Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

30 November 2012

Apocalypse Now!


The word “Advent” means “coming, arrival.”  God the Son first manifested Himself in human flesh, as the “just shoot” promised long ago to God’s holy people.  In the same moment we acknowledge the consummate administration of divine justice at the end of days.  Jeremiah’s talk of safety and security comes to us alongside Jesus’ predictions of nations in dismay, roaring seas, and death-inducing fright.

What gives?  

Saint Luke has recorded Jesus in the register of “apocalyptic,” which we know best from the Book of the Apocalypse (Revelation), but it is also found in several Gospel passages, and Hebrew prophets such as Daniel, Joel, and Zechariah.  Apocalyptic is a writing style marked by vivid, sensational imagery well suited for sci-fi or horror flicks.  It usually contains coded language that unintended, "enemy" audiences wouldn’t be able to decipher.  

But apocalyptic is meant to be more than a good summer beach novel.  Its original audience wasn’t on holiday; it was being persecuted!  They appreciated divine encouragement.  They also needed exhortations to fidelity amid temptations to desertion.  Above all, God wanted them to know that their steadfastness was not futile.  Their enemies were doomed to the very destruction they were seeking to inflict.  For example: Daniel wrote to reassure the Jews who were suffering the madness of the Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes.  Saint John’s visions assured the early Christians under Rome’s thumb that they would survive that “evil empire,” and many others besides.

Apocalyptic literature is all about “getting sober,” that is to say, acquiring the divine perspective on human affairs.  Hear again Our Lord’s words in Luke: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day [of the Lord’s coming] catch you by surprise like a trap.”  

The necessary virtue is vigilance: staying in the present moment, staying out of the drama of the end-times (and, for that matter, the drama of the current times).  As news and commentary assault us from all sides, it is easy to be caught in the riptide of obsessive anger and fear.  There is too much to do; there are too many real subjects of concern that merit our attention—not so much tasks as persons.

Save the drama for this llama

So enough with Powerball’s material madness: If we would have it, this Advent can be the chance of a lifetime, to focus on Christ with a peaceful heart so that everything else might fall into place.

29 November 2012

Reading "The Wreck," Stanzas 9-10

9

                Be adored among men,
        65
            God, three-number├Ęd form;
        Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,
            Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.
    Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,
    Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;        70
        Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.
10

                With an anvil-ding
            And with fire in him forge thy will
        Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring        75
            Through him, melt him but master him still:
    Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,
    Or as Austin, a lingering-out sweet skill,
        Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.


One way or another, I'm gonna find ya, I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha



These stanzas display disparate portrayals of divine activity.  The human response to these is adoration: humble submissiveness to the Trinity ("three-numbered form").  Submissiveness was not always our posture, but rather hurtful opposition to God's plan.  Our sins have "offended" God, as we pray in the Act of Contrition, but we have harmed ourselves so much.  God does not appreciate the defacing of His image in us, and if we truly realized that image, we might think twice too.

Our new posture invites God to purify us however He must.  Indeed, He has applied a harsh purification; but "he chastises the son he loves" (Heb 12:6), and His chastisement is itself an act of compassion.  "Lightning and love," "a winter and warm," "Father and fondler": these apparent opposites are not incompatible for God.  One is present in the other.

Hopkins embraces this paradox so strongly that he entreats God to work however He sees fit.  Either approach has produced saints, two of the most noteworthy being Paul and Augustine.  St. Paul wasn't literally "knocked off his horse," but the hackneyed phrase lingers because it expresses the sentiment of surprise appealingly enough, to the point of disarmament.  But the slow leak also deflates the tire: thus Gus, who tries everything without lasting satisfaction, until Love persuades him.

God's effects in both saints, through both approaches, are "mercy" and "mastery."  Take notice of the prepositions: "in" and "out."  The first one reflects the Catholic understanding of justification.  Man is interiorly transformed.  His sinful self is not merely hidden from the Father's view, as if He needed the Son's enveloping Presence to "trick" Him into seeing a better product.  The second preposition may be used only to contrast with the first one, like the very opposites Hopkins has cited in these stanzas.  "Mastery" is an equally-desired outcome--that God should be "victorious over" us, that we should be enslaved as only the willing would have it.  As a perfect bookend to the beginning of st. 9, adoration reappears, as if to declare, "Either way, Thy Way."

