Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Tale of Two Bishops

I have been listening to a bit of background on the man who became Pope Francis. As the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he took the bus to work and lived in a simple apartment. Contrast that with our own ordinary. Upon coming to Cincinnati in the middle of an economic crisis, we (i.e., the Archdiocese) purchased for Archbishop Schnurr an expensive (by my standards) home in an exclusive neighborhood. It was necessary for him to have a large private home for entertaining guests (er, exercising a “ministry of hospitality”) and housing visiting family members.

The original story from the Cincinnati Enquirer can be found here.

You could say that I’m one of the people in the pews that were irritated (to put it mildly) by the move.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Straining Forward

Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
(Is 43:18-19)

Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind
but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.
(Phil 8:13-14)

Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
(Jn 8:11)

Each of these verses come from the Lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent. It seems to me that there is a common theme: that we are to be forward looking. Whatever we might have done in the past is behind us. The only thing that really matters is where we turn today and intend to go tomorrow.

There is a temptation to look backward. To either see our sins as an impediment to our own sanctification or to look back with fondness to a time without a cross. Some Christians seem to promote the idea that our exodus from sin to salvation will be an easy road, that we need only accept Jesus as our personal lord and savior, and our life will be all sunshine and rainbows. But Jesus himself told us that we were to take up our cross daily and follow him. He walked the path of suffering. After the Israelites left their life of slavery in Egypt, they wandered in the desert for 40 years. Many (most?) compared their life in the desert to the life they lived in Egypt and wanted to go back. God wanted them to look forward. Are we to think that leaving behind our slavery to sin will not come with its own desert of purgation?

The story is often told of the monk who, when asked what they do in the monastery replies, “We fall down, and we get back up.” What he means is that, like all people, they sin. But when they sin, the repent, put the sin behind them, and move on “toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling.” It can be so tempting, in the failure to live a devout life, to find an excuse not to try. That, however, is not what Christians do.

Through baptism, I have been incorporated into the Body of Christ. Every Sunday at mass, I renew the Covenant that Christ enacted through his Passion. I express sorrow for my sins, I glorify God, I hear His word, I profess my faith, I partake of the sacrifice, and I recommit myself to discerning and following His will. Yet, within the week, I will have stumbled over my own leaden feet. I cannot despair; I can only keep straining forward.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Augustinian Pessimism

When I named this blog, I did so based on my proximity to a church named after St. Augustine and my fondness for the philosophy and theology of St. Augustine of Hippo. Today, while listening to Uncommon Knowledge, I stumbled upon an additional reason to keep the name.

Peter Robinson, interviewing Rupert Murdoch:

You started your career six decades ago, so you’ve seen the Cold War come and the Cold War go. You participated in the Reagan years. You were a journalist of importance in the Thatcher years and since. You’ve invested in China; you’ve invested in India. You have a global view, and a global view that’s calibrated to decades. Do you look at the United States and Britain today and see yourself in the position, say, of St. Augustine in the 4th century, 5th century, as he looks across the Mediterranean to Rome and realizes that his civilization is coming to an end. He still has a responsibility to do as much good as he can, but something that he treasures is ending. Or do you say, I’ve seen a lot of rough patches in my lifetime. We’re in another rough patch now. The underlying dynamism and strengths of this Anglo-American experiment in democracy will see us through yet again.

Murdoch gave a rather optimistic answer. My own outlook tends to pessimism. Mr. Robinson might even call it Augustinian.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lectionary Psalms

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you probably already know that I think one of the best things to happen in the wake of the Second Vatican Council was the revision of the Lectionary, with three cycles of Sunday readings (A, B, and C) and two cycles of Weekday readings (odd and even), with Sunday and holy season selections that are linked thematically and Ordinary Time selections that progressively step through different books of the Bible. Whatever questionable changes might have been made in the liturgical celebration of the mass (e.g., dropping Latin and chant, removing the altar rails, turning the celebrant to face the congregation rather than facing in the same direction as the congregation, etc.), at least they got the Lectionary changes right.

I’ll go a step further and say that I really like it when the Responsorial Psalm is sung. I know it’s a little thing, but singing the response adds just a touch of grace to a ritual that is already brimming with meaning. Unfortunately, it can also be a moment of severe disappointment when the psalm from the Lectionary is replaced by a different psalm that supposedly sounds better when sung, or with a “sung song response” that isn’t a psalm at all.

