Friday, November 20, 2015

Pope Francis addresses Deacons at International Deacon Centre

Dear Brothers in the Diaconate,
dear Brothers in the Presbyterate and Episcopate,
dear wives of deacons,
dear participants in the Jubilee of the International Diaconate Centre,

Bild vergrößern
I send you warm greetings and congratulate you on the 50th anniversary that you are celebrating these days on the occasion of the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate by the Second Vatican Council together with 600 people from 35 countries.  When Cardinal Oswald Gracias told me on behalf of your President Klaus Kießling that you were interested in meeting me, I agreed right away – full of anticipation to receive you.  However now I have to dedicate my full attention to the Synodal processes, so a direct meeting will not be possible during your Jubilee celebration. I regret this very much and look forward to another opportunity.

St Stephen the Protomartyr
exercising the original diaconate
In view of the first International Study Conference on the Permanent Diaconate, Paul VI stated on 25 October 1965: “Surely the Council acted in accordance with a providential inspiration of the Holy Spirit when it decided to renew the original ministry of diaconate at the service of the People of God.” It is in this conviction that I ask you not to relent in your commitment to a diaconal Universal Church and a world of solidarity. You are ambassadors of Jesus Christ who rejects anything related to authority and puts human hierarchies upside down like anyone who serves. You are ambassadors of our incarnate God who shows solidarity up until death and beyond death. You are called to accompany other people on their way to incarnation, in solidarity, everywhere in the world.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this commitment. At the same time I ask you to accompany me and my ministry with prayer. I also promise to take your concerns to the Lord and cordially impart to you my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, on 20 October 2015

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bishop Olmstead (Phoenix) - "Into the Breach"

Yesterday, Bishop Olmstead published an apostolic exhortation to men to step "into the breach" of faith and spiritual life.  His exhortation is excellent!  Please read it.  It's entirely relevant to deacons and those of you in deacon formation, too.  The main point is about a revival of Catholic manliness by:
  • a rejection of postmodern culture's confusion about anthropology and gender, and an embrace of traditional and Biblical norms for masculinity (i.e., strength with gentleness, justice with mercy, wisdom and humility, basic courtesy, boldness to face down evil and to lead to the good, protection of others, especially those who can't protect themselves, the Biblical "widows and orphans" - in a word, chivalry),
  • chastity,
  • fidelity for fathers and husbands (and a deliberate promotion of the necessary norms for being good fathers and husbands, over against the self-indulgent decadence of the culture and the scourge of divorce),
  • return to the Mass and the sacrament of Confession,
  • prayer and personal devotion.
I'm hoping that the website will continue to be a good source for informationa and resources.  Click through to see a short video associated with the exhortation.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis in America - Homily, Midday Prayer with the Bishops, 9/23

This is, I think, the clearest, most comprehensive articulation that I've seen, of what Pope Francis is trying to do as Pope.  Some of his actions and words have, at times, been seen with confusion and ambiguity.  His "style" can be abrupt and imprecise, especially in comparison with his two immediate predecessors.  But here, there is nothing unclear or objectionable in what he's laying out, and there is a full embrace of Tradition, just as I also embrace, believe, and strive to act.  Especially, his words here are full of charity and joy, as he invites his brother bishops (and, through them, all of us) again to work with him in the vineyard of Christ.  Read the whole thing at the above link.

Some highlights:
The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind. May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace. Wherever the name of Jesus is spoken, may the Pope’s voice also be heard to affirm that: “He is the Savior”! From your great coastal cities to the plains of the Midwest, from the deep South to the far reaches of the West, wherever your people gather in the Eucharistic assembly, may the Pope be not simply a name but a felt presence, sustaining the fervent plea of the Bride: “Come, Lord!”  Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God… know that the Pope is at your side, the Pope supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage.
I speak to you as the Bishop of Rome, called by God in old age, and from a land which is also American, to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ. Reading over your names, looking at your faces, knowing the extent of your churchmanship and conscious of the devotion which you have always shown for the Successor of Peter, I must tell you that I do not feel a stranger in your midst. I am a native of a land which is also vast, with great open ranges, a land which, like your own, received the faith from itinerant missionaries. I too know how hard it is to sow the Gospel among people from different worlds, with hearts often hardened by the trials of a lengthy journey. Nor am I unaware of the efforts made over the years to build up the Church amid the prairies, mountains, cities and suburbs of a frequently inhospitable land, where frontiers are always provisional and easy answers do not always work. What does work is the combination of the epic struggle of the pioneers and the homely wisdom and endurance of the settlers. As one of your poets has put it, “strong and tireless wings” combined with the wisdom of one who “knows the mountains”.
We are bishops of the Church, shepherds appointed by God to feed his flock. Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion. We need to preserve this joy and never let ourselves be robbed of it. The evil one roars like a lion, anxious to devour it, wearing us down in our resolve to be all that we are called to be, not for ourselves but in gift and service to the “Shepherd of our souls” (1 Pet 2:25).  The heart of our identity is to be sought in constant prayer, in preaching (Acts 6:4) and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care (Jn 21:15-17; Acts 20:28-31).  Ours must not be just any kind of prayer, but familiar union with Christ, in which we daily encounter his gaze and sense that he is asking us the question: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” (Mk 3:31-34). One in which we can calmly reply: “Lord, here is your mother, here are your brothers! I hand them over to you; they are the ones whom you entrusted to me”. Such trusting union with Christ is what nourishes the life of a pastor.
The great mission which the Lord gives us is one which we carry out in communion, collegially. The world is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere. Consequently, the Church, “the seamless garment of the Lord” cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over.  Our mission as bishops is first and foremost to solidify unity, a unity whose content is defined by the Word of God and the one Bread of Heaven. With these two realities each of the Churches entrusted to us remains Catholic, because open to, and in communion with, all the particular Churches and with the Church of Rome which “presides in charity”. It is imperative, therefore, to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it as a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Is the "deaconess" a female deacon?

Deacon Greg Kandra on Deacon's Bench notes today a recently-published interview with Austrian theologian Dietmar Winkler of Salzburg University.  The English version is picked up by the Tablet, hardly a reliable source, and my German isn't up to reading the original.  Dr. Winkler is reported to have said, among other things,

“Married priests and women deacons should be reintroduced as soon as possible. That would bring new dynamism to the Church”, the future dean of Salzburg University’s Catholic theological faculty, Professor Dietmar Winkler, told the Austrian daily Salzburger Nachrichten

What Dr. Winkler and so many who promote the ordination of women to the diaconate don't know (or at least don't seem to know) is that the ancient order of "deaconess" was never seen by the Latin Church as a female version of the Order of Deacons.  Rather, it was parallel to the Lector - a ministry, certainly, but not a consecrated ministry of the sort reserved to the sacrament of Holy Orders.  Deaconesses did not ever receive that sacrament.  Deaconesses had several roles, nearly all of which were serving other women in situations where it would be improper or scandalous for men to do so.  The most common role was in the baptism of women, which was often done disrobed; from that also came a catechetical roles forming those women.  Other liturgical roles, like reading and ushering, were predominantly in women's monastic houses or groups, where men (apart from priests) were not present.

