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Community, Part 2

In Christianity on January 2, 2014 at 10:00 pm

I grew up in a small family: 2 sisters, 4 grandparents, 1 aunt and 1 uncle. My Mom was an only child. My Dad had one sister. Perhaps this is one reason why community¹ in the Church is important to me. But the importance of  community and the Communion of Saints is greater than any comfort it gives me.

January 1 is the Solemnity of the Holy Mother of God, a holy day of obligation for Catholic Christians. On January 1, we recall the First Council of Ephesus in 431. The Council was assembled because the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, had objected to the title Theotokos (Greek for “God-bearer” or Mother of God) being given to the Virgin Mary. His point was that no creature could bear The Creator.

The Council taught otherwise. We must call Mary Theotokos, the Mother of God, because failing to do so would sever the Divine and the human in Christ. The dilemma of how a creature could bear The Creator is not resolved in Mary; it is resolved in Jesus Christ², the God-Man Who took the flesh of the Virgin Mary and became man to to accomplish our redemption.

What does any of that have to do with community? The Lord’s great act of love and condescension puts a new face, literally, on the meaning of community. This is infinite, eternal community—His solidarity with us in our flesh; in our joys and sufferings of our lives; in experiencing death. Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, paid the penalty for our sin that we might live eternally. That is community!

Still, a short postscript can be added to show yet another dimension of community. After Mass on January 1, I paused to kneel at the Crèche beside the altar. My wife and I had been away over Christmas and this was my first opportunity to pay homage to The Holy Family in this way. I was joined almost immediately by several others, parents and children of the parish—unforced, unprompted; motivated by love for our Lord. What joy! We didn’t need to speak. We were united in Christ and in this visible display of devotion. What a wonderful sense of family; what a joy-filled demonstration of community in Christ.

That experience also demonstrates the days of the Liturgical Year we call “Holy Days of Obligation” are actually “Holy Days of Opportunity.” In the liturgy, in the community, and most of all in The Eucharist, we are always given much more than we could ask or deserve.

Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord. That truly is Christianity Richly!

¹ If you have begun your exploration of community with this post, Part 2, then be sure to see Part 1 and Part 3, as well.

² Fr. Jay Scott Newman, January 1, 2014 homily at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Greenville, SC. I have footnoted this statement because it was one of the most incisive in his homily, but I am indebted to Fr. Newman for the substance of much of this post. I simply have placed it in the context of thinking about community.

Community, Part 1

In Christianity on January 2, 2014 at 9:59 pm

When the Christianity Richly blog was launched in 2009, several posts described my reasons for entering “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”¹ If you’ve read the About link (located beneath the large, red Christianity Richly masthead at the top) you’ll know my journey was based on certainty, history, unity, authority, and liturgy.

Over the years since entering the Church, an important sixth reason has become clear: community. The Apostles Creed concludes

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen. 

Not surprisingly, the communion of saints is viewed differently by Christians who protest that “the holy catholic Church” simply means the invisible body of true Christians, the members of which are known only to God.² But even while holding that position, protestant assemblies sometimes encourage members to “greet the saints around you.” Ah, now we are getting closer to the truth!

While authority remains first among the reasons for becoming a Catholic Christian, the importance of the communion of saints was always apparent.  A simple example: from the first time I knelt beside strangers in a Catholic Church, it became clear—from this very unaccustomed posture—that a greater consciousness of the needs of others, and their devotion to God, resulted. No longer was I surrounded by seemingly self-sufficient, individualistic Christians, relaxing with their legs and arms crossed, in the pews. The sense of community that comes from kneeling with others to worship God was (and is) powerful.

Yet this example only scratches the surface of what the communion of saints is, a reality that is is vitally important to understand. In the posts that  follow, perhaps together we can begin to grasp the importance of the communion of saints to our daily lives—yours and mine. I encourage to read on, Community Part 2Community Part 3Community Part 4, and even A Day for Community.

¹ See this article about what are called “the four marks of the Church” (one, holy, catholic, and apostolic). For it is in community that we find Christianity Richly.

² If the Apostles Creed, or the concept of the communion of saints, are new to you may want to read the material at the red-highlighted links as background.

Our Aslan

In Christianity on October 18, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Who Shall Climb” (a meditation on Psalm 24) asked how a Christian can live in joyful hope, when faced with a standard that is insurmountable: clean hands, a pure heart, and no desire for worthless things. I fail. That’s joyful hope?

The Apostle Paul seems to have experienced the same tension. Read Romans 7:15-25. It’s important we know we aren’t alone. God be thanked for the communion of saints who have gone before us and shared their struggles with us.

