Thursday, November 20, 2014

Advent advances ad orientem

Nice article by Bishop Conley of Lincoln, NE, on (re)introducing ad orientem worship at some parishes this Advent.

Bishop Slattery of Tulsa did this a few years ago (that's him in this photo from New Liturgical Movement.)

Friday, October 31, 2014

"Relatio Synodi:" the final document from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family (in the context of the New Evangelization)

The "Relatio Synodi" is the final document from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in the Context of the New Evangelization.  It will also serve as the starting document for the Ordinary Synod on the Family in 2015.  So, it's not really "final" in any but the most immediate sense.  Here's the whole thing in English.  I haven't had time to read it yet, myself.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cardinal Burke on some of the Synodal issues (Updates)

EWTN's Raymond Arroyo has an excellent interview (10/9/14) with Cardinal Burke on his "World Over" show:

Canon lawyer Ed Peters has some commentary on the interview, also.

UPDATE 10/17 - More clear thinking and leadership from Cardinal Pell:

UPDATE 10/22 - A very good interview with Archbishop Kurtz (Louisville, president of USCCB); and some very clear thinking about the "temptations" in Pope Francis's closing speech from the synod, from Msgr. Pope.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Society for Catholic Liturgy conference, Oct 2-4, 2014, in Colorado Springs

This past weekend I presented a paper at the annual conference of the Society for Catholic Liturgy, in Colorado Springs.  St. Mary's Cathedral was a great venue for the conference, and it was great to meet some new people and hear some quite excellent papers and presentations.

Here are some brief write-ups about the conference.  The main keynote was from Bp. Conley of Lincoln.
Bp. Conley giving keynote at St. Mary's Cathedral. Picture by Jennifer Donelson.
My paper was called "Order of Levitical Blessing: Fruitfully Reclaiming a Patristic, Liturgical Typology of the Diaconate."  I argued that the Latin Church very early developed a theology of the diaconate based on the type of the Levite, the second priesthood (after that of Aaron) of the Old Testament.  We can see this type used in a wide variety of sources, liturgical and non-liturgical.  I sketched out the main lines of development of the type, noting its moral arguments and its theological implications for relationships among the grades of Holy Orders, and I examined the use of the type in the ordination rites of deacons in the Latin Church (citing texts from the Leonine Sacramentary, Gelasian Sacramentary, Gregorian Sacramentary, Missale Francorum, Liber Ordinum (Mozarabic Rite), and Tridentine (1595) Pontificale Romanum), and comparing the much more limited use of the type in the current (2012 English edition) Pontificale.  I showed how the Tradition had developed an understanding of specific blessings or graces for the Church in the separate ministry of deacons, complementing that of other orders, and how that idea disappeared from the current recension of the rite, because it used only New Testament passages to develop a (slightly different) theology of the diaconate.  I therefore suggested that re-introducing the previous Old Testament typology to our understanding of the rite and of the diaconate would greatly add to the Church's reflection on the renewal of the diaconate, and help us answer key questions about certain aspects of its sacramentality, and about its distinctive place within the layers of the Church's ministry.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Working document ("Instrumentum Laboris") for the Synod on the Family released

It's a longish document (75 pages).  No time to read it now, but here's the link to the Vatican's site, and here's a CNS report on it, including a summary of its scope and main lines.

Friday, May 30, 2014

2014 CARA report, "A Portrait of the Permanent Diaconate," available

This is a more extensive report than that given most years.  A link is in the sidebar.  I'm still digesting the contents and may post about it later.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Deacon as Ἄγγελος, Angel or Herald

sanctuary of the Cathedral of the Epiphany
In the sanctuary of our Cathedral, we have four quite lovely stained-glass windows, depicting the Last Supper, the Resurrection, the giving of the Keys to St. Peter, and Pentecost.  During the year before my ordination, when I was serving Mass as an acolyte, I had a clear view of the Resurrection window, in which an angel is depicted rolling away the stone from the tomb, while Christ emerges and the soldiers are struck insensible with awe and fear.

In this window, the angel is wearing a dalmatic.

I pondered the better part of that year, week after week, what it meant that angels wear dalmatics, and what sort of "angel" I could be as a deacon.  I still think of those reflections, and what I learned in that time, each time I see that window.