This distinction is deeply embedded in the liturgical texts of the "ordination" of deaconesses.  (One can, in the broad sense, speak of "ordination" of a deaconess.  The root meaning of "ordination" is simply "induction into an order," and no one is arguing that deaconesses did not constitute an order, like that of the Order of Widows, say.  But this should never be confused with the special sense of "ordination" which means "induction into one of the orders of the sacrament of Holy Orders.")  Even if the symbols of the diaconate (laying on of hands, giving of a stole) could be used for deaconesses sometimes, the words (and therefore the meaning) of the rituals remain quite different.  For example, here's the earliest known pair of ritual texts, from the Apostolic Constitutions from Syria in the 4th century (Book III has other interesting info on deacons and deaconesses):

Prayer for a deacon:  "...[H]ear our prayer, Lord, and give ear to our supplication, and let your face shine on this your servant who is appointed to you for ministry, and fill him with spirit and power, as you filled Stephen the protomartyr and imitator of the sufferings of your Christ.  And grant that he, acceptably performing the sacred ministry entrusted to him, may be worthy of a higher rank through the mediation of your Christ..."*

Prayer for a deaconess: "Eternal Father..., creator of man and woman, who filled with the Spirit Miriam and Deborah and Anna and Huldah; who did not disdain that your only-begotten Son should be born of a woman; who also in the tent of the testimony and in the temple appointed women to be guardians of your holy gates: now look upon this your servant who is being appointed for your ministry, and give her the Holy Spirit and cleanse her from every defilement of body and spirit so that she may worthily complete the work committed to her, to your glory and the praise of your Christ..."*

Note the key distinctions.  The ministry of the deacon is "sacred," it is done "with spirit and power," and it may lead to "a higher rank" (namely the priesthood).  The ministry of the deaconess is simply "ministry," not sacred (Holy Orders) ministry, it is done with the spirit but not "power," and it is completed worthily without any indication of "higher rank."  The text for a lector from the same source uses, for a lector, the same "ministry" (not sacred ministry) and the same "spirit" (not spirit and powe), but then does indicate the "higher rank" that follows. 

One might also note that the Old Testament typology and the New Testament roots of the deaconess are likewise completely different from those of deacons, as elaborated in other version of the rituals.  So there's really no question that deaconesses are not female versions of the Holy Orders rank of deacon, but rather female versions of something like the lector, with a few differences specific to their unique context (lectors don't baptize, for example, except in case of emergency, but they do catechize).  Finally, one might point out that, in fact, we have already "restored" the deaconess in the modern Church - they're now called "Lay Ecclesial Ministers."

*(Source: Paul Bradshaw, Ordination Rites of the Ancient Churches of East and West (New York, 1990) 116-7.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Homily outline for Wednesday 7/8/15 - Evangelization

Here's today's Gospel (Mt 10:1-7):
Jesus summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness.
The names of the Twelve Apostles are these:
first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew;
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
Philip and Bartholomew,
Thomas and Matthew the tax collector;
James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus;
Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot
who betrayed Jesus.

Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus,
“Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town.
Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

For my homily, I gave St. Jerome's two-point interpretation of this passage from the Catena Aurea.  Here's the quick summary.

First point - Scripture doesn't contradict itself.  So, this sending of the Apostles only to their fellow Jews is not in contradiction with the later sending to "all nations" (Mt 28:19).  Rather, it's two steps in the fulfillment of God's one plan for salvation.  The Jews already had their special status as God's preistly people, and the Revelation of Scripture, to prepare them for this proclamation of the Kingdom; and indeed, many of them did hear and respond, not least the Apostles themselves.  The Gentiles, lacking this relationship with God, would wait for the Resurrection to have the whole Gospel proclaimed to them.

Second point flows from this.  Since Scripture doesn't contradict itself, we can't read this passage as any kind of limit on where and when we ourselves proclaim the Kingdom.  We're sent everyone by our Baptism and Confirmation, and for the ordained, by our Orders.  But, St. Jerome says, the verse should be read spiritually, as an indication of how we proclaim.  If we live our lives in the manner of those who don't know Christ ("Gentiles"), or who have accepted only part of the Gospel ("Samaritans"), we can't evangelize effectively.  We have to live entirely as disciples of Christ, and evangelize from that standpoint first and foremost, by how we live.  Thus we may show in our daily actions, even before we may have a chance to speak, the joy, mercy, grace, and hope of Jesus Christ, to a world starving for His love.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Order of Penitents

Dominican Father Thomas Michelet has written an intriguing article in Nova et Vetera, (English 
Christ the Good Shepherd( from St. John's Icon Studio)
translation) arguing that a reclaiming of something like the ancient Order of Penitents could be pastorally useful today.  For those who find themselves in irregular situations with respect to the sacramental disciplines of the Church, such as the divorced-and-civilly-remarried or those who have fallen away from the Church, it could provide both a concrete position in the Church, instead of the often-nebulous injunction not to present oneself for Communion; and a predictable structure for offering them pastoral care and a path of conversion and regularization.  What he has sketched out in the article appears to remain consistent with Scripture and Tradition, and the current discipline of the Sacraments, while attempting a bridge between where people are (away from the Sacraments) and returning them to full communion.  Notably, Fr. Michelet argues for the importance of reaching out to those most in need of penance, in order to bring them to an interior understanding of their sins and need for conversion, rather than (as we too often do) just waiting for them to show up, contrite. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, "Church of Mercy of Pope Francis," response in several parts - Part Four (and last)

This continues my explication and response to Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga's essay and talk, "The Church of Mercy of Pope Francis."  Previous parts are here and here and here.

“The Church of Mercy with Pope Francis” (cont'd)

3. To Bear Witness to God’s Mercy is to Commit to Man


The best testimony of charity and mercy is found especially in the saints, in their high level of Christian life and in the maturity of the live idea of God [True; but, their witness is also witness to “traditional” spirituality, and the apostolic and sacramental order inherent in the Church.  To invoke them is to defend that “traditional” spirituality which he seems want to change, and thus undermines his putative argument.]. The God loved and worshiped by saints reveals Himself gradually along with the fidelity and contemplative growth of the believer [“no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Luke 10: 22)].