At the end of “Who Shall Climb” our reason for joyful hope was identified: Jesus Christ met the insurmountable standard. In love and mercy, he died for our sins as the sacrifice supremely acceptable to God. His cross becomes “the bridge perfectly fitted to that fissure we shall have to cross”¹ — the gap between the holiness of God and the sin of man.

As we look at the altar during the liturgy of the Mass, we do well think of C.S. Lewis’ memorable picture in The Chronicles of Narnia. Aslan, the Christ-figure in Lewis’ allegory, allows himself to be put to death on The Stone Table for Edmund’s sin. Susan and Lucy witness the result of Aslan offering himself in Edmund’s place. His majestic mane is shorn, he is tied to the table, and slain. In the sacred liturgy, are we really conscious of our Savior Jesus Christ, “our Aslan,” during this re-presentation of Him offering Himself for us?

Because Christ, the incarnate God, took the penalty for our sin, Psalm 24 reveals the basis for joyful hope! We are told  to “let Him enter, the King of Glory,” followed by the obvious question — in effect, “OK then, but who is this King of Glory?” The divinely inspired answer: “The Lord, the mighty, the valiant; the Lord the valiant in war.” If we are fighting spiritual warfare (and we are according to Ephesians 6:12), then Who better could be on our side than the most valiant; the mightiest in spiritual warfare?

In that fight He also engages the communion of saints on our behalf. In verse 10, Psalm 24 asks once again, “Who is this King of Glory?” The psalmist answers, “The Lord of hosts.” The Grail translation of the Psalms says, “The Lord of armies.” Hosts — armies! — of saints through the centuries stand at-ready to assist us; to pray for us; to pray with us.

May we live in gratitude daily for our Aslan’s extraordinary compassion and mercy, the mercy of Jesus Christ. While we may not meet the standard of Psalm 24 perfectly, our Lord did, and offered that perfect righteousness on our behalf. That is truly . . . Christianity Richly!

¹ Paul Claudel, A Poet Before the Cross (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1958), p. 50.

Who Shall Climb?

In Christianity on June 3, 2013 at 2:51 pm

We underestimate God’s grandeur, I suspect, when we conceive it to be quite an easy thing to save us.     —Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., The Mind That is Catholic

For any of us who wrestle with Psalm 24—one of the Psalms that opens the Liturgy of the Hours—then morning prayer can feel like Jacob’s struggle at Peniel (Genesis 32:25-31). We are left alone with two staggering questions answered by a standard we cannot keep: “Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord? Who shall stand in His holy place? The man with clean hands and pure heart, who desires not worthless things ….”¹ Do not depart from us, Lord, until you bless us! But how can You, according to this standard?

How can sinful man approach the holiness of God and live? Israel trembled before the mount enveloped in smoke “because the LORD had come down upon it in fire” (Exodus 19:16-18). Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, I am doomed!” (Isaiah 6:5) and Peter implored the Savior, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).

Ludwig Wittgenstein expresses well the anguish of unworthiness, the gap we feel between ourselves and God: “The Christian religion is only for one who needs infinite help—that is, only for one who feels infinite anguish.”² Clean hands? A completely pure heart? Never a desire for that which is worthless or frivolous, much less sinful? Woe is me, for I fall far short of that standard!

This series of posts, “Who Shall Climb?” offers answers for those of us who need infinite help. Do you? A country preacher opined, “You gotta get ’em lost, before you can get ’em saved.” While Catholic Christians use a different language to speak of salvation, one still must begin with a deep sense of unworthiness—not simply angst, but being conscious of having fallen short of a standard to which we shall be held accountable. Christian discipleship is a revealed religion, not of our own making. We cannot choose the parts we like and leave behind those we don’t.

Do you “conceive it to be quite an easy thing to save us?” in Fr. Schall’s words. If not, give thanks to God and ask him to increase your sorrow for all you have done contrary to His standard; contrary to your best self; contrary to what God made you to be. We live in a world that for the most part no longer sees sin. No error could be more deadly.

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in His holy place?
The man with clean hands and pure heart,
who desires not worthless things

There is the standard. But there also is One Who met this standard we have failed to meet: Jesus Christ. Christ’s role is foreshadowed in Exodus 19, where Moses becomes mediator between God and the trembling people. Christ’s accomplishment is lauded in Luke 1:75—where Zechariah prophesies that we shall be free to worship God without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our lives. And Christ’s way was the Cross, which Paul Claudel³ likens to the plank perfectly fitted to that fissure we shall have to cross, the gap between God and man.

Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain … that He may instruct us in his ways, that we may walk in his paths.     —Micah 4:2

¹ Psalm 24:3 (Grail Translation)

² Quoted in Magnificat, July 1, 2012

³ In his magnificent book, A Poet Before the Cross

A Poet Before the Cross

In Christianity, Lent on February 14, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Here we are again, friends, entering into the holy season of Lent.

