Our Lady of Sorrows by the Sea

So, as many of you know, the real Our Lady of Sorrows by the Sea is the name of the cottage my friend Morgan rents yearly in Rehoboth Beach. But I'm taking off tomorrow for a daughter-monastery, as it were, of the original O.L.S.S., at the Pines on Fire Island. Lucky poor graduate students that the b.f. and I are, we have friends who have had a little more experience in life as well as more time to have bought property.

I've been working pretty hard for the last two weeks so that I wouldn't feel guilty for doing nothing all weekend, and it seems to have paid off: I hammered out 27 pages of my next chapter in the past three days. Definitely a draft needing work, but a written draft and not an in-my-head-I-really-should-write-that-down draft. So I'm pooped, but ready for the beach. I've never been to Fire Island, but I'm sure I'll have lots of stories about the eradication of my already fragile body image and the long afternoons of medical mojitos consumed to alleviate that first symptom.

The image, btw, is courtesy of www.despair.com. I'm not actually that bitter...but I loves me my washed-away sandcastles...

'Nuff said.

From a letter by Chris Schmid of Natick in today's Globe:

"LOST IN all the gloom over the Red Sox' swift collapse has been the evidence to answer that most perplexing of baseball questions: Who is the league's Most Valuable Player? With all due respect to Big Papi and Derek Jeter, the MVP for 2006 is now abundantly clear: catcher Jason Varitek. The Red Sox captain would appear to be worth about 50 wins a season to this year's version of the Sox, as their 60 percent winning percentage has dropped by half in the month since he was injured.

Those of us who bemoaned his inconsistent hitting early in the year now understand his true value to the team, especially to its young pitchers who have lost all confidence without his leadership."

Couldn't have said it better, Chris.


PeaceBang and Revd. Blue Jeans

Peacebang and a respondent are having a wonderful, rollicking conversation about how you dress in the pulpit, which has quickly broadened into some questions of how one dresses as a Christian in general. Yours truly just added a tiny comment about liturgical dress in the R.C. church, and why it does have some rationale behind it.


Papal Interview

So an English translation of the German-language interview with Benedict that aired last evening is available here. Not the most groundbreaking stuff, but a few good tidbits.

One in particular...which sounds a lot more like the ecclesiologist I know...concerns episcopal collegiality and using the papacy to strengthen, rather than weaken, the moral and legal authority of local bishops. So, while this is the same man who has some strong doctrinal disagreements with attributing theological authority to episcopal conferences as such (see JPII's motu proprio Apostolos Suos, as well as Ratzinger's personal writings as early as the always-intriguing Ratzinger Report), in practice, he's already making some more collegial moves:

Question: Holy Father, your predecessor beatified and canonized a huge number of Christians. Some people say even too many. This is my question: beatifications and canonizations only bring something new to the Church when these people are seen as true models. Germany produces relatively few saints and blessed in comparison with other countries. Can anything be done to develop this pastoral sphere so that beatifications and canonizations can give real pastoral fruit?

Benedict XVI: In the beginning I also thought that the large number of beatifications was almost overwhelming and that perhaps we needed to be more selective; choosing figures that entered our consciousness more clearly. Meanwhile, I decentralized the beatifications in order to make these figures more visible in the specific places they came from. Perhaps a saint from Guatemala doesn’t interest us in Germany and vice versa, someone from Altotting is of no interest in Los Angeles, and so on, right?
I also think that this decentralization is more in keeping with the collegiality of the episcopate, with its collegial structures, and that it’s suitable for stressing how different countries have their own personalities and these are especially effective in these countries. I’ve also seen how these beatifications in different places touch vast numbers of people and that people say: “At last, this one is one of us!”. They pray to him and are inspired. The blessed soul belongs to them and we’re happy there are lots of them. And if, gradually, with the development of a global society, we too get to know them, that’s wonderful. But it’s especially important that multiplicity exists in this field also because it’s important that we too in Germany get to know our own figures and are happy for them. Besides this issue there’s that of the canonization of greater figures who are examples for the whole Church. I’d say that the individual Episcopal Conferences ought to choose, ought to decide what’s best for them, what this person is saying to us, and they should give visibility to people who leave a profound impression, but not too many of them.
And, when discussing the relations between the pope and the other bishops, he has this to say:

Question: As Bishop of Rome you are the successor of St Peter. How can the ministry of Peter manifest itself fittingly in today’s world? And how do you see the tensions and equilibrium between the primacy of the Pope, on one hand, and the collegiality of the Bishops, on the other?

