Saturday, June 30, 2012

Temple of Whom?

With [the Resurrection] the new Temple will begin: the living body of Jesus Christ, which will now stand in the sight of God and be the place of all worship. Into this body he incorporates men. It is the tabernacle that no human hands have made, the place of true worship of God, which casts out the shadow and replaces it with reality. Interpreted at its deepest level, the prophecy of the Resurrection [in John , the destruction and raising up of the Temple] is also a prophecy of the Eucharist. The body of Christ is sacrificed and precisely as sacrificed is living. This is the mystery made known to us in the Mass.
Spirit of the Liturgy, 43
Reflection – Ratzinger invites us here into a deep contemplation of Christ (a bit too deep, perhaps, for the beautiful holiday weekend we’re enjoying in Canada!). But, Canada Day or not, here we are.

The image of Christ as the ‘place’ where we worship God, the true Temple is one we can spend a long time praying over. Don’t forget, too, that Ratzinger says that into this ‘temple’ he incorporates men—us. We are all made by grace part of this living temple, part of this ‘place’ where God is worshipped in spirit and in truth. All of this is the language of scripture, hallowed by its canonical authority and 2000 years of reception by believers. But… what does it mean, really? What is this Temple? Whose is it? What is going on here?

The Mass is certainly at the core of it. But notice: Ratzinger does not say that this mystery is the mystery of the Mass. He says it is made known to us in the Mass. The Mass, the Eucharist, reveals, makes visible and sensible, this mystery of temple and worship and our incorporation into Christ.

What is this worship? It is Christ’s sacrifice of Himself to the Father on the Cross. It is Christ’s obedience to the Father out of love for Him and for us. It is this penetration into the world of flesh and bone of the very Spirit of God, pure spirit, pure gift. It is the penetration into the world of death and sorrow of the Pure Life and Pure Joy of heaven.

It is the startling and entirely unexpected—unsought, even!—descent of God into the world, God into Man. Heaven had captured earth and the communion of love of the Trinity has entered time and space and history, has a name and a face and a story.

And so, against all our sensibilities and proprieties, the worship of God is the participation in the life of God, is entering the dance of love and life of the Trinity.

Historically this penetration, this capturing, this fusion of earth and heaven occurred in the Incarnation and on Calvary. Existentially for us, we see it and hear it and taste it in the Mass.

But we live it, too, or at least we are supposed to. Our love and obedience, however clumsy or halting or partial or grudging or poor, is worship. Our small efforts to serve, to forgive, to share, to suffer and die for the other—all of this is living out the mystery revealed to us in the Mass.

All of this is our ‘temple service’, our levitical office. This calls us very deep, you know. It’s not just that we’re all trying to be nice people doing nice things so we can have nice lives. That’s all… well, very nice, but it doesn’t get us very far. It’s not much good to us when the roof falls in, everything goes to hell and ruination, and we stand, kneel or lie prostrate in the wreckage of our lives or the of the life of the world.

We better have something a little deeper going on than being ‘nice’. And this deeper path is the one Christ opens to us. Worship, the entry of God into humanity and the consequent entry of humanity into God’s life and love. And so our little lives, so poor, so naked, so humble, become pilgrimages into the vast expanses of the Heart of God, a pilgrimage without end.

And it is every Eucharist, every Mass, that gives us the Living Food for the journey so that our love may not grow cold and our life may not falter and die.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Freedom is Not Free

Freedom entails the ability of the conscience to perceive the fundamental value of humanity, a value that concerns every individual.

Values in a Time of Upheaval, 48

Reflection – Well we have one of those nifty one-liners here, virtually tweet-like in its succinctness (132 characters, to be precise), which says more than many a vast volume of verbiage could voice. (Alliteration is fun!)

It is a huge theme of Ratzinger’s that freedom, so crucial, so necessary to the human project, does not stand alone as its own thing, independent and secure. Freedom exists in a matrix of values and truths without which it cannot survive.

Freedom simply as ‘I will do as I please,’ is doomed to failure. Either some other person will come along and in their freedom rob, rape, or kill me, doing as they please and leaving me a wreck or a corpse, or I myself will get subsumed into the collectivist thinking of the herd, where ‘what I please’ to do just happens to line up precisely with the messages and agendae of Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

Freedom has to be held secure by something else. And many people get this. ‘Freedom is not free!’ is a battle cry in some quarters, although (sadly) what is often meant by that is that we have to invade other countries and torture the people living in them so that we can continue to be brainwashed by Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

Ahem. Sorry. My inner hippy radical speaking there. S’true, though!

Ratzinger is (as usual!) right on the money when he says that freedom is held secure by the perception of the fundamental value of humanity, and its application to the individual. If I do not treat you as the inestimable being of value that you are, if you do not treat, or at least attempt to treat, each person you meet as if they are a V.I.P., literally, to look on everyone as a ‘thou’ and not as an ‘it’, then your freedom and mine are on very shaky grounds.

Why is this? Well, the Pope and I have written extensively about this over the past year. Clicking on the ‘freedom’ tag at the bottom of this post will give you a fair bit to chew on with the subject. It’s really a matter of knowing what freedom is for, which is really tied to the question of what human life is for. What is it all about, anyhow?

When we reduce the human person to something less than human, when we objectify, use, discard, destroy people according to some calculus of value or other, we lose what freedom is for. Freedom is for loving, for communion, for a joyous entry into the community of man, the human family, an entry and a communion that here and now is marked by struggle and anguish, but nonetheless is the essence of human life and flourishing.

To descend to a sort of law of the jungle, an approach to humanity marked by calculation and use, makes communion possible. If I use you, I cannot be in communion with you. If I cannot be in communion with you, I am no longer free. Life is reduced to a bare level of use and abuse, and ultimately I am enslaved by my desires, by the pressures of the marketplace, and by the pressures of the mass media and its group-think.

In other words, respect for life is the bare minimum requirement of a free society. So… is Canada a free society? Is America? Is Europe?

The struggle for the right to life is at the very core of restoring, rebuilding, and securing the freedom of our nations, and our claim to be humane and civil societies.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Happy Blogaversary!

Well, I done did it. I have now been blogging for precisely one year, having begun this blog on the Solemnity of Peter and Paul, June 29, 2011.
345 posts and over 30000 readers later, I am, God and my superiors having the final say on this and all matters, only just beginning.
Thank you to all you good people who have been reading me all these months, those of you I know and those I don't, those who leave comments and the vast majority who don't (who are all you people, anyhow???).
I will carry on my regular Benedict blogging tomorrow morning as usual, and look forward to continuing to live and reflect with our German Shepherd and with the Good Shepherd who loves us all through it all.
One year down, and keeping going with no visible end in sight.

The Power and Strength of Woman

In the women of Israel, the mothers and the saviors, in their fruitful infertility is expressed most purely and most profoundly what creation is and what election is.
Daughter Zion, 23-4

Reflection – Daughter Zion  is one of my favorite books by Ratzinger and was one of the principal sources for my thesis. Oddly, I hardly ever quote from it on this blog – not sure why that is.

