Ordinary Time, 16th Sunday. There are three levels of welcoming Jesus into our lives: 1) Jesus isn’t welcome at all. 2) We welcome Jesus into our home and into our life, but his presence is a burden. 3) We welcome Jesus into our heart and soul, and his presence is a joy. We see these levels in the story of Martha and Mary. We also see this progression in the life of Abraham. What level are you? How is Jesus welcome in your life? (18 July 2010)
“Again, in my television interview with Mother Teresa, I raised the point as to whether, in view of the commonly held opinion that there are too many people in India, it was really worth while trying to salvage a few abandoned children who might otherwise be expected to die of neglect, malnutrition, or some related illness. It was a point, as I was to discover subsequently, so remote from her whole way of looking at life that she had difficulty in grasping it. The notion that there could in any circumstances be too many children was, to her, as inconceivable as suggesting that there are too many bluebells in the woods or stars in the sky. In the film we made in Calcutta, there is a shot of Mother Teresa holding a tiny baby girl in her hands; so minute that her very existence seemed like a miracle. As she holds this child, she says in a voice, and with an expression, of exaltation most wonderful and moving: ‘See! there’s life in her!’ Her face is glowing and triumphant; as it might be the mother of us all glorying in what we all possess – this life in us, in our world, in our universe, which, however low it flickers or fiercely burns, is still a divine flame which no man dare presume to put out, be his motives never so humane and enlightened.
“To suppose otherwise is to countenance a deathwish. Either life is always and in all circumstances sacred, or intrinsically of no account; it is inconceivable that it should be in some cases the one, and in some the other. The God Mother Teresa worships cannot, we are told, see a sparrow fall to the ground without concern. For man, made in God’s image, to turn aside from this universal love, and fashion his own judgements based on his own fears and disparities, is a fearful thing, bound to have fearful consequences. What, I wonder, will posterity – assuming they are at all interested in us and our doings – make of a generation of men, who, having developed technological skills capable of producing virtually unlimited quantities of whatever they might need or desire, as well as enabling them to explore and perhaps colonize the universe, were possessed by a panic fear that soon there would not be enough food for them to eat or room for them to live? It will seem, surely, one of the most derisory, ignominious and despicable attitudes ever to be entertained in the whole of human history; though containing its own corrective. In seeking to avert an imagined calamity, the promoters and practitioners of birth-control automatically abolish themselves, leaving the future to the procreative. An interesting case of self-genocide.”
Malcom Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God
I recently witnessed one of the strangest and most counter-cultural ceremonies possible. On Saturday, June 26 at the Diocesan Cathedral, our Bishop received and blessed a woman as a consecrated virgin. This means that she has never been with a man in a physically intimate way, and she never intends to be with a man either. Rather than choosing marriage, she is giving her life to God as though He were her spouse. You might want to read that a second time in order to digest it.
The ceremony took place in a church that was nearly full. She made several promises, received the prayer of consecration, and then received the symbols of her consecration – a veil, a ring, and a prayer book. This woman is the first consecrated virgin for our diocese, but three other virgins had come from other dioceses to support her. Later I sat at the lunch table with this newly consecrated virgin and her three consecrated-virgin friends, ranging in age from about 30 to about 60. It felt like Sex and the City from an alternate universe. Read More
In his audience this morning, Pope Benedict talked about the Franciscan Medieval Theologian Duns Scotus. Benedict highlighted some beautiful parts of his theology and also noticed that some of his thinking was very, very modern. His idea of freedom was rooted primarily in the will, in contrast to Augustine and St. Thomas who said that freedom was the fruit of a collaboration between the will and the intellect.
While Scotus’ approach emphasizes that God is absolutely free to do whatever He wills, it separates God’s freedom from what is true or what is good. In other words, God could do something cruel if He wanted to, or He could change the commandments so killing your parents was not a sin. This is not an authentic sense of God, and it is not an authentic sense of freedom. Instead, Jesus reveals God as one who is the truth, the “logos,” and who acts completely out of love. God’s freedom, therefore, is always a freedom in love and does not extend to doing something which is cruel.
