Into a perfect state

I spent today with Michael Pakaluk’s latest book, “The Memoirs of St. Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel According to Mark“. Perfect for Holy Week and Easter, and a rich and fresh way to encounter Christ through Peter.

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Like Romano Guardini’s “The Lord”, there’s a closeness and an immediacy with Christ through the book. There’s a fresh renewed sense of what friendship with this person of Christ should look like and might feel like. Here’s Pakaluk in an early commentary in the book:

“People intuitively sense that where God is, their happiness is. Take this together with Jesus’ having clearly displayed that he could heal everyone and remove every evil and infirmity if he so willed, and it was natural that his appearance was seen as a harbinger of some kind of radical translation of the whole world into a perfect state.”

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday.

‘Whatever the place of death in you is’

In the Gospel today we hear of Jesus raising the dead man, Lazarus. Since churches remain closed due to the virus, this Mass was spiritual communion today:

Bishop Barron’s homily is beautiful today, I think one of the best I’ve heard from him. It speaks of Christ’s power over death and the divisiveness of the logos, the ultimate life-giving spirit, toward death and toward the illusion of finality that death casts for us given our limited vision: “Our friend Lazarus [dead four days] is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.”

Here’s Bishop Barron, at about the 23 minute mark:

“Reconstruct the scene. And now here’s Jesus now addressing you by name, and saying: Come out! Come out! Whatever the place of death in you is, however you’re wrapped up and bound, Jesus is saying: come out. And finally, anticipate the moment when you’ll hear that great voice calling you from death into life. How do we know it? Because he is the resurrection and the life.”

As our lives have been changed by this virus and by quarantine, we have a chance maybe to come to see ourselves more clearly because we have a chance to see ourselves in the light of those closest to us and who are spending so much time with us. Do they like what they’re finding when they see us? Do we like what we’re finding in our own hearts? What are the places of death and preoccupation in my own heart?

Pope Francis’s Urbi et Orbi blessing

Today at 1pm Eastern I watched Pope Francis’s incredible Urbi et Orbi blessing, his public blessing of the whole world in this time of pandemic, suffering, and death. A few scenes below, along with Vatican Media’s YouTube stream. Here are Pope Francis’s blessing and remarks.

And here is an excerpt from Pope Francis:

Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time…

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).

Our ‘confusion extends beyond sexuality’

J.D. Flynn offers some of the best fraternal correction to Fr. James Martin that I’ve read so far:

…there is a difference between choosing not to defy Catholic doctrine and choosing to teach it in its fullness. And the doctrine of the Church extends far beyond issues of sexuality. While Martin may not be teaching error on that subject, his work fails to express, or even take into account, Catholic teaching on a fundamental issue: what it means to be a person at all. The consequence of that failure is confusion.

Consider Fr. Martin’s recent remarks to college presidents at a meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. His speech does not state that homosexual activity should be condoned, or that Church teaching on the matter should change. But it does present a vision of the human person at odds with Catholic teaching, and it urges a set of pastoral practices that will lead to heartbreak and disappointment, not to the freedom of Jesus Christ. …

Every initiative that Fr. Martin recommends in his address—from “Lavender graduations” to “L.G.B.T.-affirming spiritualities, theologies, liturgies and safe spaces”—is designed to affirm the lie that sexual inclination or orientation is, in itself, identity. Fr. Martin seems to be arguing that, to be compassionate, the Church must encourage young people to see themselves as the world sees them: as the sum of their desires, rather than as children of God, beloved sons and daughters of the Father.

Contemporary confusion about sexual orientation today stems from conflating appetite with identity. We are more than the sum of our appetites. And our appetites—however strongly we feel them, however much they have shaped us, however much we have suffered for them—are not often ordered, absent grace, to our flourishing. That confusion extends beyond sexuality; it is the cause of insatiable consumerism, of technology addictions, and even of our nakedly dysfunctional political arena.

The Church believes that knowledge of our true identity as children of God can free us from the slavery of defining ourselves by our appetites, from confusion about who we are and about what will bring us happiness. That is why the Church says that Catholic colleges ought to teach that students are made in the image of God, and that by the grace of God they can live in the freedom of their creation and flourish in this life and the next. That message defies biological or psychological determinism; it defies postmodern inclinations to define reality according to experience; it defies a technocratic culture that says we are what we do.

Our “confusion extends beyond sexuality.” How urgent this message is for the recovery and reform of so much in our culture. We are confused about who we are as human persons, across the entire landscape of issues.