Once again, Paul Claudel is accompanying me — nay, leading me, on our long walk toward the Cross of Christ. Many times I have cited Claudel’s book, A Poet Before the Cross, over the past four years. See Lenten Reading, Say What You Mean, The Reality of It All, No Forced Faith, Lent is Approaching, and Entering Holy Week 2010.

Yet like the Sacred Scripture Claudel so deeply reveres, or a friend or spouse whose warmth and complexity constantly reveal new delights, A Poet Before the Cross  has a similar ability to point us to Christ in new ways each lenten season.

What of this, today? More than can be said! Begin with Claudel’s almost parenthetical phrase, buried in a footnote, which reminds us during Lent to attend to our “works of mercy, which will give us the right to complete our course in the exterminating presence of time” (footnote 11, pp. 15-16). “The exterminating presence of time.” How could one not hear the echoes of yesterday, Ash Wednesday’s liturgy, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Therefore “repent, and believe the Gospel.”

Or who could scorn a writer, in love with Sacred Scripture, who plainly asserts “we should humbly admit with the Church and the Fathers that the Bible is the word of God, and the Holy Spirit is the constant inspirer who from one end to the other guided the pen and mobilized the vocation of diverse writers.” Yet Claudel moves between dogmatic assertion (welcomed, in this era of Bible-doubters) and poetic, metaphorical visions that sweep us into our Lord’s presence.

For example, Claudel’s affirmation of God’s revelation in Scripture was preceded by one of the loveliest possible meditations on the lily of the valley, the Chalice, and the Cross! The three end up so intertwined, the mind’s eye sees Christ suspended as Infinite Chalice on the Cross, arms upraised but with the incarnate weight of his Holy Body draped between them — like the slender stem of a lily, beneath the bowl formed by His arms, arms capable of containing and embracing the entire world (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

Or what of a writer who so gracefully describes Sacred Scripture as “vast synclinal areas” (p. 12)? Synclinal? Indeed! “Inclined down from opposite directions, so as to meet.” Is our Bible not a book composed by numerous authors, in diverse places over many centuries, yet one Story? Does this syncline not also picture the meeting of our sin and God’s grace? But is this syncline not also a reminder of Claudel’s meditation on the Lily, through which moment and accident are drawn-up into meaning? “On that elongated stem which it uses to reach to the bottom, to draw up life through the moment and the accident, the flower [we might say Flower] . . . opens to the planned arrangement of a concentric universe” (p. 7).

God’s providential care! Apparent moment and accident are drawn up into our sight, to examine  and “come to knowledge of the truth,¹” by showing all that happens is arranged in a coherent, loving whole in the Cross of Christ. We see from both sides of the syncline now, to the point where the moments and accidents of our lives meet Christ. Do we suffer? He suffered. Do we feel alone? He was infinitely alone.² Do we feel unfairly treated? He received the unfairest treatment of all. Yet He has already won the victory over this and more, for us!

May your Lenten season begin, as mine, with this sense of wonder at God’s Love, as we walk toward the Cross of our Redeemer — the Love that reconciles all, explains all, and sustains all.³

¹ 1 Timothy 2:4 again

² Matthew 27:46

³ John 14:6

Advent in Tough Times

In Christianity on December 17, 2012 at 11:29 pm

For Advent, I have been reading Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings, 1941-1944, by Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J.  Father Delp was executed on February 2, 1945, in Plötzensee prison, only three months before the Nazi capitulation on May 7, 1945. He had been imprisoned for opposing the Third Reich.

His first published writing about Advent was a play, “The Eternal Advent,” written in 1933 for the students at Stella Matutina School in Feldkirch, Austria—a Jesuit boarding school where he was assigned to work as prefect. The intended performers were children, a fact that is very sad but fitting, perhaps, in light of the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook School in Connecticut during Advent 2012.

Despite the seemingly senseless loss of Fr. Delp’s own life, and despite the loss of life in the play (soldiers, coal miners, and prophetically, a priest), Fr. Delp’s theme was—and is—hope. Granted, it is not a blind hope; an easily maintained hope. As the dying priest in the play says, “My friends, believe it, we have to suffer a lot and hang on. Only then is it Christmas.”

What, then, is the eternal Advent hope for which we are to wait? Just this: that God will come. That He will come, as He did in Bethlehem, but that He also will come in the most difficult times of our lives. In Scene 1 of the play, a group of despair over their comrades and even their enemy’s loss of life:

All of them—on both sides—they’re all just stretching their hands out toward happiness. They all just want to be happy and content.  They all stretch out their hands. But nobody reaches a hand out to meet them. Nobody fills their empty hands with happiness and peace.

