Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Shroud of Turin: Short Take

It is Advent. I am committed to resuming blogging on a regular basis. I hope to post something 2-4 per week, including a Friday traditio and a reflection on the Sunday readings. In an effort to follow through on this commitment, I am posting something I provided when requested to give a short-take on the Catholic Church and the Shroud of Turin. I didn't have a lot of time to go digging and so I went with what I knew off the top of my head and researched the statements of modern popes on the shroud, which demonstrated a more nuanced view of the shroud, beginning with Pope Benedict.


The origin of the Shroud of Turin is unknown. The cloth’s whereabouts prior to 1357 are unknown. But from 1357 onwards, the location of the shroud is well-attested. The Shroud has been in Turin since 1578. Initially, it belonged to the Royal Savoy family. It was only in 1983 that the family gave the shroud to the Catholic Church.

Far from avoiding or evading attempts to scientifically examine this unique artifact, since being gifted the Shroud of Turin by the Savoy family, the Catholic Church has sought to gain as much scientifically-derived information about the shroud as possible. In these undertakings, great effort has been made to maintain the shroud’s integrity.

In 1898 the first negative image was taken of the Shroud of Turin. This is the image from which most people would recognize it because the image it bears of the beaten and crucified man is more pronounced than just looking at the shroud itself. The shroud has been subjected to 2 carbon dating tests. The first test, conducted in 1988, indicated the shroud dated from approximately 1,000 years after the time of Jesus. The range given for the shroud’s age based on this initial test was sometime between 1260-1390. It bears noting that the shroud’s appearance in historical documents beginning 1357 falls with the range of time during which those who conducted the first test concluded it originated.

A second test, performed in 2008, suggested the initial test might be 1,000 years off. It is safe to say these efforts to date the shroud are inclusive. As a result, opinions as to whether it is the burial garment of Jesus or an ingeniously made relic from the Middle Ages remain divided. It is not a matter of faith for Catholics to believe the Shroud of Turin is the burial garment of Jesus. It is not something the Church holds de fide. The Holy See has never officially proclaimed (or denied) the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. Popes since Julius II in 1506 have encouraged devotion to Christ and belief in his resurrection the shroud facilitates among the faithful. Some popes, including John Paul II, have referred to the shroud as a relic. Commenting on the shroud in 1980, John Paul II called it “a distinguished relic linked to the mystery of our redemption.” Pope Pius XII referred to it as “the holy thing perhaps like nothing else.” For an object to be a genuine relic, however, its origin must be sure.

More recently both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have referred to the Shroud of Turn as an “icon” rather than a relic. Addressing the public display of the Shroud of Turin during the first year of his pontificate, Pope Francis called it an “icon of a man scourged and crucified.” For a similar showing of the shroud in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI referred to it as an “icon written with the blood of a whipped man, crowned with thorns, crucified and pierced on his right side.”

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Year A Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Readings: Ezk 34:11-12.15-17; Ps 23:1-3.5-6; 1 Cor 15:20-26.28; Matt 25:31-46

Last week Fr. Rene began his homily by singing a hymn. Since today, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrate the end of the world, I thought about singing REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” You’ll be relieved to know that I thought the better of it. I do think the refrain that runs through this song is relevant for Christians, who hopefully await the Lord’s return: “It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.”

Believing that Christ will return is fundamental to Christian faith. In the Nicene Creed, we profess: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” In the Apostles Creed, we say: “He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” Belief in Jesus’s return as the judge is not optional because it was revealed to us by the Lord himself, as our Gospel today clearly shows.

Jesus Christ is King of the universe because he has vanquished all of God’s foes, including death. As St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth: Jesus will hand over the kingdom “to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power” (1 Cor 15:24). No earthly kingdom or nation will endure beyond Christ’s return. This feast invites us to live sub specie aeternatatis – under the auspices of eternity, which simply means giving what matters priority in our lives.

Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King in 1925. He did so in response to growing secularism as the ancien régime overturned at the end of the First World War was replaced by a new political order. One result of secularism is the temptation to seek exclusively worldly ends using only worldly means, as the rise of fascism in Europe after the establishment of today’s observance amply demonstrated.

Observing the feast of Christ, the King does not call for us to disengage from society and culture, or to retreat from the world. On the contrary! What makes Christians the best citizens of any nation, as St. Justin Martyr noted in his First Apology way back in the second century, is our commitment to living God’s kingdom as a present reality, as if it were already fully established. Too often we live in the mistaken notion that the definitive establishment of God’s reign has little or nothing to do with us.

In positive terms, I think G.K. Chesterton summed it up nicely when he wrote: “it is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” One almost-saint who stands in stark contrast to our age is an American of the twentieth century: the Capuchin friar, Solanus Casey. Bl. Solanus Casey, whose Mass of Beatification was celebrated in Detroit last weekend, spent most of his life as a Capuchin friar welcoming and caring for guests at the urban friaries where he served, first in New York and then in Detroit. He is a splendid example of living God’s reign as a present reality while “we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Solanus Casey left us 5 ways of living in God’s love and 2 ways for living in the awareness that we are always in God’s presence. As to living in God’s love, this simple friar, writing from his experience and not as the result of academic study insisted 1) detachment from earthly affections, or singleness of purpose, what the title of a book by the Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard urged: Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing - do not be half-hearted in your love for Jesus; 2) meditation on the Passion of Jesus Christ – meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, walking the Stations of the Cross, or reading an account of Jesus’s Passion from one of the Gospels; 3) uniformity with the Divine Will, which means seeing God’s will and purpose at work in your life, in your failures, setbacks, and disappointments as well as in your triumphs, successes, and satisfactions; 4) mental prayer (i.e., meditation and contemplation)- praying the Rosary and/or the spiritual practice of lectio divina; 5) intercessory prayer for your own needs and those of others, heeding Jesus’s words “Ask and it shall be given you.”

The 2 ways Bl. Solanus Casey gave for always living in the awareness that you are in God’s presence are the importance of praying short prayers to God throughout the day, or, as he put it: “Raise your heart to Him by frequent aspirations” and to “Make a good intention at the beginning of each week.” Sunday Mass is a wonderful time to make a good intention for the coming week. My sisters and brothers, holiness does not happen incidentally. You can’t accidentally be a disciple of Jesus Christ. While holiness is only ever fully realized by the grace of God, attaining it requires your cooperation. Your pursuit of holiness cannot be a passive endeavor. God won’t make you holy against your will.

As his life of care and concern for others demonstrates, the practices set forth by Solanus Casey constitute a proven way of cooperating with what God is seeking to do in and through you to accomplish his purposes in and for the world. Of course, engaging in these practices, like our participation in this Mass, is not an end in itself but a means to the end of establishing God’s reign. We establish God’s reign by caring for those in need, by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, as well as visiting and assisting those who are sick and in prison. Grouped together, we call these the Corporal Works of Mercy. Our need to engage in these works has been a persistent theme of Francis’s pontificate. It's how we bring about the end of the world as we know it and feel fine in the process.

I urge each of you between this Sunday and next, which is the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new year of grace, to spend some time reflecting on how you can enthrone Christ as King in your heart. Being a subject of Christ the King is not a matter of being subjugated, as it is with those who exercise worldly power, but a matter of knowing you are loved and “in the hands of the one who writes straight with crooked lines” (Pope Benedict XVI).

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Religious freedom

In my presentation, What the Catholic Church Learned from the Reformation, I highlighted 5 lessons: "Baptism and the Priesthood of All Believers," "Scripture for Liturgy and Life," "Liturgy: Full, Active, Conscious Participation," "Religious Freedom," and "Indulgences: Pope Paul VI addresses Martin Luther." Today I am posting my brief section on religious freedom.

We’re so used to understanding religious freedom as a human right that the revolutionary nature of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignatatis humanae is often lost. But the Catholic Church’s recognition of the importance of freedom and the primacy of conscience when it comes to religious belief and practice, is very much a lesson learned as a result of the Reformation. It was a lesson perhaps best articulated by that reformer of the Reformation, John Wesley, about whom Dennis Shaw spoke last week. It is a lesson learned by both Catholics and Protestants as a result of the religious pluralism wrought by the Reformation in Europe.

