Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas: The Empathy of God


The following was the homily I preached at the Midnight Mass of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ at St Theresa's Catholic Parish.
“Does anyone understand me?”  “Nobody knows what I am going through.”  “I feel so alone.”  There isn’t one of us in here tonight that hasn’t thought or felt this at one point or another.  Depression.  Grief.  Worrying about the bills.  Husbands and wives fighting.  Children and parents not talking to each other.  Stress on the job.  So we are right to ask ourselves:  Does anyone understand?  Does nobody know what I am going through?  Why can’t I shake off this loneliness?

          Tonight is your answer.

          Most of us get only sympathy.  We might talk to someone, get convinced by platitudes like “oh there’s a silver lining somewhere” and become subjected to a barrage of advice we know to be a waste of time.  Sympathy’s nice, but the problem is, it’s cheap.

          Empathy, on the other hand, means someone does understand me, that someone does know what I am going through, and, no, you’re not alone.  That, my friends, is why tonight is your answer.

          What’s going on here, in this church, and throughout the world tonight?  Jesus’ birthday?  That’s too easy.  It’s Jesus’ birthday, yes, but it’s actually more than that.  Christmas, more than being the birthday of Jesus, is when God became a baby.  As we heard in the Proclamation tonight, “Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father…was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man:  The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.”  Christmas highlights the first of two central truths in Christianity:  The Incarnation.  “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us” [Jn 1:14] we read in John’s gospel; St Paul also wrote “In the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born of a woman” [Gal 4:4].

          In the story of creation in Genesis, God said that that each thing he made was called “good,” but the making of the human person was “very good.”  Even more than the brightest star or the most colourful nebula, the child, the woman, the man carries a worth far greater.  You and I—would you believe it?—are the crowning work of creation.  God didn’t come in the form of thunder and lightning or in some celestial portent or by way of a mass euphoric religious experience.  No.  He came as one of us.  At Christmas, God became a peer to the human race:  “Born as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.”  In the soft cries of a Jewish boy in the backwaters of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago, God’s voiced was joined to ours—God cried our cries.  God laughed our laughs.  God sorrowed our sorrows, God rejoiced in our joys.  God became one of us.  As Catholic Christians we believe this so true that repeated attempts to downplay the humanity of Jesus the God-Man was met, one by one, by anathemas swift and severe.  True God and true Man.

          By all rights, Mary should have been served by Elizabeth, travelled in a caravan of purebred horses and lodged at the choicest hotel, but no.  Seeing the plight of humanity, God willed instead to be subject Caesar’s brutal politics, an endangered pregnancy, and to have for his first home a cave reeking with smells of cows and sheep, and received a delegation of nobodies—shepherds.

          And, like you and me, the God-Man, Jesus, experienced the full range of human emotions.  He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit [Lk 10:21].  He was tempted in the desert [Mk 1:12-13].  He was angry with the money changers in the Temple [Jn 2:15].  He loved the rich young man [Mk 10:21].  He wept when His friend Lazarus died [Jn 11:35].  His heart was torn at seeing people without a caretaker [Mt 9:36].  He was afraid the night before Good Friday [Mk 14:34].  And at His crucifixion, Christ felt abandoned [Mk 15:34].

          Excusing himself from no human experience, the God-Man Jesus Christ endured even death.  In point of fact, God took on a human body precisely so that He, too, would experience human death.  Christmas was planned with Easter in mind.

          Christmas is the empathy of God.  During the period of the Old Testament, we took it on faith that God understood our struggles and shortcomings because God knows all things.  With Christmas, we now know this to be true because what makes us Christians is exactly the belief that God willed to commiserate with us by taking upon himself flesh and blood, mind and soul, and the ups and downs of human life.  That’s the ‘true Man’ side of the equation.

          The ‘true God’ side of the equation comes into clearer focus on Good Friday, “Ours were the sufferings He bore, ours the sorrows He carried…  Upon Him lies the chastisement that makes us whole, and by His wounds we were healed” [Is 53:4, 5].

          What does all of this say about you and me?  It means that you and I—whether we’re rich or poor, gay or straight, Asian or African or European or Native, disabled or not, unborn or elderly, whether we’re convicts or victims or surivors—it means that each of us is worth that much, that God would become one of us just so that God could say, “I am with you because I love you; see, I even became a baby.”

So, my friends, whatever you’re going through at home, at work, or in the privacy of our soul, Christ our God is with you.  But I know what you are thinking:  Why does life hurt so much?

          It hurts because we love.  Without love, those words from our spouses wouldn’t be so cutting.  Without love, the death of our children wouldn’t be so painful.  Without love, we wouldn’t miss our family and friends who are shipped off to Afghanistan.  Love, strangely enough, is what makes life hurt.  At the same time, if we had the choice of a love that hurts versus a loveless world, most of us, I’m sure, would still pick love.  And this is just what God has done.  “God is love,” and by his birth, God has willed to love to the point of being hurt, so that you can see in Jesus’ gaze just how far God went to prove his love.  Whatever is happening with you, don’t be afraid to throw yourselves in God’s arms, now open to receive your joys and sorrows, your hopes and griefs, your living and yes, even your dying.  “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

          The paradox of Christmas is that God doesn’t take away our pain; instead, he endures it.

          The Incarnation of the Eternal Word endures, even to this night.  Just as Our Lady, our Mother, placed Christ gently into her hands, do we also receive Christ and partake of Him in this Eucharist.  When you hear “the Body of Christ,” “the Blood of Christ,” know that our true God is also true Man, and say “Amen.”  Take and receive Christ Who received your—our—flesh and blood.  Join yourselves to Him Who was joined to us.  Give Him your life, Whose life was given for you.

