WordPress

I have been very impressed with the WordPress program for blogging.  It beats b2evo out hands down.  I spent at least an hour every day with b2evo just cleaning up spam.  With WordPress, I am able to catch it all with Akismet, and just delete it with one click of the mouse.  Takes maybe a minute a day. 

Which means I should be able to blog more.  But things are a bit busy for me these days.  I will have an update on all the exciting and emotional stuff very soon.

Catholic World News : Vatican prods US bishops on liturgical translations

Catholic World News : Vatican prods US bishops on liturgical translations

May. 22 (CWNews.com) – In a letter to the president of the US bishops' conference, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship has strongly underlined the importance of proper translations for liturgical texts.

I sure hope Cardinal Arinze is doing a novena to the Holy Spirit on this one.  I always thought someone could buy me the new translations as a retirement gift…

Sixth Sunday of Easter: God’s Transforming Love

Today's readings.

I realized this past week that this would be my last homily as a deacon.  Time has certainly flown by, and next week I’ll be attending the Ordination of a friend in Texas, and the week after that is my turn.  Since this is my last homily as a deacon, I am very happy that I get to preach on these particular readings, because they contain some of my favorite lines in all of Scripture.  We could certainly spend hours delving into the theological meanings of all that we’re told today, but well, I wouldn’t do that to you in my last homily as a deacon!

The letter from St. John in today’s second reading has one of the most fundamental principles in all of theology: God is love.  We all probably learned that somewhere early on in our religious education, and it probably filled us with warm feelings at the time.  But we might also agree that the whole idea of “God is love” can be a little trite, the stuff of greeting cards and bumper stickers, perhaps it has become almost meaningless to we who have become jaded with the whole idea of what love is. 

But the love that is God isn’t any of the things we think of when we think of love.  This love isn’t a mere warm feeling for another person, it isn’t a synonym for “like,” it isn’t physical, emotional or intellectual love at all.  The Greek word that is translated “love” here is agape – a word you may have heard – and maybe “love” isn’t even the best way to translate it, but that’s all that our English provides.  Agape love is love that lives for and acts for another person; agape love is, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

This is, after all, what Jesus did for us up there on that cross.  The most perfect way that God could show God’s love for us is for His only begotten Son to be born among us, to suffer and die to pay the price for our sins, and to be raised up to new life that lasts forever so that the barriers of sin and death that had kept us from God’s love would be obliterated.  This agape love is love that is not destroyed by sin nor limited by death; it is a love that is impossible to horde but must be given away; it is a love that does not let distinctions like race or religion or class or way of life divide us: it is a love that is as limitless as God is, because God Himself is that love.

This agape love that is God’s very essence is a love that completely transforms us.  This love makes our salvation possible and once it has done that, it bursts forth from us to others in order to make their salvation possible too.  Peter was transformed by this love in the first reading, and finally came to the realization that this love was not limited just to Jews but also must embrace the Gentile world as well. 

Because God’s love transforms us, we are no longer slaves, as Jesus says, but now God’s friends.  Our slavery to the passions and vices and limitations and longings of our flesh can all be transformed by God’s love into the kind of obedience that brings us true joy.  God’s agape love forgives sin, heals brokenness, and raises us up to be God’s friends.  God’s love sends us transformed lovers out to love others and to help them find friendship with God too.  This love makes us sharers in the very love and life of God.

Because God’s love transforms us, we can do the thing that is not in our nature: we can lay down our lives for others.  Just as Christ laid down his life on the cross, so we can give of ourselves, often at great cost, to raise children, to serve the poor, to care for the elderly and the infirm, to shelter the homeless and teach the young.  All of the things that will never make us rich or famous but which will raise up another person in need are possible because of God’s transforming love.

When we’ve loved others in this way, and when we see them reach out to others in love, we know that God’s love continues to transform our world and continues to raise us up and make salvation possible for more and more people every day. 

Having been transformed into God’s friends, we are commanded to love one another as we have been loved by God.  God’s love came to us at the incredible price of the life of Jesus Christ, and loving one another will demand a great price from us as well.  But we can be confident in our ability to lay down our very lives for others because we are being transformed daily by our God who is love itself.

A Letter to Diognetus: We’re Not Home Yet

Today's Office of Readings has as its second reading an excerpt from a Letter to Diognetus.  This is one of my favorite readings.  I'm not sure why, because every year when I read it, it makes me feel uneasy, unworthy — yeah, all of that.  Listen to this portion of it:

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body's hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.

