Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Are you saved?

With all the great tragedy of Christian persecution going on in the Middle East, I have with some amusement watched my extremely Protestant friends on social media being extremely open and generous in their prayer and praise of those Christians. I say I find amusement in that because if such a Christian was talking to them on the street corner or in the coffee shop, I know a number of my friends would tell those people straight up that they were not saved because they are either Catholic, Coptic, or Eastern Orthodox.

I found this video a while back and have been wondering when was a good time to post it. It is a great answer to the very American Christian question of "Are You Saved?"

Questions and Answers about Lent

Great stuff from Bishop Michael of the Orthodox Church in America. I think this would be a great examination of conscience before confession during Lent.

(Original Link to Video here.)

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Eucharist Fr. Alexander Schmemann

The Eucharist is a mystery, the very mystery of joy, the mystery of all mysteries, the mystery of the Church.
The Eucharist is a joyful gathering of those who are to meet the risen Lord, and they enter with him into the bridal chamber.
The Eucharist is an action, by which a group of people become something corporately, which they had not been as a mere collection of individuals. It is the essential attitude, and the essential act of the Church, which is the new humanity, restored by Christ, one transforming act, and one ascending movement.
The Eucharist is a procession of the Church following the ascension of Christ.
The Eucharist is a journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom.
The Eucharist is a real separation from the world. We always want to make Christianity understandable and acceptable to the mythical modern man on the street, and we forget that the Christ of whom we speak is not of this world, and that after his resurrection, he was not recognized, even by his own disciples. We do not realize that we never get anywhere because we never leave any place behind us.
The Eucharist is an entrance of the Church into the joy of its Lord, and to enter into that joy so as to be a witness to it in the world, is the very calling of the Church, its essential ministry, the mystery by which it becomes what it is. It is an entrance into the risen life of Christ, the very movement of the Church, as passage from the old into the new, from this world into the world to come.
The Eucharist is a manifestation of the Word of God. God will speak to us. His eternal Word will be given to us, and we will receive it.
The Eucharist is a movement, the movement that Adam failed to perform, and that, in Christ, has become the very life of man—a movement of adoration and praise, in which all joy and suffering, all beauty and all frustration, all hunger and all satisfaction, are referred to their ultimate end, and become finally, meaningful. It is real life, a movement of love and adoration toward God, the movement in which, alone, the meaning and value of all that exists can be revealed and fulfilled.
The Eucharist is an offering. It is our offering to him of ourselves, of our life, and of our whole world, “to take into our hands the whole world, as if it were an apple,” said a Russian poet.
The Eucharist is a sacrifice, but it the most natural act of man, the very essence of his life. Man is a sacrificial being. Because he finds his life in love, and love is sacrificial, it puts the value, the very meaning of life, in the other, and gives life to the other, and in this giving, in this sacrifice, finds the meaning and joy of life. It is, indeed, a sacrifice offered on behalf of all, and for all.
The Eucharist is Christ, himself. The Eucharist is his Eucharist, and he is the Eucharist. It is he who offers, and it is he who is offered. Christ is the perfect man, who stands before God. Christ, alone, is the perfect Eucharistic being. He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through this Eucharist, the whole creation becomes what always was to be, and yet, failed to be.
The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ. It is the mystery of cosmic remembrance. It is, indeed, a restoration of love as the very life of the world. Remembrance is an act of love. God remembers us, and his remembrance, his love, is the foundation of the world. In Christ, we remember. The church, and its separation from this world, on its journey to heaven, remembers the world, remembers all men, remembers the whole creation, and takes it, in love, to God. We remember his life, his death, his resurrection, one movement of sacrifice, of love, of dedication to his father, and to men. This is the inexhaustible content of our remembrance.
The Eucharist is the lifting up of our offering, and of ourselves. The Eucharist is the ascension of the Church to heaven. We have entered the Eschaton, and we are now standing beyond time and space. It is because all this has first happened to us, that something will happen to bread and wine. It is our ascension in Christ.
The Eucharist is the state of perfect man. When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do, but to give thanks. When a man stands before God, face to face, when he has been accepted into his presence, when his sins are forgiven, and he has recovered his pristine beauty, the Eucharist, thanksgiving, adoration, worship, is truly the ultimate and the total expression of his whole being. It is the divine element, the image of God in us, the life of paradise, the one essential relationship with God, the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption, and gift of heaven. It is a new style of life, the only real life, of creation with God, and in God, the only true relationship between God and the world. In sin, man has lost that pure Eucharist. He has directed his life, his love, his care, toward other objects. He has become incapable of Eucharist, thanksgiving, which is the state of man in paradise.
The Eucharist is the breakthrough that brings us to the table in the Kingdom, raises us to heaven, and makes us partakers of the divine food.
The Eucharist is the end of the movement. We are at the Paschal table of the Kingdom, the end of the journey, the end of time. It is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world.
The Eucharist is the mystery of unity and the moment of truth, the very expression and edification of the Church. Here, we see the world in Christ, as it really is, and not from our particular, and therefore, limited, and partial, points of view.
The Eucharist is communion with the whole Church. It is the supreme revelation of the communion of the saints, of the unity and interdependence of all the members of the Body of Christ. It is judgment and condemnation to people who do not see Christ in the Church, but see in it merely human pride and arrogance, selfishness, and the spirit of this world. It is the breaking of the bread, the one source of life that brings all to it, and redeems the unity of all men under one head, Christ, the mystery of forgiveness, the mystery of reconciliation achieved by Christ, and eternally granted to those who believe in him. It is the essential food of the Christian, strengthening his spiritual life, healing his diseases, affirming his faith, making him capable of leading a truly Christian life in this world, the gift of eternal life, an anticipation of the joy, peace and fullness of the Kingdom, a foretaste of its light. It is both partaking of Christ’s suffering, the expression of our readiness to accept his way of life, and sharing in his victory and triumph—a sacrificial meal, and a joyful banquet. His body is broken, and his blood is shed, and partaking of them, we accept the cross. Yet, by the cross, joy has entered the world, and this joy is ours when we are at the Lord’s table. It is given to me, personally, in order to transform me into a member of Christ, to unite me with all those who receive him, to reveal the Church as a fellowship of love.
The Eucharist is the mystery of the Kingdom, the fullness and manifestation of the Church as the age to come.
The Eucharist is our secret joy and certitude, the source of inspiration and growth, the victory that overcomes evil, the presence that makes our whole life, life in Christ.
The Eucharist is the beginning, and things that were impossible are again revealed to us as possible. The time of the world has become the time of the Church, the time of salvation and redemption.
-Fr. Alexander Schmemann
From this link

