Friday, December 2, 2016

"We long for the time when all time is past "

One passion I have that clearly not too many people share, at least not people inclined to read this blog, is my passion for poetry. However, I can't promise I won't post anymore poetry or any more about poetry. It's too important to me not to do so. Besides, I don't do it nearly as much as I want to.

I have been planning all week to post something appropriate for this first Friday of Advent. "Today," I read in the Advent issue of The Word Among Us for the first day of Advent last Sunday, "it seems that Advent is much more about celebrating Jesus' first coming rather than anticipating his Second Coming." Nonetheless, "the Church reminds us to use this time to prepare for Christmas and," as the Catechism instructs us, to "renew [our] ardent desire for [Jesus'] second coming" (par 524).

This dual purpose of celebration and anticipation makes Advent a season of hope- the baby born in Bethlehem, who grew, was baptized by John in the Jordan, confirmed by the Father and the Holy Spirit as he emerged from the river, made God's reign present in his very person, called apostles, was Transfigured, healed and taught, died, was resurrected, ascended, and sent his Holy Spirit, will return again in glory.

Hope is the least understood of the theological virtues. But you can't live without hope. Life without hope is not life, it's mere survival. Life is a journey, a pilgrimage. The Church is a pilgrim people making our way to God's kingdom. This makes Advent, too, can be a journey should you choose to diverge from the path of holiday chaos and spend time seeking the Lord in prayer, in Scripture and other spiritual reading.

In English, Revelation 22:20, the penultimate verse of Revelation and, as such, of the entire Bible, in most translations, ends with the words, "Come, Lord Jesus." In the original text, these three words are one Aramaic word: maranatha. In the context, maranatha most likely an imperative statement, meaning "come, O Lord." "Maranatha" is the response to the Lord's promise he is coming soon: "The one who gives this testimony says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!" Jesus Chris is my hope.

Our Friday traditio is a repeat- Michael Card's "Maranatha"

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"All right, then, have it your way"

Yesterday marked the 118th anniversary of the birth of Clive Staples Lewis. November twenty-second marked the 53rd anniversary of his passing into eternity. He died on the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, which was also the day that prescient author Aldous Huxley died. To honor the life of C.S. Lewis, it seems fitting, as we are in the early days of the season of Advent, a time when we think about, prepare for, and look forward to Christ's glorious return, to cite this from his book The Great Divorce:
There are only two kinds of people: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "All right, then, have it your way"
What does this mean, or, perhaps more acutely, what might Lewis' assertion look like if it is true? I think Edna St Vincent Millay painted a very poignant picture of what Lewis asserted in her poem "The Suicide." Her poem begins with the narrator saying,
Curse thee, Life, I will live with thee no more!
Thou hast mocked me, starved me, beat my body sore!
And all for a pledge that was not pledged by me,
I have kissed thy crust and eaten sparingly
That I might eat again, and met thy sneers
In what way has life mocked, starved, and beaten this distressed person?
Ah, Life, I would have been a pleasant thing
To have about the house when I was grown
If thou hadst left my little joys alone!
I asked of thee no favor save this one:
That thou wouldst leave me playing in the sun!
And this thou didst deny, calling my name
Insistently, until I rose and came.
I saw the sun no more.—It were not well
So long on these unpleasant thoughts to dwell,
Need I arise to-morrow and renew
Again my hated tasks, but I am through
With all things save my thoughts and this one night,
So that in truth I seem already quite
Free,and remote from thee,—I feel no haste
And no reluctance to depart;
In light of the rest of the poem, it seems to me the key phrases here are "playing in the sun" and "hated tasks."

