Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Four Martyrs of the Nativity Octave



Why does the Roman Liturgy commemorate martyrs immediately after Christmas Day?
     On the second, third, fourth, and fifth day of the Christmas Octave (that is, eight consecutive days of Christmas mornings), the Roman Liturgy commemorates the following martyrs:  St Stephen the Proto-Martyr (26 December), St John the Apostle and Evangelist (27 December), the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem (28 December), and St Thomas Becket (29 December). 
     These feasts began to be placed in close proximity to Christmas as early as the fourth century, when we know St Stephen was already commemorated the day after Christmas. St Thomas Becket's feast is the most recent, having been established in 1173.  So why do we commemorate these martyrs so soon after the merriment of Christmas morning? —for the very simple reason that Christian merriment is given only to those who will accept the costliness of following Jesus.
     Each of these four martyrs represent four different ‘paradigms’ of martyrdom.  St Stephen the Deacon, proclaimed Jesus and stirred the ire of an resistant audience and was stoned to death (Acts 7:54-60).  Thus St Stephen was a martyr in will and in deed.
     St John the Apostle and Evangelist is the only Apostle who did not die of martyrdom—though he was tortured by the Emperor Domitian reputedly by being boiled in oil—but survived.  Afterward, he was exiled on Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Apoc 1:9).  Since St John was tortured for his faith in Jesus, he is also technically called a confessor, but it stands that he was a martyr in will but not in deed.
     The Holy Innocents of Bethlehem were slaughtered by wicked Herod the Great in his paranoid attempt to retain his throne, as he was fearful that Jesus—the long-foretold King of Israel—would usurp his rule.  In attempt to eliminate the threat of the Christ Child, Herod ordered all male children aged two and under to be killed, hoping to kill baby Jesus as well (Mt 2:16-18).  Thus, the Holy Innocents were martyrs in deed but not in will, since they were too young to understand for Whom they were giving their lives.
     With the Archbishop St Thomas Becket (also known as St Thomas of Canterbury), the Primate of All England, we end the four martyrs’ commemoration the same way we began:  he was a martyr both in deed and in will, with one slight variation:  He died for the liberty of Christ’s Church.  Since the Church is the “fullness of Christ” (Eph 1:23) and is, indeed, the Body of Christ Himself (Rom 12:5; cf Acts 9:4-5), he is rightly recognized as a martyr for Jesus, even if in a roundabout way.
     Again, we have a right to our merriment at the birth of Jesus only if we are willing to give to Him everything.  St Paul wrote, “I appeal to you, therefore…by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1; see also Lk 9:62).  Most of us, like St John, will suffer taunts and ridicule on account of our following of Jesus, perhaps even to the point of temporal loss; a few of us may even lose our lives, either for Christ as did St Stephen, or for the sake of His Church, as did St Thomas Becket.  And daily, thousands of children lose their lives to abortion as did the Holy Innocents.  In a similar way, ISIS has killed hundreds of infant Christians since seizing large swaths of Syria and Iraq.
     Following Jesus is costly, because He wants followers, not fans.  Are you a follower or just a fan?  Will you give to Jesus everything, He Who alone can give us eternal life?

     Nota bene:  On Wednesday, 28 December, Corpus Christi Parish will present Becket, perhaps the best film adaptation of St Thomas Becket's martyrdom.  It will be worthwhile viewing since his circumstances are not too different from our own today here in Canada.  Also, our February convocation of the House of Ephesus will have for its topic “The Grace of Martyrdom.”

Verbum caro hic factum est.



