Christ the Serene

Recently [which was actually last summer as I just found and edited the draft of this post that I'd saved along with my many other still half-digested ideas] I was talking with several different Catholic couples we know who have children, and we all talked about the challenges of raising children who can hold in tension a strong Catholic identity and a sense of place in our contemporary culture. At home in the world, but not of the world.

Here are some scattered thoughts that surfaced from our wandering conversation…

Valuing Truth

We focused largely on the innumerable challenges posed by a postmodern culture that radically de-centers and devalues the claims of timeless truth by transforming truth into values. In postmodern parlance, values are not universally true and binding realities, but only present biases, cherished ideas given authority by a culturally-bound present generation that, at least for now, holds those ideas in esteem. One friend said it this way: While truth is discovered by the intellect and conformed to by the will (i.e. freely chosen because true, aka “Truth is Happiness”), values are created by the will and conformed to by the intellect (i.e. true because freely chosen, aka “Happiness is the Truth“). The truth becomes my truth, reality’s hard substance becomes soft plastic, and the meaning of happiness is entirely unmoored from any stable foundation.

Because the unifying dynamism capable of creating a moral consensus in a values-based society is no longer grounded in obedience to the given exigencies of “the True and the Good,” these irreconcilably diverse values must be guarded by the new meta-ethical truth, Tolerance and imposed by those whose will-to-power at any given moment bears the most weight. In addition, within our increasingly narcissistic, “selfie” culture, the erosion of a truth-based moral ground offers an intensely hostile environment for cultivating the hard virtues (e.g. chastity, self-sacrifice, marital fidelity) that all great societies require to maintain their productive vitality and cohesive strength.  As an aside on this point, one person remarked that the loss of cultural cache for the virtue of chastity makes the battle to end abortion nearly hopeless, since abortion, so intimately linked to failure of chastity, really becomes the henchman of tolerance, the gruesome guardian of sex-without-consequences.

Lastly, when you weld this moral earthquake to an unstable adolescent psyche that is already looking for permission to self-define over and against any sense of unyielding truth, and then hook them into a steady digital diet that mediates a chaotic and fragmented worldview, you have the perfect storm.

While there’s no way I can here propose a robust alternative (though I have already recommended as one idea Esolen’s new book), I can affirm what a mentor once said to me,

If you can help them acquire a serene and non-defensive confidence in their Catholic identity, they will be free to engage the rest of the world without fear. But to give them that, you have to get it first yourselves! So the first ingredient in the recipe of good parenting is good parents.

Another way that I have thought about this task of planting deep within my children the Catholic seed is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry well known line in Citadelle,

Quand tu veux construire un bateau, ne commence pas par rassembler du bois, couper des planches et distribuer du travail, mais reveille au sein des hommes le desir de la mer grande et large.

“When you want to build a ship, do not begin by gathering wood, cutting boards, and distributing work, but rather awaken within men the desire for the vast and endless sea.”

If the “sea” is our Faith, then our greatest parental task is to awaken in them desire for God by filling their imaginations with colorful portraits of truth, goodness and beauty, and by constructing a domestic culture, an economy of love, that evidences the joyful freedom that comes to those who stand firmly on the serene Christ.

Parental Shepherding

We agreed that parents cannot surrender their duty to intentionally and intelligently shepherd their children in a world filled with ravenous wolves eager round up shepherd-less sheep. Yes, we’re tired, busy, torn, challenged, weary. But can you conceive of a better recipe for greatness and holiness that does not require you to run off seeking a noble martyrdom in some far off land, like St. Francis once tried? Heroism is best achieved at home.

For this command which I am giving you today is not too wondrous or remote for you. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who will go up to the heavens to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” No, it is something very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it. — Deut. 30:11-14

Busy, but never too busy

Parental shepherds, in addition to being informed by their faith, must have a well thought out plan, a “rule of life,” be consistent and steadfast, and make room for real time to get to know their children very, very well. I can affirm that the adage, children spell the word “love” T-I-M-E, is absolutely and infallibly true. I recall reading the stat from nearly 10 years ago that the average American parent spends less than 3 minutes a day in non-directive communication with their children, and thinking to myself: “Please Lord, not me!” It’s a struggle. But if we parents have any hope of wielding effectively the guiding staff and defending rod God has placed into our hands, we must take this role very seriously and throw a martyr’s love into our children’s lives. And waste lots of time with them.

