December 31, 2008

Shuffle Your iPod Meme

This is a fun one. I saw it over on SFO Mom. Here's how it works:

Here's how to play: hit SHUFFLE on your music player of choice, and post the first few lines of the first 15 songs that come up, unless they give away the title. When commenters name the tunes correctly, strike them out in the list. (The lyrics, not the commenters.)

Here's what came up on my player:

1. There's a prefab building and a funny smell

2. Nerd girl I don't deserve you/I don't get the references you refer to

3. I have a problem that I cannot explain/I have no reason why it should have been so plain

4. Waiting for the train to take me far/far away from here

5. Compete, compete, do it for the boys/empty barrels make the most noise

6. Funeral held for the depression of man

7. Will these dreams still follow me/ out of dark obscurity?

8. Good morning dear, I think I'm losing it/Can't find my way and I'm getting used to it

9. One Saturday I took a walk to Zipperhead/ I met a girl there and she almost knocked me dead

10. I'm rolling down the hill snowballing getting bigger

11. You see us on every TV screen/ you read about us in the news

12. I wanna go/ I wanna play for the hip kids

13. Complications inside of me/remind me that my heart won't always beat

14. As passion encircles the daily storm/The heart bleeds and droughts do not

15. At the White House tonight/you can bet they're not eating burritos

In the Beginning

As we get ready to celebrate the octave day of Christmas tonight and tomorrow, the Gospel for Christmas Day rolls around again. I've been thinking about the beginning of John's gospel a lot lately, having been set off by Brother Chris's beautiful reflection. It's as John's prologue contains all the depth and beauty of the Christmas mystery.

The "In the beginning" of John 1:1 is logically prior to the "In the beginning" of Genesis 1:1. Before God began to create the heavens and the earth, the Word was with God. The Son is "eternally begotten" of the Father, as we pray in the Creed. And yet these two accounts of what was "in the beginning" are very much related.

Before they went on their Christmas break, the grade school children came for Mass one morning. I quizzed them on their knowledge of how God created the heavens and earth. Surely they had heard the story of the first chapter of the Bible. How did God create the world? "In six days," said one, correctly, but not answering my question. They were stumped. The technique God used to create the heavens and the earth was so obvious in the text that they couldn't see it.

The answer, I said, was that God created the universe with his speech. This is what the Scripture says, after all. God said...and so it happened. The miracle of Christmas is that the same created power from which everything has come--the Word of God--becomes for us this little child that Mary could hold in her hands. And so it is with us, in the sublime humility of God we hold the Word through whom God created the universe when we receive him in Holy Communion.

In the mystery of the Incarnation, the creative power of God has come to dwell in our humanity, giving us the option of being ourselves renovated and created anew. The Word of God became flesh so that we might be recreated and reborn in God.

December 30, 2008


The other night we were talking about the lineage of Orders, and wondered how far we would have to go back to find a common ancestor. So I had to figure it out.

We have three priests here in the parish, and the "most recent common ancestor" in our lineage of ordination is Pope Benedict XIV, who was made bishop all the way back in the summer of 1724. From his hands one of us diverges, though the other two maintain a common line all the way up to Pope St. Pius X.

Ten sets of hands back into my own lineage I discovered quite a character: Carlo Odescalchi (1786-1841), who, in order to become a Jesuit novice, resigned not only his cardinalate but (apparently) his episcopacy as well. He was no worse off for the career move, it seems, as he is said to have died in the odor of sanctity and his beatification process is open.

Me Fail English? That's Unpossible!

So said Ralph Wiggum, indignant and incredulous. A friend of this ministry has emerged via anonymous comments, kindly pointing out the errors in the English of my posts. Of course I thoroughly enjoy this, both because I love grammar and because I don't believe writing to be one my gifts anyway.

But the question remains: how is that, only nineteen months out of graduate school, I am making so many grammatical errors? Have I forgotten the torturous sessions with my second reader, wrangling over my alleged colloquialisms and unnecessary use of the passive voice? (I continue to protest that colloquialism is a special privilege of Franciscans and that the passive voice is necessary for theological reflection. After all, where would the Sacred Scriptures be without the theological passive? Christ was raised from the dead, after all.) Have I forgotten about the erudite but somewhat hyperbolic Jesuit who wrote on one of my papers, "Worst sentence ever"? Indeed, it was a very poor sentence, but could anyone be so well-read as to be confident that he had read the worst sentence ever?

