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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Living in the moment.. from the perspective of eternity

How did Jesus at Gethsemene consider the sacrifice he was being asked to make? Reflecting on how one might have considered things (in the first sorrowful mystery of the Rosary), it occurred to me that a long view -- a very long view -- helps one to see beyond the agpny of the moment. A cynic would argue that Christians are fools for giving things up for the sake of the promises of eternal happiness. However, a longer view of things makes sense of it. The question, as always, is one of faith: can we trust the one who makes the promise? We can quantify years or decades of sacrifice and see how small that is compared to eternity, but faith, as always, is a gift that one must ask for daily -- and live in each moment (in the backdrop of eternity).

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The baptism of John and the Baptism of Christ

A thought struck me as I prayed the first Luminous mystery of the holy rosary: the sequence of events, where John was already baptizing for repentance, followed by Jesus' own baptism, reflected the incompleteness of repentance. Anyone can come to a state of contrition, even to a firm commitment to change. But it's not enough. Without Jesus, it doesn't go as far as it can. Jesus makes that conversion incarnate. In him, a transformation into children of the Most High is made flesh. And so we become.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Comedy and Faith

Today my friends and I laughed t up over the videos of three standup comic routines. A couple did poke fun at Noah, Church, the Bible and, yes, Christ. What did I think of all that? I must say I found most of that quite hilarious.

The swearing was unfortunate, though, since they were not necessary. Rowan Atkinson was outrageously funny without any swearing at all. All he had to do was wear a vicar's alb and read from what appeared to be a Bible. He read bits of the gospels heavily rewritten with modern phrases to comic effect -- all while wearing that serious expression that only he seems able to wear that elicits so much laughter (without resorting to toilet humor at that). Danny Bhoy was far more uproarious but with that slightly innocent, whimsical flair. Yes, he swore, and yes, he made fun of Noah's dilemmas and, yes, one bit about Christ on the cross -- "at least he could stretch his legs!" -- compared to the punishingly cramped pews he complained about as a young boy.

On reflection, one might ask if a Christian should have objected to the lack of reverence. My answer would be that it wasn't a battle that needed apologetic fighting. There was nothing theological to respond to, no questions to answer. None of the comedy was malicious. Even the bit about the cross was, at worst, insensitive to a torture victim, but that's it. Sure, there was obviously a bad caricature about hymns that exalt God and supposedly denigrates man -- in fact, the point of the Incarnation was a mission to make man divine, but this was no dialogue on faith matters. There may be an element of trivializing the gospels in Rowan Atkinson's skit, but it is ignorant, not malicious. None of the kids were watching and all who did watch were fairly mature 40-something Christians who were not, I think, scandalized.

At the end of the day, that is the danger, I think. Would we all start becoming irreverent now? Not likely. We can handle a little comedy, I think. It does, perhaps, remind us that there are many out there who see something funny in something they do not understand. But when they do come to understand it, there is plenty of room for comedy -- without going anywhere near blasphemy.

I also have to remember that the spirit of the anti-Christ is in denying the Incarnation and Christ's successful rescue mission. Not in laughing at skits of Noah turning away the vermin among the animals, nor of disciples losing their appetite after being told that one of them was a traitor. There should be a place and time when the caricatures can be resolved though, hopefully if those who trivialize the Way will be intrigued enough by real examples of Christians among them to ask questions. That will be our cue. And then, if they hear and obey, then we can all laugh together at the irony and incongruence of that.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The scroll: sweet and not so sweet

In the readings from the Book of Revelations this week, a vision was recounted, of a scroll that John was told to eat, sweet to the mouth but sour in his belly. After eating, he is told to prophesy. One could receive the sweet promises of heavenly help, grace, mercy and forgiveness, but are nevertheless sobering instructions and warning of a daily cross. I would have thought prophesy, the word of God revealed, to be sour to the taste, from the receiving end of dire warnings, fearful, sobering. But on reflection, the same can be heard as helpful instructions on how to avoid disaster, and promises of reward for the steadfast. Today the Church celebrates the Presentation of Mary, whom St. Augustine extols (in the Office of Readings), as the gospels do, for her primary discipleship. It isn't that her physical motherhood was of little value, although motherhood is, after all, beyond the physical. She heard the word from day one, from the angel Gabriel, believed and lived by that faith. She heard more as the events unfolded, and continued. She pondered in her heart these treasures. She seemed to be a quiet master of discernment. She held on up to the cross and beyond. Her prophesy is her example in simple discipleship, just being there where she was, near her son. Sour during the Passion, the Word which was sweet to begin with -- just an infant -- was glorious in the end! I guess we'll just have to see for ourselves, continuing to consume the sweet Word of God throughout our lives.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Christ's will for Christians divided

"We are sinning against Christ's will the Pope says, "because we continue to focus on our differences,” but “our shared baptism is more important than our differences." Whether the translation into English is accurate or not (sinning?), one can only pray, and wonder how this will turn out. I guess the point is to go further: start working together. But trying to imagine how unity will one day come about is too much for my brain to work out, but ultimately, it is work that only God can accomplish anyway.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fidelity and idolatry

In the first reading today. St. Paul equates fornication and promiscuity with worshipping a false god in Eph 4:32-5:8. I think it has to do with fidelity or faithfulness. We know of God declaring himself to Moses as a jealous god, and jealousy comes up in exclusive relationships. What else is as naturally and normatively exclusive as marriage, even without considering religious norms? Moses allowed for divorce, but Jesus made a point to reverse that. Why? St. Paul identifies marriage with the relationship between Christ and his Church as a sacred covenant of love. It is a self-donating relationship which makes the two united as one. Since marriage is an image of this sanctified unity -- more than a mere image, but a reality -- then fornication, which is opposed to this exclusive, sacred bond, is a betrayal of the true worship, substantial relationship, of/with the God-man, Jesus Christ. It defies the ideals of commitment, consecration (setting apart) or holiness, and, of course, fidelity. A lifestyle of fornication cannot allow for commitment to a faithful union with a one and only, and a secret life of promiscuity will simply destroy any standing vows of commitment as well as the heart of the one vows were made with.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Into the boat, to the waves and the wind

In today's Gospel reading (Mt 14:22-33), ".. Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side..
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. ..
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea."

The commentary from dailygospel.org on this is from Origen, where he suggests "What was this boat into which Jesus forced his disciples to embark? Would it not be the struggle against temptation and difficult circumstances?... " This jumped out at me: to think that such challenges in life are somehow prepared by God, at least for these men, but perhaps for everyone else as well? Probably not in all cases, but in a sense, it doesn't matter if it was direct intervention or not: Jesus did command us to take up our daily cross and follow him. What does that mean then? These tribulations are part of God's plan. In Origen's thinking, it is part of how we are perfected:

"if we are ever in the grip of inevitable temptations, let us remember that Jesus forced us to embark. It is impossible to reach the other side without bearing with the trial of contrary waves and wind. Then, when we see ourselves surrounded by numerous and painful difficulties, worn out by sailing through their midst with the poverty of our means, let us think that then our boat is in the middle of the sea and the waves are trying to “make shipwreck of our faith” (1Tim 1,19)… Then let us be sure that towards midnight, when “the night is advanced and the day is at hand” (Rm 13,12), the Son of God will draw near to make the sea calm for us by walking on the waters."

May I suggest, and borrow from a phrase that's been going the rounds in the past few years at least: intentional discipleship. It is important to know from the outset what we face, what is expected, what is promised: the cross, faithful perseverance, and the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Time to sober up!