Dcn. Bill Ditewig recently had a rather nice post on his blog on this topic, to which I was refered yesterday.  He makes the point correctly that this symbolism of angels wearing dalmatics is vital to the Eastern theological understanding of the diaconate, and less so the Western, but is a dominant tradition in the artistic representation of both angels and deacons even in the West (as in our Cathedral).

He doesn't, however, make the further point about what the word "deacon" (διάκονος) actually means.  The usual English translation is "servant," and that's alright in a very general sort of way.  But "servant" in English carries a wide range of connotations, from "slave" to "butler" to "trusted advisor," that only partially overlaps with the connotations of "deacon" in koine Greek.  One end of that range of connotations is occupied by other Greek words (e.g. "doulos," "slave" or "personal servant," which is also used frequently in the New Testament), while the connotation of the New Testament's "deacon" word group is rather different from the range of "servant." It means more specifically something like "ambassador," "messenger," or "herald" (as John Collins' meticulous study "Diakonia" (Oxford UP, 2009) showed).  This is why the translation into Latin has always been "minister," which has a very similar range of connotations (consider the usual governmental context of "minister" as a title today), and not something like "servus," "slave" (the root, e.g., of our English "servant" and "serf").

In other words, it's not just in art and in theology that the connection between angels and deacons is made, but that connection itself derives from the overlapping semantic content of the two words.  Both are "sent from" someone else, and wield (a share of) that person's own authority.  And thus, to push even further, the third word that fits directly into this same semantic weave is "apostle" (ἀπόστολος), lit. "one who is sent."  Indeed, just as the Father sends Christ the Son, and Christ sends the Apostles and their successors, the bishops, so also the bishops perforce send (priests and) deacons to extend their ministry to all (e.g., Lumen Gentium #18-20).  And the intimate connection between deacons and bishops that, say, St. Ignatius of Antioch makes flows also from this understanding of ministry and mission.

St. Gabriel
Thus, when Lumen Gentium goes on to say in #29:

At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed "not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service."(74*) For strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests they serve in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God. It is the duty of the deacon, according as it shall have been assigned to him by competent authority, to administer baptism solemnly, to be custodian and dispenser of the Eucharist, to assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church, to bring Viaticum to the dying, to read the Sacred Scripture to the faithful, to instruct and exhort the people, to preside over the worship and prayer of the faithful, to administer sacramentals, to officiate at funeral and burial services. Dedicated to duties of charity and of administration, let deacons be mindful of the admonition of Blessed Polycarp: "Be merciful, diligent, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who became the servant of all."(75*)

...the "ministry of service" the Council Fathers have in mind is, in its essence, that share of the apostolic ministry first entrusted by the Apostles to the Seven chosen in Acts 6, and which we see carried out by St. Stephen and Philip in Acts 7 and 8, namely, the proclamation of the Good News by word and witness, and the bringing of people into union with Christ through baptism and through inviting them to receive the full ministry of the Apostles themselves.  And this is also what the ordination rite clearly means when, as the bishop hands the Evangelarium to the newly ordained deacon, he says, "Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are; believe what you read, preach what you believe, practice what you preach."

Two other implications then flow from this, both of which are contested points about the diaconate today.  First, just as angels only do what God sends them to do, so deacons must exercise their ministry within ecclesial structures.  For most deacons, this means a parish assignment and an active presence in the parish's liturgical and ministerial life.  (One could also be assigned to other ecclesial institutions, e.g. diocesan offices, schools, hospitals, apostolates, etc.  But all of these are "ecclesial" in the same sense, that of obedience to and communion with the local bishop.)  Whatever ministry a deacon undertakes, it must remain connected with the apostolic center, and with the altar.  Deacons are not "extra-ecclesial" ministers in the sense that they function "beyond" the institutions of the Church.  The fact that most permanent deacons are married and have jobs outside the Church confuses this greatly.  Certainly in those roles deacons remain deacons, and should preach Jesus Christ (especially by example), but it is not for this that they are ordained; all the baptised should do as much, each according to vocation and state in life.

2014 ordination of permanent deacons, in the same Cathedral
Second, just as the only example of disunity among the angels is the Fall, so the unity of the deacon with the bishop means that those who are chosen to be ordained as deacons must in principle be capable of receiving a greater share of the apostolic ministry; that is, they must in principle be eligible to be chosen to the presbyterate (and the episcopate).  To ordain as a (permanent) deacon someone who could never, under any circumstances, be ordained a priest would separate the ministry of the deacon from the ministry of the bishop.  It would create another, non-apostolic, "sending" for the deacon to pursue. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Video of May 3 Ordination

Courtesy of M.V., good friend and erstwhile instructor of this cohort, here is a video of our ordination Mass for our ten new deacons, on May 3.  The camera was hand-held and she was unable to leave the pew for better angles, but the quality is still very good overall. 