Benedict XVI: Of course there is a relationship of tension and equilibrium and, we say, that’s the way it has to be. Multiplicity and unity must always find their reciprocal rapport and this relationship must insert itself in ever new ways into the changing situations in the world. We have a new polyphony of cultures nowadays in which Europe is no longer the determining factor. Christians on the various continents are starting to have their own importance, their own charateristics. We must keep learning about this fusion of the different components. We’ve developed various instruments to help us: the so-called “ad limina visits” of the Bishops, which have always taken place. Now they are used much more in order to speak sincerely with all the offices of the Holy See and with me. I speak personally to each Bishop. I’ve already spoken to nearly all the Bishops of Africa and with many of the Bishops from Asia. Now it’s the turn of Central Europe, Germany, Switzerland. In these encounters in which the Centre and the Periphery come together in an open exchange of views, I think that the correct reciprocal exchange in this balanced tension grows. We also have other instruments like the Synod, the Consistory, which I shall be holding regularly and which I would like to develop. Without having a long agenda we can discuss current problems together and look for solutions. Everyone knows that the Pope is not an absolute monarch but that he has to personify, you might say, the totality that comes together to listen to Christ. There’s a strong awareness that we need a unifying figure that can guarantee independence from political powers and that Christians don’t identify too much with nationalism. There’s an awareness of the need for a higher and broader figure that can create unity in the dynamic integration of all parties and that can embrace and promote multiplicity. So I believe there’s a close bond between the petrine ministry which is expressed in the desire to develop it further so that it responds both to the Lord’s will and to the needs of the times.

Note that, unlike, say, Pius IX* or even the XIIth, this pope talks about a unifying figure bringing the bishops together to listen to Christ...not to the pope. This is a model of pope much more as the Vicar of Peter, who holds Peter's place as the head of the apostles, rather than as Vicar of Christ, who somehow holds Christ's place in relation to the Church. It's a subtle point, but I think crucial for a proper understanding of the papacy, particularly in the interests of a papal practice which would be recognizable and acceptable to other Christians across the ecumenical spectrum. (This is also a point made by my diss. subject, Jean-Marie Tillard, in his book The Bishop of Rome...I'm knee deep in Tillardiana right now, trying to get chapters written before the summer curls up and dies, which also explains the lightness of blogging these days...)

*also need to add...at the Lowell Folk Festival a few weeks back, the Latino association at the local Catholic church was selling, among other foods, a kind of tamale called a "pio nono"...basically a plantain stuffed with ground beef. It was very tasty. Here's a recipe.


Levy on the current war in Israel and Lebanon

Bernard-Henri Lévy's articles in the Atlantic "In the Footsteps of Tocqueville" annoyed the hell out of me. Too much ground to cover, which overwhelmed, I think, his ability to get an accurate picture through his vignette-based journalism. His article in Sunday's NY Times Magazine, "Pondering, Discussing, Traveling Amid and Defending the Inevitable War," however, is pretty good. Perhaps he's on more familiar ground, or smaller ground, or a little bit of both, but it's insightful on both the reluctance and the determination with which Israel is carrying out its current invasion of Lebanon.
(The unification of Israel, peacenik and warhawk, behind the operation, is also discussed in today's NY Times at length.)


Feast of the Transfiguration

So yesterday was the Feast of the Transfiguration, and yours truly was given the chance to give some reflections on the Scripture at Mass this weekend (not a homily...the shortened, yet canonically-required, homily was given by the presider before my words...). I have some meta-reflections on what it was like, but here's what I said about this feast:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

You’ve been asked the question since you were little; I have on parental authority that my earliest response was “a Christmas tree.” Not a bad gig. It’s a question that, as you enter high school, then college, then early adulthood, gets asked of you with a decreasing sense of hope, and an increasing sense of anxiety.

