Saturday, October 31, 2015

Out of sin comes good

In chapter 11 of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans he deals with God's present relationship with the Jews.  There were at the time some who thought that the "new and everlasting covenant" of which we Christians are a part meant that God had abandoned the covenant that he made with Abraham. St. Paul's response is an unequivocal no.

He then goes on to explain one of the many paradoxes in the Bible.  As he explains it, the people of Israel "transgression."  There are several words for sin in the New Testament. The one St. Paul uses here, paraptoma, means to slip and fall, or to fall away.

 Rather than simply punishing them for their transgression, God used their transgression for something miraculous. In his words,

their transgression is enrichment for the world

God knows his creatures, he knows how quickly we react when we are jealous. And so, according to St. Paul,

through their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make them jealous.

Remember when we were children. We may have had a particular toy which we no longer about at al. But let someone else start playing with it and suddenly "That's mine. I want to play with that."

In St. Paul's understand of God, God loves us so much that he will use whatever it takes to bring us back. In the hands of God, anything, even darkness, can be transformed into an instrument of salvation.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Pastoral Law

As a canon lawyer, if you want to make me crazy say something like, "You need to be pastoral not legal", as if they are two different things.  When St. John Paul II revised the Code of Canon Law in 1983, a part of the goal was to translate into legal language, the theology of the Second Vatican Council.  The problem is not in the law itself but in the misuse of the law.

In today's gospel Jesus deals with the problem when he puts the question to the scribes and the Pharisees, "Is is permitted to cure on the sabbath?"  The gospel tells us that they kept silent.  They kept silent because they knew there were two responses. If one reads the sabbath law alone, without the context of the entire law of God, one might say that it is work and therefore forbidden.  However Jesus knows that this is a straw man argument.  He calls them out by asking them another question,

"Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?

He knows that anyone of them would save the ox.

The present Code of Canon law ends with the words, "the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes."

In his concluding address to the synod the Pope reminded us of this, "The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord (cf. Jn 12:44-50)."

Anyone can take a single rule out of context and wield it like a club. But this is always an abuse of the law.  This is not the law but legalism, the legalism for which the pharisees were so often condemned.

In the Church, all law, is grounded in God's law, and ultimately the law of love The legal answer is the pastoral answer.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Practice for Heaven

Every time we celebrate the mass just before we begin the central prayer, the Eucharistic Prayer, we sing an ancient acclamation. We refer to it as the Sanctus, or the Holy, Holy. But in Greek it is called by another name, "the Hymn of Victory." Today's gospel tells us why.

The words to the hymn are taken from two different Bible verses. The first half is taken from Is 6:3
Holy Holy Holy Lord God of Hosts
Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.

It is the song of the angels around the throne.

The second half is taken from Mt. 21:9, but is also the conclusion of today's reading from Luke, Lk 13:35.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

In today's gospel the Pharisees want Jesus to leave town because they are afraid. They know that Herod wants Jesus dead, and they are afraid that they will some how get caught up in it, guilt by association.

Jesus responds to their fear, we a statement of absolute faith in the mission. He knows that he can only do one thing, the will of the Father. He must complete his mission. He also knows something else, in the end he will be victorious. The reign of God cannot be stopped.

This acclamation is called the hymn of victory, because every time we sing it we are reminding ourselves that Christ will be victorious, he will come again. He will be the one sitting on the throne,

Jesus is able to be fearless, or to overcome his fear, through faith, absolute trust in the love of his Father, absolute confidence that his Father will never abandon him. He knows that in the end, he will come again in triumph.

All of us experience fears in life.

Can we trust in the absolute faithful love of God for us? Can we turn to God in our fear and ask for the gift of faith?  Singing the Holy Holy at mass is just practice, practice for the day that we will be the ones gathered around the throne with the victorious King.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Title says it All

The official English translation is finally available and now everyone in the English speaking world can read for themselves what the Pope has and has not changed.

The new instructions for Tribunals sets forth the Pope's vision in the first words, "Mitis Iudex" (official translation Gentle Judge).
With two words, we see clear Pope Francis's understanding of Jesus as Judge and the model for all human judges.

The most well-known appearance of the word mitis is in the Vulgate's translation of the Beatitudes. In the Beatitude, one who is mitis will inherit the earth.  (Mt. 5:5)  St. Matthew uses the same word in the Palm Sunday Gospel describing Jesus as King who will come meek (mitis in Latin, praus in Greek) and riding on an ass." (Mt. 21.5)

Whether one translates it as meek, humble, or gentle, I think we all can get the idea. It is how any of us would like to be judged.  It is justice, tempered with mercy, but more than that it is a manifestation of the boundless love of God.

It is easy when we feel we are the victim to confuse justice and vengeance.  It is why a victim should never be the judge.

May every judge at every level, particularly those who are Christians look to this model, the model of the one true Judge, Jesus Christ.

Who are you?

In todays brief reading from Ephesians 2:19-22, St. Paul tells us who we are and who we are not.

As members of the body of Christ,  we are no longer what we were.

What were we ?

xenoi-foreigner, strangers. It's the word from which we get xenophobia, the fear of foreigners. Because of original sin we all possess a sense of alienation, aloneness, isolation.

Secondly, we are not paraoikoi
  oikos- is home. Para-near by, as in paramedic or paralegal.

Close but not quite home. Paraoikos- is often translated sojourner, a person who is never quite a home.

This is the ordinary human condition. But St. Paul tells us that if we live as people of faith we are no longer wandering foreigners.

What are we? 

We are first of all sympolitis. sym- same politis-citizen. We are fellow-citizens. Fellow citizens with whom?  We are fellow citizens with the Saints.  We call it the communion of Saints in the Creed.

