Friday, June 29, 2007

Prayer for our new Archbishop

Please pray for our bishops -- Archbishop Nienstedt as well as Archbishop Flynn and Bishop Pates.

God, eternal shepherd,
You tend Your Church in many ways and rule us with love.
You have chosen Your servant, John, to be a shepherd of Your flock.
Give him a spirit of courage and right judgment,
a spirit of knowledge and love.
By governing with fidelity those entrusted to his care,
may he build Your Church as a sign of salvation for the world.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(From the Manual of Prayers, Pontifical North American College , Rome )

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Brief Course in Breathing with Two Lungs

In honor of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Here is an article from Wikipedia summarizing the teachings of Ut Unum Sint (Latin: 'may they be one'), an encyclical by Pope John Paul II of May 25, 1995.

Following the prayer of Jesus in the Gospel according to John (17:21-22), it dealt with the relations with the Orthodox Church and other Christian churches. This document reiterated that unity of the two sui juris churches is essential, as well as further dialogue and unity with the Protestant churches.

This document shows that the Roman Catholic Church is officially moved to unity. It has become a common piece of study in ecumenical classes.In paragraph 54, we find the oft-quoted sentence: "In this perspective an expression which I have frequently employed finds its deepest meaning: the Church must breathe with her two lungs!"

In paragraph 79, we see five subjects that are considered important for "more clear" understanding that will bring unity:

1. The relationship between Sacred Scripture, as the highest authority in matters of faith, and Sacred Tradition, as indispensable to the interpretation of the Word of God;

2. The Eucharist, as the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, an offering of praise to the Father, the sacrificial memorial and Real Presence of Christ and the sanctifying outpouring of the Holy Spirit;

3. Ordination, as a Sacrament, to the threefold ministry of the episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate;

4. The Magisterium of the Church, entrusted to the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him, understood as a responsibility and an authority exercised in the name of Christ for teaching and safeguarding the faith;

5. The Virgin Mary, as Mother of God and Icon of the Church, the spiritual Mother who intercedes for Christ's disciples and for all humanity.

Now that wasn't THAT difficult, was it? Deep, but not difficult.

Saints Peter and Paul, Pray for Us

June 29th.

The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul . ... a feast celebrated by both Eastern and Western Christians to honor the two Apostles who were martyred at Rome.

Today's feast is the benchmark for any experience of conversion. These two men gave up their lives, lived to their deaths, for what they believed. Any faith worth living for is also worth dying for. The Roman Catholic faith IS just such a faith.

On this very feast day fifteen years ago in 1992 I was sitting in the choir stalls of St John's Abbey, Collegeville Minnesota. As a Lutheran Pastor I was attending a continuing education class at the School of Theology. As a personal devotional exercise I was also participating in Daily Prayer with the monks of the Abby.

I remember very clearly the moment during prayer when I looked up across the altar at the nave of the darkened concrete bunker-like Abbey Church. I recall very vividly the impression I received at that moment that I would be serving God somehow someday in the Catholic Church.
At first I was frightened. Then over time I began to explore what exactly it would mean to become Catholic. I had long been in love with the Catholic Church, its trappings of liturgy and some of its teachings. But with this bit of self knowledge the long, hard work began.

It was a lengthy journey. It took six full years before I was received into the Church. But the wait and the work were well worth it.

To anyone who is thinking about becoming part of the Roman Catholic Church, I'd say to you today "yo-ho, it's worth all the trouble." As the Servant of God John Paul II said "Be not afraid."

From St Augustine....

"Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed.

And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles' blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching and their confession of faith."

Subordination of women not of God

Subordination of women not of God, cardinal says, stressing role in family

Apr 24, 2007

God did not create and does not subscribe to the subordination of women, said an Indian cardinal, stressing the role of women in building a strong family life.

NEW DELHI, India (Catholic Online, 4/23/2007) – In an April 20 address to the participants at the at the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) South Asia meeting on women, Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), said that both men and women were created in the image and likeness of God and as equals.

“Women have always played an important role both in the family and society,” he said. “However certain traditions gave them a subordinate and hidden place in society.” Highlighting the fact that the subordination of women was a disorder created by human beings, the head of the Indian bishops’ conference said that “God does not subscribe to this line of thought of humans.”

He pointed to gospel accounts that, “among Jesus’ disciples, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were the first to go to the tomb to look for Jesus and rewarded with the vision of the risen Lord.”“In fact these two women were entrusted with the mission to share this good news with other disciples and thus became the first witnesses of Jesus’ victory over sin and death.” the cardinal said.

Pointing out to another reference in the Bible, he said that even in the Acts of the Apostles a woman called Lydia was the first to respond to proclamation of St. Paul in Philippi and make his missionary efforts possible and fruitful.“God created man in his own image, male and female he created them,” said the cardinal, asserting that since both man and women are created in God’s image they are equal in God’s eyes endowed with equal dignity and destiny.

“Rampant corruption, crime, exploitation, religious fundamentalism, violence, unstable marriages and disappearance of joint families” plague society today, Cardinal Toppo said, urging “women should play an active role in strengthening families.”Noting the impact that changing family values, he pointed out that children are not adequately educated for life at home and an increasing number of children are taking recourse to unhealthy media and Internet.“Love in a family seems to be replaced by a craze for wealth,” he said. “Society itself does not seem to support too much a stable marriage.

”To combat these challenges and evils, he said Catholics need “to open our hearts to the mission, which the risen Lord has given us and in order to understand this mission we have to spend time with the Lord in prayer.”“ It is only by praying that we will understand the world around us and the problems that plague the society. Moreover, prayer would enable us to discern God’s plan and see the role he has chalked out for us, both in the family and the society,” he said.

Cautioning on the spread of evil in society, he said that these evils mean death and destruction to many and we become aware that he commissions us to be the collaborators in combating the forces of evil and foster peace and harmony in the society.Highlighting women’s role in making a difference in society, Cardinal Toppo affirmed that “women are gifted by God with piety and the capacity to influence the world from within and they are called not just to announce, but also to live out the new life, which the Lord has brought to us.”

“God has a distinct plan for each of us and all of us. That is why the Lord brings us here together around the altar to pray together, to reflect on Word of God, receive the Bread of Life and be filled with the Holy Spirit,” the cardinal said.“By receiving God, we are not only enabled to understand the mission,” he said, “but are also empowered to be active partners in his work.”

