Sunday, January 15, 2017

Year A Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isa 49:3.5-6; Ps 40:2.4.7-10; 1 Cor 1:1-3; John 1:29-34

Our readings for this Sunday are very closely connected. In our first reading from what Scripture scholars deem to be Deutero- or Second Isaiah, God, through his prophet, declares Israel to be his servant “through whom” he shows his glory. God does not desire to make his glory shine through Israel for Israel’s own sake. God desires Israel to make him known to the ends of the earth. This is what the prophet meant when he said, speaking for God: “I will make you [Israel] a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6).

Way back, immediately following Abraham’s incomprehensible willingness to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, God promised our father in faith that he would bless him and make his descendants “countless as the stars in the sky and the sands of the seashore” (Gen 18:17). Above all, because Abraham willingly obeyed God’s seemingly mad command, God promised him: “in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing” (Gen 18:18).

Of course, the descendant of Abraham through whom all the nations of the earth have been blessed is Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father. As St. Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans, unlike Isaac, whom the angel spared at the last moment, the Father “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all” (Rom 8:32). In other words, Jesus fulfilled in his person what Israel was unwilling and perhaps incapable of doing throughout its history, which was to extend God’s covenant, God’s blessing, God’s salvation to all people. We need not despair because this was God’s plan all along. As St. Paul pointed out in his Letter to the Galatians:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God (Gal 4:4-7)
Immediately upon seeing Jesus in the vicinity of where he was preaching repentance and baptizing those who desired new life in the river Jordan, John the Baptist recognized Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Baptist went on to say something even more interesting, namely that the whole purpose of his ministry was geared towards that moment when he, the Baptist, would make Jesus known to Israel as the Christ - in Greek Christos, in Hebrew Mashiach (i.e., “the anointed one,” or Messiah)- the one coming after the Baptist who ranked ahead him because he existed before him (John 1:30). The Baptist, who was the seal of the Old Testament prophets, testified that because he had seen the Spirit anoint Jesus, thus revealing Him as the Messiah, “that [Jesus] is the Son of God” (John 1:34).

In light of Jesus’ anointing by the Holy Spirit, today’s reading not only refers to Jesus’ Baptism, but also to his Confirmation. Like Jesus, when you and I were confirmed what was confirmed was our baptismal identity, our identity as God’s daughters and sons given us by rebirth through water and the Holy Spirit, thus making us also one of the innumerable children of Abraham. Through Christ, by the power of the Spirit, we are the Father’s adopted children, whereas Jesus is the Father’s only begotten Son.

"Saint John the Baptist Bearing Witness," by Annibale Carracci, ca. 1600


What I think really brings the meaning of all this home today is found in our second reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: “to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy” (1 Cor 1:2). Being sanctified, that is, being made holy in Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit. You were first sanctified when you were baptized. This was sealed and strengthened when you were confirmed. You are sanctified again in and through this Eucharist, from whence you are sent out to make the Lord present wherever you are. You are sanctified when you are anointed when sick and when you confess and express sorrow for your sins. You are sanctified in order live out your baptismal calling through sacramental marriage, through ordination, by taking religious vows, or by serving your neighbor in sacrificial ways. The life of grace is built on the foundation of the sacraments, of which Baptism, not Orders or anything else, is the cornerstone.

God’s people are those who respond to His loving initiative. We call our response to God’s initiative towards us faith. In this dynamic, God both pulls us and pushes us towards Himself. In other words, even our response is prompted by grace, which is why faith is a gift from God. While God calls everyone to Himself through His Son by means of their Holy Spirit, God never forces a response from anyone.

