Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

29 August 2015

Who's Got All The Dirt?

The other day I was making coffee when, after a couple of minutes into the brewing cycle, I sensed that something was amiss. Liquid began to drip over the side of the carafe. I opened the lid and spotted the culprit: the basket and hot water spout were out of alignment, which threw off the brew. Fortunately I was able to salvage some of it, much stronger than normal. As I figured, my first cup also revealed grounds at the bottom: good grounds for a homily!

What here we call grounds, in another setting we might call “dirt”—which has been well defined as “matter out of place.” Farmers don’t refer to the earth of their crops as “dirt”; rather, they call it “soil.” But when the kid drags it into the house…then they call it “dirt”! Are we so much concerned with hygiene as with order and propriety--“a place for everything and everything in its place”? That was a charm of Israel’s Law: it gave them order and harmony. On top of that, as we notice in the First Reading, the Israelites imagined that the neighboring nations admired and envied them for possessing that Law—and behind that, they admired their intimate relationship with their God. Obedience to that Law was the way the Israelites maintained union with God in every facet of their lives. Unfortunately the constant temptation was to identify literal obedience with pleasing God. That’s why Jesus so often railed against the Pharisees: many of them followed the literal traditions without necessarily paying attention to the meaning underlying those traditions.

We hear enough in the Gospels about Pharisees who are turned off by Jesus’ stern convictions, but not so often about any who heard His convictions and took them to heart. No doubt there were some who paused long enough to get honest with themselves, to place their lives humbly in the pure light of Incarnate Truth: Jesus, Himself the Law’s Only Perfect Fulfillment. Now as then, the way to fulfillment is found in Him, and not in attempted obedience to Law, in which we cannot help but fall short and reveal our need for Grace.

Can we allow God to see the “dirt” in our lives, so that He can purify us and fill us with His nourishing Word and Sacrament, whereby we can offer Him fitting worship and obedience? Whether or not anyone else takes notice of us, to compliment us on our wisdom and intelligence, can we appreciate what is best for us and seek that with all our hearts? With such a disposition of heart, we may notice the dirt in others’ lives just as much as before, but it won’t bother us so much in light of our own. We may even be inspired to seek conversion together, and therefore more effectively.

25 May 2015

Memorial Day Musings

Two beloved poems come to mind on Memorial Day: Rudyard Kipling's Recessional (1897) and Gerard Manley Hopkins' The Soldier (1885). The former is responsible for the phrase "Lest We Forget." One of our local fire departments has a plaque aside the door that often features the names of recently deceased members. Below the name(s) are the words, "Lest We Forget." The poem is a reminder that the sovereignty of God surpasses pride-impaired temporal power.

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Kipling's poem considers the "universal," the attitude of the government or the citizenry as a whole. As earthly rulers receive authority from God, to God they must render an account. There are echoes of the 51st Psalm, the Miserere ("Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness") in the second stanza, and in the final stanza, the 127th Psalm, Nisi Dominus ædificaverit domum ("Unless the Lord build the house").

Hopkins traditionally treats the "particular," so his poem extols the nobility of "any given" soldier, likening him to Christ in terms of His sacrifice. As in the first poem, pride also motivates the first-person plural subject, but Hopkins fancies soldiers as types of Christ regardless of their personal disposition toward Him or His ideals.

YES. Why do we áll, seeing of a soldier, bless him? bless
Our redcoats, our tars? Both these being, the greater part,
But frail clay, nay but foul clay. Here it is: the heart,
Since, proud, it calls the calling manly, gives a guess
That, hopes that, makesbelieve, the men must be no less; (5)
It fancies, feigns, deems, dears the artist after his art;
And fain will find as sterling all as all is smart,
And scarlet wear the spirit of wár thére express.

Mark Christ our King. He knows war, served this soldiering through;
He of all can handle a rope best. There he bides in bliss (10)
Now, and séeing somewhére some mán do all that man can do,
For love he leans forth, needs his neck must fall on, kiss,
And cry ‘O Christ-done deed! So God-made-flesh does too:
Were I come o’er again’ cries Christ ‘it should be this’.