Nevertheless, I have been reflecting on my grammatical breakdown, and I have blamed it on preaching. Unlike when I was in school, I now do most of my serious composing not for the eye but for the ear. Thus, when I write I am concentrating on things like rhythm, rhetorical parallelisms (traids, etc., in my Bonaventurian pretensions), delivery seams, and punchlines. In all this the sentences get long and the constructions complex, perhaps to a degree that would never be tolerated by an editor. As anyone who reads or writes will tell you, long sentences and needless complexity are the easiest way to start making case and agreement errors.

So keep on keeping me on my toes.

December 29, 2008

Five of What?

This morning in the parish office an argument broke out about the common idea that the "Twelve Days of Christmas" is a secret, catechetical code for Catholics living under persecution. I have always believed that this was a sort of urban legend with no real foundation, but others insisted on its truth. So who is right?

The argument started when nobody could figure out the fifth day. Five of what? I was asked. Knowing full well that the "correct" answer was probably the five Books of Moses, just to further monkeywrench the discussion I said that it had to be the five notions of the Trinity, and that I was busy preparing my class on active and passive spiration for my kid-adapted RCIA group.

The Inner Light

For about a year before I became a Catholic, I used to worship on Sundays with one of two meetings of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers. These days often remind me of the Quaker tradition of the Inner Light, which seemed to be their way of talking about the presence of God within, by which we are meant to discern our steps and find our awareness of God's action in the world.

This tradition often comes to mind for me during the Christmas Octave, when so many of the liturgical prayers and Scriptures we hear are built around the Johannine arrival of the Light. We hear the prologue to the Gospel of John on Christmas day, inviting us to rejoice in the "true light, which enlightens everyone," that is "coming into the world." Then during the octave we hear a lot from the letters of John, which remind us to walk in the light we have received. We who live in the northern hemisphere, for whom the physical daylight follows our theological reflection, are especially fortunate. From now until we celebrate the nativity of John the Baptist, the daylight will increase. Then, the birth of he who "must decrease" signals the loss of the daylight until we celebrate the Lord's birth once again.

Our faith tells us that the Light which is born for us at Christmas is now resurrected into the grace of our baptism and communion. God now sends us to be mirrors of the Light to one another.

December 26, 2008

Adeste Fideles

Sharing some Chinese food in between the Masses of Christmas Eve, I had fun with our organist by telling him how I'm always very amused to sing "O Come All Ye Faithful" because my original reference point for the tune is not the hymn, but Twisted Sister's 1984 hit "We're Not Gonna Take It," which is just about the same song. After being mocked unmercifully about it these many years, they finally just recorded the real thing, complete with an interpolation of "We're Not Gonna Take It" as part of the bridge at about 2:30:

Extraordinary Form

Putting Christmas gifts together, today I am able to afford one of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter's kits for learning the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Their kits were well reviewed over on The New Liturgical Movement, so I'm confident that it was a good purchase.

On my reading of Summorum pontificum, the faithful have the right to request the EF from their pastors, who are also supposed to allow it for marriages and funerals for those who wish. Thus it seems to me that a priest ought to know who to do it in case this happens. Though the Holy Spirit has mercifully shielded me from the burden of pastorate thus far, who knows when it will come.

Perhaps it's probably a fantasy, but I always have this thought that this nice, traditionalist girl is going to come into the parish office and request an EF wedding. Check one out over at In Caritate Non Ficta.


During these days of the Christmas Octave, I won't have any homilies to post. Because I have three different homilies to give--Christmas Midnight, Christmas Day, and Holy Family--all in the span of about three days, I just don't have the time nor the ganas to go through my usual composition and editing process.

This is actually pretty dangerous, because it's when you don't prepare well that you end up preaching too long and too randomly. One of my favorite quotes to apply to homiletic preparation is from Antoine de Saint Exupéry: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

That's my definition of elegance. It's good to keep in mind when it comes to the curious intersection of theological reflection, salesmanship, and theater that is preaching in the assembled Body of Christ. You don't want to be one of those priests who suffer from the dreaded 'banana problem,' named for the little girl who said, "I know how to spell 'banana,' but I don't know when to stop."

