Wednesday, December 30, 2009

PRAYER-TIME


A friend from college days sent me a series of mediations (you can see how old they are), set in the form of dialogues between a soul and Jesus, by Gabrielle Bossis, in a book called He and I. The soul speaks, and Jesus replies (in italics). I was really struck by this one:

February 6, 1938:
In the train, I was saying my prayers mechanically as I was eyeing the pedestrians and the shops.

Gently He said to me: "If I were just a man I should ask: 'Are you making fun of me?'"


It says a great deal (too much, perhaps) to me; does it speak to you?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

THE POPE AND THE POOR AT SANT' EGIDIO

Here is a snippet from the Vatican (with translation to follow):

Alle ore 13 di oggi, Festa della Santa Famiglia, il Santo Padre Benedetto XVI si è recato nella mensa di via Dandolo, nel quartiere di Trastevere a Roma, per pranzare con i poveri assistiti dalla Comunità di San’Egidio.

Nella sala da pranzo, recitata la preghiera di benedizione, il Papa ha ricevuto il saluto del Prof. Riccardi e si è quindi seduto a tavola con alcuni poveri. Al termine del momento conviviale, prima di offrire la torta agli oltre 150 ospiti, il Santo Padre ha rivolto ai presenti un discorso. I bimbini hanno intonato un inno natalizio e il Papa li ha salutati donando personalmente dei giocattoli a ciascuno di loro.


At 1:00 pm today, the Feast of the Holy Family, the Holy Father Benedict XVI was ushered to dinner at Via Dandolo, in the Trastevere quarter of Rome, to have dinner with some of the poor who are helped by the Community of Sant’ Egidio.

In the dining hall, having recited the blessing, the Pope was greeted by Prof. Riccardi [founder of the Community] and was then seated at table with some of the poor. After a time of relaxation, before offering [Christmas] cake to more than 150 guests, the Holy Father spoke to those present. Children sang a Christmas hymn, and the Pope greeted them, personally giving a toy to each one of them.


This excerpt from the Vatican’s web-site (my translation, so don’t blame the Holy Father) touched me in a special way. In my 3rd year in seminary my apostolic work was with this wonderful community of laypeople, serving supper in this very hall every Friday to over 1,000 folks (a three-course dinner, I might add—so Italian!), and then joining them for Evening Prayers in the Church of Sant’ Egidio, also in Trastevere.

I could go on and on about the love that was shown these homeless people (many of them refugees from the civil war in Ethiopia, many of them Italians, mentally disabled people turned out by clinics and wards and left to the streets). I could expound on the power and simplicity of the Evening Prayer and preaching that went on, linking faith and action—as they must be, to be authentic. My “main man” and brother through this, along with several other ways of sharing prayer and faith, was Liam Cary, now a priest in the Archdiocese of Portland, OR.

All that really matters is the mirroring by Pope Benedict of actions by (Blessed) Pope John XXIII. I especially think of his visits to prisons, including Regina Caeli—at the bottom of the Janiculum hill on which our seminary was built—telling the prisoners, “You could not come to see me, so I came to see you.” And, honestly, it matters to me that I have a personal connection with the place where Pope Benedict extended himself. The man is 82, after all: why would he not want to rest a bit? But to be Pope means, among other things, being Servus servorum Dei—Servant of the servants of God (as Pope Gregory the Great characterized himself in the end of the 6th century).

As we continue to struggle toward, lurch toward, some kind of Christian unity, I pray that this public witness will be the cornerstone of the future ministry of the Bishop of Rome—it is surely a ministry that anyone would be willing to be drawn to.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

HOLY FAMILIES


The “traditional” message of the Scriptures for Holy Family Sunday usually includes the following thoughts:
wives, submit; children, obey; husbands, love; parents, don’t nag; everyone, forgive

But I would rather offer a meditation on “lost” Jesus and His episode in Jerusalem, a sort of directed fantasy of how it might have been…

He came for Passover this time because he was 12 and probably just celebrated his Bar-Mitzvah, becoming an adult in the community. The commandment for pilgrimage would be on him now. But we know that Passover in Jerusalem was crowded and chaotic. Pilgrims had to remain inside the City during that great night, but because of the crowds the rabbis re-interpreted the boundaries of Jerusalem to include some outlying areas, like the Mount of Olives, just east of the City and across the Kidron Valley. Wouldn’t it be incredible if this visit was Jesus' 1st “overnight” in Gethsemane?!

Jesus was staggered by the beauty of the Temple (read Psalms 121 & 84 to get a feel for the joy of being at the Temple). My own 1st experience at St. Peter’s in Rome, visiting as a student, was probably like that—you stare up at the scale and the glory and say, “O my Lord…” Jesus stays because He cannot get enough of the Temple and needs to be there "just once more"...

He begins asking questions and discussing theology with the priests and doctors of the Law He meets there (and might one of those young priests have been named Caiaphas?):
Who is the ‘Suffering Servant’ of Isaiah 53?
Is he related to the figure(s) of Isaiah 42, 49, 50 & 61? Are they all the same? Are they a person?
David claimed not to taste corruption (Psalm 16), yet died; he’s either wrong & this shouldn’t be Scripture, or is there any third possibility?
Why must blood (Paschal lamb or Yom Kippur) be shed for salvation & forgiveness of sins?


These might have been Jesus’ questions, sitting there and loving His Father’s house so much He didn’t want to leave it (perhaps spending the next nights in the Garden of Gethsemane, as well: a location so close to the Temple, and a place from which one could sit and gaze at the Temple in all its glory, especially in the morning when the rising sun would be blazing on its façade).

It was necessary, He said when found, that He be “in His Father’s house/about His Father’s business.” Why? It’s because, humanly speaking, He fell in love. Remember, if Jesus knew He was the Son of God, He also was to “grow in age, grace and wisdom”… And we grow through the changes that occur when transforming experiences happen to us.

And if Jesus wanted to ask those questions, I have questions of my own that I would like to ask Him:
What’s the point of the teaching about prayer & asking/seeking/knocking?
If all prayer has to begin and end with “Thy will be done,” why bother praying?
If you have overcome the world why is it still so sinful?
Why did you give us your Body & Blood in the Eucharist?
Was the Crucifixion the only way to redeem us?


What questions might you want to ask?

No matter: even without absolute answers, once one falls in love, one can be faithful and obedient. Jesus was; St. Paul asks us all to do the same. In the words of Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons, when his daughter asked him if he had not done as much as God could reasonably want: "Finally, it's not a matter of reason; finally, it's a matter of love." Happy Holy Family Sunday to us all!
Footnote: the illustration is a fresco by Giotto, found in the Arena Chapel in Padua.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

POPE LEO AND THE MERTON PROFESSOR ON CHRISTMAS




You might think I am referring to Leo XIII, who was pope at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, along with a scholar who is an expert in Thomas Merton, the American Cistercian monk and spiritual writer. Almost… Actually, I mean Pope St. Leo I (in the 5th century), and J.R.R. Tolkien, the Merton [College, Oxford] Professor of English Language and Literature. Together, they offer a great insight into the meaning of the celebration of Christmas.

The brilliance of Pope Benedict XVI notwithstanding, Pope Leo the Great was the greatest theologian ever to sit in the Chair of Peter. He made a decisive intervention in a controversy about the nature of Jesus Christ as truly, fully human and truly, fully divine—a controversy that was ripping the Church apart in the 400s. And in the Breviary’s “Office of Readings” for Christmas morning, we read an excerpt from a sermon he preached on the feast of the Nativity. I quote a small portion of it here:

Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.
No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no one free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the [unbeliever] take courage as he is summoned to life.


The success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings has overshadowed the scholarship that marked Tolkien’s life as a professor at Oxford (and sometime friend and drinking/discussing friend of C.S. Lewis). But in his important essay “On Fairy-Stories” (to which I referred on Christmas in one of my homilies), he invents the word ‘eucatastrophe,’ intended to mark the turning point for joy that allows fairy-stories to have a happy ending. Becoming theological at the end of the essay, he writes:

I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story… But this story has entered History and the primary world… The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy…. There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true… But this story is supreme; and it is true.
The [Gospel story] has not abrogated the legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed.


