Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Strait from the Heart of Lent

From the conversation I mentioned earlier, a word from the heart of Tyson, who has answered us all in the spirit of Truth:

Greetings Eric and Dom (et al.),

I agree that there is not need for dichotomy theologically, but it was hard yesterday speaking with a mother of a friend of mine. She lives a 7 hour bus ride outside of the city and is only able to afford a visit once a year. Her son, Alfonso, is disabled and is in a boy’s home attending an American school. She is a mother, and though she speaks Spanish with limitations (she is indigenous and speaks Quechua), she was able to express what any mother would feel, the sadness at being so far from her son, who after 5 years in this home is bored to go to the village where he grew up. We spoke about their lives, the hard work and the small pay (a family with four kids living with them earning under $2 a day), and about Canada, the cost of a flight from there to here, and how shamed I was. Sure, I am trying to make my way through this country scouting for the footprints of Christ and where they will lead, yet we are separated by my Love which does not extend far enough to those so inflicted by the injustice and inequality present in our world.

It is a good and fine thing, I suppose, to discuss whether or not my post was creating an unfair dichotomy. My philosophical / theological communication is not the greatest.I will then post some new questions, plain enough I hope for clear understanding. While there needn’t be a separation between a belief and life, why are so few Christians leaving behind their wasteful lifestyles in the north? Why do they waste on coffee in a week what some entire families survive on in a month? Why do the sermons preached about our neighbors and Love rarely lead to extreme shifts in our lifestyles?

This post is about the Church’s responsibility, right? In the context of sharing the truth which is in our baptismal confession:

“Do you reject sin so as to live in the freedom of God’s Children?”- What is this freedom? Does it not bind us with all of God’s children who are suffering? Do we then ache for their pain and poverty?

“Do you reject the glamour of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin?”- Glamour? Vanity? Excess? Covetousness? Inequality?

“Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?”- He also gave birth to the gap between the wealthy and poor, to entire nations crippled by disease…

“Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?”- creator of all, Lover of all, as a father it would hurt me so see so many of my children living high at the expense of my other equally-loved children

“Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?”- born into a poor family, a life of emptying and solidarity, is this Life our leading, or it is a one-time break?

“Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting?”- This drives us to bring the Good News, but to whom? To all, to those who know it not perhaps as a tradition, but more so to those living in the results of what its lack has done in this world. The prostitutes, the glue-sniffers, the abusing fathers, the … sick.
No, there needn’t be a dichotomy between belief and loving works, but there is because the two are very often not in accord with one another.

I post emotionally, not with a very sound or calm mind. This may be something to count against me and my perspective. But it is very hard, very very hard, to be living here and engaging people whose struggles are very much against the results of sin, and very often the sins of others.

love my spiritual director, a Catholic priest with an incredible heart. When I first came to him, I was thinking about becoming Catholic, he was focused on me following Christ more closely. They can be found in the same place, but it is the latter that is most important.
True belief in the heart may often express itself in different words and traditions - even faiths - but it is declared true not by these but by its fruits. Our lives should be those of gardeners, some sowing, others tending, others harvesting, all working.

My thoughts.

Peace in Christ,Tyson

It is easy for us in the West, especially the rich, educated, and comfortable, to fester in an opulence that we are blind to. We must not only recall the beatitudes, not only pray them, not only reference them to those who live them, but we must conform our lives to them. And we must always remember the story of Lazarus and Dives.

But, most of all, we must trust the Lord, as much as we are able.

And remember, that justice necessitates the eschaton, the end, the final judgment. There will be a reckoning.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Church? What do You Mean?

There is an interesting conversation going on at Dom's blog. It covers a wide range of subjects, not the least of which is the question of the Church, and what it's good for. A part my contribution follows:

The Orthodox and the Catholics have a relationship with God that is personal, in the most intimate sense. God himself is present in the sacraments. ...trying to form communion with God in cultural isolation is like forming a relationship with your wife exclusively through email. You may develop a profound relationship, but you’re never sure who is on the other side of the screen, so to speak, and your relationship cannot be consummated. Through the sacraments, we consummate the relationship we have with God. It is not an alternative to prayer, it is the fulfillment of prayer; a prayer of the highest kind. It is God’s will that he stepped out of the prophylactic smoke surrounding the Holy Mountain, and revealed himself to us in material, in flesh, in the humanity of Jesus Christ. And God’s will to reveal himself to us, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, in material is manifest in his instituting the sacraments. Humans are cultural beings, and meaning is mediated to us through cultural products. At the heart of CULTure is cult. At the heart of the Christian cult are the sacraments. At the periphery of the Christian cult are sacramentals, signs and symbols that foster our prayerful reception of grace in the sacraments.

