Saturday, February 21, 2015

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

Lent. Lent. Why does the Church observe this season of fasting and penance?

A friend of mine once gave a heart-felt and beautiful defense of Catholicism. He said, “Some people say that Catholics mourn their faith, but I've never felt that.”

Some people say that Catholics mourn their faith. I had never heard it put quite that way before, but I think I know what he meant. If someone were to just observe Catholics, watch what we do here at Mass, they'd think that we are indeed pretty good at mourning. Right? Last Wednesday this church was packed several times throughout the day with people getting ashes on their heads as they were told to “Repent!” and reminded that “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Then we come together again on Sunday, beating our breasts: “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” In a few weeks' time on Good Friday we'll process up the aisle to kiss the Cross, the gruesome instrument of torture on which our Savior was executed.

And on top of all that, we're “giving up” something for Lent and doing penances. Why?

That friend of mine said, “Some people say that Catholics mourn their faith, but I've never felt that.” He was able to see that there was something behind all these practices of ours. Or better yet, he understood that there was something beyond all this, that these things we Catholics do have a purpose, a goal.

The season of Lent is not a time simply to do penance or fast or go without meat on Fridays as if these things were ends in themselves. The season of Lent is about preparing for Easter. The road that leads to the Cross goes on father, to the Resurrection. In the Collect prayer of today's Mass we asked God that “through the yearly observances of holy Lent, that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ.” There are riches—great riches!—in Christ, but they are hidden. We must find them, and to do this we need to go out into the desert with Christ. The richness of our faith, the purpose of our Lenten practice, is not always immediately apparent to the observer, just as the Resurrection of Christ was not believed in by all who had seen Him die. But if we look for the hidden riches of our faith we will find a treasure beyond our wildest dreams.

St. Peter said to us this morning, “Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. […] In the days of Noah […] a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which now saves you. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.”

This is why the Church observes the season of Lent. Those preparing for Baptism at the Easter Vigil are making “an appeal to God for a clear conscience,” asking that the grace of the Sacrament may perfect their conversion, not only doing away with their guilt and washing away their past sins but also giving them the strength, from then on, to lead a life free from further sin. And for those of us who have been receiving the grace of the Sacraments for years, but so often fall short of having “a clear conscience”—how much more do we need this season of penance!

But it is always important to keep the reason for our penance in mind. If our goal for this Lent is to suffer a little and then to continue in Easter with business as usual, we might rightly be accused of mourning our faith. But if our goal for this Lent is, through suffering, to find the riches hidden in Christ; to grow closer to Christ, to grow in holiness and to be united with Christ both in the suffering of his Cross and in the triumph of his Resurrection, if this is our goal!  If this is our goal: Then as saints we shall reign in the glory of Heaven.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

A review of "Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith" by Eve Tushnet

I am re-posting here my Goodreads review of Eve Tushnet's "Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith" because I believe this book deserves as much attention as it can get.

A poignant conversation story, quite frankly the best book on celibacy I've ever read, and a brilliant thesis on how the Church can become a welcoming environment for those who are gay while upholding Tradition. And it had me laughing so hard you would have thought I was reading Dave Barry.

This book is well worth your time if either homosexuality or Christianity is something important to you, and if both are, then this is absolutely indispensable reading. Eve Tushnet is a celibate gay Catholic who upholds the Church's teachings on marriage and thus finds herself in the difficult position of being looked upon as suspect (at best) by Christians who don't understand why someone would continue to self-identify as gay while at the same time being at odds with most gay communities. This is a difficult road: "I've never been ashamed of being gay that I can recall, but there have been many times when the frequent small, grinding humiliations of explaining my celibacy left me feeling worn down, resentful, and equal parts self-righteous and ashamed."

