Friday, December 28, 2007

the palm of victory

Saint Quodvultdeus, Bishop at Carthage from 437-453
Second sermon on the Creed; PL40, 655

Children, but witnesses to Christ

Why, Herod, do you fear when you hear a king is born? He has not come to
dethrone you but to overthrow the devil. But you fail to understand, you
take fright and fall into a fury. Because you lost the single child you
were seeking, you become the cruel murderer of the many. Neither the
weeping mothers’ love, nor the mourning of fathers weeping for their sons,
nor the screams and howling of the children themselves hold you back. You
massacre these little ones in their bodies because fear is killing you in
your heart. And you think that, if you achieve your end, you will live on
for a long time, whereas it is life itself you are trying to kill! He who
is the source of grace, who is both small and great, who is lying in a
manger, causes your throne to topple. He accomplishes his design through
you without your knowing it. He gathers together the children of your
enemies and makes of them children of adoption. These little ones died for
Christ without knowing it; their parents weep for the death of martyrs.
Although they were unable to speak, Christ made them capable of being his
witnesses. See how this King reigns. Already he is setting free and
bestowing salvation. But as for you, Herod, you are oblivious of what is
happening; you take fright and fall into a rage. And when you get annoyed
with a little child, you are already placing yourself at his service
without realising it. How great the gift of grace is! What are the merits
by which these children won the victory? They could not yet speak but
already they are confessing Christ. Their little bodies are as yet unable
to engage in combat but already they are carrying off the palm of victory.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

more on Matt 11:12

Ireneus Against Heresies:Book IV

And when I ceased, Trypho said, “All the words of the prophecy you repeat, sir, are ambiguous, 221 and have no force in proving what you wish to prove.” Then I answered, “If the prophets had not ceased, so that there were no more in your nation, Trypho, after this John, it is evident that what I say in reference to Jesus Christ might be regarded perhaps as ambiguous. But if John came first calling on men to repent, and Christ, while [John] still sat by the river Jordan, having come, put an end to his prophesying and baptizing, and preached also Himself, saying that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and that He must suffer many things from the Scribes and Pharisees, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again, and would appear again in Jerusalem, and would again eat and drink with His disciples; and foretold that in the interval between His [first and second] advent, as I previously said,21092109 Chap. xxv.
priests and false prophets would arise in His name, which things do actually appear; then how can they be ambiguous, when you may be persuaded by the facts? Moreover, He referred to the fact that there would be no longer in your nation any prophet, and to the fact that men recognised how that the New Testament, which God formerly announced [His intention of] promulgating, was then present, i.e., Christ Himself; and in the following terms: ‘The law and the prophets were until John the Baptist; from that time the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. And if you can “Are willing.”
receive it, he is Elijah, who was to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

the Violent take it by force

Today's Gospel:

Mt 11,11-15.
Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force. All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come. Whoever has ears ought to hear.

Origen's comments...

Homilies on Joshua, no.5 (SC 71)

Joshua crossed the Jordan to attack Jericho. But Saint Paul teaches: “Our
struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the unseen powers, with the
world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the
heavens,” (Ep 6,12). Those things that were written down are images and
symbols. For Paul says elsewhere: “These things happened as an example;
they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the
ages has come,” (1Co 10,11). If, then, these things have been written down
as a warning, well then!, why delay? Like Joshua, let us set out to war,
attacking the greatest city in the world, namely wickedness, and let us
throw down the arrogant walls of sin. Would you look around for which path
to take, which battlefield to choose? No doubt you will find my words
extraordinary; nevertheless, they are true: limit your quest to yourself
alone. In you lies the combat you are going to engage, within yourself the
structure of evil and sin to pull down; your enemy emerges from the depths
of your heart. It is not I who say this but Christ. Listen to him: “From
the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false
witness, blasphemy,” (Mt 15,19). Do you realize the power of this enemy
force that advances against you from the depths of your heart? Those are
our real enemies.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

he who made them from the beginning

The attempts to reduce, deconstruct, and denounce the sacrament of Marriage have apparently been a focus of those in the historical profession of late. What I chuckled at while in grad school has now become the basis for graduate assistantships no doubt.

Michael Fragoso's article is very instructive. But to me the best response - and only one that will ever matter - to the question of what marriage should or should not be was given by Christ to the Pharisees pestering him about divorce laws.

Matthew 19:
[1] Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan;
[2] and large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
[3] And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?"
[4] He answered, "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female,
[5] and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?
[6] So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."
[7] They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?"
[8] He said to them, "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

This was where JP II launched from at the beginning of his Theology of the Body catechises (and then he bounces back to Genesis and all around Scripture on this same "from the beginning" theme).

Like Stan Lee always used to close with in the letters page of Marvel Comics: "Nuff said."

Friday, November 30, 2007

how Jesus said he would meet the Greeks

John 12:

[20]Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.
[21] So these came to Philip, who was from Beth-sa'ida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."
[22] Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus.
[23] And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.
[24] Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
[25] He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
[26] If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.
[27] "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? `Father, save me from this hour'? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.

The Greeks were curious gawkers, gentiles who wished to study rather than follow. Christ's response to their request to meet him was to describe how he would truly engage the gentile world: through the Bread of Life offered to all in the Eucharist. It is His sacrifice that becomes the source of salvation for the Jews (who had the scriptural and covenantal understanding) and for the gentiles to whom the Word of God was proclaimed after it had been fulfilled.

Here is B-16's take on this Gospel passage:

Pope Benedict XVI
General audience of 14/06/06 (©Libreria editrice Vaticana)

Saint Andrew, apostle of the Greek world

The first striking characteristic of Andrew, brother of Simon Peter, is his
name: it is not Hebrew, as might have been expected, but Greek, indicative
of a certain cultural openness in his family that cannot be ignored… In
Jerusalem, shortly before the Passion, some Greeks had come to the holy
city… to worship the God of Israel at the Passover Feast. Andrew and
Philip, the two Apostles with Greek names, served as interpreters and
mediators of this small group of Greeks with Jesus… Jesus said to the two
disciples and, through them, to the Greek world: "The hour has come for
the Son of man to be glorified. I solemnly assure you, unless a grain of
wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if
it dies, it produces much fruit" (Jn12, 23-24). What do these words mean in
this context? Jesus wants to say: Yes, my meeting with the Greeks will
take place, but not as a simple, brief conversation between myself and a
few others, motivated above all by curiosity. The hour of my glorification
will come with my death, which can be compared with the falling into the
earth of a grain of wheat. My death on the Cross will bring forth great
fruitfulness: in the Resurrection the "dead grain of wheat" - a symbol of
myself crucified - will become the bread of life for the world; it will be
a light for peoples and cultures…In other words, Jesus was prophesying
about the Church of the Greeks, the Church of the pagans, the Church of the
world, as a fruit of his Pasch. Some very ancient traditions see in Andrew…
the Apostle to the Greeks in the years subsequent to Pentecost. They enable
us to know that for the rest of his life he was the preacher and
interpreter of Jesus for the Greek world. Peter, his brother, travelled
from Jerusalem through Antioch and reached Rome to exercise his universal
mission; Andrew, instead, was the Apostle of the Greek world. So it is that
in life and in death they appear as true brothers - a brotherhood that is
symbolically expressed in the special reciprocal relations of the Sees of
Rome and Constantinople, which are truly Sister Churches.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

not the Obama kind

from Carl Olson:

