instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Crowned King

There is a pious belief that the crown of thorns was pressed down on our Lord's head so forcefully that the thorns punctured His brain. St. Catherine of Siena reported a vision in which she was told the wounds from the crown were mortal and would have eventually killed Jesus.

I neither affirm nor deny that belief. I'll admit it sounds to me more like medieval imagination than First Century history, but I wasn't there, and my own imagination saturates pretty quickly in matters of blood and pain.

It seems to me, though, that, whether or not the crown of thorns would have killed Jesus, it would certainly have killed the belief many had of Jesus as Messiah. Hope may spring eternal, but not from ground sown with the salt of mockery. Oh, the Roman Empire said, is this your king? Sure about that?

The crown of thorns forced a choice on the followers of Jesus. They could abandon their idea of God's kingdom as a kingdom of this world, or they could abandon their idea of Jesus as king of that kingdom.

There would be no last minute rescue, no nursing back to health, no triumphant re-entry into Jerusalem with an army and a crown of gold. Thorns were all the world would ever place on Jesus' head -- and likely more than a circlet placed to lightly prick.

What does the crown of thorns mean? I'd suggest that, for many who were in Jerusalem that day, it was proof that Jesus was no king -- or at best, that He was a failed king. The Apostles who, after His resurrection, asked if He was at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel seem to have been somewhere in the "failed king" territory.

What does the crown of thorns mean to us today? Nothing much, maybe, beyond one more cruelty visited on an innocent man who happened to be God.

I have a pious belief, though, that it is a unique and special glory of Jesus. He came to us as our king, and accepted the only crown we saw fit to give Him. In doing so, He took upon Himself, and incorporated into His salvific passion, the perversion of piety our fallen nature is heir to -- a perversion according to which it hardly matters whether He is our true king, because we treat our true kings the same way we treat the fake ones.

And if, as it seems He does, Jesus still bears the wounds of His passion in His body, then I suppose that would include the wounds of that crown, as a glorious sign that He became king of a most perverse people, in obedience to His Father and out of love for those perverts, so many of whom glorify His wounds further by accepting the mercy they have earned for us.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Joy of Punditry

This is my own little contribution to the attempt by half the people alive who are aware of the Pope's exhortation to explain to the other half what it's all about.

A particularly difficult passage is found in n. 94:
This worldliness can be fuelled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity.
Perhaps a picture will help clarify what Pope Francis is saying about the second way that fuels worldliness:
No need to thank me. It's what I do.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

You know you're a good Catholic if...

... God tells you. Otherwise you're just guessing.

People say, "If liberals think you're too conservative and conservatives think you're too liberal, then you know you're doing something right."

And I think, well, okay, liberals find true Catholic morality too conservative and conservatives find it too liberal, but it doesn't follow that, if they find me similarly irritating, that I know I'm hewing to true Catholic morality. The Saints wouldn't be afraid to face me, but that doesn't make me the Redskins.

If I agreed with conservatives (and yes, for modeling purposes, "conservatives" and "liberals" are monolithic, homogeneous blocs) on some things they disagree with both liberals and the Church on, and I agreed with liberals on some things they disagree with both conservatives and the Church on, then liberals would think I'm too conservative and conservatives would think I'm too liberal -- and they'd both be right.

The people who say "...then you know you're doing something right" understand this, I'm sure. I'm just stating the obvious because -- well, mostly that's just what I do, but also to caution against both complacency and buying into the world's frames of reference.

True Catholic morality isn't "more conservative" or "more liberal" than some other position. It's true. Individual opinions (here I drop the homogeneous bloc model) may fall short of the truth in one way or another, but these modes of failure do not impose a character on the truth.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Keep on Trading!

Today's Gospel reading is St. Luke's record of the Parable of the Talents (though technically, Luke gives us the Parable of the Minas):
"A nobleman went off to a distant country to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return. He called ten of his servants and gave them ten gold coins and told them, "Engage in trade with these until I return."
I've always taken these coins to signify the natural talents and supernatural gifts each of us have. This parable is, after all, the source of the English word "talent." (Well, again, St. Matthew's version is the source. We could, I suppose, use "mina" to mean "an ability that allows someone to do something 1/60th as well as someone with talent," but that might come off as forced.)

In reading the Catena Aurea on this passage, I find that the Fathers generally regarded the coins as the Gospel itself. It's the Gospel that Jesus directly gave His disciples, through His preaching, miracles, and example. We've each been given the same Gospel and the same commission to engage in trade -- a trade that follows supernatural economics, in which we give away what is precious in exchange for what is worthless, and are none the poorer for it.

There's no real contradiction in the two readings, I'd say. The Gospel is the matter we trade in, and our talents and gifts are the means by which we trade it. The more we use our talents and gifts to advance the Gospel, the more fruit our efforts will bear.

What caught my attention reading this parable this morning is that nothing is said of the other seven servants. I was thinking that I'm supposed to see myself as one of these, the result of whose trade has not yet been judged. St. Ambrose offers a different, rather harrowing take on them:
Nothing is said of the other servants, who like wasteful debtors lost all that they had received.
The investment strategy still works out for the new king on this reading. What was ten gold coins is now eighteen. The 80% failure rate of servants is disappointing, but a) that's hardly the king's fault; and b) it's not an altogether implausible empirical percentage. Of the Catholics you know, how many are returning five- and ten-fold to Jesus?

This is not to suggest we can infer a rate of salvation among the baptized from this parable. I think we can, though, infer the need to pray and work to be profitable servants of the Lord, and not -- whether through action (like St. Ambrose's seven) or inaction (like the lazy servant, a figure of those with faith but not works) -- find ourselves with nothing to show for our lives when we come before Him on the Last Day.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gratio ergo bloggo

My results from taking the Catherine of Siena Institute charism self-assessment indicate I might work on discerning whether I have the charisms of knowledge, writing, wisdom, teaching, and encouragement. Which seems to be pretty much the Blogger Sampler Pack.

Well, except for "wisdom," but then it is a self-assessment. Pretty sure a 360-degree assessment would come out differently.

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The marks of love

I, Tom, had [the thought of using] a vision [as a literary device to convey an idea that occurred to me].

I found myself brought before the Just Judge, and I said to Him, "I did my best to love those Your Father and my Father gave me to love."

And He answered me, "Great! Show me."

And I replied, "Um... you mean, like, give an example?"

And He said, "No, show me. Show me the marks your love has left on you. Like these."

And He held out His hands to me.

I stuck my own hands in my pockets and said, "Oh, you mean that kind of love."

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The question of a contemplative

One of the best things I heard at the Called and Gifted workshop I went to this weekend wasn't about charisms. It was the question of a contemplative:
  • How can
  • I
  • be
  • here
  • now?
It's the who, what, where, when, and how that most of us take for granted or never even think about.

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Zeal for Your Word

There was something else I heard when the following was read at Mass yesterday (I don't often go to Mass on Saturday, but I had a thing at the parish to go to):
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me...

Jesus answered [the Jews] said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

... he was speaking about the temple of his Body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.
The implication is that His disciples didn't believe His word when He spoke it, which is certainly consistent with their bafflement in other Gospel passages where He foretells His death and resurrection.

I think one lesson we should draw from this passage is that we ought to be familiar with Scripture and with the words Jesus has spoken. We may not necessarily understand what we read, we for certain won't understand everything the Holy Spirit has to say through the words we read, but the more we know Scripture the more we can come to see how and when -- and therefore come to believe that -- Jesus fulfills it in our own lives.

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Stop making yourself a marketplace

The first two readings for the Feast of St. John Lateran put the story of the Cleansing of the Temple (the Gospel reading) in a different light.

The reading from Ezekiel shows the importance to the world of what flows from the Temple's sanctuary:
Along both banks of the river [flowing from under the threshold of the Temple],
fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit,
for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.
Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.
If these waters are muddied or diverted, the world loses its food and medicine.

And what happens when we put these verses (from 1 Corinthians and from the Gospel According to Saint John) together:
Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.

[Jesus] found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
I mostly see the Cleansing of the Temple mentioned in the context of a justification for righteous anger or in the context of rejecting a gospel of sweetness and light. I don't often see it -- and I certainly don't look for it myself -- mentioned in the context of our own bodies.

If we invite Jesus into our hearts, will He find a marketplace of money-changers and dove-sellers to drive out with a whip of cords? And if He does, will we ask him what sign He can show us for doing this?

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Friday, November 08, 2013

The Holy Spirit called. He wants His gifts back.

After this evening's introductory session of the Called and Gifted Workshop, I settled down (with a Manhattan, thank you very much) to run through the spiritual gifts inventory.

I was told that zeros -- i.e., "Never"s on a scale from "Never" to "Often" -- are good, "discernment" coming from the Latin for "to separate apart" and zeros suggesting that I can separate myself apart from the charism associated with that question. Combine this predisposition to give myself zeros with the facts that a) a lot of the questions begin, "People often tell me..." and b) I don't often listen to what people tell me, and I managed to score a zero (on a scale of 0-15) on the following charisms:
  • Administration
  • Celibacy
  • Craftsmanship
  • Discernment of spirits
  • Giving
  • Healing
  • Hospitality
  • Leadership
  • Mercy
  • Missionary
  • Music
  • Service
  • Voluntary Poverty
That should really speed up the discernment interview.

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Here comes the weekend!

I have a thing at the parish to go to tonight.
As things at the parish go, it's somewhat atypical.

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Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Shield of Faith

Today's RCIA topic was the Trinity. The deacon who led the discussion -- a transitional deacon in the Marians of the Immaculate Conception -- did an excellent job (though he did speak almost the whole of St. Patrick's part in "Saint Patrick's Bad Analogies").

He started with the Scutum Fidei, which he called the "nun model," since most American Catholics who know the model learned it from a nun.


As the discussion went on, I started to think that this is actually quite a useful visual aid -- not just as an arrangement of major Trinitarian predications, but also simply to keep pointing to the vertices of the triangle.

The Father...

The Son....

The Holy Spirit...

Let's be inescapably and explicitly Trinitarian out there.

The Shield of the Trinity is also something of a family tree, which in the fecundity of God's love branches out:


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Saturday, November 02, 2013

Sharing life

In the introduction to his book Faith that Transforms Us: Reflections on the Creed, Cardinal Wuerl writes:
Every single revelation of God can be life changing and transforming when we understand it, live it out, and share it with others. Like God, we are not merely communicating information. We are sharing life.
To repeat:
  1. Understand it.
  2. Live it out.
  3. Share it with others.
 Ideally, these will be in balance.


You might even argue that they necessarily are in balance, that an understanding that far outstrips living isn't a true understanding. In practice, though, I suspect a lot of people wind up imbalanced.

This in itself isn't a disaster, I suppose, if we are part of the Mystical Body of Christ and are working in the one Spirit to perfect each other and bring Jesus to the world. Those who are good at understanding can help those who are good at living to understand, and so forth.

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