Sunday, February 28, 2016

Temple Cleansing by God's Wrath

"Now, the scribes were well-instructed people. They reflected a lot, and worked hard. Their sayings were learned and to the point. But their words were cold and hard, rigid, oppressive. And now here stood one whose words were warm, full of power. Jesus’ power derived from what He said, from the depth and the truth of the spoken word — but not from that alone. More than anything else, it came from the vitality sounding through His speech, from the vital energy of Him who spoke. Everything about Him was genuine, strong, and straight from the mind and heart. It was candid, rang true, had radiance, and contained an effective principle of life. It sent out a call; it wakened, lifted up, cleared the mind, and clutched at the heart. And there was warranty behind it, an assurance of salvation. 

"Once at Passover time in Jerusalem, He went into the temple. It was a time of pilgrimage. Believers came from all over the world to pay homage to God in His glory. The same sort of fair that always springs up around pilgrimages was going on here too: sellers’ booths; dealers in every kind of merchandise; sacrificial animals, so that anyone could buy one and offer it and thus fulfill his obligation as a pilgrim. Moneychangers were on hand who accepted foreign coins in exchange for the currency of the country. Haggling and greed and the smell of money were everywhere the order of the day. All of this filled Jesus with anger, and there followed a scene such as there had been in the days of Elijah and Elisha, when the Spirit of God came over the prophets and, with the suddenness of divine inspiration like a flash of lightning, did wondrous things beyond ordinary human understanding. “It is written,” He cried, ‘My house shall be known for a house of prayer,’ and you have made it into a den of thieves.” He made a whip by binding cords together and drove everything and everyone out, people and animals. There is a note of gentleness in the midst of this divine whirlwind, when He spared the doves, saying only, “Take these away!” He overturned the tables of the moneychangers; everything was in an uproar. But in all the heat of that moment, among the mob there, collected from all the corners of the earth, no voice was raised against Him, not one hand. As St. Jerome writes, “Something like a star shone from His countenance,” transfixing them all."[Guardini, Romano (2014-09-22). Meditations on the Christ (Kindle Locations 331-349). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.]

 In the greatness of Romano Guardini, in his profound turn of phrase and insight, I think I have found an answer to a younger friend's insistence that "temple cleansing" should be the order of the day and to his mind also of my everyday. The humility of my Domine, non sum dignus to him, well, as cowardly as it rang in his ears, it didn't quite ring any better to me. It left me asking about what more I should be or could be doing. If in a more adequate response I can borrow from Guardini, then I guess I can say that we are not always and everywhere called to express righteous anger for the sake of the Gospel. I can spare myself temple cleansing duty in that I am not the Christ. That is because Christ's wrath, scourge in hand at the cleansing of the Temple, was His as the God Man, His as Divine; it was proper to Him and hence qualitatively different than even the most righteous anger I could possibly summon to cause. 

Regardless of our possible justification, cleansing wrath is not mine to conjure; it is the Lord's or it is stirred up by Him in His prophet, as Guardini observes: "All of this filled Jesus with anger, and there followed a scene such as there had been in the days of Elijah and Elisha, when the Spirit of God came over the prophets and, with the suddenness of divine inspiration like a flash of lightning, did wondrous things beyond ordinary human understanding." 

 Indeed there are things which cry out to heaven, but my point would be that judgment and action in justice belongs to the Lord. Vested with authority, so as not to be condemned as the dog which fails to bark out the alarm or the shepherd who fails to lay down his life for the flock, the zeal for His House which is to consume me is just that, for His House and not for my own; the wrath, the judgment belongs to God. All the icons I have from Ukraine of St. Michael the Archangel are labelled: хто ж як Бог, who is like God. Michael's wrath is God's wrath, something I cannot arrogate to myself. We are called to storm heaven in supplication; the Lord bares His mighty arm.

Satan, of course, is the first one to deny us zeal for His House and for the fullness of His Gospel; that is our temptation, to fail to stand or to stand silent and unsure. Without getting our dander up, however, we need to be the Lord's good servants first and not shun His mission, should He choose us to manifest His burning wrath: "But in all the heat of that moment, among the mob there, collected from all the corners of the earth, no voice was raised against Him, not one hand. As St. Jerome writes, “Something like a star shone from His countenance,” transfixing them all."' Thanks, Romano! May the Temple be cleansed as the Lord wills and not as I!