How does God both pull and push us towards Himself? The short answer is, ever so gently. But a good example of how God draws us from without and within can found in the recent testimony of actor Andrew Garfield, who stars in Martin Scorcese’s new film, the cinematic adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s literary and spiritual masterpiece, the novel Silence. In preparation for filming, the actors who played the Jesuit missionaries, made the silent 30-day retreat, which St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits who composed them, simply called The Spiritual Exercises. When Fr. Brendan Busse, himself a Jesuit, asked Garfield in an interview what he found particularly moving about the Exercises, he conveyed that Garfield
fixed his eyes vaguely on a point in the near distance, wandering off into a place of memory. Then, as if the question had brought him back into the experience itself, he smiled widely and said: “What was really easy was falling in love with this person, was falling in love with Jesus Christ. That was the most surprising thing ("Grace Enough," America magazine, 23 January 2017)
Like Israel of old, God desires to show his glory through those who have responded in faith so that everyone may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, thus extending God’s reign until it is completely established. As Jesus told His disciples toward the end of St. John’s Gospel, just after washing their feet, which, I think, we can view as a kind of Baptism: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). My dear sisters and brothers, do as as G.K. Chesterton urged and “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” Grace is nothing but God’s loving initiative towards us and faith, which is expressed by being baptized, is our loving response.

Friday, January 13, 2017

"As I walk through this wicked world, searchin'"

A three post day is a rarity for me these days. But I was only asked last night to preach at our parish school Mass this morning and I've been conscious of my need to "blog" something about my new bishop, His Excellency, Oscar Solis, since Tuesday. But today is Friday, the second Friday of 2017. Hence, we need a traditio, right?

This week I read Pope Francis' annual address to the members of the diplomatic corps who are accredited to the Holy See. The theme of the Holy Father's address was not only the need for peace, but the deep longing of the vast majority of people for a sustainable peace. He noted something that is de rigueur when Catholics and other Christians address the topic of peace, but worth mentioning anyway: peace is more than just the absence of war. Peace requires us to constantly strive "for an ever more perfect reign of justice" (Gaudium et Spes par 78).



Pope Francis noted, "We are dealing with a homicidal madness which misuses God’s name in order to disseminate death, in a play for domination and power." As a result of this he appealed "to all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name." The Pontiff also warned against the dangers that result from taking a "reductive" view of the human person and the ever-present danger of deadly, poisonous ideologies. I encourage you to read the address for yourself.

Our Friday traditio, then, is Elvis Costello and The Attractions with "Peace, Love, and Understanding":

Salt Lake City (finally) has a bishop

My diocese, the Diocese of Salt Lake City, which comprises the entire state of Utah, had been sede vacante (i.e., "a vacant seat"), that is, a diocese without a bishop, since April 2015 when Pope Francis named our former bishop, John Wester, the archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico. This 21 month vacancy was the longest in the history of our local church.

On Tuesday, 10 January 2017, His Excellency, Bishop Oscar Solis, was named by Pope Francis as the tenth bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Bishop Solis was the first Filipino to be ordained a bishop for service in the United States of America. His ordination as bishop was the first episcopal ordination that took place in Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles.

Bishop Oscar Solis, tenth Bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City

Bishop Solis was born and raised in the Philippines. He attended seminary and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Cabanatuan in the Philippines in 1979. In 1984 he went to Rome to study canon law. He returned to the Philippines where he served in several different capacities. He did not come to United States until he was in his late 30s. He served several years in New Jersey and then in Louisiana prior to being named an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2003 at age 50. He was ordained in 2004. Prior to being named ordinary of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, he was serving as the head of the San Pedro pastoral region of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. You can read more about him and the circumstances of his appointment to Salt Lake City here.

I now have a pastor, Fr. René as we call him, and a bishop from the Philippines, which is wonderful. This came together nicely for me after talking to my pastor and reading about his introduction to our new bishop at last Tuesday's press conference in The Salt Lake Tribune:
As the questions wrapped up, the Rev. Reynato Rodillas, Filipino priest at St. Olaf Parish in Bountiful, addressed the incoming bishop in their common language [Tagalog]. Solis' face lit up with delight as he rushed to embrace the man. The pair conversed for a few minutes, and the Solis interpreted for the group, 'He said, "Watch out."

"Now," he said, "I now where to go to eat rice"
I hope our new bishop comes to St. Olaf Parish often to break bread and eat rice. From one of your deacons, Welcome Bishop Solis! I am pretty sure I can speak for many members of our diocesan clergy when I say, "We've been waiting for you." I am confident the Lord has chosen the best person to lead His flock in Utah.

