“The light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5)

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Another Easter meditation.

Last Monday I shared a post on the resurrection that linked Easter Sunday with the first day of creation. In Genesis, Sunday, the first day of the week, is the day God says His very first creative words, “Let there be light.” In the elegance of Latin, it’s simply “Fiat lux.” In the Gospels, Sunday is also the first day of the new creation when the Father spoke alive the corpse of Jesus. A magnificent mirror in time of what happens from all eternity in the Holy Trinity — as we say in the Creed:

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made

And through Him all things were re-made as, at the resurrection, the “Light from Light” shone into the darkness of sin and death.

Well, two things happened after I wrote my Easter Monday post that further electrified my imagination. First, as I was praying that same Creed at Mass last Friday (which was the subject of last Saturday’s post), that “light” connection again resonated powerfully in me. Here’s what I wrote after Mass about the experience of praying the Creed:

And as Fr. Joe and I recited the Creed together, this stanza sprang alive:

“For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.”

“Rose again” filled me with a stunning image. A sunrise, a brilliant red-giant sun silently breaking above the color-splashed horizon. Filling the world with its own lovely, self-diffusive light. I thought, it’s the nature of the sun to give its light away. Light that illumines, heats, communicating both truth and love. It can do no other. Like the philosophical axiom, ‘bonum est diffusivum’ [the good is self-diffusive], which is the precise meaning of the biblical phrase, “God is love.”

Then I saw this clearly: self-giving light is the whole movement of the Creed. Creation ex nihilo [out of nothing], incarnation, crucifixion, burial into the darkness, resurrection, ascension, pentecost and the judgment day of the returning Christ whose glory illumines all history, revealing whether deeds were done in the light or in the light-hoarding darkness. This whole biblical/theological vision of things, so absurdly rich, makes even more clear how the phrase “in accordance with the Scriptures” means vastly more than merely proof texting biblical quotes to show where the Paschal Mystery is found in the Old Testament. The Paschal Mystery is absolutely everywhere …

All I can think of right now is the solemn majesty of the Orthodox St. Vladimir seminary choir singing the Creed. As I listen, I can feel the Light streaming, softly shining on my face …

That same Friday night of the Mass I describe above, just before I went to bed, I listened to a portion of a lecture on YouTube. This one was by the Jesuit priest Fr. Robert Spitzer on the Shroud of Turin (the much studied herringbone-patterned linen cloth that has long been thought to be the burial shroud of Christ). In the last part of his lecture he made a point that floored me and I yelled aloud, “What?!” My son across the hall yelled, “You okay, Dad?” I said, “Yeah, you’ve got to hear this!”

It’s really a-ma-zing.

I queued the video here to the portion of the lecture where he makes this point:

The Shroud “negative”, front and back:

Theological Threading

geeksundergrace.com

A blessed Holy Week to you!

I have three friends — two women and a priest — with whom I have been friends for many years. We are all theologically minded geeks. Years ago, when we all lived in the same city, we were able to meet for coffee to talk for hours and hours about how everything imaginable related to Christ. Sadly, we have been apart for years. But not long ago, we came up with a wonderful idea: Group-text threads of limitless and unending theo-dialogues.

We have had many remarkable theological exchanges, filled with deepest profundity and lol humor, and I always come away filled with new insights and with joy and challenge. It convinces me even more how absolutely imperative it is for people of faith to be connected to other people of faith, with whom they can talk about how everything and anything is affected by our faith in Jesus. The story of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and entering a vigorous debate with them, is the model of how faith moves from confused and searching to burning like a raging fire.

In fact, this Blog, which is for me a transcript of my life’s ongoing dialogue with countless people, authors, nature, God, and you all has been for me a gift of inestimable value for growing my faith, hope and love. I am most sincerely indebted to those who read here, who draw from me visions that never would have come to me without you. Thank you. Deo gratias.

We call our group iYeshiva — Yeshiva is a Jewish school/seminary. All Christian theology is at heart Jewish.

I asked the group today if I could post a selection of our exchange just from this week. They graciously agreed. I thought: If people are able to endure what I write here at N.O., they will enjoy what we text about! So here it goes. I name the priest “Father,” the women “W1, W2” and myself “Me.” W2 is not as prolific here as she usually is in our threads, but she is the real sage of our group, cutting through marrow to the core.

