16 January 2010

All the Dominicans in Haiti accounted for. . .

from Fides:

AMERICA/HAITI - Dominicans: all priests survived, one Sister wounded

Port-au-Prince (Agenzia Fides) – Agenzia Fides has contacted the Secretary General of the Curia of the Dominican Fathers, who reported a recent communication with Father Manuel Rivero, OP (Vicar of Haiti) on the situation after the earthquake in the area of Port-au-Prince, where the religious work. In Haiti, there are 7 Dominican religious at work (including Fr. Manuel Rivero), and all the men are alive. The Dominican Family in Haiti also includes the presence of the Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin, who have 2 homes in Haiti, one in Port-au-Prince (Maison Marie Poussepin) and another in La Plaine, “Notre Dame della Presentation.” The Secretary-General reported to Fides that one of the sisters was injured and the others were saved in the earthquake that completely destroyed one of their homes.

Fr. Manuel Rivero also reported that last night they managed to extract the body from the rubble of one of the pupils of the school run by the Dominicans, and transported the body on foot because roads were completely blocked. Many other children who survived have been taken to the house of the Sisters of Cluny, which has withstood the earthquake. The Dominican Family has been present in Haiti for 50 years and depends on the Dominican Province of Toulouse. (CE) (Agenzia Fides 16/01/2010)

Deo gratis!  Please pray for the wounded sister and the students injured and killed.

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Missals, Medjugorje, Nanny States, Homilies & Dissent

1).  In an earlier post you mentioned that the new English translation of the Missal had its problems.  Please elaborate.

First, I must confess that my Latin is nowhere near good enough to critique the translation as a translation.  I bow to the Gods of Latin on the issue of whether or not the Latin text has been accurately rendered into English.  My concern is aesthetic, that is, how the English reads to the native English speaker.  English is not a Romance language, not a language rooted in Latin like French, Italian, and Spanish.  If you want to read what a literal English translation of a well-written Latin text sounds like, try something by St. Augustine.  While working on my prayers books, I used excerpts from St Augustine in some of the meditations.  Re-working the literal English translations into something usable by modern English speakers was a terror.  My fear is that the long, complicated syntactical structure of Latin--when translated literally--will render long, complicated English sentences (e.g., a lot of dependent clauses, delayed or subdued verbal phrases, etc.).  Looking over some of the Missal rendering, this has happened.  My assumption here is that the English text should be readily understood by an audience.   This doesn't mean dumbing down the language to an 8th grade reading level (cf. ICEL), but it does mean we need to pay attention to how English speakers hear and process their native tongue.  No doubt Catholics will get used to the new language and grow in their appreciation for the Mass properly translated.  But it ain't gonna easy.

2).  Any thoughts on Cardinal Schonborn's visit and subsequent comments on Medjugorje?

I'll admit that I was a little surprised by the visit.  And his comments were really very surprising.  The Good Cardinal is a solid Dominican with impeccable orthodox credentials--he edited the Catechism!  This is not to say that support for the Medjugorje phenomenon indicates a dodgy theology.  It's just that the issue is theologically hot right now and for a cardinal of his stature  to be dipping into the boiling controversy seems unusual.  Of course, if the Medjugorje stuff gets Church approval, then he will come away looking rather prophetic, won't he?  I've noted many times before that I have no great issue with Marian apparitions.  Our Blessed Mother is perfectly capable of and free to appear when and if she so desires.  But the Keys to the Kingdom were handed to Peter and it is to Peter that Catholics must turn when we need guidance on what is and is not authentic Catholic teaching.  I've noticed a tendency among some Marian apparition enthusiasts to set these apparitions and their locutions up as a sort of alternative magisterium.  There is no alternative magisterium.

3).  You use the term "Nanny State" a lot.  What does is mean?

Obviously a derogatory term, nanny state refers to the tendency of the state over time to treat free citizens as children in its charge rather than as adults that it serves.  It just so happens that right now in the U.S. the nanny state movers and shakers are on the political left.  But there's nothing special about this.  Historically, right-wing nannies are at least as common as left-wing nannies.  The basic idea is that the state situates itself into the lives of citizens in such a way that the citizens become wards of the state.  The goal is to establish a permanent voting majority for the nanny state party by making it difficult if not impossible for any opposition party to oppose its policies w/o seeming to attack those dependent on the ruling party's largess.  For example, in Europe, there is almost no difference btw left and right parties when it comes to the social welfare state.  Both sides eagerly defend the benefits of what is essentially a socialist culture.  The left promises more services and the right just promises that those same services will be delivered more efficiently.  Those who call for a radical restructuring of the welfare system are marginalized as kooks.  Voters simply will not vote for any politician that promises to reduce the generous benefits that flow from Nanny State.

4).  Some of your homilies are good, but too many of them are way too deep for me.  You should simplify them so average people can understand them.

You are echoing the most common criticism I get about my homilies.  They are too dense for comfortable digestion.  I've taken this criticism to heart over the years and made an effort to streamline my homilies so that the message isn't lost in the rhetoric.  Looking back over my earlier homilies, I can see where this critique is spot on.  Too often I got carried away in having fun with language and image and went way overboard in composing unnecessarily complex homilies.  In my defense, my brain does not work in linear fashion; that is, my thought patterns are elliptical rather than syllogistic.  This makes for good poetry but not good preaching.  My hope is that I have managed to wrangle this temptation into some kind of submission w/o dumbing down content.  One thing I refuse to do is to assume that Catholics are stupid, wanting only pablum and platitudes in their preaching.  It's a fine wire to walk. . .help keep me balanced by commenting frequently!