The first word of this poem is peculiarly placed. By now, as a Hopkins fan, I should know better than to question him. I should just marvel at his Sprachgefuhl. It's the plain-and-simple affirmative, but the question he asks ("Why do we bless soldiers?") is ostensibly not a yes-or-no question. Perhaps it's the spontaneous, ebullient portent of a positive position ("Soldiers are manly, valuable, noble, and attractive, like Christ Himself").

The phrase "do all that man can do" reminds me of the former U. S. Army slogan "Be all that you can be." Do, be--recall, the military classified Sinatra "4-F," unable to serve because of his punctured left eardrum. He served, I suppose, by keeping the ladies interested in having someone to love, and the troops interested in having someone to fight.

12 April 2015

Sacraments of Healing, Sacraments of Mercy

The Church's Catechism tells us (CCC 1420-1421) that there are two "Sacraments of Healing": Penance/Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. If we were to consult Sacred Scripture for the roots of these sacred grace-meetings (and we should), I would first consider Jas 5:14-15, which the anointing priest or bishop is supposed to say as part of the rite:
Are there any who are sick among you? Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up. If they have committed any sins, their sins will be forgiven them.
Incidentally (I exaggerate), Jesus Himself indicated:
These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages, they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mk 16:17-18)
In Mk 6:12-13, we read that the Twelve Apostles, in connection with a dominical* commissioning, "preached repentance[,] drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them."

Jesus described the curative successes of "those who believe," while James and Mark elaborate upon the repentance and forgiveness that accompany the priestly encounter. These data would not be in the Bible if Jesus and the early Church did not engage in such healing moments faithfully.

Regarding the foundations for the Sacrament of Penance: James says, "Confess your sins to one another" (5:16). Certainly any relationship beyond that of bowling buddies (though even there, where indicated) would entail the occasional disclosure of faults, through both commission and repentance of faults. James would not have said this, except for the presumed command and expectation to forgive confessed sins.

James, of course, was not necessarily referring to the sacramental transaction, but it makes sense alongside Jesus' post-Resurrection appearance in the Upper Room (John 20:19ff). "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' And when He had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.'"
Recall how, at the diocesan Mass of the Oils, the Bishop breathes upon the Sacred Chrism while consecrating it. Thus he confers the Holy Spirit upon it for its sealing, consecratory purposes (most notably Baptism, Confirmation, and Ordination to Presbyterate and Episcopate). Where there is a sealing, there is a sending.
We're not supposed to wait until the last minute to seek physical healing. Often the physicians receive the patient when it is too late to do anything helpful. All the more does this pertain to one's spiritual condition. People will wait to "send for the priests" until the person is "actively dying," scarcely able to communicate for themselves.

I wonder whether my generation (X) and younger will have the presence of mind to request the sacraments of penance, anointing, and Eucharist for their dying loved ones, much less obtain these sacraments for themselves as often as befits a son or daughter of God. Provision of spiritual care and religious education are not simply a courtesy, but a responsibility. This is generally considered true for parents vis-à-vis children, and it should also be true for adults regarding their parents--when they no longer can operate for themselves.

While we have our wits, one way we take responsibility for our own spiritual and religious disciplines is frequent and honest Confession. People of all ages will contest, "I'm not a big sinner. I never killed anyone, stole [much]..."

That may be true. The Church commands us to confess only our serious sins, at the minimum of once a year. But that is a minimum. We would change our toothbrush more often, or the oil in (older) vehicles, so why not prevent sin buildup in like manner?

As an apostle of mercy I consider myself obliged to make the suggestion, especially upon an initial visit to a hospitalized person. I certainly don't accuse anyone of being a "big sinner," but I often remind them that there are ten commandments, and various ways to break them.