The following homily was preached at the Christmas Eucharistic celebration 'Missa in dies,' the Gospel proclamation being taken from the Prologue of St John's Gospel.
     Perhaps you’re wondering what might be ‘Christmasy’ about the Gospel we’ve just read—or you may be wondering why on earth we read this when there seems to be no mention of the Birth of Jesus.
In case you missed it, the story of the birth of Jesus was given to us in a very tight nutshell:  “And the Word became flesh, and lived among us” [Jn 1:14].  Et Verbum caro factum est—this, along with the Resurrection—is one of the two central Mysteries of the Christian faith:  that the Eternal Word, the Son, in time became a member of the human race.  He Whom the heavens cannot contained was enfleshed in Jesus.  In fact, in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, there is an altar on the spot where the Blessed Virgin Mary is believed to have stood when the Eternal Word was conceived within her; the altar is inscribed with the words Verbum caro hic factum est:  “Here the Word became flesh.”
Hence does the same St John later write:  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—the Life was made manifest and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you… [1 Jn 1:1-3].  So, it’s not just the birth of Jesus we honour; it is the birth of the Child who is also God; it is the birth of ‘Infinity dwindled to infancy’.
     And for what end did God the Son become the son of Mary?  The opening prayer already told us—“that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”  That is to say, God became humanized in order that humanity may be divinized:  The Incarnation—that is, the enfleshment of God the Son—is exactly the reverse of our destiny, and our destiny, the goal of the Christian life, is nothing less than union with God.  Our first pope, St Peter, wrote of the Christian’s goal to “become partakers of the divine nature” [2 Pt 1:4].
     In a sense, then, the birth of the Christ-Child is also the birth of Christ-children, of Christians, you and me, because in the “one Lord Jesus Christ”—as we will say in the Creed—the infinite gap between humanity and God has been bridged, and what Adam forfeited in Eden is restored to us:   Life.  As Jesus says elsewhere, “I have come so that you may have life and have it abundantly” [Jn 10:10].
     All of human history has been leading up to the advent of Jesus.  St Paul wrote, “In the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a Woman” [Gal 4:4].  We know, of course, that much-beloved verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” [Jn 3:16].  How has the Father given us the Son?  Ultimately, on the Cross, where His Body, was crucified; towards this, the Father gave us the Son through the Virgin Mary who furnished the Son with our flesh and blood to be crucified; towards this, the Father gave us the Son by way of anticipation when the worlds were created—including you and me—so as to have an audience and a stage where the drama of the Incarnate Word would take place.  Why?  The Angelic Doctor, St Thomas Aquinas, also asked this question, “Whether it was necessary for the restoration of the human race that the Word of God should become incarnate?”—he answered that it was necessary “with regard to [our] full participation [in] the Divinity, which is the true bliss of man and end of human life; and this is bestowed upon us by Christ's humanity; for Augustine says in a sermon: ‘God was made man, that man might be made God.'"
     Jesus has been given to us, and He is still being given to us; shall we return this gracious favour by giving ourselves to Him, too?  We give ourselves to Jesus in faith, “Jesus, I believe in You.”  Faith, in a poetic sense, is the opposite, but not the contrary, of the Incarnation, since it enables us “to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”
     Those words will be repeated when I prepare this altar for the Holy Sacrifice; when I prepare the chalice, water will be poured into the wine and I will say, “By this mingling of water and wine, may we share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”  And, just as the Holy Spirit caused the Virgin to conceive the Incarnate Word within her, so too will the Holy Spirit bring about the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus on this altar, this same Jesus of Whom we sing in our carols, this very same Jesus we will receive in Holy Communion:
     “Clothed in flesh the Godhead see / hail th’ Incarnate Deity”;
     “Jesus to thee be all glory given; Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing”;
     “O that birth forever blessed, when the Virgin, full of grace / By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race / And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer, First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!”
Indeed, on this Altar, again, Verbum caro hic factum est.  By sharing in the Sacred Humanity of Jesus, may we also share in His Sublime Divinity.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

"You lead me to Ars,
and I'll lead you to heaven!"


This weekend, in place of a homily, I preached a sermon on the document Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons and Families Considering or Opting for Death by Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia published by the Bishops of Alberta and the North-West Territories.  Given the many requests for copies of my sermon, I have decided to post it here.


