The Best Thing We’ve Read All Day (Here Comes Everybody Edition)

From Robbie George of First Things:

Those of us who are Catholics have had a rough few years. Well, make that a rough few decades. Horrific abuse scandals. Some weak, sometimes feckless, bishops. Wacky theologians. Boring homilies. Dreadful music. Widespread dissent, often rooted in appalling ignorance. I could go on. We envy our Evangelical friends for the vibrancy of faith in their communities. (Causing our Evangelical friends to wonder whether we’ve been hitting the communion wine too hard.) We envy our friends in the historically black churches for their great preaching and singing. We envy our LDS friends for having strong and inspiring leaders. We envy our Eastern Orthodox friends for having a beautiful liturgy. We envy our Orthodox Jewish friends for understanding the value of tradition, instead of throwing it overboard in pursuit of “relevance.”

We feel sorry for ourselves.

But sometimes, one notices the little things that make it great to be Catholic. Like diversity. Diversity?

Read it all here.

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Guest Post: Things That Happen to a Young Woman Discerning Religious Life (if your experience is anything like mine)

–      It’s bad timing for discernment because you’re in a relationship. Or just out of one. Or headed toward one. Or have been single too long to be objective about all this anyway.

–      Your knees shake while telling your parents that you are discerning, even as you fake nonchalance: “You know, I just thought I should keep all the options open.”

–      While considering the sacrifices of religious life, you include “freedom to look totally fantastic now and then.” (Hey, the giving up of flattering clothes is real.)

–      You get incensed at the guy who dumped you because now every vocation director will think you’re just coping—poorly—with rejection. Meantime you find that, unfortunately, being in discernment does not cause your heart to break any less painfully.

–      In the midst of the habit-or-no-habit question, you grow increasingly jealous of the Roman collar and its perfect combination of functionality, recognizability, and unobtrusiveness.

–      You add Elizabeth Johnson to your reading list. If every single community has a devotion to Mary, as is apparently the case, then you better damn well find a Marian theology you can get behind.

–      You are sorely tempted to use the phrase “I’m discerning” to get out of dating a guy even though you know full well that’s not why you’re turning him down.

–      Women in orders with declining numbers tell you with certainty that something new is coming to religious life but are totally unable to give you even the slimmest sense of what that something might be.

–      You recognize that praying hard and thinking hard aren’t the same thing, and despair. You’re so much better at thinking hard.

–      One third of the time you think entering religious life would be the dumbest decision you could make. One third of the time you think it would be the most awesome decision you could make. And one third of the time you remember that it’s actually the Holy Spirit who’s in charge.

***

I’m going to be honest here. My year-plus of discernment has generally been more frustrating than rewarding. It’s just hard. But underneath the struggle has been a considerable gift. The process of discerning has forced me out of my usual pattern of thought, belief, and habit—out of my old self.

As the scattershot list above implies, there are too many new questions and experiences for me to encounter them all and remain unchanged. So I’ve changed. My prayer and reflection are taking place through a new and bigger lens, and I feel deeply grateful for that—so much so that I’m ultimately deeply grateful for discernment itself.

Discernment is hard. God is good.

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Sara Knutson received her Master of Divinity from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. She currently works as a retreat director at TYME OUT Youth Ministry and Retreat Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and is beginning an outdoors retreat program this summer.

The Best Thing We’ve Read All Day: Father Dan Mahoney

From the Globe:

The Rev. Daniel J. Mahoney rushed out of the rectory at St. Francis de Sales Church in Charlestown as soon as he heard “Mayday Engine 33” crackle over the Boston Fire Department radio he keeps near him.

Within minutes, he arrived at the wind-whipped inferno that had quickly engulfed a brick apartment building in the Back Bay. Then, the solemn duties that he has carried out as Fire Department chaplain for nearly a half-century began.

As the organized chaos of urban firefighting swirled around him Wednesday afternoon, Mahoney performed last rites on 33-year-old firefighter Michael R. Kennedy as he was lifted into an ambulance at the corner of Beacon and Exeter streets.

Kennedy and Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr., who also died in the blaze, are the latest in a long line of firefighters who have fallen in Mahoney’s career. The number now is 51, from fires, from illness, and from accidents.

“Every time there’s a line-of-duty death, it triggers the memories and the sorrow,” Mahoney said wistfully Friday. “You get used to it, but it gets harder each time.”

Read it all here.

Refusing the Name: Further Thoughts on Today’s Gospel

tr-man-born-blind

Just another thought on today’s Gospel, drawing on the late, great, Raymond Brown and the series of records lectures he gave regarding the Gospel of John.