Perhaps we can look back at our lives and trace one favored path; whether God has tended to work His purpose out "as once at a crash" or "a lingering-out sweet skill."  Has mercy seemed "harsh and dreadful" to us at times?  God chose the path He chose, yet we had our unavoidable part; and God wouldn't have had it otherwise, lest love not be free.  Thanks be to God for His patience and His exasperation!

Marching On

He beat me to it.

Msgr. Charles Pope, a blogging priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, wrote this piece on the biblical roots of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Attenders of Daily Mass (and priests) must have noticed pieces of the tune in recent first readings from the Book of Revelation.  Julia Ward Howe knit these pieces into a rousing tribute to God's steadfast purpose in judging the nations.

Pope's piece is appropriately appointed with a picture of "Musclebound Jesus" (from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington).

25 November 2012

Who Are You?


On Friday I had the privilege of traveling to the Big Apple, specifically to Carnegie Hall, to see our school’s Honor Choir perform Mass of the Children under the direction of the composer himself, John Rutter.  Our choir’s director Tina Katella sent in a demo tape, and thus began a dream!  Our kids did a terrific job; they enjoyed themselves and learned much in the process.  You could see the excitement on their faces and hear the joy in their hearts.

We had a few hours to wait between our arrival in NYC and the performance, so I set out for two particular points.  One of them was St. Patrick’s Cathedral, currently undergoing extensive renovations.  I prayed that the kids would have a good time and do a good job.  I also went shopping.  It might have been the only nationwide business that didn’t have long waits or bickering on Black Friday.  It might have been the only place in NYC where the cashier was a nun, and another sales associate told me about a pilgrimage he took through his native Spain.  It certainly would have been the only place that had a chapel with the reserved Blessed Sacrament on the second floor.  I’m talking about Pauline Books and Media, the Catholic book and gift shop operated by the Daughters of St. Paul, a community of religious women dedicated to the New Evangelization through communications media.

I bought the third and final volume of Pope Benedict’s work Jesus of Nazareth.  It is concerned with the “Infancy Narratives” of Mt and Lk.  This is the shortest book in the series, so I may finish it (appropriately) by Christmastide.  But our Holy Father is not a writer of junk fiction.  This isn’t the kind of book to be plowed through.  I shall have to curb that tendency.

The very first chapter speaks to our current solemnity, Christ the King.  Pope Benedict uses the scene of Jesus before Pilate—today’s Gospel—to introduce his treatment of Our Lord’s genealogy.  In the midst of the interrogation session Pilate asked Jesus, “Where are you from?”  Already the chief priests had established that Jesus claimed Himself to be the Son of God, an offense that deserved death according to the Jewish Law.  As citizens of Rome, however, they felt it necessary to bring Jesus before a civil magistrate.  This particular magistrate, the Pope says, was “frightened” by Jesus’ claim.  A King whose kingdom was “not of this world” (Jn 18:36), whose mission was “to testify to the truth” (18:37)?  This man was so unlike other anti-Roman rabble-rousers.  By his own admission, Pilate was either unsure that there is an objective truth to be known, or denied it.  But he wanted this much: to hear Jesus’ truth: His identity and mission.  To encounter Jesus is to encounter the foundation for all truth and intelligibility.  If something exists independent of my say-so, and if it can be known not just by me but by anyone and everyone, it’s because God has thought it and spoken it through His incarnate Word.  To acknowledge objective truth is a crucial first step to acknowledging Jesus as King.
  
After the election I saw online postings of people affirming, “No matter who our President is, Jesus is still our king.”  This will be very important to remember.  How to live as faithful Catholics amid a quizzical and even hostile society will be the priority.  If we fail to do this, we’ll find ourselves in Pilate’s position: wondering what truth is, who Jesus is, and who we are.  It’s not my word to mark, it’s Jesus’ word: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to [His] voice” (18:37).  We are so blessed to have the Church's clear voice speaking to the world, with her message of peace, fidelity, and service.