Many contemporary Protestant communities have forsaken the culture of the Church, and have, as a consequence, renounced the cult at the same time. The Bible remains - an object of Christian culture through which most of what they know of Christ may be derived - and so they are able to maintain a relationship with the Lord with some degree of orthodoxy. Also, many have Baptism, though recent conversations in this blog have revealed that many reject even that. The consequence is that many of these communities are not Church, but devotional associations. I believe that you can know God, and that you may even be saved from it. But it is a scraping after the minimums. It is accepting Christ as spouse, while rejecting the feast. It is elevating the relationship of words, while forgetting the joy of sacramental union, communion, courtship and consummation.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Our Baby's Heart

We heard our baby's heartbeat, this evening.

Lindsay's mother is a doctor and works in a low-risk pregnancy clinic, so she invited us in after-hours to listen.

I expected it to sound percussive, like a little drum hammering away. But, it was a different sound, reminding me of what you might expect from a sheet of metal being flapped up and down.

And earlier in the day, a woman I worked with who is away on maternity leave dropped in with her month-old daughter. The girl, Mya, was beautiful.

It's remarkable, at the end of the day, how much weight is carried in the memory of eight pounds of baby and a nine week old heartbeat.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ash Wednesdsay

Lent has begun.

Catholics are called to 40 days of spiritual preparation in anticipation of the glory of Easter. On each Friday we are obligated to abstain from eating meat, and we are encouraged to devote ourselves to the good works Christ commends to us; we are called to fast, to pray, and to give alms.

And we are called to do so in a spirit of humility and smallness.

Father Edmund, our pastor, suggested that Lent is something that is, in a way, imposed on us by the Church, and for our own good. And it all begins on Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting that we are required to observe.

The forty days of Lent recall several events in the Biblical history, but none so clearly as the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert. There he was tempted by the devil, and prevailed.

The more seriously I take my faith, the more I understand the seriousness of what I am called to. The special character of the Ash Wednesday service is the imposition of the ashes of the burnt fronds from the last year's Palm Sunday. The palms recall the triumphant entry of Jesus the Christ into God's city, Jerusalem. Those fronds, the palms of triumphant entry laid at the feet of Christ the King, are burnt up, consumed in fire, and what remains, lifeless ash and coal, is marked in a Cross on the forehead of the devoted. And the words are intoned, "Remember, man, you are dust, and to dust you will return (Gen 3:19)".

You were not, and you will be not. You will die.

Such is our invitation to the forty days in the desert, where we are promised a struggle with the devil himself.

It is no small relief that the forty days of Lent do not include Sundays. Every Sunday is Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection.

Fast, pray, give alms.

Be humble, be small.

You will die.

This will all conclude with Holy Week: the scourge, imprisonment, indignity, execution and a tomb.

But on the horizon, the Sun is rising.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Challenge

"The Christian should reflect for a moment: Are there any Christian goods he does not owe, directly or indirectly, to what he perhaps contemptuously dismisses as 'institution' or the 'establishment'"?*


* Hans Urs von Balthasar from Mary: The Church at the Source (Ignatius: San Francisco, 1997)

Friday, February 24, 2006

'Duh Vinci Code' - A Temptation for Those Who Would Court the World

To clarify for those who may not have heard of it, the Emergent movement is an accretion of the evangelical Church that is characterized by its radical use of cultural camouflage. The Emergent community has self-consciously adapted itself to the culture in which it lives, that is to say, Americana, in an attempt to open channels of communication with unbelievers in terms that they would understand. The idea is that the exclusion implicit in a pronounced orthodoxy and distinctively ecclesial culture is itself a scandal to be overcome by a sensitive seeker; remove the scandal and you have opened the Church to be a force of conversion. A part of the chameleon act involved in this has been the attempt to adapt to and Christianize post-modern philosophy. Much of the rationale for this movement is predicated, I suspect, on honest and earnest and self-consciously devoted Evangelicals who trusted their ability to navigate the darkness of contemporary American culture, and emerge unscathed. It is all the natural conclusion of the 'seeker friendly' heresy.

The result so far, unfortunately, is the production of massive churches that appeal to thousands who want belief without doctrine, a pastor without a crook, the Body of Christ without bones. This is not the cost of dialogue; this is the cost of compromise.

