Monday, May 31, 2021

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Here in the United States, today is Memorial Day. In its essence, Memorial Day is the day we remember those who were died fighting on behalf of and at the behest of the United States of America. It is the trend, however, to conflate Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day, the Fourth of July, and Veteran's Day.

Personally, I think Memorial Day should be a sobering reminder of the cost of war. As a result, we should be committed to avoiding armed conflict. For people in the United States, Memorial Day also serves as a secular All Souls Day.

On the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, today is the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today the Church commemorates the Blessed Virgin's visit to the house of her kinswoman, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Of course, Elizabeth, married to Zechariah, was barren until, in her older age, she conceived a son who would be the forerunner of the Messiah (see Luke 1:39-45).

On Luke's account, as the Blessed Virgin approached, bearing God in her womb, Elizabeth was filled with Holy Spirit. As a result of this filling with the Spirit, the child in Elizabeth's womb leaped. It was Elizabeth who uttered a portion of the Hail Mary: "blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (Luke 1:42).

The Visitation, as it is short-handedly known, is the second Mystery of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The fruit of this Mystery is the love of neighbor. The fruits of the Mysteries of the Blessed Virgin's Rosary are the "So whats?" These Mysteries constitute the answer to the question "Why pray the Rosary?"

As I get older, being a habitual scripture reader practically my entire life, I am struck more and more by the simplicity of the narratives found in the Sacred Scriptures. In this pericope, the young woman Mary, sometime after discovering she is pregnant, makes her way to the (relatively) distant home of some beloved relatives.

According to Luke, Mary goes in the knowledge that the previously barren Elizabeth "has also conceived a son in her old age" (Luke 1:36). While according to this narrative, Elizabeth conceived her son in the normal manner but her conception is also miraculous, or least very providential. This is indicated by the words spoken to the young Nazarene woman by the archangel Gabriel: "nothing will be impossible for God" (Luke 1:37). This simple story makes clear how happy the two women are for one another.

Today is the last day of May, a month Catholics traditionally devote to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today take some time to pray the Rosary, reflect on the Joyful Mysteries. As the English Dominican, Father Vincent McNabb, who urged the faithful to pray the Rosary faithfully, exhorted:
The Incarnation is the centre of all our spiritual life. One of the means by which it is made so is the Holy Rosary. There is hardly any way of arriving at some realisation of this great mystery equal to that of saying the Rosary. Nothing will impress it so much on your mind as going apart to dwell in thought, a little space each day, in Bethlehem, on Golgotha, on the Mount of the Ascension (Michael Hennessy, “Fr. Vincent McNabb: A Voice of Contradiction,” Seattle Catholic, 29 April 2005)
A note for deacons as well as for aspirants and candidates for the permanent diaconate: "devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints" are essential elements of a truly diaconal spirituality (see National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, sec. 113). In addition to the diaconal saints: Stephen, Philip, Lawrence, Francis of Assisi, Ephrem the Syrian, Vincent of Saragossa, etc., it seems that devotion to Saint Joseph is a necessary dimension of diaconal spirituality.

It's difficult for me to believe that today is the final day of the fifth month on 2021.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Readings: Deut 4:32-34.39-40; Ps 33:4-6.18-20.22; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20

Christian theology does not begin with the Most Holy Trinity. Christian theology begins with Jesus Christ. It is Christ who reveals God as Father. It is Christ who sends the Holy Spirit to remain present in, among, and through us.

Perhaps the best way to conceive of the Holy Spirit is as the love between the Father and the Son personified. When we contemplate the phrase that occurs twice in the span of eight verses in the fourth chapter of the First Letter of John, “God is love,” we come to see that love requires a lover and beloved.1 Since love is profuse, that is, outward-looking, it bears fruit.

At its deepest level, love constitutes the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. It is love that enables us to make sense of our profession of one God in three divine persons. Because love is fruitful, when someone has experienced the love of God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, which experience is what makes someone a Christian, s/he is impelled to share this Good News.

