Corpus Christi Sunday: Thanksgiving

Corpus-Christi-Holy-Quotes-Sayings-Wallpapers-Messages-SMS-3

GEN 14:18-20; PS 110:1,2,3,4; 1 COR 11:23-26; LK 9:11b-17

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Now, the real day for Corpus Christi is the Thursday after the octave of Pentecost, that is, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Last week we were talking about octaves, and how a single feast is drawn out over a long time. The reason we celebrate Corpus Christi on this Thursday is that it is the very next Thursday (not counting the weeks-long celebration of Easter) after Holy Thursday. Holy Thursday contains so much. On this “next” Thursday, we separate out just the element of the Eucharist.

(Of course, in the United States we transfer the feast to Sunday. This is because of the challenges of coordinating Masses in far-flung dioceses. I used to get annoyed about transferring feasts. But hey, it’s the priests’ and bishops’ job to figure out these details, not mine. My job is to enjoy the liturgy. Kvetching doesn’t help.)

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In the three-year cycle of the post-Vatican II liturgy, we get different angles on this liturgy. This year, we focus on thanksgiving.

The first reading is Abraham’s mysterious encounter with the priest Melchizedek. Melchizedek, of course, gets a lot of play in Hebrews as a precursor of Christ. Psalm 110, “The Lord said to my Lord,” which we pray in this Mass, identifies the Messiah as a priest “in the order of Melchizedek.”

But a nice place to go to appreciate Melchizedek is in the Roman Canon, Eucharistic Prayer One, where after the consecration, the priest prays:

accept [these offerings], as once you were pleased to accept

the gifts of your servant Abel the just,

the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith,

and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek,

a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.

Melchizedek is portrayed as one of the models of offering perfect sacrifice – and a model that helps explain the others.

Now, that’s surprising, because in our reading this Sunday, we see that his sacrifice hardly fits our definition of sacrifice. “Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram.” He invokes God as “creator of heaven and earth . . . who delivered your foes into your hand” – but he doesn’t destroy anything. Doesn’t sacrifice mean death and destruction?

The tradition’s answer is, no it doesn’t. Sacrifice is an act of thanksgiving and worship, manifested with material things. We have a fine model of sacrifice in the American holiday of Thanksgiving. The turkey (one hopes) does not get burned, it gets eaten. And yet that sacred banquet is itself an act of giving thanks to God most high, creator of heaven and earth, who provides and protects and gives us a place of rest.

Melchizedek gives thanks and praise, as we do in the Eucharist – it is right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give thanks and praise, which is why it is called Eucharist, thanksgiving.

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The Gospel reading this Sunday is also surprising. It is not the Last Supper – we hear about that only in the Epistle. It is the feeding of the five thousand. Now of course, in John 6, that apostle takes the occasion of the multiplication of loaves to give us Jesus’ central discourse on the Eucharist. But this year we read Luke.

All we have is Jesus: “looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.” But the language is surprisingly reminiscent of the Mass: “and with eyes raised to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father, giving you thanks, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples.” That line, “with eyes raised to heaven” isn’t in any of the accounts of the Last Supper – the Roman Canon takes it from the multiplication of the loaves.

What are we to make of this? Again, the deeper point is Eucharist, thanksgiving, not destruction. Jesus gives them (as John tells us he said over and over at the multiplication of the loaves) not the bread of death, but the bread of life. He feeds them with finest wheat – his very life – and they are filled with praise and joy and thanksgiving.

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Our epistle is 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul gives his own account of the Last Supper. He tells us the Eucharist was established “on the night he was handed over,” and “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” Yes, it does call to mind his death – but as we await his coming. This eschatological aspect of the Eucharist reminds us that he is not dead, he is victorious. His death is the mystery we pass through on the way to his life and triumph.

And so “this cup is the new covenant in my blood,” the chalice, as the Roman Canon says, “of everlasting salvation.” We are filled not with death, but with “every grace and heavenly blessing.” We celebrate his triumph with hymns of praise and not with destruction, but with a festal banquet. The Eucharist is joy.

How could you express greater thankfulness to God?

Forgive Us Our Trespasses: Confession

seven sacramentsAfter a long break, we return to the end of our series on the Our Father and the sacraments.

Our point is that the Our Father can help us think about the sacraments – and thinking about the sacraments can help us pray the Our Father well. When we say, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we can make a spiritual communion – and in thinking about the Eucharist, we can make those words meaningful. And we can do the same thing with the rest of the Our Father and the other six sacraments.

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Today we consider the penultimate petition of the Our Father, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The connection to Confession is obvious: both are about the forgiveness of our sins. But we can go deeper than the obvious.