I have recommended this book far and wide, and am happy to do so again here—in particular, Ratzinger develops here a biblical theology of ‘woman’ that has really been helpful to women struggling with what the Church teaches about women and its perceived anti-feminist stance.

This brief passage is from a long and detailed and very beautiful analysis of the feminine line in the Old Testament. As the masculine line passes from Adam to Noah to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua and down through the kings and prophets of Israel, so there is a feminine line, less prominent perhaps, but of deep significance scripturally and theologically.

These women, like the men, fall into basic categories. There are the barren women made fruitful by God’s grace and kindness—Sarah, Rachel, Hannah. There are the warrior women who, against any reasonable possibility of success, deliver Israel from its enemies (Deborah, Judith, and in a different manner, Esther). Both the barren woman who conceives and the ‘weak’ woman who triumphs in battle manifest the power of God to save and redeem his people, and the fundamental truth all of us, male and female, live in as His creatures.

Namely, creation and redemption (which in the Old Testament is one with the election of God’s people) are essentially received. God acts; we receive. God is the one who gives life, who makes us fruitful, who chooses us for Himself, and who brings us to victory in the battle of life. The feminine line in the Old Testament reveals the basic structure of created reality before God.

Ratzinger goes on to develop the final revelation of the feminine in the Old Testament in the personification of Sophia as created wisdom, working alongside the Uncreated Wisdom of God to create and delight in all that He has made. And of course the second half of the book applies this all magnificently to the Virgin Mary as the real historical figure who shows us the path of receptive creativity and joyful participation in love with the creative and saving work of God.

This is so crucial. We are conditioned in the modern world to associate strength, power, dignity, freedom, status with being the one in charge, being on top, being the boss. To be a fully human, fully adult, fully alive person entails an ever-expanding control of one’s world. This has many implications extending into areas of human sexuality, economic activity, intellectual inquiry—a whole anthropology of dominance and mastery that flows from a certain concept of freedom.

I maintain, Ratzinger maintains, and the Bible maintains that there is an entirely different model of freedom, dignity, power, and life that God reveals to us and beckons us to live by. Mary shows us this, and the women of the Bible show us this. Joyful receptivity, active participation, the surrender of love, the abandonment of self into the loving plans and providential dispensations of God, obedience coming out of the free disposition of one’s own person and being—this is what it means to be a human creature.

We are all ‘brides of Christ’, male or female. The soul is feminine in relation to God. This has nothing to do with ‘sex’ in the common understanding of the word; it is a matter of the fundamental terms of our relationship with reality, and with Reality. First comes receiving, then comes responding. God initiates; Christ leads. God is the author; we are under His authority. We are His. And the women of the Bible show us that this is the path to a fruitful, triumphant, and joyous life; Mary shows us that this is the path to glory, honor and power beyond our wildest imaginings.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Happy Serious Business

I would also like to stress that the sacred has an educational function and its disappearance inevitably impoverishes culture and especially the formation of the new generations. If, for example, in the name of a faith that is secularized and no longer in need of sacred signs, these Corpus Christi processions through the city were to be abolished, the spiritual profile of Rome would be “flattened out”, and our personal and community awareness would be weakened.

Or let us think of a mother or father who in the name of a desacralized faith, deprived their children of all religious rituals: in reality they would end by giving a free hand to the many substitutes that exist in the consumer society, to other rites and other signs that could more easily become idols.
God, our Father, did not do this with humanity: he sent his Son into the world not to abolish, but to give fulfillment also to the sacred. At the height of this mission, at the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood, the Memorial of his Paschal Sacrifice. By so doing he replaced the ancient sacrifices with himself, but he did so in a rite which he commanded the Apostles to perpetuate, as a supreme sign of the true Sacred One who is he himself. With this faith, dear brothers and sisters, let us celebrate the Eucharistic Mystery today and every day and adore it as the centre of our life and the heart of the world. Amen.
Homily, Corpus Christi, 2012

Reflection – A man who ceases to believe in God does not believe in nothing; he will believe in anything. So says, roughly, GK Chesterton, somewhere or other. There is a human capacity, really a human need, for belief that stubbornly persists despite the best efforts of rationalists to eradicate it. We need the sacred; that is, we need the presence of something bigger than ourselves which we cannot prove to be true but to which we pledge our loyalty. We need to be reverent; we need something or someone to respect.

Throwing out the God of heaven and earth, the God of Jesus Christ, as so many have done or (often, these days) have had done for and to them, any old god will do. Whether it is one of the host of new age or occult energies, or The Universe (TM), or human progress or science or environmental purity or Love (TM)—well, in the words of the Prophet Dylan, “Don’t you know you gotta serve somebody?”

And this is very much tied to the question of reverence, of respect. I think a good test to see what god a person worships is to see what they will not make fun of. ‘God is not mocked,’ – what does this person not mock, and why? We can all think of the stereotypical Sunday Christian who takes his religion very lightly indeed, but is deadly earnest about the maximization of his bank balance.

Personally, I don’t like jokes about Jesus. I don’t tell them, and I will listen politely if some well-meaning soul tells me one, but to me Jesus is not a subject for jokes. Jesus is joy, happiness, peace, beauty, delight, love, and laughter. But jokes? No—He’s too sacred for that.

And so these rituals, these sacred rituals, and the reverent respect with which we do them. This is how we teach children what God we worship. And how we teach ourselves, too. And, most importantly of all, how God has taught us who He is and how we are to approach Him.

This is rather important, actually. In our desacralized world, we are a bit unclear on something that had been obvious to our ancestors from day one. Namely, we cannot just approach God any old way we please. God is greater than we are, and awesome, and somewhat fearsome; we need to be shown how to enter His presence, and how to offer Him the worship and honor that are His due. This has been blindingly obvious to every generation of humanity since humanity was; we have forgotten it.

And Jesus is the one who teaches us how to approach God and enter His presence, and indeed personally bears us into the Presence of the Most High. And so as we go to Mass we go with happy hearts, uplifted hearts, joyous hearts… but never with sloppy, inattentive heedless hearts. We are entering God’s presence through, with, and in Jesus. It is serious business. Happy serious business. And it is reverent respect—genuflections, bows, good posture and moderation of voice and countenance—that helps our hearts to stay in that ‘happy serious place’ that opens us to the action of grace.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Drying Off

I would now like to move on briefly to the second aspect: the sacred nature of the Eucharist. Here too so we have heard in the recent past of a certain misunderstanding of the authentic message of Sacred Scripture. The Christian newness with regard to worship has been influenced by a certain secularist mentality of the 1960s and 70s. It is true, and this is still the case, that the centre of worship is now no longer in the ancient rites and sacrifices, but in Christ himself, in his person, in his life, in his Paschal Mystery. However it must not be concluded from this fundamental innovation that the sacred no longer exists, but rather that it has found fulfilment in Jesus Christ, divine Love incarnate.

The Letter to the Hebrews, which we heard this evening in the Second Reading, speaks to us precisely of the newness of the priesthood of Christ, “high priest of the good things that have come” (Heb 9:11), but does not say that the priesthood is finished. Christ “is the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb 9:15), established in his blood which purifies our “conscience from dead works” (Heb 9:14).

