Monday, November 25, 2013

Memory and Hope

                Scripture is replete with admonitions to remember what God has done. Indeed, the whole of the Bible can be called “memoirs”, in a sense, as Saint Justin Martyr referred to the Gospels.  Saint John of the Cross teaches that the theological virtue of hope perfects the memory (which he considered a separate faculty), just as faith perfects the intellect and love perfects the will. 

                The trouble is that we may have painful memories that pop into our heads, and can remain with us thus actually taking away our hope. Memory of a failed relationship can hinder us from entering into a new one.  Remembering a past difficulty that turned out badly can restrain us from trying the same kind of activity again. Pondering over an act of abuse from our past can return us to a place of weakness and rob today of its strength.  This may be one reason why the Lord inspired the Scriptures, so that we could, by reflecting upon them, store up memories of what He has done for those in trouble, so that we can draw strength from Him today.

                It is in this light that I reflect upon the 5th Joyful mystery, the finding in the Temple. How odd that of all the things that must have happened in the hidden life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph that this event was recorded for our reflection. It is obvious that Saint Luke makes a parallel between the loss, and finding, of Jesus to the three days leading up to the resurrection. It is significant that Jesus remained in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. I am sure that each time they went to the Holy City He was thinking of His coming mission of preaching, dying and rising again. (And, yes, I am convinced that He knew what was to take place in His future earthly life.) 

                And maybe the rest of His earthly life in the home of Joseph and Mary was simply quite ordinary, and nothing spectacular happened.  That in itself is “revelation”, for everyone has a more or less ordinary life, day to day things that were as common for the Holy Family as they are for us. They worked and prayed, had friends and family around, celebrated their faith and interacted with their community.  All of this in an atmosphere of grace.

                Yet for some reason, Mary told Luke this story of the loss and finding in the Temple, and he chose to include it in his Gospel.  It stuck in her mind all those years.  This means that she really did “keep it in her heart”, and reflected upon it.  It is one of those moments that she found, not odd, but mysterious, in the Biblical sense of the word.  There is no indication that Jesus ever took her aside and said, “Hey, mom, remember when you thought I was lost, and you found me in the Temple?  Well, this is the reason why.”  He spoke a word to her that day when He was twelve, and never explained what it meant. 

                Until Calvary.  The Virgin Mary, as with us, had to live a life of faith.  Her faith was greater than that of the rest of us combined.  Yet it was not vision until she was taken to heaven. God did not explain everything to her, as He does not explain everything to us, at least not as we might like or grasp at the time.  As she watched Him die on the cross, and then be buried, she would have certainly been considering her life with Him: the circumstances of His conception; His birth; their early trials, and the words of Simeon especially.  She also knew His teaching, that He would rise on the third day after being crucified. It is my considered opinion, dare I say, that her mind went back to that event 21 or so years before. 

                There is no evidence that she went to the tomb on Easter morning.  Why should she? As her Son told her, “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know I had to be about my Father’s business?”  That gentle, shall we say, rebuke, so mysterious, so seemingly out of character, was preparation for her so that she could face those days of darkness until the dawn of Easter.  She remembered her panic, sorrow and concern for her pre-teen child, and the calm way He replied to that worry and sorrow.  “I must be about my Father’s business.”  She found Him back then, and she would see Him again.

                Now that is all well and good for her, but what does it do for us, aside from perhaps gaining a new insight into that fifth joyful mystery, and its connection to the fifth sorrowful one?  God can do new things, and often does. Yet there is a way in which He is predictable, or rather, He follows the patterns that match His own Being and Nature.  He also made us a certain way, and still responds to the people of today as He guided and responded to the people of the Scriptures, including Our Lady. If this were not the case, then reading the Bible would only be a quaint exercise of perusing an ancient text, and not an encounter with the living and effective Word of God.

                When faced with a troubling event of today, it is entirely possible that the Lord spoke a word to us in the past that contains an answer for us now.  Something that was troubling in our past life that led to some sort of God-inspired resolution can contain the seed of the answer we need in this moment. Even events that still carry with them a twinge of remorse, regret, or even deep pain, may in fact hold a word of comfort that at the time made no sense, but answers a question we have about today’s current difficulty.

                It isn’t that we should bring up painful memories for the sake of bringing them up.  But in the face of a painful situation today, it may be of use to us think back and consider if we’ve experienced something even years ago that was similar, but worked its way through, even if incompletely in our minds. God was faithful in the past; He is faithful today.  He will be faithful tomorrow.  For Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Saint Paul's Prescription for Peace in Politics

            It is no secret to anyone who knows me how strong my political positions are.  I am not sure if it is being half Irish, or some other inherited trait. Of course, my French father could get quite animated in political discussions.  I remember in kindergarten having a strong opinion about why Richard Nixon should have been elected, since McGovern wanted us to go to school all year around, and we couldn’t have that.  It’s funny because, well, I was only 5; had only been in school for two months when that 1972 election took place (must have been a rough two months if I hated it enough not to want to go all year around); and I had an opinion one way or another on a campaign issue.  Oddly, my older brother is the one who told me about all of this, and he is now quite on the liberal side of the aisle.

This is all to say that passions are as deep within me as with anyone about the state of the nation, and what direction society at large should go.  And, yes, at times I let my passions get heated, and often allow negative feelings to disturb my peace. Many times, it is because there are disturbing things in society and the government; downright troubling things that have real adverse effects on people’s lives, especially innocent people. 

So it is with this introduction that I describe a moment of peace granted me by the Lord just this morning, and I have Saint Paul to thank, as well, since it was his words to Saint Timothy that were the immediate cause of this peace.   As is my custom, after waking up and thanking God for the night that passed, and the day beginning, and invoking the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph, with my guardian angel and Saint Therese for their assistance, I get out my Bible app and read a short passage that is to be a theme for the day.  I’ve been going through the letters of Saint Paul lately, and this passage was next in line: 

1 Timothy 2:1-2   "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way."

                Okay, I’ve read that before; and shortly after this is the oft-quoted line from Saint Paul about Jesus being the One Mediator between God and man.  But I decided to stay with these first two lines from the 2nd chapter.  “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, and for kings and all who are in high positions. . .”  The Apostle urges his protégé and son in the Lord to get this work of prayer going.  He obviously sees it as a duty, on the one hand, and much more than that: “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”  There is a genuine self-interest involved here. 

                Christian theology is very clear on human freedom, that individuals can and do disobey God’s will, and that they can change by grace and begin to cooperate with God’s will. In the mix of all of this is the effectiveness of genuine prayer before the Lord, that He does indeed hear and listen, and act. He can change the hearts of others because of our prayer and supplication. 

                But whence the sense of peace that descended upon me, or rather, welled up within me?  Let’s face it: I am not fan of career politicians. It’s frustrating to see the extent to which the nation has fallen short of its Constitutional moorings and that there is even a potential Constitutional crisis in the works over the next couple of days should the president violate the 14th amendment. The degree to which frustration grows is proportionate to the lack of ability to make any changes on one’s own.

                But that’s not my role. 

Years ago, I went through a particularly dark period during which the Church seemed set on a wrong course, with scandals and buffoonery, lack of discipline and widespread inanity that was left unchecked by those in authority. At a critical moment, someone told me about yet another stupid thing going on somewhere in the Church. I had had enough, and, moved by a bonk-on-the-head grace, I almost yelled in exasperation, “That’s on the pope’s conscience; not mine!”  The immediate effect of saying these words, and hearing myself say them, was delightfully overwhelming, much like the morning sun that greeted me yesterday after 4 days of rain and clouds. I was free, for I had my job to do, and the pope had his; why try to do his without his permission? Mine was tough enough.

                Likewise, most of us who watch the national side-show of Washington two-stepping can do very little about it from a power or authority side.  Sure, make calls, send emails, write letters and tweet stuff, but much of what will happen over the next few days, months and years is not really in our power to change.  Perhaps the prescription of Saint Paul is what is necessary, and actually quite powerful.  Lighting and re-lighting internal fires only raises blood pressure and serves to self-defeat a person.  But making “supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings” for those in authority, that’s something I, and anyone, can do.  It may not bring about sudden, transformational change for the good, but it might. And let’s not forget that after the Pope called for a day of prayer and fasting to stop an imminent bombing of Syria, no bombs were dropped. 

                The long and short of it is that we should be earnestly praying for the president, congress and others “in high positions”, for their conversion where necessary, and “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A reflection on the current discussion in congress

How I would like to see the debate go in Washington. . .

                Republicans: We were elected as a majority of the House of Representatives.  As the “people’s house”, we are closer to the people, since we are answerable to them more often than the President or the Senate.  It is the responsibility of the House to initiate tax and spending bills, as well as authorize new debt.  With our nearness to the people, as a majority, we have decided that the affordable care act should not be funded.  It is the prerogative of the House to act in this way, as it has numerous times throughout history. We have seen the polls showing a majority of people do not want this law to go into effect and so we are trying the only thing that we have under the Constitution to accomplish this.  While we would prefer, in addition to this, to cut spending by reining in a deficit laden continuing resolution, we will go along with current spending levels as a compromise to the wishes of the Senate majority and the President.  Since the affordable care act has already been changed by the president on numerous occasions, especially in granting waivers by extra-legislative  executive action, we believe that since the Senate will not accept a defunding, the law should be, by statute (not  executive authority), delayed for a year on behalf of the small businesses of America and the many people who do not have health insurance at their place of employment, that is, the rest of America outside of big business and federal employees, including Congress, the Supreme Court and the Executive branch.  While this disagreement continues, we will pass smaller funding bills that will enable the federal government to return to normal operations.

                Democrats: We are committed to the affordable care act. It is the law of the land, and our commitment to it is the basis of our stance.  While we recognize the authority of the House to initiate and pass funding bills, we believe that there should be no changes to this law.  We disagree with the GOP on their view of the affordable care act, and intend to do what we think is necessary to continue its implementation as it now stands.  We will not allow any changes, and therefore, we wait for the House to compromise further so that we can continue to fund and run the government as we have been doing.  It is our opinion that the President has the authority to make changes to the law at his discretion.  Presidential prerogative is higher than the past practice of budgeting and debt laws originating in the House; therefore, he can change laws that he finds to be deficient or in need of alteration.  He has no responsibility to seek congressional authorization for these actions. In addition, since the debt limit will be reached in ten days, we want the House to raise the debt ceiling, so that the president can continue to fund the programs that he feels are necessary for the good of the nation. Though the debt is now near 17 trillion dollars, we do not consider this to be an issue, since more spending will eventually lead to economic growth.

 How the conversation goes:

                Republicans:  See above

                Democrats:  The GOP and their extremists are terrorists, anarchists, and unpatriotic malcontents who only want to harm the nation. They do not deserve our attention, and must submit and do as we say or we will continue to let them shut down the government.  Meanwhile, we will make it as painful as possible, so that the GOP gets blamed for the mess that we are now in.  We follow the lead of the President, who has said on numerous occasions, “I will not negotiate.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Reflection on Zechariah

              Every morning the Church reads and prays the Canticle of Zechariah at Matins. “Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel!”  It is the hymn that Zechariah sang when his son was circumcised at 8 days old.  Zack was slow to believe the angel Gabriel, that he and his wife were to have a son, and responded not unlike his forefathers, like Gideon and Manoah.  Because he would not believe that it was possible, God struck him mute until the words would come true.

                It is easy to fall into criticism of Zechariah.  Shortly after his lapse and punishment, we meet the Virgin Mary whose response to the angel is quite different and opens her womb by faith to the Word made Flesh.  It is to be noted that Zechariah asked, “How will I know this, for I am an old man?”  whereas the Virgin Mary asked, “How will this be, since I do  not know man?”  An old man having a child with his elderly wife at least had Biblical precedents, especially in the case of Abraham and Sarah. A virgin conceiving was beyond beyond, but Mary believed it was possible, inquiring only as to the “how” of it all. 

                But what came of Zechariah’s stumbling response?  Well, for one, the home of him and his wife became like a silent monastery, since he couldn’t talk, and she hid herself for five months, and presumably engaged in an awful lot of prayer.  John’s growth within his mother’s womb was a spiritual experience for all of them for that.  Zechariah had time to compose that beautiful hymn sung every morning throughout the world, a testimony to his renewed faith, and his encapsulation of the Hebrew people’s yearning for a Messiah. Zack’s suffering bore fruit that lasts even through today and into eternity.

                We all should strive to respond to God as the Blessed Mother did: believing that what He says is true and will happen, even if we are no surer of the manner as she was, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”  More often than not, I’m afraid, we respond like Zechariah: hesitant, questioning, offering all sorts of excuses of why it is impossible.  At some point, I suppose, there is the danger of God withdrawing His promises, if we were to remain without faith and confidence.  Usually we maintain a level of it to leave us open to His wonderful gifts.  Many times we suffer because of our hesitancy; things do not work out as we hoped, however weakly.  It is tempting to look back and be harsh with ourselves for not trusting more, believing more deeply, giving a response of greater love to Love Himself.