After the seventh stanza there is a break in the poem marking the act of suicide- the passage from life to death. When "the suicide" reaches the other side, she finds herself in her "father's house." When she arrives at the house there is a feast in progress. Looking in on the feast, she notices how shabbily dressed she is compared to those who are feasting at table. Recalling that this her father's house, she summons the courage to knock on the door;
Tattered and dark I entered, like a cloud,
Seeing no face but his; to him I crept,
And "Father!" I cried, and clasped his knees, and wept
There is another break, like the one marking the act of suicide. I find it intriguing that no mention is made of her being invited to join in the feast. After this break she describes her life in the father's house:
Ah, days of joy that followed! All alone
I wandered through the house. My own, my own,
My own to touch, my own to taste and smell,
All I had lacked so long and loved so well!
None shook me out of sleep, nor hushed my song,
Nor called me in from the sunlight all day long

But after awhile she begins to wonder what else is happening, what her father's business is and how she might participate in it:
"Father," I said, "Father, I cannot play
The harp that thou didst give me, and all day
I sit in idleness, while to and fro
About me thy serene, grave servants go;
And I am weary of my lonely ease.
Better a perilous journey overseas
Away from thee, than this, the life I lead,
To sit all day in the sunshine like a weed
That grows to naught,—I love thee more than they
Who serve thee most; yet serve thee in no way.
Father, I beg of thee a little task
To dignify my days,—‘tis all I ask
Forever, but forever, this denied,
I perish"
To which the father soberingly responds:
..."All things thy fancy hath desired of me
Thou hast received. I have prepared for thee...
No pleasure shalt thou lack that thou shalt name. But as for tasks—" he smiled, and shook his head; "Thou hadst thy task, and laidst it by," he said."
In his homily at daily Mass just a few days ago (Friday, 25 November to be exact, the penultimate day of the liturgical year) Pope Francis said:
Eternal damnation is not a torture chamber. That’s a description of this second death: it is a death. And those who will not be received in the Kingdom of God, it's because they have not drawn close to the Lord. These are the people who journeyed along their own path, distancing themselves from the Lord and passing in front of the Lord but then choosing to walk away from Him. Eternal damnation is continually distancing oneself from God. It is the worst pain, an unsatisfied heart, a heart that was created to find God but which, out of arrogance and self-confidence, distances itself from God
Pray for the dead, especially those who for reasons known only to them and certainly to God (in some instances, no doubt, only to God), took their own lives. We know that serious mental illness is the cause of many suicides, which certainly inhibits freedom and in some instances, no doubt, prohibits making a free choice. Inhibited and prohibited freedom diminsh or eliminate culpability altogether. Have hope. God, as Popes Benedict XVI and Francis, C.S. Lewis, and Edna St Vincent Millay all tell us, is a kind and merciful Father.

Of far more relevance than theologizing or psychologizing about suicide, especially during Advent, in the midst of what I find to be incomprehensible "holiday" chaos, is to take the opportunity to honestly ask yourself, "Am I seeking to draw closer to the Lord, or am I arrogantly walking my own path and, by so doing, acting presumptuously?" Hell is not, as Sartre famously averred, other people. Hell, to use a phrase of St Augustine's of which Luther was quite fond, is Homo curvatus in se that is, "man curved in on himself."

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro, may God have mercy on him

The news of the day is that the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro died peacefully in Cuba at the ripe old age of 90. Castro was a man who, during and in the immediate aftermath of his guerilla war against the U.S.-backed and undoubtedly corrupt right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista, generated much hope among his people. He had the opportunity to be their liberator, a truly heroic person. But Castro took a pass on being a true liberator of his people, choosing instead that warmed-over Leninism known as Stalinism and spent the rest of his life, at least until he grew too weak to rule, brutally dashing the hopes and aspirations of the vast majority of the Cuban people. It's easy to forget that Castro did not publicly declare that he was a Communist and ally himself with the Soviet Union until after the success of his revolution.

Along with Andrew Roberts, writing for Great Britain's Spectator, and in the wake of certain responses to news of Castro's death, like that of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Great Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin, who called Castro "a champion of social justice," I find myself asking, "Why are left-wing dictators always treated with more reverential respect when they die than right-wing ones, even on the Right? The deaths of dictators like Franco, Pinochet, Somoza are rightly noted with their history of human rights abuses front and centre, but the same treatment is not meted out to left-wing dictators who were just as monstrously cruel to people who opposed their regimes."

