February 28, 2011

Jesus Loves You

Today's gospel is a great encouragement to anyone who lives or desires a devout life:

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up,
knelt down before him, and asked him,
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother.”
He replied and said to him,
“Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
At that statement, his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
(Mark 10: 17-22)

There is such beauty and good news in St. Mark's little detail that Jesus looked at the man and loved him. For what does Jesus have a special love for the devout soul?

Not for its perfection, certainly, for this man lacked what he still needed to do to be perfect.

And not for any perfection that it will later have either, for Jesus certainly knew that this man would go away sad.

So for what does Jesus love the devout soul? Simply for the eager desire to want to be open to the next step, regardless of relative success or failure in the spiritual life. That's it.

February 26, 2011

From My Confessor: On Trials and Maturity

'So you find yourself in the position of someone who is partly spiritual mature, but not fully. And both can be used to your advantage.

'You are fortunate in that you have the spiritual maturity to recognize that your trials and challenges are a gift from God, and you trust Him enough to know--at least in your head--that they are for your own good and serve His purposes for you in your vocation. On the other hand, you recognize that you are not yet fully mature because you do not always receive and use well the difficulties and sufferings presented by your trials, and sometimes these become occasions of distraction and sin in your failure to accept them. So, let your recognition of your spiritual maturity give you the strength of gratefulness to God, and your recognition of your weakness give you the security of humility and dependence on Him.'

Soteriological Hijinx in the Friary

Coming downstairs this morning, I noticed that the crucifix over our refectory table was missing. In its place was a ransom note: $20,000 was to be dropped at a certain corner in our neighborhood, or Jesus would "get it."

I don't know what it was about but nonetheless I thought it somewhat odd and hard to imagine any meaningful sense in which Jesus could 'get it' any more than he already has in the Passion and death he endured for us, and I noticed how the demand tried to reverse who is paying a ransom for whom. As as a licensed dispenser of sacred doctrine, I had to amend the note.

I wrote: 'Jesus already got it, and paid us back with a New Creation.'

No ransom is demanded of us, for one has already been made for us.

February 24, 2011

Extra Miles and New Girdings

I received an encouraging gift after Mass this past Sunday: a little girl presented me with a drawing she had made in crayon. I didn't quite understand what it was supposed to be, so I asked her to explain it. It was the person going the 'extra mile' from the gospel of that day, she explained.(Matthew 5:41) Here were the people, and there was the road--complete with cars, trees, and a little pond with fish in it.

I put the picture up here above my desk. I had been thinking of putting a crucifix there, to help me remember to work hard at my current obedience and unite its trials to the Lord's Sacrifice, but this picture of the extra mile is just as good. Of course it reminds me to pray for the little girl and her family, in thanksgiving for their devotion and good example, and to remember the basic goodness of children, but I think that God is also inviting me to reflect on the hard teaching of this gospel.

I remember going to one of my very first meetings with a formation director in a very agitated state. I had only been in religious life for a few days, but I had already seen a lot that had confused and scandalized me. The director gave me some saving advice: in each case I should ask myself what the Holy Spirit had asked me to look after, and leave the rest to God. If some aspects of religious life did not seem very religious, or even appeared irreligious, I should remember that the Holy Spirit had not asked me to be a superior or a spiritual director, and that only my own soul and my own religious life was my worry. I need not be scandalized by anybody's behavior, because it wasn't my concern.

This bracketing strategy saved my vocation, and enabled me to finish religious formation (on the second try) to become a perpetually professed friar and ordained priest. But many times strategies and behaviors that we learn in order to survive at one moment of life become maladaptive later on. I'm wondering if this is what God is telling me through the little girl's picture of the extra mile. I am grown-up religious now. I am a priest. Perhaps it's no longer enough to limit my attention to a narrowly defined set of concerns in my own personal obedience, to what, specifically and formally, the Holy Spirit has asked me to look after. Thank God that I have not (yet) been asked to be a superior or a pastor, but I do have a certain voice, a certain obligation to give good example in a way that I have not had before. Perhaps it's time to let go of interior bracketings and boundaries that help me to preserve my recollection and protect me from being scandalized, dismayed, or having to fight about things all the time. Perhaps I should look at my letter of obedience and ask myself what the 'extra mile' might be.

