Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Fifty Years Ago in Memphis

Fifty 50 years ago today Dr Martin Luther King was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray. In a song off U2's Unforgettable Fire album (my favorite U2 album by miles) entitled "Pride (In the Name of Love)," Paul Hewitt (a.k.a. Bono Vox) sang: "Early morning, April four/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky..."

It was Dr, King, a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, echoing the words of the one he sought to follow (see Matthew 12:26), who said- "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that"- Martin Luther King.

In his memorable speech, delivered while standing on the bed of flatbed truck in Indianapolis, Indiana, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, whose brother, John, was assassinated in 1963 and who himself would be assassinated in Los Angeles in a few days over two months, said this:
My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God"

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness; but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black."

"... and say a prayer for our country and for our people."
I have little doubt that, as a Catholic (the most devout of the Kennedy brothers), Bobby also prayed for the repose of Dr King's soul.

MLK and RFK remain people who represent the best of what we are and point us to what we, as a people, might yet be.

"How long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look?" Bob Marley

Monday, April 2, 2018

Why Orwell still matters

This morning I saw piece on the New York Magazine "Intelligencer" page that I found disturbing but hardly surprising: "News Anchors Reciting Sinclair Propaganda Is Even More Terrifying in Unison." The lead-off of this piece by Chas Danner is what I can only describe as Orwellian:
Over the last week or so, local television news anchors across the the country have joined together to paradoxically warn viewers about the “troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country.” The identical, seemingly earnest editorial messages paid lip service to the importance of fact-checking and unbiased reporting, but they also complained about “false news” and “fake stories.” If that seems to echo the rhetoric of President Trump, it’s probably because the statement was written by one of his allies
I use the adjective "Orwellian" in the awareness that it is increasingly incomprehensible to people, which I also find discouraging.

It is apparent to anyone who has paid attention over the past three decades or so that our so-called fourth estate has been in failure mode for a long time. There are some exceptions, of course. But we now live in a strange time when fake news, parroted by the mainstream media, is deemed real news. At the same time, independent and conscientious journalists and media outlets are dismissed as "the MSM" and their reporting on real matters, things that matter, is dismissed as fake news.

Truth be told, as frustrating as the Stormy Daniels affair and the independent counsel's Russia investigation, which has been irretrievably compromised by its being turned into a media circus, are really distractions from what is really happening right under our noses: tax "reform," healthcare "reform." immigration "reform," the military-industrial complex and its accompanying saber-rattling, etc. It bears noting that in his Easter Urbi et Orbi (i.e., "The City and the World"), Pope Francis took of the latter of these by noting the "apparently endless war" in Syria, the conflict happening the Holy Land, as well as in Yemen. Let's not forget how important perpetual war was to Oceania in 1984. Far from desiring the re-uniting of altar and throne, it is tremendously important for the Church to maintain her independence in order to be prophetic. What does it mean to be prophetic? It means to speak the truth fearlessly irrespective of consequences.

I am currently reading Orwell's novel Coming Up For Air. He wrote this novel about a decade prior to 1984. In it, Orwell introduced many themes he would take up more explicitly and thoroughly in 1984. While I think fair to call Orwell a prophet of sorts, it wasn't really that difficult to see where things were headed. In Coming Up For Air, the main character, George Bowling, worries, not so much about the impending war (WWII), in which he was too old fight (he was a veteran of the Great War) but about "the after-war" -
But it isn't the war that matters, it's the after-war. The world we're going down into, the of hate-world, slogan-world. The coloured shirts, the barbed wire, the rubber truncheons. The secret cells where the electric light burns night and day, and the detectives watching you while you sleep. And the processions and posters with enormous faces, and the crowds of a million people all cheering for the Leader till the deafen themselves into thinking that they really worship him, and all the time, underneath, they hate him so that they want to puke. It's all going to happen. Or isn't it? Some days I know it's impossible, other days I know it's inevitable (George Orwell, Coming Up For Air [San Diego: A Harvest Book reprint, 1969], 176)
As I finish Coming Up For Air it is fascinating for me to see in middle age how much Orwell shaped my politics. I read a lot of Orwell between the summer that separated my junior from my senior year in high school and when I began college some three and-a-half years later.

