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

31 March 2013

Pass the Buck

A stone out of place, an empty tomb, rolled-up burial cloths: these items convince the Apostles that Jesus has risen from the dead.  Dimly they begin to recognize Him as the Beloved Son, God’s Anointed, and Savior of the world.  Soon they become authoritative witnesses to His Resurrection.  The Eastern Churches call Mary of Magdala “Equal to the Apostles” because she is among the first to receive and to share the Good News.  She shares it with the Apostles, whose testimony eventually becomes the Church’s first evangelization.  The first apostolic homilies, such as Peter conveyed to the crowds, present the content of the True Faith as well as their relationship with the Lord.  The very same content and relationship are meant for the Apostles’ audience—which includes the Church in our own day.

Return to the two apostles at the empty tomb.  Perhaps because of his youth, the Beloved Disciple is the first to arrive.  He symbolizes Apostolic Love.  Peter, the "Keeper of the Keys" (cf. Mt 16:18),  represents Apostolic Office.  Love comes first, but defers to Office.  The Church abides no competition between them.  The same Holy Spirit fosters both gifts for God’s glory and for our good.

Recall that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had declared a Year of Faith that concludes in November.  How does this relate to our current celebration of Easter?  The Apostolic witness gives the Church a program for evangelization, a plan to inbue the world with Christ’s joyful, responsible love.  Think of it as “Passing the BUCK,” where BUCK stands for Belief, Understanding, Conviction, and Kindness.  

We are here today because of the trust that ignited the Apostles' preaching and healing.  The Holy Spirit has guided the Apostles and their successors to provide an articulation of doctrine and morality.  We do well to devote some daily effort, however small, to learn something about our Catholic faith so that we have something useful and beautiful to share.  Our conviction can inspire people to pay attention.  They may not always, or ever, agree; but they will take notice.  As our new Holy Father Pope Francis has quietly demonstrated, compassion also raises eyebrows.  We reach out to people, we grant and seek forgiveness, we change our behavior, just because it’s the right thing to do; but we know the power of a good example.  It speaks so loudly that you cannot hear a word we say.

Clearing out what St. Paul calls the stale, old leaven—whatever in our lives ought to be cast aside for the sake of God, neighbor, and self—we become more receptive to the divine life and become effective evangelists.  Belief, Understanding, Conviction, and Kindness: get these things, pass them on, and watch what happens!

30 March 2013

Could You Be Loved?

"Was it not your bliss that you could never love as much as you have been loved?" 
(Soren Kierkegaard)

The Reverend Blogger may surprise some of his loyal readership by featuring a song by Bob Marley and the Wailers.  Although my preferred musical genre is the "American Popular Standards" rendered by such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, I have branched out in unexpected directions over the years.  I enjoy musicality wherever it can be found.

I also enjoy a good lyric--both for its own sake and for its applicability to human and spiritual development...even if the connection is a tad strained.  (I call it the sensus plenior of songs: the deeper meaning which the human author didn't intend.)  A Scripture prof used to say before the age of internet self-publication, "There's a homily in there somewhere!"  And, by gum, we'll find it!

The inspiration for the current post originated in the above quote from Kierkegaard, found in Hans Urs von Balthasar's A Grain of Wheat: Aphorisms.  With my increasingly short attention span, sometimes an axiom succeeds where a chapter fails, especially when it comes to a theologian as prolific and profound as von Balthasar.  While his own words comprise the bulk of this work, he adds several of his favorites from the tradition (e.g. Augustine, Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross) and more contemporary authors such as Kierkegaard.

As the great feast of our salvation approaches, we do well to consider how Our Lord's Self-offering reveals the extent of divine love, which I hereby dub "The Sic Factor"--as in, sic Deus dilexit mundum ("For God so loved the world," Jn 3:16).  As St. Paul notes, "Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5:7-8).  Yes, folks, ours is a God who goes to unfathomable lengths to secure the likes of us, precisely in our situation of alienation from Him.

Aphorisms shouldn't have to be dissected; but permit me, just this once, for righteousness' sake:
Contemplate (1) the extent of God's love for you (considered both as immediate and mediate; i.e. His Tri-Personal expressions of love and all approximations of the same, especially from fellow human beings, and, above all, whomever we may have offended).
(2) the limits of our capacity to give love (think of Peter's threefold affirmation, which, without Jesus' third try, never would have transcended the love of friendship to the heights of agape, love's self-sacrificial summit).
(3) the limits of our capacity to receive "love so amazing, so divine" which "demands my soul, my life, my all" (Isaac Watts, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross").
Then collapse in ecstasy: the only suitable response.
With some debt to various relevant submissions from, we can put the Jamaican Jammer's amorous anthem in our pipe and smoke it, stanza by stanza, 'til it's cashed.  Of course, the Rev'd Blogger alone claims the creation of these fumes.  Nobody else would.