There’s a famous story about St Jean Vianney when he was sent to the city of Ars to be its parish priest.  On the way, he got lost:  He came upon a small boy who was playing, so he asked the boy for help getting to Ars. The boy said,  “Yes, Father, I’ll take you to Ars.”  St JeanVianney replied with his famous words, “You lead me to Ars, and I’ll lead you to heaven.”
            Salus animarum suprema lex.  “The salvation of souls is the supreme law [of the Church.]”  The Church’s entire mission is oriented towards your salvation and mine; whenever the Church says “Yes” to something, it is in order to procure our salvation, and whenever the Church says “No” to other things, it is in order to avoid jeopardising our salvation.
            If you followed the news on Friday, you will remember that the Church, by way of the Bishops of Alberta and the North-West Territories, said “No” to offering the Sacraments and even a funeral Mass to those who have decided to commit self-murder, which the government sugar-coats by calling it “medical aid in dying.”
            Let’s put this into perspective, because perspective is just what you aren’t going to get from CBC or Global TV or the Edmonton Journal.
            Remember the story of Jesus being challenged about paying taxes to Caesar [cf Mt  22:15-22; Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:20-26]?  What did He say?  “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.”  Now, if payment of taxes were due to Caesar because Roman coins bore his image, our next question becomes:  What bears God’s image such that it is due to God?  The answer:  Our souls, because we were created in God’s image and likeness, and just as payment was due to Caesar because coins had his stamp on it, so too do our souls belong to God because they bear God’s stamp upon them.  St Paul wrote, “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die we die to the Lord; so when, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” [Rom 14:7].  The Apostle further emphasizes this by writing that, “You are not your own: you were bought with a price” [1 Cor 6:19].
            But, in order to attain salvation, we must remain in the state of sanctifying grace.  What does that mean?  To be “in grace” is to be “in friendship with God.”  When we sin, our friendship with God is impaired; when we sin gravely, we have unfriended God; if we die while still unfriended with God, he respects our choice of excluding ourselves from everlasting happiness in the next life.  To die without grace in our souls is the most terrible thing we can do, because we have opted to forfeit heaven for something earthly.  The sacraments are always given efficaciously, but they are not always received fruitfully; it is for this reason that the Last Rites cannot be administered to someone who has decided to break the Fifth Commandment by committing self-murder.  To do otherwise would be to commit sacrilege.
            Let’s pause for a moment.  No doubt some of you are shocked by what I’m saying.  Perhaps, even, you’re saying, “That’s hurtful!” or “That does not respect the feelings of the patient who wants assisted suicide.”  But look what you’re really saying:  You’re saying that feelings are more important than the soul.  Look more closely:  Many people have forgotten that they have souls worth saving, so they go for the next-best thing:  Feelings worth assuaging.  Many people have exchanged the salvation of souls for the assuaging of feelings.
            But who, I ask you, in his right mind, would rather save his feelings in this life, only to lose his soul in the next?  Wouldn’t you rather prioritise the salvation of your soul, despite all pains and sufferings?  It is the height of insanity to escape temporal sufferings in this life, only to have everlasting sufferings in the next.  Again, St Paul has something to say:  “I consider that  the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” [Rom 8:18].
            Life is difficult, I know.  I had spinal meningitis, which I would not trade the world for because it left me with the blessing of being Deaf so that I can proclaim the Gospel in sign language.  I once had depression, and wanted life to be over with because my sadness seemed unbearable, but looking back, I would not trade that for all the world either, because it’s made me sensitive to those of you who may be suffering.  And I know that the minutes of pain seem like hours, and I know that years of pain seem like an eternity.  But I ask you to consider Jesus, whose life on earth had one simple purpose:  To go to the Cross.  God the Son became the Son of Mary precisely so that he would have a Body in order to bear our death [Heb 10:5], and to tell us on Easter:  I know what it’s like, but Life is become victorious.
            But consider another option open to Jesus.  When Satan tempted Him the wilderness [Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13], he offered Jesus a following if he survived jumping off the Temple, the whole world if Jesus would worship him, relief from hunger if Jesus would use His Divinity for his own pleasure.  What Satan was doing, in fact, was trying to get Jesus to bypass the Cross.  But, no.  Jesus went to the Cross anyway—and for what?  To show God’s solidarity with suffering humanity, and in the Person of Jesus Crucified, to merit for us eternal life in heaven.
            God made us for one simple reason:  Happiness.  But so many people have substituted happiness for pleasure, and in so doing, have given priority to feelings over their souls and to seek relief from pain in this life only to find it again, everlastingly, in the next.  Thomas Merton said, “We were not made for pleasure; we were made for joy,” and that joy is found only in the company of Jesus, and only after we’ve endured the brunt of the world [cf Acts 14:22].
            Did you know that the sufferings of Jesus on the Cross left something to be desired?  Yes—he left an opening for us.  During his imprisonment in Rome and awaiting his execution because of his faithfulness to Jesus, St Paul wrote:  “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” [Col 1:24].  I have yet to come across a suffering saint who died unhappily.  I have yet to come across a tortured martyr who died grief-stricken.  Why? Because suffering is only transitory, and Jesus gives us the strength to bear it, while anticipating an eternity of beatitude, provided we remain faithful to God, despite everything:  “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” [Apoc 21:4].
            The Church desires nothing less than the salvation of all her children, indeed, the salvation of all peoples.  That’s why she always has, to use the epitaph of Robert Frost, “a lover’s quarrel with the world.”

            The supreme law of the Church is the salvation of souls.  Lead us to your pain and your suffering, and we will lead you to heaven.

"You lead me to Ars,
and I'll lead you to heaven!"


This weekend, in place of a homily, I preached a sermon on the document Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons and Families Considering or Opting for Death by Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.  Given the many requests for copies of my sermon, I have decided to post it here.


