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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!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Catholic Answers Radio Club Drive until Monday August 19, 11:59 pm

Catholic Answers
Shameless plug for Catholic Answers drive: shameless because I cannot currently afford to contribute monthly (and I'm trying to work out what I can contribute for now -- and it won't be enough for the free gifts. For those who can, I cannot recommend it more highly. Apart from the free gifts, Catholic Answers is a very effective vehicle of evangelization.

The Transfiguration of the Lord

Thursday 6 August, 2014 is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. I've included three links for reading and/or prayer on this important feast that may not figure as high up there as Easter and Christmas for most of us, but is pretty important in itself. The icon here is linked from the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Monastery, and it is wonderful to see that they celebrated the feast at the same time as Rome does.

First, Jennifer Gregory Miller blogs briefly about the feast itself, including a bit of history (Source: CatholicCulture.org). Second, Jimmy Akin briefly explains the event's significance. Third, Universalis.com provides a very brief primer on the feast as well as links to the day's prayers from the Liturgy of the Hours.

Finally, I wish I could link to the Lectio Divina last night with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, which was made even better by the Eucharist he celebrated last night with other priests of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I'd love to blog about what was said but would not do it justice. There was so much content to unpack, even considering the moments of silence and prayer that interspersed the hour. I'm hoping that the Archdiocese will release a video!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

If not us, then who?

Listening recently to the song with that first lne in its Chorus, it occurred to me that a deeper question needs asking. Perhaps because I was recently listening to the excellent debate between the late Christopher Hitchens and William Craig at Biola University back, the question raised in my mind was this: if the good fight to right wrongs falls on whomever is so enlightened and inclined to it, there remain the crucial details of what exactly is the right thing to do in particular situations. Did God throw us into the fray to work out whatever system of ethics we wish to live by? What if we have serious and sincere disagreements about them? Is abortion wrong or not? Should the elderly and disabled be encouraged and aided in taking their own lives? Are these matters unnecessary to clarify and nail down? Even well-meaning people come from different, opposite sides in these and other important matters. Did God not intend any guidance that everyone can follow, even within their immediate communities?

The line from Elijah after he showed up the prophets of Baal struck me as apt and challenging: "How long will you go limping along with two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him. (1 Kings 18:16-40)"

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Seeking pardon is a positive

Scott Hahn posted this quote from St. Augustine n Facebook recently:

"Let us never assume that if we live good lives that we will be without sin; our lives should be praised only when we continue to beg for pardon."

My immediate reaction was "Oh, how negative!" But that's Man's thinking, not God's, because, come to think of it (by God's grace), such thinking is most positive indeed. How so? Well if one would instead say "when we continue to consult our life coach" or "accountant" or "fitness coach" and so on, we can see that such recourse makes sense if we admit our limitations while seeking help and pushing ourselves as far as we can go. Begging for pardon throughout our lives is seeking a remedy to what we know to be a constant in our lives: bad choices, rash judgments, selfishness, excess, neglect of our loved ones, shirking responsibilities, sloth, pride, a bit of this and that throughout our days and months and years. This brings to mind something that I am only recently learning to appreciate: God's mercy goes far beyond his pardon. His love is so gracious that, when he pardons, he moreover heals and makes more resilient. In bringing our weaknesses to him, he grants us strength.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Now reading: Dark Night of the Soul

As with my previous reading, this one hits me unexpectedly, where I had no idea I needed attention. For example, what St. John of the Cross calls "spiritual gluttony", i.e., (as I understand it, seeking emotional consolations). And once again I get the same message as in other sources, of recent reading or experience: smaller bites, slower pace, patience, please.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Time to Give up a Dangerous Security Blanket

I've always maintained a certain confidence in the idea that I can see even those hidden signs of God's plans because I had faith. But the penny dropped here:

.. there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he wills. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and place. This is what it means to be mysteriously fruitful!

From The Joy of the Gospel:

Now that I reconsider it, I must now admit that it is far more reasonable that what I cannot see is far more than what I can see. It is, come to think of it, a perilous delusion to maintain such a source of security, like walking in the wilderness assuming that I'll never get lost. I can, and do, and the way out is not always clear to me. But there is true freedom from anxiety if I trust in whom is truly trustworthy, without the limitations that I do have. So much like.. a child simply trusting his/her Father rather than assuming that he/she, the child, must think of everything before proceeding. The latter sounds like how I feel too often, and so one has occasion to throw a tantrum and even an old Macbook Pro (thus cracking the screen)!