It edges into another reflection I've been having lately. I'm aware that statistically, I'm at a moment in my vocation when many guys leave. It's a well known phenomenon, and has been well-researched. I never understood how religious or priests could leave just a few years after final profession or ordination, but now that I find myself in that moment in my own life, I think that maybe I understand. Or at least I understand what would be the nature of that temptation for me. I'm not thinking of leaving, or, perhaps better, my temptations in this regard aren't relatively fierce for me at this moment. But maybe now I get it.

In religious formation and study for priesthood there are a ton of trials. They aren't the trials you had imagined for yourself, and nor are they the ones you would choose. But there is also a lot of reinforcement, and there is an increasing freedom and facility with the life as you move on. There are ceremonies that mark every little movement and achievement. Sure, you get up there and announce in your vows that you are renouncing this and that, and giving yourself over to God in this or that way, but there can still be some ego in it. I make this big, counter-cultural, glamorous decision to enter religious life. There are vows of renunciation and the ordinations of service, but they are still my vows and my ordinations. They are things that I do on some level.

Two or three years after all that, as all of the being made much of and the big days of ceremony and celebration fade into the past, a new challenge to self-renunciation begins to come into focus. God continues to invite me into a deeper renunciation of self, but now without the natural and supernatural encouragements that went with the initial training and initiation into this life. The experience reminds me of another gospel passage, Jesus speaking to Peter in John 21:18-19:

"Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."

Being in my second assignment out of formation feels something like that. The challenge is to remember that the invitation to the deeper renunciation of self is an invitation to glorify God through such a death.

February 22, 2011

Still Got It

I'm visiting the friary attached to the parish where I was assigned before being sent to my current assignment of full-time study. Looking at the parish schedule last night, I noticed that the pastor was to have both morning Masses today. So I volunteered to take the early Mass, which I had last celebrated back in the middle of July.

I'm so glad I did. So many things reminded me of graces and signs of graces I miss from being a parish priest: the lingering smell of incense in the corridor that goes to the church, reminding one of the great mysteries of God's mercy celebrated in funerals, the quiet solitude of entering the dark church early in the morning to open up and set up, the privilege of being witness to the deep and durable faith and devotion of ordinary people.

I thanked the early crowd for their prayers, and asked for more.

Brevity is a value for the typical early Mass-goer, so I was happy to hear that I still had it: "Thanks, Father. Good to see you. You're one of the good ones; you don't talk too much."

February 20, 2011

Best Compliment

This has to be the best compliment I've ever received on my preaching.

"I usually write my check for the collection during the homily. Today I forgot!"

February 18, 2011

A Child's Questions, Lovecraft, and God

Like a lot of people, I received an Amazon Kindle e-reader for Christmas. I've really enjoyed it and have found several uses for it. One of my favorites is that it is for me like an ever-accessible version of the bin of random paperbacks at a used book store. So I've used it to pick up--mostly for free--all kinds of random old things I might want to read or read once again. One of these was a big collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories for only a couple of dollars.

I was really into Lovecraft for a spell in my middle teen years, and as I've read a few of these odd stories once again, full as they are with both fantastical beings and pointedly conservative old New England prejudices, I have wondered why they were once so enjoyable for me. I think I have an idea.