He did not abolish the sacred but brought it to fulfillment, inaugurating a new form of worship, which is indeed fully spiritual but which, however, as long as we are journeying in time, still makes use of signs and rites, which will exist no longer only at the end, in the heavenly Jerusalem, where there will no longer be any temple (cf. Rev 21:22). Thanks to Christ, the sacred is truer, more intense and, as happens with the Commandments, also more demanding! Ritual observance does not suffice but purification of the heart and the involvement of life is required.

Homily, Corpus Christi, 2012

Reflection – I grew up in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, and so I can directly relate and reflect on this loss of the sense of the sacred in the Church in those years. Fortunately I grew up in a small town that could charitably be described as a backwater (Hello, Alexandria!), where we were spared all the latest innovations dreamed up in liturgy laboratories in the big cities. No clown Masses, basketball Masses, puppet Masses, or frozen yogurt Masses for us! (I made that last one up.)

Nonetheless, the tide of irreverence was rising throughout North America, and even if Glengarry County was on ‘high ground’ relatively speaking, we still got a bit damp from it. Personally, I'm still drying off. And it seems to me that this tide, far from receding with the years, has only continued to mount.

It seems to me that in broad popular culture ‘the sacred’ has become devoid of meaning. Or rather, something being identified as ‘sacred’ means that it is a target of special mockery and denigration. The idea that one should not make fun of someone else’s sacred realities has fallen by the wayside, to the great coarsening and weakening of social discourse.

Meanwhile even within the Church it seems that ‘the sacred’ remains elusive. How are we to act in church? How are we to dress, talk, carry ourselves? What is a genuflection and what do we genuflect towards? These have become unknowns for many Catholics in North America.

And underlying that can be a misguided sense that, ‘Well, God doesn’t care about any of that! He sees our hearts – He doesn’t care how we act or dress or talk!’ But as the Pope points out, the coming of Christ only heightens the sense of sacredness; it does not take it away.

In a sense, yes, God does not care how we dress or look. It is for our own sake that we take care. God loves us all, and does indeed see our hearts. But the way we dress and talk and behave in regard to our sacred realities shapes our heart’s attitude towards them. It is for our own sake, and for the sake of others, that we dress up for church, do not talk in church unless necessary, genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament and bow to the altar, and generally carry ourselves with attention and respect while in the sacred precincts.

The sense of the sacred – making the sign of the Cross with care, watching how we speak of Jesus and Mary and the saints, being properly respectful of the Pope, the bishops, the clergy—not because these men are necessarily holy themselves, but because their office is.

All of this is to keep ourselves in reality—who this God we worship is, who we are in his presence, and what He is doing for us. Reverence and respect keep us open to the mystery of faith and its awesome action in our lives today.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Talking About Beauty Here

Communion and contemplation cannot be separated, they go hand in hand. If I am truly to communicate with another person I must know him, I must be able to be in silence close to him, to listen to him and look at him lovingly. True love and true friendship are always nourished by the reciprocity of looks, of intense, eloquent silences full of respect and veneration, so that the encounter may be lived profoundly and personally rather than superficially. And, unfortunately, if this dimension is lacking, sacramental communion itself may become a superficial gesture on our part.

Instead, in true communion, prepared for by the conversation of prayer and of life, we can address words of confidence to the Lord, such as those which rang out just now in the Responsorial Psalm: “O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your handmaid. / You have loosed my bonds./ I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving /and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps 116[115]:16-17).
Homily, Corpus Christi, 2012

Reflection – The last couple days I think I’ve said all I can say (for now!) about the subject of Eucharistic Adoration. So, while the Pope is continuing to talk about it here, I want to focus on another aspect of the subject, which he alludes to in this section of the homily.

It’s this whole business of contemplation. And I’m not thinking so much of contemplative prayer here, although that is paramount, but rather a certain fundamental attitude towards reality, towards life, towards people, that I think is sorely lacking today.

Our minds are made to dissect, analyze, evaluate, judge. I mean all of that in a good sense—the proper God-given function of our minds is to do these tasks. And they are necessary tasks; if we are to survive, navigate, and thrive in the world we had better be able to do all of the above.

Our hearts are made, not (as we think) to emote or feel or get all fluttery about everything, but to contemplate. That is, our hearts are made to behold, to receive, to be in the presence of ‘the other’, be it a sky, a river, a tree, a flower, a bird, or a person. The receptive stance, the passive stance of simply seeing what is and allowing what is to shape what we are.

I believe that a deep source of our spiritual malaise today is that our minds are cut off from our hearts, or our hearts starved of their proper contemplative function. When that happens, a tree becomes either so many feet of board wood or cords of fire wood or a nuisance or something ‘pretty’. In other words, the tree is not given any room in my awareness outside of its utility to me or lack thereof.

That’s bad enough when it’s a tree which is a creature of God. When we approach persons this way, it is disastrous. I like you; I don’t like him; she can help my career; he’s useless to me; she makes me feel good; he makes me feel bad. And that’s that for all of them. Tragedy! The truth of your being, his being, and her being actually has little if anything to do with whether or not you all (or as they say in the South, all y’all) are useful or useless, pleasurable or displeasing to me.

And when my mind is cut off from my heart, and so all I have is analysis, dissection, and judgment, then all I have is that approach to you. Narcissism follows on this, and a terrible fracturing of communion, a terrible isolation in which each is only connected to each by bonds of utility and mutual benefit.

I’m really talking about beauty here. Contemplation is simply to see that you are you; that you are not made for me, that you have an integrity, a reality, a substantial being that is wholly distinct and not necessarily related to me. And in that contemplation, to see that you are beautiful. Your being, your reality, your substantial whole, your integrity of self, has a beauty, a truth, and a goodness that is wholly itself, with or without me, and my contemplative approach to you is that which alone gives me access to this truth and goodness and beauty.

The same is true of the flowers, the trees, the river, the sky, and the stars. But it is acutely true and vitally important of each human being. And of course this contemplative attitude, this passive receptivity and appreciation, is that which alone opens us up to God and to prayer. Contemplation, the uniting of our heads with our hearts, the privileging of receptivity over judgment, beholding over dissecting, wholeness over analysis—this is the urgent spiritual need of our times, I believe.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Job is Too Easy

Actually it is wrong to set celebration and adoration against each other, as if they were competing. Exactly the opposite is true: worship of the Blessed Sacrament is, as it were, the spiritual “context” in which the community can celebrate the Eucharist well and in truth. Only if it is preceded, accompanied and followed by this inner attitude of faith and adoration can the liturgical action express its full meaning and value.

The encounter with Jesus in Holy Mass is truly and fully brought about when the community can recognize that in the Sacrament he dwells in his house, waits for us, invites us to his table, then, after the assembly is dismissed, stays with us, with his discreet and silent presence, and accompanies us with his intercession, continuing to gather our spiritual sacrifices and offer them to the Father.