1-7

I shared a quote from St Francis Xavier about those especially early years when the basic character patterns are set — “Give me the child until he is seven and I care not who has him thereafter” — and that sparked a lively conversation about what kind of formation those first seven years demand that will offer a child the basis for cultivating virtues. We agreed on the need to make virtue-building a priority, helping children gain self-mastery in age appropriate ways, rightly displacing self-esteem’s pride of place and supplanting it with self-respect, that inner rudder that roots self-confidence in moral character. The greatest graced gift we can help gain for our children is a stable moral character that orients them from within toward the Good God.

Saints of God, come to our aid!

It’s no easy feat, we fail often, but we muddle through it with confidence and perseverance. It must be done and it’s a work of pure grace doused with stinky sweat. Parents must beg God to have Joseph’s ability to dream, Solomon’s deft wisdom, Job’s “big picture” patience, David’s undaunted courage, Abraham’s driven single-mindedness, Moses’ bold meekness, Elijah’s fiery prayer and, above all, Mary’s trusting humility. Without such God-given, saint-witnessed virtues, splashed with copious grace to supplies for our own frailties in the face of so great a task, parents will falter. We need the mind of Christ to think our way through this world, and how grateful we should be that Christ has already shared his mind lavishly out with such a great cloud of witnesses!

Let me add at end this ramble one last point. Many of the “saints” we cling to as new parents aren’t the dead and canonized ones, but living ones in our midst. The many amazing parents and families my wife and I have been blessed to know over the years — I can see all their faces in my mind now! — have challenged us and given us great hope that, even in the midst of our culture’s septic swirl, a creative minority will arise threaten the New Normal with a New Abnormal; with children speaking into the future a Word that has been with us from the beginning. And serenely so.

 

St. Gianna Beretta Molla

Truth Shock

“One way to prevent conversation from being boring is to say the wrong thing.” — Frank Sheed

Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the ‘most portable’ person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, ‘Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.’ That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.” — Flannery O’Connor

There was a priest in western Iowa who was kneeling in prayer in front of an abortion clinic, and when the police came to escort him away for some technical violation of the law, he said to them:

Thank God you came — there are babies being killed in there!

In a culture grown weary and worn over seemingly intractable abortion debates, the shrill pitch of a voice panicked in the face of a forgotten tragedy sometimes serves well to awaken our drowsy consciences; even if but for a moment.

Quelle est la différence?

Gallup poll 2002

I once heard a homily at a legislative Red Mass that I will never forget. It was thoroughly Socratic in approach, first seducing us into a thought world through provocative questions before detonating the prophetic bomb in the depths of our conscience.

The Gospel that day was Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the Last Judgment. Here was his message as I recall it:

Only the holy get into heaven, right? What does that mean? To be holy is to be ‘set apart,’ to be different, other. What sets us apart, makes us different and other? What’s our Christ-difference? How do we look different from our non-Catholic neighbors? What do the Gallup polls say? If people who worked with us were interviewed and asked, ‘What sets this person apart?’ what might they be able to say?

We should think like this. We should examine our consciences at night by saying, ‘What set me apart today; what made me identifiable as a son or daughter of God? As a disciple of Christ? Would people encounter Christ in the way I speak? By the way I act? By the way I spend my money? By the way I spend my time? By the way I respond to suffering and hardships? By the way I respond to insults or accusations or gossip? By the way I approach my sexuality?  By the way I pray before a meal in public? By my work ethic? By the way I choose to love, or refuse to hate? By the way I am faithful to my spouse? By the way I tell the truth with courageous love?’

There must be some discernible difference! If not, we are dead in faith and a scandal to the world.

Years ago I was in Ethiopia at the Catholic Cathedral in Addis Ababa, visiting as an envoy of solidarity from the U.S. representing the Catholic community. Just before a big Mass celebrated in honor of us visiting clerics from America, I was walking across the large public square in front of the Cathedral. There was a mass of pathetic humanity lining the path along which I walked, all of them begging and pleading for alms as I walked by; emitting a terrible chorus of grunting groans. I was told they were saying “mercy, mercy.” I was so uncomfortable and, I admit, fearful, that I walked in great haste past them, refusing to make eye contact for fear of being drawn into this vortex of human need. I quickly vested for Mass inside and we began the celebration in great splendor, with ethereal chant, the church filled with colorful garments and ornate vestments. The stench of body odor outside was forgotten in the deliciously sweet myrrh-laden incense that filled the church.

