Sunday, December 31, 2006

Holy Family, Human Family

All too many among us (myself included) can't seems to relate to the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph). After all, they are all three superstars in the saintly firmament.
I am feeling this distance especially keenly today. I have spent some time this holiday seasons with both of my sons and my dad and step mom as well. I felt a little put off by the experience. My parents are elderly, live three states away and we find it hard to talk about religion since my conversion to the Roman Catholic faith. They are both Missouri Synod Lutherans, and so we just don't talk much about our faith life, although all of us have deeply held beliefs. Likewise, with my sons who are teenagers talking about spiritual things is often quite difficult.
Even so, I cherish the hope that someday, somehow, my own fractured nuclear family, my parish family and my community household (being formed as I write this) will all be used by God to do God's work in my life.

The families and other communities of which we are all a part function as God's sandpaper, used to rub off our rough edges and train us in loving service to the other. In that way, we begin to resemble more closely the heavenly family of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Their divine communion is based solely on self giving love, not mutual attraction, advantage or some other less durable glue.

A word about family formats. By family I mean nuclear June and Ward Cleaver families. But I also mean single parent families, blended families, households of unrelated persons (my own situation) and all the other permutations we see in this broken world. Yes, it is most desirable that we all be raised by a mother and father who are in a relationship of life-long commitment. However, the reality is far different.

Any or all of the above can be the schools where God teaches us virtue and love, as our Holy Father Benedict indicated in the Introduction of his Rule:

And so we are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord.
In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome.
But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity,
do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation,
whose entrance cannot but be narrow (Matt. 7:14).
For as we advance in the religious life and in faith,
our hearts expand and we run the way of God's commandments
with unspeakable sweetness of love (Ps. 118:32).
Thus, never departing from His school,
but persevering in the monastery
according to His teaching until death,
we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13)
and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom.

It really is tough to persevere in this school, especially when your classmates become a bother. But the effort is worth it. Another Benedict ( Pope Benedict XVI) echoes a similar theme:

The family is the privileged setting where every person learns to give and receive love.... The family is also a school which enables men and women to grow to the full measure of their humanity...

O God, who in the Holy Family left us a perfect model of family life lived in faith and obedience to your will, help us to examples of faith and love for your commandments.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Sacrament of Suffering

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, or the Holy Children, as it is called in the East, sounds strange to modern ears, not least of all because it is hard to see the slaughter of newborn babies as redemptive in any way at all.

However, there is a depth in Matthew’s account of Herod’s massacre which takes the reader beyond the immediate circumstances of the story. Death pervades the entire birth account, from the moment when the wise men lay myrrh at the feet of the Babe. Myrrh’s primary use was as a precious embalming agent. Death stalks the holy scene.

How like our own lives whenever we find there is bitter cause for weeping in the midst of a joyful season, when death interferes with our joy of life,... when we look for a wooden manger cuddling a beautiful babe but instead a cross beckons, calling us to come and die to self.

This week of vacation has been like that for me. Seeing my elderly father's health failing, corralling two teenage sons while trying to make sure they have fun, seeing myself through my parent's eyes as we all age.

My own experience of provisionality and suffering, however small, has confirmed for me that suffering, rightly understood and offered to God, can be a sacrament. It can only be so, however, when it is purged of self pity and directed toward the salvation of the other. Suffering becomes truly redemptive when, like our Lord’s own death, it serves a greater good, a good not of our own making or for our own aggrandizement.

In that spirit I can agree with these words of Cardinal Newman, which still sound jarringly in modern ears. But, perhaps under the Cross they are not so very far from the truth:

Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890), priest, founder of a religious community, theologian

from Sermon 6: “The Mind of Little Children”; PPS II, 6

«Martyrs incapable of confessing the name of your Son, and yet glorified by his birth» (Post communion prayer)

"It is surely right to celebrate the death of the Holy Innocents: for it was a blessed one. To be brought near to Christ, and to suffer for Christ, is surely an unspeakable privilege; to suffer anyhow, even unconsciously. The little children whom He took up in his arms, were not conscious of His loving condescension; but was it no privilege when He blessed them?

Surely this massacre had in it the nature of a Sacrament; it was a pledge of the love of the Son of God towards those who were included in it. All who came near Him, more or less suffered by approaching Him, just as if earthly pain and trouble went out of Him, as some precious virtue for the good of their souls; —and these infants in the number.

Surely His very presence was a Sacrament; every motion, look, and word of His conveying grace to those who would receive it: and much more was fellowship with Him. And hence in ancient times such barbarous murders or Martyrdoms were considered as a kind of baptism, a baptism of blood, with a sacramental charm in it, which stood in the place of the appointed Laver of regeneration. Let us then take these little children as in some sense Martyrs, and see what instruction we may gain from the pattern of their innocence."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Apostle John, Spiritual Eagle

I'm not a real fan of this symbolic school of biblical interpretation, but for the Feast of John, the Beloved Disciple here is a comment from a fellow Benedictine. I like the interplay between active (Peter) and contemplative (John) life, which has always existed in the Church.

Jean Scot Erigene (?-about 870),
Irish Benedictine Homily on the Prologue of Saint John, §2

«What was from the beginning...what we have seen and heard we proclaim in turn to you» (1Jn 1,1-3)

"Peter and John both run to the tomb. Christ's tomb is the Holy Scripture, in which the most hidden mysteries of his divinity and of his humanity are defended - if I am allowed to say, -by a wall of rock. But John runs faster than Peter, for the power of contemplation, which has been totally purified, penetrates the secrets of the divine works with a more piercing and sharper eye than the power of action, that still needs to be purified. Nevertheless Peter is the first to enter; John follows. Both run and both enter.

Here Peter is the image of faith and John represents intelligence...Faith then is the first one who must enter the tomb, that is the image of the Holy Scripture, and intelligence must follow...Peter, who also represents the practice of virtues, sees with the power of faith and of action the Son of God enclosed, in a marvelous and ineffable way, in the limits of flesh. John who represents the highest contemplation of truth, admires the Word of God, perfect in himself and unlimited in his origin, meaning in his Father. Peter, led by the divine revelation, looks at once at the eternal things and at the things of this world, united in Christ.

John contemplates and announces the eternity of the Word to make it known to the faithful. This is why I say that John is a spiritual eagle who sees God; I call him the theologian. He is above the whole creation, visible and invisible; he goes beyond all intellectual faculties and he enters deified in God who shares with him his own divine life. "

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Stephen, Crowned with love for God

From Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe (467-532), Bishop in North Africa Sermon 3, 1-3, 5-6 (Office of Readings)

Crowned together by the lowly King of glory

Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier… Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty-handed. He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love, which was to bring men to share in his divinity… And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven…

Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbour made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven.

In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition. Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exalts, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Giver of Well Being

Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (330-390), bishop, doctor of the Church

Sermon 38, on the Nativity of Christ

"Christ is born, glorify him. Christ from heaven, go out to meet him. Christ on earth; exalt him: "Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice !" (Ps 96:1.11), for him who is of heaven and now of earth.

Christ has made his dwelling among the human race; rejoice with trembling and with joy: with trembling because of sin, with joy because of our hope… Today the darkness is over and light is made anew; as in Egypt once plunged into darkness, today a pillar of fire enlightens Israel.

O people that sat in the darkness of ignorance, come and see the great light of full knowledge for "the old things are passed away, behold all things are become new". (2 Co 5:17) The letter gives way, the Spirit comes to the front. (Rm 7:6) The shadows flee away, the Truth comes in upon them. (Col 2:17)

The one who gives us our being today also gives us well-being, or rather restores us by his incarnation, for by wickedness we had fallen from wellbeing…

Such is this great feast: it is this which we are celebrating today, the Coming of God to humankind, that we might go forth, or rather that we might go back to God— so that putting off the old man, we might put on the New (Col 3:9); and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ (1 Co 15:22)…

Therefore let us keep this Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own but as belonging to him who is ours, our Master's; not as of weakness, but of healing; not as of the old creation, but of our re-creation.