Bishop Solis will be installed as tenth bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City on 7 March 2017 in The Cathedral of the Madeleine, where I joyfully served for many years.

Year I First Friday in Ordinary Time

It's been awhile, but I had the privilege again today of preaching at the weekly Mass for St. Olaf School.

Readings: Heb 4:1-5.11; Ps 78:3-4.6-8; Mark 2:1-12

In the minds of many people today, Friday the thirteenth, is an unlucky day. For those of us who have in Christ Jesus, we don’t believe in those kinds of superstitions. In fact, because we are gathered together around the Lord’s altar, we can say that today is a blessed day because together we we receive the Lord in the Holy Communion. We are blessed because He wants to give Himself to us.

While Jesus gives Himself to us in many ways, it is important to understand that the most important of all the ways the Lord gives Himself to us we call sacraments. But even in the Mass, Jesus does not only give Himself to us in one way. He really and truly gives Himself to us in the Mass in four distinct ways. First, He is among us as simply through our gathering together. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name,” Jesus said to His disciples, “there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). Second, He is present to us in a special way through the presence Fr. Rene, our pastor and priest, who acts in the person of Christ and without whom we could not celebrate Mass. Third, Jesus in present to us in our reading from the Scriptures. Just as He goes into us by our eating the bread and drinking and the wine, through the proclamation of the Scriptures He also enters into us if we will simply listen. All of these ways together prepare us to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. Another and very important and necessary way we prepare to receive Jesus in Holy Communion is by going confession.

Our Gospel today is one of my favorite episodes in Jesus’ life. After going around preaching and teaching in His native Galilee, Jesus and His disciples returned to Capernaum, which, during the early part of Jesus’ ministry, was their headquarters. No doubt stories of Jesus healing the blind, the deaf, and lame had made it back Capernaum. When people found out where Jesus was staying, they went there bringing with them everyone who was sick in the hope we would heal them. Before conveying that Jesus healed anyone, the inspired author of St. Mark’s Gospel tells us “he preached the word to them” (Mark 2:2).

Because so many had come to hear Jesus and have Him heal those who were sick, “there was no longer room for them, not even around the door” (Mark 2:2). The friends of the man who was paralyzed, rather than wait in line, went up on the roof of the house. They lifted their friend, whom they carried on something like a stretcher, up on the roof with them. Then, after making a hole in the roof, they lowered him down right in front of Jesus.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus was not upset with them? He didn’t tell the men on the roof to come and get their friend and go to the back of the line. What Jesus saw was the great faith of the paralyzed man and his friends. He was moved by how eager they were to encounter Him; how eager they were to receive what only He could give them. Jesus knew that the paralyzed man was sick in a way that needed to be healed more than he needed to have the use of his arms and legs. “When Jesus saw their faith,” St. Mark’s Gospel tells us, “he said to him, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark 2:5).



Unsurprisingly, some of those who were present were scandalized by Jesus telling the man his sins were forgiven. They did not recognize Jesus as God made man for us. In order to give them some proof that He has power to forgive sins, Jesus said to the man: “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home” (Mark 2:11). When the man did so, everyone, including those who doubted His power to forgive sins, were astounded. Their astonishment led them to glorify God.

Do you have faith like the paralyzed man and his friends? Are you eager to encounter to Jesus? Do you badly want to receive what only Jesus can give you? If you answered these questions with a “Yes,” I have good news for you. We really could call the sacraments “Encounters with Jesus.” The Lord gave us a sacrament in and through which Jesus will give you the same kind of healing He gave the paralyzed man in today’s Gospel. It’s the Sacrament of Penance, sometimes called the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but most often referred to simply as “going to confession.”

While it is necessary in confession to tell our sins to the priest, we don’t go to confession to admit our failures. We go to confession to claim the victory Jesus won for us by His dying and rising. We don’t go to confession to find out whether or not God will forgive us. We’re always already forgiven through Jesus Christ. We go to confession because that is how we experience for ourselves, like the paralyzed man in today’s Gospel, God’s mercy and forgiveness by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus power is astonishing because His power is love. Jesus loves you. He wants to heal you. He wants to draw you to Himself and keep you close. In the words of our first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews: He wants to lead you into His rest. All He asks is that you let Him. Even among the sacraments, the greatest proof of Jesus’ love for you is His coming to you in Holy Communion.