But it was the homily that crashed on me like an oak tree falling, or a thunderbolt crashing into my mind; into my inner conscience. The homilist, a native Ethiopian priest, quoted St. John Chrysostom at length. It was nearly his whole homily, and it was in that moment a devastating indictment on my own inhumanity. It ran like this:

“Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: ‘You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.’ What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.

Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honor Christ as he desires. For a person being honored finds greatest pleasure in the honor he desires, not in the honor we think best. Peter thought he was honoring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet; but what Peter wanted was not truly an honor, quite the opposite! Give him the honor prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.

Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms. He accepts the former, but he is much more pleased with the latter. In the former, only the giver profits; in the latter, the recipient does too. A gift to the church may be taken as a form of ostentation, but an alms is pure kindness. Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made but not give a cup of water? What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs? What profit is there in that? Tell me: If you were to see him lacking the necessary food but were to leave him in that state and merely surround his table with gold would he be grateful to you or rather would he not be angry? What if you were to see him clad in worn-out rags and stiff from the cold, and were to forget about clothing him and instead were to set up golden columns for him, saying that you were doing it in his honor? Would he not think he was being mocked and greatly insulted?

Apply this also to Christ when he comes along the roads as a pilgrim, looking for shelter. You do not take him in as your guest, but you decorate floor and walls and the capitals of the pillars. You provide silver chains for the lamps, but you cannot bear even to look at him as he lies chained in prison. Once again, I am not forbidding you to supply these adornments; I am urging you to provide these other things as well, and indeed to provide them first. No one has ever been accused for not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbor a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire and torment in the company of the demons. Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.”

That liturgy changed me. As I walked back across the plaza toward the car that would take us to the episcopal residence, I must have spent 30 minutes greeting these beggars; no, these men and women; no, these most beloved sons and daughters of God. I had nothing material to give them, but like Peter in Acts 3:6, what I could give them was Jesus; the healing love of Jesus that comes through eye contact; through touch; through my priestly blessings; through treating each of them as a human being, a child of God, infinite in worth and made in His image and likeness. Though I had come to bring from America the promise of material support for these people, I had forgotten love.

At the end of my pilgrimage through ‘beggar alley,’ I was a changed man. Humbled to the dust, but filled with ethereal joy, and not hellish shame. As Mother Teresa said so well, ‘The poor teach us how to love. They are our masters and we their servants.’

This amazing homily reminded me of the Aidan Kavanaugh quote I so often reference,

The liturgy, like the feast, exists not to educate but to seduce people into participating in common activity of the highest order, where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught.

Quelle est la différence?

I will round out this powerful message with the text of a report given by a pagan Roman official, Aristides, to the Emperor Hadrian somewhere around the year 120 A.D. He was carrying out an investigation on the early Christian communities seeking justification to outlaw Christianity. Here’s the difference he found:

They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If a man has something, he gives freely to the man who has nothing. If they see a stranger, Christians take him home and are happy, as though he were a real brother.

They don’t consider themselves brothers in the usual sense, but brothers instead through the Spirit of God. And if they hear that one of them is in jail, or persecuted for professing the name of their redeemer, they all give him what he needs. If it is possible, they bail him out. If one of them is poor and there isn’t enough food to go around, they fast several days to give him the food he needs.

This is really a new kind of person.
There is something divine in them.

Pop Gospel

You must set aside 8 minutes to watch this video (a friend sent me). Absolutely out of the box evangelism.

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.  — Pope Francesco

Watch by clicking here.

His Cancer is Back

Francis Cardinal George, a personal hero of mine (and author of my favorite book in 2011), has made public the news that his cancer has returned. Please pray for him.

He’s a brilliant man and a careful thinker (rare these days in any sector of society) whose work is thought-provoking, broadly engaging and evenhanded. Several years ago he became famous for making a provocative comment about the future of the U.S. Catholic Church:

I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.

Provocative, yes, but look at this clarifying comment he made fairly recently:

Speaking a few years ago to a group of priests, entirely outside of the current political debate, I was trying to express in overly dramatic fashion what the complete secularization of our society could bring. I was responding to a question and I never wrote down what I said, but the words were captured on somebody’s smart phone and have now gone viral on Wikipedia and elsewhere in the electronic communications world. I am (correctly) quoted as saying that I expected to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. What is omitted from the reports is a final phrase I added about the bishop who follows a possibly martyred bishop: ‘His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.’ What I said is not ‘prophetic’ but a way to force people to think outside of the usual categories that limit and sometimes poison both private and public discourse.