                Yet, remember Zechariah: a good man, troubled with personal weakness, feeling the sense of being abandoned by God since he had no children (quite the social stigma of those days), perhaps castigating himself for not doing better when tested. Then, He was graced with the opportunity to turn even his own weakness into something beautiful for God, and we will be singing his song of praise until the end of time.  Not a bad ending, I dare say.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Praying the Psalms

    For about twenty-seven years, I have been praying the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours. For those who do not know anything about it, it is a time-tested rotating recitation of the 150 psalms (well, most of them. . . ), with a selection of Biblical texts and non-Biblical spiritual writings.  Every four weeks most of the psalms are prayed, divided up by 7 daily hours that mark the beginning through the end of the day.  Much has been written about the psalms throughout the centuries.  They provide a deep glimpse into the spirituality of the Hebrew people, including both mystical reflection upon God’s providence, as well as historical summaries from a prayerful point of view. Not to be left out are the complaint psalms, as well as the curse psalms. [These were left out from the current rendition of the Breviary, in whole or in part. Those who revised the Breviary after Vatican II felt that praying for God to dash the heads of our enemies’ babies against the rocks was okay in Latin, but might be off-putting in vernacular languages. I read somewhere that Pope Paul VI wasn’t too happy with this omission, but there you go.]
    For a Christian, the psalms are often prophecy of the coming of Christ, and beautifully express His life and mission, most notably His passion, as seen in psalm 22 (“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”)  But a more profound reflection upon the psalms is to consider that Jesus prayed these same psalms as part of His own spirituality as a Hebrew. When we pray the psalms, we are saying the words that Jesus Himself used throughout His life, including His suffering on the cross.  See psalm 22, mentioned above.
    One of the biggest breaks from traditional Judaism after the beginning of the Church was the eventual abandonment of Temple worship and the sacrifices that accompanied it. Geographically, this made sense as the Church spread beyond Judea and into gentile lands and peoples.  With regard to the Gospel, this makes perfect sense as Christians realized that the sacrifice of Jesus consummated, completed and did away with animal sacrifices. That the psalms remained part of Christian worship and prayer is significant, comprising the daily prayer of monks, nuns and priests for centuries.
    What do we find when we pray the psalms? Fundamental to their spirituality is the simple faith of Abraham, and David. God was not far off, though above the heavens. He is a “helper in time of need.” Though He allows the just man to fall onto hard times, difficulty and even persecution, He remains faithful and with a plan for grace and redemption. He cares not just for the lions and the birds and the deer who long for flowing streams, but nourishes the thirsty soul in marvelous ways.
    We do not know the author of all the psalms, though many are attributed to David. Perhaps it’s best that we do not know who they were. It is not that important. Or perhaps, the anonymity of the psalmists benefits us. The world does not know who they are, but God does. They were privileged to contribute something marvelous to the Divine Scriptures, and their words, inspired by God, will last for eternity.
    Consider our situation. Most of us on earth are not known beyond the circle of our family, friends and associates. Our sufferings and trials, triumphs and victories, great or small as they may be, are virtually unknown to the world, and may not have a broad exposure to the world at large, yet they are known to God. He hears our every groan and sigh, our laughter and joy; He knows our inmost sins and desires, and mercifully offers His grace when no one else cares or knows about what we are going through. Indeed, there is a psalm for every circumstance and situation in life. God Who is beyond us and not in need of us for His own happiness, provided the words to match our feelings and prayers; as well as His response to them, if we are attentive to His inspirations.
    And the marvelous thing about being Catholic is that when we pray the psalms, especially in the Breviary, we know that throughout the world there are thousands of others praying those same prayers. We may pray a sad song when happy, but somewhere in the world another Catholic is suffering, and praying those same words. We join our prayers to his (think: Egypt). Or perhaps we pray a joyful song when we are sad; well, another Catholic somewhere is joyful in some manner, yet they join themselves to us in our sorrow by saying the same words. Thus is the reflection of Saint Paul literally put into words that when one member suffers, all suffer with him; when one member rejoices, all share in that joy. Thus the whole Body of Christ struggles and is grateful together in one beautiful hymn of praise.

Why Daily Mass?

    It is a rather idiosyncratic element of Catholicism that many Catholics attend daily Mass.  According to Canon Law it is not an obligation in any way, not even for priests. In fact, the obligation “legally” for Catholics is attendance at Sunday Mass, and a few select Holy Days of Obligation.  Happily, a recent article [for which I do not have a link] showed that many non-Catholics are striving to attend Sunday services while on vacation, though generally if a non-Catholic is away from his or her local church service they do not try to find a comparable service should they be away from home on a Sunday. Catholics are so used to attending Mass on Sunday that they will strive to find a local Catholic parish while at the beach, skiing, or even traveling in foreign countries.  This is a testament to the universality of the Catholic Church, since the same Mass is offered in every Catholic Church, regardless of language, culture or country.
    But let us return to Catholics and daily Mass. Usually, a given local parish will have at least one daily Mass. Attendance numbers vary by locality, but one can usually find a group of lay Catholics willing to show up and worship the Lord in the Mass for no other reason than a love for the Mass and the opportunity to receive Holy Communion.  Daily Mass is on average about 25 to 30 minutes long, at most, and may or may not have a homily/sermon.  What IS present at every Mass is the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, made present again for our benefit, and, more importantly, for the adoration of God.  Even in the prison camps of the gulag or the re-education camps of communist countries, priests would seek to obtain bread and wine for a simple offering of that Sacrifice in the midst of horrible conditions. Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote about some places where priests were outlawed in which the faithful would gather in their ruined churches and spend time in prayer together without a priest, laying an abandoned stole on the altar as a reminder of the Mass, and a painful symbol of what they were missing by not having the Mass. How spoiled we are in this country.  Heck, I have two Catholic parishes within 5 minutes of my house where I can go to 5 or 6 different daily Masses should I choose, depending on when I wake up in the morning; and there are a few others not more than 10 to 20 minutes away for even more opportunities.
    What is it about daily Mass that is so attractive to some Catholics?
    I’d like to ask this question in another way: what is it about most Catholics that they do NOT attend daily Mass, when it is so accessible and freely offered for a mere 30 minutes out of their day?  I’m more perplexed by that than the availability of the Mass for me.  I admit I need to be more grateful for what’s available, than confused by the lesser numbers of attendees.  But still. . .
    So, a simple daily Mass, with no singing, fewer readings, perhaps no homily, and a small number of people: What’s taking place?  The same sacrifice, the same glory to God, the same effectiveness for our salvation as the highest liturgy offered by the Pope in the splendor of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Jesus willingly and lovingly makes Himself present in the humble and simple elements of bread and wine. Good gracious, that’s amazing.
    But why go every day?
    At every Mass, on a daily basis, the readings are different, the prayers are different, the vestments, antiphons, Eucharistic prayer, the priest are different.  Even the hosts and wine brought to the altar are different.  And this is the key.
    The belief of the Church is that once a host is consecrated, Jesus Christ is really, truly and completely present. That host no longer is bread.  It IS the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.  His presence remains even after the Mass is ended, and thus the need of the tabernacle, which holds the Divine Presence of Our Eucharistic Lord.
    During the Protestant reformation, the idea was put forward that Jesus is only present while the celebration was going on; afterwards, Jesus was not present, and so the hosts could be disposed of. This thinking was sadly reintroduced during the upheaval after Vatican II (but not because of Vatican II, let the reader take note), and so Eucharistic Adoration was frowned upon, if not positively prohibited.
    Yet, Jesus’ Presence continues after Mass, and so we bend our knees in adoration and love before the tabernacle, God’s abiding presence among us.
    But let us take note of something else.  And this is crucial, so to speak.
    Those hosts brought to the altar for the consecration by the priest are new every time.  One does not re-consecrate hosts. Take it another step forward. When we attend daily Mass, or even Sunday Mass, we bring our needs, prayers, sufferings, intentions, desires, and every other part of our lives to the Lord.  On any given day, these things in our minds and hearts are different, at least in their percentages. Some days are joyful and full of gratitude; other days are fraught with struggles and needs; most days are a mix of all of these things.  They are united to the bread and wine at the offertory, and made a part of the Sacrifice of the Lord.
    What we should take away from this truth is that when we bring these things in our lives to the Mass, they become God’s property, His possession, united to the Perfect Offering of Jesus to the Father. They are no longer “ours”. God takes them into Himself; they become His needs, desires, sufferings and thanksgiving. We and our petitions are transformed into God’s “treasury”, His concern. In a similar way to the truth that the hosts are no longer, and never will be, mere bread, so our intentions at Mass are no longer ours, but God’s. And He has a long memory for the offerings of His children.
    Every day is a new opportunity to adore and serve the Lord. Every day has its own trials, struggles and gifts. In daily Mass we unite unique sacrifices of our own to the One Unique Sacrifice of Jesus.  To quote Mother Teresa again, “The moment we give something to God it becomes infinite.”  This is true no other place more than in the daily celebration of the Mass of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Christianity and the gays

