Communion in Eucharistic Prayer

jesus-precious-bloodToday, in this month of the Precious Blood, let us pause to consider the theme of ecclesial communion in the Eucharist. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, St. John Paul II said: “The heart of the mystery of the Church” is that the Church comes from the Eucharist.

The Eucharistic Prayers are emphatic about this. We can pray them better if learn to hear this repetition. Again, we will focus on Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon, both lest we think there is anything un-traditional about this theology and because it is longer.

We will see that the more common Prayers II and III say the same thing, but less emphatically. In fact, we find that Vatican II’s insistence on the Church as communion – which, John Paul II never tired of repeating, was the central teaching of the Council – is no innovation, but a re-emphasis on a central teaching of the tradition.

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The Roman Canon opens by saying of the sacrifice, “which we offer you firstly for your holy catholic Church.” It then emphasizes union within the Chuch: “to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her.” This is the context in which we pray “together with your servant Francis our Pope and N. our Bishop”: we pray for the Pope and Bishop precisely because they mark the unity of the Church.

Next we pray for the rest of us, “Remember, Lord, your servants . . . and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them.” The prayer emphasizes the communion gathered around the altar. Strength flows out, and draws us in.

The farthest the prayer reaches from the Eucharistic community is, “and all who are dear to them”: those who come to the altar only in our hearts.

But the prayer repeatedly emphasizes that we are precisely the community of those who offer the sacrifice: “we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty.” “Graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of your whole family.” This is the Church: the family of the oblation.

Later we pray for those who have died. But here, too, we do not just pray at random, but precisely for those who are part of the Eucharistic fellowship: “Remember also, Lord, your servants, who have gone before us with the sign of faith.” The Eucharist spills over even to its members who are gone.

And it draws us into the communion of heaven: “In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary” – in the Roman Canon, a long list of saints follows. The other list, after the consecration, is introduced by “graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs.” At the end of the list it says, “Admit us, we beseech you, into their company.”

The Church is the fellowship of the altar. We become the Church through our participation in the altar, and that altar truly builds up a fellowship. The Roman Canon is insistent on this image.

Or, as the tradition says, “The Body [on the altar] builds the Body [which is the Church].”

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The newer, shorter prayers say it too. In Eucharistic Prayer II, we are defined as those “worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.” “Partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ” we pray that “we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.”

Here too we pray for the Church. In this world: “Remember, Lord, your Chuch, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity, together with Francis our Pope and N. our Bishop.” Those who have died: “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection.” And in heaven: “that with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God . . . and all the saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, we may merit to be coheirs.”

In Eucharistic Prayer III, “you never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered.” We offer “the oblation of your Church,” “that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.”

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From the wounded side of Christ is born the Church. All who receive the blood and join in its offering are joined in one body.

Can you think of ways people make a false tension between worship and community? How could you and your parish more boldly discover their unity?

On The Precious Blood of Jesus

On Our Offering of the Precious Blood

Aparecida, Part Two: The Life of Jesus Christ in Missionary Disciples

brazil-popeNow that we have looked at how the missionary disciple looks at the world, we get to the heart of the Aparecida document, “Part Two: The Life of Jesus Christ in Missionary Disciples.” Part Three, “The Life of Jesus Christ for Our Peoples,” will take us into concrete applications. But first we take awhile to think about Jesus’s life for us.

The formation of the question is powerful. “I live,” says St. Paul, “yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). “As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eats me, he shall live by me” (John 6:57).

It is Jesus who live in us. This is the central teaching of Christianity: that he gives his own life, his own heart, his own Spirit, to be our life.

Aparecida puts this in a missionary key. Love God and love neighbor. “But God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If Christ is in us, he leads us to go out and share that life with others. To have the life of Jesus Christ in us is to be missionary disciples.

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There are four chapters in this central section of the document.

Part Two: The Life of Jesus Christ in Missionary Disciples

3. The Joy of Being Missionary Disciples to Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ

4. The Vocation of Missionary Disciples to Holiness

5. The Communion of the Missionary Disciples in the Church

6. The Formative Itinerary of Missionary Disciples

It begins with the good news. Chapter Three will emphasize that the Gospel is good news. It is good news that brings joy to us, but it is good news also for the joy of our neighbor. To truly discover the Gospel is to discover how it is not merely a thing I’m into, but the joy of all the earth. That takes digging, discovering. It means learning what the doctrines really mean, so that I can see that they truly are the fulfillment of my neighbor’s desires.

