Sunday, January 14, 2018

Jesus calling. Are you listening?

Readings: 1 Sam 3:3b-10.19; Ps 40:2.4-10; 1 Cor 6:13c-15a.17-20; John 1:35-42

"Vocation" and "discernment" are two words that as Catholics we say/hear and write/read a lot. We also use "community" quite a bit. But in advanced Western societies, where the atomic individual reigns supreme, we invoke "community" as more of an aspiration than a lived reality. I think this is true, too, for vocation and discernment as well as for vocational discernment. Since we just entered Ordinary Time for the first time this liturgical year, it bears noting that during Ordinary Time our lectionary readings from the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospel readings are harmonized. In our reading from 1 Samuel this week, the Church provides us with a great parallel to the seminal pericope from St. John's Gospel, which provides us with a paradigm for discipleship because it includes evangelization, making Jesus's followers missionary disciples.

Hearing God's call (vocation from Latin vocare= "to call") requires discernment. Discernment is nothing other than being able to hear and heed God's voice. We live in noisy times. Even when it comes to those who claim to speak in some way for God, we are barraged with a cacophony of voices, which sometimes consist of someone generalizing from his/her own experience. Being able to hear God is something we have to learn, just like the young Samuel did. Notice that it is not until the end of the episode in our first reading that we learn what God said to the young man Samuel each time he fell asleep. What did God say? He said, "Samuel, Samuel" (1 Sam 3:10). This explains why, in the narrative, Samuel keeps going to his formator, his mentor, Eli, upon being awakened. He thought Eli was calling him. The final time Samuel fell asleep, knowing that it was not Eli who was summoning him, was when he discerned it was the voice of the LORD. Once he recognized the voice of the LORD, the young prophet-in-training said, "Speak, for your servant is listening" (1 Sam 3:10).

In my preaching, I often make the distinction between hearing and listening. Hearing, on this view, is simply a matter of sound waves vibrating your sensitive aural apparatus. Listening means attending carefully to what someone else is saying. While it is possible to hear without shutting up, it is impossible to listen without doing so. We listen to God in silence. In prayer, we need to spend at least as much time listening as we do speaking. The more we pray, the more time we spend in silence. As the wise old spiritual axiom states it: God's first language is silence.

I am convinced that God speaks to each one of us practically all the time and in a variety of ways. Like the young Samuel, however, we are often unable to recognize the Lord's voice. The reason for our inability to recognize the Master's voice is because we are not in the habit of listening, of shutting up. One major reason for this was spelled out very well by the late Karl Rahner towards the beginning of his little book simply entitled On Prayer: we let the important be overcome by urgent. Nothing is more important than listening for and then to the voice of the Lord. In an interview near the end of his life, when asked which of his many works he liked the best, without hesitation, Rahner pointed to his "little book on prayer." Jokes about Rahner's incomprehensibility abound, one even made his brother Otto, who was also a Jesuit scholar (a Church historian). This book is Rahner at his most is accessible. What he liked about his little book on prayer is that he felt it was a good synthesis of his theology. It was Rahner who observed: "In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all."

Vocation de Saint Jean et de Saint André, by James Tissot, 1886-1894

One's vocation, or call, no matter what it is, is to build up the Body of Christ. This is to say, to build up a community, which is nothing other than building up the kingdom of God, ushering in God's reign, becoming the people of God in Christ by the power of the Spirit. The kingdom of God, as Jesus taught us when compared to how the world typically works, is an upside down, or inverted, reality. Hence, being a Christian will always entail being counter-cultural.

To give some idea of what being counter-cultural means, I point you to an article by Douglas Campbell, which provides a very good overview of St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, the letter from which our second reading for today is taken. The article is featured in The Christian Century: "Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to a community in the middle of a culture war." In it Campbell describes how Christianity is counter-cultural, which has nothing to do with changing with the times:
Paul’s ethic of Christian love was deeply countercultural and highly demanding. Homogeneous and idealized communities mask how tough it is to practice this kindness and consideration across social divisions where it needs to bridge and heal and not merely to fit into a group that already gets along quite well
In short, it is necessary for the Body of Christ to include everyone, especially people from places that far too many of Christians deem to be shitholes. At least in the United States, we run the risk of making the Church almost exclusively bourgeois. This is true, too, in Western Europe. This is something theologian Johan Baptist Metz addressed more than thirty years ago in his book The Emergent Church: The Future of Christianity in a Post-Bourgeois World. It's this perhaps more than anything that has led to the Church's decline in age of late capitalism during which more and more wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and the bourgeois is shrinking dramatically.