    One of the most shocking aspects of the ministry of Jesus, to his contemporaries, was His outreach to the outcasts of His day: lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. The leaders, both religious and secular, of His day found His association with such people scandalous. This trend continued into the Church after the Lord’s ascension. The most dramatic instance of this was in Corinth, where Saint Paul had success not among the rich, powerful and wealthy of that city, but among the least.  “Not many of you were well-born. . . “ 
    The question is, who are the lepers, the outcasts, sinners and rejects of today?  Moved by the example of Mother Teresa and the example of a friend years ago, I spent a lot of time serving the residents of an AIDS hospice/homeless shelter run by the Missionaries of Charity a few years back. Few things equal the experience of changing the diaper of a grown man who cannot move because of his infirmities, or dressing the bandages of another man whose very blood could infect me with a deadly disease, or counseling still another man who had given up hope and wondered at 3 a.m. what was the best way to kill himself without it being messy.  Earl, for those who may wonder, passed away from natural causes a few days later with the Church’s sacraments.  I’ve rarely felt closer to another human being than in that middle-of-the-night conversation about why it was better that he not take his own life.
    Of course, Mother Teresa was quite insistent that those who hunger today are not necessarily those who live on the streets, or who wallow in poverty in the alleyways of Calcutta, but may be those right in our own families, who hunger, not for bread, but for love. 
    And then, I’m confronted with the current public insistence from those in the LGBT community, and their supporters, for recognition and acceptance.  Are they the lepers, outcasts and sinners of today, who require love, support and mercy?  It would seem so from the cultural insistence on accepting those who profess such a condition, state in life, personality, way of life. 
    Of course, that is the problem. What, exactly, am I supposed to accept, condone, support or advocate?
    A person “comes out” and says, “I’m gay”, or “I’m bi-sexual”.  What is it that he or she is stating? For example, a man states openly, “I’m homosexual.”  Okay. And my reaction should be...what?  If I am supposed to congratulate him, for what am I congratulating? His courage in announcing it publicly? Announcing what? That he has a sexual attraction to other men? I just don’t understand why that is something to congratulate or praise.  It doesn’t matter if he chooses to be so attracted, or not. Why is that something to congratulate? or praise? If he chooses to be so attracted, is that in itself an act of courage?  Or maybe he did not choose to have such an attraction, but does choose to announce in some public way that this is his condition. What’s congratulatory about announcing that?  Is it the fact that having this attraction is often frowned upon or persecuted, and by expressing it he is showing courage in the face of public rejection? I suppose standing against the culture can be a good thing, but many things are contrary to culture and in itself that is not a reason to celebrate something. A large majority of people are opposed to beating other human beings without reason, but not all are. Should a people-beater be praised for standing against the culture?
    Yet the argument is made that a person who has a same-sex attraction is not hurting anyone else, so it is different than doing violence to another person.  I would agree with that. I’d rather have someone with same-sex attraction in a neighborhood who doesn’t beat people over someone who goes about hurting others by violence.  So if some man who announces in some public way that he has a sexual attraction to other men, what is the moral obligation on my part to do anything? Frankly, I don’t see any obligation on my part, unless I am in some position to speak with such a person and see what I can do to help him follow Christ more closely, given his situation. 
    I simply do not understand the societal pressure to advocate for and support the social agenda of this segment of society.  Being told I am biased and discriminatory for not supporting gay marriage is a huge leap from respecting the personhood of someone who has same-sex, dual-sex, whatever-sex attraction. Sure, I respect the personhood of someone who has same-sex attraction. What’s so hard about that? It’s basic humanity.  Does that then obligate me to accept same-sex marriage, for example? Accepting the personhood of others is part of my faith and understanding of humanity. Yet, marriage means something, and two guys or two women getting together just doesn’t match up to that meaning.  It’s not anger or hatred of anyone. In fact, it’s rather non-emotional other than the joy of knowing that when a man and woman are united in a stable relationship, and then when that union leads to new life that something unique has happened: new life, a new human being now exists who otherwise would not be here. 
    So, on a human, natural, Constitutional level, I really don’t care if any particular man or woman has whatever sexual attraction.  I have my preferences for certain types of women.  But to claim some sort of societal acceptance of my or anyone’s personal desires is a dangerous path, especially when separated from the natural situation of human beings.  What is the basis of societal acceptance of personal preferences? What if a general trend should occur that advocates the elimination of certain people for their personal beliefs. Is that a legitimate exercise of Constitutional principles?  Is it the determination of polls, or popularity victories?
    But I digress. Somewhat.
      I really do not understand what I am “supposed” to embrace or accept when a person “comes out”. Some men prefer blondes.  Some prefer brunettes. Some like full-figured gals; others want the model figure type. Is expressing a preference some sort of potential crime, or offense against culture? I just don’t get it.
    So, citizen A likes other men as sexual partners. I find that odd. Or as Hillaire Belloc quipped, “The world is full of double beds, and many a fair maiden heads; this be the case there’s no excuse for sodomy or self-abuse.”  Receiving special government protection for a particular sexual category is simply strange. Especially when such attraction has no societal benefit such as the advancement of race. Doesn’t human life have a claim to special protetion? Maybe not.
    I’ll always try to be kind to others, regardless of their individual struggles. But inserting current societal mores as normative has all sorts of strange consequences.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Christ and science