I want to suggest that today’s Feast of the Transfiguration presents us with the Christian answer to that question, what we can hope to be when we “grow up”, as modeled by Jesus and witnessed by these apostles. When we grow up as Christians, when we become daughters and sons of God as fully as Jesus was, we will also be “transfigured,” that is, we will be transparent to the glory of God, glowing and dazzling white as we once were in our baptismal robes.

Take some phrases from today’s readings: the “glory of God”; “the Ancient One”; “flames of fire” and “wheels of burning fire” – these are not the phrases that might spontaneously spring to mind in our prayer lives these days. Here at the Paulist Center, in legitimate reaction to years of an image of God as a kind of unpredictably abusive Santa Claus, many of us tend to be much more comfortable with Jesus as he was known by his disciples: the Jesus who told earthy parables, who enjoyed a good glass of wine with his friends, whose message of love for neighbor resonates deeply with our own desires for peace and justice in our world. The experience of Jesus as “buddy Christ” was the same one shared, I think, by his disciples, and particularly by these three who were his special ones, his chosen ones.

And then they went up the mountain. (Whenever anybody goes up a mountain in the bible, alarm bells should go off in your head immediately; something important is about to happen.) In the Gospel of Mark, Peter has just confessed his belief that Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed one, and also been rebuked as a Satan, an adversary, for questioning Jesus’ intention to undergo the passion. And so Jesus takes these three disciples, who know him as a prophet, as a wise man, as a friend, up the mountain to reveal more of what being a Child of God means, for him and for us.

It was a privileged moment, a sneak preview of the resurrection, when familiarity gave way to strangeness; when this unnameable Presence that we name God burst through normality into their lives. It was the brightness of a human being not putting any obstacle in the way of God’s presence, not blocking God’s love from pulsing through him completely. Its brightness was the exact opposite of the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima sixty-one years ago that we remember this weekend. This was the brightness of God, not the brightness of evil. It was the strange, and beautiful, and, yes, terrifying love of God burst into the world.

Scarier still, it wasn’t just a possibility for Jesus, it was a possibility for these disciples, and is a possibility for us. For our Eastern Christian sisters and brothers, the Transfiguration is the great feast; while we in the West tend to focus on the forgiveness of our sins in Jesus, they focus more upon our “deification”, our “being made like God”, in Jesus. The transfiguration reveals that a human being – truly a human being, while still Son of God – could be fully transparent to God’s love. When we received our white robes at baptism, it wasn’t just a pretty piece of fabric; it answered the question for us, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” We can be, and spend our lives learning how to be, adopted children of God, transparent presences of the powerful love, the loving power, of God in the world. Our baptism started us down the path of being as “dazzling white” as Jesus was.

Now, I’ve used the language of terror here, as our Gospel does, language that gets thrown around easily these days. But there’s something important about retaining this language of fear, of terror, in the Scriptures that I think we need to hold on to. This is not the kind of “fear of the Lord” with which many of us were first terrified, the fear of God as Chief Warden, as a drunken Zeus ready to punish us for lying to our sister or missing Mass one Sunday – pick your favorite heretical God-image. No, this is a fear of the Lord which has nothing to do with “being a good little boy or girl” ethics, and everything to do with those moments when the “beyondness” of God and God’s love bursts into our world. These moments can be in prayer or in the most inappropriate of circumstances, they can be loud or quiet, they can be moments of great joy or of great sadness – suffering, our own and that of those we love, seems to particularly open up a chasm under our feet in this way, opening cracks for God to slip in. In these moments we realize that this God-talk, this Christianity-thing, this dying-and-rising event that we remember each week with bread and wine is actually real, more real than the little things we spend so much time worrying about, more real than our internal balance sheet of “good deeds” and “naughty deeds.” And this very real God who enters our lives periodically can be terrifying precisely because it shows up our God-images as pale copies of what God is really like, as potential idols to distract us. Terrifying, too, because this experience of being filled with God’s love isn’t possible only for Jesus, or for a Mother Teresa or Saint Francis, but is something that, thanks to Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit, is possible and in fact the calling of each of us. Being bearers of God’s powerful love in the world: that’s what we’re going to be when we grow up.

