Simple Things

The Way the World Ends

She knew very early on, as women sometimes do when pregnant, that she was going to have a boy. She and her husband chose a simple and strong name for him: William Joseph. On the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas, William came into this world stillborn. He had twenty-four weeks, in the womb of his mother, to experience life: the sounds of laughter, the feeling of love and security, the darkness, and the satisfaction of nourishment. He also vicariously experienced the reality of God’s grace and the effect of conversion on the human person. 


I have faith that, in God’s mercy, William is at eternal rest with his cousins who preceded him in death. Oddly, though, William’s death brought to my mind T.S. Eliot’s famous words on the apocalypse: “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.” The coming of a child is very much like a mini-apocalypse. From the moment of conception, a child ends your world as you know it. Everything you thought you knew about life, about love, about struggle, and about yourself is blighted. This new soul holds you to account for yourself in ways you never knew existed, because they hadn’t existed before. You are confronted with the choice to either fearfully embrace growth and conversion, or fearfully withdraw into your self and eventually die with the world you can’t let go of. 

Maybe its the timing of things, but to me this also sounds a lot like the nature of Advent.  We prepare  for the birth of the Christ-child who invites each of us to let our world end and embrace a new world while we still have the choice to do so. The penitential nature and imagery of the common Advent narrative reinforces this. Unless we want to be like the inns that turned the Holy Family away, we must “make room” for Jesus by jettisoning our sinfulness. 

I suspect, though, that Advent is apocalyptic because it is a warning wrapped in hope and presented with joy. The season warns us that the end of the world will not come with great pomp and circumstance, but in moments of quiet encounter. And it will not come all at once. The Advent-apocalypse is the beginning of a bittersweet journey of vulnerability and openness to a new life shaped by those whose presence, no matter how brief, are God’s invitation to draw closer to his Son. 

 


Faith and Life

Family is the Permanent Catechumenate that the Sacrament of Marriage Needs

Pope Francis, in union with the overwhelming majority of Catholic bishops, priests, deacons, and lay faithful, has a deeply pastoral concern about the current state of marriage. In a recent address to students at a marriage and family life course in Rome, the Holy Father called for a permanent catechumenate for the sacrament of marriage, noting that “marriage is not just a ‘social’ event, but a true sacrament that involves an adequate preparation and a conscious celebration…the marriage bond, in fact, requires an engaged choice on the part of the engaged couple, which focuses on the will to build together something that must never be betrayed or abandoned.”

By calling for a permanent catechumenate, Pope Francis rightly recognizes that, for whatever reasons, couples are not being adequately prepared for marriage. In the short weeks or months that couples are required to meet with their pastor and take the required marriage preparation program, they receive crash courses in Sacramental Theology, practical “adulting” habits (basic finances and interpersonal skills, for example), and the moral and mechanical aspects of the human reproductive system. This is a lot to expect two people to understand and permanently incorporate into their worldview during a brief period of instruction.

It is interesting to note that the Holy Father appears to emphasize the instructional nature of a potentially permanent catechumenate on marriage:

So many times the ultimate root of the problems that come to light after the celebration of the sacrament of marriage is to be found not only in a hidden and remote immaturity suddenly exploded, but above all in the weakness of the Christian faith…the more the journey of preparation is deepened and extended in time, the sooner the couples will learn to correspond to the grace and strength of God and will also develop the ‘antibodies’ to face the inevitable moments of difficulty and fatigue of married and family life.

Taking his words at face value it is reasonable to conclude that the Pope’s vision for a permanent catechumenate of the sacrament of marriage would look something like a subject-specific RCIA program: robust pre-sacramental instruction and a period of post-sacramental mystagogia.

If that is the intention, it is, in all charity, a misguided solution. In the US, the general consensus among lay faithful about the Church’s marriage preparation programs is one of aggravated tolerance: bureaucratic red-tape and hoop-jumping are common descriptors. Certain outside-the-box initiatives, such as pairing engaged couples with long-time married couples for formation, seem to meet with some success, but have the double effect of accentuating the deficiencies of the predominant programmatic models.