I believe that the governing document in this case is the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), paragraph 61 of which states, “The Responsorial Psalm should correspond to each reading and should usually be taken from the Lectionary…. However, in order that the people may be able to sing the Psalm response more easily, texts of some responses and Psalms have been chosen for the different times of the year or for the different categories of Saints. These may be used instead of the text corresponding to the reading whenever the Psalm is sung…. Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the Responsorial Psalm.”

So, it looks like substituting an arrangement of Psalm 51 during Lent (“Be Merciful, Oh Lord”) might be allowed, but I would still rather see the Lectionary psalm, since it was specifically selected for its complementarity with the other readings. In some cases, there is no discernible connection at all between the psalm that is sung at mass and the other three readings. This past weekend, that was true for the three verses that the cantor sang. The fourth verse, which refers to teaching transgressors God’s way and leading them back to Him, would have fit nicely with the second reading, unfortunately, the cantor did not sing it.

As for the song response used for Advent and Christmas (“Proclaim the Joyful Message”), the GIRM seems to explicitly rule it out.

Sometime, these attempts to reinvent the wheel (or the liturgy in this case) just baffle me. It’s already been done! It’s written down and approved! Just follow the instructions that the Church has provided, for cryin’ out loud! Nine times out of ten (or maybe 99 out of 100) your changes make things worse rather than better!

Ministers of Reconciliation

In his second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote that God “has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:19)

As Catholics, when we think of a ministry of reconciliation, we naturally think of sacramental confession, in which a penitent sinner confesses his transgressions to a priest who acts in the person of Christ to give absolution for the sins, thus reconciling the wayward soul with God. The reconciliation that takes place is the repairing of the relationship between the individual and God that was damaged by that person’s sins. Since the priest who hears the sins is acting in persona Christi, it can truly be said that he is an “ambassador for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20). However, this sacramental ministry can only be exercised by ordained priests authorized by their bishops to act as confessors. Where does that leave the rest of us?

The word reconcile (at least in English – I have no idea regarding the various forms of the Greek word) has more than one meaning. When I balance my checkbook, I am reconciling my record of transactions with that of the bank, so that they are in agreement. I might have to make adjustments to my entries, because I made an erroneous entry or failed to record something. Corrections might be needed in order to make the ledgers balance, and sometimes I find that I need to make an urgent transfer of funds to prevent an overdraw. When God reconciled us to himself through Christ, the ledgers were way out of balance, and mankind was already way overdrawn.

Once I balance my checkbook, though, it doesn’t stay balanced on its own. I have to maintain it, taking care to ensure that it stays in balance. That, I believe is where our ministry of reconciliation comes into play. (I know, the metaphor limps in so many ways, but no metaphor is perfect.) The Catholic Church teaches that it is the role of the laity to take Christian principles into the world to build a just and moral society. In other words, it is up to us to reconcile the world that is to the world that should be. That is our never-ending ministry and our mission.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

For the Intentions of ...

On mornings when I go to the YMCA to run, I typically take a finger rosary and pray the mysteries while I run the laps. At the end of my rosary, I like to add an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for the intentions of the pope. It took me a long time to get used to saying Benedict XVI rather than John Paul II. This morning, I started to say, “For the intentions of our Holy Father, Pope …” I didn’t know how to proceed, so I fumbled through, “… Emeritus, Benedict XVI.”
Man, this is awkward.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Burning Bush

The first reading at mass today was from the third chapter of Exodus: the story of how God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. My favorite depiction of the scene is from the Dreamworks film The Prince of Egypt. What I really like about this clip is the way that it seems to capture both the transcendance and the imminence of God, along with the inadequacy felt by Moses.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Lovely French

I was walking out to my car at lunch time today, and I overheard a bit of conversation between two gentlemen from the west side of the building in which I work. The west side is home to the Purchasing and Service Departments. I didn’t know either of them. They were getting into a car and conversing loud enough that I could hear them from half-way across the parking lot, when one of them, totally unprovoked, dropped the F-bomb.

“Oh, that’s lovely French,” I thought to myself. Then I added, “Dude, I have no idea who you are, but you’ve just made your first impression, and it’s not a good one.”

Do you remember the old Verbal Advantage commercials? It was a vocabulary building system that used to advertise extensively on the radio years ago. Their commercials (as I remember them) always included the line, “It’s true! People do judge you by the words you use.” It remains just as true today.

I am also reminded of something that was written by Archbishop Charles Chaput not so very long ago: “Vulgar language suggests a vulgar soul.” It isn’t always necessarily so, but it is more often than not.