What else is our Gospel today about than this? What is important when considering the final passage of the Gospel According to Saint Matthew is the making of disciples. Faith is the precondition of baptism. And faith is not merely belief, as we often suppose. This is even true when it comes to baptizing infants. The Rite of Baptism for Infants and Small Children makes this clear by the questions posed to the parents and godparents. All of these questions are aimed at ensuring that parents and godparents are committed to making the child being baptized a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Just like you can’t teach someone algebra unless you know it yourself, you cannot make disciples of Christ if you are not first his disciple. This is something that Pope Francis mentions often, usually addressing it to the clergy and especially to bishops. In a nutshell, disciple-making is really the work in which each parish, each Christian community, is called to engage.

Sacraments are not magic spells. While in and through the grace infused by the sacrament baptism you were reborn as a child of God through Jesus Christ by the Spirit’s power, you need to live the new life of faith, hope, and love with which God infuses you. Stated succinctly, you must be a disciple, a follower, an apprentice of Jesus Christ. This is intentional, not accidental.

Saint Paul, in our reading from Romans, mentions an important aspect of being Jesus’s disciple: “if we only suffer with him.”2 The kind of suffering we endure are things like suffering wrongs patiently, forgiving, praying for, and doing good to our enemies, and the like. In other words, being Jesus’s disciple means obeying even his hardest teachings, which very much go against our fallen grain.

Being Jesus’s disciple also means not making a big show of your discipleship. There is a huge difference between righteousness and self-righteousness. Being a Christian means grasping that you have no righteousness of your own. There is probably no greater self-deception than to think, “I am a good person,” even when one can tick off a long list of rules he keeps. If you don’t understand that Christianity is not first and foremost a matter of rule-keeping then you have not appropriated the teaching of Jesus.

On Trinity Sunday 1925, a non-descript man was making his way up Granby Lane in Dublin, Ireland to attend Mass at Saint Savior’s church. While walking he suddenly collapsed. In the next day’s edition, the Irish Independent newspaper reported: “An elderly man collapsed in Granby Lane yesterday and, on being taken to Jervis Street Hospital, was found to be dead. He was wearing a tweed suit, but there was nothing to indicate who he was.”

Once at the hospital, in the course of treating him, the doctors discovered that he had wound a chain around his waist and more chains around an arm and a leg, as well as cords around the other arm and leg. The chains found on his body at death were not some extreme penitential regime but a symbol of his devotion to Mary, Mother of God that he wished to give himself to her totally: Totus tuus. The name of this man is Matt Talbot.

Talbot was born into a relatively poor working-class family in Dublin. Like a lot of young men of that time and place, Matt started working full-time to help support his family at the age of twelve. His first job was with a wine merchant. To make a long story short, by the age of thirteen, he was considered a hopeless alcoholic.

Fifteen years later, broke and unable to drink on credit, Matt waited outside a pub he frequented hoping a friend would invite him in for a drink. After several friends walked past him into the pub without inviting him along, he went home. Upon arriving home, Matt told his mother he was going “to take the pledge” not to drink.

Matt followed through on his promise, pledging not to drink for three months. “The pledge” also consisted of making a general confession and attending Mass daily. At the end of three months, he took the pledge for another six months and then for life. Through an austere, prayerful, penitential manner of life, he remained sober right up until that Trinity Sunday when he collapsed on Granby Lane.

The first several years of his sobriety were very difficult for Matt. But he prayed, attended Mass, went to confession, read and learned about his faith, supported the missions and charities from his modest means. In other words, he made use of the means of grace that Mother Church provides for all her children. During two general strikes, being single and living a very austere life, Matt gave money to fellow strikers who were married with children.

After his recovery, Matt scrupulously sought to repay all his debts. Once, while in the throes of alcoholism, Talbot stole a fiddler’s fiddle and sold it for money to buy booze. Once in his right mind, he searched for the fiddler whose instrument he stole to pay him back. He failed to find him and so he gave the money to have a Mass said for the man whose livelihood he took.