When I was little, like during recess in elementary school, I used to wonder idly sometimes about a lot of questions I had. Some of these were cosmic. Why was there something instead of nothing? What would it be like if there was nothing? I used to be fascinated by how hard it was to think about it. Others were about how the world seemed to be set up. If fog was the same thing as clouds, as I was told, why did the two look different? Did the water in the ocean go all the way to the bottom? How come you could sometimes feel the air, and sometimes not, but you could never see it? How come if you thought about it, you had to breathe on purpose or hold your breath and die (as I was told) but at other moments you realized that you were breathing all along without thinking about it? Still other questions, and in some ways the most interesting and frustrating ones, centered around my experience as an individual self-consciousness. Could this particular self-consciousness--which I am--have been born in another place or time? Or could it only have come to exist in these particular historical circumstances? When I was dead, I was told, it would be just the same as before I was born. But could that be?

I don't mean that I had the proper language for these questions at the time; mostly I felt them more than I was able to articulate them. Not having the language, my attempts to ask adults about them were mostly pointless. I remember in particular that when I tried to ask questions about the 'individual self-consciousness' I only had language to talk about particularity in terms of location and vision, and so I talked about my 'outlook.'

All this is just to say that ever since I was little I have had a kind of sense that there is more to the story, that we live in the midst of a much larger reality and history of which we are only dimly aware in our day-to-day lives. This is very much the sense one gets in Lovecraft; there is much 'more to the story,' to the history of the earth and the cosmos, and it is very, very sinister and will threaten your sanity even to become aware of it for a moment.

A few years later in life I would realize that the 'more to the story' of which I had always been aware and curious about at some level, was the Ground of all being that religious people call 'God.' Far from being sinister, this 'more to the story' was entirely benevolent. As one of my professors likes to translate what the medievals call the benignitas of God, it is 'aggressive goodness.' I was grateful to discover that this reality, which turned out to be more a reality than anything else, could be stepped into through the Word made flesh. And so I got to be the Christian.

February 17, 2011

Does It Matter What Christians Eat?

Today the refounding of the world after the Flood and the covenant with Noah come around in the lectionary. I didn't preach the first reading at Mass this morning, but nonetheless it's a passage I think about sometimes, mainly from the perspective of nutrition.

It is with God's covenant with Noah that human beings receive divine permission to eat animals (excepting the blood.) Our antediluvian counterparts, in the generations from Adam to Noah, were only given the seed-bearing plants and fruits to be their food.

Christianity, then, seems to be beg a dietary question: if our redemption in Christ is the work of restoring the original justice prior to the fall of our first parents, is not the antediluvian diet more appropriate to us than the post-Noachic? In other words, shouldn't Christians be vegans?

Of course, on the other hand, God declared animal food clean in Peter's vision and then commanded Peter to "slaughter and eat" (Acts 10.) Jesus himself is said to have declared all food clean. (Mark 7:19, et al.) St. Paul teaches strongly that food is not a constitutive, but only relative, concern in the Kingdom of God (Romans 14.)

For me, at least on purely theological grounds, by which I mean scripture, it's a question I've never been able to resolve.

February 16, 2011

Diabolical Temptations

The world, the flesh, and the devil are the three classic sources of temptation. Sometimes in working with people at the parish the question would come up: Did I think a certain temptation was from the devil?

Most of the time I think the question is uninteresting and without spiritual utility. On one level it doesn't matter where temptations are from; they should all be treated the same. Most of the time acts of archaeology on them only serve to flatter them with more attention.

In some moments, however, I think it may be useful to recognize an affliction or temptation as possibly diabolical. For example, such a recognition might inspire more urgency and effort in the surrender to prayer and the help of God. Or, one could find that the recognition of a temptation as diabolical might actually be encouraging; this sign that the devil has something real to lose in our case shows that we have become someone noteworthy in the economies of grace.

For me--and this is only my reflection and not some kind of official teaching--I categorize temptations and afflictions according to two main types, according to the means they attempt to use in me. If the temptation attempts to make use of concupiscence or laziness, sensuality, anger, resentment, or any other disorder in the will, I'm pretty much certain that the temptation is from the flesh or the world, or both.