In our Gospel today, John and Andrew listened, not once, but twice. First, they listened to the one they had been following, the one whose disciples they were- John the Baptist, who, upon seeing Jesus, proclaimed: "Behold, the Lamb of God" (John 1:36). As a result, they set off after Jesus. Noticing them following him, the Lord asked them the most human of all questions, "What are you looking for?" They asked him where was staying. They heeded his call, "Come, and you will see." They listened a second time.

Notice the inspired author does not describe "where" Jesus led them in geographical terms. He merely wrote: "So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day" (John 1:39). You see, Jesus is the who, what, why, where, and when. Or as the old hymn puts it: Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. What Jesus gives those who follow him is nothing other than himself. By giving us himself body, blood, soul and divinity, he allows us to share in divine life, the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This life, as we read elsewhere in the Johannine corpus, is love (1 John 4:8.16). By its nature, love is profuse, that is, turned toward the other, not kept to one's self.

I don't think it's overly simplistic to say there is only one Christian vocation: to follow Christ. In baptism, Jesus bid each of us, "Come, and you will see." He reissued this call in confirmation. Like the young Samuel, in baptism and confirmation, God called you by name. Jesus calls you to follow him in each Eucharist and then sends you forth to heed his call. Every specific vocation, whether you're married or single, whether you're a priest and/or a vowed religious, even (gasp!) a deacon, is about heeding Jesus's call. I think it's important for clerics, of which I am one, to remind ourselves as we vest to serve Christ and his people in liturgical celebrations that the alb, over which our stoles dalmatics, chasubles, copes, etc. go, are baptismal garments. Without baptism, without having heard and responded to Christ's call, the rest of it is impossible.

It's still early in the new year, but it's already late enough to begin waning on your New Year's resolutions. Our resolution each year, each Advent, each Lent, each Sunday should be to hear, listen to, and heed Christ's call. Once you have experienced Jesus, it is impossible not to tell others about him, to extend the same invitation Andrew extended to his brother Simon.

Friday, January 12, 2018

"Try imagining a place where it's always safe and warm"

I am on the road this week. I am in lovely Norfolk, Virginia. Actually, I was supposed to be on an airplane home right now, but weather caused a delay. Hopefully, I will head home tomorrow. Travel delays are never fun, but this gives me a little time, at least enough to put up a Friday traditio. I am not feeling inspiration bubbling up this afternoon like I usually do when posting on Friday. In fact, I feel a little flat and slightly out-of-joint. Nonetheless, I am fine.

Eric Gill

Today I am putting up Bob Dylan with a twist. It is from the end of the film St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray. As the caption of the video denotes, St. Vincent was produced by The Weinstein Company, the film production company owned by the Weinstein brothers, one of whom is the now infamous and notorious Harvey. The question has been asked more than once in the wake of revelations about Harvey Weinstein's sexual harassment, assault, and perhaps even rapes: Can such an immoral person produce great art? The short, if maybe not simple, answer is "Yes." One need only consider the art of Eric Gill and his life.