But his use of the word “catechumenate” is curious, and worth careful consideration. In Church history, the catechumenate was an extended period of formation before admittance to the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion. Once initiated, the faithful supported each other in living out their witness to the faith they were formed in. Following that model, a catechumenate for the Sacrament of Marriage would include the same elements: a long period of formation before admittance to the sacrament, and post-sacramental communal support to live in witness to the theological, pastoral, and practical realities of the initiated.

That sounds a lot like the role of family.  holyfamily

Family is the primary formative environment. Our earliest and deepest impressions of marriage come from watching our parents, our aunts and uncles, and our grandparents. The significant theological connections between marriage, Christ and the Church, and the communion of Persons in the Holy Trinity are either cemented or contradicted in our sub-conscious depending on how early and often these things are spoken of and embodied in family life.

In Familiaris consortio, Saint John Paul II contemplated the immense value of the family to the Church and a life of faith. Calling it the “Domestic Church,” the saint expanded on his own profound declaration to the Church in Australia that “as the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Whether intentional or not, Pope Francis’ call for a permanent catechumenate for the sacrament of marriage circles back to the unique role of the family in the life of the Church and her long tradition of defending and articulating that irreplaceable value.

That brings us to the reality of the current crisis in marriage. The Church does have a long and beautifully articulated tradition in regards to marriage and the family, but somewhere along the line the natural family unit drifted from the larger parish family, and ceased to authentically imitate the divine image. In short, what is preached ceased to be practiced. We could call it a spiritual divorce of sorts; the mutual gifts of natural- and community-family ceased to reciprocate in imitation of God himself. The family, at every Christian level, is not acting in conformity with the truth of Divine Revelation.

What can the Church do to reconcile herself as a family and address the crisis surrounding the Sacrament of Marriage? She can prioritize the following:

Consistency of theological instruction: For those involved in marriage preparation, does the program or personal counsel prioritize the theological richness of marriage? Is the majority of a participant’s time spent contemplating how his or her participation in the sacrament will manifest the truth about God himself? Is the joy and excitement of this reality consistently infused into the formal preparations?

The institutional Church making an authentic reinvestment in families: Prioritize funds for family programs and activities like schools, sports, and clubs. Many families want to donate their time, talent, and treasure to support parish sports and a parochial school. A lack of personal funds are a detriment for some lay faithful, but for many, seeing the institutional Church prioritize funding for institutional needs over family-focused initiatives is a painful blow that encourages personal disengagement.

Prioritize a familial environment in small ways as well. Make it a point to highlight important milestones in the life of parish families: births, baptisms, weddings, and anniversaries (include Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders!). Welcome newcomers and visitors personally. Publicly support the presence of small children and special needs persons in all aspects of parish activity.

Co-dependent with this is a revitalization of the institutional Church to her apostolic and pastoral roots. The lay faithful yearn for shepherds who are simple, honest, joyful, and trustworthy, as Christ himself is. Be that for us.

The lay faithful making an authentic reinvestment in the Catholic faith and the Church as a second home and family: Go to Mass every Sunday. Get involved in parish groups and activities. If there is a need, fill it. Get to know the priests and fellow parishioners. Attend formation classes and Bible studies. Be the family that the larger Church family needs us to be.

Catechesis · Resources · Uncategorized

Authentic Love and Morality Courses from the O’ahu Faith Formation Conference 2018

On June 22-23, I had the privilege of participating in my first faith formation conference as a facilitator. It was a blast! I had students from high-school age to golden years, and their thoughtful questions and comments during our time together was as humbling and informative to me as I hope my courses were for them.

If you are interested in either of these topics, feel free to download the PDF for the course. It is nothing fancy, and they are designed for beginner and beginner-intermediate adult audiences, but is an excellent resource for you to use in your own formation or your particular ministry. If you are short on time, my articles on complementarity and teaching the virtues will help you get your feet wet.

I always welcome feedback, so if there is something more you’d like to see please let me know! I will give you advance warning: the Authentic Love course is a first draft of a larger project that I am partnering with the Diocese of Honolulu on, so expect that course to get a lot bigger, more in-depth, and a lot more fun!

My Beloved-Diocese of Honolulu

Moralia Course-Diocese of Honolulu

Catechesis

Questions on Sexuality? Complementarity is the Answer!

Note: This is an adapted portion of a conference session I am presenting this weekend. The session, in its entire context, will be up in the near future.