Their battalion then comes under attack. The speaker and all with him are killed. But at the end of the scene, after some time, a dead soldier slowly rises and speaks:

Dead soldiers, and you who live because they died here, all of you who . . . stretch your hands out toward happiness: one day God’s hand will touch you! One day His hand will come over you, stroke your hot foreheads, heal your bleeding wounds, fill your empty hands.

All of you who secretly stretched out your hands toward happiness: someday, Someone will come and take your hand!

This is the Advent hope in tough times—and for all time.

Honest Prayer

In Christianity on December 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Is prayer difficult for you? It is for most of us, at one time or another. Yet a wonderful pastor once told me that, if he awoke during the night, he simply said, “Jesus, I love you.” Honest prayer.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, now in eternity, wrote about honest prayer in his book As I Lay Dying. He prayed the familiar child’s nighttime prayer throughout his whole life: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Honest prayer.

Maybe we find prayer difficult because we think we need to say a lot, or pray more than we’re able to say. God be thanked, in such times, the Holy Spirit prays with us—indeed, prays for us!¹ But a heart in love with Christ always wants to bring its own prayer offering, however small. That’s why I’ve begun writing down simple prayers spoken by others. I want them at times words don’t come easily.

Here are a few, if you need them, too.

Keep on loving those who know You!
– Psalm 36:11, Grail Translation

Do not leave behind You a big crowd when You turn away from here, but have mercy on us.
– 8th Century Old English Advent Lyrics quoted in December 2, 2012, Magnificat

I dare to beg You, Father, forgive us! Not everything is wrong. Infuse those who persist in faith with courage and hope.
– The documentary, The Polish Pope (Polski Papiez)

¹ Romans 8:26-27

Eating Without Hunger

In Christianity on December 12, 2012 at 9:07 pm

“Whenever the Church dons solemn purple vestments, it always means that serious question are being set forth . . . ,” wrote Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J., in Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings, 1941-1944. I’m grateful to the editors of Magnificat for including Fr. Delp’s meditation in their December 2012 issue.

As I’ve reflected on my own response to Advent this year, the following analogy came to mind:

To seek to enjoy Christmas, without Advent, is like seeking to obtain the satisfaction a good meal provides, without hunger.

This, perhaps, is the primary cause of our oft-cited disillusionment with Christmas. For, like the hunger that prompts us to eat—indeed, makes us eager to do so—to come to Christmas without sensing any need for it leaves us wondering, “Why I am even doing all of this . . . the decorating, the shopping, the gatherings? I’m exhausted. I’d have been happier with a warm bath!”

Christmas celebrates the coming of Christ. But it’s easy for that to become an abstraction, an cheery, semi-sacred tradition. Fr. Delp’s words help refocus our attention where it belongs. Christmas celebrates the coming of our Savior! To understand this event’s immense significance, we must connect Christmas to the hunger, the need, that makes it meaningful.

That hunger is expressed in the deep longings we feel; the dissatisfaction; the sense of “something-not-right-ness.” The longer we meditate on this, the more likely we are to realize that not-right-ness is at least partly our fault—the result of our failings, of our sin. The not-right-ness is the result of what we have done and what we have left undone. What are those actions (and failures to act) in your life? In mine?

Self examination makes us realize we need a Savior! We are, in Fr. Delp’s words, facing one of life’s serious questions. God be thanked that, in the despair to which our examen can drive us, we also can exclaim with St. Paul, “Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me?”¹

God be thanked, we can answer that question as St. Paul did: “Who will deliver me? Jesus Christ our Lord!”

May the purple garments of Advent remind us of our need, and may we give thanks always to God for His gracious response in giving His Son, our Savior. Let us approach our Heavenly Bread with true hunger and deep gratitude.

¹ Romans 7:24a

Reason and Revelation

In Christianity on December 11, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Two of Fr. James V. Schall’s wonderful books came to my attention a few months ago. The Mind That is Catholic & The Order of Things are among the most important, most helpful, books I’ve encountered in years.

Not long after I had read Fr. Schall’s The Mind That is Catholic, I noticed the following posting to Facebook by a friend:

If we have to use a “God” from above to teach us right from wrong, then we’ve already failed. Integrity is measured when nobody is watching. It’s doing the right thing without promise of reward, it’s avoiding the wrong thing even when there are no consequences for doing the wrong thing.

Fr. Schall often addresses the relationship between reason and revelation. His books speak directly to what my friend was trying to say. With apologies in advance for this very long post, and with credit to Fr. Schall for what follows, this was my comment:

What if the issue is not needing a “god” from above to teach us right, but using our knowledge of right to teach us there is a God above?

