Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Law of Love

A Meditation on the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
26 October 2008, Port of Spain

“On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also” (Matt. 22:40).

The primacy of Love of God and Love of Neighbor in the Christian life and the victories won in this regard in the lives of countless saints and very ordinary Christians are a source of pride and encouragement for us as we look out upon the world. Nobody does it better than a faithful servant of Jesus Christ. These heights never cease to challenge and humble us as we strive to live up to this standard in our daily lives. Love is indeed everything; as the story goes, the elderly St. John the Evangelist never ceased speaking about the commandment to love and urging his followers to fulfill it in a perfect way; it was everything for him in his old age. Nothing could be righter when dealing with others on a personal or interpersonal basis.

A whole series of recent events experienced and anecdotes shared, however, lead me to pose a question regarding the duties of leadership above and beyond love. I’ll frame my question to deal with only one issue today, but it certainly has, to my mind, wider-ranging ramifications. Granted that integral or authentic leadership is 90% good example; if I love with all my heart, soul, mind and strength God and love my neighbor as myself, I truly am a beacon not only for some others but for everyone. Nonetheless, as the pilgrim people wanders about there comes a time when tent pegs have to be set for those some others, be they the Church Universal, my diocese, my parish or my worshipping community. Law and order have their place and must have even within the community of believers.

My question: Doesn’t authority and law have its part to play in assuring love’s triumph? (As a convinced canonist, I must answer this question in the affirmative) Taking this matter a step further, in matters of choice where there may be several good options, am I allowed to make public choices where my opting for the better implies commitments which condition the choices of those around me (given my leadership role or the office/authority entrusted to me) and in the case of brick and mortar decisions, by what right can I also condition the choices of those who will come after me by modifying a building?

My issue today is that of the organization of worship and worship space. It has become an issue for me as I look to the good example set by our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI and ask myself about my options for following him. Am I free to start celebrating Mass ad orientem just like that? Can I also make some small but permanent changes in the chapel to enhance the experience and in a sense commit the space for the future to worshipping in this way which the Holy Father and I following his lead find better?

Why has this matter come up in my life with such insistence just now? The discussion is not new. Perhaps because of the stir caused by the reporting on some thoughts shared by Pope Benedict in his forward to the first volume of the German edition of his assembled works by Vatican Radio and translated into English by ZENIT. Let me quote the Holy Father as he is quoted the other day in ZENIT:

"The concept by which the priest and the assembly should look one another in the eye during prayer has been developed only in modern times and is totally foreign to ancient Christianity," the Pontiff wrote. "The priest and the assembly didn't pray facing each other, but directed toward the one Lord.
"Because of this, during prayer, they look in the same direction: Either toward the east, a cosmic symbol of the Lord who is to come, or, where this was not possible, toward an image of Christ in the apse, toward a cross, or simply all together toward the heights, as the Lord did during his priestly prayer the night before his passion."

One commentator on the Pope’s words invites his readers to follow the Holy Father’s good example and underlines what he means by publishing in his article pictures of the Pope celebrating ad orientem in two different configurations: one, as in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome with himself on one side of the altar and the people on all sides looking with him to the Crucifix which is front and center on the altar of St. Peter’s Confession; the other, a picture from the Sistine Chapel at last year’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord, where the whole chapel with the Holy Father lift their eyes to the Crucifix and the wall fresco behind it of Michelangelo’s Final Judgment.

Parish priests generally in these days of priest shortage are alone in the parish. If the building was built after the Council or was extensively renovated, the lonely parish priest can easily take the first option with a prominent Cross and an arrangement of 6 candles straight across the front of the altar. Even the second option is possible if there is enough of a platform on the people side or if the altar of celebration is still temporary and can be moved away to enable celebration on the old high altar.

What do you do when more is required? And what do you do when there are other priests who share your life and don’t necessarily appreciate what you consider to be the better choice? In a parish setting, what happens when you’ve finished your catechesis and the folks in the pews object to your choice of the “better” for them? The primacy of love would certainly urge us not to provoke the situation, since we are not dealing with a clear case of right and wrong, good or bad. But don’t we have to strive to bring out the better or the best from the storehouse as good stewards?