Most important is the priest's mission (as opposed to "agenda," a word fraught with unsavory connotations) to "draw everyone" to Christ (cf. Jn 12:32). To refuse or defer that invitation is no personal slight, nor is it necessarily a self-condemning action; but "the offer still stands," at least for the patient's length of stay, and they can always seek another priest. The time may not be right, they may want to examine their conscience first--and I can provide material for that!

In any case, it's all about whittling away at excuses, and renewing our commitment to our relationship with Jesus and all we encounter. Can you "confess to God directly"? Sure, but confess also to a priest. It costs nothing but our egos. The priest is as much a sinner as you, perhaps (God forbid) more. But as priest, he is an other Christ, and so he was commissioned by Christ and the Church "to reconcile the world to Himself" one person at a time.

Moreover, the healing is in the relationship. Relationships involve the continuous exchange of loving words and actions that heal. Every human exertion in some way creates micro-tears in our spiritual fiber, just like exercise does for our muscles. These tears are properly repaired through prayer, both communal and personal. Confession is fundamentally a prayer that acknowledges and praises God's goodness and sovereignty over our lives; in that context it is a recognition of our sins and weaknesses, which are the precise occasion for God to act in support of our relationship with Him.

I don't advocate putting off any sacramental attention (Anointing or Penance) because I don't advocate putting off any relationship attention. That's what sacraments are: not things to collect or use, not "Get Out of Hell Free!" passes. Rather, they are demonstrations of God's concern for our union with Him and with our fellow human persons, which is most fully evident in the sacraments' very Source: The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Incarnate Son.

*dominical: of, or pertaining to, the Lord [Jesus]; from L. dominicus, from dominus "lord, master."

19 February 2015

Collect Your Thoughts

From my seminary days I recall that one notable difference between today's Gospel from Matthew and its Lucan parallel is the use of the word "daily": "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me." Why one evangelist remembered Him saying "daily" and another did not--or however that went down--I couldn't tell you. But there is something to that word "daily": We got up this morning, and it was a new day, a new opportunity or a new need to do many of the same things we did yesterday and the day before. We have to repeat this stuff daily for it to work.

This morning a Facebook friend shared the "Morning Offering." Perhaps you recall it:
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day: for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for all my sins, for the intentions of all my associates, and in particular for the intentions recommended to me this month by our Holy Father.
Where did I learn that? Across the street from our church, at Saint Clair Catholic, before it became a grotto. Every morning we heard it over the loudspeaker. It reminded me of this morning's collect, which I would attempt for you in my best impression of my freshman and junior year English teacher, Sister Joseph Annetta, S.S.J. (Eternal Memory!):
Direct, O Lord, we beseech You, all our actions by Your holy inspirations, and carry them through by Your gracious assistance, so that our every prayer and work may always begin with You, and by You be happily ended: through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
(Actiones nostras, quaesumus, Domine, aspirando praeveni et adiuvando prosequere, ut cuncta nostra oratio et operatio a Te semper incipiat, et per Te coepta finiatur: per Christum, Dominum nostrum. Amen.) [I learned it in Latin, too, because I'm goofy like that.]
That prayer collected--gathered--us from the diverse conversations that took place right up to, and sometimes a little bit after, the bell. That's one reason we refer once again to the Opening Prayer of the Mass as the collect.

Of course, the wording is now different from the version I just quoted (as was the previous Mass translation), but I remember it because we heard it from her daily. They say, repetitio est mater studiorum: "repetition is the mother of students," and it was a mother to us! But it worked.

But I would thoroughly understand if many of my classmates could not remember the prayer, especially if they haven't cared to remember it (interest makes a difference when it comes to memory), or if they haven't used it since their last class with Sister Joe. When I taught high school, I used that prayer every day, for both my theology and Latin classes.

The prayers, the hymns, the poems, the movie lines, and maybe even the times tables: These are the type of things I hope to remember when I'm retired and in our Villa, if we still have one.

Anyhow, a good Lenten practice might be to memorize a certain prayer or action, by repeating it daily. It will be one of those many worthy things we'll want to continue when Lent is over.

Every "today" is a day to choose whether or not to repeat the actions that can become our habits.