Even a child will object, when a playmate cheats at a game or steals a toy, “That’s not right! That’s not fair!” We do so at an early age, without our parents ever providing a complete list of things that are “fair” or not. The child is improvising, applying ideas about right and fair, based on some deeper sense. Where do we get our ideas about right and fairness?

In grand terms, what is being discussed here is the relationship between reason and revelation. Reason alone is enough to suggest we should treat each other decently; show integrity. But the question remains, “Oh, really? Why?” We might answer, “Well, because it works. The world is a better place if we do.” But serious thinkers from Machiavelli, to Nietzsche, to Albert Camus would argue that’s not the case at all. Machiavelli would say it’s better to get what you want. Camus would argue it’s all meaningless anyway.

Is it possible then, that reason as we use it (“Well, of course it’s right to behave with integrity!”) points to a larger reality only available to us ultimately through revelation? If so, then reason and revelation work hand-in-hand.

People rightly object to revelation without reason: “Oh, that’s just a myth about an arbitrary, made-up ‘god’ telling us what to do.” However, if reason can point us to a reality not fully available to us without revelation (yet consistent with reason), that’s huge! It’s a basis for believing “all the pieces fit together”; that this life isn’t an inexplicable puzzle, or worse still, a meaningless one.

The fact we intuitively understand what’s right, and encourage others to live with integrity, may well point us to God who wired us that way. If so, that is a much more powerful basis for striving to live with consistent integrity, because the Source is real and the possibility of doing so successfully really exists. We are living to be our true selves, not what we imagine we ought to be because some arbitrary god pointed a terrifying finger at us and commanded us to “do this or else!”

That relationship between reason and revelation, and the Church’s encouragement for us to use both, is, it seems to me, one of the incalculable blessings we enjoy in living-out Christianity Richly!

More Time to Write?

In Christianity on December 11, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Perhaps I should say “Merry Christmas” now, given the infrequent opportunities I’ve had to post to Christianity Richly during the past four months. Still, what’s that saying? “Hope springs eternal?”

Hope should spring eternal, of course. It is not simply one of the seven virtues, but is one of the three “theological” virtues (faith, hope, and love) given to us and nurtured by God. Nevertheless, I have a somewhat more earthly reason for hope in 2013, as well: a change of job responsibilities, which should allow more time to write.

I’ll still offer best wishes now for a happy, healthy, and most of all, holy New Year in 2013. But I hope to be present here at Christianity Richly more often, soon. Until then, may God bless you according to the riches of His grace in Christ Jesus, now and in the coming year. Let us give thanks for the blessing of this Advent Season and the coming of our Lord. That is the basis for Christianity—richly!

The Boundaries of the Possible

In Christianity on July 30, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Moral theology might sound like a dry topic—not what most of us would choose as exciting reading. Yet I recommend Catholic Moral Tradition, by Monsignor David Bohr. The riches of God’s love break through, page after page.

This morning I was particularly struck by Bohr’s discussion of hope as a motivating force in our discipleship. As background, let’s quickly review the seven Christian virtues:

  • Cardinal virtues (“cardinal” in the sense of basic or foundational): prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance
  • Theological virtues (“theological” in the sense of divinely prompted, or infused, in us):  faith, hope, and love

Most of us know St. Paul’s soaring chapter on love (1 Corinthians 13). It concludes, “So faith, hope, [and] love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Notes on the chapter explain love is given preeminence because, unless tongues, prophecy, faith or even self-sacrifice are motivated by love, they are of little value. Moreover, beyond time—”when faith has yielded to sight, and hope to possession” of our eternal inheritance in Christ—love will remain.

Presently, however, we live within time. Hope is essential. “Hope is faith and love on a journey,” writes Msgr. Bohr, quoting William Lynch, SJ.¹  Msgr. Bohr then continues:

Hope . . . can only be made known to us through symbols, images, and parables. Hope . . . appeals to our imaginations rather than to our intellects. For the imagination . . . is the gift that envisions what cannot yet be seen, the gift that proposes to itself that the boundaries of the possible are wider than they seem.²

The boundaries of the possible are wider than they seem! Wider than our failures. Wider than the rancor of the 2012 presidential campaign. Wider, even, than the whole world’s problems. Imagine that! Hope is the “interior dynamism that exudes confidence, perseverance, peace, joy, and serenity in the midst of life’s storms . . . anchored in God’s forgiving and reconciling love manifested in Christ.”³

This is the Christian hope described in Romans 8:18-25. This is the hope that anticipates Philippians 2:9-13. This is Christianity Richly!