In order to help gay people live out their vocation, the Church needs to be a place "where we can be honest and where we can begin to come out to ourselves and to others in a space that may be safer than our homes and families." While many Christians are ready to help those who want to wholly renounce their former homosexual identity (Tushnet cites the "ex-gay" movement and apostolates like Courage), these approaches have been found helpful by some but not by all. She stresses that her experience has not been one of "struggling with same-sex attraction;" rather the "reason I continue to call myself gay," she writes, is because "being in love with women has usually made me a better person." The Church needs to welcome those who have found meaning within their gay relationships, although God will call such people to change the way they express their love. Drawing on a deep spirituality centered on the Cross, Tushnet writes: "the sacrifice God wants isn't always the sacrifice you wanted to make. And when you know how ready you are to sacrifice a great deal, as long as you get to do it on your terms, it can feel especially painful and unfair when God asks you for something different, a sacrifice you never wanted. Good gay relationships are often sacrificial. They are loyal, vulnerable, forms of loving service, and a school for humility and forgiveness. But they aren't the sacrifice God is calling you to make." But we in the Church can hardly expect people to rise to such a challenge without our support. "Sexual wholeness is more a property of communities or churches than it is of individuals."

At root her proposal is a re-evaluation of how we in the Church talk about vocations. "Our refusal to honor or even imagine important vocations [for laypeople] other than marriage causes a huge amount of pain, loneliness, and a sense of worthlessness." Along the way Tushnet deftly points out the many ways in which the experiences of celibate gay Christians have parallels with those living other vocations, making her proposal relevant for gay and straight alike. She captures well the peculiar anxieties of this state in life: "Never knowing that there's somebody who will always take your call. Asking yourself who your emergency contact should be, rather than filling in the name without thinking about it. Feeling like you're burdening people when you need them, [...] even when you're really seriously in need." She quotes Joshua Gonnerman, who starkly expresses the problem: "The person who lives celibacy in the world has, in her or his life, the least and frailest support structures of all; yet he or she is expected to live chastity with the most general guidance and the fewest concrete examples."

What, then, can be done? Tushnet's answer (and I'm fully convinced of this myself) is that there must be ways for celibate people to become deeply involved in family life. "Knitting single people more closely into families is one of the biggest things the Christian churches could do to change the culture." She quotes Wesley Hill who recounts that "the 'after 30' friendships that I've made with married people have all depended in large measure on my married friends' treating me not as a frequent guest but like an uncle to their children." This requires families to welcome into the life of their homes celibate single persons, who in turn are called to be more radically available to their married friends. "For single laypeople living alone, it might be worth asking: Are there ways I could get a little closer to offering the on-call love my married and parenting friends so often must provide?" Tushnet admits that this "means giving up a lot of the perks that come with single life" and embracing many of the icky, gooey, sticky realities that come part-and-parcel with small children. "This is the price of admission to friendship with parents. It is totally worth it, but be prepared."

I got a lot out of reading this book, and highly recommend it to each and every one of you who have enough interest in the subject to have read all the way to the bottom of this review. I imagine that the primary audience, those who "find beauty, mutual aid, and solidarity in gay life, even though we believe we've found something much greater in Christ," will understand it on an experiential level that will make it resonate even more deeply. I hope that some day soon someone will write a book for straight celibate people that's this good and this honest. Eve Tushnet has given us something exceedingly well-written, thoroughly funny, and prophetic.

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Homily on the Synod on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization

Pope Francis has asked us all to join him in praying for the success of the “Synod on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”  The synod will begin one week from today.  What are the consequences of this Synod?  Well, for one, since it starts next week if you wake up early next Sunday and go to 9:00a.m. Mass you’re likely to hear me give the same sermon over again.  You’ve been warned!

The long title of this gathering, the “Synod on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization” gives us three questions: first, What is a Synod? second, What are the Pastoral Challenges facing Families? and third, What is the role of the Family in the context of Evangelization?

A synod is a gathering of Bishops and other invited experts who advise the Pope regarding the situation of the Church throughout the world.  Synods are different from Ecumenical Councils like Vatican II.  Synods do not produce documents.  Synods do not promulgate any kind of legislation or Church law.  Their purpose is simply to advise the Pope on issues he thinks important.

So if your friends ask you, “Hey, is the Catholic Church about to change her doctrine or laws about marriage and the family?” you can tell them, “No, for two reasons.  First, because a synod does not make laws, and second, because the Church’s doctrines have been handed down to us from Christ’s Apostles and can not change.”