In the age of Google, you don't need a discourse from me on Eric Gill. And nobody needs to waste more words on Harvey Weinstein's transgressions. The Hollywood hypocrites are all over that like hyenas on a wounded wildebeest. Many of them trying to deflect attention away from their own indiscretions. Am I saying the movies of Harvey Weinstein or the beautiful creations of Eric Gill atone for their sins? No. Only Christ atoned for their sins, as well as for mine and yours. On Fridays, which are days of penance, I try to remind myself of this. Praying Psalm 51, known as the Memorare, the first Psalm for Morning Prayer nearly every Friday helps:
Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love;
    in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions.
Thoroughly wash away my guilt;
    and from my sin cleanse me.
For I know my transgressions;
    my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your eyes (Ps 51:3-6)
Anyway, our traditio for this second Friday of 2018 is something of a collaboration between Bill Murray and Bobby Z.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Epiphany: a deeper look

Since I have already posted on the Lord's Epiphany, his revelation to the nations, I feel free to compose something free-form about the Gospel reading for today's solemnity. As I was preparing to proclaim and as I was proclaiming today's Gospel (Matt 2:1-12) in the Eucharistic liturgy, I was struck - lectio-style - by a phrase I had previously just read over without giving it much thought. The phrase occurs in the third verse of the second chapter of the Gospel According to St. Matthew. The immediate context is the magi telling King Herod learning that they were seeking "the newborn king of the Jews" (v. 2): "When King Herod heard this," the inspired author conveyed, "he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him."

The phrase that caught my attention this Epiphany, thus making it an epiphany for me, is the last phrase of verse 3: and all Jerusalem with him. Why would all of Jerusalem be troubled by the news that a king, perhaps the long-awaited Messiah, was born in Bethlehem of Judea as Isaiah foretold? One way to make sense of this is to think about how few Christians either think about and/or look forward to Christ's return in glory, however that might happen (i.e., cataclysm vs. continuity). This thought took me back to something I included in my homily for Midnight Mass: the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity "is so earth-shattering that it enacts something akin to the psychoanalytic concept of trauma" on the world.1

If his birth in the cave in Bethlehem had this effect, how much more "traumatic" will be his return "in glory," which will be his final and undeniable Epiphany? Try as we might, Christians can't escape eschatology nor should we want to. In other words, like "all Jerusalem" we, too, are often "greatly troubled" at the prospect of Christ' arrival.

The Adoration by the Magi ... an Ethiopian artist’s impression (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Looking at this phrase more exegetically (if I may employ an awkward adverb), it is pretty certain that St. Matthew's Gospel was written in the midst of and for a Jewish Christian community (a Christian synagogue), albeit one that was beginning to receive more and more Gentiles. Receiving more Gentiles certainly makes the pericope that is our Gospel reading each year for Epiphany (i.e., Matt. 2:1-12) very important. It is important because it explains to the Jewish Christians of Matthew's communities how these Gentile converts fit into God's plan of salvation through Christ.

According to the Dominican New Testament scholar Benedict Viviano, the magi "were a caste of wise men, variously associated with interpretation of dreams, Zorastrianism, astrology, and magic."2 Later, the magi became kings and later still their number was fixed at 3, which is likely arrived by their three gifts. In the Western Church, Viviano noted, the three kings "were named: Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior, and Caspar became black."3 The three magi turned into "representatives of the Gentile world in all its racial diversity..."4

It was Raymond Brown who noted that "all Jerusalem," along with Herod and including the scribes and the chief priests, being so troubled by the news of the birth of the "king of the Jews" that they sought to take Jesus's life are an anticipation of "Pilate, 'all the people,' the chief priests, and the elders of Matt's passion narrative."5 Brown made the key point: "In both instances God frustrates the plans of these hostile adversaries (through Jesus' return Egypt, and through the resurrection)."6

What's the point? I think it is something like being determined not be God's hostile adversary and to cooperate in ushering in God's reign. How do you cooperate with instead of oppose God? The answer to this is very clear in St. Matthew's Gospel: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.7 Until his return, it is by loving our neighbor (our neighbor being anyone we encounter who needs our help) through selfless acts of service that we reveal Christ to the nations.

1 Creston Davis, John Milbank, Slavoj Žižek, Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press), 7.
2 Benedict T. Viviano, O.P., "The Gospel According to Matthew," in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall), 635.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Raymond E. Brown, O.P., An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday), 176.
6 Ibid.
7 Matthew 22:37-40.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Thoughts on the Lord's Epiphany

A few weeks back I was asked to provide some thoughts on Epiphany for a newspaper article from a contemporary Roman Catholic perspective. A surprising number of my thoughts made it into the piece: "Utah Christians still have one more Christmas gift to unwrap: Epiphany is this weekend." I liked the article very much. I did try to make it clear that making an Epiphany a moveable feast was not something done universally in the Roman Catholic Church.