           Maps are cool.  We get a bird’s eye view of where we are, or where we might like to be.  The top of the page is north, or up, and the bottom is “down south”.  When we are lost, or trying to figure out where to turn, we think “east is right” and “west is left”.  It makes sense when we view the world in that way.  I’ve discovered that I lose a bit of control when I rely on a GPS system, since I used to be able to grab a map and do it myself.  Driving through Washington D.C. is easy if one has one of those maps.  Plotting out a path takes a quick view of the map.  Of course, the fact that my GPS told me to take a turn where turns weren’t allowed has something to do with my disgruntlement; it cost me a $50 ticket.

In the Bible, they didn’t think like this, since they didn’t have that bird’s eye view.  This strikes us when we hear that Jesus went “up to Jerusalem from Galilee.”  Up?  Galilee is north of Jerusalem.  Isn’t that down to?  Not if one is considering Jerusalem as being on a mountain, so going up makes sense from the sea-level towns around the lake of Galilee.

Mountains, of course, hold a prominent place in the Scriptures: Abraham went up the Mount of Moriah to sacrifice Isaac; Moses went up Mount Sinai to speak to the Lord; Elijah hid in the cave on the mountain as he fled Jezebel, and then heard the Lord whispering to him; Jesus ascended to heaven from the mountain near Bethany.

And so we are faced with the situation of knowing that the sky is only a precursor to a broader space, and outer space, that stretches beyond the solar system, into the galaxy, and beyond to the universe of billions of galaxies. Jesus did not ascend to some planetary system beyond our own, though to the eyes of the apostles He did go up.  The people of the Bible had no idea of how the universe was composed, with its stars of immense size and number. God accommodated Himself to them when He spoke “from heaven”, as when Ezekiel saw the Lord enthroned in the “heavens” and Daniel saw the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven. Heaven is not in the sky; though it is beyond our reach.  And isn’t that the point?

God certainly speaks from heaven, but it is not a place like anything to which we can climb.  It is a different state of existence beyond this earth, and even beyond the multitude of galaxies and stars that bless us with their lights at night.  We could more easily jump from earth to Polaris than make an effort that brought us to the dwelling of God in Himself… without His help and grace.  I would concede to non-believers and atheists that the Bible is lacking in scientific accuracy; it is not designed to be a science book. What it does do is use the ordinary images of those who wrote and read the texts in the original books to explain a mystery that is different than anything we might discover from our own investigations.

Isn’t this the way that Jesus used ordinary, everyday images to reveal the profound truths of the Gospel? Consider the man who finds a treasure in a field, re-buries it, goes and sells all he has and buys that field.  Is that strict justice? There seems to be a bit of injustice involved were someone to do this. An honest man might rather tell the owner of the field of the treasure, and perhaps ask for a finder’s fee. To get caught up in that discussion misses the point, just as gazing upon the discoveries of astronomy or any other science as proof for the “errors” of religion misses the point. God’s revelations are above us not in a physical sense, but in so far as they cannot be measured, calculated or quantified like atoms, molecules or even the stars themselves.

When Moses was granted his prayer to see God, the Lord only revealed His back, for directly viewing God in the face is beyond our minds’ ability.  Reason brings us so far, but still can only get so far as the floor beneath the Lord’s feet, or His back.  Humble use of reason is not afraid to delve into profound mysteries, but it accepts its own limitations. Sure: Investigate study, question and seek, but acknowledge that at some point there is a limit and conjecture is all we have left. And we do not have to lift our thoughts to the heights of the stars to be humbled by what is lacking to our intelligence. Ask any man who has tried to explain the way a woman thinks. Science cannot answer that question.  How much greater is the mystery Who is God Almighty.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Saint Peter. A model for us all.

I think a reflection on the life of Saint Peter is very fruitful, since he was so close to Christ, and so very human.  From a certain point of view, Jesus kind of messed with Peter: at one moment, lifting him up with praise and honors; in another, pulling the rug out from under his feet.  Their first encounter, as recorded by John, was probably a strange thing for Simon Peter.  Right off the bat, Jesus changes his name without a [recorded] word being spoken by Simon.  It is an over-simplification to think that the call of Simon to be a close disciple of Jesus was after the huge catch of fish.  Actually, that definitive call came only after Peter had been following Jesus more or less for about two years.  I find it a disservice to the overall reading of the gospels to turn the "Come, follow me" of Jesus as something happening in a vacuum.  Simon Peter, as the other disciples, needed to spend time getting to know Jesus over the course of a couple of years before they were ready to leave all and follow Him.  Matthew, Mark and Luke relate only that final year of Jesus, as He finished His ministry in Galilee, and then made the final journey to Jerusalem.  John is quite clear that the ministry of Jesus was three years (since John mentions three Passover celebrations, the final one being the, ahem, final one). And it is quite clear that Peter kept his house in Capharnaum, since it was a kind of base of operations for the ministry in Galilee.  Beautiful spot on the shores of the lake. I've been there, and sat on the stones that formed the foundation of the synagogue in which Jesus Himself taught. 

So, Simon Peter had his moments of tremendous faith and devotion, for which he was honored by Jesus Himself.  Then, he would have his misunderstandings and illusions broken down by Jesus.  And let us remember what Josef Pieper, the great German Catholic philosopher says about disillusionment: It is the basis of hope, for hope is about reality, not illusions. 

Simon Peter considered himself close to Christ, and he was, but his understanding of this was too worldly.  He was graced with being the first to proclaim the faith: You are the Christ; but he was also called "satan" by Jesus for trying to stop Jesus from approaching the cross.

Simon fell victim to the pressure of those who demanded that Jesus pay the temple tax, but was lovingly corrected by Jesus in the miracle of the coin in the mouth of the fish, enough to pay that tax for Jesus and Peter.

Peter was blessed with the vision of the Lord on Mount Tabor, but was rebuked by the Voice of the Father, "This is My Beloved Son!  Listen to Him!"  It was as if the Father were smacking away the silliness of Peter who wanted to stay on the mountain.  And isn't it interesting that after that marvelous vision, Jesus comes down the mountain with Peter, James and John, and almost immediately expresses frustration at the lack of faith of His own disciples. 

