27 July 2007

We always give thanks. . .

Artist: Sister Kristine Haugen, ocdh Hermitage Arts (Please see link for Hermitage Arts on the right for Gallery and ordering information.)

22 July 2007

Normal adolescent questioning: Is this really unfaith? Atheism?

Recently a mother approached an AOL bulletin board with questions regarding her adolescent daughter and the serious questioning she was going through with regard to her faith in God. The term atheism was thrown around, but left undefined; while most of the respondents pointed out the importance of this phase in the girl's faith development and encouraged the mother to continue dealing with the situation as she had been doing, one person posted she was concerned that this child had "cut herself off from God" at such a crucial time of her life. It seemed important to me to respond to this, not least because I am always amazed to find Catholics who believe that simply (or rather, ostensibly) questioning the existence of God (or of inadequate notions of God!) is genuine atheism or, more importantly, represents genuine unfaith and the relative (much less the absolute!) absence of God from the person's life. Here then (with some redaction of the opening) is that response:

Sorry, but how can we say this young girl has "cut herself off" from God??? He dwells within her; he is part of her very being (remember Ratzinger's work on the dialogical character of the soul?). Has she closed herself off to the life that is deep within her summoning her to grow and be? Has she closed herself to love, to being present for and with others? No, as her Mother's description of things makes very clear, she has not. She is questioning, yes, and doubting, yes, but how else is one to move from childish imitative faith to a more independent and mature faith of her own? To question, and even to doubt seriously is not the same as sin where we do reject God's presence (even this cannot make him absent from within us or our own subjective world). It is a way to actually engage with God and his creation --- a God who is always bigger than the notions of him we are taught as children --- and certainly it can be a way our faith matures and deepens rather than leading us away from faith itself.

On the subjective side of the equation (the side of the subject who is doubting or seeking), better serious questioning and doubt than a "faith" which never matures beyond the immature credulity and images of God that are best outgrown or transcended. The Apostle Thomas seriously doubted, and his doubt prepared him for God's revelation; it did not close him to it. And on the objective side of the equation (the side of objective reality: what is really there apart from the subject who is doubting), we must remember our OT: "if I go down into the depths of sheol, you are there . . .". God reveals himself as the One who will be with us in season and out; his name means he will be the One who he will be and implies this faithful being with us no matter what.

Again, the Apostle Thomas doubted as seriously as anyone could, and God did not reject him, did not absent himself from him. Indeed, he revealed himself in a fresh and heretofore unheard of and impossible way. Thomas' doubt CAN (and some commentators rightly suggest, should) be read as a recognition that the resurrected Christ had also to be the crucified Christ or he would not be believable, and isn't this the absolute truth? Isn't this the heart of our Gospel faith? We believe in a scandalous God, one who stretches former categories and ordinary ways of knowing him, coming to us in weakness, and kenosis. While we reject NOTIONS of God, we do not necessarily reject God himself, and in serious doubting and questioning we do not cut ourselves off from God, but open to finding him (indeed, we are often desperate to find him) in new and more profound ways.

Again, what is sometimes called atheism is rarely truly that, for the person continues to believe in objective value, continues to search for, be open to, and affirm meaning (of which God is ALWAYS the source and ground), continues to love others in a way which is (and can only be) empowered by God and open to knowing God --- eventhough the word God is rejected, and certain notions of him (many of which OUGHT to be rejected as parodies of the real God) are no longer helpful. It is nearly impossible to be consistently atheistic (this requires the rejection of meaning as such), and when we are speaking of an adolescent making the transition to more mature faith, the things called "atheism" are far from the embittered, cynical, nihilistic positions characteristic of genuine atheism.

19 July 2007

Invocation: The essence of the Christian vocation (Reflection developed from the July 17th post):

Today's readings (Exodus 3:13-20, Psalm 105, Matt 11:28-38) center on God's revelation of his name and the instruction that we invoke it in our lives and ministry. Because of this I found myself thinking about a film that came out a couple of years ago. Two images in particular have stuck with me, and they are relevant to today's lections.

The first involves an emotional interview with the head of the camp (the film is a documentary of a religious Summer camp) where she expounds on the evils of Harry Potter. She is especially concerned that children not be taught or try to emulate the use of spells and incantations (the superstitious or "magical" use of formulae and names in order to influence or control the forces of nature, etc). As she rightly implied, such things demonstrate a lack of trust in the providence of God --- and more!

The second image is of a young girl trying to take with utter seriousness the lesson she had just learned about the importance of praying and living in the name of Jesus Christ, and the injunction to invoke the name of the Lord. She is jumping up and down shouting at a badly-thrown bowling ball, "Go straight, in the NAME OF JESUS, Go Straight!!!" Rarely have I seen anything more ironic than the juxtaposition of these two images. It probably goes without saying that something here has gone terribly wrong with an important piece of Christian teaching. Indeed, invocation has been distorted into incantation, the very thing the camp head decried!

