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.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

"It's the end of the world as we know it..."

Readings: Daniel 12:1-3; Ps 16:5.8-11; Hebrews 10:11-14.18; Mark 13:24-32

This Sunday is the penultimate Sunday of this year of grace. Each liturgical year we celebrate/live out (of)/ritually reenact the Paschal Mystery. Hence, the theme of this Sunday is "The End Is Near!" "Time is is nearly up!" "Christ will come soon."

Each time we profess our faith by confessing the Creed, we affirm the Church's conviction that "...he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his Kingdom will have no end." Even some 2,000 years on, Christianity remains an apocalyptic religion. Christians should always live with urgency and purpose.

Our purpose? The realization of God's Kingdom, making it present in this dialectical time between the already and the not yet of God's Kingdom. Living this way makes us odd. But it is also what makes us people of hope. Our hope is borne from the love of God we have experienced in Christ through the power of their Spirit, whom we revere as "Holy".

The time of "distress" mentioned in our reading from the book of Daniel is now. It is always now. For Christians, it is the end of the world until the end of the world. Key to this is Jesus's assertion about his return "that day or hour, no one knows" (Mark 9:32). Pondering the end of the world, the question, as REM posed it, is Do you feel fine? In a way, Jesus's resurrection marked the beginning of the end. His return will be mean mark God's completion of creation.

In his Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul writes that "We," that is, Christians "know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now" (Rom 8:22). He goes on to point out that even those of us who possess "the firstfruits of the Spirit groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8:23). Nonetheless, we experience this time of distress with hope. "For in hope we are saved" (Rom 8:24).

Hope, it should go without saying, lies on the far side of optimism. In this passage from Romans, the apostle points to this: "Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees?" (Rom 8:24). To have hope is to light a in the darkness of faith.

In the Virgin's Holy Rosary, the fruit of the third Sorrowful Mystery, which is Jesus's crowning with thorns, is courage. Sister Lucia, one of the Fatima visionaries, insisted that one of Our Lady's messages to her and her two cousins was exactly this courage- the courage to follow Christ in the concrete circumstances of your daily life. Of course, as did Saint Bernadette before them, these children were courageous by remaining faithful to their experience in the face of no little hostility.

Hope, as our first reading from Daniel also indicates, means having the courage to work for justice. Working for justice is an expression of hope because, while we can certainly achieve a more just society, we will never achieve a perfectly just society on this side of the eschaton. Comprehending the latter does not negate the former. Working for justice, which seeks results in the real world, not mainly or even preferably through the exercise of political power, but through the conversion of hearts realized through love, is what prepares the way for the full realization of God's kingdom.

Working for justice also helps make us fit for God's kingdom, which is, as the Preface for the Eucharistic Prayer on Christ the King indicates, "a kingdom of justice, love and peace. As Pope Saint Paul VI, in his 1972 message for the World Day Peace (1 January), insisted: "If you want peace, work for justice."

No matter how you parse it, faith fosters good works. "Faith" that is passive, content with the odd abstraction that one need not respond in love to what the Father has accomplished in the Son by the power of the Spirit, is not faith. It is nothing. Faith is our response to God's initiative toward us. No, you can't save yourself. But faith that is true faith is fruitful. Its fruitfulness arises from the fertile ground of God's love.

As Christians, our response to "Christ is coming soon" is Maranatha!. מרנאתא (i.e., Maranatha), is the cry of the Church from her beginning. Maranatha is an Aramaic word that means "Come, our Lord."

Our response to the end of time is hopeful. After the Feast of Christ the King, which we celebrate next Sunday, the final Sunday of this liturgical year, the following Sunday we begin the season of Advent. Derived from the Latin word adventus, Advent is not a season of waiting. Rather, it is a season of hope-filled anticipation. So, we pick up where we left off.