The sacraments confer grace, but they do it through tangible means. Our sins are not forgiven in a way that leaves us out, as if some magic happens elsewhere than in our hearts. Our sins are forgiven in us.

This is expressed, first of all, in the very praying of this petition of the Our Father. Our sins are forgiven by us asking for forgiveness. They are forgiven when we acknowledge both our sin and God’s mercy.

We live in a world of cheap grace. In a way, the amoralism of our culture is a kind of deformed Christianity. On some level, our culture believes that all sin is forgiven, that God is merciful. But our culture’s understanding of this forgiveness is impersonal. Our culture’s understanding of God’s forgiveness is just that God doesn’t care about what we do, so we needn’t even ask forgiveness. God is a very distant father.

To the contrary, to ask forgiveness is a personal encounter. Pope Francis talks about the caress of God’s mercy on our sin. We are meant, not to ignore God and our sin, since our sin doesn’t matter, but to bring God into contact with our sin, by asking forgiveness.

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This is why, to the question why we “have to” confess our sins to a priest, the best answer is to express our joy that we “get to” go to confession. The forgiveness of our sins is not something we want to avoid. It is not something we want to minimize. It is something we want to celebrate.

Confession is, of course, frightening. It is supposed to be frightening. Contrition (or attrition) means our sin makes us sad, tristis. The whole point of confessing our sin is that we realize that our sin is awful.

But we realize, too, that God’s mercy is wonderful. We solve the fear of our sinfulness not by ignoring it, but by feeling the caress of God’s mercy upon it.

We do that through the ministry of ordained priests. Wonder of wonders! The point of ordained priests is not that they are great, holy guys – in fact, it is precisely not that. The point is that they are ordained, whatever wretches they might be. The point is that they have received the special touch of Christ that is ordination.

We confess not to the priest, but to Christ. In the East, there is a practice of confessing in front of the icons, to make this point clear. But the priest makes Christ concrete. We want to hear his voice. We want to experience the shame of confessing our sin – because it is in that shame that we can feel the caress of God’s mercy.

Thus thinking of confession helps give substance to our prayer “Forgive us our trespasses.” That is the whole point of the sacraments: to give substance to words that can be said with so little seriousness. I pray the Our Father carelessly – until I imagine kneeling down in the confessional.

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But the greater wonder is in the second part: “As we forgive.” This part is so important that in the Sermon on the Mount, it is the only part of the Our Father on which Jesus comments: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Mt 6:14).

The sacraments are powerful. They have an effect. They do something.

That is why another essential aspect of Confession, along with confessing to the priest and feeling sorrow for our sin, is penance. Contrition makes no sense if we do not change. Our penance – or, technically, “satisfaction,” which means, “doing enough” – is our first steps in the right direction.

Without those steps, our contrition is meaningless. Without those steps, it is as if we don’t really take sin seriously, don’t really care about our lack of love. Without those small first steps, it is as if the sacrament has changed nothing.

But Christ pours his grace into us. He absolves us – if we bothered to translate the word, we should say he “unbinds us,” “unties us,” lets us loose from our sin. The gentle caress of Christ’s mercy heals us and lets us go free from the suffering of sin.

The Our Father expresses this freedom, these steps in a new direction, by infusing the very experience of forgiveness with this new-found spirit of love: our being forgiven is inseparable from our learning to forgive. God’s mercy does not leave us unchanged, but gives birth to mercy in our own hearts. God’s love makes us lovers.

Where do you need to feel God’s mercy today? How could you experience it?

The Confiteor and the Profession of God’s Mercy

kyrieIn this year of Mercy, we do well to rediscover the prayers for mercy in the Mass.

Technically, we say that the Mass begins with the “Penitential Rite.” But we might do better to say we begin with the profession of mercy. We begin the Mass by professing our need for God – and his unbounded generosity.

In the sacrament of Confession, we dig into God’s mercy by thinking specifically about our sins. This is an essential complement to the Mass. And yet in the Mass we don’t take too much time to think about our sin. In the Mass, we are focused on God’s mercy.

This is the right way to start. In the readings, we continue to meditate on God’s generosity – the myriad ways of his generosity through all the pages of the Bible. (One way to listen to those readings: now and then silently pray, “O Lord, mercy.”) Always his mercy on our need.

In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we give thanks and receive the ultimate gift. Mercy, mercy, mercy.

And so we begin, we set the stage for the whole Mass that will follow, by calling for mercy, celebrating mercy.

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The older part of this celebration of mercy is the Kyrie. This is the original litany, once sung in processions on the way to Mass: have mercy, have mercy, have mercy.

