27 December 2008

Christmas at Stillsong

Christmas Morning (1:00 am, 2007 picture) prior to Vigils (Office). I love the way the picture picks up the reflections in the picture glass.

Christmas Night, also prior to Vigils.

24 December 2008

In Memoriam, Tom Malanca b: Jan 8, 1940; d: Dec 24, 2008

In the above picture, taken after Christmas eve Mass, 2007, Tom (above) is on the left with his wife Aggie, Sons (John and Robert) and Daughter in Law (Autumn). Today, just one year later, Tom Malanca died of a heart attack after a long and truly courageous struggle with illness. He had just returned from the hospital yesterday and was happy to be home. To say how much St Perpetua parish will miss Tom is impossible. Our celebration of Christmas is bittersweet and we trust that he is celebrating his own truest homecoming during this feast of light. We celebrate with him despite our sadness, for his faith was honest and profound, and he was a man of generosity and integrity of whom, in this season focusing on the Incarnation and our own vocations to incarnate the Word of God, I personally believe God is proud. Echoing the statement at Jesus' baptism, I can easily hear him summing up Tom's life, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased!" Picture Above right: Tom at Son, Rob's, and Daughter in Law, Autumn's, wedding. Picture taken by family.

Singing with the choir at rehearsal, Christmas Eve, 2007, Tom is on the right. Singing was one of the things he truly loved, and as our pastor announced tonight, we trust that now he is singing with the choirs of heaven.

I especially ask that you keep Aggie and the rest of Tom's family in your prayers this Christmas season.

SURPRISE! Christmas Eve Day 2008

(Artist unknown. Credit will be given as possible.)

This evening on Christmas we celebrate the response to God's Word Jesus is and will grow in grace and stature to become. (Remember that Christmas is the Feast of the Nativity and that Incarnation involves the whole of Jesus' life and death.) We should be clear that our own capacity for incarnation is similar to that of Jesus'.

Each of us is called to become an incarnation of the Word of God, though not in the precise sense as Jesus. Each of us is called to be Daughter or Son, a response to the One who calls us to authentic humanity and to be heirs of his own Kingdom, though again, not in a way which obviates Jesus' uniqueness as Incarnate Word. The need to hold together both parts of this paradox is one of the most serious in theology, and one of the most difficult.

It is interesting to consider "what if" questions from time to time, and the question regarding Jesus' gender is one of these. If we cannot at least understand that the Word of God COULD have been definitively incarnated in a woman, if we cannot understand the humor (and seriousness!) of the above cartoon, but instead become offended by it, perhaps we have yet missed the point of Christmas and a God who TRULY comes to us in the unexpected way and place.

21 December 2008

Week # 4, Advent 2008

20 December 2008

A Little Child Shall Lead Us (Penance Service Reflection)

(Part of the following will be familiar to some readers. I reused a story from the beginning of Advent for my parish's Advent Penance Service. It seemed important to share it there as well as here!)

In Advent we rehearse all the promises of God. It is a time of hope for us, and therefore, also a time of repentance as we get in touch with the hope that lives within us, but which we have often betrayed as well. In particular because of tonight’s readings (Isaiah 11:1-10, Luke 10:21-24) it is a time to look at the ways we have bought into false notions of adulthood and rejected our very best and most childlike selves.

The language we hear from Isaiah, the language of promise and hope is ordinarily the language of power and mighty deeds, breaking the bonds of slavery and returning us from exile, coming to us in powerful and unexpected ways with a love which is stronger than all of the other powers which mark and mar our world. But as we prepare for Christmas we especially mark the paradoxical way in which this occurs: namely in the birth of an infant, the coming of a child who, precisely his weakness and powerlessness, his lack of worldly stature or wisdom, is the hope of the world. Now this is not the way things ordinarily work in the “real” world, some tell us. For this reason today’s readings stress the idea of becoming truly childlike.

It is a childlikeness which involves growth in grace and stature --- as we hear about Jesus’ own growth later in the season. This maturity is what Isaiah is referring to when he says the spirit of the Lord will rest upon this child, a Spirit of Wisdom and understanding, Counsel and Strength. It is what Luke refers to when he contrasts the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of the child. But we must be clear. In growing in grace and stature Jesus does not relinquish his childlikeness, he allows it to develop even further as he becomes the Son his Father needs him to be living here among us. He lives FOR others in the power of his Father's love. He is a person of character (STATURE), of deep and true humanity. In his dependence upon God he embodies a Sonship , a childlikeness which is a model and challenge to us.