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Mother of Zebedee's Sons

So far so good, my faithfulness to keeping the station churches of Rome by book here from Bern has been respectable up to this point. One of today's points for meditation is well taken: 

"At this stage of Matthew’s gospel, the disciples have been with Jesus for some time. They have heard the Sermon on the Mount and its messianic inversion of expectations— the poor in spirit have the Kingdom already among them; the meek will inherit the earth; turning the other cheek, not seeking revenge, is the path of righteous living; so is loving one’s enemies. They have seen the Lord walking on water and driving out demons. They have been taught to pray; they have been instructed by the parables of the Kingdom; they have witnessed the miraculous feeding of the multitude; three of them have been present at the Transfiguration. 

"And still they don’t get it. 

"Rather than helping their mother understand that what she seeks for them— power— is not what the Kingdom is about, James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, assure the Lord that they’re quite up to a task they basically misconstrue. Moreover, the other disciples are now upset that James and John are angling for positions of preferment in the new dispensation that they all sense is imminent because of Jesus. So, once again, the Lord has to remind them of a basic truth of the Kingdom: that “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” Why? Because this is the logic of the Kingdom. And it is first made manifest in the herald of the Kingdom, in whom God’s Reign is already erupting into history: “the Son of Man [who] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Weigel, George (2013-10-29). Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches (Kindle Locations 1746-1757). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.) 

Centering on Christ, on His action, once and for all on Calvary, for the sake of the life of the world, renewed daily in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, focusing on Him as King of the World and Eternity, is the ongoing challenge for us, baptized into His Blood. As loudly as we sometimes protest, our quest for what boils down to little more than a wish to lord it over others, reveals itself in countless choices, actions and reactions marking our every day.

We pray that Lent will open hearts, eyes and minds to humble adoration of  “the Son of Man [who] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Somewhere on a Continuum between "developments" and "conspiracy theory mongering"

Pope St. Leo the Great is the author of the 2nd Reading from today's Divine Office. He explains the significance of the Transfiguration:

The Law was given through Moses, 
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ

  The Lord reveals his glory in the presence of chosen witnesses. His body is like that of the rest of mankind, but he makes it shine with such splendor that his face becomes like the sun in glory, and his garments as white as snow.
  The great reason for this transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples, and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that lay concealed.
  With no less forethought he was also providing a firm foundation for the hope of holy Church. The whole body of Christ was to understand the kind of transformation that it would receive as his gift: the members of that body were to look forward to a share in that glory which first blazed out in Christ their head.

A most pleasant encounter and discussion with a group of priests, mostly younger (or am I just getting older), and the reserved though somber coverage by Catholic media in Germany of a parish priest's decision (in resignation and almost desperation) to withdraw to a monastery in Holland for prayer  got me to thinking about the way some of us look at our duty toward pastoral ministry. It is no doubt a problem, because there has been too little reflection on the rapport between Christendom and Catholic life in society. It is as if Christendom were not a dynamic concept, involving choice on the part of those who belonged to that society. The ongoing hemorrhage, which has over recent years emptied many seminaries and depleted our Sunday morning pew census, is treated as a phenomenon or development for which we fail or refuse to assume responsibility. Those who try to say that it is our thing or that decisions/choices over the last fifty years just might be to blame for our malaise, well, they end up labelled troglodytes or worse, simply dismissed for conspiracy theory mongering.

If we can't work out that there just might be another point, like a midpoint on this continuum, which neither denies human freedom nor necessarily blames others, who seek to live in freedom and responsibility, of constantly trying to attribute blame to his minions if not to the prince of darkness himself, well, not only are we in trouble, but we're missing the point of the great mystery of the Lord's Transfiguration. While it could very well be that the three chosen disciples missed the point of the Father's revelation to them on Mount Tabor of the Son in glory in as much as only young John stood fast by Mary and the women on Mount Calvary, we need not doubt concerning the dignity God attributes to us as created in His own image and likeness; St. Paul knew what he was saying when he affirmed that we make up what is lacking in the Cross of Christ.

