Sunday, March 31, 2013

Writing your own Scenario

Easter Sunday hardly seems the time to speak about the dynamics of temptation in the life of a Christian, but I had to share this little work of art. If you will, I think it bears recalling that not only the Seven Capital Sins are death-dealing in the Christian life. Too many of us write our own script and find ourselves biting that lure, in denial of the possible, but often all too real consequences of our choice. 

If I start illustrating, I might just render the exercise vain for those who have rehearsed how things are supposed to go and will offer no quarter. I'm not going admonish or lecture anyone, nor am I going to "bite the lure." I'm not going to risk making anybody's blood boil, and certainly not on Easter.

Nonetheless, permit me to say that my heart goes out to countless "ordinary" Catholics scandalized not by the two Successors of St. Peter themselves, but seemingly either by a Benedict or by a Francis as they come to us refracted by any one or more of countless interests, mostly put forth by men and women unhappy that the Holy Spirit's "script" seems to be diverging from the scenarios dear to their hearts. Ubi Petrus, ibi...

The Scriptures of the Easter Octave and throughout this most joyous time of the year make ample reference not only to Christ Risen and Glorious, but also to St. Peter. He who for fear thrice denied his Master has thrice professed his love in Jesus, has turned again and become the Rock. The Lord Jesus gave us no other scenario for reaching heavenly glory than that of binding ourselves firmly to Himself within His Church under the headship of the Successor of St. Peter. Tu es Petrus...

Don't bite the lure!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Triumph, Easter Joy!

Minding my own thoughts and trying to focus on the great mystery of Holy Saturday today, I happened to pick up my collection of St. Augustine's sermons and read "Sermon 229N - Preached on the Saturday of the Easter Octave". It spoke to me very eloquently about Christ's victory over sin and death; it assured me of how present His Reign is here and now; it reassured me a bit about the anguished suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ who live today in the Middle East.

Once before I tried to find a link to an online text of St. Augustine and discovered that the numbering of his sermons presents a challenge. I hope you find this homily and read it in its entirety for yourself. Here's just the last part:

"But that’s where you are too; you are his members. These members, when the head cried out for his members, were being trampled on by that Saul who was previously a persecutor, afterward a preacher, breathing out slaughter, putting off faith. The whole force of his attack crumbled at a single utterance. What utterance? Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? (Acts 9:4) Could Saul so much as throw a stone at heaven, where Jesus is seated? Granted, for the sake of argument, that Saul was in the crowd when Jesus was hanging on the cross; granted that Saul too said with the crowd, Crucify him, crucify him (Lk 23:21); and that he was among those who were shaking their heads in mockery, and saying, If he is the Son of God, let him come down from the cross (Mt 27:40). But what could he do to him when he was seated in heaven? What harm could words do him, what harm yelling, what harm the cross, what harm the spear? Nothing could be done to him now, and yet he cried out “You are persecuting me.” When he cried out “You are persecuting me,” he was indicating that we are his members. And so may the love of Christ, whom we love in you, the love of Christ, whom you love in us, lead us all, among our trials, our temptations, our toils, our sweat, our anxieties, our misfortunes, to where there’s no toil, no misfortune, no groans, no sighs, no vexations; where nobody’s born, nobody dies, nobody has to fear the wrath of the mighty man, all being protected by the countenance of the Almighty God." [Augustine, Saint; Daniel Doyle, O.S.A.; Edmund Hill, O.P. (2007-01-01). Essential Sermons (p. 287). New City Press. Kindle Edition.]

St. Augustine's words remind me of my all-time favorite from the Office of Readings from Holy Saturday, that ancient homily which is one big confusion of referents between Adam and Christ, as the Son of Man descends today to draw the father of mankind out of the depths and into the glory of His Heavenly Kingdom:

“I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth.”

I surely pray that the Easter Proclamation tonight will help Christ's Body, The Church, cast off weariness and rise from sleep. In Him we are indeed victorious. A word of prophecy over the dry bones, if you please! May there be one fold and one shepherd!


