Perhaps you have heard that each time a person sins, Jesus is nailed again onto the cross. Such thinking begets dreadful anxiety and unbearable guilt. Also, it runs contrary to scripture, especially in regard to our second reading today. By one offering, he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated. Jesus has already offered himself on the cross for our salvation; there is no need for us to put him back up there again. Once was good enough.
Yet by no means do I say that sin is over and done. By no means do I tell you that we cannot commit sin. Sin is as real today as it ever has been. Perhaps we do not put Jesus on the cross again, but it is rather dreadful for a believer in Jesus to act as if the crucifixion and its saving effects do not matter in his life. It is dreadful to not be satisfied as a result of being offered Christ's forgiveness and abundant grace.
There is a simple cure for what ails us; during this Mass and every Mass we are ever going to attend, we will hear Jesus offer himself. He offered himself for the forgiveness of sins. He commanded us to repeat the rites we celebrate not because they were not good enough the first time, but because he wants us to recall constantly what he has already done for everyone. If we recall well what he has already done for us, then we will seek well the means to recover the joy of reconciliation. We will seek well all that restores us to holiness and all that helps us to remain within the Body of Christ.
I invite you to listen to the words of the Eucharistic Prayer as if you are hearing them for the first time. Listen to why Jesus turns bread into His Body. Listen to why Jesus turns wine into His Blood. He did these things so that the people He called by name would be perfected forever in His name.
--Fr. Shawn O'Neal is the Pastor of Saint Joseph's Parish in Bryson City, North Carolina.
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER: The Tidings profiles Javier Stauring, co-director of Detention Ministries for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, who mobilized a campaign to raise awareness of the plight of juvenile offenders housed in the Los Angles Men's Central Jail. The campaign was instrumental in a decision by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to relocate incarcerated minors to the California Youth Authority in Norwalk. Stauring will be honored at a dinner later this month.
The pain of purgatory is two things: First, it's the pain of being unconditionally embraced by selflessness while we are still selfish, the pain of being enfolded by goodness while we are still sinful. We already experience this, partially, in our daily lives where, as we know, few experiences are as humbling, painful and purifying as the experience of being undeservedly loved and gratuitously forgiven. Love purifies, that's why love hurts.
But there's a second pain that makes for purgatory. Purgatory is also the pain of letting go of the every-day securities, attachments and pleasures of this life. Purgatory is the pain of letting go of this life in order to live in the next. That's not an abstract concept.
We see it in those facing death. The pain in dying is more about saying good-bye to this world and our loved ones than it is about facing the unknown on the other side. It's hard to die because it's hard to shake a hand and say good-bye for the last time to a loved one, a loved home, a cherished routine, a healthy body. Letting go like this isn't like purgatory, it is purgatory.
GMO: As usual, John Allen takes on a number of topics this week. His observations on how the Vatican is approaching the Genetically Modified Foods issues are interesting. Allen attributes the cautious endorsement that seems to be emerging from the Holy See to the fact that officials there are increasingly convinced by the scientific data that GM foods do not pose a health risk. There are, however, some other factors at work:
First, there has been a strong and effective lobbying effort from James Nicholson, the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. Nicholson grew up on a farm in Iowa where he experienced food shortages, and is passionate about the potential of GMOs to feed starving people. In addition, Nicholson serves the Bush administration, which is sympathetic to the desire of American agricultural companies to expand their overseas markets. According to the Washington Post, the biotech industry invests $33 million in lobbying and $7.7 million in campaign contributions each year to promote its interests, GMO products among them.
Last year, Nicholson was the keynote speaker at a Rome conference on hunger. He has also pursued the cause behind closed doors. Some time ago, for example, he met with an official of the Jesuit order to discuss the anti-GMO advocacy of certain Jesuits in Africa.
Second, the Holy See does not want a repeat of the Galileo case. It does not want to find itself rejecting a scientific advance on the basis of prejudice or fear. If the Vatican can see its way clear to embracing, however cautiously, a new technology that seems to offer promise, many officials would find that attractive. They are helped in this regard by traditional Catholic theology, which posits a radical discontinuity between humanity and other living organisms, so that while genetic engineering on human beings is deeply problematic, the same technologies applied to plants and animals raise fewer ethical qualms.
Third, a Vatican position in favor of relieving poverty and hunger would be especially desirable in a moment in which the Holy See is under new fire for its teaching on contraception, blamed by critics for exacerbating HIV/AIDS and poverty in the Third World. Whatever the merits of that criticism, Vatican officials are conscious of the public relations value in making clear that there is deep concern in the Holy See for the suffering of the developing world. A pro-GMO stand based on the urgency of relieving hunger could have that effect.
BUSH'S REALLY GOOD IDEA:Fareed Zakaria applauds Bush's recent speech supporting democratization in the Middle East, but wonders if his administration is really willing to do what it takes to get there.
