Saturday, July 31, 2010

Christ, My All

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
July 31 – August 1, 2010
Holy Cross Parish – Hutchinson, KS
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Luke 12:13-21

            “But God said to him ‘You fool! This very night your life shall be required of you. To whom will all this piled-up wealth of yours go?’ That is the way it works with the man who grows rich for himself instead of growing rich in the sight of God.”
            “For what profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? …Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth.”
            I am sure that there are places in the world where you could preach on today’s readings and if you did a good job people would be stung to the heart and there are such places in the world, places that need a good sermon on this topic. By way of illustration let me mention the news stories of the week about the 6 figure salaries the municipal government authorities of Bell, California were paying themselves. My guess is that Hutchinson and Holy Cross is not one of those places where you find that kind of greed or desperate will to get ahead. Correct me if I am wrong.
No doubt hereabouts a wealthy farmer or landowner like the rich man in the Gospel would be the exception. Not many of us have the wealth or will strive to pile up wealth with the goal thereby not to have to worry about tomorrow. Most folks I know simply work hard for the good of their families; they may even set things up, if they can, such that their spouse and underage children can live decently should they die young or precede them in death; they dream maybe of leaving a little something behind for the children; they have no illusions about limitless material wealth as a sign of ultimate success. In my almost 60 years now of life I guess I have never met anyone personally for whom having an MTV “crib” like some hip-hopper or basketball star might be considered their dream. If it should really be otherwise here or if you really think that material security is the be-all and the end-all, well then, Jesus’ words do apply: you fool! Let’s presume that money is not your trap and let’s go to our Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians for a thought or two to take us through the Lord’s Day!
Although I am willing to believe that nobody here might be so foolish as to work only for this-worldly material security, I will nevertheless insist that few of us here are so saintly or God-like perfect as not to need the exhortation to the Colossians from our apostle, the Apostle to the Gentiles, a verbal challenge which has lost none of its relevance with the passage of time.
            “Since you have been raised up in company with Christ, set your heart on what pertains to higher realms where Christ is seated at God’s right hand… Christ is everything in all of you.”
            What does it mean to say about the average person, the average Catholic lay man or lay woman: “Your life is hidden now with Christ in God”? St. Paul explains all this to the Colossians and to us by describing our life as baptized people as being part of or belonging to a process, and this really thanks to our baptism and growing up in the Church: a process which involves an effort on our part to root out of our nature those things which are of earth. Earthly is anything bound up with a wayward heart or tied to dishonesty/lying. Cleaning up our act, casting sin out of our lives, enables us to grow in knowledge and be formed anew in the image of our Creator: our dignity as the only creatures made by God in His own image and likeness advances with our cooperation. It is God’s work in us, but we have a part to play in putting our old self aside and putting on the new man, who is Christ in you.
            They tell us that one of the pitfalls of our secular age is a tendency to privatize religion. Older Catholics often take the sharp criticism of the Catholic Faith so common today in the newspapers and on television as a simple return to the anti-Catholicism typical of the America of their youth. In point of fact it is more than that. Indeed times have changed and we are facing more than a bias or an ignorant prejudice today. The secular creed, which has so much of society in its grasp, tolerates no other voices in the public square. While there are reasons to criticize some people in authority in the Church for leading double lives, for mishandling certain cases and denying their responsibility first and foremost for those who are defenseless and poor, what we’re talking about is a refusal to acknowledge good when it happens and to recognize or try to understand constructive efforts to put things right. Pope Benedict XVI does not deserve the kind of press he gets; mainstream media attack him because he speaks so eloquently for the truth, for an agenda which is not that of secularism.
            I bring this up, simply as a way of encouraging you to critical thinking. CBS/NBC/ABC/BBC/Public Broadcasting or whatever cannot dispense us from the Commandments or from the Precepts of the Church. Nobody on talk radio can dispense us from the traditional duties of our state in life as taught by the Church over the centuries. Secularism might want a slimmer and healthier you, but it does not understand with St. Paul that binding yourself to Christ is more important and more urgent. You need to be busy about putting off your old self, turning away from sin, using both Holy Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to grow in that knowledge which you need to renew the image of God within you. There are people who spend interminable amounts of time looking up things on the web. If they gave 10% of that time each day to a prayerful reading of a brief passage from the Gospels or from St. Paul, or if they would take time to scour the index of the Catechism and then read an article with real authority, as opposed to Wikipedia, we would be on the road to the kind of transformation to which St. Paul and with him the Lord Jesus calls us. We’d be happier, for sure.
            I don’t need to ask when was your last good confession; I think you know that regular, devotional confession (something easily available to you here in the parish, thanks to Father Joe) should be a part of your life. The word devotional means that you don’t have to be guilty of mortal sin or serious faults to go to confession; it is enough to confess venial sins and to admit your faults and failings. The word regular certainly means a good four times a year, with every change of season, or even better on a monthly basis. Regular, devotional confession may not be the same as spiritual direction but it certainly is or can be for any ordinary Catholic that catalyst you need not only to think and grow (through your examination of conscience and honest admission of sins and failings), but also it can go a very long way toward helping you to underline the sincerity of your personal choice to live out your baptism.
            “After all, you have died! Your life is hidden now with Christ in God. When Christ our life appears, then you shall appear with him in glory.”
            Why? Tell me, why would anyone want to seek elsewhere life, joy, fullness, security, happiness, peace, or any value worthy of your human dignity? We used to sing quite frequently at Communion time in church: “Jesus, my Lord, my God, my All.” Take the steps to make those words ring true… Don’t be a fool!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Family Context