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Choosing Shame

In this Holy Week, now Sacred Triduum, with all kinds of thoughts about many and varied things running through my head and heart, as if by grace I found myself all of a sudden reading in the Imitation of Christ from Book Two. Let me share this brief excerpt with you:

Of the fewness of those who love the Cross of Jesus

“Jesus hath many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of His Cross. He hath many seekers of comfort, but few of tribulation. He findeth many companions of His table, but few of His fasting. All desire to rejoice with Him, few are willing to undergo anything for His sake. Many follow Jesus that they may eat of His loaves, but few that they may drink of the cup of His passion. Many are astonished at His Miracles, few follow after the shame of His Cross. Many love Jesus so long as no adversities happen to them. Many praise Him and bless Him, so long as they receive any comforts from Him. But if Jesus hide Himself and withdraw from them a little while, they fall either into complaining or into too great dejection of mind.

2. But they who love Jesus for Jesus' sake, and not for any consolation of their own, bless Him in all tribulation and anguish of heart as in the highest consolation. And if He should never give them consolation, nevertheless they would always praise Him and always give Him thanks.

3. Oh what power hath the pure love of Jesus, unmixed with any gain or love of self! Should not all they be called mercenary who are always seeking consolations? Do they not prove themselves lovers of self more than of Christ who are always seeking their own gain and advantage? Where shall be found one who is willing to serve God altogether for nought?

4. Rarely is any one found so spiritual as to be stripped of all selfish thoughts, for who shall find a man truly poor in spirit and free of all created things? "His value is from afar, yea from the ends of the earth." A man may give away all his goods, yet that is nothing; and if he do many deeds of penitence, yet that is a small thing; and though he understand all knowledge, yet that is afar off; and if he have great virtue and zealous devotion, yet much is lacking unto him, yea, one thing which is the most necessary to him of all. What is it then? That having given up all things besides, he give up himself and go forth from himself utterly, and retain nothing of self-love; and having done all things which he knoweth to be his duty to do, that he feel that he hath done nothing. Let him not reckon that much which might be much esteemed, but let him pronounce himself to be in truth an unprofitable servant, as the Truth Himself saith, When ye have done all things that are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants. Then may he be truly poor and naked in spirit, and be able to say with the Prophet, As for me, I am poor and needy. Nevertheless, no man is richer than he, no man stronger, no man freer. For he knoweth both how to give up himself and all things, and how to be lowly in his own eyes. (1) Luke xvii. 10. (2) Psalm xxv. 16.”  [Kempis, Thomas A.; The Collected Works of Thomas A Kempis (2007-11-17). The Imitation of Christ (Optimized for Kindle) (Kindle Locations 1039-1063). Kindle Edition.]

The words are, yes, sobering, but reliable and rich in counsel. They say nothing new or unfamiliar. My hope is simply that they might catch you off-guard and bring you back to focus on what only is essential. “Nevertheless, no man is richer than he, no man stronger, no man freer. For he knoweth both how to give up himself and all things, and how to be lowly in his own eyes.”


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Into Holy Week

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

23 March 2013

Institute of St. Thomas Aquinas in Kyiv

(for simultaneous translation into Ukrainian)
Ez. 37:21-28
Jn. 11:45-56

If I had to make a guess, I’d say that if there were a day in the week when our Catholic people may not get to Mass, when if not Monday then it would be Saturday, and with the big liturgy of Palm Sunday opening the intense days of Holy Week, well, today might even draw less attention or thought than most other Saturdays in the course of the liturgical year. In a sense, it is a pity because there is real drama in the Gospel passage from St. John which we read today; it sets the stage for our living through all that the Lord Jesus suffered in these next days. So, consider yourselves very fortunate today; this may be a rare occasion and a special grace just for you.

From today’s Gospel let us take just the last line:
“What do you think? That he will not come to the feast?”

The high priest Caiaphas prophesies that Jesus was going to die “for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.” We have here an explanation of our first reading, of what the Prophet Ezekiel was promising to the people in God’s Name. Notice that the Gospel states clearly that this cleansing of the people, this gathering of the people into one, was to be carried out through the shedding of blood, with the sacrifice at the hands of sinners of that one man, Whom we know to be God’s True Lamb, the acceptable Sacrifice for the salvation of the whole world.