The Thin Cry of the Word

There was always the Crowd.
Even when Jesus lay folded in the darkness of Mary’s womb,
she carried Him into the crowded city of Bethlehem to be born.
There was a loud voice in the streets surrounding the stable.
The clinking of glasses, the shouts, the greetings of friends,
the tramping of feet and clatter of hoofs, laughter and snatches of song.

Only His Mother possessed silence.
And in her silence under the noise of the crowd,
she heard the sound of a stream flowing underground,
and breaking through the darkness to water the earth.
And she heard the little snap of a bursting seed,
and the sound of a bud breaking.

She heard the sound of the waters of birth.
Then the sound of water and opening of buds
and seed pushing into the light
became the thin cry of the newly born,
and the thin cry of the Word.

Excerpt taken from Caryll Houselander (1901-1954), The Birth

Friday, December 22, 2006

Desire of all nations, come!

I am often asked why I became Roman Catholic. One part of my conversion was falling in love with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I had always loved the physicality of faith and as a Lutheran Pastor I had relished it. Light the candles, put on the alb and stole. Swing the incense and use the holy water, but not too much or too often, lest someone accuse you of being a “Papist.”

I had all of the “playschool” Catholic accoutrement. I used the outward trappings, and also prayed a daily office. Fiirst it was the Episcopalian (BCP) then Lutheran (LBW) and finally in the later years the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours. But even that was never enough.

Slowly, over a period of years, I conceived an intense desire to spend time with Jesus as He was present in the Eucharist. I began to visit the local Catholic Church, being careful to park in the adjacent public library parking lot so as to not arouse parishioner suspicions. I spent some lovely afternoons praying quietly with our Lord. I pondered what to do with this underground, if not illicit, love affair.

I had more or less always conceived of myself as an Evangelical Catholic, a code name for “High Church” Lutherans. Then I did eventually become Roman Catholic in 1998. But it wasn’t until Valentine’s Day 2003 that I understood the visceral connection between the physicality of the Eucharist and my own spirituality.

I “happened to” attend a conference on “Theology of the Body” led by Christopher West. I can’t quite explain here how John Paul II’s Theology of the Body connects- it’s way too complicated. Suffice it to say that I realized that my love affair with the Eucharist is really part of a larger physical connection with Divine Self-Giving Love. A true Desire… a physical desire met by God’s physical, “real” embodied provision of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of His Son given for us.

This human clay aches for an affirmation of our physicality and its true goodness. The Eucharist is God’s ringing affirmation of that embodiment. So, our Advent waiting places within each of us the Desire of all. The Feast of the Nativity marks the beginning of its fulfillment. Our daily worship at God’s Altar applies that self-giving love to our hungry souls and bodies.

O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all,
you are the cornerstone that binds two into one.
Come, and save poor humanity,
whom you fashioned out of clay.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

O Rising Dawn!

Here we are in Minnesota, going to work in the dark and driving home in the dark. It was one of the most difficult things to get used to in wintertime when I moved here from Texas in 1983. I had SAD before SAD was cool.

And so we approach the shortest day of the year and continue to pray that the Light may come, both physically and metaphorically in our lives.

Isaiah had prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” (9:1). Yet, I feel so very weak this day, and sad..... and yet hopeful also. My two sons will not be with me this Christmas for the first time, so I have nowhere else to turn but to that other Son, praying that He might arise with love in my heart. Tears of water turn into drops of light as we turn to the face the Sun of God's love.

O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light Eternal and Sun of Justice;
come, and enlighten those who sit in the darkness and the shadow of death.

More on "O Wisdom, Come."

I realize that this is a few days out of kilter, but I saw it and thought it a needful addition to my Advent meditation.
Medieval English Mystic Julian of Norwich begins the Westminster Manuscript of her Showing of Love by imagining the Virgin Mary worshipping her Child. The initial O in the manuscript is illuminated in blue with red penwork ornamentation, the text written in brownish ink. Beautiful!

It echoes the lovely Advent Antiphon, Sapientiae, where the pregnant Virgin worships and addresses her not yet born child as Wisdom.

Here it is, in the original:

{Ure gracious & goode/ lorde god shewed me in/ party the wisdom & the trewthe/ of the soule of oure blessed lady/ saynt mary. where in I vnder/stood the reuerent beholdynge/ that she behelde her god th at is/ her maker. maruelynge with/ grete reuerence that he wolde be borne of her that was a/ simple creature of his makyng.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Oh, Key of David

Today''s "Oh" antiphon keys in on one title given to our Lord by the Beloved Disciple John in the book of Revelation , and foreshadowed in the prophet Isaiah.
Christians of the first century lived in an uneasy relationship with Judaism. Most Jewish Christians probably attended the synagogue, took part in ritual worship and used the Hebrew Scriptures as their Bible.

At the same time, the church considered itself the rightful spiritual heir of Judaism -- the new Israel (Galatians 6:16). It had accepted Jesus as its Lord, the Messiah spoken of in the Hebrew Scriptures. The church saw itself as composed of spiritual Jews who had received "circumcision" through the Holy Spirit (Romans 2:28-29). This naturally caused a rift between Christians and Jews, as they both claimed to be God's people.

That meant Jewish Christians often endured exceptional pressure and stress. They were, no doubt, called apostate Jews by their own people. Non-Christian Jews accused Christians of being usurpers. They insisted that Jews and not Christians had the open door to God's presence and the keys to the kingdom.

The Christians in the Asian city of Philadelphia were among those who took the brunt of these claims. Then, in about a.d. 96, the Elder John, in the book of Revelation, assured those in the church that they were, indeed, the heirs to salvation (Revelation 3:7-13).

John wrote that Christ is the One "who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open" (verse 7). Christ had set an open door before the church that "no one can shut."

What was this key that unlocked a door that could not be shut? The answer lies in analyzing the key and door metaphor, which is found in the writings of the prophet Isaiah. He referred to an individual of his time named Shebna who had charge of the palace of the Judean king. Today, we might call him the chief of staff.

The prophet Isaiah said the Lord would replace Shebna with a man named Eliakim. The Lord would "place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open" (Isaiah 22:22). Thus, Eliakim would be a kind of gatekeeper with power to control entry into the royal kingdom. As the king's steward, he would decide who could or could not have access to the king.

In the book of Revelation, John used this Old Testament metaphor to get across a vital message to the church in Philadelphia, and thereby to all Christians. That is, Christ has the key of David. He opens the door for the church -- his royal household -- and allows it to come into the presence of God. In short, Christ has granted Christians access to God. No one can deprive them of that access, which really means God's bestowal on them of the gift of salvation.

The key in Revelation does much more than open the way to an audience with a national king. In Christ's hand, the key opens the door into the presence of God, his kingdom and eternal life.
O Key of David, and Scepter of the house of Israel,
who opens and no one shuts, who shuts and no one opens:
come, and bring forth the captive from prison,
the one who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Similar Words, Different Hearts...

A wonderful commentary on the Lukan contrast between Zechariah and Mother Mary in their respective responses to God.
From Saint Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo (North Africa) and Doctor of the Church
excerpted from Sermon 293, 1-2

“You have not trusted my words.” (Lk 1:20) “Blest is she who trusted.” (Lk 1:45)

"John the Baptist’s mother was an old and sterile woman; Christ’s mother was a young girl in the fullness of her youth. John was the fruit of sterility; Christ that of virginity…

The one was announced through the message of an angel; the other was conceived upon the angel’s announcement. John’s father did not believe in the news of his birth and he became mute; Christ’s mother believed in her son, and through faith, she conceived him in her womb. The Virgin’s heart first welcomed faith and then, becoming mother, Mary received a fruit in her womb.