I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me. -- Bl. John Henry Newman.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Truth and Story

Today I heard for the first time a story about two characters named Truth and Story. It is a fascinating way to capture the way we are usually averse to being confronted by the cold, naked and harsh Truth, and may be better served by Truth wrapped in (a) Story. Story can attract more people to sit down with her, allowing her to impart Truth. Perhaps that is one reason why Jesus taught in parables in many instances, and why God became Man in the first place. It also suggests a similarity with the Old Testament notion of death at seeing God face to face, versus the intimate encounter with the Son of God in the flesh.

But I have recently been hearing this message, in prayer and reading, that my whole approach to sharing Truth has been harsh, cold, vulgar and .. ineffective. Sadly, my academic training has made it the typical approach I take, but as with my kids as with any, I must abandon it now, except in academic circles, I think.

Something else I learned in today's formation session (with the permanent diaconate programme) is that the sharing/preaching, while channeled through me, is about the Man, Jesus Christ. On the other hand, there is also the tension with not being dry and academic, so it must be human, if not personal (to me). This is an art I must learn, but perhaps it is both: it is about Christ and his expression and actions in my life. My life can be (not always) the Story that Truth is clothed in, and so God is clothed in my human story.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Church in the world

The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being. It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven. We know that God wants his children to be happy in this world too, even though they are called to fulfilment in eternity, for he has created all things “for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6:17), the enjoyment of everyone.

Again from the Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis gives a concise reason behind the need for the Church to participate. Rather than a private matter, our religion compels us to make the good news public and incarnate. Not imposing, of course, but certainly proposing (as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said years ago) with conviction and reason, and with good cause: if we truly love our neighbor, we must offer them what goods we have, including Truth, so that they, too, will benefit from all that God offers.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Irony at an ecumenical visit

I overheard the remark from a visiting Protestant, made after the Mass, about how difficult it is to attain unity among such diverse opinions in Christendom. That was the gist of it, at least, and I had to smile and sigh with some regret at the same time (where I was tucked away washing mugs). She is correct, it is difficult indeed if all we see are those diverse opinions, with no ground upon which to argue that Jesus was The Truth, not the ghostly image of diverse opinions on what is true. As a favourite author succinctly taught me in his writings many years ago, the principal question really boils down to this question: "Who do you say that I am?", as it contrast starkly against the question that preceded it: "Who do people say that I am?" The latter is about opinions. The former is not, and is not meant to be. Jesus Christ is so central to everything, and the Christian mission so important, that it stretches the imagination to suppose that he sent us off on a mission to proclaim our good opinions to the world.

A second look tells me that the above comes off as harsher than it should be. Let me point out that I do not know all, most or even enough of the crucial truths, but we have the Spirit of Truth among us (all Christians), so there is cause for hope, but also cause to work towards unity.

"charity à la carte”

.. is not the response to the gospel, to God's love, that He is looking for. He who is Love, whose love was so self-sacrificing that it took him to the passion and death on the cross, gave first, loved first, that a greater response is proper. When The Joy of the Gospel goes into the social dimensions of evangelization, Pope Francis reminds us, it seems to me, that the salvation of the world is not the aggregation of the individual salvation. Such a model seems to lose that crucial social aspect that enriches the individual through the societal family.

(Trust, too, that reading an excerpt, as I did, likewise does injustice to the whole text:)

Pope Francis also cites the small gestures of charity, which I also fall into, and that makes sense if you consider that human beings, if we truly consider them as family, are worth more than cursory gestures. This goes into the heart of charity, at the core of the gospel: God's love for us, no mere gesture but a total self-giving, to which our response should largely involve self-giving to others. It's very challenging, even if I only consider my actual family. But gestures alone would make me a rather deficient husband and father, I think.

Friday, June 06, 2014

The principal proclamation

As the foundation of anything else I should ever tell my family:

On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principalproclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.

Just another piece of dynamite from the Joy of the Gospel. He later writes about catechesis as accompanying someone, and that is precisely, par excellence, what I should be doing with my family: accompanying them while they, too, teach me about the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The primacy of conscience

Having recently heard this phrase recently, this defence of one's dissent from Church, it got me thinking about some boundaries for this concept. Without having done an in-depth study, my immediate thought is that such primacy applies to one's culpability. It probably cannot be the basis for developing or teaching doctrine.

I found this interesting primer on culpable sincerity at another blog, which goes in depth on this.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The time to flee from trouble may be over in many ways

.. Many things also to pass by with deaf ear, and rather to think upon those things which belong to thy peace. .. to turn away thy eyes from the things that displease, and to leave each man to his own opinion, than to give thyself to discourses of strife.