5).  You and your fans seem to loathe any kind of dissent from Church teaching.  Is there no place in the Church for good faith disagreement?

Of course there is!  You couldn't put Ambrose, Augustine, Aquinas, and Bonaventure in same room and not expect some disagreement.  Catholic orthodoxy is incredibly generous and incredibly broad.  Dissent doesn't mean disagreement.  Dissent is a public declaration that the Church has incorrectly taught a significant tenet of the faith.  IOW, the Church has taught an error.  Dissenters often confuse the unwillingness of the Church to accept their views with an unwillingness on the part of the Church to listen to their views.  The sharpest weapon of the dissenters is "process."  Let's keep this question open in a dialogue until all views are heard.  The thrust of this tactic sounds reasonable until you realize that its real purpose is to keep us all talking until everyone agrees with the dissenter.  Imagine for a moment that the Church decided to ordain women.  Do you think that supporters of women's ordination would agree to keep the question in dialogue?  Of course not.  They would declare the question settled and anyone who suggested that we revisit the issue would be labeled a dissenter!  You already see this sort of thing happening with Church teaching on social justice issues.  It's important to distinguish between doubt and dissent.  There are a few Church teachings that I doubt.  My assumption however is that I simply don't understand the teachings.  I assent to them as conclusions by holding my doubts in suspension.  Dissenters tend to do the exact opposite.  They assume that b/c they have a doubt about a teaching that they are free to reject that teaching.  Cardinal Newman famously noted that a thousand doubts do not make a single dissent.  Basically, don't assume that b/c you are smart that you are smarter than 2,000 years of Church teaching!

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Coffee Bowl Browsing

BXVI asks Cardinal Schonborn to butt out of the Medjugorje mess?  Maybe.  Who knows?  Regardless, remember:  Church recognition of an apparition means nothing more than the that reported locutions are consistent with Church teaching.  Catholics are free to heed them as authentic but not required to do so. 

Danny Glover channels the neo-pagan version of Pat Robertson"His obscene opinion would be bigger news if Glover had – in the manner of others – idiotically blamed a less-fashionable deity."

Damien Thompson responds to the call of the ecclesial dinosaurs to halt the new English translation of the Missal, "What If We Just Said Wait."  D.T. suggests another approach:  "What If We Just Said Get Stuffed, You Finger-Wagging Liberals Who Wreck The Mass Every Sunday By Boring The Pants Off Us With Your Politicised Bidding Prayers, Dreary Folk Antiphons And Other Self-Aggrandising Stunts."  Sounds good.

Another reason for MA voters to give their Senate seat to Scott Brown.

Will we do most anything to lose weight?  13 weird diets

Pic of a demonic attack.  I'd be very scared.

Not your everyday bedtime reading for a toddler!

For all your mystical needs:  Mystics of the Church

Be it resolved:  "The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world." 

Video and text resources in preparation for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Another smart Democrat bails before the 2010 mid-term elections.  And this is why.

A couple of readers have asked how I choose items for Coffee Bowl Browsing.  Generally, I just click around on my fav sites and link to what I find interesting.  I also use StumbleUpon to find random sites for the odd/bizarre items that pop up on all CBB's.  I try to cover politics, Catholic interests, personal interests, and the occasional update on the coming Zombie Apocalypse.  There's no magic. . .it's just what it is:  browsing the internet while I have my bowl o'coffee.

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15 January 2010

Philosophical-theological humor

Last night I was reading the introduction to D. Stephen Long's new book, Speaking of God.  He writes about how Christians speak about the divine in worship and how this language is decidedly non-philosophical.  Pointing out that some philosophers argue that liturgical language--in philosophical terms--does not constitute genuine knowledge, he writes:

Every Sunday. . .people universally gather at a specific location and hear someone exclaim "The Word of God!" or "The body and blood of Christ" and seldom does anyone fall down laughing.    This is an odd phenomenon that elicit various and sundry explanations.  It could be a sign of moral and intellectual failure on the part of those who participate.  Perhaps they do not yet know that such claims cannot constitute genuine knowledge?  Yet the people who participate in these activities seldom throw up their hand, interrupt the goings-on and protest, "You are violating the epistemological limits that constitute proper human knowledge, or "You are using language improperly," or "What method of verification do you have to prove those claims?"  Instead, they appear untroubled that the language used might not accomplish its purpose of truthful speech about God.

Now, you may think that I am strange for thinking that this is funny.  And you would be right.  But us philosophical theologians take our jollies where we can find them.   The Dominican in me almost wishes someone would stand up during Mass and yell, "Hey, Father, can you delineate the proper criteria for deciding the epistemic limits of knowing an ultimately unknowable God?"  Of course, I'd chuckle and direct the bouncers. . .errrr. . .I mean, the ushers to escort the miscreant out, but my Dominican-tinged soul would seriously consider answering the question.

More tips for writing homilies

Here are a few more heuristic exercises for homily composition to complement the ones I posted a few days ago. . .

