Saturday, March 30, 2013

A New Pope

In the post immediately below, I completely forgot to mention my silence on the new Pope.

When I heard Benedict XVI was resigning, I set to one side all the questions raised in the press about having two living popes for the first time in centuries, and wondered why the man who had spent most of his adult life yearning for the Throne of St. Peter would vacate it before the coroner pronounced him dead.  As Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict was neck deep in covering up the world-wide endemic of child rape on the part of priests.  Perhaps the only thing worse for the Roman Catholic Church than thousands of priests around the world convicted of pedophilic rape would be the Supreme Pontiff indicted by a court in one country or another.  Considering that Pope Benedict XVI managed to do what hundreds of years of English occupation failed to do in Ireland - turn the Irish against the Roman Catholic Church - he had to know some prosecutor in one country or another would turn their eyes toward Vatican City.  Best to hightail it to St. John Lateran and spend the rest of his days in prayer that Jesus and Mary take him before a Spanish, Italian, Polish, Irish, Australian, or American court do.

Most folks who pay more attention to these matters than I ever could noted, over and over, that hopes for a different kind of papacy from Benedict's successor should be held in check.  After all, the College of Cardinals is filled with men appointed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Those folks didn't get their little red caps by rocking boats, particularly with Joey Ratz (as one FB friend refers to the retired Pontiff) in charge.

The conclave elected a 76-year-old.  My first thought was, "Place-holder".  My second thought, when I heard he was a Jesuit, was "Conspiracy theorists will love this."  Before there was JFK's assassination and Roswell and Area 51, the Society of Jesus was always a target for rampant speculation about its plans to convert the non-Catholic world.  My third thought, upon hearing Jorge Bergoglio was from Argentina was two word: "Dirty War".  And at first, there was not so much chatter as whispering that, while Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he sided with the military junta, even turning over a couple fellow Jesuits who join the ranks of the desaparecidos.  It turns out, however, that no less a person that Argentina's Nobel Peace laureate has nothing but praise for what Bergoglio did during those years of horror.

Still, it is nearly impossible to view the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church without seeing it through the rage stemming from rampant child rape, covered up in no small part by the recently-retired Pope.  All things considered, not least Benedict's preference to keep at least one hand on the wheel of power, I figured there would be little to no difference between what had been and what would be.

And Pope Francis I is making it very hard for this non-Catholic to be cynical.  He's even making all the right enemies.  While I have no skin in this particular game, at least on one level, on another I most certainly do.  I wrote recently about the Roman Catholic Church I love; I was afraid to hope for new life to be breathed in it not least because the forces against such a possibility seemed far too small.  All Christians are my brothers and sisters in the faith; we have different traditions, to be sure, as well as different things we emphasize.  At the heart of it all, however, we are disciples of our Lord and Savior.  When any part of the Church of Jesus Christ fails in some way to be the Church, it hurts all of us.

There are, as Robert Frost wrote, miles to go before we sleep.  The Church of Rome has much to do and years ahead of it should it choose to do penance for the monstrous crimes it has worked so long and hard to conceal.  Still, just a month along and Papa Francesco has, through small acts, awakened the sleeping giant "hope", perhaps not for real, radical change, but at the very least for real difference.  Seeing the pictures of Fr. Bergoglio washing the feet of imprisoned children including two young Muslim girls was moving; that it ticked off some who harrumphed about Church law and tradition is all to the good.  I don't want to nurse that hope too much. Still, I can feel it stirring.

So, Pope Francis, this United Methodist is praying for you, for your ministry, for your witness, and for the whole Church which you embody.  May the Spirit move you to remind your one billion confreres that "Church" isn't vestments and shoes and tradition, but the service we render those whom society - including the Church - insist are beneath our notice and outside our circle of concern and care.  May you continue your prophetic witness, and may it be embraced by all Christians of goodwill who yearn for a vigorous Roman Catholic witness to the world.

A Confession?

Since the turn of the new year, I've been relatively silent.  I've been wrestling with that, wondering why, even as we get pushed from one manufactured crisis to another, I've chosen to write sparingly.  When I do write, it's been on Christian themes that seem divorced from the ebb and flow of nonsense.