That’s a careful thinker.

Let me encourage you to read his very recent and moving reflection on the sad news of his returning cancer. To me it reflects his brilliant episcopal leadership style and his deep faith. It’s taken from Chicago’s Archdiocesan newspaper:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Pope Francis, in his Lenten Message for 2014, writes about Gospel poverty. Poverty, he explains is a way of being one with Christ, who “became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich.” Poverty, the pope writes, is Christ’s “way of loving us, his way of being our neighbor, just as the Good Samaritan was neighbor to the man left half dead by the side of the road. What gives us true freedom, true salvation and true happiness is the compassion, tenderness and solidarity of his love.”

The pope’s message distinguishes Gospel poverty from material, moral and spiritual destitution. The antidote to each of these evils is found in living within the embrace of the merciful love of God. Lent is a time to open our lives to that embrace, to become deliberately poor and self-sacrificing in order to create space for God to transform our lives. Lent is a time for us to enter a season of renewal by taking stock of our lives, preparing for the Sacrament of Penance, and professing our faith at the Easter Vigil.

If I may speak personally, this Lent finds me once again in poor health. My cancer, which was dormant for well over a year, is still confined to the area of the right kidney, but it is beginning to show signs of new activity. After many tests, scans, biopsies and other inconveniences, the settled judgment is that the best course of action is to enter into a regimen of chemotherapy, with drugs more aggressive than those that were used in the first round of chemo. This treatment will take place over the next two months, when my reaction to the chemo will be evaluated.

I was able to maintain my administrative schedule well during that first round, although my public schedule was sometimes curtailed because of lowered immunity. As I prepare for this next round of chemo, I ask for your prayers, which have always sustained me, and for your understanding if I cannot always fulfill the schedule already set for the next several months. While I am not experiencing symptoms of cancer at this time, this is a difficult form of the disease, and it will most probably eventually be the cause of my death. Chemo is designed to shrink the tumor, prevent symptoms and prolong life.

I imagine this news will increase speculation about my retirement. The only certainty is that no one knows when that will be, except perhaps the Holy Father, and he hasn’t told me. As required by the Code of Canon Law, I submitted my resignation two years ago and was told to wait until I heard from the pope. The consultation the pope makes through the Apostolic Nuncio takes a good number of months, and it hasn’t formally started yet.

In the meantime, Lent gives me a chance to evaluate not only my life of union with the Lord but also my life and actions here as Archbishop of Chicago. Every life is more tactics than strategy, i.e., each day is filled with activities that meet the needs of the hour and that respond to people in front of you. But behind the daily activities, leadership demands a sense of strategy: What are the overall goals of the varied activities that fill our lives?

When I returned to Chicago as archbishop in 1997, the goals of the Decisions document, completed under Cardinal Bernardin, gave me a sense of direction that has continued to be helpful. But I also had a sense, first developed when I returned to this country from Italy in 1987, that the church here was going to go through a period of some institutional decline. In a period of institutional decline, one saves as much as possible the elements of institutional presence that are necessary for mission — parishes, schools, seminaries, etc. — but one pays particular attention to the formation of people. No matter how weak an institution might become, if enough people are well formed as disciples of Jesus Christ, the church’s mission is secure.

Consequently, I am especially grateful to those who have helped over the years to reform and renew the various personnel formation programs: the seminary system, the diaconate preparation programs, the lay ministry programs, the instruction in the liturgy, the catechetical formation programs in three languages and the preparation of teachers and principals, giving them a new sense of their work as ministry. All the personnel formation programs have been reworked according to the mind of the church, and some have been newly created with the same purpose. Whoever comes next as archbishop will have people he can trust and depend on.

Key to these efforts have been the various councils that are part of governance in the archdiocese: the Episcopal Council, the Presbyteral Council, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, the Administrative Council, the Finance Council, the Archdiocesan Women’s Committee, the Youth Council and other ministerial groups. The various agencies and institutions connected with Catholic Charities and with the care of the poor are functioning well. The members of all the councils and many others have kept me informed about challenges to the church’s mission and ministries; they have taken responsibility for initiatives and programs; and their members, in listening to their peers, have put their own life with the Lord in perspective. It has been a joy to work with them, and I am grateful to them all.