Exercise One: Core vs. Core

Take what you think is the core statement/line/teaching of each reading and type them out. How are they connected? How do they differ? Do they say the same thing in different ways? Does one text set up a question that another text answers? A problem that another text solves? This works well because the lectionary readings are chosen to be thematically complementary. For example, the readings for yesterday's Mass:

1 Sam: “Why has the LORD permitted us to be defeated today by the Philistines?”

Mark: “If you wish, you can make me clean.”

Connected: Preach on how sickness and illness can be understood as a kind of defeat. Where then is our victory?

Differ: God permits defeat yet He also makes clean. What is required of us to move from defeat to cleanliness?

Q&A: Why does the Lord permit defeat? Because He can make us clean. Are we being shown the need for proper humility?

Problem/Solution: What does it mean to say that the Lord permits us to be defeated? Our ultimate defeat is faithfulness and God will not force us to be faithful.

Notice that in each of these I've assumed that the texts from both 1 Sam and Mark address our contemporary concerns about disease, failure, health, and success.

Exercise Two: Random vs. random

Now, be truly daring. Rather than choosing two statements/lines/teachings from the text, randomly select them and ask the same questions. For example:

1 Sam: “Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods?”

Mark: “The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.”

Connected: Both seek out the power of God to accomplish nearly impossible tasks.  How do the actors in each reading work with grace to achieve their ends?

Differ: 1 Sam is a despairing question asked before a final defeat. Mark comes after a victory over disease. What component of the faith is missing in the defeat that guarantees that the victory over illness will be preached?

Q&A: The question in 1 Sam is a faithless question, that is, a question that belies a lack of faith in God's power to bring victory. Mark answers the question by noting that the victory achieved by Christ is worthy of public notice. What exactly is this victory? Hint: it's not about physical healing!

Problem/Solution: 1 Sam sets up the problem of how we understand the power and purpose of “foreign gods,” or the power and reason for apparently random, capricious events. Do we give these gods of chance, destruction, etc. too much control over our faith when we despair of God's attention? Mark emphasizes the need for faith in achieving wellness, the need for trusting that all things work for the good that God has ordained will always be victorious.

Exercise: Word list

List the verbs in each reading. Pick out the ones that seem to be moving in the same direction, that is, that seem to be indicating a common action. Then, after considering the overall context of the readings, think about how these verbs help/hinder/expand/diminish the theme.

For example:

went out
drew up
fetched. . .and so on. . .

can make
do will
be made
made clean
dismissed. . .and so on. . .

From 1 Sam: gathered, camped, drew up, retired
From Mark: came, kneeling, touched, made clean

The verbs from 1 Sam indicate the action of the armies in readying themselves for battle.
The verbs from Mark indicate the action of both the leper and Christ.

Possible questions:

What do the Israeli army and the leper have in common? What are they both searching for? How do they approach their respective goals? Compare the actions of the army and the leper: how are they different? Why does one fail and the other succeed? How do both events proclaim the gospel? What role does faith/surrender play in these events?

Any of these exercises can be combined with another to increase the chances of discovering an intriguing question or topic for a homily.

Updates & Prayer requests

Sitemeter is reporting that HancAquam gets an average of 450 hits day, yet has only 235 followers!  What's up with that?  Click on the Follow HancAquam link in the right side bar! ---------->

The WISH LIST has been updated to reflect current needs for the beginning of my dissertation research.  The license thesis is all but finished. . .just the boring technical stuff left to do.

The second prayer book goes into production soon.  I'm told by the folks at Liguori that the first book is selling well.  Mille grazie to all who bought it.  I'm hoping to be able to do some book signings this summer while I'm in the U.D.:  Houston, Dallas, Memphis. . .maybe St Louis.

We were worried for a while that one of our Southern Provinces's friars was trapped in Haiti.  Turns out his flight left about 2.5 hrs before the earthquake hit.  Thank God for that.  Please keep the Haitian people constantly in your prayers.

Mama Becky is doing quite well.  She and I appreciate the prayers and notes of concern for her health.  Now, please pray for her sanity.  My father retired right before Christmas!  HA!

Also, a long-time friend living in Jackson, MS reports that the freezing weather ruptured most of the water mains in the city.  This means no water for drinking, cooking, or toilets.  YIKES!  Keep those folks in your prayers as well.  How quickly a little bad weather can disrupt civilization, uh?

Looks like at least one summer course is coming my way at U.D. this summer.  Pray for a second, please.  My student budget needs the money.

Take a second and sign the petition, "We've Waited Long Enough."  This petition urges the bishops' conference to publish and implement the new English translation of the Roman Missal.  There's a rival petition floating around arguing for more delay.

As always, thanks for your support. . .Fr. Philip

Coffee Bowl Browsing

Fr. Z. reports that Celebrity Cruises has decided to stop hiring Catholic priests as chaplains.   I served as a cruise ship chaplain with Royal Caribbean during the summer of 2006, offering daily Mass and leading a Protestant service on Sunday.  I cruised from England to the Mediterranean on two back-to-back trips for a total of four weeks.  It was an unpaid job.  The cruise line gave me and a friend free passage and meals.  We shared a tiny two person room.  I second Fr. Z.'s suggestion that Catholics contact Celebrity Cruises and let them know that their business will be going elsewhere.  Keep in mind:  this isn't just about denying Catholic passengers the opportunity to fulfill their Sunday obligations.  The crew will also be denied.  They don't have the option of finding a Mass while the ship is in port.