We move quickly this year from Christmas, through Holy Family, to Mary Mother of God and the World Day of Prayer for Peace, to Epiphany: all within 2 weeks. As we make this liturgical rush (which is almost paralleled by the rush of shopping we felt in the weeks leading up to Christmas), it will be good for us to remember the Joy that is being offered to us. With heart and hand, let’s take hold and never let it go.

Friday, December 25, 2009

CLIMBING TO THE LIGHT

I referred to "Les Miserables" in my Midnight Mass homily tonight; I cannot pass by the chance to offer the music to you that I could never sing--far too much emotion for me in it! I regard "Les Mis" as one of the most life-affirming things to cross the stage in the 20th century. Clip #1 ("Epilogue") sets the stage for Clip #2, the actual chorus I referred to. Enjoy them both, in order--and Merry Christmas!






Wednesday, December 23, 2009

EMMANUEL

Tonight’s is the last of the “O antiphons” since tomorrow night is Christmas Eve and everything is pre-empted by the formal beginning of the Christmas season with Evening Prayer I (for the evening of 12-24). Note that Christmas Eve is the beginning of the Christmas season (as opposed to, say, the day after Halloween, at Wal-Mart…). The final text is:

O Emmanuel, our King and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

Notice how this last antiphon piles up images from the previous ones: king, lawgiver, desire of nations. But this is actually the first and only time that the name “Emmanuel” is used, the invocation highlighting our longing that He truly be “God-with-us.”

It’s obvious, too, from all these antiphons that the common theme has been one of being set free. Christ is the true joy of the human heart and the real desire of the nations (even if they/we don’t realize it). He is the one who can truly set us free—“…everyone who lives in sin is a slave of sin…That is why, if the son frees you, you will really be free” (John 8:34, 36). To paraphrase St. Paul (Romans 8:31), if Christ is “God-with-us,” who can be opposed?

To be saved and free, to have life and joy, to dwell in the presence of God who loves us: we can truly sing from our hearts, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

ECUMENICAL ECOLOGICAL THEOLOGY


Pope Benedict and Patriarch Bartholomew share much in common--spiritually, theologically, and in their longing for unity between the Latin and Eastern Orthodox Churches. They also share a passion for respect for the environment rooted solidly in Biblical principles.

His All-Holiness recently made a journey to the United States to address the Mississippi River Symposium sponsored by "Religion, Science and the Environment," of which the Ecumenical Patriarch is a major player. He is so concerned about the future of the planet that there is a hot button on the Ecumenical Patriarchate's web-site called "Orthodoxy and the Environment." He has been nicknamed "The Green Patriarch." The following quote shows why:

Everything that lives and breathes is sacred and beautiful in the eyes of God. The whole world is a sacrament. The entire created cosmos is a burning bush of God’s uncreated energies. And humankind stands as a priest before the altar of creation, as microcosm and mediator. Such is the true nature of things; or, as an Orthodox hymn describes it, “the truth of things,” if only we have the eyes of faith to see it.


Last week Pope Benedict matched his Eastern Orthodox brother with his message for the World Day of Prayer for Peace, titled "If you want to cultivate peace, protect the environment." It is a strongly worded message insisting that our task as a human family is to be stewards of creation and not destroyers of it--a message the Pope takes back to God's command to Adam in Genesis 2. He backs up the theology of creation with a citation from The Catechism of the Catholic Church: "...creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God's works."


Between East and West, the idea that environmental concern is somehow to be relegated to people dismissed as "tree-huggers" is utterly rejected. Honoring creation is seen as a critical and essential component of honoring the Creator; the converse is also true. Citing the famous ending passage of Dante's Paradiso, the Holy Father writes, "Contemplating the beauty of creation inspires us to recognize the love of the Creator, that Love which 'moves the sun and all the other stars.'"


The Pope (in the spirit of the Ecumenical Patriarch) asks that we be prepared, for the sake of the world, the poor, and future generations, to "encourage more sober lifestyles, while reducing...energy consumption..." Is this a task we as a nation, or as a world, can embrace? And what are the long-term (as well as short-term) consequences if we do not?

THE KING SHALL COME...


The “O antiphon” for today is:

O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

The end of the liturgical year is marked by the Solemnity of Christ the King; the end of the pre-Christmas Octave’s “O antiphons” (today and tomorrow) is marked by the image of our Savior as King, the One who preached the Kingdom of God, whose death and resurrection become our safe-conduct to enter that Kingdom. The Preface for Christ the King tells us of the beauty and majesty of what we hope for: “…an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” Add to this the thought from the O antiphon itself, that our King is the source and embodiment of true joy. It is, to paraphrase Hamlet, “a consummation devoutly to be wished”!

The 2nd image is that of the Keystone. Building metaphors are used in the New Testament, but two favorite ones are the keystone (or capstone) and the cornerstone (or foundation). Actually, at least in Ephesians 2:20, it is same Greek word, translated as “capstone” (Revised New American Bible) or “cornerstone” (Revised Standard Version)! In one case, the cornerstone is a basis, literally a foundation that allows a proper “corner” (= 90º) to be built, so the building will be stable. The notion of the capstone, on the other hand, is the one that crown the top of an arch and is the stone which, because of the nature of the force vectors of thrust makes the arch solid and stable. Either way, as the force that holds things together or the principle on which things are based, this is our God for whom we long, come to save us and make us living stones in His building, the Church, the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, December 21, 2009

THE DAWN FROM ON HIGH


The antiphon for this evening’s Canticle of Mary is:

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

You can see the repetition, this evening, of the theme of yesterday’s antiphon—that of the needs of those in darkness/the shadow. The difference is that yesterday’s antiphon stressed the sense of rescue with the physical and graphic image of breaking down walls. Today the gloom of sin and sorrow is simply eliminated by the Rising Son. Yesterday the battle was fought; today the victory is total.

In its own way it summarizes the imagery of the prophet Malachi, who talks about the day of judgment (the yom YHWH, or Day of the Lord) as an oven that will burn up all evildoers. ‘But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:1-2). You will recognize this image, too, as one used by Charles Wesley in verse 3 of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

But perhaps this is taking us just a little too quickly to Christmas…

Sunday, December 20, 2009

THE KEY


The text of the “O antiphon” for tonight’s Evening Prayer is as follows:

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

I referred before to the theme of freedom that was an echo of one of the other great Gospel canticles used in our Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer’s Canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus). [We also use the Canticle of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis) at Night Prayer]. It is true in the case of this antiphon, as well, with a quote: “To shine on those in darkness and in the shadow of death…”

The image of the Key of David looks in two directions: past and present. It alludes first of all to Isaiah 22:15ff. Shebna proves himself inadequate as a royal official, and the key of authority is taken from him and given to Eliakim: “…he shall open, and none shall shut; he shall shut, and none shall open.” Remember, it is the gate of heaven that is promised in today’s antiphon.

The image looks forward to two passages in the New Testament. The first is obvious for Catholics—Matthew 16:16-20, in which Jesus promises to give the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” to Peter. The second is perhaps not so well known: Revelation 3:7ff. In the introductory section of this final book of the Bible, Jesus commands John to write letters of warning or encouragement to the “seven churches” (those of and around Ephesus). In writing to the church of Philadelphia, the Spirit of Jesus (“who has the key of David”) declares: “I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut…” In other words, the faithful of the church of Philadelphia who are enduring hardship are being told that as they endure no one will ever be able to shut them out of eternal life.

Jesus promises us the same thing in John 11:25, speaking to Martha about the raising of Lazarus: “…whoever believes in me, even if he dies, shall live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
He comes to break down the walls of the prison of everlasting death (see also I Peter 3:18ff.). He is our promise and hope, and it is for this that we long.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

HEROISM AND VIRTUE


For one recent pope, anyway, it seems the case for his declaration of having exhibited “heroic virtue” is a lock—that of John Paul II.