I don’t think it’s helpful to criticize the liturgy; we should live it and love it, as we love the Church that gives it to us. But if there were one tiny thing I could change about the liturgical reform, it would be to restore the ninefold Kyrie. Now the priest says, “Lord have mercy,” we repeat; he says, “Christ have mercy, we repeat; etc. But it used to be just a little more complicated, with each one said three times instead of two. One of the ways it was celebrated was to go back and forth in sort of an odd way: after the priest says the third “Lord have mercy,” the people say the first “Christ have mercy,” etc.

Well, it’s an insignificant little detail – but the point is, the Kyrie is a time to dig into these words, to spend a little extra time on them, to luxuriate in the word mercy.

I use the word mercy when I teach my classes about Gregorian chant. The only point of chant, really, is to spend a little more time on the words. Mercy is the best example: apart from singing, there’s no way to enjoy that word as long as we ought to enjoy it. Gregorian chant is not designed to take forever – but it is designed to spend just a few more moments enjoying that word: Lord, have mercy.

Until the translations of the 1970s, Kyrie eleison was one of the few vestiges of the Greek liturgy. Even in Latin, you sing these words in Greek. Why? To remember that it is one of our oldest, most beloved prayers, our original inheritance. Before there was any Latin tradition at all, there was Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy.

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 It was in early medieval France, in perhaps the 800s, that the Confiteor was added before the Kyrie. In fact, there’s a different spirit to the Confiteor. Where the Kyrie is said with hands raised in the form of the Cross – publicly, openly, to God, together – the Confiteor is said with hands united, looking down, introspectively.

The Confiteor is a preparation for the Kyrie. Before we sing the simple, spectacular hymn of God’s mercy, we confess our need. The first thing to know in discovering the Confiteor is that its introspection is not the point. We are not at Mass to say mea culpa, but to say Kyrie eleison. But mea culpa helps us enter into Kyrie eleison.

The greatest glory of the Confiteor is its actual petition. After saying mea culpa, we do not say, “I ask you to accept me anyway.” We say, “I ask you to pray for me.”

Here is a simple, magnificent expression of the true nature of mercy. Mercy does not leave us alone. Mercy does not leave us as we were. Mercy comes to our aid. “I am a sinner, my brother and sisters! Help me! May God help me!” With that little insight, we can launch more profoundly into the simple hymn of mercy that follows.

Lord, have mercy! Lord, help me!

How could you practice greater devotion to the Kyrie?

Trinity Sunday

Holy Trinity, Rublev

Holy Trinity, Rublev

PRV 8:22-31; PS 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; ROM 5:1-5; JN 16:12-15

This Sunday we celebrate the Trinity, the most obscure but also most glorious mystery of our faith.

Historically, this feast has two origins. First, it is the Octave of Pentecost. In the early middle ages, there grew a practice of recelebrating a feast one week afterwards, and every day in between. Divine Mercy Sunday is the Octave of Easter: it is like the whole week repeats the glory of Easter, and the liturgy even says that “today” is Easter throughout. One day cannot contain its glories. Christmas, too, has an octave. Pentecost was the third to get an octave – and after that, they started giving octaves to all sorts of lesser feasts.

Now, Easter season is the octave of octaves. Pentecost, the Sunday after seven weeks of seven, is the final day of this super-octave. It seems to be in for this reason that they dropped the Pentecost octave in the reform of the liturgy after Vatican II – we should think of Pentecost as part of Easter, not a separate season. But we retain Trinity Sunday as kind of a reduplication of Pentecost – that is, as a celebration that Jesus the Son of God, the victor of Easter, and the Holy Spirit, whom he pours into our hearts, are truly God from God, light from light, true God from true God.

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There was also an independent tradition that at some places had a Trinity Sunday as the final Sunday before Advent, as the culminating feast of the Church year. The readings at the end of the year point to the end of time, and the readings of Advent to the second coming of Christ. Thus a feast was added to ponder the final mystery, the mystery in which all things culminate, the life of God.

And in fact, before Vatican II the liturgy for the feast focused less on the mystery of the Trinity than on the mystery of God. The first reading (they didn’t used to have an Old Testament reading) was from Romans: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?

The Gospel had the Baptismal formula from the Great Commission, but juxtaposed with Romans and the other prayers of the day, the point seemed only to be that we are baptized into the mystery of God. That is part of what Trinity Sunday does: it just leads us to think about God. It is the feast of God – and the feast of the mysteriousness, the unthinkability of God.

Preachers are sometimes scared of Trinity Sunday. But we should dwell on that: that we cannot understand God is precisely the point.

