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Showing posts from December, 2013

Hope as the Form of Life

Hope, it seems, has made its way into Hollywood. Recently at the movie theater, for instance, I saw three distinct images of hope:
In the trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past, Professor Charles Xavier implores his younger self, "Please. We need you to hope again." In the trailer for Noah, hope is implicitly held out as Russell Crowe's Noah builds an ark and must face down what seems to be a horde rather intent on taking the ark for themselves. In Catching Fire, President Snow chillingly observes, "Fear does not work as long as there is hope." Hope is, sadly, a misused word. "I hope I do well on this test" - even though I've not studied. "I hope I lost weight this week" - even though I ate an entire chocolate cake, albeit in thin slices, over the past seven days. 
Hope, in other words, often seems to be a sort of quixotic optimism, a sentiment expressing something like "I know the odds are against me, but...". If we think of ho…

'Twas the Mass Before Christmas

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Per family custom, we attended the 5:00 pm Mass at our local parish. This is, mind you, the parish I made my First Communion (March, '88) and Confirmation (February, '94). I went there throughout high school, college, and graduate school. Since I don't stay with my parents when I visit Cleveland, it's  now the case that I only go to my home parish on Christmas.

Now, Christmas Eve Mass provides an annual "Choose Your Own Adventure" liturgy. One can choose to attend Mass in the church where there'll be packed pews, usually a well-amplified if not particularly talented group of singers, and lots of familiar faces. The youthful pastor will deliver a great homily and, overall, even liturgical dilettantes can't fault it on much (well, other than the music). Sure, you'll see the well-dressed C&E crowd who take your usual Sunday seats, but that can be forgiven if for no other reason than the comedic value of watching irregular attendees continue to a…

The Trinity and Karaoke

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In an interview given in 1990, Sandra Schneiders observed of the Trinity that, for Christians, "God is more than two men and a bird." While this should hardly come as a surprise, the observation nevertheless flies in the face of many artistic renderings of the Trinity. Indeed, I think it is the case that art attempting to depict the Trinity is at least partially to blame for the general irrelevance of the Trinity in the lives of most Christians. 
Think about it: when was the last time you prayed to the Holy Spirit? 
One way of thinking about the Trinity in a way that may be helpful is to think of the Trinity as the event of Karaoke of God's Kingdom. 
Karaoke begins with a song. What goes into a song? Well, first you need an author who writes Lyrics and composes Music. Consider: Without the Author, you'd have neither the Lyrics nor the Music. These both flow from the Author.The Lyrics tell us what the song is about. The Music gives us the rhythm that animates the Lyri…

Undergoing the Spirit

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So, 2013's Person of the Year is none other than Pope Francis. I'm sure he's breathing a sigh of relief that he beat out the the patroness of twerking, Miley Cyrus, and a man who unleashed deadly chemical weapons on his own people, Bashar al-Assad. I reckon Ted Cruz and Kathleen Sebelius canceled one another out. Without question, at least to my mind, of the ten nominees, the Holy Father's great gift has been to welcome a fresh, rejuvenating Spirit into the Catholic Church.

A friend asked me, several hours after yesterday's announcement, if I was "proud" of the Pope. I didn't know quite what to say. It would seem that I should be proud, or happy, but perhaps I was above all relieved because the Holy Father is "Person of the Year" because he points away from himself. I know some of the Pope's critics think he's putting on a show, that he's hamming it up for the cameras, but I think we're witnessing the read deal. This guy lov…

Two Weeks Until Christmas

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Jesus said to the crowds:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest. 
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves. 
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”                                   ~Matthew 11:28-30
Two weeks until Christmas. It's a thought that stirs hope in children and teenagers, one liable of piquing anxiety in parents. There is, of course, so much yet to be done! Shopping, end-of-year deadlines, travel arrangements, wrapping, hiding gifts, cleaning the house, buying and preparing family meals, hosting guests...Advent, the season when we are called to prepare for the Lord's coming, seems more often to be the season of our mad rushing and running about. 
What is the status of your heart, your "inner home"? I think many of us would prefer not to say because our hearts are very messy and rather cluttered. And yet it is no small part of the Good News of the Gosp…

On the Immaculate Conception

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Today, the Catholic Church observes the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. My father and his brother, Jack, derive waggish delight in querying this celebration: nowhere, of course, is there anything in the Bible about Mary's own conception.

My father and uncle, mind you, were both raised Missouri Synod Lutherans. That makes a wing of my family "arch-Lutherans."

So, here's the thing. The Church isn't celebrating a teaching but, rather, an event. As Herbert McCabe wrote, today we celebrate God's gift to humanity that "Mary was as holy as she could be said to be." It arose because, in and through the prayer and liturgy of early Christians, they realized that the shape and character of Jesus' life had an earthly source, a human model. Just as any parent teaches a child to speak, to eat, to get dressed, so also must parents do things like teach children manners, how to face adversity, and especially how to love. The insanely perfect way…

The Enduring Problem of Abusive Priests?

It was with no small amount of disappointment that I read this morning's story, run in the New York Times, reporting on the newly established papal commission on sex abuse. It's not that I'm disappointed that a commission has been created, of course, but rather the story's superficial reporting. 
Up front, I want to say: the sexual abuse of minors is an unconscionable crime and anyone who perpetrate such a heinous act, whether clergy or not, must be held accountable. What interests me this morning is how the story is being told and why it is disingenuous for them to report in such a way. 
Let me pick a few key lines that will help to illustrate this: "...Pope Francis will establish a commission to advise him on protecting children from pedophile priests...""The announcement was a forthright acknowledgment by the Vatican of the enduring problem of abusive priests..."Citing David Clohessy, from SNAP: "A new church panel is the last thing that kid…

Monday, First Week of Advent

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Today's Gospel contains a line familiar to any regular communicant: "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed." Well, except that we have taken out "my servant" and replaced it with "my soul."

What may remain unheard, however, is the "leap" the centurion makes. Here is a man, a member of the military elite, with both soldiers and slaves beneath him. He, like many of us, is accustomed to giving orders and having them obeyed. Beyond the realm of business, just think of the ways we give others orders: giving directions to a taxi driver, ordering coffee to one's specifications, trying on new shoes/clothes, ordering in a restaurant.

In this scene, however, the one accustomed to giving orders now realizes his own powerlessness. Moved by the plight of his paralyzed servant, he approaches Jesus and appeals to him for help.

Fortunately for the servant, he did not have to log into any …

The First Sunday of Advent

If you ever want to note how out of step the Church's readings are from mainstream culture, you need look no further than today's readings
Let's think about our culture. Although some stores seem to have put out Christmas decorations in October, so that witches and cobwebs fought with reindeer and snow globes, we are now not surprised to see and hear the sounds of Christmas. If you listen carefully, though, the decorations and music that entice us into stores, the smells of cinnamon and clove that try to remind us of the warmth of the family kitchen...they carry with them a message. 
23 days until Christmas! 16 days until Christmas! Buy now before it's too late!
The church of consumerism, whose high priests are marketing agents, sure know how to spin a deal, how to hawk their wares, how to make us anxious about potentially not being prepared for Christmas. And so, we buy. We buy early and often. Our journey toward Christmas is not a hopeful journey but, rather often,…