Reconciliation Lectionary: John 15:9-14

mary-the-penitent.jpgToward the end of the long section in the Rite of Penance (RP 101-201) there is a reading which shares most of the verses with two suggested for weddings. It is from Jesus’ farewell supper with his disciples. What does a reading appropriate for a wedding have to do with the sacrament of Penance?

Quite a lot, actually. The core message is not so much keeping commandments, but having a deeper inspiration behind one’s commitment and obedience. Jesus reassures his disciples of God’s love, and his personal regard for and commitment to them:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.

The quality of joy is mentioned. And yes, wholly appropriate for this sacrament and the experience of reconciliation. It works for the context of marriage, too.

“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.

How do we lay down our lives for one another? The most glamorous was is the route of the hero–to die for someone. More difficult for sure is to maintain a sense of selflessness over years–the course of a marriage, or a parent-child relationship.

The simplest (but likely not the easiest) way within the context of a lifelong relationship is to apologize and admit fault. If we can tackle that hurdle, we can feel assured and affirmed to be numbered among the friends of God.

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Dies Domini 31: The Risen Christ Inspires Community

Let’s begin a new stage in our journey with Pope John Paul II, his third chapter, “Dies Ecclesiae,” the Day of the Church. He describes the “Eucharistic Assembly” as residing in the “Heart of Sunday.” Is this too much of a congregationalist, communitarian approach? Not really. “The presence of the Risen Lord” is cited as a heading for DD 31. Let’s read:

31. “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). This promise of Christ never ceases to resound in the Church as the fertile secret of her life and the wellspring of her hope. As the day of Resurrection, Sunday is not only the remembrance of a past event: it is a celebration of the living presence of the Risen Lord in the midst of his own people.

Sunday is not just about looking back at  Creation, at the Jewish foundations of Sabbath, or at the Resurrection as a long-ago, but fondly remembered event. Christ lives among his people. And so Sunday is a celebration of a current reality and is not only a memorial day.

It is also not sufficient to cultivate an interior orientation to Sunday and to the Eucharist. Sorry, introverts:

For this presence to be properly proclaimed and lived, it is not enough that the disciples of Christ pray individually and commemorate the death and Resurrection of Christ inwardly, in the secrecy of their hearts. Those who have received the grace of baptism are not saved as individuals alone, but as members of the Mystical Body, having become part of the People of God.(Cf. Lumen Gentium 9) It is important therefore that they come together to express fully the very identity of the Church, the ekklesia, the assembly called together by the Risen Lord who offered his life “to reunite the scattered children of God” (Jn 11:52). They have become “one” in Christ (cf. Gal3:28) through the gift of the Spirit. This unity becomes visible when Christians gather together: it is then that they come to know vividly and to testify to the world that they are the people redeemed, drawn “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). The assembly of Christ’s disciples embodies from age to age the image of the first Christian community which Luke gives as an example in the Acts of the Apostles, when he recounts that the first baptized believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (2:42).

Unity is not merely an intellectual assent. It is also a social reality for people God has created as social beings. Saint John attests the universality of the community of believers. Saint Luke paints a portrait of the ideal Christian community. Sunday is the day in which this community is celebrated and expressed. It seems the least appropriate day for clinging to introversion.

The Vatican site has Dies Domini in its entirety.

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EG 148: Preaching With Balance and Perspective

Vasnetsov_Maria_MagdaleneA brief passage from Pope Francis today. The preacher doesn’t really get to choose a convenient perspective–whatever suits the mood. There is the specific passage. There is also the larger perspective of the entire Bible. There is also a valid personal experience, which I would interpret as an examination of the confluence between the Word, the grace of the Spirit, and God’s hand in the life of the believer.

148. Certainly, to understand properly the meaning of the central message of a text we need to relate it to the teaching of the entire Bible as handed on by the Church. This is an important principle of biblical interpretation which recognizes that the Holy Spirit has inspired not just a part of the Bible, but the Bible as a whole, and that in some areas people have grown in their understanding of God’s will on the basis of their personal experience. It also prevents erroneous or partial interpretations which would contradict other teachings of the same Scriptures. But it does not mean that we can weaken the distinct and specific emphasis of a text which we are called to preach. One of the defects of a tedious and ineffectual preaching is precisely its inability to transmit the intrinsic power of the text which has been proclaimed.