Wesley’s best articulation of the principles underlying religious freedom were two notable sermons: “A Caution Against Bigotry” and “Catholic Spirit.” Fourteen years prior to his birth in 1703, the Toleration Act, which permitted Protestant communions other than the Church of England to freely gather and worship.1 What Wesley sought to demonstrate is that religious tolerance and the freedom to which it gives rise is part and parcel of being a Christian.

John Wesley

In his “Catholic Spirit” sermon, Wesley noted that religious toleration and freedom are often confused with religious indifferentism. He asserted that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, he noted that religious toleration and freedom indeed gives rise to many different religious viewpoints and acknowledges that this can be very confusing. Such confusion, he asserted, is a curse, not a blessing. Therefore, a person who has the catholic spirit “does not halt between two opinions, nor vainly endeavor to blend the two into one.”2 In other words, such an environment requires what Pope Francis has dubbed a culture of encounter.

In Dignitatis humanae, the Catholic Church asserted that each person is “bound to seek the truth,” especially as it pertains to God, “to embrace the truth they have come to know, and to hold fast to it.” 3 The Council also declared “that the human person has a right to religious freedom.” 4 According to the decree, religious freedom means being “immune from coercion” by any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” 5

The Council further declared “that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.” 6The Council stated unambiguously that “the right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.” 7

Pope St. John Paul II went so far as to assert that next to the right to life, the most fundamental right a human being possesses is that of religious freedom.

1 Jake Raabe, “What John Wesley Would Say to Bernie Sanders and Diane Feinstein,” Christianity Today, November 8, 2017.
2 Ibid.
3 Second Vatican Council, Dignatatis humanae [Declaration on Religious Freedom], Vatican website, December 7, 1965, sec. 1, accessed November 8, 2017,
4 Dignatatis humanae, sec. 2
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Exercising diakonia: being a servant

Readings: Mal 1:14b-2b.8-10; Ps 131:1-3; 1 Thess 2:7b-9.13; Matt 23:1-12

Our readings for this Sunday culminate with the last two statements made by the Lord in today's Gospel: "The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matt 23:11-12). These words could easily serve as a compelling homily on these readings. As a deacon, I like to think I am attuned to passages like this that exalt the importance of serving others.

In the original Greek, the final word of the eleventh verse of the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, a word translated as "servant," is diakonos. It would not be any exaggeration at all, but a very literal translation of that verse to be translated in this way: "The greatest among you must be your deacon." Christ is the model Deacon. If a deacon, by the grace received through the Sacrament of Orders, acts in the person of Christ, it is not in persona Christi captis, a way in which only bishops and priests act, but in persona Christi Servi- in the person of Christ the Servant. Jesus was the greatest among those whom he addressed in today's reading. Hence, He is their Servant, their Deacon.

Diakonia, the name for the service rendered by deacons, is something every Christian is called to do. If we share in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ by virtue of Baptism, then we also share in the one diaconate of Jesus Christ. We are God's priestly people because we are God's deaconly people. As James Keating noted in his book The Heart of the Diaconate: "There can be no sacrifice (priesthood) without service (diaconate)." While this is rather abbreviated, I think it goes back to the insistence of Old Testament prophets that sacrifice is unacceptable to God without selfless service to others, particularly and specifically helping those in need.

As regards the Eucharist as sacrifice, Christ gives himself to us so that we can give ourselves to him by selflessly serving others. At the end of the day, the only convincing proof that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ are the lives of those eat and drink it. Moreover, service before sacrifice was modeled perfectly by our Lord himself.

Our second reading is from St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians. Dating from around AD 50, it is most likely the earliest New Testament book. In this passage, the Apostle provides a concrete example of what the Lord taught. What Paul highlighted to the Christians in ancient Thessaloniki is that while he was among them, in addition to preaching, teaching, and exercising pastoral care, he worked and earned his living by his own hands so as not take from them. not to be a burden to them. The earliest Christian communities consisted largely of the urban poor. Elsewhere Paul asserts his right to be supported by the Christian community (1 Cor 9:4-15). He usually, or maybe even always, forfeited this right and worked as a "tent maker," the nearest contemporary equivalent to which would be a canvas and awning business. In this way, as well as others, Paul engaged in diakonia. Hence, the Apostle imitated his Master by being their deacon, their servant.

A diakonos is distinct from a doulos. As mentioned, a diakonos is a deacon, which denotes a type of servant, whereas a doulos is a slave. Paul calls himself a slave only in reference to Christ. In his Second Letter to the Corinthians he wrote that he was their slave, but only for Jesus's sake (2 Cor 4:5). Paul thought of himself as the slave of Christ, a slavery he chose in freedom and to which he continued to adhere out of the same freedom. It was as Christ's slave that he became the servant to those Christians in the communities he founded.

Diakonia is the selfless service rendered to others, particularly those in need, in the name of Christ. Providing such service is how we make Jesus present, how we proclaim his Gospel, how we glorify him by our lives.

Friday, November 3, 2017

A deacon on a layman about deacons

This morning, a friend of mine, who is also a Roman Catholic deacon, brought to my attention something Karl Keating, founder of Catholic Answers, posted on Facebook about deacons:

I just read a piece by a deacon who claims that nobody--nobody at all--is confused by Pope Francis.

Isn't it a sufficient refutation to note that many people claim to be confused by things the pope has said or written? Even intelligent people? Even high clerics?

Or are all these people nobodies?

. . . . .

There are notable exceptions, but, on the whole, over the years I have been disappointed with homilies given by, and essays or posts written by, deacons.

I've been disappointed with plenty of things said or written by bishops, priests, and laymen, but the proportion has been notably worse with deacons. I'm not sure why that should be, but that's how it's been.

This isn't a new observation for me. It's been nagging me for well over twenty years, and it applies even to many deacons who are well degreed.

I suppose I first noticed it when, after a parish seminar I gave, a deacon came up to me and proudly noted that he never read religious books published before 1965, the year that Vatican II ended. (I wasn't quick-witted enough at the moment to ask him whether he ever read the Bible.) After that, I began to pay more attention to what deacons said and wrote.

It seems that in many cases men have been ordained beyond their ability to speak or write cogently--or even adequately. I appreciate what deacons do in parishes, but I remain largely disappointed in deacons who go public. I wish it were otherwise, but that's how it is for me.

[Watch for it. I will get complaints from fine deacons who don't contribute to this impression of mine. They will be unnecessarily defensive, imagining they have to defend the entire brotherhood. They don't. I'm not referring to them but to what seems to me to be the generality of deacons.]
If I am not mistaken, Keating's post is a response to something Deacon Bill Ditewig, Ph.D. (he holds a doctorate in theology from the Catholic University of America) posted on his blog, Deacons Today. However, I cannot be sure exactly to whom Keating is responding because his post is in that passive-aggressive mode so commonly employed on social media.

Ditewig's post, in turn, is a response to an open letter theologian Fr. Thomas Weinandy, OFM, Cap, wrote to Pope Francis. In his letter, Weinandy has five complaints. His basic point to the Holy Father is that he (the Pope) is confusing people. You can read it for yourself here. You can also read a very good response to Fr. Weinandy's open letter by the theologian who preceded him as executive director of the USCCB's Secretariat for Christian Doctrine, Msgr. John Strynkowski, here. Weinandy served as executive director of the secretariate from 2005-2013. It bears noting, I think, that Deacon Ditewig served as executive director of the USCCB's Secretariat for the Diaconate from 2002-2007.

Fr. Weinandy's tenure as executive director was quite tumultuous and marked by public disputes with some of the U.S.'s more prominent theologians, like Sr. Elizabeth Johnson. Since the conclusion of his directorship, Fr. Weinandy has served as a consultant to the U.S. bishops doctrine committee. In the wake of his letter he resigned.

As noted, Keating's post is thoroughly passive-aggressive. In his view, with "notable exceptions" (no doubt few) deacons are, theologically-speaking, below par. Despite Karl Keating's views, it is important to point out that, as clerics, deacons are ordained to represent the Church publicly. This does not mean our public words are in any way magisterial. In this way, deacons are like priests. We don't even speak on behalf of our bishop unless expressly deputed to do so. There is a tab at the top of this entitled "Integrity Notes." It is my disclaimer.