Pre-Pope Hope

Communio, the theological journal that Joseph Ratzinger helped found shortly after the Second Vatican Council, has posted a 1985 article by then-Cardinal Ratzinger titled, "On Hope." It is well worth reading for its own sake, but especially so considering the soon-to-be presented encyclical by Benedict XVI on the theological virtue of hope. Here is an excerpt, to whet the appetite:

Hope rests first of all on something missing at the heart of the human condition. We always expect more than any present moment will ever be able to give. The more we follow this inclination the more aware we become of the limitations of our experience. The impossible becomes a necessity. But hope means also “the assurance that this longing will find a response” If this experience of a void, of a desire which carries one outside oneself, comes to move the person to despair over self and over the rationality of being, then inversely this hope can be transformed into a secret joy that transcends every experienced joy and suffering. This way a person is enriched by the very need which causes him to conceive a happiness that he would never be able to experience without this decisive step. Hope could accordingly be described as an anticipation of what is to come. In it, the “not yet" is in a certain way already here, and so is the dynamism that carries one beyond oneself and prevents one from ever saying, "Linger a while: you are so beautiful.”
This means, on the one hand, that to hope belongs the "dynamism of the provisional,'' going beyond all human accomplishment. On the other hand, that through hope, what is "not yet" is already realized in our life. Only a certain kind of present can create the absolute confidence which is hope. Such is the definition of faith given in the epistle to the Hebrews: faith is the substance ("hypostasis") of what is hoped for, the certitude of what one does not see (11:l). In this basic biblical text both an ontology and a spirituality of hope are affirmed. It is recognized today even in Protestant exegesis that Luther and the exegetic tradition which followed him are misguided when in their search for a non-Hellenistic Christianity they transformed the word "hypostasis" by giving it a subjective meaning and translating it as "firm confidence." In reality this definition of faith in the epistle to the Hebrews is inseparably linked to two other verses of the same epistle which also use the term "hypostasis." In the introduction (1:3), Christ is presented as the splendor of the glory of God and the image of the "hypostasis." Two chapters further on, this Christological and fundamentally Trinitarian affirmation is expanded to the relation between Christ and Christians-a relation established by faith. By faith Christians have become participants in Christ. Now everything is going to depend upon maintaining their initial participation in his "hypostasis." These three texts fit together perfectly: the things of this world are what pass away; the self-revealing God who speaks in Christ is what endures, the reality that lasts, the only true "hypostasis." Believing is leaving the shadowy play of corruptible things to reach the firm ground of true reality, "hypostasis"--quite literally therefore, what stands and that on which one can stand. In other words, to believe is to have touched ground, to approach the substance of everything. With faith, hope has gotten a footing. The cry of waiting wrung from our being is not lost in the void. It finds a point of solid support to which we must for our part hold fast.

Direct link to the PDF file.

Friday, November 16, 2007

are we the beasts in the Ark?

I wonder about this after reading Origen's take on today's Gospel:

Origen (c.185-253), priest and theologian
Homilies on Genesis, II, 3 (SC 7b, p.89)

The ark of the Church

Insofar as the meanness of my mind allows, I think that the flood which
almost put an end to the world in those days is the symbol of the end of
the world, an end that must truly happen. The Lord himself declared it when
he said: “In the days of Noah, men were buying, selling, building, marrying
and giving their daughters in marriage, and the flood came and destroyed
them all. So will be the coming of the Son of Man.” In this text it would
very much seem as though the Lord describes in one and the same way both
the flood that has already taken place and the end of the world that he is
pointing to in the future.

And so, in days of old, the aged Noah was told to make an ark and take
into it with him not only his sons and family but beasts of every kind.
Similarly, at the consummation of the ages, the Lord Jesus Christ, our new
Noah, the only “good and blameless man” (Gn 6,9), was told by his Father to
make an ark of fashioned wood, giving it measurements that are full of
divine mysteries (cf Gen 6,15). This is shown by one of the psalms, which
says: “Ask of me and I will give you the nations for an inheritance and the
ends of the earth for your possession,” (Ps 2,8). And so he built an ark
containing various shelters to house all kinds of animals. One of the
prophets speaks of these dwellings when he writes: “Go, my people, enter
into your chambers; hide yourselves for a brief moment, until the wrath is
past,” (Is 26,20). Thus there is a mysterious analogy between that people
which is saved in the Church and all those creatures, both men and animals,
saved from the flood inside the ark.

It's possible to see the story of the Ark as a parallel to the Apostles, Paul in particular, being told to go forth and make disciples of all nations - to bring them into "the barque of Peter". It was on Peter's boat in Luke 5 that Christ demonstrated his ability to call the multitudes (in this case fish) out of the sea and into the boat. And Paul went from place to place by ship, ultimately taking the Church Peter was entrusted with to Rome. And at Rome, this Ark - the barque of Peter - found its new iteration as it brought us beasts from all nations on board for the journey to and with Christ. This ties in with Henri de Lubac's description of the Catholic Church as Israel in the wilderness, carrying the Ark of the Covenant as a fellow refugee.

But anyway, we are beasts that were created on the 6th day, and Christ came to be the Word and Bread of Life for the beasts with the distinction of being made in His image.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars

Wisdom 7,22-30.8,1.

for Wisdom, the artificer of all, taught me. For in her is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique, Manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain, Not baneful, loving the good, keen, unhampered, beneficent, kindly, Firm, secure, tranquil, all-powerful, all-seeing, And pervading all spirits, though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle. For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion, and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity. For she is an aura of the might of God and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nought that is sullied enters into her. For she is the refulgence of eternal light, the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness. And she, who is one, can do all things, and renews everything while herself perduring; And passing into holy souls from age to age, she produces friends of God and prophets. For there is nought God loves, be it not one who dwells with Wisdom. For she is fairer than the sun and surpasses every constellation of the stars. Compared to light, she takes precedence; for that, indeed, night supplants, but wickedness prevails not over Wisdom. Indeed, she reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things well.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Mary and Hope (pt.1)

Faith, Hope and Love are the three divine virtues - meaning that people are not able to possess or exercise them with their own powers. They are gifts from the Holy Spirit, and can only truly be experienced or exercised through the Holy Spirit. The idea that Faith is a gift from God is at the heart of wrestling with being a Christian, and the how and why of our salvation. Love is also easily seen to be from God and through God, since so much of what people do for themselves causes other people to suffer. I hadn't given the divine nature of Hope too much thought until recently. What I've come to realize is that it is the most absurd and jarring of the virtues. That's when you know it's from God.

