Sunday, February 27, 2022

Reflection on the Lamb of God for "Lamb of God" choir

Since this is a choir preparing to sing a production of the Lamb of God gathering to practice in a Catholic church, it seems appropriate to share a reflection on the Lamb of God, or, in Latin, the Agnus Dei.

In the first chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, John the Baptist, seeing Jesus walking toward him as he baptized in the River Jordan, according to the Latin Vulgate translation of the Sacred Scriptures, says: Ecce agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccatum mundi. Or, in English translation: “This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”1

During the part of the Mass just before the reception of Holy Communion, the priest uses these same words as he elevates the consecrated host over the chalice containing the consecrated wine.

For Catholics, just as the words of the Baptist alerted his listeners not only to a life-changing encounter but to a cosmos-altering event, the words invoked by the priest to the kneeling congregation draw their attention to this same reality.

In the case of the Mass, this reality, by the reception of Holy Communion, which Catholics also refer to as “the Eucharist,” moves from one that is externally visible to one that is internally accessible.

Just as it is not intuitively obvious to the casual observer that the elevated bread and wine are Christ’s body and blood, it was not glaringly clear to those gathered to hear and perhaps be baptized by John that the man walking toward him was the Lamb of God, the only begotten Son of the Father, God in the flesh.

In one of his sermons, Saint Augustine, who lived in the fifth century, noted that, unlike other food, which becomes us, as the well-known saying “You are what you eat” indicates, by receiving the Eucharist, “we become what we receive.”2

Eucharist is the Greek word for giving thanks. By becoming what we receive, like Christ, we, too, become thanksgiving to the Father. This receiving and becoming are only made possible by Jesus’ passion and death. The Lamb of God, after all, is a sacrificial lamb.

Becoming thanksgiving ourselves means that we are also to become a sacrifice. This is precisely what Saint Paul refers to when, at the very beginning of the twelfth chapter of his Letter to the Romans, he writes: “I urge you therefore, brothers [and sisters], by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”3

Catholics say that in the Eucharist Jesus gives himself to us “body, blood, soul, and divinity.” In exchange, we give ourselves to the Father, through him by the power of their Holy Spirit, body, blood, soul, and humanity, which is to say wholly and without reservation.

This exchange is only made possible by the Son’s becoming human, what we call his Incarnation. This is brought into bold relief by the words said inaudibly by the deacon while pouring water into the wine that is to be consecrated: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”4

In response to the priest’s words “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb,” the kneeling assembly replies: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”5

In this sacrament, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sins, doesn’t say the healing word. Now really (i.e., sacramentally) present in the consecrated bread and wine, he himself is the healing Word.

In Revelation, “angels who surrounded the throne and the living creatures and the elders,” the number of whom were “countless,” “cried out in a loud voice”
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain
to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength,
honor and glory and blessinga 6
In a Roman Catholic context, we give Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, honor, and glory and blessing by letting ourselves be transformed by our reception of Holy Communion.

The word “Mass” comes from the Latin word missa, which, in this context, means to be sent forth and not merely dismissed. Missa, in turn, is related to the Latin word missio, from which we derive the word “mission.” Having received the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, we are sent forth to make him present wherever we go.

At the end of Mass, the Dismissal is given by the deacon. I’ll end with one of the several forms of the Dismissal: Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.7

1 John 1:29.
2 Saint Augstine, Easter Sermon, 227.
3 Romans 12:1.
4 The Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, sec. 24.
5 The Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, sec. 132.
6 Revelation 4:11-12.
7 The Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, sec. 144.

Year C Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Sir 27:4-7; Ps 92:2-3.13-16; 1 Cor 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45

This Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time finds us standing on the threshold of Lent, which, for those who, like me, lose track of time, starts this Wednesday. Our readings today provide us an opportunity to ponder this holy season. At a minimum, we should commit ourselves to what the Church asks of us: fasting on Ash Wednesday, abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, and observing “a spirit of fasting” throughout Lent.

Viewed from one angle, Lent is a way of preparing for our celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter. Looked at from a slightly different slant, Lent gives us an opportunity to live more intensely the new life we have in Christ.

Our first reading, taken from Sirach, is about the importance of words. Words are not merely containers or transmitters of thoughts and ideas. In a very real sense, our words are our thoughts. As Jesus says it in our Gospel reading: "from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks"1

As a Christian, you should understand that how you say something is as important as what you say. In some situations, how you say what you say is more important than what you say. Most of us are familiar with the phrase "speaking the truth in love." This implies that it is possible to speak the truth in a manner that lacks love.