Along with "some notable exceptions," Keating acknowledges that some deacons "do not contribute to [his negative] impression" of not being capable of speaking or writing cogently or correctly. Some of these, he surmises, might take umbrage at his assertions regarding deacons and become defensive. He assures his readers that he is not out to offend the notable exceptions or those who do not contribute to his negative impression. He is merely trying to criticize most permanent deacons, at least most of those he has heard speak and preach and/or whose writing he's read over the past 20 years.

What I find lacking cogency is Keating's purely anecdotal argument that many, perhaps most, permanent deacons are in over their heads when the issue he sought to dispute was his assertion that Ditewig argued nobody at all is confused by anything that Pope Francis has spoken or written. If that is the case, if people, even notable people, like bishops, are confused by some of the Pontiff's public utterances and written proclamations, then wouldn't a few notable examples serve to make his case?

Ditewig's point, it seems to me, was not really that nobody claims to be confused by Pope Francis. There are certainly those who claim confusion. What Ditewig points to is the elephant in the room: those who claim the Pope is spreading confusion are those who simply disagree with him, those who dissent from his properly exercised papal magisterium. It has become a common tactic of the Holy Father's detractors to claim he is confusing people. Ditewig challenges their assertion by claiming people, on the whole, really aren't confused.

In my view, it is the cacophony of Francis detractors, each of whom presumes, even if implicitly, to speak with authority superior to the Pope and bishops, who confuse the faithful. This makes me all the more thankful that the genuine sheep are able to hear and recognize the voice of their Shepherd.

As a deacon likely not fit, at least in Keating's view, to hold forth in public, I also think that what the Church needs is evangelists, not more self-styled "apologists." An evangelist is a witness, not a didactic Cathsplainer (Catholic version of mansplaining). As Bl. Pope Paul VI put it in Evangelii nuntiandi:
Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? (par 21)
Should Catholics be well catechized and able to intelligently discuss our faith when appropriate? Yes. Who would argue otherwise? This brings us to a question that is a different topic entirely: What is catechesis? I will state that catechesis which leads to the kind of witness Christians are called to give is mystagogical.

"You do it this way"

Hey, a Friday traditio! Actually, last month I only missed Friday, last Friday. I did miss posting something specific for All Saints and All Souls. I'd rather actively observe those sacred days than write about them. It is difficult for me to believe that it is November, the month of my birth. Like last year, for my birthday this year I am going to a Morrissey concert. Instead of seeing him live at the Hollywood Bowl on my birthday (that would be a dream come true), I am seeing him a week later here in Salt Lake City. I have excellent seats in Kingsbury Hall on the campus of my alma mater, the University of Utah.


The pace of life right now prevents me from devoting any serious time to listening to music. As a result, it's catch as catch can. Recently I heard a song from the post-punk band Killing Joke: "Eighties." It is off their 1985 album Nighttime, an excellent record. "Eighties" was the last song on side two of the LP.

The unique thing about this song is that Nirvana borrowed from it for their song "Come As You Are," which was their magnificent 1991 album Nevermind. I did not this discover this myself. It something I learned this week. Nothing too serious, just a song, as it should be sometimes, probably most of the time.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Our Annual Festival of All Hallows and All Souls*

Halloween was brought into being by the ancient Celts who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany. The celebration precedes their conversion to Christianity. For the ancient ones, 1 November marked the beginning of a new year and the coming of winter.

Showing the requisite Celtic spirit, the night before the new year, the Celts celebrated the festival of Samhain, who, in their mythology, was lord of the dead. They believed that during this festival the souls of the dead—including ghosts, goblins, and witches—returned to mingle with the living. To scare away the ghosts, goblins, and witches, they would don masks and light bonfires and, in true Celtic form, drink fermented grain and distilled grain bevies (i.e., beer and whiskey).

When the Romans conquered the Celts, they added their own touches to Samhain. These customs included making centerpieces out of apples and nuts for Pomona, the Roman goddess of the orchards, bobbing for apples and drinking (hard) cider. So, where, you might ask, does the Christian aspect of the holiday begin?

In AD 835, likely as the result of the widespread nature of what began as a Celtic custom, Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for all martyrs (later all saints) from 13 May to 1 November. For most Eastern Christians, All Saints is still observed in the late Spring or early Summer (the Sunday following Pentecost). Eventually, the night before All Saints became known as All Hallows Eve. In time the name was shortened to Halloween.

The custom of setting apart a day to intercede for our faithful departed dates to the eleventh century. It was begun at the Benedictine monastery of Cluny, France. In particular, it was the fifth abbot of the abbey, St. Odilo of Cluny, who started All Souls Day. Given the influence of Cluny, this custom spread to other Benedictine communities associated with Cluny. Before long commemorating the faithful departed on 2 November was practiced in several dioceses in France before spreading throughout the Western Church. It was quite late coming to Rome, where it was accepted in the fourteenth century.

All Souls Day brings to an end our annual three-day festival of the communio sanctorum, which was centuries in the making. This festival is just the beginning of the month during which we remember our beloved dead. Our month of remembrance ends with the observance of the feast of Christ the King. On this feast, the Church celebrates the end of time, when Christ will return to judge the living and the dead.

That's it for October. I am glad I started blogging again in earnest.

* This post first appeared yesterday on The Boy Monk blog.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Year A Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ex 22:20-26; Ps 2-4.47.51; 1 Thess 1:5c-10; Matt 22:34-40

What is morality? Simply stated, morality is doing what is good and avoiding what is evil. In today’s Gospel, Jesus defines morality: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37) and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39). These ways of defining morality prompt two questions. The first question is, “What is good and what is evil?”

It’s evident that we are often capable of discerning what is are good and what is evil, but good and evil are not clear to us in every instance, far from it. Our first reading from Exodus gives us three examples of things that are good, which means they are not only are things we ought to do but, as Christians, things we must do.

The first of these is how we are to treat aliens among us, be they immigrants or refugees. Many Catholics, despite the clear teaching of Scripture and the consistent teaching of the Church’s magisterium, be it the Pope, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or our own bishop, see this as a matter of prudential judgment, by which they take it to be optional.

I have heard people who should know better insisting that welcoming immigrants and refugees is not biblical. Jesus recapitulated in his own life the history of Israel so that he could do for Israel what the chosen people were not willing or able to for themselves. Hence, along with Joseph and the Blessed Virgin, he was a refugee in Egypt, fleeing Herod’s terror. As the Church, we are God’s Pilgrim People, making our pilgrimage through time to the new Jerusalem.

In this context, it is important to note that the word “Hebrew” means foreigner. If Israel is made up of Hebrews and the Church is the new and true Israel, then we, like Israel of old, are aliens, a people on the way. It would difficult to find something more biblical than welcoming immigrants and refugees.

In addition to political refugees, our country now has many economic refugees. Economic refugees are people who come to our country, like most of our ancestors did, seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Whether it refers to the Italians, the Irish, or to people from Mexico and the rest of Latin America, in the United States there has always been a discernible strain of anti-Catholicism in the rhetoric and action of so-called nativists.

Secondly, our first reading points out the importance of caring for widows and orphans. This is the biblical language for caring for those in need. Doing this is imperative for Christians. It is false to say there was no social safety net in ancient Israel. The social safety net was to be society itself. Israelite society was supposed to be the kingdom of God, but it was often deformed into something else entirely. This is why time and again Israel was rebuked by God through the prophets for not doing this. If Scripture is a reliable guide, perhaps more than anything, the refusal to care for those in need kindles God’s wrath.

In God’s eyes, the greatness of a nation is not its wealth or military might. From the divine perspective, a nation’s greatness lies in how it cares for the young, the elderly, the ill, the disadvantaged, and the immigrant. Our reading from Exodus tells us what it is that gets in the way of caring for those in need: greed. Greed is one of the seven deadly sins. Greed is when you put your excess before the needs of others.