There are, however, other temptations and afflictions that attempt to instrumentalize not vice, but virtue. It is only in these that I sometimes suspect the devil. To take a couple of stock examples, consider someone who is tempted to neglect prayer because his ministry or other work for the Kingdom of God is so necessary or important. The temptation has made use of his zeal and talent to cut him off from his daily contact with God. Or consider someone whose devotion to the beautiful and correct celebration of divine worship gets in the way of his praying--or maybe even attending--an otherwise valid but imperfect Eucharist.

These are the sorts of situations in which I sometimes suspect the devil. They are truly insidious temptations in that good and devout values get twisted in such way as to either get someone to cut himself off from the sources of grace, or from the situations in which God might want to use him as a source of grace for others.

February 14, 2011

Stability and Poverty

This morning was one of the first in a while on which it was actually warm enough to walk to the Poor Clare monastery for Mass (as opposed to me pretending it's warm enough because I would rather walk.) It's also light now at six in the morning when I set out. He must increase, said John of the Light of the world. It is one of our great privileges here in the northern hemisphere that astronomy imitates revelation.

Sister Sacristan had two announcements for me this morning. The first was a liturgical direction, delivered conveniently between the opening prayer and the first reading: "There's no chalice for the sisters, Father. They have colds."

The second was some news from their community: they had been joined by a new postulant. And there she was, as I noticed myself when I gave the greeting at the beginning of Mass. Surely it's a great joy for the sisters; they are an aging community and have not had many vocations in recent years. When I was last in Boston studying for ordination, they had two novices at one point, one of whom I used to run into on the subway sometimes (what she was doing out, I have no idea). To the other riders of the Orange Line, we must have looked like a funny couple indeed.

I was thinking what a tremendous thing it must be to enter such a community, to propose to oneself and to God the plan of living the rest of one's life within one set of walls and with one set of sisters. I realize that sometimes we mendicant Franciscans put such an emphasis on our homelessness and itinerancy as partly constitutive of our evangelical poverty, but it is also a holy poverty to profess stability and the renunciation of 'going out' into the world in search of material support. Clare knew this, of course, that stability and enclosure assure a very intense poverty indeed.

In you charity offer a prayer for the new postulant.

February 13, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day. Or Not.

While I was taking our guest on a tour of the neighborhood this afternoon, I noticed this Valentine's Day offering from our local bakery.

Anointing of the Said to be Sick

Having just passed another World Day of the Sick, the parish is offering the Anointing of the Sick after each of the Masses today. This tends to be very popular, so I'm helping the pastor.

A robust looking little boy presents himself for the anointing, and this conversation ensues:

Me: Are you sick?

Little boy: No.

Mother, standing behind him: Yes he is.

I couldn't help but be reminded:

A Favorite Little Penitential Rite Story

In the course of something else I'm trying to figure out in these days, I was reminded of one of my favorite little liturgical rants from an old Jesuit who was one of our Scripture teachers.

Father went to Mass one day, but was disappointed when the presiding priest introduced the penitential rite as referring to "our faults and failings."

Our teacher said that he walked out. "I follow St. Paul and boast of my 'faults and failings.' What I need is forgiveness of sins."

February 12, 2011

Theses on Charity

Isaac of Stella caught me in the Office of Readings today: Charity is the reason why anything should be done or left undone.

Charity is the only good reason to do anything, but it also sometimes demands that we not do something we might think we want to do. There are a lot of fine distinctions one has to make in this area to live spiritually in common life and ministry. For example:

  • We are called to support one another, but not to enable maladaptive behaviors, debilitating addictions, and sins.
  • We must bear with the burdens of others, and be willing to wash feet, but we should not take responsibility for the feelings of others.
  • We must seek ways to invite both individuals and institutions to benefit from our strengths, and invite them into the success that derives from them, but--again--we should be careful not to take interior or exterior responsibility for situations that the Holy Spirit has not, or not yet, seen fit to put in our care.
  • Sometimes the greatest charity--and often the most painful--is not giving someone what he thinks he wants.
  • We must be good to ourselves, practicing good self-care, but that doesn't mean taking it easy and just 'being nice' to ourselves. On the one hand, we must not be so hard on ourselves that our whole spiritual life becomes a rehearsal of faults and sins, for this is one of the devil's tricks in making us fail to notice God, and on the other we must also be careful not be overly forgiving of ourselves so as to effectively give up struggling with certain selfishnesses and sins. We must practice the sort of self-charity that nourishes our gifts and virtues, and is ruthless in the unwillingness to put up with sin.

February 11, 2011

What Does Language Mean?

I'm having some good conversations on the questions raised by the forthcoming English translation the 3rd edition Roman Missal. This is from an email conversation with an old friend:

There are lots of deep theological questions, but they end up as caricatures on all sides. Latin is a norm for the Latin rite, but in what sense? Is it a norm in the sense of a historical root from which other expressions may derive, or is it a norm in the sense that everything else is an unfortunate, but sometimes necessary departure?

Do other languages, English in our case, have their own genius and value in this regard, or not? One of the most interesting quasi-magisterial things I've read on these kinds of questions was the Holy Father's infamous Regensburg address. It got all of the press because of the Muslim question, but there was another section in which he was talking about the translation of the Old Testament into Greek, and it made the claim that this translation itself had revelatory value in the procession of Hebraic truth through the categories of Hellenic thought. It's quite something to say that translation can be revelatory. Is it similar with the movement of Christian common prayer from Aramaic to Greek? From Greek to Latin in the western Church? From Latin to modern European languages, e.g. the King James Bible or the American Sacramentary of 1976?

Drilling in we get to some hard questions about the nature of language diversity itself. Is it a curse, as Genesis might seem to say? Or is it an expression of the genius of particular cultures, and therefore a diversity to be celebrated, as we are taught by contemporary 'multiculturalism'? And how does the unification of hearing at Pentecost cash out in our actual practice of trying to pray together in an increasingly language-diverse liturgical environment?

If Vatican II, in its legacy of the liturgy in local languages, was therein just the Catholic Church finally accepting another idea of European modernity, i.e. the nation-state, imagining that Englishmen would pray the liturgy in English, Germans in German, etc., we have to admit that such a world is giving way to a much less language-unified world on the local level.

For a very real example: a bilingual Easter Vigil, fine. Trilingual, o.k. But when do you stop? When do these gymnastics of 'multiculturalism' stop serving, and when does 'inclusivity' become an idol before God himself? Is Latin the answer to such a thing, or just another non-answer, and worse because it's tinged with reaction?

Sorry to be ranting. The questions are big!

February 10, 2011

Ad Te Levavi Animam Meam

From various excited tweets I learn this morning of the release of the proper prayers for the Masses of Advent and Christmas in the new English translation. You can check them out here.

I admit that some of them seem a little awkward, but for the most part, at first glance, I like them and look forward to praying them. Then again, I'm someone who has become accustomed to conducting a significant part of his liturgical life in Latin (through the use of the Liturgia Horarum for those parts of the Divine Office we don't pray in common in my community), so I realize that the ways the prayers are structured in English may be more comfortable for me than it will be for some others. There are lots of little things that might throw off someone who had either lost his familiarity with the Latin or never encountered it in the first place, e.g. not thinking of proprium de tempore when they see "Proper of Time," some priests may not recognize that this is what we have called in English the "Proper of Seasons."

On the whole, I'm really looking forward to this. I appreciate in particular how the in the unity of has been restored to the prayers, and how certain rubrics have been updated, e.g. not 'Mass at Midnight' but simply 'At Mass during the Night.'

February 9, 2011

Taking the Incomplete

In many ways this first year of doctoral studies has felt discontinuous with my previous experience of formal education. In some sense this has been a welcome liberation, but there's also a certain interior vertigo.

