December 30, 2006

Saddam Hussein

Executing someone does not constitute a coherent method of demonstrating that killing people is unacceptable.

December 28, 2006

Movie Review: Padre Pio: Miracle Man

Last night I found myself home alone, so I got some hot and sour soup and watched Padre Pio: Miracle Man, which has been lying around the house. It's a fine treatment, and worth watching if you're interested. Church and Capuchin details are done pretty well.

Though it presents Pio as the saint he is, it does take seriously some of the irregularity of his religious life and the struggles, censures, and accusations he went through with the brothers and the hierarchy.

For me, I've never known what to make of the man. A lot of friars don't have a lot of nice things to say about him, and, from what I understand, it has been proven that he plagiarized some of his spiritual advice from his contemporary and sister stigmatic, St. Gemma Galgani. In the end, I judge Padre Pio by the "by their fruits you shall know them" principle; he seems to have engendered so much devotion and love of God and the faith all over the world, so there must be something to his sanctity.

It's a long, episodic movie. There's a lot of great work with color and light and shadow. The DVD I had allowed you to watch it in the original Italian, or dubbed into English or Spanish. Subtitles in English could be turned on and off.

December 27, 2006

Christmas Sins

For a Christmas present, my father gave me the New York Public Library/Oxford University Press series on the Seven Deadly Sins. All of them.

So the question arises: in what order do I read them? One of the brothers suggested that they should be read in order of publication, but that doesn't seem right to me. They're ought to be a an order of internal logic, you know?

Now the classic list of the sins, pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth, it seems to come from Pope St. Gregory the Great. But I don't know what order he put them in, and, luckily, the library at school is closed this week, so I don't have to deal with the temptation to go read his Moralia in Job to try to find out.

The list that has always made the most sense to me, although it's a little different, comes from John Cassian. He puts the sins in a definite, logical progression: gluttony, fornication, envy, anger, sadness, acedia, vainglory, and pride.

Cassian lists the sins in ascending order of insidiousness and complexity of cure. The first three, gluttony, fornication, and envy, are afflictions of the body and our relation to the world around us. The middle two, anger and sadness, are afflictions of our emotions and internal life. The last three, acedia, vainglory and pride are diseases of the spirit and are the most dangerous because they can hobble our spiritual and religious life.

You can read John Cassian's treatise on the eight principle vices in a new and fresh translation.

So, if I adapted Cassian's list to the books I have, I suppose I would read them in this order: gluttony, lust, greed, envy, anger, sloth, and pride. So I suppose I'll look pretty funny reading them on the subway.

December 26, 2006

Onymity


Somehow, this Christmas, I feel like it's time to start being my real self.

December 24, 2006

In Nativitate Domini

Merry Christmas everyone! Here's a little Christmas homily I wrote as part of final exam in a course on the Blessed Trinity:


Rejoice, friends, for the mystery of Christmas is the revelation of God’s loving plan for our salvation. “The grace of God has appeared,” as Paul tells us. The human birth of the Son of God reveals the mystery that God indeed has a son. Our God is a perfect love, and what is love that does not love someone? Therefore from all eternity there is lover and beloved in God, the Father and the Son.

Be assured that this Son of God whose human birth we adore tonight is God himself, “light from light,” and “true God from true God” as we shall soon pray in the creed. Paul himself calls him “our great God and savior.”

While contemplating the poor and simple birth of the Lord, let us pay attention to our attitude toward the mystery. Is it just that we have awe for the humility of the God who was willing to accept not only the poverty of our nature but to be born among simple parents in an obscure nation? Is Christmas here to teach us to be humble too? I assure you that the Son of God is much more than a role model, though he is surely that as well. Paul tells us that this appearance of the grace of God will, in fact, “deliver us from all lawlessness” and “cleanse” us, making us into God’s own people.

This is the great good news of Christmas: the Son of God is born in our human nature and thus provides our human nature a path to the divine life of God that he himself has been from all eternity. By becoming one of us, the infinite love that the Son has always received is now extended to us through the human nature of Jesus Christ.