So, a question: does preaching you hear have the power? How do we know what is the power of God and what is psychological manipulation?

Evangelii Gaudium is available online.

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Cosmos Looks At Lead

My wife and I caught the 7th episode of the Cosmos reboot tonight: how Clair Patterson, scientist from Iowa, dated the age of the Earth and campaigned against Big Business to eject lead from the modern environment.

I thought the episode avoided the worst of melodrama, and presented the story of Dr Patterson’s campaign against lead pretty evenly. Clearly, it’s not a substance to get lazy with. The animation of lead on small scales within the human body was particularly well done.

Scientists hired to be apologists for lead just show that human beings populate the realm of science. Such women and men are vulnerable to greed, intimidation, and other forms of human blindness and sin. But people of character are properly well-regarded. This was one of the best episodes yet, I thought.

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Hell and Remarriage: Whose Business?

Lots of internet damage control today on a piece of gossip: did Pope Francis tell a woman who “shouldn’t” be receiving the Eucharist that she could? The usual suspects weigh in. Plus lots of Catholic chicken littles thinking the sky is falling.

One, what a priest tells a person in confidence is none of our business. None. Approaching to receive Communion is a matter, like it or not, of choice. It is beyond the control of watchers, cluckers, cuckoos, and others.

Two, bloggers of canon law and coffee mugs can pontificate all they want. Commentariats can cry foul. It matters not. None of this is within their control. On the other hand, their own divorces, remarriages, and such–they might be experts on those events.

Three, the reports from or about the person in question may or may not be accurate. Journalists, pajama or suited, and their fans were not a party to any conversation. And even the listener may well have heard what she wanted to hear. Damian Thompson, for example, offers up a disclaimer:

(G)iven the complexity of this subject, we need much more clarity on what Francis reportedly said.

The lack of clarity certainly hasn’t stopped the punditry from speculating.

Four, it is never about someone else’s worthiness to receive a sacrament. It is about my worthiness. That’s as far as it goes.

Remarriage after a divorce is an unforgiveable sin. Unless a Catholic married outside the Church in which case it’s not. And if a non-Catholic married outside the Church, too bad: it counts. And if a person who wants to be Catholic is married to a divorced person, too bad: you can’t become a Catholic. Not without forsaking your marriage.

Of course this is all complicated. Human-made rules and a flinty interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11.

Likewise all this fuss about some movie based on some book that supposedly posits that heaven is for everybody. Or almost everybody. And that, somehow, is all wrong.

Again, who makes it to heaven or hell, or how many, is none of our business. Jesus says this pretty plainly in the Gospels. He also suggests that people who think they have a bead on particulars are going to end up surprised. Sinners, prostitutes, divorced-and-remarried, tax collectors, and such: I think we can count on more than expected from those categories. The religiously self-assured: perhaps under 100%.

Shocking, I tell you. Simply shocking.

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Saints To Be Made

haloMoDo, certainly not a saint for internet Catholic true believers, is bound to raise blood pressures and temperatures with her NYT smackdown of one blessed here. And this, particularly, will be hard for many to swallow:

The Vatican had a hard time drumming up the requisite two miracles when Pope Benedict XVI, known as John Paul’s Rasputin and enforcer of the orthodoxy, waived the traditional five-year waiting period and rushed to canonize his mentor. But the real miracle is that it will happen at all. John Paul was a charmer, and a great man in many ways. But given that he presided over the Catholic Church during nearly three decades of a gruesome pedophilia scandal and grotesque cover-up, he ain’t no saint.

Like or loathe the woman, she raises some important points, and would seem to share some common ground with her detractors.

Common ground? Am I serious? Absolutely.