In the beginning, we were created for love, by love, and in love. How do we know this? It says so, right in the beginning of Genesis!

 …then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed…The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it…Then the Lord God said, “it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Linger for a few moments on the last verse: “…this at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Consider first Adam’s words “at last.” If you read the verse correctly, the emphasis is put squarely on these two words: “this AT LAST is bone of my bones…” Up until that moment, as we read, Adam was living in Eden, alone. God knew that this was not good. But God chose to let Adam discover a few things gradually. So first, he gave Adam all of the animals as helpers. Adam came to understand each one—their nature, their strengths, and their weaknesses, and so on—and from that knowledge gave them a name. By naming each creature Adam created a relationship, a way to call on this “other” and interact. Imagine the time and care it took for him to complete this task with every single creature!

Yet as he builds this knowledge of, and relationship with, all creatures, he realizes two important things. For one, he has built up knowledge of himself by the process of knowing and naming other creatures. He knows that, unlike the elephant, he walks on two legs. He knows that, unlike the hawk, he has hands without talons. He has hair, like the gorilla and unlike the rabbit—but not as much hair as the gorilla! Secondly, he realizes that, in some way, he is still alone. He remains separated from all other creation by an unknown quality. He has no helper fit for him. This mysterious being, yet to be found, is meant to help Adam discover the unique quality within himself that he is unable to encounter alone.

Knowing this, the emphasis on Adam’s “at last” makes sense. He is overcome by a profound sense of joy and relief because, finally, there is a creature that truly fits him. AT LAST, he has a being that gives him a sense of completeness. AT LAST, he can be at peace because he is no longer alone.

The last verse also affirms that there are two sides to the human story, with both being necessary for the story to be told in its full beauty and grandeur. This is called the “complementarity” of man as male and female.

Complementarity means forming a balanced whole. Everything in the world functions on this principle. Nature is complementary: land and sea, earth and sky, animals and plants. Our bodies are complementary: ears, eyes, nose, lungs, heart, hands, feet, legs, stomach, liver, nerves, and brain all working together. Even math contains the principle of complementarity in its logic: it means mutually exclusive and exhaustive. Generally, complements are meant to be functional: land is dry and barren without bodies of water feeding it, and when a body part fails, the whole body suffers and cannot function.

The creation story in Genesis recounts the gradual buildup of complementarity in the natural world. Man, who is the last and highest of God’s creation, marks a shift in the dynamics of complementarity. Before man, all of creation had equal dignity. The land was not lord of the sea, the sky was not lord of the earth, and animals were not lords of the plants. But man? Man was created with a unique dignity, designed to govern and care for the earth, the sea, the sky, and every thing in between. And while man is a perfect complement to nature, nature is an imperfect complement to man. This is expressed in Adam’s ability to name every creature, and his simultaneous realization that he is alone in the world. His unique dignity—being made in the image and likeness of God—requires a unique complement.

What do I mean by “man is a perfect complement to nature, but nature is an imperfect complement to man?” In Adam, we see a creature that shares the same functional characteristics as other creatures: working physical parts, a need to feed and hydrate, the ability to reproduce, and a basic, sensory awareness of “others.” Everything that the created world has, Adam also has. This makes him a perfect complement to nature, because Adam’s characteristics bring balance to the whole of creation. On the other hand, nature cannot bring balance to the whole of Adam’s being.

We understand that man is created in God’s image and likeness, and has the purpose of reflecting and imitating the mysterious communion of Persons in the Holy Trinity, but what is it specifically about man that uniquely expresses this reality?

It is in the ability to reason. No other created thing can reason as we do. And reason, used rightly, elevates every aspect of our person. With reason we don’t merely function—we live. We are the only creatures that walk with a spring in our step when we are happy, as if joy could make us fly. We are the only creatures who make sense of the world, and who can give names and meanings to the things we see and feel.

No thing in nature can match man’s ability to reason. This is why woman became the perfect complement to Adam, as his “AT LAST” testifies. Adam wasn’t looking for someone to simply work with, and have sex with, and to eat with. He wanted an “other” who would join him hand-in-hand to transform the ordinary into something extraordinary. Beginning with his self.