December 24, 2008

What Time is Midnight Mass?

This is everyone's favorite call to the parish office this time of year. Of course it's a legitimate question. Like a lot of places, the kairos of our "liturgical midnight" is not at chronological midnight. I've even been to the Christmas "Mass at Midnight" as early as 7 pm, which is really going too far; I think this aberration is mostly the fault of priests who are chicken to proclaim and preach on Matthew's genealogy.

Some people in the parish complain about having the Midnight Mass at 10pm. I tell them I would happily push for the restoration of the Mass at Midnight at midnight if we can also push for having the Easter Vigil at the correct time, i.e. so that it ends around first light or so. Afraid that I'm serious--and maybe I am--they back down. Despite my latent traditionalism, I'm all for having the Mass at Midnight at 10pm. The children are less sleepy and the adults are less drunk.

A lot of people complain that 10pm is too early for Midnight Mass because they can't finish their Christmas Eve dinner by then. This complaint really cracks me up, because the custom of the Mass at Midnight dates from a time when December 24 was a day of fast and abstinence, and having Mass at midnight dispenses with the old rule of having to fast from midnight before receiving Holy Communion. Ben and other readers better versed in this stuff, fill in my gaps on this one!

This year I'm grateful to be presiding at the Mass at Midnight again. (I think this is partly because my pastor is afraid that I will preach on Matthew's genealogy, which I might if I had the Vigil). I'm thinking of breaking some new ground tonight, and trying to sing the Gospel. I haven't decided yet. I'm going to wait and see how well I do with the proclamation at the Vigil:

Today, the twenty–fifth day of December,
unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth
and then formed man and woman in his own image.
Several thousand years after the flood,
when God made the rainbow shine forth
as a sign of the covenant.
Twenty–one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;
thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel
out of Egypt.
Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;
in the sixty–fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.
In the one hundred and ninety–fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty–second year from the foundation
of the city of Rome.
The forty–second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.
Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

December 23, 2008

Overheard in the Monastery

One of the brothers was talking about his Christmas confession, which didn't go well. For many reasons both genuine and scrupulous, he was wondering out loud if his confession and the absolution he received were valid.

Other friar: "I don't think I would want to hear your confession, except perhaps if I was the last priest on earth."

Scrupulous friar: "But Father, what if I was in danger of death, wouldn't you be willing to hear my confession then?"

Other friar: "Only if I was certain that you were really going to die."

December 22, 2008

Making Space

Yesterday was one of those Sundays when I gave my homily and felt like it didn't work. It was too long and too complicated. I had two Masses in a row, so I could call the audible in between and change everything for the second version. Many times it's only in trying to preach on something that I discover the best way to try to disclose the mystery.

Yesterday, to keep things simple I came upon the metaphor of making space. In many ways I think this is a fruitful theme for Advent; during this season we try to make room for God, to 'make straight the way of the Lord.' We try to find time to pray, to be apart with the God who is so Other.

And yet, when we come near to the mystery of Lord's Nativity, we realize that our true joy is not our making of space for God in our lives, but God making space for us within the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. I think it comes across in yesterday's reading from 2nd Samuel; When David wonders if he should build a Temple for God, the Word of God comes back to him saying that it is God who will build an eternal house for David. The dynamic is repeated in the mystery of the Lord's Annunciation; Mary's fiat gives the Word of God a living and perfect tabernacle from which to born into our world, but the overwhelming good news of this is that revelation of the Son of God borrowing humanity from Mary prepares a place for our humanity within the inner life of Trinity.

Yes, like Mary we must consent to the presence of God within, and make a space for God in our lives. But so much greater than this is the space God creates for us within the veil of his own life as mysterious holiness, delight, and joy.

December 20, 2008

The New Temple

The Incarnation of the Word in the mystery of the Lord's Nativity is the appearance of the Temple of the New Jerusalem, giving all humanity a chance to make of themselves a perfect and pleasing sacrifice to God. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

December 18, 2008

Slightly Imperfect Socks

Once in a while I have the grace of an experience that shows me that despite my best spiritual efforts, I am not yet poor. Yes, I have professed to live sine proprio, "without anything of my own." Yes, I buy clothes from the "slightly imperfect" rack. Yes, I don't drive when I can walk or take the bus or the subway. Yes, I refuse to accumulate a mass of things that ends up being "my stuff." Luckily for me though, the Holy Spirit sends me experiences from time to time to show me that I am not yet poor. Today was a great example.