I was thinking about the joyful mysteries, and - as I've liked to do recently - I tried to strip away the sentimentalism that has become so attached to their iconic nature. I try to re-picture something like the Annunciation, and blind myself to the traditionally venerated imagery Catholics have in their consciousness. Images like this El Greco:

This painting attempts to capture the glory of the Incarnation and depict it in a way that assists devotion, and draws the heart towards the wonder of God's gift, and the perfection of Mary's humility by accepting it. As a devotional prompt, it succeeds. You've got Gabriel and his angel cohorts on clouds, the Virgin Mother is catching her breath from the shock. All very true and appropriate, but the whole scene is too idealized. In fact it's more a representation of the Glory of God, then the humility of man. There's nothing wrong with that, but it does serve to put this pivotal event- no, THE pivotal event - in human history somewhat out of reach for us. This meeting between Gabriel and Mary is inaccessible to most people based on their day to day experience. It is a picture that tries to depict the Incarnation as a grand spectacle of the Heavens and if we're honest about it, we'd have to say it falls well short of what God's perspective of the event actually was. All these types of paintings do. We don't view things from God's perspective, and that was the purpose behind the Annunciation in the first place. As John said, "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." Here's a picture that I'm absolutely, totally in love with. (Ann, you sooo saw this coming, didn't you?)
This depiction of the same event has the same necessary elements, but its perspective and accessibility are completely different. In Tanner's painting, Mary is experiencing the Annunciation in a way that is much more intriguing to our everyday experience. First, she's an ordinary looking person - made even more ordinary by the fact she's been woken from her sleep.

Everyone can relate to that moment of being forced out of sleep - how we look, and what our surroundings are more likely to look like. This is what Tanner captures so beautifully and the profound point it communicates is that the Annunciation happened to someone who would have appeared quite ordinary to all around her. Maybe even less than ordinary since she did not have original sin and was not self-promoting in any way.

Who woke her up? In depicting the angel Gabriel as bright and formless tear in space, Tanner has definitely updated the imagery to something more meaningful to modern imaginations than little fat babies, or heroes from Greek mythology. This is an encounter with a being who is not confined to the physical world. Gabriel, after all, stands in the presence of God. It would stand to reason that without serious disguise on his part, meeting him would be a singular frightening and confusing experience. Think of John in Revelation, who was so awestruck by the angel that he nearly bowed to worship.

So here is this simple, unassuming girl in her typical un-sterile, non-idyllic environment being roused from her sleep by a being that exists beyond her sensory limits. The look on her face is one of genuine apprehension, but not (as you might expect from the Angel's appearance) one of fear. That's an image of Mary which does not bring her down to our level, but instead presents an opportunity for us to enter into a contemplation of the Incarnation as it actually was communicated:

From God - To Flesh - In the World.

The world we live and breathe in. The world that is frequently confusing, often painful, and rarely glorious. However because Christ came into the world, it's physical phenomena (and the ways we experience them) are mysteriously sanctified. And this is where the virtue of Hope comes into play. Look at that scene and imagine the exchange from Luke taking place there:

[28] And he came to her and said, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" [29] But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. [30] And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. [31] And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. [32] He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,[33] and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;and of his kingdom there will be no end."

This young woman in Nazareth is being told that SHE has found favor with God. Not the Emperor, not the kings of the earth, not the priests of the Temple, but this young woman in her humble setting has found favor with God. And she is being promised the sum of all Israel's yearnings and then some!

Fast forward to the Visitation and you have Elizabeth saying, "How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Most images of this mystery are just as idealized as the Annunciation. What I enjoyed most about The Nativity Story was its depiction of this scene. The exchange has Elizabeth spontaneously abandoning her work to greet Mary with the Gospel words. While she's doing that people are mulling about them, concerned with their own activities, and they don't pay any attention. This pivotal greeting, and first acknowledgement of the Messiah (by another child in-utero) likely took place in front of a bunch of people who noticed nothing special about it. It was one woman talking to another. And in that meeting Hope is declared by Mary in the most beautiful and worthy prayer ever uttered by human lips prior to the Our Father. The Maginificat is the precursor to the Our Father in many ways since it is Mary's acknowledgement that God has chosen her flesh for his Son, and then Jesus in turn invites all flesh (including his mother) to call God "our Father".

to be continued...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dim String AS String (syntax error)

Someone should try to infiltrate this cult. You don't get a capital B unless you become a member.
We've got a couple Steven Pinker books, and I'm not surprised he's a B. In his last book he actually supported Peter Singer's notion that humans are not fully human until they reach a certain capacity for reason - thereby excluding infants and the mentally retarded from the ranks of people entitled to their subjective understanding of "human rights". This should make me laugh, but it's got sci-fi horror movie written all over it.

When I was doing my thesis research I read an article in a scientific journal from the late 60's about population control and the author's argument was that progress would never occur until people's cultural attachment to a "family" unit based on monogamous heterosexual unions which treated procreation as a cultural "good" was done away with. I chuckled at the time, picturing this bald, fat Poindexter in his lab all upset that chicks didn't dig him. I also chuckled cause that periodical's circulation wasn't quite up there with "Good Housekeeping", so he had a ways to go. But as with all social engineering endeavors, it only takes an enlightened cadre with commitment, money, and political power to realize their dreams. We did, after all, forcefully sterilize thousands of "morons" in the US back in the 20's and 30's - before the Nazi's sort of took the fun out of it.
So now you got The Brights, who also want to remove people with non-materialist philosophies from posts of influence in American society. And I realize how important bible-thumping, redneck, gun-packing hillbilly morons in the south have been and will be in keeping these eggheads at bay.