Many and aggressive are the forces that oppose the acceptance of our lovability, but we can boil them down to three: the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Or to another, biblical bundle: "sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life" (1 Jn 2:16).  They are the "them" whom Marley decries in the opening stanza, for their futile attempts to set straight the song's subject regarding the propriety of their relationship.  He encourages the woman's independence of thought, likely to the exclusion of all (even generally acceptable) standards originating outside of them.  The rightness of their love will manifest as surely as the dawn.  While Marley and his missus disregard their gainsayers with defiance, we resist our opponents with respect for their shrewd strength and for our witless weakness.  Most of all, however, our love for God and neighbor persists with grateful trust in the Lord.  He has won the victory...though in us the victory is not yet fully realized.  Hence the need for prayerful vigilance.

The second stanza expresses a universal observation regarding the need to withhold judgment in light of our own vulnerability.  Marley seems to be directing it to the adversaries cited in the first stanza, as if to suggest that their assessment of this relationship is superficial and prideful, and risks an eventual evaluation from them, or perhaps some other contentious source.

Tense times try people's insecurities, especially with regard to the divine-human relationship, the paradigm for every trust-based communion.  The world, the flesh, and the devil are eager to "change" and "rearrange" our priorities.  Mindful of this, we gain a renewed appreciation of this life's fragility.  If we are to withstand temptation, we must grow in spiritual fitness through prayer, sacrament, study, and sacrifice.

In His parable of the ten virgins (Mt 25:1-13), we can say that Jesus likens sanctifying grace to the oil that lights the lamps that guide us to the heavenly nuptial banquet hall.  Grace is "the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life" (CCC 1996; cf. esp. 1996-2005).  It is unearned, yet we must constantly cultivate our disposition to it by the means described in the previous paragraph.  Marley taps a hydrant for the current image of grace.  Granting the appropriate sexual overtones of the song's literal sense, we can just as easily consider the entirety of the Beloved's spiritual and emotional resources.  The foolish virgins don't value their vials until they are void.  The wiles of the ancient Enemy seem inexhaustible, his mettle unyielding, and his appetite insatiable.  All God's children are subject to the satanic suitor, though whoever gives him regard becomes an easy target.  He capitalizes upon any amount of resentment or fear in the human heart.  

"Say something": Marley insistently yearns for the Beloved to respond to his initial question, the song's title.  The first response must be interior.  Yes, you have offended; you have pursued lesser loves, cheapening your commodity; you yourself have been "despised and rejected by men" (Isa 53:3) whose appraisal of you was deficient; but the Lover does not demur in making His request.  Your freedom is never compromised in the acceptance of God's proposal, nor would you be spurned by any worthy person who worthily loves you.

God's variety of love--unconditional love--is hard to get, though God doesn't play hard to get.  It demands change: in particular, refraining from judging others based on our limited perception of their relationships, abilities, possessions, etc.  Letting oneself be loved may be less about spiritual fitness than about the admission of fragility that assures divine attention: the way of spiritual childhood advocated and embodied by the Little Flower.  Generations have lauded her brand of bold dependence on God.  Her insufficiency, and ours, makes recipients of us all, recipients of our all.  Heaven and earth await your Yes. 

26 March 2013

Powerful Amidst Peers

FELIX RANDAL the farrier, O he is dead then? my duty all ended,
Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

Sickness broke him. Impatient he cursed at first, but mended        5
Being anointed and all; though a heavenlier heart began some
Months earlier, since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom
Tendered to him. Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended!

This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears.
My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears,        10
Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal;

How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!

Portrait of the Laborer as a Young Man
When my father Joseph died in 2004, a priest-friend and mentor told me that he thought of "Felix Randal" upon hearing of my father's death.  This priest helped Dad to complete the annulment process and make his first confession in God-knows-how-many years.  Everyone should get to know a priest who is heaven-bent on reconciliation and familiar with the Hopkins corpus.

The stories of Felix Randal and Joe Zelonis are somewhat similar.

Although my father never seemed to lose his wits (nor his wit), at least two if not three disorders ravaged his body.  As a young lad he lifted weights and had a scrappy swagger.  Both qualities were helpful for living and working in the eastern Pennsylvania coal region.  Though never a bowler (but a pin-setter!), he eventually developed a "beer frame."  A week-long hospitalization in 1998 prompted him to quit drinking, and the initial result encouraged him to make more dietary changes, to good effect.  His heartier days (lifting fabric rolls, dumbbells, and 12-ounce bottles) were over.