This brings us to the second question: What are the Pastoral Challenges facing Families?  The insert in today’s bulletin lists many: “poverty, divorce and remarriage, war, disease, political instability, abortion, the redefinition of marriage, and contraception.”  These issues, which have been discussed at great length within the Church many times, have a continual urgency.  A brief overview of the last few decades may help to shed light on this.

The Catholic Church has always taught that one of the essential goods of marriage is the procreation and education of children, and that the nature of the marital act is intrinsically ordered towards this good.  This property of marriage by its nature excludes contraceptive methods and a contraceptive mentality.  In the year 1930, however, a gathering of Anglican Bishops rejected this truth.  They said this:
“in those cases where there is [...] a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, [...] other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of [...] Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.”

Although these Protestant leaders used a traditional-sounding rhetoric, in effect they told their people that, so long as they felt their situation to be a difficult one (and who among us doesn't feel our personal circumstances to be difficult?) they were free to ignore the Church’s ancient and unchanging teaching on the nature, meaning, and purpose of the conjugal act.

After the Anglicans caved in, virtually all Protestant denominations followed suit.  Even many Catholic Priests were led astray -- although the Church herself is guarded by the Holy Spirit from ever teaching error in her official doctrines.

In 1968 Pope Paul VI outlined the effects contraception would have on society in his prophetic encyclical Humanae vitae:
“Responsible individuals will quickly see the truth of the Church's teaching if they consider what consequences will follow from the methods of contraception and the reasons given for the use of contraception. They should first consider how easy it will be [for many] to justify behavior leading to marital infidelity or to a gradual weakening in the discipline of morals. [...] Indeed, it is to be feared that husbands who become accustomed to contraceptive practices will lose respect for their wives. They may come to disregard their wife's psychological and physical equilibrium and use their wives as instruments for serving their own desires.”
The Pope said that if the intimacy of marriage becomes a means of personal pleasure rather than a life-giving union it gradually leads to an alienation of affections, the seeking of pleasure in ways not faithful to the marriage vows, and thus ultimately to a rise in the divorce rate, which has proven true.

The Pope also warned that in a society where contraception was widely used the State could force contraception or abortion on people against their will.  This happens in China.

This was the trajectory of the world forty-five years ago: the use of contraception was rightly predicted to lead to increased rates of marital unfaithfulness, divorce, and abortion.

What is the state of the world today?  Well, for that we need look no further than the television.  This Fall’s most critically acclaimed show is “Transparent”, where Jeffrey Tambor plays a father who, at seventy years old, finally outs himself as “trans” to his three children.  Tambor’s character “Mort” explains to his children that he feels he has really been “Maura” all along -- that he feels he is a woman despite having a man’s body.

The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” no longer apply. No [they say,] ‘it was not God who created them male and female – society did this, but now we decide for ourselves.’ Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation.

A line of thought that began in the early twentieth century with contraception -- where children are treated not as a loving gift from God to be welcomed but as a disease to be prevented -- now reaches its conclusion.  The basic concepts of family: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister -- these are socially constructed realities, and thus arbitrary ones, ones that have no lasting meaning or value for us.

Now we may say, like the people of Israel in the reading from Ezekiel, “The Lord’s way is not fair!”  The Church’s teaching is hard!  Hard to accept and hard to live.  God might say to us in reply, “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?”  God’s laws are the way in which we find our true and lasting happiness.  When we depart from them we always end up, in the long run, unhappy and unsatisfied.

The way we respond to these situations of the world today is very important.  We must never be hateful or cold towards people, passing judgment or writing them off because of decisions they’ve made.  We must not be like the Pharisees Jesus condemns in the Gospel!  Better to be a prostitute who listens to and accepts the word of God than a “righteous” person who goes to church every week but has no love in their heart.  We must show love to everyone.


This brings us to our final topic: What is the role of the Family in the context of Evangelization?

While society around us abandons and destroys all notion of traditional family relationships, which should bring us great joy in life, then if families live out their Catholic faith they become a light shining in the darkness, offering hope to those who are sad and despairing.

There are two ways that we can be a light to the world.