The words spoken to the angel by Mary and Zechariah are, however, more or less similar. When the angel announced the birth of John to him, the priest answered: “How am I to know this? I am an old man; my wife too is advanced in age.” Mary responded to the angel’s announcement: “How can this be since I do not know man?”

Yes, they are almost the same words… Yet the former is reprimanded, the latter is enlightened. Zechariah is told: “Because you have not trusted…” But Mary is told: “This is the answer you demanded.” However again, the words of the one and of the other are almost the same… But the one who heard the words also saw the hearts; for him, nothing is hidden.

Each one’s language concealed what he thought; but if this thought was hidden from human beings, it was not hidden from the angel, or rather, it was not concealed from him who spoke through the angel’s mediation."

Root of Jesse, Come.

Today's "oh!" antiphon is rooted deeply (pun intended) in the kingly tradition of the prophet Isaiah. The phrase "root of Jesse" evokes the Messianic family tree. Out of King David's father, Jesse, sprang the kingly line of Israel. Out of his kin was Messiah Jesus to come.

On top of our TV cabinet at home we proudly display pictures of our relatives... both past and present. My grandparents, uncles, aunts, and my own sons are there. The pictures remind us that we are part of something larger, something bigger than just the few people who live within these four walls which we call our home.

Similarily, the connection between Jesus and his ancestors reminds us that this Nativity involves many more folk than are visible to the naked eye. Behind Mary and Joseph stand many generations of wakeful ,hopeful Israelites and other people of good will who longed for a Prince of Peace and Justice to come and help them. We join in that waiting throng today.

The picture above is a fresco of "the Root of Jesse" from the Church of St George at Voronet Monastery in Romania, a visual representation of Jesus' "rootedness."

This rootedness of Jesus is reflected in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures:

"There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots... And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him, And His resting place shall be glorious." (Isaiah 11:1-10)

"And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will." From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Saviour -- Jesus." (Acts 13:22-23)

"I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star." (Revelation 22:12)

And so today, we join many others, seen and unseen, living and deceased, in praying for our Lord's Advent:

Root of Jesse, you stand for an ensign of humankind;
before you kings shall keep silence,
and to you all nations shall have recourse.
Come, save us, and do not delay.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Oh Heavenly Ruler!

As I meditate on the words of today's "Oh!" antiphon, I am struck by two different facets of this prayer.

First, it is interesting to note how our faith speaks to us through events of history. Moses lived, the bush burned, Sinai happened. All of these are historical happenings in the divine Drama. However, they also provide fodder for our internal ruminations concerning who God is. What do these events reveal about the God who is? What do they tell us about the One to Whom We Are Praying?

You tell me after you pray this prayer with the Church.

Secondly, there is hierarchy here. Yes, I've addressed this "issue" before in these blogs. Once again, my theory holds that "hierarchy happens." And there is nothing basically wrong with that.
But what kind of hierarchy are we speaking of here with the words "Adonai" and "Ruler of Israel?" For my money, I look to God to provide the definition.
Yes, in the Hebrew Scriptures, as in the Church today, there are repeated demonstrations that hierarchy sometimes causes problems. Bad kings are crowned. Evil churchmen gain ecclesiastical office. The lords sometimes "lord it over" the rest of us and mess up pretty badly. Yes, it is enough sometimes to make one run screaming into the arms of a gender-neutral Diety.

Still, I have hard time throwing out the divine image baby with the human circumstance bathwater. I learn what the true Lord (Adonai) and the real Ruler are through looking at the Incarnate Son. His palace is a stable, his court a rag tag assembly of peasants. His throne is a Cross. He rules by serving. That is the Lord of my Church, the one whose loving, self giving service informs every ideal of leadership.

and so today we pray....

O Adonai and Ruler of the house of Israel,
you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush,
and on Mount Sinai gave him your law.
Come, and with an outstretched arm redeem us.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Beginning today, the Daily Office includes distinct prayers for each day leading up to Christmas. These are called the "O" Antiphons, because they all begin with the exclamation "Oh!"

The exclamation is followed by a title of addess for Christ and then a description of Him. The antiphon concludes with a request that he come. By the way, the language of these antiphons forms the basis for that most famous of Advent hymns, "Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel."

Several years ago at St John's Abbey I was part of an Advent Day of Recollection wherein we examined the various "Oh!" antiphons and then composed our own antiphons. It was an interesting and revealing exercise. You might try it.

Here is today's "Oh!" antiphon:

O Wisdom,
you came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
and reaching from the beginning to end,
you ordered all things mightily and sweetly.
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Wisdom's Quiet Children

Matthew 11:19... "Wisdom is justified by all her works."

There is an interesting ambiguity in the textual tradition of Matthew's gospel. A large group of ancient Greek manuscripts carry the phrase "by all her children" rather than "by all her works."

This is not the place to go into the background of Sophia or wisdom. Suffice it to say, she has a long and distinguished pre-history of her own, culminating for Christians in the first chapter of John's gospel. Between the Wisdom of Solomon and the Johannine gospel there is a theological equivalent of a sex-change. The Logos, s/he who participated in creating the world, descends from the heavenlies to redeem it. The reference here in Matthew may indeed be to Christ, however veiled it may sound to modern ears.

However, what is important to note is how quietly wisdom is vindicated by her own. All around the faithful in this passage there are criticisms hurled with labels and epithets attached. "You did this; you didn't do that, you ___________!" The wise children, however, say nothing in response. Markedly absent in this passage is any of the defensive posturing and verbal jousting which one would ordinarily expect from those who are wise.

Wisdom is at wisdom's best when her children go about their lives in a spirit of quietness and calm. Note to self: we do not need to respond to every situation or answer every challenge thrown down by the world. Wisdom's vindication in Matthew consists in the fact that the fruit of Her work is quiet. Indeed her goal is consistent and persistent virtues, faith hope and love, lived in the face of a world sorely in need of all three.

Grant this, Lord, unto us all.

The only verbal connection here with our blessed Mother is her famous title "Seat of Wisdom." Here is a small meditation with that connection:

MARY, you are the Seat of Wisdom because the Son of God, the eternal Wisdom, assumed flesh from you, dwelt in your virginal womb, and as an Infant rested in your arms. As the Son of God, Jesus is called Wisdom. The Father thinks of Himself from eternity. This thought of the Father is a distinct person—the Word, the Wisdom of God.

But the Son of God is also called Wisdom because in the work of redemption divine wisdom shows itself in the highest degree. After becoming Man, Jesus taught us wisdom. He taught us that temporal goods are vain and possess true value only in so far as they are means for obtaining our final destiny. He has reminded us to be most earnest about saving our souls.

Seat of Wisdom, you bore in your womb Him who is the personal and eternal Wisdom of God, and whose words and teaching give evidence of wisdom in the highest degree. Obtain for me the grace to embrace wisdom with my whole soul as I see it in the doctrine of your divine Son.

And finally, what sparked this post is a passage from Swiss Catholic Theologian Father Hans Urs von Balthasar:

The Virgin, harboring a mystery under her heart, remains in profound solitude. In a silence that almost causes the preplexed Joseph to despair. Incarnation of God means condescension, abasement, and because we are sinners, humiliation.

And he already draws his Mother into these humilations. Where did she get this child? People must have talked at the time, and they probably never stopped. It must have been a sorry state of affairs if Joseph could find no better way out than to divorce his bride quietly.

God's humanism at once begins drastically. Those whose lives God enters, those who enter into his, are not protected. They have to go along into a suspicion and ambiguity they cannot talk their way out of. And the ambiguity will only get worse, until, at the cross, the Mother will get to see what her Yes has caused and will have ot hear the vitirolic ridicule to which the Son is forced to listen.

"The Office"... Hymns, that is.