Oh Sinless One!

            Today’s feast of Sts. Joachim and Ann, Mary’s parents, reminded me of a very intriguing passage of Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest. A Novel. The Canon de Torcy is counseling the young priest:
“And what of Our Lady? Do you pray to Our Lady?’
 ‘Why, naturally!’
 ‘We all say that – but do you pray to her as you should, as befits her? She is Our Mother – the mother of all flesh, a new Eve. But she is also our daughter. The ancient world of sorrow, the world before the access of grace, cradled her to its heavy heart for many centuries, dimly awaiting a virgo genetrix. For centuries and centuries, those ancient hands, so full of sin, cherished the wondrous girl-child whose name even was unknown. A little girl, the queen of Angels! And she is still a little girl, remember! The Middle Ages understood that well enough. They understood everything. You can’t stop fools from reconstructing ‘the drama of the Incarnation,’ as they call it! People who seem to think it adds to the dignity of a simple magistrate to dress him up like Punch, and plaster gold braid over a station-master’s sleeve, are too nervous to tell unbelievers that the one and only drama, the drama of dramas – since there is no other – was played without scenery, was never really staged. Think of it! The Word was made Flesh and not one of the journalists of those days even knew it was happening! When surely their experience should have taught them that true greatness, even human greatness, genius and courage, love, too – that ‘love’ of theirs – it’s the devil to recognize ‘em! So that ninety-nine times out of a hundred they have to take bouquets of rhetoric to the graves. The dead alone receive their homage. The blessedness of God! The simplicity of God, that terrible simplicity which damned the pride of the angels. Yes, the devil must have taken one look at it, and the huge flaming torch at the peak of creation was plunged down into the night… That triumphant entry into Jerusalem, for instance, so lovely! Our Lord deigned to taste of human triumph, as of other things, as of death… But remember this, lad, Our Lady knew neither triumph nor miracle. Her Son preserved her from the least tip-touch of the savage wing of human glory. No one has ever lived, suffered, died in such simplicity, in such ignorance of her own dignity, a dignity crowning her above the angels. For she was born without sin – in what amazing isolation! A pool so clear, so pure, that even her own image – created only for the sacred joy of the Father – was not to be reflected. The Virgin was Innocence. Think what we must seem to her, we humans. Of course she hates sin, but after all she has never known it, that experience which the holiest saints have never lacked, St. Francis of Assisi himself, seraphic though he may be. The eyes of Our Lady are the only real child-eyes, which have never been raised to our shame and sorrow. Yes, lad, to pray to her as you should, you must feel those eyes of hers upon you: they are not indulgent – for there is no indulgence without something of bitter experience – they are eyes of gentle pity, wondering sadness, and with something more in them, never yet known or expressed, something which makes her younger than sin, younger than the race from which she sprang, and though a mother, by grace, Mother of all grace, our little youngest sister.” (Kindle edition)
It’s a long quote, I know, but placed beside some of the marvelous meditations of the Doctors of the Church, concerning the home environment provided for Mary by Sts. Joachim and Ann, challenges us also to pray unceasingly as parents and for parents for the wisdom and love necessary to preserve our not-so-innocent  little children from temptation and harm.
            Bernanos’ high praise for the faith filled insights of the believers of the Middle Ages and to my mind their beautiful three generation images (carved, painted or illuminated) of an elderly Ann, a girl Mary and a baby Jesus will be for me forever more tied to the Canon de Torcy’s exhortation to his young protégé to pray to Mary, with the innocent eyes of my little youngest sister looking at me in my need, she, the Mother of all grace.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Faith Crisis

