Friday, April 18, 2014

Our Role

Every year, the season of Lent draws to a close with a reading of the Passion narrative, first from one of the synoptic gospels on Palm Sunday, then from the Gospel of John on Good Friday. The readings on Palm Sunday and Good Friday are long, and unlike every other gospel that the Church reads during the year, the Passion narratives are read in parts, with the celebrant taking the lines spoken by Jesus, a narrator reading out the bulk of the text, a third participant reading the lines of certain individuals (e.g., Pilate or Peter), and the congregation speaking for the chorus.

There are parts that get uncomfortable to read from the pews, such as when we are called to say, “We have no king but Caesar,” or “His blood be upon us and upon our offspring,” and especially “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Even as we read those lines, our mind screams, “No! I don't mean it!”

There are some people who refuse to participate. The will not speak those words. Their intention is commendable, but I think that there is a reason the Church has us read those parts during the liturgy.

Mel Gibson understood this when he filmed The Passion of the Christ. Whatever weaknesses and character flaws the man might have revealed in years after the great success of the project, I do not doubt the sincerity of the pious conviction that motivated him to undertake The Passion's production. Although an actor of great talent, he allowed himself to play only one role in The Passion of the
Christ, and even then, nobody would know that it was him without being told. During the crucifixion scene, it was Gibson's hands that nailed our Lord to the cross. It was his way of holding himself accountable for what Christ suffered.

It was this same sensibility that lead Fr. Richard John Neuhaus to write, in Death on a Friday Afternoon, “John Donne was right: 'No man is an Island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.' It was not only for our sins, but surely for our sins too. What a complex web of complicity is woven by our lives. Send not to know by whom the nails were driven; they were driven by you, by me.”

We are fools if we do not admit that the original sin of Adam is our sin as well. Jesus died for our sins as much as for anybody else's. We put him on the cross and hammered the nails as much as anybody, and that is why it is necessary for us to say the words. If we do not admit the sin, how can we claim the forgiveness?

Were you there when we crucified our Lord?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Martial Lent

Lent kicked off this year, as it does every year, with Ash Wednesday. Some years, I enter into the spirit of Lent more fully than other years, and the character of the season seems to take on a slightly different flavor each year. What struck me this year, based on the Collect Prayer of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, was the martial nature of the season.

I was reminded that, in Confirmation, we are called to become soldiers of Christ. It is a reality that isn't often emphasized in many catechetical programs these days, but it is a reality nonetheless. I usually only consider this a few times during the year, notably on the Feast of Christ the King, and on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, when I have reason to reflect upon the union of the Church Triumphant (the saints in heaven), the Church Suffering (the souls in Purgatory), and the Church Militant (those of us here on earth).

The General Catechetical Directory of 1971 stated, "Since the life of Christians, which on earth is warfare, is liable to temptations and sins, the way of the Sacrament of Penance is open for them, so that they may obtain pardon from the merciful God and reconcile themselves with the Church." Pope John Paul II confirmed the militant nature of our mission in 1992, saying, "The grace conferred by the Sacrament of Confirmation is more specifically a gift of strength. this gift corresponds to the need for greater zeal in facing the 'spiritual battle' of faith and charity in order to resist temptation and give the witness of Christian word and deed to the world with courage, fervor and perseverance. This zeal is conferred by the Holy Spirit."

The Ash Wednesday Collect explicitly evokes the image of going to war during the season of Lent, calling us to take up spiritual arms in a campaign against evil. That is the flavor that my Lent is taking on this year.

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, aw we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Notes on 20 OT, Cycle C

A few quick thoughts from the liturgy and readings from this past Sunday, the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Cycle C.

  • The antiphon: “Turn your eyes, O God, our shield; and look on the face of your anointed one; one day within your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” First, is the anointed one that we are asking God to look upon supposed to be us (anointed in Baptism and Confirmation) or His Son (“Christ” literally means “anointed”)? Second, I’m used to hearing that we accept suffering in this life because our time here is like nothing compared to eternity. This turns that around. No matter how long we suffer here, just one day in heaven is worth it. If, on the other hand, the anointed one referred to in the first clause if Christ, then that leaves open the possibility that one day within your courts is referring to that terrible afternoon on Calvary. This antiphon is very unclear.

  • Zedekiah seems an awfully capricious king, easily swayed by whoever speaks to him, eager only to keep his own hands clean. First he allows the princes to toss Jeremiah into the cistern, then he orders a court official to pull him back out because it’s full of mud Jeremiah might die of famine. If it had been full of water, and Jeremiah had died of drowning instead, would that have been somehow more acceptable to Zedekiah?

  • It was a little amusing to hear the lector pronounce the name “Ebed-melech.” Looks like four syllables to me, but somehow, he used about six. He pronounced it the same way both times.

  • We are told in the letter to the Hebrews to “persevere in running the race that lies before us.” That sounds an awful lot like something Paul would write, and yet we are repeatedly told that Hebrews was not written by Paul because it is stylistically different from his epistles. Isn’t it possible that Paul structured his homilies differently than his letters, or that he tailored his correspondence to the recipient? I was taught to do just that in the business writing class that I took as a college undergrad.

  • There is a difference between running a race and training for a race. On race day, you might run through pain, sacrificing your body in the process. If you do that in training, you risk not making it to race day. I could run a race with plantar fasciitis, but if I run every day with it, I risk making it worse and making my training less effective. I’m not sure what the spiritual metaphor for this is.