In this regard I am pleased to highlight the experience we shall be having together this evening too. At the moment of Adoration, we are all equal, kneeling before the Sacrament of Love. The common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood are brought together in Eucharistic worship… To be all together in prolonged silence before the Lord present in his Sacrament is one of the most genuine experiences of our being Church, which is accompanied complementarily by the celebration of the Eucharist, by listening to the word of God, by singing and by approaching the table of the Bread of Life together.
Homily, Corpus Christi, 2012

Reflection – You know, sometimes it’s just too easy, this blog project of mine. At the risk of sounding like some sort of starry-eyed besotted papaltastic fan-boy, Pope Benedict is just so… awesome (dude!). So easy to just receive his words, ponder them, and find something to say about them. And so it is in this passage from the homily.

It’s this whole business of being in the presence of the Lord, you see. When we oppose the celebration of the Mass to the Adoration of the Sacrament, what this signals is a sort of losing the presence of the Lord. When we do this opposition thing, it seems to me that the stress falls on the action of the assembly, perhaps on the action of the Lord, but the Lord acting through the action of the community.

While of course this is true—how could it be otherwise in a sacramental system?—the deeper and truer reality is that it is the Lord who is acting, not us. The Byzantine liturgy begins with the deacon intoning “It is time for the Lord to act,” quoting Ps 119. It is time for the Lord to act… it is God who is present, acting, doing, loving, saving. The community is there and we have our necessary part. The priest is there and I have my necessary part. But it is Jesus who makes the Eucharist the Eucharist. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
Not me, not you, not the choir or the readers or the cute little altar servers. Jesus.

And so we adore Him. Once His place and His action are seen as the supreme and essential truth of the liturgy, it is the most natural thing in the world for the celebration of the liturgy to spill over into silent adoration in his presence.

And this is the Church, you see. All of us together just before the Lord, just in His presence, letting Him speak to us, letting Him love us, letting Him communicate Himself to us in whatever way He chooses. And out of this, out of both our active celebration and reception of Him and our silent listening contemplation of Him, we can love, serve, preach the Gospel, overcome ourselves, do what needs doing.

What a faith we have. And what a beautiful Pope we have who is able to express this faith so wonderfully, with simplicity, faith, and elegance. So let us bow down and worship the Lord today in the Eucharistic celebration of Sunday, and let us look for the chance to worship Him in silent Adoration when we can, as we can.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fall On Your Knees

This evening I would like to meditate with you on two interconnected aspects of the Eucharistic Mystery: worship of the Eucharist and its sacred nature. It is important to reflect on them once again to preserve them from incomplete visions of the Mystery itself, such as those encountered in the recent past.

First of all, a reflection on the importance of Eucharistic worship and, in particular, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We shall experience it this evening, after Mass, before the procession, during it and at its conclusion. A unilateral interpretation of the Second Vatican Council penalized this dimension, in practice restricting the Eucharist to the moment of its celebration. Indeed it was very important to recognize the centrality of the celebration in which the Lord summons his people, gathers it round the dual table of the Word and of the Bread of life, nourishes and unites it with himself in the offering of the Sacrifice.

Of course, this evaluation of the liturgical assembly in which the Lord works his mystery of communion and brings it about still applies; but it must be put back into the proper balance. In fact — as often happens — in order to emphasize one aspect one ends by sacrificing another. In this case the correct accentuation of the celebration of the Eucharist has been to the detriment of adoration as an act of faith and prayer addressed to the Lord Jesus, really present in the Sacrament of the Altar.

This imbalance has also had repercussions on the spiritual life of the faithful. In fact, by concentrating the entire relationship with the Eucharistic Jesus in the sole moment of Holy Mass one risks emptying the rest of existential time and space of his presence. This makes ever less perceptible the meaning of Jesus’ constant presence in our midst and with us, a presence that is tangible, close, in our homes, as the “beating Heart” of the city, of the country, and of the area, with its various expressions and activities. The sacrament of Christ’s Charity must permeate the whole of daily life.

Homily, Corpus Christi, 2012

Reflection – Ok, time for another series on the blog. This fine homily from the past feast of Corpus Christi is worth reflecting on for a few days anyhow. The Eucharist being the source and summit of Christian life, as the Second Vatican Council so well put it, it is something we need to contemplate over and over.

You know, if what Pope Benedict is saying here is true, and I don’t doubt it, it sure is a supreme irony. The best intentions of Vatican II were indeed to cultivate a sense of the living presence of God in our lives, to see that Jesus is not just in the church or the prayer book but extending out to permeate the work place, the school, the home, the street, culture and the arts, finance and politics—everything. Every aspect of human life is to be Christ-ified, informed, transformed by the Spirit of Christ. Everything is to ‘eucharistized’ in a certain sense – not in the metaphysical transformation that is unique to the Eucharist itself, but nonetheless a real transformation, a real change, a real presence of Christ, if not the Real Presence.

And so it is ironic that the denigration of Adoration, the restriction of encounter with Christ in the Eucharist to the Mass, has worked the very opposite. Thankfully, this denigration of Adoration is becoming more and more a thing of the past, but there it is: when we don’t fall to our knees to worship Jesus in this physical reality of his Presence among us, we do not, in fact, recognize his presence in the home, the workplace, the school, nor do we have any idea what to do about culture and the arts, finance and politics or much else besides!

Yesterday I gave testimony about that dark period in my life when everything in me opposed to God was raging strong (this was after I joined Madonna House, of course!) It was at that time that the community began to have, not perpetual Adoration, but daily Adoration roughly coinciding with our communal horarium.

When we began this, I was sceptical (young fool that I was). ‘I can find God in my work!’ I said (not that I… you know, was doing that or anything). But in my heart, I knew God was asking me to take it on and take part in this communal initiative.

So I went. Daily, as much as I could, for an hour. And as a result I’m still sitting here in the MH dining room tapping away on my laptop writing this blog. I seriously don’t think I would have made it otherwise. God is there; Jesus is there; and because He is there, His power does extend to our whole life. And we will continue to reflect on this for the next couple days.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Scary Business

Indeed, [our defilement] it has already been burned away through Christ's Passion. At the moment of judgment we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart's time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ.

The judgment of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgment and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).

Spe Salvi 47

Reflection – So this concludes the paragraph I began to blog on yesterday. Since I talked all about Purgatory yesterday, I want to focus more today on the Pope’s theology of judgment here.

Ooooh, the judgment of God. Scary business, right? I think few of us, unless we are utterly delusional, feel insouciantly casual about waltzing up to the throne of God to receive our particular judgment. I believe, deeply and truly, in God’s mercy and love, his tender compassion and care for me and for all the other poor wretched sinners in the world, but even so… God’s judgment! Oooh… scary! And I think we would be either very great fools or very great saints not to feel a little bit of that fear.

But the judgment of God as experiencing and absorbing “the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves [and] the pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy.” Well, that’s something to think about for a few seconds or maybe a few lifetimes.

And so justice and grace meet and merge and become one. The mercy of God is poured out on mankind, but we receive that mercy as a purifying fire cleansing the scourge of evil from our souls. I remember in this context a difficult period in my own life. I had been a member of Madonna House for a few years, and as is often the case my life in community and in the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience was bringing to the surface all my hidden darkness, sin, disbelief.