That just reminds me that no, we're not home yet.  We are supposed to live as full citizens of the world, but also as aliens in it — the whole Catholic both/and approach to theology in general.  We must take our place here and make present the Kingdom of God on earth.  But we must always live remembering that we are not ultimately destined for life in this world, and so must not be too attached to things, people, anything that drags us away from our Creator.

CNS STORY: ‘Da Vinci Code’ draws laughs from journalists at press screening

CNS STORY: 'Da Vinci Code' draws laughs from journalists at press screening

CANNES, France (CNS) — Toward the end of the movie "The Da Vinci Code," the main character, Robert Langdon, tells his sleuthing partner, Sophie Neveu: "You are the last living descendent of Jesus Christ."

 

That line, meant to be the dramatic apex of the film, drew laughs from many of the approximately 900 journalists who viewed the film's first press screening May 16 at the Cannes Film Festival.

 

The derisive laughter, along with widely critical comments from reporters afterward, summed up the Cannes press reaction to the much-heralded launch of the movie. When the credits ran, silence and a few whistles drove home the response.

Director Ron Howard points out later in the article that this movie was not intended to be theology but rather entertainment.  The review makes the second portion of his comment seem unlikely.  And while not intended to be theology, I think the whole Da Vinci Code phenomenon — if you can call it that — is intended to put theology, or at least the Church, in a derogatory light.

But maybe that's not even the motivation.  Basically, these things exist because they'll sell, and heck, who wouldn't like to make a few million dollars?  The sad part is that people will go to see the movie, and be unentertained, and fuel the movement that derides the Church and the Gospel in the process.

I think I'll miss this movie.  But not much, if you know what I mean…

Our New Bishop: J. Peter Sartain

On Tuesday, May 16, 2006, the Apostolic Nuncio announced the appointment of Bishop J. Peter Sartain (pronounced Sar’-tin) as the Fourth Bishop of Joliet.

 

Bishop Sartain was born on June 6, 1952 in Memphis, Tennessee. On July 15, 1978 he was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Memphis. He was appointed as Bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock on January 4, 2000 and was ordained on March 6, 2000.

 

In addition to his pastoral experience as a parochial vicar and as a pastor, Bishop Sartain also has considerable administrative experience, having served as Director of Vocations, Chancellor, Moderator of the Curia, Vicar for Clergy, and Vicar General. He currently is a member of the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as the Chair of the USCCB Committee on the Home Missions.

 

During a press conference held at 10:00 a.m. at St. Charles Borromeo Pastoral Center, Bishop Imesch announced Bishop Sartain’s appointment as Fourth Bishop of Joliet. The ceremony of installation is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 27, 2006.

The long-awaited announcement has finally arrived.  Since I've heard nothing of his name thrown about in all the rumors, it appears Bishop Kaffer's quote of "them that knows aren't saying and them that are saying don't know" was entirely correct.  I haven't heard much about Bishop Sartain, although the occasional blog entry here and there has said non-specific good stuff about him.  So it will be interesting for the diocese to get to know him, and to see how his appointment will affect all the negative stuff flying around the diocese these days.

Holy Spirit, enliven us all, and help us all to do your will.

CNS STORY: Public schools add religion course to curriculum requirements

CNS STORY: Public schools add religion course to curriculum requirements

WASHINGTON (CNS) — At a time when public schools are increasingly wary of any mention of religion, one California school district has found that requiring students to study world religions has been surprisingly uncontroversial and has helped smooth hostilities.

For the last six years, the Modesto public schools have required ninth graders to take a nine-week course on world religions, beginning with two weeks of study of First Amendment rights and the U.S. history of religious liberty.

I had two objections to this whole idea:  First, I was thinking it might be teaching kids that all religions are generally okay and equal.  And this, well, it's not what we believe.  As Cardinal George once said at an ecumenical meeting, in his characteristic overly-frank manner, "My goal is to have you all become Catholic."  That's his goal because that's what we belive our mission to be, and so religious relativism is a legitimate concern.

But the article points out that those who held beliefs against religious relativism ended the course with those same beliefs.  So the course's aim was not to promote that kind of relativism, but rather understanding, which is the basis of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue anyway, and extremely healthy.  Encouraging!