The Incarnation connects the divine with the human, extending God’s life to us. This sacred exchange is voiced in the preface to tonight’s Eucharist prayer when it says that in Christ we see “our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.” This stretching forth, as it were, of the eternal love of Father and Son to us is what we call the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation of God establishes a path for our human nature to be brought back to God, and God’s Spirit draws us in. This is what we mean when we say that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit; the Spirit of God, God’s desire to be known, works in the Incarnation so that God’s saving plan may be known.

This is good news! The birth of Jesus Christ reveals the new availability of the infinitely beautiful and satisfying love that is the personal life of God himself. This is our adoption into the eternal Sonship of Christ himself, through which we become the true children of God. We rejoice tonight for, through the human birth of Christ, the Holy Spirit includes us in the eternal and perfect relationship of the Lover whom we call Father and the Beloved whom we call the Son. And this is the grand and mysterious reality that we call God.

December 23, 2006

Fickleness


O.k., my amusement with my South Park portrait wore off. This likeness I borrow from St. Charles of Sezze, about whom I don't know much, except that I heard once that he burned down a friary while trying to fry onions.

December 22, 2006

Magnifying

One of the brothers had a brilliant reflection on Mary's Magnificat, which is the gospel for today.

Mary proclaims:

My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit exalts in God my Savior!

The brother said: "The soul is a dangerous thing; it always magnifies something. If we don't let it magnify the Lord, it will magnify our problems and faults and put everything out of perspective."

December 21, 2006

Solstice

Each year I feel more like a foreigner this time of year, at Christmas.

The other day I was out doing some errands when I was near one of my favorite bookstores. So I thought I would go in and see if there was a 2007 calendar that I liked. Then I went in and saw the hordes of people and the long lines and I remembered, oh yeah, it's Christmas, and everyone is shopping.

I just didn't think of it ahead of time; it's just not my world anymore.

It's the funniest thing; both us Christians and the world around us are celebrating a great feast day. We even call it the same thing, Christmas. But even though the world calls its celebration "Christmas," what they are celebrating is the winter solstice.

And it's natural to celebrate the winter solstice. At the darkest time of year, with the least light, when it's cold and nature is going to sleep, it's natural to renew our bonds of family and friendship with gifts and food and drink and conviviality.

But the world fails to look through these things to see the great Secret they are meant to serve: that out of the very darkness and obscurity of this world and this life, the Eternal Word of God takes human flesh from the Virgin Mary and is born among us, God with us, Emmanuel.

The world carefully peels the fruit, throws it away, and eats the rind.

December 20, 2006

Keeping It Real

It's almost a commonplace for us Franciscans to brag about how St. Francis invented the Nativity scene, or at least the live version.

But it's easy to forget about motives. He didn't do it to elicit sweet or pastoral feelings.

Francis' first biographer, Brother Thomas of Celano, quotes him:

I wish to enact the memory of the babe who was born in Bethlehem: to see as much as is possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he rested on hay.

As always, Francis works in the tangible and concrete. He desires to see with his bodily eyes what he already sees with his heart: the poverty of Christ, the poor and humble Lord of the manger and of the Cross.

(The translation from Celano's Life is from the version included in the first volume of this series, which I recommend to all.)

December 19, 2006

Tomorrow I Will Be

This one goes in the 'you learn something every day' file:

One of the brothers pointed out to me that the initials of the "O" antiphons, read backwards, make an acronym of the mystery of Christmas.

During the last seven days before the vigil of Christmas, the church sings the famous "O" antiphons, either with the Magnificat at Evening Prayer (Vespers) or as adapted into songs, such as the classic O Come, O Come Emmanuel or Marty Haugen's My Soul in Stillness Waits.

Here they are:

(clunky translations are my own)

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaveritque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae. (O Wisdom, who comes from the mouth of the Most High, governing from beginning to end, strongly and sweetly disposing all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.)