Because I was able to get away for part of today, I went to Manhattan to do a couple of errands and go to confession. (My regular confessor here in the friary is in the hospital. Pray for him--things don't look good.) On my way home, switching from train to bus in downtown Yonkers, I had a break of a few minutes. Remembering my desperate need for new socks, I went to the big discount department store. I found exactly what I wanted right away: a sack of six pairs of black cotton crew socks with the "slightly imperfect" sticker on them. Just what I need for just $3.99.

After waiting in line for several minutes, I put my new socks on the counter and gave the nice lady my credit card. Clearly annoyed, she informed me that one could not charge a $3.99 purchase on a credit card, but that I would have to spend $10 for that privilege. Not having $3.99 in cash, I had to leave without my new, slightly imperfect socks. It was a remarkable encounter between me and this annoyed woman. I was stunned at the idea that I would use something besides my credit card for any purchase more profound than a newspaper. She looked at me as if someone who had a credit card but not $3.99 was at least a little crazy.

The encounter reveals the challenge of professing poverty. Being rich or poor is not just about having money or not. Richness and poverty are also sets of beliefs and practices, in short, cultures. The rich/poor distinction is also inextricably wrapped with whether one possesses cultural or educational capital, and these are almost impossible to alienate from the individual. Even though I might have looked like a hobo, even though I was acting poor, my belief about how I would pay for the socks shows my thinking and my cultural identity as an affluent person. My unconscious belief that one would use a credit card for a purchase of $3.99 shows in me a certain class and cultural identity. "Cash is the poor man's credit card," as my father used to say.

All of this shows that our vocation to holy poverty has to go beyond material austerity and beyond practices within our community--though it would be nice if we even had these things! If we really want to be poor, we have to go and live with the poor and let them be our teachers.

Advent Spirituality

I was going to see my spiritual director late yesterday, so over the course of the day I was reflecting on the month that had passed. I noticed right away that I felt much better in my vocation and encouraged in prayer than I had when I was preparing for my visit last month. So I spent the day trying to remember what had happened over the past month to improve my spiritual situation, and I noticed a lot:

An old friend had called, whom I had not seen much since my conversion, and I was reminded how Christianity has saved me from certain inanities and unmeanings of my prior self. Visiting the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in Newark for their Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass was healing and clarifying for me. The latest letter from our Minister General, some of which I shared yesterday, has been encouraging for me and some other younger friars. Finally, catching a cold a while back forced me to slow down--even stop--and notice where I was and what I was doing.

All of this is Providence, and has been there over the past month for my encouragement. But my point is simply this: if I had not taken the time yesterday to reflect and become mindful of these little acts of the Holy Spirit, I might never have noticed God working through them. That's why something like regular spiritual direction is a good practice; it forces you to take notice of what's going on with yourself from time to time.

To me, this is the spirituality of Advent. The Bridegroom is always arriving. God is always appearing in the now, forever new and refreshing. At least that's the best way we can experience Eternity, as a Presence in the now. The Bridegroom is always arriving; we pray so that we might recognize him.

December 17, 2008

The Challenges

Yesterday we received an encyclical letter from the Minister General of our Order, Br. Mauro Jöhri. In it he says some tough things, but after reading it with another young friar last night, we were really happy about it. It points out some of the problems that we ourselves have noticed and talked about. The Minister General notes especially some of the issues and challenges that we face in the formation and initiation of new members. Most seriously, he points out a sort of evaporation of our the missionary spirit that is supposed to be constitutive of Christianity itself, not just consecrated religious life:

One of the first facts is a declining readiness to be sent on a mission of first evangelisation, or generally to places marked by economic, social or political difficulties. The pastors of the local churches repeatedly invite our Order to take responsibility for places needing first evangelisation, or to consolidate what was begun only a few decades previously. But I must say I find considerable reluctance to accept such requests, even in the case of jurisdictions with a fair number of vocations. The biggest difficulties are due to the fact that this type of commitment requires great sacrifices, including the need to settle in places that are often without the kind of communications we are becoming accustomed to more or less everywhere (internet access, etc.). What concerns me is that many brothers concentrate primarily on what they might lack for themselves, while easily forgetting people who do not yet know the Gospel or who need to be accompanied in their journey of integration of Christian values.