This declaration, made from the Vatican today (12-19-09) confirms what everyone already believes: that from his time in Poland as seminarian and priest and bishop, to his time as Supreme Pontiff, Karol Wojtyla exhibited extraordinary holiness and called upon incredible reserves of spiritual life to do and be what he did and was.

As a sort of side-bar, the online AP item mentioning this described the Vatican statement as affirming he had “heroic virtues” (note the plural). This is no doubt true, but it is not what the declaration is about. Rather, it says that this person was someone of special spiritual strength (note the singular) who took discipleship as seriously as it can be taken. A “virtue,” after all, is a characteristic of strength or ‘manliness’ (forgive the gender-exclusive reference here, but it’s all about the Latin word virtus). From his opposition to the communist regime in Poland, through the attempted assassination, the fall of the Soviet bloc, and his tireless travels over the world to bring Good News to the poor, his ecumenical longings (especially toward the Eastern Orthodox Churches), John Paul II was a titanic figure in the 2nd half of the 20th century. “Heroic virtue”? Absolutely. And he is designated as “Venerable” because of it.

THE SIGNAL OF SALVATION


Today’s “O antiphon” is as follows:

O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

This antiphon’s text reminds us of the lineage of the Messiah as “Son of David” (Jesse was of course David’s Father). It alludes also to Isaiah 11, where “He that cometh” was said to embody the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and strength, of knowledge and fear of the LORD. It reminds us also that salvation comes from the Jews but is offered to “all peoples” (compare Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman in John 4:22-24). Being the beacon of salvation to the world is the task of the “Servant of the LORD” (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6). The final allusion is to the “royal” Psalm 72, which celebrates the virtues of the ideal king. One of the typical responses for this Psalm when used as the Responsory at Mass is, “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you” (Ps. 72:11). This King we long for is one who will defend the cause of the poor, deliver the needy, and crush the oppressor (Ps. 72:4). And we know the sins that make us poor, needy and oppressed in our lives: we know our need, so we can also cry out,
“…let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”

Friday, December 18, 2009

O SACRED LORD...


This evening’s antiphon is:

O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

Messiah here is described as God, the very one who appeared to Moses and commissioned him to “set my people free.” The antiphon also uses a standard image from the Old Testament to describe how God’s saving love rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt “with mighty hand and outstretched arm.” It is also the language God used in telling Moses to “lift up your rod, stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it…” We know the needs we have to be set free from sinful behavior, weakness, failings. It is the promise we hear in the canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus) at Morning Prayer: This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham—"to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life." To be set free is to be enabled to live holy and righteous lives without being afraid someone will take advantage of us. It is to be enabled to lives lives "the way it was always intended to be from the beginning." Who would not long to be set free in this way?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

THE DAYS OF “O”

This 17th of December begins the ‘octave of preparation’ for Christmas, and it is marked liturgically in a couple of special ways: first of all, the general prophecies of messianic healing, saving and abundance in the 1st readings at Mass (many from Isaiah) are now replaced with specific references to Jesus. It starts today with the famous genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel—it is seen as the fulfillment of the blessing Jacob/Israel gave, on his deathbed, to son #4, Judah.

The other way of marking these days is by the famous “O Antiphons,” the antiphons that stand at the head of the Magnificat (the Canticle of Mary) in the Breviary’s Evening Prayer. For those not so likely to pray the Breviary on a regular basis, these antiphons (adapted) are also used as part of the Gospel Acclamation at daily Mass. These antiphons begin with the word “O” (thence the name, of course) and always end with a petition that the Savior “come.” These antiphons are the basis, as well, of the verses of the Advent hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Today’s antiphon:
O Wisdom, holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.

I hope you’ll enjoy this setting of the carol, in the original Latin, by Mannheim Steamroller.



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

GRATITUDE BEGETS GENEROSITY BEGETS…


Two dear ladies were members of Our Savior for the first couple of years after I was assigned here. They were displaced from New Orleans by Katrina. They regularly liked to give me money for special needs in the parish. I always wrote them a thank-you note, and perhaps the first time I did this they sent me a card with even more money in it, with the simple note “Gratitude begets generosity!” They are no longer here, but their memory is very strong in me for their goodness, and I always wrote them a thank-you letter.

It’s hard for me not to think of this when I see the results of our Angel Tree project this year. In spite of the difficult economic times and the suffering of many people, Our Savior parish has been generous in the extreme. We have collected 369 bags of toys for children (all delivered down to Catholic Social Services), and we have enough stationary, pens, soap, shampoo, talc, lotion, stamps, and so on to cover (and more than cover) the 211 elderly we regularly visit in assisted living facilities and in their homes. This is really a staggering amount (the classroom nearest my office looks right now like the stock room for Target). The only thing I can reckon is that there is a great deal of gratitude to God in our parish, and this gratitude has begotten generosity in an amazing way.

So in this small way let me share my gratitude to you, as well, for your goodness.

Monday, December 14, 2009

WE WAIT IN HOPE (NOT ALWAYS JOYFUL)

Advent is a time of expectation, of waiting, of longing, of hoping. In our own ways we all know about this, usually in ways we’re rather not have had to learn it.

But there are some families in Our Savior waiting in much more difficult (painful) circumstances. I am thinking of those who long to be in full and complete sacramental fellowship with us as Catholics, and who are waiting the word from the Metropolitan Tribunal about an annulment petition.

We have a number of families like that: some have been involved in RCIA, some have simply been “finding their way home again.” It really doesn’t matter. The waiting and the wondering—abetted, unfortunately, by the slow pace of our Tribunal—cause a real spiritual anguish in their hearts, as well as a longing the Eucharist: for what in some cases they never missed until now, and now deeply crave.

They remain faithful in many, many ways, but their sadness is (for me, anyway) almost palpable.

I have a fantasy that Mary wound up visiting Elizabeth because Joseph threw her out and her parents felt too disgraced to take her back. So two women, both pregnant in irregular ways, supported each other. This being the case, what would those 3 months of the “Visitation” been like for her? She must have been wondering and waiting (and dreading?) any word from Joseph, knowing in her heart it would be the final word: divorce. So she was there, helping her elder kinswoman in her last trimester, and wondering, and waiting. Then, just before John’s birth, the word finally came: “Come home, Mary; you are my wife. I will be his father, and he will be my son.”

May our waiting be confirmed by joy. May our sadness be changed into gladness. May our hopes not be disappointed. May we hear the words of the Lord to us: “Come home—you are my spouse. I will be your God, and you shall be my people. Welcome home!”

Sunday, December 13, 2009

TIL DEATH US DO PART....


Below is part of an item that appeared on-line today (12-13-09):

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The original punishments - including standing on the gallows for an hour with a noose around the neck - have been softened to a $1,200 fine, yet some lawmakers think it's time for the 200-year-old crime of adultery to come off New Hampshire's books.
Seven months after the state approved gay marriage, lawmakers will consider easing government further from the bedroom with a bill to repeal the adultery law.
"We shouldn't be regulating people's sex lives and their love lives," state Rep. Timothy Horrigan said. "This is one area the state government should stay out of people's bedrooms."


To be clear, I think that there is nothing wrong with staying “out of people’s bedrooms.” But then, that is not the entire issue. Nor does the State’s position on gay marriage come close to the real problem here. Finally, I believe this has nothing to do with “regulating people’s sex lives and their love lives,” as State Rep. Horrigan suggests. So what is the issue, after all?

While in Catholic sacramental theology a marriage is a covenantal bond between Christians, intended for permanent and exclusive relationship, it is also (to the State) a civil union, usually demoted to the level of a contract. But even at that level, to ignore this fact is to beg social disintegration. Adultery is the violation of the contract, and the lawmakers seem to be suggesting that contract violations should be granted with impunity. But if one’s word is not to be taken as trustworthy, and if no one should expect there to be any consequences if it is not trustworthy, why pledge one’s word publicly, after all--in any area? The fact the State regulates civil divorces suggests that this should not be the case…

Is there any other area of civil society in which such an attitude would be openly embraced? Are we willing to suggest that wills, for example, can be negated by the unilateral decision of one beneficiary, to exclude other beneficiaries? Should contracts between corporate suppliers and a manufacturing company be voided by the simple decision that, after all, the supplier would rather sell materials (and at a higher price) to a competitor?

