Cruciform Catholic

Friday, December 30, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI

There is one sentence from the Holy Father's sermon last week, given during the Midnight Mass, that gives great insight into the texture and trajectory of his theological understanding and teaching. The sentence concerns the Pope talking about how God is not eternal solitude. This simple statement is utterly profound and has major implications as to how we, as God's image bearers, are to image God in the world. God Is a Community of Relationship and as such, we, as God's image bearers, are not isolated individuals living in the solitude of our own existence. Rather we are called to Communion with God and with one another. Enjoy, ponder, reflect, and then act on the wisdom and teaching of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. This is the Homily From His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI given during Midnight Mass.

"The Lord said to me: You are my son; this day I have begotten you". With these words of the second Psalm, the Church begins the Vigil Mass of Christmas, at which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ our Redeemer in a stable in Bethlehem. This Psalm was once a part of the coronation rite of the kings of Judah. The people of Israel, in virtue of its election, considered itself in a special way a son of God, adopted by God. Just as the king was the personification of the people, his enthronement was experienced as a solemn act of adoption by God, whereby the King was in some way taken up into the very mystery of God. At Bethlehem night, these words, which were really more an expression of hope than a present reality, took on new and unexpected meaning. The Child lying in the manger is truly God’s Son. God is not eternal solitude but rather a circle of love and mutual self-giving. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (emphasis added).
But there is more: in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God himself became man. To him the Father says: "You are my son". God’s everlasting "today" has come down into the fleeting today of the world and lifted our momentary today into God’s eternal today. God is so great that he can become small. God is so powerful that he can make himself vulnerable and come to us as a defenceless child, so that we can love him. God is so good that he can give up his divine splendour and come down to a stable, so that we might find him, so that his goodness might touch us, give itself to us and continue to work through us. This is Christmas: "You are my son, this day I have begotten you". God has become one of us, so that we can be with him and become like him. As a sign, he chose the Child lying in the manger: this is how God is. This is how we come to know him. And on every child shines something of the splendour of that "today", of that closeness of God which we ought to love and to which we must yield – it shines on every child, even on those still unborn.
Let us listen to a second phrase from the liturgy of this holy Night, one taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: "Upon the people who walked in darkness a great light has shone" (Is 9:1). The word "light" pervades the entire liturgy of tonight’s Mass. It is found again in the passage drawn from Saint Paul’s letter to Titus: "The grace of God has appeared" (2:11). The expression "has appeared", in the original Greek says the same thing that was expressed in Hebrew by the words "a light has shone": this "apparition" – this "epiphany" – is the breaking of God’s light upon a world full of darkness and unsolved problems. The Gospel then relates that the glory of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and "shone around them" (Lk 2:9). Wherever God’s glory appears, light spreads throughout the world. Saint John tells us that "God is light and in him is no darkness" (1 Jn 1:5). The light is a source of life.
But first, light means knowledge; it means truth, as contrasted with the darkness of falsehood and ignorance. Light gives us life, it shows us the way. But light, as a source of heat, also means love. Where there is love, light shines forth in the world; where there is hatred, the world remains in darkness. In the stable of Bethlehem there appeared the great light which the world awaits. In that Child lying in the stable, God has shown his glory – the glory of love, which gives itself away, stripping itself of all grandeur in order to guide us along the way of love. The light of Bethlehem has never been extinguished. In every age it has touched men and women, "it has shone around them". Wherever people put their faith in that Child, charity also sprang up – charity towards others, loving concern for the weak and the suffering, the grace of forgiveness. From Bethlehem a stream of light, love and truth spreads through the centuries. If we look to the Saints – from Paul and Augustine to Francis and Dominic, from Francis Xavier and Teresa of Avila to Mother Teresa of Calcutta – we see this flood of goodness, this path of light kindled ever anew by the mystery of Bethlehem, by that God who became a Child. In that Child, God countered the violence of this world with his own goodness. He calls us to follow that Child.
Along with the Christmas tree, our Austrian friends have also brought us a small flame lit in Bethlehem, as if to say that the true mystery of Christmas is the inner brightness radiating from this Child. May that inner brightness spread to us, and kindle in our hearts the flame of God’s goodness; may all of us, by our love, bring light to the world! Let us keep this light-giving flame from being extinguished by the cold winds of our time! Let us guard it faithfully and give it to others! On this night, when we look towards Bethlehem, let us pray in a special way for the birthplace of our Redeemer and for the men and women who live and suffer there. We wish to pray for peace in the Holy Land: Look, O Lord, upon this corner of the earth, your homeland, which is so very dear to you! Let your light shine upon it! Let it know peace!
The word "peace" brings us to a third key to the liturgy of this holy Night. The Child foretold by Isaiah is called "Prince of Peace". His kingdom is said to be one "of endless peace". The shepherds in the Gospel hear the glad tidings: "Glory to God in the highest" and "on earth, peace...". At one time we used to say: "to men of good will". Nowadays we say "to those whom God loves". What does this change mean? Is good will no longer important? We would do better to ask: who are those whom God loves, and why does he love them? Does God have favourites? Does he love only certain people, while abandoning the others to themselves? The Gospel answers these questions by pointing to some particular people whom God loves. There are individuals, like Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon and Anna. But there are also two groups of people: the shepherds and the wise men from the East, the "Magi". Tonight let us look at the shepherds. What kind of people were they? In the world of their time, shepherds were looked down upon; they were considered untrustworthy and not admitted as witnesses in court. But really, who were they? To be sure, they were not great saints, if by that word we mean people of heroic virtue. They were simple souls. The Gospel sheds light on one feature which later on, in the words of Jesus, would take on particular importance: they were people who were watchful. This was chiefly true in a superficial way: they kept watch over their flocks by night. But it was also true in a deeper way: they were ready to receive God’s word. Their life was not closed in on itself; their hearts were open. In some way, deep down, they were waiting for him. Their watchfulness was a kind of readiness – a readiness to listen and to set out. They were waiting for a light which would show them the way. That is what is important for God. He loves everyone, because everyone is his creature. But some persons have closed their hearts; there is no door by which his love can enter. They think that they do not need God, nor do they want him. Other persons, who, from a moral standpoint, are perhaps no less wretched and sinful, at least experience a certain remorse. They are waiting for God. They realize that they need his goodness, even if they have no clear idea of what this means. Into their expectant hearts God’s light can enter, and with it, his peace. God seeks persons who can be vessels and heralds of his peace. Let us pray that he will not find our hearts closed. Let us strive to be active heralds of his peace – in the world of today.
Among Christians, the word "peace" has taken on a very particular meaning: it has become a name for the Eucharist. There Christ’s peace is present. In all the places where the Eucharist is celebrated, a great network of peace spreads through the world. The communities gathered around the Eucharist make up a kingdom of peace as wide as the world itself. When we celebrate the Eucharist we find ourselves in Bethlehem, in the "house of bread". Christ gives himself to us and, in doing so, gives us his peace. He gives it to us so that we can carry the light of peace within and give it to others. He gives it to us so that we can become peacemakers and builders of peace in the world. And so we pray: Lord, fulfil your promise! Where there is conflict, give birth to peace! Where there is hatred, make love spring up! Where darkness prevails, let light shine! Make us heralds of your peace! Amen."