In how we live at "home," Br. Mauro also sees systemic issues:

One finds here and there signs of a clear refusal of manual and domestic work. We have so many employees that we are accustomed to being served in everything, right from the first years of formation. With some friars this happens so that they can devote themselves full-time to pastoral work, others because they are busy with study. In such cases fraternal life is the biggest loser, because we limit ourselves to praying and eating meals together, but everything else is delegated to someone else.

The spirit of "I came to be served, not to serve" can easily infect brothers from the developing world:

I notice in candidates of young jurisdictions a very strong desire to be able, one day, to find their way to northern shores and to settle there for some time. Some believe that having “become Capuchins” gives them the right to pursue specialised university studies later. It is evident that we cannot support such a view; otherwise we simply become an agency for social advancement.

But this isn't to say that we in the affluent and privileged cultures and classes are free from a selfish spirit. In fact, our desire to do something counter-cultural and to reject privilege often does not go deep enough into our own selves:

In jurisdictions where vocations are few and candidates often come to us in adult life, I notice a strong tendency to consider the choice of our life in terms of self-fulfilment before anything else. The danger is that each person comes with his own personal project to fulfil, while disregarding that of the fraternity. And so it happens that the personal aspect is exaggerated and stressed in a completely individualistic, narcissistic way.

This is challenging stuff, but it's stuff we need to hear if religious life is going to keep its savor and be good for something besides being thrown out and trampled underfoot.

December 13, 2008

Clothed and Adorned

Rejoice in the Lord always, for he is near. The arrival of the Eternal Word made flesh is the good news of a fresh renovation of our humanity. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

December 11, 2008

Stuff I Never Knew

It's almost a commonplace to say that neither the trials nor joys of our particular vocation are what we expected. I'm starting to wonder whether the Holy Spirit doesn't want us to indulge our vainglorious ideas about what a vocation will be like (e.g. marriage, religious life, priesthood) in order to get us to go ahead and do it. Once we have followed the Spirit in, then the truth can be revealed.

Anyway, there have been a lot of unexpected discoveries about priesthood. Celebrating the Eucharist as a priest has shifted my whole sense of it. For example, I always looked at the sacrifice as something that happened to the bread and wine. But now I look at it less as something that happens to the bread and wine, and more as something that happens to God; something God goes through as it were, his passio.

On a practical level, there are aspects of the Mass that I honestly never knew about before being a priest. Now I probably went to Mass 2,500 times or so as a layman, but there were prayers I had never heard and things I never knew about. Here are three examples:

1. The secret prayers. I had seen priests praying sotto voce, as it were. I had even heard lots of priests say the secret prayers in a regular voice. But a couple of them I just never knew about, like the prayer during the purifications, which has become one of my favorites: Lord, may I receive these gifts in purity of heart. May they bring me healing and strength, now and forever.

2. The Kyrie after the Confiteor. If option A is used for the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass, that is, the I confess to Almighty God..., the priest gives the absolution after the Confiteor, May Almighty God have mercy on us... and then is supposed to say or intone the simple Lord have mercy... before going on to the Gloria or the Opening Prayer, as appropriate. Before being ordained I had literally never heard any priest do this. When the I confess... was used, they would give the absolution and then go straight to the Gloria or Opening Prayer, omitting the Kyrie. I've asked a few priests about this. Most said that I was wrong, but others admit that they are supposed to do it but don't want to. The rubrics are pretty clear, though. I say, why omit this beautiful piece of our tradition, and a great opportunity to insert a little Greek into the Mass?

3. The prayer after the Sprinkling Rite. Here's another one I had literally never, ever heard before being ordained myself. If the rite of sprinkling with holy water is used in place of the penitential rite, the priest is supposed to pray this prayer over the people when it is done: May almighty God cleanse us of our sins, and through the eucharist we celebrate make us worthy to sit at his table in his heavenly kingdom. Again, I was shocked to see this prayer in the Sacramentary, because I had never heard it at Mass. My experience was that the Sprinkling Rite just ended and the Gloria would begin. Or, as is widespread practice among the brothers of my Order, the Gloria is sung during the sprinkling. This, of course, necessitates the omission of the prayer, because when you're done sprinkling it's time for the Collect. Age quod agis, I say. Let's do one thing at a time. Plus I like the prayer; it's been one of my discoveries.