I do not want these men reshaping civilization.

every single day

Luke 12:

[35] "Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning,
[36] and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks.
[37] Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them.
[38] If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those servants!
[39] But know this, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into.
[40] You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour."
[41] Peter said, "Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?"
[42] And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?
[43] Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing.
[44] Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.
[45] But if that servant says to himself, `My master is delayed in coming,' and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk,
[46] the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful.
[47] And that servant who knew his master's will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating.
[48] But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.
[49] "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!
[50] I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! [51] Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; [52] for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three;
[53] they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."
[54] He also said to the multitudes, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, `A shower is coming'; and so it happens.
[55] And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat'; and it happens.
[56] You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
[57] "And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?
[58] As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison.
[59] I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper."

Monday, October 22, 2007

what the Lord wants from me

Saint Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo (North Africa) and Doctor of the Church
Sermon 34: on Ps 149

"Be rich in what matters to God"

Brethren, carefully inspect the place where you dwell interiorly; open your
eyes and consider the capital of your love; then increase whatever sum you
discover within yourselves. Keep watch over this treasure so that you may
become wealthy within. Goods of great price are called ‘dear’, and with
good reason… But what could be more dear than love, my brothers? What is
its cost, in your opinion? And how are you to pay it? The cost of land or
wheat is your silver; the cost of a pearl is your gold; but the cost of
your love is you yourself. If you want to buy a field, a jewel, an animal,
you seek the necessary means, you look around you. But if you want to
possess love, look no further than yourself: it is yourself you must
find.What are you afraid of in giving yourself? Of losing yourself? To the
contrary, it is by refusing to give yourself that you lose yourself. Love
itself speaks through the mouth of Wisdom and calms with one word the
confusion into which this saying threw you: “Give of your own self!” If
someone had wanted to sell you a piece of land, he would say to you: “Give
me your silver” or, for some other thing: “Give me your cash.” Now listen
to what Love says to you through the mouth of Wisdom: “My child, give me
your heart” (Pr.23,26). Your heart was in a bad way when it was your own,
when it was in your own hands. You were a prey to emptiness, not to speak
of evil passions. Remove it from all such things! Where will you take it?
Where offer it? “My son, give me your heart!” says Wisdom. Let it only come
to me and you will not lose it… "You shall love the Lord your God with
all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind," (Mt 22,37)...
He who created you desires the whole of you.

Monday, October 01, 2007

no man's land

Sam Harris has this to say about the Eucharist:

Of course, Catholics have done some very strenuous and unconvincing theology in this area, in an effort to make sense of how they can really eat the body of Jesus, not mere crackers enrobed in metaphor, and really drink his blood without, in fact, being a cult of crazy cannibals. Suffice it to say, however, that a world view in which “propitiatory sacrifices on behalf of the living and the dead” figure prominently is rather difficult to defend in the year 2007. But this has not stopped otherwise intelligent and well-intentioned people from defending it.

To some extent - if we are to look at reality from purely materialist viewpoint - you'd have to say he was spot on. What the Church believes occurs at the consecration is no small absurdity. And no matter how well the arguments are phrased to support transubstantiation they can't be expected to "convince" anyone that the Eucharist is true. What we are asked to accept and believe defies our senses and can only be embraced through the gift of faith. Atheists like Harris are only being honest when they make declarations like the one above.

Recently, when I've been in front of the Blessed Sacrament in our local adoration chapel, the absurdity of the experience has become very present for me. Here is this inanimate round white disc, encased in an ornate gold monstrance - and here am I, a living, breathing man on my knees worshipping it as my God!

Scientific investigation doesn't bring me there.
Logical reasoning doesn't bring me there.
Rational philosophical structures don't bring me there.

None of those things are incompatible with my Catholic faith. In fact they owe much of their current evolutionary development to the Christianity's far-reaching quest to know the face of God. However, they cannot be - and are not - the foundation for my personal, physical worship of something so visually insignificant. It is not ironic that the host is placed in expensive and ornate monstrances as much as it is a cultural and psychological attempt to give something a degree of worldly glory that our faith says it deserves, but our senses find disturbingly absent.

No arguments can ever convince anyone that this "source and summit" of our faith is in fact the Lord. But, when God gives you the grace to believe (even just a little!) the scriptures open up, Tradition opens up, and the world opens up for the light of God to pour upon it and lead you to a means of understanding that transcends the ultimate dead end of human reason. Here, in the Eucharist, is the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords - in a form more humble and less assuming of those titles then when he was a slick, red-stained infant amid the smells of livestock and manure. In the Eucharist, Christ is even more vulnerable to abuse and disrespect than when he was presented to the chief priests on Good Friday. And in the Eucharist, Christ gives mercy and life in an even more personal way than when he surrendered it from the cross.

Humanity's alpha and omega are present in the Eucharist, but we cannot, through our own devices, concoct a grand-unification theory to quantify this reality. As Christ told Peter after his outburst of faith in Matthew 16, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. "

But those who pretend to be on the solid ground of rational, materialist reality are really just avoiding the inevitable consequences of looking down. Our universe - our experience of space and forward-moving time is the by-product of our fragile consciousness. Our lives and thoughts occur in a vast absurd abyss. It is where we turn when this cold truth becomes real to us that matters.

Neils Bohr once said "Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real. " This is an accurate description of the universe Sam Harris bases his philosophy on. The Eucharist is the only thing in the universe about which that statement can be reversed. It is more real than the "reality" in which it resides.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

letting Scripture interpret itself

I've heard many sermons where the following story from Matthew is used to bolster the image of a hippy Jesus who doesn't want people to burden themselves with bummer rules and what not.

[1] At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.
[2] But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath."
[3] He said to them, "Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him:
[4] how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
[5] Or have you not read in the law how on the sabbath the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are guiltless?
[6] I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
[7] And if you had known what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless.
[8] For the Son of man is lord of the sabbath."

But then I read B16 explain that story a different way on pgs. 106-112 of Jesus of Nazareth. As he so often does, the Holy Father gives the most weight to Jesus' own words, and the purposeful reference to two significant claims that the Jews would understand:

  1. By comparing his actions to David, Jesus calls them to recognize him as the "Son of David", the King.
  2. By reminding them that the priests in the temple could violate the rules of the Sabbath only because they were in the presence of God, he is making a direct claim to being one with the Father, and thereby establishing the disciples he chose as the new priests of the new temple.

We have a school of thought in the church that wants a "do what you like" Messiah so desperately, they really miss out on the most powerful moments in Scripture - and have hidden them from others for so long. It's a shame.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

The first half of the 20th century was a furnace in which steel was forged and useless ore was cast to the side. Evil was everywhere and death appeared to rule the world - there's no escaping that. The materialist and nihilist philosophies that were driven to power in the east and the west found their path cleared by Satan and the numbed submission of the masses.

No matter what ugliness the future holds, can anything be more barbaric and senseless than the battlefields of WWI? Thousands died within hours in attempts to move their side of a front an absurd handful of feet.

No matter how cruel we become, can anything top the brutal control mechanisms of Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse Dong? Millions died on more than one occasion when either man issued decrees of societal re-structuring.

And though we live in a cold and vicious world, we only practice the art of inhumanity which was mastered by the Nazi's. Though even in America we kill more innocents in our abortion clinics, we do it behind tinted windows and in unmarked buildings. We've yet to reach the unashamed efficiency of herding and facing those who we slaughter in broad daylight.

But how often do we look back on that world and instead focus on those who overcame? How often do we frame the story of WWII in light of Europe's liberation? Or of the Soviet Union in context of its peaceful defeat in 1989? Do we wallow in the blood and filth of Verdun or the Somme, or do we instead concentrate on the profound impact those killing fields had on western thought, literature, and socio-political development? It is this drive - the drive to see light in the darkest darkness - which demonstrates the most meaningful evidence that we are children of God. We do not want to live in the evil world we create, so we are constantly searching for the smallest speck of light and often allow that to grow until it is what we see, rather than the darkness which frames it.

This is why the early 20th century gave us figures who are not just beacons, but legends, heroes, and saints. Some are all four. Dietrich Von Hildebrand. Dorothy Day. Mother Teresa. Padre Pio. Karol Wojtyla. Edith Stein.

The last two are especially important as we try to take the flames which burned in that darkness and hold them as torches as we journey into the next. John Paul II survived the Nazis and the Soviets. He witnessed the noble and the wretched among his occupiers and his own people, yet he was given enormous grace which kept him always under the heart of Mary, and allowed his mind to understand his world through the lens of the cross. With this unique, unprecedented, and humble understanding of people, their inner mechanisms, and the world their actions create, he was able to wander among the hearts and minds of his fellow man unnoticed. Then, in turn, he bestowed the fruits of his wanderings to us and future generations. His shepherdship, teaching, and example is given to us as a gift by the Blessed Mother, who protected him and presented him to the world just as she did her own Son.

Edith Stein did not survive. But those that commit to Carmel do not aspire for that sort of survival. They desire to go where they have nothing, where they know nothing, and where their self is emptied completely so that their house is ready for the Lord. Like Karol Wojtyla, this woman was a part of the reassessment of western thought in the wake of the horrors of WWI and the depression and pestilence that followed. She was immersed in the academic world where her friends quixotically attempted to redefine being as "just being", or "being there", or even "being in the moment". Every stab her colleagues took found something that was perhaps closer, but still elusive. But the school of thought they laid the foundations for could be seen as nothing less than an indictment of enlightenment thinking. And as modern physics painted increasingly chaotic and shaky pictures of what we experience as "reality", those who looked long and hard at those pictures were sent in every direction away from pursuits of idyllic truths. The darkness brought many of them to the conclusion that there was no truth. The darkness taught Edith Stein a different lesson.

However there is also a nocturnal light that reveals a new world deep in the interior and at the same time illumines the outer world from within so that this outer is given back to us as entirely transformed... Night, however, the cosmic as well as the mystic, is something shapeless and something comprehensive whose fullness of meaning can only be indicated but not exhausted. An entire world-view and grasp of existence is resolved therin. And precisely here what they have in common is to be found: the fact of the character of this worldview and grasp of existence. Something intangible here and something intangible there and yet clearly one overlays the other and can be used to access the other, not by arbitrary choice and systematic comparison, but in symbolic experience that strikes upon primitive connections and thus find a necessary figuration for what is conceptually unutterable.

Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross
pgs 41-42

So really, she did survive. According to her understanding, the death of this world is merely a primitively accessible symbol of the 2nd death which is to be avoided. A tangible, yet intangible scarecrow. If the entire realm of experienced phenomena are to be understood as illusion (which is bolstered by quantum theory) her understanding is the most plausible one for those who believe in God and an ultimate purpose and destiny for humanity. She lived her life to the most bitter end as a witness to us all to reject this 2nd death above all things - to turn away from sin and embrace the Gospel.

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross - pray for us.

Friday, August 03, 2007

familiarity breeds contempt

When reading the Gospel for today, it reminded me of something from the beginning of B16's book where he criticizes modern theologians for pretending to have access to Jesus' "inner life". He argues that the current schools of thought which claim to know the moment Jesus knew who he was or understood his mission (ie. the Baptism in the Jordan, the Transfiguration, or Peter's pronouncement) presume a higher position over the Lord himself. They treat Christ as if he were their patient in therapy, or worse, a character in a novel whose makeup and motives are open to multiple valid interpretations and who developed from one point in his life to the next.
B16 rightly labels these Christological ideas as presumptuous and absurd. We cannot KNOW God's inner life, it can only be REVEALED to us. We are below, He is above.

This quest for scholarly and pastoral ownership of Jesus, is based on fear and insecurity. Fear of the God who is truly hidden in many ways, and insecurity regarding our infinite smallness before his majesty. The people in today's Gospel thought they had that same ownership of Christ. They knew his family and whatever skeletons were in their closet. They saw him grow up and knew whatever worldly skill and charisma he demonstrated. Many of them may not have been impressed - or, more likely, were jealous.

So their hearts were hardened by this closeness and familiarity. These obstacles to faith were based on their place and time. But today, people manufacture this level of familiarity through convoluted exegesis and patronizing theological concepts.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

novena to Edith Stein - day 1

Through sin, human nature represented by the first humans, lost its honor–it’s original perfection and graced elevation. It is raised up anew in every individual human soul that is reborn through the grace of baptism into the state of the children of God. It is crowned in the chosen souls who attain to bridal union with the Redeemer. This happens “under the tree of the cross”, as the ripened fruit of the death of the cross and in co-suffering this death on the cross.

But how are we to understand that the place of this elevation and that of the fall are one and the same place, the tree of the cross and the tree of paradise, one and the same? It seems to me the solution lies in the mystery of sin. The tree in the paradise, the fruits of which were forbidden to human beings, was, after all, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Human beings could only get an authentic experimental knowledge of evil and its radical opposition to good by doing evil. So we may see in the tree of paradise and emblem for human nature in its openness to sin and in the fruit of the tree, actual sin (the first as well as every succeeding one) with all its consequences. But the most terrible result of sin, and therefore the revelation of its terrifying effectiveness is the passion and death of Christ.

St. Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross
pg. 260

Friday, July 27, 2007

first-uh lesson: must learn patience

Another gem from the USCCB email. I really love these things.

Saint Padre Pio of Pietralcina (1887-1968), Capuchin
Ep 3: 579; CE 54

To bear fruit, free from worldly anxiety

Advance with simplicity on the pathways of God, and do not worry.
Hate your defects, yes, but quietly, without excitement, nor anxiety. It is
necessary to be patient with them and to benefit from them through holy
humility. For if you lack of patience, your imperfections, instead of
disappearing, will only grow
. Because there is nothing which strengthens
our defects as much as anxiety and obsession to be rid of them. Cultivate
your vineyard together with Jesus. To you the task of removing stones and
pulling up brambles. To Jesus, that of sowing, planting, cultivating and
watering. But even in your work, it is still him who acts. Because without
Christ, you could do nothing whatsoever.

Monday, July 23, 2007

no one takes it from me

Saint Peter Chrysologus (around 406-450), Bishop of Ravenna, Doctor of the Church Sermon 3

“You have a greater than Jonah here.” It was Jonah himself who decided to be thrown out of the boat: “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he said (Jon 1:12), which points to the passion of the Lord Jesus, which he freely took upon himself. For why did the sailors wait to be given the order…? It is because, when the salvation of all requires the death of one single person, that death depends on the free decision of the person concerned… Thus, in this story, which completely prefigures the Lord’s story, they await the decision of the person who must die, so that his death might not be a necessity to which he submits, but a free act: “I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it up again. No one takes it from me,” (Jn 10:18) says the Lord. For when Christ delivered over his spirit (Jn 19:30), it was not because his life was slipping away from him. He who holds in his hands the soul of every person could not lose his own. The prophet said: “I constantly hold my life in your hands.” (Ps 119:109) And in another place: “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Ps 31:6; Lk 23:46)

This excerpt that came with today's USCCB daily gospel email, touches on the massive (and so easily overlooked distinction) between Christ's death and anyone else's. He alone had the power to lay down his life. This may be semi-heretical, but it seems that Jesus makes it clear no one could kill him. Judas didn't kill him. The Jews didn't kill him. Rome didn't kill him.

But, even more radical, Jesus didn't kill himself. He alone of all human beings had the claim to own his own life, and with that claim the ability and right to surrender it. Suicide is sinful specifically because we do not own ourselves. Our whole person (body and spirit) belongs to God. Since Jesus is one with the Father, his life was his own and he could do with it as he saw fit. What he saw fit to do was the will of the Father - and the will of the Father had been prefigured by the cries from the sea that Jonah be thrown into it. Jonah surrendered himself to this fate, but did not seek to kill himself. Christ surrendered his spirit on the cross to the the will of the Father, in the final holocaust of Mercy. He laid down what belonged to the life of the Trinity, and what it would have been objectively impossible for any human being to take from him.

not very Christian of them

The United Council of Churches has pulled Virginia's etext version of the RSV.


Oh well, I found the Catholic Edition on line at

thanks to Fr. Tim Finigan

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

a covenant without rationing

In today's reading from Genesis, Pharaoh tells the people suffering from the famine to go to Joseph for assistance.

Genesis 41
55: When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do."
56: So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt.
57: Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.

Compare to the Cana story:

John 2
1: On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2: Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples.
3: When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."
4: And Jesus said to her, "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come." 5: His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

In Egypt, Joseph is given the power by Pharaoh to ration out the abundance they have stored up to those from all lands who come in need. The generosity of Pharaoh is certainly uncharacteristic of demi-god autocrats of the old world. It was prompted by his love and gratitude towards Joseph, whose insight and faith spared Pharaoh's kingdom from the horrible famine. Joseph is the inspiration and source of Pharaoh's mercy, just as Jesus is the source of God the Father's mercy. When we look at the episode between Joseph and his brothers, another clear parallel appears.

Genesis 42
5: Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.
6: Now Joseph was governor over the land; he it was who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers came, and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground.
7: Joseph saw his brothers, and knew them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. "Where do you come from?" he said. They said, "From the land of Canaan, to buy food."
8: Thus Joseph knew his brothers, but they did not know him.
9: And Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed of them; and he said to them, "You are spies, you have come to see the weakness of the land."
10: They said to him, "No, my lord, but to buy food have your servants come.
11: We are all sons of one man, we are honest men, your servants are not spies."
12: He said to them, "No, it is the weakness of the land that you have come to see."
13: And they said, "We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more."
14: But Joseph said to them, "It is as I said to you, you are spies.
15: By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here.
16: Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain in prison, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you; or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies."
17: And he put them all together in prison for three days.
18: On the third day Joseph said to them, "Do this and you will live, for I fear God:
19: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined in your prison, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households,
20: and bring your youngest brother to me; so your words will be verified, and you shall not die." And they did so.
21: Then they said to one another, "In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he besought us and we would not listen; therefore is this distress come upon us."
22: And Reuben answered them, "Did I not tell you not to sin against the lad? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood."
23: They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them.
24: Then he turned away from them and wept;

So it is clear that Joseph prefigures Christ in that he was cast off into death and slavery by his brothers and then instead, prepared the Kingdom for a time of there suffering and need. However, the key to me is the direct connection with not just Christ's life on earth and His passion, but the veiled nature of the Risen Lord, both to the Apostles...

Luke 24
25: And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
26: Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"
27: And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
28: So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, 29: but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them.
30: When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.
31: And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.
32: They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?"

...and ultimately to every single human being...

Matthew 25
34: Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
35: for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
36: I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'
37: Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?
38: And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?
39: And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?'
40: And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'

What Joseph had for his brothers was surplus from the earth that had been acquired through obedience to the wisdom of God. But it was still a surplus produced by the sweat of man's brow, according to the curse upon Adam. What Jesus gave to the wedding guests at Cana was undeserved and excessive - a true outpouring of generosity of a kind and quality meant to symbolize the infinite mercy Christ offers us from the cross. Just as Jacob's sons received from Joseph with a guilty conscience, we too must recognize our own sins as we ask for the mercy of our Lord - a Lord who is disguised to us every day, and who calls on us to search for him in the darkness so that we will be "surprised by joy" when he is revealed to us in the light.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Footprints in the sand

I always hated that poem. More specifically because it would be forcibly recited to us in elementary school by women who were pathetically dissatisfied with their lives and used their students as a substitute Oprah audience.

But these footprints are a whole nother deal. After reading this post, I had to let out a Keanu-level "Whoah." I'm always running accross references to the rabbinical commentaries and such like the Mishnah and Midrash in the writing of top notch biblical scholars like Brant Pitre. All it does is make me want to learn Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek - whatever can get me closer to the source.

not like it isn't hard enough

For two knuckleheads from Creighton (with letters after their names and Church money in their pockets) to propose something so silly as "nuptial cohabitation" is testament to the reality that there's major pruning in order. Tired of waiting around for the dreams of the 70's to be fulfilled, and desperately irritated by the continuing existence of the CCC, they decide to completely take matters into their own hands and re-invent the sacrament of marriage.

From Omaha.

Not that this sort of crap would read any better coming from South Bend or Kuala Lumpur, but how many self-infatuated intellectuals does it take to declare a new definition of marriage from Nebraska? Only 2????? I would think you'd need at least 4 to take turns driving the long distance to anywhere interesting.

Archbshp Chaput does a real good job of destroying their ridiculous proposal.

What's especially sad about the continuing presence of knuckleheads in Catholic academia, and Diocesan chanceries, is that they do nothing but undermine the difficult journeys faced by those who try to live according to the faith.

How harmful is it for people struggling with same-sex attraction to be encouraged to give in to temptations of a destructive lifestyle by priests and nuns who don't give a rat's ass about their eternal well-being?

How much does it weaken society when morons in Catholic schools and the hierarchy give tacit approval to couples that use artificial contraception? It doesn't take a PhD to notice that women have never been more physically abused, objectified or degraded as we've seen in the contraceptive era. The perverted clerics and busybodies who saturated Catholic schools with absurd and insidious sex-ed curricula are partially responsible for the confused and over-sexed environment we live in. It's an environment where children reach maturity amid social climates that more and more resemble the sad and horrible world described by a Frontline episode a few years ago. Junior High and High School kids living like they're in a director's-cut edition of Caligula - kids losing part of their humanity as they insanely throw their bodies into a mindless fire of sexual excess. And all within the confines of modern comfortable suburbia.

What brings us to this? What brings us to a world where women and children are bought and sold as a commodity in an exploding sex trade industry? Surrender to Satan. There's no other answer that more aptly explains the tremendous exponential growth in human misery that we see all around us, and it all starts with the refusal to resist at the beginning. The will to resist Satan - to enter fully into the struggle of striving for God's grace to live a life of faith and virtue must be supported by the Church. That is the purpose of the Church! It exists to model and shepherd all Christians, and all humanity in the journey towards Jesus and our ultimate end. When the Church allows knuckleheads in Omaha to spew crap like this - crap that is so strained in its credulity and desire to be hip - it fails the people of God, and it fails the Lord Jesus Christ.

It's also pretty effin depressing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

the suffering of the bridegroom

There is a complete melting of identities which occurs in the mystical marriage between Christ and His Church. The image of Christ as the bridegroom is presented to us by Jesus himself in the Gospels, and elaborated on with amazing insight by the great saints, theologians, and mystics throughout history.

But within that image exists a great paradox.

Christ was the bridegroom, but Christ gave birth to the new creation. He was scourged. He carried the cross. He labored to deliver our salvation from the cross, and we are made anew from His pierced side.

But it is not the bridegroom who gives birth - it is the bride. It is not the man who suffers from the cyclical preparation of his nature. It is not within the man that the burden of pregnancy is entrusted. The man does not walk among friend and stranger as a sign of something that both ennobles and ostracizes him at the same time. Pregnancy can be seen as stripping the woman of her own independent identity and making her a vessel for another. Motherhood calls women to an intimate level of frightening sacrifice no man is able to physically experience. Women can attain a level of tangible familiarity with what is the universal call to women and men from the Father. To surrender themselves totally so that new life can be formed within them. A father can walk around undetected, but a pregnant woman whose body is a visible vessel no longer has that luxury. Therefore, it is easy to understand the temptation by woman to view this as an affront - an occupation of her identity by a foreign host.

I can never experience this. Yet, in the language of creation spoken through my body, I am called to represent the bridegroom. ????

What has become crystal clear from living with my bride is that the experience of the true Bridegroom is not physically accessible to me. Sure, men can suffer all sorts of ways, and all suffering is redemptive when given over to Jesus on the cross. I think of Maximilian Kolbe, or Miguel Pro and it is easy to see (and be humbled by) the power of declaring in the darkest hour with your entire being that Jesus Christ is Lord.

But redemptive suffering is not creative suffering. Jesus was the only man to experience that within his flesh. And while it is appropriate that the male priesthood serves as a biological sign of Christ's redemptive sacrifice in the body of a man, that is as far as a man can go in imaging the fullness of Christ's suffering. There lies the paradox of the Bridegroom giving birth to his bride. The male priesthood does not encapsulate the totality of this. I believe it can be more fully understood in the context of the Christological symbolism that existed "in the beginning" and exists once again through the sacrament of matrimony.

As a husband, I am certainly a part of my wife's pregnancy and of our children, but I am not a part of her suffering. I am only allowed to witness it as a bystander. The more I commit to sharing in her suffering, the more powerless I become. Our sexuality, as emblematic of the relationship between Christ and the Church, becomes complete. We occupy opposite perspectives of the Calvary experience.

She is up on the cross. I am at her feet in sorrow.

I would endure any pain and bear any burden for her, but in those moments I am utterly powerless to do so. Sometimes it is through her suffering that God's creation is made visible to everyone. Other times it is only made visible to those for whom the veil has been lifted. Both instances are the pure bodily expression of those words in Romans and in Revelation.

Romans 8
18: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
19: For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God;
20: for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope;
21: because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.
22: We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now;
23: and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
24: For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
25: But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.

Revelation 12
1: And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;
2: she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.

These are not mere words. They describe the truth of our ultimate destiny in the language of a physical reality which can be experienced by women, but only witnessed by men. The power of understanding that is hidden in these moments is certainly like that mustard seed Christ spoke of. Beneath the surface of the sensory "travail" is the voice of God, calling us out of this world and into His, just as He spoke to Elijah on the wind.

The Holy Spirit makes this clearer to me each day I'm allowed to share in the life of my bride. Every time I look at this woman I breathe in humility.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

heart, liver, and gall

Michael Barber has an awesome post today that discusses Pentecost in its Old Testament context. It gave me additional insight into what I was thinking yesterday when reading Tobit. The story of Tobias and Sarah is totally a parable of Christ and the Church, but I've completely skipped over the fact that the book is framed by the festival of Pentecost at the start of ch. 2 as Michael points out.

Tobit 2
1: When I arrived home and my wife Anna and my son Tobias were restored to me, at the feast of Pentecost, which is the sacred festival of the seven weeks, a good dinner was prepared for me and I sat down to eat.
2: Upon seeing the abundance of food I said to my son, "Go and bring whatever poor man of our brethren you may find who is mindful of the Lord, and I will wait for you."
3: But he came back and said, "Father, one of our people has been strangled and thrown into the market place."
4: So before I tasted anything I sprang up and removed the body to a place of shelter until sunset.
5: And when I returned I washed myself and ate my food in sorrow.
6: Then I remembered the prophecy of Amos, how he said, "Your feasts shall be turned into mourning, and all your festivities into lamentation." And I wept.