Jesus loves you so much that He makes Himself small enough to fit into your hand, to be drunk from a cup. He wants you to love other people just like He loves you. Loving God with your whole heart, might, mind, and strength and loving your neighbor as you love yourself is what you are sent out to do and the end of each Mass. Sometimes we fail to love God by loving our neighbor. Sometimes we fail to love God by not doing what He asks of us, like coming to Mass on Sundays and holy days, avoiding going to confession, etc. It is then that He beckons you, like He beckoned the paralyzed man and his friends, to come into His house to be healed.

It is fitting to discuss confession today because, as Roman Catholics, Fridays are days of penance. We observe Friday as a weekly day of penance either by abstaining from meat or by performing a significant act of charity, which means going out of your way to do something kind and caring for someone else. We are able to love because God - who is love because God is Father, Son, and Spirit - first loved us: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life" (John 3:16)

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Lord's Baptism & the half-hearted observance of post-modern Christmas

Today Roman Catholics in the United States celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Usually, this feast is celebrated the Sunday after Epiphany. But because the Nativity of the Lord fell on a Sunday this year, our observance of the Lord's Baptism was pushed to Monday. Hence, Christmas ends with a whimper, not a bang. You know what? I am alright with that, especially this year.

Today I ran across an article written by William McIlvanney way back in 2001 for the Scottish national newspaper, The Scotsman. McIlvanney is considered the "godfather of Tartan noir." In addition to being a well-regarded novelist and astute social commentator, McIlvanney was also an accomplished poet.

In the article, dated 30 December 2001 and entitled "Religious ritual still has place in modern world," McIlvanney, observing the widespread loss of Christian faith, noted, "post-modern" Christmas, for many, can been seen as
the intensive care unit of a dying faith kept dubiously alive on the life-support machine of commercialism. Every year we go along with the ritual since it isn't unpleasant anyway and the patient [faith] is a part of all our pasts [though increasingly it is not part of the pasts of many people]. But we don't really expect to see so much as the eyelids flicker. Perhaps it's just that, like the drunk man in the church, we like the company
McIlvanney, who in the piece admits to being a "devout agnostic," doesn't spare Christian leaders, criticizing their largely uninspired, painstakingly parsed Christmas messages, writing: "A Citizens' Advice Bureau is no substitute for a burning bush. The word of a politically correct Jehovah is about as compelling as that of an insurance salesman"



Despite not being a practitioner of Christianity, McIlvanney certainly grasped the consequences of the widespread loss of faith both to the planet and our humanity: "Run a universe?", he asked about human beings, "We couldn't run a raffle." We demoted God, he continued, and so "the word was with us. We could author the meaning of our own lives. Unable to believe, we could live our own fictions and suspend disbelief that it wouldn't all turn out well...

"...So I wouldn't mind if God were there. I am not saying I believe in him but I can't think of too many other solutions that would provide an answer. Can you? Merry Christmas."

Baptism is the sacrament of faith. It was Jesus who asked, "when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8). You see, faith is more than belief. McIlvanney seemed to grasp that too. Commenting on the boilerplate nature of the aforementioned Christmas messages, he observed:
There were references to the suffering of children and the need for shared values and the overcoming of religious and cultural differences.