Venerable Matt Talbot became a disciple of Jesus Christ, a very devoted disciple, an exemplary disciple. But apart from knowing that he was “religious” and went to Mass a lot, his fellow workers, neighbors and even his siblings did not really understand the depth of his sanctity until after his death. He was quiet, soft-spoken, unremarkable, unassuming, someone whose yes meant yes and no meant no.3

Of course, not every Christian (or the vast majority of Christians) is called to live a life of extreme penance like the one Matt Talbot lived post-conversion. We are, however, called to follow Jesus with the same love and devotion as Venerable Matt Talbot, to have the same commitment he had. In baptism, you died with Christ. A truly devout life is one that “is hidden with Christ in God.”4

My dear friends, do not look for the Trinity up in the sky, or in some abstract philosophical construct, but right in front of your face. Being a Christian is an existential commitment, one you live out every day in the concrete circumstances of your life.

In baptism, you were immersed into the very life of God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is to be immersed in the great mystery of divine love. As we sing in the opening line of the sublime hymn: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. “Where charity and love are, God is there.” To love as God loves us in and through Christ and, hence, as Christ loves, is what it means to be his disciple. It is how the Deus absconditus, the hidden God, is made manifest.

1 1 John 4:8.16.
2 Romans 8:17.
3 Matthew 5:37.
4 Colossians 3:3.

Friday, May 28, 2021

A Lutheran traditio

In May I've missed posting on one Friday and one Sunday. This is not too bad, lest both of readers are wondering. Life is about priorities. While blogging remains a priority for me, it is not in my top five. So, when I experience times when other priorities predominate, I take a pass on posting. I would be lying if I said it didn't bother me a bit. I guess I am more fastidious about things than I care to admit.

Lately, I have been reading a lot by and about Martin Luther. The immediate reason for this was my reading most the chapters of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks and the Future of Theology. No, I didn't purchase the book. At the suggestion of a friend, I borrowed it through an inter-library loan. It was in reading a couple of the opening chapters that I discovered the influence of Luther on the philosophy of Heidegger. This led me to purchase two further books: Luther: An Introduction to His Thought, which is a published series of lectures by Luther scholar Gerhard Ebeling and Reading Heidegger from the Start: Essays in His Earliest Thought. Of particular interest in the latter volume, which is a series of essays edited by Theodore Kisiel and John van Buren, are van Buren's essay "Martin Heidegger, Martin Luther" and Kisiel's contribution, which is an overview of some of the last lectures that comprised Heidegger's course, taught winter semester 1920-1921, entitled Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion."

As Kisiel notes, the first part of the class, in fact, the bulk of the class, consisted of Heidegger explicating (for the only time) his own phenomenological method. It was not until late in the semester that he taught on the application of his method to Saint Paul's First to the Thessalonians, and chapter X of Saint Augustine's Confessions. What Heidegger wanted to examine was the nature of the primal Christian experience. Of course, 1 Thessalonians is wonderful for this because it is likely the first letter Paul wrote. First Thessalonians, in all likelihood, is the earliest book of the uniquely Christian Scriptures (i.e., the New Testament). No, I am not going to go into Kisiel's explication of Heidegger's lectures on Paul and Augustine. Heidegger's phenomenological analysis of 1 Thessalonians, I will write, is really quite remarkable vis-à-vis getting to the essence of primal Christian experience, which was, without a doubt, shuttled in favor of Hellenistic systematization.

I do want to share some things from Ebeling's lecture on Luther entitled "Letter and Spirit." "The concealment of God on the cross," according to Luther as per Ebeling, "is paralleled by the structure of faith, which consists of concealment under a contrary" (Luther: An Introduction to His Thought, 105). This concealment is what it means to spiritual, which does not mean disembodied, just not obvious and perhaps even seemingly contradictory.

"Salvation," according to Luther, "in so far as it is not affirmation of worldly existence or as the bestowal of temporal goods, but [is] being crucified with Christ, and so possessing life in death" (Luther: An Introduction to His Thought, 105-106). Hence, the "Church is spiritual, as long as it regards itself as hidden in this life, and does not place its trust in earthly instruments of power, but realizes that it must be persecuted, and that the most dangerous temptation is the temptation not to be persecuted but to live in safety" (Ibid., 106).

