Fostering Christian discipleship in the late modern milieu in the diakonia of koinonia and in the recognition that "the Eucharist is the only place of resistance to annihilation of the human subject."

 

Καθολικός διάκονος: Year A Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

This is brought to its culmination in our Gospel for today. Jesus calls us to die to ourselves and selflessly live for others for His sake. He goes so far as to say that whoever does not lose his/her life for His sake is the one who will surely die. Stated simply, dying to ourselves is, paradoxically, the only path to life. It is the true imitation of Christ.

Authenticity as a form of falsehood

Paradoxically, doesn’t the “search” for authenticity consist precisely in ceasing to search and just being yourself? Maybe the authentic you that you envision is the most pernicious false self imaginable.

As Pater Tom (Merton) averred: “It is often more perfect to do what is simply normal and human than to try to act like an angel when God does not will it. That is, when there is no need for it, except in the stubborn passion of our own impatience with ourselves.”

A note on preaching today’s Mass readings

Consider this:

When preaching on the universal salvation offered by God through Christ, who breaks down barriers, as exhibited by today’s Gospel, you must be careful not to veer off into universalism, even by implication, or just plain sloppiness. Preaching on certain things requires the preacher “to do” theology. When you choose to preach on a theme, like the universal salvation offered in Christ, please do your homework.

Consider this:

Not everyone who has died is in heaven. As Catholics, in addition to heaven and hell, we dogmatically believe in Purgatory. Also, the Church is the ordinary and normative means of salvation. Hence, the Church, baptism, the Eucharist, are not incidental to anyone’s salvation, even those who might be saved extraordinarily.

Frankly, I fail to see the efficacy of pointing people away from Christ’s Body, the Church.

Last night I took the risk of re-watching Terry Gilliam’s 1991 movie The Fisher King, which starred Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. Williams plays “Parry,” a man, a former professor, rendered mentally unstable by the traumatic event of his wife’s brutal murder, which murder was precipitated, not carried out by, but likely caused by Jeff Bridges’ character, Jack, a Howard Stern-like shock-jock. It is an amazing movie. I thought so back when I first watched it. I saw it at the cinema and, a few years later, watched it again on videotape. It is a modern take on the quest for the Holy Grail and a tremendously moving one at that. From the “cloud busting” scene:"It’s a story of the Grail myth…And although there are several variations, my favorite begins with the Fisher King as a young boy… who had to spend a night alone in the forest to prove his courage… and during that night, he is visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire, appears the Holy Grail - God’s highest symbol of divine grace. And a voice says to the boy, "You shall be the guardian of the Grail, that it may heal the hearts of men"…But the boy was overcome …Innocent and foolish, he was blinded by greater visions - a life ahead filled with beauty and glory, hope and power…Tears filled his eyes as he sensed his own… invincibility. A boy’s tears of naive wonder and inspiration. and in this state of…radical amazement…he felt for a brief moment, not like a boy, but like God… (Jack listens intently) …And so he reached into the fire to take the Grail. And the Grail vanished. And the boy hands were left caught in the flames…leaving him wounded and ashamed at what his recklessness had lost him."

Last night I took the risk of re-watching Terry Gilliam’s 1991 movie The Fisher King, which starred Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. Williams plays “Parry,” a man, a former professor, rendered mentally unstable by the traumatic event of his wife’s brutal murder, which murder was precipitated, not carried out by, but likely caused by Jeff Bridges’ character, Jack, a Howard Stern-like shock-jock. It is an amazing movie. I thought so back when I first watched it. I saw it at the cinema and, a few years later, watched it again on videotape. It is a modern take on the quest for the Holy Grail and a tremendously moving one at that.

From the “cloud busting” scene:
"It’s a story of the Grail myth…And although there are several variations, my favorite begins with the Fisher King as a young boy… who had to spend a night alone in the forest to prove his courage… and during that night, he is visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire, appears the Holy Grail - God’s highest symbol of divine grace. And a voice says to the boy, "You shall be the guardian of the Grail, that it may heal the hearts of men"…But the boy was overcome …Innocent and foolish, he was blinded by greater visions - a life ahead filled with beauty and glory, hope and power…Tears filled his eyes as he sensed his own… invincibility. A boy’s tears of naive wonder and inspiration. and in this state of…radical amazement…he felt for a brief moment, not like a boy, but like God… (Jack listens intently) …And so he reached into the fire to take the Grail. And the Grail vanished. And the boy hands were left caught in the flames…leaving him wounded and ashamed at what his recklessness had lost him."

The Hope of Humble Explicitness - God • People • Place

Judging someone who commits suicide

I always wait a day or two after an event like Robin Williams’ suicide, not with anticipation or excitement, but with fear loathing, because that’s when those who dabble in moral theology come out to play.

Let me be up-front: suicide is gravely and objectively wrong. Circumstances and intention cannot change something gravely and objectively wrong into something good, or even neutralize it. However, circumstances and intention can render committing such an act wrong- doing instead of a sin. In other words, circumstances and intention can mitigate a person’s culpability in committing a gravely wrong act.

When it comes to something as serious and grievous as suicide, let’s turn to the Catechism for what the Church teaches:

"Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

"We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives" (par 2282b-2283)

Bottom line: Don’t pretend for one minute, one nano-second, that you can judge the interior disposition and psychological state of another human being who has, tragically, taken his/her own life and then pretend to determine that person’s culpability. Only God is qualified to make that judgment.