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And yet the readings of the reformed liturgy do lead us into a meditation on the three persons. The first reading, from Wisdom, talks about the wisdom, the Logos, who was in the beginning with God, through whom all things were made (as John says in his prologue). Although the tradition would probably focus on the Son, you can think of it speaking of the Spirit, too: “When the Lord established the heavens I was there, when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep,” etc.

We ponder, at the end of this Easter season, the true identity of the Son and the Spirit. True God, in the beginning with God.

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The first reading from the New Testament, from Romans, is more specific.

“We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access.”  The whole point of the original controversies about the Trinity, in the fourth century, was that Jesus can only give us access to God because he is God – and man. A bridge must reach to both sides: if he is less than God, he cannot connect us to God. But he is that great, that awesome – and our redemption is that great.

So too the Spirit: “the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Not something less than God, but God himself, as love. How great is our dignity!

And this is our hope even in “afflictions”: through the trials of life, we are in union with God himself, nothing less.

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Most specific of all, of course, are the words of Jesus, from the prayer at the Last Supper in John’s Gospel. The Spirit “will take from what is mine and declare it to you,” and “everything that the Father has is mine.” Jesus can lead us to the Father because he is true God, nothing less. The Holy Spirit, poured into our hearts, unites us to Jesus because he is true God, nothing less.

How great is the mystery of God! And how great is our Redemption! Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit!

How would your day be different if you really believed that God himself was at work in your heart?

What did de Montfort Mean By “True Devotion to Mary”?

de MontfortYesterday the Church celebrated St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716), a French priest and author of the important treatise “True Devotion to Mary.” Mother Teresa thought this book was important enough that he should be named a Doctor of the Church. St. John Paul II chose his papal motto to refer to it: Totus tuus, “totally yours,” was one of de Montfort’s formulations of Marian devotion.

But what did de Montfort mean by “true devotion”?

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The book is perhaps best known for its reference to “consecration” to Mary. Many Catholics, at some point in their lives, make a consecration, often with some reference to de Montfort. This is indeed something de Montfort recommends:

Those who desire to take up this special devotion, (which has not been erected into a confraternity, although this would be desirable [it now has]), should spend at least twelve days in emptying themselves of the spirit of the world, which is opposed to the spirit of Jesus, as I have recommended in the first part of this preparation for the reign of Jesus Christ. They should then spend three weeks imbuing themselves with the spirit of Jesus through the most Blessed Virgin. Here is a programme they might follow. . . .”

Based on the six paragraphs that follow, someone put together a series of meditations and many prayers to be said. Someone else recently came out with a book that shortens the time and tries to make it easier. Many Catholics go through this process, say the prayer at the end, and consider themselves “consecrated.”

But in the paragraph before he explains “preparation and consecration,” de Montfort says, “Although this devotion is essentially an interior one, this does not prevent it from having exterior practices which should not be neglected. ‘These must be done but those not omitted.’ If properly performed, exterior acts help to foster interior ones.

This section of the book suggests six other “exterior practices,” from wearing little chains to praying the rosary and the Magnificat, to “contempt of the world,” as exterior ways to nurture interior devotion. Consecration is parallel to these other devotions – and all of them are secondary to de Montfort’s real concern.

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De Montfort is at pains to prevent us from “false devotion.” His section on false devotion is more than twice as long as his section on consecration.

False devotion is insufficient devotion – but there are different kinds of insufficient devotion. “Scrupulous devotion” is afraid that if we think about Mary too much, we will forget Jesus. Much of de Montfort’s book tries to explain why this is not true: true devotion to Mary always leads us closer to Jesus.

But other kinds of false devotion are, in an interesting way, different but similar to this insufficient devotion. “Presumptuous devotion,for example, thinks that just a few prayers (or, perhaps, a few external devotions, whether scapulars and chains or thoughtless rosaries and consecrations) absolves us of the need for a real spiritual life. “Presumptuous false devotion is different from scrupulous false devotion in the sense that one thinks devotion to Mary is too powerful, and the other thinks it’s too weak. But they are the same in that neither one is truly devoted.

“True devotion” doesn’t mean saying a couple prayers, or a consecration, and thinking you have your bases covered. True devotion, he says, is “interior, trustful, holy, constant, and disinterested.” True devotion is a “slavery of love” – slavery in the sense that we give our whole selves for love, instead of maintaining our “right” to think more of ourselves than of God. Presumptous devotion might think that consecrating ourselves to Mary is really valuable – but it fails by failing to be in love.

(The first part of being truly in love, he says, is that “Christ must be the ultimate end of all devotions.” If Marian devotion is an excuse for being lukewarm about Jesus, it isn’t real Marian devotion at all.)