This. Right Here. exactly what I have said about raising the minimum wage to levels unfit for unskilled, uneducated labor. (Warning: a few curse words are used, but the point is a good one.) Social justice is not achieved if to help the poor you raise minimum wage to high levels but destroy all the entry level jobs in the process.

On Fasting

In this time of fasting and prayer, brethren, let us with all our hearts forgive anything real or imaginary we have against anyone. May we all devote ourselves to love, and let us consider one another as an incentive to love and good works, speaking in defence of one another, having good thoughts and dispositions within us before God and men. In this way our fasting will be laudable and blameless, and our requests to God while we fast will be readily received. We shall rightly call upon Him as our Father by grace and we can boldly say to Him, "Father, forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matt. 6:12).
St. Gregory Palamas
"Homily Seven: Another on Fasting"

I despair of America

Seriously, this is disturbing.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Then there's that...

“It is necessary most of all for one who is fasting to curb anger, to accustom himself to meekness and condescension, to have a contrite heart, to repulse impure thoughts and desires, to examine his conscience, to put his mind to the test and to verify what good has been done by us in this or any other week, and which deficiency we have corrected in ourselves in the present week. This is true fasting.”

— St John Chrysostom

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Oh, smack.

As someone who left the Episcopal church because of its moral bankruptcy at least in part, this is simply sad and yet made me smile. Seriously, just drop your lawsuits and let it go. Why is saying, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord" so hard to do?

Because we're more 'enlightened' now...

Here's some interesting historical perspective. US drone strikes have killed more people in the last six years (at least 2,464) than the Spanish Inquisition is estimated to have tried, convicted, and handed over for execution over the course of 356 years (2,250).

Food for Thought.

"For by the unceasing and absolute renunciation of yourself and of all things you may be borne on high, through pure and entire self-abnegation, into the superessential Radiance of the Divine Darkness."
--Dionysius the Areopagite

Never bought it.

There was a question on the Facebook group I help moderate that was phrased in this way:

"I'm curious about something. I want to know the diversity of the belief of the creation among Catholics. If you take the beginning of Genesis literally, please comment "literally", if just as a symbol, please comment "symbolic"."

This was my response:

 I don't believe it can be an either/or distinction. I really hate when people try to frame it this way, as if its a game of poker and you have to go all in on one side or the other. You have to look at it from the view point of how it would have been interpreted (as any miraculous story would have been) by the early Hebrews as well as the early Church, and we have to step away from our modern post-Newtonian Enlightenment rationalism to do this.