The biblical God is not the God of Theodicy or of pure rationality [Not sure what he means by this.  Does he mean this in a “traditional” way, namely, that, while our reason applied to the created world can find evidence that reveals God’s nature as Creator, reason alone cannot know God without the gift of faith?  Or does he mean something else, such as that “traditional” theology (often disparagingly called “onto-theology” should be rejected as “triumphalist” and “domesticating” of God?]: it is a God that has to be found, that has to be received as a gift and as a revelation. It is a different God… The Christian God is not exactly the God of the philosophers, of the logic and of the Theists. [Augustine and Aquinas, e.g., would certainly agree with this.]  Just believing in God does not make you a Christian. [“Faith without works is dead.”]  A Christian is someone who has discovered the biblical God; the God of Abraham, of Moses, of the Prophets, that revealed Himself in plenitude in the God of Jesus. [I assume he does not mean to imply, by the parallelism (God of Abraham = God of Moses = God of Jesus), that Jesus is not God.]  Through the history of Salvation, there is a gradual revelation of the face of the true and only God [i.e., Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who gave us the Church and the Sacraments as the primary means of salvation, and sends thereby the Holy Spirit to unite us to Himself and the Father]. The way of the Church’s pastoral conversion today is to guide individuals and cultures through that gradual revelation, though in different contexts and experiences. [This is a false dichotomy, if meant in contradistinction to some “traditional” method of pastoral conversion, imagined not to introduce to others that same face of God in Jesus Christ through appropriate contexts and experiences.]  Nothing reveals God more than love. Therefore, Pope Francis says (speech of November 14, 2013) that, “The Church’s primary task is to bear witness to the mercy of God and to encourage generous reactions of solidarity in order to open a future of hope. For where hope increases, energy and commitment to building a more human and just social order also grows, and new possibilities for sustainable and healthy development emerge.”


3.1 Full-Time Christians


In the Family Synod (October 2014) something notable happened for the first time: [What he describes here is exactly what Pope Benedict described having happened at Vatican II (e.g., again, the 2005 Christmas address, and elsewhere).  So this dichotomy of “two synods” is hardly the “first time.”  Is he ignorant or forgetful of Pope Benedict’s remarks, or is he implicitly contradicting and rejecting them?]  There were like two Synods because outside the precinct where the Synod Fathers were gathered, there was a media Synod that denoted a perverse intention to confuse opinions, invent answers, imagine solutions and exaggerate positions of those of us gathered there; instead, inside the working room a charismatic, serene, cordial, filled-with-unction-and-faith synod was taking place, seeking to agree and to answer the essential issues of family and marriage.


Many [in the false, media synod] identified as the unique and fundamental topic, issues that were merely secondary. For example, we did not talk only about giving “communion” to re-married Christians —that was a collateral argument, it was never essential. What was really said, and I repeat and emphasize, is that the realities of dissolved and rebuilt families are not an impediment to live and participate in the abundant life of the Church; that the “sacramental communion” is not the only way to vitally participate in the pastoral dynamic of the parish community and that every Christian couple that seeks God will find Him because he allows Himself to be found and that every re-married Christian can be a full-time Christian, has a right to be happy, and his house can become also a place where the love of God is born witness. [Well, yes, but... this should not be taken in a sense which downplays the uniqueness of the Eucharist.  There are many reasons why one might refrain from approaching Holy Communion at any given time, and such experiences indeed do not prevent the love of God from indwelling in us; but at the same time, it remains true that participation in the Holy Eucharist is the “source and summit,” and therefore the ideal, of the Christian life, toward which we are meant to strive.  If it lies within our power to remove an obstacle to our reception of Holy Communion, and we refuse to do so, are we not rejecting thereby the fullness of God’s love for us?  We must not take a complacent or minimalist attitude about our total union with Christ.]


For me, there is no “place in the basement” of the Church for Catholics that have wanted to rebuild their lives having remarried, though they cannot receive the Sacrament of Communion; there is no corner in attic for migrants that do not have documents in order and want to prepare their children in the sacraments of Christian Initiation; there is no special window in Heaven to assist those who have left the Catholic Church and have gone to other places seeking the warmth, refuge and respect that their mother has not been able to provide. [I think this is basically correct (Mt 23:4, Col 3:13, Eph 4:2).]


All these are challenges to our conscience and a strong and tough demand to our parish practices that are so rigid and narrow-minded. [Indeed, it is possible that we fail to live up to these high standards of radical love, and that we fail to evangelize and to foster faith in others.  And some of the ways in which we can so fail might well be called “rigid” or “narrow-minded.”  However, if he means here to identify “rigid and narrow-minded” with “traditionalist,” as above, then he’s going too far.] That is why the Pope said to be careful not to turn the parish and episcopal offices into “customs.” And he is completely right. (Santa Marta, May 25, 2013). To remember the whole message, I quote: “We are many times ‘controllers of faith,’ instead of becoming ‘facilitators’ of the faith of the people,” lamented the Pope during his daily mass at Santa Marta’s Guest House in the Vatican. In his homily that was broadcasted by Vatican Radio, the Argentine Pope mentioned a priest who refused to baptize the son of a single mother, “this girl who had the courage to carry her pregnancy (…) and what does she find? A closed door,” affirmed the Pope. [We need to know more about this anecdote before we can conclude that this priest acted “rigidly” or “narrow-mindedly.”  Just by itself, the quote does not demonstrate what he claims.]


Nobody is excluded from the Church of Christ. [True, but many people exclude themselves by rejecting God’s mercy, love, and grace.]  There is a place for everybody, for the migrants, for those who one day abandoned the Church but come back convinced that they can stay forever, for those married-divorced-remarried, for the poor, for everybody. Within these categories fall those that Francis calls “the least”, when he encourages: “The Church must step outside herself. To go where? To the outskirts of existence, whatever they may be. If we step outside ourselves we find poverty. We cannot put up with this! We cannot become starched Christians, those over-educated Christians who speak of theological matters as they calmly sip their tea. [Another false dichotomy.  Although his exhortation to embrace the mission is sound, the contrasting of “education” with “courage” is belied by, say, St. Dominic, etc.]  No! We must become courageous Christians and go in search of the people who are the very flesh of Christ, those who are the flesh of Christ! (Vigil of Pentecost, May 18, 2013).


3.2 The Culture of Good


The Pope’s words sounded strong when he said, “Be men and women with others and for others: true champions at the service of others” (December 2, 2013). [Another “traditional” exhortation.]  Following this, the Holy Father tells us something fundamental, three points that I want to share with you today to finish my talk here: [First point: importance of public Christian witness to mercy, love, hope] “In your society, which is deeply marked by secularization, I encourage you also to be present in the public debate, in all the areas where man is at issue, to make God’s mercy and his tenderness for every creature visible.” Yes, dear Friends, let it be a task and commitment for you to work courageously and heroically “where man is at issue.” Only in that manner will we bear witness of God’s mercy, the mercy that is love —and love that begins at home. [His three points here returns to the tenor of Part I, above, which seems quite orthodox, but now there is a deep, ambiguous tension in his words.  Does he mean this conclusion in a “traditional” way, with the apostolic and sacramental commitments thus implied, or is he evoking some “new” ecclesial vision and order?]