One of the joys of my retreat this past weekend was my rediscovery of the Latin Office hymns for Advent. They sound REALLY COOL in Latin. But, since I am neither proficient in Latin like my friend Antony H., nor good at music as well as posting music on a blog, I'll have to settle for sharing the words alone, in translation.

Creator of the stars of night,

Your people's everlasting light,

O Christ, Redeemer of us all,

We pray you hear us when we call.

In sorrow that the ancient curse

Should doom to death a universe,

You came, O Savior, to set free

Your own in glorious liberty.

When this old world drew on toward night,

You came; but not in splendor bright,

Not as a monarch, but the child

Of Mary, blameless mother mild.

At your great Name, O Jesus, now

All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;

All things on earth with one accord,

Like those in heaven, shall call you Lord.

Come in your holy might, we pray,

Redeem us for eternal day;

Defend us while we dwell below

From all assaults of our dread foe.

To God the Father, God the Son,

And God the Spirit, Three in One,

Praise, honor, might, and glory be

From age to age eternally.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

In My Father's Eyes

Many of us have seen Salvador Dali's painting of the Crucifixion but until yesterday I had never known that the offical title of the painting is "The Christ of St John of the Cross."

The perspective from which Dali painted the scene is taken from St John of the Cross. Apparently, St John had a vision during which he saw the crucified Christ from above and behind, i.e. from the viewpoint of the Father in heaven. He made a simple sketch of the scene which lay in a monstrance unremarked upon for years until Dali and another artist saw it in the 1940's.

The monastery in 1968 removed the sketch and restored it, placing it in a new reliquary in the Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila.

How great is the love of the Father who looked down from heaven upon His dying Son and wept the tears of merciful love which fell upon us all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Take your shoes off; sit a spell....

St John of the Cross, a discalced Carmelite of the 16th century, spoke often and eloquently of the need for quiet and meditation, and described how the divine light blinds the soul, freeing us from earthly care to live only and always in God.

A fitting saint for this darkling December day,
a wavering light to show us the dawning Advent of our Lord.

O living flame of love

that tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest center!

Since now you are not oppressive, now consummate!

if it be your will:

tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

"I will give you rest"

"Jesus said to the crowds,"Come unto me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest." (Luke 11:28)

Where is the rest, Lord, for the families of the three young Minnesota men who were killed in Iraq while serving their countries? Where is the rest for the one left alive who lost his legs?

Where is the rest, Lord, for those 400 foreign born workers who have come North seeking a better life here than they had in Mexico? Now they are being interrogated far from families and friends and even farther from the hope which drove them to come to our state.
Where is the rest for all of us, who come to you weary and burdened?
Come, Lord Jesus.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Two good reasons why churchy stuff is important

Here are two really good sections from Benedict XVI's address to the Swiss Bishops during their recent ad limina visit. They illustrate why institutional and theological issues really are vital to our spiritual lives.

"In the Church, the institution is not merely an external structure while the Gospel is purely spiritual. In fact, the Gospel and the Institution are inseparable because the Gospel has a body, the Lord has a body in this time of ours. Consequently, issues that seem at first sight merely institutional are actually theological and central, because it is a matter of the realization and concretization of the Gospel in our time."


"I remember, when I used go to Germany in the 1980s and '90s, that I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems.

If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears.

I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith -- a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us.In this perspective I would now like to continue by completing last Tuesday's reflections and to stress once again: what matters above all is to tend one's personal relationship with God, with that God who revealed himself to us in Christ."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Guadalupana, Strong Protector

December 12th is the Feast of Mary under the title "Our Lady of Guadalupe", the patron of the Americas who appeared to St. Juan Diego in the 16th century. As a sign to the unbelieving Spanish Bishop of Mexico to whom Juan was sent, the Aztec peasant's tilma, or robe, was imprinted miraculously with the image of Mary as a young peasant girl, but with many of the details mentioned in Chapter 12 of Revelation. Tests of the tilma have failed either to explain the origin of the image, or to account for its continued existence on a fibrous material which under normal conditions decomposes within 5o-60 years.
The icongraphy of the image is unmistakeably Aztecan. The Virgin is a young native girl rather than a Caucasian European. She wears the traditional brown belt only worn by those who have previously given birth. She herself looks pregnant again, as if about to bear anew her children, the Aztec peoples who converted following Her appearance. She is surrounded by the rays of the sun, the traditonal Aztec Sun god, and treads underfoot the moon, another Aztec diety. Her blue robe is decorated with stars, the third presence in the Aztecan pantheon.
Yet, this young girl is not a goddess herself. Her head is bowed in prayer, humbly asking God to bless Her people. What a strong image of both mercy and justice, of solidarity and intercession. She prays for all of us in the Americas, asking again the divine assistance with the single phrase "Fiat!" Let it be done... according to Your Word, oh God. Her yes to God which leads to the new creation echoes God's Word at the first creation, "Let it be done." So, the Guadalupana, like all the rest of us who are redeemed by Christ, has become a created co-creator.
She and we are called to create a New World which mirrors both God's justice and His love and mercy. How far we have to go before her prayers are answered.

God of power and mercy,
You blessed the Americas at Tepeyac
with the presence of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe.
May Her prayers help all men and women
to accept each other as brothers and sisters.
Through Your justice present in our hearts
may Your peace reign in this world.

We don't travel alone

Also from today's Mass, a reading from the gospel of Luke where some men bring a paralytic on a stretcher to Jesus and are forced by the crowds to lower him into the house where Jesus is preaching from the roof (Luke 5:17-26).

One phrase struck me, "When Jesus saw THEIR faith, he said, 'As for you, (the paralytic) your sins are forgiven'." None of us travels this Advent roadway alone, and many times it is others who have faith on our behalf, even when we have no ability or insight to seek God's healing for ourselves.

Who is helping you to be healed right now on your Advent journey? Perhaps someone of whom you are not even aware.

On the Way in Advent

Today's First Reading from Isaiah 35:1-10 is one of several passages which highlights the Royal Road across which the exiles were to travel on their return to God and to God's land following the Babylonian Capivity. This road blossoms with new life in the midst of the desert. It is laid out "for those with a journey to make, and on it the redeemed will walk."

How like our Advent journey. There is a purpose in it,.... to return to God. There is a direction to it,.... away from captivity to our sin and to old ways of being, and going back to God our Source. And there is time and a tempo in it. This pilgrimage doesn't happen overnight. Good travels take time, and we keep on journeying back to God from our baptism to our deathbed and long after. So we are asked not to get too impatient if it seems like we aren't making much progress right now, or that we can't see far ahead along the way. Finally, as we go this Advent there is a sense of openness to new adventures, things which we can't even see and imagine right now.

It reminds me of the words to a song from the great epic fantasy trilogy, Lord of the Rings, "The Road Goes on Forever." Yes, I know there's a country-western song by that name too, but it's just not as apt or romantic as J.R.R. Tolkien's words:

“The Road goes ever on and on
down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
and I must follow,
if I can, pursuing it with eager feet,
until it joins some larger way
where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Advent II... Back from Retreat, I Begin Again

I'm back from my Advent Retreat at Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey (Cistercian) near Sparta, WI. It's too soon to blog about content and results, although suffice it to say now that it was a very blessed time.

However, God has a great sense of humor. This commentary on Sunday's Gospel reading from a Cistercian came my way via e mail while I was gone. And to add even more fun, Blessed Guerric's memorial was celebrated while I was the Abbey.

I really like Guerric's emphasis on beginning again each day. Can we do that this Advent season?

Blessed Guerric of Igny (around 1080 – 1157), Cistercian abbot Sermon 5 for Advent

“Make straight the Lord’s path”
“Prepare the way of the Lord.”