I read the long form of the Gospel today – it’s really the only way the true character of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind receives its full texture because there is a dynamic at work here: the blind man increases in sight, while the Pharisees grow blinder.  One of the most fascinating elements of this Gospel is that the Pharisees refuse to name Jesus: he is always “that one,” or something like that.  Ray Brown suggested that it takes on the character of a circumlocution, that is to say, calling him “that fellow,” because it was better if Jesus’ name was not said out loud.

For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, think “he who shall not be named.”

For me, this seems to be a point for conversion — how often do I refuse to name someone, or something, in an effort to gain control over it?  Or, perhaps even more problematically, what are those ways  in which I refuse others the dignity of their names in order to protect my own self?

More Sight or More Blindness? Yes. (Homily Notes for the 4th Sunday of Lent)

The Man Born Blind by Brian Jekel
The Man Born Blind by Brian Jekel

When we get right down to it, this Gospel is meant to shake us – not shake us with fear, but shake us with the kind of joy that ought change our lives.

We see a twin movement in today’s Gospel: the man who was born blind moves from blindness to sight; Jesus’ opponents move from sight to blindness.

This isn’t just a simple process, however, because Jesus is not simply interested in physical sight: this Gospel is told in such a way that we see sight coming in stages:

Continue reading More Sight or More Blindness? Yes. (Homily Notes for the 4th Sunday of Lent)

Patristic Voices: Augustine and the Resurrection of the Female Body

_augustine_hippoThe passage from St. Anselm that we posted last week was not only a beautiful way to start our reflection on early church texts, it also contains many of the most characteristic elements of patristic writing.  The first element deals with the role of experience.  We moderns often think of ourselves as the generation that takes experience seriously; our generation’s insight is making human experience a key part of our sources, methods, and verifications of our thoughts and reflections.  Hopefully it will become evident as time goes on that the patristic authors did this too, in their own way.  In this case, Anselm’s prayer begins with himself and his own experience of life.  Anselm notes his own smallness, the busyness of his life and the “tumult,” “weight,” and “wearisome”–ness that goes along with it.  It may not be a deep or lengthy analysis of the human condition, but all of us have probably used these words to describe our own situations at some point.  The early church writers were as human, as aware of their surroundings, and as alive as we are.  They worked from, with, and back into the world they lived in.  This world is similar and different from ours and leads them to similar and different conclusions, but experience is nonetheless an important part of their thought process.

Second, Anselm’s prayer/reflection is soaked in the Scripture.  The early church authors were – to put a modern parlance on it – scripture junkies.  Shaming modern Catholics, patristic authors knew their Bible very well.  Verses from the scripture flow in and out of their writings effortlessly and meaningfully.  Not only do the passages they use enforce the meaning of what they are trying to say, but what they say also puts a new meaning on the passage they use – intertextuality.

Take Anselm’s use of Psalm 27.  If we take Anselm’s prayer at face value we have a prayer that seems, in the end, a little hopeless.  We don’t see God, don’t know God, don’t know how to find God, and thus fail in our fundamental purpose as humans.  But, if we look at Psalm 27 and consider that Anselm precedes all of this unknowing with it, then we get a very different image.  Psalm 27 is a psalm of trust: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?  The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?” (27:1).  So great is the psalmist’s trust in God that they can say, “Even if my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me in” (27:10).  Finally, Anselm implies the words of the psalmist to restore the hope he seems to have lost at the end of the prayer and to continue his pursuit of finding God, “I believe I shall see the LORD’s goodness in the land of the living” (27:13).

The use of experience and the use of scripture in the early church texts will be important to pay attention to as we go forward.  It will be especially important as we consider our next author, St. Augustine.  Anselm lived between 1033 and 1109, was born in Italy, was a Benedictine monk, and one of the first voices in the scholastic movement but is popularly known for being an Archbishop of Canterbury.  Augustine lived between 354 and 430, was born near Carthage in North Africa, and after a youth of debauchery, heresy, and spiritual unrest, became a bishop and one of the most important theologians of his time – actually of all of the history of western civilization after him.  Augustine’s influence is seen even in Anselm’s prayer we cited last week which is a close reiteration of the prayer Augustine uses to start his Confessions.

Besides the Confessions, Augustine’s book, the City of God, is one of his most popular and most important.  It is a long collection covering all kinds of topics.  It was a later work of Augustine’s and he does not hold back proving how smart he is by showing how much he can talk about.  One topic he discusses briefly (relatively briefly) and yet might still be odd for the modern reader to find discussed at all is “The Resurrection of Women’s Bodies.”  To set the context a little, Augustine is here addressing and correcting a belief among some theologians that the bodies of women will not be resurrected at the eschaton as female bodies but that all bodies will rise as male bodies.  The full discussion can be found in Book 22, Chapter 17.  I will here quote only some of the more thought provoking passages and look forward to your comments and further discussion of this passage next week.

