January 31, 2008

The Wisdom Of This World

This afternoon I've been playing with Matthew's beatitudes, seeking a strategy for preaching this coming weekend. Just for fun, though maybe I'll be brave enough to use it, I re-wrote them according to the unwisdom that we are encouraged to buy from the world that doesn't know God:

“Blessed are those with financial and national security,
for theirs is the kingdom of this world.

Blessed are they who feel good,
for they will be comfortable.

Blessed are the strong,
for they will inherit the land.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for success,
for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are those who are right,
for they will be shown respect.

Blessed are the smart,
for they will see how to get what they want.

Blessed are the Halliburtons and oil men,
for they will get rich from wars.

Blessed are they who can convince others of their righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of this world.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you.
Rejoice and be glad,
for they are only jealous of how well you’ve done for yourself.”

January 29, 2008

January 28, 2008

Blogging

For a long time I've neglected the tagging of my posts. But I now realize, through tag surfing through other blogs, that I have to do it. But it's going to take a while to tag almost 500 posts.

Accountability

Every once in a while I realize that the clergy sexual abuse crisis remains the defining characteristic of the Catholic priesthood for many people. And in some ways, I'm glad.

I'm glad because it calls me to accountability. What is most heinous about the sexual abuse was not the abuse itself--as horrible as it is--but the failure of accountability on the part of pastors and bishops.

Everyone who has a public ministry in the Church, from the lector at weekdays Mass right up to the Pope, owes the people of God public accountability for the health of their vocation and their spirituality. I should be prepared for someone to come up to me and ask, "Do you remember when you were ordained deacon, and you promised to keep the daily Liturgy of the Hours for my sake and for the world? Are you faithful to it?" Or I should welcome my Capuchin brother who takes me to task for the hour of mental prayer I have promised to keep each day.

January 26, 2008

The Kingdom of God

Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" My homily for this weekend is posted here.

January 25, 2008

Proud

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All things to all people, said St. Paul, that he might save at least some of them.

Caution

Yesterday's Gospel has been sticking in my mind:
Jesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples. A large number of people followed from Galilee and from Judea. Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him. He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him. And whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, "You are the Son of God." He warned them sternly not to make him known. (Mark 3:7-12)

We need to catch the irony. Despite all of the crowds following and pressing upon Jesus, it is the demons who know how to behave around him and who make the confession that he is the Son of God. It's a good caution to hear. It's good to remember in our own time of mega-churches, papal visits and World Youth Days that just because a huge group of people get together and make a lot of noise in the name of Jesus, it doesn't mean that they understand his message or what he himself means.

It's why we need to stay close to Jesus in the Scriptures, in prayer, and in holy communion.

January 22, 2008

The Culture of Death

Today marks 35 years of legalized abortion in these United States. It's sad. Nobody wants an abortion. Still less does anybody want to die as one. Everyone who has gone through an abortion deserves our gentle empathy.

Nevertheless, our willingness to accept the aborting of fetuses as a civil right of individuals undermines our whole civil society. When children grow up and take guns to school and kill their peers, everyone acts all shocked and asks how such things can happen.

We need to take a look at ourselves. In a society that puts convenience ahead of life in abortion, security ahead of life in preemptive war, money ahead of life in the quiet acceptance of poverty, and revenge ahead of life in capital punishment, we ought not to be surprised when our children feel like their own selfish desires give them permission to kill.

January 21, 2008

Football Rant

Well, the monastery is all abuzz with anticipation of Superbowl XLII. We are the "New York-New England" province of the Capuchins, of course, so the Giants-Patriots contest means a lot fraternally.

When you're from Connecticut, like me, people always ask you what team you support, because it's hard to tell. Do your allegiances go south to New York, or north to Boston? For me, it's neither.

When I was a novice out in Wisconsin, everybody supported the Packers, of course. Go to the late Mass that cut into the kickoff, and you were likely to be alone with the priest, who has probably himself pretty annoyed. But I met one man, my novice master's father actually, who did not support the Packers. In fact, he rooted against them because they had once done him some injustice with his season tickets or something. He didn't have any team he supported. He was just a negative fan, rooting against Green Bay.