Though I did not edit our grammatical missteps or typos, I cut out lots of the funny little quips here and there so as to not make this too long! I hope you enjoy.

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Father: Today’s gospel reveals how provocative Jesus identity is. The lengthy interchange between Jesus and the Jews in the temple begins with them described as believers and then ends with them attempting to stone Jesus. That which is revealed from above destabilizes human constructs, reputations, religious perception and so unleashes untold Cain-like hatred. The glory of the Father unveils a new paternity into our world through the Son exposing human pride as concealed hatred for God.

W1: I love this reference to Cain. It also reveals the trappings of knowledge that go all the way back to the garden of Eden. “We know who our father is.” – no you dont. Knowledge is once again a stumbling block that keeps them from recognizing God.
Me: It really reveals the fact that the Gospel contains an irreconcilable instability that always requires a critical distance between the Kingdom and the progress of history. The Church is stuck restlessly in the middle of the consecration hoping it will finally transgress the bounded bread and wine and finally confect the whole of time and space. It’s when the Church tries to relieve those incomplete tensions by seeking  compromised assimilation or sectarian isolation that she’s dead in the water; so to speak:) Or some other such esoteric interpretation of what you said
W2: You mean we have to feel like we’re in charge?
Me: Semitic economy of expression (you), Hellenic prolixity (me)
Father: Ahh, so the Church, too, must journey through the wilderness of temptations where her Lord dared to tread
W1: Doing some work on Bathsheba, and came across this quote by John Berger (artist/poet). “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her. Then you put a mirror in her hand and called the painting “Vanity” thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.”
Me: As I shared with you before, [W2], it is why I find Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah so troubling (as much as I find it an aesthetic masterpiece); the way it portrays Bathsheba as the one who brought David down. Certainly was not prophet Nathan’s take! She didn’t break his throne, he broke her home
Father: Whoa! This could have come from Oscar Wilde. How often moralists exonerate themselves of their forbidden desires by condemning others. It’s called displacement and it’s damage is unquantifiable
Me: And I often think how marvelous it is that God chose the descendent of David, [St.] Joseph, who was absolutely powerless as kingdoms go — to raise his Son to the throne of David. And who treated his bride with such justice, love and dignity, not exposing her to shame.
Father: Amen. And he begins in part by freeing the woman at the well and the woman about to be stoned. What a repudiation of power abused. My last text tonight is this canticle of love from St Francis of Assisi that I discovered while putting together this week’s Stations:
“I’ve given all for love alone,
Bartered the world and self away;
Were all created thing my own
I’d yield them up without delay.
And yet by love I’m outdone,
Where I’m led I cannot say.
By love I’m outdone,
Counted a fool by all;
For, having sold my all,
My worth is wholly gone.”
W2: What a moving way to cap the evening.  Thank you.
Father: This morning’s gospel reminded me of Tom’s brilliant text on the Church’s place amidst consecration. What does it mean for God the Father to have consecrated the Son and send him into the world (which we hear in today’s Gospel)? Christ, our high priest, sacrificed outside the city gates, crucified among criminals, praying for the forgiveness for all. Christ consecrating humanity, confects, assembles, brings together a new creation from out of the old.
Ah, the things that come to mind at the altar.
Me: As my daughters would when they are wowed by something:  FhdR&gdQhkgff€hkIYF¥DCB•
Again and again I repeat that this forum of exchange between us is absolutely singular and graced. Thank you, Father!
W1: So interesting! Ive always thought of the “outside the gates” as the ultimate rejection. But in the logic of God, the place where Christ is sacrificed is now sanctified as the holiest of holy places. That which is “outside” the holy city is now holier than the city itself. (eg.Do you swear by the gold or the altar which sanctifies). By their rejection of the holy one, they sent him to the “outside” never again able to confine salvation to those already in the holy city!
Great altar reflection, Father! Thank you for sharing those glimpses from your vantage point at the eternal portal. Its really amazing.
Me: Yes! Awesome, [W2]!!
And now that the human body has become the locus-temple of the divine Spirit, the naos, the interior castle, the altar, priest and sacrifice, in which are the roads to Zion, there’s no telling what will get consecrated in the course of any given day as these unmoored temples meander outside the city walls into Twenty One Pilots concerts, prisons, classrooms, soup kitchens, slums, offices, mortuaries, Barnes, Black Dog Café or – gasp! – the Eucharistic Table where the whole un-bloody, life-gathered material of offering gets taken up and deposited in Heaven at the hands of Alter Christus so the exalted Lord can finish preparing a place for us.
Utterly awesome.
Thank you for your hands, Father!
Father: Singular and graced for me as well. Delighted I have dear friends to share with.
Right, [W1]: the irony that as the Father sent the Son into the world for its redemption, so Israel sent him outside the gates to be sacrificed for the world, though unwittingly.
And…Yes, Tom!!! Beautiful! The altar, the sanctuary as a Penn Station of sorts.
W1: Tom, that was AWESOME. A piece of poetry. Loved that. Even fish Fridays, a point of “fasting” as we prepare for the Passion, anticipates in the before, the provision of the risen Christ, preparing food on the shore for His weary disciples. The symbolism is really everywhere. Happy Friday to you all.
Me: [teaching recently] I tried to use the line in John’s Gospel when Jesus says, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day” as a key for linking all of the Genesis encounters with God and his providential action with the Paschal mystery. And then tried to use real life stories to illustrate how people of faith can discover and reveal to others God “laboring to love them” by prayerfully internalizing the Genesis and holy week stories. And the longer I prayed and thought about it the more I thought about the limitless connections. Obvious, I know! But I am slow:) Although I didn’t develop it, I was especially blown away by the connections between Joseph [in Genesis] and Jesus. Joseph, seemingly the only faithful monogamist male in the entire Old Testament, is typology-packed! The Fathers really exploit that. I meant Joseph is the only monogamist we hear the whole life story of “till death does he part” [from his Egyptian wife, Asenath].
W2: We are a sum of our whole history even as that history continues to be made. We can’t help but not bring the OT forward in our selves. We belong to Christ and his history is of old.
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And in honor of the iYeshiva:

Mashley Goes Public!

Another unapologetic Mashley promo post.

Well, my daughter and her singing friend, Ashley, finally got to perform in a public forum — the Notre Dame Seminary Annual Talent Show. Very generously, the seminarians (who watch their videos) decided to invite them to come join in what is always a seminary-only show. 

Patti and I, along with Maria’s sister, Catherine; brother, Michael; my Mom; and several of Maria and Ashley’s friends all came to enjoy and support them. The seminarians and priest faculty were so incredibly welcoming and supportive and enthusiastic. When I asked her if she was nervous, Maria said, “Once we got out there, no! They’re all like my big brothers! They’re awesome!”

I agree.

I couldn’t imagine a better first experience of public performance! 

The performance is full of smiles and laughter and cheers and on-demand encores.

Patti and I were so proud.

I am having a busy week that has not allowed me any time to write posts, but this one was easy.  Enjoy:

Photo Thoughts

This week I am immersed in accreditation at our seminary — pray for us! — so I will likely be unable to post for a few days.

In the mean time, a fun post of pix with comments.

Fr. Peter Finney celebrates Mass on our family dining room table, and Deacon Ryan Hallford serves as Deacon. What a gift! I thought of Pope Francis: “In this perspective we can say that the family is ‘at home’ at Mass, precisely because it brings its own experience of life-together and opens it up to the grace of a universal life-together, of God’s love for the world. Sharing in the Eucharist, the family is purified of the temptation to close in upon itself; strengthened in love and fidelity, it broadens the boundaries of its own fellowship according to the heart of Christ.”

Our daughters and their friends who came to our home for Sunday Mass, fellowship, food, sacred and secular songs, catechesis, faith witness, laughter and joy.

Maria and Catherine before the Twenty One Pilots concert began. Those faces dismantle all resistance. I pray for daddy superpowers every day.

Maria and Catherine 12 years ago. Resistance is futile, a lost cause from the beginning. Again, daddy superpowers please, God.

St. Joseph’s Altar at the seminary for the Feast. Lent relented.

Fr. Dustin Feddon, one of my dearest life friends. Pater et frater. Altum, “Deep.” To see him celebrate Mass Saturday was unforgettable.

Saw this on my walk on Sunday with Catherine. I said, “Just a minute! Can’t let this go unnoticed.”

Yep.

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What’s it doing there? That’s just absurd. 3rd century theologian, Tertullian: “The Son of God was crucified: there is no shame, because it is shameful. And the Son of God died: it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible.”

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Thank you.