Brothers, even if you have advanced greatly on this way, you still have to
prepare it, so that from the point where you have already arrived, you might
always go forward, always stretched out towards what is beyond. Thus, since the
way has been prepared for his coming, with every step that you take, the Lord
will come to meet you, always new, always greater. So the righteous person is
right to pray thus: “Instruct me, O Lord, in the way of your statutes, that I
may exactly observe them.” (Ps 119:33) And this way is called “the path of
eternity” (Ps 139:24) … because the goodness of him towards whom we are
advancing is unlimited.

That is why the wise and determined traveler, even though
he has arrived at the goal, will think of beginning.

Giving no thought to what lies behind,” (Phil 3:13), he will tell himself every day: “Now I begin (Ps 76:11 Vulgata) …

May it please heaven that we who talk about advancing on this
path might at least have set out! To my understanding, whoever has set out is
already on the good way. However, we must really begin, find “the way to an
inhabited city” (Ps 107:4). For Truth says: “How few there are who find it!” (Mt
7:14) And many are those “who go astray in the desert.” (Ps 107:4) …And you,
Lord, have prepared a path for us, if we only agree to go on it… Through your
Law, you have taught us the path of your will by saying: “This is the way; walk
in it, when you would turn to the right or to the left.” (Isa 30:21) It is the
path that the prophet had promised: “A highway will be there… No fools go astray
on it.” (Isa 35:8)… I have never seen a fool going astray when following your
path, Lord… But woe to you who are wise in your own sight (Isa 5:21). Your
wisdom has taken you away from the path of salvation and has not allowed you to
follow the Savior’s folly… A desirable folly, which at the time of God’s
judgment will be called wisdom and which does not let us go astray, away from
his path.

Amen, Come Lord Jesus, and help us begin again today.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Studying in the Quiet- Part III

Just a quick note- I will be away from computers from now until Sunday, continuing my questing for some further silence and contemplation. I will be celebrating our Mother's Feast with the brothers of Our Lady of Spring Bank, a Cistercian Abbey in Sparta, WI.
Ironically enough, this morning as I was francitcally trying to get ready to leave for the trip this commentary on today's gospel reading came in an e mail to me at work:

From Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997), founder of the Missionaries of Charity A Simple Path, 1995, p.7-8

"Listen to what I say to you"

"We all must take the time to be silent and to contemplate, especially those
who live in big cities like London and New York, where everything moves so fast.
This is why I decided to open our first home for contemplative sisters (whose
vocation is to pray most of the day) in New York instead of the Himalayas: I
felt silence and contemplation were needed more in the cities of the world.

I always begin my prayer in silence, for it is in the silence of the heart that
God speaks. God is the friend of silence – we need to listen to God because it's
not what we say but what He says to us and through us that matters. Prayer feeds the soul – as blood is to the body, prayer is to the soul – and it brings you
closer to God. It also gives you a clean and pure heart. A clean heart can see
God, can speak to God, and can see the love of God in others. When you have a
clean heart it means you are open and honest with God, you are not hiding
anything from Him, and this lets Him take what He wants from you."

Your prayers are appreciated and I will update this blog when I return. Thanks!

Conceived Without Sin... the Buck stops here!

Tomorrow is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrating the fact that the Mother of Our Lord was conceived without sin. She participated fully in the Redemption which was to be accomplished by Her Son so that she might be a fitting, sinless vessel for God incarnate.

I know sometimes people have a hard time with this dogma.

However, it does make some sense. If God is to become Incarnate, it is reasonable to expect that God would only be able to become a part of humanity in a sinless way. So, the fact that Mary herself was sinless is in reality a reflection both of the holiness of our God and the utter sinfulness and need of humankind.

In essence, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception proclaims loud and clear that the Buck stops here. At this juncture in human history, Mary's conception, the firewall of God's ineffable existence is raised against the forces of sin. From this beachhead, accomplished in the young teenage maiden of Nazareth, God enters our human existence in order to become as we are, in everything except our sin. He does this so that we can become as he is, sinless, loving and perfect, like our Mother Mary already is.

Here are some words from Pius IX, penned when the dogma was recognized by the Church in the 1800's. Forgive the exalted language... and look to the heart of the message, which sings like sweet music of our Glorious Lord and His Holy Mother.

"The Ineffable God -- whose ways are mercy and truth, whose will is
omnipotence itself, and whose wisdom "reaches from end to end mightily, and
orders all things sweetly" -- having foreseen from all eternity the lamentable
wretchedness of the entire human race which would result from the sin of Adam,
decreed, by a plan hidden from the centuries, to complete the first work of his
goodness by a mystery yet more wondrously sublime through the Incarnation of the

This he decreed in order that man who, contrary to the plan of
Divine Mercy had been led into sin by the cunning malice of Satan, should not
perish; and in order that what had been lost in the first Adam would be
gloriously restored in the Second Adam. From the very beginning, and before time
began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother
in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed
fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God
so loved her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular

Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so
wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured
from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all
stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy
innocence and sanctity which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything
greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending

Bull "Ineffabilis Deus" Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Abba, the God of the Little Beginning

Yesterday's Daily Mass readings remind me that God is Abba, Father.

"Daddy".... Jesus' preferred Aramaic term for God the Father shines through the child-guide to peace (Isaiah 11:1-10) and also Jesus' thanksgiving to God for the true disciples' child-like trust (Luke 10:21-24).

Abba is the God of Advent, God of the little beginning.

God who anoints a ruddy shepherd boy king of Israel and Judah.

God who causes the mustard seed to grow into a mighty Tree of Life.

God who enthrones a young, pregnant unmarried Jewish teenager as Queen of Heaven.

God who nominates a prayer-whispering Jewish Rabbi as the Judge of All who is to come.

I have a lot of little daily things in my life right now that are whispering Abba's name to me... while I do the Advent waiting game:

  • thanksgiving for useful work

  • concerns for those around me suffering illness

  • quiet spaces for Advent preparation

  • consolation in loneliness

Where else is Abba whispering today?

Monday, December 04, 2006

"I will come and cure him"

Today's gospel (Matthew 8:5-11) reveals a three fold context for the prayer of humble access which we pray before receiving Christ at each Mass. 'Lord, I am not worthy to receive you."

The centurion wants his servant to be healed, and approaches Jesus. Jesus replies, "I will come and cure him." The Centurion demurs, saying that he is not worthy that the Lord should visit his home. Truly, this was the case because in Palestinian society the Roman centurion would never expect a pious Jewish teacher to risk defilement by visiting his residence. The Centurion approachs Christ with humility. He humbly recognizies his shortcomings and confesses them publicly, an unheard-of act for a Roman centurion in the midst of a conquered people.

However, the Centurion goes a step further, recognizing the power and authority of God present in Jesus. "You have the authority, the blessing of God," he proclaims, "to do this merciful act. It's all about You, Jesus." The Centurion is a man who approaches God with faith. The Centurion recognizes that God does what He wills, and His will is that people be whole and complete. What a great way to wait for Jesus.... humbly, but with confidence in God's great ability to bring good out of ill.

The last ingredient is also important. The Centurion recognizes the importance of community in the healing process. Without another to plead for him, to love him, to bring him to Jesus, the Centurion's servant would be lost. The Centurion's public appeal reflects an implicit recognition of the important role community plays in the healing process. The Centruion could have gone to Jesus privately, or sent someone else to ask for help for his servant. But, noooooo. The centurion came himself, and he came in the presence of others on behalf of another. And Jesus rewarded that brave commitment. If we are going to be healed.,we are to be healed with others.

This Advent we come to God in three ways:
1. humbly confessing our sins with humility,
2. acknowledging God's power with faith and
3. knowing that we are part of a larger faith community with one another.

There, as my friend Will likes to say, "none of us will be saved without the others."

Lord, let us see your kindness,
and grant us your salvation.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Come, Lord Jesus!