To my earliest recollection, Dad wasn't much of a church-goer beyond Christmas and Easter, although he was raised to fear Christ, the Church and priests.  I was not privy to Dad's meetings with my priest-friend*, but I sensed that Father's winsome earthiness began to melt his fears and develop a brighter perspective on his faith and moral life.  Oh, and having a son who was increasingly closer to ordination--and eventually ordained, called Father just like all the others he'd known--this could have played an auxiliary part.  Talk about someone who "knew him when"!
*Given the sensitive nature of the material of their discussions and its personal irrelevance to me, I did not merit a part in them.  I would like to have been a fly on the wall "for instructional purposes," but my motives would nonetheless be severely tainted with curiosity.  I knew my father well enough to know his need for redemption; moreover, years after his death, I've been coming to know him more in myself.  I am my father's son!
Taken broadly, sacraments are events of divine-human synergy.  The human encounters with this priest precisely conveyed the divine life, as Hopkins' encounters did for Randal.  It is typically humble, and theologically accurate, of Hopkins to place more emphasis on the divine power of the sacraments than the priest's own personal contribution.  His first sacramental ministration was the Eucharist ("our sweet reprieve and ransom," line 6), but the Anointing of the Sick waited until Randal's final hours and days, as the traditional "Last Rites" or "Extreme Unction."  We may presume that Hopkins heard Felix's Confession.  With the fortification of the sacraments Hopkins can wish Felix the "sabbath rest that awaits the people of God" (Heb 4:9; cf. line 8).
In teaching a course on the Sacraments for a diocesan adult catechesis program, I happened upon paragraph 1523 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  It gives quite the nod to the "Extreme Unction" concept, one of the many things that Vatican II allegedly did away with:
If the sacrament of anointing of the sick is given to all who suffer from serious illness and infirmity, even more rightly is it given to those at the point of departing this life; so it is also called sacramentum exeuntium (the sacrament of those departing). The Anointing of the Sick completes our conformity to the death and Resurrection of Christ, just as Baptism began it. It completes the holy anointings that mark the whole Christian life: that of Baptism which sealed the new life in us, and that of Confirmation which strengthened us for the combat of this life. This last anointing fortifies the end of our earthly life like a solid rampart for the final struggles before entering the Father's house. (loc. cit.)
I particularly enjoy the "trinitarian" series of anointing: Baptism, Confirmation, and Anointing of the Sick.  In the course of a person's life, all three holy oils can be used.  While the purpose for the first two focuses more on the disciple's identity (as "character sacraments"), the last touches upon "identity" only obliquely: a suffering person may question the reality and the relevance of God in his or her life.  As the saying goes, suffering can make a person bitter, or better.  Our resistance to hardship is natural, but the choice is ours to press on with greater trust in Providence: an investment in our divine sonship.
In the third stanza, Hopkins shows appreciation for the necessary personal dimension of his sacramental encounters with Randal (actually a pseudonymous surname; but Felix was the given name of the inspiration for this poem).  A caregiver's verbal and tactile expressions mean so much to the patient, and the benefit of such outreach is undoubtedly mutual, as I recently noted.  "My" tongue and touch brought Felix comfort, and "Thy tears" touched Hopkins' heart.  It may seem patronizing for a man of thirty-six (Hopkins at the time of the pastoral relationship and the poem; as I currently am) to call a thirty-two year old Randal "child"; I picture an old Irish priest in the confessional saying, "Yes, go on, my son."  A priest is Father to everyone, regardless of age or status, though he does not "lord it over" his charges (Lk 22:25).

I had the providential opportunity to tender the sacraments to my Dad on a few occasions, as his debilitation grew more acute.  Like many things, this is something that I have cherished more as the years rush by.  When I came home for the day, Dad used to jokingly greet me, "Hello, Father" (and I him, "Hello, Son").  I'm glad Dad lived long enough to witness my ordination, with a year and three months to spare.  He continues to father me, I trust, from a better vantage point.

Nobody ever gets a blueprint of his life before it unfolds (and thank God for that!); nobody knows how it will unfurl.  Dad's "boisterous" years were long gone by my time.  His siblings could attest to them!  Early days at the glass factory and the textile plant would have witnessed a man "powerful amidst peers."  Felix Randal shod horses so that they could transport goods in Britain's industrial Lancaster region.  The respective occupations of Felix and Joe required a great deal of physical strength.  Both men needed that strength, and I could imagine that they did not deal well with its diminution.  But their vigor lives on in every faithful laborer who in his own day will rise and fall.

23 March 2013

Now I Lay Me Down

In my random bloggings I occasionally reflect on holy card prayers such as may be found in the vestibule or in people's missals.  This most recent one was brought to my attention by a brother priest, who found it at a religious gift shop.  It is called "Healing Prayer at Bedtime."  This is helpful on so many levels:  one, because I am in the healing business; and two, because if you prick me, I bleed, and not a few times I myself have been a...cause of my fellows.

Many people review their day before hitting the hay, seeking reasons for gratitude as well as repentance.  (My temperament tends to seek the latter, but I happily note that the former often surfaces as well.)  Alongside a word of thanks to the Font of every blessing, who among us would not appreciate a prayer to repair every relational tear?
Lord Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, go back into my memory as I sleep.  Every hurt that I have ever caused another person, heal that hurt.  All the relationships that have been damaged in my life that I am not aware of, heal those relationships.  But, Lord, if there is anything that I need to do, if I need to go to a person because he or she is still suffering from my hand, bring to my awareness that person.  I choose to forgive and I ask to be forgiven.  Remove whatever bitterness may be in my heart, Lord, and fill the empty spaces with Your love.  Amen.
Am I right?

This prayer is refreshingly comprehensive in scope.  It presumes contrition for the offenses we are aware of, and begs awareness of the unknown.  Compare the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, where the priest begs forgiveness for transgressions "voluntary and involuntary" (before the Trisagion Hymn).

We are humbled to realize that we may not fully know or accurately recall all the sins we have committed.  The Lord's Sacrifice forgives us of all that we have consciously recalled and confessed, as well as whatever we have genuinely forgotten.  Then there is the catalogue of repressed actions, things we have pushed deeper into the subconscious because we were unable and/or unwilling to deal with them at the time.  We hoped those things would just go away, but they cannot help but manifest themselves in everything from dreams to nervous tics.  As we grow in the spiritual life, we want to become more conscious of our faults and sins--not to wallow in the attendant guilt, but rather to make right what we can, when and where we can.  The movement from victimhood to responsibility is vital for our human and spiritual growth.  It is second to our increasing acceptance of Our Savior's love for us.