[Second point: importance of strong spiritual foundations] The incarnate aspect of spirituality, turning life into a transcendental humanism according to the Spirit, is what lays the foundation for the Christian mystic. [Are we to take this in continuity or in rupture with the great spiritual masters?]  It is focused on the search for God through Jesus, but also focused on man and the search for fraternal love. It lives in the hope that the Kingdom will have no end but it centers completely on the tasks of a Kingdom in history and in society. It receives faith as a gift from God, irrepressible to any human experience, but it knows that faith takes diverse shapes [“unity in diversity” has always been acceptable; but there are limits, since some diversities do indeed break the unity] and demands according to the cultures, the challenges of society and the individual commitment, and that all human or Christian commitment must also be a place of the experience of God.


[Third point: priority of the “preferential option for the poor”] Since certainly, the privileged “place” in which Christ’s Mercy becomes incarnate and becomes practice is in the love for the brothers and sisters, and in the preferential love for the poor and the suffering. The temporal reality that summarizes all the incarnations of the mystic, all the realism of the Christian spirit, and that gathers all the demands of the practice of the faith and love, is the brother, is the poor. [Are we meant to take this in continuity with the “traditional” understanding of the Great Commandment, or as a “new” understanding?  How does this understanding of love of neighbor relate to the traditional understanding of the love of God?]  The God hiding in the faces of our brothers is the supreme experience of incarnation and to practice mercy is its definitive stamp because “mercy is the true force that can save man and the world” (September 15, 2013). [Again, continuity or rupture?]


[Overall, this essay is pretty forceful and coherent, but it has a significant issue in the middle.  Part I and the first two sections of Part 2 are clear and reasonable.  He does not directly contradict anything in the Church’s traditional understanding of Scripture, Tradition, mission, vocation, or evangelization.  However, one must supply the full understanding of these topics.  The absence of any mention of the place of the Sacraments becomes striking in the middle of the essay.  In this sense, in the last two sections of Part 2 (2.3 and 2.4), when dealing explicitly with the “traditional” Church and the changes following Vatican II, he seems strongly to take the position of the “hermeneutic of rupture,” rejected by Pope Benedict XVI (and Pope St. John Paul II).  His language is vague and his meanings remain rather uncertain.  It is difficult to understand what he could mean if his vision is not essentially that of the hermeneutic of rupture, but it is also difficult to know clearly what he means even within that point of view.  His arguments in this section remain unconvincing, especially the flawed argument from authority.  In the final section of the essay (Part 3), his failure to mention the sacramental economy as the primary avenue of mercy for the Church and the world in the beginning of the essay, along with the appearance of taking the hermeneutic-of-rupture position in the middle of the essay, introduces a devastating ambiguity into his conclusions.  The reader no longer knows how to understand what is being put forth.  The language and content seem to hew close to the Church’s proper understanding of the topics at issue, but we cannot be certain that he means the same things by these same words. 


The best reading of the essay, then, I would suggest, is to set aside the unconvincing middle section, and to embrace the hermeneutic of continuity at least implicitly taken in the beginning.  By this reading, the conclusion becomes a straightforward, fairly strong and urgent, exhortation to deepen our missionary zeal, and to work more to overcome the various obstacles to the spread of the Gospel that our own weakness, sins, and particular historical/cultural blind spots might impose.]

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, "Church of Mercy of Pope Francis," response in several parts - Part Three

This continues my explication and response to Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga's essay and talk, "The Church of Mercy of Pope Francis."  Previous parts are here and here.

“The Church of Mercy with Pope Francis” (cont'd)

2.3. The Finish Point: The Church of Mercy


We walk as Church towards a deep and global renovation. [I think “renewal” is what he means.]  For this renovation to be sincerely Catholic, it must encompass all of the historical dimensions of the Church.


Specifically, there is no true ecclesial renovation without a transformation of the institutions [Here he begins to say things that seem to contradict what he has already established.  Especially, it’s not at all clear what it might mean to “transform” the essential institutions of the Church – namely, the hierarchical-apostolic order, the organization into dioceses/parishes/religious houses, and all that serves the sacramental and pastoral care of souls – in any sense that would remain “Catholic.”]; of the quality and focus of the activities; of the mystic and the spiritual. Usually, renovation begins with pastoral activities. For it is there where the inconsistencies of a certain “model” of the Church and reality are primarily experienced. The missionaries, the evangelists on the “margins” of the Church, are the first ones to notice the insufficiency of the “traditional” ways of action; the pastoral criticism begins with the experience of the mission in the “peripheries.” Changes and adjustments begin there. [This, too, is curious, because the “margins” of the Church (Asia, Africa, the pro-life movement, the pro-traditional-liturgy movement, etc.) seem quite consistently to want something much different than this next paragraph calls for:]


After Vatican Council II, the methods and content of evangelization and Christian education change [not always for the better]. The liturgy changes: local languages are adopted, some rituals and symbols change, measurements are taken for a greater participation, etc. The missionary perspective changes: the missionary must know the culture, the human situation; the missionary must establish an evangelizing dialogue with those realities. “Social action” changes, it is no longer just charity and development services but also struggle for justice, human rights and liberation… [Some notable false dichotomies in here. One thinks, e.g., of the first generation of Jesuit missionaries in Asia in the 16th century, of whom it certainly could not be said that they did not learn and value the culture, the language, the people, etc.; nor is “the struggle for justice, human rights, and liberation” a new thing in the Church in the later 20th century.  But since these efforts have always been there, too, this paragraph implies either a repudiation of the Church before Vatican II, or a confusion about what the Church did for its mission in previous generations.  In either case, it is quite superficial and misleading to present it in this manner.]


For Christian coherency, certain institutional and organizational changes are contemplated simultaneously: new functions require new suitable institutions. [Again, it’s not at all clear what “new functions” he means.]


The Council propelled institutional renovations, following the logic of the Spirit. [Note the dangerous implication that the Church before the Council was not following the same logic.]  These reforms encompass all levels of the ecclesial organization: the religious congregations or missionary societies —whose “Chapters of Renovation” multiply— the diocesan and Vatican Curia, Episcopal Conferences, the Synods, the parishes, the pastoral areas, the presbyteries, the lay apostolic institutions, the teaching of theology, the seminaries, the catholic schools… New institutions for missionary dialogue emerge: ecumenism, Jews, other religions… Everything in the Church changes consistent with a renewed pastoral model. [Exaggeration for effect? Clearly, not everything in the Church changes.  But it’s important to note, I think, what he’s eliding here by implication, namely, the apostolic and sacramental order labelled “Tradition.” This therefore could be taken to contradict what he sketched out in Part I, above.]


Maybe some thought that the Church renovation was only that. But the institutional and functional changes —alone in themselves— proved insufficient, superficial. [This language becomes quite dangerous.  Note how he now implicitly pits “the Church before the Council” and “the Church after the Council” against each other, in just the manner Pope Benedict taught must not be done (e.g., in the 2005 Christmas address to the Curia).] Sometimes they created new problems and crises both unnecessary and deep. Any change in the Church eventually requires considering a renovation of the motivations that the new options inspire. Without deep-rooted, living and explicit motivations, no human group, no institution and no society can survive for a long time, much less renovate itself. Motivations answer to the fundamental “why” of the options, the enterprises, the demands, and the same reason for being of the institution.