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Power of the Incarnation

By John McCutcheon

Oh my name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school
From belgium and to flanders, germany to here
I fought for king and country I love dear.

Twas christmas in the trenches and the frost so bitter hung
The frozen fields of France where still no christmas songs were sung
Our families back in England were toasting us that day
There brave and glorious lads so far away.

I was lying with my mess mates on the cold and rocky ground
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound
Says I now listen up me boys, each soldier strained to hear
As one young German voice sang out so clear.

Hes singing bloody well you know, my partner says to me
Soon one by one each German voice joined in in harmony
The cannons rested silent and the gas cloud rolled no more
As Christmas brought us respite from the war.

As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent
God rest ye merry gentlemen struck up some lads from Kent
The next thing sang was stille nach tis silent night says I
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky

Theres someone coming towards us now the front line sentry said
All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side
His truce flag like a Christmas star shone on the plane so bright
As he bravely trudged unarmed into the night.

Then one by one on either side, walked in to no mans land
With neither gun nor bayonet, we met there hand to hand
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare lit football game we gave them hell.

We traded chocolates, cigarettes and photographs from home
These sons and father far away from families of their own
Ton sanders played the squeeze box and they had a violin
This curious and unlikely band of men.

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wonderous night
Whose family have I fixed within my sights.

Twas christmas in the trenches and the frost so bitter hung
The frozen fields of France were warmed, the songs of peace were sung
For the walls theyd kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone forever more.

Oh my name is Francis Tolliver, from Liverpool I dwell
Each Christmas comes since world war I
I have learned its lesson well
For the one who calls the shots wont be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle were the same.