Since "nature abhors a vacuum," we seek divine love in place of the deeply-rooted bitterness that may have consumed us earlier.  It is said that we have a "God-sized hole" in our hearts that we often try to fill with created things.  Idolatry happens when we ascribe to any person or thing the regard due to God.  Many of us inordinately invest ourselves in created things--even our own feelings and preferences.  If we wish to divest ourselves of these unhealthy attachments, we need a Sufficient Substitute.

There is a considerable risk to allowing the Lord to probe more deeply into our emotional and mental states.  It's not a risk, it's a guarantee: He will find stuff.  We trust that He is sustaining us throughout the excavation process.  Whatever we find, we will receive adequate courage and insight to examine.  We can receive the willingness to humbly offer our discoveries in Confession (and, if necessary, in counseling or other therapeutic venues like recovery programs), for God's glory and for people's good.  Our own good counts here, by the way; how couldn't it?

21 March 2013

I Am Not Great...But God Is

Today was one of those days when I was confronted by my human weakness from several angles.

I reacted selfishly to requests recently made to me--first, for a visit to a hospitalized parishioner from a previous assignment, and second, for assistance with another outside venue that had been accustomed to a priest who will no longer be available.  In time I visited the hospitalized person; as I expected, the visit was a delightful chance to catch up on old times and converse about present concerns.  It was one of many ministerial experiences where, I believe, both parties are ministering to each other; where Christ is [in] the transaction.  (I try to look upon the discharge of all my responsibilities in that way.)  As for the request for outside assistance, the jury is still out on that, but I sense where it will go.

These were legitimate requests.  One could say that the petitioners were honoring me by their requests.  Yes, I'm a warm, consecrated body--Father Youlldo's the name.  But more than that: a priest who, in nearly ten years, has served with his increasingly evident limitations and God's increasingly evident grace.  A man whose first thought still tends to be selfish and self-centered, but who has discovered that the first thought isn't always the most reliable basis for action.
(Suddenly this recent article from Msgr. Pope makes me wonder whether I should stop writing and indeed erase this blog entry... aw, damn the torpedoes!)
It's enough for me most days to handle that day's events.  Marlon Brando's famous line sometimes haunts me: "I coulda been a contender."  Previous visions of academic or ministerial prowess have given way to my present situation--in the midst of which, at heart, I echo the Psalmist: "The measuring lines have fallen for me in pleasant places" (16:6).  The people I have served in every assignment have manifested to me the tender compassion of God.  Notwithstanding the divine life imparted in the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments, I hope I've helped God's people half as much as they have helped me.  With gratitude I note that I didn't pen these pastoral arrangements, because I couldn't have put things together half as well.

The seminary profs told us, "Nobody who goes to you in Confession is going to ask you how many degrees you have"; in another place I heard, "Yeah, thermometers have degrees, too, and you know where they stick them sometimes!"

But some among us do have many degrees.  They've worked hard for them, and they put them to good use.  And some among us do receive great responsibilities.  They have proved their competence.  From time to time it sinks in, this notion that I have not achieved the sort of greatness that once I wished I would have.  Instead, "Here am I, and the children God has given to me" (Heb 2:13; cf. Isa 8:18).  At life's end, what more is left?  What more is right?

This paragraph from the Catechism (2606) consoles me:
All the troubles, for all time, of humanity enslaved by sin and death, all the petitions and intercessions of salvation history are summed up in this cry of the [crucified] incarnate Word.  Here the Father accepts them and, beyond all hope, answers them by raising his Son.  Thus is fulfilled and brought to completion the drama of prayer in the economy of creation and salvation.  The Psalter gives us the key to prayer in Christ.  In the "today" of the Resurrection the Father says: "You are my Son, today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession" (Ps 2:7-8).
My troubles, too--especially those of my own making (by far the majority)--were subsumed in the cry of the Crucified.  Implicit in my experience of those troubles is the petition for their amelioration.  "I don't like this, Lord; please make it better, or help me to deal with it better."  In case you were wondering, I have not forgotten to pray for the caller from the former assignment.  Intercession is an integral part of priestly prayer, for Jesus the High Priest "lives for ever to make intercession for us" (Heb 7:25).  My troubles, petitions, and intercessions were already heard, and they were already answered, favorably.  In faith I can affirm that right now, even as my troubles and the troubles of all humanity are taking place.  It is further helpful to recall that the ministry of priests takes up the cries of wounded humanity (priests included!), unites them to the Son, and presents them to the Eternal Father.

I don't know if there is any theological substantiation for this, but I suspect that in each offering of the Mass, each Confession, each anointing, somehow every sin and shortcoming is presented and none is omitted.  This would not excuse us from the responsibility to repent, to assist at Mass, to pray, to live according to the demands of the Gospel; but it reinforces Our Lord's prior, all-consuming interest in our welfare.  My true greatness consists in my recognition of, and participation in, God's love for me as He expresses it in Creed, Cult, Code, and Connection--in the Church's teaching, worship, living, and praying.