One of the great worries which I have, first about myself and then about most faithful people I know, is that our hopes and longings are for the most part “Old Testament”; we may not be all that familiar with what is to be found in those first 45 books of the Bible, but if we yearn for anything in life then Ezekiel could better express our wants than perhaps the Gospel. We experience Caiaphas’ prophecy for the most part as tragic; it is desolate; there is too much deadly earnest here. We “Old Testament” folk would have a land, a king, laws and decrees; we would have peace and we would have God’s sanctuary, His temple among us. We remain dumb before the sacrifice of the Cross of Christ. We’re not ready for the Shepherd to be struck and the flock to be scattered. We’re not ready to see Caiaphas’ words for what the Gospel calls them, that is as a prophecy, as something other than a cold, political calculation. We’re not ready to be enveloped in all the darkness which precedes the dawn of Easter light. We’re not ready for our share in the Cross.

Where does the drama of this Saturday, of Passiontide, of Holy Week, of the Sacred Triduum lie? In whether or not Jesus will show up for His appointment with destiny? We know the answer to that question very well. Is not rather the drama of Holy Week something which unfolds within each of our hearts and within the community of believers as such? The question is not so much whether Jesus will take up His Cross, but in whether we will share it with Him, in whether through darkness, scourging and death we can recognize and rejoice in the kingship of the Son of David.

As it is a weekday, my homily should be shorter, so I’ll stop here and recommend you all to the Mother of God, to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She knew her part in the drama of Holy Week and she can teach us how to embrace the Cross of her Son, how to be prophetic witnesses in our day and time to the Gospel which brings light and life.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

His Good Servants

Yesterday, I was watching parts of the news briefing given by Father Lombardi and was struck by a troubled question from a journalist, a bit dumbfounded by attempts already so soon from colleagues to cast doubts on the integrity of Pope Francis (political issues from his past as Jesuit superior in Argentina). Father Lombardi fielded the question well, but I can imagine many ordinary Catholics being saddened in the face of such hostility toward our new Pope on the part of a certain element in the media. I’m sure our Holy Father would also say that such should not come as a surprise and might even quote St. Francis of Assisi talking about wherein true happiness resides. I took added comfort from this morning’s Gospel (Saturday of the 4th Week of Lent), as we stand on the eve of Passiontide and a special focus on the sufferings of Christ and His Cross. How very important is the reminder that if we would be the Master’s good servants and followers we cannot expect better treatment than He Himself received:
“Several people who had been listening to Jesus said, ‘Surely he must be the prophet’, and some said, ‘He is the Christ’, but others said, ‘Would the Christ be from Galilee? Does not scripture say that the Christ must be descended from David and come from the town of Bethlehem?’ So the people could not agree about him. Some would have liked to arrest him, but no one actually laid hands on him.
  The police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees who said to them, ‘Why haven’t you brought him?’ The police replied, ‘There has never been anybody who has spoken like him.’ ‘So’ the Pharisees answered ‘you have been led astray as well? Have any of the authorities believed in him? Any of the Pharisees? This rabble knows nothing about the Law – they are damned.’ One of them, Nicodemus – the same man who had come to Jesus earlier – said to them, ‘But surely the Law does not allow us to pass judgement on a man without giving him a hearing and discovering what he is about?’ To this they answered, ‘Are you a Galilean too? Go into the matter, and see for yourself: prophets do not come out of Galilee.’” John 7:40-52

Can I dismantle or disarm the a prioris with which some secularists/ science freaks would hem in and limit our universe? How can I carry forward, and do so fully, ultimate discourse on the fullness of truth? I look to Jesus and the beauty of the Son of Man; I remain confident in Him and not in my own talents. I proclaim Christ and Him crucified, as does Francis I.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Odds are...

A Treatise on Purgatory.
Saint Catherine of Genoa
(2010-06-27). Kindle Edition.
It’s hard to say what brings about any one fortuitous encounter, but I had the great pleasure of encountering this little book (published without any more credits than what is given above). At 99 cents, we’re talking about a “lark” which, simply by chance, has gifted me with a text I intend to read more than once. I had never read a life of St. Catherine of Genoa and I must say that this account of her own mystical experience of Purgatory has won me over. More on Catherine and more on Purgatory another time! For now I’ll just say that she tipped over “my apple-cart  by stating that for the soul in Purgatory there is neither regret nor remorse. The burning away of the rusty residue of forgiven sins in Purgatory has a whole other thrust and the Irish inclination to call them the Holy Souls, as opposed to the Poor Souls, has much to say to us.

