Tuesday, November 24, 2009

OId Year - New Year: King Jesus and the Baby Jesus

This week Catholics around the world participate in the transition from Church Year 2009 to 2010, as we move from late autumn Ordinary Time into Advent. Having just celebrated the feast of Christ the King, the One who will come again, we ready ourselves to wait for his coming as a baby at Christmas, and acknowledge not only Christ as Baby, but as King - and the relationship between those two images.

Unlike the traditional New Years image of the creaky old man representing the old year and the newborn baby the new, our old year Jesus is the enthroned, powerful ruler to whom is due all glory, honor and dominion. Because Christ dwells in eternity, he is forever at the peak of his mature strength, not vitiated by age.

As a matter of fact, Christ the Baby is not the mute, powerless infant for more than a passing moment - the short duration of the Christmas Season, because the Baby, too, lives in eternity - the already-not-yet of time.  We should not make the mistake of seeing only his helplessness and tinyness. He is only apparently powerless.  And yet kings will pay him homage and a king will fear him. In Catholic tradition we have an image of this Jesus. It is perhaps interesting that modern Catholicism has "lost" the image of the Infant of Prague - that tiny powerful Baby-King who unites the already and the not yet... probably because he became a statue too many people associate with the hallways of a Catholic School of the 1950's and 60's - strictly an image for children.

Watch the upcoming readings of Advent for hints about which avatar of Jesus is the operative image. Most of the time, it will be the King of glory. Only as we approach the celebration of his birth as human being, will he appear as the humble, swaddled Baby.  And we should never underestimate that Baby's power to love us into change and growth.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day - Through the Lens of the Doctrine of "Just War"

Today the Church Year and the secular calendar more or less meet. In November, the month during which the Church especially remembers the dead, our country celebrates Veteran's Day  - the day to remember the dead who served their country in the armed forces. Certainly a worthy thing to do from the standpoint of patiotism. However, this is also a call for us, as Catholic Christians, to ponder the necessity of war. After all, Jesus did say "Blessed are the peacemakers."

As our nation continues to send young men and women over to the Middle East to "keep peace" in areas where our government perceives our military presence is needed, it might be good to ask if this is truly necessary and to revisit the notion of a "just war." In section 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says:

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
One has to wonder in the case of the continuing conflicts in the Middle East if all of these have indeed been met. Did we exhaust all other possibilities first? Is there indeed a realistic chance of success? Is not the cost of war both to the civilians in the countries affected and to those who serve in the military and their nation at least as grave an evil as what we are fighting?  I would say these answers are not fully clear. Certainly a matter for prayer and discernment.
Those who have died faithfully serving their country in the Middle East are certainly to be honored. Less clear is whether government decision-makers who sent them or continue to keep them there are likewise worthy of our praise.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bishop Trautman's call to ditch the new Mass translations - a matter of obedience?

Just saw this from America magazine: Bishop Donald Trautman is calling for a halt to the new translation approval process to save us from bad grammar and "unproclaimable texts." While I seriously doubt that a one-man charge can change the course of this particular juggernaut, you have to admire the man for trying.

Go take a look at the article here: http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?id=79941540-3048-741E-6679623819701054

In contrast, Liturgy Training Publication's website, in their promotional material for their revised series of pamphlets on the Mass assures us that the new translations will only "deepen the meaning" of the Mass - they are, under the aegis of Cardinal George, putting out materials to help us accept the new reality imposed upon the American church by the Vatican.

As usual, we are a church conflicted. Which approach makes the most sense? Do we remain who we are as Americans- a fiercely independent people who do not normally take things just because someone says so - or do we, as faithful sons and daughters of the church, bite our tongues and bow our heads in acquiescence, accepting the new texts without question?  Bishop Trautman's last-ditch attempt to derail the process leads to many questions.

Is the very character of our worship indeed coming down to being a matter of obedience?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Catechesis on the Mass when kids don't go to Mass..

I am an occasional substitute catechist at my parish - and last night I found myself facing 20 or so Hispanic American teens in their second year of Confirmation preparation for a lesson on the Eucharist. I knew I was in for it, when, while setting up the opening prayer, to the Saints, I asked how many of them had been to Mass last weekend and experienced the celebration of All Saints Day - and only 2 of them had done that.

How irrelevant is it to talk to youth about Eucharist as the source of all that we are and the most important thing we do at church, when they don't go? It's hard to refer to words said at Mass when they don't hear them, or to describe actions they never see. Yes, these are kids who can't drive themselves to Mass yet - and the issue is with their parents...

I know in this case that they come from working class families who mostly struggle - some with multiple jobs or parents working two shifts... and these parents make the commitment of time and money to send them to religious education.  Obviously they want their children to have the sacraments. But, how to reach the parents? How do you catechize them in an occasional "mandatory" parent meeting? I'm not the DRE, so I don't know what she has in mind, but I am guessing she has been trying. It's a challenging cultural reality.

Last night I did my best to reach them. I hope I planted a seed or two.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Grief and Remembering the Dead in November

Quite unexpectedly, I had an interesting dilemma surrounding the celebrations of All Saints and All Souls days this year. Still grieving over the death of my beloved friend four months ago, I found this annual call to pray for the dead somewhat conflicting... how could I pray for the repose of someone when I still have not fully accepted the fact of his unexpected death?

In this, as in all experiences, it is true that the journey of life and the state of our individual inner emotional landscape deeply affects how we experience the communal celebration of the liturgical year. As the year is marked by any given feast, we are never the same people we were the year before at this time. Nor will we be the same next year. We hear the Mass readings in the emotional space we are in - and we hear, through the power of the Holy Spirit, what God means for us to hear at this point on our journey.

Yes, I know this and I trust it to be true. So, all that I can do is walk through this November, still arguing with God over this loss, and know that next year I will be in a different space. The experience of this portion of the litugical year this time next year will be unique to where I am in the process of letting go of my beloved dead.

At Mass, we should never forget that the Assembly is not simply a corporate entity, but individuals, each with a unique story they bring with them. Among the gathered are many in the midst of their own struggles with faith and life issues. Anything we read, say or sing resonates with each individual according to their state of life. While we are, for that hour, One Body, we are many hearts, each listening to the Spirit in his or her own way. Each called to offer their struggles, with the bread and wine, to be transformed.

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis cum Sanctis tuis in aeternum, quia pius es. Amen.