In a very real way, I owe some of the occasional and marginal success I have had in school thus far in my life to my drive to follow directions well and always have my work ready on time. As one of my confreres puts it, my fundamental desire in life is to be "all set."

Thus, it feels very weird to meet with a professor this morning and have him insist that the best thing for my work would be to take an incomplete for his course at the end of the semester and only then begin to work on a term paper. It will be only then, he explained, that I would know how to research and write in this area. He's quite right, of course, but the whole idea of doing things that way feels so funny. It goes against something basic in my nature.

There are many necessary and salutary asceticisms into which God is inviting me through this obedience, and I pray for the willingness to accept their grace.

Dewfalls and the Many

The other day I got into a conversation about the upcoming English translation of the 3rd edition Roman Missal. Some say that its fancier language will be the beginning of our salvation from our endemic problems of casualness and lack of liturgical decorum. Others say that it will ruin the ease of speaking to God accomplished by the liturgical reforms following Vatican II. I suspect that both of these cases are generally overstated.

Nevertheless, I am somewhat amused when I hear priests saying that this new translation will be obfuscating and a jarring hardship for the laity assisting at Mass. My suspicion is that this translation will be a good deal harder for the clergy than the people of God. Sure, it won't be easy for any of us, but my guess is that by Easter 2012 the laity will be accustomed to saying 'and with your spirit' and 'consubstantial' and won't even have think about it.

Priests, I imagine, will be another story. I think of a little example, and an average priest. Father has been saying Mass with our current translation for thirty or forty years. It is much more ingrained in him than he may realize. Even more, he is even more attached to certain of the current texts. For example, he uses Eucharistic Prayer II for the overwhelming majority of his Masses. He might use III on Sundays or other big days (and in fairness, the general instruction recommends this), but he almost never uses the Roman Canon, either because he was taught to disparage it (as I was) or because he feels it backward, and almost never uses Eucharistic Prayer IV, because it requires so many grammatical gymnastics to rearrange the verbiage to make it 'gender inclusive.' So, Eucharistic Prayer II is planted firmly and deeply in this man's praying self. When he finds out--and he doesn't know this yet--that he is supposed to say "dewfall" in the newly translated epiclesis of this prayer, he's going to flip out.

Other things are going to be trouble for the clergy as well. Because he has either forgotten about or never knew the classic rubrical language of the Roman rite in Latin, he will be confused by literally translated rubrics when he comes to use the Roman Canon once a year or so, perhaps on Holy Thursday evening. More specifically, he will wonder what it means when it says, "within the action" before the Communicantes.

Finally, I would hardly be surprised to see a lot of priestly noncompliance around the pro multis as "for many" rather than the "for all" as we have it now. The little troubles that will arise around this will be have to be discerned carefully. Some of the complaints will come from legitimate concerns about translation, but others will come from the creeping universalism and atmosphere of religious indifferentism that trouble our historical moment. The complaints of many may include both of these, so all conversations, especially heated ones, will have to be approached with studied discretion.

February 8, 2011

Hominem Tres Personas Esse Concedamus

I had a humbling laugh at myself today. It shows that despite whatever I say, I have been properly trained in so-called "inclusive language" and have internalized its demands.

I spent the morning banging my head against the section of Peter Abelard's Theologia 'Summi Boni' I was assigned for attempted translation for the Trinity seminar this week. It was all about the senses of 'person' in grammar and how they do or don't correspond to the Persons of the Blessed Trinity.

Rolling right along, I came to a sentence in which Abelard makes some kind of point about the ways in which a human being is called a person. Without thinking about it, as if I were adjusting the lectionary on the fly (as is expected in some settings) I translated "homo" not as "man" but as "person." As I went on, this led me into great confusion, as is easy to imagine. I couldn't figure out what Abelard was trying to say about the grammatical or metaphysical sense of 'person,' because he wasn't talking about this at all, but about the simple case of a man.

Now I'll still walk out of church if I hear "Son of Man" commuted into "Person of God" (No really. And I did walk out) but let it never be said I have not internalized the commitment to inclusive language.