This somewhat complex point is brought home by an anecdote of Saint Francis of Assisi. Like many stories about Francesco, this one may be somewhat legendary. However, it tells us something true about Francis and about being a Christian:
One day, while Francis was working in the communal garden, a brother approached him and asked what he would do if Christ were to return that very moment. Francis responded that he would simply keep working in the garden
That, my friends, is a hopeful outlook. Fortitude, or courage, is the virtue, the habit, of following Christ no matter what, through thick and thin, as it were.

Liturgy, our experience of the Paschal Mystery through it year after year, both reveals and fosters our hope. Christianity is mystagogical. It is not merely words but gestures, singing, postures, community. As a friend said to me in a phone call yesterday: "We need to teach people how to pray the Mass."

Friday, November 12, 2021

"And I woke today, suddenly nothing happened"

Yesterday I turned 56. I guess I've rounded the corner to 60. I heard something yesterday that made a lot of sense to me: it's better to think of life as seasons rather than to conceive it linearly. I think, too, thinking about life seasonally is a way of thinking about life liturgically. After all, the liturgical calendar is oriented to the different seasons of the year.

Yesterday, I also finished Francis Spufford's novel, Light Perpetual. It is a novel about life, its seasons, its mystery, its joys and sorrows. It is one of those books that will leave a mark but in a wholly good way. In the novel, Spufford follows the imagined lives of five children who died in a German rocket attack on Woolworth's in London in 1944: Val and Jo, who are sisters, Vernon, Alec, and Ben. The novel begins in 1944, moves to 1964, then to 1979, on to 1994, and ends in 2009. Each chapter features a section about each character. It was a good book to read around my birthday.

It's funny how anti-climactic birthdays become, especially when contrasted with the grand events birthdays were growing up. All I can say is that it's nice to be remembered and to be reminded of people, times, seasons, events, those things that make my life mine. It could've been different, I suppose, in ways both better and worse. Since turning 50 I've made a deliberate effort not to play the What if, ... game. While Kierkegaard was perhaps correct that you can really only make sense of your life looking back on it, living your life mentally in reverse strikes me as a futile endeavor.

For quite a few years, I used to set aside time on my birthday and compose a rather ponderous post for this modest little weblog. I suppose during those years I found that a useful exercise. With my birthday falling on a Thursday this year, I figured I would wait for Friday. It just so happens that in 1965 11 November also fell on a Thursday- for whatever that's worth.

These days, my blog posts are more sketches than the attempted thorough-going pieces I used to attempt. I began blogging in earnest in July 2006. I've been at this consistently for 15 years, which seems incredible to me.

As I've stated and restated, blogging has been a vehicle of growth for me. If nothing else, I am a much better writer for doing this than I used to be or would be. This is not to say that I think myself a good writer- intermittently adequate, sometimes able to make a point, might be the best description of my writing ability. My genre? Unmaginative non-fiction!

To live is to grow. I hope I'm still growing. I think I'm still growing. I am still dreaming, too. My dreams these days have a little different tone and texture than they did, say, twenty-five years ago.

Since seeing him in concert last summer, I've been listening a lot to the music of Colin Hay. Hay, as some people my age might know, was the lead singer of the band Men At Work. Over the past about twenty years, he has carved out a solo career. While I used this song for a Friday traditio only back in September, I am posting it again. What song is that? "Waiting for My Real Life to Begin."

Especially with the much-neglected season of Advent on the horizon, not just waiting but anticipating is on my mind. It's hard to imagine anything more hopeless than waiting without anticipation. I think one of the things that makes Beckett's Waiting for Godot hopeful is the anticipation exhibited by Vladimir and Estragon. Since I am in the mode of literary reminiscence, Milan Kundera's novel Life Is Elsewhere comes to mind.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

In God we trust?

Readings: 1 Kings 17:10-16; Ps 146:7-10; Hebrews 9:24-28: Mark 12:38-44

"Give us this day our daily bread." We pray this phrase all the time. Many of us pray it daily, more than once a day. This phrase from the Lord's Prayer is an admission of our dependency on God to give us what we need to sustain ourselves. In short, these words, when prayed sincerely, are an act of trust in God, whom, through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit's power, we can call "Father."