Because love is what constitutes reality at its deepest level, to speak the truth without love is to speak falsely. To say what is true without love is like showing someone a crystal wine glass by slamming it down on the table in front of her, causing it to shatter.

So-called “tough love,” when and if appropriate, can really only be spoken to someone who already knows that you genuinely love her/him. There may be no worse way of speaking to another person than to speak the truth in anger, or with contempt, or out of hatred and hostility.

The Letter of James instructs Christians to be quick "to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God."2 You can only feel righteous anger if you are righteous. To think yourself righteous is to mistake self-righteousness for genuine righteousness.

It is important to think about and prayerfully discern how you are going to use this season before it starts. I urge you over the next few days, to find some time and a place to be silent. And in the silence, examine yourself and listen to God.

During these quiet times, take stock of what needs to change in your life to be a more faithful Christian disciple. This is the beginning of the process of conversion. For a Christian, conversion, which means attaining "the fullness of the stature of Christ," is to become like Christ and love others like he does.3

Becoming like Christ does not happen incidentally or accidentally. It can only happen intentionally. It begins with the desire to be like Christ. This is followed by the realization of how much I have to change to be like him. It begins by perceiving the beam in your own eye. Closing this gap between desire and reality is called repentance.

To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Riffing off Tolstoy, political satirist P.J. O’Rourke wryly observed: “Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.”

Lent is about changing yourself by the grace of God through the practice of the spiritual disciplines. One of those disciplines, almsgiving, is serving others. So, helping Mom do the dishes takes on more importance than serving as the punchline of a joke.

As Jesus says in our Gospel, no disciple is greater than her/his teacher. A disciple is someone who practices the disciplines of a Master. While, according to Jesus, when fully trained, a disciple can become “like” his Master, he cannot be greater than the Master. How is a disciple of Jesus trained? By practicing the disciplines Jesus teaches by word and example.

The fundamental spiritual disciplines taught by the Lord himself, as we will hear (again) on Ash Wednesday, are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Just as hope is the least understood of the theological virtues, fasting, the spiritual discipline to which hope is most closely tied, is the most neglected of these disciplines.

It is almost an affront in our overfed society to suggest eating less and less frequently. Yet, our diocesan decree concerning the observance of Lent and Easter instructs:
A spirit of fasting is recommended during all of Lent in anticipation of the great feast of Easter. In this way, Christians express their hunger for God, their responsibility to the poor and their recognition of the Kingdom of God as the answer to all human hungers4
Fasting is closely tied to almsgiving. When undertaken in the proper spirit, fasting puts you in solidarity with those who go hungry involuntarily. You can then take the money you save from eating less and drop it in the Rice Bowl box. In this way, you cooperate with God in changing yourself as well as help make a difference in the world. This is but one simple example of the good fruit Jesus insists his followers must produce.

The snippet by Tolstoy appeared in a pamphlet he published in 1900. This relatively short text bears the title Three Methods of Reform. Here is the full quote from which the short paraphrase is taken:
There can be only one permanent revolution — a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself
Each one of us should “feel” this need for inner revolution, transformation, conversion. To acknowledge this feeling is nothing other than recognizing “the Kingdom of God as the answer to all human hungers.”

Our Collect, or Opening Prayer, today speaks deeply to the present world situation:
Grant us, O Lord, we pray,
that the course of our world
may be directed by your peaceful rule
and that your Church may rejoice,
untroubled in her devotion
One of the most beautiful things I saw last week in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine was a group of Ukrainian Christians, most of them young adults, singing hymns of praise to God that speak of forgiveness, salvation and joy in the subway of Kiev, where they, along with others, were taking shelter. This reminded me of the hymn singing relief workers and other foreigners heard in Haiti after the major earthquake in 2010. My dear friends, these are examples of good fruit produced through spiritual discipline. These are beautiful examples of Christ's Church rejoicing, "untroubled in her devotion."

As I mentioned at the beginning, practicing the spiritual disciplines more intentionally and intensely over Lent isn’t just a way to prepare for our celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter. It is a way of living the resurrected life you received when you were baptized now. But these two are related: what Lent is a preparation for is the renewal of your baptismal promises at Easter. Practicing the spiritual disciplines is a commitment to living the kingdom of God as a present reality and not as a dream deferred.

1 Luke 6:39.
2 James 1:19.
3 Ephesians 4:13.
4 Official 2022 Lenten and Easter Observance, Intermountain Catholic, 25 February 2022.

