Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Lights Are On

Perhaps spiritual progress is actually measured by what you do when you realize, "Hey, this is real!" Prior to that moment, or, we might say, the ever more conscious appreciation of that reality, we will have done numerous spiritual practices, either out of duty, or out of some small awareness of faith or hope. But once the lights come on, so to speak, we do those things with the desire that our love would increase. Such is the prayer that is always answered.

I could have leapt on the altar today. What an impious scene that would be! I didn't leave my apartment that way. There's just something about Jesus, as they say. I can hear him, almost as if he's talking, in the Gospels this week.

As Jesus approaches Jerusalem anew in a sense, we are reminded that there is no middle ground. We either have ears to hear, or we don't. Lord, give us as much love as we are able to receive, and give us grace to receive more. Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Angry All The Time

There's a song I love by that name. Bruce Robison wrote it; it's a song about the heartbreak and loss of a divorce. It's quite possibly the saddest song I've ever heard. But it has a humorous second life for me, sort of teasing somebody who really should lighten up. You just sing the last line of the chorus, in the general direction of the sourpuss: "I don't know why you gotta be/Angry all the time." (This is definitely another one of those country songs Confirmation Sponsor Guy should listen to, and appreciate.)

Country superstar Tim McGraw recorded the song as well, but his voice is too clean to really make you believe him. Bruce Robison sounds like he's been crushed by life, and that's what you need for a song like this. Kelly Willis sings the background vocals, and you can almost believe she is the wife. Truly haunting stuff.

Anyway, I've alternately wanted to sing the last line of the chorus in the general direction of the angry electorate, and Ted Cruz. It's possible I'm just out of touch. It's also more likely that a great mass of the people is incapable of doing anything besides emoting.

I might chuckle to myself at the general ineptitude of a Mitch McConnell or whomever, but we could be in a golden age of governance, and people would say, "The establishment is out of touch." That's just what we say, like trained, talking golden retrievers.

Let's talk about what this is really about: whites. White people of a certain age don't recognize America anymore. There are too many people of color around. Blacks, Hispanics, whatever. And probably not working, they think. And snuck across the border, too. In my day, we didn't take handouts. And you could make it, if you worked hard. And on it goes.

And don't even get us started on Obama! The birther stuff wasn't just anti-black racism; it was amplified by the fact that he seems vaguely foreign. The truth is, though, Obama isn't any more or less a standard-issue Democrat. And where that is problematic is where it's been problematic since 1968 or so: abortion, sexual politics, rejection of traditional values as a social force, et cetera.

None of those problematic things has changed all that much. But we have changed. Some of us can't even see a picture of the president or the First Lady without getting angry. Not all of you can look me in the eye, and tell me that anger is for the aborted babies. Stop lying to yourself.

It would be different if we articulated our opposition to the prevailing ideas as part of a philosophy of what human beings are to do, and to be. But at the moment, the issues are just tribal markers, and the tribe is unhinged. Obama, Reid, and Pelosi? In the end,--even if most people don't want to say it--the whole matter is that they just aren't like us. We don't need respect, we don't need arguments, for the subhuman. This is the darkness of our hearts, this is the discomfort of who we are.

I need you to know that I seriously thought about joining the Democratic Party as of last night. John Kasich jokingly said some weeks ago that he was in the wrong party primary. What a sad commentary on the party of Lincoln, that such a kind man, such a human man, is out of place among us! I nearly want to cry at the thought of it.

Lord, have mercy!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Calling My Name

I remember the day Jesus called out to me from the altar. It is possible in theory to believe that every attempt to celebrate the Supper is a valid and equally fruitful one, at least until Jesus, in a Catholic church, tells you in fact you are wrong. But that's another story.

A non-practicing Catholic friend has gone to Mass with me the past several days. How bad is our catechesis? Well, when the Church's children think that the state of grace and keeping the commandments is something only priests and nuns do, we have a problem.

More than that, though, who is Jesus? To our great detriment, it is possible to know exactly who Jesus is, and why that's important, but make a gravely sinful choice, from weakness or other fault. Yet it must be said that knowing who Jesus is--having faith, in other words--makes everything easier.

My brethren, why do we start with the stuff that doesn't matter? The first and best answer to the question, "Why do you do what you do?" is, "Because Jesus Christ loves me, and died for me."

I remember when the Lord called out to me from the altar. I remember wanting to forget all the questions and debates, and to go up there and consume Him. I thought today, "I think Jesus is calling out again, to my friend." I'm praying that God is using me. If I can remember how simple it was--that Jesus wanted me to come closer--I can be of use. If we make it complicated, people default to what they understand: "rules," "guilt," and, "I grew up Catholic, but..."

Sunday, March 13, 2016

I Don't Criticize Pope Francis, Continued

I realize every time I see Dr. Bryan Cross interacting on the internet about some papal statement or document, whether I agree with Dr. Cross's analysis or not, there is a very good chance that I do not understand all the nuances of whatever has been said. That is to say, there are 3 things that go into apprehending whatever is being said: 1. The true teachings of the Catholic Church on any matter touching faith and morals (to which the universal catechism provides the most ready access for even the educated layperson) 2. The specific context into which the pope is speaking, and the purpose for which he has spoken and 3. The judgments of prudence which led to the pastoral decision to speak, rather than not.

I have a Master's degree in Catholic theology; if anyone should at least begin to say that he could speak intelligently in interpreting Pope Francis, it would be someone like me. The reality is this, however: I can't remember the last time I could say that I understood any one of the 3 areas well enough where my opinion matters. My subjective assessment of what I might have done or said isn't worth the metaphysical paper those feelings are printed on.

If the Holy Father asked me for a private meeting as a theologian, (which will never happen) and also for my opinion regarding his own statements on matters of consequence, I'd offer it. But a statement in public to John Q. Spotty Mass-Attender, or a Protestant, or an atheist, to the effect that defending the pope is getting difficult for you or me, is plain vanity. I myself have barely made a start on the first category, and I have zero access to the second, or the third, at any given moment. Thus, my hopes for what the Holy Father should say are worthless at best, and damaging at worst.

We would do well to recall all this more than we do, especially as pious listening is still obligated of me at each moment. For me, it was a great gift to present a talk on Laudato Si, because, in reading it in preparation, I was not thinking about untangling knots from an airplane press conference. I had the task of making that document accessible and understandable to Catholics. Nobody cares about what my ecology encyclical would say. Why do we tell people what our own encyclicals would say? Have you thought of it like this, before you launched a verbal broadside against the pope, and his alleged robotic defenders? Does it matter that much to you that your friends know you are an independent thinker?

Food for thought.