O Adonai et Dux Domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos bracchio extento. (O Lord and Leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush, and gave him the Law on Sinai, come to redeem us with outstretched arm.)

O Radix Iesse, qui stas in signum popolorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare. (O Root of Jesse, who stands as a sign for the people, in front of whom kings shut their mouths, whom the people seek: come to save us without delay.)

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel: qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris et umbra mortis. (O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel: what you open no one can close, and what you close no one can open: come and lead the one in chains out of the prison, and also those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.)

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae et sol iustitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis. (O Dawn, splendor of eternal light and sun of justice: come and illumine those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.)

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni et salva hominum, quem de limo formasti. (O King of the nations and their desire, cornerstone who unifies: come and save the people you formed from the earth.)

O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium et salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos , Domine Deus noster. (O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, hope and salvation of the nations: come and save us, Lord our God.)

If you then take the initials of the antiphons and read them backwards, you get Ero Cras "I will be tomorrow." The Tomorrow we look forward to is the manifestation of the Lord himself.

The Lord is coming, and he will not delay. Nor will he pro-cras-tinate, for he says, ero cras.

December 18, 2006

Wedding, Follow Up

Well I'm back from the wedding, and thank you so much for the encouraging comments on my homily. Had I known that bride, groom, parents and wedding party would be standing up through the whole thing, I would have cut it in half.

So, it's true. I have very mixed feelings about this wedding I just went to. On the one hand, I'm very grateful for the opportunity to preach and serve a couple who were real good friends to me in the discernment years before I entered the Order.

On the other hand, the ceremony itself bugged me. First of all, there wasn't much to it; if it hadn't been for me preaching for eight minutes, it would have been over in fifteen, shorter than daily Mass on a hot day in Ordinary Time. It was in a protestant church to which neither bride nor groom had any relationship before or, as far as I can tell, plan to have in the future. There was pretty organ music to accompany movement, but no singing. There was no dialogue with or response by the assembly.

It was as if I went to a civil wedding that had been dressed up with a church building and the occasional pronunciation of the Lord's name. As the recessional was winding up, I was standing in the front of the church with the minister, and I told him that I hardly felt as if I'd been to church. He said he knew what I meant, but that it was business.

Part of me wants to call the whole thing a sacrilege, but I don't think it ascended to that level of intentionality.

I have to admit that the reception was fun. I was seated with a friend of the bride who was the last girl I ever dated (briefly) before entering the Order. It was fun to see someone I remembered as a party girl sitting there with a husband and two little kids. Even better was that she didn't seem at all surprised by my current state.

December 16, 2006

Wedding

Today I'm preaching my first wedding. I don't feel like I know what I'm doing, but here's the homily I came up with:

Good afternoon everyone, especially you, bride and groom and your parents, greetings to all in the Lord. Thank you especially for the invitation to preach on this happy day.

Just to introduce myself, I’m a Franciscan friar, originally from this area, and I had the privilege of being a co-worker of the bride for a few years before I went into the monastery. So my invitation is based on that, rather than on any reputation as a preacher.

Nevertheless, this bride and groom have made my job very easy by the readings from Sacred Scripture they have selected. We have Paul’s boast that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ from the Letter to the Romans, and his great hymn to love from the 1st Letter to the Corinthians. So it’s all about love, and really, what else is there to preach about?

We call this book [the Bible] the Word of God. The 1st Letter of John tells us that “God is love.” Now if God is love, and nothing but love, mind you, what can the Word of God be but the word “I love you”?

Indeed, the “I love you” that God speaks is powerful and effective. In fact, it is the force of creation itself.

Think back to the creation of the world. Even if you don’t spend a lot of time in church, I’m sure that you’ve heard the story. In the beginning, God said, “let there be light!” And there was light. And God said, “Let the seas be gathered into a basin so that the dry land may appear!” And so it happened. In the same way, by speaking forth his Word, God creates everything else, including you and me. By breathing forth the first and original “I love you” God brings us and everything else into being.