Today's first reading is the key to understanding what is involved in genuine invocation of God's name. Although the lection uses the translation I AM, for the name YHWH, the Hebrew is more dynamic and filled with promise: it really means "I will be the One who I will be" and includes the implication that God will be faithful to himself, and will abide with us in season and out. When seen in this light the revelation of God's name is really a summary of what is involved in the covenants God makes with mankind. It reprises God's side of the covenant(s) and implies what our side will mean as well.

Invoking God's name means calling on the One who reveals himself as he who "will be who I will be." Thus, it also means letting this actually happen --- letting it be realized in our lives. It means that we allow ourselves to be open to the WHOLE person, not simply to aspects or characteristics of them we understand already or find congenenial. When we pray in the name of the Trinity, for instance, we open ourselves to a love greater and more sustaining and comforting than anything we can imagine. But, it is also a love which judges and purifies, chastens and challenges.

In this sense invocation is an act of vulnerability, not one of control. It does not mean insisting things go as we want, but rather, that we will allow them them to go as God wills and empowers. In the imagery of today's Gospel, we take upon ourselves the yoke of Christ, the freeing burden of humilty and obedience.

Invocation has a second and related sense then: it is our own acceptance of a commission or vocation to live our lives in the name of another rather than in our own name. It is not our prayers only that are to be undertaken in God's name, but every breath, action, and aspiration or accomplishment of our lives.

The story I began with says it is easy to get this wrong, easy to turn invocation into incantation, easy to trivialize and distort what should be the most profound act we undertake, the continuing ratification of God's covenant with us in a way which glorifies the Name of God. And in this week where the LAST Harry Potter book is awaited with bated breath in some circles (and Stillsong is among these), it is a good time to examine our own praxis with regard to the invocation of God's name. Does it really glorify God (that is, does it reveal God, or allow him to reveal himself, on his own terms)? Is it really an act of vulnerability and the ratification of the covenant, our commitment to letting God be the One he wills to be with and for us and our world? Or, has it degenerated into a more or less subtle form of incantation?

18 July 2007

17 July 2007

In the Name of Jesus!!

This Thursday's readings begin with the Exodus story of Moses' commissioning by God, and with God's revelation of his name. It is a name best translated as, "I will be the One whom I will be" with the implication of complete and utter faithfulness to Godself, and to those he calls to himself. Following this is the responsorial psalm which begins, "Give thanks to the Lord, INVOKE HIS NAME, make known among the nations his deeds. . ." Finally, there is the Gospel from Matthew of the "Great invitation": come all to me you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

WIth all these references to name (and to the idea of being appropriately yoked to Christ) I guess it should not surprise me that the images I have in my brain are taken from a film from last year involving a children's Summer Bible camp where kids are taught to be "soldiers for Christ" and given lessons in the importance of praying (and acting) in the name of God. In particular I recall a scene in one of the out-takes where a young girl is standing at the foot of a bowling lane just having rolled a not especially good ball. She is jumping up and down screaming, "go straight, In the NAME of JE- SUS!! In the NAME OF JESUS, I command you, go straight!!" or something rather similar. Counterposed to this image is one of a tirade by the woman who taught the girl this style of "prayer," against Harry Potter (the books, movies, phenomenon, characters, author --- you name it), the demonic aspects of witchcraft, especially against the use of spells and INCANTATIONS. Afterall, one should never use magic words or formulae to influence reality in a superstitious way!!! Well, the irony of the juxtaposition of these two images was pretty powerful for me. What was this little girl doing, and what had she been taught if it was not INCANTATION??? Certainly this is not a Christian notion of what it means to invoke the name of God!! Invocation is NOT incantation!

So what are Thursday's readings trying to say to us about the Name of God, and what it means to invoke it? The first thing I think is that whatever else invocation of a name is, it implies we are faithful to the one named and to the meaning (or better, the content) of the name. Essentially then, invoking God's name implies our being faithful to God and entails a commitment to (as his name says clearly) let him be the one he will be for us; it means allowing God to reveal himself on his own terms, in his own good time, and according to his own infinite wisdom. Further, since acting in the name of another means acting in their authority and so, being empowered BY them, invocation will also mean that our prayer is something done in God's power and authority, not our own.

Names are powerful symbols. They open us to the person as a whole rather than to various characteristics and partial aspects of their being. Again,when we call another by name we commit ourselves to allowing them to reveal themselves on their own terms rather than just to certain things about them we find congenial or admirable. The name symbolizes (makes present to us) the whole person. Accepting a commission to go in the name of another and to make known their deeds, is to accept a commission to allow that name (person) to be revealed in integrity and fidelity. Invocation thus has a narrow sense (calling or calling upon the name of the other), and a broader sense (being the one who is the counterpart of the one invoked in whatever way is really appropriate). Fundamentally, invocation is a covenental act: it is that act which reflects the humility and the docility to allow our lives to be defined in terms of another.