At Home with the Lord

“Those who really believe do not attribute too much importance to the struggle for the reform of ecclesiastical structures. They live on what the Church always is: and if one wants to know what the Church really is one must go to them. For the Church is most present, not where organizing, reforming, and governing are going on, but in those who simply believe and receive from her the gift of faith that is life to them. Only someone who has experienced how, regardless of changes in her ministers and forms, the Church raises men up, gives them a home and a hope, a home that is hope – the path to eternal life – only someone who has experienced this knows what the Church is, both in days gone by and now.” Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Ignatius Press, 2004, pp. 343-4.
            My most recent “travel book” for airplanes and waiting rooms was first published in 1968 and seems as fresh as ever today 42 years later. I’m going to go back to it again and again just because of the clarity of expression. I hope to return soon for a closer look at an opening image our present Holy Father has analyzed there taken from a work by Paul Claudel, the image of a shipwrecked Jesuit tied to the mast and adrift on the sea. Then Father Ratzinger’s analysis: “Fastened to the cross – with the cross fastened to nothing, drifting over the abyss. The situation of the contemporary believer could hardly be more accurately and impressively described.” Idem. P.44. These words seem almost at odds with the longer quote I’ve placed here just above it from near the end of the same book. I guess you will have to give me more time to struggle with the notion of drifting over the abyss, for now I would more gladly deal with the other image: “…the Church raises men up, gives them a home and a hope, a home that is hope – the path to eternal life – only someone who has experienced this knows what the Church is, both in days gone by and now.”
            Who are those who really believe and how do we get to be there with them? Who is the salt of the earth Catholic today? All is grace, all is gift, yes, most certainly that goes without saying. But I (this being Mom or Dad speaking), I have a role to play in the gracing and gifting which goes beyond bringing that child to the font of baptism and thereby to new life in Christ. In a real sense, parents’ work of sharing the faith, of witnessing to the faith, only begins with baptism. I (as anybody else in the parish or in the world of a child) must be an instrument (through good example, insight and teaching) of our Loving God’s grace and will to save that child as he or she is growing up. I (as priest or bishop) contribute in a unique way through preaching and the celebration of the sacraments toward making that child’s home and hope in the Church on the way to everlasting life. I think that 42 years ago and yet today our Pope would say that “those who really believe” are to be found and must be found in every walk of life, in every vocation within the Church, married, single, consecrated, ordained.
I keep asking myself over and over: How did Sigrid Undset’s Catherine of Siena grow up so beautiful, unspoiled by the world and mighty in faith and courage, thus being herself for so many in her tragic times “home and hope in the Church on the way to everlasting life”? Was she really such an anomaly? I don’t think it is either a matter of determining whether we live in the best of times or the worst of times by comparison with Catherine’s day, whereby we might claim that, despite Avignon and the Great Western Schism, she really didn’t have it as bad as we do in the Church today. Nor is it as simple as questioning the whereabouts of today’s Catherines and Francises of Assisi. Striving for heroic virtue is indeed something for us all and certainly genuine sanctity in whichever person of whatever walk in life is an inspiration and a challenge to all whose lives they touch. For me the more pertinent question would be “what is the point of the statement?”
“For the Church is most present, not where organizing, reforming, and governing are going on, but in those who simply believe and receive from her the gift of faith that is life to them.”
Maybe that is what dates the book, maybe 42 years ago it was easy to find people “who simply believe and receive from her the gift of faith that is life to them.” Time has passed; catechesis has been less successful over these last couple generations; the Liturgy of 1968 was in continuity with the past and ours today, in many parishes, excuse my bluntness, probably isn’t. Maybe for lack of believers, good Catholics in all walks of life, “who simply believe and receive from her the gift of faith that is life to them”, maybe it would be more accurate to say that the true Christian today finds himself or herself “Fastened to the cross – with the cross fastened to nothing, drifting over the abyss.” I don’t know.
What I do know, however, is that to the extent of our awareness, we owe to those who are seeking and most especially to youth that witness, which then Joseph Ratzinger and now Benedict XVI identified as home and hope.
I don’t think that it is an extremist position to hold that, among other things and most notably together with pressing for a reordering of catechetics, we urgently need to try and mend or heal the “liturgical rupture”. Sacred space and worship is also ambience and a context for encountering real believers. Improvisation is not to my way of thinking a characteristic of belief. Being a proponent of the reform of the liturgical reform may not be a sufficient witness to lead others to everlasting life, but I think it points more surely to that which is of God and thereby can be said to be the keystone to any attempt to offer those afloat a needed port in the storm. Many of my priest and bishop contemporaries would chide me for overdramatizing the situation; they close an eye to some forms of liturgical improvisation and most popular “church” music, which draws its inspiration from anywhere but the wealth of the tradition. Creativity may be of the higher spheres, but demiurges and muses are no substitute for the living God and the Church which He founded on the Rock who is Peter. Sacred and profane can be distinguished from one another and the profane has no place in the House of the Lord.
The object of my intent is to let Church be what it should be for the sake of the salvation of the world.
“…the Church raises men up, gives them a home and a hope, a home that is hope – the path to eternal life – only someone who has experienced this knows what the Church is, both in days gone by and now.”