Original sin was humanity’s desire to displace God in order to determine for ourselves what is good and evil. Even when we concede that in determining for ourselves what is good and evil we will not necessarily always choose evil, odds are sooner rather than later we will get it wrong. Nonetheless, God permits us the freedom to attempt to dethrone him and enthrone ourselves. God does not launch lightning bolts from the sky when we choose evil, either knowingly or in the mistaken belief that it is good. Why? Because God loves us and so he would not cause us to live under such an imminent threat, which would practically force us to be good out of fear, not love.

Christ showed us that the only criterion by which to make moral judgments is love. God is love (1 John 4:8.16). It is because God is love that Christ became incarnate. Holiness consists in nothing other than loving perfectly, like Christ.

The second question that arises from Jesus’s definition of morality is- Who is my neighbor? In St. Luke’s parallel account of today’s Gospel, when Jesus was asked the same question immediately after defining morality as love, his response was to teach the Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37). The take-away from that parable is- my neighbor is not my fellow Israelite (or Catholic), not the person most like me; my neighbor is the person in need, the one I can help.

We are beggars. Acknowledging our poverty is what brings us to this table. Coming together makes us companions. “Companion” literally means “bread fellow.” Companions are those who share bread. After sharing the bread from this table, we are sent forth to share it with those who are hungry.

Morality cannot be reduced to mere “personal morality.” Adherents of such a morality hold, either explicitly or implicitly, that it is possible to achieve holiness without reference to or regard for their neighbor. This is an anti-Christian morality. Our Gospel today is a further fleshing out of something Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount, namely the Golden Rule, which bids us “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Matt 7:12). What connects these two teachings in Matthew's Gospel is how Jesus ends them. He ends them by saying to observe these is to obey the law and the prophets. The chapter of 1 John in which we twice read “God is love,” ends with these words:
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:20-21)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The narrow path of wisdom and wonder

I read a post this morning in which the author, who I gather is something of a post-Christian Christian, writes about taking an apophatic approach to God as if nobody in the past 2,000+ years has ever conceived of such an approach. What does "apophatic" mean? Simply stated, an apophatic spirituality, as it were, is one that seeks God by way of negation. Some of our standard ways of talking about God are apophatic. For instance, when we say, "God is infinite," we're saying something negative about God. The prefix in is a negative one, meaning something like "without finitude." To say that "God is infinite" is to say that God is not bound by space. We say this now with knowing the universe, or space is expanding.

What I appreciate about post-Christian Christians, however, is their rejection of pious platitudes and smug certainties that comprise much popular Christian discourse, especially on social media. But many post-Christian Christians tend towards another kind of smugness, which I can only describe as "I've got it figured out by not having it figured out." Understood as something like, "The more I learn, the less I know," I have no problem with it. I certainly find this approach more attractive than its opposite. Very often implied in this kind of assertion is the belief that nothing can be figured out. In other words, such an approach can be too skeptical. I use "too skeptical" because I think we need to develop and maintain a healthy skepticism.

What the skepticism often exhibited by adherents to the school of "I've got it figured out by not having it figured out" has in common with the smug certainty of having it all figured out, is that its adherents labor under a confining set of preconceptions. In short, it is foolish to insist that there is no discoverable wisdom and perhaps even more foolish to think yourself possessed of it, especially in toto. To think you have it all greased is a sure sign you've reduced the Mystery to your own measure.

Loch and awe? Loch Awe in Scotland

The human existential condition is one of tension. This is why Christian orthodoxy primarily consists of maintaining the tension between two seemingly disparate things. At a fundamental level, the best example of this is one and three, as in one God in three divine persons; each person distinct from the other and yet together are one God, not three. The next most fundamental example would be one in two, as in one person in two natures, one human and one divine.

Something that appears to be self-contradictory but is understandable in a way that is not is called a paradox. Because it has to do with the Mystery of God-made-man-for-us, Christianity is inescapably a religion of paradox. It seems to me the central paradox of Christianity, existentially-speaking, is dying in order to live forever. Dying in order to live requires a rather heavy dose of apophaticism.

It is critically important to never lose one's capacity for wonder. Wonder is maintained by not smugly giving into skepticism on one hand and not settling for smug certainty on the other. Put in very bad poetic terms: the path of wonder that leads to wisdom winds between the Scylla of skepticism and the Charybdis of smug certainty.

Since I was too busy to post a Friday traditio yesterday, I am posting "The Eternal" by Joy Division:

Stood by the gate at the foot of the garden,
Watching them pass like clouds in the sky,
Try to cry out in the heat of the moment,
Possessed by a fury that burns from inside

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Make an Appoinment with God*

Below are four basic points about prayer.

Being a Christian means being a person who prays.

In his book The Art of Praying, Romano Guardini, whose cause for sainthood will formally begin in Munich this December, averred that prayer is as important for the spiritual life of a Christian as breathing is for the biological life of every human being. If you can’t breathe, you die.

Prayer includes both speaking and listening.

I strongly believe it is as important to talk to God at least as much as you talk about God. If it’s important to talk to God at least as much as you talk about God, then it is as important to listen to God at least as much as you talk to God.

Prayer takes time.

Sure, we can and should pray “on-the-fly,” but we need to set aside time each day to spend with God. In a very short book, Appointment with God, published thirty years ago, Fr. Michael Scanlan, T.O.R. urged all Christians to make a daily appointment with God. Making time each day for God is what it means to practice prayer as a discipline.

I run across far too many people who insist that it isn’t possible to have a personal relationship with God. Relationships cannot even begin, let alone grow, if those involved don’t spend time together.

Prayer is important.

People who believe it isn’t possible to have a personal relationship with God tend to make God an intellectual problem, a mental construct, or an indifferent, benevolent, perhaps even malevolent force in the universe, depending on how things are going today. All of these are attempts, even if some are highly complex and sophisticated ones, to reduce God to human measure.

In baptism, God called you by name. God also called you by name when your baptismal identity was confirmed. Grace refers to God – Father, Son, and Spirit – sharing divine life with you. God is love (1 John 4:8.16). In short, God knows you and wants to be known by you.

In Christ, the Word became flesh. After his Ascension, specifically on the first Christian Pentecost, the Lord sent his Spirit in order to remain present not just among us, but in us and by taking up his dwelling in us to make himself present to others through us.

The English word “spirit,” as in “the Holy Spirit,” is a translation of the Greek word pneuma. Pneuma means breath. Prayer is the breath of Christian life. This is why each and very Christian needs to become a pray-er.

*This post originally appeared on The Boy Monk blog. It is expanded to include links to the books and reference to Guardini's cause for sainthood.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Lessons from the Lectionary: You are Christ's

Readings: Isa 45:1.4-6; Ps 96:1.3-5.7-10. 1 Thess 1:1-5b; Matt 22:15-21

The way the Order of Readings for Mass, more popularly known as "the Lectionary," is designed for Sundays in Ordinary Time (note that is Sundays in, not of, Ordinary Time) is that we read in a semi-continuous manner from the Synoptic Gospel on which we focus during any given year of the three-year cycle. This year being Year A, we focus on St. Matthew's Gospel. On Sundays in Ordinary Time, the Old Testament reading is chosen to harmonize with the Gospel.

In case you're curious, for the New Testament readings for Sundays in Ordinary Time, we read through the Letters of the New Testament also in a semi-continuous manner. Last week ended four consecutive weeks during which we read from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians. Reading from Philippians came on the heels of reading from the Apostle's Letter to the Romans for 12 weeks. These twelve weeks were interrupted by the Feast of the Transfiguration on 6 August. During Year A, we are slated to read from Romans for sixteen consecutive weeks (Sundays 9-24 in Ordinary Time). This is always interrupted by Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi. In addition to the Transfiguration falling on Sunday this year (it is a fixed feast, celebrated on 6 August- it trumps the Sunday in Ordinary Time on years it falls on a Sunday), there was no Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time this year because the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which ends Christmas for Roman Catholics in the U.S., fell on a Monday. We celebrated Trinity and Corpus Christi on what were the Tenth and Eleventh Sundays in Ordinary Time. This accounts for why 12 rather than 16. We will read from 1 Thessalonians from now through the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, the penultimate Sunday of the liturgical year. Each liturgical year ends with The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

While there was some effort made to harmonize the New Testament readings with the Old Testament and Gospel readings for Sundays in Ordinary Time, the main focus is on reading through the New Testament letters of St. Paul, St. James, and the Letter to the Hebrews in a semi-continuous manner. We read in a similar way from 1 Peter, 1 John, and Revelation during the Sundays of Easter in Years, A, B, & C respectively.

