May 2, 2016

God's Dwelling

I think I have about six more posts on Amoris laetitia still to come, but for today a break from it.

Here in my Roman life I only preach on Sundays once in a while, but yesterday was one of those days. I focused on John 14:23.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him."

This 'making of a dwelling' is the fruit of the Easter mystery and the whole good news of our faith.

There's a movement, a sort of process in this Easter season. At the beginning, there's just the announcement: the Lord is risen. Then, little by little, the prayers and readings of the Easter season draw us into a reflection on how the risen Lord is present to us. This is why, for example, in the third week of Easter we are reading St. John's Bread of Life Discourse and reflecting on the mystery of the Eucharist, or why by the fourth Sunday of Easter we are reflecting on Jesus the Good Shepherd.

This movement towards a reflection upon and celebration of how the risen Lord is present among us reaches its culmination at Pentecost, when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. We celebrate Pentecost precisely as an Easter feast, because the Holy Spirit is the enduring presence of the risen Lord with his Church, as her animating principle that gives her life and guides her through the pilgrimage of history.

The Holy Spirit, then, is God as he comes to dwell in his people, and this 'making of a dwelling' is the fruit of the whole of salvation history. In the incarnation, as St. Irenaeus puts it, God 'accustoms' himself to dwelling in our humanity, and humanity is accustomed to being in-dwelled by God. By his passion and death, Jesus Christ passes through the suffering and death that is the result of our sin, but since death could not hold on to him in his divinity, he rises again and in doing so re-creates our humanity anew, making of it a fitting dwelling for the Spirit.

Pentecost, then, is the fruit of the incarnation; God becomes man in Jesus Christ so that the Holy Spirit may come to dwell in humanity. This is why, for example, that we say that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

It's a mystery that pushes at some of the most basic questions, such as why there should be anything rather than nothing. God creates in order to have a home that he may bless, in order to have someone on whom to lavish his grace.

The whole history of salvation, from the setting of Adam and Eve in the garden to the in-breaking of the finality of all history in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is pointed toward this end: to create a space into which the whole blessedness and justice of God is able to empty itself.

So as we journey once again toward Pentecost, let us surrender to having our own hearts and minds recreated as that space that is the "dwelling place of God in the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:22)

April 29, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Living With Each Other

We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows. The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me. Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it. The other person loves me as best they can, with all their limits, but the fact that love is imperfect does not mean that it is untrue or unreal. It is real, albeit limited and earthly. If I expect too much, the other person will let me know, for he or she can neither play God nor serve all my needs. (113)
It's true. We are called to do our best with one another, to love each other precisely as the 'complex mixture of light and shadows' that we are. I remember how I once moved into a new friary and right away I appreciated one of the brothers in charge and how precise he was with the liturgy. One of the first nights after supper I tried to begin helping with the dishes. I took a towel and was drying a plate. The same brother angrily snatched the towel from me and yelled, "That towel is for drying hands!" Nice way to make a new brother feel welcome! But as I thought about it, I saw that the brother I appreciated with the liturgy and the brother with his rudeness about towels was the same person. What about him was a gift to the community in one situation was antisocial in another. Good things and hassles, but a single individual calling me to fraternal charity in both.

April 28, 2016

Amoris laetitia: The Cultural Challenges

Freedom of choice makes it possible to plan our lives and to make the most of ourselves. Yet if this freedom lacks noble goals or personal discipline, it degenerates into an inability to give oneself generously to others. Indeed, in many countries where the number of marriages is decreasing, more and more people are choosing to live alone or simply to spend time together without cohabiting. We can also point to a praiseworthy concern for justice; but if misunderstood, this can turn citizens into clients interested solely in the provision of services. (33)
Freedom is highly valued in our world; freedom of choice, self-determination, etc. This is a good thing in itself. But the Holy Father points out rightly that if freedom is not accompanied by "noble goals or personal discipline, it degenerates." If in my 'freedom' to do what I want with myself I do what makes me miserable and makes those around me suffer, I am not free. I am a slave to sin. If I am 'free' in such a way as to compromise or ruin the gifts I have been given for my own flourishing and the good of others, what good is such 'freedom'?

As Pope St. John Paul II famously put it, "Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought."

April 26, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Generally Speaking

I finished reading Amoris laetitia yesterday. It's really a beautiful document, and very tender. True to genre, it's an exhortation, exhorting those to whom it is addressed--bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated persons, Christian married couples, and all the lay faithful--to recognize the great graces God gives to us and desires for us in our existence as families and members of families, even in the many situations in which we find ourselves falling short of receiving all of them. In this spirit, the exhortation concludes:

"May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us." (325)

April 18, 2016

I Guess I'm Staying Then

My relationship with the Spanish language has grown strange. My efforts and wish to learn it has a long history. In the OFM postulancy at good old Holy Cross friary on Soundview Ave. in the Bronx (of happy memory) we studied it one or two mornings a week, if I remember rightly. In the late 90s, living by myself but contemplating a return to religious life, I studied some on my own. In the Capuchins I was given great opportunities to learn. As postulants we spent a couple of months living with the brothers in Cartago, Costa Rica and attending the ILISA Instituto de Idiomas in San José, which was a lovely place. Great memories. Our various teachers named Carlos and the funny nicknames we made up to distinguish them, our other teacher Loco Antonio, empanadas at break time, the afternoon tutor--Carlos 'the real teacher' to be exact--who challenged me to teach him the Allegory of the Cave in Spanish, the fellow student who could do a perfect Bill Cosby impression, Friday graduation speeches and cake-on-hand.

April 9, 2016

Amoris laetitia

This post isn't really about Amoris laetitia, since I haven't read it yet. Yes, I've looked over it, and yes, of course, I've taken a look at the parts that touch on the 'hot button' issues. When my regular travels in the coming week take me by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana on the via di Propaganda, I'll pick up a nice, physical copy and start to give to the exhortation the careful reading it deserves.

March 27, 2016


We had an Easter Vigil  here in the house last night. It was a homely, disorganized business. I should have listened better to rubric #3 that the Missale Romanum provides at the beginning of the Sacred Paschal Triduum, where it says that, for the celebrations of the Triduum, smaller communities ought to join themselves to larger parochial and cathedral churches. Oh well, next time, should I still be in this life and find myself in the same circumstances. I have often been led astray by human beings in the practice of the Catholic faith, but never by a careful consideration of and obedience to the rubrics.

Nevertheless, holding my candle at the Vigil, I knew that, spiritually, this was the baptismal candle that Deacon Ron had passed into my hands on the day of my baptism almost twenty-four (!) years ago. (The physical candle, now dry and brittle, lies in pieces with other religious artifacts of my journey, in a box in a basement in Jamaica Plain.)

In the most holy night, it was my job to hold my candle and witness to the baptism I had received as the Church all over the world baptized the elect who are now neophytes this Easter Sunday. I prayed for them as they descended into the waters of the Jordan and passed through the Red Sea, leaving all the machinery of the slavery of Egypt to drown behind them. I prayed for them as the rose again with Christ, having passed through the path he has blazed for us--with the humanity he borrowed from us through the consent of our Blessed Mother--through the misery of sin and the meaninglessness of death to the new life the Risen Lord, whom death, nor any other created thing, could hold.

We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)