My second objection would be that it promoted a watered-down view of the faith.  But the tests proved that the students' religious knowledged actually doubled.  That may make the secular course more effective than traditional methods of catechesis in some ways. 

Maybe we have something to learn from this secular effort.

Fifth Sunday of Easter: All Creation Rightly Gives You Praise

Today's readings. 

I remember back in my second year of seminary, I took my first moral theology class.  One of the first tests we took had a line from the third Eucharistic Prayer on it: “Father, you are holy indeed, and all creation rightly gives you praise.”  This line came along with the question: “Rocks are part of creation.  So how does a rock give God praise?”  The answer, we had been taught, is “by being a rock.”  Certainly a rock could not sing a song of praise or pray a psalm, but just by being what it was intended to be—a rock—it gave God praise.

The implications of the question were that every part of creation gives God praise by being most fully what it was created to be.  Trees give praise to God by bearing leaves, flowers and fruit; animals give praise to God by running, ruling the jungle, barking, flying or whatever it was they were given power to do.  We then, are also created to give God praise by being most fully what we were created to be – by being fully human.  This is what Jesus tells us at the end of today’s Gospel: “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” (John 15:8).

Being fully human might seem easy to do.  But that, I think, is based on a flawed notion of what it means to be human.  How many times have we all said something like, “sure, I am a sinner; I’m only human, right?”  But being a sinner is not the same as being fully human.  The most fully human person that ever walked the face of the earth was Jesus Christ.  Jesus, we believe, was like us in all things, except sin.  This is how we know that sin is not part of what it means to be fully human.  And sin obviously is not something that gives God praise.  Indeed, that last line of the Gospel seems to leave no room for sin, and sets a rather high standard of what it means to give God praise: that we must bear much fruit – not just some fruit, but much fruit – and become disciples of Jesus.

To become more fully human is a life-long task, and we know that it will never be fully realized this side of heaven.  But while we are on earth, that’s our primary responsibility: to give God praise by becoming more fully what we were created to be in the first place.  Today’s Gospel gives us a picture of how we’re supposed to do that.  It mentions two specific things we are to do.

The first is to get pruned.  We, the branches of Jesus’ vine are destined to be pruned so that we can bear more fruit.  Now, a couple of weeks ago, I was pruning bushes at my parents’ house.  While the bushes never said a word to me, I was guessing this pruning was not a painless process for them!  It involves cutting away parts of the bush that looked for all the world like they were life-giving, and it involved cutting some branches radically away.  All in the name of becoming a healthier shrub. 

We too have to be pruned sometimes.  And it’s not a painless process for us either: it involves maybe cutting away some parts of our lives that look for all the world like they are life-giving.  But we recognize that these things can be really destructive: relationships that entangle us in ways that are not healthy, pleasures that lead to sin, habits that are not virtuous.  However enjoyable these relationships or activities may seem to be, and however painful it may be to end them, end them we must in the name of pruning our lives to be healthier, to be more fully the people we were created to be.

I’ve done some pruning in my own life recently.  And I can tell you it has indeed been painful.  This past week, I moved out of my room at the seminary.  It is a room that has served me well for the last four years, but, as one of our formators told us at our end-of-the-year Mass, “it’s time for you to go.”  At the end of it, I took one last look around before I left and saw a room much cleaner than it had been in about a year! – but also much emptier.  There was sadness, and I realized the sadness was not so much leaving the little but functional room, but that leaving it represented the sadness of leaving behind all the things the room been for me: the times I studied with my friends there for a test; the times we had met there for prayer or to discuss the Scriptures in our formation group; the times we had just hung out there, watching a movie, or wasting time together.  Those activities and relationships had been life-giving to me for five years, and now it was time to go.  I realize that as good as those relationships had been for me, it is time to let go and to move on to the priestly life God has been and is now calling me to live.  This pruning is painful, but in doing so, I can become more fully the person God created me to be.

The second thing the Gospel calls us to do today is to remain in me.  “Me,” of course, means Jesus, and just in case we don’t get the point, Jesus gives us that instruction four times.  “Remain in me,” Jesus says, as the branch remains in the vine.  “Remain in me,” Jesus says, so that you can bear much fruit.  “Remain in me,” Jesus says, so that you will not wither and dry up only to be tossed out and burned as rubbish.  “Remain in me,” Jesus says, so that whatever you truly need and want will be done, and so that you can bear much fruit and be my disciples. 