GO! MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL THE NATIONS: NCR covers an interesting discussion between Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and Cardinal Avery Dulles, professor of religion and society at Fordham University on the subject of evangelization and missionary activity.
Most of what passes for masculine culture is really just adolescence extended out into what used to be the adult years. In other words, "guy stuff". Wrapped up in the guy stuff is the posturing, the trash-talking, the need to prove one's toughness, the fetishization of sports and weapons, as well as what I'll simply refer to as the "Maxim" lifestyle. Those are guy things that have nothing to do with being a man and if you wish to defend that against "feminization," I can only wish you swift destruction at the hands of your enemies.
A man is someone who is quiet, thoughtful, respectful and harbors a deep sense of responsibility to others. He does not posture or overtly try to prove his toughness or "manliness" to anyone else. He doesn't have to. He thinks before he speaks, and when he does speak, it's usually brief and to the point. Moderation is his style: moderation in speech, in mood and in action. He is not quick to anger. He is fair-minded, yet firm in his application of discipline and adherance to rules. He works hard. He is strong in mind and body. If you wish to defend this against feminization, you have my support, yet this ideal of a man has suffered more at the hands of the "guy culture" than anything else and I'm afraid he's a dying breed.
When I think of the ideal of masculinity that Striker is defending, I think of my father. Dad was certainly comfortable with the more physical aspects of masculine culture. He had most of his teeth knocked out in a hockey game when he was in high school (these were the days before helmets and masks), and also enjoyed playing lacrosse. As he got older he switched to tennis and played regularly in a foursome and enjoyed the competition.
But if I had to pick one word to describe my father, it would be "responsible." Dad takes his commitments seriously, both those he choses and those that are thrust upon him. He wasn't adverse to taking the ocassional risk, such as the time he started his own business. But when that business failed, he got up, brushed himself off and found another job as soon as he could. It wasn't a great job, and it required a lot of travel. But he did what he had to do to keep putting bread on the table for his family.
Another word I use to describe Dad is"gentleman," and it's a word a lot of other people use to describe him. He is a gentle and patient man, and always very comfortable with women. He is well-read and conversant about current affairs, but never makes you feel dumb if you're not. Dad never burned for the flashy clothes, car or house. We lived in the same house from the time I started school until the time he retired, and while Dad eventually did well for himself, he didn't have a problem continuing to live in the same neighborhood with firefighters, truck drivers and teachers.
Dad is certainly a moderate, and has more or less the same political views he held when he supported Eisenhower. In the 1950s, that made him a bit of a conservative and now, believe it or not, it makes him something of a liberal. He worked in sports broadcasting in the 50s, and got to see the evil of segregation firsthand, and that's an experience that has stayed with him.
All in all, he's the kind of man I want to be, and that I struggle every day to try to be. I wish there were more like him.
The Bishops also approved an FAQ on Same-Sex Unions (I'm wondering whether FAQs will be the future form of all bishops statements). No surprises in this statement, but there is definitely a difference in tone between this statement and the one from the CDF.
So what my talk came down to was a plea to reclaim the role of traditional vocal prayer, especially the Psalms and the Liturgy of the Hours in whatever form works, in teaching kids about prayer, and using the Lord's Prayer as our judge of whether we're doing it right or not. Because, the Lord's Prayer is an answer to just this question: How should we pray? And Jesus responds - this way: Acknowledge God and pray for God's will to be done, then ask for what you need in that context. Is that what we are doing in our instruction on prayer? Are we teaching kids that the purpose of prayer is to clarify God's will in our lives and place ourselves under "judgment" in a purifying, clarifying sense ("to judge" is the root of the Hebrew word for prayer)...or is it really trying to simply do some self-administered therapy in a quiet room?
I said over and over again, I am not an advocate for retrieving tradition for the sake of tradition, or even in the name of some more recent buzzwords like "Catholic identity." That's not what this is about at all. I don't recommend using these prayers because they'll help us all feel Catholic. I recommend them because millions have found their way to intimacy with God, who is truth and life, through these prayers. Starting to teach kids about prayer in the context of the Psalms and other traditional vocal prayers connects their yearnings to the expressed yearnings of God's people and shapes them, as St. Augustine says, in accord with what's been revealed as the answer to those yearnings. In other words, quite simply, it connects their spiritual stirrings to God as he has revealed himself through Scripture and Tradition. Truth.
My views on this are quite close to Amy's, and those beliefs help sustain me when it's clear that my young children aren't really absorbing the full meaning of the Our Father or the Hail Mary as we recite them before bed. They tend to squirm inpatiently, sometimes saying the prayer with me, sometimes not. Interestingly, they have, on their own initiative, taken to using the wooden children's rosary that my son got for his baptism. Of course, they tend to argue about which color beads they want to use for the evening's decade!