And there’s a subtle and important point that J.D. Flynn is drawing out here; that is, the distinction between expressing the truth in its fullness and expressing truth to a particular degree.

‘We take sin so casually’

Charles J. Chaput celebrated his final Mass as Archbishop of Philadelphia on Sunday, and in doing so he concluded 31 years of service as a Catholic bishop:

At the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, Chaput told his parishioners he is grateful to them, and pointed following Jesus Christ as the pathway to truth and happiness.

“I’ll still be around, I’m not dying, I’m just retiring,” Chaput said Feb. 16, just days before the Tuesday installation of his successor, Archbishop-designate Nelson Perez.

In a homily that stayed tied to the Mass readings, characteristic of Chaput’s preaching style, the archbishop cited the second reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, saying it captures his experience of ministry to the Church in Philadelphia.

“What eye has not seen and ear has not heard and what has not entered the human heart: what God has prepared for those who love him,” St. Paul wrote. “This, God has revealed to us, through the Spirit.”

Chaput thanked the congregation for “the gift of your presence in my life.”

“God bless you,” he concluded.

The archbishop described his successor Perez, until recently the Bishop of Cleveland, as “a very good man” who “will serve you well as archbishop.” …

In his homily, Chaput reflected on divine law and God’s revelation.

“One of the problems with the commandments is we think of them as laws or rules. What they really are is a pattern of life,” Chaput said. “They’re not there to test us to see if we’re good, because we know we’re not, right? The commandments are there to show us how to be good.”

“God is telling us if you want to be happy, then don’t steal. If you want to be successful, you won’t bear false witness. If you want to have successful marriages, you won’t commit adultery,” the archbishop explained.

“We have freedom to choose whether or not to be good,” he said. At the same time, he emphasized that Christians can’t keep the commandments on their own, but must depend on God’s grace. Some struggle and sin again and again, “sometimes because we depend on ourselves rather than God.”

“Think about the most difficult (sins) for you: gossip, adultery, not to kill, not to anger,” Chaput said, stressing the importance of the commandments.

“What’s at stake here is our salvation, our eternal life, or our eternal damnation,” he added. stressing the importance of the commandments.  “You and I determine our future by what we choose: life–following the commandments—or death. Good or evil.”

On Sunday’s gospel, the archbishop warned of the “danger of scandal.”

“One of the biggest sins that you and I can commit is leading someone else into sin,” he said. “It’s bad enough we lead ourselves into sin. But it’s much worse if we lead ourselves into sin, and through that lead someone else into sin.”

Chaput said he couldn’t state it any clearer than Jesus himself in the Gospel of Matthew: “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do so, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Archbishop Chaput asked the congregation: “When’s the last time you led somebody into sin by your sin?” …

Jesus’ use of exaggerated language, such as recommending someone cut off his hand rather than sin, makes the point of the seriousness of the matter.

“It would be better for us, really, that we don’t have a hand than that we sin,” said Chaput. “And we take sin so casually in our life.”

“One of the problems with the commandments is we think of them as laws or rules. What they really are is a pattern of life,” Chaput said. “They’re not there to test us to see if we’re good, because we know we’re not, right? The commandments are there to show us how to be good.”

Querida Amazonia, an exhortation to holiness

Chad Pecknold writes on Pope Francis and Querida Amazonia:

After months of agitation around the Amazonian Synod, the Holy Father’s post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Querida Amazonia was received with relief by many.

Pope Francis simply ignored the radical reforms demanded by rich, bourgeois liberals in Germany.

They funded much of the Amazonian synod, and they wanted results. They wanted exceptions to compulsory priestly celibacy — the Pope gave them none. They wanted the door at least opened to the possibility of female deacons — the Pope told them not to clericalize women. After months of synodal and curial intrigue around the so-called viri probati — the Pope said we need holiness and evangelization instead to bring the Eucharist to the Amazonian peoples.

As one liberal commentator on curial affairs put it, “people are starting to adjust expectations.” There has been a kind of slow-burn realization among agitators that Pope Francis is not the bridge to their shag-carpeted dreams. …

The German response to Querida Amazonia exhibited the same anxieties which preceded it. Thomas Sternberg, the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) — a lay group which advocates for the blessing of same-sex marriage in the Church and which enjoys influence and authority in the national bishops’ conference — expressed his disappointment that Pope Francis “did not find the courage to implement real reforms in the questions of the ordination of married men and the liturgical skills of women, which have been discussed for 50 years.”