But—why female? Why not another male? From what we read in Genesis, Eve seems almost exactly the same as Adam. And the modern world has made great strides in testifying to the fact that there is much more commonality between the sexes than not. Misguided gender stereotypes are rightly being shown false. For example, men aren’t supposed to show emotion. Or girls can’t be good at math. Or that grace and meekness are “feminine” qualities and strength and intelligence are “masculine.” These are human qualities. Everyone, male and female, has the ability to do these things, and be these things.

So what is left to “being female” that complements Adam’s “being male?” The obvious answer is sex; the ability to unite and reproduce. But this answer is reductionist. This answer says that we are God’s creature, not God’s created image and likeness. It explains the way to make humans, but not the ways to be human. It does not tell us how we make the ordinary, extraordinary.

To do that, we need to look again at the impact that the ability to reason has on human nature. Our intellect gives us our less obvious, but more accurate answer to the complementarity of male and female. Earlier, I briefly pointed out that the first two chapters of Genesis present the same creation story using different narrative styles. I made the suggestion that this was done to exemplify the complementarity of man as male and female. Let’s dig into this, and see what we find.

Genesis 1 is very structured. The story follows a chronological pattern: “in the beginning…on the first day…on the second day…” and so forth. We find many sentences are repeated, over and over: God said something, God did something or God “called” something, God found something good, “and there was evening and there was morning, the Nth day.” The descriptions of creation are also noticeably…functional. This thing goes here so it can do that; that thing goes there so it can do that thing.

Genesis 2 takes the very last part of Genesis 1 and gives it context, character, and color. Here’s a perfect example: in Chapter 1 it says, “plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it.” In Chapter 2, it says, “God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” Each version (and the chapters they represent) has a commonality: both explain what is happening. Each also brings a unique quality to the story: one explains how what is happening, is happening, and the other explains why what is happening matters. If you notice, neither version suffers because it doesn’t have one of the unique qualities. Chapter 1 is not lacking as a story because it doesn’t tell us why creation matters. Neither is Chapter 2 lacking because it skimps on the details of how creation progressed. The chapters do not complement each other to correct a deficiency. Each takes the entirety of the other, and elevates it.

We see this same complementarity in Adam and woman. In his solitude Adam names all the creatures, based on his knowledge of them and how they work. The creation of woman completes Adam’s knowledge of his self, and gives it purpose. Both have a commonality (being human), and each brings the unique quality of how and why to the meaning of being human.

Human complementarity means forming a balanced, whole picture of man: what we are, how we are the way we are, and why we matter. And as creatures created in the image and likeness of God, that whole picture includes a semblance of our creator. Male and female, given in the reciprocal gift of self, allows us to imitate and glimpse the most intimate aspect of God: the Father who eternally gives Love, the Son who eternally receives Love, and the Spirit, who is Love itself—that which is given and received forever. This is the front line of evangelization, the first encounter with who God is and who he will be to us, possibly for the rest of our lives.

 

Catechesis

Teaching the Cardinal Virtues: All Fun, No Fuss

I am currently preparing to speak on two topics at a diocesan conference for the first time, ever! I’m a giddy mess of facts, anecdotes, and random tidbits of far-flung Church teachings that I am organizing as a coherent narrative for my audience. Oh, and one of the two topics is that perennial favorite: Catholic morality.

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My talk on morality is centered around conscience formation, and of course the cardinal virtues make an appearance. As I collected my thoughts and random points of doctrine and Scripture, I came up with a fun way to help students of all ages remember the cardinal virtues AND connect them to the 1st Commandment as found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and repeated by Christ in Luke 10:27; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.”

To help students remember the cardinal virtues, have them stand up straight with their arms out from their sides (like a cross). Point at each of the following as you explain: prudence is your head, where you reason out what brings you closer to or farther from God. Justice is at your chest, the “seat” of your soul which communicates God’s image and likeness. Fortitude is your feet, for it takes courage to take a step in the right direction. Temperance is your arms, which embrace what is good and push away what is not.

And how does that connect to the first of the Greatest Commandments? Fortitude, the heart: “Lord don’t let my heart fail me now.” Justice, the soul. Temperance, your strength to say “yes” to God and “no” to sin. And prudence, your mind.

What do you think of this little mnemonic? I see it being a fun way to get students of all ages engaged in Scripture, theology and practical morality without it being too heavy or boring, or having it be forgotten in a month. If you try this out, please let me know how it works for you!