As followers of Jesus Christ, it seems to me, that our task in the wake of someone committing suicide is to comfort those who grieve and fervently pray for the person who committed suicide, commending them to Divine Mercy.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

From the perspective of his high papal veneration, one cannot simply dismiss Celestine V as “a bad pope.” That he was not an effective pope is beyond historical dispute. He never wanted to be pope! Let’s keep in view the fact that Pietro del Morrone was not elected pope until he was 84, which would be old even now.
Both Benedict and Francis see Celestine V as a model precisely for his humble and even selfless realization and acknowledgment that, as an old man, well past his prime, he was not “up to” the job. In this regard it bears noting that Benedict XVI resigned when he was the same age as Celestine V was when he resigned: 85. As Magister describes it, Celestine V’s “plans for abdication were scrupulously examined from the juridical point of view. And on December 13, in the Castelnuovo in Naples, he read his declaration of resignation before the assembled cardinals. He set aside the pontifical vestments and dressed himself again in the gray robe of his congregation: the pope had again become Pietro del Morrone.”  At least to me, there is something quite beautiful and distinctively Franciscan in Magister’s description of del Morrone’s resignation.

From the perspective of his high papal veneration, one cannot simply dismiss Celestine V as “a bad pope.” That he was not an effective pope is beyond historical dispute. He never wanted to be pope! Let’s keep in view the fact that Pietro del Morrone was not elected pope until he was 84, which would be old even now.

Both Benedict and Francis see Celestine V as a model precisely for his humble and even selfless realization and acknowledgment that, as an old man, well past his prime, he was not “up to” the job. In this regard it bears noting that Benedict XVI resigned when he was the same age as Celestine V was when he resigned: 85. As Magister describes it, Celestine V’s “plans for abdication were scrupulously examined from the juridical point of view. And on December 13, in the Castelnuovo in Naples, he read his declaration of resignation before the assembled cardinals. He set aside the pontifical vestments and dressed himself again in the gray robe of his congregation: the pope had again become Pietro del Morrone.”

At least to me, there is something quite beautiful and distinctively Franciscan in Magister’s description of del Morrone’s resignation.

Don't Give in to Discouragement

"A mistake we make is to think of the saints as triumphing over temptation by the felt force of ardent love. Some of them, certainly, experienced this fire, but for the most of them it has been a question of grinding out dry, hard acts of faith and hope through clenched teeth. The saints have had to fight every inch of the way against discouragement, defeatism, and even despair.”

I would just add that this is one of the MANY, MANY reasons we should implore the help of these women and men who have gone before and who now, in the presence of God, stand ready to assist us.

As we are bidden in the Letter to the Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (12:1).

From one of my favorite films about the French Revolution, which is set just before the Revolution, when Louis XVI fled to Varennes, La Nuit de Varennes.

A note on Marie Antoinette and cake

Four quick facts on the attribution of “Let them eat cake” to Marie Antoinette

1) It is highly unlikely she ever said such a thing

2) At least one variation of the “Let them eat cake” story was around before 1789 and was also attributed to Marie-Thérèse, the Spanish princess who married King Louis XIV in 1660 

3) Jean-Jacques Rousseau included a variation of this story in his Confessions, published in 1766, attributing like words to “a great princess,” most likely to Marie-Thérèse

4) Just when this sad sentence was first attributed to Marie Antoinette, we don’t really know, but likely as a libel not long after the Revolution- not really sure what I was thinking in my previous post about when this was attributed to her.

Anyway, the video was cool.

image

Marie Antoinette en chemise, by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1783).

I post this each year on Bastille Day, which is a sad day in Western history, one might even say a bit apocalyptic. Marie Antoinette, a few years before becoming Queen of France, was accused of saying, “Let them eat cake.” It is pretty widely agreed that she never said any such thing. In fact, she did a lot to help the poor in France.

Undoubtedly, France was in bad shape and not being particularly well-ruled. Reform was underway. I think Louis XVI would’ve been wise to accept the constitutional monarchy, instead of fleeing to Varennes. Wise in much the same way I think Great Britain would’ve been wise to allow their American colonies representation in Parliament.



If I were to assign one word to describe how God’s word accomplishes His work in us and through us based on what St Paul wrote I would be tempted to use “suffering.” But, with a bit of reflection, I’d have to go with “travail. Travail means painful or laborious effort. Why “travail” instead of “suffering”? Suffering, it seems to me, is far too passive. Suffering just happens. It has been observed, “to live is to suffer.”  Travail implies that we take those circumstances that cause us to suffer, and, by the power of the Spirit, offer these to God, which is what it means to participate in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, something we were called to do when we were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. This is what St Paul means a few chapters on in Romans where he wrote, “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). This requires us to recognize that it is precisely through experience, through the circumstances we face every day, which recognition causes us to “groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption” (Rom 8:23), that God redeems our bodies, making us ever more fully His children. God redeems what we freely offer Him.

If I were to assign one word to describe how God’s word accomplishes His work in us and through us based on what St Paul wrote I would be tempted to use “suffering.” But, with a bit of reflection, I’d have to go with “travail. Travail means painful or laborious effort. Why “travail” instead of “suffering”? Suffering, it seems to me, is far too passive. Suffering just happens. It has been observed, “to live is to suffer.”

Travail implies that we take those circumstances that cause us to suffer, and, by the power of the Spirit, offer these to God, which is what it means to participate in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, something we were called to do when we were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. This is what St Paul means a few chapters on in Romans where he wrote, “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). This requires us to recognize that it is precisely through experience, through the circumstances we face every day, which recognition causes us to “groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption” (Rom 8:23), that God redeems our bodies, making us ever more fully His children. God redeems what we freely offer Him.