Part 1 is the procession up to the beginning of the homily:

Part 2 has the homily and part of the ordination rite:

Part 3 starts with the vesting of the new deacons:

Part 4 has some of the Communion Rite:

Part 5 starts with the Postcommunion Prayer:

Thanks to MV for sharing these with us and to the HS for causing the day to happen!  Ad multos annos!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Apostolic Succession: Thoughts on the Feast of St. Matthias, 14 May

Yesterday was the Feast of St. Matthias, the one chosen in Acts 1:15-26 to take the place of Judas among the Twelve.  I preached on how this demonstrates Apostolic Succession, and what that means for our faith today.  This is an extended version of what I preached about, more in the form of reflections than the homily was.

Here's the text, according to the Douay-Rheims version:

In those days Peter rising up in the midst of the brethren, said (now the number of persons together was about an hundred and twenty): Men, brethren, the scripture must needs be fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was the leader of them that apprehended Jesus: Who was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry...  For it is written in the book of Psalms: Let their habitation become desolate, and let there be none to dwell therein [Ps 69 (68):26]. And his bishopric [Vulg "episcopatum;" LXX "επισκοπήν, episcopen"] let another take [Ps 109 (108):8]. Wherefore of these men who have companied with us, all the time that the Lord Jesus came in and went out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, until the day wherein he was taken up from us, one of these must be made a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph, called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And praying, they said: Thou, Lord, who knowest the heart of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, To take the place of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas hath by transgression fallen, that he might go to his own place. And they gave them lot, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

This passage clearly shows us the criteria in the minds of the earliest disciples, including the Apostles, even before Pentecost, of what would come to be called "apostolic succession."  I've highlighted the key passages:
  • Peter rising up... - It's Peter's role as the leader of the Twelve to take this action.  Right from the beginning, Peter has a distinctive leadership among the Apostles, rooted in the events of Mt 16:18-19 ("You are Peter, and on this rock...") and Jn 21:15-17 ("Do you love me? Feed my sheep." (thrice)).  The first several chapters of Acts bear this out.  When Peter eventually becomes Bishop of Rome, this headship will be exercised by his successors, Linus, Cletus, Clement (e.g., in his Letter to the Corinthians), etc., and become the basis of papal authority over the whole Church.
  • ...the scripture must needs be fulfilled... - The action described here is explicitly understood to be divinely inspired, both in the action of the Holy Spirit among the community prompting Peter's leadership, the community's responses, and the eventual choice of Matthias - note, again, this is before Pentecost! - and in the Scriptural foundation now revealed to be a prophetic preparation for this moment.  God is in charge, and therefore the whole doctrine of apostolic succession is "of God."
  • And his bishopric let another take... - The divine shape of the office of bishop is, in is essence, also rooted in Scripture and in the use Christ and (here) the Holy Spirit make of it.  Peter uses Ps 109 to call the position held by Judas and now to be given to another the "episcopate."  In the Greek and in the Latin, the connotation is not generic, such as "manager" for us today is generic, but something with more specific, even if still flexible, outlines, function, and purpose.  
  • of these must be made a witness... - part of the essence of the office being given is that of witness, of one who can proclaim the Good News and the Kingdom as an eyewitness and credible testifier.  
  • ...a witness with us... - the unity of the Twelve in this mission, among themselves and together with Peter their leader, is paramount.  This is still true today; see e.g., Lumen Gentium 18: "This Sacred Council, following closely in the footsteps of the First Vatican Council, with that Council teaches and declares that Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father; and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles..." etc.
  • ...a witness with us of his resurrection. - The bedrock of the Gospel is the Resurrection of Christ from the dead.  It's not just that Jesus worked miracles, or taught a moral law, or challenged corrupt or lax religious authority, but most especially that He died and rose for us, that makes Christianity what it is.  One cannot proclaim or follow Christ without proclaiming and following the (hope of) the Resurrection.  Knowing and following the Lord Jesus must make this kind of difference in one's life.  
  • ...take the place of this ministry and apostleship... - Again, Peter and the Apostles are giving this task of proclaiming a specific authority and shape with this sort of terminology.  Their role in the Church is different from that of other disciples, even if they are still disciples first, as Ignatius of Antioch would say (Letter to the Romans, 4).  "Ministry," in particular, although it can often be a more generic word, takes on a specific, non-generic connotation in relation to the Resurrection of Christ, and the proclamation of that Good News by the Church (see e.g. Paul's usage in Rom 15:16: "That I should be the minister of Christ Jesus among the Gentiles: sanctifying the gospel of God, that the oblation of the Gentiles may be made acceptable and sanctified in the Holy Ghost.")  Here, Gospel proclamation and Eucharistic sacrifice are explicitly linked in "the ministry of Christ."
  • ...he was numbered with the eleven apostles. - In other words, Matthias held an equal position with the other Apostles, under the leadership of Peter, even though he was given this position by them, and not, as they originally were or as Paul would be, by Christ Himself.  The fullness of Christ gifts to the Apostles are still held by Matthias - and by extension, by all those chosen by the Apostles and by their successors.
What all of this shows is the critical importance of the doctrine of apostolic succession for the Catholic faith.  Jesus Christ gave specific teachings, spiritual gifts and powers, and a share in His own authority to the Twelve.  They in turned passed the same "inheritance" on, intact and unchanged, to Matthias and others (e.g. Timothy, etc.).  They in turn used the gifts for the same purpose (i.e. "ministry," namely, proclamation of the Good News, leadership of the Church in unity under Peter and his eventual successors, and the sacraments (e.g., baptism, Acts 2:38; Confirmation, Acts 8:14-17; Eucharist, Acts 2:46, I Cor 11:20; anointing, Jas 5:14-15; ordaining by laying on of hands, Acts 6:6, I Tim 5:22; witnessing marriages "in the Lord," I Cor 7:39; forgiving sins (but private auricular confession becomes normal for the use of this power only later), Acts 3:19, 26; 4:4...).