One result of reading Orwell was my decision not only to study Philosophy but my deep interest in the philosophy of language and my on-going fascination with Wittgenstein's philosophy (as well as my later fascination with the writings of Samuel Beckett). The second result was Orwell is largely responsible for forming my views of both capitalism and Marxism.

Because last Friday was Good Friday I did not post a traditio. TO make up for that I am posting a YouTube link where you can listen to Orwell's "Politics and the English Language, which, at least in my opinion, remains his most important work of non-fiction:

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Urbi et Orbi- Easter 2018


Easter 2018

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Easter!

Jesus is risen from the dead!

This message resounds in the Church the world over, along with the singing of the Alleluia: Jesus is Lord; the Father has raised him and he lives forever in our midst.

esus had foretold his death and resurrection using the image of the grain of wheat. He said: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). And this is precisely what happened: Jesus, the grain of wheat sowed by God in the furrows of the earth, died, killed by the sin of the world. He remained two days in the tomb; but his death contained God’s love in all its power, released and made manifest on the third day, the day we celebrate today: the Easter of Christ the Lord.

We Christians believe and know that Christ’s resurrection is the true hope of the world, the hope that does not disappoint. It is the power of the grain of wheat, the power of that love which humbles itself and gives itself to the very end, and thus truly renews the world. This power continues to bear fruit today in the furrows of our history, marked by so many acts of injustice and violence. It bears fruits of hope and dignity where there are deprivation and exclusion, hunger and unemployment, where there are migrants and refugees (so often rejected by today’s culture of waste), and victims of the drug trade, human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery.

Today we implore fruits of peace upon the entire world, beginning with the beloved and long-suffering land of Syria, whose people are worn down by an apparently endless war. This Easter, may the light of the risen Christ illumine the consciences of all political and military leaders, so that a swift end may be brought to the carnage in course, that humanitarian law may be respected and that provisions be made to facilitate access to the aid so urgently needed by our brothers and sisters, while also ensuring fitting conditions for the return of the displaced.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Paschal Vigil

Readings: Gen 1:1-2:2; Gen 22:1-18; Ex 14:15-15:1; Rom 6:3-11; Mark 16:1-7

My friends, tonight is the holiest night of the year. The Easter Vigil is the Mother of all Masses. It is the most important liturgy we celebrate. The Easter Vigil is the Church’s celebration of the one, true Passover: Jesus Christ, who passed over from death to life. Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the central event in the history of the world.

Apart from creation, through which, by God’s gracious decree, everything that is was brought into being, Christ’s resurrection from the dead, which ensures that God did not create in vain, is the most important event ever to occur. Each of us should be awestruck as we join in this celebration, which hallows this night.

On this holy night, we do not merely celebrate an event that happened more than 2,000 years ago. Christ’s resurrection is an on-going event. It will continue until he returns in glory and everyone is raised from the dead. During his mortal ministry, Jesus said:
the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear [the Father’s] voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29)
Even more than this, tonight we will witness the paschal death, burial, and rising to new life of Magnin, Dahliana, Tiffany, and Brennan. This is exactly what St Paul was referring to in our reading from his Letter to the Romans when he asked: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom 6:3) His question was rhetorical: “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death” (Rom 6:4). Because we died and were buried with him in the waters of baptism, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Ibid).

Christ's Resurrection, by Matthias Grunewald, Isenheim altar piece, 1512-1516
St Paul’s point is that eternal life is not the life that begins after mortal death. Eternal life begins when you are baptized. Once baptized, you are to live a new life, a life washed clean from sin and no longer subject to death and the fear that death incites. Baptism is the fundamental sacrament of the Christian life. All vocations are rooted in baptism. In the end, there is only one vocation, one call, the call to holiness, the call to follow Christ. The rest of it is just figuring out how Christ calls you to follow him. This why St Paul exhorted the Christians in ancient Rome to think of themselves “as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11).