"The spiritual," then, for Luther, "is the category of true understanding" (Ibid.).
Someone whose existential being is spiritual exists of course in the visible world, but his real existential being is not made manifest. What can be seen exists, but it is the contrary, and not the spiritual life as such. Consequently to live in the Spirit is to live in faith. The Spirit and faith are the same (Ibid.)
I could go on but I won't except to say that, hearkening back to Martin Marty's short biography of Luther, Luther was often dragged into political matters, something he hated by felt obligated to weigh-in. His weighing in on several occasions led him to comprise, something of which he was keenly aware and bothered by.

Luther, of course, composed many hymns. Our traditio for this final Friday of May, our first week back in Ordinary Time after Easter, is Luther's "In the Midst of Earthly Life."

While "Ordinary Time" is okay, I still prefer numbering the Sundays and weeks after Easter as "the Third Sunday After Trinity," etc.

Sunday, May 23, 2021


Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1.24.29-31.34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7.12-13; John 20:19-23

From the beginning, to be a Christian means to be a member of the Church. Being a member of the Church means being part of the Body of Christ, not his mystical body, as is sometimes supposed, but a member of his Verum Corpus, his true body. To speak of the Church as Christ’s mystical body and the consecrated bread and wine as his true body, as the Jesuit theologian Henri De Lubac noted, is a reversal that occurred in the Middle Ages. This reversal has had a largely negative effect.

It has been noted, “the Eucharist makes the Church, and the Church makes the Eucharist.” As in all the sacraments, the Holy Spirit is the active agent in the Eucharist. It is by the power of the Spirit that the bread and wine are sacramentally, as opposed to literally in a crude sense, transformed into Christ’s body and blood. It is by our communal participation in the Eucharist, which culminates with receiving communion, that we become Christ’s Verum Corpus, his true, physical body, his hands, his feet, his heart in the world.

During his Last Supper Discourse in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that he will “ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth… I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”1 The powerful descent of the Holy Spirit as described in our first reading from the second chapter of Acts is the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise not to leave his disciples orphans. What is the Holy Spirit if not the way Christ remains present not just to us, but present in and through us? Christ is made present through us whenever we serve in his name for the sake of God’s kingdom.

As has been mentioned previously this Eastertide, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit are not separate events but part of the great event of our salvation. Grouped together, we call these “the Paschal Mystery.” Not only do these happenings constitute a singular event, this event is also ongoing, something in which we participate.

Every Eucharist, every sacramental celebration, is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, another indication of the ongoing nature of Pentecost. We see this clearly in Acts of the Apostles through the lectionary. Two weeks ago, on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, our first reading was a section of Acts chapter ten. This section about the Holy Spirit coming upon the household of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, is often called “the Pentecost of the Gentiles.”2

As the Lord indicates in our Gospel today, the Holy Spirit does not testify to the Holy Spirit. Just as our Blessed Mother does not point to herself but always to her Son. Because he is the way Christ remains present in and through us, the Spirit glorifies Christ by taking from what is Christ’s and declaring it to us. This is how, over time, slowly, the Church is guided into all truth.

Truth is dynamic, not static. What we know about something might well be true but in almost every case we can know more. Learning more may change the way you conceive the first truth you grasped. This becomes more evident when you start to synthesize the true things you know, that is, consider them in relation. Truth is symphonic, not monotone. It is important, especially when dealing with revelation, not to make truth flat and two-dimensional. The truths of revelation are not simply informative, they are formative, even generative. As revelation shows us, God’s word makes something out of nothing and brings life from death.

What does it mean to say, “Jesus is Lord?”3 As Christians, we might assert this merely a statement of fact. But this fact is not self-evident. It is easy to speak the words “Jesus is Lord,” either sincerely or flippantly. Only one’s manner of life can verify that these words are uttered by the Holy Spirit’s power.

Christ in the Storm at Sea, by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1633

In writing about the Church as Christ’s Body, Saint Paul notes that, like the human body, all members of the Church perform a function in and for the body. One sign of the acceptance of Jesus’s Lordship is that a Christian, baptized, confirmed, and spiritually nourished by the Eucharist, discerns and fulfills the function s/he has been gifted and empowered to fulfill. These days in the Church we call this co-responsibility. As members called to different offices, called to perform different functions for and on behalf of the Body, we are the ones who make Christ’s Body his Verum Corpus, his concrete, tangible, active body.