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At the end of the book, he says true devotion means living our whole life “through Mary, with Mary, in Mary, and for Mary.” Perhaps another time, we can dig into what these formulas mean.

For now, the point is that true devotion means transformation. It means taking Jesus as our all – de Montfort’s personal motto was “God Alone!” And it means taking Mary as a means of focusing our lives more totally on Jesus.

True devotion is not a consecration formula that we follow once and then forget. True devotion is a life transformed.

How could you make Jesus a bigger part of your day?

Good Shepherd: Union

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ACTS 13:14, 43.52; PS 100:1-2, 4, 5; REV 7:9, 14b-17; JN 10:27-30

Last Sunday is now well behind us, but despite a busy week, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to comment on its rich readings.

The Second Sunday of Easter taught us about God’s mercy for us; the Third Sunday taught us to worship; this Fourth Sunday, Good Shepherd Sunday, taught us about union.

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The short Gospel reading was from the fabulous tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, which is all about the Good Shepherd. Pope Francis says a good shepherd smells like his sheep. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is one with his sheep. He shares in our humanity so that we might share in his divinity.

Our reading begins, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” What is implicit is that, just as he knows them, so they know him – that’s why they recognize his voice, and follow. Sheep, as we have said in the past, have an important kind of intelligence: they know their shepherd. They don’t have to be driven with sticks; they follow. Faith is a gift – we recognize our shepherd because he has given his own knowledge to us.

They know him because he is among them. They trust him because he knows and cares for them. The shepherd and the sheep are one.

He gives them life, his life – and they will never be destroyed. The earthly shepherd is a dim image of the kind of care that our Good Shepherd gives us. He is the very giver of life. We live in his hands.

And then he concludes (in our little snippet from a long discourse), “The Father and I are one.” He alludes to a deeper discussion about the unity of the Trinity, a unity poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given to us.

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In our reading from Revelation, in a more mystical key, John portrays the shepherd as a sheep – the most vulnerable sheep, the Lamb. Of course, Jesus is the Lamb in John’s Gospel, too, but here we have it put together: “the Lamb will shepherd them, and lead them to springs of life-giving water.” He can shepherd us because he has united himself to us. We can trust him because this Lamb shows his concern for us in becoming one of us. When he offers us shelter from the sun and the heat, and relief from our hunger and thirst, we know it is for real.

We look to Jesus in his humanity and know he will care for us.

The Lamb, of course, is also an image of sacrifice. In Revelation he is “the Lamb who was slain.” In this reading, we wash our robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. There are two kinds of depth of unity in this remarkable phrase. First, he unites himself to us not only in our relief, but in our suffering. He loves us “to the end,” to the depths, to the most awful aspects of our existence, to blood and death.

And second, he washes us white, which is a sign of purifying us. He makes us good. He doesn’t merely shelter us from the outside, he transforms us from within. He is not merely a distant God who gives us earthly food, he is Jesus who transfigures us, makes our hearts like unto his Sacred Heart, washes us clean.

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In our reading from Acts, these mystical images were made concrete and historical. Paul and Barnabas are missionaries. At this point they are in Syria, the northeast corner of the Mediterranean.

The Lord who has united himself to them speaks through them. He has given them his word and they become his mouthpiece. Paul and Barnabas “spoke to them and urged them to remain faithful to the grace of God.” It is Paul and Barnabas who speak, but it is Christ’s word, calling the people to Christ. Christ who has united himself to them unites them to himself.

And he sends them to suffer as he suffered. They are rejected by their people – Christ’s people. They are expelled from the territory, and shake the dust from their feet. And in being rejected with Christ, they are filled with joy and the Holy Spirit – the joy of the Holy Spirit, joy of Christ’s love, poured into their hearts.

The Lamb who shepherds them has made them shepherds. He who loves us calls us to love. Christ who has come to us makes us part of him, rejoicing with him in the Father, suffering with him for the sheep.

Christ calling you. How does he want to take flesh in your life this week?

Should We Imitate the Amish?

people-field-working-agriculture-largeMy family recently had the good fortune to spend a day with an Amish family on their farm. It is an interesting opportunity to think about how we are like and different from the Amish, and how we might imitate some of their best practices.

The first thing to say, of course, is that the Amish are devout Protestants. They are like us in that they are trying to orient their life around their Christian faith. They are unlike us in that their faith is Protestant.

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A key way we are more similar than at first appears, and thus there is an opportunity for us to learn from them, is that the Amish do not reject all technology. Rather, they are careful about technology.