Simple Things

Are there Limits to White Privilege?

“Mom, what does ‘go drink your race’ mean?”

This was posed to me by one of my children yesterday after school. Evidently it is one of the many odd statements directed at him by his classmates. As a standalone statement, it’s a goofy thing to say, and doesn’t make sense. Considering that my eldest child’s nicknames include “white bread,” “white cockroach,” and “salt,” and that my seven-year-old- daughter is growing self-conscious about her skin because she is always asked why her skin is so pale, the odd question makes sense.

White privilege is very real, and the current conversation about it is centuries overdue. It is hard to conceive of my privilege as a white female of a comfortable socio-economic status and how I take advantage of it without realizing. I applaud and am grateful for the strong voices from people of all ethnic backgrounds. I’ve especially received a lot to consider and pray about by reading The Root. It’s uncomfortable as hell, I’ll be honest, but that is the point. As it probably should be.

But.

I am afraid to write that “but,” yet it hangs on my heart like a weight that wants to drown me. I am painfully aware of my privilege, of how much I am still unaware of the ramifications of my privilege, and how addressing this “but” may be interpreted.

But…

There are limits to white privilege, and they exist in places where whiteness is a minority. I don’t mean “whiteness” in the manner of the population percentage of those with predominantly-European ancestry. Rather, “whiteness” is a cultural habit of consciousness. And that is OK. In fact, it’s great that the whole word isn’t dominated by “whiteness.” It’s one of the things that my husband and I were initially excited about when coming to our current destination: immersing ourselves and our family in a different way of life.

But almost a year later, my children are becoming accustomed to casual “racism” on a daily basis. They don’t understand it. They don’t understand the invisible barrier that was placed between them by their peers; almost impossible to describe but ephemerally perceptible to the mind and piercing the soul. It is inconceivable to them why they would be rejected simply because their skin is not the same color as most everyone else. And when  we explain to them that this treatment is the tip of the iceberg for what people of color and people of other ethnicities have experienced at the hands of far too many white people, for centuries, they stare at my husband and I dumbfounded that this is even a thing.

Right now I feel like I’m going crazy. I look to my left and see so much hatred and bigotry spewed on us for our pasty skin, and on the right I find beautiful, kind people of diverse ethnicities who don’t care about my freckles. I’ve never felt closer to understanding the experience of people of color, yet I am afraid that mine and my family’s pain is nothing more than racial blasphemy: my white privilege is simply unaccustomed to rough treatment and I should quit my whining.

This heartache, aside from inspiring me to understand, acknowledge, and check how I use my white privilege, continues to circle around one detail that, in my opinion, may be a really good place to start earnestly course-correcting how we all think about privilege and race.

That detail is the word “race.” The world generally uses the words “race” and “racism” and “race relations” when discussing issues surrounding white people and literally every other ethnic group in existence. That is a huge problem, because the word “race” specifically drives a wedge between people by omitting a particular ethnicity from the “human race.” In anthropological and scientific circles, “race” has long been frowned upon as a term specifically for this reason, and where it is still used has increasingly become scrutinized. So why do we still use it in our cultural conversation?

“Black people are people, too” should not be a ground-breaking statement. We are all human. Full stop. We are all one race. Full Stop. By defining the ethnic bigotry that has been heaped on people of color as “racism” automatically pits them as outsiders who need to fight their way back in. While that may have been the intention when “race” was introduced by pasty white dudes to describe “primitive cultures” way back in the days of exploration, it should not be accepted anymore. Are there white people who still consider other ethnicities to be less than human? Absolutely. Are there people of other ethnicities who believe that white people are roaches beneath their feet. Apparently.

To recover and rejoice in the truth that all people are indeed people, that ethnicity is a beautiful expression of the whole of humanity, and to begin frank and uncomfortable discussions about the privilege each of us carries about our own ethnicity in relation to that of others, I humbly suggest we start by removing “race” terminology out of the discussion. Affirm what is equally good in all of us, so that we can start to affirm what is good in each other.

If you made it this far, thank you.