I'm the same way, but with the New England Patriots. People don't remember this, even some of us Connecticutians (to our shame) but back in 1998 the Patriots announced that they were going to move to Hartford. Personally, I don't believe they ever planned to go through with it (and our government didn't approve their taxpayer-built stadium anyway), and I do believe that it was a bluff against Massachusetts in an effort to get a new stadium in Foxboro, which they got.

In this elaborate bluff the Patriots used Connecticut, co-opting the beginning of the local news every day for months. And I'm not talking about a quick check on what was going on. I mean that this non-news was the news for months. All a joke. All manipulation. That's no way to treat my home state!

So, go to the Superbowl with my special blessing, New England. May you be shamed by sacks, embarrassed by touchbacks, and may all of your passes be intercepted. Amen.

And cheers to my novice master's dad, who is probably pretty happy today.

January 19, 2008

Rise and Shine

"You are my servant Israel, through whom I show my glory," God said to the prophet Isaiah. The same vocation of mirroring God's goodness to the world is now ours as the body of Christ. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

January 18, 2008

Walking Home

Walking home from the funeral home at nine o'clock at night, I'm suddenly so grateful for the cold and the snow and the quiet, and for a moment I can really pray.

The snowflakes hit my face and turn into water as the heat gets pulled out of me and goes into them. And I know at that moment that the breath of life that God put into Adam somehow weaved its way down through history to me, and I pray for all those people that I know and don't know.

The snow crunches under my crappy brown habit shoes and it makes me hear the quiet of a snowy night, and it gives me just a glimpse of the silence of eternity and the Word of God spoken into It.

And I'm so grateful for the quiet and the cold and the empty island of peace between the previous task and the next project, like the Holy of Holies at the center of the Temple that God demanded be left empty.

January 17, 2008

One Of You Will Betray Me

I think it's divine law that every dining room in a religious house or rectory has to display an image of the Last Supper. It will probably be a reproduction of Da Vinci's famous rendition, even though it's one his more dubious efforts. For the more cool and modern, it might be Dali's kitschy version with the thoughtful Jesus hiding the Holy Spirit in his surfer hair. Or it might be something else entirely, but it will be there, I assure you.

Ours is a small wood carving on the Da Vinci model, but what's interesting about it is the inscription:
Amen, dico vobis quia unus vestrum me traditurus est.

"Amen, I tell you that one of you will betray me." Of all the quotes from the Last Supper accounts that you might want to remember in the refectory of the friars, this is the one someone chose. I think it's great! It's a good reminder not to think you're great because of your religious life and your ministry and that the people who tell you how holy you must be are your spiritual enemies.

"One of you will betray me." I have no doubt that there are plenty of religious in hell. Or at least I'll say that there are plenty who belong there, though they might have been redeemed by the intense and burning mercy of God.

January 15, 2008

Wedding Season

The winter holidays must be a popular time to get engaged, because the phone has been ringing with wedding plans. As of this morning I am responsible for the pastoral care of ten upcoming marriages. I enjoy meeting with these couples; I find them edifying on two counts.

First, they are going through extra work by having a proper Catholic wedding. I know that the Catholic parties are bound by canonical form, and are thus only doing what is required, but who knows if they even know that these days.

Second, the more I think about it, the more I realize how great an act of faith it is to get married. It is amazing to me that two people wager the strength of their commitment to each other against an utterly unknowable future, claiming before the Christian community that they have been blessed with a love they believe to be more durable than anything life could possibly throw at them.

And people say that young people don't have faith.

January 12, 2008

The Baptism of the Lord

The Christmas season concludes with the full manifestation of the incarnate Son in the waters of John's baptism. Entering into our need for repentance, he begins his ministry of teaching, healing, and restoring humanity. My homily for the Baptism of the Lord is posted here.

January 11, 2008

God

Part of me is glad that the Christmas season ends this weekend; it has really worn me out. On the other hand, it has been a chance for rich reflection.