 

¹ William F. Lynch, Images of Hope (New York and Toronto: A Mentor-Omega Book, 1965), page 27.

² Bohr, Catholic Moral Tradition, p. 129.

³ Ibid.

Pools of Water

In Christianity on July 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm

As much as we rightly bemoan it, our Christian experience inevitably includes occasions of falling into sin. For myself, if not for Saint Paul¹, I often think of the Apostle’s “thorn in the flesh”² as concupiscence: the tendency to sin; to do that which is contrary to God’s will, as well as our own good.

Yet even our sin provides an occasion to be reminded of the richness of God’s mercy and to give thanks.

The favors of the LORD are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent; they are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

This is a perfect example of God answering our prayer from the Responsorial Psalm last Sunday, when our response to Psalm 84 was, “Lord, let us see your kindness, and show us your salvation.” Salvation! Saved from weeping and bemoaning our sin. Verse 7 of that Psalm talks about passing through the Baca valley. Baca is sometimes translated “the valley of weeping.” Yet what is God’s promise?

As they pass through the Baca valley, they find spring water to drink. Also from pools the Lord provides water for those who lose their way. (Psalm 84:7

How often do you and I lose our way? Yet we have the promise of God that He will restore us through the Sacrament of Confession and Penance, and in doing so, we shall go on “from strength to strength, and see the God of gods on Zion” (84:8).

May it be so, O Lord, as we give you thanks for your love and mercy. That is Christianity Richly!

 

¹ Romans 7:14-25 suggests that, as highly we venerate this beloved Apostle (as I do — St. Paul, pray for us!), he experienced the flesh warring against the spirit, too (Galatians 5:17).

² Commentators differ on what the thorn was. Some say a physical malady. Others, including Church Father and Doctor of the Eastern Church, St. John Chrysostom, say the thorn was opposition to St. Paul’s preaching of the Gospel. See here. Yet Scripture may have multiple senses without resulting in equivocation or confusion, as declared by St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica, Question 1, Article 10. Hence, we are not distorting Sacred Scripture to see the thorn in the spiritual sense as the tendency to sin, which we so much wish were removed from our lives.

³ If you followed the web link, you may have noticed a difference between the text I quoted (from my 2004-2005 printed edition of The New American Bible) and the USCCB New American Bible online. Some of the differences are addressed in online footnotes, e.g., for 84:8, but not for 84:7.

Church Architecture

In Christianity on June 23, 2012 at 6:01 pm

For some months, I’ve wanted to do a post about Church buildings.

Anyone who travels and attends Mass, soon realizes how much rich worship heritage we abandoned — when multi-purpose rooms, that look more like gymnasiums, became the architectural norm for suburban Catholic churches.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, Greenville, SC, has written an extraordinarily helpful post about this topic. In it, he says all I had hoped to say — and more. A link directly to “Of Teepees & Tabernacles” is here. But because Our Lady of the Rosary is building a new church I encourage you to click here, too. Read all of Fr. Longenecker’s posts on Church architecture, listed in the left hand column.

The chronicle of OLR’s historical progress toward a new church building may also reflect something your parish is going through right now. Perhaps knowing OLR’s story — even being in contact with Fr. Longenecker — may be helpful to you and your parish.

A parish with this degree of God-given insight as to the connection between architecture and worship deserves encouragement and prayer support from all of us.

That’s Christianity Richly!

The LCWR Controversy

In Christianity on June 18, 2012 at 11:26 pm

The riches of Catholic Christianity — Christianity Richly! — are all positive. So you will seldom find a post here engaging in polemics. But the current controversy over the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) deserves mention.

Much of the national press has made this out to be a battle between courageous women and a besieged Vatican trying to stave off modernity. This is a misrepresentation. What the Vatican has been seeking to do is restore Christian unity with the LCWR, on the basis of shared beliefs. John 17 makes it clear Christian unity is one of the riches Christ intends for us to share.  But there cannot be unity where there is no common faith.

What follows is the text of a letter I wrote to the New York Times. Perhaps it will shed some light on the controversy. In addition, I encourage you to click this link and listen to the June 17 homily by Fr. Jay Scott Newman on the topic. As I’m writing this post, the June 17 homily has not yet been added to the list, but should be soon.

Dear Ms. [Maureen] Dowd:

Seldom has a piece in the New York Times shown such manifest ignorance of its subject than “Is Pleasure a Sin?” which rotated on to page one of the online edition today [Saturday, June 16, 2012. Dowd’s article was originally published June 5].