One way to understand a sacrament is as a visible and tangible sign of Christ’s presence in and for the world. In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, known by its first Latin words, Lumen Gentium (i.e., “Light of the Nations”), the fathers of Vatican II noted that Christ “sent His life-giving Spirit upon His disciples.”4 Further, they asserted, it is through his Spirit that Christ “established His Body which is the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation.”5

Ascended and seated at the Father’s right hand, it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that Christ “is continually active in the world.”6 His activity seeks to lead everyone “to the Church and through it join them to Himself and that He might make them partakers of His glorious life by nourishing them with His own Body and Blood.”7

It is not just by belonging to the Church but by discerning and fulfilling our co-responsibility in and on behalf of the Church that “we learn the meaning of our [earthly] life through our faith, while we perform with hope in the future the work committed to us in this world by the Father, and thus work out our salvation.”8

While it seems incomprehensible to some and even offensive to others, the Church is integral, not extraneous, to God accomplishing his purpose in and for the world. This is not to say that being a member of the Church is easy. It isn’t for a variety of reasons, not least of which, in recent years, the failures of many in leadership. It has been noted that just because Jesus is in the boat with you doesn’t mean there won’t be occasional throwing up over the side. Rembrandt's famous painting Christ in the Storm at Sea features one of the apostles doing just that. Being human means being willing to suffer for what we love and/or because we are loved. Despite her wandering ways, Christ loves his Bride, the Church, and remains faithful to her.

Even with 3,000 people baptized during the inaugural Christian Pentecost, I doubt those upon whom the Holy Spirit was poured out that day foresaw the magnitude of what was to come vis-à-vis the Church. But convinced that Jesus is Lord and animated by the Holy Spirit, through their collective actions, they were made Christ’s Verum Corpus. They became the universal sacrament of salvation.

As we emerge from a year of suffering the effects of a pandemic, which has taken a toll on our communal life, limited as our gatherings have necessarily been, on this Pentecost, prompted by the Holy Spirit, let us each one of us recommit to being members of Christ’s Body, the Church. By and large, the Church for us day in day out, week in week out is Saint Olaf parish. Over the past several years and even over the past month or so, many pillars of our parish have gone to be with the Lord. They left us a firm foundation on which to build. We are their legacy. Because we are people of hope, Christians look to the future as we anticipate the Lord's return.

At the center of those to whom Christ initially fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit was our Blessed Mother, Mary. Mary, the Mother of God, is the model disciple. To proclaim Jesus is Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit is to utter one’s own fiat. Just as Mary responded to God’s call to bear Christ, you too must say to God,​ “May it be done to me according to your word.”9

Tomorrow, the Monday after Pentecost, the Church celebrates the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. And so today we pray, Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam. Come Holy Spirit, come through Mary.

1 John 14:16.18.
2 Acts 10:25-26.34-35.44-48.
3 1 Corinthians 12:3b.
4 Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church [Lumen Gentium], sec. 48.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Luke 1:38.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

"I know the nervous walking"

Well, yesterday proved too demanding to post a traditio. You know what? That is okay. These days I feel more and more pulled away from online engagement. While this is due to how much I have going on, it is also the result of wanting to read more and write in a more serious vein. So, far from lamenting not having the time to post yesterday, I think it's just fine.

Listening to The Sundays always makes me feel light and happy. This morning, while sorting my dirty clothes for the wash, their song "Here's Where the Story End" came on. Its effect on me was immediately soothing. "Here's Where the Story Ends" was a Friday traditio a little more than 2 years ago. Hearing The Sundays is indicative of the music I've been drawn to lately.

The music to which I've been listening is perhaps best described as "post-New Wave," a genre like "post-punk." Along with groups like The Sundays, there are groups like The Pixies- their original line-up. 10,000 Maniacs is another group that fits into this genre. So, by way of a little misdirection, our very late traditio is The Pixies with "Here Comes Your Man."