The renewal of our baptismal promises on this holy night, something for which Lent is supposed to be our preparation, is very important. Through our renewal, we recommit our lives to Christ, who suffered, died, and rose for us. By his dying and rising, the Lord showed us that love is not only as strong as death but strong enough to conquer death, which is our enemy and God’s enemy.

Our redemption by means of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection is not God’s Plan B; Plan A having failed because of the fall. The mystery of our redemption is captured well in this line from the Exsultet, which was sung at the beginning of our liturgy:
O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ/
O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a redeemer (Roman Missal, The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night, sec. 19)
In our Gospel tonight, which is taken from St Mark, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, making their way to Jesus’s tomb on the morning after the Sabbath, wonder, “Who will roll back the stone for us?” (Mark 16:3) When they arrived, they immediately noticed that the stone was already rolled away. Christ is resurrected because God is love. It was the power of God, which is the power of love, that rolled away the stone from the tomb’s entrance. Indeed, because God loves you, God rolls the stone away from your heart, enabling you to believe. We call this great act of divine love faith.

Seeing the stone rolled away, the women could not help but enter the tomb. Upon entering, they encountered “a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe” (Mark 16:5). Seeing him “they were utterly amazed” (Ibid). Imagine how much more amazed they were by what he told them: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; here is not here” (Mark 16:6) This was Good News, not only for these faithful women but for everyone throughout the ages! The young man then told them something very important, something our participation in this great Vigil tells us, which is our natural tendency when we receive good news, let alone the Good News: “But go,” he said, “and tell his disciples and Peter…” that he is risen from the dead and that he will meet them in their native Galilee (Mark 16:7).

The women were sent to be witness to Christ’s resurrection. The word “apostle” means one who is sent. This is why Mary Magdalene, who in all four Gospels is among the first to witness Jesus’s resurrection and, as a result of being a witness, is sent to tell Peter and the others Christo anesti, Christ is risen! This is why she is revered as apostola apostulorum: apostle to the apostles. In his commentary on John’s Gospel, St Thomas Aquinas asserted that Mary Magdalene was given three great privileges:
First, she had the privilege of being a prophet because she was worthy enough to see the angels, for a prophet is an intermediary between angels and the people. Secondly, she had the dignity or rank of an angel insofar as she looked upon Christ, on whom the angels desire to look. Thirdly, she had the office of an apostle; indeed, she was an apostle to the apostles insofar as it was her task to announce our Lord's resurrection to the disciples (Super Ioannem, 2519)
My dear sisters and brothers, tonight you will witness death, burial, and resurrection in and through Christ. What you witness is no less real for being sacramental, which means it is a way of perceiving reality via signs and symbols. Signs and symbols reveal reality to us in-depth, offering us a glimpse of reality according to all the factors that constitute it. It is important to be clear: If Christ was not raised from the dead, then what we do tonight means nothing at all.

At the end of this celebration, like Mary Magdalene, who is the patroness of our diocese, you will be sent to bear witness to Christ’s resurrection by living the new life the Father has given you in Christ, which life was sealed and strengthened by their Holy Spirit when you were anointed with Sacred Chrism in Confirmation. Your witness to Christ’s resurrection is what makes the Church not only one, holy, and catholic but is what makes the Church apostolic, that is a community of missionary disciples sent to bear witness to Divine Mercy.

Triduum: Holy Saturday

For Christians, Holy Saturday is the strangest day of the year. It is the day we commemorate Jesus's body lying the tomb while he descended into hell. His descent into hell, which was the subject of a very intense theological debate several years ago, is part of our redemption. It can and, at least in my view, should be taken as part of the Lord's passion. The intense debate over the phrase in the Apostles Creed, "he descended into hell," was prompted by a young theologian's critique of the Holy Saturday theology of Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

Balthasar, along with Henri De Lubac, Marc Chenu, Yves Congar, and others, was one of the theologians responsible for what came to be known, prior to the Second Vatican Council, as la nouvelle théologie (French for "the new theology"). The overarching effort that united these very different theologians was their desire to go beyond, or even overturn, that very stale non-theology, the so-called neo-Thomism, which was the order of the day. All of them paid a price for their attempts. The primary thrust of their theology was what came to be called, again in French, ressourcement, or a "return to the sources" of Christian faith. Their work prompted a patristic revival that is still on-going. In fact, Balthasar, with his anthology of the writings of Origen, entitled in the original German Origenes Geist und Feuer (the English translation is Origen: Spirit and Fire), was single-handedly responsible for retrieving Origen into Western Christian theology. Thirty years after his death, he remains highly influential and will remain so for a very long time.