Church, It's Time.

I will be out of town helping my father and step-mom move into their new apartment in Branson MO starting tomorrow morning. So, for the next few days I may not be blogging much. As a result of this family obligation I will also miss the big celebration going on tomorrow in St. Paul.

No, I'm not talking about the Taste of Minnesota. I'm talking about the 30 bishops and numerous other clergy who will be joining several thousand other people to wlecome Co-Adjutor Archbishop John Neinstedt to our Archdiocese tomorrow.

Sorry, Archbishop Neinstedt.

In this case family comes first, and I imagine you would approve. I will miss all the pageantry of being there when the papal legate reads the Letter of Appointment from His Holiness Benedict XVI.

The choirs, The music, The Mass, The party afterwards.


But I'll use the occasion to get up on the soap box now and preach one more time about the need for unity in the Church.

Church, it's time.

We need to rally around our visible point of unity. We need to do it, because our new Archibshop has chosen as his motto "Ut Unum Sint" = "That They May Be One." It will appear prominently on his Episcopal coat of arms. Yes, I know that coat-of-arms stuff sounds kind of old-fashioned, but it's also kind of cool.

That's also the prayer of our Lord Jesus for His Church, as recorded in John 17:21-22. He prays this prayer for us before the Father.

It's also the title of Servant of God John Paul II's 1995 letter, appealing for unity inside the Catholic Church and also seeking reconciliation with our closest Christian cousins, our Eastern Christian brothers and sisters, as well as with other ecclesial bodies.

But, it's not only that. It's also a way of life, of thinking and living in and with the Church.

You know, I didn't start life as a Roman Catholic out this way almost a decade ago. I was more the "cafeteria-style" Catholic back then. Like Julie Andrews, I had a "few of my favorite things" which I clung to. Eucharist. Social Justice. Reconciliation.

I held these treasures close to me when I felt inscure in the storm. Everything I disagreed with or just didn't understand in the Catholic faith, I had little time for.

But as I got more comfortable with the Faith I began to do some exploring. Then, I found to be true what G.K. Chesterton reported in his little treatise The Catholic Church and Conversion:

"At the last moment of all, the convert feels as if he were looking through a little crack or a crooked hole that seems to grow smaller as he stares at it; but it is an opening that looks toward the Altar.

Only, when he has entered the Church, he finds that the Church is much larger inside than it is outside. He has left behind him the lop-side-edness of lepers' windows and even in a sense the narrowness f Gothic doors; and he is under vast domes as open as the Renaissance and as universal as the Republic of the world."
Ironically, I have found greater freedom and expansiveness in submitting myself (I hate even to use that phrase but is the only one that fits) to the Church's living magisterium. This new freedom is greater by far than anything I ever knew in all my years of academic research, theological exploring or pastoral free-lancing. I only wish that I had come to this place earlier in my life.

We all have the opportunity to do that, to renew that commitment to Catholic truth, in a significant way with the arrival of our new Shepherd and Teacher.

Both... And

Thanks to Spencer Howe's mother, I found this really great quote from Servant of God John Paul II. She has a daily e mail which she sends out from Thank you, Spence's mom, for your email ministry and for encouraging your son in his priestly vocation.

This quote is another example of the Church's
"both...and" which often brings together complementary elements in the life of faith.

The late Holy Father lived the truth that good liturgy produces good social relationships. We often need to be reminded of the connection between the two.

"Christ in the Eucharist urges the faithful
to foster warm and constructive relationships with everyone,
and to work untiringly
for the spread of peace throughout the world.

The love which the Eucharist nourishes in human hearts
impels Christians to work for peace in society.
Whoever lives by this love
is convinced that conflicts can be resolved
and that social justice can prevail."

Pope John Paul II

Here's a link to the helpful Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commission's work on Liturgy and Justice.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Democracy of the Dead

I sit here among my books in the middle gloaming between the feasts of two great churchmen, Cyril of Alexandria and Irenaeus of Lyon.

I sit quietly, humbly wondering how we could be so privileged to belong in the very same Church which graced the world with these men and their lofty thoughts. Indeed, very little of what I read today in theology even approaches what they did. Were they closer to the fount of Wisdom? Yet, we have the same sacraments, the same God, the same Spirit.

I understand once again the wisdom of G.K. Chesterton, who wrote in chapter 4 of his book Orthodoxy

"Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about."

In honor of the Bishop Martyr of Lyon, from Irenaeus I have chosen a most poetic creedal statement and a humble prayer to the Virgin. In this last age of the world I find very little that can compare with this exalted Christology and humble Marian devotion.

With regard to Christ,
the law and the prophets and the evangelists have proclaimed
that He was born of a virgin,
that He suffered upon a beam of wood,
and that He appeared from the dead;
that He also ascended to the heavens,
and was glorified by the Father,
and is the Eternal King;
that He is the perfect Intelligence,
the Word of God, who was begotten before the light;
that He was the Founder of the universe,
along with it (light), and the Maker of man;
that He is All in all:
Patriarch among the patriarchs
Law in the laws;
Chief Priest among priests;
Ruler among kings;
the Prophet among prophets;
the Angel among angels;
the Man among men;
Son in the Father;
God in God;
King to all eternity.
For it is He who sailed [in the ark] along with Noah
and who guided Abraham;
who was bound along with Isaac,
and was a Wanderer with Jacob;
the Shepherd of those who are saved,
and the Bridegroom of the Church;
the Chief also of the cherubim,
the Prince of the angelic powers; God of God;
Son of the Father; Jesus Christ;
King for ever and ever. Amen.

Take Me As Your Servant!

O very tender Virgin and Mother of the Savior of all Times,
take me as your servant starting
from this very day and for ever more.
From now on, in all circumstances,
be my merciful advocate;
come unceasingly to my rescue.
Indeed, after God,
I do not want to prefer anybody else to you any more
and, of my own free will,
I devote myself to you as your servant for eternity.

By their fruits they will be known

From Saint Ignatius of Antioch (? – around 110), bishop and martyr

Letter to the Ephesians, 13-15 (Breviary)

"Try to gather together more frequently to give thanks to God and to praise him. For when you come together frequently, Satan’s powers are undermined, and the destruction he threatens is done away with in the unanimity of your faith. Nothing is better than peace, in which all warfare between heaven and earth is brought to an end.