Was John Paul II perfect? No. Does a saint have to be perfect? Be careful how you answer that. The perception I read out there is that sanctity goes hand-in-hand with perfection. Clean morals, clean dishes, and probably spotless underwear.

We rather gloss over Peter, don’t we? We tout one-man-one-woman marriage, but we forget patriarchs and kings who married early and often in the first half of the Old Testament. We accept David had a lot to sing about. But we overlook his polygamy. We certainly cut him more slack than the divorced-and-remarried.

We’ve so tied up the notion of sainthood with behavioral perfection, that the scrutiny to find some screw-up–something well-worn in the public sphere these days–is put into action. Ms  Dowd is just employing the same tactic I’ve seen elsewhere in the blogosphere countless times. Only difference is she’s attacking the hero of the culturewar. Not a target of it.

With making two pope-saints, can we ask if we are witnessing a political compromise? Between these two popes, almost every Catholic can get happy. And if people prefer to dwell on the sacrament of subtraction, then by a similar token, everybody has a reason to reach for the antacid. Pope Francis seems to be suggesting we put aside our frowny faces. Let’s rally around our favorite, and let’s not lob flying objects at the other camp. At least not on this merciful Sunday.

Forming a Child for QuietThe rush to canonize has already exacted a certain toll, no matter how one shapes the news. Are popes good saint material? Do they inspire little girls and boys to be saints, or to admire from afar? Do they inspire adults to read their words and declare allegiance to one other than Christ? Is it good to dwell on the weaknesses of saints? Sure as shootin’, they all have them.

Maybe it is good to mention these weaknesses. If it inspires others to sanctity despite their flaws, more power to these new saints. And let’s face it: JP2 will never be the patron of church administration any more than John XXIII will be consorted with Jenny Craig.

The most important thing is making saints among the living, not the dead. As Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

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Dies Domini 30: An Indispensable Day

John Paul II suggests protection. Such a defense of Sunday must involve an actively-lived and celebrated tradition. We’re not just defending tradition because of previous generations. They’re now dead–the ones who observed blue laws, and declined to work for their masters and lords, and who fanned themselves under shade trees. The servants, of course, not so much.

But the Holy Father is right. Sunday is indeed “an indispensable day!”

30. It is clear then why, even in our own difficult times, the identity of this day must be protected and above all must be lived in all its depth. An Eastern writer of the beginning of the third century recounts that as early as then the faithful in every region were keeping Sunday holy on a regular basis.(Cf. Bardesanes, Dialogue on Destiny, 46: PS 2, 606-607) What began as a spontaneous practice later became a juridically sanctioned norm.

I think the inspiration behind Sunday was part spontaneity, but also part grace.

The Lord’s Day has structured the history of the Church through two thousand years: how could we think that it will not continue to shape her future?

There are modern pressures. Some of them have always been with us.

The pressures of today can make it harder to fulfil the Sunday obligation; and, with a mother’s sensitivity, the Church looks to the circumstances of each of her children. In particular, she feels herself called to a new catechetical and pastoral commitment, in order to ensure that, in the normal course of life, none of her children are deprived of the rich outpouring of grace which the celebration of the Lord’s Day brings.

Catechesis and pastoral outreach are needed. But keeping Sunday holy is not just about teaching ignorant Christians. It is also a matter of creativity: how to reach out to people burdened by work, by personal obligations, and such. And of course, those who see Sunday as a day of busy leisure, rather than a more leisurely relaxation mindful of Christ.

A reminder that the idea of a perpetual calendar is acceptable within limits:

It was in this spirit that the Second Vatican Council, making a pronouncement on the possibility of reforming the Church calendar to match different civil calendars, declared that the Church “is prepared to accept only those arrangements which preserve a week of seven days with a Sunday”.(Sacrosanctum Concilium, Appendix: Declaration on the Reform of the Calendar) Given its many meanings and aspects, and its link to the very foundations of the faith, the celebration of the Christian Sunday remains, on the threshold of the Third Millennium, an indispensable element of our Christian identity.

The Vatican site has Dies Domini in its entirety.

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