Happy New Year! Today is the first day of the new Church Year in western Christendom and also the First Sunday in Advent. During this four week period we prepare ourselves to more properly celebrate the Feast of the Nativity, AKA Christmas.
Just as importantly, we prepare our hearts for Christ's presence in the here and now, at the time of our death and when he comes at the end of time to renew the entire creation as he has renewed individual souls.
So, what do we do with this, especially if, as we all are, we find ourselves busy preparing our families, homes and lives for the celebration of Christmas? If we are to be truly ready for Christ we should be preparing ourselves inwardly on a daily basis to receive Him, establishing quiet places in busy moments where we can listen for His voice.
My own practice includes making an Advent retreat.... I'll be heading to Sparta Wisconsin on Thursday to spend four days in prayer/ relection and to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary with my Cistercian brothers at Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey. I want to be more like our Blessed Mother, more transparent, more attentive to God's will, more purely in love with God.
What will you do to prepare your heart this Advent? Maybe you can't get away for multiple days of prayer. But we can all do the small things that add up to the one thing necessary.
  • Get up a little earlier and greet God's dawn in prayer.
  • Stop by a church for a few minutes and light a candle in honor of our Lady and Her Son.
  • Be kind to others who have no idea why we are called to love one another because they don't yet know the One we love.
I enjoy hearing the words of St John Chrysostom about the different advents of Christ:

"At his first coming, God came without any brilliance, unknown by most,
prolonging the mystery of his hidden life by many years. When he came down
fromthe mountain of the Transfiguration, Jesus asked his disciples not to
tell anyone that he was the Christ. Then he came like a shepherd to look for
his lost sheep, and in order to get hold of the unruly animal, he had to
remain hidden. Like a doctor who is careful not to frighten his patient
right from the start,in the same way, the Lord avoids making himself known
right from the beginning of his mission: he only does so imperceptibly and
little by little.

The prophet announced this event without
brilliance with these words: “He
shall be like rain coming down on the
meadow, like showers watering the earth.”
(Ps 72:6) He did not tear open the
heavens so as to come on the clouds, but
rather, he came in silence into the
womb of a virgin and was carried by her for
nine months. He was born in a
manger as the son of a humble craftsman… He went
here and there like an
ordinary man; his clothing was simple, his table even
more frugal. He walked
without resting to the point of being tired

But his second
coming will not be like that. He will come with such
brilliance that it
won’t be necessary to announce his coming: “As the lightning
from the east
flashes to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Mt
24:27) It
will be the time of judgment and of sentencing. And the Lord will not
as a doctor, but as a judge. The prophet Daniel saw his throne, the river
flowing at the base of the tribunal, and that device made entirely of fire,
the chariot and the wheels (7:9-10)… David, the prophet-king, spoke only
of splendor, of brilliance, of fire flaming on all sides: “Before him is a
devouring fire; around him is a raging storm.” (Ps 50:3) All these
comparisons aim at making us understand God’s sovereignty, the brilliant
light that surrounds him, and his inaccessible nature."
Come, Lord Jesus!

One More Thing...

I know I've probably blogged enough on this subject for now, but I was excited to read the recent Zenit News Service interview with Bartholomew I, Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople.

Here it is, and note the question about the future in the center of the interview (boldfaced). I think there has been a breakthrough in relations between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox, and that we'll see even more substantive steps soon. Thanks be to God!

BTW, I visited St Mary's Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis this morning for the second time. Their Metropolitan from Chicago was present for the presbyteral ordination of a parishoner. I came away from the experience with an even greater respect for these venerable brothers and sisters in faith.

Patriarch Bartholomew I on the Papal Visit
Interview With Orthodox Church Leader

ISTANBUL, Turkey, DEC. 1, 2006 ( Benedict XVI's visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople "is of incalculable value in the process of reconciliation," says Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I.

In this interview with the Italian newspaper Avvenire, the patriarch revealed that he made an unexpected ecumenical proposal to the Pope.

Q: What can you tell us about this journey?

Bartholomew I: Above all, I must say that I truly thank His Holiness for his visit to us on the feast day of St. Andrew. It is a truly very significant step forward in our relations, and undertaken in the framework of a journey which has made, on the whole, a contribution to interreligious dialogue which I think is truly important.

Q: You and the Pope have seen one another face to face several times, away from the cameras and journalists. What have you said to one another?

Bartholomew I: His Holiness showed his benevolence to the patriarchate and its problems; for this reason we are truly grateful to him.

It has been an opportunity to know one another better, including the cardinals of his entourage, with whom I think we have established a good friendship, and this also seems to me to be very important.

We can truly say that this Thursday we lived a historic day, under many aspects. Historic for ecumenical dialogue and, as we saw in the afternoon, historic for the relationship between cultures and religions. And, obviously, because of all this, historic also for our country.

Q: The addresses and common declaration you signed are "lofty" and compromising. Have you also spoken of the future?

Bartholomew I: In this respect, I can say that I spoke with His Holiness of something -- something that we could do. I presented him with a proposal which I cannot now elaborate on, as we await an official response, but I can say that His Holiness was very interested and that he received it favorably.

We hope it can be undertaken as it is directed to that ecumenical progress that, as we have affirmed and written in the common declaration, both of us are determined to pursue.

Q: Why are you so determined?

Bartholomew I: Unity is a precious responsibility, but at the same time a difficult one which must be assumed if it is not shared between brothers. The history of the last millennium is a painful "memory" of this reality.

We are profoundly convinced that Benedict XVI's visit has incalculable value in this process of reconciliation, as, in addition, it has taken place at such a difficult time and in very delicate circumstances.

Without a doubt, with the help of God we are offered the opportunity to take a beneficial step forward in the process of reconciliation in our Churches. And perhaps, with the help of God, we will be given the opportunity to surmount some of the barriers of incomprehension among believers of different religions, in particular between Christians and Muslims.

Q: Earlier you also mentioned the importance of this for Turkey. Why?

Bartholomew I: Being at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, this city and this Church hold a truly unique position to foster a meeting among modern civilizations. In a certain sense, Istanbul is the perfect place to become a permanent center of dialogue between the different faiths and cultures.

Friday, December 01, 2006

When Doves Cry

The events of the past few days have indeed been momentous. I am not sure what to make of it all. Certainly, the Bishop of Rome is thinking constantly about how the world stands in the balance. Here is a story from Inside the Vatican Magazine about what Benedict XVI experienced, and what it may mean.

"His Lips Moved" by Dr. Robert Moynihan

Benedict's gift to the Mufti of the doves picture certainly speaks volumes about his hopes for our world. But what he wrote in the Blue Mosque Guest Book gives us a unique window into his heart:

"In our diversity, we find ourselves before faith in the one God.
May God
enlighten us and help us find the path of love and peace."


Reason, Faith and the Battle for the Human Soul

Here is a cogent and well argued analysis of Benedict XVI's recent actions with regard to Europe and Islam:

"Western Civ 101: Pope Benedict's Seminar on Fundamentals" by Daniel Henninger

Since the Concordat with Mussolini our Holy Father in Rome has had no land to defend or legions to command. But the battle for human souls and human dignity continues. We fight for God, leaving behind triumphalism, but with strong weapons of reason and faith, a la Ephesians 6:12-13:

Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities,
the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the
spirits in the heavens. Thererfore, put on the armor of God, that
you may
be able to resist on the evil day, and, having done everything, to

Thank you, God, for bringing us a Pastor who adheres so closely and speaks so clearly to your Word of Human Justice and Divine Mercy.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

You've Got a Friend in Andrew

St. Andrew the Apostle, whose feast is celebrated by both East and West today, is the original icon of what evangelicals sometimes call "friendship evangelism." Andrew brought his brother Peter to Christ (John 1:41).
The crude Southern version of "friendship evangelism" I grew up with is that you get to know somebody and then... wham... you invite them to your church so that they can "hear the Gospel." The real-life version runs more like this. Others who get to know you will be attracted to Christ through your winsome life and will begin to get closer to God by asking you questions and beginning to discover that this "God-thing" isn't so bad after all.
Not a bad model really- not too heirarchical, and certainly reflective of how many people actually do come to the Faith. I know that I am in the Church today at least partially because of friends who took the time to share with me their values and their love. It made the Gospel come alive for me.
St. John Chrysostom, speaking about Andrew bringing Peter to Christ, declared the positive good of true friendship: "to support one another in the things of the spirit is the true sign of good will between brothers, of loving kinship and sincere affection."
I pondered these words again as I read today about Benedict XVI's visit with Bartholomew I, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople. The joint declaration they made after meeting together certainly seems full of such good will.