I imagine, at least some days, the response of the corresponding partner might be "Big deal!" But, then Kim Deal, was the bassist for The Pixies. For more on Kim and her music see 'It used to be about music. Now, without the drink, it's good to go back to that.'

Anyway, I thought this morning I would just share some things that interest me. Maybe I need a tag "Things not so contemporary." Anyway, have a great Saturday. It's nice to move away from explicitly religious stuff, not just now and then but more often.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

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, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, tells about an event that has been dubbed "the Pentecost of the Gentiles." This occurred when Peter was summoned to the house of Cornelius. Cornelius, if you remember, was a Roman centurion. Digging a little deeper into memory, you may also remember that Peter was hesitant to go to Cornelius's house because, well, Cornelius was a Gentile. According to the narrative, it was in a dream that God urged Peter not to be hung up on keeping kosher, that whatever food God declared clean was clean.

It's clear that even upon his arrival at the house of Cornelius, Peter was still hesitant. Even though he declared forthrightly something central to Christianity, namely "that God shows no partiality," it was not until Holy Spirit demonstrably "fell upon all who were listening to the word" that Peter saw fit that Cornelius and his Gentile household were baptized.

It has been noted that Christianity is universal or it is nothing at all. This is more important than I am making it sound. I think that the essence, of Christianity's universality is well-captured in today's second reading from 1 John: "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God."

Christian universality is rooted in Christians loving as God loves. God's love is made manifest in and through Jesus Christ. "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins." What is sin but our refusal to love?

Sadly, I think many Christians are conditioned to start making a long list of rules to be followed whenever we hear the phrase "keep my commandments." What does Jesus command in today's Gospel? "This is my commandment: love one another as I love you." Let's face it, it is a lot easier to keep a list of rules than it is to love others the way Jesus loves us. The logic of love doesn't seem to be intuitive or innate. It cuts against our tendencies and, dare I say, against some of our instincts.

In the twelfth chapter of Romans, Paul instructs the Christians resident in the imperial city, who faced persecution from their community's inception, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all" (Romans 12:17). Further along he concludes with this exhortation: "Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good" (Romans 12:21). If you're anything like me (I hope you're not!), when you are not faced with the reality of having to do this, these words are inspiring. On the other hand, when you find yourself in the middle of a situation that tests you in this regard, you quickly realize how hard it is to live this way.

I don't mind divulging that twice this year I have found myself in vexing situations, circumstances that really challenge me to be a Christian, to follow Christ, to adhere to him ("adhere," as the word adhesive shows, means to "stick"), or to give into seeking revenge, giving as good as I get, or even retreating into bitterness and resentment. I also don't mind saying that in both instances it is a struggle. All of this is encapsulated in the Spiritual Work of Mercy that bids us bear wrongs patiently. If these situations don't drive us to our knees in prayer, I don't know what will.

As the late Rich Mullins sang: "It's hard to be like Jesus." What else can Jesus mean when he bids his disciples "Remain in my love."

One of the petitions found among the Intercessions for Morning Prayer today is this:
You have given faith to save us,
-may we live today by the faith of our baptism
Our faith bids us to trust the Lord and to learn through sometimes difficult, perhaps even excruciating, experience that living in this way is what completes our joy.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Not much to write but going on but not on and on

May is here. It is a lovely month, one of my favorites. I don't know about you but my life is slowly getting back to normal. This is good in some respects and bad in others. Returning to normal does make me realize, yet again, how overextended I am prone to make myself. I keep thinking, "I need to do something about that."

More precisely, what I need to do about that is do less. I am pretty good at tinkering around at the margins just to make things work but I think what I need is more systemic than doing that. Anyway, I probably need to make my end-of-the-week posts less autobiographical.

Anyway, this was a long week. I am tired. It is okay to be tired. If it is okay to be tired, it is okay to rest. Rest is what I did last evening, which is why there was no Friday traditio. I am sure both of you were very disappointed (laughing emoji here).

It's weird trying to write when I don't have much to say. In the words of one of my favorite authors, Samuel Beckett, the words with which he ended his novel Unnamable:
It will be I? It will be the silence, where I am? I don't know, I'll never know: in the silence you don't know.