How do we respond to this calling? There are two ways in which I think that Mark lets Peter off the hook here. First, these guys were fishermen, they were sailors. I have to think that Peter’s first words in reaction to the transfiguration were something far less family-friendly than “rabbi, it is good that we are here.” And the second way in which he gets off the hook is in Mark’s caveat that “he hardly knew what to say.” I think Peter might have been far more on the ball than Mark thought, because Peter’s first reaction is exactly the reaction that most of us have when faced with a real encounter with God’s love: to try to make it fit back into our normality as quickly and as painlessly as possible. To capture the experience of the divine in our own boxes, in our own tents, and to keep it safe by keeping it covered up. To go back to pretending that our routines, our legitimate concerns with work and school and relationships, our images of God and of ourselves, are doing just fine, thank you very much, and that the upsetting, upending love of God hasn’t just made all of our “real” lives seem relatively unimportant. We go back to pretending that this meal which we’ll celebrate in a few moments is only a minor moment in our week, rather than the food that keeps us from starving. It’s true that our Christian lives aren’t lived primarily on the mountain – there are the hungry to feed and the sick to heal, as Jesus demonstrated in this very Gospel. But we need to stop regularly to see where God is bursting into our lives and upending them. Our prayer, here and on our own, is the way we learn to be open to that trip up the mountain, we learn how not to domesticate God, we learn how the pulsing of God’s love through us – the Holy Spirit, we call it, to whom this chapel is dedicated, who “poured out God’s love into our hearts” – gives us the strength to be the Body of Christ down below the mountain. In short, we learn on this Feast of the Transfiguration how we’re being made adopted children of God, transparent bearers of God’s love; we learn what we’re going to be when we grow up.


Proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy

From the Rituale Romanum, a blessing for beer:

Bene+dic, Domine, creaturam istam cerevisae, quam ex adipe frumenti producere dignatus es: ut sit remedium salutare humano generi: et praesta per invocationem nominis tui sancti, ut, quicumque ex ea biberint, sanitatem corporis, et animae tutelam percipiant. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen

Bless, O Lord, this creature beer, that Thou hast been pleased to bring forth from the sweetness of the grain: that it might be a salutary remedy for the human race: and grant by the invocation of Thy holy name, that, whosoever drinks of it may obtain health of body and a sure safeguard for the soul. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Translation by Fr. Ephraem Chifley, O.P.)

I think we need to put this on little prayer cards to distribute at bars, along with Mass times on the back. I first saw this on Maior Autem His Est Caritas, but apparently it's traced all the way back to Michael Novak at First Things. Who knew that Novak and I might have something important in common?

Just beautiful

So I've said before what a big fan of Beauty Tips for Ministers I am, but yesterday's post, "Love and Care for All of You," is just beautifully written, and damn good theology of the grace of creation. Some excerpts:

Have you cleaned out your closet in the past few years? I mean REALLY cleaned it out? Been willing to part with (or have tailored) even slighty stained t-shirts, comfortably drab and sagging garments, favorite oldies that strain at the seams or fall off, bags whose straps are frayed and cracked, and literally holy socks and shoes? If you haven't been willing to do so, you are embracing poverty not as a spiritual virtue but as a character flaw, and making a passive aggressive visual statement about how unvalued you feel. And that's ugly.

Have you looked at yourself naked lately, taken a good honest look, been to the doctor, and honestly assessed how you're treating your Temple? Have you gone beyond the numbers of weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rate and pulse, T-cells, et al to ask yourself, "How do I feel in my body? Do we have a good relationship? Am I giving my body enough fresh air, rest, good food, movement, laughter, sex, joy, freedom? Am I cherishing this good gift well enough?

Does my physical exterior serve as an honest and appropriate representation of the state of my soul? If I look and feel shabby, can my spirit be far behind?

It is not overly luxurious or sinfully sensuous to love and care for all your epidermis, that clothes the miracle of what lies underneath. It is no sin to know who you are and care well and unapologetically for all of it, in the knowledge of Whose you are.