I think we can all get on board with remaining in Jesus, because this reading makes it sound completely wonderful.  And it is wonderful.  If we want to be truly happy, if we want ultimate fulfillment in life, if we really want to be the wonderful creation God made us to be, we must remain in Jesus, because, as he says, “without me you can do nothing.”  And that’s true.  How many times have we tried to better ourselves and lost sight of the goal before we even started?  How many times have we tried to stamp out a pattern of sin in our lives, only to fall victim to it time and time again?  How many times have we tried to repair relationships only to have egos, hurts or resentments get in the way?  When we forget to start our work with God’s help, we are destined to fail.  Apart from Jesus we can do nothing.  Well does he advise us to remain in him.

But what does “remain in me” mean?  How do we do that?  Is there a blueprint or some steps we can follow to make sure we’re remaining?  Unfortunately, we don’t get any of that in today’s Scripture.  We are told that because we’ve had the word preached to us, we are “already pruned” and are on the way to remaining in him.  But this remaining, much like the seasonal pruning, is not a once-and-for-all thing.  We have to check our growth daily, we have to examine where we are remaining every day.  That might start with Sunday Mass attendance, and perhaps move on to daily Mass, praying devotions like the Rosary, reading Scripture every day, and taking time at the end of the day to see whether we’ve been part of the vine, or are in danger of breaking away from it.

Remaining in Jesus is different for every person.  We’ve all been called to remain in him in different ways.  Some are called to remain in Jesus in the context of married and family life.  Others are called to remain in Jesus by living life as a priest, deacon, or religious brother or sister.  Others remain in Jesus by chastely living as single men and women.  Each of these ways of remaining in
Jesus has a different style of prayer and embraces different acts of charity and service and relationships with others.  All of them are ways of remaining part of the vine, but they all must have that seasonal pruning and that daily examination that guides them back to the vine day in and day out.

On this Mother’s Day, I am particularly struck by the spiritual example of my mother and my grandmothers.  These women have been faithful witnesses to the Gospel for me and have always encouraged me to live the most fully human life I possibly could.  They encouraged me to become all that God had created me to be, and if not for their witness and their urging, I know I would not be standing here today.  One of the many gifts God gives us in this life to encourage us in the very hard work of pruning and remaining is the gift of those who have been mother to us.  These might have been our natural mothers and grandmothers, our godmothers, our aunts or sisters or some other nurturing female presence in our lives.  For all of them today, let us give thanks, and praise our God for the ways they have helped us to be what God created us to be.

All creation, as Eucharistic Prayer III tells us, rightly gives God praise.  But we aren’t rocks.  It’s not so easy for us to be most fully the wonderful human creation we were made to be.  But that, brothers and sisters in Christ, is our calling and our joy.  May we all support one another in our times of pruning and through our journey of remaining.  Encouraged by one another, we can all sing together with the psalmist, “I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people” (Psalm 22:26a).

The light at the end of the tunnel?

Back when I was working in the print industry, we always used to joke that whenever we'd see the light at the end of the tunnel, it would turn out to be the headlights of an oncoming train.  That was a little cynical, of course, but a sense of humor is extremely important in the print industry!

Lately, I've seen a bit of the light at the end of the tunnel as far as my formation goes.  I graduated last Saturday with my Master of Divinity.  I didn't think it would be any big deal to me (Ordination, of course, is the big deal, right?), and I didn't plan on going to graduation at first.  But back on Family Day this year, I chose not to be on campus, because I needed some time away to grieve the loss of tragic events at our seminary.  So I promised my parents I would do graduation.

And, of course, as these things usually go, I am glad I did.  It gave me the chance to meet the parents of some of my friends, as well as to spend some time with my friends one last time.  It helped me also to put some closure on the end of the seminary journey and this part of my formation.  It was a light at the end of a five-year tunnel.

There's just a few weeks left until Ordination.  Then I get to live the life for which I've been preparing these last five years.  As one of our formators said in our class's end-of-the-year Mass, "It's time for you to go."  I'm excited to live the life of a priest, and all of the events of these next few weeks are lights at the end of the tunnel for me.  Yes, the tunnel does seem to go on and on, because we're never really done with our formation in life, but as you progress through it, there's more and more light.

And, thankfully, that light isn't the headlight of an oncoming train.