Oh, the seven deadly sins were having a capital time at my expense! This is a relatively normal experience, by the way, at least in Madonna House and probably in other vocations too. As we begin in earnest to walk the path of the Gospel everything in us that is anti-Gospel rears up and a mighty battle commences.

So, at that time I began making a holy hour every day. Sheer necessity, I realize now looking back at it. And I found that the only prayer that brought me peace in those holy hours was to read the Old Testament prophets and their prophecies of doom for Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, etc. Strange… but these consoled me like nothing else did.

I finally realized what was happening. God was teaching me that evil has an end. Evil—my evil, the world’s evil, any evil—does not just go on and on and on. The battle does have an end, personally and collectively, and that end is the victory of God.

Evil will be destroyed. Be it in the fires of purgatory or the path of suffering love in this world, evil will be destroyed. God is victorious. His victory is mercy and grace, but this mercy and grace are His total justice which casts out evil and raises up all that is good.

So this is our hope, always and everywhere. God is on the move, on the march, and His movement of love is right into the heart of the world’s pain and darkness, to share it and overcome it by his divine power.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Holy Power, A Blessed Pain

Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire [of Purgatory] which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love.

Spe Salvi 47

Reflection – Purgatory is one of the Church teachings which has suffered a bit of neglect in recent decades. When it has been discussed, it has either been in the mode of apologetics with Protestants or in a negative sense. Purgatory for some is at best a heavy, dark doctrine of the Church, perhaps even a hangover from a more legalistic juridical approach to salvation, typical of the middle ages or something. Like ‘you do the crime, you do the time’ applied to God and us. What does that kind of crime and punishment mentality have to do with Jesus and mercy and salvation?

Here we see a richer presentation of the teaching. It is encounter with Christ that purifies and burns away the dross and defilement of our lives, not some artificial fire that comes from God-knows-where.

The point of Purgatory, if I can put it that way is this: we matter. We are real. Our lives are not play-acting or a silly game without consequence or import. Our choices are real choices and fashion us in real ways to become really this or really that. Every moment of my waking life, I am choosing to do something that is making me more merciful, less selfish, kinder, generous, truer… or I choosing something else, something unreal, unkind, hard, cold, bitter, false.

Every moment! While in the abstract we can say there are human actions that are morally neutral (e.g. driving a car) in the concrete there is no morally neutral act. Either it is good (you are driving the car in a responsible fashion, and with some good intent in mind) or it is evil (driving recklessly or to achieve some further bad goal). No neutral ground in concrete actual human action.

And our human actions make us who we are. This is that co-creator thing I wrote about just a few days ago. Whether we like it or not, every action we make is making us into… something. And if that something is something false or unloving or unclean… well, that’s going to have to be fixed, isn’t it?

And it is the encounter with Christ that ‘fixes’ us, that heals and purifies, transforms and redeems. All of us who have faith and a living relationship with Christ know this quite well and have experienced it already. The Catholic doctrine of Purgatory simply says that this process continues after death in a heightened way. When the human being has lost their capacity for further human actions, but is fundamentally oriented to and open to the grace of Christ, then the encounter with Him works its final and intense purification, so that we can enter heaven in fullness of life and love.

We are real and our choices and actions are real; Christ is real and his work in and for us in real; our communion with Him is a communion of two real persons; and so real things happen in this encounter, this communion. Purification, enlightenment, transformation—in this life we know this as our living spiritual journey every day, journey marked by the merciful love and tender care of our God; afterwards, it is Purgatory. Simple, eh?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I Don't Know How to Pray

[The Psalms teach us that] singing before God rises up, on the one hand, out of an affliction from which no earthly power can save man—his only refuge is God. But at the same time it emerges out of a trust that, even in utter darkness, knows that the crossing of the Red Sea is a promise that will have the last word in life and in history. It is important to say that the Psalms frequently come from very personal experiences of suffering and answered prayer, and yet they always flow into the common prayer of Israel. They are nourished out of the common store of God’s saving deeds in the past.

Spirit of the Liturgy, 138

Reflection – ‘I don’t know how to pray.’ A common lament, right? Or, ‘when I go to pray, I don’t have any words.’ Also common. It is typical, normal, and absolutely proper really, that human beings find themselves a bit tongue-tied before God, a bit unsure of what to say to Him. What is there to say, anyhow?

Well, the Holy Spirit anticipated this problem, and has given us 150 things to say to God in prayer. The psalms, the working script for our ongoing dialogue with the Most High.

As Ratzinger points out here, the psalms do not come out of a nice comfortable bourgeois existence. They are not prayers prayed to God on a full stomach in an easy chair. They come out of a certain desperation.

‘Save me, O God, the waters have risen to my neck… they compass me about like bees… in my distress I call to the Lord…’ the psalms are urgent cries of help in times of peril. We have to know that in this world (even if our stomachs are full and there are easy chairs) we are in times of peril continually. There are temptations lurking behind every easy chair; opposition and even persecution always threaten in the distance or not in the distance as the case may be.

So, the psalms place us in the spiritual reality of our wretched condition. Alleluia! But they also place us in the deeper, the deepest spiritual reality of God’s condition. ‘You O Lord, will defend me… in you O Lord I put my trust… blessed are those who trust in the Lord… happy the people who acclaim such a king…’ and so on and so forth. Childlike expressions of trust, loud acclamations of joy and exultation, sober and purposeful acts of abandonment to this faithful God—that is the spiritual attitude the psalms teach us.

So you don’t know how to pray? Pray a psalm. Words dry up when you go to talk to God? Pray another psalm. Cat got your tongue, vocal prayer-wise? Pray a third psalm. That’s what they are there for.

There’s a good reason the Church from day one has made these very Jewish prayers Her own. The whole liturgy of the hours, which priests and religious pray each day, has the psalms at its utter core. Jesus prayed them, of course, even to the point of his death, even on the Cross. And we have always seen, from the very beginning, that these inspired hymns and canticles and prayers reveal the heart of prayer and worship, and place our spiritual life on a solid core of spiritual truth.

Pray the psalms. Make them an integral part of your spiritual life. Don’t worry about praying the whole liturgy of the hours – it can be a bit intricate and hence off-putting for untrained laity. Just pray a psalm. Or two. Or three. If you’re not sure which ones or where to start, I recommend looking at the Pss 112-118, or Pss 140-150. There are some very lovely ones in there. Also, Pss 27, 34, 103, 101, 63, 23, 40, 131, 120-129… anyhow, there’s gems upon gems in there – it would be a shorter list to say which psalms are more difficult to pray.

The Church in its wisdom has made the psalms the core of its worship for 2000 years now. We can do no better than to make these prayers the core of our own personal piety, and the wellspring of our own worship as we pray them through, with, and in Jesus Christ in the company of Our Lady and all the saints of heaven who continually cry out praise and worship before the throne of God.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Oh Yeah?

We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden (cf. Mt 5:13-16). The people of today can still experience the need to go to the well, like the Samaritan woman, in order to hear Jesus, who invites us to believe in him and to draw upon the source of living water welling up within him (cf. Jn 4:14). We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples (cf. Jn 6:51). Indeed, the teaching of Jesus still resounds in our day with the same power: “Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life” (Jn 6:27). The question posed by his listeners is the same that we ask today: “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (Jn 6:28). We know Jesus’ reply: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (Jn 6:29). Belief in Jesus Christ, then, is the way to arrive definitively at salvation.

Porta Fidei 3

Reflection – So we continue our weekly preparation for the Year of Faith beginning this October, marking the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

Here Pope Benedict holds out for us the enduring possibility of faith today, both as need and as realized fact. I am often struck in contemporary novels and movies at the opposite: the complete non-existence of faith on either level.

Faith, at least according to the producers of mass culture, is either unthinkable or extraneous or, often enough, repellent and dangerous. This is especially marked in the cultural offerings coming from Europe. God and faith in Him just are not viable options, at least not in many significant quarters.

And we know that this is true, not only on the screen and on the page, but in many people’s lives. An aggressive secularism, a relentless and determined excluding of divine claims and divine possibilities too often rules people’s lives.

Some herald this as a positive development, of course: humanity outgrowing its needs for myths and superstitions and invisible friends. Modern man is learning he no longer needs God for meaning, a commenter informed me a few posts back. To which I responded, basically, ‘oh yeah?’ OK, not my best argument ever…

But really, oh yeah? If there is no God, or if God is pushed so far to the margins of our lived reality that there may as well be no God, do we, can we still have meaning in life? Certainly we cannot have meaning in the universe itself. Meaning is a product of mind; if there is no Mind underlying the cosmos, there is no Meaning in the cosmos.

The secularist would say, I suppose, ‘who cares about that?’ I have a mind, and my mind will generate a meaning for my life. Meaning then becomes a tiny bivouac carved out in a vast sea (think of the size of the universe, and its emptiness) of meaninglessness. For example, ‘my life is about my children,’ some would say. Yes, but what is their life about? Well, whatever they want it to be. What if they want it to be something you find repulsive, or they find no menaing in life. Your bivouac just got obliterated, didn’t it?

‘My life is about my work.’ Well, even if you’re one of the lucky few who is working on something like curing cancer, that doesn’t do it, you know. Because if there is no meaning to life in the first place, why does it matter if cancer is cured? If we’re all just matter, then maybe the tumor has as much claim to existence as the person.

‘My life is about the love I put into it.’ Well, this sounds more persuasive. Except… what is love? A warm oogly googly feeling? A choice to treat people in a certain way? Where does it come from and where does it go? What if your love fails, or what if the object of your love fails you, betrays you. What if your love bears no visible fruit? And in a world devoid of deeper meaning, what fruit does love bear, anyhow? We all end up being food for worms – what difference does it make, really, if I love and care for people or hurt and us people?

All the while in all of this, God waits. A Person, a Love, a Truth that holds all our loves and all work, our children and ourselves, receives everything we are and gives everything we are and do being and purpose. I really don’t see how any godless quest for meaning can end in anything but tragic failure, and if someone can explain to me how it does they are welcome to try.

And it doesn’t have to, you know. God is. Meaning is. Truth is. And so our lives do not have to be tragic fruitless marches towards the grave. There is a bread that endures to eternity, and a living water that quenches our thirst. And this is what the Church and the Pope are inviting us to contemplate and proclaim in this upcoming year.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

It Is Very Good (To Be Very Good)

[In Genesis 1] the words ‘God said’ appear ten times… in this way the creation narrative anticipates the Ten Commandments… [they are] an echo of creation;… not arbitrary inventions for the purpose of erecting barriers to human freedom but signs pointing to the spirit, the language, and the meaning of creation.
In the Beginning, 39

Reflection – Here we have in a few short sentences the substance of Catholic moral thought and our natural law tradition. The moral law springs from the very God-given structure of created reality. God says, and it is so, and it is good. Good human action, then, corresponds to the creative design and purpose of God’s created order. We are part of that order, and find our happiness and freedom within it.

We also have a good lesson by example here on how Catholics read Scripture. The creation account in Genesis is not a science textbook nor is it in the strict sense of the modern word, history. It is a work of theology and poetry, and its truth claims must be understood in light of the type of work it is.
This is not some insight of modern Scripture study; the fathers of the Church read Genesis this way. And so here we see that the author of Genesis 1, inspired by the Holy Spirit, links the creative will of God with the law revealed on Mount Sinai. The creation account is a relatively late writing, probably written in the Babylonian exile. The law codes with the Decalogue at their center are much older.

So the human author assisted by God is communicating something very deep here, as he meditates on God as the source and absolute master of all that is. Human moral behavior—obedience to the law—is an act of faith in the doctrine of creation. God made the world, not us. The truth of life and of the world comes from Him, not from us. Our commitment to that doctrine entails obedience to the moral law as revealed to us.
But there’s more to it than that. God said, and it came to be. Ten times God spoke, it happened, and it was good. God says to us what to do, and we do it, and it is good. Moral behavior, then, is our entry into being co-creators with God. You want your life to be creative and not destructive? Don’t steal. You want to be building up the world and not tearing it down? Don’t tell lies. You want to live and not die? Don’t kill or commit adultery. You want to be friends with God, and walk in his presence and do his work? Worship Him with great reverence and keep holy the Sabbath.

By obeying the moral law as it comes to us in the Decalogue and, yes, as it comes to us through the Church’s 2000 year tradition of reflection and consistent teaching on that Decalogue, we both live our faith in God the creator and enter into his creative work.

I have meditated for years now on why Jesus said in Matthew 5 that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Perhaps here we have something of the answer. If the law springs from the heart of God’s creative will, then we see that Jesus came not to abolish creation but to fulfill it. Jesus came to heal and bring to completion the work the Trinity began ‘in the beginning.’ And so Christianity is not a religion that abolishes all the rules and regulations and reduces everything to a sort of anomic niceness. ‘Just love everyone—that’s the only law now!’ Well, no. Christ did not nullify the created order that He, the Logos of God, established in the beginning. And love of God and neighbor will always mean serving and honoring that created order.

But he did come to fulfill the law. That is, we experience the law without Christ as an extrinsic thing coming at us. Rules imposed from on high, and we all know this is an unpleasant experience, even if in our faith and love of God we choose to accept and abide by ‘the rules’.

Christ came to make this something much better. He came to live in us and make His life our life by the power of his Holy Spirit in us. And so the Law and its demands is no longer to be something extrinsic and heavy, something we bridle under even as we may choose to obey it out of fear or even out of love.

Rather, we are meant to be son with the Son, so much in God in Christ that the Law becomes our law, something personal and intimate and joyous. We don’t tell lies, not because we’ve been told not to and are afraid of hellfire, but because in Christ we are truth. We don’t fornicate, not because of a heavy burden of unpleasant commandment and shame, but because in Christ our very bodies are taken up into covenant love and fidelity. We don’t kill because in Christ we cannot imagine treating a human being with violence and hatred.