In this Year of Faith Catholics and all people of good will have been invited to explore the riches of knowing and loving Jesus the Christ, so that His Church and her teachings will mean more to us, will make more of a difference in our lives.  With openness to the truth, an earnest inquiry promises an abundant yield.  We will gain a greater confidence in sharing the faith, and our faith, with others.

21 November 2012

A Gratitude List

Not much to say today, in light of the tremendous response to my previous post, thanks to New Advent, who posted it.  Big Pulpit has done likewise over the months with various offerings.  Also, The Anchoress and Mark Shea who have made a mention on their sites, thanks to a faithful, internet-savvy parishioner.  More to come, perhaps?

Days like Thanksgiving, times like late autumn and the end of the Church Year, lend themselves to reflection.  This year's topic is The Shipwrack-Harvest, my blog, soon to begin its third year (though its current incarnation, successor to Father Zelonis' Corner, is only a couple of months old).


I am thankful for Holy Mother Church and for her many saints and scholars who have prayed and reflected on the mysteries of faith.  I am thankful for the wise men and women of the ages, believers and non-believers, in whose minds and hearts the Holy Spirit has worked.  I am thankful for the forums that have preserved their words (from the monasteries to the internets).


I am thankful for the Internet, which was not in most people's radar 20, 25 years ago.  When I have used it gainfully, it has been a terrific gift.  The blogosphere, of which I am a later denizen than many, is an interesting place--a "veritable fruit-garden," to borrow a phrase from our founding Bishop, Joseph McShea.  I am thankful for the opportunities for evangelization, instruction, and decent self-expression that blogs provide.

I am thankful for the writing ability that blogging enables me to cultivate, as well as the truths and ideas that I have gleaned from my online peregrination.  Once again, when I was in the seminary the Internet was new to me; I used books and periodicals for research!  I used to write longhand!  I still write longhand, but I used to, too.

I am thankful for my readership--those who admit to it as "Followers" (still a strange title to me) and those who stop by from the parish website, social networks, or other places.  (+)Sister Joseph Annetta, S.S.J., my freshman and junior year English teacher, told us that "people write to be read."  God gave us a voice.  Like John the Baptist, whose voice transmitted Jesus, the Incarnate Word, I wish to be an authentic channel of Truth and Charity (not to be confused with the site, nonetheless worth mentioning).

Family, friends, teachers, parishioners, clergy, religious, whoever--whether or not you read this blog--you have contributed gainfully to my life in many ways.  Giving me life; sustaining it; providing me the Gospel, the Sacraments, and Pastoral Care; instructing me from Kindergarten to Fourth Theology; teaching me how to be a priest; and unnamed others who help me to grow in the glorious freedom of the children of God, thank you.

Even if I were to turn around and discontinue this blog someday--which could happen, given my capriciousness, and my misgivings about the spiritual and other pitfalls surrounding blogging--I would not cease to be grateful.  May my offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Divine Office, and every prayer and work redound to God's glory and your edification.


19 November 2012

Reelin' In The Years

Recently (not the first time; please God, not the last) I had the privilege of hearing the Confession of a person who said that it had been double-digit years since the last time.

You bust your hump day in and out; you thump the tub for the New Evangelization; your blog gets fewer hits than a bong at a college party; and for what?

For this!
It's only a model.


I am quite happy to "just show up" for such graced encounters.  As far as I know, I bore no responsibility for it except by showing up.  Hence the importance of my showing up, the need for some warm, consecrated body to show up when/wherever he's called for--whether at the hospital, at the school, in the (Confessional) box, or at the funeral parlor.

A little of everything happened that day.  Two Sunday Masses at the parish; Confessions before the other two; three baptisms; a bereavement service to preside at and preach; and a Mass for a nearby parish's Confirmation retreat.  The ontological and emotional roller-coaster!  Thank God, I sat in my seat, buckled up, and enjoyed the ride.