Friday, February 25, 2022

"Tell the good Lord what they did"

It's Friday again. The last, or ultimate (as opposed to penultimate) Friday before the beginning of the holy season of Lent. I wrote about Lent last week.

This week I want to put up something like the third installment of posts on the necessity for Christians to forgive. As I mentioned in the second installment, I was surprised that my first post, which came about as the result of an experience I had praying the Our Father while praying the Rosary, prompted some argument from a few other Christians.

In this installment, I simply want to invoke some words of Jesus as handed on by Saint Luke. These are words from last Sunday's very challenging Gospel: "Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36). Since this passage parallels Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, we can see it as Luke's way of stating what Matthew states when he has Jesus saying: "So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48).

It bears repeating that, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, God's defining characteristic is hesed. In short, to be holy is to be merciful. While mercy extends, at least for a Christian, to all aspects of life, it certainly includes forgiving those who've wronged you. It even means forgiving your enemies. Jesus takes it further: Christians don't just forgive their enemies, they do good for them, pray for them, and, yes, even love them. Way easier said than done! What a provocation!

Just like the purpose of the Law is to lead those who sincerely follow it to greater love of God and neighbor, the disciplines we elect to practice, or engage in with more intensity, during the "time gift" of Lent should serve the same purpose. Maybe a good preparation for Lent is to spend some time thinking about who you need to forgive. This can be followed by engaging in the work of forgiveness, perhaps, in some appropriate instances, prudentially initiating a path to reconciliation. This can be the beginning of a thorough examination of conscience that can help you confess well before Easter.

This Friday's traditio is a very penitential song by Tom Waits, one from his brilliant album Mule Variations: "Get Behind the Mule"-

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Let yourself be provoked

Readings: 1 Sam 26:2.7-9.12-13.22-23; Ps 103:1-; 1 Cor 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38

Saul hated David. He rightly perceived the upstart from Bethlehem, a member of the tribe of Judah (Saul was a Benjaminite), as a rival for Israel's kingship. Indeed, after Saul's disobedience, the prophet Samuel had anointed David as Israel's new (and second) king. But, then, according to the history contained in the books of 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings (1-2 Chronicles constitutes a parallel and overlapping history by a different source), the fact that Israel had to have a king at all constituted a failure (a view with which I am inclined to agree).

Just as Samuel anointed Saul, he also anointed David, the youngest, smallest, and least impressive of Jesse's sons. The reason Saul viewed David as a rival is because he was a rival. Samuel hunted David, seeking to kill him and thus eliminate the threat to his own power.

And so it happened, as today's first reading sets it forth, David had a golden opportunity to easily kill Saul, along with his henchmen, thus seizing for himself the title King of Israel. Indeed, Abishai was eager to run his spear through Saul as he slept peacefully. Saul would never know what happened. At least in terms of warfare, it was kind of a merciful death, one administered suddenly and relatively painlessly.

In fact, Abishai sees the situation he and David find themselves in as the work of God, perhaps something just a bit short of a full-on miracle. But David, exercising deeper discernment, while also seeing their circumstance as divinely arranged, merely takes Saul's spear and his, what we would call today, personal water bottle, and quietly leaves the encampment without waking anybody up. Saul would know someone had entered his camp by the absence of his spear and water jug. He would no doubt be puzzled as to why he nor any of his cohort were killed.

I suppose one could see in David's actions in this episode the truth of the well-known saying: "Fear of death is worse than death itself." Hence, what David did would be akin to something like a psychological warfare tactic. This is easy to imagine when one considers that David, especially when young and on the run from Saul, was as wiley a character as you'll ever encounter in ancient literature. So, such a tactic cannot be ruled out.

As we know, David had his faults that led to some grievous sins. But in this instance, David had the chance to kill his mortal enemy and, in human terms, would've been justified in so doing. In this and other ways, David is seen as a foreshadowing of Christ, to some extent. David's refusal to kill his enemy, whom he never hated, but who he was hated by, is why this reading is paired with our Gospel from the sixth chapter of Saint Luke's Gospel.

In our Gospel, Jesus teaches what it means to become what Saint Paul calls, in our reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians, calls πνευματικόν (transliterated: pneumatikon). Theologically, the pneumatikon is the person through whom God's Spirit is made present.

To miss the point of today's Gospel is to miss the Gospel. To avoid, reduce to your own measure, or seek to evade Jesus' teaching in this passage is to build your house on sand.