I am grateful as well to the pastors and parishioners I meet each Sunday. They encourage me in my conviction that the grace of God is not given in vain. There are a lot of holy people, missionary disciples of the Lord, in our archdiocese. I am grateful for this, even as I acknowledge with sorrow my own sins and failings.

One of the great pleasures in being Archbishop of Chicago is the chance to meet and cooperate with pastors of other churches and faiths, with people from all walks of life and varied ideas, with those who keep us in touch with the universal church and the world beyond this city and its environs. To all of them, I am grateful.

Lent 2014 brings the death and resurrection of the Lord more insistently into the horizon of our lives. Before the Lord, we are all weak and needy, poor in who we are, rich in him. Grateful for our various callings and rejoicing in that poverty that opens us to God’s grace, let us observe Lent together in prayer, penance and almsgiving. God bless you.

Happy Anniversary, Franceso!

“I ask you to remember me before God, and above all to pray…for the new Successor of Peter, that the Lord might accompany him with the light and the power of His Spirit.”
– Last public words of Pope Benedict XVI

Today in the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ election, and he’s on a retreat. In observance of this day, let me honor Francis by quoting a selection from the Inaugural Homily of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who’s humble act of abdication last year made possible Francis’ election to the Chair of Peter. Benedict’s words in this excerpt, for me, capture the heart of what many people find most compelling about Pope Francis: his vibrant witness of a humanity enlivened by the joy of the Gospel.

At this point, my mind goes back to 22 October 1978, when Pope John Paul II began his ministry here in Saint Peter’s Square. His words on that occasion constantly echo in my ears: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!” The Pope was addressing the mighty, the powerful of this world, who feared that Christ might take away something of their power if they were to let him in, if they were to allow the faith to be free. Yes, he would certainly have taken something away from them: the dominion of corruption, the manipulation of law and the freedom to do as they pleased. But he would not have taken away anything that pertains to human freedom or dignity, or to the building of a just society. The Pope was also speaking to everyone, especially the young. Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.

Until Ash Wednesday…

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
by Hans Holbein the Elder
ca. 1465-1524
c/o http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com

Dear Obstat readers,

First of all, I have to take a deep breath again. 

My need for a break from writing is for the usual reason:  way too much on my plate. On Ash Wednesday, March 5, I will plan to resume my joyous walk with you in this playground of thought I have come to so enjoy — sometimes way too much! As ever I am grateful to, and honored by, those who make time to read this Blog daily, on occasion or just once. I am grateful to God for breathing into my cluttered mind whatever good words may have benefited a reader.

Secondly, happy Feast of the Presentation of the Lord! On this day we commemorate Joseph and Mary bringing the infant Jesus to the Temple forty days after his birth to perform the ritual of purification and to consecrate him to God the Father.

This glorious feast is, in our liturgical tradition, also called Candlemas as it begins with a solemn blessing and procession of candles into the Church, bringing alive today’s Gospel reading in which Simeon refers to Jesus as “a light to the nations.”

On this feast, we celebrate profound mysteries. We are immersed more deeply into what Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity simply named mes Trois, “my Three.” We see the presentation of God to God, the Son to the Father, the Son of Man to the God of gods by the hands of Mary and Joseph. Astonishing! On this feast, God’s muted glory illumines the Temple and the Spirit stirs in the prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna, awakening them to the appearing of the Eternal freshly clad in potter’s clay.  

As I reflected last night on the first reading and the Gospel, I wrote a short poem that tries to capture the historical-theological significance of the Jerusalem Temple.

Temple

Temple, O Temple! Heaven’s earthly abode,

chalice of Glory for Israel’s God Most High;

enfolding holy Light, hidden splendors within,

set apart, wholly Other, God-Far, yet nearly Nigh.

Conceived in Sinai’s heavens, born on earth,

thick in smoke, yet defiled; sudden wrath, razed;

fallen, lamenting wails out-calling: “How long,

O Ancient of Days, will your fury burn, blaze?”

Then of sudden, hid among her reborn stones,

shone hid Glory, bathing Daughter Zion’s face;

lighting an ancient prophet’s long-waning hope:

“Man, O Man! now-ever God’s Dwelling Place.”

Thirdly, in honor of today’s Superbowl, here’s soon-to-be Saint John Paul II’s prayer for athletes,

Lord Jesus Christ, help these athletes to be your friends and witnesses to your love. Help them to put the same effort into personal asceticism that they do into sports; help them to achieve a harmonious and cohesive unity of body and soul.