Not every Lord's Day is this busy for me.  More of them ought to be, I suppose.  Amid the quantity of engagements, one person's Confession lit me up like the pale green indicator that announces before every weekend Mass at HGA that "The Father is In."

For decades our parish has had a priest available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation before every weekend Mass.  In recent years we have distributed a handy-dandy guide for people who'd like some help with the procedure and possible content for Confession.  For a while there have been apps for this.

For all the great gadgetry, there's been no dramatic, sustained upsurge in  Confessions.  A year or so ago, I gave an interview for the local daily.  I don't recall if he asked me this, but I imagine that he may have, as in: 
"What sort of response do you expect from the recent technological aids to Confession?"
"Like much online content, it may amount to a curiosity that merits passing review and little more.  Nothing substitutes for the genuine conversion of heart that prompts a person first to make an unsparing examination of his actions, words, and emotions, and then to lay it all out there to a priest whom Jesus and the Church have authorized (1) to receive that person's testimony about himself and (2) to deliver on behalf of Jesus and the Church the judgment of mercy.  That's all the Lord wants to do for us.  Great fear and shame need not bind us any longer."

"Let someone with a deep love to give / give that deep love to you / and what magic you'll see."

Let Mr. S limn "that deep love," such as priests and other lovers are wont to give:


Pray for vocations.  Pray that young men and women will experience the support of family, social network, and parish in considering the call to the priesthood or consecrated life.  Pray that young people will cultivate the chastity and charity that suits married couples for the long haul and for each day.  Pray that the Confession lines will get long enough to exasperate priests like me.

The best way to pray for it, however, is to do it!  Do the best you can.  "Anything worth doing," Chesterton said, "is worth doing badly."  The deliberate withholding of a grave sin is another matter, however, so be as thorough as possible.  You will not shock me.  You will not disappoint me.  I don't know who you are.  Even if I see you face to face, I don't care who you are.

(Understand me here: in that sacramental moment you are a wounded member of Christ's Mystical Body.  Your personal story is always very important, very sacred; but as regards the indiscriminate mercy of Christ, "the Spirit blows where He wills" (Jn 3:8), and I am directing that Cross-Current to you.  Your status in the parish, the community, the whatever, is not my focus when I raise the hand in absolution.  Rather than serve to squelch your individuality, divine mercy instead subjects that individuality to the Greater Whole known as the Church, who is now better off for your unique repentance.  Your searching and fearless disclosure somehow may assist another person to do likewise, in a manner known only to God.)

A priest has asked his flock to go to Confession in lieu of giving him Christmas presents (q.v.).  A good idea!  Our parishioners are generous.  Personally I would not object if they made a good Confession instead of making a dozen cookies, or even mailing a gift card.  (But remember, according to a recent post, that Catholicism is about "both/and"!)

In case you are wondering, or comparing someone else's experience, or your own previous, unsavory experience--for which I express regret on the Church's behalf:

You will not get yelled at.  In nearly thirty years of going to Confession I have never been yelled at, although I suspect that over the years a priest or ten has been exasperated with me because of my slow letting-go of unworthy attitudes and practices.

OK- I really can't guarantee everyone won't get yelled at, so to be more precise:

I will not yell at you.  In over nine years of hearing Confessions I have not yelled at anyone, although I have been exasperated with people because of their slow letting-go of unworthy attitudes and practices.  Si animadvertis, habes: You spot it, you got it.

In truth, all this time you have been yelling at yourself, far too loud and long.  It has to stop.  Why not now--this weekend, or sooner, if you'd like?  Give a call.  Stop by.  Don't be afraid to "inconvenience" us.  It will make our day.

18 November 2012

A Time Unsurpassed In Distress

The readings toward the end of Ordinary Time take on an apocalytic tone.  This happens in each of the three Sunday cycles of readings, and has nothing to do with the end of the Mayan calendar, the twenty-first of December 2012.  Apocalypse means "unveiling," as it combines the Greek preposition apo (away from) and verb kalyptein (to cover, conceal).  One online dictionary entry offers several synonyms based on various meanings of "apocalyptic": prophetic, terrible, grandiose, and climactic.