In a recent meeting in Rimini, Italy, Fr. Antonio Spadaro said that one can see the Church
“as a lighthouse,” a beacon that illumines the way for ships in a storm, [proclaiming:] “I am here, the harbor is here, safety is here.” And this is [...] true. The Church is a rock, [...] indefectible.
But there is another way to give light to those who are in darkness: the torch. A torch does not stand still, but “walks among men, illumines humanity where it finds itself. If humanity moves toward the abyss, the torch moves toward the abyss, it accompanies men in their development.”  It is in this way that the torch “may be able to draw man away from the abyss and allow him to see it.”
This puts an enormous burden upon you, the laity.  I’m here manning the lighthouse -- if anyone comes to the Church I’m happy to sit down and answer their questions.  But for all those who don’t come to Mass, you must be that light, using what knowledge you have to say “No, this is a cliff! this is the abyss! this is not what will make you happy!”  You are the ones who encounter those in your neighborhoods, your circles of family and friends who have not accepted the Church’s teaching.  And you must be the one to lead them, step by step, to safety.

May God grant wisdom to our Bishops and all who will attend this Synod.  Let us take seriously the call to educate ourselves and to pray for the success of this effort of the Church to preach the Good News of the family.


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Monday, April 21, 2014

The Harrowing of Hell

This poem which I composed for an Easter homily was inspired by (and largely cribbed from) William Langland's 14th century The Vision of Piers Plowman.

The crowd crushes inward, each man bearing branches,
“Hooray and Hosanna, Hosanna!” they sing.
“What lancers are listing?” ask those who've come lately.
“'Tis Jesus the Jouster, our Christ and our King!”

Then Christ appeared riding a most noble stallion
Named “Caro” or “Flesh” and “the-nature-of-man.”
The un-holy champ'ion of Satan was riding
a pale horse named “Falsehood” and “Father-of-lies.”

They lifted up lances and lurched towards each-other,
The crowd waiting breathlessly for them to meet.
And just when it seem-ed that Christ would be victor,
The point of a lance pierced his side and his heart.

Then Lucifer laughed from his lair down in Hades,
“This so-called Messiah is dead at my hands!”
When suddenly Light pierced the dark of that dungeon
As Christ rode victorious down into Hell.

The devils, despairing, said “Here cometh Christus!
The Cross comes before Him to undo us all!”
“O Death!” bellowed Christ, “by my Death I destroy you!
And Satan, I've come here to claim what is mine!”

Then Lucifer, terrified, rose to meet Jesus
And vainly he argued that Jesus was wrong.
“Each soul that has perished from Adam on downward
Has come to my kingdom and is mine by right.

“The letter of law—as You know since You wrote it!—
Is 'eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
Each soul here has sinned and so forfeit his freedom,
You have no right, Jesus, to take them from me!”

His eyes full of fire, Christ cast down the Devil
And, being much stronger, He bound him in chains.
“You know well the Bible,” said Christ to the Devil,
“'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'

“By your own words, Satan, I come to condemn you:
'Eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth, flesh-for-flesh, soul-for-soul.'
I, Jesus, the Just One, who never was sinful,
Have paid with my own life the price for each one.”

Then Jesus, extending his arm out to Adam
Clasped hands with his father, that first son of God.
“Too long hast thou lain here in need of salvation.
The Gospel now gives life to all who have faith.”

So Christ freed the captives of Satan's dark kingdom;
In Heaven, our homeland, they wait for us now.
Shall we, dear friends, meet them? Rejoicing forever?
Or stay in our sins and so suffer and die?

Through forty days Lent has prepared us by Penance
To meet Jesus here at his altar with joy.
If faith and our charity both make us ready,
Our Passover's sacrificed; Come, keep the feast!

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The renewed appeal of the Latin Mass

(A slightly modified version of a bulletin article dated 18 August)

I am often asked the question, “What is it that attracts so many young people to the Latin Mass?” Here are three attempts at an answer to that question:

Silence is sacred

We are constantly surrounded by noise. While we’re not busy binge-watching shows on Netflix or watching viral videos on YouTube we’re being inundated with emails, calls, texts, Instagrams, tweets, Vines … it never stops! When we go to Mass and hear the Eucharistic Prayer ringing in our ears, it’s easy for even “This is my Body” to become just one more piece of noise. But to go to a Mass where the prayers are silent, spoken softly by the priest to God alone, provides an experience totally opposite to every other moment of life. In this silence we are free. Free to pray along with those silent prayers if we wish, or to add prayers of our own, or simply to rest in quiet solitude with God.

Everything old is new again

Since almost everyone born after 1988 grew up reading Harry Potter, the under-thirty crowd has always known that cool kids wander around Gothic buildings wearing long black robes while muttering Latin incantations. If it’s true that in a time not long past anything medieval was bound to be the butt of a joke, like in the 1975 Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it’s equally true that the same quasi-medieval setting is now extremely popular: witness HBO’s Game of Thrones. It was captured best in an exchange I recently overheard between two young boys: said one to the other as he examined the antediluvian relic of a typewriter, “Old stuff is so much better than new stuff!”

Wounded by beauty

A generation ago, many felt a need for an experience of Church that was more down-to-earth; but in our own day, two billion viewers gleefully watched the extreme pomp of the Royal Wedding. The ceremonies, the chants, and the trappings of the ancient liturgical rites of Western culture are beautiful. And in a generation unsure if there really are such things as “right” and “wrong,” it is not the truth of the Church’s teachings but the beauty of her worship that will stir their hearts. The converts of the next decade will not say “You have convinced us,” but rather they will say—breathlessly and with tears in their eyes—“We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth!”

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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Lumen Fidei, Heavily Abridged



Abridged (3,794 words; original 
19,283 words)

An illusory light?
2. The young Nietzsche encouraged his sister Elisabeth to take risks, to tread "new paths… with all the uncertainty of one who must find his own way", adding that "this is where humanity’s paths part: if you want peace of soul and happiness, then believe, but if you want to be a follower of truth, then seek". Belief would be incompatible with seeking. From this starting point Nietzsche was to develop his critique of Christianity for diminishing the full meaning of human existence and stripping life of novelty and adventure. Faith would thus be the illusion of light, an illusion which blocks the path of a liberated humanity to its future.

3. In the process, faith came to be associated with darkness. There were those who tried to save faith by making room for it alongside the light of reason. Such room would open up wherever the light of reason could not penetrate, wherever certainty was no longer possible. Faith was thus understood either as a leap in the dark, to be taken in the absence of light, driven by blind emotion, or as a subjective light, capable perhaps of warming the heart and bringing personal consolation, but not something which could be proposed to others as objective and shared light which points the way. Slowly but surely, however, it would become evident that the light of autonomous reason is not enough to illumine the future; ultimately the future remains shadowy and fraught with fear of the unknown. As a result, humanity renounced the search for a great light, Truth itself, in order to be content with smaller lights which illumine the fleeting moment yet prove incapable of showing the way. Yet in the absence of light everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere.
Abraham, our father in faith
8. Faith opens the way before us and accompanies our steps through time. Hence, if we want to understand what faith is, we need to follow the route it has taken, first in the Old Testament. Here a unique place belongs to Abraham, our father in faith. Something disturbing takes place in his life: God speaks to him; he reveals himself as a God who speaks and calls his name. Faith thus takes on a personal aspect. Faith is our response to a word which engages us personally, to a "Thou" who calls us by name.
9. The word spoken to Abraham contains both a call and a promise. First, it is a call to leave his own land, a summons to a new life, the beginning of an exodus which points him towards an unforeseen future. The sight which faith would give to Abraham would always be linked to the need to take this step forward.
10. Faith understands that something so apparently ephemeral and fleeting as a word, when spoken by the God who is fidelity, becomes absolutely certain and unshakable, guaranteeing the continuity of our journey through history. Faith accepts this word as a solid rock upon which we can build, a straight highway on which we can travel.
11. God’s word, while bringing newness and surprise, is not at all alien to Abraham’s experience. In the voice which speaks to him, the patriarch recognizes a profound call which was always present at the core of his being.
The faith of Israel
12. The history of the people of Israel in the Book of Exodus follows in the wake of Abraham’s faith. Here we see how the light of faith is linked to concrete life-stories. Gothic architecture gave clear expression to this: in the great cathedrals light comes down from heaven by passing through windows depicting the history of salvation.
13. The history of Israel also shows us the temptation of unbelief to which the people yielded more than once. Idols exist, we begin to see, as a pretext for setting ourselves at the centre of reality and worshiping the work of our own hands. Idolatry, then, is always polytheism, an aimless passing from one lord to another. Idolatry does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth. Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history. Faith consists in the willingness to let ourselves be constantly transformed and renewed by God’s call. Herein lies the paradox: by constantly turning towards the Lord, we discover a sure path which liberates us from the dissolution imposed upon us by idols.
The fullness of Christian faith
15. Christian faith is centred on Christ; it is the confession that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised him from the dead (cf. Rom 10:9).
16. The clearest proof of the reliability of Christ’s love is to be found in his dying for our sake. This love, which did not recoil before death in order to show its depth, is something I can believe in; Christ’s total self-gift overcomes every suspicion and enables me to entrust myself to him completely.
17. Had the Father’s love not caused Jesus to rise from the dead, had it not been able to restore his body to life, then it would not be a completely reliable love, capable of illuminating also the gloom of death. Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises. It would make no difference at all whether we believed in him or not.
18. We "believe" Jesus when we accept his word, his testimony, because he is truthful. We "believe in" Jesus when we personally welcome him into our lives and journey towards him, clinging to him in love and following in his footsteps along the way.
Far from divorcing us from reality, our faith in the Son of God made man in Jesus of Nazareth enables us to grasp reality’s deepest meaning and to see how much God loves this world and is constantly guiding it towards himself. This leads us, as Christians, to live our lives in this world with ever greater commitment and intensity.
Salvation by faith
19. Once I think that by turning away from God I will find myself, my life begins to fall apart. The beginning of salvation is openness to something prior to ourselves, to a primordial gift that affirms life and sustains it in being.
20. Faith in Christ brings salvation because in him our lives become radically open to a love that precedes us, a love that transforms us from within, acting in us and through us.
21. We come to see the difference, then, which faith makes for us. Those who believe are transformed by the love to which they have opened their hearts in faith. By their openness to this offer of primordial love, their lives are enlarged and expanded. The self-awareness of the believer now expands because of the presence of another; it now lives in this other and thus, in love, life takes on a whole new breadth.
The ecclesial form of faith
22. Faith is necessarily ecclesial; it is professed from within the body of Christ as a concrete communion of believers. For "how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?" (Rom 10:14). Faith becomes operative in the Christian on the basis of the gift received, the love which attracts our hearts to Christ (cf. Gal 5:6), and enables us to become part of the Church’s great pilgrimage through history until the end of the world.
Faith and truth
23. Unless you believe, you will not understand (Is 7:9). The Septuagint gives the above rendering of the words spoken by the prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz. The prophet challenges the king, and us, to understand the Lord’s ways, seeing in God’s faithfulness the wise plan which governs the ages.
24. Faith without truth does not save, it does not provide a sure footing. It remains a beautiful story, the projection of our deep yearning for happiness, something capable of satisfying us to the extent that we are willing to deceive ourselves. Either that, or it is reduced to a lofty sentiment which brings consolation and cheer, yet remains prey to the vagaries of our spirit and the changing seasons, incapable of sustaining a steady journey through life.
Knowledge of the truth and love
27. For Wittgenstein, believing can be compared to the experience of falling in love: it is something subjective which cannot be proposed as a truth valid for everyone. Indeed, most people nowadays would not consider love as related in any way to truth. Love is seen as an experience associated with the world of fleeting emotions, no longer with truth. But is this an adequate description of love? If love is not tied to truth, it falls prey to fickle emotions and cannot stand the test of time. True love, on the other hand, unifies all the elements of our person and becomes a new light pointing the way to a great and fulfilled life. Without truth, love is incapable of establishing a firm bond.
Love and truth are inseparable. Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people’s day-to-day lives. The truth we seek, the truth that gives meaning to our journey through life, enlightens us whenever we are touched by love. One who loves realizes that love is an experience of truth, that it opens our eyes to see reality in a new way, in union with the beloved. It is a relational way of viewing the world, which then becomes a form of shared knowledge, vision through the eyes of another and a shared vision of all that exists.
The dialogue between faith and reason
34. As a truth of love, it is not one that can be imposed by force; it is not a truth that stifles the individual. Since it is born of love, it can penetrate to the heart, to the personal core of each man and woman. Clearly, then, faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others. One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all.
Faith and the search for God
35. What other reward can God give to those who seek him, if not to let himself be found? Because faith is a way, it also has to do with the lives of those men and women who, though not believers, nonetheless desire to believe and continue to seek. To the extent that they are sincerely open to love and set out with whatever light they can find, they are already, even without knowing it, on the path leading to faith. They strive to act as if God existed, at times because they realize how important he is for finding a sure compass for our life in common or because they experience a desire for light amid darkness, but also because in perceiving life’s grandeur and beauty they intuit that the presence of God would make it all the more beautiful.
The Church, mother of our faith
37. Those who have opened their hearts to God’s love cannot keep this gift to themselves. It is a light reflected from one face to another, even as Moses himself bore a reflection of God’s glory after having spoken with him. The light of Christ shines, as in a mirror, upon the face of Christians; as it spreads, it comes down to us, so that we too can share in that vision and reflect that light to others, in the same way that, in the Easter liturgy, the light of the paschal candle lights countless other candles. Faith is passed on, we might say, by contact, from one person to another, just as one candle is lighted from another.
39. It is impossible to believe on our own. Faith is not simply an individual decision which takes place in the depths of the believer’s heart. By its very nature, faith is open to the "We" of the Church; it always takes place within her communion. We can respond in the singular — "I believe" — only because we are part of a greater fellowship, only because we also say "We believe". Here we see why those who believe are never alone, and why faith tends to spread, as it invites others to share in its joy.
The sacraments and the transmission of faith
40. The Church, like every family, passes on to her children the whole store of her memories. But how does this come about in a way that nothing is lost, but rather everything in the patrimony of faith comes to be more deeply understood? It is through the apostolic Tradition preserved in the Church with the assistance of the Holy Spirit that we enjoy a living contact with the foundational memory.
For transmitting a purely doctrinal content, an idea might suffice, or perhaps a book, or the repetition of a spoken message. [But] there is a special means for passing down this fullness, a means capable of engaging the entire person, body and spirit, interior life and relationships with others. It is the sacraments, celebrated in the Church’s liturgy.
The unity and integrity of faith
47. These days we can imagine a group of people being united in a common cause, in mutual affection, in sharing the same destiny and a single purpose. But we find it hard to conceive of a unity in one truth. We tend to think that a unity of this sort is incompatible with freedom of thought and personal autonomy. Yet the experience of love shows us that a common vision is possible, for through love we learn how to see reality through the eyes of others, not as something which impoverishes but instead enriches our vision. This is also the great joy of faith: a unity of vision in one body and one spirit. Saint Leo the Great could say: "If faith is not one, then it is not faith".
48. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole. Each period of history can find this or that point of faith easier or harder to accept: hence the need for vigilance in ensuring that the deposit of faith is passed on in its entirety and that all aspects of the profession of faith are duly emphasized. The unity of faith, then, is the unity of a living body; this was clearly brought out by Blessed John Henry Newman when he listed among the characteristic notes for distinguishing the continuity of doctrine over time its power to assimilate everything that it meets in the various settings in which it becomes present and in the diverse cultures which it encounters, purifying all things and bringing them to their finest expression. Faith is thus shown to be universal, catholic, because its light expands in order to illumine the entire cosmos and all of history.
Faith and the common good
50. In presenting the story of the patriarchs and the righteous men and women of the Old Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews highlights that faith is not only presented as a journey, but also as a process of building, the preparing of a place in which human beings can dwell together with one another. The first builder was Noah who saved his family in the ark. Then comes Abraham, of whom it is said that by faith he dwelt in tents, as he looked forward to the city with firm foundations. With faith comes a new reliability, a new firmness, which God alone can give. Faith reveals just how firm the bonds between people can be when God is present in their midst. Faith does not merely grant interior firmness, a steadfast conviction on the part of the believer; it also sheds light on every human relationship because it is born of love and reflects God’s own love. The God who is himself reliable gives us a city which is reliable.
Faith and the family
52. The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith. Promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love. Faith also helps us to grasp in all its depth and richness the begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person.
53. In the family, faith accompanies every age of life, beginning with childhood: children learn to trust in the love of their parents. This is why it is so important that within their families parents encourage shared expressions of faith which can help children gradually to mature in their own faith. Young people in particular, who are going through a period in their lives which is so complex, rich and important for their faith, ought to feel the constant closeness and support of their families and the Church in their journey of faith. Young people want to live life to the fullest. Encountering Christ, letting themselves be caught up in and guided by his love, enlarges the horizons of existence, gives it a firm hope which will not disappoint. Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness which is stronger than our every weakness.
A light for life in society
54. Absorbed and deepened in the family, faith becomes a light capable of illumining all our relationships in society. As an experience of the mercy of God the Father, it sets us on the path of brotherhood. Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure. We need to return to the true basis of brotherhood. How many benefits has the gaze of Christian faith brought to the city of men for their common life! Thanks to faith we have come to understand the unique dignity of each person, something which was not clearly seen in antiquity. At the heart of biblical faith is God’s love, his concrete concern for every person, and his plan of salvation which embraces all of humanity and all creation, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without insight into these realities, there is no criterion for discerning what makes human life precious and unique. Man loses his place in the universe, he is cast adrift in nature, either renouncing his proper moral responsibility or else presuming to be a sort of absolute judge, endowed with an unlimited power to manipulate the world around him.
Consolation and strength amid suffering
56. Christians know that suffering cannot be eliminated, yet it can have meaning and become an act of love and entrustment into the hands of God who does not abandon us; in this way it can serve as a moment of growth in faith and love. By contemplating Christ’s union with the Father even at the height of his sufferings on the cross, Christians learn to share in the same gaze of Jesus. Even death is illumined and can be experienced as the ultimate call to faith, the ultimate "Go forth from your land", the ultimate "Come!" spoken by the Father, to whom we abandon ourselves in the confidence that he will keep us steadfast even in our final passage.
57. Nor does the light of faith make us forget the sufferings of this world. How many men and women of faith have found mediators of light in those who suffer! So it was with Saint Francis of Assisi and the leper, or with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her poor. They understood the mystery at work in them. In drawing near to the suffering, they were certainly not able to eliminate all their pain or to explain every evil. Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence.
Suffering reminds us that faith’s service to the common good is always one of hope — a hope which looks ever ahead in the knowledge that only from God, from the future which comes from the risen Jesus, can our society find solid and lasting foundations. Let us refuse to be robbed of hope, or to allow our hope to be dimmed by facile answers and solutions which block our progress.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Restore, O Lord, our Innocence

A hymn I wrote based on the Collects of Lent.

Restore, O Lord, our innocence,
Protect with thy right hand
The Church on earth which, through her sins,
Despises thy command.
Renew her by thy Sacraments
And through these forty days
May we, by this Lent purified,
Sing always of thy praise.

O God, who know our sorry state,
Devoid of strength for good,
Keep us from every wicked thought,
Make us live as we should.
By fasting teach us to abstain
From vice and fault and sin,
That we, denied of wordly joys,
May greater pleasures win.

Infuse our minds with heav'nly light,
That we may see thy ways,
Instruct us by thy discipline
To please Thee all our days.
Convert our hearts to love thy will,
Our minds to know the right;
May we find in this yearly fast
The source of our delight.

And so, O Lord, who love thy Church
And seek her growth on earth,
Give grace to those who through these days
Desire to find new birth.
Increase thy people through this Lent
In number, merit, love,
That we may, spurning earthly things,
Seek that which lies above.

Download sheet music.

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