Virtues and thrones and dominions! Oh my!

January 31, 2012

Sometimes contributor to Whosoever Desires, Paddy Gilger, S.J., is behind a new Jesuit online venture, a new page called The Jesuit Post.  Yours truly has an article on the page, in which readers of Whosever Desires might be interested.  Here’s how it begins:

If you listened carefully to the new edition of the Roman Missal rolled out this Advent, you might remember hearing mention of a strange menagerie of heavenly creatures.

The Advent Prefaces to the Eucharistic Prayer—the part that begins “It is truly right and just” and ends with us all singing “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts”—invoke the songs of Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Dominions, and Powers; other Prefaces throughout the year throw in Virtues and Seraphim for good measure.  But what exactly are all these heavenly gizmos the priest is inviting us to join in acclamation?

It is perhaps best to start by pointing out that in this context, thrones are not chairs sat upon by kings; dominions are not regal estates; and virtues have nothing to do with the established habits of decent human beings.  All of these words refer to types of angels mentioned in Sacred Scripture.

Now I am no expert in either angelology – though I do like saying the word – or Biblical studies, but you don’t have to be a specialist to notice how thoroughly permeated with spiritual beings the world of the Bible is.  We tend to gloss over mention of the heavenly hierarchies these days, not talking about them much because of how foreign the notion of angels is to our own worldview.  And we don’t talk about thrones and dominions because, well, we don’t even know how to talk about them.

To continue, check out The Jesuit Post

Henry IX?

January 24, 2012

The Obama Administration is the most anti-religious and anti-Catholic presidential administration in the history of the Republic.

Last week the Administration released health care regulations which will force Catholic schools and hospitals to provide, free of charge, sterilizations and contraceptives, including some “contraceptives” which induce abortions.  These regulations come on the heels of a Supreme Court decision in which the Administration’s lawyers pushed a line of legal reasoning, which, if followed to its logical conclusions, would have allowed the government to decide whom churches hire and fire, possibly even whom churches ordain.  Fortunately the Court recognized that if the Administration’s argument had prevailed, the First Amendment wouldn’t be worth the faded parchment on which it is written, and rejected it—unanimously.

Toward the beginning of his presidency, President Obama and his subordinates had the tendency to describe nearly every policy they implemented as “historic” or “unprecedented.”  A bit self-congratulatory perhaps, but certain aspects of this presidency no doubt made it worthy of those adjectives.  And now, sadly, President Obama has made history in another way:  no president has ever undermined the First Amendment’s promise of religious liberty in the ways President Barack Obama has.

Right now, the Catholic Church, because of its teachings on the morality of contraception and abortion, is bearing the brunt of the Administration’s assault, but undermining the principles of religious liberty and freedom of conscience threatens the rights of those whose beliefs put them entirely at odds with Catholicism.  If the government can force us to violate our consciences today, what is to protect your conscience when the regime changes?

Read the rest of this entry »

St. Francis Mission on EWTN

January 17, 2012

I am told that astronauts orbiting the earth from space can see the lights of our big cities.  It is probably safe to say that the metropolis of St. Francis, SD, has thus far escaped the notice of NASA’s crews.  But the lights of the world will soon be upon us when St. Francis Mission is featured on EWTN Live this Wednesday, January 18, at 8:00 EST.

The theme of the show is “Bringing the Gospel to the Lakota,” but it would be well worth tuning in even for those who aren’t Lakota and don’t plan on visiting St. Francis, SD (or viewing it from space).  That’s because the question of how evangelization and the inculturation of the Gospel takes place is relevant far beyond the borders of the Rosebud Reservation.  Moreover, I believe both that Lakota Catholics have something unique to contribute to the Church and that the model of mission and ministry we are developing here on Rosebud could serve as a model for evangelization in other contexts as well.

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Homily for Epiphany: Desired of All Nations

January 8, 2012


Isa 60:1-6; Ps Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6, Mt 2:1-12

The Great Solemnity of the Epiphany has so long been associated with the image of “Three Kings” that it’s easy to forget that Matthew nowhere mentions either the number of visitors or their kingly rank.  The number three seems to have been inferred from the three gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh (the Orthodox Church actually has a tradition of 12 visitors).  Likewise, the kingly image seem to arise from the Gospel’s ancient pairing with today’s responsorial psalm: “The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute” (72:10).