This isn’t just about rushing out to tell people. It’s about first discovering why this message really is joy, how it relates not just to my desires and convenience, but to theirs.

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But to discover this, to discover that the Gospel is really joy, really the fulfillment of every human desire, is to discover the call to holiness.

Like Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, Aparecida will talk about “vocations” – as in, vocations to the priesthood, religious life, marriage, etc. – when it talks about the Church as communion. We will see how profound an insight this is.

But first we must see that the true vocation, the only true vocation, which is the vocation of all people, is to holiness. This is what it really means to say the Gospel is joy. It means that the Gospel is worth living totally. It means that life cannot be fulfilled unless we truly make our life not our own, but the life of Christ in us. To see that the Gospel is joy and to see that our call is to radical holiness are one and the same insight.

And it is the same insight that drives us as missionaries: because not only do we want to be wholly transformed by Christ, but we know that our neighbor’s true joy and true holiness are one and the same.

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We find ourselves, then, in the communion which is the Church, the communion of saints. To long to be holy and to long to be one with Christ is to long to be one with all those who are in communion with Christ, and to long to be part of the transformation he works in the Church.

We give up our individuality in favor of participating in the Church of Christ. Or rather, we find our individuality precisely in being part.

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And all of this leads us to chapter six: the formative itinerary. We long to be formed by the Church. And we long to be formed, to really learn what holiness and missionary discipleship mean. But we can only understand the true meaning of formation once we have discovered that communion of sanctity which is the good news of the Church.

Where do you seek for joy apart from real, radical holiness?

Click here for the entire series on the Aparecida Document.

Archbishop Chaput on Public Opinion

We must make sure our faith means more to us than public opinion. The public sphere so desperately needs the influence of true Christian faith.

chaputTocqueville saw public opinion as a great vulnerability for democracy. In a democracy – at least in theory – every man is his own final moral authority. But the reality is different. Men and women very soon discover how isolated and uninformed they are as individuals. In the absence of a strong religious or similar community, they tend to abdicate their thinking to public opinion, which is the closest that purely secular democracies ever come to a consensus. To the degree that public opinion can be manipulated, democratic life is subverted.

This is why the Founders saw religion as so important to the health of the public square. At its best, faith creates a stable moral framework for political discourse and morally educated citizens to conduct the nation’s work. The trouble is, no religion can survive on its utility. People don’t conform their lives to a message because it’s useful. They do it because they believe the message is true and therefore life-giving. Or they don’t do it.

My point is this: The “next America” we now see emerging – an America ignorant or cynical toward religion in general and Christianity in particular – shouldn’t really surprise anyone. It’s a new America, but it’s made in America. We can blame the mass media, or the academy, or science, or special interest groups for the environment we now face. But we Christians – including we Catholics – helped create it with our eagerness to fit in, our distractions and overconfidence, and our own lukewarm faith.

Too many people who claim to be Christian simply don’t know Jesus Christ. They don’t really believe in the Gospels. They feel embarrassed by their religion and vaguely out of step with the times. They may keep their religion for comfort value. Or they may adjust it to fit their doubts. But it doesn’t reshape their lives because it isn’t real. And because it isn’t real, it has no transforming effect on their personal behavior, no social force and few public consequences. That sort of faith is exactly the same kind of religion that Symmachus once mourned. Whatever it once was – now, it’s dead.

–Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia

CATHOLICS AND THE NEXT AMERICA
Assumption College
November 10, 2011

The Psalms and the Demons

King David, Westminster Psalter

King David, Westminster Psalter

The third line of our Psalm 26 says, “trusting in God, I have not slid.”  But why do we need to trust in God?  Why do we slide?

The Psalms talk often about “the wicked,” and use a lot of military imagery.  (Also, as here, there is courtroom imagery: grant me justice!)   This adversarial language is for many people one of the greatest obstacles to falling in love with the Psalms.

But there is much to be gained from this warfare spirituality.  Today, let’s take some time to think about our spiritual enemies, the demons.

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We face, first of all, metaphorical demons.  Think, for example, about the “seven deadly sins.”  (I did a series on these last fall.)  “Deadly sins” sounds like “mortal sin,” so we might be tempted to think the point is that these are the things you go to hell for – and then wonder how gluttony could possibly be on that list.

But the older language is “capital sins,” from the Latin word for “head.” These are the “principal”or “leading”sins, or also, the “headings” under which you can consider other sins.  The point is that gluttony, lust, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride are the root causes of other sins: not just sins themselves but also things that lead us to sin.  The danger of gluttony, for example, is that it nurtures a sense of self-indulgence, of giving in to whatever feels good at the moment – and forgetting the spiritual battle.

The even older language (especially in Cassian) is “the spirits” of sin.  Now we are close to the metaphorical idea of “demons.”  Gluttony (wrath, sloth, etc.) are metaphorical “demons” that oppress us.  These “spirits” are not looking for what’s good for us; in fact, since they drive us without reference to our true happiness, they are our enemies.  Desire itself is not an enemy, but this tendency to run out of control is a real danger.

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It is very helpful in our spiritual life to “objectify” these enemies, to name them, take them seriously, and go to war against them.  To realize that they will destroy us if we don’t destroy them.  This is war.

One thing that is helpful about this objectification of our metaphorical demons is that it helps us to distinguish ourselves from them.  I am not gluttony.  That isn’t me!  In fact, that’s . . . something else, some other power, that’s trying to hurt me!  The Psalms’ insistence on talking about enemies helps me to think this way, to separate myself from my sin.

And of course, in the Psalms, the metaphors always emphasize that our enemies are too strong for us, but God comes to our help.  It is always the helpless nation of Israel calling out to the Lord to come to the rescue – “trusting in God, I have not slid.”  Thus the way the Psalms discuss spiritual warfare also helps us to focus on grace.

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But though we can think of the “spirits” of sin as metaphorical demons, we also need to be reminded that there are real demons, fallen angels.

How should we think about the demons?  The cartoon image of a good angel on one shoulder and a bad angel on the other actually isn’t too far off.  It is far better, anyway, than more “muscular” images of demons who throw physical objects or make heads spin (though these things are real too).

The angels are immaterial creatures.  They cannot control our free will, but they can make suggestions to us.  Good angels can point out to us things that we ought to notice.  Bad angels, demons, can plant bad ideas.  It is awfully helpful, when our minds start running to negative thinking, when all we can think of are other people’s faults, for example, or ill wishes, to realize that there do exist spiritual forces who are cleverer than us and who wish us ill.

Why would they want to hurt us?  Because they want to be in charge.  They want to be the smartest guys in the room.  (Sound familiar?  They aren’t so different from us.)

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The warfare imagery of the Psalms reminds us that there are bad influences in our spiritual life, both metaphorical and real demons.

The Psalms have a magical way of shifting our focus: we may begin by thinking that other people are our enemies, but soon we see that our real enemies are spiritual.

Watch for a time today when you need to distance yourself from your demons.

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: the Grace of Faith

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

IS 55:10-11; PS 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14; ROM 8:18-23; MT 13:1-23

Our readings for this Sunday teach about the grace of faith: the gift that is God’s word, the gift of a heart open to receive it, and the goodness of faith.

The parable of the sower is worth endless meditation, but is straightforward enough that we needn’t dwell on the basic point:

“The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart,” etc.  There is a nice progression, from the word never sprouting at all, to it sprouting, but without roots, to it having roots, but being choked out by “worldly anxiety and the lure of riches.”

Notice that even in the first case, it is “sown in his heart.”  The question is how deeply into our heart it goes, and whether we let it bear fruit.

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But let us also notice the paragraph that becomes between the initial parable and its explanation. “The disciples approached him and said, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’”  In fact, this parable answers the question of parables in general.

“This is why I speak to them in parables,” Jesus tells them, “because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” Faith goes deeper than just hearing.  It goes into our hearts.  Every word Jesus speaks is like a parable.  Whether you understand it depends not just on whether you hear it, but on the state of your heart.

“Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears.”  The deeper issue is love: not just going to Church, but loving Jesus enough to hear his word, and let it penetrate into us.

There’s a kind of parallel, between the huge crowds who listen to Jesus on the seashore vs. the few disciples who come near to hear the explanation, and the different kinds of soil in the parable.  Unless we come near, lay our heads on his heart, we won’t know what any of it means.

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The two other readings take us deeper into two aspects of this Gospel teaching.

Jesus says, “Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.”  The key word here is “granted.”  It is a gift.