This compromise which follows the quest to 'engage the culture' has interesting corollaries that ought to make us wary of a dialogue that does not begin with the first principles of fidelity. Richard Neuhaus posted today in On the Square: Observations & Contentions on the behavior of some evangelicals in reference to the movie, 'The Da Vinci Code'. There is a fine line between 'engaging the culture' and discovering that you have adopted the culture and what follows is, in my opinion, a case study of the sort of thinking that has spawned the Emergent movement:

"Both Catholic and evangelical blogs have been exercised by the number of evangelicals who are encouraging people to see The Da Vinci Code, the movie. (The movie is known in some circles as the Duh Vinci Code.) This is, we are told, a “teachable moment” in which the patent falsehoods of the book and film can provide an occasion for opening people to the truth about Christ and the Church. Put me down as among the skeptical.

Sony is paying an organization called Grace Hill Media to sell the film to evangelicals. Among the films that Grace Hill has promoted to the evangelical Christian audience in the past are “The Producers” and “Elf.” Go figure. In the material put out by Sony and Grace Hill, we are informed that all kinds of “experts” on Christian history and theology have been enlisted to explain the significance of “The Da Vinci Code.” It has not gone unremarked that some of these experts are associated with evangelical groups that are distinctly critical of Catholicism. The book and, it is assumed, the film provide rich material for the peddlers of sinister theories about the ways of the Whore of Babylon. The experts “correct” the film by referring viewers to their own accounts of the errors of Rome.

Critics of Grace Hill and others who are party to this game are understandably puzzled about why evangelical Christians are plugging a story that alleges that the gospel accounts of Jesus are fraudulent. Of course, the line is that you can’t criticize something without having seen it. Which is nonsense with respect to more conventional pornography, and with respect to the spiritual pornography that is The Da Vinci Code. In addition to the suspicion of anti-Catholicism, one might also “think low” and ask just how much Grace Hill Media is getting paid to do Sony’s dirty work. Most poignant, of course, are those evangelicals who think they are “engaging the culture” and have hit the big time when Hollywood gives them “a place at the table” to discuss the pros and cons of blasphemy against their Lord and Savior."

Ex Opere Operato

People familiar with devoted young evangelicals are familiar with the question, 'what is the minimum required for belief before one can be regarded as a Christian?' I think that this question arises again and again mainly because of the emphasis within Protestant communities on Sola Fide - Faith Alone - one of the priciples of the Reformation. Sola Fide as a theological concept was not so much about the content of belief as it was about salvation coming by faith through grace, rather than by an effort on the part of the Christian believer to contribute to his own salvation. It seems to me, however, that in the decline of theological and historical self-understanding among less traditional evangelicals the prominence of faith in Protestant belief has come to raise the question of content in relation to faith. What does it mean to be a Christian? What is a Church? Who belongs to the Church? How can we know if someone is or is not a believer in Christ?

This question troubled me in the difficult years following my conversion to Christianity. Faith alone. It can be a terrifying concept when regarded with candor and introspection. The question becomes, do I have enough faith? Salvation becomes an uncertainty, and anxiety is close on our heels.

I remember when I was in Taize I had a conversation with a woman, one of the few from Canada, who was deeply worried about this question, 'was her faith enough?' How could she know she was saved? She could say with the Apostle, "I believe, help my unbelief." But, what if that unbelief outweighed the belief?

Shortly before my baptism, it occured to me that in faith I came to the Church, and in the waters of the sacrament something would be done to me to affect my salvation. I came in faith, imperfect, unholy, a sinner, in need of salvation. And in the sacrament I was forgiven, made clean, made holy, united to Christ. This was of the utmost importance: something was done to me.

It is not my faith on which I rely. I rely on the work of the Lord, and that is brought to me ex opere operato. Ex Opere Operato means that if the communicative nature of the Christian sacraments is acknowledged, a sacrament properly performed is seen to convey God's grace independently of the faith or moral character of the celebrant or recipients. There is a touch of irony, I suppose, that I was convinced by my baptismal experience which took place in a 'seeker friendly' evangelical Church to convert to Catholicsm.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

On the Debt of our Creation

I have been reading Mary: The Church at the Source, a combined work that is a compilation of writings by Hans Urs von Balthasar and Pope Benedict XVI while Cardinal Ratzinger. The first evening of our RCIA Purification & Enlightenment will be on Mary and her place in the Church.

From Father Balthasar, words I find especially interesting in light of our expecting:

If someone is a believer, he will never cease being struck with amazement at the mystery of the begetting of a child. How can a purely physiological process produce a human person who is free, spiritual, enjoys an immediate relation to God - how, indeed, unless the all-begetting origin, God himself, is involved. Every man who is in any way religious will owe lifelong thanks for himself, not only to his parents, but also to God. After all it was God who gave man his [man's] own self as the highest and primary of all worldly goods.

Amazement and gratitude, and a renewed respect for my parents. That about sums it up.