Friday, February 15, 2008

Overcoming fear

The crazy thing about fear is that it's often based on exaggeration. We make our fears even more serious than they ever need to be.

I was afraid of celebrating mass in Latin. I took some Latin in school and did alright with the language. I studied classical latin and sang church latin. I learned how to think it with Nero and learned how to pronounce it with Thomas. A group of students wanted to have a Vatican II mass in Latin. They had been learning the mass parts chanted in Latin and wanted to use what they learned. I was leery because I'm not the best "pronouncer" ever. But, I wanted to give it a shot.

Thankfully, I didn't let my fear get in the way. We celebrated it this afternoon and, to a group of young people who never experienced what some call the horrors of the pre-Vatican II liturgy, they spoke the parts in Latin that they have only said in English for years. It was awesome. I was terrified a few times because I'm sure I mangled the Latin and need to practice more but it was just nice to say "Dominus Vobiscum" and hear a resounding "Et cum spiritum tuo."

I think, if we do it again, we'd have to give them a crash course on some of the stuff that we take for granted. Like, Pax tibi instead of peace be with you for the kiss of peace. But, there was no question we were praying, even if part of the prayer was me saying, "God help me say this and understand it even if I don't say it exactly correct."

Monday, February 11, 2008

A short and good message from Alaska

Bishop Donald Kettler of the diocese of Fairbanks has a great lenten message with some great simple suggestions. You can read it here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fasting from our disobedience

As I listened to today’s first readings, at first I was tempted to ask: What is it about that darn apple that makes Eve and Adam want it so badly? In other words, why eat from the tree of knowledge when there are so many other trees to eat from. What was wrong with the pear tree or the grapevine that day? Were our first parents just tired of them after eating the same thing every day. But, I don’t think this story is about the diet of our original parents. It’s about their original sin. It’s about cowardice and selfishness in its purest form. It’s about disobedience.
And yet, we may see in this story a kind of relief as well. I mean, the one who is truly at fault is God in all of this. While he gave them a simple rule, he never explained to them why. Despite creating them in the image and likeness of himself, God expected that they not eat from that one tree. I mean, come on. Let’s face it. When we are told not to do something, isn’t that the first thing we want to do. When dad bakes a dozen cookies and leaves them out to cool, if he just says that we shouldn’t eat them and then leaves, how many will be left when he comes back? Ten? Eight? Two? But if dad tells us that he baked them for the church’s bake sale, we might be more cautious about eating them. Now we understand why we shouldn’t eat them. That was, basically, what God didn’t tell Adam Eve. He made them free, giving them the freedom to choose everything but then told them not to do this one thing and then he left. So, the real one at fault is not poor Eve who gets tricked by the erpent. Not poor stupid Adam who seems to do whatever Eve tells him to do. God is at fault for this. If he made them free, he needs to at least tell them why they aren’t allowed to eat from that tree.
And yet, maybe they just weren’t ready to understand the why. Maybe they should have been more satisfied with knowing what the rule was instead of needing to know why the rule existed. Maybe their minds just weren’t ready to understand what it meant to live in a state of original innocence. Contemporary theologians don’t even understand what this life would be like. Just try to imagine living in a world without sin, a world where the mere concept of disobedience has never been invented. It’s easier for us to imagine a world without cars or a world without knowing about the America’s. And even if we think we can understand the concept of the innocent life of our first parents, we’ll never be able to experience it, to live it. How could these hunter/gatherers ever understand that, by keeping them from that tree, he wasn’t depriving them of equality with himself, he was feeing them from the worries and uncertainties of living antagonistically towards himself.
And still, “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” They built up the wall of separation between God and humanity and began pushing us farther and farther away from our original creation in innocence when God walked with us. We were alone and lonely. And that, in part, was why God needed to send his Son to be our savior. Just as human beings moved us away from God so a Godly human could be the only one to move us back. Jesus, in the gospel, fully enters into the human experience of loneliness by entering into the desert and fasting for 40 days. And, in one of the most understated lines of scripture, after Jesus comes out of the desert, he was hungry. His loneliness and emptiness is, then, tested by the devil. He asks him three questions in which Jesus is encouraged to use his power to take control. At one point, the devil even quotes sacred scripture in an attempt to trip up the Lord, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” None of this fools our Lord who keeps his eyes focused on his heavenly father, in the good and the bad, through temptation and suffering, all is “thy will be done”. Thy will be done!
We are in this desert of Lent for forty days and forty nights with our Lord. One of the more difficult things to understand is fasting, the kind of fasting Christ was able to do and understand that our first parents were not able to do. It is, in fact, one of the defining characteristics of Lent, fasting. There can be a loneliness that goes along with it. If you are fasting from meat while all of your coworkers order a sausage pizza on Friday, you know what I mean. Or, on days like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday where our church asks us to fast by only eating one regular sized meal and two small meals that wouldn’t equal the larger one, we may miss the community associated with dinner-time. I believe this loneliness, caused by the sin of our first parents, is often what causes us to give in to temptation and break our fast early. Yet, our Lord gives us the true spiritual value of fasting: that not even basic needs like nutrition, hydration, and oxygenation are more important than God. In God alone is our soul at rest. Our help comes from him.