None of this will escape you if you have perfect faith and love toward Jesus Christ. These are the beginning and the end of life: faith the beginning, love the end. When these two are found together, there is God, and everything else concerning right living follows from them. No one professing faith sins; no one possessing love hates. “A tree is known by its fruit”. So those who profess to belong to Christ will be known by what they do. For the work we are about is not a matter of words here and now, but depends on the power of faith and on being found faithful to the end.

It is better to remain silent and to be than to talk and not be. Teaching is good if the teacher also acts. Now there was one teacher who “spoke, and it was made” (Ps 33:9), and even what he did in silence is worthy of the Father. He who has the word of Jesus can truly listen also to his silence, in order to be perfect, that he may act through his speech and be known by his silence.

Nothing is hidden from the Lord, but even our secrets are close to him. Let us then do everything in the knowledge that he is dwelling within us so that we may be his temples and he may be God within us."

Patience is a virtue.....

....which most of us don't have, especially journalists.

Catholic News Service has an interesting article about how the methodical deliberation of Pope Benedict XVI has some Catholics chafing, especially Vatican bureaucrats.

Here's a bit of the article:
More than two years into his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has proven to be a very patient decision-maker -- so patient that even some of his Vatican bureaucrats are chafing a little.
"There are all these decisions that you thought were already made, and then nothing happens," one Roman Curia official said in early June.

The examples abound:
– The pope's letter to Chinese Catholics, announced in January, has yet to appear.
– The papal document widening use of the Tridentine Mass, reportedly ready since last fall, is still awaiting publication.
– A consistory to name new cardinals, expected in June by most Vatican officials, has apparently been put off until the fall.
– A slew of key appointments, including the replacement of several Roman Curia heads who are past retirement age, keep getting deferred.
– The streamlining of Vatican communications agencies, rumored to have been one of the pope's priorities following his election in 2005, still has not happened.

Why are things taking so long? The main reason, according to those inside the Curia, is that the pope believes some of these questions call for consultation and fine-tuning, rather than snap decisions.

Theotokos and St Cyril, Pray for us

I got this information from the website for St Cyril of Alexandria Catholic Church down Houston, Texas way. Not only is the information interesting, the painting sounds quite cool also.

Way to go, parish! Happy patronal feast day!

The patron saint of St. Cyril of Alexandria parish lived from 376 to 441 A.D. in the city of Alexandria in Egypt. He became the patriarch of that city in the year 412. He was declared a doctor of the church in the year 1882 by Pope Leo XIII. St. Cyril is best known for his eloquent defense of the title, "Theotokos" (God-Bearer) for the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Council of Ephesus, held in the Basilica of St. Mary, formally defined that "Theotokos" was an appropriate title for Mary.

In the year 1964, Mr. Gregory Walsh, then a member of the parish, was commissioned by Fr. E.T. Quinters to do a painting of St. Cyril. The painting (See photo in gallery called St. Cyril) captures our patron saint in one of his more representative actions. It depicts him expounding reasons why the title, "Theotokos" is a theologically sound one for the Virgin.

(I attempted to download the picture of St Cyril from the website without success.... it only showed up as a little box with a red x inside.... I'll keep trying. In the meantime I substituted a really cool icon of Cyril)

In the words of the artist: "He is depicted acting impulsively, for that was his nature. The light of the Holy Spirit descends upon him, and illuminates the Basilica. The patriarch of Alexandria has swirled around and dramatically points heavenward as he implores the assembled bishops to accept the dogma. His notes fall to the floor, and his Gospel Codex perches perilously close to the edge of the altar."
The patron and intercessor of St. Cyril of Alexandria parish gives to the people of this community a rich heritage and a model of vigorous faith. His great devotion to the Eucharist and to Mary, Mother of God, is an inspiration to the parish named after him. The painting hangs in the Narthex of the church, just outside the Sacristy ."

Here is a prayer to the Theotokos from Cyril:

Hail Mary, Mother of God,
Crowned Treasure of all the Universe,
Star without Decline,
Crown of Virginity,
Sceptre of the True Faith,
Indestructible Temple,
Dwelling of the Incommensurable,
Mother and Virgin.

We salute you because you are called Blessed in the Holy Gospel
and you come in the name of the Lord.
We salute you, Mother of God,
because you contained in your virginal womb
what Heaven could not contain.

Through you, in whom Heaven rejoices,
the Holy Trinity is glorified and worshipped in every land.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

School for Service: Why the Gate is Narrow

We enter the way of life through the narrow gate, according to Jesus in today's gospel (Mark 7:6,12-14).

When I was younger I thought of the narrow gate as the difficulty in keeping God's stringent commandements. It's narrow because he's got a tough standard.
Then, as I matured, I began to think the gate was narrow and few find it because it consists of forsaking dependence on self and relying on the grace of God.
This way is narrow because it goes against the human grain. In the religous realm we often ask "what can I DO?" We lean hard on our own efforts and wits. But the real way into God's wider realm consists in ceasing from action and finding rest in god's grace in Jesus.

Now in my later middle age I have come to discover a third interpretation, the most practical and perhaps the most Christian of all. The narrow way is simply the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

This seemingly simple guideline to behavior not only summarizes the Law and the Prophets, it also provides a sure path to holiness and sainthood. The daily grind of asking about and acting upon what will be best for those around me, this is the pumice with which God buffs our stony hearts until they shine. The vocation of living "for the other" is the truest way to self fulfillment, and it takes us right down the stony path our Savior trod.

I hear again today the words of the Prologue to St. Benedict's Rule:

Saint Benedict (480-547), monk
The Rule, Prologue

"The Lord, seeking his laborer in the multitude to whom he thus cries out, says again, "Who is the one who will have life, and desires to see good days?" (Ps. 34:13) And if, hearing him, you answer, "I am the one," God says to you, "If you will have true and everlasting life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips that they speak no guile. Turn away from evil and do good; seek after peace and pursue it" (Ps. 34:14-15)…

What can be sweeter to us, dear brothers, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? In his loving kindness the Lord shows us the way of life. Having our loins girded, therefore, with faith and the performance of good works (Eph. 6:14), let us walk in his paths by the guidance of the Gospel, that we may deserve to see him who has called us to his Kingdom (1 Th 2:12).