What does it mean when we say that the Holy Father presides over the community of charity? Who has to “set the tent peg” when it comes to worship? I’m not saying that for peace and good order the supreme lawgiver must act today. Maybe wisdom and love demand time to build a consensus. At some point however rubrics must prevail. The Pillar of Cloud led Israel to the Promised Land under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Setting up camp, breaking camp and the movements of God’s Chosen People in the desert were ordered by God and Moses called the shots. Lesser judges helped keep the peace among the people. Maybe Moses’ father-in-law Jethro would advise that this is a clear case for subsidiarity. Part of liturgical renewal in our day would seem to be ruling out the ambiguity of the past few decades and coming to grips with the true nature of divine worship as it was and should be everywhere and always. Good example, certainly, but above all good order!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Unpacking the Mystery

Mass of Thanksgiving
for the 80 Years of Opus Dei
Since its Inception on 2 October 1928
St. Ann’s, 6 October 2008

Genesis 2:4b-9, 15
Ps. 2:7-12
Romans 8:14-17
Luke 5:1-11

Truth to be told we don’t celebrate our good choices in life often enough. That’s why our local celebration here today of the 80 years of Opus Dei is so important. In effect what we are saying by this celebration is that thanks be to God St. Josemaría got it right 80 years ago. He identified a need which existed in his time and which his spiritual sons and daughters continue to address with profit and for our benefit yet today.

What Opus Dei is about and has always been about speaks to the profound significance of our baptismal calling; both on the giving end and on the receiving end it deals directly with what we are about as children of God; it touches everything we say and do, day in and day out, whether at work or at play. The basic intuition of St. Josemaría directs his followers, those actively working for the salvation of souls in the vineyard of Christ, and it serves as a reliable beacon for any Catholic, as a guide for those seeking to walk the straight path through life in conformity with the teaching of the Church.

Opus Dei is classic Catholic. St. Josemaría didn’t really discover anything new. In point of fact, he did that which has always merited Jesus’ praise for the good steward in the Gospel: the good steward brought forth from what he had stored up good things for the Lord’s household. The saintly founder’s teaching is not a novel one; what he did and Opus Dei has continued to do over these 80 years is to help people in all walks of life understand and better live who they are by water and the Holy Spirit.

Let me venture to say that this great saint’s invitation to all of the baptized to seek holiness of life by sanctifying our work, whether it be in the laboratory, in the field, at a desk, in an office, in a classroom, or at home, takes on credibility and becomes a genuine contribution to the life of the Church only in so far as those who follow in the footsteps of St. Josemaría fulfill his mandate to help people become holy where they are in life by offering them the kind of spiritual formation which they need to be equal to the task of making the best of their everyday lives.

Opus Dei’s gift for 80 years now to the Church is that of providing help and direction to regular people in any walk of life, as they seek to build up a genuine relationship with God in the midst of their daily tasks. Opus Dei specializes in helping people live out their baptism where they are in life with a more specific focus and oftentimes more intensity than a parish or a chaplaincy can provide. St. Josemaría’s gift which continues to give through the men and women who make up Opus Dei today is the help which they offer to ordinary people young and old in deepening their personal life of faith and developing a life of prayer which can sustain them in the challenges which are part of any life this side of heaven.

In case you don’t get my drift or need further illustration of the importance of what I am talking about, let me say it again with a slightly different twist. Opus Dei is one great work of catechesis. It seeks to offer the same and more of that which Mother Church seeks to offer her children in terms of guideposts through life.

The first question of the old catechism, which I learned as a child, was: “Why did God make me?” And the answer was: “God made me to know, love and serve Him in this life, so that I may be happy with Him in Heaven.” You might say that it is the one question and answer which says it all. Even so, it is a seemingly simple question and answer which needs lots of unpacking. It’s like the Catechism of the Catholic Church: that beautiful, big book which was given to us by the Church after the Second Vatican Council. It’s so big that its size frightens us away from even picking it up and so we don’t actually ever get down to reading it and thinking it through.