As statements, these were all utterly unexceptionable. But the problem with assertions which nobody could seriously argue against is that there's not much point in arguing for them either. We know these things already. The only question is how to put the knowledge into practice

Friday, January 6, 2017

"Don't know where to begin/living in sin" on Epiphany

Yesterday was the twelfth day of Christmas and today, at least for Catholics in most parts of the world, but not in the United States of America, is Epiphany, marking the end of the liturgical season of Christmas. U.S. Catholics will celebrate Epiphany this Sunday. Christmas for us will end, with something of a thud, on Monday with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Epiphany marks the day when the magi, or "wise men," from the East made their way to Bethlehem to pay tribute to the newborn King of kings. We say there were three, traditionally given the names Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior, because they offered the holy infant three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold for a King, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh, which was used an analgesic and to anoint dead bodies. It was wine mixed with myrrh that Jesus was offered to ease his suffering a bit as he hung dying on the cross. Among Eastern Christians, St. Mary Magdalene is known as Myrrophore, or "myrrh-bearer," because she came to anoint Jesus' body in the tomb, to serve her dearly beloved Lord in this humble manner. In Jesus' day myrrh, which is obtained from trees that grow on the Arabian peninsula and in parts of Africa, was more valuable than gold. Giving the Christ-child the gift of myrrh looked forward to his atoning death on the cross, which was both his throne and the altar on which he offered himself to the Father for us and for our salvation.

On Christmas Eve, upon walking in the door of our house after returning home, through a gathering snow storm, from the Vigil Mass for the Lord's Nativity with two of our three younger sons in tow, I was immediately summoned back to the church by my wife, who serves as our parish music director and whose youth choir sang for that liturgy. She needed me to pick her and my other young son up and bring them home. I had forgotten that she'd let our oldest son drive our other vehicle to work and that I needed to go back. I was tired, more than a little on edge, and worried because I was serving at and preaching for Christmas Mass During the Night. As I was backing my car out of the garage I clipped off the external mirror on the passenger side. Now, I could say this upset me and leave it there. But in all honesty it royally pissed me off and sent me into what is only fair to describe as a rage. This was exacerbated for me when, upon arriving at the church, my wife and son weren't waiting for me, but still inside putting things away. Why the hurry, if they weren't ready? My anger continued through ride home until well after we arrived back home. I wasn't justifiably angry. I was sinfully angry. Of course, later, after returning to my senses, I felt terrible and apologized and set about doing what I could to undo the effects of temper tantrum.



Fast-forward to last night. Like on Christmas day, the Wasatch Front was hammered with snow the previous evening. Even the valley floor received a good 5"-6" of snow. I had arisen at 5:30 AM, my usual time, but instead of my usual hour or so of prayer and quiet, I immediately went and set about removing snow from our driveway and sidewalks. After it stopped snowing, the temperature plummeted and it has remained very cold, turning all water into sheets of ice. As I was sitting down to supper, my oldest son came and picked up the keys to our van and started for the garage door. I asked him if he had cleared using the van with his Mom and I also asked him where he was going. He told me he was going to the new Scorcese film Silence. I was certainly all in favor of him going to this movie, but I expressed concern about the condition of roads (icy and slick) and re-issued my paternal warning that we should be limiting our driving.

In the meantime, my wife was ferrying two of our younger sons back-and-forth to the church gym for their basketball practices as well as dropping off and picking up our teenage daughter and her friend from an exercise class. All of this driving on dangerous roads had me on edge, especially after a slow and treacherous drive to and from work. No less than 15 minutes after our oldest son left he called informing us he had been in an accident. The other car was undamaged and nobody, including our son, was hurt. But our van, which we bought used six years ago after the same son had been in a pile up (not his fault) and totaled our previous well-used van, was badly damaged and is likely totaled. It isn't worth very much, but it was a reliable vehicle.

How did I react? You guessed it: Poorly. I went off again. There is no need to go into details about what I said, yelled, insinuated, etc. Let's just say it was another indisputably sinful tirade, most of which happened while I was alone (thank God). Let's also say that in both instances, I'm pretty sure I found a few new ways of employing the f-word. But I am solely responsible and wholly guilty for both episodes. No excuses and no blame-shifting. Guilty-as-charged.

Because we are one vehicle down, I had to drive our teenage daughter to school this morning, an activity I enjoy. She's a great kid and a fun person with whom to converse. This morning was no exception, we had a pleasant drive. I usually pray the Rosary driving to work and often pray it again driving home. After dropping her at school, I took beads in hand and, feeling terribly guilty, just couldn't bring myself to pray the Rosary. Instead, I simply said a Memoraré and turned on the radio in search of something, I didn't know what. I landed on a Christian radio station playing Erwin Lutzer's preaching program "Running to Win." I am not ashamed to say that I listen to certain to Evangelical preachers from time-to-time, not often, but once-in-awhile for a variety of reasons. Lutzer is one to whom I listen and Alistair Begg is another.