Since today, 6 January, is the traditional date of Epiphany, the day after the Twelfth Day of Christ (Twelfth Night celebrations are making a bit of a comeback), I am sharing the entirety of what I provided for the piece.

The feast of the Lord’s Epiphany is the ancient Christian celebration of the visit of the gift-bearing [and distinctly Gentile] Magi to the Christ child, an event recounted in St. Matthew's Gospel (Matt. 2:1-12). In revealing himself to the Magi the Lord first manifested himself to the Gentile nations.

Historically, Epiphany has been of far more significance than it is today for Roman Catholics. But even now in many European and Latin American countries and among a number of Catholic émigré communities in the United States, Epiphany still carries far more significance than it does for most Roman Catholics in this country. In many cultures, Epiphany, not Christmas, remains the main day for exchanging gifts.

The primary reason that the Epiphany is not such a big deal among most U.S. Catholics is that since the liturgical reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council, in this country, Epiphany no longer marks the end of the liturgical season of Christmas. For Roman Catholics outside the U.S., Epiphany remains a feast fixed on 6 January that brings the season of Christmas to a close.

Traditionally and today among most Roman Catholics, as well as among Western Protestants who follow the liturgical calendar, the Twelve Days of Christmas began on 25 December and concluded on 5 January. 6 January was the Epiphany of the Lord. In other words, like Christmas, Epiphany has historically been and remains in most places a fixed feast. But for the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S., Epiphany is observed on the second Sunday after Christmas.

In the U.S., Christmas ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. During this liturgical year, which began on the First Sunday of Advent (3 December), the feast of the Lord’s Baptism occurs on Monday, 8 January 2018. Epiphany will be observed on Sunday, 7 January.

As a result of making Epiphany a moveable feast, apart from perhaps completing the Christmas creche by including the Magi and their camels in it, in most Roman Catholic churches and homes in the U.S., Epiphany tends to be a fairly low-key affair, as does the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is not a holy day obligation, or a day of any particular celebrations.

For most of the years of our marriage, my wife and I have hosted an Epiphany party for our friends. During this celebration we incorporate a number Catholic Epiphany traditions: we have a King’s Cake that contains 3 coins, whoever receives a coin in their piece of cake gets to wear a crown bearing one of the traditional names of the Magi- Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar; we ceremonially remove our tree from our house, which includes carol-singing; with the help of our friends, we bless our house for the coming year.

My friend, the fine young theologian Brandon Peterson, reminded me that for the people of Puerto Rico Epiphany remains a huge holiday, bigger than Christmas, which I think is great. When one thinks that at the heart of the Epiphany is God extending his Covenant from Israel to all of humanity in Christ, the Epiphany of the Christ child should be huge for us Gentile Christians. In the wake of last year, we can also stand being reminded that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.

Friday, January 5, 2018

"Mercy bend and bring me back to life"

Today was longer and a bit more challenging than anticipated. Nonetheless, I want to post a traditio for the first Friday of the New Year. Because it's been awhile, there were a lot of options running through my mind as I pondered what to post. Then, on the way to the Funeral Vigil for a dear friend who passed away from cancer on the second of this New Year, I listened to my CD of Audrey Assad's album The House You're Building.

Assad's album is wonderful. I hadn't listened to it in awhile. I put my car CD-player (yes- I still have a car CD-player) on that random mode so the songs did not play in order. After a couple of songs, it went to the eleventh and final track on the album: "Show Me."

I mentioned in my New Year's post that the last couple of years have been kind of tough going. It's alright for life to be difficult. It is okay to admit that sometimes I find life difficult. Nobody needs to fix that or attempt to fix it. My hope is in Christ. A finite world will never satisfy a heart that yearns for the infinite.