Trust, as in recognizing one's dependency, is borne from need.

In our reading today from First Kings, Elijah is led to the house of a "pagan" (i.e., non-Israelite) widow. Her status as non-Israelite is revealed when she says to the prophet, in response for his request for something to eat, "As the LORD your God lives I have nothing baked (1 Kings 17:12- italics mine). Nonetheless, despite only having enough to feed herself and her son for just that day, she agrees to prepare food for the famished man of God. She does this in the realization that once she offers this hospitality, her larder will be empty. She speaks her fear: that she and her son will die.

Her hospitality is exemplary. She is willing to give everything to help a hungry and thirsty person who asks her for something to eat and drink, even during a drought and resulting famine. Not just a hungry man, but a hungry foreigner, an Israelite, and a strange one at that. Note that it is not until after she agrees to provide the prophet food and drink that he promises she will have flour, oil, and water until the drought-induced famine ends.

It is also important to note how Elijah's promise was realized: day-by-day, not all at once. This widow of Zarephath did not miraculously come into possession of 1,000 pounds of flour, 20 gallons of oil, and 500 gallons of water. It seems that each day, there was enough flour, oil, and water for that day.

Give us this day our daily bread.

A few chapters on from our second reading in the Letter to the Hebrews, in the letter's (which is really a long sermon) final chapter, these Jewish Christians are exhorted: "Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never forsake you or abandon you'" (Hebrews 13:5). The quoted words in this verse are likely from the Book of Deuteronomy (Deut 31:6). Trust in God for your daily bread. This also poses a question: In what or in whom do you place your trust? At the beginning of this same chapter, these ancient Christians are reminded: "Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels" (Hebrews 13:2)- or prophets!

There is no doubt that the widow in today's Gospel, who Jesus commended for giving from her poverty and not surplus, like the widow of Zarephath, placed her trust in the LORD our God. She placed everything she had in God's trust. Notice, too, her example is wordless. Its wordlessness is what makes her example so eloquent.

Who do you think it is that eagerly awaits Christ's return? It is the poor who place their trust in God. Being poor in spirit means nothing other than to place your trust in God. Time and time again, Jesus teaches that one's wealth, one's worldly possessions, present the greatest obstacle to God's kingdom. In an effort to deflect, we try to make it about everything or anything else. But this only reveals that we place not only our trust but our hope in the world and all that it offers us.

Throughout much of the developed world, Christians have lost the importance of ascesis. Of the three fundamental spiritual disciplines: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, fasting, which is fasting from food (we try to fast from everything but food!), is rarely practiced. Abstinence, which means giving up certain enjoyable foods (i.e., meat and dairy), is also rarely practiced with regularity. But I digress... It is fasting that integrates, incarnates, prayer and alms-giving.

Trust, which requires you to acknowledge your dependency, is borne from need. Trusting God means recognizing your poverty, your need. When I see someone in need, my need is reflected back to me, which one reason why such encounters leave us a little shaken- There but for bad luck go I.

In an individualistic, cash-driven, fast-paced, competitive society, it's difficult to trust in God. Despite our seeming affluence, many of us aren't that far away from destitution. Keep in mind, too, that death is the final povert: memento mori.

Because these readings tend to make us uncomfortable, it is not uncommon to see preachers attempt to de-radicalize them. Maybe chuck a few more bucks in the direction of the local food pantry or Catholic Community Services, at least until the pangs of conscience subside. Today's readings make me uncomfortable. Hence, as another passage earlier in the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, they're doing their job (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Friday, November 5, 2021

Thankful on/for a Friday

This time next week I'll be 56. It's hard to believe. I read something recently that pointed out that as many years have passed from 1980 to 2021 and as passed between 1939 and 1980. Forty-one years, to be exact. As I suppose it was intended to do, it kind of put things into perspective. Just wow!