“The more sensible view, it seems to me, is the one held by those who do not doubt that both sexes will rise again…  And female sex is not a fault but rather a matter of nature, and it will then be exempt from intercourse and childbirth.  The female organs will still be present.  Now, however, they will be accommodated not to their former use but to a new beauty…  Instead, they will evoke praise for the wisdom and compassion of God, who both created what was not and freed what he created…  The woman, therefore, is just as much God’s creation as is the man.  But, by her being made from the man, human unity was commended to us; and by her being made in this way, as I said, Christ and the Church were prefigured.  Thus the one who established the two sexes will restore them both.”

Gerson on Pope Francis: AM Morning Read

In today’s WaPo, Michael Gerson makes note of some of the ridiculousness surrounding the Pope/President visit, fanned by the media and other politicians.  Take for instance:

In the current round of coverage, we have been treated to comparisons between the approval ratings of President Obama and Pope Francis and analysis about similarities between the Democratic and the Vatican platforms. Obama supporters emphasize the remarkable overlap of agendas — on everything except life, marriage and religious liberty. In the run-up to the meeting, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) challenged Obama to “explain to the pope” his views on the Hobby Lobby case — while holding a libertarian political philosophy at odds with Catholic social thought on most points.

What is Francis’ secret? Here’s Gerson, quoting the inimitable John Allen:

This is among the least understood aspects of Francis’s revolution. “His path to reform is not changing the catechism,” said Allen. Instead, it is “creating a zone for the most merciful application of pastoral teaching.”

Read it all here.  It’s better than typical mainstream media religious reporting and opining.

A Part of the Story

Today I had the privilege of hearing a talk by a man named Ken. Ken is an advocate who regularly goes to speak to legislators, and he often gives presentations to schools. An optimistic, confident, charismatic person who has a way with words, he was a superb presenter. Ken also happens to have cerebral palsy. He uses a wheelchair, is not able to use his arms or legs, and he communicates by typing on an iPad with a device that is strapped to his head. Ken presented to a group of students at Mount St. Mary’s about his experiences living with cerebral palsy and how he advocates for the rights of people with disabilities.

I think that anyone who interacts with Ken would agree that he is a man full of life. You can’t help but be drawn in by his passion and his determination. That’s why it’s so unfortunate that too often, when we encounter people with disabilities, or even when we encounter people who we perceive as radically different from us, we view their lives as less than ours. Continue reading A Part of the Story

What’s Going on Here? God Loving Us: The Best Thing You’ll Read All Day

The lede:

Like many adolescents, I went through a phase of being on the phone a lot. Half the time we weren’t even talking. A friend and I just held our ends of the phone to our ears and occasionally said something as we did homework, doodled, or stared at the ceiling.

It seems silly now, but we wanted to connect. It’s human nature. Who could blame us?

The rest.

Worth Your Time: When Love Looks Like Hate

A fascinating take on the way Catholics speak about same-sex marriage from the Dominicana Blog, a collaborative effort of the Dominican Student who study at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC.

Today, Br. Dominic Mary Verner, O.P. writes:

There is an alarming confusion cropping up in public discourse which has given me pause for reflection. It strikes me as the worst kind of confusion, and the most difficult to remedy, because it concerns the intention of hearts, confusing the noblest with the worst. You seek your neighbor’s spiritual well-being and you are accused of denying his very dignity.

It can certainly be seen elsewhere, but the national conversation about same-sex marriage provides a clear example. With good intentions, many Christians have sought to serve the good of their neighbor by objecting to the state solemnization of physically and spiritually harmful sex-acts. Increasingly, this fraternal solicitude is taken to be a damnable affront to gay dignity. It is a sin, explains Nathaniel Frank at Slate: “the sin of current opponents of gay marriage is an unwillingness to open their minds to change. There comes a time when there’s only one morally correct answer, and the space for having the wrong answer has dried up. I’d argue that time has come.” The Christian thinks he is engaged in a spiritual work of mercy, but Frank warns that he is in fact a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

This is all a bit frightening. The greatest love for our neighbor concerns itself with his spiritual good, and it is just this sort of love that is being confused for sin and even hatred. The confusion is not total, but any confusion of love for hate is disturbing. The lover’s smile taken for scorn, the friend’s gift received as poison, and the mother’s embrace greeted with terror all question the very possibility of lovers, friends, and mothers. There is real tragedy here: Your heart is opened and in that moment of vulnerability you become a monstrosity in the eyes of the one you love.

Read it all here.

Plenty of thoughts about this have I as I am sure you will have.