Okay, that's what you get when your faithful blogger spends a month preparing a class on the Lectionary for the Deacon Candidates of his diocese.

Without a doubt rendering to God what is God's is more difficult than rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's. How so? Well, in the end, nothing belongs to Caesar and everything belongs to God. This is made clear in our first reading. Our first reading is taken from the section of the Book of Isaiah known as Deutero-Isaiah. The Book of Isaiah, as we possess it now, consists of three books from the same prophetic school. These three books are cleverly referred to as First, Second, and Third Isaiah. More impressively, we call them Proto-, Deutero-, and Trito-Isaiah. Proto-Isaiah, which consists of words from Isaiah ben-Amoz, the prophet Isaiah himself, consists of the first thirty-nine chapters of the book and date from before the Babylonian exile of Israel. This exile spanned from ~597-538 B.C. Deutero-Isaiah, in the prophetic "school" of Isaiah, consists of chapters 40-55 and was likely written during the exile, but towards its end. Trito-Isaiah (chapters 56-66) are post-exilic, dating from after this exile.

Our first reading for today sits comfortably in Deutero-Isaiah. Cyrus the Great, the king of an expansive empire, is the ruler referred to in today's reading as God's "anointed," which means Messiah. Cyrus is the only non-Jew in the Bible referred to as God's anointed. By all accounts, judged by the standards of the ancient Near East, he was a benevolent ruler. What this reading, when harmonized with today's Gospel, is meant to show us is that God works his design even through those, like Cyrus, who do not know him. Those who do not know God do not worship him or seek to self-consciously follow his commandments. Stated more succinctly, Cyrus (and Caesar) is subject to God whether they acknowledge God or not. This reading ends with the statement, made by God through his prophet: "I am the LORD, there is no other" (Isa 45:6). Or, as our responsorial Psalm puts it: "For all the gods of the nations are things of nought" (Ps 96).

I think our New Testament reading from St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians can be harmonized with our reading from Isaiah, our Psalm, and the Gospel. Further, I believe it can be harmonized in a way that is most relevant to us now. Our point of departure is rendering to God what is God's. As much as everything belonging to God, everyone belongs to God. A Christian is a person who not only understands she belongs to God, but who willingly acknowledges this and submits herself to God out of love for God, which extends to love of neighbor. In our first reading, the prophet tells us Israel was chosen by God. The Church, which, according St. Paul and her own self-understanding, is the new and true Israel, is chosen by God. This is what the Apostle meant when he wrote: "knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, how you were chosen" (1 Thess 1:4).

St. Paul reminded the Church in ancient Thessaloniki that the Gospel is not mere words or even conviction, but come in power and in the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Gospel is spread by witness, not by words. Another word for witness is martyr.

Rendering to God what is God's means giving ourselves to God for service to others in imitation of Christ regardless of circumstances or consequences. When we talk about participating in Mass we tend to focus on what we receive, which is nothing less than Christ himself whole and entire- body, blood, soul, and divinity. as we like to phrase it. We need to also be attuned to what we give in return- ourselves whole and entire- body, blood, soul, and humanity. In Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Father takes our nothingness and makes it a powerful force- the force of love, which is neither a force of violence nor of political coercion.

Some early Christians who chose to be brutally martyred rather than put a pinch of incense on coals as an act of worship to the emperor understood well what the Lord taught in today's Gospel: Jesus is Lord, not Caesar. As the Apostle wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians, which is the only one of his letters we read during each of the years of the Sunday lectionary cycle:
So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God (1 Cor. 3:21-23)

Friday, October 20, 2017

"Don't turn your back now I'm talking to you"

As I mention quite frequently, traditionally (and for many of us contemporaneously) Friday is a day of penance for Christians. Morning Prayer for Friday, regardless of which week of psalter (Weeks I-IV), begins with Psalm 51, known as the Miserere. The Psalm begins-

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

I don't really have anything to add about Harvey Weinstein. I really don't want to weigh on the many inconsequential dramas that rage these days. I do want to say a word about the #MeToo campaign in light of today being a day of penance. As James Simpson wrote in his article "Men: Women Spoke Up. How Will We Respond?"- "As a man, I am responsible for this. At worst, I have actively engaged in this behavior, and at best I have stood passively by as I watched it happen." I have stood by or remained silent when I should've stood up and stepped in. To my shame, I have objectified and demeaned women.

Sadly, hostility towards women seems as prevalent now as it's ever been, at least since I've been socially aware. Our Lord Jesus Christ was revolutionary in how he related to women and how he included them.

I find something that priest and theologian Addison Hodges Hart noted very disheartening:
What I have found curious is how many self-identifying "conservative" (and even "Christian") men have reacted negatively to the #MeToo testimonies. Now that popular culture is reacting against our pornified, licentious, and abusive society, shouldn't there be some gratification on their part in knowing that the pendulum is swinging in another, possibly better direction? But there is, in too many instances, a knee-jerk reaction to anything perceived as "liberal" or -- and here's the real deal -- in opposition to hyper-masculine phoniness and "male privilege" (a phrase that rankles males who have apparently never quite achieved genuine adult manhood)
I have seen that this week first-hand. It bothers me and I have not let it go unchallenged. The response we need, my brothers in Christ, is not more sentimental pseudo-chivalrous nonsense, which itself is rather sexist. Let's face it, how can we offer to protect women when men are who they need protection against? As Catholic writer Rebecca Bratten-Weiss put it: it's like a mafia protection racket. Sounds about right to me.

If you're serious, start by reading this: "Men, you want to treat women better? Here's a list to start with."

Our Friday traditio is Patti Smith singing "Pissing in a River." It isn't particularly related to the theme of this post. But Patti is such a great artist. She is so comfortable in her own skin.

As Addision further noted: "There's nothing wrong with admitting complicity and practicing repentance." Since this week, the Twenty-eight in Ordinary Time, we are in Week IV, our reading for Evening Prayer was Romans 8:1-2: "There is no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law of the spirit, the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, had freed you from the law of sin and death."

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Year A Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isa 25:6-10a; Ps 23:1-6; Phil 4:12-14.19-20; Matt 22:1-14

If God promised us a banquet then why does it seem we so often experience famine? In light of today’s readings, we can discern two reasons for this. First, based on our reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, it is rooted in the fact that this life is incomplete. The second reason arises from the refusal to accept, or perhaps even realize, this fact and so refuse what God so graciously gives us, which is nothing less than himself, nothing less than hope.

Writing to the Church in Philippi, St. Paul, who at that time was a prisoner, either in Rome, Ephesus, or Caesarea, told them he had “learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry” (Phil 4:12). Judging by this passage, the secret of living a life not tied to material wealth or ease of circumstances, is trusting God completely to supply “whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).

In this passage, Paul described what can only be verified in reality through experience, something that can’t be systematized, something to which many saints bore witness: in Christ, you can experience a famine as a feast. Traditionally, fasting, one of the core spiritual disciplines taught to us by the Lord himself, a discipline that has practically vanished among Christians in wealthy countries, was practiced to help Christians experience this for themselves.

Our reading from Philippians chapter four skips from verse 14 to verse 19. In verses 15-18 the Apostle lauded the Church in Philippi for coming to his aid during his imprisonment. While he thanked them for their help, he was primarily grateful for how their charity toward him accrued to their account and not to his. Remember, he was fine going without. Because he was the one who brought them the Gospel, he referred to their charity towards him and towards each other his as “full payment” (Phil 4:18). The aid they sent to Paul was brought to him by a man named Epaphroditus. In receiving what Epaphroditus brought, he received “a ‘fragrant aroma,’ an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).

I don’t think I am going too far out on a limb to state that what Paul found so pleasing about the aid the Church in Philippi sent him was that they sent it at great sacrifice to themselves. He was moved by their willingness to go without in order to help someone in need. Whenever we do this, it is a fragrant aroma, a sacrifice acceptable to God.

Turning to our Gospel, it is important whenever Jesus begins a parable with the words “The kingdom of heaven is like,” or, as in our reading today, “The kingdom of God may be likened to,” we need to pay close attention. We also need to attend to the context.

As with last week’s Gospel, the Parable of the Vineyard, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet is addressed to the elders and chief priests. We must also keep in mind that Matthew’s Gospel was written in and for a largely, but likely not exclusively, Jewish Christian community, what can rightly be referred to as a Christian synagogue.

Adoration of the Lamb: Ghent Altar Piece, by Jan Van Eyck, between 1425-1429

Like the Parable of the Vineyard, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet is an allegory. God the Father is the King. His son for whom the wedding feast is thrown is Jesus. His servants, once again, are the prophets.

The invited guests are the Israelites, God’s chosen people. The Church, which is comprised of people from everywhere, Jews and Gentiles alike, are those whom the servants are sent forth to round up when the invited guests were too busy to come to the banquet and so were vanquished by the king.

By no means is it pushing things too far to extend this parable from Israel to the Church, which St. Paul conceived of as the new and true Israel. The banquet is nothing other than the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Who is the bride? Christ’s Bride is the Church. Without a bride there can be no wedding. In the end, the Church, Christ’s Bride, to mix metaphors, is comprised not of those who were invited to the banquet, but those who come.

Every week Christ issues you an invitation to the banquet of the Eucharist. Our participation in Mass, at least to some extent, is a participation in the feast to come, but, living as we do between the already and the not-yet, it is not a full participation, but an anticipation.

What about the guy not wearing a wedding garment? Pope St. Gregory the Great, in a sermon on this passage, likened the wedding garment to the white garment we received when we were baptized. We are presented the garment with the exhortation to bring it unstained into the kingdom of heaven. Given our propensity to sin, how do we do keep our white garment unstained? The truth of the matter is, we can’t do it on our own. We need God’s help. The help God gives us we call grace. In fact, we can only perform the works of charity for which St. Paul commended the Philippians because of God’s grace. How do we receive the grace we need? We receive God’s grace through the sacraments. Hence, going to confession regularly and participating in Mass frequently are not just important, but necessary.

If you are too busy doing other things to accept God’s gracious invitation now, what makes you think that, unlike those in the parable, you will be ready when the Bridegroom returns? This prompts the question; how did Paul receive the strength from God he needed to live the often-difficult circumstances his apostolic ministry caused him to face?

Mass connects the already of God’s kingdom to the not-yet we live each day, especially those difficult circumstances that constitute our crosses. Participating in Mass allows us to face up to the incompleteness of this life and to experience the goodness God has in store for those who love him enough to accept his invitation, which goodness is described so beautifully in our reading from Isaiah and in Psalm 23, our responsorial today.

“Mass” comes from the Latin word missa as found in the words of the Latin dismissal, said at the end of the liturgy: Ite, missa est (“Go, the dismissal is made, or, more colloquially, “Go, you’re dismissed”). At the end of Mass, you are dismissed, sent forth, to make Christ, not only known, but present wherever you go and in whatever circumstances you find yourself.

We receive the strength we need from God to live our circumstances by gathering together for Eucharist, which means “to give thanks.” We are strengthened by our fellowship, our listening to God’s word, and receiving Christ together in Holy Communion. It is our participation in Mass that makes our sacrificial service outside of Mass a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice to God and allows us to be Christ’s co-workers in the redemption of the world. It is how we live the already in the not-yet. It gives us hope, especially when we are tempted to despair. Christ is our hope.

Friday, October 13, 2017

"Save me from tomorrow"

Last night I found myself stranded somewhere between amusement and frustration - a place I find myself often these days (daze?). As a result of finding myself in this weird place, I posted on Facebook: "I think it is important to live one's life in such a way that one is spring-loaded to lose one's shit when there is any news with which one disagrees either from the realm of the sacred or secular.

"I am pretty sure such an existential stance flows directly from the writings of the desert fathers."

Every day the world keeps turning, history keeps happening. Understandably this generates a lot of fear for a lot of people. It occurred to me, yet again, that Jesus is either the Lord of the here and now or he is not Lord at all. At one point in St. Luke's Gospel, Jesus asked: "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8)

Faith and hope go together. I find it useful to think about hope as the flower of faith and charity as their fruit. My point here is, without hope there is no faith. Faith overcomes fear by means of hope. Though he wrote it with reference to the fear generated by the death of the first generation of Christians in ancient Thessaloniki, whose passing caused the surviving Christians there to question whether the Lord was going to return, I think St. Paul words apply to our current predicament: we should "not grieve like the rest, who have no hope" (1 Thes 4:13).

Our Friday traditio is World Party's "Ship of Fools."

To wit: we're not saved from tomorrow, or today, or yesterday, but we're saved through each day.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

More on Luther and the Holy See

Whose work informs my views on Luther, his theses and Cardinal Cajetan? Well, that of many scholars both Protestant and Catholic. Most recently, Dr Seymour House, who teaches at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, introduced me to the work of Fr. Jared Wicks, SJ. Fr. Wicks's doctoral dissertation, directed by none other than one Joseph Ratzinger, was on Luther. Published back in the 1980s, it was revolutionary for Catholic Reformation scholarship. Here's the best thing I could find on Fr. Wicks to pass along on short notice: "An Interview with Jared Wicks, S.J., Catholic scholar of Luther."

As far as Martin Luther and Cardinal Thomas Cajetan- they encountered each other from 12-18 October 1518 in Augsburg, Germany. Cajetan was sent on a mission: to get the troublesome Augustinian to recant what had been deemed heretical in his 95 Theses and his other public pronouncements, particularly his Sermon on Indulgences and Grace, up until that time. This was not an academic disputatio, but an inquisition. Luther approached it as such, which is to say ready to fight.

Suffice it to say, when it comes to Luther, theological reasoning did not win the day, which was hardly surprising given the politics and the sorry state of the Church at the time. To state that Leo X's interpretation of Luther's teaching as set forth in 41 condemned theses in Exsurge Domine leave something to be desired is merely to re-state a widely held scholarly view. While Exsurge dealt with more of Luther's teachings than those found in his 95 theses, it is not controversial to assert that the bull did not do a good job in of capturing Luther's theological concerns and so did not adequately deal with them. This, in turn, calls into question at least some of the grounds on which he was condemned as a heretic.

Prior to his 95 Theses, Luther had published nothing. This was not usual for professors of the day. The printing press was still relatively new and the printing business would only find its economic footing as the result of Martin Luther's prolific efforts and his deep involvement in the layout and publication of his works. While printers made a lot of money off Luther's writings, as an author he did not.

Between the publication of his theses and his encounter with Cardinal Cajetan, Luther had only published his Sermon on Indulgences and Grace in March 1518. Between October 1518 and the promulgation of Exsurge Domine there was only the disputation in Leipzig at which Luther spoke.

I suppose an example is in order. So, below are the first two of Luther's 95 theses:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent" (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance

This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy

Luther preaching in Wittenberg

In Exurge Domine, Pope Leo X clearly had no problem with thesis 1. Keeping in mind Luther was first and foremost a Bible scholar, who knew Koine Greek and was highly proficient in Hebrew, his assertions in both theses likely seemed reasonable not only to him but some other Catholic theologians of the day as well. But at the very beginning of his Sermon on Indulgences and Grace, Luther, a Biblical humanist who took his cue from St. Bernard of Clairvaux (a must read for anyone who wants to grasp Luther's Catholicism is Franz Posset's Pater Bernhardus: Martin Luther and Bernard of Clairvaux), took the scholastics to task when he stated:
First, you should know that some new teachers, such as the Master of Sentences, St. Thomas [Aquinas], and their disciples, divide [the Sacrament of] Penance into three parts: contrition, confession, and satisfaction. And, although this distinction and opinion of theirs is scarcely or not at all to be found based in Holy Scripture or in the ancient holy Christian teachers, nevertheless we will pass over this for now and speak using their categories
This is what likely led to this condemnation, the fifth one, found in Exsurge Domine:

That there are three parts to penance: contrition, confession, and satisfaction, has no foundation in Sacred Scripture nor in the ancient sacred Christian doctors

In his work On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, published in October 1520, not only after the promulgation of Exsurge, but after the 60 days the bull gave him to recant, along with Baptism and Eucharist, Luther affirmed Penance as a sacrament. Now, Luther's view as to how the sacrament is efficacious in light of his Sermon certainly prompts questions. But to assert that penance conceived of as contrition, confession, and satisfaction is not scriptural or even all that traditional is not necessarily to deny these elements are consistent with revelation. In fact, Luther did not deny the first two at all. He unequivocally held that one should be sorry for one's sins and confess them. The issue, therefore, became that of satisfaction. Luther's problem with satisfaction arose from how indulgences were sold. Indulgences were marketed as doing away with the need for satisfaction. It is fair to say he also had a problem with how satisfaction was conceived of by the schoolmen: performing good works in order to be forgiven.