Simple Things

Profound Quotables from BXVI’s “Jesus of Nazareth”

Long on my “need to read” list, I chose volume one of then-Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth for my Lenten reading, and finished it right after Easter began. The book shook me to my Church-nerd core, and I think my head exploded after every third page or so. For instance: offering evidence that Barabas the “thief” was truly a political rebel leader and therefore appeared more like the traditional messianic figure that Israel was expecting (hence why the people chose him over Jesus!). Or the implication that the “Our Father,” given to the disciples at their request to “pray as he does,” is literally the prayer that God the Son prays to/with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

I love little details like this! But this holy and misunderstood servant of God was firing on all cylinders, and the results are as profound as they are Church-trivia worthy.

If you never read this book, or haven’t read it in a long time, I offer below my top 10 tabbed quotes for your enjoyment and reflection.

On the role of prophet:

His task is not to report on the events of tomorrow or the next day in order to satisfy human curiosity or the human need for security. He shows us the face of God, and in so doing he shows us the path that we have to take.

On the multiplication of loaves:

This miracle of the loaves has three aspects, then. It is preceded by the search for God, for his word, for the teaching that sets the whole of life on the right path. Furthermore, God is asked to supply the bread. Finally, readiness to share with one another is an essential element of the miracle. Listening to God becomes living with God, and leads from faith to love, to the discovery of the other. Jesus is not indifferent toward men’s hunger, their bodily needs, but he places these things in the proper context and the proper order.

On Jesus’ Third Temptation throughout history:

The Christian Empire attempted at an early stage to use the faith in order to cement political unity…The powerlessness of faith, the earthly powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. This temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power.

On the Beatitude of Mourning:

The mourning of which the Lord speaks is nonconformity with evil; it is a way of resisting models of behavior that the individual is pressured to accept because ‘everyone does it.’ The world cannot tolerate this kind of resistance; it demands conformity. It considers this mourning to be an accusation directed against the numbing of consciences. And so it is.

On the thirst and hunger for righteousness:

Does someone achieve blessedness and justification in God’s eyes…because he has declared his opinions and wishes to be norms of conscience and so made himself the criterion? No, God demands the opposite: that we become inwardly attentive to his quiet exhortation, which is present in us and which tears us away from what is merely habitual and puts us on the road to truth.

On a pious Rabbi’s struggle with Christ as “Lord of the Sabbath,” and how it confirms Jesus’ teachings:

Jesus understands himself as the Torah–as the word of God in person…[Rabbi Neusner] is concerned with the consequences of Jesus’ centrality for Israel’s daily life: The Sabbath loses its great social function. The Sabbath is one of the essential elements that hold Israel together. Centering upon Jesus breaks open this sacred structure and imperils an essential element that cements the unity of the People of God…Communion with [Jesus] is filial communion with the Father–it is a yes to the fourth commandment on a new level, the highest level. It is entry into the family of those who call God Father and who can do so because they belong to a ‘we’–formed of those who are united with Jesus and, by listening to him, united with the will of the Father, thereby attaining to the heart of obedience intended by the Torah.

On the “Our Father”:

The Our Father does not project a human image onto heaven, but shows us from heaven–from Jesus–what we as human begins can and should be like.

On the meaning of the divine name (“hallowed be thy name”):

God establishes a relationship between himself and us. He puts himself within reach of our invocation. He enters into relationship with us and enables us to be in a relationship with him. Yet this means  that in some sense he hands himself over to our human world. He has made himself accessible and, therefore, vulnerable as well. He assumes the risk of relationship, of communion, with us.

On why Jesus speaks in parables:

Jesus is not trying to convey to us some sort of abstract knowledge that does not concern us profoundly…He shows us God: not an abstract God, but the God who acts, who intervenes in our lives, and wants to take us by the hand. He shows us through everyday things who we are and what we must do. He conveys knowledge that makes demands of us; it not only or even primarily adds to what we know, but it changes our lives.

On the reaction of the Prodigal Son’s Brother and the temptation of the righteous:

…bitterness toward God’s goodness reveals an inward bitterness regarding their own obedience, a bitterness that indicates the limitations of this obedience. In their heart of hearts, they would have gladly journeyed out into that great ‘freedom’ as well. There is an unspoken envy of what others have been able to get away with. They have not gone through the pilgrimage that purified the younger brother and made him realize what it means to be free and what it means to be a son. They actually carry their freedom as if it were slavery and they had not matured to real sonship. They, too, are still in need of a path; they can find it if they simply admit that God is right and accept his feast as their own. In this parable, then, the Father through Christ is addressing us…encouraging us too to convert truly and to find joy in our faith.