  • “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” That is very true. I have barely resisted to the point of inconvenience. Even that, too often, seems beyond my ability to withstand. Let’s hope that it doesn’t come to the point of shedding blood.

  • I have teen daughters. A few years ago, a song appeared in our digital library, the refrain of which went something like this: “Somebody call 911. Shawty fire burning on the dance floor. Whoa.” I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he proclaimed, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazaing!”

  • To everyone who says, “Can’t we all just get along?” Jesus says, “No, we can’t.”

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Get Ready for a Beating

What are my feelings about this Sunday's gospel (Lk 12:32-48)?

Much has been given to me, and much is expected.  I consistently underperform, for which Jesus seems to promise a severe beating.  There's nothing like the promise of a flogging to improve morale!  No matter how I try, my concupiscent nature keeps overpowering my weak will.

Some people might say that my problem is that I shouldn't try so hard, that I'm bordering on Pelagian heresy.  It's not up to me, it's up to the grace of God almighty, who became incarnate and suffered on the cross for my sins.  All I need to do is accept the redemption worked by Him on my behalf.  Except that's not what Jesus says in today's gospel.

Others would say that, through the grace of God, I can resist the lure of sin's temptation, and so be ready when the master returns.  That seems a Catch 22.  If all the bad that I do is on me, and all the good that I do is not me, but the grace of God, then doesn't it follow that the only reason I don't do more good is that God is not pouring out more grace upon me?  If grace is necessary for conversion, then doesn't lack of conversion indicate lack of grace?  Whose fault is that?

I know, I know.  Everybody is bathing in grace, it's just that some people accept it, and some don't.  But wouldn't accepting the grace be a good work, dependent upon god's grace?  Catch 22!

What I know for sure is that I'm missing something.  I'm missing something in my understanding of the parable.  I'm missing something in my understanding of how God's grace affects our decisions.  I'm missing something in strengthening my will to resist sin.

I'm missing quite a lot, it seems.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Moving Out

Two weeks ago today, I was helping my oldest child settle into his new home in New York state.  The drive there was a little brutal – 90+ degree temps in a van with no air conditioning and no radio.  I was literally sweating into my shirt as I drove.  The boy and two of his sisters trailed behind in his Grand Prix.  My dear wife had stayed back in Ohio with the four young ones and our second oldest.
That Friday was spent establishing a bank account, arranging for internet hookup, driving around town (including locating the local Catholic church), stocking up on groceries, and visiting the laundromat.  By the middle of the day it became clear that he was as settled as he was going to get until Monday, so we agreed that his sisters and I would return to Ohio the next day.
The experience left me feeling sad and trying to convince myself to be happy.  I have no doubt that the boy will learn from this, but I hope that the lessons don’t come painfully.  He has enough savings to last him several months, if he doesn’t spend too freely, and he should be able to find a job before he runs out of money.  He has decided to enter the workforce for a year and start taking post-secondary classes next year, after establishing New York residency.
It's not the way that I would have chosen, but then he is not me, and I am enormously risk averse. I would have had him taking a few classes locally, getting a job before moving out, etc. In some ways, I guess, his faith is stronger than mine.

Monday, July 22, 2013

What This Man Wears

Over on Ricochet, Molly Hemmingway put up a post on clothing that men should not wear (“What Not to Wear, Male Edition”). I only looked at 10 of the 200 comments, but I can’t help but think that some people are way too worried about what I might wear. Next, they’ll by trying to tell me that I shouldn’t cut my own hair.

For the record, I regularly violate several of the items in the short list. Yes, I wear button down short sleeve shirts. Sometimes, on Sundays, I’ll wear one with a tie. I have concluded, however, that they look much better tucked in, with a military tuck. Untucked, they cause my torso to lose all shape. I should further note that 75% of the time, if I wear a long-sleeved shirt, the sleeve gets rolled up to just below the elbow. I have long arms, and most of the times, the sleeves are too short.

I also wear running shoes when I’m not running. They’re more comfortable. The give my feet cushion and support and allow them to breathe. The shoes I wear to work make my feet hurt and sweat, which I really don’t like.

I like wearing shorts. They cause me to sweat less (is there a theme here?), and they are less restrictive. Sometimes, I even wear a button down short sleeve shirt with shorts and running shoes. Egad!

Item 5 on the short list of forbidden male clothing is tribal necklaces. I hope that doesn’t include my miraculous medal necklace or my brown scapular. I don’t wear them to be trendy, though. On the other hand, you won’t catch me wearing any heavy gold chains.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Fortnight 2.0

Today begins the second Fortnight for Freedom, which the bishops of the United States have called for to mark the threat to religious liberty in the United States. American Catholics are asked to make the next two weeks a “period of prayer and action, to address many current challenges to religious liberty, including the August 1, 2013 deadline for religious organization to comply with the HHS mandate, Supreme Court rulings that could attempt to redefine marriage in June, and religious liberty concerns in areas such as immigration and humanitarian services.” Pretty ominous stuff!

There's a powerful video posted at YouTube.  You'll have to follow the link to view it; the code to embed it is not available.

On the other hand, one page at the bishops’ web site tries to put a positive spin on the Fortnight, calling it a period “in celebration of the many rights we enjoy as American citizens and to patriotically pray for our nation.” The 14 suggestions given on that page all present a happy face to the Fortnight.