The Pope wants to take this Church renovation to the point where it becomes irreversible. The wind that propels the sails of the Church towards the open sea of its deep and total renovation is Mercy.


For the Church, the motivations are more than essential; they are its identity stamp. The “why” of its organization and its action cannot be decisively explained by the human sciences or the pure historical rationality: they refer to Jesus and his Gospel as the global, indispensable and predominant motivation. It is the motivation of the Spirit. Therefore, to speak of motivations in Christianity is to speak of the mystical, of spirituality. [Right.  In Part I, he seemed to agree that it is of the essence of the Church founded by Christ that this “why” goes to the reception of grace/mercy and the journey of conversion, via Scripture and Tradition, the Sacraments, and the works of mercy. Now, he’s hinting at some new “why,” some new relationship in the Church between “mercy” and “concrete love,” that would change the essential shape of Tradition.]


The institutional and functional renovation of the Church requires a renovation of its mystical dimension. And at the roots of the mystical is mercy.


2.4 The Maternal Heart of Mercy


Catholic spirituality in history, due to its same incarnate nature, never takes place as an “activity” isolated from the pastoral, the theological, the social and the cultural conditions. [That’s certainly true of the Sacraments, too.]  Since one of its dimensions —it is not the only one— is to motivate believers to follow of Jesus. This following acquires renovated nuances, demands and topics consistent with the mission and with the human experience of the believers. While the life of Christ and the Gospels are always the same, the experiences and the options that inspire are always historical. [What does this mean for Tradition?]


Spirituality is not a science nor one more praxis in the Church. It is the “nourishment” of the pastoral, the theology and the community, whatever their “model” is. [But in this broad sense, “spirituality” must be unchanging, part of what comes to the Church immediately from God.  He seemed to accept this in Part I, but now he seems to contradict himself.]


When this was forgotten by the process of ecclesial renovation, [I’m guessing he missed the implication here that it was not forgotten by the Church before the Council...]  this caused “schizophrenia” in some Christians, which is one of the causes of many failures. In a short time, they progressed in all of the levels of the renovation. They changed many pastoral, theological, and disciplinary categories. The image and the mission of the Church changed. Likewise, its concept that related faith with history and society changed; therefore the social and political options became more important.


In this context, there was no mystical renovation and it remained “traditional,” consistent with another vision of the faith and of the mission, and inconsistent with the new ecclesial experiences. [And there it is: “traditional” = “bad.”  Notice how he now elides Tradition by labeling it merely “another vision of the faith the mission” – as if the fundamental orientation of the Church were so malleable!  Again, in his argument in Part I, he seemed to accept Tradition; now, he is claiming that “traditional” spirituality, rooted in the “traditional” understanding of Scriptures, apostolicity, sacramentality, devotions, etc., is no longer fit for the Church.  So, either this section of the essay is confused and unhelpful, or else his real argument is this: If our fundamental spiritual “experience” and “vision” remains that of the Apostles, the Fathers, and the Councils, then we are “schizophrenic” and “inconsistent!”]


In this context, a spirituality does not motivate, it becomes irrelevant. It ends up being perceived as a useless appendix and ends up being abandoned, since a mystic that does not nourish the human experience stops having meaning; a spirituality that is foreign to the ecclesial model that is being lived leads to the crisis of the Christian “schizophrenia.” Many abandonments of the ecclesial life, and even of the faith, are rooted there. [Even granting this “being foreign to the ecclesial model” to be true (which I don’t), this does not follow:] The only answer is not in abandoning all mystic or reversing the renovation of the institutions or options (due to fear of a collapse of the Christian values), but in deeply renovating the faith and spirituality starting from love to reach mercy. [Assuming he really means what he says here, this is an extraordinarily sweeping claim. He’s saying that the “traditional” model of the Church, and the spirituality that underpins it, do not “start from love to reach mercy.” So the whole of Church history, all the works of all the great saints and mystics of the past, the whole sacramental order and experience of the Church for 19 centuries, that was not really what God intended for the Church.  But now, somehow, almost ex nihilo, suddenly this tiny handful of people understand everything better and clearer than all the doctors of the Church and the whole of the faithful...] That is what the Pope wants. [And just in case you’re not convinced, he pulls out the argument from authority.  The (current) Pope is claimed to want it, so it must be right.]


In that regard, on July 28, 2013, Pope Francis said (speech): “She gives birth, suckles, gives growth, corrects, nourishes and leads by the hand… So we need a church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy. Without mercy we have little chance nowadays of becoming part of a world of ‘wounded’ persons in need of understanding, forgiveness and love.” [This quote doesn’t support what he claims.  Since “the Church is always in need of renewal,” the Pope is quite correct (in that sense) to say this; but such “rediscovery” means a return to what the Church has always done, in evangelical and apostolic integrity, not a substitution of some new ecclesial vision for the “traditional” one.]


On December 9, 2014, at the Chapel of the Santa Marta Guest House I heard the Pope say loud and clear what I will share now: “I ask myself, what is the consolation of the Church? [2 Cor 1:3-5 - he paraphrases thus:]  Just as an individual is consoled when he feels the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord, the Church rejoices and is happy when she goes out of herself [offering the same mercy and forgiveness to those who long, even inchoately, for reconciliation with God; as said above, this ultimately leads to full sacramental participation.]. In the Gospel, the pastor who goes out goes to seek the lost sheep – he could keep accounts like a good businessman. [He could say]: ‘Ninety-nine sheep, if I lose one, it’s no problem; the balance sheet – gains and losses. But it’s fine, we can get by.’ No, he has the heart of a shepherd, he goes out and searches for [the lost sheep] until he finds it, and then he rejoices, he is joyful.”


“When the Church does not do this [Has there ever been a time or place when the Church, qua Church, has not done this?  Or does he mean, when the members of the Church don’t?], then the Church stops herself, is closed in on herself, even if she is well organized, has a perfect organizational chart, everything’s fine, everything’s tidy – but she lacks joy, she lacks peace, and so she becomes a disheartened Church, anxious, sad, a Church that seems more like a spinster than a mother, and this Church doesn’t work, it is a Church in a museum. The joy of the Church is to give birth [i.e., to new disciples]; the joy of the Church is to go out of herself to give life [i.e., by those new disciples’ sacramental participation and sharing in the mission]; the joy of the Church is to go out to seek the sheep that are lost; the joy of the Church is precisely the tenderness of the shepherd, the tenderness of the mother.”


