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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Poetic Last Days, December

Just because I need to put something else on this blog, I found a poem from days gone by that I wanted to share.

who knows the feeling
of a heart that's still beating
but there's no one there to hear?

who knows the feeling
of a soul still seeking
but all we're grasping is air?

breath comes but it
just runs away
taken back from where it came

light breaks but it's
stolen away
and we are in the dark

oh humanity
why do we
settle so
oh people
can we
truly believe that this
is all it is
all its worth
all that we should know?
i won't accept it as so

who knows the feeling
of empty ceilings
reaching up with no end

who knows the promise
of hope beyond this
somehow i remember

breath comes and I
gasp so that
there's life
light breaks
and I'm stolen away
far from this dark

oh humanity
why do we
settle so
oh people
can we
truly believe that this
is all it is
all its worth
all that we should know?
i won't accept it as so

beauty baby stunning and changing
cover me and put me to sleep

goodness darling startling alarming
awake for the first time and seeing

oh humanity
why do we
settle so
oh people
can we
truly believe that this
is all it is
all its worth
all we should know?
I won't accept it as so

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Word

I felt the need to give a very brief catechesis on the Word of God. I think that this is one of those important, neigh, imperative elements of the faith that somehow is often overlooked or misunderstood. We cannot misunderstand the Word, for He is Christ, and Sacred Scripture is the revelation of God given to man that we might know, love and serve God. Our faith is founded on Christ, the Word, and draws its life from His.

Here are a few quotes to help:

"Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely: You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since he who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables; for he is not subject to time."
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 102 

"All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ, "because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ. The Sacred Scriptures contain the Word of God and, because they are inspired, they are truly the Word of God" (DV 24).
- CCC, 134-135

"The unity of the two Testaments proceeds from the unity of God's plan and his Revelation. The Old Testament prepares for the New and the New Testament fulfills the Old; the two shed light on each other; both are true Word of God." - CCC, 140

What is so necessary for us to understand is that while each and every book in Sacred Scripture has a unique author or authors, and comes from a different historical moment or series of historical moments, above and below all of that is the Spirit of God divinely inspiring each author, and the spiritual sense that must always be read with the literal sense so that Sacred Scripture can properly be revered as the Holy Book that contains the revelation of God for his people in Christ. Therefore, throughout the Old Testament we read the preparatory covenantal history of God and his people leading up to the ultimate revelation, the "definitive Word" of Christ. We read all of Sacred Scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, who is God and man. 

"God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit." - CCC, 105

While it is of course true that the human authors were neither possessed nor forced or dictated to in their authorship, but freely worked with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is equally true that God is the author of Scripture just as Christ is the ONE WORD, the Word made flesh. It is for this reason that the Catechism says that we reverence Sacred Scripture as the body of Christ. 

"Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence." - Dei Verbum, 9

 The unity of Scripture and Tradition, making up this one Deposit of Faith, is the dynamic unveiling of God's loving invitation to participation in his life throughout time beginning at the creation of man and culminating in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, bringing redemption for mankind and establishing the Church as the means through which we may be saved. It is both the actual, historical handing on of the revelation of God, orally and in written form through the ages, as well as the Sacred Word of Scriptures that together give the Church her foundation. Above all, it is Christ who is the source and summit of the faith. 

Serious Fishing

You may find the title humorous, especially if you know me (because I have very little experience fishing). However, thanks to my dear fiance, I have a Virginia fishing license and I think I caught something small the last time we went (it's been a few months).

This post is not a how-to on fishing, however. At least, not in a way one might expect.

This post also gives credit to Fr. Brian Bransfield, who works at the USCCB and whose homily (one in the past few weeks) inspired most of these thoughts. Some of them are more his than mine, as often happens when one meditates on the words of a homily.

I want to reflect on the following Scripture from two different perspectives:

"As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him." Mk 1:16-20

First, from the perspective of the perspective of Christ and the men fishing. Why is it that Jesus seems to imply that because these men are good at fishing for real fish, they will also make good fishers of men?
If you have ever gone fishing, you understand there are some basic elements involved. Besides being able to get your bait out into the water without tangling up your line, you need to have some comprehension of the environment you are fishing in, and the fish you are going after. The bait will change based on the fish you are going after. Sometimes the rod even changes. Perhaps for some fishing you need to be in a boat or kayak, while for other fishing it is standard to stand on the side of a lake or river. The one who is hunting in this case, being the fisherman, needs to know what he is hunting for. He needs to be aware of the patterns of behavior of the fish he is going after. I needs to have studied the fish, if he hopes to be successful in catching them. 

