Monday, January 5, 2009

Facing the New Year

I don't know about you, but as I face the New Year, I struggle with discouragement. When contemplating the future of the country and our world, whether in economic, social, or spiritual terms, it's hard for me to envision a positive future rather than more evidence of "a long defeat" (JRR Tolkien's phrase).  On a smaller, more immediate scale, I'm dismayed by the weight of all the burdens of prayer I seem to carry for friends and family - all the things that haven't changed in the last year, and in fact many of these situations have gotten worse.  Several of these situations involve people in serious trouble and/or who've fallen away from the faith.

I'm tempted to wonder whether my prayers do anything - whether begging God for mercy is meaningless in the face of the machinations of fate.  But then I stumbled across this great reminder from one of my favorite authors, Caryll Houselander:
I saw too the reverence that everyone must have for a sinner; instead of condoning his sin, which is in reality his utmost sorrow, one must comfort Christ who is suffering in him. And this reverence must be paid even to those sinners who souls seem to be dead, because it is Christ, who is the life of the soul, who is dead in them; they are His tombs, and Christ in the tomb is potentially the risen Christ. For the same reason, no one of us who has fallen into mortal sin himself must ever lose hope.
This is beautiful, and sobering.  I needed Caryll's help today in seeing Christ in these people.  My thanks to her for being a friend.

[Cross-posted at mystagogia]

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Some Things to Ponder

Given that most Catholic parishes have static (i.e., seldom changing) websites - if they have one at all - and that we're slow to take advantage of podcasting and other forms of contemporary communication, this video is really challenging. Among other things, it points out that information is growing at an exponential rate, as are our abilities to calculate and communicate at greater speed. At the end of the video, the question, "What does it all mean?" is raised. The answer given is completely unsatisfactory: "Shift happens."

Yes, information is being made available to more and more people, but without moral guidelines and without a belief that objective truth exists, how we use the information available becomes a frightening question. More information is not helpful without a moral framework from which to evaluate it. Information must be interpreted, and interpretations depend upon the interpreter and a whole host of variables: personal experience, philosophical worldview, vested interests, fears, desires, goals, vices, virtues, and faith (or the lack of it) all will determine how information is interpreted. The debate regarding global warming is just one issue in which we have lots of information, and very different interpretations of that information.

All the more reason why it is vital for Catholics to have a strong moral compass with which to evaluate all this information, and the fortitude to live according to that compass at work. But even that ability is contingent in many ways upon the life-changing personal encounter with the risen and ascended Lord. Because there will be more and more competing interpretations of the exponentially increasing information we have to deal with, mere "head knowledge" will very likely not be enough to do what is good, right and just in the absence of the personal conviction and supernatural graces that flow from a profound religious experience of the Holy Spirit.

Watch the video - what do you think?

Thanks for the link, Pat!

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Friday, February 2, 2007

Feast of The Presentation of the Lord

A little while back, on Fr. Mike's post on memorization of Scripture, I mentioned some reflections that I drew for my own life and preparation for receiving the Eucharist from St. Luke's account of God's promise to Simeon and its fulfillment when St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother, carrying the Christ child, entered the temple for the purification ritual and the child's presentation.

Well, today, February 2nd, is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which celebrates this event. (Besides the Mass readings for the Feast, you can find also the Office of Readings for today over here.)

I was reminded of this fact when I decided to look at the entry for today in our now-Pontiff's book, "Co-Workers of the Truth". Clearly, a rich passage -- it's the fourth mystery of the rosary, after all -- I was intrigued by then-Cardinal Ratzinger's focus on how this event in the East is known as Hypapanti, or meeting. The encounter of Simeon and Christ. And Saint Sophronius, in the office of Readings, universalizes this, saying, "In honour of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light."

I'd be interested in other people's reflections on this Feast. And if you are looking for a way to enter into Scripture, besides Fr. Mike's original recommendation, consider spending some time each day with the readings that are part of the day's liturgy. It's not a bad way to start.

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Saturday, January 6, 2007

How Do You Communicate An Experience?

In Fr. Mike's post on Recovering a Catholic Culture, I was struck by this passage:
"As is almost always the case, our wonderful Church documents presume or propose a culture of intentional discipleship, but if one does not exist in a parish, we have a bit of a catch-22. How do we foster intentional discipleship if the lived reality of the local parish is not actively promoting it?"
(I suppose my being struck by that shouldn't surprise me. It is the question that moves this entire blog, after all ;-))

But what I kept thinking about when reading this question is that part of the challenge rests in how we can communicate an experience.

What experience, you say? The encounter with Christ.

I personally like that way of speaking of this experience. Admittedly, it may be due to the context in which the meaning of this phrase was driven home for me, but it has always felt less saddled with the baggage of what most Americans identify as "classically Protestant" expressions, like "a personal relationship with Jesus" or "accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior". Even, today, when I hear those phrases, I must admit that I first and foremost think of the personal and (honestly) an almost ethereal Jesus. But "encounter?" For some reason, there's flesh there. And where I find Him in the flesh is in His people, in His Church. Cardinal Scola said much the same in his address* at the 2nd World Congress of Ecclesial Movements this past Pentecost, where he described the encounter with Jesus Christ as a "personal and communitarian event" (emphasis added). At least for me, the phrase "encounter" more easily brings this to mind.

But, I think, it is that experience, the encounter with Christ, that is part of what makes intentional discipleship possible. After all, how do you, exercising your freedom, choose to follow Christ if you have not first met Him? And is not to follow Him but to encounter Him anew each day? And here, I am talking about the existential of being a Christian. An active following that is the following of a Person, not, as then-Cardinal Ratzinger commented, an adherence to a Christianity that's been reduced to some "intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism ...".

Of course, once could say that this is precisely what the Church as been proposing through the ages: the apostles sharing their experience of His presence with others and inviting them to partake and then those others sharing their experience of Him with the next generation. But in some pockets (and, admittedly they are some really big pockets today) what is being offered to people is precisely what now Pope Benedict warned was not really Christianity. And when tested, it fails to satisfy, it falls short, and thus doesn't sustain and change a person.

(Okay, I know what you are thinking. Did he use all of these words to basically just restate Fr. Mike's question? Well, what did you expect, programmatic answers from me? Heh. Not likely. The best I have ever managed is to return to Christ's own reply to the question of St. Andrew and St. John: "come and see." )

* Sorry that the link is in Italian, but I couldn't find an English translation anywhere.

** The external link above is a hat tip to Fr. Julian Carron,and the title of his article on education, that inspired the lens of this post.

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