Friary Quote of the Day

Today I'm going to risk the vanity of giving myself the quote of the day:

"Yes, Father, perhaps I would be willing to admit that 'common sense' could be an arbiter of liturgical dilemmas, had I not encountered so little of it thus far in my Catholic life."

February 7, 2011

Be Creative

I decided to walk to the Poor Clare monastery for Mass this morning, both because it was almost warm enough, and because I needed to have two homilies ready. You see, I wasn't sure if Colette of Corbie would be a feast or a memorial for them. If it was to be a feast, there would be proper readings for the Mass, and if a memorial, we would use the readings from Monday of the fifth week of Ordinary Time. As it turned out, even though my ordo indicates that St. Colette should be a feast for Second Order Nuns, which these ladies surely are (and an obligatory memorial for us of the First Order), their ordo indicated that it's only a feast for Colettine Poor Clares, and was just a memorial otherwise.

So we had the readings for the day, in which we begin today at the beginning, with the first creation account in Genesis, shifting from four weeks of trudging through the letter to the Hebrews. As I was reflecting on the creation story on the walk over (and it was just about dawn, perfectly) I started to think about creativity, and the necessity of creativity for happiness and thus for salvation.

If the creation, and us in it, comes to be by God's speech, "God said...and so it happened," and we confess that this same Word of God became flesh in Jesus Christ in order to draw our common humanity into the blessed life of the Trinity, then it seems like our own salvation and happiness is very much bound up with our being united to the creativity of God.

This is plainly seen by common sense. Our greatest joys and satisfactions in life derive from our creativity and generativity. From parenthood, whether it be in the historical or spiritual order, to teaching and mentoring, and to the writing, music, and art by which we give 'grandchildren' back to God, our greatest happiness is our imitation of and assimilation to the divine creativity.

February 6, 2011

The Super Bowl in Religious Life

I know I write a a version of this post most every year, but it seems to me a compelling insight:

The Super Bowl is to religious life as Christmas is to the secular world.

It is a given that there will be a traditional celebration. The particulars of food and drink are dictated by this tradition, though not in a rigid way as to make the menu entirely predictable. Even a passing interest in the actual event at the origin of the celebration is entirely optional, and enthusiasm and close interest in the same can even seem jarring and out of place.

February 4, 2011

Who Am I?

As readers may have noticed, a couple of posts disappeared yesterday. Not that I thought there was anything objectionable about them per se, but a couple of other conversations had me wondering whether perhaps they were expressive of an interior struggle that I had not yet discerned well.

As I took my usually contemplative walk down Hammond St. from the Chestnut Hill T station to the BC campus for the Medieval Trinitarian Theology seminar yesterday, I imagined that I would write a big post about this, a sort of grand examination of conscience about how I am as a Catholic and how I got that way. But it's too much. It would have to include the latest insights into my conversion, the formative aspects of the twists and detours of my religious vocation, the appearance of new sorts of external authority that have come into my life since I started blogging (i.e. priesthood, licentiate in sacred theology) and how they have changed my perspectives, the formative experience of sharing in pastoral power as a parochial vicar for three years, and the still-in-discernment sense that I am called to do something at some level to make my vocation a response to the sexual abuse crisis.

That's too much for one post. So instead of that I'll just relate one little iconic moment in my Catholic life, and explain how it relates to the current edges of my interior discernment.

When I was a neophyte I wanted to learn the Mass as best I could. I discovered that there was such a thing as a hand missal, and of course I bought one right away. I would pray through and review the prayers and readings before Mass, and have my ribbons all set to pray along. At one Sunday Mass we didn't say the Creed. I was confused; my book said that the Creed was said on Sundays and solemnities. So I approached the priest and asked him about it. He explained to me that the Creed was optional. So I thought to myself, he's a priest, he knows these things better than me. This became the form of my sense of myself as a Catholic; I learned to second-guess myself. More things didn't match up with my reading, with what the saints and the Church said in their books. And I'm not talking just about liturgy, though liturgy forms the simplest sorts of examples. Some of the implosion of my first effort at religious life came about because this second-guessing of myself reached such a point that I hardly knew who I was.