Modern thought sees freedom in absolute terms, located in the will, but this quickly becomes the freedom do to, “whatever I want.” Freedom is authentic and helps in the construction of a truly human civilization only when reconciled with truth, Pope Benedict said. Separated from the truth, freedom begins to attack the harmony of human beings and becomes the liberty of the strong to abuse the weak. As Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34). If we abuse our freedom, we reduce ourselves to slavery.
Just as children need to trained to choose what is good for them and avoid what is bad, our will needs to be trained to choose what is good and avoid which is destructive. Duns Scotus said that freedom is perfected when man opens himself to God. As Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
When a priest is ordained he traditionally issues a commemorative prayer card. On this, the 3rd year anniversary of our ordination to the priesthood, I thought it appropriate to reflect on the prayer cards that my brother and I had made. Even though we are twins, you’ll notice that our cards are about as different as is physically possible.
The front of the card is above; the back of the card is below. Fr. Benjamin took this picture himself of graves of nuns in Prague. On June 30th the Church celebrates the feast of the First Martyrs of Rome, those whose blood was shed in the early persecutions. The back of the card features the prayer that a priest will pray when celebrating a Mass this day. In strong and simple black and white, the succession of crucifixes emphasizes how Christians in each generation live the faith and, through their sacrifice, become visible images of Jesus Christ for their own time.
The front of the card is to the left; the back of the card is on the right. Fr. Joel was inspired by this image at a Stations of the Cross in Jasnogora, Poland. It illustrates the scene from John 21, and a quote from that same passage is found on the back of the card. This card emphasizes that Christ (the Shepherd and the Lamb) has poured Himself out for us in the Eucharist. Through the endless service of the priesthood, Christ continues to pour himself out and feed his sheep. Full color and messy, this card emphasizes the passion of the Faith.
Ordinary Time, 13th Sunday. What is the difference between Elisha in the first reading and the other three in the Gospel? Elisha wants to give God everything, it will just take him some time. The other three plan on holding something back from God. What amazing things God can do if we are willing to surrender everything! We see this in the life of Sr. Francis Xavier. We could see it in you life too. (27 Jun 2010)
My brother pointed out that the oil spill should keep us humble, and remind us how limited our capabilities really are. In this sense, the disaster is a natural consequence of pushing too far. It is exactly the same to say that the oil spill is God’s wrath for our arrogance, and His warning to repent. After all, it is God Himself who established the limits of nature and the consequences of violating them.
The fact that this is “God’s wrath,” is supported by the fact that nearly everything you can imagine went wrong with the efforts. First, the blowout preventer failed to prevent a blowout. Then, efforts to dam the well with drilling mud and to clog the blowout preventer with junk both failed.
One news brief said, “BP’s ill-fated relief efforts to stop the damaged well hit yet another snag, underscoring once again the fragility of the containment effort: lightning struck the vessel that had been collecting the oil from the well, suspending operations for nearly five hours” NYT
Ill-fated is a mild way to put it, the whole effort seems cursed in a way that is beyond our capacity to cope. It was a newspaper article that pointed me in this direction of thinking:
“The oil has now reached four gulf states…turning its marshlands into death zones for wildlife and staining its beaches rust and crimson in an affliction that some said brought to mind the plagues and punishments of the Bible. ‘In Relvelations it says the water will turn to blood,’ says P.J. Hahn, director of coastal zone management for Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish. ‘That’s what it looks like out there- like the Gulf is bleeding. This is going to choke the life out of everything.’”
The Book of Revelations says, “The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.” (Revelation 16:3)
Some would say that because the water is not actually blood, the book of the Apocalypse does not apply here. Yet this is what Revelation describes. It is very significant that the only description big enough to cover what we are seeing in front of our eyes is the one written in the Bible 19 centuries ago. Only the imagination of God can grasp this kind of event, something too big for the human mind to fully comprehend or cope with. It is exactly our inability to cope which should force us to turn to God, and to live in the way that God describes.
We don’t fully understand the consequences of our actions, but God does, and when He tells us not to commit adultery, when He warns against lust and sexual perversion, when He warns against contraception and abortion, when He tells us not to kill and warns against war, we should listen, because we don’t comprehend the damage that our sin can cause. The hemorrhage of oil should remind us that each bad choice has very destructive consequences, and if this is true in the natural world, how much more true is it in our spiritual, personal, and public lives.
Ordinary Time, 12th Sunday. Learning to play an instrument involves suffering, but it’s worth it. Sin mostly happens when we try to avoid suffering, with the result that we cause ourselves more suffering. Jesus offers a better solution – take up our cross and embrace our suffering. It causes us to grow as human beings and to grow in love. It is also what it means to be a father. Happy Fathers Day! (20 Jun 2010)
Recently in conjunction with a Prayer Vigil for priests, the Holy Father took questions from five priests. Here is his response to a question about celibacy:
“A great problem of modern Christianity is that we no longer think of the future of God: the present moment of this world seems sufficient. … In this way we close the doors to the true greatness of our existence. The meaning of celibacy – as an anticipation of the future – is precisely to open these doors, … to show the reality of the future which we must live here in the present, and in this way bear witness to our faith. We truly believe that God exists, … that we can found our lives on Christ and on the life to come”.
On the subject of worldly criticism, the Pope noted how “for the agnostic world … celibacy is a great scandal because it shows that God is considered to be real and is lived as a reality. … Celibacy is a definitive ‘yes’, it is allowing oneself to be taken by the hand of God, giving oneself into the Lord’s hands, into His ‘self’. Thus it is an act of faithfulness and trust, an act which presupposes the faithfulness of marriage, … which is the biblical form, the natural form, of being man and woman, foundation of the great Christian culture and of other great cultures of the world. If this is lost, the roots of our culture will be destroyed. Thus celibacy confirms the ‘yes’ of marriage with its ‘yes’ to the world to come. This is how we wish to proceed and actualise this scandal of a faith which founds all of existence on God. … We pray to the Lord to help us free ourselves from secondary scandals, to make this great scandal of our faith present: the trust, the power of our life founded in God, in Christ Jesus”.
Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, 11 June 2010
The Holy Father presided at a Eucharistic concelebration in St. Peter’s Square to mark the close of the Year for Priests which was called to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, the holy “Cure of Ars”. The Eucharist was concelebrated by cardinals and bishops of the Roman Curia, as well as by more than fifteen thousand priests from all over the world. The Holy Father consecrated the wine in the same chalice as that used by St. John Mary Vianney, which is conserved in Ars.
In his homily the Pope noted how the Year for Priests was celebrated to ensure “a renewed appreciation of the grandeur and beauty of the priestly ministry. The priest is not a mere office-holder. … Rather, he does something which no human being can do of his own power: in Christ’s name he speaks the words which absolve us of our sins and in this way he changes, starting with God, our entire life. Over the offerings of bread and wine he speaks Christ’s words of thanksgiving, … which open the world to God and unite it to Him. The priesthood, then, is not simply ‘office’ but Sacrament”.
“This audacity of God Who entrusts Himself to human beings (Who, conscious of our weaknesses, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in His stead) this audacity of God is the true grandeur concealed in the word ‘priesthood’. …This is what we wanted to reflect upon and appreciate anew over the course of the past year. We wanted to reawaken our joy at how close God is to us, … we also wanted to demonstrate once again to young people that this vocation, this fellowship of service for God and with God, does exist”.
“It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the ‘enemy’; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the Sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones. … We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey”.
“Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in ‘earthen vessels’ which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes His love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, His gift becomes a commitment to respond to God’s courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility”.