It is that last word that should clue us all in.  So much of what's going on is just that: nonsense.  The sequester is so horrible?  It's a law, passed by Congress.  The quickest way to end it would be . . . to repeal it.  Congress could pass another law that says the whole sequester thing no longer has legal force.  Easiest thing in the world.  Instead, we continue to have these long, drawn-out scenes where everyone involved behaves like teenage drama queens.

I did comment on Rand Paul's headline-whoring filibuster, in which he demanded the President answer a question never asked.  The result of that has been a dust-up among some on the alleged left, with a few of the dimmer lights in that particular political room - David Sirota and Glenn Greenwald being the most prominent - cheering Paul on, as if his entire history of neoconfederate rhetoric and a record on civil liberties that makes Obama look like Clarence Darrow were non-existent.  What's worse, these brogressives (I love the term, despite a tad bit of pushback it's received) seem to be cheering a Rand Paul Filibuster that existed wholly within their imaginations.  The whole farce boiled down to demanding Pres. Obama promise not to use drones against his political opponents (please read "White Conservatives" here).  The on-going back-and-forth between those folks (including me) who saw through this ridiculous waste of time and oxygen and the brogressives has become, like so much else, tiresome.  Both sides are reduced, now, to calling one another names, not least of them racist, and declaring the opposition apathetic to horrible crimes.

Then there is the gun debate.  From the moment Wayne LaPierre took to the podium and insisted that nothing could change despite the massacre of children in Connecticut, I was aware the direction the discussion would take.  Helpless in the face of the spittle-flecked rage the NRA has managed to stir up, all hanging loosely on some weird fear of imminent societal collapse, I have chosen silence because there is not even the possibility of getting a hearing for all the shrieking going on.

Then there are our elected officials.  Good Lord, but we have a crew this Congress, don't we?  If it isn't Louie Gohmert wanting to arrest the President, it's Ted Cruz insisting Harvard Law School is filled with commies or Don Young calling farm workers wetbacks.  It makes one yearn for Newt Gingrich.  Almost.  Even Michelle Bachman's psychosis seems whimsical these days.  Of course, the fact that the biggest foe of immigration reform right now, Ted Cruz, happens to be an immigrant is just luscious.  That and his mansplaining the Constitution to Dianne Feinstein.  We got rid of Joe Walsh, but he's been replaced by an even bigger joker.

Finally, there's the marriage equality debate.  The consensus, both left and right, seems to be that marriage equality either has won or will win.  Liberals and the left seem happy; the right, while conceding the loss, is nevertheless indignant that America is making a choice that paints opponents as bigots.  When the debate suddenly shifts to the tender fee-fees of people who favor discrimination rooted in bigotry, it does seem time to move on and let them nurse their self-inflicted injuries in peace.

So why the silence?  My oft-stated preference not to repeat myself is part of the reason.  There are only so many times I can write, "What the hell is wrong with people?" before I get bored.  The perch I currently occupy is tiny, the noise around me far louder and stronger.  Sometimes silence is the best option, if for no other reason than one more voice in the chorus adds nothing.

With Easter here, and spring forcing its way through the cold air and frozen prairie, while I have much to do what with packing for yet another move, getting our daughters enrolled in yet another school, and dealing with the emotional issues arising from losing my pastor of 19 years, I do foresee more blogging in the near future.  Just as there is a time for silence, so, too, is there a time to speak up and out, despite the din around all of us.

Being In Solidarity With The Dead

N.B.: This was originally published on April 23, 2011.  I have made some minor corrections for spelling, but otherwise it is at it appeared two years ago.  I can't imagine saying more, or better, what I wrote here.  Wait and watch with me, as we consider the dead Jesus in the interconnected reality of the Triune Life of God.
The vision of death by the mode of immediate experience, is the most complete punishment possible. And since the death of Christ was complete, since through his own experience he saw the death which he had freely chosen to undergo, the soul of Christ went down into the underworld where the vision of death is. For death is called "underworld", infernus, and it has been loosed from out of the deeper underworld, ex inferno inferiori. The lower or deeper underworld is where one sees death. When God raised Christ he drew him, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, from out of the lower underworld, after delivering him from the torture of that underworld, solutis doloribus inferni. That is why the prophet says, "He did not leave my soul in the underworld." Christ's suffering, the greatest one could conceive, was like that of the damned who cannot be damned any ore. That is, his suffering went to the length of infernal punishment. . . . He alone through such a death entered into glory. He wanted to experience the poena sensus like the damned in Hell for the glorifying of his Father, and so as to show that one should obey the Father even to the utmost torture. That means praising and glorifying God in every possible way for our justification - which is what Christ has done.
Nicholas of Cusa
De Civitate Dei
We are in that time over which the Gospels remain silent. From the moment on Friday evening when Jesus corpse is laid in the tomb until the arrival of the women on Sunday morning there is nothing. One sentence and paragraph ends, another begins. The Sabbath lies in-between. The only hint that day contained anything of substance is given not in the Gospel, but in 1 Peter, where the author claims Jesus preached to the dead.