Therefore, we must recognize the fact that the Church exists from its beginning in Christ, in its fullness!  (See CCC 771ff.)  Christ gives everything necessary to the Church, in the beginning, completely.  Now, granted, there is the historical work of "unpacking" the fullness of this gift, doctrinally, sacramentally and liturgically, and in evangelization of the whole world, and indeed that unpacking continues even today.  But it is the unfolding of what has already been given, not the creation or invention of new divine gifts and revelations.

It's precisely this apostolic succession that ensures that we're dealing with the same divine deposit of faith, and not inventing new things for ourselves.  This is the essential argument of Irenaeus against Gnosticism, for example, and it has been deployed many times.  If the Eucharist does not come from the hands of Christ Himself at the Last Supper, then the Church invented it, and it is not essential or divinely intended.  If Holy Orders do not come from the hands and will of Christ Himself, through the Apostles (choosing Matthias, choosing the Seven in Acts 6, Paul choosing Timothy, etc), then the Church invented these roles and rules, and they are not essential or divinely intended.  And so forth.  This is exactly what we mean when we say in the Creed that we believe the Church to be "apostolic" as one of its defining realities.

This doctrine is part of the faith we receive in baptism, but it is not, in the strict sense, a "mystery."  It is not impenetrable, nor does it exceed reason to consider in what way, precisely, as recorded in the New Testament and as lived out in the history of the Church, the concrete and tangible gifts of ministry were given by Christ to the Apostles, and were used by them in the first three decades of the Church, and were handed on intact by them to their successors, to be used still further for the building up of the Church, and so on.  It is entirely rational and historical to grasp this part of the faith, and to apply it to the realities of the seven Sacraments, the Church's worship in general, the moral life, and the life of charity.  The great apologists of the second century - e.g., Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria - did exactly that in defending apostolicity against both Roman (pagan) syncretism and Gnostic mythologization, and others since have imitated them.

But contrast this understanding of faith against the most common assumption or model of the modern world, namely, "evolution."  Modern thought implicitly assumes that everything follows the pattern of evolution gleaned from biology - of more primitive things becoming more complex over time, following certain common patterns and driven not by clear purpose or teleology, but by "survival" or "fitness" in a specific context, or by mere self-perpetuation in some form.  Nearly every example of adaptation or change over time is squeezed in this evolutionary model, regardless of whether that actually helps understanding or not.