The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, by Andrea Mantegna, 1480

In his book Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter, Balthasar devoted a chapter, entitled "Going to the Dead: Holy Saturday," to this weirdest of all days of the liturgical year. He began the chapter by noting the lacuna in the Church's Tradition concerning Holy Saturday:
The more eloquently the Gospels describe the passion of the living Jesus, his death and burial, the more striking is their entirely understandable silence when it comes to the time in-between his placing in the grave and the event of the Resurrection (Mysterirum Paschale [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000], 148)
Balthasar points to Nicholas of Cusa as one who understood Holy Saturday in terms of the, or "a', passion, seeing it "as forming part of the vicarious Passion properly so called" (170).

Balthasar, rightly, in my view, sees Holy Saturday as the origin of both Purgatory and Hell. I do not wish to delve into complex and contentious matters in-depth in this post. I only want to note that this day on which the Church celebrates no baptisms, confirmations, Masses, weddings, or ordinations (except in cases of someone who is in imminent danger of death receiving the sacraments of Christian initiation) is usually the forgotten and overlooked day of the Triduum, despite being of vital importance for our salvation.

"Triduum" means "three days." By our participation in the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday and the liturgy of Good Friday, we are able grasp, or at least grapple with, these mysterious aspects of our redemption. But Holy Saturday is easily forgotten and so not grappled with. This is where the Lirurgy of the Hours can play a vital role. We are to pray the offices on Holy Saturday. By by so doing we can ponder more deeply the mysteries revealed to us on this Saturday we call "Holy."

Friday, March 30, 2018

Triduum: Good Friday

A reflection on the third of Jesus's Seven Last Words from the Cross:

Woman, behold your son ... Behold your mother (John 19:25-27)

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta would often say, when asked by non-Catholic Christians about the role of Mary, the Mother of God, in the economy of salvation, “No Mary, no Jesus.” As most of us know from our own experience of growing up, or being married with children, that at the heart of the family is the mother. She is often, especially in this age of disintegrating families, the core, the strength, the person in whom and through whom the family is united. Of course, the Church is a family. It is the family of God, which we enter by rebirth through the waters of Baptism. Hence, we not only speak of the Church as our mother, but of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Mater Eccelsia, the Mother of the Church. As the Mother of Christ, she is the Mother of the Church, which is Christ’s Body.

In all this we more than see the dignity and the equality of women. In one of his weekly General Audiences several years ago in the catechesis that brought an end to his “journey among the witnesses of early Christianity mentioned in the New Testament,” Pope Benedict XVI discussed “the many female figures who played an effective and precious role in spreading the Gospel.” In accord, “with what Jesus himself said of the woman who anointed his head shortly before the Passion: ‘Truly, I say to you, wherever this Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’ (Mt 26:13; Mk 14:9), their testimony cannot be forgotten” (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 14 Feb. 2007).

Among these women, perhaps second only to the Blessed Virgin in prominence, stands St. Mary Magdalene, the patroness of my diocese, the Diocese of Salt Lake City. “Not only was she present at the Passion, but she was also the first witness and herald of the Risen One” (cf. Jn 20:1.11-18). “It was precisely to Mary Magdalene that St Thomas Aquinas reserved the special title,” apostolorum apostola, or, “apostle of the apostles.” It was of her that the Angelic Doctor wrote this lovely sentence: “just as it was a woman who was the first to announce the words of death, so it was a woman who would be the first to announce the words of life” (Super Ioannem, 2519).

From the very beginning “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). It is woman and man together, then, who make up the imago dei- the divine image.