There’s a famous story about St Jean Vianney when he was sent to the city of Ars to be its parish priest.  On the way, he got lost:  He came upon a small boy who was playing, so he asked the boy for help getting to Ars. The boy said,  “Yes, Father, I’ll take you to Ars.”  St JeanVianney replied with his famous words, “You lead me to Ars, and I’ll lead you to heaven.”
            Salus animarum suprema lex.  “The salvation of souls is the supreme law [of the Church.]”  The Church’s entire mission is oriented towards your salvation and mine; whenever the Church says “Yes” to something, it is in order to procure our salvation, and whenever the Church says “No” to other things, it is in order to avoid jeopardising our salvation.
            If you followed the news on Friday, you will remember that the Church, in the persons of the Bishops of Alberta and the North-West Territories, said “No” to offering the Sacraments and even a funeral Mass to those who have decided to commit self-murder, which the government sugar-coats by calling it “medical aid in dying.”
            Let’s put this into perspective, because perspective is just what you aren’t going to get from CBC or Global TV or the Edmonton Journal.
            Remember the story of Jesus being challenged about paying taxes to Caesar [cf Mt  22:15-22; Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:20-26]?  What did He say?  “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.”  Now, if payment of taxes were due to Caesar because Roman coins bore his image, our next question becomes:  What bears God’s image such that it is due to God?  The answer:  Our souls, because we were created in God’s image and likeness, and just as payment was due to Caesar because coins had his stamp on it, so too do our souls belong to God because they bear God’s stamp upon them.  St Paul wrote, “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die we die to the Lord; so when, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” [Rom 14:7].  The Apostle further emphasizes this by writing that, “You are not your own: you were bought with a price” [1 Cor 6:19].
            But, in order to attain salvation, we must remain in the state of sanctifying grace.  What does that mean?  To be “in grace” is to be “in friendship with God.”  When we sin, our friendship with God is impaired; when we sin gravely, we have unfriended God; if we die while still unfriended with God, he respects our choice of excluding ourselves from everlasting happiness in the next life.  To die without grace in our souls is the most terrible thing we can do, because we have opted to forfeit heaven for something earthly.  The sacraments are always given efficaciously, but they are not always received fruitfully; it is for this reason that the Last Rites cannot be administered to someone who has decided to break the Fifth Commandment by committing self-murder.  To do otherwise would be to commit sacrilege.
            Let’s pause for a moment.  No doubt some of you are shocked by what I’m saying.  Perhaps, even, you’re saying, “That’s hurtful!” or “That does not respect the feelings of the patient who wants assisted suicide.”  But look what you’re really saying:  You’re saying that feelings are more important than the soul.  Look more closely:  Many people have forgotten that they have souls worth saving, so they go for the next-best thing:  Feelings worth assuaging.  Many people have exchanged the salvation of souls for the assuaging of feelings.
            But who, I ask you, in his right mind, would rather save his feelings in this life, only to lose his soul in the next?  Wouldn’t you rather prioritise the salvation of your soul, despite all pains and sufferings?  It is the height of insanity to escape temporal sufferings in this life, only to have everlasting sufferings in the next.  Again, St Paul has something to say:  “I consider that  the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” [Rom 8:18].
            Life is difficult, I know.  I had spinal meningitis, which I would not trade the world for because it left me with the blessing of being Deaf so that I can proclaim the Gospel in sign language.  I once had depression, and wanted life to be over with because my sadness seemed unbearable, but looking back, I would not trade that for all the world either, because it’s made me sensitive to those of you who may be suffering.  And I know that the minutes of pain seem like hours, and I know that years of pain seem like an eternity.  But I ask you to consider Jesus, whose life on earth had one simple purpose:  To go to the Cross.  God the Son became the Son of Mary precisely so that he would have a Body in order to bear our death [Heb 10:5], and to tell us on Easter:  I know what it’s like, but Life is become victorious.
            But consider another option open to Jesus.  When Satan tempted Him the wilderness [Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13], he offered Jesus a following if he survived jumping off the Temple, the whole world if Jesus would worship him, relief from hunger if Jesus would use His Divinity for his own pleasure.  What Satan was doing, in fact, was trying to get Jesus to bypass the Cross.  But, no.  Jesus went to the Cross anyway—and for what?  To show God’s solidarity with suffering humanity, and in the Person of Jesus Crucified, to merit for us eternal life in heaven.
            God made us for one simple reason:  Happiness.  But so many people have substituted happiness for pleasure, and in so doing, have given priority to feelings over their souls and to seek relief from pain in this life only to find it again, everlastingly, in the next.  Thomas Merton said, “We were not made for pleasure; we were made for joy,” and that joy is found only in the company of Jesus, and only after we’ve endured the brunt of the world [cf Acts 14:22].
            Did you know that the sufferings of Jesus on the Cross left something to be desired?  Yes—he left an opening for us.  During his imprisonment in Rome and awaiting his execution because of his faithfulness to Jesus, St Paul wrote:  “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” [Col 1:24].  I have yet to come across a suffering saint who died unhappily.  I have yet to come across a tortured martyr who died grief-stricken.  Why? Because suffering is only transitory, and Jesus gives us the strength to bear it, while anticipating an eternity of beatitude, provided we remain faithful to God, despite everything:  “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” [Apoc 21:4].
            The Church desires nothing less than the salvation of all her children, indeed, the salvation of all peoples.  That’s why she always has, to use the epitaph of Robert Frost, “a lover’s quarrel with the world.”