Anyway, Catherine started me off on a little reflection about the closed angle from which many of us look at life and how we judge situations. Let me preface things by saying that in the next days or weeks (I could not tell you when precisely) I will be observing the 40th anniversary of my decision to give up golfing and sell my clubs to my brother. Over the years, I have variously explained that decision, but in a moment of brutal self-honesty I had to admit to myself, first of all, that the real reason was not external to me but rather internal. There is no getting around it: I gave it up, because I would not embrace fully one of the fundamental counsels of the game: "Head down! Eye on the ball! Mind on your game!"

Golf or no golf, mind on your game or not, whether I'm talking about me or about the way people around me approach life, what I want to say is that the overarching criterion for assessing life is performance. Performance in life, as in sports or in academics, seems to be everything. For years I have been protesting the pressure to perform that we place on infants and small children: they've got to walk, talk and do everything except be themselves and sooner in life, so as not to miss out, or so goes the "common wisdom". How often are we caught up in conversations about "how good so-and-so looks for 90" or "he seems to be losing it and at such a young age"... Perform? I guess that's what we are expected to do and I guess we are often frustrated because we are not in charge of the situation, whatever it might be.

St. Catherine's exclusion of remorse from the Purgatory experience is a powerful gut punch to the logic of performance as ultimate criterion for judging a person's life. Don't get me wrong! I'd be the last one to sign on for eliminating grading from schools or other such dampers on achievement and growth. That is not the point. The point is that at some point in life I shift from training to win and game stats to other human virtues as my predominant life compass or measure. I do so not because I can no longer compete, because I am no longer up to the task, but rather because my "last judgment" won't be a review of achievements or trophies, plaques and citations accumulated. Dad used to say, "With this trophy and a dime I can buy a cup of coffee." 

Personnel choices are most certainly guided by performance records but life is not. I guess that in honor of the 40th anniversary of my abandoning golf I should take a cue from St. Catherine of Genoa and make my experience of this life a little more purgatorial and a little less performance oriented. To believe her, I guess I'd be a lot happier. Projects will be and will continue to be, but not at the expense of knowing, loving and serving above all the One Who made me and saved me.

Odds are... based on what? Based well, maybe, on all the wrong things. I hope that with Laetare behind us and our Lenten carriage steaming toward Passiontide that Confession has been part of the game plan and that the spiritual struggle has been engaged. The prize is Divine Intimacy... and with no regrets.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

99 cents well spent

The New Evangelization: What It Is and 
How It Affects the Life of Every Catholic.
Martin, Ralph (2012-10-01).
Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition.

Although little more than an essay, I'm very glad I bought and read this little book of Ralph Martin. For many Catholics (perhaps even for some priests) it would be safe to say that they might be a bit surprised by this quote from Lumen Gentium 14, which Ralph just sort of "pulls out of the hat". They are words filled with the constant teaching of the Church, with that very real Catholic "fear and trembling" which has received short shrift for too long. 

This is what Vatican II teaches about the situation of many Catholics:

“Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but “in body” not “in heart.” All children of the Church should nevertheless remember that their exalted condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ. If they fail to respond in thought, word, and deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be the more severely judged.” (LG, 14)

We are now in a position to give the most fundamental answer to the question we asked at the beginning of this chapter. Why bother to evangelize? Because the eternal destinies — heaven or hell — of many millions of our fellow Catholics, not to mention many millions of countless others, are hanging in the balance. Christianity is not just an optional enrichment possibility for human life, but is a message that truly is a matter of life or death, heaven or hell. If we truly love our family members, our neighbors, our fellow parishioners, and those who used to be our fellow parishioners, we’re not only going to pray for them to find good jobs and get healed of physical illnesses, but we’re going to pray, suffer, love, and witness to the One who can save, for the sake of their salvation. We’re going to say “yes” to the popes’ and the Spirit’s call to participate in the “new evangelization.” (Martin, Ralph (2012-10-01). The New Evangelization: What It Is and How It Affects the Life of Every Catholic (Kindle Locations 264-271). Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition.)

Ralph Martin would have us believe, and so would I, that today's urgency to lead all to Christ in His Holy Catholic Church can freely borrow words from the great Catholic missionary saints of all times. Our faith has not taken on irenic overtones at the expense of past teaching; we will never disavow the patron of the missions, St. Francis Xavier, nor anyone else eager to bring our world to baptism and to Christ and to the fullness of Catholic Faith. Why should that sound earth shaking or surprising?