We can consider that the soon-to-be Apostles in the Gospel above are good fishermen. They are casting their nets and mending their nets. This means that they are not afraid to pursue what it is that they have set as their goal. They understand what it takes to catch the fish that they desire and they are willing to work so as to accomplish that end. Mending their nets also shows an element of love and patience that is often overlooked in the dynamic of hunting. Men who are strong and who go forth to capture another creature are not often depicted with the tenderness of one who respects the creature being captured. Yet, it is hard not to get a sense of patience and appreciation from the Apostles, who seem to understand that while the fish are food and mere creatures to be captured and cooked, they are also a livelihood and a gift from God. 

Now let us consider these skills in light of Christianity. Those Apostles will bear these same skills of "hunting," fishing, into the new mission they are given by Christ to "go...and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:18). We see throughout the Acts of the Apostles and the various Letters and Epistles of the New Testament how the Apostles use the strength of knowing those who they are seeking to convert to their advantage. They understand that people are to be met where they are at, and that the Truth of Jesus Christ, being the ONE Truth, encompasses and draws into himself all other truth. Catechism paragraph 819 says, "Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth" are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements." Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity."

Therefore, those who at one time studied and understood the patterns and way of life of fish, now sought to study and understand the way of life of all people in their various regions and customs, to captivate them with the net that is Christ's Church, with the Truth that all men seek. This is the call to every Christian-Catholic today, to similarly proclaim the One Truth who is Christ while using the skills of understanding and knowledge to invite others through various paths and means. For some, simply being a part of the Liturgy will open their hearts and invite them into the glory that is Christ's life. For others, study and reading and comprehension of the doctrines professed and believed over the centuries will lead to the fiat of faith, saying "yes, Lord, I believe!" For others, it may be the continual witness of mercy and charity of a Christian that disproves the lies of the world and reveals to them a more humble and powerful way of life. The respect for all human life and the disposition of gratitude for life that ought to infect those of us who receive God's mercy in the Sacraments every week should be the stumbling block for those who try to profess what is not true. How can we walk past the humble heart and not be stirred? It is such a contradiction that it should at least draw fascination! This was precisely what Christ did, and how his Apostles learned to imitate his Heart. 

The other perspective I would like to look at is that of the fish. It is one thing to be the fisherman and to anticipate the hunger of the fish, to look into its life and to seek to be waiting for it, to patiently know that it will come to you (which is what God does for us, blessed be his Name!). Yet, this requires something of the fish as well. The system only works is the fish is hungry. One does not find themselves caught and captivated unless they are open to seeing. We do not walk through an art gallery and find our "favorite" painting unless we are there explicitly to look. Likewise, we do not find ourselves moved and in love with a character in a book or movie unless we are purposefully choosing to be open to the story and to the characters! We can even avoid being captivated by beautiful scenery or other natural wonders by simply never going to nature. So we can also choose to not-look for truth, or to be blind to the invitations that surround us. If we are not looking for the bait, than even if the fisherman waits all day, and into the evening, and continues to tempt us with what we should want, we will not even know he is there. 

So as a Christian this is the pivotal moment; can we be both the fish and the fisherman? It is the imperative that we are given at our Baptism, to be the child of God whom he has created us to be, ever meek and humble, ever obedient and grateful, ever thanking and praising him, and yet also empowered by the Spirit and alive in our courage and boldness to proclaim Christ crucified, risen and glorified to the world! We must be recipients of God's mercy before we can authentically proclaim his mercy to others. We must proclaim his mercy to others precisely because we have received grace upon grace. 

During this Advent (and now nearly Christmas!) season, let us consider how Christ the Lord, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and before all things, uncreated and always with the Father and the Spirit, came and assumed human nature to be like us in all things but sin. As a baby, completely dependent on his Blessed Mother and holy father Joseph, he revealed to us just how dramatic the humility is that we are called to, for none of us can ever achieve that same humility, for it is impossible for us to become like a spec of dust just to meet the dust where it is at. Let us in turn take this joyful gift that we receive at God's hands and proclaim, fearlessly and skillfully, to the world just how free man has become in Christ! Each day is a new opportunity for us to be caught, and to catch some fish.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Patience is a vitrue...

So I believe most of us have heard that line before a time or two... or three.

Let's consider some of the other virtues.
Cardinal: Justice, Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence
Theological: Faith, Hope, Love

Patience, while logically a participant with the virtues above, is not on either list.
Where does it fit in the tradition, then?

I discovered through our trusty wikipedia (judge me a little) that the Psychomachia was a poem written in 410 AD by a Christian illustrating the seven deadly sins or vices and their virtuous counterparts. In this work, patience is the remedy for wrath.

However, the "angelic doctor," St. Thomas Aquinas, also wrote on patience in the Summa Theologica. He writes including patience under fortitude and temperance. He writes that it is not the most perfect of virtues (which is Charity), but that is is a virtue, and one which moderates sorrow.

I find this extremely interesting when we consider patience in the needs of our own lives. Drawing from my own experience and those close to me, patience is needing for some or all of the following in any given day: for long and exhausting traffic, for people who are oblivious and therefore injure you, inconvenience you, forget you, step on you, squish you, are rude to you, etc..., for the work day to pass, for deadlines to be accomplished, for proper responses from coworkers, employers, employees, students, etc..., for friends, for family, for boyfriends or girlfriends, fiances, husbands and wives, for kids, for cooking, for showering (depends on how lazy you feel), for working out, for results in any endeavor, for shopping, for reading, for writing, for playing sports, for practicing for rehearsals, concerts, an instrument, voice, sports, other fine skills, etc..., for glue to dry, for nails to dry, for clothes to dry, for baking, for crafts, for computers that don't work, for any technology, for conversations with others, for prayer, for cars that don't work, for anything broken, for Christmas trees that don't have stands, for wrapping presents, and on and on and on.

Really, what don't we need patience for?

This makes me ponder what patience itself is, then, if it is truly so common. Is it the waiting? Is it the understanding? Is it the process? Is it the calmness rather than aggravation? Is it the acceptance of what cannot be controlled?

Perhaps that is the beginning of what patience really is. Even before accepting what is beyond our control, we have to recognize what is beyond our control. How many times have I been yelling at the car in front of me to MOVE when I suddenly seem to remember that a) they can't hear me, b) if they could hear me it wouldn't matter anyway, and c) if I do end up any later at my destination because of this person, it is most likely going to be an unnoticeable amount of time, and therefore doesn't matter.

Once we recognize what is beyond our control, then we must accept it. Next, we wait for it to reveal itself, unveil itself, figure itself out, or whatever term is proper to the situation that means the power of action lies with the other and not with ourselves. Ideally, when we reach this point, we are more relaxed and calm. We are not always that way, but it certainly makes the waiting easier.

But to some, perhaps those of you who tend to be more proactive, this sounds much more like resignation than a virtue. The proper quote would be the serenity prayer. Yet, if you can't settle for the "wisdom to know the difference," let me break this down a little further.

I will give you a beautiful quote from Pope Benedict XVI that I believe encapsulates all I am trying to get at (but if I had given it to you at the beginning than there would be no point in a post):

"Waiting becomes too heavy a burden to bear, when we cannot be sure whether we really have anything at all to wait for. When, on the other hand, time itself is meaningful and every moment contains something especially valuable, our joyful anticipation of the greater experience that is still to come makes what we have in the present even more precious and we are carried by an invisible power beyond the present moment. Advent helps us to wait with precisely this kind of waiting."
There are two vital elements I want to point out in his quote.
First, waiting is active. The Holy Father presents waiting as if it is a choice. He refers to it as a "burden," which implies that it is something placed upon us or even required of us, and yet then adds the option of not carrying the burden in saying that we may not be sure that we have a reason to wait. Therefore, waiting, patience, requires an active choice. In this instance, not doing something, is doing something.