This issue touches the question of gay marriage, as well—if such civil unions are granted the status of marriage, would the gay community welcome the concept of free-flowing adultery? It would in the long run would be identical, civilly speaking, to hetero-sexual adultery: it would be infidelity with impunity, sanctioned by law. If your spouse or partner wishes to be intimate with another person, there would be nothing you could do, legally, about it. And if we do not consider adultery a crime, it surely should no longer be grounds for divorce. On what grounds can a legal contract be dissolved by an action that is not a violation of law? The adulterous party could well contest the divorce, claiming no wrong had been done.

This is finally not about sex lives and people’s bedrooms; it is about honesty. Or are we willing to sacrifice that virtue, as well, to the gods of convenience, self-indulgence, and ego?

I know many states simply ignore the argument I am making—they grant divorces willy-nilly for the asking. But in that case, if the public contract ultimately means nothing, why bother? And if it means nothing, why are legal protections for spouses and children a part of the contract? There is a major disconnect in our society, all in the name of staying “out of people’s bedrooms.” It’s too bad this is not the only issue.

OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE CELEBRATED


Below is a quote from the most recent post by Rocco Palmo on his blog, "Whispers in the Loggia," accompanied by several YouTube clips of celebrations in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe all across the US:


"Sweet as it is, wherever it is, what it means can't be shirked, gang -- every 11-12 December is the "coming out" party for the emerging present and future of the Stateside church and, indeed, the seismic shift that it brings on practically every front.

"And it only grows bigger with each passing year.

"Que Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe... and every wish for a feliz fiesta to one and all."


I encourage you all to check out his blog for these clips, to see the extent and depth of the aliveness of the faith of the Hispanic Catholic community as they celebrate their Great Day of identity.



If you scroll down a little past this post, you'll find one I posted yesterday but actually created several days before, for Gaudete Sunday--they get posted by date of writing, it turns out--oh, well! But enjoy the song there, as well as the music on "Whispers."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

FESTIVALS OF LIGHTS

Not only are we in the midst of Advent, with our own candles on the wreath, it is also the beginning of Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights--the special menorah has eight candles lit during these dark nights to celebrate re-dedication: of the Temple, after the Maccabean defeat of Antiochus IV, and of our hearts now.

We all need re-dedication, day by day. It is the purpose of the Jewish High Holy Days; it is the purpose of Christian Lent; it is the purpose of Muslim Ramadan, to be special seasons reminding us of a daily need.

The Christophers have as their motto a Chinese proverb, "Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." To light one candle (on an Advent wreath or a menorah) is to celebrate the victory of peace and love over violence and hate. So in the spirit of love and peace and re-dedication, enjoy the following...




Wednesday, December 9, 2009

NUESTRA SENORA

Today's (new) memorial is that of St. Juan Diego--an anticipation, if you will, of Saturday's fiesta grande of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In his honor, I am attaching for your pleasure a setting of one of the most popular of all Hispanic hymns, Pescador de Hombres. Enjoy, and pray for us, "Talking Eagle," and pray for us, "she who crushes the serpent of stone."



Tuesday, December 8, 2009

GAUDETE

On this Sunday marked as "Rejoice," I offer a carol (a bit early, I admit) imbued with the spirit of the day as well as the upcoming Christmas season (and it lays out the real "reason for the season," as they say). The live performance of this mediaeval carol is by the British group "Steeleye Span," also on their album Below the Salt.


Their descriptive setting in the album's liner notes is as follows:


Mist takes the morning path to wreath the willows--Rejoice, rejoice--small birds sing as the easy rising monk takes to his sandals--Christ is born of the Virgin Mary--cloistered, the Benedictine dawn threads timelessly the needle's eye--rejoice.


Original Latin and my English translation are below. I apologize in advance for the translation's not being quite literal (it would not 'cut the mustard' for the new Sacramentary, I'm afraid!), but I did try to match the rhythms and stresses of the Latin with my English version, to help you (if you so desired) to 'sing along'--ENJOY!










Gaudete, gaudete, Christus est natus
Ex Maria Virgine, gaudete

Tempus adest gratiae hoc quod optamabus,
Carmina laetitiae devote reddamus.

Deus homo factus est, naturam mirante,
Mundus renovatus est a Christo regnante

Ezechielis porta clausa pertransitur
Unde lux est orta salus invenitur

Ergo nostra contio psallat jam in lustro,
Benedicat Domino salus Regi nostro.


Rejoice all, all rejoice, for Christ is born now
Of the Virgin Mary, sing we rejoice

Now has come the time of grace, this which we have longed for
Songs of jubilation now fervently we offer

God in human form is come, to Nature's great amazement
Now the world’s restored again by Christ our King triumphant

The gate of Ezekiel once closed has been broken
From the dawn a Light has shone; salvation now recovered

And so now our gathering sings with all our vigor
May our songs be blessings to our Lord, our king, our Savior!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Yesterday, Pope Benedict received a special personage in audience: His Beatitude Anastas, Archbishop of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania (of the Autocephalous Albanian Orthodox Church). This is important and special; only a few years ago it would have been impossible.

It is an example of the ongoing outreach of Pope Benedict to the Eastern Orthodox Churches, this one (among several other Orthodox Churches) called “Autocephalous” (meaning its Patriarch is its own independent Head). The meeting was evidently cordial, and Pope Benedict was at pains to emphasize the points of commonality with the Catholic Church which produces “the real if imperfect communion which we already share," including, interestingly, the use of the "Nicene-Constantinoplitan Creed" (which, because of a 9th century Western addition, is actually a bone of contention between East and West). The Vatican release did not indicate if there was any response from His Beatitude.

The regime of Albania, recently ousted, was one of the most repressive of all Eastern-bloc nations, and the Albanian people (unrelated linguistically to other Slavic peoples; Albanian is unique among Indo-European languages) suffered greatly while being kept isolated from the rest of the world. But times have changed, and cordial relations between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in Albania seem to be being advanced in a positive and wonderful way.

Of course, the most famous ethnic Albanian (of then-Yugoslavian nationality) is a woman named Agnese Gonxhe Bojaxhiu—otherwise known as Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Might the restoration of full communion between the Catholic and Autocephalous Albanian Churches, as a result of her intercession, count as “miracle #2” in the cause of her canonization??

Friday, December 4, 2009

EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW...


It’s been a while (over two months) since this passage of Philippians 2 has been true for me, thanks to my knee injury, my subsequent surgery, and the recovery process. I’ve been dedicating myself at least part of every day to the kind of PT exercises that my orthopedist recommended (along with special tips from a physical therapist who is a member of the parish). Slowly, very slowly, but surely, they are making a difference.

I am noticing this especially in the area of flexion. I try to be careful: being pseudo-athletic in my inclination and therefore several times seriously injured, I’m no stranger to surgery, PT, and pain. For me, though, there’s a qualitative difference in kinds of pain: one is the pain one always pushes through because it’s just tired or sore muscles; the other is the kind that may be warning, “You’re about to hurt yourself—back off!” It’s a delicate balance.

The goal for me, every day, is to see if there’s something I can now do that I couldn’t do the day before. It might be something very simple, like the ease of getting into and out of the tub for a morning shower. It might be a ‘victory’ like putting on my socks/shoes while remaining seated. It may be seeing how far back toward me my foot can now rest without pain.

Today, for the first time, I genuflected.

It was at Mass, and my knee actually went all the way to the ground. There was early-morning stiffness, of course (after all, for the South anyway, it’s cold out). But stiffness is not the same as pain, so I continued, and I made it. I will not say it was the loveliest reverence I’ve ever made, but it was eminently satisfying to me that I was able to do it.