The reading from Isaiah is also about the word “that goes forth from my mouth.”  But here he says, “just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be. . . . My word shall not return to me void.”

In the parable in the Gospel, it sounds like it’s up to us: we are the ground who receives his word.  But in Isaiah, it’s all up to him: it’s his word itself that makes the earth fruitful.  His word is powerful, effective.

The two parables of the word reflect the two sides of grace.  We are really transformed, so that we hear and understand – but it is he who transforms us.  Our hearts must be truly receptive – but it is his grace that makes us receptive.

Faith is a grace. It’s not just because we tried harder than other people – or rather, we try harder because he gives us the grace to try.  Thanks be to God, not to me!

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But in the Gospel, he also says,  “lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them.”   Understand, be converted, and be healed.  This part of the reading shows that through faith comes healing.

The reading from Romans emphasizes that all creation “awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.”  Even our bodies wait, and grown, “for adoption,” and for “the redemption of our bodies.”

These are two different things.  First, the spiritual thing: by the word we hear, we are converted, healed, made sons and daughters of God.  Second, our bodies are redeemed.  The point here is, everything in creation, especially everything in our humanity, longs for this.  Conversion through faith even heals our bodies – whatever that could mean!

The grace of faith converts us, heals us, makes us children of God.  This is the greatest joy.

How could I better lay my head on the heart of Jesus and ask him to open the Scriptures to me?

“Accept These Sacrifices”: Our Offering of the Precious Blood

jesus-precious-bloodIn this month of meditation on the Precious Blood, we pause to consider the sacrificial aspect of the Mass.

In the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I, the longer, traditional one), the priest says:

“Be pleased to look upon these offerings

with a serene and kindly countenance,

and to accept them,

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.”

Now, this is an interesting way to approach the Eucharist. Because notice, we are asking the Lord to accept the Body and Blood of Christ the same way he accepted Abel’s plain old lamb, Abraham’s sacrifice (of Isaac? he made other sacrifices as well – but not of the Body and Blood of Christ), and Melchizedek’s just plain bread and wine. If we look at the thing being offered, it’s as if we’re asking God to treat what we have on the altar as if it were something less. Our offering is better than theirs.

It is odd, too, that we ask him to “accept” what is obviously acceptable. Why do we need to say this kind of thing?

The reason is because we’re not talking about what’s on the altar, the victim. We’re talking about what’s in our hearts, as we make our priestly offering.

See, what is on the altar is important precisely because of the way it relates to our hearts as we offer it. We want to offer not the things Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek offered – we have something better. We want to offer the way they offered.

The deeper point is that they used what was on the altar to honor God, to acknowledge him, to give him thanks. That’s the true meaning of sacrifice.

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That’s why, even before the gifts are consecrated, the Roman Canon says, “accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices.” Even before what is on the altar becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, we are already talking about what we are doing with our hearts.

Now, the greatly abbreviated Eucharistic Prayers given to us after the Council (most priests use Prayers II and III almost exclusively) don’t talk about this as clearly. But it’s still there – in fact, it’s still the heart of what’s going on in the Eucharist.

In the offertory, the priest says, “we have this bread to offer.” Not “to eat,” not just “to receive.” We are going to do something – to give thanks by offering. We then pray, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands.” What is in the hands of the priest is our prayer of thanksgiving.

In Eucharistic Prayer II, the priest begins, “Make holy, therefore, these gifts.” Well, the translation doesn’t make clear who is giving gifts to whom. Certainly God gives the Eucharist to us. But we also give it to him: “gifts” is sacrificial language.

This comes out in the acclamation, when we say, “we proclaim your death.” That’s what we’re doing with the Body and Blood on the altar. Not just receiving, but proclaiming, offering, giving thanks.

And thus in the “anamnesis,” the priest’s prayer right after the consecration, he says, “as we celebrate the memorial of his Death and Resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation, giving thanks.” We offer the Eucharist to him! And we give thanks “that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you” – again, in Latin, this is explicitly sacrificial language. We are doing something!

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Eucharistic Prayer III, the slightly longer one, has more of this. “All you have created rightly gives you praise.” “You never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.” “As we celebrate the memorial . . . we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.”

“Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church, and recognizing the sacrificial Victim.” The Latin verb for “offer” is irregular: oblation and offering are the exact same word in Latin. Both of them are about sacrifice: we life up a sacrifice to God.