Nobody will ever convince me that what I heard Dr. Lutzer say upon tuning in wasn't the Blessed Virgin's answer to my desperate plea for help this morning. How vexing would Pastor Lutzer find that assertion?! Here's my epiphany on the Epiphany:
And I want you to know that it is not possible for us to be able to understand this life or to understand all that God has prepared for us, unless we spend some time really thinking about eternity. It's possible for us in this life to become so wrapped up in time, in the struggles that we have, the anticipation of the day that we're gonna have, the anxieties, the pressing financial issues, the issues that oftentimes come up with our children, or relational issues. These can become so overwhelming that we forget eternity is coming... get our eyes off the earthly things and begin to think about the heavenly things and to think eternity and to remember God's love for us and all He has done for us in Jesus
These days, the trend among Catholics is not to focus on eternity at all, but on the here-and-now. But this is a false dichotomy. We attend to eternity by paying attention to what happens right in front of us. After all, it is in and through the circumstances and situations in which we daily find ourselves that God is at work, beckoning us to the full realization of our destiny.

Our Lady did grant me the grant me the grace to desire and pray her Most Holy Rosary on my way home from work. Gratias Beatissimae Virginis Mariae.

Our Friday traditio for this first Friday of 2017 is by the group Electronic. Electronic was formed by New Order's lead singer Bernard Sumner (before that he was in Joy Division, which reformed after Ian Curtis' death and became New Order) and The Smith's guitarist Johnny Marr. Without a doubt their biggest hit was "Get the Message," which is our traditio:



Hark, the herald angels sting
Please repair my broken wing
Why won't you look at me? I live and breathe

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God

Roman Catholics observe New Year's day as a solemnity (even when it doesn't fall on a Sunday): the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. For the past 50 years, at the instigation of Bl. Pope Paul VI shortly after the Second Vatican Council, Catholics have also observed New Year's Day as the World Day of Peace. Sadly, until the Lord returns in his glory, we will always need to pray and work for peace. This is what followers of the Prince of Peace, the one who said: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matt 5:9) do, make peace.

From the very first World Day of Peace, the Roman Pontiff has delivered a message of peace, not only to Catholics, but to all people of good will. In his message for this year, to which he gave the title Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace, Pope Francis called on everyone to recognize that each person is created in God's image. It is this recognition, he averred that enables us "to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity" (par. 1). Citing his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, being bearers of the divine image constitutes "our 'deepest dignity" as human beings (par. 1). This is fundamental, the Holy Father insisted, for making "active non-violence our way of life" (par. 1).

Citing Bl. Paul VI's message for the very first World Day of Peace (1 January 1968), Pope Francis noted: "Peace is the only true direction of human progress – and not the tensions caused by ambitious nationalisms, nor conquests by violence, nor repressions which serve as mainstay for a false civil order." the Holy Father pointed out that Paul VI "warned of 'the danger of believing that international controversies cannot be resolved by the ways of reason, that is, by negotiations founded on law, justice, and equity, but only by means of deterrent and murderous forces'" (par. 1). To be peacemakers, that is, children of God, we must first cultivate peace in our own hearts.

Immaculate Heart of Mary

Speaking from my own experience, I am incapable of making peace within myself all by myself. I require both divine and human assistance. I need God's grace as well as my relationships with other people, especially those to whom I live in closest proximity. In addition to making use of the opportunities my human relationships provide me to bring about peace (bearing wrongs patiently, one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, and seeking reconciliation and forgiveness when I do something wrong), I must make use of the ordinary means of grace God so lovingly puts at my disposal: prayer and the sacraments, as well as sacramentals. In terms of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, her Most Holy Rosary is a way of praying with a sacramental (a blessed Rosary is a sacramental). As we learned from Our Lady during her appearances at Fátima, Portugal (2017 marks the 100th anniversary of Fátima), praying the Rosary is a powerful way of making peace in ourselves, in our families, and in the world. Since peace is about reconciliation, the Sacrament of Penance is indispensable as well. There is no peace without mercy, none whatsoever. This is fundamental to Christianity. Of course, nothing is more important for bringing about God's peaces in ourselves, in families, and in the world than frequent and active participation in the Eucharist.