This post is terribly autobiographical and therefore boring; it just pleased me to be able to write it. Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

DINNER IS SERVED


Even though today’s readings didn’t partake of the wedding feast at Cana (we save that for Christmas season, with its tie-in to Epiphany), still today’s readings (Isaiah 25:6-10a, Ps. 23, Matt. 15:29-37) emphasize a special characteristic of Messianic hope: that of abundance. So Isaiah promises a rich feast; Jesus supplies a meal for a vast crowd with seven loaves and a few fish. There is no better sign of abundance than that of the great feast (such a constant theme in Jesus’ preaching).

But I go back to my personal past. In (Polish) Chicago banquets are de rigeur after all kinds of events, including and especially funerals. After I celebrated my Mom’s funeral Mass in 2005, and after the graveside, about 45 of us went to “our” banqueting hall—virtually across the street from Resurrection Cemetery. It had previously been the site of my sister’s and my youngest brother’s weddings, my Dad’s funeral lunch, and my maternal grandparents’ lunches.

Things there are “family style”—bowls of food brought to the tables. Kielbasa (Polish sausage, for the uninitiated!), chicken, green beans, salad, rolls/rye bread, mashed potatoes, pasta… Whatever folks wanted to drink was brought, and then of course coffee and Polish desserts. We all, to paraphrase the Gospel, ate and had our fill.

There was only one problem: when serving “family style,” what are going to do with the food in the bowls uneaten? It cannot be served again to others…

As I was paying the bill for the lunch, I engaged the owner in a conversation, commenting that we all ate well and a great deal. He remarked that he didn’t believe folks should leave there hungry. And I said, “But isn’t there a great deal of waste?” “Not at all,” he assured me—every bit of ‘leftover’ food was donated (properly, he assured me) to a nearby Catholic church that sponsored a supper kitchen for the poor. I was thrilled to sign that chit!

This is the hallmark of the Messianic banquet: abundance, and room for the poor as well. All are welcome; none will be turned away hungry. The wedding feast of the Lamb must be one that enables healing the heart and soul as well as filling the stomach.

This is our Lord, and His supper is our appetizer: the Eucharist is the foretaste of the ultimate banquet at which no one is turned away, all are satisfied, and everyone is marked by joy, healing, reconciliation, and love.

Who’s hungry? Come to the feast of heaven and earth/Come to the table of plenty!

Monday, November 30, 2009

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY CHANGE…


So much for the French Plus ca change...

In 1876, there was in the works a plan (seemingly backed by the ultra-conservative Cardinal Manning—himself a convert from the Church of England) to support the creation of
"...an Anglican ‘uniate’ church which would allow a married clergy, on the model of the Eastern rite churches in communion with Rome….The plan, which soon collapsed, involved accepting not only papal infallibility, but also conditional reordination; it appeared unlikely to commend itself to many Anglo-Catholics" (Ian Ker, John Henry Newman: A Biography, p. 695).

This is a fascinating view, historically speaking, in light of the developments in relationships between Anglicans/Episcopalians and Catholics in the last 30 years, from ARCIC [the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission], through the first “pastoral provision” of the early 1980s, to the current Apostolic Constitution. Ironically, the 2 issues that Newman thought would keep many (if any) Anglicans from embracing the idea seem not to be issues any more. The Episcopalians past and future who are married priests would in fact be (as Rev Bry Shields and Rev Leo Weisshar were) re-ordained absolutely and not conditionally. And the idea of papal authority (at least in terms of being a focal point of unity and authoritative teaching) seems to be one now eagerly sought out. So what is it that is really at issue between the Catholic Church and the Worldwide Anglican Communion?

In spite of some people’s fears that this is making things “too easy,” the direction of the Apostolic Constitution is in the direct line of the most recent popes, from John Paul II (quoted in Benedict’s greeting of Patriarch Bartholomew in a post above), and Paul VI, who said (in the context of the canonization of the English Catholic martyrs of the 16th-17th centuries): “…when the unity of faith and life is restored…there will be no seeking to lessen the legitimate prestige and usage proper to the Anglican Church…[our] ever beloved sister.”

We are on the verge of something ecumenically traumatic and triumphant—we are on the verge of something which can forge an authentic unity or cause us to shatter ‘like a potter’s vessel’ (Ps. 2:9). Which will it be? On which side will we labor? On which side will we stand in prayer and hope?
FYI: in the picture, along with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict XVI, is Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Secretariat for Christian Unity.

UT UNUM SINT


In his greeting to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I on this Feast of St. Andrew (patron of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and brother of Peter), Pope Benedict XVI offered the following thoughts on the exercise of the ministry of Peter in the Church:


[O]penness [to one another] has guided the work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, which held its eleventh plenary session in Cyprus last month. The meeting was marked by a spirit of solemn purpose and a warm sentiment of closeness. I extend once again my heartfelt gratitude to the Church of Cyprus for its most generous welcome and hospitality. It is a source of great encouragement that despite some difficulties and misunderstandings all the Churches involved in the International Commission have expressed their intention to continue the dialogue.


The theme of the plenary session, The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium, is certainly complex, and will require extensive study and patient dialogue if we are to aspire to a shared integration of the traditions of East and West. The Catholic Church understands the Petrine ministry as a gift of the Lord to His Church. This ministry should not be interpreted in the perspective of power, but within an ecclesiology of communion, as a service to unity in truth and charity. The Bishop of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity (Saint Ignatius of Antioch), is understood to be the Servus Servorum Dei ["Servant of the servants of God"] (Saint Gregory the Great). Thus, as my venerable predecessor the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote and I reiterated on the occasion of my visit to the Phanar in November 2006, it is a question of seeking together, inspired by the model of the first millennium, the forms in which the ministry of the Bishop of Rome may accomplish a service of love recognized by one and all (cf. Ut Unum Sint, 95). Let us therefore ask God to bless us and may the Holy Spirit guide us along this difficult yet promising path.

Yet even as we make this journey towards full communion, we should already offer common witness by working together in the service of humanity, especially in defending the dignity of the human person, in affirming fundamental ethical values, in promoting justice and peace, and in responding to the suffering that continues to afflict our world, particularly hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and the inequitable distribution of resources.

The direction of this Commission is one of coming to understand that the role of the Bishop of Rome has not always been, in the course of 2 millennia, what it is today. There are fluctuations and developments, enrichments and setbacks, for better or for worse. The crucial thing is to determine the essentials of the Petrine ministry in the Church, knowing that cast in different contexts they can still be properly preserved and exercised.

The goal of all ecumenical dialogue is precisely this: to find, together, the essentials that must be recognized, and strive to present them in ways that allow for agreement between brothers and sisters, and restoration of unity in the family of the Faith. We seek together to fulfill the will of Jesus that we be one, united in Him and in one another. May Andrew and Peter be reunited soon with us all!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

JUST FYI...

Some of you may not care, and that's OK. But just in case you'd actually like to see any more of what I write beyond this blog, you can log on to www.oursaviorparish.org, and click on "Pastor's Corner." There you can find essays I write for the weekly bulletin.

Whatever floats (or doesn't) your boat...

LIGHT ONE CANDLE...







The winter solstice is only a few weeks away—folks know it as the shortest day, the longest night. It’s the official beginning of winter (even though, in fact, the earth is closer to the sun in our winter than in our summer). It’s not so bad here in Alabama, but when I was living in England (far nearer the Arctic Circle) twilight began setting in around 3:30—we had a maximum of perhaps 9 hours of sunlight in those days (if in fact the sun was shining at all—clouds are the dominant weather feature of winter in Britain).

It is natural to look to light as a sign of hope and joy, and this is one of the reasons for festivals of light in this time-frame. Christians (especially Catholics) light the four candles of our Advent wreath, one by one, for each of the four weeks of the season, as a longing anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world (John 9:5).

The Jews, too, celebrate the festival of lights at this time—Chanukah is the 8-day celebration of the Re-dedication of the Temple by Judas (“Maccabeus”) and his brothers in the middle of the 2nd century BC. The candles of menorah are also lit one by one, to mark the eight days. This year Chanukah will begin the evening of Saturday, 12 December.