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Christ pours out his Blood as an act of praise. We drink that Blood, commune with that sacrificial Victim, so that we can life up our hearts to the Lord. So that “through him, and with him, and in him,” united to him “in the unity of the Holy Spirit,” as he is united to the Father, we may acknowledge that “all glory and honor is” to “God, the almighty Father . . . forever and ever.”

How could you remind yourself to lift up the Sacred Victim as your sacrifice of praise? How could you be like Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek?

Aparecida, Chapter Two: The Reality that Confronts Us

brazil-popeThe second chapter of the Aparecida document is perhaps the most challenging – or at least the most irritating. It asks us questions we do not want to consider.

We are considering the “The Life of Our Peoples Today,” in order to understand “The Life of Jesus Christ for Our Peoples,” and the Life of Jesus Christ in us, his “Missionary Disciples.” We want to know where it is he is sending us.

Last week we saw that he calls us to be missionary disciples. But this week, before we consider the life Jesus gives us for that mission, we consider Chapter Two, “The View of Reality by Missionary Disciples.”

If you are like me, the outline we are about to view might make you groan. Let me suggest that it makes us groan because we would like to be missionary disciples who don’t have to view reality. But a missionary disciple who does not view reality is no missionary disciple at all.

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Here is the outline:

2. The View of Reality by Missionary Disciples

     a. The Reality that Confronts Us as Disciples and Missionaries

          i. Sociocultural situation

         ii. Economic situation

        iii. Socio-political dimension

       iv. Biodiversity, ecology, the Amazon, and the Antarctic

       v. Presence of Indigenous and Afro-American peoples in the Church

  b. Situation of our Church at this Historic Time of Challenges

Notice that on the broadest level, we want to consider “the situation of our Church.” But to do this, we must consider the historic challenges we face in our time. We must face the reality that confronts us.

This makes for an interesting examination of conscience.

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Sociocultural situation. “Sociocultural” is a mouthful, but what it points to is the reality of our culture, especially as it relates to our social nature.

It points to the challenges of an increasingly anti-social culture, a world that because of technology and other things increasingly turns toward isolation and radical individualism.

But it also reminds us to take seriously the traditional social cultures around us, including the diversity of those cultures. To think seriously about the distinct ways of relating we find among Hispanics, blacks, and whites; among Easterners, Midwesterners, Southerners, Westerners, etc.; among the older and younger generations, small towns, suburbs, and cities. To go out in mission to the world, we need to be aware of these different ways of relating to society.

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Economic situation. Yes, we need to think too about economics. We need to take seriously the challenges faced by those who live in grinding poverty. Do our missionary efforts think enough about that situation? Are we as concerned for those feelings of hopelessness as the great saints of our tradition were?

We need to be aware of the way our riches impact us. Our softness, our sense of entitlement. There are many great things said today about the value of leisure; but we need to be aware, too, of the laziness that has set in to our fabulously wealthy culture, and the obstacles that presents to evangelization. Even our best religious orders have to adapt traditional practices to the softness of American kids.

And we need to be aware of the way economics shapes our relationships with other people. This is the reality that confronts us.

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Socio-political dimension. We need to think about politics. Yes, the standard turn-of-the-millenium American Catholic issues like abortion, marriage, and religious liberty. But also deeper problems.

We need to think about political responsibility. God made us social creatures. Do we take that seriously? Do we take the laws seriously – both our role in shaping them, and our role in obeying them? Do we worry enough about how our choices affect other people? Can we be missionaries, or even disciples, if we don’t?

And are we sufficiently aware of how our secular politics shapes our worldview? Are there parts of our lives where Democrat or Republican (or someone else’s) party lines matter more to us than the Gospel and Church teaching?

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Biodiversity, ecology, the Amazon, and the Antarctic. We live in a material world. We pass that world on to our children, and our children’s children. You don’t have to believe in global warming to understanding that the pollution of rivers and the ever increasing paving-over of the wilderness, even the uglification of our world, is our responsibility.

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Presence of Indigenous and Afro-American peoples in the Church. We don’t have as big of an indigenous, “Indian” population in the United States. But do we as American Catholics remember the African Americans?

What does it mean if the Catholic Church doesn’t ordain black priests, send missionaries to black neighborhoods, or think seriously about what it means for one group of our population, distinguished by the most superficial characteristic of all, has astronomically higher rates of murder, high school dropouts, poverty, incarceration, teenaged motherhood, and abortion? What idea of the Gospel, or the Church, or anthropology, have we accepted if these are not constant areas of concern to us?