When God says “I love you,” we exist. We happen. When God says “I love you,” the world happens. Love makes the world, and love is what we are made out of. In the most literal terms you can imagine, love is what it’s all about.

Now I want to tell you a secret. The “I love you” that passes between the bride and groom today, of which we are all joyful witnesses, is the same “I love you,” the same Word of God through which the world was created. Yes, perhaps on smaller terms, but the same “I love you” nonetheless.

Do you find this far-fetched? Look, then, at how powerful and creative their “I love you” has been today! It has created this joyful celebration; it has brought us all together in this lovely church. Even more, their love has put joy in each of our hearts.

Go ahead everyone, notice the joy inside you right now, feel it, enjoy it. That joy we feel in our hearts today is the creation of their love for each other, and it is ours to rejoice in. Even more, this joy that their love has put in our hearts and into this congregation today, it’s a glimpse of the very face of God.

There are a lot of people in the world who want to tell you what God thinks or what God expects of you, but the joy that you feel when you contemplate what the bride and groom are doing today, that’s the real thing, a glimpse of God himself.

So thank you, you two. In your courage to make public, in this wedding, the “I love you” that passes between you, you give us all a chance to see the face of God, to see the mysterious Source that is behind it all.

Well, so much for praising you. Perhaps all of you wouldn’t think me a proper preacher if I didn’t also tell you to do something. And so I will.

Bride and groom, on your wedding day, I give you two tasks. First, be grateful for and to one another. Be grateful for all of the risks and efforts in your relationship that have paid off in the joy of this day. And be grateful for all of the risk and struggle and joy you have to look forward to in the future. It is all the fruit of the love of God that has taken root in your hearts.

Second, cherish the gift of God you have received. It is the greatest thing in the world. It is the only thing that matters in the world, and the only thing worthy of human striving or interest. In your hearts is the love that will save the world. It is the love that is stronger than death, as we heard about from St. Paul.

Go to the most miserable place in the world, where there is the most horrible human suffering, and you will still see people falling in love with each other. Nobody can stop it. It’s the most powerful and unstoppable thing in the world, this love that we fall into. It’s the greatest power there is, it’s the power that will save the world, and it’s all yours. Cherish it with all reverence, today and forever.

And to the rest of us, family, friends, children, ministers and well-wishers of all kinds, I give the same two tasks, to be grateful and to cherish. First, be grateful to your friends who are married today. Be grateful for the joy they have put in your hearts today. Not only are they showing you the love that will save the world, they are revealing the very face of God to you. They are making their lives into an example of the first truth of faith: that love will save the world, that love is stronger than meaninglessness and death. By their courage and inspiration to make this commitment today, they are demonstrating the life of faith to you. So be grateful to them, and tell them so.

And cherish them. As you go forth from this day, friends and family, care for and treat their marriage as something precious. Have reverence for it. Visit them, support them, continue to be their friends and loved ones. And if one of them needs a shoulder to cry on, be there for them. This marriage is the precious possession of all of you; take care of it!

St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of my Order, had a special greeting. He used to say, “Pax et Bonum,” “Peace and good!” And I want to wish you that same peace and good today.

And so, bride and groom, thank you. Thank you for showing us your faith in the goodness and trustworthiness of God’s creation. You trust in the truth of true love enough to risk and rejoice in the marriage you make with each other today. In your love, you give us a chance to see the true peace and goodness that is the destiny and meaning of the whole world.

I wish you every blessing, all peace, and every good thing as you begin this newness in your life together, now and forever. Amen.

December 15, 2006

Holy Poverty

Once when I was very young in religion, an illustrious friar came to give us a talk on holy poverty.

He explained it very simply: we are poor whether we like it or not. We are poor in our creatureliness. We can only be in one place. We can only do one thing at a time. We can't know everything, please everyone, or have everything. We're all limited in a million ways and ultimately subject to sickness, decay, and death.

Thus we all live in a state ontological poverty; it's just the lot of a creature to live in incompleteness.