The only point on which I would wish to haggle a bit with Ralph is his promotion of lay evangelizing, as if it were something not done in the past, as if it were not part of our tradition. What Ralph calls "lay evangelizing" is a constant in the tradition as well. It hardly ever involved lay preaching (media apostolates of various kinds today), but the witness of every baptized Catholic has always been fundamental to the propagation of the faith. From Apostolic times, lay martyrs and saints like St. Monica have always and constantly been key to the program of what sounds like novelty when you tag it "lay evangelization". It is the constant witness of a life of faith. It's faithful parents who give their children a sense of the presence of God at home. It's radical people like St. Catherine of Genoa who drew their spouses, through good example, prayer and sacrifice, to embrace a holy life. Time and again over the centuries we all Catholics have had to stir the flame of faith into a fire enlightening dark corners and challenging the mundane (read: "secular", "secularizing", Godless).

For a good fifty years now the popes have been teaching the urgency of witnessing to the self-evident, at home, abroad, in all that we say and do, and namely that we can take courage and rejoice in the truth that our God is King. 


Saturday, March 9, 2013

X - Factor

I wish to thank CNS for this video and recommend it to others. Over these weeks now (almost a month) since Pope Benedict XVI announced his renunciation of the See of Peter, we have been confronted with all sorts of more or less authoritative commentaries on the impact his step will have on the Church (his refusal, if you will, to opt for dying with his boots on). I think the video is a good contribution to putting us back on track concerning that which is essentially Conclave.

Whether the commentaries on the impact of the renunciation on the Church are positive or negative, I guess I have my doubts about the usefulness at this point of the exercise in analysis or commentary. The easy out for dismissing this kind of talk is that such judgments are premature. Very simply, though, I have my doubts concerning the possibility ever of being able to say what exactly, if anything, has changed in the life of the Church. Pope Benedict made a choice as foreseen by Church law; it may never have happened like this before, but the option has always been there. It would be difficult to say what changed when John Paul I refused coronation. Thirty or forty years from now, I doubt if the experts will be agreed on the consequences, if any, of Benedict's decision.

You might say that this video has offered some reassurance to me in this regard by presenting the testimony of several Cardinals, veterans of the 2005 Conclave, who see the same thing happening in these days leading up to this Conclave, starting on 12 March 2013. They offer some profound insights into what they personally experienced in the last papal election. Our present College of 115 electors will not be shortchanged; their experience will be just as powerful and positive for the life of the Church. The law and the good will of the electoral college provides a constant, an x-factor if you will, and which represents always and perhaps more so in our time than even just a hundred years ago not only the sublimity of the actual process of choosing a pope, but of our faith, the faith first and foremost of the College of Cardinals, in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit here acting in a singular way in the life of the Church.

Extra omnes! The life of all us outsiders is drawn to prayer in support of a wonder not that different from Pentecost in the Cenacle on Mount Sion. Mother Mary, gather your sons, the princes of the Church, under your mantle! 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Miserator et misericors Dominus

Preparing the Readings for this Sunday of the Third Week of Lent (Year C), the Exodus account of the vocation of Moses before the Burning Bush on the mountain of God hit home, as did the verse from Psalm 103: "He has made known his ways to Moses, and his deeds to the children of Israel."

Sunday Masses in many places around the world this weekend, now that the See of Peter is vacant, will be offered for the sake of the College of Cardinals, that they be guided by the Holy Spirit in the selection of the next Successor of St. Peter, in electing, most likely from their own number, the next Pope. 

If I might say it so, I framed my own prayer at this moment (and will do so again in the course of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass) for that "Moses" whom Christ is calling to be His Vicar. The Burning Bush theophany caught Moses as he was, fled from justice in Egypt and settled in with work and family on Sinai. I cannot doubt that God will speak again and ask another "Moses" to accept election from the Conclave. Just in case, however, that during Sunday Mass or a desert moment this weekend before the general congregations begin, in silence and darkness, the Lord chooses to cast His light and speak, I'm praying that that heart will receive the grace and prostrate himself before the mystery. It is the Lord Who guides His Church, as Benedict XVI reiterated over and over in these days.