Jesus' instruction to the disciples (Mk 13:24-32) unveils things to come: what will happen to the sun, moon, and stars; what the Son of Man will do; what His words will not do, though all else may.  The described events certainly sound grandiose and climactic.  It is not all distress, however, as the Son of Man intends to "gather his elect"--who, by my reading, do not escape any of the tribulations Jesus describes.

The apocalyptic style of biblical literature also occurs in Daniel.  He foretells the coming of the Archangel ("great prince" and "guardian") Michael.  He brings dread or delight, depending on one's disposition to the divine, which is revealed by the presence of one's name in "the book" (Dn 12:1).  This concept finds contemporary expression in the "Book of the Elect," which is signed by adults beginning their proximate preparation for Baptism.

The peculiar imagery and startling statements of apocalyptic literature are the subject of many writings and sermons.  Scholars and preachers attempt to decode the Book of Revelation or somehow apply it to our times.  Like many inspired texts, it has been used to justify all sorts of positions.  According to a classical Protestant interpretation, the "Whore of Babylon" (Rev 17) allegedly refers to the Roman Catholic Church.  The "number of the beast" in Rev 13 has been the subject of Hebrew numerological studies.

Along the lines of Catholic theologians such as Scott Hahn (and works like "The Lamb's Supper"), Your Rev'd Blogger prefers to view Revelation and related texts against the pervasive biblical theme of covenant, which finds its highest expression in the Eucharist.  Consider 3:20 ("Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me"), which has Eucharistic overtones.  Also 19:9 ("Blessed are those who are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb," inspiration for the book title above).

Apocalyptic texts were written for the persecuted faithful, to assure the rewards of fidelity and the just desserts of desertion.  For all of the arcane allusions of Revelation, I consider Rev 2:10 to be the lynchpin for the whole work:


"Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life."


Handle's Messiah
The intense political polarization and inter/intra-ecclesial contention of our age masterfully plays to the notion that things haven't ever been so bad and can't possibly get any worse.  The days of darkness just have to be right around the corner.  Earthquakes, floods, the death of Twinkies, even the name change of the Reading Phillies: Everything points to it...right?  Veni, et iam noli tardare!  

This longing will never cease.  It ought not cease, because one day it will come to pass.  If everyone in this snapshot of earth predeceases the Day of the Lord, recall that everyone in the 1733 snapshot likewise died, as well as the 1352, 844, 212, and 33 snapshots; but the Lord still holds out for His Elect.  The book hasn't closed, and thank Him for that!  Spaces for signatures will remain as long as the One perfect sacrifice for sins continues to be offered on our altars, and as long as the City of God continues to be frequented.

Two thousand year old texts remain relevant: we are always awaiting the consummation of all things, and we will always profit from a renewed commitment to the Big 4: sound doctrine, vibrant liturgy, generous morality, and honest prayer.

17 November 2012

Seminarians (of the Monastic Variety) are People, Too!

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 196) the weekly fun piece of Jennifer Fulwiler's blog Conversion Diary, features her children's appreciation of monastery living.  Fulwiler's cousin is a monk at Mt. Angel in Oregon. I've never been there, but I had a seminary professor who took a degree there.

15 November 2012

Reading "The Wreck," Stanzas 6-8

   Not out of his bliss
            Springs the stress felt
        Nor first from heaven (and few know this)
            Swings the stroke dealt—
    Stroke and a stress that stars and storms deliver,        45
    That guilt is hushed by, hearts are flushed by and melt—
        But it rides time like riding a river
(And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss).


                It dates from day
            Of his going in Galilee;        50
        Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;
            Manger, maiden’s knee;
    The dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat;
    Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be,
        Though felt before, though in high flood yet—        55
What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay,

                Is out with it! Oh,
            We lash with the best or worst
        Word last! How a lush-kept plush-capped sloe
            Will, mouthed to flesh-burst,        60
    Gush!—flush the man, the being with it, sour or sweet,
    Brim, in a flash, full!—Hither then, last or first,
        To hero of Calvary, Christ, ’s feet—
Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it—men go.

The history of heresy depicts the neglect, or denial, of one truth in favor of its apparent opposite.  Salvation is all about divine grace, and nothing about human effort; Christ is human and not divine, or divine and...oh, yes, if we must say it, human.

One of our seminary professors epitomized the Catholic way thus: "Both/and, fellas; both/and."

In a culture and age that may have overemphasized the Lord's divinity, Hopkins reminds us of Jesus' earthly origins ("nor first from heaven...it rides time").  The beginning foretold the end: gestation in the Virgin's womb was a preview for Jesus' death.  All earthly suffering finds its origin, meaning, and fulfillment in the entire mystery of the Word-made-Flesh, extending back from the Passion to the Nativity.  This point is relevant for the development of the Gospels: in the preaching of the Apostles, the moment of primary concern was the Lord's Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  What gives with this Jesus of Nazareth!?  Having walked and talked among us, healing and teaching, He suffered a cruel fate at the hands of His foes; but He is risen, liberating all men and women from the sting of death!  Probe further, and the evangelists will speak of encounters with an angel and a cousin, a star and wise men, and all the rest that makes for Advent and Christmas.  In the Gospel, death precedes life.

"(And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss)"--with the use of parentheses Hopkins is ready to let the reader in on a secret, namely that God's wondrous works, especially His movements within the soul, transpire in tumult.  This, too, is courtesy of the Incarnation.  Man's interior portrait becomes more vivid from that point onward (think Augustine's Confessions), although Old Testament times do not altogether lack such insight (think Jeremiah).

Here's an exercise in mindfulness: eat one strawberry or blueberry at a time, slowly, deliberately allowing its sweetness to "Gush!"  Imagine God lovingly placing us in the vise and cranking out our repentance and conversion.  It all comes out--"sour or sweet."  Is that not so, when, in the presence of a clever parent, friend or lover, the whole truth escapes us, blurted like a profanity we just can't hold in anymore?  In such tender moments our verbal discretion is cast to the winds; and this is usually both appropriate and overdue, as discretion ("the better part of valor") is known to perpetuate dishonesty and other forms of spiritual stagnation.


"To hero of Calvary, Christ, ’s feet—"  This is not a misprint.  I note how "Christ" is an appositive of "hero of Calvary," and both of them get the apostrophe-"s," which only for Hopkins would stand alone.  Just saying.


"Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it--men go"--God respects human freedom, but one wonders whether God sometimes points a magnet in our direction.  Said Our Lord, "When I am lifted from the earth, I will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12:32), reminiscent of the serpent that Moses raised in the wilderness for the healing of his recalcitrant countrymen.  It further reminds of the famous inscription above the door of Carl Jung's house: Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit (Called or not, God will be present).


God is always present, but we often aren't.  Once I heard a speaker in a spiritual venue tell of his dark drinking days.  When infused with liquid personality, he somehow gained attention and (what he thought was) acceptance--and this without much awareness or effort.  "I can go to the party; I just don't have to boot up any software."  The thought of savoring a conversation, much less a strawberry, is much of a strain.  That's the thing with us: if we wish, we can go through life mindlessly; but everyone is the poorer for our lack of investment.



13 November 2012

God's Good Pleasure

Today's Gospel was written for me.  Feel free, upon examining it, to claim this for yourself, too.

Jesus said to the Apostles:
“Who among you would say to your servant
who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field,
‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?
Would he not rather say to him,
‘Prepare something for me to eat.
Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.
You may eat and drink when I am finished’?
Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?
So should it be with you.
When you have done all you have been commanded, say,
‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.’” (Lk 17:7-10)

I can make no legitimate claim upon God's grace.  I cannot cajole God into giving it--giving Himself--to me.  From the above passage we may wonder whether God is ungrateful for our service or devotion; but this conjecture, I believe, is anthropomorphizing (projecting our human traits; in this case, our sense of entitlement onto) God.  To pilfer a Pauline proposal: Neither God's gratefulness nor our worthiness really pertains; "what counts is a new creation" (Gal 6:15; cf. 2 Cor 5:17).  As we focus our energies properly upon what we can do for God and others, the thought of reward diminishes.