Some might argue that all this is just forcing children to recite "empty phrases," but I think that is only true if you think teaching children the beginnings of language is just a matter of "empty phrases." Embeded in the prayers of our tradition is an underlying grammar that links us to fellow speakers of the past and future. To learn these prayers is to begin a process through which we come to understand God rightly and speak of Him rightly.
I know that in my own prayer life the Psalms have been a great blessing. Sometimes, when I kneel in prayer after receiving communion, the words of Psalm 51 will come to mind "Have mercy on me God in your kindness, in your compassion blot out my offense. Wash me ever more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin." Sometimes I will see the men and women of my parish coming forward to receive Jesus and I will be filled with great joy and the words of Psalm 27 well up in me: "There is one thing I ask of the Lord, for this I long, to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life." At a certain point, if you pray them often enough, the Psalms start to pray you.
DAY TWO: Yesterday's NCCB meeting focused on the issue of clerical sexual abuse and the role of the National Review Board. A number of bishops still have some concerns about the Review Board's work, particularly some surveys that they fear will fail to distinguish between allegations and substantiated acts of abuse. In the end, though, they voted overwhelmingly to give the Office of Child and Youth Protection more staff to carry out its work.
There are some interesting documents from the meeting over at the NCCB site that are worth reading. General Counsel Mark Chopko looks at regulatory challenges to public religious ministry. An example are state mandates requiring all employers--including Catholic hospitals--to offer health insurance that covers contraceptives. There was also an address on Theological and Moral Perspectives on Today's Challenge of Peace given by Diarmuid Martin, Coadjutor Archbishop of Dublin.
BACK OFF:Zoe Romanowsky over at HMS Blog blogs about the problem of people getting on the case of couples who don't have children:
Married for almost 18 months, and not yet with child, we're already getting the "So, when are you guys going to have a baby?," and "Why aren't you pregnant yet?" and "You're not getting any younger, better get the baby thing on the road."
That's when I say "thanks for sharing." But soon my response will be "none of your friggin' business."
I'm with Zoe on this. The once exception I would make would be physicians, who I think should be clear with their female patients about how age affects female fertility (and male fertility for that matter).
My sister, of course, faces the opposite problem. She has four kids (three under the age of five--pray for her!) and must endure the inevitable glances from people who seem to think it is irresponsible to have a large family.
MEN:Camassia has a long and very interesting post about men and Christianity (see related posts from Donald Sensing, which started this whole thing off, and responses from Jeanne D’Arc and Allen Brill). Camassia notes the relatively absence of “young, heterosexual, healthy men” in the Lutheran church she’s currently attending compared to the larger number of such men who could be found at the evangelical Church she used to attend.
Anyone who does parish work knows about the man problem. We have a great parish men’s group (and we’re one of the few parishes around that does), but I (age 37) am the youngest man who regularly attends. The vast majority of the attendees are men in their 50s and older, most of whom went through Cursillo in the 1980s. At almost any given parish event, women outnumber men and younger men (under 40) are rare.
While not buying into a revival of machismo, Camassia does wonder if the kitschy “Good Shepherd” Jesus who “loves us no matter what” is a turn off to many men. There’s no question that the Jesus of the Gospels is a little more demanding. We’ve gotten a little shy about articulating those demands because we’re afraid of “turning people off,” but the result is that many people, particularly men, are likely to say “why bother?” Rather than given men a place where they can channel their masculine energy into vigorous discipleship, we’ve essentially told them to check that energy at the door.
On the other hand, there is no question that Christianity challenges certain traditional notions of masculinity. Jesus didn’t go out in a blaze of glory like Butch and Sundance. He died on the cross, a decisive repudiation of the kind of redemptive violence that is so much a part of the masculine psyche. The swaggering vision of masculinity communicated by MAXIM magazine and gangsta rap is simply not compatible with Christian discipleship and we need to be exceptionally clear about that.
When I made my Cursillo, I encountered a lot of men who, at my age, were a lot like me. They were young, full of piss and vinegar and ready to make their mark on the world. They were rising through the ranks at work, raising what appeared to be perfect families, and pillars in their parishes. They thought they were invincible. And then, one by one, they were humbled: alcoholism, drug addiction, adultery, job loss, disease, death, you name it. They came to a point of crisis and found that, despite everything they had absorbed about the importance of a man being “in control,” that they were no longer in control. I understand why younger guys don’t want to hear those stories, but they should know that humility will come their way one day, one way or another. It would be wise to be prepared.
Every day, I face the responsibility of molding my son into the man he will one day be. He’s already absorbing the idea of good guys fighting—and even killing—bad guys. I tell him that sometimes it comes to that, but you have to do everything possible to avoid it first. And even more difficult, I tell him that he needs to pray for the bad guys, to believe that they can change and to pray that they will, just like we pray for the men Daddy visits at the jail. I haven’t told him yet the most difficult part: that he has to love the bad guys, because sometimes we’re bad and God still loves us. But that, too, will come in time.