As one of my confreres, a lay friar, likes to say, "Making up your own liturgy is the height of clericalism."

December 10, 2008

That Would Take All Night

On the other side of town we have a group of young sisters who run retreats for the Spanish speaking folks in the area. They are often in need of confessors, and I go when I can. Imagine my fear when I went the other night and was put in a room with this sign on it:

I thought to myself that I would never make it. Luckily for my sanity and my spotty Spanish, not to speak of those who had to suffer me as a confessor, there weren't that many.

December 8, 2008

St. Thomas and the Immaculate Conception

The feast of the Immaculate Conception, arriving as it does nine months before Our Lady's birthday (liturgical gestations are always perfect), is a favorite time for Franciscans to indulge our particular chauvinism by beating up on non-Franciscan theologians, St. Thomas in particular. This is because St. Thomas is said to have denied the Immaculate Conception, but only a generation or so later our own Bl. John Duns Scotus became a champion of the doctrine. Thus we Franciscans--sometimes infamous for our anti-intellectual tendencies--have a chance to be better than the great Angelic Doctor himself, and hence to all other smart people.

So this morning I decided I would actually read St. Thomas on the question, to see what he said. Truth be told, he does deny the Immaculate Conception in ST III. q. 27 II. (see the reply to 2nd objection in particular.) (1) He says that it would be derogatory to Christ as universal Savior to think that Mary never had any original sin. To be fair, we can hardly fault St. Thomas (whom I love, I'll admit it) for not holding a doctrine that would not be dogmatically defined for another 600 years. In order to answer the question of Mary's sanctification, of which he firmly believes, Thomas resorts (and as well he might) to Scriptural examples of holy individuals who were sanctified in utero, such as St. John the Baptist and the prophet Jeremiah, but not from the first moment of their conception. (See III. q.27 I, response.) (2)

In the end Thomas makes a good point. If Mary never knew original sin, what need did she have for Christ's salvation? Did Jesus Christ come to suffer for most? Didn't she need the salvation Christ won for us as well? The point provides an inadvertent reductio ad absurdum for the idea that salvation from sin was the principal purpose of the Incarnation. (It also shows us that the salvation Christ did indeed accomplish through his passover is not bound to time in a mechanical way.) It's not as if God made the world and when people sinned God then decided on the Incarnation as a means to our salvation. "The Incarnation was not plan B," as one of my favorite teachers liked to say. With God there is only plan A. Even if our first parents had not sinned, the Word would have come to us as the Incarnate Son of God, simply out of God's passionate desire to lift his creation to himself. That this required the salvation from sin we have through Christ's Passion is an extra, remedial gift. (Though it is a gift of inestimable value, which we celebrate each day in the sacrifice of the Mass.) After all, we could never say that sin controls how God behaves.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Immaculate Conception and Queen of the Order of Friars Minor.

(1) "Ad secundum dicendum quod, si nunquam anima beatae virginis fuisset contagio originalis peccati inquinata, hoc derogaret dignitati Christi, secundum quam est universalis omnium salvator."

(2) "Respondeo dicendum quod de sanctificatione beatae Mariae, quod scilicet fuerit sanctificata in utero, nihil in Scriptura canonica traditur, quae etiam nec de eius nativitate mentionem facit. Sed sicut Augustinus, de assumptione ipsius virginis, rationabiliter argumentatur quod cum corpore sit assumpta in caelum, quod tamen Scriptura non tradit; ita etiam rationabiliter argumentari possumus quod fuerit sanctificata in utero. Rationabiliter enim creditur quod illa quae genuit unigenitum a patre, plenum gratiae et veritatis, prae omnibus aliis maiora gratiae privilegia accepit, unde legitur, Luc. I, quod Angelus ei dixit, ave, gratia plena. Invenimus autem quibusdam aliis hoc privilegialiter esse concessum ut in utero sanctificarentur, sicut Ieremias, cui dictum est, Ierem. I, antequam exires de vulva, sanctificavi te; et sicut Ioannes Baptista, de quo dictum est, Luc. I, spiritu sancto replebitur adhuc ex utero matris suae. Unde rationabiliter creditur quod beata virgo sanctificata fuerit antequam ex utero nasceretur."