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Be A Neighbor!

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
10-11 July 2010 – Holy Cross Parish
Hutchinson, Kansas
Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Colossians 1:15-20
Luke 10:25-37
          “Go and do likewise”. Which of the 3 men was neighbor to the robbers’ victim? “The one who treated him with mercy…” We are called to be involved in the lives of others, not to shun others, not to be stand-offish or unengaged. Both Old and New Testament bind together love of God and love of neighbor. “Go and do likewise”.
          No other woe has plagued society over the last generation quite like alienation; it is in a grownup what people used to refer to when talking about children as “playing strange”, which is something worse than being shy. On the level of society, the experience of alienation carries with it all sorts of negative consequences. We need but think of the old-fashioned expression about a dog-eat-dog world, which took on new meaning for most folks living today as they came to realize that a blind, sick, greedy self-interest was a big part of what fueled the present world economic crisis. There were people to blame for the economic misfortune, hardships and sufferings of many others around the world, people to blame who seemingly could care less about others. As people of faith we knew already that this problem existed. Alienation, being far from God and far from our neighbor, brings with it naught but ill.
The 3rd and 4th meanings in my dictionary for that word, alienation, are: 3. a withdrawing or estrangement, as of the heart or affections. 4. delirium; mental derangement; insanity. In that sense, alienation is not a positive word. The Good Samaritan in the Gospel reached out to the man left for dead along the road to Jericho not out of curiosity, but because he felt something (a closeness, the opposite of distance or alienation) for this fellow human being, whom he had no reason otherwise to have ever met or gotten acquainted with. In the Gospel for today, there is no question that the scholar of the law posing the question to Jesus knew academically what he had to do to inherit eternal life. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself”.   Why then, if his duties and means to his salvation were so clearly spelled out in the law, did our scholar ask Jesus further about who might be his neighbor? Was he out of touch with his neighbor? My guess is yes, and perhaps he was also out of touch with the loving God Who gave the Law to Israel and to him who studied that Law.
Our First Reading today from the O.T. book of Deuteronomy quotes Moses speaking God’s word about how obvious the answer should have been for our scholar: “For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us…’ No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” If we fail to love God fully and love as ourselves all those who cross our path day in and day out, we can blame it on our alienation from others including God, we can blame it on a sort of mental derangement perhaps that hinders us from doing the very thing for which we were created by God as good. We can say very simply that we have not done the obvious, that we have withdrawn our hearts or affections from those around us. We are much like an indisposed child, playing strange with grandma or an auntie or an older cousin. The scholar of the law was in a sense playing strange in the way grownups do: he posed his question to Jesus because he had long since closed his eyes to what is self-evident; he was being difficult.
          Georges Bernanos in his famous book, The Diary of a Country Priest: a Novel, does many things and does them well. Among them, he crafts an image of the dark and diabolical, really, world of people estranged, people alienated from each other and from God. Many of the characters in the novel are bound fast, weeping and gnashing their teeth, in a world mostly of their own making, a world without faith, without hope, without love for God and even on a simple human level keeping them at a distance from their own children, parents and spouses. The young parish priest judges himself helpless in this predicament, whereas others, especially two older priests, one of whom is a friend, find in this young priest’s simplicity and willingness to engage the other that powerful antidote which is needed to confound the devil’s work in his poor country parish. “No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
