EG 141: Looking Beyond Failings

Vasnetsov_Maria_MagdalenePope Francis offers a personal reflection on the Lord in this section of Evangelii Gaudium:

141. One cannot but admire the resources that the Lord used to dialogue with his people, to reveal his mystery to all and to attract ordinary people by his lofty teachings and demands. I believe that the secret lies in the way Jesus looked at people, seeing beyond their weaknesses and failings: “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32); Jesus preaches with that spirit. Full of joy in the Spirit, he blesses the Father who draws the little ones to him: “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes” (Lk 10:21). The Lord truly enjoys talking with his people; the preacher should strive to communicate that same enjoyment to his listeners.

Mercy. Again.

Plus, the acknowledgement that Jesus asked great things of people. He did not lower his bar. And yet many of today’s often-ineffective preachers lament many things: a de-Christianization of the West, a loss of a sense of sin, too much television and sports. Is effective preaching really as simple as looking beyond the sins of the people?

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Dies Domini 21: The First Day Of The Week

A straightforward section for your consideration today. After the Gospel narratives (but before they were written) we have the witness of St Paul:

21. It was for this reason that, from Apostolic times, “the first day after the Sabbath”, the first day of the week, began to shape the rhythm of life for Christ’s disciples (cf. 1 Cor 16:2). “The first day after the Sabbath” was also the day upon which the faithful of Troas were gathered “for the breaking of bread”, when Paul bade them farewell and miraculously restored the young Eutychus to life (cf. Acts 20:7-12). The Book of Revelation gives evidence of the practice of calling the first day of the week “the Lord’s Day” (1:10).

Others noticed, as early as the second century after Christ:

This would now be a characteristic distinguishing Christians from the world around them. As early as the beginning of the second century, it was noted by Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, in his report on the Christian practice “of gathering together on a set day before sunrise and singing among themselves a hymn to Christ as to a god”.(Epist. 10, 96, 7) And when Christians spoke of the “Lord’s Day”, they did so giving to this term the full sense of the Easter proclamation: “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:11; cf. Acts 2:36; 1 Cor 12:3). Thus Christ was given the same title which the Septuagint used to translate what in the revelation of the Old Testament was the unutterable name of God: YHWH.

Jesus, to us Christians is both Christ and Lord (Dominus).

The Vatican site has Dies Domini in its entirety.

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Of Red Shoes, Non-Prada

Thirteen months on, it remains a vast amusement to see some conservative Catholics spinning Pope Francis to fit their worldview. Apparently, it’s not enough to read and consider the man’s words. William Oddie at Catholic Herald offers a take on “Should Pope Francis have abandoned the trappings of his office? The media image now is of a pontiff rejecting the traditions of the Church.

To be frank, I pay little attention to the secular media on specialty items like religion, science, and even less important subjects like entertainment, sports, and other occasional hobbies I might have. I don’t expect the media to get faith or reason right. So I don’t read them.

That said, my sense is that the media is paying attention to the pope’s tone, which by any standard is far different from his predecessor. I would expect it. One was a diocesan priest, another was in a religious order. Both were teachers, but in different settings. They lived on different continents. They had vastly different experiences of WWII, Vatican II, the counterculture, and the Cold War era. Both had post-academic careers in bureaucracy: one in Rome and the other in a religious order.

Mr Oddie asks:

Firstly, does anyone seriously think, because (Pope Benedict) wore the scarlet mozzetta and red shoes, and went to his duties driven in a white Merc (by a driver who wept at his final departure) that Pope Benedict was NOT the profoundly humble and holy man he clearly was, for all that he didn’t consciously project humility?

I’ve said it before. Joseph Ratzinger was the most well-known person ever to be elected pope. Before his election he ran CDF, and in that role, he rarely if ever projected humility or holiness.

He may well have been a humble and holy person. A lot of people didn’t see it. His humility and sanctity are a matter between him and God.

His restoration of many decorative elements to the papacy were colored by the perception of the man as CDF head. Good things for a slender minority of Catholics. Probably not praiseworthy for most Catholics who had reason to dislike the man before 2005.

The fairness, accuracy, or utility of such feelings, assessments, or opinions may or may not be a good thing. In the view of many faithful and holy Catholics, the man had baggage heading to the Chair of Peter. Jorge Bergoglio, almost nothing.

Should Pope Francis have abandoned some 2005 innovations? In my opinion, yes. Does the media image of the man mean what the conservatives are fretting about? Not at all.

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EG 140: Four Qualities of Preaching

Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium offers some qualities to which the good preacher might attend:

140. This setting, both maternal and ecclesial, in which the dialogue between the Lord and his people takes place, should be encouraged by …

    • the closeness of the preacher,
    • the warmth of his tone of voice,
    • the unpretentiousness of his manner of speaking,
    • the joy of his gestures.