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I think my writing is powered by 99% good caffeine, 1% inspiration. I consumed this one just before I started writing a post. It took me a few minutes to stop admiring the FoamArt before I sipped.

After Twenty One Pilots. Shameless Me.

The waves last Sunday — I spent a good 30 minutes lost in their rhythms:

Us singing (before Mass) at our Sunday house-church celebration:

Catholic vantages on Evolution

Fr. Nicanor Austriaco. news.providence.edu

Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory. — St. John Paul II’s 1996 Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

But the big problem is that were God not to exist and were he not also the Creator of my life, life would actually be a mere cog in evolution, nothing more; it would have no meaning in itself. Instead, I must seek to give meaning to this component of being. Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called “creationism” and “evolutionism,” presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? — Pope Benedict’s 2007 Meeting with Clergy

Recent studies indicate that the Church’s pastors have not been effective in communicating and leading this mission. In her 2015 study “Catholicism and Science,” sociologist Elaine Ecklund notes that 62% of high-attendance Catholics think that the Bible and science can be in conflict, indicating a lack of awareness that, in the words of John Paul II, “The theological teaching of the Bible, like the doctrine of the Church which makes this explicit, does not seek so much to teach us the how of things, as rather the why of things.” This is especially true of younger Catholics; according to the National Study of Youth and Religion, 72% of 18-29 year-old Catholics see science and religion in conflict, and 78% of 18-29 year-old lapsed Catholics cite the “conflict” of science and religion to account for their departure, despite the teaching of the Youth Catechism that “there is no insoluble contradiction between faith and science” (#23). This data suggests that in order to effectively catechize and evangelize this and subsequent generations, Catholic priests must be prepared to address scientific topics in a way that weds faith and reason. — Dr. Chris Baglow, author of Faith, Science, and Reason Theology on the Cutting Edge

That last quote is by my colleague and dear friend, Dr. Baglow, introducing the timely importance of a course he offered this Spring at our Seminary called, The Emergence of the Image: Human Evolution from Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Perspectives. I wish I could take it! It offers seminarians the opportunity to become part of the solution to the crisis these statistics evidence.

Recently he invited microbiologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., who teaches biology and bioethics at Providence College, to give a series of lectures on evolution. Fr. Nicanor received his Ph.D. in Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his doctorate in Moral Theology at the University of Fribourg.

One of his class lectures on “why would God choose to create through evolution” was recorded, and he wonderfully gave me permission to post his lecture for public consumption. I am so grateful! It’s over two hours long, the audio is not perfect, but I think it’s well worth your time. Enjoy…
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I’m on Mashley’s Team

Maria and Ashley bring it home again with another cover, this time with Lorde’s Team.  Their acapella performances are among my favorites. It’s not rushed and the harmonies, which Maria improvised, make the song even richer.

AN EMØTIØNAL RØADSHØW

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The sky on the drive into the city for the concert

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It finally happened. 3/2/17 my daughters, their friends and I went to the Twenty One Pilots (TØP) concert in New Orleans, the fourth to last gig in their Emotional Roadshow tour.

Someone the next day asked me to choose a single word to describe my experience. I immediately said: Transcendent.

The lead singer in one of the two opening acts, Jon Bellion, captured perfectly the marvelous distinctiveness of TØP:

You know, when you’ve got a band that makes it big as fast as they have; that can pack arenas all over the globe, like tonight; and you’ve got a band with only two men in it that can put on a show of the quality you’re about to experience tonight — and they still remain just as kind, humble and compassionate as they’ve always have been — well, you know you’ve got something amazing going on. Right? [cheers] And you fans tonight — right? — who you are, well, it’s a worthy reflection of who these guys are. So let’s get hyped, okay! Are you there?

I don’t know how to really convey my thoughts on this whole experience, so I’ll just let it flow without a plan. Yesterday, the morning after the concert, I was slammed, beginning at 5:00 a.m., with a series of intense work-related stresses, so I had to tuck away the fire that I had burning within me until my work day ended late last night. It’s still burning in me as I write.