The event that took place in 1914 that inspired these lyrics speak to the Power of the Incarnation. If we, and I think of myself and how much I fail to think on this, sit back and think on what it is that we believe as Christians we would be filled with awe, wonder, reverence, and many other thoughts. Indeed as Christians we believe that the God of the Universe entered into this world with us. We believe that the God of the Universe is not a god who is distant, or aloof, or indifferent to the plight of man, far from it, we confess that the God of the Universe is intimately involved in the affairs of men and that He desires fellowship and friendship with us. The story of the Incarnation is the most devastating truth to ever burst upon the world and NOTHING can compare to it. Indeed, the Power of the Incarnation. May our Lord, who in His love became like us in all ways, yet, He without sin, continue to pour out His mercy and comfort in our lives by His intercession, strengthening by the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

There is Something About Christmas Time!

We waited all through the year
for the day to appear
when we could be together in harmony

You know the time will come
peace on earth for everyone
and we can live forever in a world where we are free
let it shine for you and me

There's something about Christmas time
something about Christmas time
that makes you wish it was Christmas everyday

To see the joy in the children's eyes
the way that the old folks smile
says that Christmas will never go away

We're all as one tonight
makes no difference if you're black or white'
cause we can sing together in harmony

I know it's not too late
the world would be a better place
if we can keep the spirit more than one day in the year
send a message loud and clear

It's the time of year when everyone's together
we'll celebrate here on Christmas day
when the ones you love are there
you can feel the magic in the air -
you know it's everywhere

There's something about Christmas time
something about Christmas time
that makes you wish it was Christmas every day

To see the joy in the children's eyes
the way that the old folks smile
says that Christmas will never go away
Please tell me Christmas will never go away

Bryan Adams "There's Something About Christmas Time"

As the lyrics of this song make clear; there is something about Christmas time. Christmas time brings out some very strong emotions, ranging from, for some people, great depression and sadness, to great happiness and cheer. Tonight as I listened to this song, I could not help but be filled with both joy and sadness at the same time. Sadness because I wonder if Bryan Adams and those who listen to this song really know what makes this time of year so special. Sadness because so many suffer silently and the season brings constant reminders that their loved ones are not here. Sadness because so many do not know the One who is indeed the reason behind the specialness of this season. Sadness because the human yearning for freedom is found truly and really only in Him. I also was filled with joy as I heard the words wishing that it was Christmas everyday. Indeed, Catholics do not have to wish it were Christmas everyday. Truly, Christmas is about Christ Coming to us, and yes, in great love and mercy, everyday our Lord comes to us, truly, really, and substantially in the Eucharist, presenting Himself, His very Body and Blood. Indeed, Catholics do not have to wish it were Christmas everyday, Catholics have Christmas everyday, for, indeed, in Catholic Churches throughout the world, there is in the Tabernacle the Body of Christ. We are not abandoned, we are not orphaned, for we have been given the Spirit of Comfort that we might share in the One who is life Incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, there is something about Christmas time and may the world know, through the ministry of the Church, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Christ, to the glory of God the Father, that Christmas is indeed everyday. May all those who are seeking freedom find the true freedom that only Christ can bring.

The Love of Money!

"And Jesus said to his disciples, 'Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God'" (Matt.19:23-24).

Why is it that most commentators, when commenting on this passage, do not allow the passage to speak for itself? Why is it the case that more often than not people will, in "explaining" this passage, say comment on everything but what Jesus said. Typically what one hears in this passage is what Jesus did not mean to communicate. Jesus is not saying . . . rather than focusing on what He did say, which are very strong words.

The other day, while driving, I was listening to a talk show host commenting about sports ownership and athletes. The caller complained how sports has become all about money. The host laughed and said that the reason why sports is about money is because we the audience care so much about it and since there is such a huge demand for sports there is a lot of money to be made in it. He said that the reason why sports is about money is because it is about the money!!!! He added that the reason why owners in sports are billionaires had to do with the fact that they love money. You just don't one day wake up and discover, "hey, whadda ya know, I am a billionaire." Why do most teams make season ticket holders purchase exhibition games, games that are not part of the regular season, as part of their package? Because there is money involved. It doesn't matter that you are paying for an inferior product, which is admitted by all involved. No, there is money to be made and if you want the season tickets you have to pay for exhibition games that mean nothing in the standings.

Sports is an easy target because it is so public. But what about major corporations? The Supermarket industry is an example of how times have changed. It used to be that a job in the supermarket was a good job. Now, the average supermarket job, except for a handful of employees, are manned by part timers, who are either high school or college students, or someone who is supplementing their income. The average person makes about 8 dollars an hour, if that, in these types of jobs. Because of the part time work, hardly anybody gets any overtime and benefits are not a given. One company that I know of, from having worked in the business, a multi-billion dollar corporation, who gets top dollar for their products does this very thing with their stores. Their stores are very nice, they charge quite a bit, and they are manned by almost all part timers. People in certain levels of management complain that they can't find good help, yet, let's be real and turn the phrase "you get what you pay for" on them. Indeed that is what their apologists will say in their defense, but indeeed, when customer service is lacking, when there is absenteeism in the work place, when work is not getting done top notch, you get what you pay for.