First, with respect to the nuns, every Catholic Christian convert knows that on entering the Church, s/he will be asked to promise: “I believe all that the Catholic Church teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God.” It is perfectly all right to disagree. Such disagreement will be resolved later, in a higher court. But it is not acceptable to claim to be part of the Church and defy its teachings. The misguided days of so-called “faithful dissent,” stemming from misunderstanding of Vatican II, are past.

Second, the Catholic Church takes sex more seriously, in a positive way, than our society. As a result of 189 addresses made over a five year period by Pope John Paul II, the Church today teaches a theology of the body that elevates the beauty and blessings of physical intimacy. It also stresses the importance of personhood. For example, it declares the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much (the prudish reaction you attribute to the Church), but that it shows too little. Porn fails to show whole persons. Rather, it reduces persons — most often women, about whom you profess to care — to objects of pleasure used by others. The opposite of love is not hate. It is to use someone; to reduce them to an object.

One can only marvel that the opprobrium once reserved for indiscriminate sex is now more commonly aimed at indiscriminate consumption of food. See Mary Eberstadt’s hilarious — were the topic not so serious —  exposé, “Is Food the New Sex: A Curious Reversal in Moralizing.” 

Finally, your unhappiness with the Church often returns to the “moldy subservience” of women. It would seem you are unaware of the New Testament record of women as companions of Christ; of the presence of Mary and other women with the disciples in the upper room after Christ’s ascension; of the extraordinary regard in which Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Ávila, and Thérèse of Lisieux are held as Doctores Ecclesiae, “Doctors of the Church,” marked by eminent learning and a high degree of sanctity; and most of all, of the loving veneration of The Blessed Virgin Mary, whose status in the eyes of the Church is unequalled, except for its faithful worship of God.

So this letter is as much addressed to your editors, as to you. One expects more of the Times. May we hope for more knowledge of the subject in the future, even in an opinion piece.

With thanks, and genuine regard for the grand institution, The New York Times.

A Father’s Day Thanksgiving

In Christianity on June 17, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Today we honor our birth fathers, and rightfully so. The importance of their leadership in the formation of our lives is extraordinarily important. Those of us who are, or were, blessed with good fathers are given an immense headstart on life, as well as a model for the loving Fatherhood of God.

For my earthly father, I am deeply grateful, and miss him intensely. He died before I reached the emotional maturity to express all of my gratitude.

For those of us who also are blessed by the riches of the Church, as Catholic Christians, today we honor our spiritual fathers — our fathers in Christ, who minister to us daily.

Perhaps your thanksgiving and mine, to our Bishops and priests, is best expressed by the poem often reproduced on prayer cards, “The Beautiful Hands of a Priest.”   Or maybe you read yesterday’s Christianity Richly post, and recognized in Fr. Allan J. McDonald’s words the central role of our priests as they:

  • Receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders to serve us
  • Administer the Sacrament of Baptism to wash away our sins
  • Strengthen and, by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation, equip us to help carry out the Great Commission
  • Offer the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, recognizing our contrition and forgiving our venial and mortal sins
  • Soothe and reassure us in times of physical distress in the Sacrament of Anointing
  • Witness our vows in the Sacrament of Marriage
  • And most of all, offer us the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (John 6:48-51) in the Eucharist

Today, let us give our spiritual fathers the love and respect they deserve and have earned, through daily, personal sacrifice on our behalf.

Dear Heavenly Father, We ask you today to richly bless our Holy Father Benedict XVI, our Bishops and priests, on this occasion when we honor our fathers — earthy and spiritual. We give you thanks for their ministry in Christ’s stead on our behalf. Guide them, protect them, and strengthen them in sanctity. May we remember them in prayer and love, not only today but daily throughout each year. In Christ’s Name, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever, Amen.

I Am a Catholic Christian Because . . .

In Christianity on June 16, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I seldom simply point to another online writer’s work, and say, “Read this.”

But having encountered today, Fr. Allan J. McDonald’s March 5 post, “Why am I Catholic?” I’d like for his post to receive the attention it deserves. So I’ll simply say, click here and “read this.”

Fr. McDonald’s post was a blessing to me. I pray it will be for you, as well. He understands and marvelously describes — well, actually, Christianity Richly!

God be thanked for the beauties and blessings of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

And On the Next Day

In Christianity on June 15, 2012 at 10:55 am

Luke 9:37 has been part of my life for three decades. Too often I am forced to return to this verse because it describes my Christian experience: rejoicing one day on the mountaintop, as if a witness to the transfiguration of our Lord (Luke 9:28-36). And on the next day, we find ourselves back in the valley again, powerless (Luke 9:37-43).

A man in a crowd sought out our Lord and said, “Teacher, I beg you, look at my son . . . a spirit seizes him . . . I begged your disciples to cast it out but they could not” (Luke 9:40).