Darwin might look like a prophet, but he's a poor theologian.
In terms of Church history, the imposition of the evolutionary model since the 19th century has led to many "non-traditional" arguments and conclusions, some of which are extremely damaging to the faith.  For a lesser example, arguments that Mark's Gospel is earlier than Matthew's essentially boil down to the claim that it must be earlier because it's shorter (= the more primitive form). (There's a bit more to the argument than that, especially that so much of Mark is in Matthew, but not as much in reverse.  Still, some good arguments for Matthew's being earlier are not given as much attention, because they don't fit the model.)  There are many other, more serious ways in which the imposition of the evolutionary model distorts our understanding of faith.  Most insidious is the idea that opposes "the Jesus of history" (primitive form) against "the Christ of faith" (later complex form), and ends with denying the divinity of Jesus itself!

In terms of the doctrine of apostolic succession, especially, the evolutionary model is completely the wrong one to use.  Still, it is all too common to assume that more primitive forms of ministry must have preceded later forms, such that, in the first decades of the Church, it's not really possible to talk of "bishops," of Peter as "Pope," of the "sacraments" (apart from baptism, and the "breaking of bread," which is not yet the "Eucharist"), of a coherent body of doctrine (apart from a few elements labelled "the primitive kerygma"), etc.  The dissimilarities between the earliest Church and the "post-Apostolic" Church are just too great, it is argued, to use these later terms and institutions to describe what's going on in the "primitive form" of the earliest Church.  If these fit even in the earliest Church, then they're not really primitive forms - but, it's just impossible (it is assumed) to explain how fully developed forms of things can exist without more primitive predecessors.

But the problem with this conclusion is precisely that it is not consonant with faith in Christ, as noted above.  If Christ did not will and give the essential aspects of these things to the Apostles, then they are not constitutive of the Church!  If they are not willed and given by Christ to the Apostles, then there is no divine power behind them.  Baptism doesn't really wash away sins, it's just a symbol.  Priestly ordination doesn't really give a man a sacred power to change bread and wine into Christ's own Body and Blood, it's just a symbol of leadership, possibly even a corrupt and politicized one.  The faith which is proclaimed doesn't have to be the same one that was proclaimed by earlier generations of Christians; it can even contradict what was previously believed.  Even Scripture itself is undermined, since divine authorship is incompatible with the evolutionary model, and the Canon of the New Testament is therefore a political side-effect of Church history, and thus also one which a new politics could redefine.  In the end, imposing an evolutionary model on the Church destroys apostolic succession and many other central doctrines, and makes us all into feckless false believers in empty, meaningless symbols.

I ended my homily with an exhortation to ask the intercession of St. Matthias and the other Apostles to increase our faith and strengthen our witness.  If we don't believe in a robust doctrine of the Church and her dependance on Christ and the Apostles, if we don't accept that there is a true and unchanging apostolic deposit of faith which we must believe, live, and transmit to others unchanged, then in the end, we don't really believe in Christ as "the one Mediator between God and men."  God save us from such a puny and selfish thing!
"Christ taking leave of the Apostles," Duccio di Buoninsegna ca. 1311, in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena

Monday, May 5, 2014

3 May 2014: On the Feast of Ss. Philip and James, ordination to the Holy Diaconate of ten new deacons!

Congratulations and continued prayers for our ten (!!) newly ordained permanent deacons: Joe Coleman, Rick Rohr, Vern Burke, Paul Gengler, Dennis Brockhaus, Kevin Poss, Rob Claypool, Tom Henrich, Rick Salocker, Dan Goebel!  Ad multos annos, brothers!  May your ministry as deacons always be filled with the love of Christ and the seven-fold gift of the Holy Spirit, for the salvation of many souls!  (Captions are under the pictures.)

After the reading of the Gospel, the presentation of the candidates.

Prostration during the Litany of the Saints

Having made the promises of obedience and the act of fealty to the bishop, the candidates await the imposition of hands.

The imposition of hands, in silence.

The prayer of consecration over the candidates.  At this point, they are now ordained!

About to receive the investiture of stole and dalmatic

Acolytes bring forward the stoles and dalmatics, while vesting deacons and priests prepare to vest the newly ordained.

Dcn. David (left) assists newly ordained Dcn. Tom Henrich at the preparation of the altar.

