Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book Review - "Where Do Priests Come From?"

“A priest is a man who makes Jesus real to others through word, example, and the sacraments.  He shows us what Jesus is like. . .”  Does that description remind you of anyone?  I hope so!  It reminded me of Monsignor John Leykam, godfather to my youngest; and it was sure fun bringing him up as the kids and I read this delightful little book.

Elizabeth Ficocelli’s words and Shannon Wirrenga’s illustrations go together like hand in glove to give children a rich, human, catechetically-sound introduction to the lives of our priests.  So where do priests come from?  “They were once young boys just like you. . .[They] played baseball. . .climbed trees. . .dreamed of being an astronaut.”  This book maintains the same down-to-earth, relatable feel as it explores “the call,” priestly formation, life in community, and the various roles in which priests serve.

Something I especially liked was the reminder that priests are journeying toward heaven too.  “He goes to Confession to be strengthened, just like his people.”  We hear how priests need to pray, take breaks, and spend time with friends – just like you, me, and Jesus.  In this very subtle way Ficocelli communicates Catholicism’s incarnational worldview – that the God of the universe loves us so tenderly that he comes down from his heaven to join us in the most humdrum of activities; that in the sacraments humble things like water, bread, wine, and even words, become conduits of Divine Life.

I also take my hat off at the way Ficocelli was able to weave fifteen kid-friendly definitions into thirteen pages!  Now besides being a dad, I'm an educator; and that feat earned her an “A” in my grade book.  There’s even a glossary!

I was excited to hear that is only the first in a series from Bezalel Books, with Where Do Sisters Come From? set to arrive before year’s end, and Where Do Deacons Come From? soon to follow.  It’s such a neat way to open our children’s hearts to God’s call.  The final line of the book is priceless, “Maybe the next young man God calls will be you!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"Lord of the Dance" - REALLY?

At the 9:30 Sunday morning Mass I attended, someone thought it would be a good idea to use Lord of the Dance during Communion:

Photo by Beaumain
I danced in the morning when the world was begun
I danced in the Moon & the Stars & the Sun
I came down from Heaven & I danced on Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth:

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
(...lead you all in the Dance, said He!)

(words by Sydney Carter)

Alright, I'll go so far as to grant you a Biblical basis for the song:  Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate (1 Cor.1:24), and in the Old Testament Wisdom was personified as speaking these words:

When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men (Prov.8:27-31).

But Lord of the Dance is not the tune I want in my head as I'm going to receive the King of Kings! And then I've had to deal with it going through my head the rest of the day.  In the end, I see people falling into two groups - those who understand why that is a bad thing, and those who do not.

"Are you telling this parable for us or for all?"

That was Peter's question to Jesus in this morning's Gospel, and Jesus' answer is incredibly pertinent to each one of us and those we love, especially at this moment in history.  We're going to engage in a little Bible study today.  First, Let me take a step back though and give the parable that sparked Peter's question:
"Be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them" (Luke 12:36-37).

It struck me this morning that Jesus didn't give a simple "yes" or "no" to Peter:
And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful (Luke 12:42-45).

Peter would have understood Jesus immediately:  while it referred to all, it referred to them, the shepherds, and to Peter in a special way.  Why do I say this?  It seems to me that Jesus is making a pretty strong allusion to Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham, sold into Egyptian slavery by his eleven brothers.  (Just as an aside, Jesus is giving this answer to Peter, the leader among a group of Twelve).  Joseph of course rose to prominence in Egypt, being made the Pharoah's vizier, or master of the palace:
So Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discreet and wise as you are; you shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only as regards the throne will I be greater than you." And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt." Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph's hand. . . Moreover Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt" (Gen.41:39-44). 

When famine struck the Middle East, it was Joseph who had stored up Egypt's grain in preparation:
There was famine in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do." So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth (Gen.41:54-57).