May they be sound models to imitate for all who admire them. Help them always to be athletes of the spirit, to win your inestimable prize: an imperishable crown that lasts forever. Amen!

Fourthly…

t-shirt

I had to share with you (in the above pic) this really cool gift that the members of my class on the Spirituality of the Laity from last Fall had made: a t-shirt with one of my favorite quotes from John Paul II’s Christifidelis laici plastered on the back.

The Oak of Mamre
claimed to be 4000 years old

Lastly — since I understand this past Wednesday was the 684th anniversary of Russian iconographer, St. Andrei Rublev’s death, I thought I’d invite you to prayerfully meditate with his most famous icon, The Holy Trinity, known also as The Hospitality of Abraham. The icon tells the story of the hospitable welcome Abraham and Sarah offered to three mysterious Guests by the Oak of Mamre in southern Judea. These Guests came bearing an absurd promise to this elderly couple that they, who had remained barren all their lives, would conceive a son (see Genesis 18). It’s a scene that, for a Christian, is so densely compressed with typological significance (i.e. with inspired images that foreshadow Christ) that it would be no exaggeration to say that one can find the whole Gospel, in nuce, foreshadowed in this narrative.

But above all we see in these three visitors a revelation of God’s deepest mystery as Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As the Orthodox liturgy succinctly puts it,

Blessed Abraham, you have seen and received the One and Triune Godhead!

I myself find it most thrilling that this proto-revelation of the Trinity should be given to humanity precisely in the midst of a married couple’s hasty hospitality offered to three strangers. It seems to say that God, who in Jesus has forever entwined himself into the family of mankind, desires above all to receive our love through the hunger and thirst of the stranger. Hence, it is by means of hospitality, which literally means “love of stranger” (in Greek, philoxenia!), that God himself is welcomed and encountered as hungry, as thirsty, as stranger (which finds most dramatic expression in Matthew 25:35).

So, if you can, spend a few moments prayerfully gazing at Them, seeing Them feasting at a table we have set, and recall that, in the next face you see, They await your welcome…

Winter in New Orleans

Our brush with winter in NOLA this week was nearly as interesting as our brush with the tropics via Hurricane Isaac back in 2012.

To that effect, I just had to share a picture of my daughter Maria holding a “sleet ball” taken from our car windshield on Tuesday afternoon, as well as a brief video that my son took of the drinking fountain next to the levee during the storm. Then below that is a spectacular NOAA satellite view from the height of the storm on Tuesday.

To me, it’s all such a thrill. You see, before my theology days I had studied to be a meteorologist, and so whenever the weather gets interesting I get, well, excited. Had I lived in the 13th century B.C., I would likely have been at the foot of Mt. Sinai wondering how to insert a dropsonde (an airborne weather reconnaissance device) into the roiling Theophany to determine its inner convection dynamics.

You see, my “issues” run deep…

Cold and chill, bless the Lord
Dew and rain, bless the Lord
Frost and chill, bless the Lord
Ice and snow, bless the Lord — Daniel 3:67-70

MariaSleet

SAT

Oops

Excuse this duplicate post.

As an obsessive writer, I have to seek your indulgence during this busy week as I am certain my posts will have typos, misplaced modifiers, subject-verb disagreement and other such grammatical faux pas moments.

Thank you.

 

Contrasting views of the body

I am usually loathe to just put into my Blog linked articles, but it’s busy these days and this pair of articles that my wife passed on to me the other day was just too amazingly insightful to not pass on to you.

The first is an inspiring and intimate look, via a photo-journal, at the journey of a married couple through terminal illness. Then right after that article-link, as a sort of ironic foil, I include a “youtube summary” of one conception of bodily perfection that dismally fails to identify what is truly worthy of the greatness of real embodied human dignity.

1. When I saw these incredible photos Angelo Merendino took of his wife, Jennifer, as she battled breast cancer, I felt that I shouldn’t be seeing this snapshot of their intimate, private lives. The photos humanize the face of cancer and capture the difficulty, fear, and pain that they experienced during the difficult time. But as Angelo commented: “These photographs do not define us, but they are us.” See photos here.

2. There is the reason that even when I was in really great shape, wore a size 4, and was healthy, it was never good enough for me. All of my logic and intelligence have trouble combatting what I’ve seen as “perfect” day after day for my entire life. Well, I want to see more of this. I want to show my daughter, over and over, why the images of so many women she sees aren’t realistic. And what I really want is for us to stop turning beautiful women into drawings and passing them off as real. See video here.