Matthew does, however, call the visitors “magi” (μάγοι), which could mean anything from “wiseman” and “sorcerer” to “astrologer” and “astronomer” (these categories were not exactly distinct in the ancient world, since it was only the rise of Christianity that the difference between religion, science, and magic became clear).  Translating the magi into contemporary categories, we might think of them as scientists and philosophers, as the men most respected for wisdom and learning in their age.

Understood in this light, the readings for the Epiphany make an incredibly bold—seemingly arrogant—claim for Christ and His Church.  When he portrays the magi adoring Christ, St. Matthew symbolically portrays all human wisdom finding fulfillment in Him, the “desired of all nations.” Read the rest of this entry »

Karl Josef Cardinal Becker, S.J. (1928- )

January 6, 2012


Whenever the consistory rolls around, I’m always curious to see which scholarly octogenarians receive the red hat honoris causa.  Seeing a Jesuit among the cardinal-designates is always significant, inasmuch as it suggests the sort of theological service the Holy Father hopes for from the Society of Jesus.  This year’s consistory singled out for honorable mention Fr. Karl J. Becker, S.J., emeritus professor of theology at the Gregorian University in Rome.  Since he is unlikely to be a household name even among the churchgoers, I thought I would give a brief theological introduction.

On the matter of theological style, I found the following thumbnail sketch, culled from the editors of his Spanish-language Festschrift, Sentire cum Ecclesia: Homenaje al P. Josef K. Becker, S.J.  According to a reviewer of this volume,

The editors … highlight in the introduction three characteristics of Becker’s theological project, to wit: the importance that history has in his theological expositions (which gives them seriousness and rigor); the fact that he is not a theologian inclined to let himself get carried away by the latest currents of fashion (which leads him to a deep and serene reflection on the themes that that he treats); and his estimation of the Catholic faith as the point of departure for the theological task.  Nevertheless—and the editors underscore this as well—Fr. Becker has not created a school and his students situate themselves within different theological climates, orientations and styles.

One can see the justice of this description in Fr. Becker’s work. Read the rest of this entry »

The Times and the Living God

January 2, 2012


The New York Times recently published one author’s rather positive experience of a five-day silent retreat at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA: “In Pennsylvania, a Quick Shot of Peace, On a Budget”.  I naturally perk up at any sympathetic encounter with Catholicism that makes the Times, especially if it involves a work of the Society of Jesus.  Since such pieces are almost invariably written from the perspective of the slightly bemused “seeker,” moreover, they at least suggest what kind of “first impression” we make.

What seems to have struck Susan Thomas (the article’s author) is actually what she would have been hard-pressed to find in the spas or Ashrams or organic farms that also received honorable mention in the “budget spirituality” section: encouragement to discover the living God.  As is the case with most distressed people who have sufficient sophistication to write for the Times, unremitting introspection and pop psychology seem to be the very air that Susan breathes.  She found, however, a perceptibly different approach recommended at the Jesuit Center.  At the first meeting with the nun who directed her, says the author,

I told her about my stress-related illnesses, which had hospitalized me twice earlier that year; about my sparkly-minded children; about watching my Lear-like father die in front of me; about my divorce, subsequent remarriage and unexpected conception of my son; about my dip into poverty; my husband’s unemployment; my darkest fears; of aloneness.

Bracing herself for psychological platitudes, the author is surprised by her director’s reply: Read the rest of this entry »

Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God: A God Who Has a Name

January 1, 2012


Nm 6:22-27; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21

For the folks at Gesù in Miami …

Jan. 1, the octave day of Christmas, is a bit of a liturgical casserole.  Presently we call it the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  At different points in history, however, New Year’s Day has also marked the feasts of the Circumcision of Christ and of the Holy Name of Jesus.  We still see all three ingredients in the Gospel, for example, which features Mary’s role as mother, Christ’s circumcision, and the giving of the name Jesus.  Surprisingly, however, it’s the theme of the Holy Name that ties together all our readings.  In the reading from the Book of Numbers, for instance, God teaches the priests to call upon His name, saying, “So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, and I will bless them” (Nm 6:27).  In the reading from Galatians we hear that the Holy Spirit empowers us to call God by the name “Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6).  Seeing that our Church is dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus, I’d like to dwell on this theme for a bit.

We’re probably so used to calling God by name that we hardly give it a second thought.  But many religions traditions would find the practice strange.  I’m thinking especially of two groups.  Read the rest of this entry »