But how does this apply to Peter, and by extension to his successors?  Peter too was appointed a vizier, but over Jesus' Kingdom.  I've explored this before when comparing Jesus words in Matthew 16:17-19 with those in Isaiah spoken by God in reference to Israel's vizier, master of the palace.  But look at Jesus' words to Peter again, and compare them to Pharaoh's to Joseph:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt.16:18-19).
And was this same Simon-Peter to whom Jesus later said:
"Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs. . .Tend my sheep. . .Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17).

So in today's Gospel reading, Jesus had incredibly strong words that we all need to take to heart - but especially his ordained shepherds, and Peter's successors most of all.  Our Lord's answer to Peter continued:
And that servant who knew his master's will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more. "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!. . .Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (Luke 12: 47-53).

We have to keep this squarely in mind as our nation, and we as individuals, face the culture war.  There are so many points at which not just the Gospel but the Natural Law are being attacked in our culture today. We hear of whole groups of Christians picking apart God's Word and rejecting what doesn't fit with this secular morality, only a few decades old.  We have to pray for the shepherds, in our country and abroad, to stand up and lead us in the way of Truth - to make sure each and every parish is giving solid instruction, solid reasons and arguments to share with others.  Thank God that we have a Pope who is doing that at the top!  It might be high time the Church in the U.S.A. lost its tax exempt status.  We need our shepherds to be servants who give the people "their portion of food at the proper time"  And each of us, in whatever capacity God has given us, need to be servants to our family members and colleagues - making sure they get "their portion of food at the proper time."  The time is now; the world is starving for Truth - bold, uncompromising, unassailable Truth. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Thursday, August 5, 2010

We Don't Think The Way God Does

Today's Gospel reading really struck me:  From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you." He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." 

God's "end game," pure and simple, is for us to take on the image of Jesus.  This means that many of the experiences we dread - like getting caught with our hand in the cookie jar, or whatever that translates into for adults - appear very positive to God; that correction brings us one step closer to having us with Him for all eternity.  In truth, it's useless to try and run from the Cross; God is going to take us through it whether we want to or not, so "Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed" (Heb.12:13).

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

CA's Proposition 8 Overturned

I just finished watching CBS Evening News' coverage of federal judge Vaughn R. Walker's ruling earlier today.  What I found most disturbing was his statement that "Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians."  That a federal judge would enter the realm of theology and pronounce upon it floors me.  He just said that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam - objectively, as they have historically stood; not in the watered-down version often practiced here and in Europe - run counter to the good of some of our citizens.  The implication is easy to see - these religions should drop what is disagreeable to the secular morality that has recently gained ground in our society.  It isn't even a robust secular morality - with its rejection of Natural Law it can no longer claim rationality.

As one who speaks and writes about Christianity, the judge's words about religious belief outrage me, and I feel the need to respond.  I have nothing but love and respect for men and women experiencing same-sex attraction.  I do not believe it proper to act on such attraction, but I would never under any circumstance discriminate against or belittle the innate dignity of one who did.  (I've discussed this in several blogs.) Christianity is a revealed religion and its statements on the morality of sex acts between same-sex individuals are crystal clear, unmistakable.  A Christian cannot excise this datum of faith from their belief set without calling into question every other datum of faith - that God desires us to be His children, that Jesus died for his/her sins, that salvation rests upon God's grace, etc.  Christianity is one complete system and should be accepted or rejected as a whole.  Jesus made a claim like no other in history, "I am the Truth" (John 14:6).  As He said to the Roman judge, Pontius Pilate "For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37); and to His disciples, "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory" (Luke 9:26).

More on Jesus' Baptism

I've written before about Jesus' death being foreshadowed in His baptism, but it wasn't until praying the Rosary a few nights ago that I also saw His resurrection there. The death is in the going down into the water, but the resurrection in the coming up into the presence of the Spirit and the voice of the Father. St. Paul even did the leg work for us, linking the resurrection to the Spirit and God [the Father's] declaration. Paul wrote that Jesus was "designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). I can't believe how dense I am not to have recognized this before, especially when I've taught on the symbolism of death and resurrection in regards to our baptisms!

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).