The Assignment:In less than six hundred words, what is important about using the correct terminology in referring to the ways the lay faithful collaborate with the ordained ministry?
FOR THIS QUESTION, it seemed useful to draw on liturgical theology. In the work of the late Fr Alexander Schmemann, especially his Eucharist, he discusses how the Divine Liturgy is an icon of the Church and kingdom. Although the east hasn’t a “theology of the laity” this pairs well with what the Catechism teaches about the Mass as we participate in the Son’s worship of the Father.
Words actually have meanings. Terminology helps us communicate the nature of things according to the teachings of the Church. This concept can actually be a challenge at times. In our Catholic religion, believing that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) words and their meanings are important. In a society where meaning tends to be imagined as a self-generated product, Catholics need to be counter-cultural.
Aumann draws out a definition of the Lay Faithful by distinguishing their role in the Church and the world. “The particular mission of the laity in the church – to sanctify the temporal order – is the specific difference that distinguishes the laity from the clergy and persons in the consecrated life.” (On the Front Lines p. 65) When we distinguish, we do not divide or break off, however.
Following Aumann, who quotes extensively from our readings in Lumen Gentium and Christifideles Laici, when we distinguish our particular roles in the Church it makes more evident our function in the world. Aumann goes on to say, “However, one must be careful not to place in opposition the secular character of the laity and their active participation in the church.” (ibid.) Clergy and the Lay Faithful have differing but cooperative relationships with the world and each other. If the whole of Church is intended to be merely a liturgical play that we put on on Sundays (or even daily) then it can make sense to “fight” for the “best roles” in that play. However, the Mass is our ongoing participation in the self-offering of the Son to the Father (CCC ¶1367 ff), and thus is the continual sanctification of the Faithful for the purpose of sanctifying (and evangelizing) the Temporal order.
By way of example, communion at Mass should be distributed by the Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. These are bishops, priests, and deacons, (CIC 910 ¶1). Canon Law also allows for installed Acolytes and other members of the lay faithful (CIC 910 ¶2) to assist as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. In this text, the terms “Ordinary” and “Extraordinary” help us to distinguish between these roles. The lay faithful cooperate with clergy in various actions by way of “filling in gaps” when shortages in the ordinary ministers require this supply (CL 23, also cited in Aumann on p.96) but this does not change the function of the laity in the world or in the Church.
John Paul counsels us to ensure that the Lay Faithful act in these liturgical duties in a way conforming “to their specific lay vocation”, avoiding “clericalization” (ibid). Be aware we’re filling in.
The purpose of this distinction between ordinary and extraordinary is not to keep lay people “in their place” in terms of the “best roles” in a Liturgical Play, but rather to ensure that the liturgical action of the Church shows exactly what God is doing in the Mass: re-presenting the self-offering of Son to the Father for the sanctification of the world. When an Extraordinary Minister does the work, the work gets done, but the liturgical icon of the action of Christ in the world (through his body the Church) is not presented fully.
These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.
What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature… by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven.
The Church has, herself, an “authentic secular dimension” (Pope St Paul VI, cited in CL ¶15) because the whole Church is “in the world but not of it” (John 15:19, John 17:14-16 cited in CL). The lay faithful manifest this dimension in a particular way since they must live and move in the world in their daily lives. This is their “secular character” mentioned in Lumen Gentium.
The Lay Faithful may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer. (LG 31)
There is, within the Church, a particular way in which we are called to holiness, rooted in our baptism, this call is universal – directed to all people who are called to this communion in Christ. It is an act of evangelism to call those outside the Church to holiness. Pope St John Paul spends much of CL expanding on the idea of making the world reflect the kingdom of God in our homes, in the works of mercy, and in our professions.
St Paul urges us, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men…you are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col 3:23-24 RSVCE) The mystic, Gabriel Bossis, says to Our Lord “I’m weeding so that you may come and walk on the terrace.” (He and I, p 131)
In the Byzantine Liturgy, the Deacon moves back and forth from the altar, behind the icon screen, to the nave of the church, in front of the screen. From there he directs and gives voice to the prayers of the people, drawing their attention towards the Holy Place where God is sacramentally enthroned. The Lay Faithful are called to perform the same function in a larger liturgy, moving between the Church and the World, stitching them together, calling the world’s attention to the Gospel. The lay faithful are invited to make all situations within society direct towards this call to holiness. This illumination and ordering of all things and growing “according to Christ” is the universal call to holiness in action: it does not stop at the “edge” of the Church for this call is truly universal, both inside and outside of the Church.
SO, AS WAS EARLIER mentioned I’ve been wrestling with an article from First Things, published in 2002, called Celibacy in Context. I don’t mean “wrestling” as in struggling with, but rather as in Jacob saying to God, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Celibacy is not only hard for some folks to imagine doing, but it is also hard for some to even comprehend. Why? The issue of celibacy even came up in my Hebrew class, with the teacher explaining how strange it is to Jewish ears, to hear of a man willingly giving up on what is exactly the first command given to the couple in the garden: “be fruitful and multiply”. What is going on here? This is an ongoing meditation. I don’t pretend that this post will answer all your questions.
Two more images are coming to my mind. The first is Challah, the bread baked for the Sabbath (and a few other festivals in the Jewish year).
Take a look at Numbers 15:18-21:
Say to the people of Israel, When you come into the land to which I bring you and when you eat of the food of the land, you shall present an offering to the Lord. Of the first of your coarse meal you shall present a cake as an offering; as an offering from the threshing floor, so shall you present it. Of the first of your coarse meal you shall give to the Lord an offering throughout your generations.