They have “bishops,” but I think this means local lay leaders. These lay pastors gather together twice a year to find consensus. It is in these gatherings that they make decisions on technology. (Here already is an interesting similarity and difference: we would never ask the Magisterium to intervene on questions of our bathroom lighting; but perhaps we would do well to have lay communities who discuss such issues.)

Over our friends’ dining-room table hangs a battery-powered flashlight. Modern, yet primitive. But in their bathroom there is a kerosene lantern – and a Bic lighter. They hang their clothes to dry on a line outside, but they wash them in a modern washing machine. The machine is powered, however, by a jet of water . . . I can’t remember where the jet comes from, but anyway, there is no electric line to the house.

In the workshop is a modern electrical saw – connected to a car battery. Many of their tools work on car batteries; they also have a diesel generator for the barn. But on the sewing table in the house there was a notable absence of a sewing machine. The cows are milked using a high-tech vacuum system that attaches to old fashioned milk cans.

In short, the point is not that they reject all technology. The point is that they move slowly and carefully.

We too, who do not reject all technology, could benefit from some healthy skepticism about how technology affects our lives. Cars, lights, certainly screens, and even many mechanical conveniences in our homes – they all make good servants but terrible masters.

How much do electric lights improve our lives? I ask this writing, on a laptop of course, in my windowless basement office at school, mindful both that I’d be in absolute darkness without lights – and that I’d much prefer we didn’t have windowless offices.

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A second way the Amish are not so different: they are not necessarily farmers. Just as many of them are carpenters, and many live in small towns.

You don’t have to live on a farm in order to question the role of technology in your life. One of the reasons my family lives in a dense city is so that we can walk to the grocery store, to church, to friends’ houses, to the park, to some parts of work, etc. Let us just distinguish the farm question from the too-much-technology question. Even the Amish make that distinction!

The key question is how technology affects our lives, and whether we let it interfere with greater goods, such as family and our relationship with creation. For us as for the Amish, these are questions of living a devout life.

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And yet the key way that the Amish differ from us is that they are Protestants – a radical form of Protestantism. They are a radical wing of the Mennonites, who are perhaps the most radical wing of Protestantism. There are two key differences.

First, the Amish embrace a kind of Protestant piety called “separation from the world.” Although this specific Amish family was very welcoming to pagan Catholics like us, deeper than the Amish concern about technology is their concern about non-Christians, strictly defined.

The Catholic position on this issue is best defined in a line from St. Paul: “I wrote to you in the letter not to associate intimately with fornicators; yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then you must go out of the world” (1 Cor 5:9-10). Paul makes a distinction between “intimate association” (it’s a fancy word in Greek) and “going out of the world.”

We are called to be leaven. We are called to be in the world but not of it. We can learn from the devout Amish desire to be careful what paganism we allow into our homes or our churches. But we cannot flee the world as the Amish do.

That’s tricky. There’s no way around it: simplistic answers are easier to apply – and usually wrong. Every heresy is an effort to make complicated things simple and clear.

A second problem is related to the first: radical Protestantism, including the radical Amish, pit faith against reason, and even man against God, in ways that Catholicism doesn’t allow. There is a thin line between prohibiting idols and smashing icons. The Amish happily ignore that line. They reject books, and learning, and art, and politics. Nowhere in their house is there an image of Jesus. We can take inspiration from their devout life, but the Catholic answer has to celebrate the image of God more than that.

What is the role of technology in your life? How could it be better?

Third Sunday of Easter: Worship

grunewaldchrisre

ACTS 5:27-32, 40b-41; PS 30: 2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12-13; REV 5:11-14; JN 21:1-19

Last week – the second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday – the Church focused on Mercy. This week our readings turn us to worship. Worship is the positive to the slightly negative side of mercy. Mercy comes in where something is lacking. But God’s mercy, by strengthening us in our weakness, allows us to worship – and God’s awesome mercy becomes a new reason for worship.

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One of the great joys of the post-Vatican II revised Lectionary is that, beside the traditional readings from Acts of the Apostles and John’s Gospel, we now also get a taste of the Revelation, or Apocalypse, of St. John.

There are various ways to read this book. Protestants sometimes get into trying to predict the future. The Catholic tradition tends not to comment on the book too much – but isn’t into soothsaying. (Jesus said no one knows the day nor the hour, not “just decode the Bible.”) There’s a modern movement (by ex-Protestant Catholics) to turn this book into code for the liturgy. Probably closer to the mark, but I don’t know if it’s necessary.

Literally, “revelation” (in Latin) or “apocalypse” (the same word in Greek) means “pulling back the veil,” seeing what’s hidden. It’s not the future that St. John’s Apocalypse “reveals,” but the present – the spiritual battle that rages all around us. It is a great joy when we learn to read this book, and so to see through the veils to spiritual realities.