By focusing on the importance of contrition for sin, Luther held that being truly sorry for one's sins led one to do good works, that is, pray, fast, and give alms. Here is what Luther said in his Sermon:
No one can defend the position with any passage from Scripture that God’s righteousness desires or demands any punishment or satisfaction from sinners except for their heartfelt and true contrition or conversion alone—with the condition that from that moment on they bear the cross of Christ and practice the aforementioned works (but not as imposed by anyone)
For this Bible scholar, what else could Jesus's call to metanoia mean except to be sorry for one's sins and to converted, to have a change of mind and contrite and be converted? In essence, what Luther's attempted reform was about was the conversion of Christians, the interior movement of the Spirit as opposed to merely external observances.

It must be admitted that Luther's temperament after Augsburg and Leipzig was such that when challenged he was prone to take his positions to their extremes. One can see this in his disputation with Erasmus concerning Christian freedom.

One might also explore Luther's condemnation in Exsurge (condemnation 2) on the ground that he held infants, after Baptism, still suffered the effects of original sin in light of the Catholic Church's teaching on concupiscence, which also seeks to explain why Christians continue to sin after Baptism.

With that, apart from my remarks for my presentation in November on What the Catholic Church Learned from the Reformation, I have done my due diligence as a Catholic blogger to observe the 500th anniversary of the publication of Luther's 95 Theses.

Luther's 95 theses: the Holy See's reaction

Toward the end of my last post on Luther (see "Luther and fraternal correction of the Pope") I wrote: "Let's be honest, if Leo X had been smart, he would've heeded Cardinal Cajetan's initial assessment of Luther's 95 theses: he found nothing heretical." This prompted someone to post in response a link to Pope Leo X's Exsurge Domine, a papal bull he promulgated on 15 June 1520. In logical terms, posting this as an argument is something of a petitio principii, more commonly known as begging the question. Begging the question refers to assuming the truth of the conclusion of one's argument.

Rather than content myself with a logical refutation, I think it is important to note that in Exsurge Domine, Leo indeed condemned 41 of Luther's 95 theses. Leo did not excommunicate Luther with the promulgation of this bull, however. He gave the Augustinian friar and professor six days to recant. What I find to be somewhere between amusing and annoying is that the response was given as if I had no knowledge of Exsurge Domine. I suppose I should not have assumed all my readers would know that some of Luther's theses were condemned by the Holy See. Given that many Catholics think all 95 theses were condemned, rather than the 43% that were, it is clear I should not have made that assumption.

Cardinal Cajetan examines Martin Luther and his writings in Augsburg, Germany (1518), by Ferdinand Wilhelm Pauwels (1830-1904)

Maybe a more precise way of stating the matter would've been to write: "Let's be honest, if Leo X had been smart, he would've heeded Cardinal Cajetan's initial assessment of Luther's 95 theses: he did not find anything in the theses to be necessarily heretical. Certain questions arose and certain theses needed to be clarified in order to understand what Luther meant."

So, in helping to connect the dots: asking these questions and seeking clarification as to some of Luther's theses would've lent themselves nicely to an academic disputatio, which is what Luther sought in the first place. This should also help clarify what I meant by writing "the Holy See totally tubed its response to Luther..." Responses are thoughtful. Reactions are not.

Between the end of 1517 and the middles of 1520 there was also some political water under the bridge that influenced the Holy See's reaction.

Are you bearing fruit for God's kingdom?

Readings: Isa 5:1-7; Ps 80:9.12-16.19-20; Phil 4:6-9; Matt 21:33-43

As the Lectionary does during Ordinary Time, the Gospel reading is harmonized with the Old Testament reading. In fact, one can be quite certain that the inspired author of St. Matthew's Gospel had Isaiah's "Song of the Vineyard," as Isaiah 5:1-7 is known, very much in mind, while composing the pericope that serves as today's Gospel reading. I think it is also helpful to keep in mind that Matthew's Gospel was written in and for a largely, but likely not exclusively, Jewish Christian community. Without exaggerating, one can say Matthew's community was a Christian synagogue. Of course, Jesus himself is Jewish and spent the entirety of his life in Israel interacting primarily, but not exclusively, with his fellow Israelites. In one of his most dramatic interactions with a non-Jewish person, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22).

It is important to grasp a little background in order to understand the full impact of Jesus's words, which, in context, are addressed to "the chief priests and elders of the people." The Parable of the Tenants is quite easy to understand. God is the landowner. The nation of Israel is the tenants. The servants are the prophets, whose vocation was to call Israel back to fidelity with the covenant. The son, of course, is Jesus, Son of God. The takeaway is that God will take away his kingdom from the Israelites and give it to people who will produce fruit for God.

Sadly, this Parable lends itself to a smug Christian reading. The people to whom God will give his kingdom is the Church, of course, which is nothing but Israel extended. But we need to reflect a bit on the nature of the Church. Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the greatest Catholic theologians of the last century, wrote a treatise on the Church: Casta Meretrix, which translates into English as "The chaste whore." As I noted yesterday in my post on Luther, the Church in the sixteenth century was quite whorish. It was at other times, too, as in the twelfth century, the era of that other great Church reformer, St. Francis of Assisi, who set about rebuilding Christ's Church.

In the end, the true Church consists only of the saints. The saints are those men and women who produce fruit for God's kingdom. In the end, the Church will consist of only the saints, the wheat, the fruitful. At the end of time the chaff, the fruitless, those who say "Lord, Lord" and do nothing, will be sifted and separated.

Being fruitful for God's kingdom is a constant theme throughout St. Matthew's Gospel, whether it is applied to Israel, the Church, or individual disciples. While we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, we are saved for good works, for bearing fruit for God's kingdom. Those who bear such fruit constitute the Church. This is why Leon Bloy was correct when he averred: "There is only one tragedy in the end, not to have been a saint."

What is the fruit we are to produce for God's kingdom? I think the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy serve as great guides. It seems clear to me that Jesus prioritized the Corporal Works over the Spiritual ones. What are the Corporal Works of Mercy? Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and visiting those in prison. By doing these things for the least, we do them for the greatest: Jesus Christ, who "did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt 20:28).

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Luther and fraternal correction of the Pope

The trouble with the meme below, which I've seen plastered all over FB this past week, is that in posting his 95 theses Luther was not issuing a fraternal correction to Pope Leo X. At least with regard to his personal conduct, Leo certainly could've used a correction from an austere monk, which Martin Luther was in 1517. To wit, what Luther did is not analogous to what the "fraternal correctors" of Pope Francis are doing. Luther's initial aim was much more modest. Analogy fail.

Formally, Luther addressed his theses to the local bishop. The local bishop was one Albert of Brandenburg. It was Albert who authorized the sale of indulgences in his dioceses. Dioceses plural, you may ask? Yes. Albert was simultaneously bishop of Magdeburg and archbishop of Mainz. He purchased both these offices, which left him in debt. The chief salesman of indulgences in and around Wittenburg, the Dominican John Tetzel, was in Albert's employ. Albert kept half the proceeds of the sale of indulgences. The other half went to Rome.

What Luther sought by posting his theses was an academic disputatio, which were very common in the universities of the day. He wanted to focus on the sale, dispensing and efficacy of indulgences as well as papal authority (Did it extend beyond the grave? Nope, is the short answer). At this point and for quite a number of years afterward, he did not reject indulgences.

