Joel Ushers In Lent

lent-header1.jpgThe Liturgy Commission got a few choices from me for Lenten entrance music. They chose the plea from Joel (not Billy):

Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo: ne in aeternum irascaris nobis.

The great prelude begins tomorrow: before Lent’s first Sunday we have four days to get things realigned spiritually for the Forty Days ahead.

In my new parish, one of my multi-instrumentalists asked about retiring his mandolin for the season. I suggested not; we can adjust our accompaniment as needed. Trumpet, perhaps I could see a fast from that. But only perhaps.

Any good Lenten musical practices this year for you commentators?

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Laudato Si 240: Relationships in Creation

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. Human growth and maturity makes possible the adoption of relationships that manifest something of God’s relationships. One of these adoptions is consideration for the environment.

240. The divine Persons are subsistent relations, and the world, created according to the divine model, is a web of relationships. Creatures tend towards God, and in turn it is proper to every living being to tend towards other things, so that throughout the universe we can find any number of constant and secretly interwoven relationships.[Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 11, art. 3; q. 21, art. 1, ad 3; q. 47, art. 3] This leads us not only to marvel at the manifold connections existing among creatures, but also to discover a key to our own fulfilment. The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures. In this way, they make their own that trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created. Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.

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Laudato Si 239: Reading the Trinity in Creation

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website.

239. For Christians, believing in one God who is trinitarian communion suggests that the Trinity has left its mark on all creation. Saint Bonaventure went so far as to say that human beings, before sin, were able to see how each creature “testifies that God is three”. The reflection of the Trinity was there to be recognized in nature “when that book was open to man and our eyes had not yet become darkened”.[Quaest. Disp. de Myst. Trinitatis, 1, 2 concl.] The Franciscan saint teaches us that each creature bears in itself a specifically Trinitarian structure, so real that it could be readily contemplated if only the human gaze were not so partial, dark and fragile. In this way, he points out to us the challenge of trying to read reality in a Trinitarian key.

Bonaventure is one of our doctors. I had never been exposed to this notion before, that the human fall has clouded our sight from seeing more deeply this reality of God. Seeing does not equate to a full understanding, however.

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Our parish’s deacon preached this weekend. He pointed out the three instances of unworthiness as expressed in the readings, but he didn’t make it the centerpiece of his homily. Did you catch them in your celebration of the Word?


For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips …


For I am the least of the apostles,
not fit to be called an apostle …


Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.

But I wonder: does a sense of unworthiness help shackle Christians to a limp and ineffective ministry? In light of a bleak near-future in Chicago lamented on this thread at PrayTell, do you think our struggle with worthiness hampers a greater effectiveness? This, especially when the situation of the modern world clearly points to solutions outside the box, if not beyond continuity with the past.

Sometimes, Christians wear their humility as a badge of pride. It can also be a ready weapon, to be wielded when someone else is in disagreement. (Who thinks you’re worthy to preach to me/them/priests/Pope Francis?)

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Laudato Si 238: Trinity

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. When Pope Francis discusses the Trinity, don’t think deep and inscrutable theology, but think “relationship.” Sections 238-240 come under the heading of “The Trinity and the Relationship between Creatures.” Let’s read:

238. The Father is the ultimate source of everything, the loving and self-communicating foundation of all that exists. The Son, his reflection, through whom all things were created, united himself to this earth when he was formed in the womb of Mary. The Spirit, infinite bond of love, is intimately present at the very heart of the universe, inspiring and bringing new pathways. The world was created by the three Persons acting as a single divine principle, but each one of them performed this common work in accordance with his own personal property. Consequently, “when we contemplate with wonder the universe in all its grandeur and beauty, we must praise the whole Trinity”.[John Paul II, Catechesis (2 August 2000), 4: Insegnamenti 23/2 (2000), 112]

Not three gods, but three persons, each with an aspect of being and doing among us.

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Laudato Si 237: Sunday

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. And so we come to the notion of rest, or more accurately, Sabbath:

237. On Sunday, our participation in the Eucharist has special importance. Sunday, like the Jewish Sabbath, is meant to be a day which heals our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others and with the world. Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, the “first day” of the new creation, whose first fruits are the Lord’s risen humanity, the pledge of the final transfiguration of all created reality. It also proclaims “(humankind’s) eternal rest in God”.[CCC 2175] In this way, Christian spirituality incorporates the value of relaxation and festivity.

And like industrial masters and slavers who insisted on constant service, people today are beset by the same oppression, the need to work rather than take rest.

We tend to demean contemplative rest as something unproductive and unnecessary, but this is to do away with the very thing which is most important about work: its meaning. We are called to include in our work a dimension of receptivity and gratuity, which is quite different from mere inactivity. Rather, it is another way of working, which forms part of our very essence.

Action, not activism:

It protects human action from becoming empty activism; it also prevents that unfettered greed and sense of isolation which make us seek personal gain to the detriment of all else. The law of weekly rest forbade work on the seventh day, “so that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your maidservant, and the stranger, may be refreshed” (Ex 23:12). Rest opens our eyes to the larger picture and gives us renewed sensitivity to the rights of others. And so the day of rest, centered on the Eucharist, sheds it light on the whole week, and motivates us to greater concern for nature and the poor.

Like the sacraments, Sunday is not a narcissitic privilege of the well-to-do. It is something for everyone. It should lead us to reflect more deeply on what inspires us to give thanks and feel gratitude. From this “eucharist” may we be moved to consider others, and draw them into this great thanksgiving.

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Ex Machina

Ex MachinaAt my wife’s encouragement, I went in on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago. I found this movie I had heard good things about. It’s a moody, intelligent, surprising film that demonstrates very smart people (and a robot) doing very cruel and not thought-out things.

A very minimal cast is placed in a hideaway beyond a Norwegian glacier, and the test is on: does the beautiful “machina” have authentic self-awareness? Nathan, the reclusive misanthropic boss, plucks young Caleb from his programming cubicle to test Ava. The first question I have, shared by Caleb, is how can he deliver the Turing Test if he already knows Ava is a machine.

In an era of in-your-face special effects, the only one in the film involves hundreds of screen shots of a feminine robot who has a human face and hands, but otherwise her inner workings are ever-present to the viewer. Except when she dresses up.

The acting is fine. The script is tight. The plot is best of all–maybe the best arc for a film I can recall. Some things are wholly predictable, like that servant who never speaks a word. Some elements in the final third of the film are surprising, if not shocking.

There is a level of brutality and cruelty in Nathan. Not just his bluster and arrogance, but also plots within plots. The viewer gets the notion that just when you think he’s been circumvented or fooled, he turns the tables and his hand is (literally) at someone’s throat.

A science fiction specialty, the damsel in distress, is cunningly turned on its head in this film–and that’s all the spoiler you get from me.

Some robots are shown as naked females, and that’s less about sex than a disturbing sense of combined vulnerability and power. The language can get rough at times. And there’s no discussion whatsoever about God or faith–the things that elevate humanity above our animal roots. A sensitive person might be upset by this film. But if you have the stomach for it, I think it’s very good viewing.

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