The Hebrew rendered as “coarse meal” there can either mean meal or dough. Of course, since the destruction of the Temple there is no place to make such an offering, so, in the modern tradition for this Sabbath bread the housewife who is baking it offers a lump of dough, torn from the raw loaf, and says a blessing over it. The lump of dough is burned in the oven. Although only a tiny portion of the batch is burnt, the offering of the lump makes the entire loaf holy. What is given up is real and a real sacrifice, part and parcel of the whole, but it makes everything else holy and, in the end, the reduction does no harm to the joy celebrated. Seeing celibacy in this light is, it seems to me, a good thing. We give up one thing in order to make other things stronger, more holy.
The second image also gets tied to Hebrew class, but not quite as directly. We are working on Psalms because I pray them daily and it seems good to me to learn them in Hebrew. Currently we’re working on Ps 51, one of the most commonly used Psalms, especially in Lent in the Latin rite. In the Byzantine tradition, the Psalm may be said 2 or 3 times a day even in personal prayer! In this Psalm there are many references to forgiveness, grace, and mercy. One of the more common words for forgiveness refers (in “King James style”) to the “bowels of mercy” but the word, itself, comes from the word for womb. God’s womb of forgiveness.
While we’re looking at that, I jumped over to my favorite Psalm text, Ps 18:1b-2, which in the Coverdale, used at my former Monastery, is read as one verse:
I will love thee, O Lord, my strength; the Lord is my stony rock, and my defence my Saviour, my God, and my might, in whom I will trust, my buckler, the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge.
The Hebrew is the same, a collection of first-person possessive nouns. I think it would make a wonderful song, maybe by Miqedem, but it was that first bit, “I will love thee” that caught my eye. It’s sometimes rendered in the present tense as “I love thee”. In the original text the “i love you” bit is the last part of the 1st verse. The whole phrase is only one word, אֶרְחָמְךָ֖ er’cham’kha. I’ve heard that word before, I thought. In Psalm 51. Click after click brought me to this word: רֶחֶם rechem meaning, “womb”. When we speak of God’s mercy (as in Psalm 51) one of the words used is rechem and from that same root we get racham and from that we get the future tense, er’cham or, to add a personal suffix, er’cham’kha. That is, “…to you.” Remember, this verb arises from the image of a mother’s womb. Our loving God “opens his womb of mercy” to us and yet, we do the same to God here! There are other “wombly” echos in Ps 51, but the idea that we can show “rechem” to God – as he can to us – is just mind-blowing. But it needn’t be symbolic. Suddenly, the yes of Mary is her literally offering her womb to welcome “the Lord, my strength; the Lord is my stony rock, and my defence my Saviour, my God, and my might, in whom I will trust, my buckler, the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge.”
The Eastern Gate of Jerusalem is sealed, although Ezekiel prophesied that it would be. Before the historical event, though, (c AD 1540–41) the verses in Ezekiel were read to be related to the perpetual virginity of Mary. Once the Messiah King had passed through the gate of her womb, no one else would. It is from there that we get to celibacy. Paul says that an unmarried man is concerned about things of the Lord whilst a married man is concerned about his wife.
The man or woman who vows celibacy is promising to give the Lord the best part of life – sacrificing one small part in exchange for the whole. They consume the Bread of Life (Jesus) and then leave the gate sealed. No one else may pass that way. The gate through which has passed the king becomes a spiritual womb, enclosing the “Lord, my strength; the Lord is my stony rock, and my defence my Saviour, my God, and my might, in whom I will trust, my buckler, the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge.”
Yes, it’s possible to press this image too far, but this touches on the Greek word used for Mary in the Bible (including in the Greek Septuagint) Parthenos which has the cultural echoes of sexuality set apart for God by choice. All vowed celibates are called Virgins – even those who are not, experientially, virgins.
The mercy of forgiveness can restore even the womb of compassion within us to its original form and intent that it may house the King who is Bread.
DOING A GOOGLE ON A First name is such an interesting project: you find a lot of people with that name, of course – people you did not know, some stars, a few politicians, sometimes a saint or scoundrel if there is one that is particularly notable. Names common in other languages sometimes result in graphics of that name in the other tongue. I was hoping for that as I googled “Eliazar” this morning. I found that it’s common among a few ethnic groups, a couple of gentlemen were giving the 1 finger salute to the camera. On the whole first page of graphics, the best Google would give is this t-shirt. But none particularly hit towards my point.
Eliazar came up in our daily office today. In the Office of Readings we read of the youth of Moses in the household of Pharoah. Then we hear of his slaying of the Egyptian who was abusing one of the Hebrews. Moses runs off to Midian where he meets the daughters of a pagan priest who, eventually, gives his daughter to Moses in marriage. The second son of this union is named “Eliazar”. “and the name of the other was Eliezer: ‘for the God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.'” (Exodus 18:4) That was the last line of the reading. “My help” or “my helper” (depending on your translation) triggered something. That is the second time that something is called “my helper” in the Bible. Here it is God. But the first time it’s something God wants to give to the Earthling, the man alone in the Garden. “I will make him a helper”, says God. (Genesis 2:18). Both in Genesis and Exodus, the word used is עֵזֶר ezer. Thus there are two “helps” in the first two books of the Bible: one’s spouse and God. Moses comes to see God as he help after he is married.
Something clicked. For the Christian Sacramental Marriage is a sign not of “love made holy” or even “church permission to have sex” but rather of Christ’s union with his Church, of God’s union with his People. This is why God – and the spouse – are both called ezer. But the spouse is not an ezer on the same level as God! The marital union is the closest we can come on the Earthly level to experiencing this intimate communion, but it is exactly only on the Earthly level. The Spousal Ezer is a sign of something that is coming and of something that is present in a hidden and spiritual reality. The Spousal Ezer is a sacrament, if you will, of what God is for his People. We are not married in heaven because we don’t need a sacrament to experience that union. Celibacy is the commitment to live the union in its experienced reality here.
My spiritual Father sent to me yesterday an article from First Things, published in 2002, called Celibacy in Context. (Unless otherwise cited quotes below come from that article.) The discussion in the article was around the existence of married clergy in the Eastern Tradition and how many wester Christians in the Catholic Church read this as “see, their priests get married…” They turn this into an argument against the Latin tradition of clerical celibacy. The author, Fr Maximus Davies, insists that Eastern practice needs to be seen in the full context of the Eastern ascetic tradition – a tradition to which all Christians are called, not just monastics.
Celibacy in Eastern Christianity is viewed primarily as a form of asceticism. Asceticism means, in essence, to live at the same time on earth and in heaven. It means to understand that everything we see in this life, everything we touch, taste, think, and feel, is in some way a revelation of the life to come.
…For an ascetic, time reveals eternity. The ascetic thus wants to be freed from a merely human way of looking at time as a cycle of work and rest, life and death. Instead, the ascetic lives in time as though in the undying freedom of eternity. Therefore the ascetic prays. For an ascetic, food reveals the heavenly Feast. He is freed from a merely animal attraction to food and instead tastes only the spiritual promise that lies hidden inside earthly appetites. Therefore the ascetic fasts. For an ascetic, possessions reveal the many-mansioned Kingdom of Heaven. The ascetic is freed from the slavery to things by seeing in everything the Creator of all things. Therefore the ascetic gives alms.
…It is the same with sexuality. For an ascetic, all human relationships—even the sexual act itself—reveal divine love. Hidden beneath the surface of all smaller loves lies the immeasurable abyss of God’s love. The ascetic realizes that what other people give him by way of love finds its true and deeper meaning in the One who is the source of all love. Celibacy is the practical recognition of the reality that lies behind the image, of the prototype behind the icon.
Davies wants us to see that celibacy is not a call different or divided from marriage, but rather it is the reality, the spiritual form behind marriage. As the Catechism cites it, celibacy is an eschatological sign. “Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away.” (CCC ¶1619.) In heaven there is no marriage, there we will all be celibate. Here, by grace, we can begin to live this life. Thus, even married folks experience celibacy at times – not “abstaining from sex” but rather something else.
Celibacy is not only a sacramental sign. As we are all called to give away alms as if we do not own anything, as we are all called to fasting as if we don’t need food, so is celibacy a further experiential living out of that reality to when we are all called. See 1 Corinthians 7:29ff.
Human love without celibacy is at best mere sentiment, at worst a form of idolatry.
Who then is called to be celibate? Simply put, every single Christian who is capable of love is called to discipline that love through the asceticism of celibacy. Just as every Christian is called to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, so also every Christian is called to be celibate. Seen in its true context of asceticism, celibacy ceases to be a legal requirement for a small section of the Christian faithful and is revealed instead as an aspect of the universal vocation of all believers.
…Christian celibacy is marriage baptized. Christian celibacy is the revelation of the presence of the Kingdom of God in every relationship. It is the refusal to see other people as things to be used, even for the sake of romantic love. Celibacy means the willingness to see in sexuality not something merely animal, or simply useful or enjoyable, but instead something mystical.
Moses named God his Ezer even after he was married. That’s the key. Even married folks are called to see that God is the reality behind who your spouse is. Celibates are called to live this continually and it is exactly an ascetical choice. But if all Christians (not just certain clerics) are called to live this out in their lives, then every Christian must dig into their marriage, or into their unmarried state, to see that God is the ever-present helper they are really seeking. Your husband or wife is the sacramental sign.
Sacrament is an important word here: a sacrament makes present the reality it depicts, a sacrament effects the thing it describes. Your spouse not only is a sign of God’s help but, in a mysterious way, is God’s help. But you must never forget that, exactly, it is God who is my helper. Your spouse is the mediator or mediatrix of God’s active presence in your life, but he or she is never all of this presence. The spouse is, as we said, a sign of something that is always present in a hidden and spiritual reality. Celibacy (even for married folks) is a call to live into the full reality of that help even now.
The assignment was to pick 15 questions out of 24 or so. This was the review over the whole class.
I.1 What is Love?
POPE ST JOHN PAUL said, “The only adequate response to a person is love.” Love is the correct response, then, to a person present to us: the icon of God. Love is an act of the will to know and do the good of another – rather than oneself. Since God is Love, this act of self-giving is the action of the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father. In the tripersonal unity of God, this shared love is, itself, another person the Holy Spirit. Since God as ground of being is the source of all being, all existence is an act of and participation in this love. To not-love (to use) is to act contrary to being.
I.4 Utilitarian Relationships.
Yes, the Pope’s insights help me to better understand the feelings I’ve experienced in these relationships. It was said in class (is it a direct quote from St JPII?) “The opposite of Love is use.” Most work relationships are, strictly speaking, use-based. Some more than others, of course. When employed by someone who values their relationship with you the experience is much better than when you are employed by someone who only values your body parts and your skills. Thus, the manager in a fast food chain only needs a certain number of hands to perform an exact number of tasks. Hands can be replaced by other hands. An industrial farmer needs only hands (and muscles) to do certain work. The persons involved are not important. A business owner, using his staff for their specific functions, firing and hiring “at will” while not invested in personal relationships is equally failing in love. It feels very insecure in this sort of job. And there are times now – working for a parish where I feel actual love – it’s possible that something happens that triggers an old fear. I realize what that is now. Of course, in our society, we don’t expect our “job” to provide us with “love”. But equally, we should not expect our personal relationships (friendship, marriage, etc) to feel like work.
I.5 Nuptial Meaning of the Body
First, bodies are important. The Human is a Body-Spirit hybrid. Our Bodies express and reveal ourselves and our spirit is the form of our body. The fathers would suggest we are a physical body living in a spirit. It is our bodies that reveal to others who we are. They are the mode and matter of our communion with others as much as bread & wine is the matter of the Eucharist.
Each of us is made for union with another. That union is expressed in self-sacrifice and self-gift. The works of mercy express this, but the most intimate form of gift and sacrifice is the conjugal union. This peak of gift and love is the fullest expression of this mystery so all other expressions of love involving the human body are, as it were, sacramentals of this union. “Awareness of the nuptial meaning of the body … is the fundamental component of human existence in the world” (Theology of the Body). The entire life of a baptized person is engaged in acts reflecting the nuptial mystery.
II.1 Mutual Use relationships
This is an interesting topic because of the number of couples cohabitating. They are, exactly, in a use-based relationship. Perhaps unknowingly they are already experiencing the insecurity and abuse arising in such a relationship. Blatant indicators of this might include objectification of the partner such as sexual comments, bragging about “good catch” etc. More subtle indicators might be jealousy or snarky, emotionally painful comments made toward each other. In class, I thought some of the comments made by “Guadalupe” to “Monty” came close to this subtle level of abuse: she seemed to be looking for a good provider, not a life partner.
Matt Fradd’s The Porn Myth is amazing. It points out that the initial result is a lack of sexual interest in “real” people: you need to “work” on them. The people in magazines/websites are there for free. But then they become objects. Then, after a while, all people are objects – eventually including the viewer’s own self. It’s not just art: it’s the commodification of persons. Even without the added crime of human trafficking, the persons in the images are treated as far less than they really are – icons of God. Thus, it’s a form of blasphemy as well. Art unveils beauty – porn uncovers skin. How might I uncover this? I would listen for certain clues in the conversation. For example, in a men’s Faith sharing group at St Dominic’s a member shared his trouble with this issue. In response, another man mentioned that his wife had trouble because he was up at night watching YouTube videos one after another. I recognized that this was the searching function that many report in pornography addiction. Quietly I would then engage in conversation one on one to see if this was the issue. Perhaps the fiancee is “concerned with internet use” and that might also be a clue. I would ask if the couple are open to praying and talking about this and, hopefully, lead them to speaking with someone who was a bit more skilled such as a therapist or a spiritual director.
II.3 Committing Adultery with the Spouse.
If one approaches one’s spouse without the proper reverence due the icon of God (Christ to his Church) then the sexual approach becomes one of lust rather than love. All human relationships can break in this way: it’s possible to make friends for the wrong reason, to be kind to someone just to get something back, etc. So, also, it is possible to draw near to one’s own spouse incorrectly. It’s possible to use one’s spouse in a sexual act rather than to make a full gift of one’s self in the nuptial union. The spousal union mediates the Love of God to the other person. As with any human relationship, it’s not really possible, because of human sin, for me to love my spouse as fully as God intends. Yet, if I just get out of the way, God can love my spouse mediated through me. I might block this love unintentionally, but to willingly do so is to commit adultery in my heart.
Marriage is a sign in this world of the union of Christ and his Church. Every marriage is this sacramental sign of an eternal Mystery. The closest humans can come, in this world, to the experience of the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17:21-22, is the consummation of the marriage on the nuptial bed. Every human is called to this unity in Christ. “That they may be one,” Jesus asks his Father. “As you and I are one”. We can not know this unity fully, yet, because of human sin. But we can live in the sacramental sign of it (marriage). On the other hand, celibacy is an eschatological sign, a mark of things yet to be. In haven there is no marriage bcause the unity of Christ with his Church is consumated. Each of us shall know as fully as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). The vocation to celibacy is offered as a sign of that union. As St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:32-33, “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife.” The celibate man can move through the world as if it is passing away. The married man moves through this world as Christ, sacrificing himself for his bride.
III.4 Language of the Body (as spoken to youth group)
The two shall become one flesh is not just poetry: not just a description of what happens. It is reality: what actually happens. Oxytocin is released in your brain. This causes a feeling of bonding and intimacy. God put this in your brain exactly to bond you with your spouse. Your body is programmed to engage in this committed intimacy. Doing something else with your body – with your hormones, with your emotions – is to introduce a lie into your relationships with others. Lies are no basis for love, no basis for growth. Furthermore, triggering this same response in others (these same hormones, that is) sets them up for a major collapse when you’re done playing with them. That misuse is also no basis for friendship or any other relationship.
IV.1 Car, cell phone, computer, or contraception?
Contraception saves us from being to mercy of our bodies. This in turn saves us from being obligated to control our bodies at all. When our bodies want something we have to choose between the consequences of giving in or not giving in to that desire. There are pills now that can help you overcome diet restrictions without them, for example, lactose might cause embarrassment at a dinner party. You can give in to your desire for ice cream! Of course, you might also gain weight. Contraception means that we can give in to our desires whenever we want without any consequences. That’s why it’s hard to give this up: we have to face the consequences of not wanting to restrain our bodies. Of course, the irony is that we don’t want to be subject to our bodies’ “end product” – reproduction – so we make ourselves more subject to our bodies’ hormonal cycles. They object because they want the freedom to enjoy the gift of human sexuality without the cost of the intended end. I do not believe they actually know what the church teaches on contraception. I mean they know that they’re not supposed to use it, but they’ve been told that their conscience can make that choice to agree or not. I don’t think they realize that it’s impossible to take the church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality as a standalone: they are fully woven into the tapestry of Christian teaching on eschatology, sacraments, morality, salvation, and even World Peace (that is, solidarity).
As with the Eucharist, better catechesis is needed.
“When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain–and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot–and so it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
The readings here are taking a turn towards the Apocalyptic readings of Christ the King and Advent. It would be useful to ask “Do we really even know how to read the signs…” and point out all the ways we avoid reading signs at all – not as “fortune telling” but even the way parents ignore the signs of bad behavior in their kids, or how we always hear interviews of “but he was such a nice guy” after a crime spree. Then ask, can we even read ourselves? Tell the story shared in class about how kids learn to track their emotions in journals, and how – eventually – this is linked to hormonal cycles. Do we even know ourselves well enough to do this? For a daily homily that might be enough to get folks thinking about their lives and applying the Gospel. Sadly this Gospel (nor the parallel in Matthew) is not found assigned to a Sunday. There might be more time to add. But in a daily homily, this pointing towards something could lead to interesting conversations after Mass.