Or so I am told.

Karl Marx boldly asserted that religion is "the opium of the people."  For many people God is, as a friend of mine once described, "someone we use to get things to where they don't suck."  Not the All-Encompassing Tri-Personal Communion of Life and Love, not even the mere Supreme Being--just the One Who is to be Courted and Placated for My Own Purposes.

Is that who God is, and what religion is for?  Perhaps many of us would answer theoretically in the negative, but practically in the affirmative.  One may wonder, "What about the many times Jesus exhorts us to ask for things, not to mention the many times He approved the faith of those who came to Him with requests?  Aren't we supposed to come to Him with our needs?"

Most assuredly!

An earlier post noted that "the process of maturity consists in accepting the relevance of persons and situations outside of oneself, and responding to them with the physical and spiritual resources at hand." With respect to God, the process of maturity involves respect for His wisdom, power, and love for all persons of all places and times, which includes you, right here and right now as things actually are for you.  It also involves the realization that I don't have "the big picture," and He who does have "the big picture," also has a greater interest in me than I myself do (believe it or not!).

Therefore, amid the present conditions in which I may consider myself lacking something I perceive as important and necessary, I will not worry, because "worry is a prayer for something I don't want."

Whether it is the gift we are to receive or the gift we are to give, gratitude precedes the gift--always, always, always.

10 November 2012

More Than Self

At the threshold of Veterans Day, the Reverend Blogger wishes to recognize with gratitude the men and women who have served our country in the military.

Often when I preach a funeral homily for a vet, I quote a verse in the hymn "America the Beautiful":
O beautiful for heroes proved / in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved / and mercy more than life!
America! America! / May God thy gold refine
'Til all success be nobleness / and every gain divine!
In these times (probably in every time) it is difficult for people to affirm anything outside of them, let alone more than them.  If there is anything outside of them, practically speaking its existence is worth only what it is worth to them.  The process of maturity consists in accepting the relevance of persons and situations outside of oneself, and responding to them with the physical and spiritual resources at hand.

Now military service isn't by far the only venue where the maturity process is hastened, but it is a most effective one.  Here as always, the Thomistic dictum applies: "Grace does not destroy but builds upon nature."  That is why we doff our hats and raise our glasses at every worthy, life-altering human endeavor: marriage, ordination, religious consecration, parenthood, and all the rest.  Parents, mentors, and instructors do their best, and then they unleash their charges into the world to have a go at it themselves.

It is hoped that, by that time in their formation, they have come to appreciate "more than self" whatever vocation or occupation they undertake, because that vocation or occupation will call forth from them numerous and ponderous sacrifices.  There is only so much possible induction into that life of sacrifice before the way of life is formally accepted.  This I know from experience, and I am sure that my many readers can identify.

What intentions guide their entry into this or that way of life?  Is nobleness their vision of success?  Are they seeking above all divine gains, and not only material gains?  It is good to know that our intentions can be purified and clarified in time, though not without some storm and stress.

East and West on Mary and Sin

In this article Mark Shea discusses the holiness of the Blessed Virgin Mary--how it is understood and prayed by Christians of the East and the West.  So much comes down to the differences in language and approach, which for generations gave rise to so much unnecessary disputation.

09 November 2012

On Anonymous Letters and Public Policy

Life in the ‘Kingdom of Whatever’ | Public Discourse

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M.Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia, has for many years been a the Church's champion in public life, challenging the unfaithful to become faithful, and challenging the faithful to become more faithful.  The Archbishop articulates the Church's uniquely comprehensive regard for human life that no single political party or candidate seems able to endorse.  He further traces the breakdown of the unity of matter and spirit that has given rise to every cultural malady--especially materialism and relativism.

I wonder how he has the time and energy to conduct daily archdiocesan business such as parish and school visitations, not to mention the Divine Office.  Minds of this caliber are a real treat, especially when they inhabit consecrated bodies.

A couple of weeks ago I received an anonymous letter from a parishioner who thought I was weighting political evaluation too heavily on abortion, to the neglect of the entire spectrum of life-respect.

