Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Reflections on today's Gospel: Wednesday, April 3.

The tie-in in today's readings is sight.

Peter and John are walking towards the Temple in our First Reading, when they stop to see the man begging.  Before he heals the man, what does Peter say?  I never noticed this before.  He says, "Look at us".  He wants the man to see that Peter and John are not dressed wealthy.  They don't have a kit with medicines or a book with incantations or spells.  They have nothing, but the promise Jesus Christ gave them, "I am with you always".
Eye contact is a lost art.  Look around the next time you are on a train, in a diner, or at your family's dinner table, and you're bound to see 50% of the people there looking down towards some display screen.  Because of that, besides the art of conversation, we've lost the art of making eye contact with other persons.  A family I knew in a previous assignment always amazed me, because the dad made a point of teaching his young children (especially the boys) how to greet someone: with a firm handshake, looking the other person in the eyes, and a greeting made in a clear voice (not a mumble).  These boys are now high school and college ages, and I'm sure they've benefited from dad's lesson.
The Responsorial Psalm today hints at sight: "Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord."  Seeking the Lord; looking for God in our life.  Look at our church, beautifully decorated for Easter.  During Lent, it was empty, stark, the statues covered.  Now, it looks like there isn't a place here that doesn't have a plant or flowers on it.  The only "empty place" in Easter is the tomb that used to hold Jesus.  It's empty because Jesus stepped off the slab and out of it, because He is alive and present to all of us.  He's had a bit of a day this first Easter Sunday: from the early morning conversation with Mary Magdalene, to an appearance to Simon Peter, to an appearance to the ten (Judas was dead and Thomas was absent), and now on the road heading out of Jerusalem.  Risen from the dead, he is no longer bound by time and space.  He can be in many places at once, which he does even now, like the prayer says, "in all the Tabernacles of the world, even until the end of time."  Jesus is present everywhere; we just have to have a heart that seeks Him.

Now the Gospel.  How many times in Scripture does Jesus put Himself in the middle of two people?  James and John want (and their mother wants them) to get the seats on the right and left of Jesus.  He spends time refereeing between the sisters active Martha and contemplative Mary.  He gets crucified between two thieves, one demanding a jailbreak and the other asking to be remembered.  Now He is on the road to Emmaus, between two men.  We only know the name of one of them, Cleopas, and he has no trouble letting his anger and frustration out.  They're walking with Jesus, but they don't recognize Him; they don't see Him.  Only at the end, when He breaks the bread, do they see who was with them all the while.  What a lost opportunity.  "If only we recognized Him sooner", they must have thought.

The Church just gave us six weeks to look for Jesus Christ in our lives.  Now we have eight weeks of Easter to show Him to others.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Reflections on Today's Gospel: Tuesday, March 26

At the beginning of Lent, on the first Sunday, the Gospel reading told us of the Devil's temptations of Jesus: "Turn stones into bread", "Throw yourself off the parapet", and "Worship me and these Kingdoms are yours".  Jesus fought them all, and won, and the Devil went away "for a while".

Today, in the Gospel passage about the Last Supper, we can see that the Devil is back.  He is a cunning fighter, and this time, he's not going after Jesus, but rather those close to him: namely Judas and Peter.  It's the next step in the battle against Christ; if the Devil can't hurt Jesus, he can certainly hurt those around him.  And yet, Jesus is not defeated, because he sees beyond the battles to the whole war.

The word that ties both readings together is "glory".  Isaiah tells the story of the servant sent by God to restore glory to Israel.  Jesus is about to be beaten, humiliated, tortured, killed, and yet glorified.  Neither will be easy.  It's not easy to be a Catholic, if all we want is a good time.  But glory is found in the fight, even when popular opinion is against us.

Look at how Facebook is inundated with these equal signs, showing support for same-sex marriage.  Who can be mad at an equal sign?  It's the perfect symbol, though my inner math-geek says the congruent sign would be a more accurate logo.

To some extent, the gay community has a valid argument.  But not so much because the love of 2 men or 2 women can be exalted as a "marriage"; their argument has validity because more and more today, many marriages between a man and a woman have such lowered expectations and are so watered down, so superficial, and so non-committal that they may as well be civil unions.

The Scribes and Pharisees were the moral compasses of their time; their elite class claimed to show Judaism how one was to live in right relationship with God.  Then along comes Jesus, who challenges their authority and begins to poach at their flock with talk like, "You have heard it said..., but I say to you... ".  You can bet those who abandoned the Pharisees in favor of Jesus were called all sorts of names: "traitor", "hater", etc.