The answer is in the middle of page 2. “…the heart of the error of the Sexual Revolution is the identifying of love with sex.” Kreeft’s offering that “nothing less than Jesus will do” reminds me of the Catholic Chaplain at NYU telling the campus Episcopal Peer Minister (me) in 1983, “They don’t need magic or astrology or sex. They need Jesus.” Kreeft continues, “Christianity centers on two equations: God is love, and love is (revealed in) Christ.” This gets to the heart of my comments above in #8: only the full preaching of the Gospel, without hedging and without fear of “what people may say” or “voting with their wallets” will do here. “Christ alone is the answer to the Sexual Revolution. Because nobody else gives us intimacy with God.” The entire article could (should?) be used to initiate a discussion of how sex needs to be included in catechesis not just as a morality issue but as an anthropological issue. For most of RCIA we talk about mystery, spiritual enthusiasm, majestic glory, and ethereal liturgy, but we relegate sex to a list of do’s and do nots.
Christ’s total gift of himself to the Church in the Eucharist is the constant spousal union. Marriage is the primordial sacrament that revealed God’s plan for the world (in a union where all may be one as the Son and the Father are one). This revelation reaches its source and summit in the Eucharist where God and Man are made one in each human being as intimately as God became man in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This union is not something we do but rather something we receive from God. We are then to actively engage it (rather than passively just sit there). This becomes our evangelical action, drawing others into this union.
V.4 Growth in Holiness
This begins in shared prayer. This can be just a Hail Mary or an Our Father at the beginning, but it should grow into a family practice of bringing things before God. Not just prayer in the home, but prayer at Church. As a monk told me when I became Catholic, “Go to Mass all the dang time.” The couple (and soon, the kids) should be used to seeing a church as part of their daily life. I shared this advice with a friend in RCIA and he one day asked, “Are we spending too much time in Church?” I pointed out that there were 24 hours in a day and we were tithing the day, so it was ok. He and his wife are now Eucharistic Ministers, he’s an MC. He’s thinking of applying for the Deacon’s program. As the family grows, the tradition of prayer will take root and holiness will grow as fruit on the vine. The pray should take root in action: the family should begin to engage in the works of mercy. One of the most direct acts of evangelism in my youth with when my friend Barbara wanted to play after school. She was making Rosaries for missionaries to take overseas! She asked me (a Methodist 5th grader…) to help. Her parents watched, smiling. I have young couples who come to help me in the Outreach ministries at St Dominic’s. They will be raising their children in that faith solidly rooted in daily practice (outside of butincluding Mass). Their kids will be inviting neighbors over to make Rosaries.
Mallon’s overlapping of “Welcome” and Marriage Prep in a model of overall evangelism was very exciting! I would tweak a couple of things in his welcoming process though. Here’s where I would make changes for St Dom’s:
A clear and visible welcome booth (YES!), a welcome packet and also a luncheon. But then I diverge: the lunch should be a chance for present members of the parish to witness to their faith and to invite others into that faith. This can include a discussion of the obligations of parish membership, but at that point, the new folks should be invited to consider things over. It’s not a done deal: we’re a bunch of religious nuts. I mean that in a good way! Do you want to join us? Then the new folks should be given some time. If they decide to commit, there should be an official welcome at that point. In one Episcopal congregation from my past, this commitment was made by having the mentor introduce the person to the parish at Sunday worship. They were welcomed and blessed by the pastor and then could participate fully in parish life.
His description of the marriage prep including Alpha is somewhat revolutionary. I would love it if everyone involved in marriage prep were as committed to the faith as they are to getting “the big day” to happen. Marriage cannot help save the souls of people who are not trying to get their souls saved. MAry-Rose took this point “home”!
The line items comparing the marriage process with the formation process of the traditional catechumenate are brilliant. It lays out clearly why this is needed and what it could look like. One thing I have heard at St D’s is that we can’t set up more “roadblocks” if we want people to get married. They will just go elsewhere. I’m not sure if this says anything about morality (we want them married because then they won’t be living in sin). The cynical voice inside of me says two things, one of which I shared in class. “This is about money” and “They won’t go elsewhere, because where else is as beautiful as this place?” If the beauty of the building is drawing them here, let’s use it to rope ‘em in!
The idea of using other married couples to draw others to a relationship with Christ is good: it assumes that the other couples are, themselves, properly catechized. If the data on who believes the Church’s teachings are any indication, it may take a while to get the parish “up to” being the place described in this document. We sometimes have 3 weddings a weekend. That would mean a lot of couples acting as sponsors/mentors! But it is a person-to-person relationship, exactly, that draws others into a relationship with Christ and so it is likely that the relational process will not only draw the new couple to Christ but also the mentors will be better formed in their faith as well.
And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. – Matthew 8:3 He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ – John 7:38 Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. – John 4:14
THEOLOGICAL WRITERS MAKE MUCH OF Jesus “contagious purity“. The laws of Jewish Scriptures assume that something that is impure cannot be touched lest the impurity pass through the touch. If one is in a state of ritual purity and touches something unclean it is the impurity that is contagious: if I touch a corpse it is I who become unclean. Thus men refrain from touching a woman because she may be ritually impure. It is her impurity that is contagious – a man’s ritual purity is very fragile and can be destroyed. Jesus, however, walks around touching things – lepers, the sick, corpses, etc – without fear. Instead of becoming impure himself he makes them pure – healing them, raising the dead, cleansing lepers.
I get why this is important as it’s a huge paradigm shift from Second Temple Judaism. Fear of contagious impurity is what makes the Priest and the Levite out to be the bad guys in the Good Samaritan story. Contagious impurity comes up in other New Testament conversations as well: it’s the heart of the objection that Jesus eats with sinners (becomes contaminated by them). Jesus says that’s not the issue at all. So I get why his purity is hugely important. But I missed the application until September when I was working on a paper for Homiletics, published here.