In Christ Jesus, "The LORD" has looked kindly upon you in order to "give you peace" (Num 6:26). Because God has looked kindly on you through Christ, you are to gaze kindly on others, seeing them "as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity" (Pope Francis 2017 Message for the World Day of Peace, par. 1). Like the shepherds, who, when they beheld the God of the universe wrapped in rags and laying in an animal's feeding trough, we, too are sent forth to make "known the message that had been told them about this child" (Luke 2:17). What is the message? It is what the angels proclaimed to the shepherds: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14).

In Christ, by power of the same Spirit St. Paul tells us God sent "into our hearts," the Spirit of adoption, God wants everyone to call him "Abba, Father!" (Gal 4:6). If through Christ by the power of his Spirit we call God "Abba, Father," it is by also by the power of the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son that we call the Blessed Virgin Mary our Mother, to whom we, Eve's poor, banished children plead- "pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."

May Christ, through the constant and loving intercession of his mother and ours, the Blessed Virgin Mary, give you peace in 2017. May you, in turn, become an instrument of his peace, which is what will make you a herald of his Father's kingdom.

Friday, December 30, 2016

"I don't know why sometimes I get frightened"

Because Christmas fell Sunday this year today Roman Catholics observe the Feast of the Holy Family. This feast is usually observed on the Sunday after Christmas. In my years serving at The Cathedral of the Madeleine I almost always preached on this feast. We celebrate this wonderful feast, which highlights the fact that despite the unusual circumstances surrounding His birth, God saw fit that His only begotten Son be born into a family so that He would have the care of both a mother and a father. I rather like the Alternative Prayer for today's feast provided in the Liturgy of the Hours:
Father in heaven, creator of all,
your ordered the earth to bring forth life
and crowned its goodness by creating the family of man.
In history's moment when all was ready,
you sent your Son to dwell in time,
obedient to the laws of life in our world.
Teach us the sanctity of human love,
show us the value of family life,
and help us to live in peace with all men
that we may share in your life forever.
We ask this through Christ our Lord
As theologian Dr. Tim O'Malley wrote: "The feast of the Holy Family is a celebration of divine solidarity. It's not about trying to save ourselves through becoming the perfect family."




Just because, or, as the Monty Python players used to announce at various points of their television show The Flying Circus, "And now for something completely different," our final Friday traditio of 2016 is one of the best New Wave songs of the 1980s- Split Enz singing "I Got You":



Maybe it's because I have marriage and relationships weighing heavily on my mind due to the fact that my task the rest of today is to finish my pastoral psychology term paper, which is on fostering intimacy in marriage and this can't help but cause me to indulge my own insecurities, even if just a little:
Look at you, you're a pageant
You're everything, that I've imagined
Something's wrong, I feel uneasy
You show me, tell me you're not teasin'
I know this is kind of a weak post with which to end the year, but 2016 would be a difficult year to sum up. How blessed we are that one year gives way to another; the future flows from the past through the present. So, to both of my readers, I pray only for God to pour out His blessings upon you as we approach that crucial junction that splits off into 2017.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Καθολικός διάκονος: 2016 Year in Review

The end is near. Well, at least the Year of Our Lord 2016. For me this year was very much a mixed bag. Culturally, 2016 was a devastating year. It began with the passing of David Bowie and Glenn Frey in January and culminated with the passing of George Michael and Carrie Fisher (whose death I learned about as I was composing this post). For me this year was a busy year. Frankly, it was much busier than I cared for it to be.

In July I marked 10 years of continuous blogging. However, August marked 11 years since I established this weblog (you'll notice 6 posts from that year- then a big break). It seems remarkable that still I have the desire to keep going, but I do. Way back when I started blogging regularly I grappled with why I blogged. It took me several years to realize that I blog because it is a vehicle of personal growth for me. Certainly I hope what I write is meaningful to others as well. If blogging had no value for me I wouldn't do it. It's too difficult.

