All posts by Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

Resurrection Preview: the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time

jesus-raises-the-widow-of-nains-son-iconThere was a tradition at my grade school that, on the last day of school, students would visit the next grade up, in order to meet their teachers.

It was a preview of sorts. A mean teacher, a quiet teacher, a funny teacher: in just twenty minutes we would all get a taste of just what was in store for us after a glorious summer vacation

This Gospel – the story of the widow of Nain – is no different.

We cannot simply read this story as if it were a miracle, some type of good action: a fortuitous meeting in which Jesus, seeing a need, responds in the most extraordinary of ways. If we do, if we let this be a simply miracle, we create a God filled with caprice, a God who only intervenes in some places and for some people.

But, there is something much greater going on here: this story of resuscitation (because remember, the son would die again) is a preview of the truly momentous event in Jesus’ life, the resurrection.

It will only be two short years until another son of a widow is carried out from a city – this time Jerusalem, not from Nain. There won’t be a crowd, but there will be tears. No one will meet this widow – there won’t be mourners, nor a prophet available to great the broken and crucified body of her only son.

And yet, something will happen three days later: no one will tell his arise; no one, that is, other than the voice of his Heavenly Father who will bid him to rise.

This is, in fact, the challenge of this morning’s Gospel – to leave this place with the knowledge that Christ bids each one of us to rise – and to rise in a way more deeply felt that a simple chance encounter. Christ, indeed, does not meet us with a one-time fix. Those are only a preview to what is really coming.

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On the Virtue of Prudence

Author’s Note: This is a revision of the final lecture I gave to my Senior Catholic Social Teaching course.

Tomorrow I’ll be passing out a review sheet and taking questions, but today I wanted to, for better or worse, actually give a lecture. I would ask, then, that you clear your desks, put away your pens, resist the temptation to use your phones, and just listen. A seeming lifetime ago, I made a fateful decision to stay with the Capuchins, rather than join another order. By doing so, I committed to a lifetime of ministry in a parish setting and gave up, most likely, what had been a dream of mine for quite some time: to go back to school to get my doctorate. I did – and still do, I must admit – dream of writing books, giving lectures, and researching. I still dream of the quest for knowledge as my life’s profession. Here I am, then, seeking knowledge in the B Wing of Sacred Heart High School. I sort of feel as if there is a conversation repeated inside my brain from Lord of the Rings, as if I were both characters. It goes something like this:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

The decision to be a Capuchin – to wear brown and not do one of the many other things I could have otherwise is one that I regret less than half the time, and so, in the eyes of the world, I likely made the correct choice. At the same time, I wanted to make the attempt to give a lecture like many of you will be hearing in the near future, so I beg your pardon.

I wanted to lecture today on the virtue of Prudenc: what Thomas Aquinas calls “Wisdom concerning human affairs” (STIIaIIae 47.2 ad 1) or “right reason with respect to action”

The great Isidore, quoted by Aquinas, wrote, “A prudent man is one who sees as it were from afar, for his sight is keen, and he foresees the event of uncertainties.”

We might ask, why is Father Matt boring us on a sunny day, taking about a virtue that we’ve hardly ever thought about, while quoting two men who are long dead. I’m doing so, I would respond, because without prudence, without the virtue of being able to step back and consider the consequences of our decisions, we simply become savage beasts who actually believe “You Only Live Once” will make us happy – or leave the world a better place.

Prudence is the quality that allows us to review our situations, be aware of the situations of others, and understand that our actions have real consequences, not only for ourselves, but also for those around us.

Indeed, prudence is the virtue that allows us to act rightly and justly – but also the virtue that allows us to act effectively.

Prudence is the virtue that prevents us from charging headlong as an army of one against a force arrayed against us in the thousands. Prudence prevents virtues from becoming vices: as the army of one’s bravery is transformed into foolhardiness and even, some might say, stupidity.

Prudence, put in another way, keeps us on the straight and narrow, moving us toward our final end.

Our final end: our destiny – that sounds scary doesn’t it?

But in actuality, our final destiny has been the goal of this course: we have attempted to view the world in a such a way that takes into account the paradox that, on the one hand, heaven and earth are not the same place. At the same time, we have (I hope) come to realize that it is the mission of every Christian to proclaim that heaven is indeed attempting to break into earth and, in the meantime, to we are called to do everything possible to make it a reality.