Finally, the reference to Jewish purification rituals in verse 6. Traditionally such washing had to be done in “living water” which means the ocean, a river, stream, a spring, etc, or from rainwater. Wealthier Jewish homes may have a dedicated pool (called a mikveh) for use by the family. Jewish laws require a certain amount of “living water” to be used but other “normal” water can be brought into contact and – thus ritually purifying all the water to make it acceptable for the ritual. Among other uses, the mikveh was traditional for a bride (and sometimes the groom) to use before the wedding to be in a state of ritual purity. A mikveh requires about 140 gallons of living water or water that had otherwise been purified. (Source retrieved on 9/11/22.) … There’s something interesting about the use of “living water” in a mikveh and Christ promising streams of living water rising up with the believer (John 7:38). The Greek in 7:38 is the same phrase for “living water” in the LXX for Jeremiah 2:13.
I have been meditating on the “something interesting” for a while now. When I was a kid I thought that living water might mean something alive… like a monster or a water being. I don’t know. I did not think of living water as a class of water opposed to water that is “dead” or “still”. What I think I’m seeing is a promise that – as Jesus has contagious purity, flowing out from him to others around him – we are to have streams of living water (Hebrew מים חיים Mayyim Chayyim) rising up from within us, where this is a contagious purity flowing out to others. This is the promise Jesus makes to believers. What he does, we are to do as well – and ever greater things than he! This living water, welling up from within us, is not our own “Stuff” but rather Jesus.
It’s (another) scriptural promise for absolution in confession: those sins you forgive are forgiven… living water welling up inside of cleanses those around you. When we are open to Jesus’ action in our lives we become mediators of that action to others around us. “Acquire the Holy Spirit,” as St Seraphim of Sarov says. “And thousands around you will be saved.” We do not act for ourselves but for the extension of the Kingdom of God. As Pope Benedict says (in Introduction to Christianity) we’re to be open “on both sides”: to God and to our fellow men, as Jesus was fully for God and for us.
By Grace, we become a source of living water for those around us and they, in turn, become sources of living water as well. The living water flows out from the Tabernacle of the Eucharist until it becomes a flood filling all the world.
WHAT IS THE MOST INTIMATE thing you can do with someone in public? Any guesses?
It’s eating together. Sharing food is the most intimate thing you can do.
We eat together with our families and our most intimate friends. Yes, we might also eat together at work – team building is important! Dates. Proposals. Business deals. We do these all over food (and drinks, of course).
We see this every day, downstairs, at the Lima Center where guests need not only food but also love, social interaction, and simple human decency. Come for our famous Chicken Adobo and showers, but stay for the feeling of being one of the family.
As a devotion, the Holy Family enters the Church recently: Showing up in France in the 18th Century. It doesn’t catch on for nearly 200 years, becoming a feast for the whole church only in 1921.
It’s one of those curious feasts that does not mark an event or date, but rather an idea. The devotion was intended to show families how to be.
Paul calls the steps here:
Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, Bearing with and forgiving one another… in love… and the peace of Christ
This does describe Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, but Paul is actually telling us how to live in our own families.
Who would not want to gather around a table with a family like this?
The Holy Family devotion arose at a time when the family as we knew it had been destroyed by the industrial revolution. Gone were the days when multiple generations lived and ate together, caring for each other. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph would not have known themselves as a “nukular family” but as part of an extended tribe of support. They become a good aspirational image for how the family could be – despite the changes of the 18th and 19th centuries.
But what of now?
San Francisco is a city of broken families. Not only divorce – although certainly that. From the Gold Rush to the Tech Booms, people are called to the City by the siren song of the Petshop Boys.
Everyone goes west.
Not always happily: sexual choices or drug issues cause families kick out their children. Wives leave their husbands.
Families crash and break up on one rock or another and the flotsam and jetsom end up here, eating alone.
Walking away from the past, hopes are high.
Yet, the dark side is here, too: when things don’t work here, the westernmost city, where else is there to look for “compassion, kindness, and patience”?
San Francisco had at one time the highest suicide rate in the country (today it’s Las Vegas).
Sociologists see two types of families: “Birth Families” and “families of choice”. San Francisco author, Armistead Maupin, calls them “Biological Families” and “Logical Families”. He suggests folks come to this city – mostly alone – and weave new, Logical Families together to replace the Biological ones back east, in the past.
What shall we – the Church that dines weekly (or daily) with the Holy Family – do about the flotsam and jetsom? Not just at homeless ministries, but in our homes.
When Christ calls us to welcome the stranger do we imagine them at our family table?
My Catholic faith has been blessed and strengthened by two Brothers in the Knights of Columbus. Their families have welcomed me into their homes, especially at holidays and family events, helping me at difficult times, and making me feel included. I’m honored their children call me Uncle Huw!
Is there someone in the pews for you to invite home? Do you have room around your table for a new aunt or uncle from St Dominic’s?
Let me and my Catholic extended family invite you to see the Holy Family as a model for us to be someone’s family in this city of singles. Try weaving Maupin’s phrase, “Logical Family” with one of the Greek titles for Jesus, “The Logos” the word. That’s where “logical” comes from, anyway. Mary and Joseph are – literally – a family of Jesus’ sovereign choice, the Logos family.
In the Holy Family we have a beautiful family of choice to emulate.
Joseph embodies the virtues of strength, family support, and courage, Mary, full of grace, is courageous as well, and loving: a Jewish woman who keeps her home orderly so her husband can raise their son in the faith and traditions of Israel. Jesus is a stranger, not theirs and yet fully their own. And Jesus, one of us in all ways except sin, is almighty God living in humble obedience to his chosen parents.
When making me part of their Logical Families, my Brother Knights model the Holy Family for me – for all of us.
We can, through the Holy Family’s intercession, consecrate ourselves as new Logos families gathered around larger tables. Not only at Christmas but year-round. Our Holy Families of Choice can become the places described in the psalm:
Where we can eat the fruit of our handiwork and be blessed.
Extend an invite. Go blessed!
We can choose to build huge, intimate families of uncles and aunts for our children, including us all in the arms of faith and love around our dining tables and around this table where the God of all Love, of all community, of all family, gives himself to us, body, blood, soul, and divinity.
Let us eat together with God, inviting all the world with us around this Eucharistic Table.
This is an assignment for my Homiletics class. Randomly picks out of a hat, as it were, it’s a coincidence that these are the readings for last Sunday. Yes, these homily assignments are extremely on-brand for me.
The Readings for the 27th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
THERE WERE SIX months when I tried my vocation as a Benedictine Monk, 8000 feet above sea level in the Colorado Rockies. 11 inches of snow on May 1st, 2016 and our traditionalist monastic practice seemed to go on forever, like the snow.
4:30 wake-up, Matins at 5. 45 mins for meditation. The offices of Lauds, and Prime, then a house meeting where we planned out the day. The 3rd hour was sung, then Mass. Then coffee.
Father Abbot seemed happy for any pious excuse or extra devotion to maximize our liturgy. It kept growing longer.
One day as I was struggling, trying to pray through this telescoping dreamscape of liturgy, a thought came to me:
Remember: you’re a monk. What else do you have to do today?
That was the right idea! I relaxed into the deep end of liturgical traditionalism and began – anew – my monastic struggle in earnest.
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
The psalmist is not calling us to a beginning but rather into the middle of an ongoing story. The people of Israel are already on their journey. They have heard God’s voice several times.
If today you again hear his voice, harden not your hearts again. Nor tomorrow for that matter.
Jesus speaks of beginnings in our Gospel: Mustard seeds are tiny. Yet, elsewhere, Jesus says the mustard seed grows into the largest of trees and the birds of the air live in the branches.
But here? Jesus does go on, doesn’t he?
When a servant finishes one chore, does the master say, “Good job! Come chill out with me!” No. When you’re done with that, the master says to you, here’s another thing to do. And another. There will be rest when I’m done with you.
If you’re married, is there any time you get to say, “For a few moments I shall pretend I’m not married…”
No. There is not.
When we first give our lives to the Lord, we can imagine a one-and-done deal. But the Christian life is not like that at all. There is no minimum for success.
Jesus wants to be the Lord of our entire lives: our sexuality, our piety, our emotions, our politics, our friendships, our social media, our reading, our media consumption, our clothing choices.
Not a day passes when at least once, or more often more than once, Jesus says, “Huw? You forgot to give me that bit over there.” Yet, when I hear his voice, often my first response is O, now hold up a minute God…
Jesus reminds us today that – like marriage – there is no time in the Christian life when you can pretend you’re not called to holiness, no time to pretend you’re not in a deeply personal relationship with your Lord; no time to pretend you’re not a Christian.
We all can recognize when such pretending happens: it’s called sin. We harden our hearts like that all the time. Rejecting his call. Refusing his love. Refusing to share his love with others.
Don’t. If you hear his voice do not harden your heart!
Jesus reminds us of beginnings, but if a mere seed of faith can move blueberries, imagine how much more power there is when the tree is fully grown and providing shade and home for birds! Even then, Jesus reminds us to say, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done only what we were obliged to do.”
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
In today’s 2nd Reading, Paul calls Timothy – and us – to “stir into flame the gift of God.” We must – by faith – stir our cooling embers back to full flame. Ask God what is needed and he will show you where to gently puff on the coals, where to stir, where to rake back the ashes.
And when you ask, don’t turn away from what God has for you next! It’s always your salvation. It’s always for your healing. He’s always calling us forward to holiness and sainthood. But, it is work!
Give yourself – entirely – to Jesus again. Invite him at Communion Time to be the Lord of your whole Life again.
Plant your mustard seed then let it grow.
Remember. You’re a Christian. What else do you have to do today?
The assignment was a five-minute homily on the stated passage. We began with the exegetical work in an earlier post.
Scripture: John 2:1-11
Today, Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, is calling us to our wedding feast.
A CHALLENGE has come to me three times: in two podcasts and a book. The podcasts are Every Knee Shall Bow and The Bible Project; the book has the very dry title, Elements of Homiletic. The challenge is to read each story or passage in the Bible in such a way as to see the whole Gospel message. Keeping that in mind let’s look again at this wedding story.
Mary is at a wedding to which Jesus and his disciples are called. The bridal families are out of wine and Jesus asks the servants to fill up some jars with water. Jesus changes water into wine.
Problem solved: Everyone’s happy.
St John the Evangelist has left some strategically ambiguous openings which allow us to read this wedding as a meditation on our life in Christ.
Notice, first, that Jesus and the disciples are “invited to the wedding”. That’s us – we’re all invited. “Disciple” means “Student”, beginners or advanced, we are all disciples together. If you are here today – even if you’re not yet Catholic – you’re a disciple.
There is another symbol for us: the jars standing empty. We’re called to this feast and we come – beginner or advanced – because recognize that we are empty. There is a God-shaped hole in us craving to be filled.
Any disciple’s first step is turning to God. It’s a step we must take every day as we are all weak. To turn to God is to repent. The scriptures and Church Fathers call us to weep tears of repentance. We can imagine these tears poured out as the water poured into the jars.
John says those jars are for “ceremonial washing”. We can think, also, of Baptism when the Church responds to our repentance with the living water of Baptism.
This is also true each time we are reminded of our Baptism in the confessional. The Byzantine rite refers to confession as the “grace of a second baptism”. Combined with these living waters, our tears become joy.
Did you ever notice that the bridal couple stays off-screen? We never meet them. No name is mentioned and they have no words to say.
Who does St John want us to imagine is getting married here?
Mary says, “They are out of wine”.
Jesus asks, “What has that to do with me?”
Mary commands, Do whatever he tells you…
Two wedding guests seem to act as if they are the family at the wedding: as if Jesus is the groom and somehow responsible for the wedding. If Jesus is getting married, then, who is the bride?
One more thing to notice: the Bible is full of wedding imagery! The Church follows the tradition begun in Ancient Israel (carried in St Paul and the book of Revelation): the intimacy of Matrimony is a sign of how God relates to his people. John, as a storyteller, allows us to see Jesus fulfilling those images.
Look at the reading again and see:
Jesus is God coming to his wedding with his people. We are the disciples called to the feast, no longer as students or penitents but as the bride.
The steward says to the groom, “We’ve had good wine already, but you have saved the best wine for last”.
It is as if the Steward – and through him, the Guests, all of God’s people – are saying that the covenant of the Torah, the first wine, was amazing, and yet suddenly we’ve been given more than we ever dreamed to ask for.
Jesus and his disciples are called to the wedding feast here in this text and, in a few minutes, He will call us to a deeper union with him here at this altar.
This is no mere reception hall – not a feast with Jesus – but a chance to enter into communion with him so deep that we can only compare it to the mystery of marriage.
Our Savior draws us here into the deepest intimacy of the Holy Trinity.
Jesus here gives himself like a groom to his bride in fulfillment of the Covenant.
Hearing this call, this is why we’ve come. If you’re not Catholic yet, you’ve heard it too. Come, see me after Mass!
All is prepared. Come to the wedding feast and change your life into wine.
For the first assignment in homiletics we were to read the book Elements of Homiletic: A Method for Preparing to Preach by Otis C. Edwards. Then we were to put the method in play using a randomly assigned Gospel pericope. My passage was the Wedding At Cana, St John 2:1-11. The method, by the way, is quite easy to walk through. It sets one up quite well for writing a homily.
THE ASSIGNED TEXT is the Gospel for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). It follows after the Sunday commemorating the Baptism of Christ although that story is abbreviated in Year C, combining a reference to Jesus’ action with the people’s Baptism. “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized…” (Luke 6:21). This makes a usable link between these two Sundays because of baptism references in the Cana story.
The first reading for this Sunday is Isaiah 62:1-5 As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you. This connects with the marriage reference in the Gospel and refocuses the imagery around being the People of God rather than a specific wedding.
The second reading is I Corinthians 12:4-11 on the different gifts of the Spirit. There might be a connection to follow from Living Water rising up in us to the New and Better Wine, though Pentecost (are these men drunk?) to the Church.
This story does not appear in other Gospels.
Three things in this story opened up for me: the bride and the groom never appear as actors in the story. The groom is spoken to in verse 10, but never gets any action or words of his own. The bride does not appear at all. (Interesting to note since this is an option at weddings.) Jesus, however, is spoken to as if he were the groom and Mary the mother of the Groom. “There’s not enough wine,” said the Mother to the Groom. “Fix it.” Are we (the readers/hearers) the bride?
Second, the opening words, on the third day. The Greek can be read as a direct translation of the Hebrew for Tuesday (Yom Shlishi), which reading I rather like. The Complete Jewish Bible actually says, “On Tuesday” here. That said, “Some random Tuesday before Passover…” is not a likely reading. Makes a good “fun fact” though.
My former (Episcopal) pastor noted this phrase in a homily once saying “The only time this phrase gets used in the Bible is to refer to the Resurrection.” He took that to mean the Cana story is only a mystical meditation on the fictional (in his mind) resurrection. The sermon made me angry at the time, but the notes to the Orthodox Study Bible indicate that the phrase sets a “resurrectional tone,” showing that “the marriage of God and His Church will be fulfilled in Christ’s Resurrection”. That turns it into an interesting meditation. Using the Catena App, there are not many commentaries on this phrase. St Bede says it indicates the Third Age of the world (from Creation to Moses, from Moses to Jesus, and from Jesus on).
This linking of Marriage, Resurrection, and Baptism seems to be the important place if “the entire Gospel” is to be in this – and every – pericope. (Edwards, p. 50 in the Google Play edition).
Finally, the reference to Jewish purification rituals in verse 6. Traditionally such washing had to be done in “living water” which means the ocean, a river, stream, a spring, etc, or from rainwater. Wealthier Jewish homes may have a dedicated pool (called a mikveh) for use by the family. Jewish laws require a certain amount of “living water” to be used but other “normal” water can be brought into contact and – thus ritually purifying all the water to make it acceptable for the ritual. Among other uses, the mikveh was traditional for a bride (and sometimes the groom) to use before the wedding to be in a state of ritual purity. A mikveh requires about 140 gallons of living water or water that had otherwise been purified. (Source retrieved on 9/11/22.) It’s possible the jars are standing empty because the Bride has been to the Mikveh before the wedding.
Images I’m seeing here: 1) Jesus drawing superabundant life (Wine) from the previously empty jars used for purification after his own baptism. 2) Jesus as Groom and us/church as bride. 3) Post conversion (the baptism last week’s reading) baptism in the Holy Spirit leads to a deeper union with Christ. 4) There’s something interesting about the use of “living water” in a mikveh and Christ promising streams of living water rising up with the believer (John 7:38). The Greek in 7:38 is the same phrase for “living water” in the LXX for Jeremiah 2:13.
There are several possible messages here: 1) draw a line from the marriage of bride and groom through the Isaiah passage to Christ and the Church; 2) use verse 10 and speak about Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenant; and 3) from baptism in last Sunday’s Gospel to (if you will) living wine as a fulfillment in the charisms of the holy spirit. There’s also a longer, more “lectio” type message that could weave all these together fruitfully over a longer presentation.
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