Which, of course, raises far more questions that such a short phrase could possibly answer.

The mystery of the Passion is boundless. On this day of Biblical silence, we are nevertheless pushed to consider the naked fact of Jesus' death. What does that mean for one who claimed solidarity with the God of Israel whom he called his Father? In a sense, reflecting upon this day only becomes possible because of Easter. Had there been no resurrection, there would be no reason to consider this day, what Hans Urs von Balthasar calls "the hiatus". Yet, there is this hiatus, this break. Jesus is dead. The silence of the witnesses is deafening in the questions it raises.

The same von Balthasar noted above has a short yet powerful meditation on the Passion, Mysterium Paschale, from whose pages the Nicholas of Cusa epigram comes. The chapter on Saturday is entitled "Going To The Dead", and in it, von Balthasar considers the 1 Peter passage as well as later doctrinal developments, the question of the development of the idea of Sheol, Gehenna, Purgatory, Limbo, Hell, within the context of the fact of Jesus being dead. His final move is to a Trinitarian consideration of the event, which is, to me, the starting point of a fuller understanding (never full; the events of these days are without full measure). From pp. 174-175:
That the Redeemer is solidary with the dead, or, better, with this death which makes of the dead, for the first time, dead human beings in all reality - this is the final consequence of the redemptive mission he has received from the Father. His being with the dead is an existence at the utmost pitch of obedience, and because the One thus obedient is the dead Christ, it constitutes the "obedience of a corpse" (the phrase is Francis of Assisi's) of a theologically unique kind. By it Christ takes the existential measure of everything that is sheerly contrary to God, og the entire object of the divine eschatological judgment, which here is grasped in that event in which it is "cast down". . . . But at the same time, this happening gives the measure of the Father's mission in all its amplitude; the "exploration" of Hell is an event of the (economic) Trinity.


If the Father must be considered as the Creator of human freedom - with all its forseeable consequences - then judgment belongs primordially to him, and thereby Hell also; and when he sends the Son into the world to save it instead of judging it, and, to equip him for this function, gives "all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22), then he must also introduce the Son made man into "Hell" (as the supreme entailment of human liberty). But the Son cannot really be introduced into Hell save as a dead man, on Holy Saturday. This introducing is needful since the dead must "hear the voice of the Son of God," and hearing that voice, "live". (John 5:15) The Son must "take in with his own eyes what in the realm of creation is imperfect, informed, chaotic" so as to make it pass over into his own domain as Redeemer. . . .

This vision of chaos by the God-man has become for us the condition of our vision of Divinity. His exploration of the ultimate depths has transformed what was a prison into a way. . . .
There is much more in this vein, but the point, I think, should be clear. Even as that moment of abandonment lingers, it bears the character of inner-Trinitarian obedience, of the furthering of the mission of the Father by the Son through the Spirit. What von Balthasar calls throughout the solidarity of the dead Christ with the dead captures the fullness of this mission, in both its immanent and economic Trinitarian forms, and what the historic doctrine of the descent to Hell and the Harrowing of Hell by the dead Christ cannot. What constitutes the character of this obedience is nothing more or less than taking in to very existence of the inner life of the Triune God that which cannot be, that which was before God created, chaos and lifelessness. Matters of Hell and Gehenna, of Purgatory and Limbo, not only cross a line where speculation rooted in misunderstanding and silence should calm our nervous spirits, but in any event continue to see the Passion as something rooted in human existence, human needs. The being solidary with the dead is part of the Divine desire to be in relationship even there, with the dead in the nothingness, the powerlessness (he quotes the Hewbrew refa'im, those who are powerless, to emphasize the utter passivity of Jesus even in death) which is their lot. Salvation is not only God's act for Creation. Considering the death of Jesus within the context of the Trinitarian life of God leads one to see the fullness of God's desire to take in to that mysterious love of the Three for one another that which cannot be a part of it. The Passion becomes, through the emptiness and silence of Holy Saturday, more clearly understood as a working out of the depth of the Three Persons for One Another in the world God created, even to that which denies creation.