One of the greatest joys in this book is the image of the saints in worship. This Sunday we had the angels singing, “worthy is the Lamb that was slain,” and then “every creature in heaven and on earth” crying out, “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.”

This is not soothsaying. This is the song at the heart of every true Christian. This is worship. Let us discover it.

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But if Revelation gives us the mysterious songs of heaven, this Sunday’s Gospel leads us into worship in the most human ways. “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment – for he was lightly clad – and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat.”

There is no other scene in the Bible that so brilliantly shows what worship means. Little children understand the story. Peter is so delighted to see Jesus that he turns to foolishness. Worship is not foolish, but there we have the heart of Christianity – deeper maybe, even, then the discovery of God’s mercy. To be so in love with Jesus as to put on your clothes and dive into the water.

Then they ate a meal with Jesus. There are several meals, but this one on the beach is the most touching. Just to be with him. This is why we go to adoration, what we’re really doing when we pray the rosary, the heart of everything: just to be with him.

And then the Gospel takes us a step deeper. “Do you love me, do you love me, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” The threefold repetition, of course, overcomes Peter’s threefold denial. But let us not over-complicate things. The heart of worship is simply the repetition of love.

And finally, that love issues forth in service: “feed my lambs.” If you love me, love your neighbor. If you love me, do my work. If you love me, carry my cross. If you love me let them dress you and lead you where you do not want to go, and die for me, to “glorify God.”

That’s what worship means. Everything else comes back to adoration, profound love of Jesus and of the Father, nothing else.

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And the reading from Acts of the Apostles takes us a step deeper into the same spirit. On the one hand, we have suffering. “We must obey God rather than men.” And so they had to “suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” To love him is to be willing to suffer.

But let us not over-focus on the suffering. Let us not over-complicate. The heart is love. “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name.” They “ordered the apostles to stop speaking in the name of Jesus.” But the apostles rejoiced “that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.”

Yes, suffering. Yes, obedience. But deeper than that is their joy in savoring the name of Jesus. The name, which is not a talisman, not a magic word, not an obligation, but the simple savoring of the goodness of God. Oh, sweet Jesus!

That is worship.

Where is worship in your life?

Second Sunday of Easter: The Mediation of Mercy and the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Divine-Mercy

ACTS 5:12-16; PS 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24; REV 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; JN 20:19-31

The Sunday after Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday, a new feast created by St. John Paul II, in response to a call by St. Faustina Kowalska. It is a wonderful feast – but it takes some unpacking.

It should be said, first, that feasts do not come from one visionary alone. Take the Sacred Heart. People associate devotion to the Sacred Heart with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a nun in France in the seventeenth century. She did indeed call for such a feast.

But she didn’t make it up. Devotion to the Sacred Heart was already important in the Middle Ages. And the Church didn’t accept it merely because Margaret Mary said so. It was providing insight into the needs of the time – more on that in a minute. This doesn’t mean Margaret Mary is bad or unimportant – in fact, it points out that Margaret Mary had both a great grasp of the Tradition and an inspired eye for the needs of her time. She is a great saint – but she is a great saint because she was not suggesting wild ideas.

Similarly, St. Faustina has important insights that we should hear. But those insights are important not because she made them up, but because she didn’t. And the Church’s articulation of those insights take them beyond St. Faustina, into the teaching of the Church. Divine Mercy is the Church’s feast, not just St. Faustina’s. That’s why St. Faustina is a saint: because she preaches the Catholic truth.

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Now, there is reason to be hesitant about the Divine Mercy devotion, if not rightly understood.

The key problem is abstraction. Divine Mercy has in many ways supplanted devotion to the Sacred Heart. But the Sacred Heart focused on the person of Jesus, particularly the union between his divinity and humanity. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is not abstract, it is personal and it is intensely incarnational.

Divine Mercy, by itself, runs the risk of becoming an abstraction. To be specific, the danger is that “mercy,” apart from Christ, can lead us to think that our conversion doesn’t matter. People tend to think that mercy means God overlooks our sins. To the contrary, God’s mercy is in healing us and converting us.

The Sacred Heart, being so intensely human, reminds us that God’s mercy restores our humanity. It reminds us of the need to love. It reminds us of the humanity of Jesus, and of his virtues. We pray, “make our hearts like unto thine” – which is the right understanding of mercy, the opposite of God just overlooking our sin.

It is important that our devotion to Divine Mercy maintain this incarnational, human element.

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St. Faustina, of course, helps us. Her image of Divine Mercy (above) shows that Divine Mercy is a commentary on the Sacred Heart, and on the sacraments – not a replacement for them. In the image, Jesus does not overlook us, he looks intently on us – and the sacraments pour forth from his Sacred Heart to heal our sins and unite us to his glory.