Incantation, of course is another matter entirely. It involves the superficial and superstitious use of another's name (or some other formula or "magic" term) in an attempt to coerce reality to correspond to our own needs and desires. Unfortunately, ending and/or beginning our prayers with the formula, "In the name of. . ." can sometimes be more incantation than invocation. We may not scream and shout out our demands as the young girl did in the movie, but all too often we forget that ALL prayer is the work of God in us ---- God's revelation of himself on his own terms and in his own time. We are asked to pray and live our lives in the name of Jesus Christ --- and so, in the power of the Spirit of God. Only when we allow God to be the one he will be, have we REALLY invoked God's name. Everything else is incantation, and as unworthy of Christians as any other act of superstition or magic.

14 July 2007

a man fallen among thieves

Tonight's Gospel reminded me of the following poem by e.e. cummings. He captures so very well, what being a good samaritan involves for us sometimes, and more, simply being a Christian for the least of the least amongst us.

a man who had fallen among thieves

a man who had fallen among thieves
lay by the roadside on his back
dressed in fifteenthrate ideas
wearing a round jeer for a hat

fate per a somewhat more than less
emancipated evening
had in return for consciousness
endowed him with a changeless grin

whereon a dozen staunch and leal
citizens did graze at pause
then fired by hypercivic zeal
sought newer pastures or because

swaddled with a frozen brook
of pinkest vomit out of eyes
which noticed nobody he looked
as if he did not care to rise

one hand did nothing on the vest
its wideflung friend clenched weakly dirt
while the mute trouserfly confessed
a button solemnly inert.

Brushing from whom the stiffened puke
i put him all into my arms
and staggered banged with terror through
a million billion trillion stars

ee cummings

I will have to look to see what book of poems this one is originally from, but it is contained in the Complete Poems of E.E.Cummings.

11 July 2007

Motu Proprio, "Summorum Pontificum"

Well, the Motu Proprio authorizing the widespread use of the Tridentine Mass has been announced, and will become effective on September 14th. Unfortunately, the Motu Proprio is not limited to the Mass and allows for dual rites of Baptism and Confirmation as well, not to mention the older Roman Breviary which was extensively reformed over a seven year period ending @1971. The simple fact is there are serious theological reasons to view the Motu Proprio with concern. This is not merely a matter of language or the trappings of a liturgy which fosters a greater reverence, more sense of mystery or the like. It is a matter of serious theological differences, not only in the "limited" area of liturgy, but in ecclesiology, Christology, etc between the Tridentine and the current Ordo Missae.

The people enthused over the Motu Proprio seem to believe it is the beginning of a wholesale turning back of the clock in liturgy and theology to a pre-Vatican II period. That is certainly naive, but it may WELL occasion an outright schism in the Church over the next decade or so. These enthusiasts also characterize those of us who are concerned and cautious about the ramifications of the implementation of the Motu Proprio as "Haters of the ancient and eternal Mass" or "haters of Latin." They suggest we are afraid of the Tridentine Mass, or of a liturgy of beauty and reverence. Give me a break!!!

What seems clear to me at the same times these folks bemoan the poor level of catechesis in the post Vatican II Church they have not understood the significant theological reforms and underpinnings of the current Ordo Missae. Christ's presence in the Proclaimed and preached Word is underscored in today's normative (ordinary) Mass. So is his presence in the Assembly. These are both downplayed (if recognized at all) in the Tridentine rite. It is not hard to find parodies of the current Ordo Missae in the descriptions traditionalists provide, but it is almost impossible to find accurate descriptions of the Masses most of us Catholics attend day in and day out in most every parish and diocese in the world. These ARE liturgies of aesthetic quality, of reverence, power, and profundity. They are also liturgies where being a mere spectator to the priest's special and individual communication with God is not acceptable, where clericalism at the expense of the mission and dignity of the laity and their vocation in the world is unacceptable, where God's immanence is as important as his transcendence, and where the incarnation is not a cause for scandal as it seems to be for many traditionalists who want a Mass which is not sullied by the requirements of meeting and greeting one's neighbor or embodying Christ for one another right there in the assembly.