And so Christ wants to fulfill the law in us by living in us with such intimacy and personal love and care that we, in a sense, become the ones saying ‘Let there be light… and earth… and heaven… and animals… and men and women…’ and looking on what God (and we) have made, to say, and mean, that it is very good. And this, in a nutshell, is Christian moral behavior.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Is God For Real?

God is the issue: is he real, reality itself, or isn’t he? Is he good, or do we have to invent the good ourselves? The God question is the fundamental question, and it sets us down right at the crossroads of human existence. What must the Savior of the world do or not do? That is the question the temptations of Jesus are about.
Jesus of Nazareth 1, 29

Reflection – Pope Benedict’s masterful analysis of the temptations of Jesus in the desert are alone worth the price of this book. He rightly concludes with the above question—is God real, or is He not real? The turning of stones into bread, the impulse to ‘prove himself’ by throwing himself off the temple, the attaining of power by worship of Satan—all of these boil down to a rejection or denial of God in favor of some kind of human solution to life and its questions.

The way of the world, which almost all of us follow to some degree, is to figure out what we have to do and do it, to be practical, sensible people who do what needs doing to get by. It’s not a wicked way, usually. Most of us are not serial killers mowing down people at the mall. And it’s not entirely wrong, of course. God gave us brains so we could use them, right?

But it’s limited. That’s the problem. God made us for something better than just human prudence and human common sense and human answers to human questions. We are made for divine life, not merely ‘good’ human life. And this good human life usually shows itself to be the limited thing it is, sooner or later. In times of crisis or failure, sickness or death, weakness or stress, the human way proves itself to be insufficient.

And that is the hour of temptation for all of us. When everything is going wrong, when it’s all falling apart, when the pressure is mounting and we are in sore trial and distress, the question emerges: God’s ways or ours?

Do we start eating stones (i.e. feeding ourself on what is not food) or worshipping whoever promises to give us our power back or doing more and more ridiculous things to fix the problem or achieve our goals? ‘I know… I’ll… throw myself off the Temple and float harmlessly to the ground! That’ll do it!’ That’s the temptation before us always – to force our way, our ideas, our notion of the good upon the world and ourselves by some kind of brute force of will or some manipulation of reality.

Or there is the way of God. Humble listening, reverent submission, patient prayer, attentiveness to the commandments and the movement of the Spirit. Love, and the suffering that love entails in a fallen world.
It is the memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary today, and this is the way of Mary in the world. She never walked in the path of the world, but lived in the divine sphere of life and action, lived in the Spirit all her life. Her way is one of a gentle, humble receptivity to the action of God, and she shows us, by her obedience and her quiet fidelity to what God asked her to do, the true way of human life in the world. And this ‘true way’ led her in the end, not to misery and anguish, but to glory and enthronement with Christ in heaven.

You know, we talk about the temptations of Christ because they have been recorded in the Gospels. I wonder what the temptations of Mary might have been. Like good children with their mother, we don’t like to think of Mary being tempted, but she was human. Adam and Eve were without sin, and yet were tempted and fell; Mary must have been tempted, too.

It’s worth thinking about. She must have been tempted to try to fix things up with Joseph, to defend herself against his suspicions. She must have been tempted to tell someone what had happened to her (such an extraordinary thing) and who this son of hers was (what mother doesn’t want to boast about her children?). She must have been tempted to protect Jesus or defend him when he was being attacked.

She stayed still. She kept silent. She attended to the duty of the moment for 30 years, and then followed Christ to the foot of the Cross. Her immaculate heart was pierced by a sword, and so the whole world can find a home in it.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us, that we may resist temptation and walk the way of Christ today.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Sursum Corda

The Holy Spirit leads us to the Logos, and he leads us to a music that serves the Logos as a sign of the sursum corda, the lifting up of the human heart. Does it integrate man by drawing him to what is above, or does it cause his disintegration into formless intoxication or mere sensuality? That is the criterion for a music in harmony with logos…
Spirit of the Liturgy, 151

Reflection – The discussion of liturgical music on a blog always raises interest, raises traffic to said blog, raises a few hackles, and (more often than not) raises a bruise or two upon the poor beleaguered wretch who is trying to run a parish music program, usually on a volunteer basis and with a small budget, and with limited if any say on the hymnals and other resources provided to him or her.

I have been there and done that, admittedly a good few years ago, so I do get it. There are genuine practical difficulties that enter into any effort to substantially change what is happening on the ground in a parish, musically. It takes money, time, and human resources, all of which may simply not be there in a specific place. Sometimes people really are doing all they are capable of doing, and are doing it with great love and generosity for God and the Church.

All of which is to say that discussions around parish music have to be conducted with great gentleness and charity. It is easy to rant about this hymnal or that song; it is easy (sadly!) to make fun of this composer or that style. I personally have great capacity for both ranting and mockery—I try not to indulge those capacities. Neither ranting nor mockery are particularly helpful to anyone, least of all to the one ranting or mocking.

Nonetheless, conversation needs to happen. And I personally know no one who has tried harder and with greater charity and gentleness to get this conversation going than Joseph Ratzinger. Do you know that he actually has written theological reflections on rock music? (I’ll have some of those here at some point). Has anyone else even had enough respect for rock music to look at its theological implications?

Of course, he himself is a musician, a pianist formed in the classical German tradition of Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. He has the understanding and sympathy of one who has gone through the struggle and labour of the musical craft. It is hard work to master an instrument; he has done that hard work.

His whole focus on the words logos and sursum corda is the key to his reflections. Music is meant to be a lifting up of the human heart. And what the human heart is being lifted up towards in liturgy is not merely elevated emotion or Dionysian intoxication (as in rock music), but the logos of God. Christ Himself, and in Christ the ordered disciplined pattern of Christian worship. This call to order and discipline in our worship goes back, of course, to St. Paul (cf 1 Cor 14). From the beginning the Church has rejected a chaotic free-for-all approach to liturgy.

Musicians in the Church have always had to walk a fine line between music that ‘grabs us,’ music that according to cultural fashions and personal tastes draws us and lifts us up, and music that serves the logos of worship. This is no easy thing, and I don’t think there ever has been a Golden Age when the Church really has gotten this right. We can talk about Gregorian Chant, and I’m all for it, but historically it has mostly thrived in monasteries, not parishes.

It seems to me that the first priority is sound theology in the lyrics. Historically, the Church has resisted allowing just anyone to compose liturgical hymnodic texts. It is so easy for heretical notions to enter into people’s minds and hearts via a catchy tune. Scripture, writings of canonized saints, and existing liturgical antiphons are the best places to find texts.

Hymns and songs with other lyrics have to be scrutinized carefully. Is this sound doctrine? Is the quality of these lyrics worthy of the liturgy, free from slang or soupiness or banality? Are we praising God here, or ourselves? It can be very subtle, that – a good criteria is to see how often variations of the word ‘I’ occur in the song. ‘I want to praise you… I think you’re so great… I want to say to you that you are my God… my one desire is to tell you what a great God you are for me…’ If we’re praising God, why do we keep talking about ourselves?