Having said that God made me to know, love and serve Him, I have only just begun. Opus Dei is there to help me, child, youth and aged, doctor, lawyer or Indian chief, to work out the practical and profound aspects of what it means to know, love and serve Him in this life. To say it another way, in our day and time, Opus Dei is there to help us to open up and read, to absorb that big and beautiful catechism, which offers us direction on our pathway through life.

Our readings for today’s Holy Mass are the ones taken from the feast of St. Josemaría. The passage which we just heard, taken from the creation story about the garden the Lord planted in Eden, really touched me in a very special way. As some of you may know, gardening has become my hobby and my obsession here in Port of Spain: any Saturday morning I can I’m out in the garden and sometimes I manage a little work out there in between. Even though sin has rendered work drudgery and even manual labor like hobby gardening can be wearisome, we understand immediately from the inspired Word of God that the care of the garden of Eden and for that matter all such tasks are matters of stewardship. Work of any kind has not only a necessary aspect about it, but by the will of God work, sweat or no sweat, has an inherent dignity. We, human beings, are the crowning work of God’s creation and those to whom He has entrusted a share in His work. Washed and saved in the Blood of the Lamb as we are, our place, our dignity like Adam’s in the garden before his fall, is to be found as we cultivate or care for Eden as Adam did, as we go about our daily work, whether it be manual, domestic or intellectual.

Washed clean of sin in Baptism, as children of God, we share in His sufferings and so we will share in His glory. That which is everyday has been caught up to heaven because of who we are, we who do the work. We work at His command, as Peter and his companions did who from their boat on the shore of Lake Gennesaret heard Him teaching the crowds and then responded to His call to play out their nets again in broad daylight after a fruitless night of doing the same. Simon Peter clearly got the message and fell on his knees, “Leave me Lord; I am a sinful man”. Hard work or no, however, our workplace is also an occasion to point to the Lord and invite others to share in His glory: “Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch,” says the Lord.

When you consider the present crisis in the world of work, I guess you could say that Opus Dei’s contribution to the life of the Church is more urgently needed than ever before. In the world of carpentry or masonry, for example, where has craftsmanship gone? Don’t young people learn trades anymore? Why has the word “homemaker” fallen out of our vocabulary? Why do we refer to yesterday’s “general practitioners” as “primary physicians” and why do these younger doctors frequently try hurriedly to unload you on a specialist almost without touching you or hearing you out?

Professional activity, manual labor, housework, it all can seem rather heartless and unrewarding sometimes; it all may seem like a bitter pill to be swallowed and be done with so that we can get on to entertainment and leisure. My grandparents on both sides of the family certainly didn’t consider subsistence farming to be the be-all and the end-all of life. My Dad’s father always regretted that he was not able to get a job with the railroad. Nonetheless, up until our day a lot of good folk have worked from the cradle until they reached the grave: no retirement and no all-inclusive vacations. Some of them, I would venture to say, many of these men and women were holy and reached heaven working in this way. They sanctified what was drudgery after Adam’s sin in the garden. Sanctifying work is not sprinkling it with holy water or putting a holy picture on your desk. Sanctifying work is working with God as Adam was created to do. Working hand in hand with God is not a natural approach for us sinners; it is a goal to be striven for; it is something we need to learn, something for which we need guidance and direction.

Brothers and sisters of Opus Dei, this is no time for sitting back and congratulating yourselves for a job well done over the last 80 years, the harvest is great and laborers are scarce: you have a world to claim for the Lord.

Friends, benefactors and admirers of Opus Dei, as well as all of you who have in some way benefited from programs of formation, opportunities for confession or other gifts or insights which have come your way from them, reclaiming the earth for God is as easy as identifying His footstep next to yours or His hand next to yours on the desk or workbench.

God made me to know, love and serve Him in this life so as to be happy with Him in the next… There’s a lot there to unpack: a whole, big, beautiful catechism and more full if you will. I need all the help I can get in living out my faith. Thank goodness! Thanks be to God for the gift of St. Josemaría and Opus Dei and for 80 years now! Truth to be told we don’t celebrate our good choices in life often enough. We should celebrate and then roll up our sleeves and get to work.