In the Latin American world, this day will also be marked by celebration and much light: the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The processions and vigils, marked by candles and torches, will be nothing short of incredible, particularly in Mexico City and in Chicago.

We all need a guiding light, and we crave to celebrate that light at a time when in fact the days begin growing longer and the nights begin to shorten. In that light there is hope. Jews are waiting for the Messiah; Christians are waiting for the return of Jesus, the Messiah. And so we hope. The message of Guadalupe is that the Light we wait for is actually here and hasn’t left us, even when we feel lost in darkness.

Blessed Advent to us all. Blessed Chanukah to us all. Our Lady of Guadalupe, lead us to the Light.



PS--for a video clip of the procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe, I encourage you all to check "Whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com"--you'll love it.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

STRIVING TO COME TOGETHER IN CHRIST


This announcement came from the Vatican’s web-site this morning (11-28-09):

Following the 21 November meeting in the Vatican between Benedict XVI and Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, in the course of which they reiterated their desire to strengthen ecumenical relations between Anglicans and Catholics, on 23 November the meeting took place of the committee entrusted with preparing the third phase of the "Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission" (ARCIC). It was decided that this new phase will begin during next year.
The third phase will focus on fundamental questions concerning the Church - local Church and universal Church - understood as communion, and on the way in which the local and universal Church can, in communion, discern just moral teaching.
Over coming months the members of the commission will be appointed, and the date of its first meeting will be announced.

This set of dialogues will be critical for the future of ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglicans. By coming to an agreed understanding of the distinctions and relations between the local and the universal Church, we can perhaps better understand both the overture Pope Benedict made to Anglicans with the new Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. We will, I hope, come to a shared perspective on the ways in which a local Church can be truly a local expression and form while still being fully united in the universal Church.

Beyond this, it is significant that part of the purpose for dialogue in this particular area of theology is to try to agree on the methods by which there can be a unified process to ‘discern just moral teaching’ (and this would indeed mean agreement, at the very least in the basic principles of moral teaching). This is critical since divergences in moral practice have been at the core of the upset felt in the Anglican Communion these last several years.

Why do we dialogue at all? Surely it is because, in the words of St. Augustine, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and no matter what else is true, this will never be untrue so long as we all pray “Our Father.” If we seem, sometimes, to be at enmity with each other, this must cease; the best way is to look into each other’s eyes and see, not a demon, but a child for whom Christ suffered, died and rose. We are called to love each other and so bear witness to the truth of Jesus Christ. Again, as St. Augustine put it:

Blessed is the one who loves you, O Lord; and who loves his friends in you, and his enemies for your sake. For this is the person who loses none who are dear to him; to whom all are dear, in the One who can never be lost.

May we all one day soon be dear to one another, and united, in the One who can never be lost.

Friday, November 27, 2009

5 PEOPLE++ YOU WANT TO MEET IN HEAVEN

The Office of Readings in the Breviary for today featured an excerpt from a sermon by St. Cyprian (3rd century bishop of Carthage and martyr). The gist: if we really sincerely pray “Thy Kingdom come,” why are we afraid to leave this world to enter the Kingdom? The saints are waiting to welcome us!

So I thought: what’s my list for those I would long to meet and spend time with? I will admit up front that there are those whom I pray will be in Paradise, but I hope they’ll be on the other side from me! Besides them, there are of course the “main players” that EVERYONE would want to spend time with: Blessed Mother, Mary Magdalene, Peter and Paul, James and John, Ignatius Loyola, Thomas More, Francis of Assisi… There will be long lines to see them (but thankfully in eternity the concept of ‘waiting’ will be non-existent).

What about family? I surely would want to spend time with my Mom and Dad, but they would be #2 on my list here. I’d first of all want to spend time with my baby brother who died when he was six months old (and I was 8). I’d want to ask him, “How are you?” and “Who are you?” I guess I’d have, at least to some extent, Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven in my mind…
Also, I’d want to spend time with my maternal grandmother—she tried to say things in the last years in the nursing home, but no teeth, speaking softly, very slowly, and half in English, half in Slovak, I could understand nothing. I would want to ask, “Grandma, what were you trying to tell us?”
I’d love to talk with my paternal grandfather, too: I never knew him since he died before my Mom and Dad got married. “Who were you, Grandpa T.?”

Then there are the folks in history that have always intrigued me. I would love to spend time with my hero, Bl. Cardinal Newman (“Were you secretly angry that it took so long for ‘the cloud to be lifted’?”). And I would want to be able to be with Bl. Charles de Foucauld (“Why North Africa? You could have been a ‘universal brother’ in so many other places?”), Cardinal Bellarmine (“What did you really think about Galileo?”), Pope Gregory the Great (“Was the public administration dumped on you your greatest frustration as Pope?”), and perhaps also Bertrand Russell, the great atheistic philosopher (“Yes, I know you rejected belief in God because you found no evidence; now that you have plenty of it, let’s put that to one side and discuss philosophy…”). Sure, Russell was a reprobate, but a delightful one, and I want to believe it wasn’t too late for him…

Who are you longing to meet and spend time with? Who are your "5++ people"? Are you ready? I hope and pray that I am…

Thursday, November 26, 2009

GIVING THANKS



The act of giving thanks is one of the most ‘God-like’ of our capacities. So often it is somehow receiving just what we think we do not deserve or cannot ever achieve on our own that becomes our greatest motivation for giving thanks—thanks for the present, and thanks to the one (or the One) whose gift it is.

Think of the role-reversal of the possessed man (Mark 5)—condemned to live life as an outcast, hated and feared, hating himself, ‘crying out and bruising himself with stones,’ the Scripture account tells us. And with a word of power Jesus casts the demonic forces out of him—the townspeople found him ‘clothed and in his right mind.’ Of course he begged Jesus to allow him to stay with Him!

I can imagine Jesus’ words to him: “Yes, I know; it’s been terrible. But you are all right now, and you are now possessed by the power of love. I need you to let the others in your town know about the goodness of God to you—please bring them that message.” And he did—surely becoming as much a remarkable sight for the people of the region (he preached all through the Decapolis—the Ten Cities) as the Samaritan woman must have been after her encounter with Jesus at the well (John 4). But once you’ve been graced, and once your heart is filled with gratitude for it, what else can you do?

We are very, very like the possessed Gerasene man and the Samaritan woman. We need the touch of graced love, and when we experience it really the only thing we can do is give thanks (in a joyful way). We’re so often in the stage of “pre-encounter”—alienated in the town, outcast in the tombs: wretched, miserable, suffering, seeing no future. Then it comes (then He comes), and insofar as we are open to the transformation we are freed. The gratitude then empowers us to accomplish things (and perhaps, also, to endure things) we never dreamed of being able to do or suffer. I pray we will believe that in spite of everything, we are not alone, we are loved, and that even as we walk in the dark, we can wait trustingly for the coming of the Light.

Monday, November 23, 2009

BISHOP TOBIN, PATRICK KENNEDY & MARIO CUOMO: A DIFFERENT TAKE


Do Catholic bishops have the right, or the obligation, to speak to Catholic politicians about faithfulness to Catholic teaching & practice?
Do Catholic politicians have an obligation to their Faith first of all, or to the desires of their constituency?
Should personal convictions color public policy-making?

A dialogue:

W. …the King needs a son; I repeat, what are you going to do about it?
M. I pray for it daily.
W. God’s death, he means it…Then good night! Oh, your conscience is your own affair; but you’re a statesman! Do you remember the Yorkist Wars?...Let him die without an heir and we'll have them back again! Let him die without an heir and this “peace” you think so much of will go out like that! (he extinguishes the candle). England needs an heir; certain measures, perhaps regrettable, perhaps not…All right, regrettable! But necessary to get us an heir. Now explain how you as Councilor of England can obstruct those measures for the sake of your own, private, conscience.
M. Well…I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties…they lead their country by a short route to chaos. (he relights the candle) And we shall have my prayers to fall back upon.

So, then, whom do you admire more (pun intended) in this dialogue: Cardinal Wolsey or Sir Thomas More? Or perhaps Thomas Cromwell, or Richard Rich, or Archbishop Cranmer…?

