Sunday, January 27, 2008

(Liturgical) life intrudes - Ordinary Time

We have the earliest Lent since 1856 rushing up on us: Ash Wednesday is February 5th, Easter will be March 23rd. Since Easter floats on a moon-timed cycled just as its predecessor Passover did, it's hard to put it mentally in place a year in advance, much less a month in advance.

So, here we are, moving serenely through
Ordinary Time ("ordinary" as is "ordinal" or "counted" time, not "ordinary" as in, well, uh, boring, unexciting, predictable) today is the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time. We'll have the Fourth Sunday and then bam! Lent! That's forty days, then Easter, then 50 days, then Pentecost.

When we pick up Ordinary Time again, we'll resume in May after Pentecost with the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time. The Fifth Sunday goes poof! this year, because of the number of weeks remaining in the year, so that we fit in the rest of Ordinary Time before Advent.

Ordinary Time has become more special to me in past years because the Scripture readings of the time have a theme: of Christ's active life, or of prophecy of His Coming. I like to read the larger chapter of Scripture the day's Mass readings are from, and I learn a lot of Scripture and a lot of Old Testament-New Testament connections during this time. Also, saints' feasts and memorials get nice prominence because they're not set aside by larger Advent or Lent markers. It's just like average secular life, that goes on between birthdays and weddings and funerals and Christmas (in its secular sense) and the Superbowl and the annual flu.

I didn't realize fully until this year that Ordinary Time doesn't continue to tick along underneath Lent and Advent, so that those readings are set aside during the times of preparation for the celebrations of the Birth, Passion and Death of Christ. We're not "gypped" out of those simpler times; Ordinary Time simply stops and starts. The big events just fit in.

Too bad real life isn't like that: when someone dies, regular life just stops, work stops, ballgames stop, holidays stop. Or when a baby is due. Or when we marry. God's Church is very considerate. I want to look around on the Internet and see why the liturgical calendar works that way.

Either way, enjoy this happy interesting calm before the "storm" of Lent, when we begin the long walk with Christ on the Way of the Cross.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Who are the happier people?

I can't resist picking these two photos out of Pipeline News:

What went through the two women's heads, as they dressed that way to confront a walk full of families, of children? Don't they have jobs? Don't they have friends who could talk them out of the public behavior, at the very least?

Pause and reflect

Today our bishops ask us to offer penance for the national crime of abortion. 35 years after Roe v. Wade, we hear in the media that abortion has dropped to ONLY 1.2 million per year in the US (but they don't point out that Plan B abortions have tripled). Who have we killed? Doctors, priests, generals, inventors, peacemakers?

There but for the Grace of God go I. I was careless and sinful and not well catechized in my younger years and bought into the 1970's sexual freedom culture. I could have so easily found myself pregnant and, being an efficient sinner, snuck off to obtain a silent and "safe" abortion. Living with a murder for the rest of my life.....

Embryology 101 in college made me a pro-lifer decades before I came back to faith, but a chicken one, never speaking out in conversation, never putting my charitable money where my mouth was.

Pray today for all who have died, all who killed them. Pray for those women who felt that they had no other choice. Pray for those whose consciences are so hard that they think they feel nothing about the baby who should be 30 today, or 20, or 8. Pray for the clinic workers and the doctors and nurses, and the civil governments that allowed them to move into our communities. Pray especially for those patient pro-life workers who demonstrate, who legislate, who volunteer at crisis pregnancy centers and come alongside pregnant women and girls who need friends as well as financial help.

We are one Body of Christ. Let's do some penance for the good of all the Body.

...and a quiet little "Yay" for the Catholics who are among the most visible leaders of the pro-life movement!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Candle in the Window

Personality and Evangelism

I just finished reading the biography of St. Francis by G.K.Chesterton. It's a fine essay, the life of that amazing saint sketched with a sure and supple mind. Reading GKC is like swallowing an eel; it's complicated, muscly but smooth, longer than you thought, but if you relax and remain open, you find yourself receiving an entire idea from opening to conclusion; there are no loose pieces to grab at or lose in the process.

The image emerges of an irresistable man, magnetic not by calculating charm but in his simple and direct rush towards God. People could not help then, or now, but be drawn along in his headlong pursuit of the true, the good and the beautiful at their Source. In a matter of a few years, first two, then a dozen, then hundreds of people joined him in his various orders for the vowed religious and the laity. Read the book yourself, good Lenten reading, and I can't do justice to the amount you can understand about the saint in such a short presentation.

What the book did for me in the end was to illuminate the path that saints take, and urged me to consider the question of saintly personality. How should a saint behave?

In our parish, we have a woman whose real name is quite a gift from her parents, something along the lines of Cecilia Rose Melody, a name that predicts graceful purity and beauty. In life, though, she is a little, dark, silent, pattering person, faithfully present at church for many devotions, including daily Mass and weekly Adoration. She may be shy; I've met her a few times at the grocery store, where I've met other parishioners who, relieved of the requirement of silence in church, are delighted to exchange names and friendly remarks. But instead she is very withdrawn and avoids easy conversation. Is this a sign of someone concentrating on an inward ecstasy or is she just dull? Is there something she knows about God that would be a valuable witness to me or others? Does she owe anybody that witness?

There are some Christians in my life who are magnetic because they are so open with their passion for Christ and His Truth. They have the courage and confidence to open a conversation with "I just learned a beautiful thing about God; let me tell you" and you are swept along with their discovery, framed with their particular intellect and education, heart and wit. I know others who are also silent and stay to one side, but whose joy and serenity are there for anyone to see when they meet your eye. I am attracted to them, waiting for and usually being rewarded by witnessing or receiving some statement or action that is really Jesus teaching me through them. There are still others, usually surrounded by their families, whose slightly frazzled happiness expresses itself in friendly but ordinary chats that last but a few minutes, before their loving and patient attention is claimed by one child or another, or whose endless generosity in volunteering takes them to the donut table or the book sale or the fun fair.

Does a Christian owe the world an open face and an open hand of greeting? Should there be a "candle in the window" to make a quiet house inviting? Or can they turn inwards, close down and ponder the treasure they have discovered, trusting community in His Spirit instead of social interaction?

This meditation grabbed me, I think, because I tend to be friendly, who is (sometimes unfortunately) not averse to the sound of my own voice. I think I'm a riot. When I am seized with the love of God, do I need to ask for courage and add that to my normal social style and witness to it, just like I might witness to the excellence of a local store, or the hilarity of a TV show? Or is the holier and more humble way to become quieter and more internal, "pondering all these things in my heart?" Which one is evangelism? Can evangelism be deliberate or does the act of evangelizing in itself become manipulative and showy?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

And in His temple all say "Glory!"

Happy end of the Christmas season! Today's readings are triumphant, in a quietly confident way:

Isaiah 42: from 1-7

Thus says the LORD: Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Psalm 29: from 1-10

Response: The Lord will bless his people with peace.

Give to the LORD, you sons of God, give to the LORD glory and praise,
Give to the LORD the glory due his name; adore the LORD in holy attire.

The voice of the LORD is over the waters, the LORD, over vast waters.
The voice of the LORD is mighty; the voice of the LORD is majestic.

The God of glory thunders, and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
The LORD is enthroned above the flood; the LORD is enthroned as king forever.

Acts 10: 34-38

Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered in the house of Cornelius, saying:
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.
You know the word that he sent to the Israelites
as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.”

Matthew 3: 13-17

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.
John tried to prevent him, saying,
“I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Then he allowed him.
After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold,
the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God
descending like a dove and coming upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens, saying,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

There's a certain "Na na na nee na NAAAAAH, toldja toldja toldja, He's the Lord!" tone to this, if that makes sense. No veiled mystery, no difficult metaphysical constructs, no knowledge of philosophy. A thundering voice, a Spirit like a dove, the heavens opened, what a moment of ecstasy! Could it be more direct? Jesus is so clearly who Isaiah prophesied about, the power of God is so clearly upon Him! John, whom I think everybody thought was a irresistably appealing guy but a little bit of a whackjob, is vindicated up, down, left and right.

One reason to love feasts like this one is that they have no cultural baggage. We don't have to worry about getting our Baptism of our Lord cards sent or our baking done. (The Orthodox traditionally have their houses blessed at this time of year, and the blessed water is called "Jordan Water," so they're probably in a frenzy of housecleaning, so somebody somewhere all the time is dealing with cultural baggage, I guess). On feasts like this, and others like Ascension and Pentecost, coming after Lent, Holy Week and Easter, it is a gift to us to simply raise our hands, rare back and say with all in the temple "Glory!"

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Comments I would like to have made

The respected TSO's server won't show comments. (At least, that's his story, and he's sticking to it.) So, when my interest is piqued by one of his posts, I have no recourse but to turn to my own blog to air my thoughts. If this has the side effect of steering anyone to his blog, so much the better.

* * * * *

TSO cites Mark Shea's post on Calvinism (specifically the facet of personal assurance of salvation) which is worth reading in its entirety. He goes on to comment:
"I can certainly see that part of the attraction of Calvinism. Interestingly, the evangelical at Internet Monk writes, 'I’d far prefer the out and out Roman view of 'assurance,' plainly stated as something you can’t have with certainty, than the advice to look at my own life for evidence I’m a real Christian. As Catholic convert and commentator Mark Shea says, 'I became more secure in my relationship with God once I was no longer certain I was going to heaven.' This is where we end up when we self-reference assurance.'"
In my view (as a non-theologian who spent 15 adult years in a Reformed congregation before returning to the Catholic Church), the emphasis on personal assurance of one's own salvation (actually more common in Baptist and other traditions) is a weakness of Reformed churches, though not a fatal one. It appears to be a response to the natural concern about one's own eternal fate that, in Catholics, might have its expression in a paranoia about falling into sin characterized by an over-scrupulous adherence to the less-critical aspects of faith and moral teaching (such as 'I can't miss Mass on Sunday unless I'm so sick I absolutely can't drag myself out of bed.').

But, Calvinism is all about God's Sovereignty. Rightly understood, Calvinist teaching about "irresistible grace" and "perseverance of the saints" expresses this emphasis on the sovereignty of God rather than the felt experience of man. That doesn't mean this belief is always expressed in the life of the believer. Just as a Calvinist might try mightily to feel saved, so a Catholic might strive to convince himself that he had made a "good" confession. Both miss the point. It is the mercy of God in the redemption of Christ in which we hope. His love for us is stronger than our sin, so long as we place ourselves in his hands. So we do the best we can and trust him, whose nature is Love, to make up for our incapabilities.

[By the way, for a really excellent treatment of the five hallmarks of Calvinism and the ways they are like or different from Catholic teaching, I recommend "A Tiptoe Through TULIP" by Jimmy Akin.]

Sit back and enjoy



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