Anyway, "Show Me" captures well, in the way that poetry and songs, or the poetry of songs, what I am trying to say. Oddly, it makes my heart glad that this is the first traditio:

The chorus of the song is simply lovely:

Bind up these broken bones
Mercy bend and bring me back to life
But not before you show me how to die

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Cultivating Inner Peace

"The passionate man often thinks evil of a good man and easily believes the worst; a good and peaceful man turns all things to good.

"A man who lives at peace suspects no one. But a man who is tense and agitated by evil is troubled with all kinds of suspicions; he is never at peace with himself, nor does he permit others to be at peace.

"He often speaks when he should be silent, and he fails to say what would be truly useful. He is well aware of the obligations of others but neglects his own . . .

"You are good at excusing and justifying your own deeds, and yet you will not listen to the excuses of others. It would be more just to accuse yourself and to excuse your brother.

"If you wish others to put up with you, first you must put up with them."

Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Book II, cap 2-3).

It is my prayer that these words speak as clearly to somebody else today as they have to me.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year

Today, 1 January, Roman Catholics the world over celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Additionally, for the fifty-first year, Catholics also observe the World Day of Peace.

Despite 2017 being a light year for blogging, I ended the year in a flurry of activity. As a dedicated Catholic blogger, I felt not posting something on New Year's day would be too much of an oversight. Despite not having anything really profound to convey in this post, I wanted to say to both my readers, Happy New Year!

I don't mind admitting that the past two years have been a little difficult for me. I often reflect on how easy it is to convey a false image online. But I assure you, my life is filled with its challenges, failures, disappointments, arguments, and frustrations. I often grow frustrated with others, with circumstances, and, most of all, with myself. I also must admit that I find maintaining this weblog quite therapeutic. So much so that I would say this past year would've been easier had I taken more to time to reflect on things the way this blog causes me to reflect, which is by helping me to see the bigger picture. I hope that by trying to see and write about the bigger picture without losing touch with reality you find reading what I have to write helpful. I would be the first to say, don't feel obligated to spend time here. Time is the currency of existence spend it wisely. Whether you read what I write or not my pay ($0) remains the same.

In order to have more peace in my life and to enhance the quality of my life, 2018 is the year I am going to significantly alter my relationship to the digital, or cyber, world. Besides having a lot to do, I just want to be happier and less encumbered by the constant assault of social media. What this will entail remains to be seen. I am planning how to manage things. Most of all, I need to spend more time in silence and more time praying. This is not a matter of getting back to any period of time during which I felt closer to the Lord, but a matter of moving forward.

It is easy in our current circumstances to see nothing but dark clouds gathering over the world. In his Urbi et orbi Christmas message, Pope Francis noted that "the winds of war are blowing in our world." Being less connected online is not an attempt to ignore reality. Rather, I want to connect more deeply. In the words of the song, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." For peace to begin with me, peace must begin within me. I need to be more at peace in order to live more peaceably with others and be a force for peace in the world, in my community, in my workplace, in my parish, and in my family.

All of this makes me chuckle a bit because writing about it makes it seem so easy. Paradoxically, peace requires a struggle. 2018 is a year for me to really engage in that struggle. One of the means I will use to engage in the struggle for peace is the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I pray the Rosary now almost daily. But I usually pray it on-the-go, not meditatively. Among my goals is to pray the Rosary in a meditative manner at least a few times a week. There are other contemplative practices I need to either resume or begin.

In any case, I do not plan to stop posting here. On the contrary, I plan to continue because blogging, believe it or not, is a source of peace for me. How regularly, as I mentioned yesterday, remains to be seen. One Rosary intention for the New Year is for everyone who reads this blog- that they may be blessed by so doing. Whether being blessed by reading what I post means being consoled, encouraged, or challenged I leave up to the Holy Spirit.

May the peace of God, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, be with you as you embark upon this New Year.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Καθολικός διάκονος: End of the year roundup

It's time to wrap up another year of blogging here at Καθολικός διάκονος. 2017 marked twelve years since I started this blog and 11 years of regular blogging. Posting a mere 116 times makes this year the sparest year since I began blogging in earnest way back in 2006. Nonetheless, I look forward to blogging in the new year. How much I will be able to do so remains to be seen.