Let's be honest, if Leo X had been smart, he would've heeded Cardinal Cajetan's initial assessment of Luther's 95 theses: he found nothing heretical. There is a lot of gross ignorance among Catholics about how f#$*ed up the Church was at the time of the Reformation. The fact that the Holy See totally tubed its response to Luther is a story Catholics need to learn.

You can keep your Young Pope, I'll take Papa Bergoglio.

Friday, October 6, 2017

"Workin' on a mystery..."

What a week! I do not mean that in an exuberant way. What happened in Las Vegas last Sunday night still weighs heavily on my heart (to use what many would dismiss as a silly Christian expression). I am sure the massacre (what else can you call the shooting of more than 500 people?) weighs heavier still on those who were wounded, on the survivors, and those who lost loved ones in that indescribably terrible attack. One of the things that gives me hope when catastrophe strikes, whether it is a natural disaster or an unnatural act of terror, is how selflessly many people respond. Reading and hearing about how remarkably many people responded in Vegas when the shooting started made me think that we should not wait until we're in the middle of a catastrophe to start helping those in need.

In the wake of the most recent and faraway the worst mass shooting in the United States, it is bad enough to assert that we are powerless in the face of the epidemic of firearms violence. But it is unconscionable to insist there is nothing we should do to further regulate and restrict the sale, purchase, and possession of firearms and certain deadly accessories. My full response to what happened in Las Vegas is on The Boy Monk blog: "Mercy Provokes Us."

It seems more important than ever to remind everyone that October is the month of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I invite all who read this to commit praying 31 rosaries this month. A "Rosary" consists or praying one complete set (five) of any of the four sets of Mysteries (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, Glorious). So, if you haven't started, please begin today. Tomorrow we celebrate the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Iraqi Catholics (Chaldean Rite) praying the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary

From my perspective, our opening event for the six-part ecumenical series in observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation went well. It took place this past Wednesday at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sandy, Utah. It just so happens that our opening event was on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. I mention my brother deacon Francis because he was a great Church reformer in his own right, one who had many of the same concerns the sixteenth century reformers had. I posted my opening remarks: "On the Reformation."

Here's something I did not include in my remarks, but kinda wished I had:
If Dean Wormer of Faber College had been dean of the College of Cardinals in the late-15th, early-16th century, he could've told newly elected popes what he told the members of Delta Tau Chi:

"Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life." The course of what we call Western Civilization might've been much different
Finally, Tom Petty passed away this week at the way-too-young age of 66. Writing for the The New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich had the best tribute to Petty: "An Appreciation of Tom Petty."
... I’m fairly certain Petty knew how it felt to be us. He wrote with deep restraint and concision, which is why his songs always feel airborne, but what kills me are his articulations of ordinary, 3 P.M.-on-a-weekday business. Petty understood how to address the liminal, not-quite-discernible feelings that a person might experience in her lifetime (that’s in addition to all the big, collapsing ones—your loves and losses and yearnings)
When I was in college when a friend of mine and I took a road trip to Southern Utah. This was long before satellite radio and so for a good portion of the trip we had no radio reception. We only had a few cassette tapes with us. One of those was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Full Moon Fever. On our drive home, we listened to this album several times. I still know the words to all the songs from Full Moon Fever. My two favorite songs from the album are "Free Fallin," which was our Friday traditio way back on 27 November 2009, and "Runnin' Down a Dream," which is our Friday tradito for today:

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

On the Reformation

Below is my presentation for the first of six evenings we are discussing the Reformation. I gave this as a member of a collaborative panel that included, in addition to myself, clergy members from the Lutheran, Episcopalian, and Methodist communions. The subject the panel addressed was "Socio-Economic Conditions Provoking Religious Reformation." The nature of these discussions is not academic, but popular, pastoral, and ecumenical.


While it was by no means the only event that led to the split of the Western Church in the sixteenth century, the sale of indulgences can, I think, be identified as the efficient cause of the Reformation. Given that Luther was not excommunicated until 1521 along with his protection by Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, who never converted to the Protestant cause, we can infer that there were other social, economic and political reasons that led to the schisms within the Western Church. It can be credibly argued that Luther’s reaction to the sale of indulgences in Wittenberg was the spark that ignited the accumulating socio-economic tinder.

In the years leading up to 1517, reform of the Church had been a matter of debate and discussion throughout Europe. Given that Europe at this time was a “Christendom,” the corruption of the Church must be considered as one of the main socio-economic factors underlying the Reformation. This assertion does not mean the Reformation was primarily, let alone exclusively, the result of theological disputes. Two of the most prominent exponents of Church reform in the first quarter of the sixteenth century were Erasmus of Rotterdam, who famously engaged in public debate with Luther, and Thomas More of England. More is best known, however, for dying as a Catholic martyr under Henry VIII. Prior to the English Reformation, More was a public critic of the Church and a proponent of major ecclesiastical reforms.

Upon his selection as pope in 1503, Julius II swore an oath to convoke a reforming Church council. In 1512, he called the Fifth Lateran Council. He died in 1513. The Council continued under his successor, Leo X. Leo was a member of the powerful de ‘Medici family of Florence. It was Pope Leo X who said about becoming Pontiff: “Let us enjoy the papacy which God has chosen to give us.” In other words, he bore none of the hallmarks of a pope willing to make the needed reforms. The council concluded in 1517. Leo X died in 1521, but not before excommunicating Luther.

Pope Leo X

The Church Leo inherited from his predecessor made it so that he needed to constantly raise revenue. In addition to finishing the new St. Peter’s Basilica, there were wars with France, which required men for papal armies. Like his predecessor, who patronized Michelangelo among other well-known artists, Leo was a lavish patron of the arts. In addition to wars with France, there was the Turkish threat to Christian Europe. Pope Leo was created a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church at age 13. He lived the Renaissance high life. It is worth noting that his papal inauguration cost 100,000 ducats, which is estimated to be about one-seventh of the Holy See’s treasury at the time. His extravagant lifestyle, in addition to the wars and the construction of the new St. Peter’s Basilica, put a lot of pressure on Rome’s finances. At one point, Leo had to borrow money from bankers, who charged him an estimated 40% interest. Selling church offices was one way he raised money. In 1517 alone, Leo X created 30 new cardinals, all of whom paid princely sums to be Princes of the Church. This is believed to have netted around $500,000 ducats.

Archbishop Albert of Brandenburg, who simultaneously held the see of Magdeburg and the metropolitan see of Mainz, and to whom Luther addressed his 95 theses, acquired both episcopal offices by paying handsomely for them, leaving him in debt. It was Albert who authorized the selling of indulgences in Wittenberg and environs. Half of the funds obtained by selling indulgences were sent to Rome and Albert kept half for himself. John Tetzel was in the employ of Albert.

Some of the decrees of the Fifth Lateran Council that have bearing on the socio-economic conditions underlying the Reformation were the sanctioning of something called the monti di pietà, which were highly controversial ecclesiastical payday lender establishments that provided loans to the needy; dealing with the relatively new invention, the printing press (the internet of its day, despite the printing business’s shaky start), which was making books widely available, requiring the local bishop to grant permission before a new book was printed (beginning of the current system of issuing nihil obstats and the office of censor liborum); confirmed the Concordat of Bologna- an agreement between the Holy See and the Kingdom of France, by which the French king agreed to the abrogation of the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, issued in 1438, which, among other things, called for a General Council with an authority greater than the pope’s (the rise of Gallicanism- a specifically French form of conciliarism, which persisted until Vatican I in 1870); the Concordat of Bologna allowed the Holy See to collect all the income that the Church made in France, it also permitted the King of France to tithe the clergy; called for a Crusade against the Turks, to be funded by three years of increased taxes and would have required troops from the independent kingdoms and from the principalities that constituted the Holy Roman Empire.

Despite the council, the papacy’s power continued to diminish as France, Spain and England asserted themselves as kingdoms, or, in more modern parlance, nascent nation-states, seeking increased independence from the Church. The internal politics of the Holy Empire also tended to undermine papal authority and made levies on these entities a cause of political resentment. Luther’s protest against the sale of indulgences consolidated these resentments. Last but certainly not least among the socio-economic factors contributing to the Reformation was the chaos and uncertainty that resulted from outbreaks of the Black Death.