Consecration of the gifts and incensing of the altar.
The newly ordained pose with Bishop Nickless after Mass.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Homily for 3/9, First Sunday of Lent

The great Catholic author and master of wit of a hundred years ago, G. K. Chesterton, was once famously asked, "What's wrong with the world?"  Without hestitation, he pointed to himself and responded, "I am."  This answer is universally true on more than one level, but it's especially true in showing a great humility and in embracing the doctrine of original sin.

In our first reading, we have the occasion of that original sin, the Fall of Adam and Eve.  They disobeyed God's command not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  They failed to trust God's promises, and they believed the devil's lies, and so they disobeyed, and fell.  And as St. Paul says in the second reading, this sin had great consequences for all of us: "By the disobedience of one man, sin entered the world, and with sin, death."

This doctrine of original sin is central to so many of the teachings of our Catholic faith.  Original sin
Matteo de Nassaro, slate bas-relief ca. 1501, via
is why we baptize people into the Church as soon as we reasonably can.  Baptism washes away original sin, and we don't want people to wait for that healing.  Original sin is why we receive the Holy Eucharist as often as we can, and not just once in our life, to be united with our Lord Jesus Christ in His real Body and Blood, soul and divinity.  And the consequences of original sin include all of our own sins, our capacity to sin every day.  And therefore we have the Sacrament of Penance always available to us, to receive again and again God's great mercy and forgiveness.  And likewise we have the Church's moral teachings and the examples of the saints to strengthen and encourage us in the daily struggle against sin.  Without the doctrine of original sin, so much of our faith would really make no sense.

Yet we live in a time and a culture which tries so hard to deny the reality of original sin.  The devil is still lying to us!  He wants to make us fall, as he made Adam and Eve fall, and the best weapon he has to do so is to deaden our sense of sin.  And so our world denies original sin and its consequences.  It does so in very many ways, but I'd like us to consider just one of those ways right now.

The world tries to claim that what makes something right and true is if it comes out from the depths of one's heart.  The world rejects God as illuminating what is right and wrong, rejects the Bible, rejects Tradition, rejects the wisdom of the past.  None of these, and no other person, the world wants us to think, can tell us what is right and wrong, but only what is in our heart.  Therefore, if you want something strongly enough, it must be right to want it.  Now obviously, there is a grain of truth in this idea.  There are many deep desires in our hearts that are good, love and forgiveness in the imitation of Jesus Christ foremost among them.  But also obviously, there are many desires in our hearts that are equally deep, that are not at all good.  We are all capable of many kinds of anger and violence and damaging the dignity of other people.  Clearly, having a desire to harm someone else doesn't make harming them right.

As an example of this dynamic of the mystery of sin, consider the pornography which fills our culture.  The world wants to say that there's nothing wrong with pornography, that it's simply normal.  The people who make pornography are doing so freely, and don't seem to be harmed by it.  The people who consume the pornography are expressing a personal desire by doing so.  So where's the harm, or the sin? 

King David praying - maybe Psalm 51?
But with our Catholic understanding of original sin and the mystery of sin, we can see that all this is another lie by the devil.  Pornography is not victimless, not harmless, and not normal.  Those who make it suffer in a number of different ways.  And those who consume it also suffer in various other ways.  [I didn't enumerate in the homily, but we know what these effects are.]  It degrades the human dignity of both of them, and it becomes a constant temptation to see other people as mere objects of desire.  Pornography is the Fall in a nutshell.  And we can see this even in our first reading.  Adam and Eve do gain a true knowledge of good and evil by eating from that tree - it's not the way God promised to give this gift to them, but it's still true knowledge.  And as soon as they do, the very first thing they realize is that they are naked.

This season of Lent, just beginning, is a precious gift to each of us, an opportunity to examine our hearts and our lives in the light of Christ.  Has the world's denial of sin encroached on our faith?  Do we make worldly excuses for our sins?  Is there some part of our life where we are still dead because of sin?  Do we perhaps resist the holy desire for Christlike purity in mind and heart?  Now is the time to let the light of Christ, the mercy that flowed from His side on the Cross, begin to heal that darkness.  Jesus Christ conquers sin and death, refusing every temptation of the devil.  His Gospel is good news!  It's good news for us because it means that we too don't have to be mastered by sin, or defined by our sins.  In Him we can say no to sin - not by our own strength, because we are weak, but in Him, in His perfect power and mercy and forgiveness.  Now is the time to examine our lives and echo Chesterton's humble admission, to beg our Savior Jesus Christ for His mercy.  Each of us can say that we are truly a sinner, in great need of His mercy, but longing to be healed and freed from our sins.  In this Lent, God invites us to accept totally the words we heard just the other day, on Ash Wednesday: Repent, and believe in the Gospel.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Homily for 12 Feb 2014, Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

The Old Testament reading today is the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, 1 Kgs 10:1-10.  Here's the homily I preached, as well as I can remember and reconstruct.
Lavinia Fontana. The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon. c. 1600. Dublin, National Gallery of London.