Vasnetsov_Maria_MagdaleneEven if the homily at times may be somewhat tedious, if this maternal and ecclesial spirit is present, it will always bear fruit, just as the tedious counsels of a mother bear fruit, in due time, in the hearts of her children.

This last bit is an experienced insight. People will forgive the occasional clunker if they know the preacher is both loving and connected to the Body, the Church.

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Looking Up At Two Crosses

Did you know there are two crosses in Earth’s sky? This image from Astronomy Picture of the Day today captures both of them. But you have to get as far south as Hawaii.

We talked about one of the crosses years ago.

As for the other, it’s one of the smallest constellations in the sky. It’s a very compact four stars. It’s interesting to read about how southern hemisphere non-Christian cultures viewed this asterism so differently: opossum, anchor, triggerfish, two trees, two giraffes, a swarm of bees, and even a duck. That last one makes an interesting comparison to the animal associated with the Northern Cross: a swan, Cygnus.

Wikipedia published this long-exposure image, above. The dark patch is an unlit dust cloud–the Coal Sack. Native Brazilians from Mato Grosso State saw the dark nebula as a beehive and the broght stars the swarm emerging from it. That’s an interesting piece of mythology that’s actually scientifically possible. Bright new stars do emerge from nebulas. The stars of the constellation Crux are in the foreground–between Earth and the Coal Sack.

Meanwhile, keep your eyes on the skies whenever you can this Holy Week. Look for one of the two crosses above.

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Dies Domini 20: Witnessing to the Resurrection

Pope John Paul II relies heavily on the witness of the Gospels to flesh out his examination of the Resurrection. Naturally:

20. According to the common witness of the Gospels, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead took place on “the first day after the Sabbath” (Mk 16:2,9; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1). On the same day, the Risen Lord appeared to the two disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35) and to the eleven Apostles gathered together (cf. Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19). A week later — as the Gospel of John recounts (cf. 20:26) — the disciples were gathered together once again, when Jesus appeared to them and made himself known to Thomas by showing him the signs of his Passion. The day of Pentecost — the first day of the eighth week after the Jewish Passover (cf. Acts 2:1), when the promise made by Jesus to the Apostles after the Resurrection was fulfilled by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4-5) — also fell on a Sunday. This was the day of the first proclamation and the first baptisms: Peter announced to the assembled crowd that Christ was risen and “those who received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). This was the epiphany of the Church, revealed as the people into which are gathered in unity, beyond all their differences, the scattered children of God.

The Resurrection was key to the early proclamation of Christ, and so the Resurrection-Sunday is ancient, early, and very much part of the initial Christian vector to observe the Creator’s Sabbath on Sunday rather than Saturday.

The Vatican site has Dies Domini in its entirety.

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EG 139: A Mother’s Conversation

Vasnetsov_Maria_MagdalenePope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, speaks now of “A mother’s conversation.”

Evangelizing itself–autoevangelization? No matter what you call it, Pope Francis asks up front how this notion should affect the Church’s preachers.

139. We said that the people of God, by the constant inner working of the Holy Spirit, is constantly evangelizing itself. What are the implications of this principle for preachers?

Mother to child, not mother to infant:

It reminds us that the Church is a mother, and that she preaches in the same way that a mother speaks to her child, knowing that the child trusts that what she is teaching is for his or her benefit, for children know that they are loved. Moreover, a good mother can recognize everything that God is bringing about in her children, she listens to their concerns and learns from them.

Two important qualities I see in this relationship are love and dialogue. The Church has care and regard for its members. The notion of dialogue, as Pope Francis gives here, is important. “Listening to concerns” does not imply, as some pharisees or elder siblings might present, agreement. Listening to people involves hearing and perceiving the words. And more: hearing and perceiving the meanings and the motivations behind the words. Mothers–and fathers too–are called to be listeners, but discerning listeners.

The spirit of love which reigns in a family guides both mother and child in their conversations; therein they teach and learn, experience correction and grow in appreciation of what is good. Something similar happens in a homily. The same Spirit who inspired the Gospels and who acts in the Church also inspires the preacher to hear the faith of the God’s people and to find the right way to preach at each Eucharist. Christian preaching thus finds in the heart of people and their culture a source of living water, which helps the preacher to know what must be said and how to say it. Just as all of us like to be spoken to in our mother tongue, so too in the faith we like to be spoken to in our “mother culture,” our native language (cf. 2 Macc 7:21, 27), and our heart is better disposed to listen. This language is a kind of music which inspires encouragement, strength and enthusiasm.

Question for clergy: How do you listen to “the heart of people” in your faith community?

Question for the larger Church: How do we speak in “mother culture” so as to draw people better disposed to listen to Christ’s message?

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