So, it is November, which kicks off with the liturgical festival of All Saints/All Souls. I guess most of us are predisposed to having some kind of affinity with our birth months. My favorite seasons of the year are the transitional seasons: Spring and Fall. I also realize that without Winter and Summer the transitional seasons would be impossible. October here along the Wasatch Front was lovely. November, so far, has been nice too.

Yesterday I read through the draft of the USCCB's much-discussed document on the Eucharist. Given the focus and content, I am still not sure why such a document is necessary. In the beginning, the focus seems to be the importance of participation in the Eucharistic celebration. This is a theme worthy of being developed. Sadly, it isn't developed very much.

I love the Eucharist. I love Mass. Grasping the centrality of the Eucharist, which is the font from which the Church and all her activities should flow, is important. It bears repeating and reinforcing in creative and imaginative ways, attending to the audience and the context.

While the document does cite the Second Vatican Council, including its call for full, active, and conscious participation in the Mass, when discussing Christ's Real Presence, the document does not invoke what I take to be one of central sections of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [Sacrosanctum Concilium], section 7:
To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, "the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross", but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20) .

Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. The Church is His beloved Bride who calls to her Lord, and through Him offers worship to the Eternal Father.

Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs; in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members.

From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.
Instead, the document focuses on Christ present in the consecrated elements, making use of the language of substance, which, while not surprising, kind of misses the boat for a lot of people, especially since most people don't "have" a metaphysics of substance- everyone has a metaphysics, an idea about how creation and even reality work. It would be refreshing at some point to recognize that perhaps the only convincing "proof" that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ are lives of those who partake of it. This can be done without completely sacrificing the old ex opere operato nature of the sacrament (i.e., the bread and wine become Christ's body and blood whether you believe it or not). Of course, faith must be operative if participation in the Eucharist is to give the life of a Christian shape and form.

Given the language and overall presentation, I am unclear to whom this document is addressed. But, then, not being a bishop, I will defer to their collective judgment about what is pastorally required in the present moment. I think, given the rather anodyne nature of the document, I am quite certain it will pass with the required 2/3rds majority. For those who might be interested, here is a link to the draft document. Here is a link to Msgr. Kevin Irwin's take on the draft. Finally, theologian Deacon Fritz Bauerschmidt's reponse to Msgr. Irwin's article.

Because I am a sucker for a choir and because today is a beautiful day that finds me feeling rather upbeat, our Friday traditio is a very cool choral version of The Cure's "Friday I'm In Love."

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Solemnity of All Saints

Readings: Rev 7:2-4.9-14; Ps 24:1bc.2-3.4ab.5-6; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a

A saint is someone who loves God and neighbor. A saint is someone who has taken the Beatitudes to heart. The Beatitudes give life. In a deep sense, the Beatitudes are life at its most real.

One of my favorite aspects of All Saints Day is the recognition that not all saints are known. Not every person, perhaps not even most, who has attained beatitude with God is formally canonized by the Church.

In his Apostolic Exhortation “On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World,” Pope Francis reminded us that holiness is not as rare as we tend to think it is.1 I think our tendency to make holiness something rare and other-worldly is a defense mechanism. It’s one we employ to keep the requirements of holiness “out there,” away from me. That way, God makes no unreasonable demands on me.

There is only one vocation, which all of us received when we were baptized: to follow Christ. Following Christ means walking the path of holiness. It means hungering and thirsting for righteousness. It means practicing the Beatitudes.

Formally, beatitude is defined as “a state of utmost bliss.” To attain beatitude is to be supremely happy. Do the beatitudes we just heard sound like a state of bliss? The relationship of the Beatitudes to happiness, at least as we have been conditioned to understand happiness, is a paradoxical. In a paradox two seemingly opposed things are brought together. Hence, paradoxes can appear to be contradictions. To pick just one example from the Beatitudes we just heard: mourning doesn’t sound much like happiness to me.