So with this realization we can do one of two things. We can panic and try to make up for our lack by greedily amassing security and recognition and pleasure and flatterers, wrapping all these things around ourselves to try to mask our identity as poor creatures. We grasp and grasp, hoping to make up for the poverty within. At best we will fail to fool ourselves in this way and are led into misery. At worst we will succeed in fooling ourselves and are led into violence and moral poverty.

On the other hand, we can accept our creaturely poverty before God. Once we learn that no created thing will change this, we are free to use the things of this world without having to grasp at them and possess them as proper to ourselves. And that's what it means to live Franciscan poverty, the life of sine proprio. That's holy poverty.

And by the way, when you apply sine proprio to your relationships to other people, it's called chastity, and that goes for everyone, whether called to marriage, celibacy, or the single life.

December 14, 2006

Juan de la Cruz

Por ninguna ocupación dejar la oración mental, que es sustento del alma.

Don't give up your mental prayer for any other activity, for it is the sustenance of the soul.

Juan de la Cruz, Grados de Perfección, 5.

I thank God all the time that I discovered people like Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross, John Cassian, and the author of the Cloud of Unknowing. They make so much more sense to me than many of the contemporary spiritual guides I've met.

December 13, 2006

Misery

Everywhere I've ever been I find walking routes. I need them for the sake of the thinking and solitude that keeps me sane and in reasonable perspective. One of my favorite ones from here at school takes about an hour and a half. I walk up one of the roads that leaves campus, eventually turn down a wooded pedestrian path, and end up at a subway terminus where I can ride right back. Even better, right at the intersection of the street and the path is one of those Greek pizza places, where you can stop for a gyro or sangwich.

Anyway, I was doing just this in the threatening gray gloom of today, thinking about a hundred useless things, when I see a man up ahead standing on the edge of the pedestrian path. He was carrying a grungy shopping bag in each hand, and wearing a dirty coat and a Santa hat.

I told him good afternoon, and he immediately responded, "Christmas sucks!"

He then continued, "It's the most miserable time of year! Good for nothing but a chance to get drunk!"

Not really wanting to know where this conversation might go, standing alone there in the artifical urban woods, I bid him good day and went along my way. But then I was thinking about what he said.

For all of the "Christmas cheer" and "ho ho ho" and domestic joy we are supposed to believe in (and buy) this time of year, Christmas is, in fact, partly about misery and despair.

After all, Jesus was born into the obscurity of Nazareth, the homelessness of Bethlehem, and the shame and danger of foreign-occupied 1st century Palestine. And from his birth his destiny was the Cross, which is nothing else but God's identification with our misery, despair, wretchedness, and failure.

New Picture


Maybe it's because I've been feeling like the old picture is pompous, or maybe it's because it's the end of the semester, or maybe it's just that I'm a silly person, but I've decided to replace my profile picture with this version of me as a South Park character.

December 12, 2006

Emperatriz de las Americas

One of the intercessions for evening prayer tonight, though rhetorically clunky, is theologically brilliant:

The image of the mother of your Son was imprinted on the garment of the Indian Juan Diego with features of his race, imprint within us Mary's virtues and her love of the defenseless.

The mysteries of our faith are Incarnate in the very particularity of each people on earth. And even in the tragic story of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Our Lord and his Mother are present to them from within.

So let's give thanks today for Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico and Empress of all the Americas.

Fixed

Brother computer guy unbroke my computer, like nothing happened. Though I did have to endure much scolding for not being a good backer-upper, not even owning a USB drive to save my work on, and for risking the kind of lossage that would keep me from finishing my STL on time.

He was also annoyed because he couldn't guess my windows password, and because he couldn't figure out why the computer was named "Monica." I told him I named it after St. Augustine's mother.

December 11, 2006

Broken

Last night when I got home from my weekend gig my computer wouldn't start. No safe mode, no returning to the last functioning configuration, nothing.

It's really something when your computer breaks: no work can get done, you're cut off from communicating, and you keep thinking that all of the notes, papers, unfinished projects, and homilies in there are gone forever.