For if we wish to dwell in the tent of that kingdom, we must run to it by good deeds or we shall never reach it. Let us ask the Lord, with the prophet, "Lord, who shall dwell in your tent, or who shall rest upon your holy mountain?" (Ps. 15:1)

After this question, brothers, let us listen to the Lord as he answers and shows us the way… 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.

For as we advance in life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God's commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love (Ps. 119:32). Thus, never departing from his schooling 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."

Monday, June 25, 2007

God with a Human Face: Reason, Humanism, and Our Vocation

Here's another reason why I just love this Pope: he's all over what ails our post-modern mentality.

Lord, give us grace to think rationally and pray fervently.


Benedict XVI says the crisis of modernity arises from an attempt to separate the human person from his "full truth," which includes his "transcendent vocation."
The Pope said this Saturday when he received in audience in Paul VI Hall the participants in the European Meeting of University Professors.Their four-day meeting, which ended Sunday, was dedicated to the theme "A New Humanism for Europe. The Role of the Universities."The Holy Father invited the participants to consider three concrete themes of reflection, which he called "foundational issues."

He first encouraged "a comprehensive study of the crisis of modernity."He said this crisis "has less to do with modernity's insistence on the centrality of man and his concerns, than with the problems raised by a 'humanism' that claims to build a ' regnum hominis' detached from its necessary ontological foundation."The Pontiff continued: "A false dichotomy between theism and authentic humanism, taken to the extreme of positing an irreconcilable conflict between divine law and human freedom, has led to a situation in which humanity, for all its economic and technical advances, feels deeply threatened."As my predecessor, Pope John Paul II, stated, we need to ask 'whether in the context of all this progress, man, as man, is becoming truly better, that is to say, more mature spiritually, more aware of the dignity of his humanity, more responsible and more open to others.'"

Benedict XVI encouraged consideration of the entirety of the human person: "The anthropocentrism which characterizes modernity can never be detached from an acknowledgment of the full truth about man, which includes his transcendent vocation."

The Pope also called for a "broadening of our understanding of rationality."He said that responding to the challenges of contemporary culture means taking a critical approach toward "narrow and ultimately irrational attempts to limit the scope of reason."The Holy Father affirmed: "The concept of reason needs instead to be 'broadened' in order to be able to explore and embrace those aspects of reality which go beyond the purely empirical. This will allow for a more fruitful, complementary approach to the relationship between faith and reason."

Benedict XVI further encouraged investigation on the "contribution which Christianity can make to the humanism of the future."He said: "The question of man, and thus of modernity, challenges the Church to devise effective ways of proclaiming to contemporary culture the 'realism' of her faith in the saving work of Christ. Christianity must not be relegated to the world of myth and emotion, but respected for its claim to shed light on the truth about man, to be able to transform men and women spiritually, and thus to enable them to carry out their vocation in history."

The Pope referred to a speech he made in his recent apostolic journey to Brazil. "I voiced my conviction that 'unless we do know God in and with Christ, all of reality becomes an indecipherable enigma.'"He added: "Knowledge can never be limited to the purely intellectual realm; it also includes a renewed ability to look at things in a way free of prejudices and preconceptions, and to allow ourselves to be 'amazed' by reality, whose truth can be discovered by uniting understanding with love.

"Only the God who has a human face, revealed in Jesus Christ, can prevent us from truncating reality at the very moment when it demands ever new and more complex levels of understanding. The Church is conscious of her responsibility to offer this contribution to contemporary culture."

More on Clergy Sexual Abuse

Here's a piece from CNN- not one of my usual stops- on clergy sexual abuse in other churches.

Sexual Abuse of Minors in Protestant Churches

By Father Jonathan Morris

The mainstream media has all but ignored the recent Associated Press report that the three major insurance companies for Protestant Churches in America say they typically receive 260 reports each year of minors being sexually abused by Protestant clergy, staff, or other church-related relationships.

In light of the sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church beginning five years ago, religious and victims’ rights organizations have been seeking this type of data for years. It has been hard to come by since Protestant Churches are more de-centralized than the Catholic Church.

Responding to heavy media scrutiny, the Catholic Church has reported that since 1950, 13,000 “credible accusations” have been brought against Catholic clerics (about 228 per year.) The fact that this number includes all credible accusations, not just those that have involved insurance companies, and still is less than the number of cases in Protestant churches reported by just three insurance companies, should be making front page of The New York Times and the network evening news. It’s not.

The report is even more telling if we consider the plethora of independent or “store front” Protestant churches that don’t have insurance and whose numbers, therefore, certainly are not taken into account in this study.

This bad news for Protestant Churches is sad news for all of us. I would prefer the problem be limited to any one church — even if that church were my own — because it would mean more kids would be safe. But as I have said repeatedly over the last few years, the problem of sexual abuse of minors is not an issue of religious affiliation because there is nothing religious about abusing children. The phenomenon of sexual abuse of minors in church settings is the story of sick human beings taking advantage of their position of moral authority to prey on the weak and vulnerable. If Catholic clergy were to be faithful to their church’s teaching, there would be no abuse in the Catholic Church. The same goes for Protestant clergy. The problem, then, is not one of corrupt doctrine, but of individuals being unfaithful to the most basic precepts of their own religious belief.

Let’s be clear: the report of abuse in Protestant Churches in no way clears guilty members of the Catholic Church — neither the predators nor those who moved them from church to church and put other young people in danger. But the report does give us better perspective. The problem of sexual abuse has no denominational boundaries.

But why, then, is there so much abuse in church settings in general? Because contemporary society is sick and it is producing so many sick people that some of these disjointed souls even end up in churches. It should also be noted that we are more likely to hear about the church-related cases because they tell a more salacious story — what should be white is black, and so on. The Catholic Church is the best story because the blame (and the money trail) can go all the way to Rome.

I would like to be able to say that the sexual abuse of minors is limited to church settings because, if that were the case, once again, more kids would be safe. But it’s not. Sexual predators are in our schools, hospitals, and foster families. It hurts to say it, but because our society is so sick, sexual predators are everywhere.

But there’s hope. Society does not spin out of control on its own. It has fallen with us and it can rise with us. Society is cultivated and formed by human beings who are capable of changing behavior patterns and doing the right thing. The most important thing we can do to heal societal wounds is to teach our children, day in and day out, by words and example, what it means to love and be loved. Disjointed and sick people, the ones who abuse children, don’t fall from the sky. They are born into families, into towns, and communities. It is to the degree that more moms and dads, teachers, pastors, and neighbors are able to pass on the beauty of selfless love that society will start to get better — and our churches too.