December 6, 2008

Think Again

The appearance of the Forerunner, John the Baptist, is the "beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God." John invites us to metanoia, to think again, to have second thoughts about our selfish ways, and thus to prepare ourselves for the arriving Kingdom of God in the person of Jesus Christ. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

December 5, 2008

Metropolitan Jonah

Over these recent days I've been, like many I think, amazed by what I've read about Metropolitan Jonah, the newly elected primate of the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America. It's partly because we're both college-age converts, and there are other similarities in our stories as well. But it's also because those statements I've read so far are so striking:

To those at St. Vladimir's Seminary here in Yonkers, he gives this vision of ministry:

[He] particularly reiterated the need to imitate the sacrificial path of Christ and his mother, the Virgin Mary. “To become the living presence of God, the living temple of God, requires us to crush our ego and shatter our will,” he said, “so that we might conceive God within us and become his presence in this world.

“Seminarians,” he noted, “do not come to theological schools to become ‘professionals’ and to be ‘respected,’ but rather to be crucified and thereby shine forth the light of Christ.” His Beatitude reminded the seminarians that his own title of “episkopos” means not “master of the house,” but “slave of slaves.”

On the topic of being an autocephalous church he said:

“Hierarchy is only about responsibility, it’s not all of this imperial nonsense,” he said. “Thank God that we’re Americans and we have cast that off. We don’t need foreign despots. We are the only non-state Orthodox Church. In other words, we are the only Orthodox Church that does not exist under the thumb of a state — either friendly or hostile.

“So the church is our responsibility, personally and collectively, individually and corporately. What are you going to do with it?”

I love that because it captures a shift in my own self-understanding as an American. The public education I received as a child (which was very good) left the subtle message that the so-called separation of church and state was for the protection of the state. I know realize that it is just as much for the protection of the integrity of faith.

May you be filled with the Holy Spirit as you take up your ministry, Metropolitan Jonah.

December 2, 2008

Holiday Blues

Luke 10:23-24:

Turning to the disciples in private he said,
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

It's a commonplace to hear us Catholics complain about how the world around us skips Advent and goes straight to Christmas, and then gives up on the Christmas season after one day. I don't think the world celebrates Christmas at all, but observes the pagan festival of Yule, but that's another rant.

More and more I experience all of the lights, decorations, sales, and trite songs as a form of denial. In ministry you learn quickly that this is a very hard time of year for a lot of people. The dark days make people blue. Many anniversaries of death are recalled. Family conflicts flare up.

The Advent season speaks to this spiritual condition. It is an invitation to enter into the dark places of our hearts and find the longing for God, the misinterpretation of which is the cause of so much of our misery in the first place. Advent invites us to give up on the failed strategy of drowning our alienation and despair with bright lights and noise, and invites us to seek the single Light that desires to be born into our personal darkness.

December 1, 2008

The Ascesis of Preaching

For me the greatest challenge in preaching is finding the right ascesis for preparation. To paraphrase Master Yoda, it requires a good deal of 'unlearning what you have learned.'

Ever since I have been able to read, I have been conditioned to read a text as fast I can (while still comprehending it, more or less) and to think of something clever to say or write about it right away. The quicker and the more clever the better. This is the relationship to a text that going to school has taught me, from the first grade all the way through theological studies.

The trouble is, you just can't go about preparing to preach on the Sacred Scriptures in this way. To skim the text and go with the first clever thing you think of is a serious error, and one that has caught me many times in the hundred or so weekends I've spent so far in the clerical state. Many times I have gone to an ambo to proclaim the Gospel and only at that moment realized how I ought to have reflected and prepared to preach on it. I realize that this is partly because this is when the printed word becomes the Word of God most eminently, i.e. when it is proclaimed in the assembly, but it's also because the Scripture simply has to be heard.

Through all of this I have learned that I need to employ all kinds of practical strategies to make myself slow down in the course of my weekly preparation. I need to read the Sunday Scriptures out loud, for one thing. I need to refuse to have an idea the first time. Ideas make you miss things, as you begin to conform the text to the thing you want to say. I need to play with several ideas and refuse to choose one right away. Finally, I need to keep reading the text as I prepare, to make sure it's not drifting off into my idea. For we are not meant to preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord. (2 Corinthians 4:5)