This fraternal encounter which brings us together, Pope Benedict XVI of
Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, is God’s work, and in a certain sense his gift.

We give thanks to the Author of all that is good, who allows us once again, in prayer and in dialogue, to express the joy we feel as
brothers and to renew our commitment to move towards full communion.

This commitment comes from the Lord’s will and from our responsibility as Pastors in the Church of Christ. May our meeting be a sign and an
encouragement for all of us to share the same sentiments and the same attitudes of fraternity,
cooperation and communion in charity and truth.

The Holy Spirit will help us to prepare the great day of the re-establishment of full unity, whenever and however God wills it. Then we
shall truly be able to rejoice and be glad.

Perhaps this model of friendship is what will bring us together, restoring the unity between these two ancient and venerable branches of Christendom.
you called Andrew the apostle
to preach the Gospel and guide your Church in

May he always be our friend in your

to help us with his prayers.

The Rules of Engagement

I ran across this article tonight. I think it has some very helpful tips for discussions amongst Catholics (and other Christians, too).

10 rules for handling disagreement like a Christian, by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron :

All too often we fail to treat each other with either the seriousness or the charity which our common Faith deserves. We ignore to our eternal peril the one prayer request of our Lord on the night before he died, that we might all be one in truth.

Lord, forgive us for breaking your Body into little kingdoms where our will can be done. Make us one in You once again.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Studying in the Quiet- Part II

Some time ago I wrote about the need for quiet- to say less, to meditate more.

One friend said he would look forward to seeing what happened. Perhaps he said it tongue in cheek, knowing my gregarious nature would not allow me to remain quiet.... at least not long enough to have any lasting effect.

Here is the progress report.

I have found some very quiet spaces in my life that I never knew existed before.

Last summer a trusted confessor, Father Cyril Gorman of St John's Abbey, gave me the penance of staying after Mass and sitting quietly and pondering. It took a few months but now the practice has set in of staying for just a few moments after Mass is over. Sometimes I relish Christ's continued presence, pray for my day, or just pray over and over that favorite prayer of John Paul II, "Totus tuus".... totally yours. Sometimes I just sit in no particular action at all, just sit. However this started, I've found it makes Mass more meaningful. It "sticks to my ribs" longer as I continue to ponder the readings and the prayers and the people I encounter while I return to my car for the trip to work or home.

A second result of being open to the quiet has been an increasing desire to do less and to stay home more. I am less involved in my parish and other outside activities now, a deliberate choice, and I am finding that less is more. When I do things now I relish it more deeply, as if I am more present than before to what is going on around me. I have to admit that part of this change is probably atmospheric... after all it is Fall-approaching Winter here in Minnesota, a time when people tend to settle in for the long winter's nap. But it's something deeper than that. I can't quite explain it yet. But I am happy that it is happening... an increase in contentment and gratitude for where God has placed me.
The last is the most difficult. I am trying to learn to speak only when spoken to. I am naturally outgoing, gregarious, some would even say aggressive. So this is very hard for me. But listening is a valuable skill that often gets overrun by the need to plan one's one response to what others are saying and doing. God help me to speak less and listen more, to others and above all to Him.

Pray for Bishop Carlson

Sorry to be so episco-centric, but this is important.

Bishop Robert Carlson of Saginaw, formerly of Sioux Falls, undergoes Colonectomy

.From the Saginaw Catholic Times:Saginaw Bishop Robert J. Carlson will undergo surgery on Tuesday, Nov. 28, to remove a section of his colon. There is no cancer in the area at the present time but there is some unusual cellular activity that could develop in the future. The bishop has chosen to have this preventative surgery done now and hopes to resume a normal schedule sometime in January...."While there is no cancer, the doctors I have spoken to, for a sceond opinion, have told me it is a real gift to have this knoweldge and to take action before any cancer is present. I see this as a real blessing from God and I go into the surgery very positive," said Bishop Carlson.Bishop Carlson, 62, asks parishoners in the 11-county Saginaw Diocese for their prayers for a successful surgery and a rapid recovery.

Cards may be sent to: Bishop Robert J. Carlson, Diocese of Saginaw, 5800 Weiss St., Saginaw, MI 48063.Update: More from the Saginaw diocese:Bishop Robert J. Carlson is recovering from an elective surgery he had this morning to remove a portion of his colon.While Bishop Carlson has been diagnosed as "cancer free," doctors had recommend recently that he undergo the preventative operation after discovering some "unusual cellular activity" that they feared could have the ability to turn into cancer in the future."The surgery was successful and Bishop Carlson is resting comfortably. He remains in good health," Chancellor Nancy J. Werner said. "He has asked me to express his deep gratitude for those of you who have prayed for his well-being. He would appreciate the continued prayers of the faithful and continues to offer his own intentions for the people of the Diocese of Saginaw."Prior to serving in Sioux Falls, Bishop Carlson was an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St Paul-Minneapolis.

On Politics and Changing the World

Sorry, I can't resist posting the whole quote. I find this homily from last year's World Youth Day especially relevant today.

The Bishop of Rome is busy treading the dangerous waters of the Bosporus in support of his little flock in Turkey, while seeking reconcilation with our Orthodox bretheren and offering an olive branch to a cantankerous Islamic world. Let's pray for him.

The best parts are in bold italics.
Excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI's homily, occasion of 20th World Day of Youth,
-the nuances referring to the Holy Family at Bethelhem reflect the ambiance of the setting- themes of pilgrimage and dedication of the Cathedral at Koln to the Magi-

"The saints show us the way to attain happiness, they show us how to be truly human. Through all the ups and downs of history, they were the true reformers who constantly rescued it from plunging into the valley of darkness; it was they who constantly shed upon it the light that was needed to make sense - even in the midst of suffering - of God's words spoken at the end of the work of creation: "It is very good".

One need only think of such figures as St Benedict, St Francis of Assisi, St Teresa of Avila, St Ignatius of Loyola, St Charles Borromeo, the founders of 19-century religious orders who inspired and guided the social movement, or the saints of our own day - Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein, Mother Teresa, Padre Pio.

In contemplating these figures we learn what it means "to adore" and what it means to live according to the measure of the Child of Bethlehem, by the measure of Jesus Christ and of God himself. The saints, as we said, are the true reformers.

Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world. In the last century we experienced revolutions with a common programme - expecting nothing more from God, they assumed total responsibility for the cause of the world in order to change it. And this, as we saw, meant that a human and partial point of view was always taken as an absolute guiding principle. Absolutizing what is not absolute but relative is called totalitarianism. It does not liberate man, but takes away his dignity and enslaves him.

It is not ideologies that save the world, but only a return to the living God, our Creator, the guarantor of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true.

True revolution consists in simply turning to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love. And what could ever save us apart from love?

Dear friends! Allow me to add just two brief thoughts. There are many who speak of God; some even preach hatred and perpetrate violence in God's Name. So it is important to discover the true face of God.

The Magi from the East found it when they knelt down before the Child of Bethlehem. "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father", said Jesus to Philip (Jn 14: 9). In Jesus Christ, who allowed his heart to be pierced for us, the true face of God is seen. We will follow him together with the great multitude of those who went before us. Then we will be travelling along the right path."