God bless, Father Jonathan

"To Judge or Not to Judge... Not," Part 2

I remember being at the Archdiocesan Ministry Day in Spring 2002 and watching Archbishop Flynn celebrate Mass. It was the big middle of the Aweful Lent that was the entire year of 2002. Daily the headlines were blaring about priestly sexual abuse.... here, there and everywhere in America. Archbishop Flynn was thrown into the middle of it all, not because of what was occuring here in our diocese, but because he is chair of the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse.

Archbishop Flynn appeared very tired that particular day, seemingly bone-weary from what was no doubt a constant diet of information and meetings on this important topic.

I remember thinking to myself at the time "well, the world is only holding the Church to the standard the Church itself set up. If a priest truly acts in persona Christi then the world has not only the right but the obligation to call the entire Church to account on the basis of that high standard."

Now its five years later. A lot has happened both "out there" in the Church and in my own life. And I am working in the Church full time. Many times over the past few years I have had the opportunity to observe clergy close-up ... to see their foibles and their sometimes tragic mistakes and sins, as well as the heroic and everyday sacrifices they make for the People of God.

Sometimes one is tempted to get critical and then cynical about clergy. They give us plenty of reasons to do so. It helps then to read again the words of God the Father to St. Catherine of Siena about his "ministers," the priests. She recorded it in her dialogue (cited in the article "The Danger of Criticizing Bishops and Priests" by Thomas G. Morrow, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, February 2007, p. 18).

[It] is my intention that they be held in due reverence, not for what they are in themselves, but for my sake, because of the authority I have given them. .... Indeed I have appointed them and given them to you to be angels on earth and suns, as I have told you.
When they are less than that you ought to pray for them. But you are not to judge them. Leave the judging to me, and I, because of your prayers and my own desire, will be merciful to them.

In this time of transition to a new Archbishop, in this time when many on all sides are tempted to be critical of bishops and priests, I'd ask everyone (myself included) before we say a word, positive or negative, about our clergy, to first say a prayer for them.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Man Whose Name was Grace

Today is the Solemnity of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. Today's gospel reading deals largely with his naming, in Mishnaic Hebrew יוחנן, or Johanan, which means God is gracious.

In biblical culture, names MEAN something. They are indicators of personality, descriptors of who we are. There's Adam, who was made from the earth, adamah. Abram, who became Abraham, was termed "Father of nations." Countless others have participated in the great Name Game: among them are Jacob/ Israel, and Saul/ Paul. The Revelation to the Apostle John speaks of the new name given to each Christian at his or her baptism. Until recent times, the baptized and/or professed religious were given a new or additonal name to symbolize her or his conversion of life. Of course, the most profound example of a name's meaning is our Lord Jesus, Yeshua, or "God will save."

But here we have Jesus' cousin, John, whose name had been given to his father the priest Zechariah by an angel. Echoes of the significance around John's naming appear in today's gospel:

Luke 1:57 - 80

"Meanwhile the time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.

Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ T hey said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John’. And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God.

All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him."

What does this child turn out to be? To what graces does this last of the prophets, John, point us? At least two.

There's the grace of Repentance, about which he preached and which he illustrated by his life set apart in the wilderness. John's whole ministry, like his position between the old and new covenants, was a hinge point. Repentance is exactly that hinge point. It's the moment when we realize that we can't go it alone, that we NEED God to come and do for us what we can't do for ourselves. For twelve steppers, its admitting powerlessness over X and asking God to take control.

This grace leads us straight to John's second grace gift. John the Baptist understood Redemption. He said to his hearers, as he says to us "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." John points us to the source of redemption, Jesus. He keeps pointing us there each and every day of our lives. Jesus in the gospels, Jesus in the sacrament of baptism. Jesus in daily Eucharist. Jesus in Penance/ Reconciliation with God and with others.

In the Fourth Gospel we hear what the bottom line is for John. When he understands what is happening between him and Jesus, John quietly bows his head and finds his place in grace. He says those most grace filled words:

"He must increase, and I must decrease."

Our Holy Father Benedict XVI said this concerning John in today's Angelus message:

"As an authentic prophet, John bore witness to the truth without compromise. He denounced transgressions of God's commandments, even when the protagonists were people in power. Thus, when he accused Herod and Herodius of adultery, he paid for it with his life, sealing with martyrdom his service to Christ, who is the truth in person.

Let us call on his intercession together with that of Mary Most Holy so that the Church of our time will know how to be ever faithful to Christ and testify with courage to his truth and his love for all."

Grant this, Lord, to us all.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

To Judge or not to judge....Not!

Over at bearing blog there was a challenging post by Erin which I noted from Northland Catholic. I think it worth quoting in full, along with a few comments of my own.

I often find myself caught in the crossfire between the differing factions of the Church. It's not so much that they attack me but that they attack others and my response is "Sheesh. If that's where caritas takes you I don't wanna go there."
To clarify, it's not the facts of the case or the truth of the Church that are at issue. It's a matter of methodology. I just can't see anyone, especially our Holy Fathers in Rome and in Heaven, going out of their way to mow down verbally someone for whom Christ died, like Judge Dredd. Instead, the truth is spoken lovingly and then everyone lives with the consequences. It's really about authentic witness to Christ.

In that vein, I really appreciated Erin's post.

Here it is:


Cathy_of_Alex wrote a post about the false advertising of very public dissent within the Church: people might join up thinking we've got over all our hangups, then discover to their dismay that we still have a moral code and no, it hasn't changed a whole lot. She used same-sex attraction as her example, which drew a comment from "winnipeg catholic:"

I still disagree. ...Bottom line is I have lesbian coworkers who are nice people and I will not condemn them in my mind, in my heart, or by my actions. And neither will I condemn their relationship. Not until the Holy Spirit makes me feel that it is truly wrong. Christ says, 'Judgement is Mine'. And I will not judge in any way.

Adoro goes on to explain the difference between a person and a behavior, and the meaning of the term "judgment," and all that is correct, theologically speaking, but I can't help having a different reaction to the I-know-nice-people-who-you-say-are-sinners-and-I-refuse-to-judge-them thing:
Who asked you to judge them? Or even their behavior? How do you know that your Christian "calling," with respect to the real live people of whom you speak, is not simply to mind your own business?

Here is where the orthodox say "But we have to judge sinful behavior as sinful!" We do have to answer direct questions without lies -- if we are questioned. But what is "winnipeg catholic" imagining that Catholicism demands her to do with respect to her lesbian co-workers? March down the hall to the next cubicle and toss off, "You know, homosexual behavior is wrong and you should stop"? Refuse to speak to them? Leave anonymous tracts on the desk?

We're always surrounded by sinners. Most of us rationalize daily at least one besetting sin. The message "what you're doing is wrong" could fit anyone we meet, so why limit the discussion to shacking-up co-workers? (Habitual speeders. Tax-cheaters. Stingy tippers. The chronically impatient.) But most of the time it is not our specific job to be the messenger. It's our job to be ready "to give a reason for our hope," to avoid committing sins, to live openly as Christians, in love with the truth and not ashamed of it, to deal with people according to our relationships: In the case of "co-workers," that means -- working with them. It seems unlikely that our co-workers' sexual relationships should impact the workplace at all. Thinking about what other people ought to be doing distracts us from considering what we ought to be doing.
I said we have to be ready, though. That's because sometimes their lives intersect with our own decisions about our own behaviors, and those behaviors are going to be noticed.

The brother who's been living with his girlfriend for years asks if you can help them move into a new apartment. Is it okay to help or does that support their behavior? Do you get to just make an excuse when you say no, or must you be up front about why?

You've already accepted the invitation to your non-Catholic cousin's apparently-secular wedding. Just before the ceremony you discover that the officiant is one of those renegade ex-Catholic rent-a-priests. Will you serve the truth better by attending or by quietly leaving? And do you still get to go to the reception?

One morning at the coffeepot the co-worker suddenly says to you, "Hey, you're Catholic, aren't you? Do you really believe that stuff they say about gays?"
These are points when you must act, and it's for these moments that you must be ready.

I think that's part of what is meant by the whole context of the warning against judging, which is from the Sermon on the Mount (
Mt 7):
"Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces."

The last sentence isn't usually included in this pericope, but I think it should be, because it (like the previous sentence) clearly commands a kind of judgment. We must judge -- who is our brother? What is a "splinter" that must be removed from his eye? What is "holy," which of our actions might be casting a "pearl?" Who are these "dogs" and "swine," apparently substantially different from the "brother," as we are called to minister to one and not to the other?

To me this means that we should worry about others' behavior mainly when it comes time for us to actually be in a position of teaching or helping them. A lot of the time we aren't in that position and need to be concerned with our own lives. We need to eliminate the sins that cloud our sight so that we can watch and see when we must carefully judge how to behave -- when we've been directly asked, or when we're being seen (rightly or wrongly) as the representative of all things Catholic, or when we're in a position of trust and authority and our words and actions will carry real weight. For example, if our co-workers don't trust us or respect us because we haven't behaved with integrity, then we need to change that. Not because we shouldn't try to help remove those splinters but precisely because we should.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Journalism: majoring in the minors

Warning: Major Whine Ahead!

I just found out that the recently publicized "Ten Commandments for the Road" from the Vatican were excepted from part of a much longer document. Parts Two and Three of this same document deal with the vital issues of how to help "street women" and the homeless.

Here is the link to the Vatican document site:

Alright! Leave it to the media to focus on the less foundational social issues and leave the more challenging ones in the shadows. Perhaps it would have helped if the order of the parts had been reversed in the presentation.

If you look more closely at the context of the driving discussion there are some very good insights about the place and function of mobility in our modern society. Too bad that the media chose to give this the "Paris Hilton" treatment.

" I will not mistrust him"

Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the life of St. Thomas More along with his co-martyr, Bishop John Fisher. The movie "A Man for All Seasons" recounts the life and death of Thomas More, Catholic martyr at the hands of King Henry VIII. Henry took the Church of England off on the course of schism because he wanted to divorce his Catholic queen Catherine of Aragon.

Sir Thomas More, laywer, statesman and Lord Chancellor of the Realm, eventually was deposed from office and then beheaded after refusing to swear an oath affirming Henry's supremacy over the Church.

The movie centers on More's struggles of conscience as he wrestled between his personal devotion to the King and his adherence to Catholic truth. How easy it would have been for More to use one of the following excuses to simply sign the oath of alligiance to King Henry as Head of the Church:

"It's just a piece of paper."
"Private faith is more important than doctrine or titles."
"My family needs me."
"Governance of the Church isn't part of the Gospel. I can live with this."

Instead, St Thomas More made the hard decision, leaving behind his wife and children for imprisonment, public disgrace and eventual execution. His death didn't prevent the schism. His martyrdom didn't even slow the process down. But his way of witness provides us all with encouragement to stand up for the Truth whatever the cost.

Here is what More wrote to his daughter Margaret from prison:

"By the merits of his bitter passion joined to mine and far supassing in merit for me all that I can suffer myself, his bounteous goodness shall release me from the pains of purgatory, and shall increase my reward in heaven besides.

I will not mistrust him, Meg,though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. I shall remember how St. Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help. and then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning."

St. Thomas More,
pray for us whose faith is weaker than yours.
Help us to understand and practice our Catholic faith,
fully and freely.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Following into the Dark: Solitude and Community

I heard this song by Deathcab for Cutie this weekend, while taking my son Eric to music camp at St Olaf College:

It's full of that "alone yet together" angst..... I love these lyrics!

I Will Follow You Into The Dark

Love of mine some day you will die
But I'll be close behind
I'll follow you into the dark
No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight
Waiting for the hint of a spark

If heaven and hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the no's on their vacancy signs
If there's no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I'll follow you into the dark

In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule
I got my knuckles brusied by a lady in black
And I held my toungue as she told me
"Son fear is the heart of love"
So I never went back

If heaven and hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the no's on their vacancy signs
If there's no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I'll follow you into the dark

You and me have seen everything to see
From Bangkok to Calgary
And the soles of your shoes are all worn down
The time for sleep is now
It's nothing to cry about
Cause we'll hold each other soon
The blackest of rooms

If heaven and hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the no's on their vacancy signs
If there's no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I'll follow you into the dark
Then I'll follow you into the dark

Sometimes I get the feeling that there are very few of us out there who really think about the eternal things. This is not meant to dis-respect the seekers and our other co-religionists who present a very ubiquitous presence in the "media" and on the Internet. But when we actually do find each other, we need to hold onto each other, and walk by each other.