The fact is people love money. One credit card company in their adverstisement says, "we help you live richly." Ahh, indeed, how hard is it for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Only Two Choices!

Many times in life there are, what we call, "both/and" choices. However, in matters pertaining to the spiritual life there really is only an "either/or" before us. That is to say either we will be conformed to the image of Christ or we will be conformed to the pattern and image of the world. There is no middle ground. St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, mentions both of these conformings. The first one is in Romans 8, where he writes, "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren", (vs.29) and the other is in Romans 12, where he writes, "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect", (vs.2). There are two molds in life, the mold that forms us into the image of God's Son, who is the Christ, or the mold that forms us into the image of the world, with its, "lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life" (1st John 2:16). The mold that is easiest to be conformed into is that of the world. To be conformed into pattern of the world takes NO EFFORT. All one has to do is wake up and live naturally. Conforming into the pattern and shape of the world requires no habits, no discipline, and no struggle. Conformity to Christ is hard and takes effort. It requires discipline and struggle. Our Lord says, "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matt. 7:13-14). Conformity to the world is the wide road; conformity to the image of God's Son, our Lord, is the narrow road. This is why Paul is constantly exhorting the Church, challenging the Church, and commanding the Church to put to death the deeds of the flesh, pray without ceasing, think about the things that are above and not below, not to be presumptuous in their standing before God, because these things do not come naturally to us. You typically order commands to someone who will not naturally do something. A parent commands their child, because if a child is left to their own devices they will not take proper care of themselves. Human beings will always choose what they think is good for them. Sadly, because of sin, in choosing what they think is good for them, they often choose the bad. Without Divine Grace in Christ and by the Spirit and the authority of the Church we too would always choose the bad for ourselves. As the Proverb says, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death" (14:12). If left to our own devices we would be conformed to the pattern of the world. Thanks be to God that His grace is offered to us and given to us through His Church in the power of the Spirit in the name of Christ that we might, more and more, put to death the deeds of the flesh and become more and more like our Lord, who is God's Son. Amen.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Does the Catholic Church Preach the Gospel?

It is common for Evangelicals to charge the Catholic Church guilty for failure to preach the Gospel. Many of these Evangelicals are former Catholics who, after having left the Church for a variety of reasons, will claim that the Church did not preach the Gospel to them. Often times the preaching of the Gospel that the Evangelical has in mind concerns an "invitation", given by the preacher after he has delivered the message, to those in attendance asking them if they would like to "accept" Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. If someone in the audience responds with the answer "yes" to this offer, then they are asked to either come down to the front ("the altar call") or to remain in their seats and say a simple prayer asking Jesus to come into their life. If this is someone's conception of preaching the Gospel then, it is true, the Catholic Church does not preach the Gospel according to this idea because the Church does not typically do that. So how does a Catholic respond to the charge that the Church does not preach the Gospel? Simply by pointing out that the Catholic Church celebrates the Eucharist, and not, as in most Evangelical communities, once a month, but everyday. St. Paul states very clearly in his letter to the Church in Corinth that in the doing of the Supper the death of our Lord is proclaimed, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1st Cor. 11:26). In the Eucharistic action of the Church, there is evangelization. Indeed at the heart of Gospel preaching is the proclamation of the death of Christ, as St. Paul states a bit later in the same letter, "Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast -- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures" (1st Cor 15:1-4). There is no Gospel without the death of Christ and there is no Eucharist without the death of Christ. The Eucharist is a sharing in the death of Christ (Gal.2:20), and a true "fellowship" in the body and the blood of our Lord (1st Cor. 10:16). This is why the Eucharist is not a symbolic reminder that Jesus died for our sins. We don't need gentle reminders to remind us of our Lord's death, we need a real and true partaking of His death, receiving nothingless than His body and blood. The Eucharist makes present the past event of Calvary. Space and time are not obstacles in the Eucharist, for the God who sends the Son and the Spirit is not held captive by space and time. The Eucharistic action of the Church brings into the present the sacrifice of our Lord on Calvary. Thus, the Eucharist proclaims the death of Christ. Evangelicals may criticize the Catholic Church according to their own traditions, but according to the Biblical tradition,failure to preach the Gospel is not one of them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Advent And The Ascension