You can "Yes, but..." 'til kingdom come. you can foolishly believe that Jesus only comforts, reinforces your preconceptions, pats you on the head. But, as Pope Francis insists, one of the biggest spiritual mistakes you can make is to be closed to the many ways God surprises us. Here's a secret: not all the surprises are pleasant ones, particularly those that make it painfully obvious that I need to repent. To repent means not only to be sorry for my sins but to commit to change, commit to following Jesus by adhering to his teachings, particularly the hardest ones.

With Jesus, it is never simply "Do this." Why you do what you do matters. How you do what you do matters. For a Christian, there is no acceptable motive but love. As my pastor noted, loving your neighbor is different from being in love with her/him.

To love another, then, is to will the good of him/her. To speak and act in such a way as to facilitate that person's good. This does not necessarily or always require a huge amount of affectivity. It does require discernment and genuine goodwill toward the other; in Greek agape. In this case, toward the person who has wronged me in some way.

We must not ignore the non-violence inherent in Jesus' teaching. We must also recognize that non-violence is not passivity. We must not ignore the Lord's constant teaching about not being too attached to things, which, while not able to satisfy us, our attachemnt to things can surely destroy us.

We also do well to familiarize ourselves with Aquinas' teaching on disordered attachments. We hint at this in the Act of Contrition: "in choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you, whom I should love above all things." What is sin if not loving "things" more than you love God or your neighbor?

Yes, you can judge others. But, according to Jesus, that's the judgment with which you will be judged. Simple as that, no buts. If you return evil for evil, love only those who love you, do good only to those who do good to you, pray for those who pray for you, then you are not a follower of Jesus. Simple as that, no buts.

Jesus never just taught, meaning he never only used words to convey the mode of existence we call faith. He lived what he taught. Where did this lead him? To the cross! For Christians, the cross is a triumph, not defeat. It is only through the cross that there is resurrection.

"Be merciful," Jesus teaches his disciples, "just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36). Because, as we sang in today's Responsorial, "The Lord is kind and merciful," so should we be. The word translated as "kind" from Psalm 103 is the Hebrew hesed.

Hesed, which is a polyvalent word if ever there was one, is, according to the scriptures, God's defining characteristic. A compelling definition of hesed is meriting nothing and yet receiving "infinitely more than I deserve" (Michael Card, Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness, 69).

There is so much unsavory Christianity, which is so much tasteless salt. Jesus in today's Gospel seeks to provoke us, not reassure us. You either accept the provocation (pro =for + vocation =your calling) or you don't. Today we are confronted with a passage containing what is probably the Lord's most difficult teachings. But it also constitutes the heart of the Gospel, the basics of what it means to be a Christian. As the prayer for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours has it:
Father, keep before us the wisdom and love
you have revealed in your Son.
Help us to be like him in word and deed...
Early on his first letter to the Christians of ancient Corinth, Paul encourages them and, by extension, us, with these words from Isaiah:
What eye has not seen,
and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9)
This, my dear friends, is our hope.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Lent: the "time gift" for following Jesus

I am in the midst of yet another hectic week. As a result, I haven't had much time to collect my thoughts well enough to post anything terribly insightful or even coherent. Today, in and of itself, has been more than a little exhausting. I skipped posting last Friday, not only because it was my wife's birthday, but because she and I gave an hour-long presentation on marriage at a diocesan marriage event. This means we're finally going to celebrate her birthday this coming Sunday.

It hardly seems possible that Lent is so close. It's less than two weeks away. I need to find some time to prayerfully discern what Christ calls me to during this particular holy season. I do know that I am going to use Trevor Hudson's Pauses for Lent: 40 Words for 40 Days. I've had this in ebook format since 2019. In reading Hudson's Introduction, he describes the seasons of the liturgical year as "time gifts." I like that description very much.

Apart from sharing that, I am not in the habit of publicizing the other Lenten practices I undertake. What I like about the format of Pauses for Lent, is that encourages the reader to "take up" as well as "give up." To give up is to subtract. To take is to add, to do positive things.

This year, in particular, the question "What are you taking up for Lent?" seems like a better one than "What are you giving up for Lent?" Even you take up fasting with some regularity. But fasting should facilitate almsgiving.

Even now, Friday remains for Roman Catholics a penitential day. Fridays that fall within either the Octave of Christmas or Easter or on a solemnity, are excepted. Just as each Sunday is a "little" Easter, every penitential Friday is a "little" Good Friday or short Lent. So, it seems fitting to reflect on Lent on the penultimate Friday before Ash Wednesday. It's also good to think about Lent before it starts.