Yesterday I shared an all too brief lunch with a spiritual leader whom I respect very much. We were both busy, and so a large part of our lunch was taken up with sharing our differing "journeys" on the road to community. That's an on-going journey as well as a deep sharing that can take place only over time. But even after that brief hour I glimpsed some wonderful truths about life in community.

First, there is a real "hidden-pearl" joy of discovery which occurs when one encounters a group of people who share values and lifestyle similar to one's own. I have spent so many years in my life praying privately (Liturgy of the Hours) and solo in a communal setting (Mass) that the real excitement of finding others who share my mind-set had really been almost lost. Yesterday it was re-kindled.

But this morning I was also reminded of the other side of that truth... the need to do things in such a way that glory and attention are drawn to God and not to self. Today's gospel:

Mt 6,1-6.16-18.

(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."

Finding others who share one's values and lifestyle is a valuable part of the spiritual journey. But it's never the whole story. There is also an internal, secret-garden aspect which can be nurtured by community, but which community itself can never replace.

There needs to be a part of us which we share with God alone, a quiet place, an alone (if not lonely) place, an empty place. Henri Nouwen spoke of that place, at once very private and really the most public:

"We like to make a distinction between our private and public lives and say, "Whatever I do in my private life is nobody else's business." But anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal.

What we live in the most intimate places of our beings is not just for us but for all people. That is why our inner lives are lives for others. That is why our solitude is a gift to our community, and that is why our most secret thoughts affect our common life."

God give us grace to find each other and finding each other, to find Him.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On the Loss of the Sacred

Here is a fine excerpt from the first part of four, penned by the Bishop of Paterson, New Jersey, Arthur Seratelli. "On the Loss of the Sacred" provides some good pointers on the continuing Reform of the Reform.

The anti-authoritarian prejudice that we have inherited from the social revolution of the '60’s imprinted on many a deep mistrust not only of government but of Church. Some even reject the very idea of hierarchy (literally, “a sacred origin”) as a spiritual authority established by God. As a result, Church means, for some, simply the assembly of like-minded believers who organize themselves and make their own rules and dogmas. Thus, the Church’s role in the spiritual realm is greatly eclipsed.

On the first day of the new millennium, Prince Charles of England said, "In an age of secularism, I hope, with all my heart, in a new millennium we will rediscover a sense of the sacred in all that surrounds us." He said he hoped this would hold true whether in growing crops, raising livestock, building homes in the countryside, treating disease or educating the young. He recognized by his statement that we have lost a sense of the sacred.

Living in our world, we breathe the toxic air that surrounds us. Even within the most sacred precincts of the Church, we witness a loss of the sense of the sacred. With the enthusiasm that followed the Second Vatican Council, there was a well-intentioned effort to make the liturgy modern. It became commonplace to say that the liturgy had to be relevant to the worshipper. Old songs were jettisoned. The guitar replaced the organ. Some priests even began to walk down the road of liturgical innovation, only to discover it was a dead end. And all the while, the awareness of entering into something sacred that has been given to us from above and draws us out of ourselves and into the mystery of God was gone.

Teaching about the Mass began to emphasize the community. The Mass was seen as a community meal. It was something everyone did together. Lost was the notion of sacrifice. Lost the awesome mystery of the Eucharist as Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The priest was no longer seen as specially consecrated. He was no different than the laity. With all of this, a profound loss of the sacred.
Not one factor can account for the decline in Mass attendance, Church marriages, baptisms and funerals in the last years. But most certainly, the loss of the sense of the sacred has had a major impact.

Walk into any church today before Mass and you will notice that the silence that should embrace those who stand in God’s House is gone. Even the Church is no longer a sacred place. Gathering for Mass sometimes becomes as noisy as gathering for any other social event. We may not have the ability to do much about the loss of the sacredness of life in the songs, videos and movies of our day. But, most assuredly, we can do much about helping one another recover the sacredness of God’s Presence in His Church.

On the first day of this millennium, the Prince of Wales struck a strong note of optimism for the recovery of the sacred. Paraphrasing Dante, he remarked: "The strongest desire of everything, and the one first implanted by nature, is to return to its source. And since God is the source of our souls and has made it alike unto Himself, therefore this soul desires above all things to return to Him." There is one place where we can begin to rediscover the sacred."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Two Kinds of Silence

Ruminating over the weekend at the Abbey about silence itself I came to the conclusion that silence usually comes in one of two types: Desolation or Consolation.

Remarkably similar to the Ignatian spirituality, both of these types of silence come from God. Both of these types of silence lead us back to Him. He designs each experience so that it can have its full effect, to make us love God and experience joy with Him eternally.

At the Abbey in Winter one of the most peaceful scenes I have ever witnessed is to look out over the snow covered valley outside the cloister and gaze at the blue tinted shadows, shadows which only half reveal the field stubble landscape underneath. To the ear, all is quiet, and a little deadened. This is one type of silence.

This wintery silence corresponds well to the dead times in my own soul's journey. These are times when words of prayer and proclamation, words of comfort and communication, cease to flow so easily.

Quiet is a defensive mechanism then. Or perhaps a healing one. These are times when we sense our souls drawing back into themselves, cringing and shriveling like dead leaves hanging on a branch, stirred by the wind.

There is something life-giving here, even in the winter, and not just by way of contrast and relief. It's not like when you come in from the cold and you finally get warmed up by the fire. It's more like this: you stand out in the cold for so long that it feels like even the cold has a peculiar warmth of its own.
However, one needs to beware the spiritual frostbite. You can feel warm and actually be in danger of losing a limb. To re-use the the metaphor of Jesus (Matthew 6:23), if even your light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness thereof. But if one is really listening, then I think there is little danger of being too long out in the cold desolation of silence. As Paul said, god does not tmept us beyond what we are able (1 Cor 10:13).

I like to preserve a preferential option for the other kind of silence: the silence of consolation. To me, that silence is like sitting with a long-loved partner and not needing to speak to him or her. The silence between you completes your sentences, one to the other. This silence is fertility personified.