17 March 2013

"Everything Must Go"?

Since his election to the Papacy on Wednesday--and, thanks to the media coverage, we know this--this particular pontiff is setting a telling tone for the papacy.  His pre-elevation practices included riding the bus to work (and he rode the bus back to the Domus Sanctae Marthae); cooking his own meals; washing the feet of AIDS patients; and living in a simple apartment.

Pope Francis' lifestyle reflects his saintly namesake.  It also embodies today's second reading from Philippians, in which Paul admits, "I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him" (Phil 3:8-9).

The Holy Father departed from his prepared address to the media in order to comment on the rationale behind his choice of appellation.  It has everything to do with Saint Francis of Assisi and his love for the poor and for simplicity of life.  No surprise, this; he envisions a "Church that is poor and for the poor."

In the 1968 movie The Shoes of the Fisherman, Pope Kiril (another unexpected choice of man and moniker) expresses his desire to give away the Church's riches.  Can we expect such a bold move from Pope Francis?

There has been some local precedent for this, with Philadelphia's Archbishop Chaput selling the imposing "Cardinal's Residence" along City Avenue, not to mention the college division of my alma mater, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.  Fellow Capuchin Cardinal O'Malley of Boston sold his mansion, as well.  Now these archdioceses have been experiencing considerable financial strain of late, which may be one reason for the liquidation of properties.  But these moves have not gone unquestioned.

Some people believe that properties, and for that matter any ecclesial "treasures," belong not to one man but to the Church (local or universal) and should not be sold.  Into whose hands will buildings fall, and shouldn't the intended use reflect the seller's values?  As for the artwork, scrolls, books, and other precious components of the Church's patrimony, do we not hold these things for the sake of the world, so that people everywhere may appreciate the cultural and religious heritage which Mother Church has had such a hand in preserving?  After the Church gets all this money, what will she do with it?  How long will it last?  How long and how much will the poor really profit from it?  "The poor you will always have with you" (Mt 26:11), Jesus said.  By the time the money runs out, the lot of the world or nation or region's poor will not have improved suddenly and forever.  There's much more to poverty than having insufficient funds.

We will find out whether the liquidation of ecclesial assets is on Pope Francis' to-do list.  For now, however, he definitely wants to be in mundo conversatus--present with the people.  That may be tough for the security agents to handle, but there are people of unsound mind and cruel intentions everywhere.  If Cardinal Bergoglio survived Buenos Aires, Pope Francis can survive Rome.

The Church often has been challenged to demonstrate more credibly her identification with the poor and marginalized.  Would Christ's Mystical Body really suffer from the loss of property?  Is it time for the Church to accept the challenge of the age and divest herself of earthly wealth so that Christ may be everything to us?  Whatever his program, I'm sure Francis wants to inspire and motivate clergy, in particular, toward a more tangible commitment to evangelical poverty and hospitality.

The above-quoted passage from Philippians is the substance of paragraph 428 of the Catechism.  In a brief section on Christ as "The Heart of Catechesis" we find one of Pope Benedict's favorite points, one dear to the heart of his successor.  In order to be able to catechize, i.e. to share the content of our faith ("fides quae"), we must be equally willing to share our relationship of faith ("fides qua")--which means we must be cultivating a relationship with the Lord through prayer, reception of the Sacraments, holy conversation and reading, and fidelity to the commandments.  As we experience daily joys and hardships, we ought to speak about them to Jesus.  We should ask Him to help us to learn from every experience in life, how the experience relates to some aspect of His life and how we can grow in the knowledge and love of His holy will.

"Everything must go," all right: Spending ourselves in service, everything about us must go toward the spiritual and material poverty throughout the world, in our households, families, parishes, schools, and workplaces.

13 March 2013

Miserando atque Eligendo

He entered the conclave as Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio; he has left as Pope Francis.

In his opening address he asked for our prayers; so let us pray, beloved readership, for our new Holy Father (prayer taken from New Advent):

V. Oremus pro Pontifice nostro Francisco
R. Dominus conservet eum, et vivificet eum, et beatum faciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius.

Pater Noster, Ave Maria
Deus, omnium fidelium pastor et rector, famulum tuum Francisco, quem pastorem Ecclesiæ tuæ præesse voluisti, propitius respice: da ei, quæsumus, verbo et exemplo, quibus præest, proficere: ut ad vitam, una cum grege sibi credito, perveniat sempiternam. Per Christum, Dominum nostrum. Amen.

V. Let us pray for Francis, our Pope.
R. May the Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.

Our Father, Hail Mary
O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all Thy faithful people, look mercifully upon Thy servant Francis, whom Thou hast chosen as shepherd to preside over Thy Church. Grant him, we beseech Thee, that by his word and example, he may edify those over whom he hath charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, may he attain everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
His episcopal motto (which, I presume, he would retain as Pope) is, Miserando atque eligendo, taken from Homily 30 [not 21, as previously attested; I'm sure that disturbed you] by Saint Bede the Venerable.