What is Lent about? As Hudson describes it: "During the forty days of Lent, disciples of Jesus are encouraged to engage in three spiritual practices. These practices are those specifically mentioned by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: giving to the poor, prayer, and fasting" (7). Where does this idea come from? Specifically, it comes from Matthew 6: 1-18. It is from this passage that our Gospel for Ash Wednesday is taken every year!

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the fundamental disciplines that must be part of any spirituality that flies under the banner "Christian." So, Lent is about committing or recommitting yourself to following Jesus. Perhaps it is a time to remind yourself what it means to follow him. In short, Lent is a "time gift" given to us to repent.

Do not reduce repentance to being sorry for your sins. To repent means to commit to change. Change is hard. Practicing the spiritual disciplines will help you change. The disciplines matter because your body matter. To follow Jesus is not merely a mental or "spiritual" (used in the sense of disembodied, which is an abuse of the word, quite frankly) endeavor. It is something you are required to do "with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (see Matthew 22:37).

Take some time before Lent to prepare to receive this "time gift" from God. Pray and discern about how you intend to use this gift.

Again, the purpose of Lent is simple. Don't make it complicated. In terms of practicing spiritual disciplines, don't turn means into ends. Keep the means, the means. As James Kushiner noted quite a few Lents ago: "A discipline won't bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help you get yourself, your ego, out of the way so you are open to His grace."

Our Friday traditio is an Older contemporary Christian song by Don Francisco, "Come and Follow." I posted this social media the Sunday before last because, well, it was the Gospel for that day.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Christianity: spirituality of the Good News

Readings: Jer 17:5-8; Ps 1:1-4.6; 1 Cor 15:12.16-20; Luke 6:17.20-26

The "Sermon on the Plain," Saint Luke's parallel to Matthew's much better known Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are you who are poor...
Blessed are you who are now hungry...
Blessed are you who are now weeping...
Blessed are when people hate you... on account of the Son of Man.

These beatitudes are followed by these woes:

Woe to you who are rich...
Woe to you who you are filled now...
Woe to who laugh now...
Woe to you when all speak well of you...

It should not be necessary to point this out, but it is. These are not eight discrete statements or even two sets of four discrete statements. The statements in both sets are interconnected and the sets are themselves interconnected. Obvious, right? Again, this should be clear. Why do I think it's important to point this out? Because there are people who, advocating for things that are not part of the Gospel, sometimes even contrary to it, mistakenly believe that the disapprobation they experience is the realization of the fourth statement of the first set.

A famous quote by the saintly Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil, Dom Hélder Câmara, suffices to explain what I mean. Dom Hélder once quipped: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist."

As our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah exhorts us, we must learn to trust God. Trusting Jesus, who is the living water, is how you become a strong, fruitful tree instead of a barren bush. We can discuss the relationship of works to faith all day. According to Jesus, you must produce good fruit. His close relative, James, gets this absolutely right in the second chapter of his New Testament letter.

Pope Francis frequently speaks about the sin of indifference toward the poor, the elderly, the marginalized, the traumatized. This is to hit the nail on the head. Hate is not the opposite of love. Indifference is the opposite of love. A Christian cannot be indifferent to the poor, the hungry, or the grieving. As Catholics, we have the Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and those in prison, bury the dead.

Lent is on the liturgical horizon. Maybe this year either in lieu of or along with what you're giving up, I urge you to take up something. Not just anything, but take up a way to engage in at least one of the Corporal Works of Mercy. This is as vital for your spirituality as is prayer.

Any spirituality that can be considered Christian needs to include the fundamental spiritual disciplines taught to us by the Lord himself: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I think these correlate nicely to the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. Prayer corresponds to faith. Fasting relates to hope. Almsgiving is really just another word for charity.

Just as hope is the flower of faith and love is their fruit, almsgiving, love of neighbor (keeping in mind that, as the Good Samaritan recognized, my neighbor is the one who needs my help), ought to be the result of prayer and fasting.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Conversion is a movement of your heart

Readings: Isa 6:1-2a.3-8; Ps 138:1-5.7-8; 1 Cor 15:11; Luke 5:1-11

Today's scripture readings are about conversion and how conversion leads to mission. Our reading from Isaiah, which should resonate with the Gloria, envisions the prophet's lips being cleansed when an angel of God presses a hot coal on them. In our passage from Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, the apostle discusses his persecution of the Christians before his encounter with the Risen Christ. This encounter did not just alter the trajectory of his life, it caused him to do a one hundred and eighty degree turn around. Finally, in our Gospel, Peter is called despite his feeling of unworthiness.

From a Christian view, if Christ did not call sinners, he couldn't call anyone. As it is, in baptism, he called you. In baptism, you died, were buried, and rose with Christ to new life. Baptism shows us that eternal life is not the life that starts after mortal death, eternal life is now. While your call, your vocation, might be different from that of Isaiah, Paul, or Peter, you aren't any less called.

What are you called to do? You are called to proclaim the Good News, to spread the Gospel, to tell others about what Jesus has done for you. Given the times the Church is passing through, this might strike you as hopelessly naïve. I can live with naïve but I can't accept hopelessness. All of what the Church is experiencing is the result of sin.

We know, for example, from our reading of the Gospels, that Peter didn't become perfect the day he accepted Christ's call to leave everything and follow. I very much doubt that Paul was perfect from the day he encountered the resurrected Lord on the road to Damascus. Conversion to the fullness of Christ is a process that unfolds through experience over time. The process of conversion is a lifelong project. In the end, it is the only that project that matters.

If the Gospel is not good news for sinners, then it is not good news. But it also isn't the case that we experience God's grace by the forgiveness of our sins and we simply carry on as before. Like Paul's one-eighty, we too must turn around and follow Christ. To experience conversion, to be converted, is not only to see the need but to have a deep desire to change. The level at which Christ appeals to us dictates that conversion is not something that can be imposed upon you.

Conversion is a movement of your heart. While he issued him an invitation of sorts there on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Gennesaret is another name for the same body of water), Jesus did not demand that Peter follow him. The determination to leave everything and follow Jesus was one he had to make himself. Peter's choice at that moment was not between good and evil. Maybe it was between good and better, but that depends very much on how you define "better."

Frankly, we should be a little scandalized by the radicality of Peter's decision. We know Peter was married... A decision to remain a fisherman providing for his family is hardly a blameworthy one. By contrast, we know that Paul was not married.

As both Peter and Paul experienced, Jesus leads you to the cross. In Peter's case, according to tradition, quite literally. Paul was merely beheaded, as befitted a Roman citizen. But without a doubt, both of these men, perhaps in their hopeful naïvete, believed Jesus Christ was leading them beyond the cross. The only way beyond the cross is through the cross.

Further on in the same chapter as our reading from 1 Corinthians, Saint Paul, perhaps with reference to the prophet Hosea, writing about Christ's resurrection,
Death is swallowed up in victory.

Where, O death, is your victory?

  Where, O death, is your sting? (1 Cor 15:54-55)
This, dear friends, is good news indeed!

Friday, February 4, 2022

Hope saves us from being crushed

First Friday of February. Sorry, I couldn't resist the alliteration! But, hey, here we are. It's cold here along the Wasatch Front of the Rocky Mountains.

I was kind of tempted to post "I Got You, Babe" as the traditio. If today had actually been Groundhog Day, I probably would have. There are so many things going on right now. It's exhausting. One of my key take-aways from John Eldredge's book Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad is that we're not built to carry the weight of the world. Trying to do that will crush me. One of those everyday practices he recommends is called "benevolent detachment."

Benevolently detaching does not mean not caring. It does mean recognizing my limitations and trusting in God, giving those weighty things to God. I was convinced, even before reading Get Your Life Back, that we daily run the risk of traumatizing ourselves by being exposed to every catastrophe, every controversy going on. Frankly, that's insane.

My life is busy enough. In fact, many days, many weeks, like this week, I am too busy. Being too busy doesn't mean having more to do than I can do. It means having more to do than is good for me.

Another everyday practice Eldredge encourages is enjoying beauty. Groundhog Day, as it happens, falls on the same day as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, known traditionally as Candlemas. And so, instead of "I Got You, Babe," our traditio is Choral Scholar, Luke Johnson, singing the Simeon's Song, the Nunc Dimittis, in Bradford Cathedral:

Of course, Jesus' Presentation in the Temple is the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. The fruit of this mystery is obedience. What Anna and Simeon see in the holy infant is hope: their hope, the hope of Israel, the hope of the world. Simeon's song is a song of hope. Because of this hope, even though he rightly intuits that it is realized through suffering, the old man can now depart in peace.

Peace to you, dear friend.

Koinonia: One God, three persons

The end of our second reading is from the conclusion of Saint Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians. Koinonia is the Greek word trans...