There's a temptation to anxiety and despair that goes with it, but it only shows that I've put my security into this funny little box filled with text and programs. It makes sense that when we late modern people get nervous about the end of the world, we imagine it in terms of the failure of technology to support us any longer, i.e. the old Y2K problem.

The situation reminds me of one of my favorite sayings of the desert fathers, although I'm not sure it relates:

If a monk knows of a place where he can make progress, but where the necessities of life can only be had with difficulty, and for that reason does not go there, such a monk does not believe in God.

Oh well, I'm taking it to brother computer guy for examination later on this morning.

December 9, 2006

Insight

I had dinner with an old friend last night, and he told me his "latest theory" on God:

"To say that someone else exists in the world is already religious."

I thought it was utterly brilliant. To admit that someone else exists, with feelings, thoughts, dreams and hopes is to make an act of faith and to go outside of the lonely prison of yourself. You'll never really know the inside of another person; but to admit that it is there, and is as central to the world as your own inner self, well, that's a spiritual assertion made by faith.

If then you start to manage your life around the admission that other people exist apart from your own needs and desires and gratification, then you've moved from faith to practice.

Sin is simply the failure to see others apart from our own terms and needs and desires. They're just props in the world to help us with our need for recognition, praise, pleasure and security. When it's really bad it gets called ministry: other people exist to serve our need to help them or save them. This kind of selfishness is the worst because it masquerades as altruism and helpfulness.

To admit that you yourself aren't the center of the world, in spite of all appearances and suggestions to the contrary in your own mind and heart, that's the beginning of spirituality. To admit that there is an "other" is the beginning of admitting that there is Otherness Itself, the mystery that we clumsily call "God."

Search Results

One of the most consistently amusing thing about maintaining a site like this is seeing what search terms bring one's visitors. Some of my favorite recent queries that have brought visitors to a minor friar:

how does the habit of a capuchin friar minor look like,

latin word for snowman,

prayer of the faithful advent from Austrian Google, and, ever so simply put,

friar.

December 8, 2006

Immaculate Conception

Some of the scholastic theologians had a problem with the (now) dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Their argument went something like this: If Mary was always without the injury of original sin, enjoying a perfect state of grace from the first moment of her conception, what need did she have of the redemption wrought by Christ some forty to fifty years later in his Passion, death, and Resurrection?

Thus it seemed, at least to them, that if we affirmed the Immaculate Conception, we then had to say that Christ died and rose for most, not for all, because Mary didn't need it. This little reductio ad absurdum helps us to look back at the errors in the starting assumptions.

First, we shouldn't think that the Incarnation was just about redemption from sin. It's not as if the coming of the Son of God as a human being was God's "Plan B." We shouldn't imagine that, after Adam and Eve sinned, then the Blessed Trinity had a meeting to decide what to do, finally deciding that the Son would become flesh to "fix" the situation. No. The Incarnation was always the final end and plan of creation. God creates so as to be present to and loving towards his creatures, and the Incarnation of the Son is the ultimate expression of this desire and intimacy.

Second, we shouldn't think about the redemption Christ accomplished as something that exists mechanically in time. After all, Paul assures us that Abraham was justified by his faith in the Resurrection. (Rom 4:17) So why shouldn't it be that Mary was able to enjoy the fruits of Christ's redemption before they occurred within worldly history?

I owe some of this reflection to two fine theologians, the privilege of being taught by I have gratefully enjoyed: Mary Beth Ingham and John Randall Sachs. Neither is a Franciscan, but they do seem to have the grace of tendencies in that direction.

December 7, 2006

Both/And

Student and teacher got in an argument yesterday, during class, over whether or not the historical Jesus of Nazareth could have said, "Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made." (John 17:5)

Student: "You do admit that, because you can't know what he said, he could have said this, no?"

Teacher: "All I'm saying is that a devout Jew of the 1st century could never have said such a thing."

Student: "But Jesus was more than an ordinary Jew."

Teacher: "No he wasn't."