            The supreme law of the Church is the salvation of souls.  Lead us to your pain and your suffering, and we will lead you to heaven.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Linus van Pelt Christmas

The following is the homily I preached at both my parishes of Corpus Christi and St Mark's Community of the Deaf at the 'Mass at Night' of the Lord's Nativity.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special broadcast.  I’m sure most of you have seen it; I bought the DVD earlier this week because, as a kid, I never understood the dialogue—closed captioning was not available to me until I was in high school.  (When I finally got my closed-captioned decoder, all of my dreams were captioned for a week!)
     There is one scene in the play—the high point, really—that ought to catch our attention.  We all know of Linus, the boy with his ever-present security blanket.  In the Peanuts series and especially in the Christmas special, Linus is berated for always having his ‘blankie’ with him, and refuses to let go of it.
     At one point when Charlie Brown says he does not understand the true meaning of Christmas, Linus takes centre-stage at the play they are rehearsing and recites Luke 2:8-16 from memory.  It’s the same gospel we just heard.  “And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear…”  The whole time, Linus is holding his blankie.  But then, he does the unthinkable.  He continued, “…And the angel said to them, fear not…”  At that moment when Linus said “fear not,” he lets go of the blanket, and continued the story, which we all know so well.

 

     You see, we each have our own proverbial ‘security blankets’—they can be anything.  Our reputation.  Our position at work.  Money.  Being scared of dying.  These are not bad things.  But when they become our security blankets, we prop up an alternative to Jesus.  A counterfeit messiah.  But our counterfeit messiahs arise from our fears, fears that Jesus was born to relieve.  “Fear not!”  This is the most frequent saying found in the Bible—“Fear not!” or “Be not afraid!”  It is found more than 300 times in all of the divine Scriptures.  The Lord is insistent that we take heart in his care for us and to abandon our fears.
     Linus got the message right:  “Fear not!”  The moment he said that, he lets go.  The same invitation goes to us tonight:  “Fear not.”  Our fears drive us into a futile attempt at self-salvation, or self-redemption.  But the angel that spoke to the shepherds address us as well:  “Fear not; for behold, I bring you Good News of great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour.  He is Christ the Lord.”
     Tonight is when we come to bear in mind, in the severest way possible, that there is only one Messiah, and it’s none of us.  “Come thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in Thee.”  In another carol we also sing:  “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
     At the end of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, we remember that Charlie Brown goes in search of the perfect Christmas tree—and finds only one real evergreen in a commercial lot full of aluminum and artificial trees.  But when he goes to decorate it, it still doesn’t go well.  He walks away, and the rest of the neighbour kids decide to try to dress the tree, beginning with Linus.  What does he do?   He takes his blanket and wraps it at the base of the tree, thus enabling it to stand upright.  And that is what the Lord wants to do with all of our hopes and fears, and with all of our shortcomings:  the Lord desires to transform them into something beautiful.  Just as the Eternal Word was transformed into a helpless infant, also does He want to transform us from helpless creatures into his children of his mercy and redemption.


     But in order to do that, we must rediscover how to embrace Christ the Lord, who embraced us the night He was born.  Merry Christmas.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Deaf Pride as a Model for Equality Movements


Waiting On The World To Change has been the unofficial song of 'Deaf Pride' and every once in a while, the above video makes its rounds as a sort of rallying cry for us Deaf people to keep up with the struggle for accessibility in an otherwise 'hearing world.'
     While the song is a bit sappy for my taste, it does aptly illustrate the sentiment that many Deaf people harbour in their efforts to overcome the communication barrier that comes with being unable to hear--and sometimes speak--in a world of P.A. announcements, fast-talkers, radios, and the refusal of many services to provide sign language interpreters.  To get an idea of what it's like being a Deaf person 'left out' of the hearing world, consider these typical experiences:

  • Roadside 'amber alerts' warning drivers to "tune to" such and such a station for information regarding a recently-abducted child.  Deaf people, who are generally more visually perceptive than hearing people (because of their primary reliance on eyesight) miss both the opportunity to stay in the loop and to helpfully be on the lookout for abducted children;
  • Many Deaf patients are left out of the loop regarding their hospitalisation because physicians and nurses prefer to speak with hearing relatives and make decisions that way instead of seeking out a sign language interpreter and directly communicate with the Deaf patient;
  • P.A. announcements at aerorports and on planes leave many Deaf passengers completely out of the loop to gate changes and why a plane may be on the runway for a long while before taking off.  When gate agents or airline attendants are called by Deaf people for an explanation, they are usually met with facial expressions of exasperation and fustration, as if our need to know the situation is unnecessary;
  • Customer service agents at stores oftentimes refer queries to a 1-800 number to call.  Deaf people usually cannot hear well enough on the phone or enunciate well enough to speak on the phone, and most companies do not even have a TTY line--which, by the way, represent technology that is fast becoming obsolete;
  • Many schools and universities impose substandard sign language interpreters because they do not want to invest time in searching for quality interpreters or devote a significant portion of the budge to interpretative services;
  • Closed-captioning on most cable news services rely on either terrible transcribers or terrible speech-to-text software, leaving many Deaf people unaware of how important events being reported are unfolding.
Additionally, Deaf people often put up with well-intentioned hearing people offering what they believe to be helpful guidance when, in fact, they are often offensive.  To wit:
  • Constantly being suggested that Deaf people are 'defective' and that they "should get a cochlear implant";
  • Frequently being told "I'm so sorry" when Deaf people inform hearing conversants that we are Deaf and cannot hear or need an interpreter, as if our deafness is a pitiable state;
  • Being referred to services printed out in Braille when we are Deaf, not blind;
  • Fighting with our schools of matriculation to enrol in a class that we are exempt from beacause "It's too hard for deaf people";
  • In some counties in the United States (I do not know about Canada), an audiogram proving our hearing loss is required periodically in order to maintain welfare assistance so as to 'prove' that we are 'still deaf.'
That's not all.  I know of a few Deaf people who, on account of their credentials, are unable to find jobs in their area of expertise precisely because of barriers to job interviews or the perceived 'threat' of a person so 'disabled' with impeccable or overachieved credentials.  A deafblind colleague of mine with a M.A. in mediaeval history (specialisation in 13th century English law with respect to disabled persons) has postponed his Ph.D. studies precisely because such an achievement vis-a-vis his disability has been advised to be too 'threatening' or 'confrontational.'

One need only recall episodes of America's Next Top Model to see how Mr Nyle DeMarco is often left out of the going-on in his house.

I could go on with more examples, but I trust the reader sees my point.

What is worth noting, however, is how Deaf Pride--that is what we call our self-identity and our activism--unfolds in our efforts at inclusion.  It begins with a very different understanding of 'inclusion' than what is generally taken by, for example, LGBT Pride.  We know, for example, that this is indeed 'a hearing world' and that expecting absolute symmetry of services offered to both deaf and hearing people is unrealistic.  We wish to be included, yes, but on the basis of not that we are 'the same as everybody else' but rather because we are in need of services that are the exception, not the norm.  This gives Deaf activism a very different trajectory by which we launch our efforts at equality and inclusion.  It begins with dialogue and education.

Now, I am not a sociologist.  I have never taken 'Deaf studies' courses--mainly because it would be slightly redundant as I myself am a Deaf person whose primary language is American Sign Language.  I lost my hearing at the age of 18 months due to a vaccination needed to fight off spinal meningitis.  As a result I lost not only my hearing, but also my motor functions and my language, both of which needed to be reacquired.  Since kindergarten, I have been in classrooms with other Deaf children; in high school and university I had a sign language interpreter.  In all three cycles of graduate schooling, I've had to rely on FM transmitter systems linked to my hearing-aide and rely on lipreading (because the youth of American Sign Language has not yet had the time to accommodate the intricacies of the language of philosophy and theology), and because I opted to be realistic that private schools simply cannot afford a sign language interpreter (although for my first Masters' thesis, a fellow-student kindly interpreted my thesis defence because one of the readers was present via teleconference).  Most of my observations are both anecdotal and, thanks to my long interaction with Camp Mark Seven--where many of the staff are Deaf studies majors from either Gallaudet University or Rochester Institute of Technology--these anecdotes are confirmed by conversations with these students (and professors, some of which serve on the Board of Directors of the Camp).

What the Stonewall Riots in 1969 were to gay liberation, similarly the 'Deaf President Now!' student walkout of Gallaudet University in 1988 was to Deaf Pride.  Frustrated with the 'paternalism' that Deaf people often experience at the hands of hearing people who believe themselves to be better caretakers of Deaf interests--which led initially to the election of a hearing person, Dr Elisabeth Zinser as the seventh president of Gallaudet University--the student population undertook a protest that shut down the University and barred access to the campus.  The grievance included demands that the board of trustees of the University have at least 51% d/Deaf representation.

The protest ended with the election of Dr I. King Jordan, Gallaudent's first Deaf president.  The 'Deaf President Now!' movement galvanised the public to Deaf needs, thanks to the efforts of many Deaf people who explained their position--especially through journalists who interviewed them.  The movement also set in motion a series of legal changes which led to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Not only am I a Deaf person, I am also a Deaf priest, so I have experiences that span both the 'Deaf world' as well as the 'ecclesiastical world.'  Thus I have firsthand and inside experience in the struggle for Deaf inclusion in the Church.  At one point, I sought to be included; now, I seek to include.  I am happy to note that the Archbishops of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, among many others, have been wonderfully conscientious to include Deaf persons in the events of their respective local Churches.  The late John Cardinal O'Connor, for example, maintained the tradition of the ASL Deaf choir signing Silent Night, Holy Night at the Midnight Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral.  Both Los Angeles and San Francisco have standalone Deaf parishes.

In most places, however, the struggle to make aware our needs has been a story that is too frequently told and often expected.  Not a few Deaf people sense themselves to be the collateral damage to some dioceses' 'pet ministries' such as Hispanic or Native American outreach.  Many parishes refuse to hire a sign language interpreter for Deaf parishioners.  We are often relegated to the peripheries of parish life, reduced to having Mass in parish halls or at inconvenient times (4:00 Sundays, twice a month, for example).

Here is not the time to complain but to observe how Deaf people react to these experiences of being excluded:  Our preferred method of activism is one of education and awareness, seldom picketing or boycotting, and certainly not running a company out of business when non-Deaf-friendly services are being insisted upon.  Here, I think, is an important distinction that can be observed between 'LGBT Pride' and 'Deaf Pride'--our efforts at inclusion is primarily one brought about by discussion and dialogue, not imposition.  We do not harbour the mentality of habitually threatening an ADA-related lawsuit analogous to some LGBT groups threatening a Human Rights Commission lawsuit.  Lawsuits are filed on occasion, yes, but not with the same intensity that we see in many '#Equality' movements, and certainly not with the same intensity of vitriol.

Perhaps it is precisely because Deaf Pride grew out of an educational and intellectual milieu--'Deaf President Now!' at Gallaudet University.  But we realised, too, that our needs needed to be presented intelligibly, especially after the profoundly damaging consequences of the Milan Conference of 1880--when a contingent of hearing educators of deaf students sought to impose oralism and suppress sign language in schools.  When I was growing up, a nearby school district still had the policy of prohibiting sign language instruction because of the lingering effects of the Milan Conference.  Deaf Pride, Deaf activism, and even Deaf militancy (a very small contingent that does not hide its hostility to the larger hearing world), in my experience and according to my interactions with Deaf activists, has always relied on persuasion and convincing than by cutthroat legal manoeuvres.

(I should add that Deaf activism bears a certain resemblance to the Black civil rights movement sparked by Mrs Rosa Parks in terms of its intellectual unfolding--consider, for example, Revd Dr Martin Luther King's Letter From a Birmingham Jail--which I consider to be of greater consequence than his I Have A Dream speech.)

This is not to say that all LGBT activism has been cutthroat, not at all.  But within the last five years, if one takes her or his clue from national and local news, it does seem to be the case.  What is hoped, on the basis of the above observations, is that the method of activism of 'Deaf Pride' can provide a model for any 'equality' activism--reasoned, thoughtful, intelligent, and devoid of emotivism and heated exchanges.  Dialogue and debate that is healthy and governed by civil discourse and the rules of critical thinking holds the only promise for inclusion that is both just and legal.  This is inevitably going to involve not just many takes, but some gives, too.  Deaf Pride has begun to admit overstepped boundaries (e.g. the growing acceptance of cochlear implants over its stalwart opposition even twenty years ago by the majority of the Deaf community).

Equality is something too important to be conflated across the board for all interest groups.  It must be based more upon needs than upon wants, and it must be presented in intelligible dialogue.  It is based, if one is to maintain classical jurisprudence, upon the virtue of 'justice'--to give to each their due.  Otherwise we run the risk of a Nietzschean society of der Wille zer Macht that cannot end in anything but disaster.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Goodness of the Shepherd



As I had only one opportunity to verbally preach on Good Shepherd Sunday (which we Roman Christians celebrate every Fourth Sunday of Easter), and given the quintessentially 'Paschal' character of our Lord Jesus Christ's title as 'the Good Shepherd,' I decided to post it here.

            I remember as a kid, going to my grandmother’s funeral and hearing for the very first time the Twenty-Third Psalm or, as we Catholics call it—like all the Psalms—by its first words, Dominus pastor meus, “The Lord is my Shepherd…”  But I was always puzzled by that very first sentence, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”  I used to think, “That’s not very nice.  The Lord is my Shepherd, but we don’t want him?”  But, of course, the older meaning of ‘want’ is intended here, in the sense of ‘lack’ or ‘need.’  This Psalm is saying, really, “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I lack.”
            The Fourth Sunday of Easter always commemorates ‘The Good Shepherd,’ one of the titles of Jesus.  But the insertion of ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ during Eastertide has a specific function that the Church wants us to think about.  In the gospel, Jesus said of Himself, “I am the Good Shepherd” and He contrasts Himself with the hired hand who look after sheep who aren’t his own.  A hireling isn’t a shepherd, really; he’s just, well, someone from the temp agency.  Jesus, on the other hand, looks after His sheep, that is to say, you and me.  But that’s not all:  He refers to Himself as the ‘Good Shepherd.’
            So we have to ask ourselves, what makes Jesus a ‘Good’ Shepherd?  It is too superficial to say that Jesus is the ‘Good Shepherd’ just because He’s Jesus; the answer is found in the gospel itself and especially during the Easter Season.  It is found, more precisely, in a paradox about ‘Jesus-as-Shepherd’ that is, quintessentially, Easterly.
            I am the Good Shepherd, and I know Mine and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I will lay down My life for the sheep [Jn 10:14-15].  That’s the key.  That’s the paradox, right there.  Tthe paradox is this:  The Good Shepherd is, Himself, the Passover Lamb.  I hope you remember the Sequence of Easter Sunday:  “Christ the Lamb has saved the sheep / Christ the just one paid the price” [cbw iii, 690].  The paradox here is that the One who cares for the sheep is Himself the Lamb whose death saves the lives of the sheepfold:  The Lamb shepherds.
            Jesus often used metaphors to describe Himself; ‘Good Shepherd’ is one of them.  We know that He was actually a carpenter by trade, not a shepherd.  St John the Baptist metaphorically referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God.  We know that Jesus was a human being, the God-Man, not an animal that zoologists call ovis aries.  But the use of these metaphors about Jesus highlights something about Him.  Jesus is a Shepherd because He cares for the sheepfold—the Church by any other name—and he is Good because He is also the Passover Lamb whose death and resurrection saves the rest of the sheep from the wolf—that is to say, Satan, who is determined to drag us into hell with him.
            A shepherd is always a human being; sheep are sheep.  But the paradox of the ‘Good Shepherd,’ especially during Eastertide, emphasises even more the Mystery of the Incarnation, of the ‘God-with-us’ in that just as God became man to save women and men; the Shepherd is like the sacrificial lamb whose death and resurrection has brought God to pass-over our sins.
            Let’s take this one step further.  Jesus sacrificed Himself for us.  When we say “Jesus sacrificed,” we mean to say that Jesus is our Priest because priests, by definition, are people who make sacrifices.  And, in “Jesus scarified Himself for us,” when we say “sacrificed Himself,” we mean to say that Jesus is the sacrificial Victim—not just in the sense of being on the receiving end of violence but in the sense of being the sacrificial offering.  Priests offer victims—such as lambs as in the Old Testament.  But Jesus is the ‘Good Shepherd’ precisely because ‘Jesus sacrificed Himself for us’ which means, really, that Jesus is Priest and Victim, the sacrificer and the sacrifice.  Hence:  The Good Shepherd is the Passover Lamb.
            Which brings us to our final point and our conclusion.  I hope you’ve been to St Joseph's Cathedral Basilica recently.  In the Lady Chapel, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle, there is a new mosaic on the wall that shows a lamb holding a standard.  The lamb shows its pierced side and a flow of blood being poured into a chalice.  This is a very Easter symbol, the Passover Lamb who was slain but lives again.  In a few minutes, when we begin the Communion, I will be holding up the Host and say “Behold the Lamb of God; behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.”  ‘Host’ means ‘Victim’ in Latin.  In the Byzantine Church, the ‘Host’ is called, simply, ‘the Lamb.’  And it is here at this Table that we celebrate Easter every single time we gather, because we commemorate—we remember together—that we were born sheep in danger of sin, death, and hell, and that Jesus’ advent is like that of a shepherd becoming a sheep who allows himself to be devoured by the wolf so that the rest of us sheep would be spared.  But the Lamb who was devoured returned to life and in turn conquered the wolf—Satan—and his wolflings, sin, death, and damnation.  “This is My Body, which will be given up for you…This is the chalice of My Blood…which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this in memory of Me.”  That’s why we come to Eucharist—that is to say, Thanksgiving in Greek—because that’s all we’re left with:  Being thankful to the Passover Lamb whose death saves us from eternal death, whose resurrection has raised us all up.  Truly, there is nothing we lack.

            Glory to You, Lamb of God, Lord Jesus Christ!