After all, as Luke reminds us, we too are each to become as little children, persons who are wise in the ways of God and loving in the way of Christ so that we too may guide our church and world in the ways of true peace and holiness. But this is actually not an easy thing to achieve sometimes. Our culture often encourages us to let go of and betray our childlikeness which is at the heart of who we really are. It encourages us to grasp at something else --- a worldy wisdom that often passes for growing up, but which has nothing whatever to do with growth in grace and stature Christians expect of themselves. And quite often we buy into this --- literally!!

Let me give you a picture of what this BETRAYAL of the hope and call which lives in us might look like. On one TV series I saw earlier this year 15 year olds embodied the very worst characteristics of what sometime passes for adulthood in our society: unbridled greed, undisciplined affluence, unmitigated self-centeredness, arrogance, and unrestrained consumerism --- (among other things).

In the segment I saw, an adolescent girl was, as the name and subject of the show itself indicates, being given a Sweet sixteen party. The whole shebang cost literally hundreds of thousands of dollars as parents rented a huge venue, limousines, hundreds of guests, etc. In preparing for the party the girl had a designer come in with a selection of clothes to show her. And she RAGED at him: “How DARE you show such clothes to me! Who do you THINK you ARE? WHO DO YOU THINK I AM???? I wouldn’t be caught DEAD in such rags!! Later she went to look at cars. She chose the most expensive agency and car she could find and sat in it posturing for the photographer, looking in the various mirrors, etc: She then exclaims, “I LOOK GOOD in this; if I say I want it, my Mother will buy it for me!”

As far as I can tell, the whole series uses kids like this and models a set of values which distort young people into something hardly recognizable as either childhood OR true adulthood ---- and it is something which is actually repellent, for it is a betrayal of genuine childlikeness and maturity. (For that matter, it doesn’t do much to model genuine parenthood either, does it??)

In particular, the notion that these young people are to be gifts to our world has never even occurred to them. Instead everything is there to serve and gift THEM, and nothing is either sufficient or good enough. They are like adolescent infants sucking hungrily on a bottle marked "SELFISHNESS, GREED, AND INGRATITUDE" and then expecting everyone else to change the diapers they still wear for them and to love doing it.

I am pretty sure the young people on this show are not the kind of young people Isaiah had in mind when he said "a little child marked with the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, Strength and Counsel will guide us" in the way of peace and freedom. They are certainly not the kind of young persons Luke was speaking of who give hope to our world. Just the opposite in fact. I found this portrait of affluent teenage really sad and discouraging. No growth in grace or stature here! No hope for the world here from a Child who will give herself for others in a life of love and genuine maturity!

But those who ARE the hope of the world do exist, and as we all know, they exist right here in our own parish. While at Mass and giving out Communion a couple of weeks ago, a little girl approached me with her Father. She was too young to receive Communion so I bent down to greet and bless her. As I did, she slipped a small folded square of paper into my hand. . .when I had time to look at it what I found was the name Jesus on the outside and a drawing of this little girl with a big smile on her face and her arms wide offering Jesus a hug. This young girl, without status in our world, and not even old enough to receive Communion yet brought herself to God’s altar as a gift. She has already grown in grace and the kind of stature Luke wants from each of us. On that day at least, she was the embodiment of Christmas and Advent for me. She was the hope of our parish, our church, and our world.

As I said in the beginning, Advent is a time of hope. But it rests on the tension between already and not yet. Christ has come to us already and we will celebrate this at Christmas, but to “come again”, he needs we who are part of his own BODY to truly embody him ourselves. That is, we are to become true daughters and sons of God and everything we are and do is to reflect (on) him.

Tonight we pause on the journey to repent not only of the times when we have failed to hope, but for all those times and ways we have failed to be the signs of hope our families, friends, church, and our world need so badly. We pause to attend to the places of darkness (greed, selfishness, ingratitude, etc) within us as we journey to the feast of Light --- i.e., the times we have truly betrayed and rejected the child within us, the adult child we are truly called to become. We pause to recommit ourselves to the unique growth in grace and stature that Jesus models for us and the world calls foolish and rejects.

To that end I encourage you to let THIS little child in the second story guide you in the ways of Christ. Let her be your model of true adulthood, of what one becomes when there is real maturity. She has certainly been my guide this Advent. Now, in doing this you and I will likely never get to star in a TV program, but we will be gifts to the world and stars in the Kingdom of God --- perhaps the very gifts and stars that are synonymous with hope and which lead others to the place where Jesus is to be found.

12 December 2008

Canon 603 as Male Counterpart of Canon 604?