Trouble is, they both have to be right. Jesus has to be more than an ordinary Jew of the 1st century; that's the central claim of Christianity after all. On the other hand, we have to be able to say that he was an ordinary person just like us; if he wasn't just like us we wouldn't be saved by his passage through death to life.

December 6, 2006

Relief and Panic

After nine semesters of theological education, and now in my second degree program, today is the last day that I am responsible for any in-semester course work. On the other hand, I still have a thesis to produce, and I realized this morning that I have only 135 days to write it.

December 5, 2006

Peace

One line form the psalm for today really caught me: in the reign of the King who is to come we will enjoy "profound peace."

A lot of people talk about peace. "Peace" is the goal of the military maladventures of these United States. But mostly, when the world talks about peace and its desire for peace, they don't have the faintest idea what they are talking about.

The peace that the world wants is just freedom from annoyance. It's the absence of anyone getting in the way of their plans for security and power, their efforts at exploiting the earth and everyone else for their own comfort and gratification.

Real peace isn't the absence of anyone getting in the way of fulfilling your unreasonable desires, but is the courage to let go of them. Real peace starts with treating others as if they were human beings like yourself, or better, as human beings better than yourself.

The "profound peace" that the psalmist looks forward to is the power of love to break down all the ways that we insist on misery, both for ourselves and those around us.

December 4, 2006

Happy New Year

And so the year of grace 2007 is upon us, and another advent has begun. I really appreciate it when advent rolls around. It's like a fresh start, a new year. The lectionary cycles turn over, and you switch to volume I of the Liturgy of the Hours, which is always the last beat up volume in a given set. (I have an elaborate theory on this too, why the order of beat-upedness in any set of breviaries is I-III-II-IV) It's like the spiritual life equivalent of the beginning of school, when you delight in clean notebooks and sharp crayons.

At such a dark time of year, it's the perfect space for such a mystical season. I find advent mystical because we try to appreciate three things at once: the Incarnation of the Word in the human life of Jesus of Nazareth, the novelty and joy of the Incarnation of Christ in ourselves through our Baptism and Holy Communion, and the final advent of the Risen Lord at the end of time. The great thing is that these three comings of the Lord are not discrete; in fact they blend in with each other and identify with each other. That's what makes advent so mystical and mysterious for me.

December 2, 2006

Theology

One of my jobs lately has been to lead a liturgy of the Word for little children. It's supposed to include each element from the regular rite: reading, psalm, alleluia, Gospel, profession of faith, prayer of the faithful.

When it comes to the prayers at the end, I have them pray for the usual intentions of the universal church: the Holy Father, the bishops and our pastor, our diocese and our parish, the suffering world around us, the poor, the sick, the dying and the dead.

Then I ask them for their own intentions. So they pray for their parents, grandparents, and dogs and cats. Inevitably, one kid will say we should pray for God or Jesus. Pray for God? Why would you have to pray for God? At first I dismissed this inspiration as randomness. But it kept happening, so I was thinking about it.

Perhaps I framed prayer narrowly for them. I asked them, "who or what should we pray for?" This seems to imply that prayer is a response to a lack - there is something wrong, something missing, and therefore we need to pray for God to fix it, renew it, protect it, etc.

But this isn't all there is to prayer, or even prayer at its real heart. Prayer is the proper response of a creature who admits that she is a creature, who admits that he is not God. Yes, this is a lack, but it's a lack that's proper to our condition and which makes us who we are. So when the kids say they want to "pray for God" or "pray for Jesus," perhaps they just want to affirm God in his goodness, or praise our Lord for his compassion and obedience.

In any case, these little ones make me think sometimes.

December 1, 2006

Hell

You know it's the end of the liturgical year when you get readings like those of today.

The book of Revelation proclaims the role of hell in the last things:

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire.
(This pool of fire is the second death.)
Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life
was thrown into the pool of fire.

Hell is primarily the destination of death itself, not of any of us.

The victory of Christ is not about sending any of us to hell, and indeed the church has never claimed for sure that anybody has even gone there, but consists primarily in sending death and hades themselves to hell.