“May the Lord give us the grace of working, of being joyful Christians in the fruitfulness of Mother Church, and keep us from falling into the attitude of these sad Christians, impatient, disheartened, anxious, that have all the perfection in the Church, but do not have ‘children.’ [This is good.  As disciples, any of us might experience discouragement and loss of zeal, and we need this prayer continually.]  May the Lord console us with the consolation of a Mother Church that goes out of herself and consoles us with the consolation of the tenderness of Jesus and His mercy in the forgiveness of our sins.” [Again, these words of Pope Francis do not support the supposed argument about Tradition the Cardinal is possibly trying to make. The Pope is saying that we’re not good enough disciples, that we’re distracted by all kinds of weakness and sin from carrying out the mission of the Church consistently.  That’s true and always has been, and yet God works through us in spite of it.  This is quite a “traditional” thing to say.  But it doesn’t follow from this that “traditional” spirituality is faulty or inadequate.]


These are words accompanied by gestures of the Pope that speak of coherence. His actions and his harmony with those who need consolation are small pieces of encyclicals, they are itinerant “Pope Magisterium,” [Argument from authority again.  Moreover, if Pope Francis’s “gestures” and “small pieces of encyclicals” constitute this “itinerant papal Magisterium,” then so, logically, did those of Pope Benedict XVI, Pope St. John Paul II, and all the popes... which obviously leads to conflicting claims and irreconcilable differences within the Magisterium.  So this becomes a reductio ad absurdum, and is clearly not tenable. See LG #22, 25; Heb 13:9; Mt 7:15; etc.] they are prophetic gestures that arouse admiration and cause the holy emulation of what he does, because he does it as Christ did and Peter summarizes it at Cornelius’ house: “He went about doing good” (Acts 10: 38).


Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, "Church of Mercy of Pope Francis," response in several parts - Part Two

This continues my explication and response to Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga's essay and talk, "The Church of Mercy of Pope Francis."  Part One of my response is here.

“The Church of Mercy with Pope Francis” (cont'd)

2. Mercy is the Highest Expression of Love


The Church presided in charity—as it is called liturgically—wants to be known in times of Pope Francis [and, indeed, in all times] as the house of mercy. The following text summarizes this symbol of identity: “I believe that this is the season of mercy. This new era we have entered, and the many problems in the Church – like the poor witness given by some priests, problems of corruption in the Church, the problem of clericalism for example – have left so many people hurt, left so much hurt. The Church is a mother: she has to go out to heal those who are hurting, with mercy.” (Pope Francis Press Conference on July 28, 2013)


The Pope’s words in this speech feel harsh for the corrupted, the abuser, the liar, the one who seeks power mundanely, but feel tender and benevolent, like balm and sweet to “those who are hurting.” [By itself, this risks being a false dichotomy. What about those already being healed, who seek to serve? Or those outside the Church still rejecting every approach of grace?]  A Samaritan Church will heal the wounds of those who are beaten, hurting and prostrated, those who have weakly fallen under the power of those who use violence. That is why the Pope’s words have such a deep evangelical meaning. Thinking about the Church as “a mother who has to go out to heal those who are hurting, with mercy,” puts her in a completely original role —the one from the beginning of Christianity— a Church that is close to people, incarnated and submerged in the existential history of man, turning their miseries into wealth and their weaknesses into their biggest strength. [Quite true, that Christ founded the Church to be a merciful mother to all, and that, inasmuch as the Church is indefectible (Mt 16:18), she has always been such.  But, he seems to contradict this, below...]  This makes us think of the Church in metaphoric similarities to a “home” and a “hospital”. The Church of Christ is the Church of Francis: beset with compassion.


2.1 The starting point: God’s Mercy


In the Angelus from September 15, 2013, the Pope said: “Remember this well, ‘There is no limit to the Divine Mercy which is offered to everyone,” since “Mercy is the true force that can save man and the world from the “cancer” that is sin, moral evil, spiritual evil. Only love fills the void, the negative chasms that evil opens in hearts and in history. Only love can do this, and this is God’s joy!”


Starting from God’s Mercy, the Church that allows itself to be led by that mercy [What’s his implied contradiction here? Is it possible to imagine “the Church,” qua Church, not allowing itself to be led by divine mercy?] becomes infinitely generous and can take the commandment of Love to the ultimate consequences, knowing that it is Love what saves man and the world, or what saves man from the world. If sin is considered a “cancer” and can disguise itself as moral evil, spiritual evil and psychological evil, then the universal remedy against any form of evil will be the love that becomes forgiveness [In its fullness, this means participation in the holy Eucharist: LG #13, etc.]; it will be the love that becomes hope able to give meaning to so many empty lives and so many human lives beset with pain and frustration. If something is able to redeem from sin it is the Cross of Christ. Therefore, everything that fits under the Cross’ shade is redeemed. [In this image, one sees Mary and John at the foot of the Cross, with the whole apostolic, sacramental, and devotional “spirituality” thus evoked.]


It is not just Christ’s pain and his passion that redeem, it is not just the cross that saves us: his pain, his passion and his cross have redeeming power because of Love. [Because the Love is God Himself; see CCC 602, 603, etc.]  It is then Christ’s crucified Love that gives back meaning to human existence and elevates it to the dignity from which sin deprived it and that Jesus’ decision, dying for love in the cross, recovered.


If the world experienced how big God’s love and salvation initiative are, all temples would be filled with people asking for the holy sacraments of Confession, Baptism, Anointing of the Sick and Eucharist. Priests would not be able to handle such a need for absolution, blessing or communion since entire multitudes —convinced of that infinite love of God, origin of salvation—, would understand that truth and life have a name: Jesus. And his name is Love.


That is why the Pope says, “Only love fills the void,” Which void? Superficiality, noise, alienation of the heart that hardens when it lets itself be taken over by consumerism, love for money, the culture of death, the maelstrom of pleasure in all its forms, the drugs and the life without God. [In a word, sin.]  If man’s void was filled with God’s mercy and mercy could be experienced in the Church, nobody would abandon their parish, temples would be packed with faithful, seminaries would be filled with young men that would leave the field of daily worries to devote themselves to serve God and console their brothers. This is not idyllic nor poetic, it is as realistic as the pain that only love can heal. Void cannot be filled with another void. It has to be filled with content and realities that can sublimate and explain them. [I.e, the real encounter with divine love and mercy, of which the highest form is in the Sacraments.]  That is why the answer that man—wounded—seeks as the ultimate meaning of his existence only exists in God. If people were to found a Church close to the people, compassionate, a companion, identified with the bleeding pain of so many “sick” and terminally ill lives, the Church of Christ, the Church that Pope Francis presides today, would be more credible and necessary. [I certainly don’t think he means that people founded the Church instead of Christ, but he does begin here to drive in the wedge of “Church of Christ = Church of Francis, but not = Church of, say, Trent...”]


2.2. The Point of Encounter: Man’s misery


It is starting from God’s mercy how we reach man. That is why every honest meeting with the existential reality of man takes place under the sign of mercy. It is either mercy or judgment. [A perfectly correct dichotomy (e.g., CCC 1021)]  And the Church is not here to judge, condemn, reproach or reject anybody but to embrace as in a home where love reigns for everybody who needs it. [No, but, let’s not gloss over the rather critical step of one’s acceptance of mercy and entering into the path of conversion.]


Pope Francis explains that Jesus’ mercy towards man is not so much a feeling as a force. He says it in this manner, “it is a force that gives life, that raises man up! (…) “This compassion is the love of God for man, it is mercy, the attitude of God in contact with human misery, with our poverty, our suffering, our anguish,” (Angelus, June 9, 2013).


[This paragraph is good:] It is not a simple emotional harmony of the agreement of altruist feelings but a real assumption and possession of the misery of man by God. When Christ was Incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made Man (cf. Nicene’s Creed), he took as his all human beings reality, all their miseries to redeem them and save what was lost. He did it in a way that where there was man in his circumstances, where there was a person conditioned by his or her own existential environment, where life weighs and existence hurts, where depression and absurdity stand out, God’s love arrives, repeating what the Pope said, “the attitude of God in contact with human misery, with our poverty, our suffering, our anguish,” (idem). God does not become absent from man. Instead, moved by mercy, He has an eternal appointment with him to heal his misery and proclaim about each life and about each history a new hope made up of forgiveness, comprehension and deep tenderness. This type of God wants this type of Church. [Yes; and in fact God has this type of Church, since it’s precisely this Church which He founded.]


Therefore, following Jesus does not mean to participate in a triumphant entourage. [Again, yes, but... We certainly embrace humility and reject “triumphalism” in any of its worldly senses (see Mt 20:25-6; 1 Pet 3:5; etc.), but the victory of Christ over sin and death is a triumph worth celebrating; and the host of saints entering Heaven in “martial array” (e.g., 1 Kgs 8, Rev 19, etc.) is “triumphant” in a good sense, which it would damage the Church to lose – to wit:] It means to share his merciful love, to enter his great work of mercy for each man and for all men.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, "Church of Mercy of Pope Francis," response in several parts - Part One

Oscar Andres Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga speaking at SCU
(photo from the Markkula Center's website)
Last week, at Santa Clara University, at teh Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga gave a talk on "The Church of Mercy of Pope Francis."  He is an important figure these days, being not only the cardinal archbishop of Tegulchigalpa (capital of Honduras) and president of the Church's charity arm Caritas Internationalis, but also member and chairman of Pope Francis's special council of cardinal-advisors.  His talk in the USA was therefore a notable Church happening.

Santa Clara was good enough to publish the text of his essay.  In the spirit of fraternal dialogue, I offer a thoughtful and, I hope, constructive response.  The published text is in black, [with my comments in red, inserted].  The essay is somewhat long, so I'm breaking it into several parts, following the sections in the original.  Here is Part One of my response.

“The Church of Mercy with Pope Francis”

1. The Gospel is summarized in love


Fraternal love has its origins in God, who is Love and that loved us first. [Yes, quite so.] He spreads his love unto us, through the Holy Spirit [By what means?  See below...], so that, in each of us, that love can grow, mature and resemble true love —the love with which Christ loved us.


If we are able to love, it is because God communicates his love to us. If we can love, it is due to Christ’s death for love and His resurrection, which have made love possible [not only by imitation, but especially by participation; the Sacraments make us capable of loving like Christ – see LG #11; CCC 150, 221-227, 654, etc.  This critical understanding of “divine love” is consistently elided in this essay.]. This love of Jesus is the measure [and “source and summit”] of love. The Christian ideal surpasses [precisely in sacramental participation, without which it remains merely “humanistic”] the pure humanism of interpersonal equality ("don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you; do unto others what you want others to do unto you"), and pushes us to love as Christ loved us. Therefore love’s growth has no limits in our life. That is why learning to love is the great task of Christian spirituality, always unfinished. [So there is a necessary supernatural element in human love which participates in Christ’s perfect love.]


Sometimes there is the risk of focusing spirituality on other goals, other values, and not giving supremacy to the Beatitude of Mercy [“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”]. This Beatitude teaches us that according to the Gospel, it is both solidarity and commitment of efficient love towards the brother in need and suffering misery, and the forgiveness of offenses and the reconciliation.


Mercy is the practice of fraternal love, and it shows us the concrete ways of the incarnation of love: the reconciliation and the liberation from miseries. [But also in a supernatural sense; therefore liberation from spiritual miseries (i.e. sins and the effects of sin) is also always central to the presence of divine mercy in the world, i.e., the mission of the Church.]  Jesus’ teachings reveal to us that practicing mercy is the only universal way that builds fraternity (that makes us brothers and sisters to one another). [True and full fraternity is unity in the Church; see LG #2, #13 – “All men are called to belong to the new people of God...”]  That is the message of The Parable of the Good Samaritan, which is the parable of the true practice of mercy and fraternal love (Luke 10: 25-37). At the end of the parable, Jesus asks the experts in the law, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor (brother) to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10: 30). It means that the three were not brothers of the wounded. They could have been, but in fact “the one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10: 37) was. The priest was not a brother of the Jew and neither was the Levite, the Samaritan was. For Jesus being a brother to others is not something “automatic,” like an acquired right [because of the reality of sin]. We are not brothers without practicing love. Saint Paul reminds us that we gain nothing if we serve the poor or surrender to martyrdom if we do not have love (I Cor. 13: 1 et seq.)


[This paragraph is very good:] Regarding the commandment of growing in love, we must acknowledge that we do not know how to love. [Again, he’s invoking the reality of sin.]  Our love is usually a caricature (Rom. 12: 9: “let love be genuine”). Our selfishness, our worries and our sensitivity take us over. Nevertheless we know that fraternal charity is the most difficult Christian and human realization: to be able to love as Christ loves us. [This is what we’re striving for in the whole of the spiritual life, and why we need constant recourse to the grace of the sacraments, and to deeper prayer.]  We know that on Earth we will never reach the perfection of love; we know that we will continually fail, that we do not know how to overcome division and rancor, that every day we are timid in serving, in welcoming, in forgiving and in giving something of our lives for others. All this does not mean that we do not want to love or that in fact we do not love. Love is the way of love, to love is to want to love. What God asks of us, essentially, is not the success of charity but the permanent effort to grow in love and the struggle to learn to love, which begins every day. In the struggle to mature in love, the “human” and “evangelical” aspect of love walk together hand in hand, without ruptures or contradictions.


There is no separation between human love and Christian charity. [True; but there is the distinction, already noted above, between natural and supernatural realities.]  There should not be in practice a quandary between evangelization and social action born out of charity. The commandment of love that Christ gave us coincides with the vocation of man to grow affectionately, to give and give oneself above receiving and possessing.


Indeed, the mission, the mercy and the service to the poor and to all brothers as a human and missionary experience must be a place of discovery of God, of greater knowledge of the face of God. God’s Spirit reveals Himself in the values of self-giving and service, the aspirations to justice and solidarity, in each conversion, in the “little ones”, the suffering and the indigent… Human reality, cultures, are filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit and the action of God that builds the Kingdom; they lead us to experience God Himself. [This is all quite true, but again, must not be taken in a sense which denies that the Sacraments are also encounters with God, or that drives any kind of wedge between prayer/liturgy/sacrament and charity/social action; see below...]