Haiti descends into savage anarchy while rescuers attempt to save lives.

B.O. celebrates his first year in office with many of his campaign promises either unfulfilled or broken.  Like I said back in early 2008:  just another Chicago Machine politician.  Nothing special.  Our consolation prize:  50% regret their vote for The Won.

Harry "Light-Skinned, No Negro Dialect" Reid has a 71% approval rating. . .among state-run media types.  Figures.

In Catholic Boston Coakley (D) says that the "separation of Church and State" should keep Catholic docs and nurses out of the E.R.   Here's the audio.  Also, as Attorney General of MA she brokered a deal with one of the Church's most notorious child molesters in 1995, allowing him to go free and molest again.

The wisdom of government bureaucrats sets China up for a dramatic natural disaster.

The Legionaries lose another prominent American priest.  Maybe it's time for the L.C.'s to think about dissolution?

Catholics deserting the Church in Austria in record numbers.  Exit question:  how many of them actually practiced the faith?  My guess:  not many.   Predictably, the media is blaming the conservative policies of BXVI.

Archbishop teaches Pelosi the truth on Catholic freedom and conscience.   Assignment for Pelosi:  write "Conscience is not permission to do what you like" 1000x's.

Is the flame of Catholic dissent dying out?  Well, one generation of dissenters is nearing its biological end. . .but dissent has been with us since Judas.  There needs to be a study arguing for/against the following  proposition: most orthodox theologians in the U.S. are laymen.

Smoking is healthy!  Even Santa says so.

People are strange (thank God)

More signs of the coming Zombie Apocalypse. . .it's coming, folks. . .really.

14 January 2010

Help for Haiti

Most of us really can't begin to imagine what it must be like to lose everything in a natural disaster.  The sheer weight of loss and the accompanying despair is overwhelming.  Looking through the pics of the devastation wrought in Haiti by yesterday's earthquake, every good soul must feel kinship with those suffering in grief.

It is truly beyond comprehension.

Chris Johnson has a series of links for organizations providing relief in Haiti.  Pray and give what you can!

And for the record (just in case anyone out there is wondering):  Pat Robertson does N.O.T. speak for the Church when he claims that Haiti is cursed.  

13 January 2010

Tips and Exercises for Composing a Homily

On occasion I get requests from priests and deacons to post a piece on tips for composing homilies. The most common problem seems to be generating ideas for the homily from the lectionary texts.

So, here are my basic guidelines for composing a homily with three heuristic exercises to generate ideas.

General Guidelines

Keep in mind: these are the guidelines I use. I didn't find them chiseled on stone tablets nor were they delivered to me in the middle of the night by an angel. They work for me. They may or may not work for you.

1. Give yourself firm word or space limits. When I start a homily I set my document parameters at 16 point, Times New Roman, double-spaced. For a daily homily: three pages with maybe three or four lines on the fourth page. This translates into about 5 mins. For a Sunday homily: six pages, or about 11 mins. Consistency in length over time establishes a contract between the preacher and his listeners. If your congregation knows that your homily will be no more than 5 or 11 minutes, then they are prepared to pay attention. Word/space limits are also a good way to force you to get to the point quickly and avoid rambling. What you want to avoid at all costs is preaching the Homily in Search of an Idea. Like making sausages and laws, nobody wants to watch you make a homily on the spot.

2. Always have a question in mind that the homily will try to answer. The heuristic exercises below will help generate interesting questions. What you want to avoid is simply repeating or summarizing the readings. It helps to repeat the question a few times throughout the homily to keep it fresh in the minds of your listeners. Restrict yourself to One Big Question, but don't be afraid to follow up with collorary questions if necessary.

3. Remember that you are writing for the ear not the eye. Your audience will not have a text of your homily to follow along. “Writing for the ear” means:

--using and repeating key words and phrases from the text;
--unpacking theological words or concepts using ordinary language (e.g., “Christmas is the Church's celebration of the Incarnation; today the Son of God takes on human flesh to walk among us.”);
--as much as possible use present-tense verbs in an active-voice, especially when referring to action in the text (e.g., “Jesus gathers his disciples, teaching his friends that walking the Way is the key to eternal life.”);
--make use of alliteration to emphasize a point (e.g., “Christ wins the war against our wandering ways. Our work is the work of surrender.”);
--mix up simple and complex sentences so that the ear doesn't grow bored or tired;
--if you have a choice between using a comfortable metaphor or image and using a jarring or shocking image or metaphor, choose the latter but only once or twice in any single homily;
--and mostly importantly, remember: you are preaching a homily to a congregation not delivering a lecture to students!

There's no need to “dummy down” a homily; however, it's not likely that your people will appreciate a discourse on the history of the fine distinctions the Church has drawn between “hypostasis” and “persona” in a homily on the Holy Trinity. You can be intellectually challenging without being academic.