I love hiding away inside a chapel. A quiet one. I think I can stay there for a hour each day, escaping the noise and relishing the sanctuary. But it turns out that this isn't admirable, for a disciple of Christ, while needing tranquil prayer periods everyday, is not an escapee. The deacon said it best yesterday: the most important word (that we often forget) is GO! We have a mission, and so, I'm not sure if the above quote from The Imitation of Christ applies anymore. Certainly not to everyone. Don't go looking for trouble, says the gaffer in Lord of the Rings, but at this age, trouble is on the prowl. The world has become so estranged from Christianity that conflicts have become inevitable. And so the public square that is common to all is a battlefield where one must prevail over the other.

The world that was once upon a recent time largely Christian now holds Christianity in ridicule. Why? I think because evangelization, which was once on the march, has been retreating for generations now. Gravity must be defied if we aim at an upward -- heavenly -- goal.

Friday, May 23, 2014

It was not you who chose me...

.. No, I chose you; and commissioned you to go out and bear fruit .. (Jn 15:12-17)

This was something our parish priest pointed out last Sunday about or relationship with God: that He was the initiator, that He revealed himself, just as He loved us first. God is not something we discovered; He revealed himself to us.

Akin to this is, I think, our role in this relationship. I am still unsettled at hearing a theologian advocate for lay theologians givng the homily during the liturgy. I concede that he is correct in saying that many among them, thus qualified, may well know better and give better homilies than priests. There, too, are many lay people of greater virtue than many priests, but are not ordained to administer the sacraments. I think there are two points to consider: does one attain to the right to break the word (as one might break the bread), and is the act of liturgical and priestly significance? Do we gain these privileges on the merit of our degrees and personal holiness? A third point is this: what makes the lay theologian, who may well teach seminarians, school children and more, for several hours each week, want to take to the 15 minutes of the Sunday pulpit also? Is this about service, or power? I have no way to read that person's heart, but I think it is a fair question to ask if I argung the case for myself. Perhaps that is part of my discomfort, for I do have a desire to be a deacon, or a catechist. I must question my motives well, for if it is pride seeking such privilege, then I had better not become either.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pristine and perhaps not much help

In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis writes,

I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door peole are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).

Some months ago, I went door-knocking for the parish I belonged to. The goal was two-fold: inviting parishioners to assist the parish in some way, and reaching out to those who have been away. I encountered one who struck me as someone who needed our assistance, not the other way around. She seemed tired, somewhat embittered. And while I may well be wrong, she seemed lonely. It struck me that there are those on that same boat, whom we know nothing about in their need, but perhaps because we have stopped considering those things as needs. Whether by distraction or political correctness, there are some crosses that we have ceased talking about. The Church cannot afford to do that any longer, the price paid for such silence and neglect has been too high.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Joy of the Gospel is Jesus Christ

He is the beginning and at the heart of the Gospel, and is the source of its joy. Pope Francis writes:

3. I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”.[1] The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”.

This character of constant and available renewal is, I think, a key quality of the Gospel when one considers that we are not static in our lives. Having recourse to mercy, access to healing, hence a new dawn after each dark night, fits right in with the human process of learning from our mistakes, wiser and stronger at each rising from every fall.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Joy of the Gospel

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. Wonderful. It's just that there is something wrong, it seems, with my preference for this encounter: can I stay in a quiet, somewhat dimly lit chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament for a few hours each day? One hour? Somehow I get the feeling that the answer is "no." If I don't encounter him in the least of my brethren, or every person I meet, then I am missing too much. This is the joy which we experience daily, amid the little things of life, as a response to the loving invitation of God our Father: “My child, treat yourself well, according to your means… Do not deprive yourself of the day’s enjoyment” (Sir14:11, 14). .... There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. Ouch. an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral Ouch again. I get the feeling that, if Pope Francis knew me at all, I'd ... be lumped in with the above two examples of being poor witness. This is good reading. I need it desperately.

The Imitation of Christ

Just finished reading this devotional book from Thomas à Kempis. One chapter a day since last year on the homeward train goes a long way. I followed St. Josemaria Escriva's advise on reading The Way: one bite-sized reading at a time, slowly, but probably not slowly enough at that. Reading is easy compared to living it, but nevertheless instructed in a few things that I'd never though of before. It helps, I think, that much of the book was deeply prayer-like in form. And conversational as well. It makes the train ride a peaceful break between work and home. It hoefully makes me more pleasant to live with, too, even in the smallest of steps forward.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The works that I do in my Father's name..