Are we willing to face the reality that confronts us and the historic challenges or our times?

Pope Francis on Hearing the Cry of the Poor

Pope Francis reminds us that charity is practical. It means hearing the cry of those in need, and actually responding. It is important to make sure our spirituality is pulled out beyond looking into the mirror into loving our neighbor, especially our neighbor in need.

It is important, too, what he says at the end: we are not looking just to hand people bread – though the hungry need that, too. We are looking to help people find dignity, which includes real employment. Let us have the courage to daydream about real ways we could use our skills to help others find that dignity.

pope francisSometimes it is a matter of hearing the cry of entire peoples, the poorest peoples of the earth, since “peace is founded not only on respect for human rights, but also on respect for the rights of peoples”. Sadly, even human rights can be used as a justification for an inordinate defense of individual rights or the rights of the richer peoples. With due respect for the autonomy and culture of every nation, we must never forget that the planet belongs to all mankind and is meant for all mankind; the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity.

It must be reiterated that “the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others”. To speak properly of our own rights, we need to broaden our perspective and to hear the plea of other peoples and other regions than those of our own country. We need to grow in a solidarity which “would allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny”, since “every person is called to self-fulfilment”.

In all places and circumstances, Christians, with the help of their pastors, are called to hear the cry of the poor. This has been eloquently stated by the bishops of Brazil: “We wish to take up daily the joys and hopes, the difficulties and sorrows of the Brazilian people, especially of those living in the barrios and the countryside – landless, homeless, lacking food and health care – to the detriment of their rights.

“Seeing their poverty, hearing their cries and knowing their sufferings, we are scandalized because we know that there is enough food for everyone and that hunger is the result of a poor distribution of goods and income. The problem is made worse by the generalized practice of wastefulness”.

Yet we desire even more than this; our dream soars higher. We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity”. This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use.

-Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

Violence and Non-Violence in the Psalms

Greetings from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where I am on vacation with extended family.  And apologies for getting this post up late.  Living a bit too much in the moment!

King David, Westminster Psalter

King David, Westminster Psalter

The next verse of our Psalm says, “I have walked in my innocency.”  The word is often translated as “integrity”; the Hebrew is something about being “complete.”  But the Septuagint, the old Greek translation, is a nice double negative, “not evil.”  The Latin word innocentia has the same kind of roots: noxia has to do with harm (hence ob-noxious), and innocent just means, “not harmful.”

In any case, it’s an opportunity to discuss violence and non-violence in the Psalms.  Alongside the first line, our beginning is, “grant me justice, Lord, for I have walked in my innocence.”  We talked last week about the claim to be just.  But this week we can see another common theme in the Psalms.  The Psalmist asks God to take action on his behalf.

He says, in effect, the world treats me unfairly.   I will respond simply by doing the right thing – and ask God to take action.  Here the demand for action is less vigorous than some places in the Psalms, but this is the dynamic.

***

This dynamic reaches its pinnacle (or nadir) in what are called the “imprecatory” Psalms.  One Protestant source lists these as Psalms 35, 69, 109, 137, and the end of 139.  An old Catholic source adds 18 and 52.  One can debate what fits the list, but the basic theme is pretty clear.

For example, the beloved Psalm 139 (“You have searched me, O Lord, and known me”) ends,

“Do I not hate them, O LORD, that hate you? and am I not grieved with those that rise up against you?

I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.”

 

Psalm 137, one of my favorites, ends,

“O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed;

happy shall he be, that rewards you as you have served us.

Happy shall he be, that takes and dashes thy little ones against the stones.”

 

***

What are we to make of this?  The revision of the Liturgy of the Hours after Vatican II simply removed it: in the four-week cycle, you say all the Psalms, except the imprecatory Psalms, and imprecatory verses in other Psalms.  Better to learn to love the Psalms without this, was the reasoning.  The Psalms are not primarily about dashing little ones against the stones.

But these Psalms too are part of our divinely revealed traditional prayer book, and they are richer than they at first appear.  A few quick points:

***

1. The Psalms endorse emotion.  We are not called to be Stoics.  It is fabulous to imagine, for example, Our Lady praying these Psalms – or any of the extremely emotional passages in the Psalms.  (And that’s one thing we know: this was her prayer book, as it was that of almost all the saints.)  There is a place for anger – real anger.