Crucifixion with the Virgin, John the Evangelist, and Mary Magdelene, by Fra Aneglico, 1419-1420

As Church we witness eloquently to this equality, especially in her rites of Baptism and Matrimony. It is through the waters of Baptism that we are born into God’s family. Our Baptism has radical effects, which are written about beautifully by St. Paul: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27-28).

In the Nuptial Blessing of the rite of Matrimony, after blessing the bride, the minister prays these words:
May her husband entrust his heart to her, so that, acknowledging her as his equal and his joint heir to the life of grace, he may show her due honor and cherish her always with the love Christ has for his Church (The Order of Celebrating Matrimony, sec. 74)
The Code of Canon Law, in defining marriage, also makes clear the equality between woman and man: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life” (canon 1055 §1). Partners are equals.

Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, wrote:
The Church gives thanks for each and every woman.... The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine ‘genius’ which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness (sec. 31)
Let us be thankful to the Lord for giving us, in his agony, his own Mother. Let us also thank him for guiding his Church and “generation after generation, availing himself equally of men and women who are able to make their faith and Baptism fruitful for the good of the entire Ecclesial Body and for the greater glory of God” (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 14 Feb. 2007).

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Triduum: Holy Thursday

Ex 12:1-8.11-14; Ps 116:12-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

Tonight, we enter what for Christians are our high holy days. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper marks the end of Lent and the beginning of the shortest season of the liturgical year: The Triduum. It is important to note that at the end of our Mass this evening there is no dismissal. As a result, when we gather tomorrow to commemorate the Lord’s Passion and to venerate His Holy Cross, there will be no opening rites – no greeting, no penitential rite and certainly no Gloria. We will begin simply, by praying the Collect for Good Friday.

At the end of our Good Friday liturgy, again, there will be no dismissal. In fact, we won’t be dismissed until the end of the great Paschal Vigil, the Mother of all Masses, on Saturday evening. What does this mean? It means that from then until now we are to remain in what we might call "a liturgical state-of-being," praying about, pondering and seeking to let Christ draw us more deeply into the Paschal mystery of His passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus is the true Lamb of God whose blood saves us from sin and death. His passing over from life to death is the true Passover, as is indicated in St. John’s account of the Last Supper, which was the Passover meal the Lord shared with his disciples before his passion. During this Passover meal, Christ instituted the Eucharist.

At the end of Mass this evening, like Jesus' first disciples, we will leave the table and accompany Jesus out. Unlike those disciples, however, we do so in the awareness of his resurrection, which makes our procession solemn but joyful.

In St. John’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is the Eucharistic institution narrative. In other words, St John’s Gospel does not contain an account of our Lord taking bread and wine, breaking the bread, blessing the cup and then giving them to his disciples as his body and his blood. We find those accounts of the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke- those are the accounts to which St Paul refers in our reading from 1 Corinthians, which was likely written some twenty years before any of the canonical Gospels.

Jesus told Peter, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me” (John 13:8) As with Peter, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus washed us in the bath of Baptism, which is Baptism into himself, the living water. Because we were bathed in Baptism, we are, by God's grace, “clean all over” (John 13:10). Nonetheless, our feet become dirty as we journey through life. Undaunted by our failures, shortcomings, and betrayals, Jesus humbly washes our feet over and over again. How does he wash our feet? By forgiving us in the Sacrament of Penance, which is an extension of Baptism. He also washes our feet by making himself small for us and vulnerable to us in the Eucharist. It is by humbling himself and becoming small for us that he shows us his greatness.

Giovanni Stefano Danedi - Kristus umiva noge apostolom
Christ Washing the Disciples Feet, by Giovanni Stefano Daendi, 17th century

In addition to celebrating our Lord’s institution of the Eucharist, which is the sacramentum caritatis, the sacrament of love, tonight we also celebrate the institution of the priesthood. When celebrating the Eucharist and the sacrament of penance, a priest acts in persona Christi captis, in the person of Christ the head. By contrast, the assembly at Mass or the penitent in confession acts in persona Christi corporis, in the person of Christ the body. A body without a head, or a head without a body, is dead. In case you’re wondering, a deacon acts in persona Christi servi, in the person of Christ the servant, serving body and head. All of us together form what St Augustine dubbed the totus Christus - the total, or complete, Christ.