(Jn 10:22-30) ".. are my witness." One can write up an entire library for or against the Christian witness, but actions will always speak louder than words, and are not as easy to dismiss. This is a core rule for me to follow: to work as itself a sign to the gospel, even if I'd rather open my big mouth instead. The Lord grant that I follow this rule from now on, since I don't seem too effective with words anyway (especially not with my family).

Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Obedience of Faith

These words in the Gospel of John (3:31-36, RSV) from today's readings make sense as two sides of a coin: faith and obedience. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him. We do as we believe, and to do otherwise is a betrayal of that belief. It is remarkable that faith brings about eternal life; have one, and the other follows. It becomes a question of what it means to believe in the Son. There is also the question of what disobedience means to someone who already has faith: an important question, given the implications.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and the Last Supper

The readings for Holy Thursday cite two different acts of Jesus that evening before Gethsemane: the institution of the Eucharist, and the washing of his disciples' feet. The first is obviously important when you accept the Eucharist as a sacrament. The second is not so obvious, but praying about it, I can offer some thoughts. The obvious significance is two-fold: humility and service, but there seems to be more. In the opening verses, we are told that Jesus was aware that the hour had come: he was soon departing out of this world to the Father, and he who loved his own -- his disciples -- in this world would now show how perfect his love was. One translation says that "he loved them to the end." Here is Jesus preparing to leave, but his disciples would have a long way yet to walk this life, in this world. They have been prepared previously, washed and thus "clean all over" as he tells Peter who wanted to be washed all over. Jesus points out that only his feet now needs washing. Why? I think it's about the journey. Just as they need food to sustain them, they need to wash the dust and dirt off their feet. Getting them dirty is inevitable along the way, just as are the scars, wounds and even the corruption of the world that opposes Christ. We need to clean them up as soon as we're aware of them, and who better to notice than someone else, an objective party who can see what you cannot. This service is also part of communion. So, food for the journey in the Eucharist, and washing the dust off one another in the meantime. Jesus makes these provisions in his compassion because he knows we'll need them, and like a good parent, he prepares his children not only to do this for themselves but, more importantly, to do this for one another. To me, this means not only the receiving the Eucharist, but celebrating the Eucharist as a community, within which we can serve one another, such as in encouraging one another, instructing one another and providing spiritual direction: a one-on-one ministering in the interior life and apostolate. I am grateful to have a director, and hope to serve others likewise if they'll have me, but I don't know if I am ready yet.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Relativism: pulling the rug from under truth

At least that's what seems to be the case in this story about Sister Jane Laurel, OP. What happens when a Catholic nun, a highly qualified teacher of the faith, expounds on that faith as had been taught by the Church for ages? Apparently, with enough of the audience having picked and chosen which parts of the faith they subscribe to (read: relativism), there is an uproar. Why? Because it's every Catholic for himself or herself, apparently. They believe only what they want to believe, which is ridiculous in the Catholic faith.

Well done, Sister Jane and Bishop Jurgis. Fr. Z is right: if we are to be faithful to Christ, we are in for a fight. Since the problem is so much falsehood, it makes sense to wield the singular weapon of Truth. Sadly, it is an in-house fight to begin with, delaying the fight which should be taken out there instead.

Nabuchadnezzar: pride distorts us

If you refuse to worship it, you will be thrown into the fiery furnace; and where is the god who can save you from my power? An outsider will see how ludicrous this statement is. Yes, the king has immense power, but even then, he would know that he not a god -- until a certain insanity sets in. It is called pride. It is an insanity that brings about delusions of grandeur, and the danger is that it is built on falsehood, a distortion of one's assessment of self. These words infuriated King Nebuchadnezzar; his expression was very different now.. in other times, this king seemed reasonable enough, but injured pride, especially for one holding such a distorted self-estimation.. He throws a kingly tantrum. Such is pride. The scary thing is that, along with other virtues, we don't seem to instill humility in our children anymore. Being nice, yes. Humble, no? Humble is seen as backward and harmful, when in fact, being humble (based on truth) is being honest. And don't get me started on truthfulness...

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Nature and Grace

Book 2, Chapter 54 of The Imitation of Christ, contrasts sharply what it refers to as "nature" and grace. The former cannot be contrasted thus, as something oppositional to grace, if it was something that God created. As one of my favorite writers, Mark Shea, would point out, the human nature that God established from the beginning was good. The problem is sin, because it perverted humanity, so that sin makes us gravitate away from God. I would join Mark in saying that the sins we commit are not due to our human nature, for that which God created was entirely designed to cooperate with grace. It's the gaping wound to human nature that gets us, but let us never forget that God made us good to begin with. That is who we are meant to be.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Why study the Word?

