Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laudato Si and the Eucharist

As I am speed-reading through Pope Francis' new encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si this morning, I discovered this beautiful section near the end on the sacraments - in particular, the Eucharist - and the importance of Sunday. This connection to Creation and to respect for the world and its peoples opens up great richness in sacramental theology.

235. The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life. Through our worship of God, we are invited to embrace the world on a different plane. Water, oil, fire and colours are taken up in all their symbolic power and incorporated in our act of praise. The hand that blesses is an instrument of God’s love and a reflection of the closeness of Jesus Christ, who came to accompany us on the journey of life. Water poured over the body of a child in Baptism is a sign of new life. Encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature. This is especially clear in the spirituality of the Christian East. “Beauty, which in the East is one of the best loved names expressing the divine harmony and the model of humanity transfigured, appears everywhere: in the shape of a church, in the sounds, in the colours, in the lights, in the scents”. For Christians, all the creatures of the material universe find their true meaning in the incarnate Word, for the Son of God has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation. “Christianity does not reject matter. Rather, bodiliness is considered in all its value in the liturgical act, whereby the human body is disclosed in its inner nature as a temple of the Holy Spirit and is united with the Lord Jesus, who himself took a body for the world’s salvation”.
236. It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: “Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world”. The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist, “creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself”.Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.
237. On Sunday, our participation in the Eucharist has special importance. Sunday, like the Jewish Sabbath, is meant to be a day which heals our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others and with the world. Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, the “first day” of the new creation, whose first fruits are the Lord’s risen humanity, the pledge of the final transfiguration of all created reality. It also proclaims “man’s eternal rest in God”. In this way, Christian spirituality incorporates the value of relaxation and festivity. We tend to demean contemplative rest as something unproductive and unnecessary, but this is to do away with the very thing which is most important about work: its meaning. We are called to include in our work a dimension of receptivity and gratuity, which is quite different from mere inactivity. Rather, it is another way of working, which forms part of our very essence. It protects human action from becoming empty activism; it also prevents that unfettered greed and sense of isolation which make us seek personal gain to the detriment of all else. The law of weekly rest forbade work on the seventh day, “so that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your maidservant, and the stranger, may be refreshed” (Ex 23:12). Rest opens our eyes to the larger picture and gives us renewed sensitivity to the rights of others. And so the day of rest, centred on the Eucharist, sheds it light on the whole week, and motivates us to greater concern for nature and the poor.
This will bear some study - but there is much to consider here - in a world that has largely lost its sense of the importance of Sabbath rest. Lots to think about in Pope Francis' document... but this is the liturgical connection.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Never. Stop. Evangelizing.

There is a little controversy going around on Facebook - and in the com-boxes over a post by Kathy Schiffer over on Patheos  in which she wonders aloud why kids who sat through catechesis and received their sacraments can later not remember things they were "taught" in that catechesis, like the obligation to attend Mass and the teachings on sexuality. The comments I have seen are about the difference between evangelization and catechesis.... but I think it goes even deeper to the unity of the two.

In Schiffer's final sentence is the key: "Maybe next year, when a teacher tells them again, the Good News will fall on good soil and will stir their hearts to Faith."

The Good News, the kerygma, is the key to all of this. Young people need to hear over and over why the teachings of God/the Church matter. It's the same issue I once encountered when a 7th grade girl asked me, point blank: "Why should I do anything God wants?"

Someone who has no relationship with the God of love and mercy will not understand God's desires for our behavior. Of course they tune us out. The other messages from the culture about "me first" are much louder and more attractive than we are... but that's because we deliver our message without conviction, minus the fire of the Holy Spirit. We often teach doctrine (especially those "rules" about sexuality) as if it exists apart from the love of God. We need, as Pope John Paul II did in his Theology of the Body, to connect these things continually to the love of God and God's plan for good for each person and for the world.