It’s important for us to grasp that what we’re doing over these next three days is vitally important. It can never be a matter of going through the motions, of empty ritualism. We need to be open and so allow our hearts not only to be touched but changed. God wants to change our hearts by healing them with His love. “God is love” (1 John 4:8.16) God can be love because God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Love requires at least a lover and a beloved. Because love is profuse, meaning love moves outward to draw others in, the love between the Father and the Son is personified in the Holy Spirit. With reference to our first reading, God delivered Israel from Egypt out of love, not just for Israel, but for all of humanity in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that through his descendants all peoples of the earth would be blessed (Gen 22:18). Christ washed the feet of his disciples and urged them to do the same for each other out of love, not out of obligation.

Tonight, Fr. René will wash the feet of people from our parish who represent all those he is called to serve, performing for them and, by extension, the rest of the community, the humblest act of service. The sacrament of orders, consisting of the offices of bishop, priest, and deacon, is about selfless service, not power.

My dear friends, tonight is all about love, divine love, which, as the old hymn tells us, excels all love. Let me summarize with a quote from the late Dominican theologian Fr. Herbert McCabe:
The gospels … insist upon two antithetical truths which express the tragedy of the human condition: the first is that if you do not love you will not be alive; the second is that if you do love you will be killed. If you cannot love you remain self-enclosed and sterile, unable to create a future for yourself or others, unable to live. If, however, you do effectively love you will be a threat to the structures of domination upon which our human society rests and you will be killed… (God Matters [New York: Continuum], 218)
This is why in our Psalm this evening we heard the words, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.” You see, the way to resurrection is through the Cross, not over it, around it, or underneath it, but through it. The Lord bids all who accept his kind offer - “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).

Jesus’ passion and death show the truth of Fr. McCabe’s pronouncement. As a result, this sacred Triduum is about self-sacrificing love to the point of death or it is about nothing. Because the Triduum is about divine love, it is not about what we can or should do for God. It is about what the Father has done for us in Christ by the power of their Holy Spirit: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Palm (Passion) Sunday- an incomplete reflection

Mark 11:1-10; Isa 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9.17-20.23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

Last Sunday, which was Palm Sunday, I started my weekly reflection on the readings but I did not finish it. The reason I did not finish is because I just had too many other things to do. I thought that during these last few hours of Lent, as we approach the Triduum, I would post my incomplete reflection.

If the Gospels are the heart of the Scriptures, that is, of the Bible, then the Passion narrative constitute the heart of the Gospels. This year is Year B of the Sunday lectionary, which means that St Mark's Gospel is featured throughout this year, including today, Passion, or Palm, Sunday. It bears pointing this out because Mark's Gospel is most likely the first of the canonical Gospels to be written. What, chronologically, comes towards the end, the Passion narrative, is really at the center of this Gospel.

To give just one example of this I will point to Simon, the Cyrenian, who was pressed into service by the Romans in order to help Jesus carry the cross. It seems clear that Simon was one of Jesus's followers. Whether he was a disciple prior to his encounter with Jesus on the via crucis or became as a result of that encounter we do not know. It seems more likely to me he was one prior to this event, which would explain his presence in the first place. It is notable that the inspired author of Mark's Gospel, which is believed to be comprised of St Peter's post-resurrection preaching about Jesus in Rome, points out not only Simon's place of origin, Cyrene, in modern-day Libya - where there was a large Jewish community, as there was in most every city along the Mediterranean coast - but that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21). Presumably, Simon's sons would be known by the ancient Christians for whom this Gospel was written.

Another feature of Mark's passion narrative that is worth noting is how the centurion, standing guard at Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified between two revolutionaries (the Lord would've also been seen, at least by the Jewish leaders if not by some of the Romans, as a dangerous revolutionary too, came to believe that he was "the Son of God" (Mark 15:39). On a straight-up reading, the centurion did not see or hear anything that could be described as a sign or a wonder. No, he came to believe that Jesus was the Son of God by witnessing "how he breathed his last" (Mark 15:39). How the Lord breathed his last was by invoking the words of Psalm 22: Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?- "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Ps 22:2).

Our reading from the second chapter of St Paul's Letter to the Philippians is what is called "the kenotic hymn." Most New Testament scholars think Paul used an early Christian hymn in his letter in order to make his point, which is:
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:3-5)
In light of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection, I can only interpret our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah as telling us that, for Christians, victory most often looks like humiliation, defeat.

God's love for us is undying because Jesus died and rose from the dead. Or, as Pope Benedict XVI concluded his 2006 Easter Urbi et Orbi address: Christus resurrexit, quia Deus caritas est!- "Christ is resurrected because God is love!"

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Prepare ye the way of the Lord

These days Fridays are as busy, if not busier, than the other days of the week. This makes it difficult to post a traditio. Nonetheless, I am more determined than I give myself credit for being, especially when it comes to this little endeavor, which I have dubbed Καθολικός διάκονος.

One of the reasons Fridays are so busy right now is because it is Lent. Each Friday of Lent my parish has a parish supper and then we walk the Stations of the Cross. When coupled with going to the gym after work, it makes for a fairly long day. Then there are those things that pop and take up time. The older I am the more I realize how finite I am, how limited and, therefore, how valuable is time. As the Smothers Brothers used to sing: "Whatever happened to time/It doesn't come around anymore/The last time I saw time/It was walking out the door." These are lyrics that make me chuckle and wince at the same time,

Yesterday, for reasons I won't go into, I was reminded of how weak and frail Christians are, especially when dealing with each other. I do not exclude myself from this judgement. In the context of Church, people often behave in ways that would be unthinkable in other contexts. I do not presume to know why this is the case, just that it is. I do know that such situations rattle the faith of everyone involved. Not infrequently, involvement in these kinds of things results in people just walking away, convinced that belonging to a parish, a congregation, participation in organized religion, is just not worth it. As a minister of Church I find this heartbreaking.

Pastoral ministry is not for the feint of heart. Serving is often painful and grueling. It also often joyful and rewarding. I have no doubt that the Lord wants all his people to trust in him even as we make our often less than stellar efforts to imitate him in our love for one another. As we prepare to enter what is for Christians the holiest of weeks and observe our high holy days, I pray that everyone who celebrates the Lord's passion, death, descent into hell, and resurrection may be renewed by the Spirit and empowered to serve Him more faithfully in the world at time when witnesses of God's great love for us are so badly needed. May this Holy Week be a time of renewal for each of us individually and all of us together.

Each time I have participated in and/or led Stations of the Cross this year, I have been struck by the prayer that comes at the end of the Fifth Station, which is the one we recall Simon of Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus, who was forced by the Romans to help Jesus carry the cross. Whether Simon was already one of Jesus's disciples or he became one as a result of this imposition is impossible to tell from the scriptural account. But could easily be seen as a curse was really a blessing. The prayer reflects this:
Lord Jesus Christ, help us to see in the sufferings and shortcomings of our lives a share in Your Cross; strengthen and console us in the belief that we bear all things in union with You, who have taken upon Youself even our guilt
Our very late Friday traditio is "The Great Commandment" by Camouflage.

The great commandment, of course, is to love God with your entire being by loving your neighbor as you love yourself. May our participation in the Lord's passion, death, and resurrection be for us a re-education in love.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Year B Fifth Sunday of Lent

Readings: Jer. 31:31-34; Ps 51:3-4. 12-15.; Heb. 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

In our first reading today God, through the prophet Jeremiah, promised to make a new covenant with his people, Israel (Jer. 31:31b). This new covenant would not be like the old one Israel consistently ignored and violated. The new covenant would consist of God forgiving their evildoing and remembering their sins no more (Jer. 31:34c). This new covenant can be described with one word: mercy.

Mercy has no value if you don’t think you need it; this is as true of the do-gooder, who is convinced of her/his own goodness, or “good enoughness,” as it is of the hardened sinner, who makes no pretense of being good. In fact, the hardened sinner is dealing more in reality than the do-gooder, or the “good enougher,” which is why Jesus spoke of prostitutes and tax collectors being closer to God’s kingdom than those convinced of their own righteousness (Matt. 21:31).