The aimless drift of many nominal Catholics during the last decades sadly documents what happens when like young willow branches we bend even to the slightest breeze. Why don't children today know their basic prayers? Why can't they even identify the principal figures at the foot of the Cross? Negligence on the part of parents of their elemental duties in faith for their children does not constitute a development or an event, but rather a choice by omission, negligence, which does not bespeak the love we owe each other, sublime in its reference to the creative and sacrificial love bestowed upon us in Christ. For some reason I cannot remember the name of the preacher who referred to his broadcast service as "The Hour of Power"; even he was clear on the inadequacy of his title for the exigencies of the Christian life. The Council teaching on Sunday Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian existence taught that our "hour" was not only strengthening for the week ahead, but was celebrative of a prior week lived at one with Christ. The post-conciliar period has been patently a retreat before the demands of the Christian life which were so very evident to previous generations living the culture of Christendom.

Dynamic, evangelical Catholicism was ours when homes were Christ-centered; it can be ours again if parents and priests recover their self-awareness as free agents responding to God's love. I feel sorry for that German priest in his public confession to having lost his way and been going through the motions at the helm of a vessel coming apart at the seams. It all falls apart rather quickly when we fail to feed the next generation through prayer and good example. The hysteria or resignation which wells up from people who cannot perceive themselves as free, however, is reason for our prayers for Christ, risen and present at the shore of the lake, to try again with Peter, who didn't seem to grasp and assimilate the favor done him in his vision of the Transfigured Lord. Ours with Christ is an intense rapport of dialogue and confrontation, to draw us freely out of ourselves to confess Him for Who He is and in His Body the Church.

Part of this exercise involves restoring the discursive and didactic parts of the Christian life to their proper place out in the world, of cleansing the sanctuary, if you will, for that Tabor-like encounter with the glorious Christ. In all freedom, this is my Lenten supplication to Bishops and Priests, to restore reverence and decorum to the "mountain top", to live in company and constant teaching beyond Sunday with those whom Jesus loves. The bright light of the Transfiguration made lots of things clear from the Law and the Prophets; a glorious Sunday might be a good start to freeing people for the natural faith exchanges which should be part of our every day.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

If all goes well this Lent

"The liberation of Israel in the Exodus is the beginning of the history of the people of Israel as a political community— a commonality organized for purposeful action in history. Yet, as the Israelites will discover in their desert wanderings, there is far more to their liberation than the defeat of their oppressors and their own national independence. The freedom for which Israel has been set free is not just political; it has spiritual and moral dimensions. Israel is to become a community of true worship and a righteous nation. And that is a major challenge. For more than four hundred years, Israel was enslaved in Egypt. Over four centuries, people in slavery develop a lot of bad habits: the habits of being slaves. Those habits will bedevil Israel in her wilderness wanderings. And because the Exodus paradigm is, in truth, a paradigm of the entire human condition, those same habits bedevil us." (Weigel, George (2013-10-29). Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches (Kindle Locations 572-578). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.)

If all goes well this Lent, I want to make the Station Churches in Rome this year by book from home here in Bern. I'll miss the early morning walk, Rome's biting dampness at most times of year except summer, the edifying experience of sharing the pilgrimage with eager young people doing their best for the King of the World. Even so, I hope reading the short daily reflection focused on Rome's saints and martyrs as companions on the way to Cross and Resurrection will bear fruit in my life as well.

The above passage from George's Thursday after Ash Wednesday meditation reminded me of one of Hillaire Beloc's "hobby horses" in the social sphere which has very much to do with resignation to servitude in exchange for creature comforts or, as it is called most often, a steady job and social security. One of George's priorities in today's piece is to befriend us with constant Church teaching, using Israel's forty years in the desert, about the time and effort needed to shake bad habits, to free us from slavery to sin. The Israelites' yearning for the "flesh pots of Egypt... for the leeks and the melons" as an illustration of the death-dealing attraction of idolatry is not far from Belloc's disdain of a capitalism or socialism which deprives ordinary folk of any measure of self-determination or self-expression in exchange for TV, chips and an annual vacation.