Unsurprisingly, the response of President Obama, which was quite measured, and that of President-elect Trump, which was quite blunt, could not be more different. In comments he made to the press about Fidel Castro's death, President Obama said something about history being the judge of Castro and his legacy.

I do think President Obama made the right choice to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and begin to ramp down the U.S. embargo. However, during Castro's prime, I think the embargo was a good idea. Otherwise, we would've been enabling another dictatorship. When it comes to Latin America, the United States badly needs to examine its conscience and seek to make amends. I'll give Castro this, he outsmarted the CIA for many years, which, if written and published accounts are to be believed, wasn't that difficult in the '60s and '70s. That was a sad era that was brought to an end by the Church Committee hearings in the U.S. Senate.

Fidel Castro no doubt during one his boring, hours-long discourses (Getty)

In these final hours of the last day of this Year of Grace, liturgically approaching the end of time, it bears noting that "history" will not be Fidel Castro's, or anyone else's, final judge. The judgment of history, as important as it is, is a human judgment. Christ will judge Fidel Castro, just as He will judge you and me when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. I pray that God has mercy on Castro, I truly do. I sincerely hope that he repented before his passing. God is merciful. I pray this for a number of reasons, among which is my realization that on judgment day, I, too, will need God's mercy. My plan for my defense on that great and terrible day is to prostrate myself before the Judge, who is also my Savior (in Hebrew, my go'el), and say what I hope will be a perfect enough Act of Contrition.

In my post for the First Sunday of Advent I already cited Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical letter Spe salvi, which is on the theological virtue of hope. Hope is far and away the least understood of the three theological virtues, which are called "theological" because, unlike the natural virtues, these can only be obtained as gifts from God. During his pontificate Benedict XVI issued two encyclicals: Deus caritas est, on the theological virtue of love, and Spe salvi. It fell to Pope Francis to complete the series, which he did by promulgating Lumen fidei, on the theological virtue of faith. This last in the series, it is generally acknowledged, was largely composed by Pope Benedict prior to his resignation and added to in parts by Pope Francis prior to its formal promulgation. In the spirit of bringing our faith to bear on reality, on what really happens in the world, I cite the forty-fourth paragraph of Spe salvi more fully:
To protest against God in the name of justice is not helpful. A world without God is a world without hope (cf. Eph 2:12). Only God can create justice. And faith gives us the certainty that he does so. The image of the Last Judgement is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope. Is it not also a frightening image? I would say: it is an image that evokes responsibility, an image, therefore, of that fear of which Saint Hilary spoke when he said that all our fear has its place in love. God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ. Both these things—justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. Dostoevsky, for example, was right to protest against this kind of Heaven and this kind of grace in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened

"For you do not know on which day your Lord will come"

Readings: Isa 2:1-5; Ps 122:1-9; Rom 13:11-14; Matt 24:37-44

Being Christians requires us live our lives to the fullest. This means doing everything in the mindfulness of our destiny. We love our neighbors as we love ourselves by also loving his/her destiny. Realizing your destiny means realizing the very reason God created you and sent His Son to redeem you. It was for you and for your destiny that Christ took on flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Advent is the season during which we not only prepare to celebrate the Lord's Nativity in the manger at Bethlehem, but it is a time we spend thinking about and preparing for when He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. As our Lord himself said in the verse that immediately precedes the beginning of our Gospel reading for this First Sunday of Advent in Year A of the three-year lectionary cycle: "But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (Matt 24:36).

At least the first half of Advent, as our readings for this Sunday amply demonstrate, has an undeniably penitential tone and tenor. I note this because these days, among the relatively few Roman Catholics in the United States who observe Advent, not only is the penitential aspect of the season overlooked, it is often denied.