I had very much looked forward to the opportunity to preach your baccalaureate mass, for this is the first class that has made me its own, and you were – and are – and always will be – my kids. I’ve had the opportunity to be your teacher, your coach, your (possibly) biggest fan on the court, your campus minister, and someone with whom you’ve been able to laugh and cry. Alas, that won’t be happening, so I’m here now attempting to lecture, three days before you’re out of here, on the virtue of prudence.

Prudence is the virtue that I have tried to make a part of each decision in this classroom, each decision that I make with respect to my interactions with you: I’ve always attempted to consider how my response to your requests, or my reaction to whatever it is the seniors were doing today balanced care and concern, a sense of fun, while not sacrificing the reality that all actions have consequences, and, quite plainly, the reality that many of the consequences of our actions cannot nearly be foreseen in the moment or even a few weeks later.

To speak about prudence in this way brings up major decisions: where to go to college, who to marry, or whether to buy a new home. At the same time, prudence in the moment has equally important, though less flashy consequences: knowing that one has had one too many drinks to get behind the wheel, taking a step back from a passionate moment with a significant other, telling the truth at the risk of getting someone in trouble, or even apologizing for something absolutely stupid we’ve done: these are the marks of a prudent person and prudence is, in fact, my deepest wish and prayer for you.

More than learning about solidarity or subsidiarity, deeper than the Just War Theory or solutions for the destruction of our earth’s resources, more complicated than the outline of Natural Law, or more hair splitting than what made me give you a 9.25 on a primary source document rather than a 10, this class was supposed to be about illuminating for you just how complicated our world is. It’s not nearly as easy as liberal or conservative, gay or straight, Democratic or Republic, male or female, black or white. This course cannot be summarized in a 160-character tweet and I have attempted to attend to questions that last longer than a post on Snap Chat. The questions that I attempted to ask, with varying degrees of success, is how do we respond to a world that is at once more beautiful and breathtaking than we dared dream, but at the same time, more devastatingly cruel than any situation cooked up on Grey’s Anatomy or the Walking Dead.

I can, then, in the final account, hope that you know less about the world than when you walked into the classroom. And I can also hope – perhaps more importantly – that you know that you know less. To know that there are things we don’t know is perhaps the greatest talent a person can have.

And so, before you fall asleep, I return to the virtue of prudence: it is not a virtue that tells us what to do, nor is it the virtue that tells us how to do it. Rather, prudence is the virtue that teaches us when we are to do what it is that we know how to do.

In other words, prudence is about knowing what to do with the time that we have been given. May you, my students, my brothers and sisters in Christ, my ones about whom I worried, panicked, cried, raged, and concerned myself, always know what and how to do what it is that you must do. But as for my wish and prayer, may you always know the right time to do it. Amen.

 

 

 

The “Gift” of Pentecost

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By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

So often we hear Pentecost referred to as the birthday of the Church: associated with birthdays, of course, are celebrations, cake, candles, wishes and most especially, gifts.

Indeed, the Church receives a gift on Pentecost: it receives the gift of its own divine life, the Gift of the Holy Spirit that binds the entire community, as Saint Paul says, into a single body.

Yet the very existence of the Church is not a celebration in and of itself: the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church is not a present to be hoarded. We cannot sit within the walls of this church, enjoying the Holy Spirit any more than the Apostles could on the day of their Pentecost.  The very nature of a gift is that it is not earned, nor is their expectation of repayment. And so, the Holy Spirit’s descent on the Apostles in the upper room is not simply a gift, not another present to be opened and then put on a shelf.

The Holy Spirit is not a birthday present, but rather a birthday mission.

We are sent forth from this place, just as the Apostles were sent from their places, into a world equally as challenging, equally as dark, but equally as desperate for the message of Jesus the Christ.

As Saint Irenaeus wrote, the Holy Spirit has given the image and inscription of the Father and Son to us, and it is our mission to make a profit. Irenaeus actually refers to this gift as “two coins,” which need to be invested in others.

The ways in which we leave this place on mission are as different as each person: yet perhaps it is most important to remember that we are all sent, we all have a part to play, we all have the currency of Christ in our hearts: spend this birthday well!!!

 

 

A Real Problem; Or *The* Real Problem

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By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

I had just finished explaining a particular exercise to my senior religion class (Catholic Social Teaching).  It involved primary sources and analysis.

Any questions? 

(hand raised)

Yes?

Are we allowed to be real in these reflections… like, can we talk about real issues and things?

(me staring)

Yes.

And that, I think, sums up what I might call the “real problem” for American Catholics working at schools, parishes, hospitals, and agencies.  There is a basic problem that doctrine and teaching don’t seem *real* to listeners.  It is, first and foremost, an intelligibility problem, which takes on two particular mutations (that come to my mind immediately.)

(1) Doctrines such the Trinity haven’t been described as “real” and relevant.  Augustine did this.  So did Aquinas.  They spoke in ways intelligible to their society, their culture, their era.  To me, the bedrock of our faith is the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity: it’s up to ministers to find the correct metaphors and confessions of faith to make them understandable.  But this isn’t enough: how “Trinity” is one thing; but why “Trinity,” as in, why I should care is quite another: we need both.

(2) The Church’s witness to and against the tragedies of our modern society largely go unreported or unnoticed.  Pope Francis has, by many accounts, changed some of this.  Yet any “Francis effect” will only be lasting if the Church provokes and promotes a “real” witness around these issues.

A real problem indeed.

The Seeds of Remembrance

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By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap. When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Who is the sower? 

Perhaps us.

Indeed, we sow many seeds in our lives: the ideas, hopes, dreams, fears, and desires of every generation are sown into the ground of our culture. As #neverforget germinates throughout social media today, I’m struck that almost all the students who will attend our Mass of the Holy Spirit this morning cannot remember 9/11/01. The seniors are eighteen at the oldest: this means that they were four years old when the Towers went down, perhaps starting pre-K when the Pentagon smoldered. And where were the eighth graders when a few brave souls said, “Let’s Roll,” but solely hope in the hearts of their parents.

I #neverforget the smell that drifted over the Hudson River some years ago: the smell of two missing buildings, the haunting incense of evil covering our lives.

The seeds of death were planted this day so many years ago; years, these seeds grew into many things, of varying shapes and sizes: grief and horror, compassion and mercy, remembrance and renewed hope. My students today may not have experienced the planting of these seeds: but they can certainly take their cues from us on how we’ve nurtured the seeds of remembrance. May a plant of mercy grow where the Towers stood – and may not of us, even those of us who weren’t there to remember, never forget.

“I Miss Bringing Communion”

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By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

My list of communion calls ebbs and flows: I have a sad ritual, whereby when I bury one of those who I visited I go to my computer and remove them from my “sick call list” and say a final prayer for them. I take their memorial card and put it in my desk draw on a stack that has grown from a dozen, to two dozen, to somewhere near the number forty. The life of a parish priest.

Just this weekend, I went on a call to an elderly lady who I have been seeing for over a year now. She looks exactly the same: very old, hands gnarled by arthritis, clutching a rosary. Our conversation is always the same: frustration at her situation, gratefulness for her care, mixed with a worry that she is being a burden.

I hear largely the same outline of her life, but something stuck out in this last visit. She has always told me she was a Eucharistic Minister, bringing Communion to the sick in her parish where she once lived, somewhere out west. But Saturday, her eyes went wide, and, in telling the story, she added a piece: “I really miss bringing Communion.”

I heard this and took a breath. An examination of conscience, if there ever was one. For all the talk (and there will be even more today and until the conclusion of the Synod and Francis’ visit to the Meeting on the Families), it reminded me of what my canon law professor said once in class: “My favorite part of being a priest is giving others communion.”

There is an important play on the word that can and should be noted: to bring others communion. Indeed, the act of placing the Eucharist in the hands or on the tongue of another is, at its basic movement, an act of communion, an act of me joining with you, joining you and me with the divine. And it’s about you, me, and God – it’s never just God and you, or God and me, or me and you. To give Communion is to literally offer a communion with both God and the Church, living amid the world.

I’d miss offering this communion too. That’s a blessing indeed.

Catholic What? Catholic How.

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By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

More than a year ago, when attempting to fix a name to this project, we played around with numerous words bearing inquisition in their context: how, what, and why come to mind. After settling upon “how,” the question then became where “how” would reside relative to Catholic. First thoughts suggested “How Catholic,” presented as a question could work. Then we realized the polemical connotations explicit in such a moniker: and let’s be honest, isn’t there enough polemic (Catholic included!) on the interwebs these days? From there, we thought “How Catholic” as a statement would be the next best thing. The flow didn’t seem correct and, quite frankly, the transposition of a period and a question mark seemed likely. And so we become and continue to be “CatholicHow,” a website produced by Catholic young adults seeking to consider the many ways “how” to be Catholic in our post-modern (and in some ways, post-religious) world.

We’ve decided to reintroduce the website: many of the writers remain (thankfully) the same, but they’ll be focusing on more specific topic areas of interest and research: parish life, Catholic culture, the state of the Catholic internet, interreligious dialogue, and a uniquely feminist perspective on the issues that confront our Church and our world. Many of their biographies are updated too: they’ve gotten married, advanced in their careers, and changed the places they call home. We also have a whole series of new writers who we are most proud to welcome. They will take on heady issues like church finance and best practices, youth and young adult ministry, and the wide world of Catholic fundraising.

In all of our posts on CatholicHow, as well as our expanding footprint into the worlds of Twitter and Facebook, we hope that you’ll find an atmosphere of collegial debate, evangelical fervor, and the all-too-infrequent, but extremely necessary quality of not taking ourselves too seriously.

And so, welcome back to CatholicHow. We’ve missed you, Internet, and we hope we’re here to stay.

The Real Problem with Judgment; Or, Listen to Isaiah the Prophet

Bible-Verses-About-Judgment

Saying to the prisoners: Come out!
To those in darkness: Show yourselves!

By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

Judgement, it seems, is under judgment yet again. I’ll leave what brings this up to you and your web browser.  Take a look.  It seems that, as a society, we’re hurtling toward the place where it is never right to judge anyone else, except in those cases where those who consider themselves “right” (amusing irony) judge those who are obviously wrong (bitter irony). (This is, as a good friend of my often notes, intellectual fascism.)

It seems, however, foolish to make the claim that we will not judge.  This happens each day, in ways small and large.  Parents, employees, coaches, and teachers make judgments all the time.  So do judges.  And politicians.  And everyone else with a pulse.  What is more, moral judgments are constitutive of an examined moral life. These judgments can and must be communal as well [see what trouble the Israelites find in the desert when the community judges wrongly].

The real problem with judgment, then, isn’t the judgment itself, but how it is manifested.   In other words, the real problem, it seems (at least biblically speaking – and that’s rather important!) is when our judgments begin to affect the way we treat others.

To put it more plainly: to disapprove of a decision made by another and articulate this in the public or private square appears to me to be the root of civilization.  Being a Christian, however, obligates me to treat with charity, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness all those I meet, especially those who I have judged.

The real danger of judgment, then, appears to be the effect that it has on my own soul: the natural inclination to push others with whom I disagree outside the “camp” as it were.

In fact, to live a life rooted in the Gospel actually pushes us past and through judgment: the Good News is nothing so banal as “hate the sin, love the sinner,” but rather something more explosive: “love your neighbor as yourself.”

And this brings me back to the above-quoted portion of Isaiah 49: as the Lord calls to set prisoners free and for those in darkness to show themselves, we are not called to consider why one or another is a prisoner, or why this one or that one had lived in darkness.  No: the Lord is much more concerned with the day of salvation than with what put us in this mess in the first place.

Human to judge, divine to forgive.

It’s a good thing that Jesus is both, isn’t it?

Quote of the Day: Bernardin on the Dark Valley

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Something upon which we can chew while snowbound:

As Christians, if we are to love as Jesus loved, we must first come to terms with suffering. Like Jesus, simply cannot be cool and detached from our fellow human beings. Our years of living as Christians will be years of suffering for and with other people. Like Jesus, we will love others only if we walk with them in the valley of darkness – the dark valley of sickness, the dark valley of moral dilemmas, the dark valley of oppressive structures and diminished rights.

Joseph Cardinal Berardin, The Gift of Peace, p. 49