To antiquity, the universe was a scary place. It was something that seemed arbitrary and harsh because life was that way. Nature in its purest form was chaos. This is not just an early iron age Jewish perspective. Aristotle taught this as well, which is why he believed so strongly in the idea of the polis, or city. For him, only wild beasts and crazy men lived "out in nature" because of this. Or, conversely, there were views if nature was not chaos, then it was governed by spiteful gods whose passions created and governed the chaos of nature.

Now, what is the revelation of the creation story that God is trying to tell His people? It is not a fairy tale story about God suspending the laws of known physics to create something from nothing. God finds the universe to be chaos (that's the word that is literally used) and brings order to that chaos. To quote the old King Jimmy Version, "The world was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep." The world may seem like a dark and scary place, but God is above all that and can bring order and meaning even to the very chaos. God is not the one that creates the chaos, nor is God one who is cowed by the chaos. Likewise, neither is God the chaos itself, He is not a sun god nor a moon god nor a nature/animal god. God is above all that. That is a revelation that should be taken literally and symbolically.

This is why I categorically reject this trendy notion in biblical scholarship that says the creation story contradicts itself. I was fed this in seminary ad nauseum, and I never bought it.. I think that is contrary to the Catechism (No. 111) and the Vatican II documents that say, "But since Sacred Scripture is inspired, there is another and no less important principle of correct interpretation, without which Scripture would remain a dead letter. "Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written." To say that Scripture here is contradictory on its face is to say that the same Spirit is contradictory, and that defeats the whole revelation I talked about above. The Spirit is not chaos but brings order to the chaos.

As Catholics, we interpret Scripture in more than one sense. There is the literal, which is where we must start in any reading of Scripture, but there is also other levels of interpretation. There is the moral (how are we to act on this reading of Scripture), allegorical (how is Christ seen in this passage), and anagogical (How can we view this in terms of the eternal, i.e. how is God using this to bring all things back unto Himself in the Ages of Ages) senses.

Thus, to say we can have no literal interpretation of the creation story at all is nonsense because as Thomas Aquinas says, " All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal." You cannot get to a greater spiritual sense of scripture (i.e. the latter three senses above) if you don't start with the literal. To completely discount the literal is to discount every other sense is well. Because, literally, God is bringing order to the chaos. All that I wrote about God bringing order to chaos is literal truth, and it is only there that me move on to the other senses of the moral (not being afraid of nature or thinking God is not in control), the allegorical (the God here is in the singular plural (Let us make man in our own image-already Trinitarian, not to mention that we are LITERALLY made in the likeness and image of God so was can claim to be children of God), and the anagogical (no matter what kind of sin comes into the picture in the next chapter, God is leading us (Greek: anagoge, "leading") back to that created order of being in the image of God and restoring all things to recreate Eden in the final chapters of of the Book of Revelation.)

God starts and ends with that bringing order to the chaos, both natural and man made (sin). That is the literal beginning and ending of the entire narrative of salvation found in the whole bible. It begins with the creation story and ends with the creation story of God recreating Eden in the New Jerusalem at the very end of the Bible.

So, to get back to my original premise, The creation story is not an either/or interpretation of literal or symbolic. It is a both/and. If there is no literal truth to any of it, then the whole of the salvation narrative begins to fall apart.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Good stuff, this.

Fasting with Joy.

Depression and Solitary

I partially wrote a blog post earlier in the week that I never posted. In fact, I deleted it outright. That is fairly rare for me to table a thought entirely. I may save it for a while and rework it, but I always generally end up posting here on this blog what I am thinking or pondering at the moment: serious, humorous, or otherwise.

A few days ago, however, I was really in the dumps, not to put too fine a point on it. I tend to have a healthy dose of what my wife calls "Irish melancholy." I like dreary, rainy days with fog. I can't stand extremely happy or bubbly food or people. Don't get me wrong, it is not that I am a grumpy old man. I may be a curmudgeon at times, but that is different that being a mean old Scrooge. I do not run kids off my lawn with a stick while yelling, "Oy vey!" Well, at least usually.

I have been discerning a lot of things in my personal life for going on close to two years now. I left the priesthood of my former denomination because I simply could not take the theological madness that had descended en masse and relativism that had taken root there and grown like a cancer. That still makes me sad to think about, but I am convinced had I remained I would have keeled over with a heart attack by the age of 45.