St. Faustina also gives us the Divine Mercy chaplet, which reminds us of “his sorrowful passion,” the pouring out of his Heart on the Cross, and of the Eucharist, “the body and blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved Son.”

And underlining it all are the words, “Jesus I trust in you.” St. Faustina does not let us turn Divine Mercy into an abstraction. It is another insight into the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

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So too the Mass that the Church gives us. The Feast is placed on the octave of Easter Sunday. As Pope Francis has said, it is thereby “dedicated to the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus.” Like the image, it points us not into abstraction but into Easter.

The reading from Acts tells us of grace mediated by the apostles, as Peter’s shadow brings healing to the humanity of the sick. The second reading, from Revelation, has us falling before the feet of him who “was dead, but now [is] alive forever and ever” – embracing the feet of the Risen Lord. And the Gospel has Doubting Thomas probing the wounds of the Risen Christ and the Apostles given the ministry of Confession: “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,” “Peace be with you.”

The Divine Mercy comes to us through the sacraments of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Mercy is no abstraction, it is union with Christ, crucified and alive.

What does the Heart of Christ teach you about Divine Mercy?

The Fruits of the Spirit: Getting Specific

Dublin_Christ_Church_Cathedral_Passage_to_Synod_Hall_Window_Fruit_of_the_Spirit_2012_09_26There is a tendency in modern Catholicism to try to simplify everything, to eliminate words until there’s nothing but a simple glance at God – as if it were more humble to think we have immediate access to God than to approach him through little details.

But Scripture, and the Tradition, give us so many little ways, so many concrete ways of approaching our spiritual life. We are not given a Buddhist wall of darkness. We are given a rich panoply of small, concrete approaches.

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One little passage that manifests this richness is in Galatians 5:17-25.

For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. And these are contrary to one another; lest whatever you may will, these things you do.

Here is a first opposition, “flesh” vs. “Spirit.” It is an optic to think about the role of God in our lives. But it is also unclear what it means. So St. Paul gets specific.

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. Now the works of the flesh are clearly revealed, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, fightings, jealousies, angers, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkennesses, revelings, and things like these; of which I tell you before, as I also said before, that they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

The Law helps specify what love of God means. Really, there’s just “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength” – but it’s helpful to get specific. It’s helpful to have an examination of conscience that helps us find what is not love. Here, Paul gets specific – more specific, deeper into the heart – than the Ten Commandments. This long list of sins helps us understand what he means about the “flesh” warring against the Spirit. Notice that it includes many sins that are not “fleshly,” but that are about excluding God from our life: idolatry, hatred, anger, division, etc. It is worth spending time with this list.

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But the Tradition seems to find the next paragraph even more helpful:

But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control; against such things there is no law. But those belonging to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

Here is a deep meditation on what the Cross and the Resurrection mean for us: to be reborn by the power of the Spirit. And what is the Spirit? Well, the Spirit is simply love – and yet Paul can get more specific than that. His list takes us deeper.

Curiously, the Latin tradition gets even more specific, adding three “fruits of the Spirit” to Paul’s list of nine. The Tradition adds patience to long-suffering, has humility and modesty for meekness, and adds chastity to self-control. Specifics are helpful.

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One way to use this list is to focus on one a day. (It’s nice that they don’t line up with the days of the week, so you can go through the list and keep getting different fruits of the Spirit to think about on Wednesday, for example.)

On the first day of the month, we might think about love, calling to mind in various situations that love – love of this person before me, love of God who calls to me, love even of his creation as I deal with it – is a fruit of the Spirit. Throughout the day we imagine the Spirit breathing love into us.

But we can see deeper if, the next day, we imagine the Spirit breathing joy into us. And the next day peace, and then patience, and kindness, and goodness, long-suffering, humility, fidelity, modesty, self-control, and chastity. Love is everything – yet working our way slowly through this list, perhaps one gift per day, can help keep our meditation fresh, help us see the many aspects of love, the many parts of the transformation the Spirit of Christ longs to work in us.

The Word of God reminds us that each of these virtues is a gift from the Spirit. Again, we could simply say, “all is gift,” and that would be true. But if we spend a day now and then living patience or fidelity as a gift, perhaps we can better appreciate what it means to say that God works in our lives.

The spiritual life is very simple – but we are not. Thank God that Scripture is a thick book, not just a 3×5 card. Thank God for all the little meditations he gives to us, all the many aspects of his work in us that we can discover.

How could you enliven your days by meditating on the various Gifts of the Spirit?