Jesús vio a un hombre, llamado Mateo, sentado ante la mesa de cobro de los impuestos, y le dijo: "Sígueme". Lo vio más con la mirada interna de su amor que con los ojos corporales. Jesús vio al publicano, y lo vio con misericordia y eligiéndolo (miserando atque eligendo), y le dijo Sígueme, "Sígueme", que quiere decir: "Imítame". Le dijo "Sígueme", más que con sus pasos, con su modo de obrar. Porque, quien dice que está siempre en Cristo debe andar de continuo como él anduvo.

My Spanish is paltry, but here is an attempt (let my readers correct me):

Jesus saw a man named Matthew, seated before the table of the tax collectors and He said to him: "Follow Me."  He saw him more with the interior vision of His love than with bodily eyes.  Jesus saw the publican, and He saw him with mercy and deciding for Him, He said to him, Follow Me.  "Follow Me," that is to say: "Imitate Me."  He said to him "Follow Me," more than with your footsteps, but with your manner of life.  Therefore, whoever says that he is always in Christ ought to walk continually as He walked.

For more information, consult the website Heraldica en la Argentina.

"With mercy and decision": we might say that mercy is Jesus' decision on mankind's behalf, especially upon the poorest of sinners.  His Sacred Heart (perhaps the favorite devotion of the Jesuits) is at once the source of divine compassion and choice.  We can be sure that Pope Francis (Xavier? of Assisi? de Sales?) is operating (modo de obrar) from this point of departure.

Francis used the word "camino" several times in his opening address.  "Journey," "Way": St. Teresa of Avila once said, "The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too."  Our new Holy Father is joining us as a fellow pilgrim.

May all his patrons, his angels, and Our Blessed Lady intercede for him in the days, weeks, months, and years that we will profit from his governance.

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Since the original composition of this post I was led to an article from Carol Glatz of Catholic News Service regarding the origin of Pope Francis' episcopal motto.  It is worth reading.

Not In The Running

The virtual world is doctrinally and emotionally labile.  It is gasoline for the brush fire of modernity, which celebrates unbridled autonomy under the dictatorship of the immediate personal need.

We have the Internets to thank for disseminating all the speculation and humor surrounding the upcoming papal election.  It is curious to note how so many in the mainstream media dislike the Catholic Church and are eager to pick her apart, yet this conclave has garnered so much attention!  This fact has formed my interpretation of non praevalebunt: not only will this generation never destroy the Church, it will in fact pay her unwitting homage, until the end of days.

Not unlike the patriotism of the left, right, and center, Catholic pride and Catholic interest resurface around election time, even among lapsed and former Catholics.

I am only one priest among the thousands in these United States, but surely others have experienced this: whenever conclave time rolls around (and yes, this is only the second time for me), people suggest that maybe you should pack your bags for Rome, because, after all, can't any priest, indeed in theory  any baptized Catholic male, be selected for the papacy?

In bygone days it was more widely considered an honor to be related to, or friends with, or even mistaken for, a priest.  Now, not so much.  But I recognize with no little gratitude that my family, friends, and associates show due respect to the sacred office, or at least to my personal priestly commitment, as they rightly expect me to pay to their worthy occupations.  Their endorsement of me as Supreme Pontiff is flattering, if facetious.

But let me assure you, dear flock: I am not in the running for Pope.  I am not in the walking, or in the crawling.  I have delusions not of grandeur, but of adequacy.  We'll leave the office of Chief Shepherd to the professionals.  Just pray for me and for all our terribly human priests--one of whom will be elevated in a day or so to that fearsome office.
La stanza delle lacrime (The Room of Tears), where it all comes out before His Holiness does

12 March 2013

Partial Perspective and Plenary Providence

On the eve of the conclave that shall elect Pope the Next, I can add nothing to that momentous topic, except to pass along one papabile's comments relating to the past Sunday's Gospel of the Prodigal Son.

Let it be done to the Church according to His Word!
From the midst of the flames the Cardinals cried out with one voice: "Blessed be God!"
(Photo credit: Taipei Times)
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Paragraph 314 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
314 We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God "face to face", will we fully know the ways by which - even through the dramas of evil and sin - God has guided his creation to that definitive sabbath rest for which he created heaven and earth.
I get to work with people who have issues with God.  Many of them attribute their issues in great measure to a dysfunctional upbringing, deficiencies in their religious and spiritual formation, and choices they made in a less-than-optimal condition.  Despite the significant healing that has occurred in their lives, they often experience flare-ups of frustration concerning their plight.  At the peak of pique, the script hardly ever changes: Why doesn't an all-powerful God doesn't change the situation?

It's a replay of the age-old tension between divine omnipotence and human freedom.  God is not simply maneuvering us through all the interactions of our lives.  Everybody makes choices, and the real-time interplay of everybody's free choices causes considerable conflict in the short and long term.  External and internal forces compromise our freedom to some extent; like Saint Paul, we lament the evil that we so readily commit, and the good that we seem unable to accomplish despite our best interests (Rom 7:15-24).  The perennial human objective is to maximize responsibility for our own decisions while relying humbly on the grace of God.  Alas, not everyone is working toward that objective with equal attentiveness at every moment, with often disastrous results.