It is a tradition for me to select a post from each month of the past year that I think is worthy of mention at the end of the year. Below you will find a pick for "post of the month" for each month of 2017. I would be happy to have both my readers share their post or posts from the past year from this blog.

Serving with my bishop, Oscar Solis, and pastor, Fr. Rene at this year's Confirmation Mass (I am on the left)

January- "We desire not only to know fully but to be fully known"

February- "Scripture, revelation- apprehending and living the truth"

March- "'Those who find themselves ridiculous'"

April- "Degenerate language; degenerating faith"

May- "A Sunday to consider deacons"

June- "Tobit and the importance of burying the dead"

July- "The war I must wage: destroying a piece of my own heart"

August- "Liturgy and the totus Christus"

September- St. Thérèse on love and unbelief

October- "On the Reformation"

November- "A deacon on a layman about deacons"

December- The Shroud of Turin: Short Take

Happy New Year to everyone who reads this. I pray God's blessing upon on you no matter who you are or how you arrived here.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Belonging to God's Holy Family

Reading: Hebrews 11:8.11-12.17-19

For today's Feast of the Holy Family, the Church provides us with a number of readings, each one worthy of being read, meditated upon, and contemplated. Because, apart from the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, which is the second volume of Luke' Gospel, often referred to (rightly, in my view) as "the Gospel of the Holy Spirit," my favorite book of the New Testament is the anonymously-composed Letter to the Hebrews, I am going to go with the option from the eleventh chapter of Hebrews (Wow! What a long sentence!). One reason for choosing this, apart from being so enamored with Hebrews, is this year, it seems, God has laid it on my heart to move past the sentimentalism that is so bound up with Christmas. While not entirely bad, such sentimentalism can impede discipleship, thus inhibiting the Church's mission. This discernment was borne out when I read Pope Francis's Christmas Urbi et orbi message.

It seems to me that the dominant theme in this reading is Abraham's willingness to sacrifice everything for God. Of course, God the Father sacrificed everything for us, namely his Son.

In Pope Francis's too easily forgotten first encyclical letter on the theological virtue of faith, Lumen Fidei, which was largely composed by Pope Benedict XVI, thus completing his cycle of encyclicals on the theological virtues: Love = Deus Caritas Est; Hope = Spe salvi, in a portion entitled "Abraham, our father in faith," we read: "Abraham is asked to entrust himself to this [God's] word. Faith understands that something so apparently ephemeral and fleeting as a word, when spoken by the God who is fidelity, becomes absolutely certain and unshakable, guaranteeing the continuity of our journey through history. Faith accepts this word as a solid rock upon which we can build, a straight highway on which we can travel" (sec. 10).

Abraham left his home in Ur of the Chaldees because he trusted God's promise that there was a land prepared for him and his descendants to inhabit perpetually. When he left home, Abraham had no idea where this land was, which meant he had no clue as to how long his journey would be or where it would end. Trusting God, he packed up his family and belongings and headed out.

Abraham's Journey from Ur to Canaan, by József Molnár, 1850

God promised Abraham descendants who would be as numerous as the sands of the seashore. Yet, he had only one child with his wife Sarah: Isaac and, at Sarah's insistent urging, another one with Hagar, Sarah's servant: Ishmael. As St. Paul noted: "For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman" (Gal 4:22).

It is by faith that we, too, are Abraham's children. This is how God fulfilled his promise: "there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore" (Heb 11:12). St. Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians, wrote: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!' So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God" (Gal 4:4-7).

We have trusted God's promise, sealed by the death and resurrection of his Son. This is precisely the promise that Anna and Simeon recognized when they encountered the child in the Temple. This trust, which is better-labeled hope and is the flower of faith, is wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son. It is by being born of the Spirit that we become God's children, members of God's Holy Family.