Discerning Between God and God's Works

I dedicate this post to the memory of Bishop Paul Dudley, retired (Diocese of Sioux Falls, SD). He died this past Wednesday night. He will be remembered by many as a tireless pastor and lover of our Lord and His Church.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
The first time I met Bishop Dudley he spoke at length on a book called Five Loaves and Two Fish, by Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan. I will not ever forget that talk.
Nguyen Van Thuan, as the new Bishop of Saigon, had been targeted for his faith as well as his family connection to Ngo Dinh Diem. He was detained by the Communist Government of Vietnam in a reeducation camp for 13 years, 9 of them in solitary confinement. During his imprisonment he wrote encouraging remarks and notes on scraps of paper which were passed to the outside world.

Cardinal Van Thuan ( elevated in 2001) shared some of his thoughts at the 1997 World Youth Day, which become the basis for the book and Bishop Dudley's own remarks. One piece struck me especially hard; Discerning Between God and God's Works.

Cardinal Van Thuan had ample opportunity to do this during his imprisonment. 48 years old and energetic, cut off from his flock and the ability to actively minister to them, Bishop Van Thuan was tortured by his enforced idleness.

One day the divine message came to him.

Everything you desire to do is excellent work, helping others, increasing vocations, providing reassurance to your flock and evangelizing non Christians. These are God's works, but they are not God.

Bishop Van Thuan was called by his isolation in prison to realize what is true for all who are involved in the active life. What we do for God is good, but it is not the goal or summit of our lives. Rather, we are called to follow God Himself.

This is important to remember always, but especially when we have good success in our lives or alternatively when we experience dejection and failure. At both times, at ALL times we can pray with Cardinal Van Thuan the words he wrote from prison:

Why, Lord are you
abandoning me?
I do not want to desert your work,
I want to complete it....
Kneeling before your altar
close to the eucharist,
I heard your answer, Lord:
"It is me you are supposed to be
following, not my work."

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Christ... the King?

In my younger years I was an opponent of heirarchy and an advocate of consensus building egalitarianism in the Church (Lutheran, at that time). In late 20th century theological parlance I was much more content to dance in Sarah's circle than to climb Jacob's ladder.

However, in recent years my now nuanced view could be summed up in the bumper sticker "Heirarchy happens." Wherever there are two (or more) sentient beings there is going to be leading and following, first and second, speaker and listener. The opposite of heirarchy is not democracy, it's anarchy, at least in the realm of the divine.

The unique revelation of Christianity is in its definition of that heirarchy. Yes, yes, I understand how few monarchies still exist in the world, but in order to truly understand heirarchy, Christian-ly speaking, we have to go to the origin and model, our King Jesus.

Here are some helpful words from the Bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI, on the topic:

"Jesus of Nazareth... is so intrinsically king that the title 'King' has actually become his name. By calling ourselves Christians, we label ourselves as followers of the king....God did not intend Israel to have a kingdom. The kingdom was a result of Israel's rebellion against god. The law as to be Israel's king, and through the law, god himself... God yielded to Israel's obstinacy and so devised a new kind of kingship for them.

The king is Jesus; in him God entered humanity and espoused it to himself. This is the usual form of the divine activity in relation to mankind. God does not have a fixed plan that he must carry out; on the contrary, he has many different ways of finding man and even of turning his wrong ways into right ways...

The feast of Christ the king is therefore not a feast of those who are subjugated, but a feast of those who know that they are in the hands of one who writes straight on crooked lines."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

She Dances to Angels' Music.

Presentation is everything! How often we've heard that adage in food preparation. It's the mantra of Food Channel addicts everywhere. But today Eastern Christians as well as those of us in the West celebrate another kind of presentation, the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And Her presentation tells us everything we need to know about Her and Her God.

Mary's presentation isn't specifically mentioned in Scripture. However, presentations of children are a commonplace theme in Hebrew tradition, from Samuel the prophet to John the Baptist. Extraordinarily pious parents were often expected to dedicate their children to the Lord, sometimes leaving them in the Temple precincts for upbringing and education.

So, it is no surprise to find in early Christian tradition (c. 120-170) a rather lengthy treatment of Mary's early life. The Protoevangelium of James recounts Anne's hesitation at bringing Mary to the Temple at the tender age of two and Joachim's aquiesence. Mary's special status is clearly recognized. Anne makes her bedroom a shrine or sanctuary to protect her. And when Mary is finally presented to the Lord at age 3, she hears the angelic choirs and dances to their music on the steps of the Temple.

Is it really so unexpected to see such reverence for our Blessed Mother so early in the tradition? The Protoevangelium utilizes motifs and language drawn from the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke. The later Marian doctrines (her sinlessness, her closeness to God) are not outlined clearly. But the author of this second century book clearly understands Mary as possessing a very special place in salvation history, close to the Holy Heart of God.

And so she is.
I have found her to be all that the Church claims for her, and more. St Augustine of Hippo puts Mary in her proper, though exalted, place as the One who first did the will of the Father in bringing His Son to earth. We need to follow her as she follows God. We pray with Mary "let it be done to me according to Your Word."

From a sermon of Augustine (Today's Office of Readings):

Stretching out his hand over his disciples, the Lord Christ declared: Here are my mother and my brothers; anyone who does the will of my Father who sent me is my brother and sister and my mother. I would urge you to ponder these words. Did the Virgin Mary, who believed by faith and conceived by faith, who was the chosen one from whom our Saviour was born among men, who was created by Christ before Christ was created in her – did she not do the will of the Father?

Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father’s will, and so it was for her a greater thing to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood. Hers was the happiness of first bearing in her womb him whom she would obey as her master.

Now listen and see if the words of Scripture do not agree with what I have said. The Lord was passing by and crowds were following him. His miracles gave proof of divine power. and a woman cried out: Happy is the womb that bore you, blessed is that womb! But the Lord, not wishing people to seek happiness in a purely physical relationship, replied: More blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.

Mary heard God’s word and kept it, and so she is blessed. She kept God’s truth in her mind, a nobler thing than carrying his body in her womb. The truth and the body were both Christ: he was kept in Mary’s mind insofar as he is truth, he was carried in her womb insofar as he is man; but what is kept in the mind is of a higher order than what is carried in the womb.The Virgin Mary is both holy and blessed, and yet the Church is greater than she.

Mary is a part of the Church, a member of the Church, a holy, an eminent – the most eminent – member, but still only a member of the entire body. The body undoubtedly is greater than she, one of its members. This body has the Lord for its head, and head and body together make up the whole Christ. In other words, our head is divine – our head is God.

Now, beloved, give me your whole attention, for you also are members of Christ; you also are the body of Christ. Consider how you yourselves can be among those of whom the Lord said: Here are my mother and my brothers. Do you wonder how you can be the mother of Christ? He himself said: Whoever hears and fulfils the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother.

As for our being the brothers and sisters of Christ, we can understand this because although there is only one inheritance and Christ is the only Son, his mercy would not allow him to remain alone. It was his wish that we too should be heirs of the Father, and co-heirs with himself. Now having said that all of you are brothers of Christ, shall I not dare to call you his mother? Much less would I dare to deny his own words.

Tell me how Mary became the mother of Christ, if it was not by giving birth to the members of Christ? You, to whom I am speaking, are the members of Christ. Of whom were you born? “Of Mother Church”, I hear the reply of your hearts. You became sons of this mother at your baptism, you came to birth then as members of Christ.

Now you in your turn must draw to the font of baptism as many as you possibly can. You became sons when you were born there yourselves, and now by bringing others to birth in the same way, you have it in your power to become the mothers of Christ.

Mother of the Church, Mother of our Lord, Mother of us all, pray for us, that we may hear and heed God's Word.