What demon have you and I failed to cast out of our own lives today? What has seized us? Convulsed us? Released us with difficulty, wearing us out? Left us powerless?

You know your sins, as I know mine. Yet we are not left as orphans (John 14:18). We have a sacramental understanding of Christianity, which is fundamentally different from the world, and from our separated brothers and sisters in Christ.

Christ’s miracles passed over into the Sacraments. The Catechism states, “The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God” (CCC 1129). Isn’t healing and transformation what we desire, when we experience the powerlessness of Romans 7 (“I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want”)?

Seek grace through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. The Sacraments are not mere symbols. They do something; they convey grace! They heal and transform (CCC 1129). Why, then, ever delay confession?

The judgment of conscience remains a pledge of hope and mercy. In attesting to the fault committed, it calls to mind the forgiveness that must be asked, the good that must still be practiced, and the virtue that must be constantly cultivated with the grace of God. (CCC 1781)

Jesus Christ, the Door of the confessional, is our door of hope.”¹

¹ Fr. Jay Scott Newman, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Greenville, SC

Worth Remembering

In Christianity on June 14, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Don’t know about you, but it is impossible for me to read without a yellow highlighter and a fine-point black pen. My Bible is well marked and books I read are re-indexed, with notes at the back related to highlighted passages.

Reading this way provides a continuing source of riches for meditation, drawn from centuries of Christian discipleship. Passages that are most helpful — or the most challenging, in areas where I need to be a better disciple — are transferred to my prayer journal for daily review.

Periodically I’ll post some of these notes to Christianity Richly, with hopes they may prove useful, God willing, to you as well.

As an encouragement to pray daily:  “They returned to the port of pure prayer, where they fixed the anchor of their intentions.” –St. Anselm of Cantebury (†1109)

As a reminder of what gratitude I owe the Lord  for full communion in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church:  “I, through the greatness of Your love, have access to Your House.” –Psalm 5 (Grail translation)

As a challenge to live in ever-increasing holiness; to do the right things:  “If the good pleasure of God sets limits to the exercise of our particular faculties, he puts none on the exercise of the will.” –Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, SJ (from Magnificat, July 27, 2011, on the third anniversary of my entry into the Church)

May God bless each one of us as we seek to know Christ more fully, that we may love him more completely, and follow him more faithfully. Christianity Richly!

The Sunflower

In Christianity on June 13, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Have been reading The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness, by Simon Wiesenthal.

Christ makes all the difference in our ability to forgive. If you believe that God only created (and then stood back to watch or perhaps even “went on leave,” as one character in the book suggests), then no adequate model for forgiveness exists.

But if you know that God in Christ assumed our flesh, through the Blessed Virgin Mary, and suffered all we suffer — more, for He suffered patiently at the hands of His own creation! —  then of course we forgive.  “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Do we forgive and forget? No. To do so would dishonor those against whom grave injustice was committed. Rather, in the words of Miroslav Volf, we exercise the extraordinary grace of “the nontheoretical act of nonremembering.”¹

Even the impossible act of undoing what was done would not suffice to achieve the final redemption, because the memory of what was done, unless erased, would still remain to afflict the person. Only a much more radical act of “making what happened not to have happened” would do, because if what happened was made not to have happened, then what was remembered would have been made not to have been remembered too. Which is to say, to have final redemption one may want more than “the transformation of the world plus the loss of the memory of suffering,” but one cannot want less.

Only nonremembering can end the lament over suffering which no thought can think away and no action undo.² Apparently — as we understand Holy Scripture, at least — even the Holy Trinity, infinite and all-knowing, exercise this nontheoretical act of nonremembering:  “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).

How does this help us explicate and deepen the commitment we make when we pray the Our Father, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others who trespass against us?”

(From 2012 prayer journal, 11 June)

¹ Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), p. 135. Read and meditate on the flow of Volf’s full argument on pp. 134-136, as well as the following pages, where Volf deals with the objection, “How dare God forget!”

² Ibid.

Daily Riches

In Christianity on June 13, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Gaps between Christianity Richly posts suggest how difficult the daily discipline of writing can be. Yet daily prayer, and preparation for prayer through reading, is not difficult — once we experience how often our Lord meets us during those times.

By God’s enabling, I’ve kept daily prayer journals for more than 20 years. In them, His faithfulness is recorded. Why did I not realize before today, that these journals are writings? They record the daily riches of His grace. Is it possible, then, these journals may be a source of God’s encouragement not just to me, but to others?

One cannot say. But if the Holy Spirit graciously touches the notes (and amplifications of the notes) from some of these journals — to light our way in the struggles and joys of Christian pilgimage  — then that truly will be Christianity Richly. May God grant it so.