[[Hi Sister O'Neal. Is it the case that Canon 603 is the male counterpart of Canon 604? I read recently that that was the case, but you are professed under Canon 603, right? So, how can that be? Are males admitted to consecration under Canon 604? Is there a male option similar to Canon 604 if they are not?]]

Hi there. I read the same thing about a year ago in a newspaper article about the consecration of virgins citing an associate professor of religious studies at a Catholic college. The passage read: [[While men wishing to affirm their vows of celibacy cannot be consecrated virgins, they can become diocesan hermits, a lay group of men similar to the consecrated virgins said (name), associate professor of theology. The archbishop has the power to deny this sacrament from candidates who he may not deem mature or independent enough. . .(name), said.]]

Assuming the paper is citing accurately (and I am not sure they are), it is an astounding mistake (or series of mistakes!) to make, not only because Canon 603 is used to profess AND CONSECRATE hermitesses or female hermits, but also because the life governed by Canon 603 is vastly different than that of Canon 604 (Consecrated virginity). I suppose there are some stereotypes about hermits that suggest they are male, but history disproves this from the very first years of the Desert Fathers and MOTHERS. So, the notion that men become hermits and women become consecrated virgins is just silly. Also, calling this consecration (Canon 604) a Sacrament is misleading and just plain wrong. So is referring to canon 603 men as lay hermits. (These particular errors convince me that the paper is not citing accurately here for the professor associated with the comments is knowledgeable about consecrated life and would not make such egregious errors!)

As for Canon 604 itself, no, men cannot be admitted to this consecration. Perhaps that seems unfair but the canon represents a recovery of the very ancient Order of Virgins from the first years of the Church (men were generally called ascetics) and at this point the Church, despite discussing doing so has not opened this or a similar vocation to men. Today also, Canon 604 is for women in the world despite the fact that a version of the Rite is for nuns at solemn profession who are called to a strictly contemplative life; CV's living in the world (saeculum) may be drawn to contemplative prayer, but generally their entire lives as such are not separated from the world (meaning mainly that which is resistant to Christ and only secondarily to the saeculum and God's good creation) and involve direct apostolic service to the church and to the world to a much greater degree than a hermit's can ever do; nor are they strictly contemplative.

Further, their vocation, no matter the tenor and intensity of their prayer lives, is not primarily characterized canonically as the hermit life is by stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude, assiduous prayer and penance. What I mean is these are NOT the defining characteristics of the life of the consecrated virgin living in the world per se. Instead what defines their lives is a consecration by God and a commissioning to serve God and his Church in the things of the spirit and the things of the world as paradigms of the Church as eschatological Bride of Christ. Neither do consecrated virgins make vows (chastity as a commitment is affirmed in the Rite of consecration itself but is not a vow), nor do they necessarily live according to a Rule of Life they write as do diocesan hermits.

Finally, as relatively uncommon as it still is today and will probably always be, consecrated virginity is much less rare a vocation than the eremitical call. Setting the two off against each other as male and female counterparts --- especially since there are female hermits --- completely neglects this reality. The comments cited above make it sound as if any male who wishes to consecrate his virginity in the service of God and his Church simply needs to approach a diocese about consecration and profession under Canon 603, never mind all the distinctions between the two calls. I suppose that is what is most frustrating about the comments cited. They show no sense at all that these two vocations are different in character and charism. It is for this reason the Church needs both --- not because they are male and female counterparts of one another.

11 December 2008

Diocesan Hermits and Lay Hermits, Once Again

[[ Are diocesan hermits lay hermits? I read recently that they were.]]

Hi, thanks for the question. I have answered it (at least indirectly) several times here, and will do so briefly again. Do check other posts on this matter (see the tags at the bottom of the post). Also, I hope that I can include a bit of new information which explains how confusion can arise. The short answer though is no, they are not.

The longer answer goes a little like this. By diocesan hermits I am referring to those who have been perpetually professed under Canon 603 and consecrated in that rite of profession. Consecration in such circumstances initiates one into or "raises one" to the consecrated state (again apologies, but this use of raises is the verb most often used; I prefer initiates one into, but this is something I am trying on for size and there may be a better term without the elitist conntations of "raised"). As the Church affirms in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the consecrated state is per se, neither clerical nor lay even though some members may ALSO be clerics. Now it is true that other and earlier church documents (especially from Vatican II) use a different schema: clerical or lay. Using THIS schema religious life is lay life because it is not clerical. However, since 1983 the schema we are using recognizes the consecrated state as neither lay nor clerical, and this means that all forms of consecrated life [religious, eremitical (Canon 603), consecrated virginity (Canon 604)] are not lay.