I sincerely hope Pope Benedict XVI is correct that this Motu Proprio will not be an occasion for division, much less of outright schism, but with a Church using different Offices (Breviary vs Liturgy of the Hours), different rites of baptism and confirmation, different Masses with different liturgical calendars and lectionaries as well as different underlying theologies of Eucharist, Church, lay vocation, views of ordained priesthood, and the presence of Christ in the Mass, I can't help but be concerned that Benedict has been naive in his analysis of the negative potential of this Motu Proprio which rejects (from what I have heard), both the wisdom, wishes, and concerns of the majority of Bishops of the Church in the world, and the not-so hidden agenda of many Tridentine enthusiasts to turn back the clock to pre-Vatican II liturgical theology. That is especially true as I read various bulletin boards where traditionalists have adopted a posture of gloating while discounting the real concerns the majority of Bishops (much less the rest of us!) have expressed.

Time will certainly tell. For those of us who truly believe in the urgency of Christ's prayer, "That they may all be One" (which surely includes Benedict XVI!) ---- the next few years may be some of the saddest and most tragic we will ever see. I hope not, and I pray both that Benedict XVI is correct in his analysis of the solution to the disunity that exists in the church today, and that Vatican II's wisdom and the movement of the Spirit in that regard will continue to be manifest as the real CONTEXT for the Motu Proprio, but I am not sanguine.

09 July 2007

Final Oblature with Camaldolese Benedictines

Well, last Friday (July 6th) I celebrated my final Oblature with Trans-figuration Monastery in Windsor, NY. Transfig-uration is a Camaldolese Benedictine monastery of nuns, the only monastery of Camaldolese nuns in the United States. Sister Donald Corcoran OSB CAM (Prioress), received my oblature, and there were several other Oblates present, both from Transfiguration (Shirley L.), as well as from New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, CA, and Incarnation Monastery in Berkeley, CA. The brief ceremony was held in the former convent chapel of my parish Church between the homily and offertory which allowed my parish community (my MAIN community really) to celebrate and support me in this step. Afterwards a few of us including most of the Oblates, Sister Donald, some parishioners and my pastor went out for breakfast. It was a great celebration and I was glad to have a chance for people to meet one another!

One of the reasons I decided to affiliate with the Camal-dolese was their triple charism of eremitism, cenobitism, and evan-gelization.(More about that in a bit.) The fact that they live under the Rule of Benedict was also important. While I wrote my first plan of life for the Diocese back in 1985 or so, over the years it became clear to me that this was simply not sufficient for a diocesan hermit, despite it being all the Canon calls for. A personal Plan or Rule of Life needs to be subsumed under a larger, more vital and challenging Rule, and one that has a history of successful monastic formation and inspiration. By the time I rewrote my Rule/Plan two years ago, it had become clear to me that the Rule of Benedict was the way to go here, and added to that was the Constitutions and Statutes of the Camaldolese Benedictines. When I finished, it seemed clear that my own living had been formed by these influences and my own Plan of Life needed to continue to be informed by these sources. Otherwise, the personal Plan of Life becomes a description of what one is doing, but can lack the scope necessary to ensure growth and sufficient challenge.

And of course hermits need community. The stereotype of misanthropic recluses hardly fits any healthy hermit today (though healthy recluses there are!), and especially does not fit any Diocesan hermits who represent this form of consecrated life in the Church (such a person would never be admitted to vows I don't think, and likely would never even make it beyond the first appointment with the Vicar of Consecrated Life or Religious). The Camaldolese have @10 centuries of balancing eremitic and cenobitic life under their cowls, all while maintaining a simultaneous third emphasis on evangelization. Their triple charism is inspiring to me, and clearly what Christians of all sorts need modelled for them today. For Diocesan hermits, the Camaldolese story of Saint Romuald is apt to strike a chord as it did in me. Romuald, afterall, went about bringing hermits under the Rule of Benedict and also brought them to live in Lauras quite often. The lone hermit with neither Rule, nor superior, nor Tradition, nor roots, was anathema to him, and I suspect Diocesan hermits today would often find Romuald has anticipated their needs. This is even truer of non-canonical hermits living in today's world ---- hermits who have even less meaningful contexts for their lives than do Canon 603 hermits.

Chapel at St Perpetua Parish
Sister Donald made an interesting obser-vation during her com-ments intro-ducing the cere-mony. She noted that I had told her how important my parish community was to me, what a blessing really, and then she suggested that this is probably the way consecrated (vowed) life will look for the most part in the future: solitary Sisters, or Sisters living in twos at most, living in parish communities and looking to the parish to be their primary community as they give their lives for (or at least live them integrally in) that parish. I think she is right in this, and more than I could ever have imagined, I know how it is that having a hermit in the parish who is really dependent upon the parish as her primary community changes the way we see one another (and ourselves as well)!! The Oblature ceremony brought our interdependence out strongly as it included a promise to support my commitment in prayer, etc over the years. I am hoping that the parish community is beginning to know how important they are to my own fulfillment of my vocation. I think that is a perspective that is new for them and one which can only help the parish grow in prayer and vigor (not that they are lacking in either --- they are not, and that is one of the reasons I am so very fortunate).