4. Homilies are meant to be challenging without being off-putting. I hear from Catholics all the time that their pastors' homilies are forgettable precisely because there is nothing in them to wake them up, nothing in them to shake things around. You don't have to be controversial in order to be challenging, but it doesn't hurt to push a few limits to keep your people thinking. I've learned the hard way: no matter what you say, you will be misunderstood, misinterpreted, misheard and you will upset or offend someone. Every congregation has what I call They Who Wait to be Offended. If you try to craft a homily with the express purpose of avoiding anything and everything that might possibly be offensive to someone, you will find yourself standing in the pulpit staring at the congregation in silence. By the same token, there's no reason to go out of your way to be intentionally offensive or controversial. If you do this, it's a sign that you believe the homily is your pet project for personal aggrandizement.

5. Assume from the start that the readings are addressing an urgent contemporary problem. The crowds in first-century Judea have the same basic existential problems and concerns that twenty-first century people wrestle with: family, love, betrayal, sin, survival, desire to succeed, fear of death and sickness, need for mercy, etc. Our circumstances are different, the basic problems of human life are the same. The Word is eternal and the human predicament is enduring.

6. Write your homily out and preach it word for word. This is probably the most debated point in practical homiletics. My profs in seminary hated this idea because it tends to produce academic papers rather than homilies. When we start writing about scriptural texts, we are tempted to fall into student mode and type out seminar papers to be read silently rather than homilies to be delivered. If you follow the guidelines above this shouldn't be a problem. Writing out a homily and reading it helps you to avoid a number of common mistakes that preachers make: delivering rambling, disjointed speeches that make you look unprepared; falling into factual or theological error by using ill-considered language or images; saying something unintentionally controversial or offensive; and it is always nice to be able to produce the text of your homily when someone calls the bishop on you for preaching heresy! If you are gifted with the ability to preach well extemporaneously and stay within a reasonable time limit, then give thanks to God daily for this gift. If you write out your homily to read, make sure you practice it out loud several times so that you aren't just reading it like you would a novel or a newspaper article. Homilies are delivered, given not simply read aloud.

Heuristic Exercises

These exercises will help you generate ideas for a homily using the lectionary readings. These are exegetical in nature only to the degree that they will get you closer to the text in order to unpack it for ideas. I do not offer these as tools for getting at the real meaning of the text, or ferreting out secret teachings. If you are studying a text and simply cannot come up with an idea to preach on, then these exercises will jump start your creative engine.

Exercise One: Saying Not

Take the text and write out what it could be saying but isn't. Literally, write: “This text could be saying X, Y, and Z.” Then ask yourself, “Is this text saying X, Y, and Z?” Following your meditation on the question, write: “This text is NOT saying X, Y, and Z.” The next question is obvious: “Well, what is it saying?” For example, take the gospel text of the adulterous woman. This text could be saying that women are more responsible for adultery than men. It could be saying that public condemnation of sinners is a good thing. It could be saying that Jesus thinks adultery is OK because he doesn't condemn the woman. Now, negate each of these by writing: “This text is not saying. . .” Keep in mind here that the point of the exercise is not to find theological truth in the text but to generate ideas for a homily. By negating what the text could be saying you set up an opposition that might produce an interesting tension that could in turn develop into an excellent question for a homily. You are still obliged to preach the truth of the gospel, so you really can't preach that Jesus thinks adultery is OK because he doesn't condemn the woman to stoning. However, your homily could be based on the question: how do we handle public sinners in the Church? This leads to questions about the nature of forgiveness and how we go about not only forgiving sin among us but also how we understand our progress in holiness as one Body. Notice for example how Jesus binds the adulterous woman to her community by pointing out that everyone in the crowd is guilty of sin as well. Wouldn't it make for an interesting homily to ask: how does sin bind us together? Now that would be a great homily!

Exercise Two: First, Then

Take the text and divide it into a series of consecutive actions. I usually cut/paste the text from the USCCB website and then divide it up in my document. Assume that the actions described in the text are ordered the way they are for specific reasons. Once you have the action of the text divided out, ask: why are these actions put in this order? More specifically, why does act B follow act A? The answer might be completely uninteresting, e.g. you have to pick up a stone before you can throw it. However, asking the question forces you to think about why the text was written the way it was and this may lead you to an insight you have missed in the past. For example, I noticed in the readings from yesterday's gospel that the people in the crowd are astonished by the authority of Jesus' teaching before he performs an exorcism. Now, we can make the boring assumption that this is simply the way the actual historical event progressed. So what? But if we ask, “Why are they astonished by the authority of his teaching before he demonstrates his authority in the exorcism?” There could be a hundred reasons for this. Good! You have homily material for the next one hundred times this reading comes up in the lectionary cycle. What if the text is one where Paul lists the virtues of the individual who lives in the Spirit. He writes that this person is: merciful, loving, prudent, kind, patient, and fervent. Now, objectively speaking, it is very likely these are listed in this order for no particular reason (this is exactly what I did here). But you are assuming that they are listed as such for a very good reason. What could that reason be? Well, being merciful comes well before being fervent in the list. What could this indicate for our spiritual growth? Maybe nothing at all. But ask the question. Why should we be patient before we are fervent? How does being kind follow from being prudent? It's one thing to preach that we should be merciful, loving, prudent, kind, patient, and fervent. It's quite another to preach that we should be loving before we are fervent, or that being fervent in the faith is a product of first being loving.