Thinking about mourning reminds us that tomorrow is All Souls Day. It is a day that kicks off a month during which the Church bids us to remember and to pray for our beloved dead. Remembering grandparents, parents, spouses, children, siblings, and friends who have died is bitter sweet. It’s painful because we miss them but joyful because we think about how much they enriched our lives. This also points to something mentioned in our second reading: hope. We hope to see them again in a time and space where death can never again separate us.

Our deepest desire, our hope, is to be happy. In the Beatitudes, Jesus gives us the way of happiness. But Jesus's way seems to be the exact opposite of what we learn culturally and societally, which is that happiness consists largely in doing what I want and having what I want. But as many social indicators show us, this is emirically untrue. In fact, a self-first approach may be the shortest path to misery.

Understanding the Beatitudes as the way of happiness is what it means to have genuine hope. As Christians, our hope is for a world in which everyone practices the Beatitudes. This world, which, in many ways, is the opposite of our own, is called the Kingdom of God. We don’t just stand around waiting for the Kingdom of God to appear. God’s kingdom made its appearance when Jesus came. God’s Kingdom is present whenever and wherever the Beatitudes are practiced.

This brings us to some Biblical math. Typically, the number 8 in the Bible signifies both a new beginning and ultimate fulfillment. There are 8 Beatitudes by which Jesus gives us the path to ultimate fulfillment.

In our reading from Revelation there are 144,000 before Christ’s throne.2 One hundred forty-four is 12 x 12. 144,000 is 144 x 1,000. There are twelve tribes of Israel and twelve apostles. Christ sent the apostles to spread the Gospel throughout the world. So, 144,000 means a lot of people. These people, it is made clear, are “from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”3

The white-robed multitude are those “who have survived the time of great distress.”4 When is the time of “great distress”? It’s now! Your lifetime is the time of great distress. Think about all the signs Jesus gave for the end of the world: pestilence, natural disasters, wars, famines, etc.. Well, when in human history haven’t we experienced these phenomena? Simple answer: never! For Christians it’s always the end of the world until the end of the world. This is why we live not only with purpose but with a certain sense of urgency.

Practicing the Beatitudes is how we live both with purpose and urgency. It isn’t easy to practice the Beatitudes. It’s not easy to meek and merciful. It isn’t easy to be a peacemaker. It’s not easy to practice the Spiritual Work of Mercy of bearing wrongs patiently. We’re practicing Christians because we haven’t yet learned how to love perfectly.

Christian community, not just “the Church,” writ large, but our parish, isn’t just important but necessary to attaining holiness. As Pope Francis observed in his Apostolic Exhortation on holiness:
We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community. God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people5
The Beatitudes, not the Ten Commandments, are the charter for Christian life, the charter of the Church. Besides, anyone who lives the Beatitudes obeys the Ten Commandments and does so for the right reason. The right reason is always love of God and of our neighbor. Practicing the Beatitudes is what makes you a Christian.

We’ve all heard that going to Church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car. But a car that never goes to the garage for service eventually doesn’t run well and breaks down. I think the same is true for Christians. We need the grace we receive in and through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the sacrament of penance. Going to Church also makes you part of a community, a member of God's Pilgrim People. We walk the pilgrim path with those who are also seeking to follow Christ. The people in our parish are our companions on the Way. A companion, in a literal sense, is someone with whom you share bread.

Mass, as the word indicates, ends with the dismissal. So, when you’re sent out with “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life,” your response, beyond saying “Thanks be to God,” is supposed to be living the beatitudes.

1 Apostolic Exhortation, On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World [Gaudete et Exsultate], sec. 6-9.
2 Revelation 7:4.
3 Revelation 7:9.
4 Revelation 7:14.
5 Apostolic Exhortation, On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World [Gaudete et Exsultate], sec. 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 ...