What is so terribly burdensome and distasteful about taking a public stand based on deeply held convictions? Does no one any more want to be "A Man For All Seasons"?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

WHAT IS TRUTH?


Listen, King of the Jews/ Where is your kingdom?
Look at me—am I a Jew?

I have got no kingdom in this world…

Then you’re a king?

It’s you who say I am/ I look for truth and find that I get damned

But what is truth? Is truth unchanging law?
We both have truths—are mine the same as yours?

Those familiar (as most of us, I think, are) with Jesus Christ Superstar will recognize these words as part of the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate. I quote them for 2 reasons:
1. They are adapted from the excerpt from St. John’s Gospel for today’s Solemnity of Christ the King
2. They lead in to the only occasion for the full orchestral playing of the “Superstar” theme, showing us that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber knew what they were doing

In the Fourth Gospel, Pilate is given 2 tremendous lines. One is referred to as ‘the greatest exit line in all literature’—Quod scripsi, scripsi (“What I have written, I have written”—Jn. 19:22). The other is the sarcastic question, “What is truth?” (18:38). This latter one deserves to be unpacked.

In Pilate’s libretto above, there is expressed a very common ‘post-modern’ view—that there is no such thing as objective truth but only individual perceptions. Therefore, no one can properly criticize another if he/she does not embrace the person’s particular sense of ‘truth.’ To do so would be small-minded, not tolerant, one step (if that) away from fanaticism and bigotry.

This misses the point so entirely as to be virtually a deliberate charade.

Our beliefs may well differ; truth, however, is in fact objective. It has to be, and in all areas of learning and intellectual investigation (except perhaps for moral behavior) we recognize this. 2 + 2 does in fact equal 4. Jesus is either risen or dead. Our planet is experiencing global warming or not. There is what we call a black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy or not. Galileo’s view of the movement of the earth around the sun was right or wrong.

In the moral sphere, either a child conceived and in utero is a human life or it is not. There is no room for ‘different truths’ in such a case—it either is or it is not. Truth makes all the difference in how (and why) we form our beliefs. We cannot be callous to the process of investigating truth because we are afraid it might compromise our beliefs (or behaviors). And we cannot casually embrace what we decide to be truth because it is more convenient. Let the truth be discovered without hindrance and without fear. Then embrace the truth, no matter what pre-conceived notions may have been your baggage.

We both have truths—are mine the same as yours? If they are true at all, surely they must be…

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A TALE OF TWO DOMES




Austin Ivereigh is a wonderfully well-informed commentator on things Anglican & Catholic, an adviser to the former Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. In an essay in the current issue of America, Ivereigh reflects on ecumenical relations in the light of what was (when he wrote) the as-yet-unpublished Apostolic Constitution. He suggests the following:

The current logjam [in ecumenical dialogue] is less over women priests or gay bishops than over the disintegration of Anglican ecclesiology [read: the self-understanding of structures and operation of the church]. Rome has long complained that the official Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission [ARCIC] agreements are worth little when the Church of England’s general synod later repudiates them. Rome wants a church it can deal with. This means backing [Anglican] Archbishop [Rowan] Williams’s attempts to introduce a tighter ecclesiology into the Anglican Communion… a “Catholic ecclesiology” but without papal magisterium. The result of this…could be a smaller but more coherent communion in which authority is more clearly defined—and with which Rome can do business.

‘Disintegration’ is the key word in this excerpt. The goal of ecumenical dialogue has been the hope and desire to bring about unity and solidarity, not fragmentation. But there have been times when partners in dialogue have taken radical and serious steps unilaterally, in isolation from their partners. If the ordination of openly gay bishops in the Episcopal Church is one example, the revision of the liturgical language of the Catholic Church (currently nearly complete) is another example. After all, one of the goals of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) was to have an ecumenically agreed-upon set of texts in liturgical worship. It is not much different from a married couple deciding to make life decisions without consultation: it is a recipe for disaster.

If Archbishop Williams can indeed accomplish what Mr. Ivereigh is suggesting, it seems this would be a way of limiting (if not eliminating) such independent actions and decisions. It might indeed be a way forward in dialogue with the Anglican Communion that can bear real, abundant and wonderful fruit. But there will be need for a tremendous amount of spadework, fertilizing and nurturing before this can be the case. I hope our Churches are committed to engaging in the task—together.



Footnote: today a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission was named: Prof. John C. Cavadini, Chair of the Theology Department at the University of Notre Dame.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

SAINTS PETER AND PAUL




No, today is not the major solemnity of the two Apostles of Rome--that's 29 June, of course. But today is the commemoration of the dedication of the basilicas of St. Peter's in the Vatican and St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls. Both were originally built by Constantine over what was believed to be the graves of these great saints.

This morning I shared some personal connections with these tremendous patriarchal basilicas. My Dad, for whatever reason, was very keen that I attend St. Ignatius HS in Chicago, and I did. Perhaps that is why, when I was in seminary in Rome (and this, after he died), that I never failed to make a pilgrimage on his birthday to St. Paul's--to pray for him in the Blessed Sacrament chapel behind and to the left of the high altar. For it was there that there was an all-night vigil in 1541, the conclusion of which saw the foundation of the Society of Jesus. And so when I visit Rome I do not fail to pray there, for him.

It is similar for St. Peter's. Though I was ordained a deacon there, in 1991, my Mom could not make the trip. She missed a blessed and splendid occasion. But I was able to make it up to her by taking her there in 1994. I could do things for and with her, as a priest, that I would not have been able to do as a deacon, including offering Mass with her in the Cappella Clementina, the crypt chapel the altar of which backs up directly upon the grave of St. Peter. Again, when I visit Rome I always want to try to do this again, in her memory. I must admit, though, that my best praying for her is actually at the church of Sant' Agostino, where Augustine's Mother, St. Monica, is buried. It seems a very appropriate place for a son to pray.

When family memories and memories of the "family of our Faith" coincide, it is a beautiful thing. If these are my memories, I hope you have yours, as well, wherever they may be.








Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ONE LOVES THE SUNSET…


As I think you know, I love solving the “Celebrity Ciphers” in the daily newspaper. They are good opportunities for mental calisthenics and often offer a bit of wisdom or insight when solved. Today’s was special to me:

I don’t know what you could say about a day in which you have seen four beautiful sunsets.
--Astronaut John Glenn

Glenn, of course, was referring to the opportunity he had while orbiting the earth in the 1960s in our early Mercury space program. But his comment took me back a bit, to the 1940s, when Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince). The hero of this story also had the chance to observe many sunsets in a “day,” since his home (Asteroid B-612) was so small—all he had to do was move his chair.

‘One day,’ [the Little Prince] said to me, ‘I saw the sunset forty-four times!’
And a little later you added, ‘You know—one loves the sunset, when one is so sad…’
‘Were you so sad, then,’ I asked, ‘on the day of the forty-four sunsets?’
But the little prince made no reply.


How often do we experience sadness and seek (and often find) consolation and comfort [these two are not the same thing] in the presence of Nature, or music, or poetry! We somehow instinctively know the truth St. Ignatius Loyola wanted to teach us, that we can (and must) find God in all things. A sunset, a poignant melody on the stereo, an animal nibbling at food we’ve put out in the yard for it—we seek and find His presence there, who calls to us through our sadness.

In his own way, the Little Prince lived out our own Christian hope that no matter what the trials, there will be a way out (and strengthening) for us. But he offers us a special key: do not despise what is offered to us as our means of ‘escape,’ for what we might at first blush think beneath us or contemptible may well be the most special means of our salvation. To end with a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings:
'All that is gold does not glitter…'

THE THAMES FLOWS INTO THE TIBER?

This post is surely primarily intended for folks in the Mobile area who read this blog, but I hope others, too, might have their interest piqued and wish to join us...

Since the announcement and then the publication of the new Apostolic Constitution which will welcome into the Catholic Church those Anglicans who have petitioned to become Catholic and who wish to preserve their Anglican heritage, there have been many questions about just how this will work in practice.