Faith and Life · Uncategorized

Magic in the Mundane

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.

-Leonardo Da Vinci

There is something deeply compelling about the fantastical: the ideas, the possibilities, the inhabitants, of a world that is so like ours yet alien in ways both exciting and unnerving. It fires up our sense of wonder, and a kind of nostalgia for the childlike ability to see magic in the mundane.

The idea of the Garden of Eden, a place of perfect peace and harmony between God, man, and nature, is fantastical. What does “perfect peace” mean? What does that look like? How does that even work? Eden imagery, for people of predominantly European descent, usually evokes a single moment: the one right before man breaks union with God. The world of Eden is frozen for our reflection. It is fantastic, we think, that lions and lambs and turkeys coexist without fear. It is fantastic, we wistfully say, that the world here is sunny and unbloodied. Wouldn’t it be fantastic, we think, if the world was more like this again?

29994-adam-and-eve-in-the-garden-of-eden.800w.tnWell, what if the world did retain some vestiges of Edenic harmony? What if the magic is still in the mundane? What would that look like?

The people of the Arctic and Hawai’i have a pretty good idea.

Scientists are increasing interested in studying the Arctic peoples who have a rich cultural history of communicating with whales and other animals. Their anecdotes, like that of Harry Bower, Sr. are fascinating.

Harry Brower Sr. was lying in a hospital bed in Anchorage, Alaska, close to death, when he was visited by a baby whale.

Although Brower’s body remained in Anchorage, the young bowhead took him more than 1,000 kilometers north to Barrow (now Utqiaġvik), where Brower’s family lived. They traveled together through the town and past the indistinct edge where the tundra gives way to the Arctic Ocean. There, in the ice-blue underwater world, Brower saw Iñupiat hunters in a sealskin boat closing in on the calf’s mother.

Brower felt the shuddering harpoon enter the whale’s body. He looked at the faces of the men in the umiak, including those of his own sons. When he awoke in his hospital bed as if from a trance, he knew precisely which man had made the kill, how the whale had died, and whose ice cellar the meat was stored in. He turned out to be right on all three counts…In his final years, he discussed what he had witnessed with Christian ministers and Utqiaġvik’s whaling captains. The conversations ultimately led him to hand down new rules to govern hunting female whales with offspring, meant to communicate respect to whales and signal that people were aware of their feelings and needs.

What can we take away from the experiences of the Arctic people? One, they support theories that animals have an acute awareness of self and their relationship to “other.” Two, man and animal have the ability,  on some deep level, to know each other and communicate that knowledge. Three, that man and nature have a hierarchical relationship, but one that is rooted in deep humility and respect for what each can, and should, offer the other.

Farther south, in tropical waters, the Hawaiian people have their own rich tradition of understanding and cooperating with the natural world. Nowhere better is this tradition expressed than in their creation mele (song), the Kumulipo.

The Kumulipo, composed before the arrival of European explorers, is breathtaking in it’s comprehensive and scientific understanding of how nature works harmoniously. The song speaks of the creation of all things-male and female-and how for every life in the sea there is a counterpart on land that guards its purpose:

Seaweed and grasses
Man by Waiololi, woman by Waiolola,
The Koeleele was born and lived in the sea;
Guarded by the Ko punapuna Koeleele that grew in the forest.
A night of flight by noises
Through a channel; water is life to trees;
So the gods may enter, but not man.

Like the traditions of the Arctic peoples, the Kumulipo expresses the Hawaiian understanding of reciprocity and its centrality to life. There is an awareness of self, of the “other;” we give generously and take with a profound humility for the gift that is given.

Both of these cultures beautifully express how man and the natural world can reclaim a bit of the fantastical. More importantly, they are living invitations to do more than just reflect on a frozen moment of time. They invite us to generously give now, to humbly accept now, to live now, as we were first created to do.

 

Faith and Life

New Theories and Old Traditions

 

In the protective recesses of Yale’s museum is an ancient fresco fragment. To the average eye it is humble in appearance: the outline of a woman, bending down to what seems like a well. The long-held belief, logically, is that the fresco depicts the Samaritan woman at the Well, from the Gospel of John, Chapter 4.