And much has been written about the rise and fall of Peter surrounding the Passion of the Lord.  Devoted to Christ, yet he denied him. Then granted a private appearance after the resurrection.  How amazing must that have been?  Substance for a meditation in and of itself.

So, Peter was a real guy.  Aspiring to greatness, yet naturally burdened with weak humanity.  Who isn't like that?  What makes the difference?  The love of Christ...and recognizing it.  Peter's greatness is not in his protestations and zeal, but in his humility to know himself well enough to know Jesus wasn't being abusive in correcting him, but loving him in making him better.  The Lord does that with us.  He knows of what we are made. He loves us not in spite of that. but because of it.  For He made each one of us.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Rumor is not your friend

I had an interesting interior experience recently.  It was very enlightening.

A priest friend asked if I were still happy about Pope Francis. I said I thought he was awesome.

This priest responded that he wasn’t so sure, and had questions.

I asserted that the new pope is great because he’s the new pope, and is a man of integrity, faith and learning.

This priest indicated that he had heard rumors about potential appointments the new pope would make to various Vatican offices.

I asserted that whatever decisions may be made probably wouldn’t affect him in his celebration of Mass. 

This pastor of souls more or less accused me of being naïve.

I asked if he wanted the benefit of the doubt from his parishioners that he was not affording the new pope.

He asked if I thought he were that shallow. I didn’t respond directly…

Then he said something along the lines of, “I don’t think he (Pope Francis) is up to the task.”

I found this shocking, since no one is up to that task, and wasn’t quite sure who this pastor thought would be so great that all would be beautiful and perfect in the Church.

Then, thinking about this, and after hearing from another priest about rumors of things to come, I googled certain words, and found a webpage or two with rumors about supposed future appointments by the new Pope. They were not happy posts/news articles.  It was disturbing, if such things go through.

Then, I went back to reading the new encyclical, Lumen Fidei.  I only had about ¼ left to read. I found that I was internally disturbed to the point that I was annoyed by what I was reading.  It was a feeling that I could not shake until I realized what I had done: allowed the negativity of rumor to affect my affective, interior life, to the point that I found a beautiful document by the Pope to be annoying.

Rumor was never considered a friend of man. It is more of a spiritual infection that passes from mouth to ear (webpage to eye?) and creates division and angst.  Flee from it.  The truth, not rumor, will set you free.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Did Jesus mention homosexuality?

                Yes, it’s true.  Jesus never mentions homosexuality in any place in the gospels.  He condemns all sorts of other sins by name: murder, fornication, greed, speaking falsehoods, willful blindness, anger, adultery. . . among others.  Some use this lack of a specific condemnation as evidence that Jesus was “okay” with it.  I’m not sure how they come to that conclusion. It evinces the desire of some to gain approval for the activity, especially in the name of “love”.  But there are many sins that Jesus does not mention by name: pedophilia, necrophilia, suicide.  I do not think He was for any of those.

                What is interesting is that Jesus spells out what marriage is.  During His time, divorce was allowed and an acceptable practice, based upon Moses’ teaching that a man could give his wife a writ of divorce if she should not be pleasing to him, though he was forbidden under Mosaic Law from remarrying her if her second husband also found her unpleasing.  The Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce to “test” Him, probably because He was then in the region beyond the Jordan where John the Baptist had been preaching when arrested by Herod.  Of course, John had criticized Herod for divorcing his wife and marrying Herodias, the wife of his brother.  The Pharisees may have wanted to get Jesus into trouble with Herod as well.

                Jesus responded: “He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one?”  So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.’ “ (Mt. 19:4-6).  This is a very clear definition of what marriage is according to the mind of Christ.  It should settle the matter for any believing Christian.

                Yet, they persist.

                What I find particularly interesting is how Jesus deals with the Torah and the various prescriptions and precepts found there. He is quite clear that His intention is not to do away with the Old Law, but to fulfill it. How does He do this? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus mentions several commandments, and how in His teaching (“But what I say to you is. . .”) the root of the commandments is found not in the sinful external action, but even deeper in the heart and intentions of the person.  So, murder is wrong, but anger is just as bad; adultery is wrong, but lust might as well be the same thing.  Jesus’ intention is to bring forth the true dignity of the human person and how holy we must be if we are to inherit the Kingdom.  Our very inner thoughts and intentions must be in line with the justice and holiness of the Father.  The “burden” of the Gospel is much more profound than the external observance of a set of laws. Of course, the other side of the Gospel is that Jesus provides the grace by which we can indeed become the holiness of God.

                Jesus goes even further, though, for His Gospel is one of mercy.  So while He intensifies the commandments to include interior intentions, He also removes a lot from the Old Law. He does away with dietary restrictions, for it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of him. He gets rid of purification precepts as unnecessary. The idea that monetary success is evidence of God’s favor no longer applies, for “Blessed are the poor” and “how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” And finally, Jesus takes away stoning as a punishment for sin.  It is in line with His plan to bring mercy to the world, and to leave the final judgment up to the end of the world.  This is a good thing to mention to those atheists who mention the punishments of the Old Testament as a reason to get rid of memorials of the Ten Commandments. 

                So it is true that Jesus does not mention homosexuality in any list of sins. But given the fact that He insisted on sexual purity, of mind, body and soul; that marriage is a union of man and woman; and that at no point did He change the Old Testament teaching on the sinfulness of homosexual activity, we can safely conclude that it is and shall remain a sin, even in the dispensation of Christ.  A worse sin is not accepting His teaching and all it entails.  As He told the city of Capernaum: “If the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

What a wonderful world!