You must go on.

I can't go on.

I'll go on.
Actually, I won't.

Beckett also wrote: "Music always wins." I went back and looked up "Why music struck a chord with Beckett."

Beckett very much liked Beethoven's Sonata Pathetique, also known less glamorously as Piano Sonata Number 8 in C minor, Op. 13., very much, especially the final movement. So, our very late traditio is the third movement of Beethoven's Sonata Pathetique:

Sunday, May 2, 2021

On the necessity of pruning branches

Readings: Acts 9:26-31; Ps 22:26-28.30-32; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8

Not only am I not preaching this weekend, I am only serving at one Mass. The Mass I served was the Vigil Mass last night. It's been a while since I did what I used to do the first weekend of each month, which is take a little rest. Nonetheless, I think this week's readings are worth a short reflection.

It is pretty well-known that the vine imagery the inspired author of John's Gospel employs in today's Gospel is taken from the Hebrew Bible. In what we Christians refer to as the Old Testament, the vine is an image of Israel, of God's people. In our Gospel for this Fifth Sunday of Easter, it remains an image of God's people. In short, it is an image of communion. Christianity is inherently communal, which is why there is a Church, for better or for worse.

What can easily be ignored in all the explanations of the meaning of the image of the vine and branches is the necessity of pruning grapevines. Grapevines that aren't skillfully pruned don't bear fruit. This goes back to the inherently communal nature of God's people: we're better for the worse. Belonging to any community has its ups and downs. This is even (especially?) true of the community of marriage and family. It stands to reason that belonging to a parish, which a lot of people avoid, preferring to be ecclesial nomads, exhibits this same dynamic.

As Jesus indicates, the word of God prunes us. This can remain very abstract. A clue to what Jesus means can be found in our second reading, also taken from the Johannine corpus. It has to do with keeping his commandments. It seems pretty natural that when we hear the phrase "keep the commandments" our minds go to a list of rules to keep.

In our passage from First John, it is reiterated that what is meant by keeping God's commandments is to love God and to love our neighbor. The pruning comes when the going gets tough, like forgiving someone who wronged you, praying for and being benevolent toward your enemy, someone who opposes you. It is assumed you will have enemies. As the saying goes, having no enemies means you've never stood up for anything, at least nothing that matters.

Interestingly, our Responsorial is from Psalm 22. The opening words of Psalm 22 are what Jesus recited as he hung dying on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" The lament ends with the third verse of the Psalm. The subsequent twenty-nine verses are a psalm of praise. This is the kind of pruning referred to in our Gospel. This is stated beautifully in the opening words of our Collect for today: "Almighty ever-living God, constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us..." What is the Paschal Mystery but dying and rising, being pruned to bear fruit for God's kingdom.

We have a concrete example of this in our reading from Acts. The Jerusalem community is suspicious of Saul. Why? Well, according to the Acts narrative, it was because he formerly persecuted them, culminating in the stoning of Stephen. He had left Jerusalem to go to Damascus to persecute followers of the Way there. Was this a ruse to infiltrate the community? It fell to Barnabus to vouch for the authenticity of Saul's conversion and his subsequent faith. The community forgave and embraced a murderous enemy. They were pruned and so bore more fruit.

It wouldn't take much longer for the Jerusalem Church to be scattered as the result of persecution. While this was no doubt harrowing for those forced to flee, we see in the example of Philip, who, along with Stephen, was one of the seven chosen by the Jerusalem community and set apart by the apostles for service to the community, that this pruning made the branches more fruitful because it resulted in the spread of the Gospel. Of course, Saul's subsequent missions to the Gentiles also occurred.

It would be remiss not to mention the Eucharistic dimension of the vine and branches analogy. Community/communal/communion. Our participation in the Eucharist is what connects to each other through Christ, making us, the Church, the Verum Corpus, his true Body. This is the meaning of the observation, usually attributed to Saint Teresa of Avila, that Christ has no hands, no feet, etc., in the world but ours.

Eleventh Monday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Psalm 98:1-4; Matthew 5:38-42 Receiving the grace of God in vain is a perennial problem for Christians. I...