What does the season of Advent have to do with the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven? On the surface, it would appear, not much. Yet, as is often the case in matters of depth, if we dig just a bit we can see that Advent and the Ascension have a lot more in common than would appear. It needs to be stated that the doctrine of the Ascension is one of those doctrines that has been neatly tucked away under the"what does this have to do with anything" file, stored away in the filing cabinet. When we encounter the Ascension we usually are left with more questions than answers and the answers we usually get are not very satisfying. So where does the season of Advent fit with the reality of the Ascension? When our Lord descended from heaven in great humility to take on human nature, He did so that in His Ascension He would exalt our human nature. Our Lord lowers Himself in becoming Man in order that He might raise Man back to his proper dignity as the image of God. The Ascension is often understood as pointing toward our Lord's identity as God. Yet, our Lord, pertaining to His Divine Nature, did not need to be exalted as God. What needed to be exalted was our Lord's human nature. In the Ascension of our Lord, humanity begins to exercise dominion over creation as God intended from the beginning. This dominion is exercised "In Christ" and by the Spirit. As Douglas Farrow has pointed out in his book on the Ascension, reflection on the Ascension had led to some allowing our Lord's humanity to be swallowed up by His deity. We must always be careful to remember that our Lord is fully God and fully Man. As has been pointed out by many theologians, Jesus is both the manifestation of the faithfulness of God and the faithfulness of humanity. In Jesus there is God's "Yes" to man, and man's "Yes" to God. Thus, in the one person Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Word made flesh, there is manifested both the reign of God and the reign of humanity. In Jesus God exercises his reign as God and in Jesus humanity exercises their reign as the image of God. In Jesus God rules his world and orders all things and brings them to perfection as He always intended from the beginning through His image, which is humanity (Psalm 8; Heb 2). In Jesus' Ascension to the Father's right hand we can say, without any reservation, there is a Man in heaven, ruling and reigning and fulfilling the mandate of creation, and in the sending of the Holy Spirit, we His people participate in His Ascension (Col 3) bringing about in our bodies the realities of Jesus' reign over the world. Thanks be to God for the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. And thanks be to God for the 1st Advent of our Lord, who in great love and humility, shunned not the Virgin's womb and became Man for our sake, so that in Him we might be exalted. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Great Hymn of Modernity

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the death of John Lennon. I remember the night he died as if it were yesterday; the Patriots were in Miami playing the Dolphins on Monday Night Football. Howard Cosell announced during the broadcast that John Lennon had been killed outside his apartment in New York City. Now I have to admit that I am not the biggest music fan, nor am I a great fan of the Beatles, but I do like some of their songs. Yesterday as I was listening to the radio, a couple of radio personalities threw their two cents in on his death and his legacy. They both stated that since his death, Lennon's lyrics took on added meaning. They also stated that they thought his best song, certainly his best song apart from the Beatles, was the song "Imagine." They said that the words to this song were profound and that if these words were embraced we would all be better off. Since becoming deeply involved in theology and biblical and theological thinking, when I have heard this song playing on the radio thought I have thought long and hard about it. And when I have thought about it, I have to say, it is one of the most depressing, awful, and saddest songs I have ever heard. I also have had another thought about this song, namely, that we do not need to try very hard to imagine this kind of world because it has already been tried, it was called the Soviet Union, and it failed. It failed because ironically enough it stifled imagination. That is the tragic irony of Lennon's words, a song entilted "Imagine" if implemented in the world does the opposite, namely destroy the imagination. The world of "Imagine" is a world closed in itself. The choral for this liturgy is Carl Sagan's, "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be." Indeed, in this world the lame do not walk, the blind do not see, the deaf do not hear, the poor do not become rich, subjects do not become sharers in a kingdom, slaves are not set free, and the dead do not get raised. In the world of this song banality is the gospel, boredom is its discipline, the mundane is all we live for and the status quo is its eschatological vision. This song is tragic beyond words and to be blunt makes me realize all the more why we, those who believe that the world we live in has been broken into from above, specifically in the Incarnate Word Made Flesh and the power of the Holy Spirit, need to witness to this reality every day in our lives. We need to tell others that there is another city and it is coming from above, the city whose builder and maker is God. Read the lyrics to the song "Imagine" and tell me if there is any hope and redemption in these words. May God have mercy on us all!!!

Imagine there's no heaven,
It's easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people
living for today...

Imagine there's no countries,
It isnt hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion too,
Imagine all the people
living life in peace...

Imagine no possesions,
I wonder if you can,
No need for greed or hunger,
A brotherhood of man,
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say Im a dreamer,
but Im not the only one,
I hope some day you'll join us,
And the world will live as one.