Sunday evening, 13 December, will be a chance to ask your questions and hear some interesting perspectives on this new Vatican policy. The Archdiocesan Ecumenical Office will sponsor a symposium at Our Savior parish’s Jennings Hall at 7:00 pm to discuss the implications of this outreach, and to enjoy light refreshments and fellowship.

The panel of three will include Rev. Albert Kennington, the retired pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church in Mobile, currently heavily involved in Christian-Jewish Dialogue; Rev. David Tokarz, Ecumenical liaison for the Archdiocese; and Rev. Bry Shields, formerly an Episcopal priest who is now the Administrator of St. Pius X parish here in Mobile. His own personal journey makes his insights absolutely unique and valuable.

Please plan to join us on 13 December at Our Savior.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

SIGNS OF THE END

In the spirit of this weekend's Scripture readings, I would like to propose a series of signs (beyond Jesus' reference to budding fig trees) that will indicate that THE END IS NEAR. They are in no particular order--choose the ones that most move you to final preparedness:

Comprehensive health care reform will be passed that pleases everyone

The next Pope will call a "Vatican III"

The upcoming Narnian movie will actually be faithful to the book

The entire 2010 baseball season will be played without the use of performance-enhancing drugs

The History Channel will show nothing but historical documentaries

Text messaging will become passe and cease to exist

Airline fares will go down, and at the same time qualtiy of service will go up

All computer worms and viruses will simultaneously and spontaneously self-destruct

Osama bin-Laden will embrace pacifism

The Cubs will win the World Series

Friday, November 13, 2009

JESUS, REMEMBER ME...

The Celtic Canadian singer-songwriter Loreen McKennitt, on her CD "The Book of Secrets," has a final song titled "Dante's Prayer." The refrain is:
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me.

We are preparing to celebrate this evening our annual Memorial Mass: a liturgical remembrance of those in or connected to our parish family who have died in the last 12 months. As candles are brought forward to the altar in memory of each of the people commemorated, we sing the Taize chant "Jesus, Remember Me." There is poignance here that for me is deeply touching and overwhelming. It was one of the songs done at my Mother's funeral in 2005. It was a favorite of hers. I think of it every summer (among many other times) when I visit the family graves to pray, and to remember.

"Jesus, remember me..." Whether it is cried out in desperate hope by the "good thief" on his own cross, dying along with our Savior, whether it is sung at a memorial or chanted on Good Friday, it is a refrain we all can enter into with overwhelming passion: remember me, Jesus; don't let me slide into the realm of oblivion (which by the meaning of the word is the realm of those who are forgotten). I am small and pathetic; I have failed over and over; I have accomplished little. But Jesus--please remember me...

We say this even to friends when there are partings (and who knows about partings more than military families, or priests?)--let's not lose touch, let's keep in contact, let's get together some... We know all the phrases, and sometimes we can make them work. Sometimes, too, after a long absence, we encounter old friends and are able to pick up just where we left off with love, conversation, teasing, laughing: what an incredible blessing. And sometimes, too, even after a short separation, it seems as though an incredible abyss has caused our ways to part forever.

We want love to endure. We want, we need, to be remembered, and we need to remember. One of the essential aspects of Eucharist is that of "memorial," of recalling the past and making it a living presence, a Real Presecne, now. It was virtually Jesus' last word to His friends: "Do this in remembrance of Me."

And so we remember, and we beg to be remembered. Tonight we will remember. And we will beg for that gift which means we will have an eternal life in Him. He will remember us; in Him we will live. "Jesus, remember me..." When the dark night seems endless, please remember me.






Wednesday, November 11, 2009

VETERANS PAST AND PRESENT


Today is not only Veterans’ Day, it is also the feast of St. Martin of Tours, a soldier in the army of the Emperor in the 4th century (only a little after Constantine legalized the Christian religion).

His conversion seems to be linked to his innate inclination to generosity, sharing his cloak with a freezing beggar (in a dream, the ‘beggar,' it turned out, was Christ). He declared his desire to leave the army and pursue other battles, against Satan, as a hermit.

It is a good thing that Canon Law did not exist in those days. Canon 1026 insists that no one can be coerced into ordination, but Martin (at the insistence of the people) was tricked: he was kidnapped and brought into the church where he was ordained bishop of Tours. Once so consecrated, he was a model of pastoral care.

Veterans today have many struggles, and as a result of their experiences in combat also deal with many additional demons—those produced by the memories of battle, experiences perhaps of having been prisoners of war, tortured, the loss of comrades (sometimes those right next to them in combat), realization that sometimes actions (sometimes, their own) have caused the deaths of civilians, believing oneself finally generally disregarded once back home… The list of demons is long and terrifying. As the political cartoon in today’s Mobile Press-Register put it, war doesn’t necessarily end just because the shooting has stopped.

So today we remember those who have engaged in combat to defend others, including us—perhaps most especially we remember those of the “Greatest Generation,” whose numbers are slipping away from us. And we remember, too, those who inspire us to do battle under the standard of Jesus Christ—committed to the combat of love, forgiveness, healing, prayer, service.

For all of us, then, St. Martin of Tours is a special saint and example.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

MAKING A MOVE—OR NOT






Anyone who knows me knows I have a number of “heroes”—some spiritual and some more formally ecclesiastical. Among them are St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Ignatius Loyola and Bl. Charles de Foucauld; they include St. Thomas More, Mother Julian of Norwich, St. Robert Bellermine, Cardinal Bernardin, and C. S. Lewis. But my #1 “main man” is John Henry Cardinal Newman.

His life and writings are especially relevant today in the wake of the publication of the new Apostolic Constitution enabling Anglicans more easily to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church (an option which was absolutely rejected in the 19th century of Newman). Are there Anglicans today who are ‘disaffected’ by their communion? Yes, for various reasons. Newman was, as well: his reasons were all distinctly theological & historical, and for him they raised the issue of whether or not the Church of England was part of the ‘Church catholic’ or in schism. His move on 8 October 1845 to be received by Fr. Dominic Barberi came as a result of what finally came to be clear to him as an utter necessity for himself. What Newman said in letters to his sister Jemina (written within a year of his being received) is especially important to us now:

At my time of life men love ease—I love ease myself. I am giving up a maintenance, involving no duties, and adequate to all my wants; what in the world am I doing this for…except that I think I am called to do so? I am making a large income by my Sermons…the chance is [they] will have no further sale at all. I have a good name with many; I am deliberately sacrificing it….I am distressing all I love…I am going to those whom I do not know and of whom I expect very little—I am making myself an outcast…Oh, what can it be but a stern necessity which causes this?

I have no existing sympathies with Roman Catholics. I hardly ever, even abroad, was at one of their services—I know none of them.
And then how much am I giving up in so many ways—and to me sacrifices irreparable…from my especial love of old associations and pleasures of memory.

These comments remind us that there is literally only one reason for being a Catholic (or any other denomination of Christianity): we must be internally convinced that this is the best way (perhaps, the only authentic way) for me to follow Jesus Christ. Anything else, whether for matters of artistic taste or homiletic expertise or what is commonly understood by various people either as “proper solemnity” or “gregarious welcoming,” is simply insufficient. These things will no doubt color our view—ours is an obligation to make sure that we can get the proper lenses to correct any subjective ‘astigmatism’ that might be distoring our view, and see things clearly.

It took Newman six years from when he first “felt the hit from Rome” in 1839 to his conversion. During that time, as one scholar puts it, “he prayed, fasted and suffered with almost superhuman intensity.” No ‘conversion’ or move can really be based in anything other than prayer and fasting (as Jesus told His disciples—Mark 9:28-29, footnoted reading). The prayer anyone considering ‘conversion’ needs to make and live can be found in the words of Newman’s final sermon as an Anglican, “The Parting of Friends”:


And O, my brethren, O kind and affectionate hearts, O loving friends, should you know anyone whose lot it has been, by writing or by word of mouth, in some degree to help you… remember such a one in time to come, though you hear him not, and pray for him that in all things he may know God’s will and at all times he may be ready to fulfil it.