    When I was 16, I got my first pair of glasses.  Near sighted.  It was a revelation to be able to see things far away and not squint.  The most amazing first sight was the night sky on the first day I wore them.  I had never seen so many stars before!  Even at the time, I was reminded of a television show I had seen a few years before which showed billions and billions of stars. I commented to my brothers, “There aren’t that many stars up there!” They were quick to point out that there in fact were even more than that. The problem was, with my near sighted vision, I had only ever seen about twenty or so.  It didn’t help that I grew up a few miles from Washington, D.C., and the light from the city is quite glaring.  This was brought home to me the first night I spent in Spotsylvania County a few years later.  The night I arrived, I went outside after dark, and almost fell to the ground when I saw the brilliance of a sky from far enough away from any major city that I could see the Milky Way.  And they seemed so close!
     Of course, we know that there are billions of stars in our galaxy, and billions of other galaxies beyond ours.  And here we sit on a tiny world, floating around a smallish star, in a swirling arm of an averaged size galaxy.  The big question is: are we alone in the galaxy?  Are there other inhabited worlds?  What about the other galaxies?  Surely, it is asserted, there must be life out there somewhere.  The odds seems to be for that assertion.
    The problem, of course, is that we have no real idea.  To say that there IS life out there is an act of faith since we have no evidence.  It might seem like arrogance for us to think we are the only sentient beings in the universe; actually, it should be an act of humility.
    The plain truth is that we are the only sentient beings in the universe that we know of.  It may very well be a fact that amidst this gigantic, unfathomable universe of stars and galaxies and planets, ours may be the only planet with life of any kind including beings like ourselves.  Our planet is perfectly situated at the right distance from the right kind of star to contain life as we know it. While this may be poopooed by those scientists and others who think there must be life out there (and I support efforts to find earth-like planets that may have some kind of life), it is an act of faith in something to believe life exists other places.  I find it interesting that those who assert science as their mantra and refuse to accept faith as a means to knowledge will make an act of faith in what is unobservable.
    Nevertheless, how marvelous it is to consider that God created a universe of such magnificence just for us!  And in this beautiful little world of ours exists a universe all its own of creatures and plants and so many other marvels. 
    Gazing at the stars can make us feel small and insignificant, but all that we can or could see is nothing compared to what God has done for us in giving us not only this beautiful world, but Himself.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Catholics and Ritual

It always amuses me when non-Catholics, of whatever stripe (though the Orthodox and some protestants would agree with Catholics), are bemused or even critical of the “ritual” nature of the Catholic Church.  Some say things like, “Why all those rites and forms or worship?  Why the movements and prayers, the genuflections and outward movements, when God, or Spirit, or the Higher Power doesn’t need those things to be honored/worshiped/appreciated?”
This amuses me because EVERY human being engages in some sort of ritual as a means of expressing something bigger than themselves.  Or at least as a way of interacting with the world.  Some use yoga as a way of deeper awareness and peace with what is. Some follow a ritual in their simple morning routine.  If we were to ask them how they get up in the morning, they would say something like, “Well, I get up every morning at 6 a.m. I spend ten minutes reflecting on my day. I have a cup of coffee and read the paper. I go running for an hour, or go to the gym for a workout. At the gym, I use cardio, and strength training; get on the elliptical and then use weights. Then I take a shower, get dressed, and get ready for work. I may read for 20 minutes, or listen to inspirational tapes or educational materials on the way to work.  When I get to work, I have to read these emails; answer these letters; have this or that meeting.  Then I have lunch at noon.  I do such and so in the afternoon.  At 5, I get ready to drive home.  We have dinner, and take some time to talk with one another.  Every Tuesday, we watch such-and-such a program. I meet with my friends once a week for book club.  On week-ends, I do this on Friday; that on Saturday.  I make sure I take a walk in the woods at least two or three times a week...” 
You get the belabored point. 
Ritual is part of human nature.  Even the interior anarchist will display elements of ritual on some level.
Catholic ritual is the same kind of thing.
First of all, the surprising thing about Catholics is that “mandatory” ritual is quite limited. There are fixed fundamentals that are “required”, but the other 167 hours of the week or pretty much open to interpretation and free expression. Some are recommended, but each Catholic is free to engage in a variety of forms and practices that suit the individual.
What is required of Catholics is attendance at Mass once a week, and holy days throughout the year (four times at most) and confession once a year. Fasting and abstinence are not that burdensome.  When at Mass, the ritual is something that has been received from 2000 years of tradition.  What is so ritualistic about Mass?  There is a gathering; communal prayers; some kneeling and standing; sitting to make it easier; and possibly communal singing. People do these things in their secular life in any number of ways.  Go to a group workout and try to get everyone to squat when they should be doing push-ups and see how that goes over.  Attend a yoga class and see what happens if someone wants to make everyone do marjariasana when they should be doing adho mukha svanasana.  People will fall into line in the gym, but object to ten minutes of kneeling at Mass. Interesting.
Catholic rituals are designed to teach something about human nature, for one, but also to express the faith in a bodily form. 
During a conference I attended, a lay “minister” of African-American Catholics made the comment that “white people pray with their minds, but we pray with our bodies”.  A friend of mine commented that, like his Polish grandmother, we pray with our bodies.  We genuflect in adoration; we kneel to pray; we fold our hands and bow our heads before the Almighty.  Many things are relative.
The issue, then, is not ritual in itself. Everyone uses ritual in some way, even in normal every day activities. Kneeling is an expression of humility and adoration.  Standing is a sign of respect. Folding of the hands is a sign of loving submission and surrender to the God Who loves us.  Communion is a sacred Banquet wherein we receive the God Who literally wants us to eat Him.  It’s kind of strange that in Hindu teaching, the goal of the highest enlightenment is that one is eventually consumed by the god one worships through one’s mantra. It’s a compliment that false religion pays to the real one, in reverse.  Catholic theology teaches that God doesn’t want to eat us; He wants to feed us. Tell me that there is no difference in religions.
I don’t begrudge someone their choice of rituals or religion. But please spare me this idea that non-religionists or non-Catholics don’t have such things.  Just because theirs are more pleasing to their palates doesn’t mean they are better or superior in any way. Theirs are just man-made.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Not not an atheist?

               After posting a response on twitter about the big bang, I received a series of responses about what atheists claim.  It was a fascinating exchange.  The format is not really conducive to a real conversation, and I admit that I abandoned it after a few efforts to engage the atheists who were posting in response to my tweet.  Confusing, I know, but that was the initial feeling I had in trying to dialog with those who call themselves atheists. 

                The initial tweet, by someone whose twitter handle I don’t remember, was that atheists had to have faith in something as the start of the big bang. What I received was a declaration that atheists don’t claim anything.  It’s a neat mental trick to demand answers without offering anything.  I get the image of a man standing on a corner demanding “answers” or “evidence” of something they do not or will not accept: the existence of God. 

                This is the status of the believer today.  With faith in not only the existence of Almighty God but in His concern for us, we are faced with those who are steeped in skepticism about spiritual realities, metaphysics and the non-material soul of man.  It is a mental and relational struggle that is beyond comfortable parameters of discussion.  If someone accepts no metaphysics, no causality and even no requirement to affirm anything positive, how can one engage in a dialog on what is above and beyond scientific enquiry?  A man who only speaks Greek will not have a fruitful conversation with someone who knows Greek, but suggests that English offers another view point. Language, after all, carries with it not only subtleties of syntax and grammar, but also cultural and intellectual positions that are not easily translated. 

                This barrier of language can be breached, however, in a far more simple manner than a disagreement about first principles and modes of thought. 

