Friday, March 03, 2006

fasting...when all you can thing about are meatballs

Fridays during Lent are times of fasting from meat for Catholics. I hear varying reports as to the history of this practice. One person said that a certain pope, while walking "undercover" by the ports of Rome, discovered that the fisher people were the poorest and decided to implement something to help them. Others said that this is actually a theological statement about the earlierst believers being fishermen...and fishers of men. I don't know.

I find that the majority of time during the early stages of Lent, I preach about how this is not supposed to be a time to lose weight or remind yourself of how good fish is supposed to be. Lent is supposed to be a time of sharing in the cross of Christ. I think it's funny that we have exchanged the cross of Christ for Richard Simmons.

New motto: Don't just lose weight. Lose Hell.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Russia tried to kill John Paul the Great

And so it goes.

The Soviet Union is dead.

The Church is still alive and growing...and not killing people who try to kill her leader.

As Muslims murder, rage, and hate because of cartoons, Christians will continue to do the work of God...the work of peace.

And liberals will claim the real problem in the world is religion.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ashes and Fire

If you are from Ryan or Manchester and this kind of sounds familiar, it's because it's a slightly reworked homily that I did when I was with you all. All that work wasn't for naught.

The most difficult thing that we Catholics have to deal with on this day is the fact that we read the gospel and then seem to do exactly the opposite of what it tells us to do. In case you didn't catch it, it said, "When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your father, who sees what is hidden, will repay you." So the point is that, as far as the world is concerned, there would be no change in the followers of Christ when they fast. We aren't supposed to draw attention to ourselves like the hypocrites, which, biblically, refers to actors on stage. Actors seek to get people's sympathy and attention through their actions. We seek only to love and worship our God.

So why do we spread ashes on our forehead as we begin this season of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, an act that is very visible, especially in our clean obsessed society? Is it just another case of the Catholic Church being hypocritical? Hardly! And I'll tell you why I think this fits entirely into the Spirit of this gospel. I'd like to suggest that the ashes that are spread on our foreheads are more personal than they are for show. We spread ashes on our foreheads to remind ourselves of just how important this season of Lent is for our own salvation.

Nonetheless, why use ashes? Why not just go to the inner room of our house and make a firm committment? In pondering that I asked myself one question: What are ashes? Aren't they the remnants of a fire, what's left over? In that context, then, there is a multiplicity of symbolic messages that are connected to this practice. First of all, it connects us to our forbearers in prayer, the saints. Many of them were subjected to fire as a part of their torture and even more went through the fire of temptation to leave the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church in order to save their lives. These martyrs suffered much pain for the cross of Christ to have the reward of eternal life, sometimes to the point of shedding blood. These witnesses to the faith were willing to give all they could in service to Christ. We, in turn, must reach out to the least among us by giving of ourselves just as Christ gave himself to us on the Cross. This season, after all, culminates in the Triduum, those sacred three days when we remember the central mystery of our faith, the death and resurrection of the messiah.

Yet, fire also connects us to the Holy Spirit, whose tongues of fire came to rest on the apostles at Pentecost, the celebration that brings an end to Easter. It was at Pentecost that God made the church the only vehicle of salvation for the world. We see, therefore, the beginning of a giant circle in this celebration. We both begin and end in fire, the refining fire of the Holy Spirit that first drew us from the darkness of sin to the light of Baptismal grace and then, each year, pulls us deeper and deeper into the mystery that is the church. Our only responsibility, our only way of participating in this divine sacrament, then, is to pray, to fast, and to give alms. Yet, in doing these three actions, we are really saying to God that we are giving over our entire life to him. We truly aren't hypocritically telling the world anything by the ashes on our forehead. We are telling our God and ourselves that we are ready to go through fire to be with him. We are telling our God of our willingness to turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Being sick

I have the flu and should be at home. I don't really have anything to contribute other than the fact that this sickness allowed me to complete Weigel's book on John Paul II.

I'm done.

I've been reading it slowly since last July...since I got to Ames.

It's a fascinating book and I learned a lot about the great pope but there was one or two things that disturbed me a little.

Toward the end, the papal biographer seemed to be speaking as though he were already dead. He was listing the things that were left undone. But, unless if I'm wrong, he was writing five full years before John Paul's death. And, at points, the author seemed to allow his political biases (with regard to global warming, for instance) interfere with his reporting on his subject.

But, in terms of a book that clarifies this man's fascinating life, it takes pains to ensure that the more thorough answer is offered.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

fasting and feasting with the bridegroom

There is a persistent Biblical inaccuracy that I like to dispel. It says that the God of the Old Testament is a mean, vengeful, God of wrath while the God of the New Testament is kind benevolent, and nice. I like to dispel this inaccuracy for three reasons. First, the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. There is but one God. Secondly, it can lead to a kind of anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism in which the Jews had a mean God and then Jesus came to show us God’s love. But, another just as important thing is that it ignores those times when Jesus gets angry at people, like when he went into the Temple and turned over the money changers tables. It disregards the times Jesus got frustrated with Pharisees, lawyers, or even his own disciples, at one point saying to the prince of Apostles, Peter, “get behind me Satan”. It also ignores the number of times the Old Testament talks about the tender relationship that God has with his people, Israel.

One such instance of the tenderness of God in the Old Testament is from our first reading from the book of Hosea. This three-movement reading shows the compassion God has for his people using some very shocking phrases. First, it says that God will take his people back into the desert. The desert is a place of fasting – of removing the complications of life that tend to interfere with our relationship to God. Yet, the desert is also a place of feasting, feasting on the unique relationship God has with his chosen ones. It was through the desert that God led his people from slavery in Egypt to a new life in their Holy Land. In taking his people to the desert, God wants to renew the relationship he first made with them there.

The second movement in this reading says that Israel must respond. God is not like the false gods of the nations that surrounded his people. He isn’t going to interfere in their lives and take away their free will. He is neither Baal nor Zeus. Israel will respond like she did when she was young.

Which leads us to the third movement, that God will espouse her, she will become his spouse. In the second chapter of Genesis, it says that marriage involves a partnership. This engagement, then, is surprising because it acknowledges a partnership on the part of God to his people. This means that the Israelites are expected to live by the statutes and decrees God has given to them and that God will always care for them. In a sense, it is an exclusive relationship that God had between himself and our elder brothers and sisters in the faith, the Jewish people.

Thank goodness, therefore, that the gospel widens things. In a debate on fasting and feasting, Jesus identifies himself as the bridegroom, thus revealing his divine person to those who were paying attention, and he acknowledges that something new is happening. The new movement, his followers, will still have times of feasting and times of fasting but they will be different than the Pharisees and the disciples of John. Something new is happening here. You can’t just expect that these new followers, new faithful, will do the old practices. The new movement, the church involves an inclusive partnership with God for all people created in God’s image and likeness. As members of this new faithful, we must feast on those things that draw us closer to God – prayer, almsgiving, Eucharist. And we must fast what whatever draws us away from God whatever that may be, maybe Internet, television, alcohol. Above all, we must be honest to decide what it is we need to feast upon and what we need to fast from in order to be partners with God.

As we move closer to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent, we the call of the bridegroom who takes us into the desert to fast and feast. We must respond by deciding when we need to fast from something and when we need to feast on something in order to remain faithful to the God who calls the church to be his bride.