“Fifty years!” The disappointment was palpable. President Sternberg wrote: “Our expectations regarding specific steps towards reform, especially with regard to access to the priestly office and the role of women, were very high. We very much regret that Pope Francis did not take a step forward in his letter.” The ZdK president spoke of the Holy Father’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation as if he were paying a bill for a product he never ordered.

Some in Germany have been asking impossible things of Rome since at least the sixteenth century, but now, with their outsized wealth and influence, they apparently must make it known to the Successor of Saint Peter that they are “very disappointed in him.” If it were not for their extreme arrogance, impiety, and presumption, one might almost feel sorry at their deflation.

Kobe Bryant, RIP

Tom Hoffarth and Steve Lowery on the late Kobe Bryant’s faith:

In the immediate aftermath of Bryant’s sudden death along with eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, in a helicopter crash Jan. 26, it soon became known that Bryant stopped by Queen of Angels, located a couple miles from his Newport Coast home, for a few moments of reflection and prayer, leaving just 10 minutes after that 7 a.m. Mass started to head to John Wayne Airport.

Father Sallot later confirmed to various local news outlets that he had seen Bryant after he had prayed in the chapel.

“We shook hands, I saw that he had blessed himself because there was a little holy water on his forehead,” Father Sallot said. “I was coming in the same door as he was going out … we called that the backhand of grace.”

Though Bryant was well-known for his discipline (Mamba Mentality), cosmopolitan ways (giving interviews in multiple languages) and, most of all, love, admiration, and devotion for his daughters (the trending hashtag #GirlDad among the tributes), the fact that Bryant took his faith so seriously seemed to take many, including those in the media, by surprise.

The media may have first met him as a star in Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania before the Lakers obtained him in a 1996 NBA draft trade, but considering Bryant started living in Milan, Italy, at age 7, since his father, Joe, played seven seasons in the Italian League after his own NBA career ended in 1983, Catholicism seems to have been as natural a part of life as basketball.

Bryant was willing to talk about his faith with anyone willing or wanting to listen. It was there, he said, at both his highest and lowest moments.

“I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success. Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.”

“If you do the work, if you work hard enough, dreams come true… and if you guys can understand that, then I’m doing my job as a father.”

Politics is important, but…

Archbishop Chaput’s successor in Philadelphia will be Archbishop Nelson Perez. Matt Hadro reports on Archbishop Chaput’s retirement:

Chaput reflected on his vocation as bishop to CNA on Thursday, citing St. Augustine as the model of service he has sought to emulate in his ministry.

“Augustine lived simply, never abandoned his people, and never avoided difficult decisions or issues,” Chaput told CNA.

“That didn’t always make him popular. But he served his people sacrificially, as a good father, in a spirit of love. That’s the gold standard for a bishop’s ministry.”

During his episcopal ministry, and especially as Archbishop of Philadelphia, Chaput faced criticism from secular outlets and within the Church for taking “conservative” stands on leading debates in the Church, including statements discouraging Catholic politicians who support abortion from presenting themselves for Communion and opposing efforts to redefine marriage.

His stances led to him being branded as a “culture warrior” and “political.” Yet, he explained to CNA on Thursday, his public stances were required of him as a responsible Catholic leader in the public square.

“Was Augustine ‘political’ for writing City of God? Or for criticizing Roman state corruption and bad officials? Of course not,” Chaput said.

“Politics is a subset of Christian discipleship, and sometimes bishops need to speak and act with conviction in the public square in an unpopular way. That’s always been the case.”

“Politics is important, but it’s not what the Gospel is about,” he said. …

“The history of the Church is not the history of bishops, it’s the history of all of us together working for the glory of God.”

The political task of Christians

What if we woke up one day only to realize that what we thought we knew of the world was wrong?

Fr. Stephen Freeman writes that our knowledge of the world, and the way we think, is flawed in a very particular way:

No one has written more insightfully nor critically about secularism than the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann. His classic book, For the Life of the World, is not only a primer on the meaning of the sacramental life, but primarily, a full-blown confrontation with the great heresy of secularism. Secularism is not the rejection of God, but the assertion that the world exists apart from God and that our task is to do the best we can in this world. Fr. Alexander suggests that the Church in the modern world has largely surrendered to secularism. “The Church’s surrender,” he says, “consists not in giving up creeds, traditions, symbols and customs…but in accepting the very function of religion in terms of promoting the secular value of help, be it help in character building, peace of mind, or assurance of eternal salvation.”