Being born of the Spirit, something Jesus taught us must happen (see John 3:5-8), is how we become children of God, making us members of his family, the Church. Belonging to God's family means that, like Abraham, our father in faith, we too, are pilgrims, "Hebrews," which means foreigners, making our pilgrim way to God's holy city. Like Abraham, we are called upon to make sacrifices, perhaps to sacrifice everything that, to borrow more words from St. Paul: "forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:13-14).

Our pilgrimage, our journey through time, continues apace into the New Year. It is easy enough to know where God is leading you, at least ultimately. What is not so clear is the route you God will have you take. Hence, it is not so important to know where God is leading you in the new year. What remains important is that, like Abraham, you trust God to fulfill his promise. Given his deep Christian faith, I think this strikes pretty close to what Tolkien meant when he wrote, "Not all who wander are lost."

Because we belong to God's Holy Family by virtue of being reborn of the Spirit, we journey together, as companions. We are companions because we share the Bread that sustains us on our pilgrim way. As Michael Card sang, "There Is A Joy In the Journey."

Friday, December 29, 2017

Russell Brand, learning and growing

This morning an online friend, who is a priest in the Church of England, brought to my attention an article in Relevant magazine about British comedian Russell Brand: "The Second Coming of Russell Brand: Fifteen years after embracing sobriety, he’s now talking about how culture can stop its destructive patterns: by following Jesus." At the beginning of the piece Brand is quoted as saying, "My personal feeling is the teachings of Christ are more relevant now than they’ve ever been." The article is a rather lengthy interview with Brand about his nascent Christianity, if I may state it that boldly. which is probably too boldly.

I will be honest, until a few years ago I really couldn't stand Russell Brand. But it's clear that he has become a more mature human being. As a 52-year-old emotionally going on something like 22 myself, it's nice to see someone else growing up, learning and changing. He makes ample use of Chesterton's observation that every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God. This expresses the human condition in a rather pithy manner, even if from a male perspective.

Even though I have come think better of Brand prior to reading the Relevant piece, reading it surprised me. I have friends who are successfully recovering from addiction and who did not find the 12 Step AA model helpful. That is fine. The 12 Steps are so widely used and often people go against their will, which most of the time is a waste of time, that its lack of success in terms of the percentage of people who achieve long-term sobriety doesn't appear promising. Like any other behavioral therapy program, there is no magic in the 12 Steps apart from doing them with the help of a supportive group of people. But like all people who struggle with addiction, friends who did not find AA helpful have no problem with the program insofar that it does help people achieve and maintain sobriety.

Russell Brand

Heaven knows that in this age of our rapidly growing knowledge of the human brain AA often looks very outdated. AA looks even worse when it becomes completely disconnected from its spiritual roots, which are Christian. Pastorally, my work with people in recovery has been with people who are achieving sobriety for the third or fourth time and, as a result of finding themselves back where they started, have grasped that the spiritual component of recovery, which is but one dimension and not the whole thing, is something to which they need to attend. It is for this purpose that I will keep and use Brand's Relevant article.

Brand, in an unassuming way, really provides a wonderful lesson in what it means to pray: "I say the Lord’s Prayer every day. I try to connect to what those words mean. I connect to what the Father means. I connect to what wholeness means to me. I think about the relationship between forgiveness and being forgiven and the impossibility of redemption until you are willing to forgive and let go." What do the words we pray mean? This is a question we should constantly ask ourselves.

Indeed, it is in the spiritual roots of the 12 Steps that Brand finds strength (comedian Marc Maron, who is Jewish, similarly discusses the importance of prayer for his own recovery). Brand, using the Lord's Prayer, which Guardini though of as a Catechism, has kept following the road, moving beyond his dependence on drugs, sex, and alcohol to dependence on God:
I’ve seen in many formats now—because I’ve played out the same pattern many times—the attachment to physical things, physical behaviors or people, will never make me happy,” he explains. “But service of others and values that are certainly found in Christianity will make me feel peace or make me feel happy. It’s a lesson that’s very hard to learn
As Keith, who brought this to my attention, noted: by being as transparently honest as he is this piece Brand has likely set himself up for some public ridicule in highly secular England. All I can say is, "Good for him."