Exercise Three: That's Absurd

If your reading contains a statement or a question, take that statement or question to its logical absurdity and see what happens. Every often you will find that a teaching in scripture will state a truth that either cannot be reduced to a more basic truth or that it can be reduced to something more fundamental. If it can't be reduced, then you have at least one topic for a homily. If it can be reduced, then you have not only the stated truth but the underlying truth as well. For example, Paul writes to the Ephesians: “In [Christ] we were...chosen, destined...so that we might exist for the praise of his glory...” Say to yourself, “This is absurd! Paul is claiming that the only reason for our existence is to praise God for his glory? The ONLY reason? Really? So, out of the billions of souls on earth, we alone were picked out to exist for seventy or so years to do nothing else but praise God? No family, no friends, no jobs? Just stand around and praise God. That's our reason for existing? Is this what we sign on to do when we were baptized?” Obviously, this is not what Paul is saying. But reducing his claim to an absurdity invites you to argue against the absurdity and clarify what it means to exist in order to praise God. Left alone, Paul's claim is interesting enough for a homily, but what else is there to do with it but repeat it with emphasis, or explain it in pedantic terms. You might even set up a challenge to Paul by saying, “I'm happy to praise God, of course, but I think I might exist for other reasons. . .” What are those reasons? Can those reasons be tied back to praising God? Can raising a family, or cultivating friendships, or working faithfully at a job be considered a form of praise? Would your congregation think so? By refusing to take a teaching at face value or in its simplest terms you set up a contrast that will produce another way of reading the text. And even if you reject your contrary reading as false, you have an idea for how to present a false reading of the text and a chance to correct it in your homily.

I want to emphasize again: these exercises are not meant to lead you to correct readings of the texts. Their sole purpose is to get your creative juices flowing so that you can present the gospel in a way that is interesting and useful to your listeners.

(This is more or less a first draft.  Revisions will follow as better examples occur to me, so check back on occasion.)

12 January 2010

Excerpt from Treasures Holy & Mystical

Here's an excerpt from the introduction to my second prayer book. . .you will have to buy the book to read the rest. . .hehehehe. . .


Anyone who prays will tell you that praying brings you closer to God. But what does it mean to be “closer to God”? If it's true that we “live and move and have our being” in God, then how is it possible to get any closer? One answer is to say that prayer is the best way to clarify and improve our awareness that we live and move and have our being in God. We don't actually move any closer to God in prayer, but rather we sharpen our sense that God is always with us. God is always with us, but we are not always with God. This is an excellent answer, one that most any good Catholic would give. But being proficient at prayer, being someone keenly aware of the presence of God is only half way to being what our tradition calls a mystic. Now, you might say that you not only have no desire to be a mystic, you have no vocation to living a mystic's life! Though an understandable response given what most people think being a mystic amounts to, it is also an unfortunate one. Why unfortunate? Because being a mystic is what you have already agreed to become. By denying that you are called to the mystical life you deny the very vocation you took on at baptism. What? You thought baptism was all about washing away original sin and becoming a member of the Church? Well, it is! And what do you think being a mystic is all about? Living in a cave, eating locusts and berries, and having visions of angels and such? Not so much. However, that too could be the life of a mystic. It's just not the life that most mystics live. . .

Coffee Bowl Browsing

Mark Shea tries to figure out what a "neo-Catholic" is. . .being one myself, I find the term offensive.  Oh well.  I've been called far worse.

Immigration is one of those issues that makes me crazy. . .especially when the USCCB takes it up as a Catholic cause.  As a part Choctaw indian, my general response is:  All you people need to go home!

Fr. Z. asks whether or not the Church should be blessing laptops and cell phones.  I say, "YES!"  And to demonstrate my fervor, my second book of prayers contains a prayer of consecration for the holy use of a computer.

I'm speechless (don't fall over!):  four women allowed to marry in the Catholic Church!  Does the Pope know about this?

If Google is a marker for cultural progress. . .we're in big trouble.

Once again the Pope is accused of being Catholic.  When will this bigotry end, O Lord?!

Sensible advice from a Jesuit.  Yes, I said it. .  .the Jesuit is right. 

This is what happens when you immerse Americans in portrayals of Platonic neo-pagan utopias that paint western civilization as an engine of greed, violence, and stupidity.

Vatican Radio reviews "Avatar," saying that the film is "a wink towards the pseudo-doctrines which have made ecology the religion of the millennium."  Notice:  the article uses the verb "reviews" for secular reviewers, yet the Vatican "passes judgment."  Figures.

Democrat Chris Dodd says that ObamaCare is "hanging by a thread."  It's more accurate to say that this monster is hanging by an umbilical cord. . .about 1.7 million umbilical cords a year.

Members of Congress burned through a couple of million in tax dollars to live it up at the failed Copenhagen Conference.  They would have done more good by staying home. . .or by staying in Denmark.

There may be just a little evidence of a double-standard in the media over the seriousness of racism. You decide. 

I have nothing against the Hamptons. . .but if you want to nuke them, here's your chance.

NB.  I've deleted the link to the pop-cultural depictions of  Jesus.  Thanks to those of you who picked up on some of the language and images there that I missed.

11 January 2010

Is his teaching enough?