          How do you stand? How do I stand before the Gospel account of the Good Samaritan? Does the extension or the outer limits of my attention in both space and time reach beyond the ends of my finger tips? Do I seek the other Who is God? Do I come close to the other who is my next of kin, my fellow traveler along the road of life, that man, woman or child who crosses my path, and for that very reason merits my attention? There is not a missionary saint on the books who dreamt of a mission to far-off lands without first treasuring those who were close at hand. Closeness, proximity or openness to recognizing the passerby is the gateway to happiness, theirs and mine, here and hereafter. “No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
          “Go and do likewise”. Just how is that supposed to work? Now you can tell me I am sounding like the scholar of the law. It is obvious and we only have to stop being difficult in all this. Normally we do not humor children who are playing strange and we shouldn’t really humor adults either. Years ago before color TV the Christophers had a program under the motto, if everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world this would be. This is the subtle message of the Easter candle. This is your challenge and mine: not to find excuses for ignoring those who are nearest and dearest to us, yes! Not finding excuses for elbowing our way through life, as if me, myself and I was all that mattered. Prudence may dictate that I not pick up hitchhikers who have no business out on the Interstate anyway, but the Lord’s lesson about the Good Samaritan has all kinds of other implications for all those people we do indeed know, but with whom for silly and selfish reasons we choose to play strange.
          St. Paul spoke about making up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of the world. We the baptized by the grace of God can and must work to overcome the barriers of sin and division and do our part to hasten that day when Christ will be all in all, when the face of the other no longer strikes me as strange but familiar: the face of a brother or sister in Christ.“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself”.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Old Form vs. New Form? Guess Again!

          I was intrigued by the following observation made by a parish priest from England to explain resistance to the usus antiquior within parishes or in the Church. It comes from a Catholic Herald article entitled, “Why the Old Form thrives in my parish”, by Fr. Gary Dickson, parish priest at Sacred Heart and English Martyrs, Thornley, Co Durham:

“Some say the obstruction comes from bishops, but this is unfair. The problem seems to lie within the Church as a whole, being an aversion to formal, God-directed worship in favour of a liturgy that entertains with cheerful hymns, is undemanding to follow and casual in celebration. This aversion harbours resistance not only to Summorum Pontificum but even to the new translation of the New Form.”

What Fr. Dickson describes as “an aversion to formal, God-directed worship” cannot be so. I do not think it is fair to say that the faithful generally have opted deliberately or willfully for the casual. Good folks accept what is served to them and I do not think most believe they have any choice in the matter. Everyone I know who has encountered the sublime in worship is profoundly thankful and nurtures the hope for more.

          Father, you are doing well no doubt in your parish but your analysis sells short the genuine hunger for “formal, God-directed worship” which is out there. Back to the drawing board, please!