Not for pride: "Never read the word so that you may appear learned and wise, but study for the mortification of your sins." (Imitation of Christ, Against Vain and Worldly Knowledge). It came to me that I can therefore study with more focus the Gospels, St. James and the other epistlles. It is rather shocking to find that I have been so remiss (mildly put) with flaws that escaped my notice entirely! A lot of mortification, but here I am and it is Lent!

Friday, March 07, 2014

The eternal character of happiness and our short-lived and vain pursuits

The Imitation of Christ says under "Man Must Not Be Immersed in Business" (paraphrased) that when one has obtained some pursuit, even one pursued with great enthusiasm, he/she would subsequently lose interest, since the affections towards the object of desire is not lasting. Perhaps it is in our nature, being finite beings, to flit from one thing to another. This is more true today than it ever was, in prosperous societies where people can afford a great many toys, games, and entertainments. But I note how frivolous it seems to jump at each new "thing"! What happens when no new thing can be found? What if the next new thing is unaffordable? The happiest seem to be those who find something with a lasting character: love, family, a home, a long and stable career. There is no flitting about this way or that. The less temporary the source or object of happiness, the greater the satisfaction, I think. That probably can't be found in a gadget or toy store! I know I have it in my family, much of whom shall simply outlive me, so that is where I should invest my pursuits. It is not a huge family, but counting extended family, my parish, and the entire people of God, that is a huge family. That I have them should fill me with contentment and gratitude!

Sunday, March 02, 2014

An excellent visit with familiy back in the Philippines

Yes it was. Even if we all caught a bug somewhere along the way (no idea if it's Australian, Chinese or Filipino). K2 (Kid#2) weathered it best with just some hoarseness (didn't stop his horsing around). K4 (you get the picture) and I ended up with high fevers, headaches and antibiotics (I'm finishing my third course now). The missus has just stopped coughing a month after we all started. We missed a few visits to places and friends as a result. Probably a third of our 25-day journey was ruined to a certain extent.

But it was a great visit. One of my older brothers came home with his family from overseas. We got together with our sisters and their families. I visited my youngest brother and his family. Cousins got together across my generation and my children's. And of course, shopping in the Philippines is always good.

But this, I think, was what I loved the most: my kids mingling with cousins their age or a few years older, and aunts, uncles, grandparents, grand-aunts, etc, who spoiled them silly. It's that sense of being part of something much bigger that makes these trips worth the cost. Human beings are social animals, we are told. More - better - than that, though, I think we're always members of a family.

Freddie Mercury sang "who wants to live forever?" in the movie, Highlander, many years ago. It's a haunting question for which the answer entirely depends, I think, in whether or not you are isolated or live within a family. Living alone forever is terrible to contemplate. Living forever with a large, boisterous, messy, always interesting and entertaining family is something I'd like to do. Luckily, I need not think of it wishfully. I already am. :-)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Morality, Character and Practice Makes Perfect

Fr. Robert Barron has a fantastic short video on Word on Fire (Youtube) where he talks about the results of our actions, in particular where it concerns sexuality. I can'r find the video now but it appears to be in print form in www.catholiceducation.org/articles/philosophy/ph0056.htm, an article reprinted at Catholiceducation.org. He cites JPII's Love and Responsibility as a reference when he describes the less obvious outcome of every act. Yes, there is usually the obvious consequence, you usually can't miss it. A good example might be an unintended pregnancy, but Fr. Barron discusses the subtle consequences in that video, which might be trivialized or simply get overlooked. That is the gradual undermining of one's character in every act that adds up in the end. Like a bad habit a professional athlete might pick up if not too careful, it pays to note how it can bring that person to ruin in the end.

I often warn my kids: "practice makes perfect." I think this is a good way to explain this gradual erosion of one's moral character. St. Josemaria Escriva notes the Psalmist's imagery of "little foxes" that destroy the vineyard, and that has taken on greater meaning for me when considering, if I'm totally honest with myself, how I backslide and veer off-course gradually if I'm not paying attention.

Things add up: what exactly am I piling up for myself? Practice makes perfect: what am I perfecting? One step at a time: where am I headed anyway? One day at a time; one act at a time: who am I becoming?

Fr. Barron hits the nail on the head when he points our the fallacy of saying to oneself "but deep down inside, I'm a good person." Each act changes who that person is, deep down inside.