In some ways, the story of my Christian life since then has been a progressive ownership and self-possession against this pattern of thought.

But this in itself is only the occasion of the fundamental question at hand. To take up the example again, I formulate one expression of the question like this: does it matter to God whether or not we say the Creed at Sunday Mass?

Of course the answer is both yes and no.

Yes because we believe that just as the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary, the same Spirit--who is God--is the principle of the Church which is the abiding presence of the Body of Christ to the world, extended, as it were, through history from Pentecost until the End. (This is why, of course, Mary has become our Blessed Mother.) So the Church is the Body of Christ conceived by Holy Spirit, and what she has decided through her Ecumenical Councils and the living tradition of her liturgy matters very much. To remove the Creed or to tamper with the liturgy is thus to cut oneself--and the worshipers in one's care--from God.

On the other hand, we have to say that in some senses it does not matter to God whether we say the Creed on Sundays. Jesus Christ has delivered us from a religion based in rules and regulations. Indeed, in a certain sense we have to say that Jesus Christ has delivered us from religion altogether, so long as we think of "religion" in a certain human sense. Even more, a basic principle of ecclesiology and sacramental theology reminds us that though Jesus has guaranteed us that his saving grace comes to us in the sacramental economy he has established for us, his grace and salvation is not bounded or limited by this economy.

This Creed thing is just an example, but discerning the depths and particular contours of the "yes" and "no" of this question gets at something of a struggle both theological and personal to which I perhaps have to pay more attention.

So thanks for your prayers, and for all of the friendship and encouragement I have been able to receive and give through this blog. Also, if you have never scrolled all the way down to my disclaimer, it's something which I'm proud to display.

February 1, 2011

St.. Brigid

Back in 2009, the first of February fell on a Sunday. As I returned to the sacristy after celebrating the Mass of whatever Sunday in Ordinary Time it was, one of the old friars began to chide me for not somehow commemorating the feast of St. Brigid. Of course he had no case; though she is one of the secondary patrons of Ireland, and her day is a liturgical feast in the dioceses therein, Brigid appears neither on the general Roman calendar nor on the calendar for the United States. The complaint of my elderly confrere was an example of many Irish sighs I heard and felt over my time at the parish. A once-robust Irish-American stronghold had slipped into a far more assimilated and multicultural reality, and one often felt the stings of grief and denial.

I was thinking of this last night as I prepared for Mass this morning, and it was then that I remembered that I had only recently recovered my Commonwealth English breviary after a loan of several years. My own adventure with the Liturgy of the Hours began back in the spring of 1993 when I was (alleged to be) studying philosophy in Ireland and I picked up the one-volume Daily Prayer (Dublin: Talbot, 1974) one day at Galway Cathedral, where I often went for confession. We had a daily Mass at the university, each night at 10 pm. When I think of that I have to laugh; at this point it's almost impossible for me to imagine a lifestyle in which a 10 pm daily Mass would make any sense! The Daily Prayer is analogous to the one-volume Christian Prayer we have here in the States. I was pretty lost with it at the beginning, back in those days. I didn't really manage to get started with the Hours until I returned home for my senior year of college and started to use the Shorter Christian Prayer. Based on my own experience, that's how I recommend getting started with the Hours: start with the simplest breviary and then move up as comfort and mastery arrive.

In any case, realizing that I had recovered this breviary from my past, and thinking of my old confrere last night, I couldn't help looking up the collect for St. Brigid:

you inspired in Saint Brigid such whole-hearted dedication to your work
that she is known as Mary of the Gael;
through her intercession bless our country;
may we follow the example of her life
and be united with her and the Virgin Mary in your presence
We make our prayer through our Lord...