To me, Christmas comes head on at the one of the basic questions that we ask ourselves and each other, "what the heck can you possibly mean by 'God'?" What is the content of that the utterance, "God"?

You can say that God is the Creator, the maker of heaven and earth, but that's just a description of what God does. And as much as our culture tries to identify us with our works, who we are in ourselves is something more than what we do.

So then you can say that God is the Holy Trinity, trying to say something intelligible about how God is a Dynamism, a Loving Activity with distinct moments interacting with human history, but that doesn't get easily at something the heart can grab.

But Christmas gets it. It answers the question, what is God like? What is his personality, his style, if you will. And there's the answer. God is like a little baby, born to young, inexperienced parents, on the run, out in the cold, away from home. To get one's heart around the truth that this vulnerable baby is the incarnation of the Ground and Principle of all that is, that is the paradox, challenge, and good news of Christianity.

January 7, 2008

Stars, Storms, Rocks

I really love the Epiphany. I guess I go in for the more overtly mystical days in the calendar. I feel the same away about the Transfiguration. But Transfiguration and Epiphany are only alternate versions or other angles on Easter and Christmas, respectively.

Over the weekend I heard a lot of good reflections on the star that led the magi. One person said that the star was like an "a-ha" moment for creation; the created world notices what God is up to in the birth of Christ and rejoices. Then I was thinking about how, as we go forward in Matthew, we will see how the created world remains in sympathy with the Lord, as in the calming of the storm and the rocks that break in half at his death.

Even when people don't notice or appreciate what God is doing, the created world is ready to lead people to the Lord and accept the peace he wants to give. And while our own hearts often fail to break at the sight of God being crucified in suffering humanity, even rocks broke apart at the the Lord's own crucifixion.

January 5, 2008

In Epiphania Domini

The true God is revealed to all nations, and the promises made to Israel become the hope of all the world. My homily for the Lord's Epiphany is posted here.

January 4, 2008

The Pro-Life Candidate

With all of the discussion of presidential candidates here in the U.S.A., someone asked me if I would be voting pro-life when the election comes around. I said that I would, if there were a candidate. So if anyone knows of a real pro-life candidate for president of these United States, write me a comment and let me know.

In order to qualify, s/he must:

1. Be against all forms of abortion, at all stages and under all circumstances.

2. Be against all forms of capital punishment, and committed to helping us understand the absurdity of killing people in order to show that killing people is wrong.

3. Has never supported the "war" in Iraq, and is prepared to issue an apology to the world for allowing ourselves to be tricked into going to war by incorrect and misleading information.

4. Is committed to abolishing the illegal Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

5. Is committed to a plan for immigration reform that respects not only the sovereignty of our country, but also the basic right of families to seek a decent living.

6. Understands that the reform of the incarceration industry is necessary if we are to avoid the breakdown of our civilization and to finally overcome our legacy of institutionalized racism.

I reserve the right to add more conditions.

You Know You're in the Active Religious Life When...

I had a day off from parish Masses this morning, so I went to concelebrate with the brothers at the old friars' home.

In honor of the feast of Elizabeth Seton, we heard Luke's account of Martha and Mary:
"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."

For the homily, the presiding friar simply said, "I can't believe that after this beautiful theological proclamation, the Lord didn't turn to Mary and say, 'O.k., now help your sister.'"

January 2, 2008

New

I know that the feast of the octave of Christmas has gone through different emphases over the years, but I appreciate celebrating the motherhood of Mary on New Year's Day.

So many people, myself included, want to make new beginnings for new year, to begin again to do the good they know they want to do and to let go of the habits they know make them miserable. That's where the birth of Jesus Christ comes in.

The virginity of Mary points to the Lord's birth as a break in human history, as a motherhood that is outside and beyond the cycles of generation that have been rolling along ever since God blessed the union of Adam and Eve.

The humanity of Christ, then, is a new beginning, a new creation, a fresh start for the human person. And if we only let his humanity become ours through prayer and holy communion, we can be created anew as well. Paul said that what really matters is that we become "a new creation" in Christ. The motherhood of Mary makes it possible.