Indeed, we have seen Our Lord throwing over the tables of the tax collectors.

***

2. But the Psalms never tell us to take things into our hands.  They count on God to avenge us.  This is a radical transformation of our anger.  Its proper place is only in turning to God, asking him to make things right.

Cursing our enemies might not seem Christian.  But we find that where it is right to be angry, our anger should find its outlet only in prayer. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay – says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

***

3. As with our meditation last week, see that this is gutsy, dangerous.  God doesn’t take our side.  He takes the side of the righteous.  To ask God to strike down the unrighteous – or even the enemies of his people – is to say that we’d better be on the right side.

It is, in fact, an acknowledgement that sin has consequences, one of the most central themes of our faith.  But it is to see it vividly: it is a very bad thing to be against God.  Praying these Psalms with any self-awareness at all, we end up more focused on doing the right thing than on hoping our enemies will be destroyed.

***

4. The true enemy is sin.  We should be angry about it.  All the ways we hurt other people, all the ways we treat God as less than Father, should make us say, “I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.”  “I hate it with perfect hatred!” (Ps 139:22).  That’s where these Psalms really take us: not to hatred of people, but hatred of sin, in ourselves and in the other people it hurts.

That’s the real enemy we beg God to destroy.

Are we as emotional about the spiritual life as we ought to be?

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: His Yoke is Easy

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

ZEC 9:9-10; PS 145: 1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14; ROM 8:9, 11-13; MT 11:25-30

At last we return to our orderly reading of Matthew – and see how beautiful are the ordinary words of the Gospel.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Such words are like balm. They are really worth reading and hearing just to bathe in them. Such a beautiful reminder that none of our pious meditations can equal the healing power of God’s word.

***

But let us come to him, and learn! These words teach us even more when we read them in context. The Lectionary is good enough to give us the verses that immediately proceed.

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. . . . No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

The two halves of this paragraph illumine one another. Not by strength does man prevail. It’s not human wisdom that discovers the love of the Father. It’s a gift, through Jesus Christ.

And this is the deeper meaning of “take my yoke upon you.” The “rest” he gives us is precisely knowledge of the Father. This is the cure to our labors and burdens.

We have to take his “yoke” upon us. But this doesn’t mean hard work. To the contrary, it means being so assimilated to him that we let him be our all – let Jesus be the source of our strength, and learn from him to receive everything from the Father. That’s the true meaning of meekness.

And meekness is a “yoke” – a challenge to our self-sufficient ways, requiring a real change of behavior – but also “easy,” because what we learn is precisely that we don’t have to be self-sufficient.

***

The other two readings are well chosen to take us deeper into the Gospel.

The prophet Zechariah says, “your king shall come to you . . . meek, and riding on an ass . . . He shall banish the chariot . . . and the horse . . . the warrior’s bow shall be banished,

It is, of course, the prophecy Jesus fulfills. But notice the double banishing of the warrior’s bow. On the one hand – and this is always powerful in the prophets, who spoke during the time of exile – this gentle king banishes our enemies. He conquers all our labors and burdens, by a strength beyond human strength.

And on the other hand, he banishes not just our enemies bow, but our own as well. We can afford to be meek, because we are given a greater happiness. When he is our king and our shepherd, we don’t have to fight.

On the Cross, Jesus triumphs not by fighting harder, but by bringing the all-healing presence of God. He doesn’t take away our crosses, but fills them with love.

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We should hear the prophet’s language of place, as well. “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!” We are to imagine ourselves as David’s city, finally liberated by the coming of the king. We find ourselves in that city, which is the Church. And we receive his salvation by being part of the city.

But the reading ends, “he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” The great king’s city is not exclusive. The Church does not keep outsiders out. It is a light to the nations, to draw everyone in to the joy of his salvation.

***

The reading from Romans gives us a personal charge. It is not anti-body: “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also.” But it does call us to live by a new standard: “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

We are called not to live “in the flesh,” not according to the logic of this world. But “in the spirit . . . the Spirit of God who dwells in you” and brings us to a new kind of city, a new kind of happiness, a new way of life.

Where do you spend your money for what is not bread, and labor for what does not satisfy? Where are you called to set down your weapons and let Christ be your all?