Being at this concert with my daughters and their friends was a piece of heaven for me. That’s really the highlight of the night. These are all very special young women. One of my sons once said of all these girls, “Where do they come from? No one their age is like that.” They’re deep, beautiful throughout, hip, smart, fun, faith-filled, loving, not petty and real people. The fact that they were thrilled I was there with them, were totally jazzed that I knew the words to every TØP song, as I danced, jumped and arm-waved (all of which is, I believe, worth doing badly)? Well, it was nothing short of a suspension of the laws of teen nature. Here they are:

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It was transcendent. The concert, that is. Transcend, from the Latin trans (above or beyond) and scandere (to climb up), captures perfectly the effect of Josh and Tyler’s musical performance  — propelling, lifting, drawing, dazzling my spirit up into wild joy, forgetfulness of my cares, amazement and (a number of times) profound prayer. Their music in general, and this performance in particular, bears a profound sense of empathy, human solidarity and — there is no better single word for it — hope. Hope, because you feel in your guts you are not alone in the mess of things. Hope, because the unspecified “you” that marks so many of their songs is so naturally, though not assaultingly, open to God.

Someone asked me yesterday, “Are they a Christian band?” I immediately said, “No, they’re a schitzo-pop band who, as they write, sing and perform, inhale and exhale Christ, who is God so near that He’s nearly invisible.” They are artists who draw living water from the well of Christ who, in the words of Vatican II, “reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.” Yep, their music brings to light the high calling of men and women who find themselves presently very, very low to the ground. Often with the high skies blanked out of view. Especially as they sang Addict with a Pen, Trees, as well as a haunting — almost mystical — cover of My Chemical Romance’s song, Cancer. 

As I wrote last summer, while there are significant differences, concerts like theirs deeply resonate with the meaning and experience of liturgical worship. I think of the almost sacramental character of the lights, sights and sounds; the communal singing of common texts (lyrics) that unite all; the ritual body movements; the focus around a “sanctuary” populated by celebrants clothed in symbolic vestments; or the feeling of being removed from everyday experience to enter into a world of higher-deeper-wider meaning that transfigures the way you think-see-hear-feel everything. These events give baptismal priests like myself the opportunity to give voice to the liturgy of creation that shouts and whispers, sings and groans with all the vitality and agony of life in a world laboring to give birth to a new creation. In fact, a friend of mine texted me just before the concert began: “Prayers for your night of lay high priestly worship!!”

Jamie Smith, in his book Desiring the Kingdom, argues that humanity is naturally homo liturgicus, “liturgical man.” We are drawn to ritual and liturgy, are naturally oriented toward worship and desire for the taste of transcendence in liturgy. Psychologically, socially, spiritually. He makes the point that good education, which is meant not simply to train workers with skill-sets for lucrative careers or give head-knowledge, but to form the whole person, must be thoroughly liturgical. Hence, it must engage the whole person in every aspect of existence, while being at the same time a full immersion into the dynamic mystery of God. He says,

Education is not primarily a heady project concerned with providing information; rather, education is most fundamentally a matter of formation, a task of shaping and creating a certain kind of people. What makes them a distinctive kind of people is what they love or desire – what they envision as ‘the good life’ of the ideal picture of human flourishing. An education, then, is a constellation of practices, rituals, and routines that inculcates a particular vision of the good life by inscribing or infusing that vision into the heart — the gut — by means of material, embodied practices.

The Sacred Liturgy is not a concert, but concerts have the capacity to profoundly bear the imprint of Sacred liturgy. When done well, musical events lead us into the Sacred Liturgy and intensify the force of the dismissal Rite — Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life — empowering us to set the world on fire. Artists like TØP make present a FarNear Kingdom burgeoning with divine Fire, a Kingdom guilty of breaking-and-entering a world grown old and cold in sin. In the words of Ode to Sleep:

I’ll stay awake,
‘Cause the dark’s not taking prisoners tonight.

Why am I not scared in the morning?
I don’t hear those voices calling,
I must have kicked them out, I must have kicked them out,
I swear I heard demons yelling,
Those crazy words they were spelling,
They told me I was gone, they told me I was gone.

But I’ll tell them,
Why won’t you let me go?
Do I threaten all your plans?
I’m insignificant.
Please tell them you have no plans for me.
I will set my soul on fire, what have I become?
I’ll tell them.

Thank you, Lord of Fire, for TØP, who share with us words of hope and fire that consume the flaming arrows of dark demons who whisper despair into the night.

Here are a few videos I shot, portions of songs captured with my 432-times-dropped phone. So realize the quality is low and a dim reflection of the reality.

Very end of Car Radio:

Mashup of Screen and The Judge:

Ode to Sleep:

Migraine:

Cancer:

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Catherine and Maria, lights in my life