Saturday, June 28, 2008

Words, words, words...


To adhere, you just have to be sincere, to affirm the correspondence; and thus, to be reasonable. Reasonableness means to affirm the correspondence between what you've stumbled upon and yourself and your own heart. To deny this, you'd have to have a preconception. You'd need to be attached to something you want to defend. If you have something to defend in front of the evidence and the truth, you no longer see the evidence... I used a word that works for everything, the word "scandal," which comes from the Greek word scandalon which means "hindrance" -- like a boulder on a mountain that falls in your path: you need to run to town to get a crane, if you can. Scandal is the objection that comes from an interest that is not professed in the name of truth, in search of the truth. • Luigi Giussani, Is It Possible to Live This Way? pages 59-60
One of the biggest boulders in my path to seeing the beauty of Christ in Communion and Liberation was the way in which language was used (or abused) by people in the Movement.

In the beginning, the word that bugged me the most was judgment. I kept hearing people in CL talking about the need to judge everything, and my first thought, after remembering Christ's words: "Judge not, lest ye be judged," was that this use (and overuse, in my opinion, but that's another point) of the word represented faulty translation. Surely, I thought, Fr. Giussani must mean something like discern? Because the word judge also carries within it the sense of the word condemn -- and in fact, I thought I sometimes discerned a tendency to condemn others, their behavior and their beliefs and their very persons, in some of the judgments my CL friends made. The word judgment can also refer to a legal process, and indeed, sometimes my CL friends seemed to approach life with a burden of legalism. Finally, the word judge calls to mind a figure who sits above others, and I also thought I detected a whiff of superiority among those who insisted so strenuously on judging everything. It bothered me so much, and I often thought: if only Fr. Giussani's translators had chosen the word discern instead, so many wouldn't have been led into error!

I also have an allergy to jargon. Here's how Merriam-Webster defines jargon: 1 a: confused unintelligible language b: a strange, outlandish, or barbarous language or dialect c: a hybrid language or dialect simplified in vocabulary and grammar and used for communication between peoples of different speech2: the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group3: obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words. This definition is very helpful because it encapsulates the problem -- certain words are made to stand in for Big Concepts, and the poor little words aren't strong enough to hold them up. Meanwhile, while the person, who is speaking the word, would like it to stand in for a long string of words, that long string might not be the same long string that the listener fills in when he hears the word. It may even be that neither the speaker nor the listener is fully aware of the precise long string of words that spells out the heavy burden of meaning that the poor word is meant to carry. I am speaking about words like Encounter, "I," Experience, Judgment, Freedom, Companionship, Unity, Presence, Reason, Reality, Being, Mystery, Event, Preference, Nothingness, Awareness, Infinite, and Belonging. When Fr. Giussani uses these words, he almost always explains and clarifies them, but sometimes, it seems to me, when his followers use them, they appear to think that no explanation or clarification is necessary. Even a single speaker will use the same word, several times in a conversation, and mean different things each time he uses it! When words are treated this way often enough, it bleeds them of meaning. Even the person speaking may no longer be aware that there is a string of other words behind these words -- the long string of words turns into a cloud of feeling, and the truth that wants to be communicated turns into mush.

The other problem with jargon (besides the degeneration of meaning) is that it tends to foster exclusivity because there are those who have mastered the jargon and those for whom it is unintelligible. Using the jargon is a shortcut to becoming an authority, to being a part of the in crowd.

In my opinion, all of this is actually antithetical to the charism of Fr. Giussani. This is why it is so important for us to avoid ever being lazy or facile with our words. Using our words carefully and with precision, and never using one flashy word to do the work of eight or ten others, is to practice the kind of ascesis that Fr. Giussani calls us to. It also makes it possible to do the important work of mission. Unless we can speak a language that is intelligible to all, we are just trading useless chatter with the in crowd; in other words, we're trading personal comfort for the truth.

A friend of mine, Fred, helped me to see another side to this issue, though. He wrote:
Jargon can be a crutch even in CL, but I'm of several minds about this. I think it's always worthwhile to express one's experience in one's own words - to strain at describing things with rigorous detail. I also thought many things in CL were untrue, people just repeating something they heard - the latest example is this: people saying that Christ showed his face to them through their kids. But then it happened, so now I can't say if someone's just repeating. It may have happened to them too.

The other thing (and I argue this point with Karen) is that as a student of language and history, I know that the words that Fr. Giussani used were not a presumptuous imposition of his notions on reality, but words that more often than not had a different meaning than they do now. They're important words that express the contours of distinctly Christian experience, and we shouldn't give them up to the common mentality. We should fight for them and reclaim them. Like he reminds us in Is it Possible to Live This Way?: a child says "mama" and repeats that word for years and decades until as an adult it has a completely different depth to it. So, perhaps some of this jargon is people baby talking, trying out the words as they look for the experience.

What's interesting is this: so much of what we learn in CL can be reduced to a series of cliches that are printed everywhere we look. What's different for us, I hope, is the recoil. I love this word recoil (like the recoil of a gun). Is this a CL word? There's a seriousness and a depth that goes all the way down. We don't need new words so much as to mean the ones that we use.
I asked Fred for permission to quote what he said to me, and he just granted it, on the condition that I also quote the following passage from Fr. Giussani:
We'll have you repeat words heard as discourse or words spoken as prayer that you don't understand. Not because we're fools and we make you do things that you don't understand. We know that you don't understand them. We didn't understand them either when we were young like you. Yet it's only by repeating them that you understand. What a two-year-old calls "mama" he'll refer to by the same word when he is fifty. That same word, not another word, will be profoundly different, understood more deeply, loved more deeply, judged more deeply ... but still one he has repeated his whole life long. The method we use to go to God is like this. This is how we come to terms with Christ.

This came to mind when I heard "We regard no one from the point of view of the flesh." Do you remember reading this? You mean you don't remember it any longer, you've already forgotten it? "If one is in Christ, he is a new creature." If I were to say to you, "Explain this sentence to me," none of you - except some genius, still unknown - would be able to explain it to me. Would anyone be able to explain it to me?

If you don't know what it means, why repeat it? Because you're told to repeat it! And why are you told to repeat it? Because it's a form of asking... You're asking Christ. You don't understand the formula you use to ask. This will emerge in your experience as it matures over time
(Is it Possible To Live this Way? pages 79-80).
So, okay. People need to repeat certain words that they don't fully understand. I do the same thing, really. I'm fully aware that I don't truly understand mercy, or freedom, or even love. Yet I use (and yes, misuse) them every day. I hope I am nearer the truth than when I first began to use them!

What crane did I use to remove this particular obstacle from my path? Why does it no longer bother me when I feel as if people in the Movement are using jargon? Because Fred's insight, and the passage from Fr. Giussani that he has me quote here, were only recently given to me, but my irritation at the use and misuse of certain precious words has been gone for some time...

There are so many things that are exceedingly precious to to me -- language among them -- but there is something far more precious than all these things. It is the voice of my Beloved asking, "Suzanne, do you love me more than all of these?" It has taken me so long to relinquish the urge to protect and defend what I count as precious. But, unless I do indeed relinquish my sense that it is my duty to save these things, I will lose what is most precious. And then everything else dries up and turns to dust, too. I do love him, more than I love everything, even language. And loving him means viewing the people who speak to me in a completely new light. As Angelo once said, "
My reactions to others are one billionth of what they are." And it is the other 99.99999% of them that interests me now.

I'll never get tired of thinking about mercy

“Mercy Always Explains to Me Everything that Happens”

Notes from Father Giussani’s greetings at the close of the Meeting in Rimini.
August 25, 2001

I wanted to make an appearance at this your and our great meeting, so as to deaden a bit my suffering and melancholy at not being able to attend. What I have seen in these rather burdensome months is that Jesus is truly the Lord of the person who follows Him, my Lord.

St Peter, St John, and St Andrew, two thousand years ago, going home to their wives and families, sometimes would say, “That man there, that person I am following is my Lord.” In the same way, in all these months You have mortified me so that I might make the word “my Jesus,” “my Lord” become ever more true. Because if the Lord were not mine, then He would no longer be anyone’s.

This remembrance has made me go back and think about again, look again at a formula that the children of Fatima have asked of us in our Rosaries. “O my Jesus,” says their prayer, “my Jesus, forgive us our sins.” In other words, those children were aware–to the point that God enlightened them–of the mortal situation in which humanity lies. And all our hopes broken and all our expectations, legitimate and just, but dashed. Man’s earth is an earth of persons who, if they looked at all the days of their lives, should feel crushed by their sins, by the burning of the things they have done during the day. My sins; because sin–as the person who spoke to you a while ago said–sin is not using truly the things that happen, not using them according to the truth of what happens. Now, Christ risen from the dead happens every minute of our lives. There is no emptiness for those who truly understand what God wants from them.

“Forgive us our sins, save us from the fire of hell.” The problem of our lives is that the malice of this sin, of this falsehood, of this grabbing things not in accordance with their nature, are the attitudes thrown into the plethora of commonplaces. The De Profundis expresses it well: who can stand before You, o Lord, who can resist in front of Your face, under the burden of our sins, under the weight of this inability or impossibility of man to make himself worthy to put forth an effort of dignity in the face of God? If You look at man, another Psalm says, there is no moment that can be saved, no man is serene, can be serene, grow serene again.

“Save us from the fire of hell”–in other words, may our lives not be lived according to the sadness that sin brings forth. Sin is the cause of the imprudence or incapacity to be ever more true, more adherent to the nature of the act which God gives us. Because the act comes to us from God, strength comes to us from the Spirit. But if He is not invoked and welcomed, the Spirit cannot give us this strength.

“Save us from the fire of hell, take all souls to heaven, especially those who most need Your mercy.” In this ejaculatory, in this final phrase of every part, every decade of the Rosary, all of Christian reality is fulfilled.

“Save us from the fire of hell, take all souls to heaven, especially those who most need Your mercy.” But who are the souls who most need His mercy? Those who are far away from Christ, who are most painfully and always present to evil. The strain of the Psalms that cry out anguish and entreaty is precisely that of those who have erred; of those who do not love and fear God, do not love God, have not loved God, not feared God.

Mercy is the greatest word that can be said, and while I recite the Rosary, this word–mercy–is always close to me, always explains to me everything that is happening.

I did not want to say these things, but just to say, “Hi, greetings, goodbye!” And instead, when Christ has taken hold a bit of our consciousness and our mind, there is always everything to be said again, there is always everything to be discovered again. I wanted simply to recommend to you the use of an ejaculatory that in these months has done me good.

I greet you all; best wishes to all of you, may your days be filled with right pleasures, right actions, not burdensome ones. Forgive me if I have kept you here so many minutes longer, after everything was over. I shall tell you immediately the ejaculatory prayer that has done me the most good in these months: Veni Sancte Spiritus. Veni per Mariam. Come Holy Spirit, because it is the Spirit who keeps things alive, who gives life to things. Things, in thought and in fact, are organized and brought together in the word Mary. The word Mary represents all this. My wish for you is that you may always say sincerely, “Come Holy Spirit,” because the spirit of the world cannot make you ask this. Veni Sancte Spiritus. Veni per Mariam. I say to you, “Ciao,” with this memory pressing in on me. Ciao! I am not in my best voice, but I hope to get it back.

New personal assistant to the Patriarch of Jerusalem!

My dear friend, Father Vincent Nagle, will begin a new adventure in September. He will be the Patriarch of Jerusalem's personal assistant! I am so happy for him...

This piece is from Rocco Palmo's blog, Whispers in the Loggia:

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Meet the Patriarch

After a 33-month transition, this morning the Pope accepted the resignation of the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Michel Sabbah, clearing the way for the ascent of his coadjutor, Archbishop Fouad Twal, into the post leading the church of 70,000 in the place that's been called the "Fifth Gospel."

Patriarch since 1987, Sabbah -- the first native to hold the historic post, first established in the 11th century -- reached the retirement age of 75 in March. Born in Jordan (also part of the patriarchate, together with Israel and the Palestinian territories), his 67-year old successor rose through the ranks of the Vatican's diplomatic service before serving as bishop of Tunis and being named as Sabbah's successor in waiting in September 2005.

Given his background, the new patriarch -- the 55th holder of the post -- is expected to bring a changed tone to the top post; Sabbah's partiality on behalf of the Palestinian cause made the prelate something of a lightning rod during his tenure.

In an interview to mark his succession, Twal recapped his various tours of duty, and showed a bit of his hand on what to expect from his turn at the helm:
What, Monsignor, will be the place of politics in your mission?

Me, I prefer to act as a bishop. I like to emphasize the pastoral and spiritual aspect of our Patriarchate, our parishes, our parishioners, our religious communities and the pilgrims who come to us. Of course, I cannot forget that everything that touches mankind touches the Church. Politics concern me to the extent that they affect people’s lives, dignity and security.

But I want to pay close attention. We have three or four groups of believers before us. Christians and non-Christians, Jews and Muslims. Among Christians, there are the Jordanian Christians, Palestinian Christians (who are the ones who suffer the most), European Christians who are here to help, work, study or make pilgrimage, and there are also Israeli Christians, Arabs or of Jewish origin. All these groups do not share the same sensibility, including their vision of the conflict. Hence, the difficulty in speaking. Because the bishop is everyone’s bishop, absolutely everyone’s. Either we want our discourse to touch everyone or we favor one group - which is the easiest - or we have as many discourses as groups, which is not possible. But if you want to touch Jews, Muslims, Christians, Jordanians, Palestinians, Cypriots, Europeans all together… then you have to consider every comma.

I am well aware of the complexity of speaking out, whether it is a speech or a sermon.

And how do you see coping with this difficulty?

Spiritually! You might say that that is the easiest, but it is also the role of the Church to attract mankind toward the things above.

But you will be asked for a political message. Journalists aren’t satisfied with the spiritual!

Ah, journalists… When I was the bishop of Tunis, they asked me about Islam. One day I said to them, "I am waiting for someone to ask me about Christ." I am truly waiting for someone to ask me about Christ, the Church, the essence of our Christian life, our presence in the Holy Land. Perhaps I will disappoint journalists in politics, but once again, politics touch us in that they touch mankind. That being so, there is another dimension. And exactly that, everything that we experience, including the difficulties engendered by the conflict, should send us to the Gospel. We should take the Gospel literally. When the Gospel speaks to us of the Cross, of suffering, when we see Jesus fall… and get up again. We should reflect that the disciple is not better treated than the master. And that we follow the path that he followed before us. But when in spite of everything we are moving forward, when in spite of everything we find the strength to live and the joy of living, the joy of preaching, the joy of proclaiming the Gospel, it is not because of the geopolitical conditions that surround us, for by their nature they change: one day they are favorable, the next day unfavorable. No, this joy comes to us from the Gospel. This joy comes to us from the One who tells us: "Fear not, I am with you… I give you my peace, MY peace." His peace, which is interior serenity, which is interior joy, which is joy in living, joy in encounters, joy in accepting others, all others, just as they are, with their limits, with my limits. Our joy is not founded in an improvement of the situation; the reason for our joy is meeting Christ himself in prayer and in meeting others and being in solidarity with them.

If not journalists, there are others who will court you in political territory.

I am inclined to meet everyone, to receive everyone. I have no complexes. I spent, may I remind you, eighteen years in diplomatic life. Those years taught me a few little things… Moreover, they opened my mind, my heart. And my faith, my mind, my heart, my charity, my love do not limit themselves to the borders of the diocese. We must love everyone. All the citizens of the countries covered by the diocese are my citizens. All the residents of the Holy Land are mine, in one sense. Before God, before history, I feel responsible for everyone. And at the same time, I am 100% aware of my limitations. I know that I will never work a miracle, but I want to sow seeds, I want to work with my brother bishops, with the priests, the religious brothers and sisters and the faithful, leaving the results to the good God… as He desires, when He desires. In the present, very complicated situation, it is perhaps better to love more, pray more and speak less, even if this is not the joy of our journalist friends.

You speak of sowing seed… And what seed are you going to sow, Monsignor?

The joy of living! The joy of living as a Christian. The Holy Land is a country that teaches us patience. I told you that when a file comes to the Vatican Secretariat of State marked "Urgent", one always takes as much time as necessary. The Church does not live in urgency; it has all of eternity before it. In the diplomatic service, one is sometimes reproached for having spoken too much or too soon… One is never reproached for having remained silent. It is also true that too much prudence runs the risk of paralysis, and I don’t like that either. We must join prudence with the courage to speak. And know our limitations. Faced with the complexity of the situation, it is necessary to accept, listen to and be acquainted with all points of view. Above all, it is necessary to entrust all of this to the good God in prayer and silence.
In the presence of the grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, Cardinal John P. Foley, Sabbah formally passed the crozier to his successor at a thanksgiving liturgy (homily) tonight in the Basilica at Gethsemani. Twal will be formally enthroned at Jerusalem's Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre tomorrow and make a pilgrimage to the scene of the Nativity at Bethlehem on Wednesday before leaving for Rome to receive his pallium from Pope Benedict at next Sunday's annual conferral to mark the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul.

PHOTOS: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Afternoon in Raccoon State Park






On Saturday, I did something daring, something I have never done before in my life; I organized a hike and a picnic for a large group of people, including some teenagers. It is hard to explain why this small job seemed so intimidating and gave me so much anxiety. I find it difficult to undertake new tasks. I also wanted the teens to have a beautiful experience. In the end, though, the only beauty we get to experience is what we ourselves see.

First, it was very difficult for us to find the head of the trail we had chosen. On the map, it seemed so clear and simple! But we spent almost 45 minutes driving the perimeter of the park, never finding the roads that had been indicated on the map. It turned out that the "roads" were really just paths, never intended for automobiles!
These pictures were taken by Sophie, my oldest daughter. The teens did most of the hike in silence, and arrived at the small lake full of smiles. The woods in Pennsylvania are very lush at this time of year, but with all the rain that we've had all spring, they were especially so.

The creeks that we passed reminded me of the creek that runs along the back of my parents' property. As a kid, I spent so many hours playing in the water, imagining myself the protagonist in great adventures.

We ate our picnic on the beach (I hadn't forgotten anything!), but then the minute we opened our songbooks, the rain began!

We can give all sorts of things to others. But to give something that we didn't know we had in the first place is a gift, first of all, to ourselves.

To spend an afternoon dwarfed under the green canopy, accompanied by the song of water and the footsteps of companions ahead and behind us on the path, must be one of life's greatest pleasures.

I can see!!


I finally went to get my new prescription for bifocals filled last week, and was able to pick up my new pair of eyeglasses this evening. It's so amazing to be able to see so many things so clearly -- and when I want to read something, I don't have to hunt down my reading lenses!

Lars and the Real Girl

The search for true love begins outside the box.

I love this movie! It's my new favorite. I don't want to spoil anything, so I won't discuss the plot, only what this film caused me to think about and feel.

Life is only possible with mercy, and when we're called upon to be merciful, it's never in a way we could have anticipated or prepared for. How many of my own quirks, foibles, and delusions other people "play along with" and never feel the need to "correct" or "remedy"? How much patience is needed to accommodate my difficult habits? And to what extent am I willing to break out of my own preconceptions about how to respond to others' "abnormal" behavior? What does mercy look like in real life, in real time?
In a structurally dependent being, as is the human person, freedom always begins specifically as acceptance. The more one knows how to accept, the more active one becomes.
Christ would draw the comparison between the vine and the branches -- the only life that feeds many lives. We can apply this comparison to every true community: the life that keeps everyone together is the power of my freedom that opens itself and gives itself to others.
The greatness of human freedom is such that it will not rest if not in a community of all, a "catholic" community.
From Luigi Giussani, The Journey to Truth is an Experience

Monday, June 23, 2008

Gestures

Originally posted at Cahiers Péguy:

Gestures

Gesture of Epiclesis

I want to add a little bit to this discussion by making reference to what I've learned through my work as a catechist in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. What I discovered is that gestures play a particular and powerful role during the liturgy. Beginning at age 3, we discuss with the children what a gesture is -- a movement with meaning. Then we begin to examine the role of gestures in prayer -- they are a way to pray, not just with our speech or silence, but with our whole bodies.

1. Usually the first gesture we present to the children is the Sign of the Cross -- then we reflect on what this gesture could mean. What are we saying with our bodies when we make this prayer? Whose sign is this? When we place it over our bodies, what are we saying, what are we asking for? Usually, after this kind of meditation, the children are able to discern and even articulate: it means that we belong to Jesus, we are his, our whole selves, even our bodies; we are safe.

2. Often the second gesture we demonstrate for the smallest children (ages 3-5) is the gesture of Epiclesis. We even give them this name, which they treasure, as secret knowledge. We slowly demonstrate the moment when the priest brings his hands down over the bread and wine of Eucharist. What could this mean? What is the priest asking for? I will sometimes demonstrate the gesture over the open hands of one of the children and then ask, "if there were something in my hands, what would happen to it? Oh, it would go into your hands? So, what is happening when the priest brings his hands down like this during the Mass? He is asking for a gift? From whom? Who is up high? Who is down low? What sort of gift is he asking for? What sort of power? Sometimes the kids will even say "the Holy Spirit" before we examine the words that go with the gesture! But then when we get to the words of the prayer, it becomes clear -- the priest is asking the Father (and who is the Father?) to send the Holy Spirit (who is that? Many remember his role in the birth of Jesus from reading the account of the Annunciation, the Visitation and the Presentation in the Temple) to do something...to "transform" or change...what? The bread and wine -- so they become...? The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Lord. As a result of experiencing this presentation, and having the opportunity to prayerfully practice the gesture as many times as they like, in freedom, the children will then look for this moment during the Mass. So many times during the Mass one of my daughters would begin frantically tapping me on the shoulder, pointing toward the altar, saying, "He's doing it! He's doing it!" and then, almost unconsciously, they would bring their hands down in the air in concert with the priest. Talk about full and active participation!

3) We present the gesture of Offering in the same manner, as a companion to the gesture of Epiclesis -- what is our response to the gift that God gives us? When someone gives us a gift, what do we want to do? First we enjoy it (the children always point out!), then we want to say thank you, then we want to give something back...and to such a gift that we receive from God (the Holy Spirit who changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd), what do we wish to give? The children always say, "Everything!" What is really on the paten? What is really in the chalice? They will shout "Jesus!" and then they will add, "...and us," because they remember about the small drop of water in the chalice...

4) The preparation of the chalice -- one of the most moving Eucharistic prayer gestures for the children, which adults often skip over -- the wine represents Jesus, God, and the water represents us -- and so what happens when the water is added to the wine? One little boy answered, "It means God and me, we're real close." Why so little water and so much wine? "Because we're so small and he's soooo great!" [read the prayer that accompanies this gesture: "Through the mystery of the mingling of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity." It merits many, many hours of rich reflection. It sums up our whole hope in coming to the Eucharist.

5) The three powerful gestures of Baptism -- the small cross, made with the thumb, on the person's forehead, the imposition of the priest's hand over the water of Baptism (they get that immediately, if they've had the opportunity to meditate on the Epiclesis already), and the large cross, "in the shape of a shield!" that the priest makes in the air, over the person...

6) The gesture of Peace -- we all get this one -- but what are we praying, with our whole selves, when we make this gesture? Where does this peace come from? Why do we make this gesture just before Communion?

Those are the main gestures for Level 1 (ages 3-6). As the children grow older, we return to them and deepen our meditations, and we add more gestures -- the gesture of Absolution during the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Triple Cross, and then the rest of the gestures during the Mass (kissing the altar, etc.) and the gestures of Confirmation. One of the kids' favorites is when the bishops blow over the chrism during the Chrism Mass...

After all these years as a catechist in this method, when I hear the word "gesture," I immediately think of the word, "prayer" -- and not just any old prayer, but a prayer we make with both body and heart, with our whole selves.

In this way, then, if I may translate, Fred is asking, "What should be our prayer to bring about unity among us?" If I may be so bold, I would say that our prayer should be, "Father, send your Holy Spirit to transform these gifts, so that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ." It is interesting to note (but maybe pushing the connection beyond what it can bear), that when we blog, we must also impose our hands...

In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd we don't (yet) have any presentation for the Sacrament of Ordination, so when I went to my first ordination (which happened to be for Prior Peter, at Daily Bread), I was completely stunned, and reduced to tears, when I saw the bishop anoint Brother Peter's hands with chrism (I hadn't know about it!). I thought of all that a priest's hands must do -- of course, to be able to complete the gesture of Epiclesis or of Absolution, his hands must be sacramentally prepared! Then I thought also of all the loving gestures a priest makes -- to shake hands, to comfort, to bring food. It was so beautiful! But then, as I was crying over that beauty (quietly, discreetly), another prayer gesture followed that reduced me to sobs -- each of brother Peter's fellow monks, beginning with the Prior, kissed the palm of each of his hands. I will never forget that beautiful prayer of love and dedication to Christ and his work, through our hands, among us.

These are the sorts of gestures that will bring our work to fruition.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Dancer's Life

ah... Gelsey Kirkland. At the mention of her name, almost anyone who knows anything about dance looks up. Indisputably one of the best American dancers of the twentieth century, she embodied Balanchine's ideal body type and dancer. Born December 29, 1952, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, she decided to become a dancer after watching a performance of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. Such was her determination and skill, that she joined New York City Ballet at the invitation of Balanchine at the age of fifteen, in 1968. She was quickly promoted to soloist in 1969, then principal in 1972 (for those of you doing the math, yes, she was only eighteen when promoted to principal). Many of the leads in twentieth-century ballet masterpieces were created for her, including Balanchine's 'The Firebird,' Robbins' 'Goldberg Variations,' and Tudor's 'Leaves are Fading.' She then joined American Ballet Theater at the invitation of Mikhail Baryshnikov. There, she became known to Americans everywhere when she starred as Clara in Baryshnikov's 1977 televised choreography of 'The Nutcracker.' She retired from ABT in 1984, only to come back to dancing in 1986. But her life was not all glorious dancing and supreme artistry. She battled eating disorders and drug addictions for most of her career, something she talks about extensively in her 1986 autobiography, 'Dancing on My Grave.' Later, in 1990, she published a continuation of this, 'The Shape of Love, The Story of Dancing on My Grave Continues.' Currently, she lives in Australia, where she coaches young dancers. It is so interesting how such a wonderful dancer, with such expression and clarity of movement could have such demons plaguing her. Clicking on the title will bring you to a youtube video of Kirkland in Coppelia. This video shows her at her best. The steps are not truly hard to do; but it is the way she does them that shows her artistry. For more on Kirkland, visit, http://www.the-ballet.com/kirkland.php

posted by Sophie Lewis

Friday, June 20, 2008

Where the Mass begins and where it begins again...

wheat seeds

vines


In honor of the Eucharistic Congress, taking place in Canada right now:

When does any given celebration of the Eucharist begin? I trace the first two moments (while they don't happen simultaneously, they are both original) to that instant when a wheat seed in placed in the ground, and also to the moment that a vine is first cultivated for its fruit. During the liturgy, we refer to the the origin of the bread we offer: "which earth has given and human hands have made." The wine is characterized as "fruit of the vine and work of human hands." I don't think we can skip over these prayers. The Mass makes no sense if we are not conscious of the fact that even before the bread and wine are consecrated and transformed, they represent ALL that the earth has produced (all plant and animal life, including our own bodies and the life that animates them) and ALL work that we do. What we bring to the altar represents us and all that surrounds us -- all that springs from the land, as well as our being and our work, inseparably united in the bread and wine of sacrifice. Just as the sacrifices offered in Jewish worship represent the people who bring them to the altar, the bread and wine that we bring represents our lives that we offer totally to God. That is why the basket with our monetary offerings ordinarily goes up to the altars alongside the other gifts -- to bring this idea home to those of us who earned that money through our work. So what is on the paten? What is in the cruet? Us -- every hiccup, twitch, or yawn; the hours we spend in labor, the hours we spend in leisure or sleeping; our freckles, our diseased or healthy hearts, lungs, digestive tracts -- because, whether you're reading Genesis 2:7 or the fossil record, the fact is that our bodies are literally the "fruit of the earth" -- every atom of matter that constitutes us was once part of the soil and debris that was literally part of this rock we moved about on. We are dust, moist dust or mud, if you like, but that's what we are. Our life, our ability to work, comes from the breath of God.

Okay, why belabor this point? Because, when the bread and wine of offering is transformed, we are the ones being lifted up, being altered. And for what purpose? Christ, his Body and Blood, belong to eternity. First of all, when we send our selves to the altar, we are asking God to transform them into Christ, who resides in eternity. This point is essential for understanding what happens. In eternity, the salvific acts of Christ -- his passion, death, Resurrection, ascension, and his sending of the Holy Spirit -- are events that are present. Only through Christ, the Eternal One, can we enter into and participate fully in his death on the cross at Calvary some 2000 years ago, his experience in the tomb, his walking about on the earth in his resurrected and glorified body, his ascension into heaven, his gift of the Holy Spirit. As bread and wine, transformed into Christ's Body and Blood, we ourselves are nailed to the cross, sealed in the tomb in the garden, ascend into heaven (!), and give the gift of the Spirit to humanity. This is not simply "what we believe;" it's a simple fact. Through the consecration of the host, we are able to taste Parousia, because in what appears to be a mere scrap of bread, Christ is "all in all;" moreover, when I say "we," I mean (the Church means) everyone who has ever eaten or will ever eat the flesh of the Son of Man. All the saints, going back to the first one and extending until the end of time. So, I meet my daughter Stella in the Eucharist!

Again, what is the point? "Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are yours, almighty Father, forever and ever..." The whole point is so that we can offer "all glory and honor" to God, "forever and ever." Offering ourselves, asking to be transformed, to enter into eternity, to participate in Christ's acts of power -- none of these things is an end in itself. We don't do these things as a form of self-improvement. Whether we are worthy or not is not the issue (in fact we know we're not worthy, and we say so quite freely!). The meaning of the word Eucharist is "gratitude, or thanksgiving" ("Eucharist". The word is derived from Greek "εὐχαριστία" (transliterated as "eucharistia"), which means thankfulness, gratitude, giving of thanks.[6] The Didache[7] already applies this term to the Christian rite). The ONLY end is to offer, with a spirit of gratitude, all glory and honor to God. God has asked us, invited us, commanded us, to do "this" in memory of Christ. Through Christ, who is our bridge to the divine (which we could never reach on our own), we have found the perfect and living sacrifice to offer -- ourselves transformed into the mystical Body of Christ.
And when does the celebration of any given Mass end? A more fitting question would be when does it really begin anew? When we go out into the world bearing (and being!) the living seed of the Word of God, to plant it in the hearts of all we meet, and when we live the awareness that we are new shoots, grafted onto the True Vine.

I am the vine and you are the branches...remain in my love...If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit...apart from me you can do nothing...

The True Vine

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The relationship between reality and Christ

I was really struck, during the Spiritual Exercises, when Fr. Carron told us what Fr. Giussani said on his deathbed: "Reality has never betrayed me."

I keep returning to it and pondering it. Then today, in School of Community, we read these words:

Faith is recognizing that God made flesh is present in the world, in the history of the world. (Is It Possible to Live This Way? page 54)
All of reality is saturated with the presence of Christ.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Parents, do something!

From First Things [I promise I'll blog on something original, soon]:

The War on Abstinence

By Ryan T. Anderson

Wednesday, June 18, 2008, 6:03 AM

The Los Angeles Unified School District doesn’t want Karen Kropf talking to its students. District leaders fear that what she says isn’t “balanced” and that she’s not a certified “expert” in the field. Really, though, they just don’t like her message about teenage sexual self-control and the limited protection of condoms. That, and they’re worried about what the ACLU might say, especially given California’s law against “abstinence-only” education.

Investigating Kropf’s situation, I was startled to discover an alarming trend that has gone unreported: The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have teamed up in an aggressive campaign over the past several years—a campaign to pressure states to eliminate abstinence education and to reject federal funding for these programs. And though their work hasn’t drawn much attention, it has been remarkably successful. A year ago, only four states refused federal abstinence-education funding. Today the number is seventeen. The goal is to get enough states to refuse the federal abstinence-education funding to the point where the ACLU and Planned Parenthood can convince Congress to eliminate such funding entirely.

All this is happening, by the way, as fresh reports arrive almost every month about the benefits of teen abstinence and the effectiveness of abstinence programs.

But first, back to Karen Kropf. For ten years now, she has been speaking at local schools and community centers. When she was invited to speak at an L.A. public school, she was always brought in as a supplement to the official comprehensive sex-ed programs. Planned Parenthood frequently provides the official version, so you can imagine why teachers were eager to invite Kropf.

Kropf would share her story of how she became pregnant at eighteen and had an abortion. Of how the child she aborted would be her only chance, her multiple Chlamydia infections having eventually left her infertile. Her husband would come to the classes as well, warning the students that he had contracted genital herpes despite consistent condom use.

By telling these stories, Kropf brought the statistics about condom failure to life. But her message was more than a scare tactic or a command to “Just Say No.” She would clear away the common rationalizations that teenagers use when they begin to feel the pressure to become sexually active.

More important, she would paint an appealing picture of what the alternative could look like—sexual self-control, resilience against passing temptations, better avenues of communication, a wider range of interests, and, ultimately, the ability to make a complete gift of self to another in marriage. As Kropf told me that she would tell the students, for her husband and her, this all “led to the only gift we had to give when we married, . . . proof that we could be faithful.” It’s a message that students respond to.

Scott Cooper, a teacher at James Monroe High School, where Kropf spoke, first heard her nine years ago. He told me that, “in my twelve years of being involved in educating high-school students, Karen Kropf’s presentation is the most effective abstinence presentation I have seen. Students listen, students are shocked, students are moved by the emotional pain Karen has felt, and students respond. Every time I have seen Karen present in a classroom (at least twenty-five times now), easily 80 percent of both male and female students choose to accept Karen’s charge that they are worth waiting for.” He was so impressed by her presentation, that he joined her board of directors a year ago.

Kropf doesn’t ask for any compensation for her programs. Relying on community support, she charges schools nothing and has never received government funding. Still, some were not happy with her message—though notably not the teachers who invited her, the students who appreciated her, or the parents who wanted their kids to wait until marriage (80 percent of American parents, according to a 2007 Zogby study).

But in 2006, with the ACLU attacking abstinence programs, the Los Angeles school district told Kropf that although she had been invited by teachers to public schools for eight years, she had to stop speaking until she wrote a curriculum and received approval.

She complied and submitted a curriculum. And this past December, the district notified her that she was not qualified to share her experience because she lacked a degree in the field—and, perhaps more decisively, she didn’t promote condom use and birth control. It appears that the district was afraid of violating a California law that prohibits abstinence-only education. The California Department of Education reports that state law “prohibits ‘abstinence-only’ education, in which information about preventing pregnancy and STDs is limited to instruction on abstinence from sexual activity.”

Of course, the school district had someone else coming in to teach about contraception—couldn’t Kropf continue as a supplement? No, because all “classes that provide instruction on human development and sexuality . . . shall include medically accurate, up-to-date information about all FDA-approved methods for: 1) reducing the risk of contracting STDs, and 2) preventing pregnancy.” Even a supplementary speaker to a “comprehensive program” must be comprehensive, as California understands the term.

That California prohibits abstinence education is no surprise. Back in 1996, when the Clinton administration introduced federal funding for abstinence education as part of the Welfare Reform Act, California was the only state to refuse the money. In 2004, California Congressman Henry Waxman released a report claiming that abstinence programs were ineffective and that they provided medically and scientifically inaccurate information. Waxman now leads the charge in Congress to remove abstinence funds from the federal budget and has followed his report with a series of congressional hearings.

To give you a sense of just how lopsided last month’s hearing was, consider this: During the questioning of four health experts who testified against abstinence education, Rep. Virginia Foxx asked if they would oppose abstinence education even if scientific evidence showed that it was more effective than comprehensive sex ed. Three of the four experts testified that they would still oppose it.

And yet few people seem aware of the coordinated effort to achieve all this that the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have undertaken (working in conjunction with such local groups as Advocates for Youth and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States). In this year’s Planned Parenthood annual report, the group boasts success in getting governors to reject federal funding for abstinence: “The tide is shifting in America, and last year 10 governors refused” federal funding. On their website, you’ll find hyperlinks where you can “help Planned Parenthood bring vital information about birth control and responsible decision making to the classroom” and “tell your elected representatives it’s time to end dangerous abstinence-only programs and to stand up for real sex education!”

The motivations for the campaign are probably legion. Planned Parenthood and their allies stand to make millions of dollars: The federal funding that goes to abstinence education is funding that they would like to be receiving. But the financial interests are secondary. The war on abstinence is the latest battleground in the culture wars. Arguing that it is “one of the religious right’s greatest challenges to the nation’s sexual health,” Planned Parenthood insists that abstinence is “only one tactic in a broader, more long-term strategy” in the conservative arsenal. And Planned Parenthood sees itself as the great opponent to this supposed assault on sexual freedom.

It’s not alone in the fight. Federally funded comprehensive sex-ed is, apparently, a civil liberty, and the ACLU wants to make sure that every teenager receives it. The group’s website urges visitors: “Stop the Abstinence-Only Charade! Federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are ineffective, medically inaccurate, and some may even use taxpayer dollars to promote religion. The ACLU is calling for an end to federal funding.”

To advance this end, it has established a national campaign—“Take Issue, Take Charge”—to lobby at the state level. The current one is similar to another ACLU campaign—“Not in My State”—launched in 2005. That one targeted eighteen states to get them to reject the federal funds. Today, seventeen states already have: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Valerie Huber, the executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, knows what is going on here. When I spoke with her, she summarized the lay of the land: “Narrow special interest groups are pushing their ideological agenda at the expense of our youth. They are targeting states and local communities in opposition of abstinence education and working to replace it with explicit sex education programs.”

And yet most people don’t realize what’s at stake in rejecting abstinence education. Huber puts the alternative in stark terms: Comprehensive sex ed would be better called contraceptive sex ed, she insists. “After making the obligatory statement that ‘abstinence is the only way to avoid pregnancy and STDs,’ they typically spend the rest of their time instructing teens on how to engage in high-risk behaviors that will not result in pregnancy, but can have other serious consequences, including the acquisition of lifelong STDs. Comprehensive sex ed makes the dangerous allegation that using a condom makes sex safe. At best, this is misleading; at worst, it is dangerous to the health of youth.” In their discussion of abstinence, one prominent comprehensive program has students come up with various sexual activities they could engage in while still being abstinent. The suggested activities include: “cuddling with no clothes on,” “masturbating with a partner,” “rubbing bodies together,” and “touching a partner’s genitals.” Not surprisingly, the curriculum quickly turns to “the endless possibilities of outercourse” and “making the transition from sexual abstinence.”

While the collusion of Planned Parenthood and the ACLU has gone unreported, some attention has been paid to the fact that a growing number of states are refusing federal monies. Usually, this has been reported as if it were uncoordinated, a mere happenstance that all these states have independently decided to reject abstinence funds. When the Washington Post reported on the trend, it cited the comments of the groups leading the charge as if they were observers, not partisans, in the battle.

A spokesman from Advocates for Youth expressed hope that “this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of continued funding of these programs. How can they ignore so many states slapping a return-to-sender label on this funding?” Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Sexuality Information and Education Council argued that “this wave of states rejecting the money is a bellwether. It’s a canary in the coal mine of what’s to come. We hope that it sends a message to the politicians in Washington that this program needs to change, and states need to be able to craft a program that is the best fit for their young people and that is not a dictated by Washington ideologues.” And this from a Planned Parenthood representative: “This abstinence-only program is just not getting the job done. This is an ideologically based program that doesn’t have any support in science.”

But is abstinence education really just antiscientific ideology? Or are those pushing condoms and mutual masturbation really the ones driven by an ideological agenda, all the while ignoring what the best social science is telling us about teenage sex?

When I spoke with University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox (affiliated, as I am, with the Witherspoon Institute), he drew a different picture: “The social science strongly suggests that abstinence is ideal for the physical, social, and psychological welfare of teens—especially girls. So the question is how can public policy best advance this ideal. It’s true that many older studies suggested that abstinence education wasn’t working. But there is a learning curve for any new public-policy initiative, and the newest studies give us some hope that a number of abstinence programs are succeeding in getting American teens to abstain from sex.”

Comprehensive sex-ed classes typically address pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but consider some of the data. We know that when contraception is used “consistently and correctly,” it can be remarkably effective—only 0.3 percent of women using the pill and 2 percent of women relying on condoms become pregnant during the first year of a sexual relationship. Most teens, however, don’t use contraception consistently and correctly—and it has proven difficult for comprehensive sex-ed programs to eradicate teenage laziness, forgetfulness, lack of discipline, and poor judgment in the heat of the moment. Studies show that only 28 percent of females and 47 percent of males use condoms consistently—as Wilcox notes in A Scientific Review of Abstinence and Abstinence Programs, his report for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This might account for what scholars call the “typical use” of contraception. So, for instance, we know from the National Survey of Family Growth that 11.8 percent of sexually active women who use contraception nevertheless become pregnant within a year. The rates are even higher among teens: 14.6 percent of non-cohabiting and 30.6 percent of cohabiting teens become pregnant during their first year of contraceptive use.

In 2005 there were 420,000 America girls under the age of twenty who gave birth, 83 percent outside marriage. Meanwhile, the Alan Guttmacher Institute reports that there were 214,750 abortions among fifteen- to nineteen-year-olds in 2002. Even if the unborn children are spared the abortionist’s scalpel, they will be brought into the world at great disadvantage, as social scientists repeatedly report that children do better on every measurable standard when they are born and reared within marriage.

There is good news: During the past fifteen years, teenage pregnancy rates have dropped dramatically, down 50 percent for ten- to fourteen-year-olds and down 35 percent for fifteen- to nineteen-year-olds. This reduction can be attributed to less sexual activity and more contraception. Research by Columbia University public-health professor John Santelli shows that an increase in teenage sexual abstinence can account for 23 to 53 percent of the recent decline in teenage pregnancy.

If typical contraceptive use can result in a high rate of pregnancy, it isn’t surprising that it can also result in a high rate of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The most recent reports from the Center for Disease Control claim that more than half of sexually active Americans will contract an STI by age twenty-five (though some have challenged the report). The contraceptive pill does nothing to prevent STIs, and condoms do little to prevent diseases spread by genital skin contact, such as human papilloma virus, herpes, and chancroid. The impact of STIs is gendered, with young girls taking the brunt of the burden because their cervixes are not fully developed.

Sadly, many will contract an STI but not realize it until years later. One study, for instance, estimated that 80 percent of women may be infected with one of the strands of the human papilloma virus—but most don’t know about it and won’t know about it until later in life when they are infertile or have cervical cancer.

Some will argue that the answer is more access to condoms, more contraceptive pills, more immunization for STIs. Teenage sex can be safe, they say, if only teens are empowered with the right gear. Yet clearing the typical-use hurdle seems difficult. And, even so, that only accounts for pregnancy and disease. Wilcox’s study brings into question the very concept of “safe sex”: Teenage sex, according to the data, brings about a host of negative consequences for happiness, family life both with the parents now and with a spouse in the future, and academic achievement—to say nothing of increased rates of crime, drug use, and depression.

Just as the damage of sexual activity applies especially to young women, so the benefits of abstinence appear most salient for young women. Consider depression: Only 4.5 percent of teenage girls who abstain from sex and drugs suffer depression, compared to 15 percent of girls having sex and 25.5 percent of girls having sex and using drugs. Meanwhile, a study of twelve- to sixteen-year-olds found that sexually active girls were 6.3 times more likely to have attempted suicide. Wilcox estimates that “increases in premarital sex among adolescents may help account for increases in the adolescent suicide rate from the 1960s to 1990,” while “recent declines in sexual activity may be linked to declines in adolescent suicide rate since 1990.”

Males, too, reap benefits from abstinence but largely in the form of avoiding crime, delinquency, poor performance at school, and alcohol and drug abuse. As a team of researchers writing in Social Psychology Quarterly note, “premarital coitus may have far-reaching negative consequences for a white male’s future well-being.” Wilcox proposes that “teenage sex is associated with entry into a peer-centered rather than a parent-centered social milieu, where teens are more likely to take their normative cues from sexual partners and from sexually active peers.” As a result, they tend to “shift their time and activities away from adult-monitored domains and toward peer-centered domains, which increases opportunities for delinquency and substance abuse.”

Given the evidence of the benefits to teen abstinence, one would think that these seventeen states would be readily accepting federal funds. They argue, however, that even if all of this evidence is correct, abstinence education doesn’t work.

Here again, the data aren’t on their side. Wilcox notes that programs such as True Love Waits have “increased rates of virginity among adolescents, and they have also reduced the onset of teenage sex, the number of sexual partners, and sexual infidelity among adolescents.” There is also evidence that these programs have “played an important role in driving down the teenage pregnancy rate in the last decade or so.”

Of course, such teenage pledges are often not kept, but they nonetheless have real benefits. “While it is true that most adolescents who take a pledge to remain virgins ultimately end up having sex before marriage, such pledges do have real value,” Wilcox notes in A Scientific Review of Abstinence and Abstinence Programs. “Pledgers have fewer sexual partners, they are more likely to abstain from sex before marriage, and they have markedly lower levels of non-marital pregnancy, compared to adolescents who do not take the pledge.”

Meanwhile, in a report released just last month, Christine C. Kim and Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation reviewed twenty-one studies of abstinence education. They found that of the fifteen that examined abstinence programs, eleven reported positive findings, and of the six that examined virginity pledges, five reported positive results. When I asked Kim about the Heritage report, she said: “Of these fifteen studies, eleven reported positive findings, such as delayed sexual initiation and reduced levels of early sexual activity, among youths who have received abstinence education. When considering abstinence education programs, policymakers should consider all of the available empirical evidence.”

These reports are encouraging, but truth be told the data is still sparse. Sex-education programs are simply too new for social scientists to draw any hard conclusions. It’s true that the first abstinence programs weren’t very effective. But the programmers have refined their methods, and the newest programs seem to be working.

At the least, it is simply wrong to say we have conclusive evidence that abstinence programs do not work. So why is the government spending twelve times as much on comprehensive sex education as on abstinence education? And why have seventeen states rejected federal abstinence funds?

Debates about sexual education are complicated by competing visions of the role of the state and public education. Many, no doubt, would prefer that state-run schools simply not address a question of such moral importance as sexual education and leave the topic to families. Still, even an education system terrified of moral education must confront what the scientific data show—that teenage sex has a host of negative effects on the individual, social, and societal levels that no contraceptive pill or latex barrier can fully prevent.

Advocates such as Valerie Huber have taken the data to heart, and just last week they launched a campaign, Parents for Truth, to counter Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. The best evidence may be what has happened to James Monroe High School now that Karen Kropf isn’t allowed to present. In previous years, back when she was talking to the students, the school averaged ten to twenty student pregnancies, Scott Cooper told me. “Over the last school year,” he added, “Monroe has had nearly fifty student pregnancies.” These teens are the causalities of Planned Parenthood and the ACLU’s war on abstinence.

Ryan T. Anderson is an assistant editor at First Things. A Phillips Foundation fellow, he is the assistant director of the Program in Bioethics at the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, New Jersey.

References

The ACLU on sex ed
The ACLU anti-abstinence campaign: “Take Issue, Take Charge”
Planned Parenthood on sex ed
More from Planned Parenthood

Positively Waiting—Karen Kropf’s abstinence education website
National Abstinence Education Association—Valerie Huber’s organization
Abstinence Ed campaign: “Parents for Truth”

A Scientific Review of Abstinence and Abstinence Programs, by W. Bradford Wilcox
Abstinence Education: Assessing the Evidence, by Christine Kim and Robert E. Rector

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Succint

Cardinal Josef Tomko, at the opening of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress (held in Quebec), copied from Zenit:

QUEBEC CITY, JUNE 16, 2008 (Zenit.org).- If Catholics really understood the meaning of Sunday Mass, they wouldn't miss it, Cardinal Josef Tomko said at the opening of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress.

Cardinal Tomko, the Pope's special envoy for the event, presided Sunday at the opening mass of the weeklong congress in Quebec. He will also preside at the closing Mass on June 22, during which Benedict XVI will address the participants live via satellite.

Some 11,000 pilgrims, 50 cardinals and more than 100 bishops have gathered for the inaugural Mass of the congress titled, "The Eucharist, the Gift of God for the Life of the World."

"The Eucharist is a gift of God," said Cardinal Tomko. "Not as an object, as the other gifts of God, but a very special one, because the gift of God himself.

"The Eucharist is Christ himself, a Person with his divine and human nature, given to us. It is the body and blood of the Risen Christ present with us under the sacramental signs of the bread and wine."

Life of the world

The cardinal explained: "Before leaving this world, Jesus wanted to leave to his Church and to the whole humanity the gift of his Presence. He has chosen the form of the bread and wine. Since the beginning of his public life, in Capernaum, he has promised the bread of life: 'The bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.'

"On the eve of his passion, in the Cenacle he took the bread and solemnly declared: 'This is my body given up for you.' And he said over the wine: 'Drink from it, all of you, this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.'

"He has accomplished only a few hours in advance of and in a bloodless, sacramental manner, the sacrifice offered in bloody way on the Cross at Calvary. Jesus therefore instituted the Eucharist as his redemptive sacrifice. The Eucharist is a sacramental form of the sacrifice of Jesus on cross, Cenacle and Calvary are just one sacrifice 'for the life of the world.'"

"This sacrifice happened only once," added the papal legate, "but Jesus wanted to apply and to perpetuate it through the centuries. Therefore he gave a commandment to his apostles: 'Do this in memory of me.'

"It is a memorial and a command: not only to remember him with speeches and words, but to do what he has done."

2,000 Years

"From that time," said Cardinal Tomko, "the priests of his Church accomplish this sublime command doing the same action and pronouncing the same words. Through 2,000 years the same words of Jesus consecrating the bread and wine resounds."

"In each celebration of the Mass," he said, "Jesus Christ himself is present with us in the situation of sacrifice as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of our world, of our community, our sins."

"It is not a show, not a pure commemoration or remembrance," he stressed, "it is sacramental representation of this salvific event, a persevering memorial bringing its fruits to the faithful."

The cardinal added, "If we understand in depth the meaning of our weekly Eucharist, we will revise our frequentation to it. It will become clear for us why the martyrs of Abitine in Northern Africa declared to the pagan judge: 'We cannot live without the (Sunday) Eucharist' -- "Sine Dominico non possumus vivere" -- and why they offered their lives for this conviction."

Invitation

Originally posted at Cahiers Péguy:

To set life before another

Several months ago, I called Chris Bacich to ask him how to maintain unity with someone else when the other person didn't want it. I had already read the passage in The Journey to Truth Is an Experience:
One thing best demonstrates how much the community affirms the freedom of the person: it is realized even if others do not acknowledge me, even if they refuse me. If I want them, if I accept them nonetheless, then there is a more conscious, vigorous and thus ever truer communion with them. For this reason, no sign of personal greatness is more sublime than forgiveness. Freedom seizes in love even one who hates; not even the most dogged enemy can elude my love, and thus my freedom seizes him and dominates him much more deeply than he can violate and conquer me.
"Forgive them Father": abandoned by everyone, Christ created the universal community. (page 26)
In fact I read it and reread it, and I ask for the grace to live it every day.
But what I wanted to know from Chris was if this "invisible" unity was "good enough" given the circumstances (which had to do with the way the Movement is organized). I wanted to know what my responsibility was and whether there was anything I could or should do in this situation. He told me that this person and I, Fr. Carron and I, Fr. Giussani and I, he and I, we were all one thing. By virtue of our Baptism, we were already one thing. There is nothing that we can do to "make" unity or to enhance it. The only question is whether we are aware of this unity that already exists. How do we live this awareness? How does this awareness shape our lives?

This answer is so satisfying on so many levels. It is a terrible burden to imagine that unity depends on us or to imagine that we have the power to injure it. Along with this burden comes the idea, conscious or unconscious, that we are responsible for another person's response (for example: If I say x the wrong way, the other might be offended, and that could potentially destroy our unity). Pretty soon, this "unity" becomes an idol, to which we sacrifice our humanity, our zest, our freedom.

Our unity already exists. As I recognize this reality more deeply, I begin to see more, understand more, appreciate more, and enjoy life more. Not simply in those cases where there is a problem -- when it is necessary to forgive, or "to tolerate difference" -- but in everything that happens, if I give priority to this unity and if I love it more than I love myself or the particular people for whom I have affection, strange and impossible things begin to happen. I see miracles every day!

It seems morally repugnant or contrary to everything we understand and hold to be true to say one ought to love something, a "concept" or an "abstraction," more than one loves one's children or spouse. But unity is not a concept or an abstraction -- both of which are the sorts of things human beings invent. Unity is a Person, the Body of Christ, actually present in the flesh, here and now. Christ fulfills his promise to stay with us, until the end of the age, through our unity (which is made concrete and visible through the one bread that is broken and shared among us). And unity thus transcends any preference we may have -- it is the great leveler. The love and forgiveness that exist between spouses is a sign of the unity that binds us all.

To live an awareness of this original unity requires several steps along a path. The first step is to become convinced (to conquer decisively, to overcome totally) that this unity exists; only then will we begin to see it and recognize it, which is the second step; then the third step is to follow it wherever it leads.

What does following unity entail? I will give an example: back in March, Fred posted a question here, concerning the news that the Landless Workers of São Paulo had given their movement over to Communion and Liberation. Fred wanted to know why we should consider this event a breakthrough. When I read his question, I was, as usual, busy with many things. To try to focus my already cramped and cluttered thoughts on things that were happening in Brazil seemed like work that would take me from more immediate concerns, and I quickly decided to let better minds tackle his question. But then he wrote to me personally and asked me to respond. I didn't know why he did (he told me later it was because of my experience of homelessness -- not in the sense of having no house to live in, but because the majority of my life has been spent in temporary housing), but because of this personal invitation, I knew immediately that I would take a serious stab at his question. Why did I disregard the invitation when it was made generally, to the group; and why did everything change with the one personal invitation? I'm not sure, but John 10 comes to mind: "The good shepherd calls his own by name, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice..." Ordinarily, I feel "called by name" when an appeal is made concerning a subject that interests me deeply, when I recognize the "voice" within whatever is calling me. But there exists something even more attractive than the topics that interest me, and that is friendship. It is the highest expression of unity ("I call you friends..."). I recognized that gesture of friendship, and I knew with deep certainty, that I would follow it.

Well! Following Fred's invitation opened up a great adventure for me! When the invitation came (that is, when I made my decision to follow it with seriousness), I could not imagine where following would take me. You could say that I was conducting an "experiment," as when the disciples cast their nets on the other side of the boat. I placed myself in Someone else's hands to undertake a project that was not my own and that would (or might not) yield results that were impossible for me to anticipate or determine in advance. In this particular case, the Someone else to whom I entrusted myself bore the face of unity. We may not be called, ever, to give our lives to the point of dying for unity, but we are called every day to give our work, which makes up the texture of our daily lives, to unity. And this is how we witness (are martyrs -- O.E., from L.L., from Gk. martyr, earlier martys {gen. martyros} in Christian use "martyr," lit. "witness," probably related to mermera "care, trouble," from mermairein "be anxious or thoughtful," from PIE *(s)mrtu- {cf. Skt. smarati "remember," L. memor "mindful;" see memory}.) to unity: by living (with intensity!) this particular sacrifice.

Now I recognize that Fred's original invitation (before he appealed to me personally) was to the same adventure, exactly the same one; but in the first case, I was too distracted to recognize the invitation. The greatest knowledge that I gained from my adventure in Brazil, was the recognition that any invitations posted here are for my life. Because of that particular adventure, I could see the unity that helped me become "convinced that the commitment I have to my blogging companionship is just as important as the commitment I make to my School of Community. Each is a commitment to Christ, alive and active and incarnate in my life" (my statement that struck Sharon). Before reaching this conviction, I was (I'll admit it freely!) intimidated by the discussions posted here (thus letting "better minds tackle the questions"). Once I saw this unity at work, though, I stopped comparing myself (even stopped being able to compare myself) and began following.

Thus, Fred's personal invitation became a "come and see" moment for me. I've typed all this text, just to say that it seems to me that the only gesture, in my experience, that will help us to build companionship (besides: "Come Holy Spirit, Come through Mary," the gesture par excellence) is invitation.

Here's one last etymology: INVITATION: c.1445, from L. invitationem (nom. invitatio) "invitation," from invitatus, pp. of invitare "invite, treat, entertain," originally "be pleasant toward," from in- "toward," second element obscure, one suggestion is a lost word *vitus "pleasant." Meaning "the spoken or written form in which a person is invited" is from 1615.

Now, I'm only an amateur at this, but it seems to me that the word "vitus" looks a little like "vita" -- life. So, I would like to propose the following definition for the word "invitation": to set life before another. What do you think?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Responsibility


Over on Cahiers Péguy, Sharon posted a question about blogging that has generated several interesting responses. Most of all, I have been thinking about responsibility. To whom and to what am I responsible?

God, obviously! In fact, everything I do or say is a response to God, whether I am aware of this fact or not. I don't remember how old I was when it occurred to me that if God sees everything I do and hears everything I say, then prayer cannot be contained between the parentheses of "Dear God..." and "...Amen." Folding our hands is not like picking up a telephone; when we say, "Amen," the line doesn't go dead. What I say to my children, I am saying in the presence of the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. What I do or don't do happens under the watchful gaze of the one who counts all the hairs on my head.

What does it mean to respond to God? Unlike Samuel, I don't hear any disembodied voice, calling my name. Unlike Mary, I have not received any strange greetings from the angel Gabriel. God summons me with the voices of my children, my husband, my friends and neighbors, and even with the voices of strangers I meet. Everyone he places in my path bears his face.

What is my responsibility, in light of this awareness? First, I must discern what God is saying or asking. What he requires of me doesn't match up neatly with the requests and demands that those around me are making. In many cases, a "no" to the person in front of me constitutes a "yes" to God -- and sometimes it's cruel to be kind.

So, the regular responsibilities that I have in front of me come from many places -- many of them are things that I've said yes to, and now I need to follow through. Other things are spoken or unspoken expectations -- some of which I ought to question, or even neglect.

Do I have a responsibility to this blog? Only to the extent that it requires certain of my capabilities that I don't or can't exercise while carrying out any of my ordinary duties; in other words, I have a moral responsibility to use the gifts I've been given or risk burying them in the ground.

In fact, an example of an activity that eats up a significant amount of my time and carries no duty, whatsoever, is gardening. How can I justify the time I spend gardening? Anyone who visits our home can see in a moment that the plantings have gone way beyond what is necessary to keep the property maintained and attractive. There is a riot of flowers out there! What's the point? My house (on the inside) is messy and disorganized, I'm using family funds to support this habit, and most importantly, my children have all sorts of interests that don't involve digging in the dirt.

And yet, I learn valuable things from watching a plant start from a seed and develop into something miraculously other. Weeding and pruning resolve inner dilemmas that no amount of talk or thinking can seem to touch. But more important, something inside of me blooms when I spend time with my plants. These benefits spread to all other areas of my life and become an inseparable part of the way I approach my duties -- with greater joy, openness and perhaps even wisdom. Before I began to spend time in the garden, I was a different, poorer person, and this poverty was evident in how I lived all my responses in daily life. By fostering this relationship with botanical life and with beauty, my heart has become richer. Am I not responsible for seeing that my children and the life that I encourage within my house will grow and bloom?

Likewise, time spent with this blog has expanded my horizons, helped to deepen and enliven the questions that accompany me as a parent and a person, and made me happy.

I think that the adage, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy," is a cop out, and most of what parenting entails is sacrifice -- deeper and deeper sacrifice with each passing year. But I also know that sacrifice made without joy is a dead thing that kills whatever it intends to build.

If I look at the blog (and my garden) this way, there is no dichotomy between my responsibility in front of God and my "responsibilities."

And thinking, "Well, if I were a better person, I could take care of all my duties and not need blogging or gardening..." is like insulting God, who gave me this life, this self, these needs. Why did he make me this way if he didn't want me to learn and live in this way?


And for Sofia...

Thanks, Sister Edith!



And another for Don Gius

A wordle for Emily...

another way to see happiness

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."