We are in a time of vigilance, of waiting and watching. As we wait and watch in silence, what no eye has seen nor ear heard is about to burst forth. We believe this and proclaim it as the heart of the Good News which even now rests in the silent depths of the grave. On this Holy Saturday, only because we can look back from Easter, we see just how far Jesus is willing to go, not only for us, for for the Father who loved him, and left him alone to die on the cross.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Heading To A Holy Time

It begins tonight with Maundy Thursday, as we recall and live again the institution of the New Covenant and the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Tomorrow, of course, is Good Friday.  On Saturday, we wait and wonder.  Then, on Sunday morning, we greet the rising sun and the Risen Son.

As solemn and sorrowful as this time is; as filled with anticipation for the "Christ is Risen!  He Is Risen Indeed!" of Easter morning; as much as we should move through these sacred days with reverence, our hearts focused on the tragedy-that-is-not-a-tragedy of the crucifixion followed by the overwhelming joy of Easter and all it portends for defeat of the final enemy; for all that, my heart right now rests at peace.  I am, as always, thankful for all the blessings in my life.  Starting, of course, with the simple fact of my life.

For anyone who wonders if God's Grace is a real thing, all I can say is, "I'm here."  More than just being here, I'm surrounded by a loving family and dear friends.  None of these things are deserved.  On the contrary, were we to measure a life by dessert, the truth is I would be alone and friendless, were I alive at all.  Each breath is a gift; each time I see my wife and daughters, each time we laugh together, or are just together, is a gift.  Each time I look around at this life I have, I am grateful for every single moment, every single person.

Is grace a real thing?  You betcha.

As we head to this holy time, and reflect on the infinite love for all creation God reveals on the cross and in the empty tomb, I am thankful for how that love is manifest in my own life.  I wish it were possible to return to each person in my life even a small portion of what I've received.

Tonight we begin with a service in which we re-member the New Covenant; we also, alas, remember the first act of those gathered under that New Covenant, viz., to flee and betray their Lord.  Let us move through these next four days in prayer and thanksgiving that our God does not and will not ever betray and flee from us.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Return Unto The Lord Thy God

How lonely sits the city
   that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
   she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
   has become a vassal. - Lamentations 1:1
I made a happy discovery this past week.  Looking for a variety of music to which to listen while at work, I typed "choral music holy week" in the search bar on Spotify.  Among many other things there appeared several choral settings for the Lamentations of Jeremiah.  It turns out a musical setting for this short book was an integral part of the liturgy of Holy Week, once upon a time.
The Lamentations were used in the office of matins of the Holy Week. matins. There are 3 offices, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Over time, the office moved from morning to the night before, so that in some cases the lamentations are named for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday: for example in the Charpentier version. At the Sistine Chapel, where traditions died hard, the matins still took place in early morning in the 19th century.
Each office consists in 3 vigilae; each vigila consists in 3 psalms with respons and 3 lectures with respons. The Lamentations were read/sung in three lectures at each of the first vigila (the other lectures were drawn from the New Testament and Saint Augustine respectively). The Lamentations therefore consist of 3 sets of 3 lectures, for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Each lecture is ended with the call: Jerusalem convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum (Jerusalem, return onto the Lord thy God) which actually comes from Hosea 14:1.
While there are three offices, the five chapters have been set to separate movements by a variety of composers.  Some of the best are the Renaissance composers  Thomas Tallis, Giovanni Perluigi de Palestrina, and Tomas Luis de Victoria.  I have chosen Palestrina's; ChoralWiki lists sixteen examples from different composers, but these are hardly exhaustive.  In Latin, the text for the first Lamentation reads as follows:
Incipit lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae.
Aleph. Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo? facta est quasi vidua domina gentium, 
princeps provinciarum facta est sub tributo. (1,1)
Beth. Plorans ploravit in nocte et lacrimae ejus in maxillis ejus. (1,2)
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum

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