Am I turning him into a wimp? I don’t know. Some may view it as a “sissified” Christianity but it’s the only Christianity I know, the only one worth living for and, if necessary, worth dying for.
CATHOLICISM AND SAME-SEX MARRIAGE:Commonweal contributors Paul Griffiths, Margaret Steinfels, and Edward Vacek debate the issue. Daria Donnelly interviews novelist Gregory Maguire, a gay man and the father--along with his partner Andy--of three adopted children.
All the issues raised in the article are ones that many California parishes have been facing for some time. Where I live, the Deanery experimented with a Hispanic Ministry Center which was sort of a halfway house between the kind of separate ethnic parishes that were often created in the past, and full integration into existing parishes. For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, the Ministry Center is being phased out in favor of the integration model. It seems like the right thing to do, but the challenges are significant.
NO CHURCH WITHOUT COMMUNION: The Tablet editorializes on the ecumenical implications of the Robinson consecration. The question presented is whether it is possible for the Catholic Church to engage in dialogue with the Anglican Communion if there is, in a sense, no communion to be dialogued with, but rather merely a federation of autonomous provinces:
Everything now depends on what Dr Rowan Williams’s commission determines and how its findings are received. The primates of the Global South may not commit themselves to a final decision until they see the commission’s report. If it results in a strengthening of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s position, so as to make the Communion a more constant dialogue partner, together with some body of canon law to which all provinces can be invited to subscribe, then the Communion will gain.
If on the other hand the autonomy of the various Anglican provinces is upheld in all circumstances, then Arcic is dead and the Roman strategy of holding dialogue with the whole Communion instead of individual Churches will look to have been a lamentable mistake.
To put it most simply, people don’t believe that religion has anything to do with objective truth any more. They have decided that because God is so big, there is nothing certain we can know about him, and that leaves us free to believe anything – if it makes us feel divine, it’s God, and it’s true.
And to tell the truth, catechesis over the past few decades has done precious little to disabuse anyone of this notion. Consider, if you’re my age or younger what you learned about why Christianity is worth believing.
You probably learned that Christianity is good because practicing it and following Jesus can ake you a better person and make a better world. You might have learned that in Catholicism, you have a beautiful heritage that says many wonderful things about the human condition and aspirations. You probably heard that Christianity is one of the paths through which people get to know God.
But did you once, ever, learn that Christianity deserves serious attention because it’s true?
I think Amy’s points are well taken, although my views on this are slightly different from hers.
First, I think the popularity of books like the DaVinci Code has less to do with the loss of a sense that truth exists and more a loss of faith in the Church as a truth-telling institution. Fans of the DaVinci Code don’t seem to be postmodern relativists. Like Agent Mulder, they still believe the “truth is out there” but that the Church has orchestrated a great conspiracy to hide the truth about Jesus to serve its own ends. I think a similar worldview motivates partisans of the Jesus Seminar. If you don’t trust the Church, then why not take the Gospel of Thomas (or some of the other non-canonical writings) as seriously as you take the canonical Gospels?
Second, I’m not convinced the truth of Christianity can be asserted and defended in the same way that one can assert and defend mathematical or scientific truth. In the absence of faith, the Bible no more proves to me that Jesus was the Son of God than the Greek Myths prove to me that Apollo was. Do the scriptures and the subsequent history of Christianity give me reasonable grounds to hold what I profess as Christian? I believe they do. Do they demonstrate it to such an extent that any reasonable person must accept what I profess as true, in the same way that any reasonable person must accept 2+2=4? I think the answer is no.
I don’t think that one generally comes to rationally accept the truth of the Christian faith, and only then begin to live as a Christian. I believe that one begins by, however haltingly, trying to live as a Christian and then gradually coming to recognize the deep congruence between what Christians say and do and the basic strivings of the human heart. One is attracted to the story of Jesus and to the stories of those who, inspired by Jesus, tried to live as he did. Ultimately, one makes a leap to “put on Christ” and see if He fits. And as a Christian, I believe that Jesus is indeed one size that does fit all.
I wonder whether the desire to go beyond the Church's Jesus is due to the fact that the Christ we are asking people to put on is often something of a leisure suit. We’ve done a good job making Jesus palatable to the suburbs. I wonder if people sense, intuitively, that Jesus is more radical, dangerous, and mysterious than the way he is often encountered in our churches. Perhaps people sense they are not getting the full story. On the other hand, it may be that people are seeking a less demanding Jesus. A Jesus who, in the end, did settle down with Mary Magdalene and have a couple of kids is probably far less threatening than a Jesus who really did—-in contrast to the traditions of his own community—embrace celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom.