Category Archives: Church/Theology

The Lord is Glorious in His Saints

These past days were truly blessed days to be a “temporary” citizen of Rome.  Two popes were canonized at a Mass celebrated by two popes–what has been termed in much of the Catholic world as “the Mass of four popes”.

Here is a little bit of a chronicle of the fateful day, which actually started the night before, as the center of Rome became a pilgrimage spot and its streets were filled with excitement for the Church’s two new saints: John XXIII and John Paul II.

Trinità dei Monti:

Trinita

The evening began at the top of the Spanish Steps, at the church called Trinità dei Monti, which is actually a monastery of the Monastic Community of Jerusalem.  The church is my spot to go for Vespers, the Evening Prayer of the Church, because of the monks and nuns who sing the psalms there in four-part harmony.  I first came across this community at their home church of Saint-Gervais in Paris.

The church was packed with French-speaking pilgrims and those who just happened to wander into the church at the top of the famous steps.  The community sang Vespers in French, and the congregation joined in their parts, amazingly finding their spot in the harmony.  As I looked around, what struck me was the youth of those who were there to pray: young single people, young couples with children, and the monks and nuns who are mostly young French men and women.

I have always been struck by the beauty of French spirituality, its simplicity and its profundity, with such saints as Therese of Lisieux, Joan of Arc, and John Vianney.  The French are known today as a pretty secular bunch, but the beauty of faith is that it gives those who “tap into” it access to the incredible depth of a culture formed by Christ, the “eldest daughter of the Church”, as France is known.

Here is a clip of their singing from their monastery in Quebec:

Il Gesù:

Gesu

After a brief stop at Sant’Andrea della Valle, where my friends from Communion and Liberation had been asked by the Diocese of Rome to offer hospitality to other French pilgrims, I headed over to the Gesù to meet up with some priests from my house who follow the Neocatechumenal Way.  The folks from “the Way” were all gathering at this Jesuit church, where St Ignatius and St Francis Xavier are buried, to keep an all night vigil before the canonization Mass.

The Neocatechumenal Way, as its name suggests, offers the spiritual richness of the catechumenal process (the process for unbaptized people to become Catholic, aka RCIA) to Catholics who may have drifted away from the Church or never tapped into the grace of the Sacraments of Initiation.  They do this by forming small communities that share life together in an intense formation that often goes on for years.  The “Neo-cats” began in Spain and have spread all over the world.  They are well known for the many families that leave their homes to become missionaries precisely as families, and for the seminaries that have opened on every continent.  I became friends with the Way while I was in Denver, where they have a seminary.

What struck me about this gathering was the great energy and enthusiasm that filled this huge baroque, Jesuit church.  The contemplative experience of the Monastic Community of Jerusalem gave way to a rather raucous and joyous celebration, as many hundreds of young people–mostly Spanish and Italian–“settled in” for their vigil.  The prayer vigil consisted of Vespers, a rosary, adoration, and Confession, accompanied by the powerful, energetic music for which the Way is known.  Here is a link to one of their most famous songs, “Resucitò”:

The Canonization:

At this point, I did something that many of the pilgrims did not get to do on Saturday night before the canonizations: I went home and went to sleep.  The next morning, I set out at 6:30am (now, others spent the whole night at the gates of St Peter’s Square and others got up as early as 2:30am to get there in time–and they now want to kill me!).  By the time I was heading to St. Peter’s to distribute communion–with my special ticket which is why I could leave so late–there were already many others heading from the Square to other parts of the city where they were showing the canonizations on screens.

Here are two photos from the Roman Forum, which is a long street that was completely covered with people watching on five jumbo-trons (called maxischermi in Italian):

Roman Forum

 Roman Forum 2

Now, back to Saint Peter’s Square: the priests who were distributing communion gathered in the Paul VI Audience Hall and then moved from there into the Square already filled with people.  As we walked out, you could feel the energy and excitement of the people.  I knew we were going to be close to the altar, but I did not know how close.  I was just excited to get into the Square and see how many people were there, and of course, the flags!  More than half, for sure, were Polish flags with the names of cities and dioceses from which so many of the pilgrims had come.  Here is a glimpse of the Square from where I was sitting:

Me in St Peter's

And here is the glimpse the other direction (yes we were that close to the Basilica of St Peter!):

Canonization

What can I say about the canonization itself?  It was an incredible moment to hear Cardinal Amato (in charge of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints) ask Pope Francis on behalf of the whole Church to declare these men saints.  Before this, we had chanted together the Litany of Saints, which really brought the reality of the canonization home to me: we were asking that Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II be numbered among these men and women (Peter, Paul, Augustine, Catherine of Siena, Francis, Dominic, Teresa), the “Hall of Fame” of Christianity!

Then came the moment for which I was vested and seated where I was: the consecration and the distribution of the Most Holy Eucharist.  What struck me the most about this moment was the peacefulness and reverence of the crowd, who at moments were so silent that you did not know that there were 500,000 people standing behind you.  The people came forward to receive communion so devoutly, which showed me the reason why they were in St Peter’s Square that day: they had encountered Christ through the witness of St John XXIII and St John Paul II.

This may seem a little thing, but I have distributed Holy Communion many times (thank God!) at St Peter’s, and often I witness the lack of reverence and attention with which the “normal” tourists receive Communion.  I do not mean that as a harsh judgment on those people, but only to point out the difference that I experienced this time around.  For me, this reverence and devotion was a huge testimony to the holiness of our two newest saints: they helped people to love Christ, really to see Christ and encounter Him where He is to be found.

The prayer that has filled my heart in the days since the canonization has been the “Glory Be”; the glory of God is that for which the saints live and that which they show to the Church and to the world.  The Lord is truly glorious in His Saints, who have born such beautiful (and diverse) fruit because they remained in Christ, as branches on the true Vine.

Saints John XXIII and John Paul II, pray for us that we too may remain always in Christ.  “In this is my Father glorified, that you bring forth much fruit and that you be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

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That We May Rejoice to Behold Your Glory

One of my professors, Michelina Tenace (affectionately known as Tenacious M) mentioned in class the other day that the “final exam” that a monk must take to become an iconographer in the Eastern Christian tradition is to depict the Transfiguration of the Lord.  The reason being that all the glory that must be depicted (or written, as they say of icons) comes from the light with which Christ shone on Mount Tabor.

Transfig

The gold background of any icon is the light of glory, which radiates from the body of Christ and from the bodies of the saints who belong to Christ.  In the Western tradition, whose images and statues are often more “realistic” than the Eastern icons, this glory is still visible in the halos that surround the head of Christ and the Saints, or in the gold that highlights the clothes of our Lord or His Blessed Mother.

A few years ago, a woman told me that she didn’t like a particular Crucifix because Jesus’ clothing had touches of gold in it.  The golden element made the Crucifix seem less “realistic”, because Christ was a poor man and would not have worn such ornate clothing.  But what the Transfiguration teaches us is precisely the “reality” behind, or rather in, the earthly life and destiny of Jesus Christ.  St John understands this well, when he describes the Cross as Christ’s “glory”.  It is the eternal love of God that is glorious, and this eternal love shines in everything that Christ did and suffered for us.

And so we read the Gospel account of the Transfiguration every year on the Second Sunday of Lent.  This may seem odd to us that Lent would shine with a glory that “rightly” belongs to Easter.  But we are able to “bear our share of hardship for the gospel” not because Lent is about our efforts by which we would prove ourselves to God or to others.  We carry the Cross with Jesus during Lent “with the strength that comes from God” (2 Tim 1:8).

It is this strength that accompanied Jesus throughout His whole life, ever since the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary.  At certain moments in Christ’s life, this glorious strength flashed out, for our benefit; precisely after Christ is transfigured in today’s Gospel, He makes a prediction about the horrible death He will have to endure.  The glimpse of Christ’s glory provides a firm place for us to grasp when the darkness and difficulties of life seem to overwhelm us.  In fact, the spiritual tradition of the Church will describe this darkness as an abundance of light that blinds us, similar to when we walk out of a dark room into the bright sunshine.

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The glorious light of Tabor, though, is not something that wants to remain outside of us, a strength that is purely an “example”, good for Jesus and encouraging for us.  In fact, the light of Mount Tabor is not a “something” at all. The light of Mount Tabor is Someone, the third Person of the Holy Trinity, that is, the Holy Spirit.

The collect for the Second Sunday of Lent in the Roman Rite prays:

O God, who have commanded us to listen to your beloved Son, be pleased, we pray, to nourish us inwardly by your word, that, with spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold your glory.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ…

To be nourished by God’s word, to have our spiritual sight purified, to rejoice in beholding God’s glory–this is the work of the Holy Spirit.  The light in which Christ is bathed on Mount Tabor does not come from outside of Him; rather, it bursts forth from within Him in whom God’s Spirit dwells “without measure” (John 3:34).  This same light made it possible for the disciples Peter, James, and John to see Christ’s glorious Transfiguration.  The Fathers of the Church–especially the Eastern Fathers, who celebrated the Transfiguration as a feast since the 4th century–are adamant that the light of Mount Tabor was not a physical light at all.  Peter, James, and John are not just lucky because they saw something that we didn’t see.  It is not a light that can be videotaped, or put into tents, like Peter wants to do.

There is a relationship, though, between the light that radiates outward from Jesus and the light that allows the disciples to see Christ’s light.  The relationship is the Holy Spirit, which also works in those of us who belong to Jesus, who makes it possible to see Jesus and therefore to be transfigured like Him, into Him.  Let’s listen to St. John and St Paul:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthian 3:18)

The Fathers of the Church and the whole Eastern Church speak about this reality as divinization, a word that even my spellcheck will not accept (it keeps wanting to turn it into “divination”).  It is not a word we are  familiar with in the West.  Peccato, as they say in Italian: a sin, a shame that we do not know the word.  Because it is the whole reason why God became man, why God created us in the first place.  In the famous phrase: “God became man, so that men might become gods.” (St. Athansius, St. Augustine, and many others)  That is Catholic theology, my friends.

Divinization takes place in the light of Mount Tabor, that is to say, in the Holy Spirit, who wants to dwell in us so as to profoundly change and transfigure us.  This does not mean that we will skip over suffering and death, anymore than Christ avoided suffering and death after His Transfiguration.  It means rather that like Abraham, “all the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you” (Genesis 12:4).  God does not just want to bless you and me; He wants to make you and me a blessing.

Abraham

That is why the iconographer has to show that he can depict the Transfiguration before he becomes a “master”.  He must understand that it is only in light of the Holy Spirit that anyone or anything can be holy.  Yet, he must write icons–of Christ, of the Virgin Mary, of the Saints–precisely because this is the goal of our human life, which the iconographer holds up to the world: “once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesian 5:8).

The goal of human life is not just to be blessed, but to become a blessing…to become an icon.

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Lent with the Risen One

Are you ready for the desert?  Are you ready to be hungry?  Have you eaten your last chocolates for the next 40 days?  We are beginning Lent, a time we are all familiar with, no matter how close or how far we are or have been from the Catholic Church.  As a wise priest once told me, “As Catholics we do Lent really well, but we struggle to celebrate Easter.”

Everyone and their mother will come to church on Ash Wednesday to “get something”, and some of our Catholics who cannot get to church for some reason will have their grandson (nieto) come up with a little envelope to take some ashes back for abuelito (in a Hispanic parish, one sees such things).  A beautiful (even though sometimes superstitious) devotion.

jwj-ash-wednesday-0643b

Why do we go into the desert?  Why do we get our foreheads dirty?  Why do we take on penance (small or great)?

If there were ever a time for a Christian “to look like he has just come from a funeral” as Pope Francis warned us not to do, Lent seems like it would be that time.  Suffering, dryness (for some reason, some priests take away the holy water during Lent), and death, how can this not affect our happy Christian face?

Yet, the Gospel we read every Ash Wednesday warns against these things:

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting.  Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.  And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.

So let us remember what Lent is, and what we are preparing for.  Lent comes from the period of preparation that adults would undertake before they were baptized.  It was (and is) the last push, a time to put off the old man (or woman) and get ready to receive the Sacraments that make us “a new creation”.  This really hit home for me when a friend of mine, who was preparing to be baptized at Easter, told me that she was giving up make-up for Lent.  The “face” that we put on, not just with make-up but in so many other ways, has to give way to the face, the identity, the true beauty that Christ wants to give us in Baptism.  I don’t remember if she was able to articulate what she was doing in that way, but it goes down in my mind as the best Lenten penance ever.

And the Church invites us who have already been baptized to partake in that same journey toward Easter.  Lent, then, is the time that we use to get ready for something specific: the renewal of our Baptismal Promises at the Easter Vigil or at Mass on Easter Sunday–and the sprinkling with Holy Water as a reminder of our Baptism.

The new man, the new woman, the new creation!

Jesus Christ gives us a new relationship with everything, because He makes us new in Baptism.  And we want that Baptism to really develop and flower and bloom and bear fruit in our lives.  We want a new relationship with things (and so we pick some sort of fast, to remember Who gives us everything).  We want a new relationship with people (and so we give alms in charity toward those who are in need, who I recognize as Jesus).  We want a new relationship with God (and so we rededicate ourselves to prayer).

lent

Lent is not a time to pretend that Jesus is dead, to embrace the Cross without remembering the Resurrection.  Maybe some of us are tempted to this. There was a Lent at the seminary when the group that prayed the Rosary before dinner prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary every single day of Lent.  But when the Easter season came around, we did not pray the Glorious Mysteries everyday.  Just like the priest said: We are good at Lent, but struggle to celebrate Easter.

Maybe some of us are tempted in the opposite direction.  We react strongly against an overly-pessimistic Christian attitude, that would see everything and everyone as sinful.  So, we stay on the edges of Lent because that is “old school”, and seems to be a season for self-hatred.  And doesn’t Pope Francis want us to be upbeat, after all?…

St. Paul gives us a wonderful way to balance the two approaches, that are over-simplifications and exaggerations. Here is my “money verse” for Lent.  Paul desires, “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share in his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

The only reason we have and the only hope to move from the old creation to the new creation, from darkness to light, from sin to freedom, is the fact that the victory has already been won in Jesus Christ.  He is Risen!  We can go into the desert (not dessert!), because Christ is waiting there for us.  We can go to Confession seeking freedom from our sins, because Christ is waiting there for us (primerear, going before, as Pope Francis says).  Every time we feel a little bit of hunger, or can’t drink the soda we want, or give a little money to someone in need, that is a tap on the shoulder, an invitation to recognize Christ who is calling us into His new creation.

Paul wanted to know Christ and the power of His Resurrection.  He did not pretend that Christ was still dead; his Lent was not just about the Cross.  It was about making the victory of Christ his own.  Yet, there was suffering involved.  Here is Paul’s realism: Christ has won the victory, but I have not…yet.  So, I embrace the Cross that Christ gives me, in hope that the victory of the Resurrection will be mine someday.  The way of Christ is the way of the Christian, and we will not reach His victory without sharing His sufferings.

Simon and Jesus

Easter Sunday, for those of us who celebrate Lent well, will not be a day to tell us something we did not already know.  We are not pretending, so as to be “surprised” on the day of Easter.  When we proclaim on Easter Sunday that “Christ is truly risen!”, we will also be proclaiming, “And I belong to Him through Baptism!”  Lent is that time to belong more deeply, more totally to Christ.  The renewal of Baptismal Promises will then be the proclamation of His victory in me, a victory that continues to transform me from the old creation to the new creation.

May it be so!

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The Church is Missionary by Nature

The week of study for exams is upon us here in Rome.  So, in the interest of study and at the request of some friends who wanted to know what I was up to in the classroom here in Rome, I thought I would give a synthesis of a course I am taking with this title: “The Church is Missionary by Nature”.  In a future post, I will tell you what grade I got on the final exam!

From “The Missions” to Mission

When we hear the term missionary, we often think of someone in a far away land, laboring to bring people who have never heard of Christ to faith in Him, to baptize and establish new churches in far away places.  Thus, we have movies like “The Mission” and “The Keys of the Kingdom” that show us the life of missionaries in far away places.

Missionary

The other use of the word “missions” is in the context of the Church’s social teaching.  Parish youth groups or university students go on “mission trips” to build houses or visit orphanages, or somehow help other people.  In the first example, we can see the obvious link between Christ and the missions.  The work of missionaries throughout the world also often includes the type of work for the human welfare of the people to which we aim to preach the Gospel: building schools, hospitals, and homes, providing many things that people cannot provide for themselves.

But in the theological reflection of the 20th century, there was a shift; rather than talk about “the missions”, people began to talk about the “mission” of the Church.  The shift to the singular was an attempt to see what is at the foundation of the Church’s missionary work.  There were many challenges to the old concept of the missions, and therefore threats to its continuance in the life of the Church: the connection to colonialism, the theory of “anonymous Christianity” (that people who lived according to their conscience the basic truths of human life could be saved without an explicit faith in Christ or belonging to the Church), the purely external mandate of mission (because Christ said so/or else everyone will go to hell) disconnected from its roots.

These threats to “the missions” were the opportunity for a beautiful reflection on the deepest foundations of the Mission of the Church, which was then expressed in the Second Vatican Council and has guided the pastoral aims of the Church since that Council.

The Second Vatican Council

One of the biggest question that Vatican II wanted to tackle was the question of the Church.  What exactly is the Church?  The very title of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church tells us much “Lumen Gentium”, the light of the nations.  But who is the light of the nations?  Not the Church!  Lumen Gentium begins, “Christ is the light of the nations.”  The Church reflects this light, as the moon reflects the light of the Sun.  The Church does not make sense apart from Christ and His claim to be the salvation of God in person.

Vatican-II

The Church’s foundations, then, are not human, but divine.  The Father created the world and redeemed it when it had fallen into sin.  He began the work of gathering a people to Himself in the Old Testament with the Jewish people, and now wants to gather all of the nations into His Kingdom.  How does He do this?  “God so loved the world, that He sent His only Son…”  Jesus is God-made-man, who is the revelation of the saving love of God the Father, who accomplishes our redemption through His death and resurrection.  Ascended into Heaven, Christ does not leave us orphans, but pours out His Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  The Spirit–in an image from the Fathers of the Church–is like the water that is mixed into the dry flour of humanity and makes everything stick together.  The Holy Spirit accomplishes the work of Christ, who draws everyone to Himself.  Where does this happen?  In that place and through those means that Christ established to give salvation to the world–that is, the life of the Church, the concrete “continuation” of Christ’s work.

Since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race, it desires now to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and to the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission. (Lumen Gentium, 1)

This description of the Church’s nature–totally linked to Christ–is the foundation for the Church’s mission, just as “doing” always follows “being”.  The Church does not just have a mission, but the Church is mission, caught up in the original mission of Christ and the Spirit.  Just as the Spirit “pushed” Christ in His earthly mission, so the Holy Spirit is the internal power of the Church’s mission.  Mission does not just have to do with an external command (or fear), and cannot be reduced just to helping other people (even pagans can build houses for poor people, maybe even better!).  These things are important, but the deepest depth of mission is the great “movement” of God’s never-failing love for mankind, a love into which I am taken by my Baptism.  This love pushes us to point that Saint Paul will say, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!”

The New Evangelization

Another outcome and benefit of this move from talking about “the missions” to talking about the mission of the Church is the new evangelization.  Put simply, the new evangelization lives out of the awareness that the boundaries of “mission territory” have changed drastically in the 20th century.  A new paganism and new idols have taken hold in societies that were once strongly Christian.  In places that would once have been considered “the missions”, now have vibrant Catholic communities.  We are all aware of the fact that all those foreign priests that fill our parishes in the US and Europe come from countries that once received missionaries from the US and Europe.  Thank God!

Let me return for a moment to the example of college “mission trips”.  Can we honestly say that the modern university (even a Catholic university) is a place that “has” the Gospel and that those who go “on mission” are bringing to the people of, say, El Salvador the Gospel that they do not possess?  It is often the other way around, which to me is the lasting value of mission trips: the students are struck by the happiness of people in dire poverty.  They are struck to the point of asking, “Where does that joy come from?”, and therefore are led to Christ.

All this means, though, that the situation has changed.  The reflection of the Vatican Council about the one mission of the Church, founded on the movement of the loving God toward humanity, into which we are all caught up in various ways could not have been timelier.  I can no longer think of “mission” as something that pertains to someone else.  Thus, John Paul II calls for an evangelization that is new in ardor, in methods, and in expression, in the various contexts where every Christian finds himself or herself in this world.

Pope-John-Paul-II-Pope-Benedict-XVI-Pope-FrancisPope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger, and Bishop Bergoglio

Our Man of the Year, Pope Francis surprisingly does not use the term “new evangelization” very often.  Just listen for it in his homilies and speeches.  He is doing the new evangelization, though.  And he gives us three contexts in which the one mission of the Church is lived.  We are getting rather lengthy, so I will just briefly list them: ordinary pastoral ministry of the parish (because it cannot be taken for granted that even practicing Catholics have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ); those who have fallen away (a great concern in parts of the world that “once were” Catholic or Christian but have lost the faith); those who have never heard the Gospel (the origin understanding of the word “missions”).

We have seen how a deeper reflection on the “being” of the Church yields a fresh perspective on what the Church much be “doing” in the historical period in which she finds herself.  This was the work of Vatican II, and the work since Vatican II has been to live this Mission in an ever deeper way.  That is a challenge not just for Popes, or for students at the Gregorian University, but for everyone who has the Spirit of Christ in them.

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Communio and Concilium

By the time I got on the bus to go down to Quarto Miglio I’d about had it with school.  But we were going to a Penance service at the parish of S. Tarcisio, a parish on the outskirts of Rome, and I was content to do something different.  I said, “I’ve had enough of talking about the Church, I want to do Church.”  Now, I know that is bad English, just like the phrase “being Church” which has been plenty abused in the last 50 years.  But it somehow expressed what I was feeling that day: the Church is a life to be lived, not a discussion to be had.

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This sentiment was confirmed by the brethren in the house on Humility Street (the Casa Santa Maria on Via dell’Umilta), who are all about ready for a couple weeks of Christmas vacation.  A good dose of pastoral ministry, to talk to real people and give the forgiveness of sins through the Sacrament of Penance, was just what the doctor ordered.  I told my friends the next day, “I feel like a priest again.”

Then I got to read Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (you may have heard of him) writing about “conciliarity” in the Church, a discussion that greatly helped me to understand a little bit my dilemma.  The two terms that form the title of this post “communio” and “concilium” are Latin for “communion” and “council or conciliarity”.  So what do those terms mean?

Ratzinger comments:

While communio can virtually act as an equivalent for Church and indicates its essential nature, its mode of life and also its constitutional form, the same does not in any way apply to the concept concilium.  In contrast to communion, to union in and with the body of Christ, council is not the act of living of the Church itself but a particular and important act within it which has its own great but circumscribed significance but which can never express the life of the Church as a whole.

This insight would lead Ratzinger, along with a couple other of my heroes de Lubac and von Balthasar, to break off and form the Catholic theological journal, Communio.  They broke off from another Catholic theological journal called Concilium, which sought to continue the work of the Second Vatican Council in the theology of the Church, what Ratzinger would call a perpetuation of the Council.  But this is not the point of the Church, as the above quote demonstrates.

Communio

Ratzinger affirms:

The Church is not a council.  A council happens in the Church but it is not the Church.  A council serves the Church but not vice versa….A council discusses and decides but then comes to an end.  The Church, however, is not there to discuss the gospel but to live it.

In the time of the Council and often for a period after the Council, the Church puts herself in crisis; she asks herself hard questions, discusses them, and makes a decision.  Is Christ really “consubstantial” with the Father? (Nicea I, 325)  Can Mary rightly be called the Mother of God? (Ephesus, 431)  Is the use of sacred art by which we show the humanity of Christ and the saints a form of idolatry, as the Jews and Muslims say? (Nicea II, 787)  The answers to these questions, by the way, are Yes, Yes, and No.  And that is precisely the point.  A Council is an event in the Church, but is not a constant event.

The constant event in the Church is Communio.  What does Communio look like?  Communio refers to those many ways in which we human beings participate in the life of God, which Jesus reveals to us: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The eternal community that is the Trinity is Communio par excellence.  We share in that communion in many and various ways.

First and foremost in the Holy Mass: Christ reveals Himself to us in his Word and we respond Yes in the Creed; He offers Himself to the Father and to us in the Eucharist and we respond “Amen” by receiving communion.   At the Mass, we are joined not only to the community gathered in the church building, but to the saints and to all those for whom we pray int he Mass.

The Mass is an education, though, a school that shapes and forms us for all of life.  What we learn from the Mass is that Communio is given by God, not created by us.  This changes the way I approach everything.  The circumstances that I am living–in the family, at work or at school, in sickness or in health–are no longer things to “get through” but precisely “given”.  They are given so that my life can be “one”, not boring and monotonous, but precisely the unity that comes from seeing and living all things in relation to the meaning of my life, which is Christ.

Communion literally means “union with”, which implies other people, the faces that God gives me in His love for me and His passion for my life.  We find, the more we live a life in communion, that we are afraid of less and less, that we are free.  Free to face whatever comes because “this is the victory over the world: our Faith” (1 John 5:4).

So, I am a little tired of school and am ready for a break (and to come back to America for two weeks!).  But I understand a little better why going out to San Tarcisio Parish was so refreshing for me.  The Church is a subject to be studied–I am getting my degree in ecclesiology, the theology of the Church–but it is not only a discussion and it cannot be grasped in a merely academic way.  The Council is a necessary service in the Church (there have been 21 of them in her history), but a lot else happened in between the Councils that is of the highest importance.

Neither can the Church be comprehended just by focusing on her outward politics and the struggle between “left” and “right” in the Church.  The Church must not be reduced to our project, and the Pope to our “candidate” who makes the Church more this way or more that way.  The Church exists to be the instrument whereby God (The Communio) unites everyone and everything with Himself.  The Church is only comprehensible to those who are interested in that Communio, something that is given by God and proclaimed by our words and by the joy that is the sure sign that this God has entered our lives.

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Poverty and Beauty

Last weekend, I found myself in the town of Tivoli, 25 miles east of Rome.  We went to see this beautiful town on the high hills from which you can see Rome in the distance.  The “main attraction” is the Villa d’Este, which at first I thought had something to do with the fact that the villa was to the east of Rome.  Actually, the villa was built in the 1500’s by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, governor of Tivoli during the time of the Papal States.

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Ippolito d’Este utilized the artistic skills of the star architects, sculptors and painters of his day.  It was begin after 1560 and finished before the cardinal’s death in 1572.  In 1605, Cardinal Allessandro d’Este, the brother of Ippolito added other flourishes to the villa, including the water organ, which is up above the fountains (we heard it play…a bit of a let-down).

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As I walked around Villa d’Este, I was struck by the beauty of the place.  It is a breathtaking beauty in which I felt “at home”; I was made for this and for the Beauty that this beauty points to.  The mixture of natural beauty with man-made beauty speaks to the harmony that exists between the mind of God (author of nature) and the human mind (architect/artist).  This co-operation of man and God continually blows me away here in Italy.

As I walked among these beautiful gardens, fountains and sculptures, I asked my friend Father Mike with whom I was traveling, “Does being a poor Church for the poor mean that we can’t have beautiful things anymore?”  The question brought me to a bit of a crisis as we walked through the home of a cardinal-prince, but led to a wonderful discussion of beauty and poverty.  What do the two have to do with each other?

We are called to have the same mind as Christ, “who though He was in the form of God did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, He emptied Himself, and took on the form of a slave.” (Philippians 2:6)  In the season of Advent, we prepare ourselves for the encounter with the child Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem: poverty takes on flesh in Christ, who “though He was rich, for your sake became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

There are so many ways in which this poverty is expressed, in the different vocations and at different times in history.  Pope Francis has called for a poor Church for the poor, which means much more than only material poverty, although it does mean that.  Who of us could imagine the uproar (both inside and outside the Church) if today a bishop or cardinal built himself a villa like the one in Tivoli?

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The call to poverty that we hear from both Pope Francis and from our Lord Jesus is a call to a new relationship with things, just as the vocation to virginity is a call to a new relationship with people.  In poverty, things are not for me but for the Kingdom of God.  Things (or people) are not meant to be grasped, and so in some concrete way I teach myself, educate myself, to poverty: by giving things or money away to those who do not have them.

I propose as one way of resolving–but not dissolving–the tension between poverty and beauty, that we can imagine beauty as a gift, the charity of beauty.  Who of us would want to receive an ugly Christmas gift (unless it was an ugly Christmas sweater–those are cool now)?  Who of us wants to walk into a church to see it dirty and disordered?  The beauty of a house or an office or a church is a charity for the other people who use that place.

But there are some people who do not have a place of their own, who have nothing to “clean up”, who cannot even find a place to clean themselves or wash their clothes.  I often run into these people around churches, and I think: the church is one place people can go that is beautiful, a beauty that does not “belong” to anyone but that is for everyone, especially for those who have nothing.

The few times I have visited Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, I have been blown away by the beauty of the place and by the amount of homeless people who sleep in its pews.  Yet, the beauty of that place is for the poor as much as it is for anyone else.  It is a form of charity.

In his recent Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization, Pope Francis speaks about the need for beauty in the Church’s preaching and teaching:

Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the “way of beauty” (via pulchritudinis). Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus.

“Even in the midst of difficulties,” beauty can fill our life with joy and purpose.  Hopefully this is an experience we have all had, of beauty giving us back our breathe in a suffocating circumstance.  Hopefully, we can find ways to give this experience to others.

I don’t think cardinals should build huge villas like the one in Tivoli.  I still don’t know what is the right balance between using our money to make the places we live and pray more beautiful and using our money to relieve the suffering of the poor (and the lack of beauty is also a suffering).  The tension that exists can lead to creativity, and must be met with prayer and discernment.

As Father Mike and I continued to talk, we rested in the fact that “the poor Church for the poor” envisioned by Pope Francis is lived out in many different individual circumstances.  It is a question each of us can ask ourselves.  Does the way I spend my money build up the Kingdom of God?  Am I being educated to a less “grasping” relationship with things and with people?

In this season of Advent, as we are preparing to meet the poor Messiah, we are also rushing around to find the perfect gift for our loved ones.  What can we do to make someone’s life more beautiful?  Have I experienced something beautiful that I can share with others?  How can we give the charity of beauty?

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The Christian State of Life

Yesterday was the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome.  Saint John Lateran is the Cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, where we find the Pope’s chair (cathedra), symbol of his office and authority.   For one living in Rome, I have the blessing to be able to visit these places, and of course the actual feast day is the day to go.

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The Basilica of Saint John Lateran, like Saint Peter’s Basilica, has a side chapel with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  I planted myself here for my time of prayer, where my thoughts turned to the Church.  All of the readings on the feast day of a Church do not deal with buildings but with the fact that God wants to make us into His dwelling place.  For example: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthains 3:16)

Thus, the Church uses the occasion of the dedication of a Church to point beyond the physical stones to the deeper reality.  The beauty of the stones and the artwork, the beauty of the music and the singing–everything we see and smell and touch and hear in the church–points beyond itself to the Beauty that we cannot see.  St Augustine comments: “Who made all of these beautiful, changeable things, if not You who are unchanging Beauty?”

My heart full of such thoughts, of the reality of the feast that the Church proposed, I turned to the book that I brought with me to the chapel that day: The Christian State of Life by Adrienne von Speyr.  She speaks about the different forms by which the Church mediates God’s life to us, makes the transforming power of God accessible.

With the founding of the Church in the New Testament, God makes even more of his divine life visible to mankind…The Church is instituted as mediatrix between the divine life and sin-laden, God-alienated human life in order to ease man’s approach to God.

“Mediatrix”, meaning a female mediator, because she is not the source of divine life (that is God the Father), but receives the life of God and passes it on to her children.  The Church is always referred to as a Mother, female.  How specifically does the Church pass on this life?  Again von Speyr:

The sacraments are the ecclesial modes of access to divine life.  On the one hand, they enhance and elevate the forms and destinies of human life by the grace they bestow; on the other hand, they are the forms by which divine grace enters into man’s life.  The ecclesial states are a further development of these modes of access.  They, too, elevate man’s natural dispositions and forms of life and also place themselves between the dispensation and the reception of the sacraments.

The Church’s sacraments “mediate” the life of God to me.  I touch salvation for the first time through Baptism; and again through the forgiveness of sins in Confession.  God becomes my very food through the sacrament of the Eucharist.

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But Adrienne speaks of another way that the life of God becomes our life: through the states of life in the Church.  What does she mean?  The three states of life are the married state, the religious state, and the priestly state.  Let’s look at these three forms of life as mediators, as they point beyond themselves and make something of the mystery of God present in the world.

The Married State.  “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.”  Saint Paul speaks about marriage as a sign that points to the marriage that God wants with the human race.  By choosing marriage as a sacrament in the Church, the couple says Yes to something that is bigger than them and outside of them: a state of life in the Church.  From now on, their “normal” married life points beyond itself, for their good and for the good of the world.  In the faithfulness of the spouses (for better or for worse, in sickness and in health) something of God’s faithfulness to His promises breaks into this world.  In the fruitfulness of the family (children and life together) something of the fruitfulness of God’s love and the fullness of His life is communicated to the world.  In the couple’s forgiveness of each others faults, God’s forgiveness despite all our failings and forgetfulness is mirrored.

The Religious State.  When a woman (or man) says Yes to the vocation of the religious life, she is making present in the world the whole-hearted response that is the only true response to God who reveals Himself to us and invites us to His life.  The religious witnesses that there is something greater than human love and human pursuits.  She does not condemn these things as evil, but challenges us to live our lives for the one thing necessary, the Kingdom of God.  As we hear in the Gospel, “In Heaven they are neither married or given in marriage.”  And so someone who hands over her life completely in love of God points all of us to the final destiny of our lives: Heaven.  The world may only see the renunciation–what the nun or the monk says No to–but the question will linger: Why would someone commit herself in this way?  Thus, the Mystery of God finds a way to enter into our awareness.

The Priestly State.  We know that the Catholic Church has both married priests (East) and celibate priests (West).  And so, something of the religious life could be repeated in the case of the priest, as far as most of us are concerned.  But specifically, the priestly life demonstrates the institutional, sacramental character of the Church.  The priesthood makes us “bump into” an unavoidable question, one that our Protestant brothers and sisters feel profoundly: Did God really want to have a visible, institutional Church?  If he did not, then the priesthood makes no sense.  By institutional, we do not just mean bureaucracy, but all those “official” elements of Church life: sacraments, preaching, official teaching, laws, structure (what is sometimes called “organized religion”).  Ultimately, the priesthood (and specifically a male priesthood) points beyond itself to the Incarnate Son of God, God who became a man.  The priest stands in Christ’s place, not because the priest is holier than other people, but to extend the Fact of God-made-man.  The structure, like a skeleton, is not the whole body and could not live without the rest of the body.  But it is necessary to the Body!

Don’t worry, I wasn’t thinking all of these thoughts in Adoration; that experience only sparked these reflections.  But, looking up in the Adoration Chapel, I saw something that sums up perfectly what all this reflection on the Church is aiming at: the monstrance.

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The monstrance de-monstrates, makes it possible to see the Host that it contains.  Adoration prolongs the point of the Mass when the priest holds up the Eucharist on the altar.  In Adoration, I contemplate the Mystery of the God who has become our food in the Eucharist.  I do not contemplate the gold and silver, the beauty of the monstrance, but the Mystery that it contains within it.  But the gold and silver draws my attention to the importance of the holiness of the Mystery at the center.

Here is the point: the Church is a huge monstrance!  Through things I can understand–bread, wine, water, oil–I am introduced in an experiential way to the Mystery of God.  Von Speyr helped me to understand this fact as it applies to our vocation.  Through things we understand–love of a man and a woman, the renunciation of marriage and wealth, even structures and regulations–something greater is held up for the world to see.  Someone greater.  Just like the monstrance…

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The Voice of the Bride

Last year, walking into the chapel at Bourgade Catholic High School where I was chaplain, I was struck to hear the students praying together out of a little red book the Psalms and prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours.  My heart rejoiced that the students really took to this “education” that the Church gives us through what is known as “The Divine Office”.

Education?  Yes, by putting words into our mouths, words we don’t make up but receive, the Church shapes our hearts, our minds, our lives to a new self-awareness. And not just any self-awareness.  The Psalms are the same prayers that Christ and His disciples prayed in the synagogues and Temple.

Vatican II, in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 84) tells us:

By tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine office is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God. Therefore, when this wonderful song of praise is rightly performed by priests and others who are deputed for this purpose by the Church’s ordinance, or by the faithful praying together with the priest in the approved form, then it is truly the voice of the bride addressed to her bridegroom. It is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father.

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The Psalms are unique prayers.  They are the Word of God in that they are an inspired and infallible part of the Scripture.  They are the word of man in that every human experience is reflected therein.  And this is the real educational value of the Psalms.  It is the education of the Incarnation: Christ, taking on our human nature, has shared with us everything that is truly human, filling it with His divine life for our salvation.

Let us look at the Psalms from two angles: the Incarnation and the Communion of Saints.

Every time we recite the Creed at Mass, we bow at the words For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.  On the solemnities of the Annunciation and Christmas, we even kneel at that part of the Mass, as the Church “compels” us to recognize the greatness of the mystery.

The Psalms are an incredible way for us to understand more deeply the mystery of the Incarnation.  Saint Augustine said (somewhere, I can’t remember) “In order to teach us how to praise God, God praised Himself.”  God used the human experience of the Psalmist (David and others) in order to show us what the true stature of our humanity really is.  Just as Jesus pointed out in the Gospel the publican who would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but humbly asked God for mercy, holding him up as an example to us all, so also the Psalms are God’s outline for us of what is a true human position before God.

And we might be surprised: Psalm 73 speaks about the man who notices, as all of us have noticed, that the just seem to suffer more while the wicked are “sound and sleek”.  He expresses his frustration with God, wondering if it is “useless to keep my heart pure and wash my hands in innocence,” until he realizes that God will work everything out.  Coming to his senses, he comments: “I was stupid and did not understand, no better than a beast in your sight.”  But still, God was faithful in all that drama: “Yet I was always in your presence; you were holding me by my right hand.”

So, what part of this Psalm is God’s Word and what part is the word of man?  All of it!  We cannot separate God’s part from the human part.  And here is the fascination of what God did in becoming man.  He took all of this on Himself.  As Saint John said, “He knew what was in the heart of man,” not only because God is omniscient but because God had (has) a human heart.

So, the comfort of the Psalms is in the fact that nothing I experience is foreign to God.  When I pray the Psalms in “the key of Christ”, I realize that I am always in His presence and that He is holding my right (or left) hand.  The Psalms find their fulfillment in the Incarnation, when God does not just use some other humans’ words (David or Solomon), but has the same experience as all of us, to the point of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22 by the way).

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But what if I am not experiencing the particular situation or feeling of the Psalm that the Church gives me for Daytime Prayer of Thursday Week 2?  What if “Lord, you have been good to your servant according to your word” (Psalm 119) is not my experience today?  What if “they fight me all day long and oppress me” (Psalm 56) does not fit with my rather boisterous and peppy mood?

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The very objectivity of the Psalms within the Liturgy of the Church allows us to situate this prayer within the Communion of Saints.  Simply said, I pray the Psalms in the context of the whole Church, and someone in the Church is having the experience that this Psalm describes.  When I do not “feel” what the Psalm is saying, I can be in solidarity, in communion, with someone who is going through what that Psalm says.  The “saints” refer to the whole Church, those who belong to Christ, those who are united in the holiness of the Church, a holiness that is outside of us and that stretches and shapes us.

The communion of saints is the deepest reality of the Church, because in Christ, through Baptism, we are made sharers in the communion of life and love which is the Blessed Trinity.   As such, we are united to one another in the Body of Christ. Through this fraternal communion we draw nearer to God and we are called to support one another spiritually.  The communion of saints does not only embrace the Church on earth; it also embraces all who have died in Christ, the souls in purgatory and the saints in heaven. –Pope Francis, 30 October

The Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of the Church.  It does involve our “private” feelings and devotion, but cannot be limited to that.  We cannot be limited to that, because no one is a private Christian.  Through Baptism, we have been brought into the drama of the Son of God to whom we belong, a drama that is expressed on every page of the Scripture, but particularly powerfully in the Psalms.  We have been stretched and are being stretched into the Communion of the Saints.

This is the education offered to us in the Liturgy of the Hours, the education I was so happy to see those students at Bourgade participating in that Tuesday morning last year with their little red books.

http://www.divineoffice.org; http://www.universalis.com; http://www.ebreviary.com; http://www.liturgyhours.org

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Prayer for Vocations

Jesus says, “Pray the master of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.”  (Matthew 9:36)  Our Lord looks out at the great crowd that wants to follow him, and He feels compassion for them because “they are like sheep without shepherds”.  In the next chapter, Jesus chooses the Twelve, to be His shepherds.

Today, this same ministry of shepherding the sheep and laboring in the harvest is carried out by the bishops and their co-workers in the priesthood and diaconate.  This week, I got to experience in a deep way this same “compassionate feeling” through two experiences here in Italy.

The first came when Father Paul Sullivan, Vocation Director for the Diocese of Phoenix, told me he was going to Sicily to pray at the tomb of Saint Annibale Maria di Francia  (I write the Italian name, because Hannibal reminds me too much of Silence of the Lambs).  This great idea of Father Paul included two nine-hour train rides in the space of 24 hours.  With a little visit to Sicily in-between!  A true vocations pilgrimage!!

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Saint Annibale (1851-1927) was a priest of the Archdiocese of Messina, who felt deeply the same compassion of Jesus to pray the Master of harvest to send laborers, what he would call the “evangelical rogation” (the prayer asked for by Jesus in the Gospel).  To that end, he founded the Rogationist Fathers, whose task it is to pray for vocations, to pray for laborers for the Lord’s harvest.

Father Sullivan shared with me some of the devotion he has to this saint, and we spent the morning in prayer at his shrine in Messina.  We got to see the museum dedicated to him and to his work: the founding of an orphanage in the poor surrounding neighborhood, the founding of the men’s and women’s communities to pray for vocations, and the continuing work of this community.

The one thing that Jesus asked us to do in the Gospel for “vocation work” was to pray.  He did not ask for promotional posters or “cool priests” in vocations work (all of which can be good).  He asked us to pray.  Why?  Because a vocation is a gift, only a gift.  Each of us has a vocation, and the Lord wants to give us the grace to know it, to renew it when we are in need (very often), and to live the life He has planned for our happiness and for the good of the whole world.  A vocation is a mystery: the mystery of God’s freedom to choose us and our freedom to respond to His call.

It is this aspect of vocation as a gift and a mystery that brings me to my second experience in this “vocation week” that I just lived: the ordination of deacons from the North American College at St. Peter’s Basilica.

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Forty-one men were ordained deacons for dioceses in the US, Canada, and Australia.  One of those 41 was Deacon Kevin Grimditch of the Diocese of Phoenix.  The ordaining bishop was Cardinal Harvey (an American who is the Archpriest of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls–I don’t know what the means, but when I do, I’ll let you know) who gave us a beautiful reflection on the heart of these vocations.

At one point in the ordination liturgy, the bishop asks the one presenting the candidates for ordination, “Do you know them to be worthy?”  What a question!  Who is worthy to serve the Lord?  Who is worthy to be a deacon, a priest, a bishop?  What have we done to “deserve” the Lord’s call, our vocation?

The Lord makes us worthy to serve Him, to follow Him, to be with Him.  We remember that when Jesus calls the Apostles it is so that they can “be with Him” (Mark 3:14) and only then does He send them out.  And so, in front of our vocation, we have a sense of our greatness (I am chosen) that is proportionate only to the sense of our nothingness (I am nothing)–just like Our Lady.

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The most striking thing about this ordination of deacons for me was the location of the ordination, the Altar of the Chair, which includes the famous window of the Holy Spirit.  During the part of the ordination when the Cardinal lays his hands on the candidates, the congregation prays in silence for those being ordained.   You can imagine the long period of silence when 41 men are being ordained!

During that time, I found myself looking up at the window and begging the Holy Spirit to fill these men and to continue to fill the Church (myself included) with grace, with the light of faith, with the warmth of love, with zeal for mission, the zeal of the saints.

The one thing the Lord asks us to do for vocations is to pray.  For vocations, we need to pray, to ask our Lord, to beg Him to send workers to His vineyard.

But I might add one more sense to that phrase “prayer for vocations”.  Namely, we need to learn how to pray, and when we learn how to pray, how to hear the voice of the Lord, how to recognize Him moving in our lives, we won’t have to worry about having “enough” vocations.  Christianity has never been about “enough” but about “life in abundance” (John 10:10).

In prayer, I will begin to taste the hundredfold that Jesus promised to us already in this life, in anticipation of the eternal life to come.  I will learn to depend on the Lord and His ever-greater grace–that “I-am-You-who-make-me”: I find myself in the gaze with which He looks at me.

I am most truly who I am in the sight and in the presence of God.  That is prayer…for vocations.

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Mountain, No Mountain, Mountain

This phrase comes from the Buddhist tradition, a tradition I only know through my spiritual father, Raymond Gawronski, SJ.  So, I guess we could say that it comes from Father Ray.  “Mountain, No Mountain, Mountain”  Cosa vuol dire?–as I am learning to say a lot in Italian–What does that mean?

As I understand it, there is an everyday way of relating to people, to places, and to things.  We can go through life at the level of “mountain”: things happen, people come and go, I have “experiences”, but I do not grasp their deeper meaning, what ties everything together.

Then comes the experience of “no mountain”, the moment of enlightenment in  Buddhism, when I realize that the mountain is effervescent, that it is in reality nothing, or in the words of today’s Scriptures: “Vanity of vanity, all things are vanity”; “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”

After the experience of “no mountain”, everything is different.  I still see “mountain”, but I see it in a whole new way, because I have realized that it is really nothing, that it is an illusion, that everything fades away in the end.  Somehow, I treat “mountain” differently because of the experience of “no mountain”.

That’s all well and good, but is there no difference between a Catholic/Christian and  a Buddhist?  I wrestled with this question today as I heard the First Reading from Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth.  I continued to wrestle with it as I listened to a homily in Italian that I sort of tuned out–because my Italian is not the best!  It happens to all of us, huh?

But then I looked up and saw the Cross, this Cross at this Church (San Domenico, the church where you can find St. Catherine’s head) to be precise…

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And looking at the Cross, I could understand what was so unsettling about “mountain, no mountain, mountain”.  If there was ever a mountain that could be called “no mountain”, it would be the mountain of Calvary, where Christ was crucified–taking upon Himself the nothingness of sin, of death, of separation from God.

But the “no mountain” of Calvary is not only a place of death; in the place of death, Life has conquered, because Jesus rose from the dead.  And so, there is a world before Christ: “mountain”; there is Christ’s Passion and Death: “no mountain”; but there is also the Risen life of Jesus: “mountain”.

Between the first mountain and the second mountain, there is a world of difference.  It is not, as in the Buddhist tradition, the difference between reality and illusion, but the difference between death and life.  This “difference” happened for us in Baptism. “Christ’s encounter with our life, in which He began to be a real event for us, His impact with our life, in which He moved towards us and…set off an ‘invasion’ of our existence, is called Baptism.” (Father Luigi Giussani)

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with God in Christ. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with Him in glory.”

There is such a thing as a Christian “contemptus mundi”, contempt of the world, but it is not the same thing as the Buddhist “mountain, no mountain, mountain”.  The Christian can leave the world behind because he has found something better, not because the world is an illusion.  The Christian can gladly enter Christ’s “death”, in the many ways He asks us to die everyday and at the end of our days, because there is a promise of Risen Life, because everyday is the promise of Him.

We beg that we may continue to encounter this Christ, so that the “mountain” of our world may truly be the place where we see His victory over death happen again and again.

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