In addition to not knowing the day or the hour of the Lord's return, you don't know the hour or the day of your own passing from time into eternity, should you die before Christ's return. Not knowing the day or the hour of these events makes everyday a day of judgment. Living each day as a day of judgment ought to make us people of sober minds. Once our minds are duly sobered we can take the time to recollect on what this means, what this says to us about our lives.

Your recollection should show you that far from living in misery-driven angst and fear, living in this way is the source of your greatest joy. Why joy? Because living in this way frees you to live in accordance with your true nature. It permits you, with the help of God's grace, to become who God created and redeemed you to be. This becoming is called sanctification, a big word meaning being made holy. Living each day as a day of judgment allows God to restore you, by grace, to His likeness. Living in this joyful way is never the easiest way because the path of least resistance is not the trail to glory. Living everyday as a day of judgment allows you to embrace reality according to all the factors that together constitute it. Engaging reality according to all the factors that together make it is what it means to really live.

In his second and, at least in my view, far too overlooked second encyclical letter, Spe salvi, Pope Benedict XVI, in his clear, precise, and yet beautiful manner, which I miss very much, wrote about judgement:
The image of the Last Judgement is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope. Is it not also a frightening image? I would say: it is an image that evokes responsibility, an image, therefore, of that fear of which Saint Hilary spoke when he said that all our fear has its place in love. God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope (par. 44)
Last Judgment triptych, probably by Hans Memling, executed between 1467-1471

One of the best ways to live everyday as a day of judgment, which gives you the opportunity to live joyfully by growing in charity, which is the fruit of hope, is to seek God's mercy each day. A time-tested way of bringing forward those things for which we need to implore God's mercy, which Christ died, rose, and sent the Holy Spirit in order for us to receive, is the daily, or at least weekly, practice of the Examen. What is the Examen? It is a form of prayer set forth more than 400 years ago by St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, popularly known as the Jesuits. It is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day, or week, in order to find those words, those actions, those thoughts for which you need God's mercy, to discover God's grace at work in your life, and to discern His direction for you moving forward.

Like lectio divina, the practice of the Examen is ordered and easy. It has five steps:
1. Pray for God to give you light to see
2. Give thanks to God for the gift of the day (even if, maybe particularly if, it was a "bad" day)
3. Look back over your day, start from where you are and work backwards (my preferred method), or go back to the beginning of the day and start from there
4. Face your shortcomings, what you did wrong in your thoughts and in your words, in what you did and failed to do, ask for mercy- perhaps pray an Act of Contrition; in this step also recall those moments during the day when you experienced God's presence, His grace at work
5. Look forward to tomorrow. Praying for God's assistance in what is to come is called hope. There is a petition found in the Intercessions for Saturday Morning Prayer for Week II of Ordinary Time that captures this well: "From your generosity we have received the beginning of this day, grant us the beginning of new life"
A good time to practice the Examen is close to the time you go to sleep. Going to sleep is a "little death" and arising to the dawning of a new day is a "little resurrection." You can download and print a free card on how to practice the Examen here. You can also read an article on the Examen, written by Fr. Dennis Hamm, SJ; "Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards Through Your Day."

Practicing the Examen with regularity helps you to make a good confession, which, in turn, enables you to make a better communion with Christ at Mass, and respond to God's grace by clearing away the debris that accumulates. Rather than making the message of our readings for this First Sunday of Advent abstract, practicing the Examen gives you something concrete in response to God's word to the Church on this First Sunday of Advent, a way to observe a fruitful Advent as you wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Keep in mind a discipline itself isn't a magic formula to obtain God's favor or transport you, apart from living your life everyday, into the kingdom so beautifully described in our first reading from the book of Isaiah. As James Kushiner memorably noted: "A discipline won’t bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help you get yourself, your ego, out of the way so you are open to His grace." I would submit that, apart from actually going to confession, nothing helps you get your ego out of the way better than regularly practicing the form of prayer we call the Examen.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving, mercy, and the Advent of the Lord

It was my plan to post something yesterday for Thanksgiving Day. Instead, I wound up spending the day in a much better way. I prayed Morning Prayer, read from the little book The Crusade of Fàtima (the centenary of the apparitions is next year), served at Mass, came home and cleaned the kitchen, helped prepare our Thanksgiving meal, cleaned up again, fixed a pretty healthy relish tray for snacking (olives, carrots, hummus, feta cheese, cheddar cheese, ham, pita bread), took a breather, during which I read out loud to my wife about Nathan Hale from Eric Metaxas' book If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, went for a long walk (after the snowstorm Wednesday evening, it was a beautiful day here along the Wasatch Front) with my wife, during which we prayed the Rosary together, played with my boys in the snow for a few minutes at the end of our walk, came in and played board games with my boys, ate, took on the task of cleaning the kitchen, had pie, cleaned again, prayed Evening Prayer, then watched a couple of episodes of the old British television show 'Allo, 'Allo, which is even racier than I remember, but in a sly, certainly not subtle, way.

In his homily yesterday our pastor referenced Common Preface IV of the Eucharistic Prayer;
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation
always and everywhere to give you thanks
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.

For, although you have no need of our praise,
yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift,
since our praises add nothing to your greatness
but profit us for salvation,
through Christ our Lord
Even our ability to give thanks to God is a gift from God, a grace. Our Thanksgiving feast is not turkey, but Jesus Christ. He is our Eucharist. I am glad the United States of America dedicates a day once a year to giving thanks to God for the abundant blessings we enjoy. This should not puff us up. It should humble us. Our humility should focus us on our need to perfect our national unity as well as on being a blessing to other nations.

As we were coming to the end our walk, I told my wife that I am glad I've somehow maintained the tradition that was handed on to me growing up, which is to observe Thanksgiving as mainly a religious day, like a Sunday. It is not a boast on my part, but a humble acknowledgement, made with gratitude, to my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I long for a return to the days when practically all businesses are closed on Thanksgiving. It's not likely to happen, but that doesn't have to impact how I observe the day. I very much like being counter-cultural in this way.

KBYU FM- Classical 89 had what I can only describe as magnificent programming on Thanksgiving Day. It's what we listened to and, at times, talked and worked over, as we cleaned, cooked, cleaned, cooked, and then cleaned. In inverse order here are the programs: Giving Thanks to Music, A Thanksgiving of American Folk Hymns, A Feast for the Ears, and Giving Thanks: A Celebration of Fall, Food, and Gratitude. I particularly enjoyed Giving Thanks: A Celebration... (you can still listen here). In the second hour of Giving Thanks between music by Mendelssohn and a choral arrangement of "We Gather Together," in succession, were readings from Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, Chartres Cathedral story; Psalm 104 — read by Charles Laughton.

St Olaf Parish (my parish), Bountiful, UT, getting ready for the ... getting ready (Advent)

It's hard to believe we are at the threshold of another Year of Grace. Most of the current liturgical year consisted of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which concluded last Sunday. Inaugurated by Pope Francis, it began on 8 December 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which struck me then as it does now as wholly fitting.

This week I read Pope Francis' Apostolic Letter Misericordia et misera, which he promulgated to conclude the Extraordinary Jubilee. It is a remarkable document, one that every Catholic as well as Christians of good will should read. The title is a phrase taken from Tractate XXXIII, Chapter 5 of St Augustine's On the Gospel of John. The great bishop of Hippo Regius penned the phrase while commenting on the episode in which Jesus encounters the woman taken in adultery. As the Holy Father wrote: "It would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful or apt way of expressing the mystery of God’s love when it touches the sinner: 'the two of them alone remained: mercy with misery'" (par 1). Our prayer should always include some variation of the Jesus Prayer: "Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner."

My lovely wife serves as music director at our parish. When I awoke this morning she was in the kitchen planning music for the First Sunday of Advent, which is this Sunday. She was contemplating a new take on an old hymn: "The King Shall Come," by Trevor Thomson. I don't mind saying that hearing this song was a nice way to begin my day. Because it was nice for me, I want to hand it on to you. Hence, it will be our traditio for this final Friday of the current liturgical year:

In my mind, Advent is best understood and observed as a season of hope. Hope is the flower of faith and its fruit is caritas, charity, or, if you prefer, love.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Year C Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Readings: 2 Sam 5:1-3; Ps 122:1-5; Col 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43

“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine,” so sang REM nearly thirty years ago. Today we celebrate the end of time, the end of the world, that great and terrible day when Christ will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. How does this article of our Christian make you feel? Does Christ’s return, the date of which nobody knows, make you feel hopeful or frightened? If you can’t quite get your mind around Christ’s return, then simply consider your own mortality.

Christians call the spiritual discipline of contemplating one’s mortality memento mori, which simply means “remember death.” A number of years ago I listened to an interview with a retired international journalist. After he retired he went back and interviewed people he had met during his career who struck him as being happy for a book he hoped to write. One of the people he talked to was an elderly German man, a Christian, who shared this secret of his happiness: spend a few minutes every day reflecting on your own death. There is nothing morbid about doing this, it is an essential part of living well because, if nothing else, it helps you keep things in perspective.

Among the many stories handed on about St. Francis of Assisi is one that tells about a time he was in the community’s garden hoeing beans when he was asked, “What would you do if you knew the world would end today?” To which he calmly replied, “I suppose I would finish hoeing this row of beans.” In a similar vein Martin Luther once said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” This demonstrates that both Francis and Luther were people of hope. If the solemnity we celebrate today is about anything, it is about hope.

Of the three theological virtues (i.e., faith, hope, and love) without a doubt hope is the least understood. In English, we often use the words “hope” and “wish” synonymously. “Now hope that sees for itself,” St Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans, is not hope.” After all, he went on to ask, “who hopes for what one sees?” The apostle insisted that “if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance” and it is in hope that we are saved (Rom 8:24-25). Hope is the flower of faith and charity is its fruit. Stated a bit differently, faith gives birth to hope which, in turn, produces love. A Christian is joyful because s/he is hopeful. Hope is very different from optimism. Optimism is pragmatic, whereas hope is audacious.

The source of our hope is God’s love for us, which is not only as strong as death, but, as Christ’s resurrection shows us, is strong enough to conquer death. “In this is love,” we read in St John’s First Letter, “not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” ” (1 John 4:10).

In the aftermath of our recent election, regardless of how you voted or even whether you voted, it’s important to reaffirm in what, or as a Christian, in whom you place your trust, that is, your hope (hope is more akin to trusting than to wishing). As the psalmist exhorts: “Put no trust in princes, in children of Adam powerless to save. Who breathing his last, returns to the earth; that day all his planning comes to nothing” (Ps 146:3-4). Rather, “Blessed the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD, his God, The maker of heaven and earth, the seas and all that is in them, Who keeps faith forever” (Ps 146:4-6). This is very same God who for us and our salvation became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, who was raised from the dead, who “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,” and whose “kingdom will have no end.” Everything and everyone else will ultimately fail you.

Our Gospel today demonstrates that the Cross is Jesus’ throne. One thief wanted immediate, instant proof that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah of God. He had no hope. The good thief, who tradition named St Dismas, after rebuking the other thief, demonstrated true hope when he humbly pleaded, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus, gave him a promise he could trust: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). My friends, there is no question about whether you and I are thieves, the only question concerns which thief you are.

Woody Allen once quipped that he did not want achieve immortality through his work, he wanted attain it by not dying. We laugh because we know exactly what he meant. Contrary to popular belief expressed in boring clichés, there is nothing natural about death. Death was not part of God’s plan. Death is the wages sin pays. Our desire not only to go on living but to continue living as ourselves is really what makes us human beings created in God’s image. It is to fulfill this, our deepest desire, that Christ became one of us. Let the words of St Paul from our second reading, which he likely took from an early Christian hymn, be our words on this day when we rejoice in Christ’s kingship:
Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:12-14)
The word for what the Father has done for us in Christ by the power of their Holy Spirit is “mercy.” Today we bring to a close the year-long Jubilee of Mercy. While the Jubilee may be over, God’s mercy is without end. As recipients of God’s mercy, we, in turn, are to be ministers of mercy to others. We need to keep practicing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, not until we perfect them, but until our practice of them perfects us.

As we look forward to end of the world as we know it, let us feel fine by expressing our hope in the words of our Collect for today’s glorious solemnity:
Almighty ever-living God,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of the universe,
grant, we pray,
that the whole creation, set free from slavery,
may render your majesty service
and ceaselessly proclaim your praise

Faith and hope; poetry, scripture, and death

My homily for today's Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus, King of the Universe is about hope. Without faith there is no hope (and without hope there is no love, no caritas). Last night after preaching at the Vigil Mass, eating supper with my family, watching a Charlie Brown program on the pilgrims who came to the shores of what is now Massachusetts, and just before retiring, I read Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem Interim.

It's clear that Interim is an expression of grief at the very recent death of someone close, someone with whom you live and who you love in that deepest of ways, someone whose absence is palpable. In light of my homily on hope and considering the necessity of faith in order to have hope, I was very struck by lines 177-194:
—What do I say?
God! God!—God pity me! Am I gone mad
That I should spit upon a rosary?
Am I become so shrunken? Would to God
I too might feel that frenzied faith whose touch
Makes temporal the most enduring grief;
Though it must walk awhile, as is its wont,
With wild lamenting! Would I too might weep
Where weeps the world and hangs its piteous wreaths
For its new dead! Not Truth, but Faith, it is
That keeps the world alive. If all at once
Faith were to slacken,—that unconscious faith

Which must, I know, yet be the corner-stone
Of all believing,—birds now flying fearless
Across would drop in terror to the earth;
Fishes would drown; and the all-governing reins
Would tangle in the frantic hands of God
And the worlds gallop headlong to destruction!
The touch of faith, which produces hope, makes the most tenacious grief fleeting. Writing in what was likely the very first of his New Testament letters, 1 Thessalonians, St. Paul exhorted the community, who expected Jesus to return right away, which expectation caused them to worry and doubt when some their number began dying - "We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thess 4:13-14 emboldening and underlining emphasis mine). Such faith, along with the hope it generates, is a gift from God, one unwrapped by suffering.

I also like that she asserts that faith is "what keeps the world alive." We have faith because we hope that what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians is true. Hope is audacious or it is nothing at all. If faith were to even "slacken," the poet observes, the birds would fall from the sky and the fish would drown; everything would unravel sending even God into crisis. It's a serious question, one fitting to ponder on today's solemnity, when Jesus asked, "when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8).

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Young Prometheans

This post features the latest poem by a dear friend and gifted poet, duly published and awarded, Craig Helms. He told me that that final stanza of his poem was "inspired by John Waters' book Beyond Consolation." The accompanying photograph was taken by another gifted and dear friend, Sharon Mollerus.
Whispers in the grass fade into nothingness.
Between the light and dark of twilight, stars
explode and disappear without a sound.
Savage colors dance on grim cathedral walls,
spin ever faster in the silent, sapphire night.

The gaping mouth of desperation
howls like a wounded phantom
tortured screams that echo deep
into the chasm’s hollow blackness,
and swallows fire as if to still
a hunger only love can quench.