Second, there is an end in sight, or in mind. Waiting implies a goal, a resolution, a purpose. Waiting is not just an innominate and interminable wasteland stretching on beyond the horizon! Even for those whose waiting may seem just so, as may be the case for one who has an incurable illness or some other irreversible situation, it is not. There is and end. There is always an end. It helps, most certainly, when we have a goal or end that is both tangible and desirable. Waiting in traffic is worth it when it is the only way I get to work (and therefore have food to eat and to pay rent with) or home (where I may eat and sleep).

Yet, the end means more than only the finish line. When we really think about the patience and the goal, we realize that the goal informs the waiting. That is to say, our patience comes along with our comprehension of our end or goal, and our goal or end enables us to truly grab hold of and posses our patience. I am not going to sit by and watch glue dry on a tongue depressor unless I know that I'm building a little house. When I have this project in mind, watching glue dry is transformed from a seemingly silly and mindless activity into something done with precision and care. The image of the final product, my finished house, is ever before me while I work with the bare bones of the popsicle sticks.

If this isn't a practical enough example, think about little kids with leggos. At least for me, every Christmas is filled with some of my brothers rejoicing in the boxes of small plastic pieces that they are going to spend agonizing hours over while they follow directions included in the box to build the included plane, truck, movie scene, etc... Even a puzzle is the same concept! When we have the larger picture in mind, there is meaning in each of the small pieces.

Pope Benedict XVI wisely referred to this type of anticipation as the patience of Advent. Knowing what was coming, in the sense of the birth of our Lord, informed and enthused every moment leading up to that event. Though Our Lady certainly could not have known all that was to come, even the announcement by the angel was enough for her faith to know and believe that the Son of God was conceived in her womb and growing inside of her.

As a woman who has not had the privilege of being pregnant, I cannot conceive of what that must have been like. I imagine that the sense of anticipation and joy in life is always heightened. I imagine that every day I am more grateful for my own life as I become more aware of the other life that is entirely dependent on mine. I imagine that I will understand my own life in an entirely new sense. I imagine that I will look at my parents in a way I have not known before. I imagine that I will have a deeper respect and understanding for what it means for man to participate in God's creative work. For Our Lady, I am sure this was all a thousand times more potent for the miraculous conception of the Son of God in her womb by the Holy Spirit!

Though our waiting is not impregnated with the Word in the flesh, in a way it very seriously can be. Receiving the Lord, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist every day is as close as we can come to knowing the potency and complete union of he Word of God living within us! The Anima Christi prayer includes the phrase, "Blood of Christ, inebriate me." That we may be inebriated with the life, the Blood of Jesus. That is a very serious and total informing of our waiting, of our patience. We ought not to tire of the waiting when it is filled with the life of God!

That is our challenge, and the exact point of patience as a virtue. It is not the resignation (while that is certainly sometimes required), but it is the life, the liveliness of the Christian while he or she waits! It is the vitality that flows within the veins of one who understands the whole of life in the most important context, in the crux of existence, in the light of the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery.

Patience is a virtue when and by we enter into the life of Christ. Let us not forget that while God became man, he too, waited. He too grew and developed, in a womb, as a child, as a youth and as an adult. He too had goals, and deadlines. He too knew what it was to yearn for something that could not immediately be. Jesus said in Luke 13:34-35, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned. [But] I tell you, you will not see me until [the time comes when] you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Christ knows the time is not the present for the accomplishment of his mission, and he accepts that and continues his mission, knowing that certain time will come. How much we have to learn from this!

If you have ever had the experience of getting what you want when you want it, even when you should have to wait for it, you may understand why the patience is so important for the overall life of the person. Too often we are given exactly what we want instantaneously, and in doing so, it is as if we are blinded to the authenticity and beauty of the other thing/person/experience. Much like when we turn a light on suddenly when our eyes have been adjusted to very dim light, we cannot see everything right away. Rather, if we gently increased the light so that our eyes adjusted accordingly, we would be able to see clearly the whole time. This is how important patience is. That we have true sight is more valuable than if we have the power to control.

In this time of Advent, and throughout our whole lives, let us keep before us the goal. Let Christ inform us, in every moment, and feed us with his Body and Blood so that we may know what it is to truly live. Let us be thankful for the many and very consistent opportunities we have each and every day to be patient, and ask the Holy Spirit for the grace and aid to advantageously learn from those times.

Sweet Lord, come to our aid! St. Thomas, pray for us.