He is not alone in this observation. The Protestant theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, says much the same thing:

“…the political task of Christians is to be the church rather than to transform the world. One reason why it is not enough to say that our first task is to make the world better is that we Christians have no other means of accurately understanding the world and rightly interpreting the world except by way of the church. Big words like “peace” and “justice,” slogans the church adopts under the presumption that, even if people do not know what “Jesus Christ is Lord” means, they will know what peace and justice means, are words awaiting content. The church really does not know what these words mean apart from the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. After all, Pilate permitted the killing of Jesus in order to secure both peace and justice (Roman style) in Judea. It is Jesus’ story that gives content to our faith, judges any institutional embodiment of our faith, and teaches us to be suspicious of any political slogan that does not need God to make itself credible.”

The extent to which we have all been secularized is easily measured by just how strange these statements by great theologians sound. The Church has surrendered because it promotes the value of “helping?” The Church does not exist in order to make the world a better place? These have been common themes in my writing (and I easily acknowledge my indebtedness). But when I have said, “We will not make the world a better place,” my articles are met with a torrent of dismay. I offer here more of the same.

Hauerwas makes the clear point that the word “better” has no meaning apart from the story of Jesus, or certainly no meaning that Christians should agree to. Schmemann goes so far as to call the Church’s agreement to “help” the world (however the world wants to define that help) as surrender.

So what are we to do?

‘Is this not a miracle in itself?’

It’s New Years Eve, and as the year comes to a close I’m reading one of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s sermons and reflecting on the miracle that is every year, that is every month, day, and minute. Every moment we live is a miracle, in that there’s no reason for any of this other than God’s sheer love and willing of our being. In worship, we recognize this gratuitous goodness, along with our inability to repay it or to earn anything, and at the same time the importance of simply thanking God for the goodness that is this life:

On Christmas night the shepherds are addressed by an angel who shines upon them with the blinding glory of God, and they are very much afraid. The tremendous, unearthly radiance shows that the angel is a messenger of heaven and clothes him with an incontrovertible authority. With this authority he commands them not to be afraid but to embrace the great joy he is announcing to them. And while the angel is speaking thus to these poor frightened people, he is joined by a vast number of others, who unite in a “Gloria” praising God in heaven’s heights and announcing the peace of God’s goodwill to men on earth. Then, we read, “the angels went away from them into heaven.” In all probability the singing was very beautiful and the shepherds were glad to listen; doubtless they were sorry when the concert was over and the performers disappeared behind heaven’s curtain. Probably, however, they were secretly a little relieved when the unwonted light of divine glory and the unwonted sound of heavenly music came to an end, and they found themselves once more in their familiar earthly darkness. They probably felt like shabby beggars who had suddenly been set in a king’s audience chamber among courtiers dressed in magnificent robes and were glad to slip away unnoticed and take to their heels.

But the strange thing is that the intimidating glory of the heavenly realm, which has now vanished, has left behind a human glow of joy in their souls, a light of joyous expectation, reinforcing the heavenward-pointing angel’s word and causing them to set out for Bethlehem. Now they can turn their backs on the whole epiphany of the heavenly glory—for it was only a starting point, an initial spark, a stimulus leading to what was really intended; all that remains of it is the tiny seed of the word that has been implanted in their hearts and that now starts to grow in the form of expectation, curiosity and hope: “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” They want to see the word that has taken place. Not the angel’s word with its heavenly radiance: that has already become unimportant. They want to see the content of the angel’s word, that is, the Child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. They want to see the word that has “happened,” the word that has taken place, the word that is not only something uttered but something done, something that can not only be heard but also seen.

Thus the word that the shepherds want to see is not the angel’s word. This was only the proclamation (the kerygma, as people say nowadays); it was only a pointer. The angels, with their heavenly authority, disappear: they belong to the heavenly realm; all that remains is a pointer to a word that has been done. By God, of course. Just as it is God who made it known to them through the angels. …

All who deny themselves in order to carry out love’s commission are on the right path.

Miracles happen along this path. Apparently insignificant miracles, noticed by hardly anyone. The very finding of a Child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger—is this not a miracle in itself? Then there is the miracle when a particular mission, hidden in a person’s heart, really reaches its goal, bringing God’s peace and joy where there were nothing but despair and resignation; when someone succeeds in striking a tiny light in the midst of an overpowering darkness. When joy irradiates a heart that no longer dared to believe in it. Now and again we ourselves are assured that the angel’s word we are trying to obey will bring us to the place where God’s Word and Son is already made man. We are assured that, in spite of all the noise and nonsense, today, December 25, is Christmas just as truly as two millennia ago. Once and for all God has started out on his journey toward us, and nothing, till the world’s end, will stop him from coming to us and abiding in us.