That is the silence I heard this past weekend, sometimes between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, after the Office Vigils but before Morning Prayer. It is a pregnant silence, not quite the time when the birds begin to sing and welcome the day. It happens before the time when the buzzing of cicadas or what-ever-the-heck is the Wisconsin equivalent begin their song.

It is the silence of potential fruitfulness, the silence which waits like the eyes of a handmaid for the answer of the Master (Ps 123). this the silence of knowing that god does all things well, while not knowing yet quite what God is up to.

As I think back on this silence and that great movie "Into Great Silence" I crave even more of that inward quiet, of both kinds. And one doesn't need to be a Carthusian to arrive there.

Turn off the car radio.

Sit still in the gloaming on the patio.

Listen with the ears of your heart.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Close to Her Heart: Gone to the Cistercians, and our Blessed Mother

I took part of Friday and Saturday to go visit my brothers at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank near Sparta, Wisconsin. We celebrated the Immaculate Heart of Mary together.

I was struck by a single phrase in the Gospel reading for yesterday. At the end of the episode of finding Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-51), it is said of Mary "she pondered these things in her heart."

Here is a wonderful commentary on that pondering from a fellow Cistercian, Saint Amedeus of Lausanne (1108-1159), Cistercian monk, then Bishop. The warmth of feeling for our Blessed Mother is one of the things drawing me to the Cistercians. You can see that warmth here.

Homily on Mary, 4

"Often, it seems to us, Mary forgot to eat and to drink, keeping vigil in order to think about Christ, to see Christ in his flesh. She burned with love of him and passionately loved to serve him. She often did what the Song of Songs sings about: “I was sleeping, but my heart kept vigil.” (Song 5:2) Even when she was resting, she continued to dream of him who filled her thoughts throughout the day. Whether she was keeping vigil or resting in peace, she always lived in him, was always occupied with him.

Where her treasure was, there also was her heart (Mt 6:21); where her glory was, there also was her mind. She loved her Lord and her Son with all her heart, with all her mind, with all her strength (Mt 22:37). She saw with her eyes, touched with her hands the Word of Life (1 Jn 1:1).

How blessed was Mary, to whom it was given to embrace him who embraces and nourishes everything! How happy was she who carried him who carries the universe (Heb 1:3), she who nursed a Son who gives her life, a Son who nourishes her and all beings on earth (Ps 145:15).

The one who is the wisdom of the Father put his arms around her neck, the one who is the strength that gives movement to everything sat on her arms. He who is the rest of souls (Mt 11:29) rested on her motherly breast. How gently he held her in his hands, peacefully looked at her, he whom the angels wish to contemplate (1 Pet 1:12), and he gently called her, he whom every being calls upon when in need.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, she held him close to her heart… She never had enough of seeing him or of hearing him, whom “many prophets and kings wished to see… but did not see.” (Lk 10:24) Thus Mary grew ever more in love, and her mind was unceasingly attached to divine contemplation."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sacred Heart Devotion: Part of a Balanced Spiritual Diet

I have been pondering the many fine posts I've seen the past day or so on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I can't hope to equal them, especially several of Father Mark's meditations at Vultus Christi. I know, I've mentioned him twice in as many days, but he really is THAT good. Check them out.

Reading his posts allowed me to go back and explore some earlier discoveries of my own from when I was still Lutheran, in the early 1990's. Here is a picture similar to one which I picked up at a garage sale many, many years ago. It had hung in my Pastor's study all through my years of pastoral ministry. It is an old fashioned etching of the Sacred Heart of Jesus from a Benedictine Monastery in Clyde MO.

Even as a Lutheran, I was always fascinated by this picture and the warm devotional consecration prayer underneath the picture. I even preached on the Sacred Heart once at my Lutheran parish... and used the picture as an illustration.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart was one way (among others) back then in which I could appropriate the truth of the Catholic faith without having to deal with the rest of the bundle of truths and practices which make up the Catholic Faith. It worked for a while, but even back then I sensed that the warmth of Sacred Heart devotion, seemingly so akin to the "love of Jesus" demonstrated by us Evangelicals, was really void of any power of its own.

The warmth of the emotion is fine, and very necessary to spiritual well-being. But, like anything else in the spiritual life, it does its work best when it forms a part of a larger whole. For me, that larger whole came into being many years later.
It happened once I began to explore not just the intellectual truths of Catholicism, but actually began to practice them. Frequent communion, personal and corporate prayer, regular confession and the Rosary are what it took for all the fine ideals of those earlier days to take concrete form in my life.
Of course, getting fixated on any particular devotion to the exclusion of all else can be one way of avoiding spiritual growth. We've all known Divine Mercy gurus, or Centering Prayer..., or Daily Office... or Lectio Divina .... gurus.
It's all they practice. It's what they swear by, for themselves and sometimes for everyone else. They seem to be Johnny-One Note practitioners of Catholicism. A good cure for that is to get a little dose (cynics would say- innoculation) of everything Catholic. I think it helps us have a balanced Faith life. Not doing so is like eating a diet of just one food... even if its healthy food. The same-ness of it all is just not good for you.

I remember back when I was a Protestant reading the book The Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: How to Practice the Sacred Heart Devotion. The book was penned by Fr. John Croiset, S.J. at the end of the 1600's. He was spiritual director to St. Margaret Mary. She popularized this ancient and venerable form of devotion as a kind of antidote to the prevailing intellectualism and scholasticism of her own day.

Anyway, I went back today and skimmed through the book itself once again. There I re-discovered awide range of practices and ideas that formerly which had seemed so foreign to me back then. Now they are now part of the warp and woof of my life. For example, here are some of the means the book prescribes for acquiring the perfect love of Jesus:

frequent communion,
visits to the Blessed Sacrament,
tender devotion to the Virgin Mary.
How strange and foreign all of these concepts were to me back then. And, oh the contrast, now that they have entered my life and, to be truthful, given me new life in Him.
So I guess today that I am thankful for the small progress that I have begun to make in the Christian life, and praying always that it may continue and increase.

"One day I saw the Son of God, holding in his Hand His own Heart,
which appeared more brilliant than the sun
and which was casting rays of light on every side;
then, this amiable Savior gave me to understand
that all the graces which God unceasingly pours forth on men,
according to the capacity of each,
come from the plenitude of the Divine Heart."

-Saint Mechtilde (quoted by Fr. Croiset)