It's easy to be a Catholic when a new Pope is standing on a balcony and he's smiling and waving and seems like a nice guy.  It's easy to be a Catholic when you get, as it were, palms stuffed into your palms.  But it's hard to be a Catholic in standing for the truth even when the world will call you names like "bigot" and "homophobe" and accuse us of hate, all in an effort to get us to keep silent (or at least confused).

Feeling down because you're not willing to change your Facebook profile picture to an equal sign?  You're not alone.  Peter is the perfect patron saint of caving into the crowd's whim, just to get them off your back. Judas, though, he's got more to answer for.  He's not only doing what the crowd wants; on the inside, he has come to think that it's the right thing to do.  Only after the fact, when the deed is done and realizes both what he has done and how it cannot be changed, does he despair of his choices to the point of suicide.

Holy Week continues, and the time for Jesus' Passion is getting closer and closer.  Will we stay or will we run?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What was discussed?


Today's Vatican News Service blog reports about today's historic meeting between Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict.  In it can be found this blurb:
After a short time of prayer they went to the apartments' library where their private meeting began around 12:30pm. It is the library where the Pope normally receives important guests at Castel Gandolfo. Their meeting lasted around 45 minutes.
The world wonders what the two discussed, and I am proud to say I have a source at Castelgandolfo who has given me the highlights of the meeting:

  • The Holy Father and Pope Emeritus have promised to pray for each other and remember each other at their respective Masses.
  • The Holy Father and Pope Emeritus have agreed to continue speaking by telephone.  No one can counsel the Holy Father better than the man who held the job himself.
  • The Holy Father and Pope Emeritus have agreed on joint custody of Abp. Gänswein.  Each gets 2 weekends a month, plus their name days (both Baptismal and Papal).  Vacations will be discussed as the situation arises.  Since Pope Francis and the Archbishop share the same given name, he gets first shot at birthdays, though Benedict will certainly be invited.  The two promised not to fight in front of him.
  • The two decided that Dick York was the best Darren, Sean Connery was the best James Bond, and Cheers was never the same after Shelly Long left.
  • Pope emeritus Benedict let the Holy Father know which bathrooms in the Papal Apartments have drippy faucets, and presented him with a collection of menus from restaurants in the Borgo Pio neighborhood that deliver.  Pope Francis presented Pope emeritus Benedict with a carton of cat food for the Castelgandolfo kitties and boxes of piano sheet music.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reflections on today's Gospel: Weds, March 20

The day after St. Joseph's Day, and we jump back into Lent.

The readings today revolve around freedom.  We all love the idea of being free.  It is engraved into our American thinking that we are a free people in a free society.  Just don't smoke a cigarette in public or pour yourself a Big Gulp in Manhattan.

The Scriptures present us with a contradiction.

Jesus is confronting the Pharisees about their supposed freedom.  They think their devotion to the law has given them a freedom.  Really, as Our Lord points out, their freedom is a slavery.  It's not new, really.  My desire for junk food could make me a slave to either the treadmill or to Insulin (the choice is mine).  I might choose to smoke or to drink or to waste hours on the Internet in search of pornography, all in order to claim, "I am free!"  But the reality is that, after a while, the thing takes hold of chooser and makes him/her a slave to it.  How many people swore they would give up smoking when the cost of a pack of cigarettes reached a certain level?  Those Scribes and Pharisees are so proud of their status and supposed intelligence, that they feel they'll spot the Messiah before everyone else (or, because they're so special, the Messiah will naturally come and seek them out first before revealing himself to the rest of the world).  Their ignorance is on display for us to see.  The Messiah is close enough that they can smell on his breath what He had for breakfast, and they don't get it.  Sad.  For so many Catholics, pride has them thinking they know better than the Church.  That's it: they are slaves to their pride.

Then there are the three slaves: Shedrach, Meshach, and Abednago (Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael). In the words of Phil Esposito, "no doot aboot it", they are slaves, the property of the King.  Their disobedience has earned the King's wrath.  Being burned alive.  When they do polls every so often about the way people would least like to die, burning to death is always in the top few.  Come to think of it, why does this King have a furnace big enough have a party in?  The three see this furnace in front of them.  I'm sure they can feel the heat from it, just being in the room with it.  Yet they consistently refuse to act like slaves.  They are free, no matter what society or the King or his guards think.