Eremitical life may therefore be lay or consecrated. That is, one may make private vows (or other commitments) and live one's eremitical life as a lay person, or one may make public vows and be subject to the ecclesial consecration associated with the consecrated state. There are positive and negative aspects to either arrangement, and despite huge overlaps in the life's nature ( a life of greater separation from the world, silence, solitude, prayer and penance), there are differences in witness, accountability, expectations, and charism. Diocesan hermits, however, are not laity or "lay hermits," but instances and representatives of the consecrated state of life. At the same time, diocesan hermits are not religious in the sense that they are not vowed within a community even if they come together to support one another in a Laura or Lavra. (Canonists call them religious however, and note that this word now applies to those without a link to a community or congregation. cf Handbook on Canons 573-746). Thus, it seems to me that it would be a mistake to call them lay hermits simply because they are not religious in the former sense (or clerics usually). I suspect that what you read was a statement by someone using the older or alternate schema instead of the one represented in the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law.

Hope this helps.

08 December 2008

Renunciation and Trust

[[You wrote that at bottom renunciation is really about trust. Can you say more about that please?]]

Sure, I am glad to, though I don't time to answer more than briefly. If you consider the context of my comments you know that I was talking about letting go of distractions, things that draw our attention away from the Word of God that sounds in the depths of our own being, and from the various feelings and sensations which rise up in our hearts when we are truly silent and refuse to distract ourselves in all the ways our culture offers us. (Distractions can anesthetize as well as merely diverting our attention from.) I was speaking about renouncing the kinds of things which prevent an experience in the desert from being a true desert experience, that is, an experience of being vulnerable and completely dependent upon God for the meaning and security of our lives.

The reasons we hang onto things seems to me to be about security, comfort, status, and meaning, as well as the distraction they provide from the struggles and difficult emotional dimensions of life. The latest electronic gadget may say that we "have arrived," whether in our careers, or just in keeping up with the Joneses or with advances in technology ("I need to be at the forefront here; it says I am knowlegeable and technologically savvy. I have important needs which these things symbolize and serve, and which other people don't really have --- and, after all, I can afford these where some cannot!" is one set of reasons, often unarticulated which we use to justify the latest acquisition). Similarly, we may need the larger and newer TV set or iPod, or whatever because media use distracts us from the demands and call of our own inner lives. We may keep UPS delivery folks busy with our purchases from Amazon despite the fact that we have not read what we already have because we are insecure, or bored, or struggling with depression and a new book (or anything else) relieves the symptoms temporarily. The same may be true with any shopping compulsion, the constant need for new clothes and the like. These are just a few of the kinds of things I was referring to in my earlier post.

Possessions become extensions of ourselves. They become sophisticated security blankets except that they also say that we are important or educated or affluent where childhood security blankets do not. They make us a little less naked it seems to us, a little less poor, a little less vulnerable because they comfort us, and a little less empty if, and to the extent, our hearts and lives are devoid of ultimate love and meaning. But as we heard in today's first reading, the inability to bear the anxiety and vulnerability of being naked selves gets us into all kinds of trouble. In today's passage from Genesis Adam realizes he is naked and becomes self-conscious. As a result, he hides from God and sins in the attempt to be more than he actually is. His heart is filled with anxiety and thoughts of himself and he no longer walks with God in the simple trust he was created for. For all of us this option is fundamental: we can either stand naked before God and trust in his love for us, or, because of anxiety and self-consciousness, we can cover ourselves with fig leaves (and all the more sophisticated contemporary equivalents in material possessions, status, etc.) and hide from him and ourselves.

If we can let go of the things we ordinarily cling to to comfort us and mitigate our "nakedness" and vulnerability we will need to turn to God instead. We will need to trust him and the sense his love makes of our lives. We will be challenged to come to terms with the emptinesses and wounds which afflict our hearts, and allow God to comfort and heal us as he wills. We will need, that is, as this season says so well, to learn to wait on him with open hands and hearts dependent and childlike. Renunciation itself signals our willingness to trust all things to God. It allows us to stand before him in all of our human poverty and discover where out true wealth lies. This was what I was referring to in my original posts on desert experiences, retreats, etc. So, a very brief outline of the dynamics of possession and renunciation which I hope explains why I suggested renunciation was, at bottom, a matter of trust. As always, please let me know if this raises more questions or leaves something obvious unaddressed.

07 December 2008

Second Sunday of Advent, 2008

05 December 2008

iPods, Technology, Retreat, and desert Experiences

[[Is it wrong for a person to have iPods and other technological conveniences? How about taking them on retreat? Is that wrong?]]