God has only ever sought to establish one covenant with humankind, the content of which is given us completely in our reading from Jeremiah today: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33c). God’s new and everlasting covenant, of course, is Jesus Christ.

Our Psalm today is Psalm 51, known in the Christian West for centuries by its first word in Latin: Miserere. Miserere means to have mercy on. The Latin root of miserere is miser, meaning one who is wretched. For most of us, the iconic miser is Dickens's Ebenezer Scrooge prior to his Christmas epiphany. Using Christ as his lens, the Father looks with mercy on your wretchedness, your evildoing, and your refusal to love. For Christians, Friday has always been a day of penance. And so, each Friday Psalm 51 is the first Psalm of Morning Prayer. It begins with these words: “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offense. O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin” (verses 3-4).

It is fitting that we begin each Mass with the penitential rite, during which we ritually beat our breasts as we acknowledge that we have sinned in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do, through our own grievous fault - mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, from which our second reading is taken, tells us that Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8b). Uniting your sufferings to his is how you learn obedience from what you suffer. It is by uniting your sufferings to his that your suffering becomes salvific. It is important to be clear: only Jesus obeys the Father. Jesus accomplished in his own person what Israel was unable to accomplish throughout her history: to live in complete fidelity to God’s covenant by observing the Law. The Law, of course, was not an end in itself but a means to the end of loving God with one’s whole being by loving one’s neighbor as one loves one's self.

Christ Crucified, by Giotto, 1301

Israel’s infidelity is no cause to be smug because the Church has proven just as capable of infidelity as ancient Israel. The paradox of the Church being sinful and holy at the same time led the great Church father Origen to call the Church casta meretrix - the chaste whore. If the Church is Christ’s Bride, then she is a frequently unfaithful one, but one who is not put away because of her frequent infidelities. Because of Christ’s obedience to the Father, "he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:9b). There is no greater deception than to believe you can save yourself by being “a good person,” or a "good enough" person. Your goodness is only relative to that of other people and so is nothing compared to the goodness of God. "No one is good." Jesus insisted, "but God alone" (Mark 10:18).

In his essay on Origen's phrase, Hans Urs Von Balthasar averred: “outside Rahab’s house, the Church, no salvation” (“Casta Meretrix” in Spouse of the Word: Explorations in Theology Vol. II, 217). Rahab, of course, was the harlot who lived in Jericho and helped the Israelites capture the city (see Joshua 2). According to St Matthew’s version of his genealogy, Rahab, along with Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba, is an ancestor of Jesus (Matt 1:3-6). It is worth noting that it was atypical for women to be named in ancient Jewish genealogies (Allison, “Matthew” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, 849).

Obedience to Christ is the obedience of faith, not of works. This was brought home in last week’s Gospel when Jesus told Nicodemus, “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). This was made even clearer in last week’s second reading from Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9).

In today’s Gospel as the crowd is listening to Jesus a voice is heard from the heavens, some hear only thunder, others hear something they interpret as the voice of an angel speaking to Jesus. In reference to God’s holy name, the voice says, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again” (John 12:28)
Jesus tells them all, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die (John 12:30-33)
The kind of death Jesus died was a terrible, bloody, sweaty, painful, agonizing death. He willingly died this death to draw you to himself, to show you that Divine Mercy sets a limit to evil and sin in the world as well as in your own heart. Far from a sign of humility, believing that your sins are greater than God’s mercy is the height of arrogance.

As we prepare to renew our baptismal covenant at the great Paschal Vigil, let us rely on nothing but the Father’s mercy given us in Christ Jesus, which mercy we experience by the power of their Holy Spirit. During this season of penance let us make use of the Sacrament of Penance, which is an extension of baptism, through which sacrament God re-affirms his covenant with us by forgiving our evildoing and remembering our sins no more. May the grace we receive through the sacrament give each of us the resolve to be ministers of reconciliation in a society so badly in need of mercy.