Jesus said, "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin".  Imagine sin as one of those leg irons with the lead ball at the end.  That's what sin does to us: weighs us down, keeps us from moving freely.  Some people have so many of those irons on, they can hardly walk.  Some have been walking with one of those things on their leg for so long they have forgotten it's there and come to believe that's as fast as they can walk!  How many have let pride stop them from coming to Confession to get the chain broken?  What was that song from the Eagles?  "So often times it happens / that we live our lives in chains / and we never even know we have the key."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reflections on today's Gospel: Sat., March 16.

We know we're getting close to the end of Lent because the tones of the Gospel readings have changed.  At the beginning of Lenten season, the readings' themes were things like prayer, mercy, forgiveness, humility, almsgiving, etc.  Now, especially in this past week, the Gospels are confrontational.  All this week we've read the confrontation between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees.  "Who do you think you are doing this healing on the Sabbath?"  Who is he?  He is the Son of God, only you can't see that.

Now, in today's Gospel, we see them continuing in their anger, trying to get the Temple Guards to do their dirty work.  They find something to hang on to: The Scriptures say the Messiah will come from David's family and from David's town of Bethlehem.  Now they feel justified in not becoming followers; now they feel good about themselves, all over that one fact.  Why didn't anyone in that crowd say, "Let's go ask him where he came from"?

Nicodemus diffuses their momentum by asking, "Do we always condemn someone without hearing from them first?" He is one of those great characters of Lent through whom we see a progressive conversion.  In the 3rd chapter of John, he sees Jesus at night, not wanting to be seen publicly with Him.  Here he is now willing to give him the benefit of a doubt, but still won't publicly support Him.  Finally, Nicodemus comes totally to Jesus in Passion account of Good Friday, how Nicodemus joins Joseph of Arimethea in caring for the Lord's body, bringing with him costly spices to anoint His body and helping lay Him in the tomb.

So, they don't want to know where he is from; they've hung their whole argument against Jesus on one fact, and do not want to know anything different.  How many people do that today?  How many people (including out own Catholics) continue to criticize the Church for one issue or event, which they justify their whole disinterest or lack of involvement?

When I was a child, our neighbor had an angry dog.  But there was a big chain link fence between my yard and the dog's yard, so I knew the only thing the dog could do to me was bark at me.  Some Catholics have decided to stay on the other side of the fence, far away and uninterested from the Church.  More than a few like to straddle the fence, close enough to jump in if they want something from the Church, but also positioned far enough that they can jump away if the Church asks something from them.  Lent is the time to jump inside the fence, because that means I'm forced to deal with the dog I've been avoiding for all this time.

Who knows?  Maybe the dog will lick your face.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Some random thoughts on Pope Benedict's upcoming resignation

I thought it would be a quiet Monday.

First, let's all take a breath and realize how unprecedented this is.  Yes, I know this has happened before, centuries ago, but nothing like it has happened since before America was discovered.  These are uncharted waters we are about to go through.  Scary?  Yes.  Uncertain?  Of course. Interesting?  You bet your bippy.

Canon Law allows for this to happen.  Canon 332, paragraph 2, says that the Roman Pontiff may validly resign his office if he does so "freely" (no one can hold a gun to his head and force him to resign) and that it be "duly manifested" (he can't do it secretly - the universal Church needs to know).  His resignation does not need to be accepted by anyone.  He essentially resigns to himself.

Now, to the haters, the conspiracy theorists, to those who pretend to advocate things like "tolerance" and "acceptance of all beliefs" (providing you agree with them), I say just shut your pie hole.  This isn't about some nasty scandal that is about to break.  This is about bad health.  Nor is this your foot in the door to open up your old playbook of, "Now can we have a discussion about ______?"  This isn't about what doctrine(s) will change.  They won't, even after the new guy is elected.  What, you can have a shifting paradigm every five years, and the Pope can't have one?

OK, so let's talk about bad health.  The Ratzinger family has had some bad health in it.  The Pope's father died two days after suffering a stroke in 1958.  The Pope's mother died from stomach cancer in 1963.  His sister is already gone.  He and his brother have had health scares in the past. Also, don't overlook the Holy Father's timing of the announcement.  He announced this on the Church's World Day of Prayer for the Sick (emphasis added).  In the announcement, he hinted to health setbacks in the last few months, saying that in order to perform the functions of the Pope, "...strength of mind and body are needed, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me...".  Yes, he is keeping the particulars private, but he is a sick man.  JP2, even at the last moments of his life, could communicate to aides in soft, mumbled tones.  How would the Church function with a Pope who has had a stroke, whose heart beats on but who cannot communicate with anyone?  He would not want the Church to endure that.