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This simple fragment has been at Yale for decades, but is having a renewed moment in the spotlight because researcher Michael Peppard is proposing a new interpretation of this work of art: the fresco is not the Samaritan woman, but Mary at the Annunciation!

If you are at all familiar with the Lukan version of the Annunciation, you are already saying to me, “but Melissa, there is no well in the story. This guy is off his rocker!”

And you would be correct, if Mr. Peppard was not basing his theory off of another ancient text: the Protoevangelium of James. The Protoevangelium of James is a popular work testifying to Mary’s holy beginnings, upbringing, and early time with Joseph. It is a bold move on Mr. Peppard’s part to use this text since it is apocryphal, but not completely out of turn. The Protoevangelium of James is alluded to by Ss. Jerome and Justin Martyr, among other early Church luminaries, and continues to leave an impression on Catholic tradition and Her liturgical calendar. It may not be far off to say that the only reason the text remains apocryphal is because despite it’s lack of heretical over-or-undertones it never gained the universal traction and approbation that the canonical books did.

But you know one place where the Protoevangelium of James would have been very popular? In Syria, where James the Lesser (as far as scholars can tell) is believed to have preached after Pentecost! And this fresco fragment happens to be an artifact from Dura-Europos, a border settlement on the Euphrates River in modern-day Syria.

Aleteia featured the endangered site of Dura-Europos and Peppard’s fresco interpretation, and besides being a sucker for all things archaeology and Church history, I was struck by a bit of background information that the article offered:

The wall painting was taken from the small baptistery of the 3rd-century house church. Christians had met for liturgical celebrations there before Constantine allowed Christianity to be practiced openly, said a 2014 article at Vatican Insider:

The church in Dura-Europos kept its function as a private house on the top floor; but on the ground floor, around 230 A.D., a small room containing no more than 60 people became a Christian place of worship. The frescoes on the walls prove this; there are the first known representations of the Good Shepherd, the healing of the paralytic and Jesus walking on the waters with Peter. It is worth remembering that the very idea of a church separate from private houses could exist only after the 313 A.D. edict, through which the Emperor Constantine recognized Christians’ freedom of religion.

It is worth remembering that the very idea of a church separate from private houses could only exist after the 313 A.D. edict…” Wait, what? In the early Church, churches were…domestic? Who would have ever thought of a domestic Church?

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Sadly, the reality we often forget about the early Church is that it did not have the luxury of material ability to put the boundless love of God on radiant display as in later centuries. In fact, the treasury of stone, marble, stained glass, art, and ornamentation that many of us take for granted, or take as the epitome of faithful expression, is really just the Catholic version of Solomon’s Second Temple. And that is okay!

But the reminder that the Church began, survived, grew, and conquered within the home is much-needed today. Saint John Paul II re-proposed the Domestic Church to the world, and started a frenzy. The simple Well-woman fresco, having yet another moment to evangelize to those who have the courage to hear, is also re-proposing the domestic Church but in a very specific and simple way: bring back the practice of sacred spaces in the home!

I know many people who already do this, but I know many more who don’t. I’ve wanted to set up a sacred space in our home for a while, but it just hasn’t happened yet. When we move to O’ahu in June, planning what wall gets to be our sacred space is #1 on my list.

A sacred space (a Holy Hot-Spot? called it!) is a single location in your home that you designate as a center for prayer, meditation, and a frequent visual reminder to keep Christ front and center in your life (and the life of your family). Like the home-Church in Duro-Europa, pictures and icons that speak to you and your family should decorate the area. A crucifix is a must, as is Scripture and a selection of prayers and other devotionals. Statues are always good, especially to hold your rosaries. Candles, smells, and bells are at your pleasure; add a holy water bottle and you are set! Really, just take an afternoon to browse Monastery Icons and go nuts.

Most importantly, gather your family around your Holy Hot-Spot daily. Pray, read, or just talk about your day, but do it at that sacred place in your home. Invite your parish priest over for dinner and ask him to bless the area. Use it well, and share it with others. A time is coming, as it was in the beginning, where the Church may only be allowed behind the doors of our homes. And that is okay too. It worked the first time, didn’t it?