In this sense, today's Gospel from Luke 9:22-25 hit home hard:

"Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The Son of Man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.’
Then to all he said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it. What gain, then, is it for a man to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self?’"

Since jousting with windmills is definitely not my style, I guess I may have to resign myself to continuing the quieter life of study and prayer which has always been mine. God knows His time. May the Lenten call of the Loving Father to encounter Him in the sparsity and silence of the desert soon touch His people's heart!  


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Well said on Ash Wednesday

Dilige eum prae omni dulcedine,
et ciborum suavitate ita, ut gulosis excessibus te temperans,
incipias gustare et videre, quam suavis sit Dominus. (Ps. 34,9)

This little quote from my MENSIS EUCHARISTICUS (D. Giuseppe Santoro) is set down for the tenth of each month and just happened to coincide with Ash Wednesday, which together with Good Friday, gets top billing in the Church calendar for fast and abstinence.

For all of us "over-nourished" types, tempering excesses in food and drink can be a positive health thing or better we can bind it to this prayer that we might come to rather taste or enjoy, thus see, how good the Lord is.

A grace-filled Lent Season of denying self and seeking Christ to one and all!


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Here I am, send me!

Sunday's First Reading from Isaiah 6:1-2,3-8 struck me particularly and reminded me of a recent conversation with a new found friend here in Switzerland:

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord of Hosts seated on a high throne; his train filled the sanctuary; above him stood seraphs, each one with six wings. And they cried out to one another in this way, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. His glory fills the whole earth.’ The foundations of the threshold shook with the voice of the one who cried out, and the Temple was filled with smoke. I said: ‘What a wretched state I am in! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have looked at the King, the Lord of Hosts.’ Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding in his hand a live coal which he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. With this he touched my mouth and said: ‘See now, this has touched your lips, your sin is taken away, your iniquity is purged.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: ‘Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?’ I answered, ‘Here I am, send me.’

The gist of the leisurely conversation between the two of us centered on the work of evangelization really and not just on mere human acceptance. Without boasting, my friend shared with me that in his pastoral activity rarely do people reject him when he encounters them on a one to one basis. Such encounters, he said, are almost always moments shared with the Risen Lord and shot through with that respect which we owe to each other as children of God. He did not say it, but I will: they can be considered Emmaus events. His suffering, on the other hand, centered on not being able to reach out across ideological barriers in more formal or public settings and thus remaining estranged, shut out or prejudged and condemned in absence of the possibility of a one on one. The indifference or hostility toward his person not only deprives the other of acquaintance with this good man, but leaves no room for an encounter with the Lord, yoked as the two great commandments are to each other. He feels helpless in this public world which seems rather to draw up sides than to seek the other; without being facile or having recourse to hysterics, it would seem to put into question any possibility of a saving grace. 

Similar concerns came through in a press statement I saw on video from the German Bishops' Conference, expressing the results of a five year process to find ways to bridge gaps in their Church. At this press conference they cautiously announced the progress made toward a new and more constructive way for various factions to talk with each other and one of the speakers labeled it the discovery of "ein neues Gesprächskultur".

Let me stop there with this line of conversation before an older reader begins to suspect that I am about to make a pitch for a group dynamics seminar or some other kind of training involving either deep breathing or yoga.

Back to the Prophet Isaiah! The prophetic mission belongs to those who watch and wait for the Lord and accept His burning purification. Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: ‘Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?’ I answered, ‘Here I am, send me.’ 

It is certainly a good point that none of us, the baptized, should flag in reaching out to others of our community, but more to the point would seem to be that our pray, our contemplation of the Lord of Hosts, should bring us to seek cleansing and accept mission. These days the relics of two great confessors, Padre Pio and Leopold Mandic, have been brought to Rome for the veneration of the pilgrims come for this year of mercy. Isaiah said it and they applied it; not unlike the seraphs of Isaiah's vision, they burned people clean with the grace which comes from the altar. Our sorrow for sin, recognizing our unworthiness before the Almighty, should lead us to the Sacrament of Penance, amendment of life and readiness to accept mission. 

We live in hope and count not so much on motivation as on radical cleansing.