We need to punctuate all catechesis frequently with the Good News that Jesus' death took away the sins of the world and offers us eternal life. This was God's greatest gift - and it deserves a response of loving obedience. Jesus' sacrifice demands our response. That response would be to believe, to participate enthusiastically and gratefully in the sacrifice of the Mass, and to live according to God's desires for us, expressed in the teachings about chastity and other issues.

Pope Francis pretty much nails it in section 165 of Evangelii Gaudium:
We must not think that in catechesis the kerygma gives way to a supposedly more “solid” formation. Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation. All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma, which is reflected in and constantly illumines, the work of catechesis, thereby enabling us to understand more fully the significance of every subject which the latter treats. It is the message capable of responding to the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart. The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. All this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental.
That's the key. We don't evangelize young people a little every once in a while, at a retreat, by giving a witness talk, or providing the occasional meditative prayer or meaningful service experience. We must continually connect EVERYTHING we teach to the Good News. The Church teaches X because God loves you and wants you to have a fruitful life that builds up his Kingdom, not simply the Church teaches X: do it.

Never. Stop. Evangelizing.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

10 Reasons I Am Still Catholic

Around the internet Catholic writers are responding to Elizabeth Scalia's call to let the world know why we are Catholic, in the wake of the bad news from recent demographic surveys. So, here goes.

It's complicated. Its also beautiful.

I entered the Church as a 35-year-old convert from a mixed protestant background (Methodist, Lutheran, Unitarian, and a lot of self-study of non-Christian faiths in high school) and from the moment of my Confirmation and first Eucharist, I never, ever looked back or considered leaving.

I learned early on in my experience with the RCIA process that I had been a seeker my whole life. Something had been missing, and I found that something in the Catholic Church. What I found in the Church confounded my Unitarian/agnostic stepfather, who kept asking me how I could be part of a church that wanted to tell me how to think.  I finally helped him understand, at least partly, when I explained the faithful's call to cooperation with God to build the Kingdom on earth.

But that wasn't all. From the moment I joined the Church in 1987 to this day, I have found:

  1. Jesus Christ - the focus of everything. And not a Jesus for the sentimental, but a suffering servant king who offers himself to us and for us out of pure love in the sacrifice of every Mass, through the Eucharist we receive. A Jesus who calls us constantly into deeper relationship with him and his Father, with the help of the Spirit. A Jesus who offers to partner with us to carry our burdens, and who asks us to tell all we meet about his love and his invitation. This is the Jesus who calls us to be disciples and to make disciples - through his Church. I have known in this Church people who were true disciples - they made me who I am today. 
  2. Ritual and Liturgy - as I have said before, when I encountered the Mass, I felt I had come home. The consistent ritual, the Liturgical Year - these had been missing from my previous experiences of church. In the rhythm of Sunday after Sunday around the cycle of the year, I found myself constantly renewed and refreshed. I will never forget my first experience of the beauty of Liturgy of the Hours at my own celebration of the Call to Continuing Conversion. In it, I have found refreshment and peace.
  3. Community and Solidarity - blessed from the beginning to have found a welcoming community of faith in St. James, Rockford, I have always found acceptance and fellowship among Catholics wherever I go. At national conferences, in small towns and large cities, on the internet - always, even when we have occasional disagreements over some of the details - I have found that once good Catholics know that you, too, realize what is really important, there is a great deal of acceptance. This acceptance crosses lines of gender, geography, race and economic status. Deep down, we all know we are members of one flock and have One Shepherd - and that we are all called to One Table. I have broken bread with people whose orientation toward the Church is far more traditional than mine - and enjoyed it. As one body, the Church is not "me and Jesus" - it is alway "us" - together. To me, that is the greatest treasure. As a protestant child, I learned a hymn "Tell me the Stories of Jesus." As an adult Catholic, I stand in the assembly at Mass and sing "Alleluia!" as I wait for the Gospel reader to tell US the stories of Jesus, which WE love to hear - and which Catholics all over the world are hearing that day as well.
  4. Call to Mission, Evangelization and Service - This is part of what really excites me. I am part of a 2,000-year-old mission to bring the Gospel and its values to the world. As the owner of some of Christ's hands and feet on earth, I have always felt I had a place in the mission, in large ways and small. Sometimes my call is to write, teach or sing about this. Sometimes I get to serve. (Just last week, I found myself in the middle of a hot parking lot helping to feed the poor from a mobile food pantry.)
  5. Dignity of Each Person - contrary to what the world thinks it knows about Catholics, we honor the life and of each human person (we just don't always accept every person's lifestyle). We are called to be voices for the voiceless - the poor, the powerless, the unborn, the disabled and the elderly  - seeking justice and compassion for them in the name of Jesus Christ. Watching how our country has increasingly polarized into rich and poor, I speak out, and make a special personal effort to help the poor whenever I can.
  6. Work to do for Peace and Justice- though I will never have the courage of people like Martin Sheen, who has been arrested so many times for standing up against senseless violence and injustice, there is a part of me, baptized in the crucible of the Vietnam era, that jumps to attention when I see failures of justice. I want to put myself out there, to stand for the kind of world desired for us by a God who has as his goal, a time when our swords will become plowshares. However, all are not called to the same actions on behalf of this. I have found my call in how I vote and in how I teach and share with others ways we can walk in the paths God has asked.
  7. Consistent Ethic of Life -  I have grown to understand that God is truly the giver of life and it is he who numbers our days. Any attempt by human beings to "play God" by choosing the day of our own or another's death is a violation of the desires of the God of Life. Being pro-life means we all have some role in the defense of life, each according to our circumstance and talents. I never waver on the message in my teaching or in my comments on current events about life issues. 
  8. Eclectic Music and Inculturation - it's a big church. There is room for Gregorian chant, for traditional hymns in both Latin and the vernacular, for contemporary songs, and sometimes, even for rock and roll.  There is room for ethnic and "world" music. Music with well-chosen texts, often based on scripture - the style doesn't matter - I can love it all - though like everyone, I have my preferences.  There is room for the devotional practices of different immigrant groups and for the recovery of the lost practices of groups who were homogenized by the American "melting pot" of the past. There is room for the popular culture and for creativity and art - it all can find a place in our efforts to praise and glorify the God who created everything. And me, I love my bi-cultural parish - and cannot keep from singing to my God in one language or two, in traditional, modern Anglo, or Hispanic style. 
  9. The Mystical Body AND the Institutional Church - one and the same, yet different. Often inconsistent. I firmly believe that Jesus Christ meant for the Church to exist. When the People of God gather at liturgy to praise and worship the Father in the Son, through the Spirit, we become the "real Church" - the Mystical Body of Christ. It is when we join in prayer, hear the Word and receive the Eucharist together that we are most ourselves. When we go forth, we are of one mind. However, once in the world, that can break down as we are pulled apart by forces from within and without. The Church as an institution has garnered many a black eye over its history, but we can love her anyway. Like Jesus the Catholic Church is fully divine and fully human - but unlike Jesus, it is not without sin and frailty. It has helped me over the years to remember that there is an ideal, mystical Church and a human, fallible church. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, sometimes, it seems like we should celebrate "Facepalm Sunday" - but we can love this Church anyway. 
  10. The Holy Spirit and the Call to Share Spiritual Gifts - my most recent discovery about the Church is how through it, we are called to share the charisms the Holy Spirit has given each of us, for the good of the entire Body of Christ. Sure, I knew that, generically, but only recently have I discovered how that works in my life. Each of us has indeed been given certain gifts, but the community helps us discern how those gifts may be used for the good of others. One of the criteria in the Called and Gifted process for discerning a charism is that others have told you that when you do something, it bears fruit for them.  Our gifts are not our own. They came from God and belong to God's community. This, above all, is for me one of the great rewards of being Catholic: I have a purpose. I belong. I know that who I am is part of something greater, it is not for me alone.
And THAT is why I am and will always be Catholic... in spite of all those moments that could bring on this: