Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Marking a Wonderful Milestone

While personal and professional obligations have kept me from blogging over the last couple of weeks, I hope to get back on track soon.  I could not, however, let the day pass without honoring a most significant date in Church history.

On this date, 25 January 1959, 53 years ago, Blessed Pope John XXIII announced his intention to convoke the Ecumenical (General) Council which would come to be known as the Second Vatican Council.  You can read an excellent take on this event HERE.  What is interesting, and quite disturbing, however, are some of the negative responses about the Council found in the comboxes following the article!  As someone who lived through and studied the Council ever since, I find the misconceptions and downright disinformation about the Council that exists "out there" to be most appalling.

Most scholars of the 21 ecumenical councils recognized by the Catholic Church agree that it takes many decades, perhaps 100 years or so, for a Council to be "received" substantively.  If that's accurate, we're only about half-way there!

Keep the Council alive!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

"But I can't see Jesus": A Reflection on the Epiphany

For nearly the last time this Christmas season: Merry Christmas!

Today, of course, is the great celebration of the Epiphany.  The Greek word means "manifestation" or "showing"; in the Eastern part of the Church, the feast is called the Theophany,which means "manifestation of God."  Unfortunately, we often find our communities focusing their attention on "the Three Kings" and miss the larger vision behind it.  Certainly, the story of the magi coming to give homage to the Christ is the heart of the Gospel, but the fact behind the magi is that God has manifested Himself to the entire world in the child Christ.  This was brought home to me this morning at the first Mass of the day by one of the most astute of our parishioners: a little girl sitting with her family.

This morning, our nativity scene near the front of the church was completed with the addition of the figures of the three kings.  After the Opening Collect, as we were all sitting down for the first reading, this brilliant child turned to her mother and said, in a clear voice, "But I can't see Jesus!" Exactly!  The Epiphany is about seeing God in Jesus.

Two things were brought home to me through our young parishioner.

First, what do I/we have to do to help her see God in Jesus?  What would we do, in practical terms?  We could, for example, lift her up so she can "see" better.  What can I do to "see" the Christ better?  Just as I might have to "stretch" to "see better", how must I stretch myself spiritually to see the Christ?  How can I help others to stretch themselves?  At the same time, what is obstructing the view?  How might I be able to remove those obstructions?  It's all about seeing God in Jesus.

Second, God wants to be a part of lives.  God comes to us and is visible to us.  The truly remarkable thing is that the all-powerful, all-loving God could come to us in any number of ways.  God chose to come to us in the most vulnerable way imaginable: as a human child.  Just we find ourselves drawn to this child, we should be finding ourselves drawn to God-With-Us ("Emmanuel" = "God with us").

Finally, we can see this spelled out in the Profession of Faith, the Creed.  Nearly everyone realizes that the English word "creed" comes from the Latin word "credo": "I believe."  However, not as many people know that the word credo itself comes from two other Latin words: cor (heart) and do (I give).  Literally, when we pray the Creed at Mass, we are saying, "I give my heart to Almighty God. . . , I give my heart to Jesus Christ. . . , I give my heart to the Holy Spirit. . . ."  Think of when we might use that expression in our daily lives: it's focus is on the relationship involved.  The Creed, therefore, is not some list of theological propositions that we treat as some kind of "Christian check list".  It is, rather, a cry from the heart about the relationship we put at the heart of who we are: our relationship with God.

"I can't see Jesus": Let's do all we can to remove the obstacles to our relationship with God, to stretch ourselves, and to help others do the same!

Monday, January 2, 2012

"Only a deacon": A New Year's Reflection on the Role of the Deacon

In a couple of months I will celebrate 22 years of service as a deacon.  The photo at left was taken during the Mass of ordination, with Cardinal James Hickey of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC as principal celebrant, Fr. Jack Smith who was my pastor at the time and Fr. Tom Henseler, a friend of mine for many years, as concelebrants (Fr. Tom Kalita was also a concelebrant, but he's not visible in the photo).  Even though this photo is from the Concluding Doxology of that Mass, with me elevating the chalice next to Cardinal Hickey, it brings back so many wonderful memories of that day and of the entire ordination ceremony.

One of the parts of that ceremony includes the bishop asking  a series of questions of the candidate, so that he is assured that the candidate is free, ready and willing to assume the responsibilities of the order to which he is to be ordained.  In conjunction with that, I've been thinking about the number of times over those years that I've heard the expression "only a deacon."

-- "Since you're only a deacon, what can't you do that Father does?"
-- "Oh, he can't do that -- he's only a deacon."
-- [sometimes even deacons get it wrong]: "Oh, I'm not a leader; I'm only a deacon"!

Some years ago a friend pointed me to a wonderful homily preached at the ordination of deacons.  This ordination was within the Episcopalian Church, and the bishop-homilist was Bishop John W. Howe of Central Florida.   Just as within the Catholic Church, the bishop was about to ask his ordinands a series of questions.  Here's what the bishop had to say:

“In a few minutes I’m going to ask the ordinands this question: “Do you believe you are truly called by God and his Church to the life and work of a deacon?”
This isn't one of the questions we get asked in the Catholic Church, but it's a good one!  The bishop went on in his homily to describe the work of those first two men traditionally associated with being deacons: St. Stephen (the protomartyr) and St. Philip, who's stories are found in Acts 6-8.  St. Stephen, of course, is described as a powerful preacher and witness of Jesus Christ, who ultimately is martyred for his strong preaching.  St. Philip is described as being filled with the Holy Spirit (like Stephen) and being led by the Spirit to various place to catechize.  In particular we find Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch, explaining the scriptures to him and, at the official's request, baptizing him before being led by the Spirit someplace else.  The bishop continues:
So: in the stories of these two men, Stephen and Philip, I suggest we have the beginning, at least, of the job description of a deacon.  A deacon is to be: a person of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, full of grace and power, with a servant’s heart, available to God for menial tasks, or to confront the authorities, speaking truth to power.  A deacon is to be a channel for signs, wonders, healings and even exorcisms; an evangelist, a student of scripture, obedient to the promptings of the Spirit, willing to minister to the one or the many; blind to color, race, or station, courageous in witness, and faithful unto death.
 If your answer to my question is “Yes,” I don’t ever want to hear any of you say 'I’m only a deacon.'

So, having just celebrated the feast of St. Stephen last week, all of us -- and in particular, deacons -- can take a good lesson from the bishop's homily.  And don't let me ever hear any of you say, "I'm only a deacon"!

Merry Christmas!