Also, from the start of his pontificate (when everyone assumed the new pope would be called John Paul III), the choice of his name showed he did not see himself as another John Paul II.  I'm sure he thought it heroic that Pope John Paul remained in office until his death, but it doesn't mean he felt obligated to do the same.  Every Pope is his own man.

Scott Hahn had a great anecdote/insight into the Holy Father's thinking on this:
Back on April 29, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI did something rather striking, but which went largely unnoticed.  He stopped off in Aquila, Italy, and visited the tomb of an obscure medieval Pope named St. Celestine V (1215-1296). After a brief prayer, he left his pallium, the symbol of his own episcopal authority as Bishop of Rome, on top of Celestine's tomb!
Fifteen months later, on July 4, 2010, Benedict went out of his way again, this time to visit and pray in the cathedral of Sulmona, near Rome, before the relics of this same saint, Celestine V.

Few people, however, noticed at the time.

Only now, we may be gaining a better understanding of what it meant. These actions were probably more than pious acts. More likely, they were profound and symbolic gestures of a very personal nature, which conveyed a message that a Pope can hardly deliver any other way.

In the year 1294, this man (Fr. Pietro Angelerio), known by all as a devout and holy priest, was elected Pope, somewhat against his will, shortly before his 80th birthday (Ratzinger was 78 when he was elected Pope in 2005). Just five months later, after issuing a formal decree allowing popes to resign (or abdicate, like other rulers), Pope Celestine V exercised that right. And now Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to follow in the footsteps of this venerable model.

Now let's talk a little about the Papacy.  Matthew 16:19 is the big passage - Jesus giving Peter the keys, meaning authority.  It refers back to Isaiah 22:22 and the taking away of the keys (aka stripping of authority) from one steward, Shebna, and giving it to another, Eliakim.  The keys are an office that can move from person to person, depending on whom the King chooses.  In this case, the keys are not being taken away, they are being given away.  But the idea is the same.

What happens to him afterwards?  He will NOT be an ex-Pope the way we think of former Presidents of the United States, showing up to give speeches and open shopping malls.  We probably will never see him again.  He most likely will not write publicly any more.  There is only one Peter at one time in the Church, and he knows a Pope and a visible former Pope would be confusing to the Church.  He will go back to being what he was, an ordained Bishop of the Catholic Church and a member of the College of Cardinals, though I'm sure he will not be at the Conclave that will elect his successor.  Because he is over the age of 80, he would not be allowed to vote for his successor, and even if the Cardinals elect him again, he may validly refuse election.

Despite what is being said on some stations (including some Catholic stations), the Pope has not resigned yet.  He has announced that he will do so on February 28 at 8:00pm.  Until then, he is fully the Pope.  Technically, he could change his mind and remain Pope.  He still has all the powers a Pope has ("supreme, full, immediate, and universal") in the Church.

What will happen next?  On the 28th at the proper hour, he will probably sign a document attesting to his renouncing of the Petrine office.  Perhaps the Dean of the College of Cardinals (Card. Sodano) and the Cardinal Camerlengo (Card. Bertone) will be present.  At that time the Cardinals assume trusteeship of the Church, and the Cardinals of the Church will be called to Rome for a conclave.  Without a funeral first, they can go right into their general meetings to handle the business of the Church.  They will have Mass every day, though this time not for the repose of the Pope's soul, but for guidance of the Holy Spirit on their conclave.  We will probably have a new Pope by Holy Week.

Maybe the Cardinals will start to arrive in Rome on their own.  Maybe he will resign in the presence of every Cardinal?  Again, this is new territory we're in.  If you want some reading on the topic, read Pope John Paul's 1996 Apostolic Constitution on the election of the Roman Pontiff.

How will the world respond to this?  Our culture says promote yourself.  Heck, why else would I be writing this blog?  Pope Benedict is voluntarily choosing to walk away from celebrity and power for the greater good.  He's not being paid to do so.  He won't write a book about it or tell Barbara Walters or Katie Couric about it.  The world won't get this because what the world holds up as success and happiness is not about anonymity or humility.

What a moment in the life of the Church.  I can't watch, but I can't not watch.

Monday, January 28, 2013

On the Feast of the Angelic Doctor

Pope Benedict dedicated three Wednesday Audience discourses to St. Thomas Aquinas.  The Directory page is HERE.  Look for them on June 2, 16, and 23, 2010.

Talk 1 is an overview of his life.
Talk 2 is his fusion of faith and reason.
Talk 3 is about the Summa.