                Consider the problem of discussing a work of art with someone whose only point of reference is economics or politics.  Van Gogh produced marvelous works of art.  The one fixated on economics might want to know how much “Starry Night” might be worth on the market.  A person concerned only with politics might want to get into a discussion of Vincent’s struggle with poverty and acceptance.  How much is missed when beauty, aesthetics, form and color are not allowed in the discussion? The path to common ground is quite difficult, and is reminiscent of Plato’s “Cave” analogy. The one who leaves the cave has a difficult time telling those still chained what the real world is all about.

                Getting back to the twitter discussion I mentioned earlier, I made efforts to get my interlocutors to tell me if they accepted any form of metaphysics.  All I received in response was a demand for “evidence”.  Even after admitting that scientific evidence for God’s existence (putting “God” on the table, to be analyzed and dissected) was not possible, the demand continued for such evidence.  Here is a fundamental intellectual disagreement about how we know and what we can know.

                At this point, I tried to get some admission that it is rational to accept as true what someone else proffered as, shall we say, testimony, and received a modicum of agreement.  Yet, the dialog disintegrated back into a rejection of any need to continue the discussion (“What makes you think I want anything from you?”) and a mockery of the very worthiness of metaphysics (“Metaphysics is just more philosophical bulls***.”).  I did not mention that they were the ones who engaged me first.

                The discussion more or less ended with this, as time was not on my side.

                Strangely, about this time I started to re-read Cardinal Ratzinger’s book “Introduction to Christianity”.  This book is based upon lectures that then Father Ratzinger had given in Germany in the 1960s. It’s relevance to this twitter discussion and to recent public conversations about the existence of God was remarkable.  He actually brings up the loss of metaphysics as a common ground of dialog, and the metamorphosis of intellectual discovery from that ancient discipline into scientific and then political language. No longer do men think in terms of what lies beyond physics.  Now it is either simply scientific language, or, worse, the politics of what can be done politically towards a preset plan or desire of social perfection.  Thought has turned from a reflection of what is true to planning for what should be. 

                Then Father Ratzinger expounds upon the difficulties of this discussion, and offers some possible ways out.  But what is disturbing is the unwillingness or inability to move beyond what is verifiable in a predetermined system of proof to an open dialog of what may in fact be true outside of those bounds.

                The believer is one who has made a choice for what is not seen beyond the physical, but the non-believer has also made a choice: that only what satisfies a possibly un-proven ground of physical, political or emotional principles.

                Perhaps there is a way to engage this discussion on those levels.  The difficulty of the believer is finding the mode of engagement that does not do damage to the faith.  At some point, one must shake the dust from one’s feet and move away.  Charity demands that we at least make an effort.  Prudence will guide us to know when to go all in, and when to walk away.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Thursday

On Holy Thursday, I think it is important to reflect on an oft-missed detail that has tremendous applications.  Jesus sent the two disciples, Peter and John, into the city to prepare for the feast by telling that they would meet a man carrying a water jar.  They were to follow him, and, entering the house which he entered, tell the head of the house that the Master was to have the Passover there with His disciples.  This man would show them a large upper room, fully furnished, and there they were to prepare the meal.

Why Jesus used such a cryptic way of pointing out the house was to keep Judas unaware of the place, for Jesus knew that the traitor was looking for an opportune time to have Jesus arrested, and the Lord did not want the Last Supper to be interrupted by the temple guards. 

It is also evident that Jesus knew this man who owned the house, and had arranged something in advance, even if it was simply that this unknown man was a hidden disciple, or at least a friend of Jesus.

This man had the privilege of having the First Mass, the First appearance to the apostles of the Risen Lord, and Pentecost in his home.  Some traditions say he was the father of John Mark, of Gospel fame, but the Gospels themselves are silent on the matter.  Whatever the case, his simple friendship of Jesus and the welcoming attitude of this man gave him a grace of unimaginable joy. His family shared this joy and they were among the first Christians to be sure.

The opportunity is not lost to history, for Christ seeks friendship with all. A welcoming home is among His greatest joys.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Reflections on the Prodigal Son

There is no question this is a story of mercy and generosity.  Prodigal can mean wasteful, but also lavishly generous.  Many commentators note that the father is prodigal with his love for his younger son, in the sense of generous, whereas the younger son was prodigal with his inheritance, as in wasteful. 

The younger son’s sin is not just the wasteful way he spent his share of the inheritance, but that, in asking for his share, he basically told his father that he might as well be dead.  Interestingly, the father, not holding a grudge, knew that his son was “killing” himself in leaving the family as he did.  “He was dead, but has come back to life.”  It is in the midst of the divine family that we have life, and leaving it, squandering the graces we’ve been given through mortal sin, is to die in our souls.  God Who raises the dead is able, and more importantly, willing to grant us life again.

It’s also interesting to note that the son, when he’s in the midst of the pigs, does not think of the father in very generous terms.  His desire to return is rather forced upon him by his hunger.  Even in thinking of his father, he does not say, “He still loves me and will take me back”, but he only considers his father’s generosity with the servants.  His penitence is incomplete and imperfect, based upon his own desperate condition. What is more, his awareness of the father’s goodness is incomplete as well.  He doesn’t remember how willingly the father had given him the share of the inheritance.  He doesn’t reflect upon the times he certainly must have enjoyed with his father.  He only remembers the abundance of his father’s wealth, shared by those who served him.

I’d venture to say that the elder son is wasteful in his own way, as he seems to squander his father’s love.  Though he was very cautious and diligent with respect to his father’s wealth and business, he missed out on the love of his father.  One wonders if he ever asked for a young goat to celebrate with his friends.

In this light, I think it is important to remember that, as much as the story reaches out to sinners who need to know how kind and forgiving God the Father is, Jesus told the story for the sake of the Pharisees and scribes who were angry and scandalized when Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors.  The Lord was attempting to instruct them on what they were missing in the God of the Covenant.  God demands obedience to His law, but He is a God of mercy more than anything.  The blindness of the elder son is pointed out by the Lord in the kindest way possible.  While on several occasions the Lord was “in the face” of His enemies, on this occasion He gently instructed them through this and the preceding two parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Did they grasp the meaning of His words, “My son, you are with me always, and everything I have is yours. . . “?  They needed to hear that God was indeed pleased with their fidelity, even if it was incomplete.

Finally, eating is so very central to the story.  It’s the Lord eating with sinners that brings on the criticism of the Pharisees. The younger son most likely feasted while he had his father’s wealth.  His return home is driven by an empty belly.  The father calls for a feast to celebrate his son’s return, killing the fatted calf. The elder son calls feasting with his friends a sign of gratitude from the father.  And of course, the fatted calf is very much an image of the heavenly banquet where we will feast eternally with the Lord.  Eating was part of the cause of our fall; eating the Body and drinking the Blood of the Lord is a major part of our journey towards heaven; heaven itself will be a big party where the Lord will feed us eternally with His divine Love.