Well, this blog post has approached its critical mass. Regarding musical style and genre, all I would say (because it’s really complicated, actually) is that we need to find music that serves the liturgy, that does not distract from the action of the liturgy (for example, both rock performances and operatic arias distract), and that is of a quality worthy of the sacred liturgy. And I’ll leave it there, I think, for now at least.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Capable of Resurrection?

We are laid hold of by the Logos and for the Logos in our very bodies, in the bodily existence of our everyday life. The true liturgical action is the deed of God, and for that very reason the liturgy of faith always reaches beyond the cultic act into everyday life, which must itself become ‘liturgical’, a service for the transformation of the world.

Much more is required of the body than carrying objects around [at Mass] and other such activities. A demand is made on the body in all its involvement in the circumstances of everyday life. The body is required to become ‘capable of resurrection’, to orient itself towards the resurrection, towards the Kingdom of God, in a word: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Spirit of the Liturgy, 175-6

Reflection – We are called to live the Mass. The Eucharist is meant to be our life. When I say ‘our’, I am not referring to priests, or to consecrated people, or ‘serious Catholics’ (whoever they are!). I mean everyone.

There is a pattern given of what human life is meant to be, what God made it to be. That pattern is Jesus, and we see Jesus, He is most clearly revealed to us, in the liturgy. We can read Scripture and learn much about Jesus; we can pray personally and beautiful intimacy with Christ comes from that. But the deepest and fullest revelation of God in Christ comes to us neither in Scripture nor in personal prayer, but in the movement of the liturgy.

And it is just that—movement. The essential structure of the Mass is movement – bread and wine brought to the altar, given to the priest. Bread and wine elevated; words spoken; that which was bread and wine but is now Changed, moves now back to us, becomes our Food and Drink. This is God; this is Jesus; this is how we are to live.

We are to give our lives to God. We are bread and wine; we are this strange combination of solid prosaic everday-ness with wild celebration and joy, labor and toil (for the bread we eat) and ever-present yawning abyss of oblivion. Bread and wine symbolize in their complex reality the whole of human life.

And we give this to God. That is, the whole pattern of human life is to dispose our life to God’s life. Bread and wine placed on the altar in the hands of the priest; you and I placing ourselves before God in the hands of Christ. The Gospels spell out much of the concreteness of how we are to do this; that is why the Liturgy of the Word is so important. Personal prayer helps us know what God is asking of us now; that is why our personal engagement in the Mass is so important. But the essence, the structure, the reality of our life is found in this simple movement up the aisle, every time we go to Mass – the bread and wine go up.

And it is Christ who offers this bread and wine to his Father, Christ who calls down the Holy Spirit upon the gift, Christ who unites this little gift of our lives to His Gift of His life (on the night he was betrayed…). And it is Christ who does what needs doing, this transformation of bread and wine into Himself, this transformation of our little lives into a sharing in Life Itself.

Only God can do this. Only God can make our lives ‘capable of resurrection’. As I go along in life, I am more and more aware of that. I can pray on my knees for hours, work like a dog until I’m exhausted, do as much good as I can see to do to everyone always… but if God doesn’t ‘show up’… my bread is dry toast, my wine vinegar. Only God can make my life what it needs to be if it is to endure to eternal life, if it is to be any good at all, really.

So the Mass as pattern, living the liturgy, shows up for us how utterly, completely dependent we are upon God, and how utterly and totally oriented our lives are to be towards God and towards Jesus. This is the Kingdom of God; this is doing the will of the Father. And the fruit of it is that we become, truly, his Body and Blood in the world, shared out for all people, a living offering of love that becomes food and drink for our neighbour. And the fruit of that is that we become one with Christ, and so enter into his joy and the eternal wedding feast of the kingdom, the eternal liturgy where all is given and all is received, all are fed and all feed, forever.

And this is what life is about, for everyone, what God meant when he created man and woman in his image, according to his likeness.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Time Beyond Time

The obedience of Jesus’ human will is inserted into the everlasting Yes of the Son to the Father. This ‘giving’ on the part of the Lord, in the passivity of his being crucified, draw the passion of human existence into the action of love, and so it embraces all the dimensions of reality—Body, Soul, Spirit, Logos. Just as the pain of the body is drawn into the pathos of the mind and becomes the Yes of obedience, so time is drawn into what reaches beyond time. The real interior act, though it does exist without the exterior, transcends time, but since it comes from time, time can again and again be brought into it. That is how we can become contemporary with the past events of salvation.
Spirit of the Liturgy, 56

Reflection – OK, so this is some nice little light reading for a busy Wednesday in June! Ratzinger enters here into a depth of reflection on the connection between the eternal and the temporal, the divine and the human in Christ and how this connection, this union, extends towards us and beckons us to enter its depths.
This text requires slow, careful reading. Each word, each phrase is charged with meaning. First, we have Jesus the man in his human obedience united, ‘inserted’ into the eternal dynamism of the Son’s ‘Yes’ to the Father. This temporal obedience which becomes one with the eternal divine action occurs in the passivity of suffering and death. Because of this, the lowest, the most degraded, the most passive, helpless, poor moment of human life—the very moment of death itself—becomes an expression of the most supreme action of God, the action of love.

This is redemption, you see. God is all Act, all power, all fullness of being, expressed in the Divine Charity. Human beings are a mixture of act and passion, being and non-being, power and powerlessness, riches and poverty. But here, in the very depth of our human poverty, Jesus who is God has brought that perfect Act of Love. ‘The pain of the body is drawn into the pathos of the mind and becomes the Yes of obedience.’ That is a sentence we could meditate on for a year and a day and not be done with it.

And then we have this whole business of time and beyond time. Again, God is outside of time; the flow of time does not flow through the Divine. The eternal Yes of the Son to the Father and the Father to the Son is a Yes beyond our comprehension because of this. For our thinking is always temporal thinking – we cannot really conceive of what timeless action is.

So this timeless action—the Yes of the Son—is made one with the internal ‘yes’ of Jesus the man, and this united yes is expressed in a moment in time: a specific day and hour as the earth travelled around the sun in a little province of the Roman Empire. A man said yes to being slaughtered on a cross.
Time and beyond time—the event occurs in time, but the internal reality of the event is the eternal love of the Son and the Father. And so it is not simply an event in time; it is both in time and outside of time, transcending time.

And so, when we go to Mass, we are indeed present at Calvary, and the risen Lord Jesus offers us the same sacrifice he made there in time, in our time, today, to be our food and drink—his life to be our life, his strength to be our strength. All coming to us to bring our whole being, but in a particular way our poverty, our weakness, our passion and our death into the eternal living dynamism of the eternal living God.

The Mass draws us into all this, and so makes our life an ongoing transcending of self, the world, time, history, a constant extension of our human reality in all of its limited temporality into the infinite and eternal expanses of God, a perpetual encounter of God and man, a perpetual embrace of love. Something we never could have conceived; something we never could do; something entirely a work of the Holy Spirit. And this is God’s great gift to us.