Ever since my leaving, I have struggled with a sense of vocation. I still feel called to ordained ministry, but where I am now has increasingly made clear that there is no place for me on that path, at least for the foreseeable future. What has irritated me to no end is not that I entered into a formal discernment process and by mutual agreement we can to realize my call was mistaken. I simply cannot get any bishop to answer any of my phone calls, and if they do they are extremely polite or rude about it, but the end result is always the same: don't call us, we'll call you. And, of course, they never call back, like, ever. In a Church that supposedly has a priest shortage, one would think a former Anglican priest with six years of full time ministry under his belt would be pounced upon, but then the Church does not do things like normal people do things.

As such, I have come to I think what the old and somewhat discredited Kubler-Ross stages of grief called the acceptance phase. Though not trendy in counseling psycho-babble anymore, I always liked those stages of grief, as cutesy academic paradigms go. As is my case, I did go through all those stages, perhaps more than once, in my discernment journey. Somewhat like a soldier returning home with a serious wound of some kind, be it mental or physical, I went through various phases of denial and bargaining and all that.

Earlier in the week, I received a boatload of rejection letters and phone calls. Each more denigrating than the one before it. To make a long saga short: we don't want your kind here. I had received several rejections out of hand before, and usually my response was to sink into a mild type of depression that would last for a few days, I would emerge, only to start the process all over again. (I guess I am a glutton for punishment.) This week, my internal reaction was different though in a way I had never reacted before. Instead of becoming resentful or angry or despondent, I went into a funk, but it was more of a "You know, I'm just done. It's time to face facts: there's no future for me here on this path."

My strange reaction was, I believe, a type of cathartic acceptance: it is time for me to move on. If a God opens a door to that, fine, I will walk through it, but God has to open the door. My knuckles are bloody from knocking on door after door, and I just can't do this anymore. I have to come to the realization that there is no place for me here. I just have to put my calling into cold storage and maybe one day I can thaw it back out. Until that day, I'm just done with the whole ordained ministry thing. I just can't keep doing this.

Now, all this begs the question: what of my vocation now? This is the question I do not, as yet, have the foggiest notion of how to answer or even how to discern it. They let me give a lecture on theology every so often. I help out at mass from time to time. It is all pretty meaningless though in the grand scheme of Christian ministry. I feel like I am being asked to survive on the table scraps leftover from the banquet of Christian ministry. I have not the foggiest clue of where to go now or what to do in terms of vocation. The fact is, the church does not really have a whole lot of options for people like me with advanced theological degrees. We simply know too much to be a lay person, and yet apparently are not competent enough to be allowed to be clergy of any kind. So, there it is. Who knows? Certainly, I do not. If you have any ideas, let me know. I am open to suggestions.

Really what clarified the situation for me in my own mind is an article I read on real depression. Sometimes I think I get depressed, and I have to repent of that immediately upon reading something like this. This is one of the more interesting blogs I have ever read. It is by a Catholic priest who is serving decades in prison for a crime he claims he did not commit. The only things I know about his case is from what I read on his blog, so I have no idea whether those claims are accurate or not. If what he says is true, it is indeed a grave miscarriage of justice, though I feel there is more to his story than he lets on, but his guilt or innocence is not the issue. He writes about his life in prison. I think as of this blog post, he has spent about 19 years in prison. He has some very unique insights into prison life from the prospective of a prisoner but also a clergyman. He has written quite a few interesting things on depression in prison and issues of mental health for inmates.

The article I just linked is worth reading. I bring it up for a number of reasons. For me, personally, it is a reminder that while I feel like my vocation is a dead end at present, I still have my freedom. So, in short, I need to get on with my life and be thankful for what I have. In terms of social justice, there is a whole boatload of issues that he touches on that I could go into. People lambaste the death penalty, but I'd take death over spending a year in solitary confinement. There are all kinds of ethical issues to mine there.        

Mental health issues is something that I think we are just coming out of the proverbial dark ages in beginning to tackle as a society. I wouldn't have the foggiest idea how to help someone like that deal with life either in or out of prison, which is why I always shied away from any sort of prison ministry because I would not know what to say that could possibly be meaningful to people that I feel have every right to withdraw into a depression abyss. If I was forced to live in a broom closet, I know I'd be a basket case.

At this point, I am not certain how to end this, other than to say, watch that video. I will warn you, it's horrendous. That having been said, this is why I love Hans von Balthasar's book on the Harrowing of Hell entitled  Mysterium Paschale, the image of Jesus emptying himself so much as to descent into hell as one condemns so that he might preach the good news to those in prison having been in a place where he understands them.

If you need something to ponder for Lent, there you go.