This gives important dimension to the story that unfolds. Tobit is celebrating Pentecost according to the law with the anxious anticipation for what is promised in Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 36:24-28, but he is drawn out of that earnest hope by the reality of sin in the world - the reality that the Spirit does not dwell in the hearts of men. This internal dwelling of the Spirit is no doubt signified by the use of leavened bread in the Jewish Pentecost festival. That is also key in the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, since the yeast of the Holy Spirit is given to us from the Resurrected Jesus - but not before giving it up, and then reclaiming it in glory.

John 19
30: When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, "It is finished"; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 20
22: And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.

And it is truly yeast for the milled wheat of our mortal existence, as Paul says:

1 Corinthians 5
7: Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.
8: Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth

We must live and appear as unleavened so that there is no competition within us for the leaven that comes from the Holy Spirit. But even as we live and appear unleavened, Pentecost (and the sacrament of Confirmation) enact a reality of fulfillment that remains hidden to everything but faith as long as Christ's glory remains veiled to the world.

Micheal points out that in Acts 2 Peter talks about Pentecost in eschatological terms - as if Christ had returned. In a very real way he had, for at Pentecost, his body on earth - the Church - was sacramentally established. This is where the beautiful connection with Tobit comes in. Tobit, a just man, has been afflicted with suffering a la Job. He prays for the Lord to remove these burdens or release him from this world as Job does AND as David does in Psalm 22 in words ultimately written to be prayed from the cross. At the same time 7 men had died on their wedding night while seeking to consummate their union with Raguel's daughter Sarah.

Tobit 3
7: On the same day, at Ecbatana in Media, it also happened that Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, was reproached by her father's maids,
8: because she had been given to seven husbands, and the evil demon Asmodeus had slain each of them before he had been with her as his wife. So the maids said to her, "Do you not know that you strangle your husbands? You already have had seven and have had no benefit from any of them.
9: Why do you beat us? If they are dead, go with them! May we never see a son or daughter of yours!"
10: When she heard these things she was deeply grieved, even to the thought of hanging herself. But she said, "I am the only child of my father; if I do this, it will be a disgrace to him, and I shall bring his old age down in sorrow to the grave.
11: So she prayed by her window and said, "Blessed art thou, O Lord my God, and blessed is thy holy and honored name for ever. May all thy works praise thee for ever.
12: And now, O Lord, I have turned my eyes and my face toward thee.
13: Command that I be released from the earth and that I hear reproach no more.
14: Thou knowest, O Lord, that I am innocent of any sin with man,
15: and that I did not stain my name or the name of my father in the land of my captivity. I am my father's only child, and he has no child to be his heir, no near kinsman or kinsman's son for whom I should keep myself as wife. Already seven husbands of mine are dead. Why should I live? But if it be not pleasing to thee to take my life, command that respect be shown to me and pity be taken upon me, and that I hear reproach no more."
16: The prayer of both was heard in the presence of the glory of the great God.

So the righteous man and the righteous daughter are both seeking the mercy of God. God sends the archangel Raphael to lead Tobit's son to the house of Raguel where he will take Sarah from the demon and join with her in marriage, which results in a wealth of liberating grace for both families. There's all sorts of sacramental imagery with the fish and smoke and restoration of sight to the blind. But above all there is the typological representation of the Church. God's people have been freed from the clutches of Satan by the union Christ. This marriage was consummated on the cross and our new life in the Spirit was proclaimed at Pentecost. And though that is the true reality of the situation, our full understanding of it will not come until the film is removed from our eyes.

Tobit 11
1: After this Tobias went on his way, praising God because he had made his journey a success. And he blessed Raguel and his wife Edna. So he continued on his way until they came near to Nineveh.
2: Then Raphael said to Tobias, "Are you not aware, brother, of how you left your father?
3: Let us run ahead of your wife and prepare the house.
4: And take the gall of the fish with you." So they went their way, and the dog went along behind them.
5: Now Anna sat looking intently down the road for her son.
6: And she caught sight of him coming, and said to his father, "Behold, your son is coming, and so is the man who went with him!"
7: Raphael said, "I know, Tobias, that your father will open his eyes.
8: You therefore must anoint his eyes with the gall; and when they smart he will rub them, and will cause the white films to fall away, and he will see you."
9: Then Anna ran to meet them, and embraced her son, and said to him, "I have seen you, my child; now I am ready to die." And they both wept.
10: Tobit started toward the door, and stumbled. But his son ran to him
11: and took hold of his father, and he sprinkled the gall upon his father's eyes, saying, "Be of good cheer, father."
12: And when his eyes began to smart he rubbed them,
13: and the white films scaled off from the corners of his eyes.

This is similar to Paul's experience:

Acts 9
8: Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.
9: And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10: Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Anani'as. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Anani'as." And he said, "Here I am, Lord."
11: And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying,
12: and he has seen a man named Anani'as come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight."
13: But Anani'as answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem;
14: and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name."
15: But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;
16: for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name."
17: So Anani'as departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
18: And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized

The message of Pentecost - as with the book of Tobit, and the story of Paul's conversion - is that Christ has already made "all things new" but that we must search for, discover, and be remade by the Spirit as living organisms that grow and develop in the fullness of time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

the luminous mysteries

It just occurred to me (and I'm sure it's probably spelled out purposely in Rosarium Virginis Mariae) but the 5 luminous mysteries are strung together beautifully by the Gospel statements which encapsulate each.

1. The Baptism in the Jordan - Matthew 3:17
And lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

2. The Wedding Feast at Cana - John 2:5
His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

3. Proclamation of the Kingdom of God - Mark 1:14-15
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15: and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel."

4. The Transfiguration - Matthew 17:5
He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."

5. The Establishment of the Eucharist - Luke 22:19-20
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup after supper, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."

There is such beauty in the way these phrases flow from one to the next - affirming, instructing, and establishing the scriptural, liturgical, and sacramental life of the Church, and the spiritual path each of us is called to walk. It's not rocket science, and it's not something only available to the intellectual and accomplished. These are the words of the Gospel that flow with the Holy Spirit for all. By embedding them in these Luminous Mysteries, John Paul gave all the faithful a means to learn them and lean on them under the care and guidance of Christ's Blessed Mother. I'm very grateful to him for this pastoral gift.