This year I will finish with 163 or 164 posts, depending on whether I post anything on New Year's Eve. With the exception of 2005, which I am not sure really counts, it is the fewest posts ever. I figured out several years ago that "chasing" the headlines is no way to blog.



With that, below is a list of posts, one from each month, I think worth highlighting at the end of the year. It is something of a "greatest hits" compilation. I don't include my homilies for consideration. As always (though I've never had anyone take me up on the offer), I welcome any comments letting me know what, if anything, from my blog was meaningful to you this year.

December: An Advent Prayer

November: All right, then, have it your way

October: Visions of Scuppers: Doing the things that matter

September: "Why do you come here?": Dispatch from distraction

August: Without theories, facts make no sense

July: Criticizing the critics, going to bat for the Pope, and citing Nietzsche

June: "I was standing/You were there/Two world's collided"

May: Blogospherical bitching and missionary discipleship

April: More on sex by a believing deacon

March: Certain matters of sex and the believing deacon

February: I am not giving up alcohol for Lent

January: Epiphanising the Epiphany

Happy New Year. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, the solemnity of which we celebrate on New Year's Day, watch over you and frutfully intercede on your behalf in 2017.

Monday, December 26, 2016

On the Feast of Stephen

Christmas is not over. It's just beginning. The only people for whom Christmas is over are those who skipped Advent. Today is but the second day of Christmas, the day my true love gave to me two turtledoves. Why turtledoves? Turtle doves symbolize love and faithfulness because they mate for life, work together to build nests and raise their young together. Like marriage itself, this first and foremost points to God's faithfulness to us.

According to the law of Moses (see Leviticus 12:8), two turtle doves could replace a lamb as the sacrifice prescribed for consecrating a firstborn son to God. Because they were poor, St Joseph and the Blessed Virgin sacrificed two turtle doves, or maybe even two pigeons (Luke 2:24), in obedience to what the law required of them. It is for these reasons that turtle doves are still associated with Christmas.

Being the second day of Christmas, today is also the Feast of St Stephen. Stephen was one of the seven Spirit-filled men chosen by the primitive Church in Jerusalem, which was led by the Apostles, to ensure that the Greek-speaking widows received their fair amount of food in the daily distribution. The primitive Church described in Acts held all things in common. A dispute had arisen that, apparently, was taking up too much of the Apostles' time. Time they felt their time was better spent in prayer and preaching the Good News.

Pretty soon some of these seven Spirit-filled men, specifically Stephen and Philip, who have been considered the first deacons at least since the time of St Ireneaus of Lyons (late 100s to early 200s), were themselves proclaiming the saving power of Jesus Christ. Stephen, who was stoned to death for his witness, has an entire chapter, Acts 7, dedicated to his activities. It contains a long discourse that gives us, I think (I am with Martin Hengel, a learned New Testament scholar who insisted, contra many, on the historical accuracy of the Acts of the Apostles), the basic content of Stephen's preaching.

The Stoning of St. Stephen, by Michail Damaskinos

In no way did Stephen imitate our Lord more than when, as he was being hit with stones thrown by the angry mob, incited by a Pharisaical fanatic known as Saul of Tarsus, a graduate of the Gamaliel Rabbincal school, he pleaded for those stoning him: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). I am convinced that Saul's conversion was the Lord's answer to Stephen's prayer and his subsequent intercession for the man we know as St Paul, the Apostle.

Along with St Martin of Tours, on whose feast I was born (11 November), St Stephen (Stephen being my middle name and my Dad's name) is my patron saint from birth. Perhaps I was destined to be a deacon. Above all, a deacon is a witness (in Greek martyr) to the saving power of Christ. THese are the reasons that St Stephen has been the patron saint of Kαθολικός διάκονος since its inception (my blog existed for a little more than year as Scott Dodge for Nobody).

St Stephen, deacon and proto-martyr, on this, your feast day, pray for us.