrupts karma, interrupts humanity’s punishment of humanity, which piles sin on top of sin. When contemplated, the Cross of Christ interrupts and disrupts our normal ways of thinking and acting.

Establishing the divine order, ushering in God’s reign, is the mission of the Church. We sometimes fail in our mission quite catastrophically, as history clearly shows. Hence, it is by grace that Christ does not abandon his Bride. Bono, in the same interview, also said,
Let's not get too hard on the Holy Roman Church…The Church has its problems, but the older I get, the more comfort I find there8
Indeed, we have a high priest who sympathizes with our weakness and who is indulgent of our forgetfulness, who forgives our trespasses, thus enabling us to forgive others when they trespass against us. We have a high priest who continues to be really present among us and, if we let him, is present in us, helping us to live gracefully, that is, in a non-punishing way.

God’s Son, while in the flesh, learned obedience from what he suffered. This is to state the matter too abstractly. Putting into some context requires us to remember that in the garden Jesus pleaded with the Father to spare him what he suffered. Nonetheless, “For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God."9

What was the joy that lay before Christ Jesus? Nothing other than love of God and love of neighbor. But Christ was not content to merely makes us his neighbors. Through Baptism he makes us children of the Father, his sisters and brothers, thus joining us together in a bond of profound love.

Through Christ’s passion and death, we begin to see that love is not merely as strong as death but that love is stronger than death.

1 Song of Songs 8:6.
2 Psalm 23:4.
3 1 John 4:10.
4 Hugh Montefiore, A Commentary on The Epistle to the Hebrews, 111.
5 Ibid.
6 James P. Mackey, Christianity and Creation: The Essence of the Christian Faith and Its Future among Religions, 115.
7 “Bono: Grace Over Karma,” Christianity Today, 1 August 2005, accessed 2 April 2021.
8 Ibid.
9 Hebrews 12:2.

On a weird Good Friday

Growing up I did not know what Good Friday was. For some reason, I did not correlate it at all with Easter. But then, Easter was a rather low-key affair that mostly revolved around receiving candy. Since, unlike today, candy was then a relatively rare thing, it was enough for me. I remember that we always had ham on Easter. Yes, I knew that Easter was the day Christ's resurrection is celebrated.

I still remember a few years after becoming Catholic, while still an undergraduate, going home to my parents' house late on Good Friday. I used to drive back home from Salt Lake on some weekends for the quiet to study. I think I had been fasting all day. I didn't arrive at my parents' house until around 9:00 PM.

About ten o'clock, I went in search of food. They'd had spare ribs for supper with rice and saved me some. And so, I ate. It's odd that remember this. I think the year was 1992. I also remember feeling a bit guilty, not only for eating but eating meat!. Hey, what's religion without a little neurosis? Maybe that's why the ribs tasted so damn good. And maybe the flavor of the ribs is what causes me to remember- that or the guilt.

Crucifixion, by Matthias Grünewald, from the Isenheim Altarpiece

Usually, the Triduum is pretty profound for me. This year, given the hectic pace of my life, not so much. Reflecting on it, that's okay. It's good news that we celebrate it no matter what. We even observed the Triduum last year when virtually nobody could participate, at least not in person. Perhaps a year that seemed like a long Lent also tamps down my fervor a bit.

This week, praying the psalmody for the Office of Readings on Wednesday, I was struck by verse fourteen of Psalm 39: "Turn your gaze from me, that I may smile before I depart to be no more."

This verse is preceded by
O Lord, turn your ear to my cry.
Do not be deaf to my tears.
In your house I am a passing guest,
a pilgrim, like all my fathers
One of the things I cherish about the Psalms is that they deal in reality. Reality is what makes them hopeful as opposed to merely optimistic- Psalm 39 has not one note of optimism in it!

Praying the Psalms day-after-day in the Liturgy of the Hours shapes and forms me. This is a great help when I am not "feeling it," as it were. This Good Friday, I am certainly not feeling it. That's okay. In fac, more than okay. Today I will fast, pray, and prepare for today's observance, which we're holding in the evening. I can say, I need resurrection. Well, at least I desire to be resurrected. That's a start, right?

Our traditio for this Good Friday is King's College (Cambridge) Choir & congregation singing "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

On loving like Jesus loves

Readings: Acts 10:25-26.34-35.44-48; Ps 98:1-4; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17 In the first reading for today, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, t...