We do not see the bigger picture at any given time.  If we could zoom out and view the myriad matrices of decision, we might well leave judgment up to Someone more qualified.  For the believer, this crazy, mixed-up life prompts us to renew our trust in the higher harmony that daily dissonance obscures.  From a self-centered vantage point, the aggregate of bad choices affects us--which is all that matters when matters are all messy.  But we do well to recall the drops we've been adding to that bucket: our own sinful choices.  Whether or not we can clearly trace out the lines of unsavory influences in our lives, it nonetheless remains for us to move forward in the steadfast discharge of virtue.

Often in our conversations, people will admit to me that they are tired.  As they explain the events of a typical day, I can understand where they're coming from, most of the time.  Now a mentor of mine once told me, "You can find sympathy under 's' in the dictionary."  At first hearing, I was rather irritated; at the same time, I hoped to be able to use the line someday because it's so dang clever.  Usually, I offer the trite-yet-true answer, the one I've so frequently and gratefully received: "That's life."  I say "gratefully," because it consoles me to know that I'm not as alone as I think I am.  Members of the Body of Christ are never alone.

I encourage the people who seek counsel from me (for whatever reason!) to trust in the ways of Providence and to persevere in doing their best.  That's what people tell me, anyhow, and it seems to work.  The "sabbath rest" of God's faithful awaits us: the day of re-creation when "All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well" (Julian of Norwich).  Meanwhile we must seek out islands of wellness for ourselves, lest the journey be all travail.  Prayer and conversation, reading, exercise, and music have been beneficial to me.  Like-minded people, priests and laity, offer encouragement and challenge in due measure.  I can only hope that my association with them has proved as beneficial to them as it has been for me.

Prefer the company of those who offer you a sense of perspective and a motive for trust in the goodness of God at work in your own life.  The Church--your parish community, the worthy associations and friendships you make along the Way--can be a vital part of your "sabbath," if you wish.
So says the Crown Prince of This World (cf. Jn 12:31)

08 March 2013

Reading "The Wreck," Stanzas 19-23


            Sister, a sister calling
            A master, her master and mine!—
        And the inboard seas run swirling and hawling;
            The rash smart sloggering brine
    Blinds her; but she that weather sees one thing, one;
    Has one fetch in her: she rears herself to divine        150
        Ears, and the call of the tall nun
To the men in the tops and the tackle rode over the storm’s brawling.

            She was first of a five and came
            Of a coifèd sisterhood.
        (O Deutschland, double a desperate name!        155
            O world wide of its good!
    But Gertrude, lily, and Luther, are two of a town,
    Christ’s lily and beast of the waste wood:
        From life’s dawn it is drawn down,
Abel is Cain’s brother and breasts they have sucked the same.)        160

            Loathed for a love men knew in them,
            Banned by the land of their birth,
        Rhine refused them. Thames would ruin them;
            Surf, snow, river and earth
    Gnashed: but thou art above, thou Orion of light;        165
    Thy unchancelling poising palms were weighing the worth,
        Thou martyr-master: in thy sight
Storm flakes were scroll-leaved flowers, lily showers—sweet heaven was astrew in them.

            Five! the finding and sake
            And cipher of suffering Christ.        170
        Mark, the mark is of man’s make
            And the word of it Sacrificed.
    But he scores it in scarlet himself on his own bespoken,
    Before-time-taken, dearest prizèd and priced—
        Stigma, signal, cinquefoil token        175
For lettering of the lamb’s fleece, ruddying of the rose-flake.

            Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
            Drawn to the Life that died;
        With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his
            Lovescape crucified        180
    And seal of his seraph-arrival! and these thy daughters
    And five-livèd and leavèd favour and pride,
        Are sisterly sealed in wild waters,
To bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances.

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Hopkins considers the nun a "sister" to him by virtue of their common religious consecration.  They share a divine Master, as well.  Amid the continued brutal assault of the waters, the nun remains steadfast in the consecration of her spiritual vision.  If it helps the reader, in line 149, mentally insert the word "through" or "amid" such that the sense of the line conveys: "but she through that weather sees one thing, one."  Fetch: as a noun, it means a "trick" or "stratagem," even an "interest" or "attraction" (see 2c of the linked definition).  There are nautical meanings, too, suggesting appropriate wordplay: "holding a course," "the distance traveled by waves with no obstruction."  With respect to her relationship with her Redeemer, this nun has received a nihil obstat.  Her pleas pierce the tempestuous atmosphere, such that God and man alike can hear them.

There were five nuns aboard the ship, and her designation as "first" likely derives from her role as superior of the community.  She emerges, moreover, as the moral leader of the pack by her heaven-piercing cries.

For most of the 19th stanza Hopkins meditates on the significance of "Deutschland."  It is the name of both the foundering vessel and the country where its final voyage began.  St. Gertrude the Great and Martin Luther were born there (although Gert's Catholic Encyclopedia article says otherwise).  The evidence of their lives' outcomes--obedience and revolt, respectively--is enough for Hopkins to drastically polarize these two figures, setting up a sort of dualism or rivalry that traces all the way back to the primordial fraternal fracas.