Mendocino Rock, by Sharon Mollerus

We shine like martyred prophets, broken
as fragile ships cast upon jagged rocks.
We reach in vain for ways to conquer death, to
sidestep pain. We are more than men, but less than gods;
young Prometheans bound to our presumptuous dreams.
Poem published with permission of the poet who retains the copyright: © C. F. Helms 2016. The photograph posted with the permission of the photographer, ©Sharon Mollerus 2016.

Friday, November 18, 2016

"Have a care and say a prayer"

The highlight of my birthday this year was attending Morrissey's Salt Lake City concert at the new Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City. As someone who enjoys both Morrissey and his music, it no doubt damages my credibility to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the show from start to finish. I even enjoyed watching the film clips, including music videos, while waiting for the show to begin.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

One of the clips played was of Anne Sexton reading her poem Wanting to Die. Morrissey also paid tribute to poet Edna St Vincent Millay. When the picture above was projected over the stage, he told the audience that he constantly received letters asking him who was this a photo of before asking, "Do you know of her?" then saying, in his way, "Oh, who cares?"

Our traditio for this Friday in November, is Morrissey singing "The World Is Full of Crashing Bores":

Friday, November 11, 2016

"We sold ourselves for love but now we’re free"

It was announced yesterday thata truly wonderful person, a gifted artist, whose poetry, music, and prose touched and enriched the lives of many people, including my own, Leonard Cohen, passed away. He was 82.

Leonard Cohen

Like David Bowie, who passed away in January (2016 busts us in the chops coming and going), Leonard Cohen released an album on his final birthday before his passing. On Friday, 21 October, his eighty-second birthday, Cohen released You Want It Darker? Like Bowie's Blackstar, Cohen's You Want It Darker? is masterful, a fitting going away present that largely captures the essence of his art. The title track off his final album was our traditio just few week ago (see "Leonard Cohen on the ascesis of marriage").

This week's traditio then is Leonard Cohen singing "Treaty" off his final album for this Friday that is all at once the feast of the converted Roman soldier who became a holy bishop, St. Martin of Tours, Armistice day, marking the end of the Great War (World War I), Veteran's Day here in the United States, and my 51st birthday.

Do yourself a favor and read the lyrics for "Treaty," which you can find here. I also urge you to read some of his poems, many of then can be pulled up here.

I had a difficult time deciding which of Cohen's songs to put up as our traditio. I considered his standard and probably best known song "Hallelujah." I also thought about one my personal favorites, "Everybody Knows," which features these lyrics:

And everybody knows that you're in trouble
Everybody knows what you've been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it's coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows

In her biography of Cohen, I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, published in 2013, Sylvie Simmons noted, "In spite of his deep involvement with Buddhism, Leonard insisted to anyone who asked that he remained a Jew. 'I have a perfectly good religion,' he said, and pointed out that Roshi [his Zen master] had never made any attempt to give him a new one. When Bob Dylan went public with his conversion to Christianity in 1979 'it seriously rocked [Leonard's] world,' said Jennifer Warnes, who was staying at that time at Leonard's house. He would, 'wander around the house, wringing his hands saying, "I don't get it. I just don't get this. Why would he go for Jesus at a late time like this? I don't get the Jesus part.'" (316).

Cohen was raised in an observant Jewish home, had 2 children, Adam and Lorca, with Suzanne Elrod, who was also Jewish, albeit from a secular background, and raised his children as observant Jews. "Kohen," or Cohen, is the transliteration of the Hebrew word for priest. Leonard was well aware that his surname was taken to mean that he was a direct, patrilineal descendant of Moses'brother Aaron, Israel's first high priest.

Leonard Cohen was a gentleman in the very modern sense of the word, meaning the good sense of the word. A man of culture, manners, and grace, not a member of the landed gentry. A man who could not only handle the grit and grimness of reality, but a bit of a prophet who could transform it into beauty, into song, into poetry.

The passing of Leonard Cohen leaves us all poorer. But he left us an am amazing inheritance. May perpetual light shine upon him.