1st Week OT (Tues): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Either in person or on television we've all seen preachers exercising what they call healing ministries—miraculous cures, exorcisms, thousands of believers throwing off sin and coming to Christ. The more dramatic demonstrations of the Spirit include stadiums full of people being “slain in the Spirit” at the direction of the evangelist: dancing, laughing, crying, falling out, and speaking in tongues. These mass celebrations are evidence to many of us that the evangelist-in-charge speaks and acts with the authority of God to accomplish a divine purpose. To some, admittedly the less credulous among us, these shows of spiritual power seem touched more by the spirit of a circus than the spirit of God. We probably all know someone who will point to the antics of Christians on TV and say, “See. You people are not only gullible but a little crazy too!” It's all just mass hypnosis, or mob rule, or even the sort of public catharsis that Aristotle finds so useful in good theater. Not everyone is going to be astonished by the wonder-working power of the Church at prayer. Without prejudice in deciding the authenticity of televangelist ministries, we can say that Jesus managed to astonish and amaze with nothing more than his teaching. Mark reports in this morning's gospel that Jesus wowed the crowd by doing nothing more than preaching and teaching God's word with authority. It is only after he has captured their undivided attention that he performs an exorcism. And he cast out the demon only because it is outraged enough to speak against him. Are we still astonished by his teaching alone? Or do we need proofs of his authority?

Let's admit that this is something of a false dilemma. We can yearn for both Christ's teaching and demonstrations of his divine power. However, it's no accident that in this gospel account Jesus teaches first and then exorcises demons. Why? Imagine that the order were reversed. First, the exorcisms and then the teaching. Would the crowd still have been astonished? Very likely but for very different reasons. Had Jesus shown that he commanded unclean spirits first, the crowd would likely see him as a magician, or a prophet, or some sort of holy man not unlike many others at the time who laid claim to the ministry of healing through casting out demons. His authority as a man of God would be established on his demonstrated ability to perform acts of supernatural prowess. Sure, those in the crowd would have still listened to his teaching afterward, but the authority of the teaching itself would be based on supernatural acts publicly performed and not on the person of Christ himself. We are not saved from sin because the man Jesus could command demons and heal the sick. We are saved because the man Jesus is the Christ.

Jesus is able to do what he does because of who he is. His identity as the Christ is what gives him authority and his authority as the Christ is what establishes his teaching as divine. Mark is making the point here that Jesus is the exception to the normal rules that govern what makes the teaching and the teachers of God's word authentic. Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is the teaching itself given human form, the embodiment of the Holy Spirit of love that the Father and Son have for one another. When his words are heard and his deeds witnessed, the crowd is stunned not by the truth of what he says and does. They are amazed by Truth himself; that is, they witness a manifestation, an epiphany of Truth living, breathing among them. The unclean spirit, seeing him for who he is, does not cry out in despair, “You have the power to cast me out!” It cries, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Even demons know the truth.

So, are we still astonished by Christ's teaching alone? Or do we need proofs of his authority? In truth, his teaching is all the proof we need of his authority. He is the Holy One of God!

Coffee Bowl Browsing

How Nanny-Statism killed California. . .will we let this be a lesson for us all?

Roger Kimball on the coming of age of "democratic despotism."

No, Harry Reid is not a racist. . .but it sure is fun to watch the Dems sputter, jump, babble, and dodge to explain away their faux outrage at Trent Lott's gaffe while defending Reid's.  Besides, I don't think the GOP really wants Reid to resign. . .they need him right where he is to take back the Senate.

B.O. is failing as President b/c he doesn't know the American people". . .he is a man trying to govern a nation he doesn't genuinely know, stuck trying to communicate with, as we continue to find out, a nation that never really knew him when they elected him, so superficial and oh my God fantastic, if unrealistic, was the press bubble that surrounded him during the campaign."

On why we need the notion of human nature, or Why Nominalism is the Root of All Evil

Fr. Z. highlights a parochial program for establishing an all-male altar server guild.  I have to admit that I am still just enough of a 90's feminist to cringe at the idea of taking a co-ed server guild and making it all-male.  Don't get me wrong:  I get that that the boys love it, but my well-trained 90's feminist reflex jumps every time!  It doesn't help any that the usual suggestion for the girls' guild has something to do with cleaning, sewing, or wash up after Mass.  OY!

Looks like the anti-Catholic socialists in the U.K. want to see the RCC under persecution again.

If you are a compulsive back seat driver, you shouldn't watch this video

Ten apocalyptic scenarios. . .#5 is my fav. . . yea, physicists are very dangerous!  ;-) 

10 January 2010

Grace trains. . .

Baptism of the Lord: Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

When hearing confessions or giving spiritual direction to university students—especially men—I frequently draw an analogy between developing spiritually and developing physically. Most of us have no illusions about what it takes to lose weight, build muscle, increase stamina, and get ourselves to the point where we are as fit as we can be. The whole unpleasant process begins with radical changes to the diet. Slowly increasing exercise. Maybe even a little weight-lifting. If you've ever started down this road, you know that you will not drop 25lbs in a week, nor will you be able to show off a six-pack by the weekend. Getting a flabby, overweight, diet-stressed body into some kind of shape requires determination, focus, commitment, and lots and lots of time. It wouldn't hurt if you had someone with experience to help. A professional trainer. A coach. Even a friend who knows how to keep you motivated. All of this applies to our spiritual growth as well. Being Catholics, we understand the sacramental nature of creation: the physical world is a sign of the spiritual, an imperfect revelation of God that both points to God's presence and makes Him present to us. We cannot, therefore, rightly divide the human body from the human soul and expect our spiritual lives to be fruitful. Just as the body needs proper diet, exercise, and a little hard-lifting, the soul needs its strength-training too.