The nuns and other Catholic exiles on the Deutschland are German.  The Falk Laws were responsible for the Rhine refusal.  The Thames torrents were the proximate cause of their death.  Yet Hopkins suggests a higher wisdom at work: the "Orion of light," the Trinitarian constellation that somehow catalyzed the whole event.  More than a mere cluster of stars, God is Personal--has "palms" that lifted these nuns from their sanctuary (chancel) and held them so as to express reverence for their self-offering.  By no means their first self-offering (that was their profession of vows--or rather, it extends to their baptism), God estimated it as their best, precisely as it happened amid the tempest.

The number five is multivalent: Five nuns boarded the Deutschland; five wounds grace the Crucified Body of Christ.  The wounds were dealt by all sinners (CCC 598), not merely by the Roman soldiers or those whose clamors led Our Lord to the slaughterhouse.  By the same token, all sinners are invited to return Him their own precious offering.  What else can we render to the Lord that is purely our own, except our sin?  And yet it is this very offering that the Lamb takes unto Himself, by becoming our sin (2 Cor 5:21).

The Crucified left His five-fold mark on the worthy Father-Deacon Francis of Assisi, whose company these sisters joined.  Drawing near to Francis who drew near to Him, Jesus branded him with the stigmata (Greek plural of stigma, seal).  These five holy nuns, bonded by their consecration, are now united in their death.  We need not posit a masochistic God who delights in the bleak death of the nuns and their fifty-odd counterparts on the ship (or, for that matter, any tragedy or inconvenience); rather He delights in the way they "capitalize" upon the fact, by suffering well--offering it for His glory.  Such a manner of dying bespeaks their manner of living: habitually (pardon the pun) disposed to the radiance of Christ, whenever and however it appears among men.

The single-mindedness of the nun appeals to me in my lukewarmness.  "Blessed are the pure of heart," Jesus proclaims upon the mountaintop.  To maintain an integral focus is essential to discipleship and, a fortiori, to priesthood.  The saints among us preserve this focus, to the degree that they are "seared" with the reflection of the Love-beam returning to them from the mirror.  Indeed all baptized persons enjoy the "indelible mark" of Grace.  As we grow in awareness of this unfathomable blessing, we will allow the dross of us to drip away so that the Pure Sacrifice remains.

02 March 2013

Eat, Drink, and Pray Merry (del Val)!

Now that we are in an "interregnum" period, sedevacantists all, it's en vogue to talk about cardinals.  One cardinal who is definitely not up for consideration in this conclave is Rafael Merry del Val, because he's been dead for over 80 years.  But he is actually up for consideration for sainthood: sixty years ago he was declared "Servant of God," which is the first step in the canonization process.

The "Litany of Humility" is his most popular work.  It is found in the "Pieta" book which has made its way among pious circles.  While I do not qualify to converse among the pious, I do enjoy reading their literature.

One writer saw fit to amplify the Litany with a segment of undesirable qualities, together with a plea for the grace of external and internal self-restraint.  That renovated version I present for your prayerful consideration.  Of course, they always say: "Be careful what you pray for!"

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,

From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,

From seeking to impress people with my actions, Jesus, grant me the grace to restrain myself.
From seeking to impress people with my words,
From seeking to impress people with my talents,
From seeking to know what people “in the know” know,
From participating in conversations that do not concern me,
From speaking the final word that lifts me up and puts others down,
From inflating myself upon learning of others’ misfortunes,
From acting on the desire to fix people and situations,

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should,
This prayer is most appropriate to re-introduce to myself and to my readership upon the commencement of a conclave.  It hearkens to another timely truism: "He who enters a conclave as Pope comes out a cardinal."  Our recently retired Pontiff had something to say about the subject of "clerical careerism" to priests he was about to ordain.  One cardinal spoke well of this peril just a few months ago.

Humility as described above is just the kind of ideal that seems appropriate for a priest who would go on to such an office as Cardinal Secretary of State, working for a pope who would become a saint himself (Pius X)!  It's appropriate for anyone who, in any sense, dares to exercise the care of souls--both spiritual and physical parents.  One way or another, we end up as an example: of what to do, of what not to do.  To get to the point where we do what is right "just because," is to be "elevated" far beyond the rank of cardinal.  But for most of us it happens a step at a time, with stumblings aplenty.

It is well said that "humility isn't thinking less about yourself, but rather thinking about yourself less."  Thinking less about others' opinions of, or decisions concerning, you; not comparing other people's positions, talents, abilities, shortcomings to yours, whether to come out better or worse than they are; desiring that other people gain advantage (temporal and spiritual) over you--

Yikes!  "Had-caw," the Bostonites say.

The italicized addition to the litany concerns self-promoting attitudes and actions, most of which come back to bite you anyhow.  They appropriately describe what the prophet Joel calls a...

The newly elected Pope used to be treated to a rather alarming display, in which a master of ceremonies reminded him of Who was Boss.  (Why it reportedly stopped in 1963, I cannot fathom.  Maybe Twitter--or the communications media as a whole--has taken over as the reality-check.)

While we are adopting cardinals to pray for during this sacred time, we surely want to include the intention of humility.  It will be of just as much use to any of us.

In case you were wondering, the slight incongruity of the subject of this post (or the blog in general), and my attempts to promote it through networking sites, is not at all lost on me.  And I had to tell you that. 

:-) ]

"Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall" (1 Cor 10:12).