I would say that I don't respond to anonymous letters, but I have no policy on responding to anonymous letters, because (sad to say?) I have received very few over the past ten years of preaching...this recent letter may be only the second.  I get very few comments on this blog, positive or negative--and very few hits!  I suspect that an increased number of comments results from (a) having many readers, (b) writing regularly, and (c) taking controversial stands on controversial topics.  A prominent priest-blogger recently told me that he attributes his success in part to his voluminous output and what he called his "edgy" posts.  This is a new relecture on Sirach 2:1, "My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials."  When you put yourself out there, boldly and often, it increases your risk of being noticed...and opposed.  (Ask Jesus!)

So my provisional "policy" has two points: 1. Look always for the truth in what the writer is saying, and respond to that, first mentally and only then (if at all) externally.  2. The value of an external response depends on whether the matter in question is the truth or only my opinion; the latter deserves little if any place in a liturgical homily, although a blog seems to be an acceptable venue if I make clear that the proposition is my opinion.

The anonymous writer was not correct in asserting that I instructed ("forced") people to vote for a particular political party or candidate and specifically "against the Democrats."  He or she incorrectly insinuated that I consider abortion and contraception the "only moral issues of the future...the only problems in the world."  He or she incorrectly attributed the source of my statement to "pop culture and the propaganda of [a major] news channel," as opposed to magisterial documents such as Evangelium Vitae, in which Blessed John Paul II  said:
by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops -- who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine -- I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.
The preceding quote may well support what I did say in that homily, to wit, "How one can vote for a candidate that supports 'reproductive rights' is beyond me, and more important, beyond the Church, and even more important, beyond human reason."  If anything in that statement is contrary to the teachings of the Magisterium, I will retract it and offer a worthy substitute.  People may indeed have "reasons" to vote for such a candidate, but the conscious and willing endorsement of a pro-abortion candidate seems unacceptable by my reading of the above paragraph from Evangelium Vitae with its appeal to the natural law.

The same homily also noted the typical connection of support for abortion with support for same-sex marriage, embryonic stem-cell research, and contraception (government-mandated or not).  The only support available for that connection is the standard "Voter's Guide" furnished in most any Catholic newspaper.

Now I mention all of this after the election of such candidates on every stratum of government with the support of a majority of Catholic voters (q.v. for the incumbent U.S. President).  Enter Archbishop Chaput's article, one paragraph of which I would present in defense of my anonymous adversary's unrest:
Still, elections are tough times for serious Catholics. If we believe in the encyclical tradition—from Rerum Novarum to Evangelium Vitae; from Humanae Vitae to Caritas In Veritate—then we can’t settle comfortably in either political party. Catholics give priority to the right to life and the integrity of the family as foundation stones of society. But we also have much to say about the economy and immigration, runaway debt, unemployment, war and peace. It’s why the US bishops recently observed that “in today’s environment, Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised, sensing that no party and few candidates fully share our comprehensive commitment to human life and dignity.”
Maybe the writer belongs to a particular party, and devoutly so.  But, like the Archbishop, he or she referenced earlier papal encyclicals, to fortify the assertion that abortion isn't the only issue.  (It certainly wasn't en courant during the time of, say, Leo XIII, at the very least because it wasn't legal.)  Yes, the proponent of a truly Catholic social justice will be out of place, if that proponent does not overly identify with a particular party for reasons that once seemed acceptable if not praiseworthy in previous generations.  I would imagine that it's very hard for entrenched partisans to rethink their party affiliation, just as it is for staunch religionists to examine their religion's beliefs critically.

The issue today is the centuries-old divorce of faith and reason that has given rise to what Chaput calls the "culture of unbelief and...the inhuman politics that flows from it."  What is most disconcerting is the number of believers who have fallen prey to this culture and politics, in large part because of the suffocation caused by materialism.  The latter I define not merely as an undue attachment to "stuff," but also as the over- or under-emphasis of the value of the human body and what we do with it, in favor of an intentionally-vague "spirituality" that places subjectivity above objectivity--good intentions above good choices.