The social dimension of the mission implies becoming “contemplative in the action.” Both dimensions of the evangelist’s spirituality are inseparable: The God that is experienced and loved in Himself and through himself, and the God experienced and loved in the brothers. The first dimension underlines that Christianity is transcendental to any temporal reality; the second dimension highlights that Christianity is incarnated and inseparable from the love to the brother. The first one reminds us of the first commandment to love God above everything else, and the absolute of the person of Jesus. The second one reminds us of the commandment similar to the first one, to love your neighbor as yourself and the presence of Christ in that love. [I like his stress on the inseparability of these two dimensions.  This is all quite true.]


The Christ found and contemplated in the prayer of the faithful “prolongs itself” in the encounter with the brother, and if we are able to experience Christ in the service to the “little ones,” it is because we have already found Him in the contemplative prayer [and the Sacraments; or rather, because He has found us (Jn 15:16)]. Social charity is not only to discover Jesus’ presence in the brother (“you do it to me”), but also a call to action in his favor, a call to commitment. That is why if we evangelize with Christ in our hearts, we will do the works he did. [“Having Christ in our heart” is not a feeling or a choice we make, but only ever a response to His love and mercy we have received – the response of faith, which, he’s just been stressing, comprises inseparably the love of God (Church and Sacraments, etc) and the love of neighbor (vocation and mission).]


Jesus certainly has widened the horizon and the demands of love and has given it new motives and meaning. But his demands for evangelical charity take place and develop in the interior of human love, the emotional nature and the heart, though they are surpassed by the faith and action of the Holy Spirit. (For which fraternal love it is not always sensitive and gratifying). We learn to love following Jesus through love. Once more, he shows us the true practice of love, and communicates to us the light and life to be able to love like he loved us and to be able to evangelize as he did.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Homily for Sunday 18 Jan 2015 (II post Epiphaniam)

This weekend, I preached at the 7:30 EF Mass.  The Collect is the same as the OF:

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui celestia simul et terrena moderaris, supplicationes populi tui clementer exaudi: et pacem tuam nostris concede temporibus. Per Dominum nostrum...

Almighty ever-living God, who govern all things, both in Heaven and on earth, mercifully hear the pleading of your people and bestow your peace on our times. Through our Lord...

Given this plea for the divine gift of peace, and the proximity to the awful anniversary of the repugnant Roe v. Wade decision this Thursday (1/22), I chose to preach on the obvious topic. The Epistle is Rom 12:6-16, and I expounded on the verse, "Let your love be without pretense. Hate the evil, adhere to the good."  The Gospel is Jn 2:1-11, the wedding at Cana, and I preached the verses, "Do whatever He tells you," and "His disciples believed in Him."  Here's my homily, as closely as I can reconstruct it.

All across the country, this weekend and this week, in different places, hundreds of thousands of
March for Life 2014
people will be marching for life.  I read this week, we now have over 80 Marches, Vigils, and Rallies for Life taking place in different cities.  And hundreds of thousands more, perhaps even millions more, will be praying along with them for an end to abortion.

I'm sure I don't have to recount for you the terrible evil that abortion is.  I'm sure we know that abortion kills an innocent human being, a baby in the womb; and that it destroys the spiritual and emotional health of mothers and fathers, of entire families; and that it corrupts our culture and our laws, and justifies other kinds of evils, too.  Abortion is the most urgent, the gravest evil of our times, and it falls to us, to our generations, to fight it.

Our readings today give us inspiration and courage to carry out this moral struggle.

St. Paul tells us, "Let your love be without pretense.  Hate the evil, and adhere to the good."  For us, this means that we must root out from our hearts the pretenses, the compromises, the little evils and sins that we sometimes indulge in.  We must make regular examination of conscience, and go to Confession often, so that our hearts will be full of pure love.  If our love is true and pure in the little things, the daily things, then we can also love without pretense in the larger things.  This is very important, because the world wants to paint us as hypocrites.  We need to be able to show that our love and our actions are consistent, so that our witness can reveal the love of Christ.

Orthodox icon of the wedding at Cana
In the Gospel, the beautiful story of the wedding at Cana, St. John gives the words of Mary, "Do whatever He tells you."  We might notice that these are the last words the Gospels record Mary saying.  Her whole life of perfect faith, perfect obedience to the Father, perfect love for her Son, is, in a sense, summed up in these words: "Do whatever He tells you."  We, too, then, need to strive to imitate our blessed Mother's perfections, by constantly "doing whatever He tells" us.  This points us to our vocation - for the great majority of us, the vocation to married life and to parenthood.  There are also vocations to priestly life and religious life, of course, but most of us are called to marriage.

And in our married life, we are called to a holy, loving union that is both chaste and fruitful.  What this means for us, then, is that we must reject contraception in our Catholic marriages.  Contraception leads to abortion, through what we can call the "contraceptive lifestyle."  Pope Paul VI showed us this link in his encyclical, "Humanae Vitae."  When we contracept, we reject the will of God in our marital union.  Whether we understand this or not, we are making ourselves the masters of life and creation.  It's only a small step, then, to try to make ourselves the masters of death, also, to set ourselves up in the place of God, choosing who can live and who will die. 

Those who work for the culture of death know this link, too.  For example, make people who have left working for Planned Parenthood report that they want to have access to public schools, to teach our teenagers (and even younger children) to use contraception, because they know that contraception will lead to abortion, and they want that business.

We need to challenge this root of abortion, and make our Catholic marriages once again free of contraception.

And the last verse of the Gospel today: "His disciples believed in Him."  We need to pray for an end

St. John at the foot of the Cross (14th c., St. Michael and All Angels Parish, Wales)
to abortion.  We need to have greater faith, that the love and mercy of Jesus Christ can overcome the evil of abortion.  We need to live with greater hope and deeper prayer, in all the spiritual aspects of this struggle.  If we live with growing love for Christ in the Church and in her sacraments, and if we live with greater fidelity to our vocations, we will also have greater faith.  We will have hearts more open to receive His infinite mercy, and also more open to the need, the longing, for that mercy in the world around us, where we can share it by our faithful and loving actions. 

The daily witness we give to the power of His mercy, like the many March for Life events, is the way to change minds and hearts about the evils in the world.  Our hope and our joy in Jesus Christ are not just for ourselves, they are for others.  We can only share as much of that mercy, hope, faith, and joy as we are open to receive from our Savior.  But as we grow closer to the Lord, our hearts are more open, and we can receive more and offer more to those around us. 

If we are faithful in these ways, we will make a difference.  We will overcome the evil of abortion, by the power of Christ's love.  Our progress may be slow, because the evil is great, but we will advance.  We have this hope.  We have this faith.  So let Christ work in us, ever more deeply, so that our witness may be stronger, to overcome evil in the world.