In our first reading today, King Solomon stands as a type of Christ.  We are particularly invited in this
passage to consider first his wisdom, like that of Christ.  King Solomon's wisdom of course was exceptional, although merely human, while Christ's wisdom is divine and perfect.  But Solomon's wisdom is of God, and points us toward the more perfect wisdom of our Lord.  Because of his wisdom, he kept his kingdom in peace for many years, and gave justice and good laws.  Christ does the same, more perfectly, for His Church and for His kingdom.

We're also invited to consider Solomon as the builder of the temple in Jerusalem.  Again, he foreshadows the temple Christ builds, which is His Church, His own Body.  We want to participate in the worship that takes place in Christ's temple, and so here we are at this Holy Mass.

This passage also offers us the figure of the Queen of Sheba.  She is a more worldly ruler than Solomon, very rich and powerful and successful in her own kingdom.  But she's not a negative example of the world, because she does come to Solomon to exchange gifts and confirm peace.  Rather, she stands in relation to Solomon in very much the way we stand in relation to Christ.  She's heard of his extraordinary wisdom, his goodness and justice, and she's interested, but she can't quite believe that all this could be completely true.  We too sometimes hesitate to believe fully in the perfect wisdom, mercy, and goodness of Jesus Christ - although we have faith, certainly; yet sometimes we're reluctant to lower our guard, to set aside our reservations, and give ourselves totally to Christ.  Like her, it may seem to us that the forgiveness or the providence of Christ is just too good to be true.

So the queen comes to Solomon to test him, to see if he really is what has been reported.  And she is convinced by what she finds, and so she gives him all the gifts that she has prepared for him, if it turns out to be true.  We can do the same.  We don't need to test Christ, but we can come to him and listen to His wisdom, to His Word, and see how it satisfies us.  We can come before Him with our faith, and strive to set aside our worldly defenses and hesitations.  We can do the hard work of deeper interior conversion in order to be more open to Him, to His grace and His perfect will.  And we do this especially in prayer, and in the sacraments.

The Adoration of the Magi *
When we do this, we usually see that Christ really is our perfect king and savior.  What is reported of Him is not exaggerated!  He is the one, the only one, who can offer us pure mercy, the redemption of our sins.  And therefore, like the queen, we should give Him the gifts we have prepared.  It's significant that she gives to Solomon gifts of gold and spices - the same gifts which the Magi offer to the infant Christ in Bethlehem.  In both cases, the gift of gold represents Christ's kingship, and therefore to give Christ our gold is to give Him our allegiance and obedience.  Because He is our only savior, to grow in faith means to grow in our readiness and willingness to do only His will, to follow His laws which He enacts through His Church.

source **
In the same way, the gift of spices represents Christ's priesthood, His saving sacrifice of the Cross and
His holy passion.  To give Christ our spices is to participate in His priesthood, especially through the sacraments, which again, He offers us only through His Church.  Because He is the one High Priest, to grow in faith means to grow in desire for His grace and mercy in receiving and living out all the sacraments, as well as to grow in prayer and devotions.

When we do this - when we expose ourselves to Christ in order to receive more deeply all His gifts for us, and then give back to Him a deeper faith, obedience, and devotion - then we also show the love and mercy of God to all those around us.  We show why the ways of the world don't lead to salvation or real happiness, and what a difference it truly makes to be close to our Lord Jesus Christ.  We show this by the quality of our lives.  We preach simply and without confrontation, heart directly to heart, about our true faith and joy in Christ, our Lord and Savior.

So let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the courage to be defenseless before Jesus Christ.  Let us pray that we may receive everything He wills to give us, and that we may willingly give back to Him everything we have and are.  In this way, may we always offer the light of Christ to those in darkness.