So first of all we go from being foreigners to fellow-citizens.

Lastly St. Paul tell us that we are oikeoi- members of the household, family, relatives.
We are no longer paraoikoi (the ones not quite at home). We are oikeoi, those people who live in the same home. Whose household are we part of? God's.

We go from being wanderers to people who are at home in the household of God.

In our baptism we are transformed from wandering homeless foreigners into full citizens and members of God's family.

That is our true identity. We may not always feel it, and through sin we can distance ourselves from the family.  But we can always be reconciled, because our baptism leaves us forever changed. In the Catholic Church we call it the indelible character of the sacrament. It can never really be undone.

In this life there will always be times when our feelings lead us astray, when we feel isolated and alone. In those moments, we should recall this lesson that St. Paul gave to the Christians in Ephesus. Remember who we really are.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hope for clarification

Now that the Synod has ended, we wait. If Pope Francis follows the usual process in a few months we will see a Post-Synodal Exhortation.  Contrary to the histrionics we witnessed during the synod, it appears clear that the Pope is not going to make any change to the teaching of the Church regarding marriage or divorce. The one thing I would hope for is a clarification on the existing law.

Contrary to popular belief the law does not presently say that those who are divorced and remarried cannot receive communion, nor does it specifically address gay marriage. The canon is written in much broader language.

Can.  915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

The words in bold are where the remarried fall. On one level it seems simple enough.
Is there sin?
Is it grave (as opposed to venial)?
Is it manifest (as opposed to occult/not publicly known)?
Are they preserving in the sin?

Those all seem clear enough and one can see how living in an irregular union of any kind would fulfill these conditions.

The word that is less clear is obstinately, "obstinate" for those who want the Latin. St. John Paul II did not accidentally include the word. If it is in the canon it must add to the meaning of the law.

Oxford defines as obstinate "refusing to change one’s opinion or chosen course of action, despite attempts to persuade one to do so."

Suppose you have a case of a couple who have been in their irregular marriage for 40 years, and all the would be witnesses are deceased. The one who was previously married has tried and been unable to prove the invalidity of the marriage.

Or even more common a Catholic man in his 20's away from the Church marries a non-Catholic woman who was previously married. They have several children. Now a father,  he wishes to return to the practice of the faith. She ,not he, refuses to go through the process. She's not Catholic and thinks it is ridiculous.

In either of these cases is the person wishing to receive communion obstinately persisting?

Certainly there are those who obstinately persist. They know what the Church teaches and simply choose to ignore it or take the attitude that they know better. But there are many other cases in which you would be hard pressed to prove obstinacy.

Some like Lewis Carroll's Humpty-Dumpty argue that words have no fixed meaning, and so in this case obstinately doesn't really mean obstinately. It merely means on-going. But then what does persevering mean?

The current Code of Canon Law went through many drafts before St. John Paul II approved the final version. Words matter.

Perhaps one thing we can look forward to from Pope Francis is a clarification on this seemingly small but important detail in the law. Perhaps there was more wisdom in what St. John Paul II wrote than even those around him at the time knew.

As Pope Francis said in his closing address to the Synod the Church is for the poor in spirit and sinners seeking forgiveness not only the just and the saints.

Begging God

One of the changes in the new tranlastion of the Missal that caused some upset was the return to translating rogare as "to beg" instead of the 70's version "to ask." Many people could not seem to reconcile the idea of us having to beg a God who is all loving.

The begging makes sense if we remember that we pray to the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. It is a familial relationship. Our baptism makes us the adopted sons and daughters of God. Now think back on your childhood. Didn't we all beg our parents at some point. When we really, really, really wanted something, we could beg like crazy. I can certainly remember myself

Please, please, please please,pleeeeeeeeese....

Yes in prayer we are called to be beggars. But we are not the begger on the street with his hand out, calling to strangers. We are the child begging their loving parent. We beg because we want from the bottom of our hearts. And if we don't get what we want, we may get angry and pout, but deep down inside we know that when the answer is not the one we want, it's still what's best for us.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Following the Synod

The sad truth is that most of the time the Synods of the Church come and go with little notice by most of the world, including most Catholics. More often than not, after the Synod, the Pope will issue some sort of Post-Synodal Exhortation which will be read by theologians, seminarians, and some priests.

There will certainly be media coverage of the event, this being a synod called by Pope Francis, but more than likely they will only be looking for the sensational or cotroversial. Over these next three weeks as the Synod progresses I hope to underscore some of the themes the Holy Father hopes to address with his brother bishops. I will tend to quote the Pope from the Spanish versions of the text because that is the language in which he thinks.

In the homily for the opening mass yesterday, he began with a reflection on a fundamental human experience identified in Adam in the reading of the Day from Genesis, which he called (la drama de la soleded) "the drama of loneliness". He sees a paradox in our modern society. The more globalized we become, the more technologically advanced we are, the more means of communication we have, the more isolated we are. And  the more "advanced" the society, the worse the problem.  He calls us to pay attention to a variety of groups of abandoned persons from the elderly to those who have been abandoned by their spouses, to the youth in a culture of (usar y tirar) "use and throw away."

He calls us to take time to reflect on the paradox that we have "so much power accompanied by so much loneliness and vulnerability."

As Americans we can tend to see everything through the lens of our current political debates. But the Holy Father reminds us that this synod begins with the most fundamental truth about all human beings, that we are created to be in relationship, to love and be loved. He reminds us that it is about all those people who feel alone, and asking the question how we as a Church can better respond to that experience. The first step of course is to open our eyes to see it, to see them, the people right around us who are experiencing loneliness in all of its many forms.

Today let us pray for the lonely, but more than simply pray let us reach out and be the instrument of God's love for them. In most cases we won't have to reach very far.