We start our life-long regime at The Jesus Gym on the day we are baptized. From that moment on, “the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age. . .” As Catholics, we don't have any trouble understanding grace as divine help, a gift from God to assist us when we need it. What we do have trouble understanding sometimes is that the help we get isn't always the help we want. Like the skinny 18 year old freshman who wants ripped abs in a week to impress his girlfriend, we sometimes approach the throne in prayer and ask not for assistance to accomplish some goal, but rather we ask God to accomplish the goal for us, instead of us. The freshman is very disappointed to hear that his six-pack will take a semester or two with lots of hard work. And we are no less disappointed to learn that grace does not prevent us from traveling the ways of the godless nor desiring what the world would have us desire. Instead, grace trains us how to be godly men and women. The hard work of chiseling out a ripped spiritual six-pack is all ours. But we do not work alone.

And not only do we not work alone, we cannot work alone. Christianity is a team sport. We play as a team, so we train as a team and the perfect model for teamwork is the Holy Trinity: three divine persons, one God. The more perfectly we imitate this model of Love in action, we closer we get to that Jesus Gym spirit we've been wanting. As noted above, the first step on this new regime is baptism. I did not baptize myself. Nor did any of you. The Church baptized us all with parents, godparents, friends, fans, by-standers, accidental tourists, all the angels and saints—every one in attendance. And because we were baptized by the Church, we might think that the only thing we got for our trouble is a life-long membership to the Jesus Gym. As wonderful as that is, it's not even close to the full baptismal package. Paul writes to Titus, “[God] saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” First, notice: God saved. . .He poured out. We did nothing (nor could we do anything) to initiate the renewal of our relationship with God. It was His move and His alone. Second, notice: through Christ, by the Holy Spirit, through our Savior, by his grace. Christ Jesus is the only mediator, the only mechanism; he is the only way. Third, notice: us, us, our, we, heirs. Not “Me & Jesus.” Not “Jesus, MY Personal Lord & Savior.” His grace is poured out on US. . .WE are saved by the bath of rebirth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. . .Christ is OUR Savior. . .And WE are made HEIRS in hope of eternal life. This is what baptism does for us and to us: we are made just (righteous), so that we might work with God's abundant graces to get our spiritual bodies into the best shape possible.

But even before we can be baptized in water and the Spirit; even before we can be offered the chance at a right-relationship with the Father through Christ; even before it is possible for us to be heirs to hope in eternal life. . .The Jesus Gym must have a grand opening. It only makes sense. Plans were laid long ago with the prophets. They rounded up the initial investors. After a few false teachers and at least one wash-out (ahem), momentum starting building. Finally, the Plan was conceived and announced. And before it was fully born, there was one enthusiastic booster. Then, with some astronomical fanfare and a couple of sheep, the Plan was born, drawing its first foreign investors twelve days later. With this starting capital and two excellent CEO's, the Plan matured for a while and opened for business for the first time at a wedding in Cana. . .but the Grand Opening, the opening that makes The Jesus Gym not just another gym but The Gym for all peoples, tribes, nations, and tongues, this opening takes place at the River Jordan where Jesus' first booster baptizes him with water and then the Father baptizes him with His Spirit, saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Now, The Jesus Gym is open for business.

If, after all the bad analogizing, you are still reading, let me quickly tell you why Jesus was baptized. Here's a nice summary from the CCC: “The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God's suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners;. . .Already he is anticipating the 'baptism' of his bloody death. Already he is coming to 'fulfill all righteousness,' that is, he is submitting himself entirely to his Father's will: out of love he consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins. . .”(n. 536). Remember, earlier we said that the Holy Trinity is the perfect model of teamwork. By imitating the work of the Trinity we come closer to the spiritual perfection for which we were made. By submitting to baptism, Christ demonstrated his acceptance of his Father's plan for our salvation. This shouldn't sound all that unusual: three divine persons, one God—perfect Love in action. The Son submits in love to take on human flesh in order to bring the Father's offer of renewal to us. And not only does he deliver the invitation, he becomes our sin; dies for us; rises again to the Father; and sends the Holy Spirit as our guide. The whole of his public ministry, inaugurated by the River Jordan, was to proclaim the Father's invitation and to leave us a body of teaching that serves to reveal what grace in action look likes. The Gospels answer the question: what does the perfected follower of Christ look like? Out of love, she dies for her friends.

Grace trains us for the godly life. What is the godly life? It is not scrupulous moral behavior. It is not meticulous orthodoxy. It is not righteous anger at injustice. It is not any one of these alone. The godly life is the life Christ left for us to follow. The godly life begins with baptism, grows with the Church, and ends with “Out of love, he ____for his friends.” How you fill in that blank will depend on how well you used your time and strength at The Jesus Gym. Most of us will spend our lives trying to decide if we have the courage to put “died” or “suffered” in that blank. Grace trains. But you have to do the work.