No, there is nothing wrong with iPods, laptops, or other conveniences in themselves. I hope I didn't give that impression in the posts I wrote on desert experiences! Someone else kidded me about something similar after reading them. Neither is it wrong to bring them on retreat depending on the use one makes of them of course. It is not even wrong to have these things as a hermit, and they can add greatly to the richness of one's prayer life. In the scenarios I drew a post or two ago (assuming your questions come from reading those) I somewhat overstated the differences between the two scenarios. I could have pointed out that the woman in the second scenario had an iPod with her as well, and used it at various points to assist with her prayer for instance. She has Morning and Evening Prayer settings from various artists and monasteries, a number of recordings of psalms and other liturgical or Christian music, and she uses these as appropriate to enhance prayer, but NOT to distract from the silence or from the feelings and sensations that rise up within her in solitude.

For instance, if she uses a laptop for journaling routinely, then that too is completely acceptable and CAN help enhance the desert experience, but if she is linking up to the internet, reading email, shopping on Amazon, etc, then that is another matter entirely. The same is true with a cell phone: it is good to have for emergencies, but otherwise should be left unused or even turned off. I think you understand what I am trying to describe here, right?

Retreats are meant to allow a person to have a desert experience. They are ordinarily designed to let a person sink into the silence and solitude and to listen to all that their hearts give voice to in such an environment. If anxiety and tension occur, bits of "cabin fever," boredom, and the like surface, then retreats invite a person to deal with these in prayer and in other ways one is not really used to (for instance, a quiet walk around the grounds instead of a trip to the mall, or without turning to the usual distractions), as well as to get some spiritual direction if that seems appropriate. Silence and the relative solitude of the retreat are lifegiving realities, as are the ordered days, the time away from ordinary responsibilities, etc. One should simply take advantage of all this as best one can. However, doing so may also mean sleeping a bit more than one is ordinarily able to, reading a bit of fiction here and there, listening to a bit of music, etc. One simply needs to discern what really serves one best here, that is, what allows the retreat to be what one's heart, mind, and body need at the time (and what one needs is what God wills for one, by the way)!

Personally, I would draw the line at bringing along a TV set (I am mainly kidding here since I doubt anyone actually would, but the example in my story included an RV with a TV set, so I am mentioning that -- and no movies on CD either for viewing on laptops!!) The rules for retreat are pretty general and simple. Take what you need to be comfortable and travel light. Trust that the retreat house or center generally has what you need (reading material, CD's, etc), and try to believe that God really does provide. Ordinarily that means he provides himself, and retreats are times and spaces set aside so that God may really have access to you he does not get otherwise. He is always knocking, always calling, but ordinarily there is simply too much noise, whether internal or external, for us to listen well. So the general rules of retreat "stuff" basically boil down to, "whatever helps you hearken (listen and respond)" in all the ways you are called.

Again, the scenarios I drew in the last posts were not meant to condemn modern conveniences or technology. However, there is no doubt that these things can and often do mitigate desert experiences. Hence, I will ask directees to put the iPod away more even if they are using it to listen to Christian music. I do the same thing myself and what I see and hear is vastly different when I am listening to an iPod while taking a walk, than when I am not listening to music. Desert experiences come in a variety of depths and intensities. So long as one is doing the will of God (again, taking care of our truest needs), and being sensitive to the retreat environment for others, limited use of technology can enhance the experience rather than detract and distract from it. One caveat however, since it is easy to rationalize and fool ourselves in this matter, one would do better to err on the side of caution and forego whatever one can.

At bottom desert experiences are about taking time with God to consolidate and deepen our identities as daughters and sons --- just as Jesus did, and, in becoming the People of God, just as Israel did in their extended time there. We do this by attending to God and our relationship with him in a way which makes us heirs and prophets of HIS Kingdom instead of the others at hand. If technology assists in this to some limited extent, then well and good. Otherwise, leave it at home! (The very fact that you do this is an act of renunciation and trust (because that is really what renunciation is about at bottom) which will help initiate you into a true desert experience long before you arrive on retreat.)

03 December 2008

Off to the MAGIC Kingdom!

Well, I will be blogging from time to time as possible, but for the next three days I am spending time with my sister and we are going to Disneyland! It is one of those places I have not been to for years so the chance to see it again with my sister and reminisce about growing up, memories of Disneyland, etc is one I have looked forward to for a while now. Seems like a good way to start Advent as well! Pictures of the trip to follow.

It's a Small World done up for Christmas is truly amazing; much of the ride is changed and Christmas Carols are added to the signature song.

Wooden soldiers in the Christmas parade starting in front of It's a Small world.

More to come!