          Glory be to Jesus Christ, the one Incarnate nature of God the Word, unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Easter: Death is Overcome by Life
and Life Overcomes the World


The following is the homily I preached at my first Paschal Vigil as a presbyter at St Theresa's Catholic Parish.  The vigil of the Lord's Resurrection was was truly a celebration in every sense of the word.  Eight people were received into Holy Catholicity that night.

During my last year in California, I used to take the train from San Francisco to Berkeley for grad school, getting off at Shattuck Street and walking up University Avenue and then taking Oxford Street, which runs in front of UC Berkeley.  I used to make the point of walking on the north side of the street because the south side was lined by tall buildings and the shadow on the sidewalk there made it always chilly.  Walking on the north side meant walking in the sun, walking to school, walking to what was, for me, a new life.
          Only two years prior, things weren’t so good.  I recall thinking, at the time, that no amount of sunshine, coffee, or books could shake off that grief I was going through.  It was a long, personal Good Friday.  But once I began my new life and walked on that sunny sidewalk in Berkeley, I discovered—for the first time—the meaning of Easter.  The sun, it seemed, shone for the first time in my life.
          There was no greater tragedy than our silencing the life of the “Firstborn of all creation”, who came for no other reason than to tell us how much we are loved by God.  Disturbed by the prospect that we—cosmic dust that we are—are actually the crowning achievement of the Big Bang, we tried to disarm Jesus whose proclamation of God’s love disarmed us.  “With everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer.”
          Tonight, however, the deepest and darkest corners of the human condition was overcome by a violent love when God broke the chains of sorrow and, in a burst of divine energy, not only raised Jesus to new life but also put all shadows to flight.  ‘Easter’ means just this:  that in Jesus, death is overcome by Life and Life overcomes the world.  The Byzantines will sing tonight, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs, bestowing Life!”
          In all the Scriptures we read tonight, God’s people have been ‘on their way out’ of the tomb—from the tomb of nothingness to creation, from the tomb of slavery to liberation, from the tomb of sorrow to joy, and the tomb of the font to a life of grace.  Each of us here, tonight, has our own tombs, too.  As the Lord Jesus said to Lazarus, “Come out!” He invites us, also, to emerge from whatever tomb that holds us hostage and to receive His Light.  God created light on the first day; we have just passed the vernal equinox; the moon is full; and Christ our Light has risen from the dead.  Easter illumines not only the Church, but the whole universe, beginning with our hearts, and from the largest nebulae, stars, and planets, down to the last particles and quarks of an atom.  If only we could hear, if only we could see the universe’s celebration of Christ risen, we would not want to leave tonight.
          My friends, Christ is risen.  “We are an Easter people, and alleluia is our song!”  Let us continue our celebration.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Cross:
God's Solidarity with Human Suffering



The following is the first homily that I preached at my parish during its Good Friday "Celebration of the Lord's Passion," the second of three services during the Sacred Paschal Triduum.

Two nights ago I got a message on my phone that someone was in ER.  I was told to just pray for him, but when I found out why he went into ER, I stepped on the gas and shuffled the back seat of my car to make sure that my holy oils were handy.  This person was suffering from something quite serious.  He didn’t want anointing because he wasn’t a believer.  So I just stayed with him.  Then at one point I said, “Look, believe it or not, I know what you’re going through.  I’ve been through it myself.”  His face was buried in his hands, but when I said that, he looked up at me, and for that moment, a connection was made.  He wasn’t alone.
     We all know that feeling.  In our moments of grief and sorrow, the presence of a friend makes all the difference.  Husbands holding their wives’ hands during labour.  A hand on a shoulder at a funeral.  Sharing coffee or tea in silence with someone with depression.  An A.A. meeting.  A cancer survivors' group.  That human connection, of knowing that our suffering isn’t in isolation, bears a tremendous healing quality.
     “Our were the sufferings He bore; ours the sorrows He carried.”  During the Christmas season I said again and again that the Incarnation—God’s becoming man in Jesus—is God’s solidarity with the human race.  As one the carols say, “Pleased as man with men to dwell; Jesus our Emmanuel.”  Here, now, in the middle of the Paschal Triduum, we’ve come full circle:  With the crucifixion of God Incarnate, God’s solidarity with the human race extends even to the darkest of human experiences.  At the Cross, in the crucifixion, God is with us in our sufferings.  We are not alone.  The Cross, ultimately, is God telling us that love, God’s love, is such that if suffering can’t be taken away, God will certainly partake of it.  
     The Cross is, ultimately, God commiserating with us.
     Certainly God is all-knowing, and God ‘knows’ what suffering is.  But the Cross takes God beyond knowing and shows us, in that public display of gruesome execution, that divine love is found in shared pain.
     So many in this congregation, and outside those doors, have hurts.  Teenagers who feel isolated from the world.  Women who have been treated shabbily by lesser men.  Fragile or broken marriages.  Unemployment.  Family and friends stationed in war zones.  Financial stress.  Today is for you.  Know, and know well, that your distress is also God’s.  You do not suffer alone.  “By His wounds we are healed.” 
     But know this, too:  Tomorrow night will be your night as well.  What tomorrow night promises isn’t simply a reversal of tragedy.  It’s an overcoming of tragedy.  It was overcome because it wasn’t just the man Jesus who endured the Cross and grave.  It was the God-Man who did.  And since we are united to Him by baptism, whatever sufferings we put up with now will eventually have to put up with Him, who turned suffering on its head and worked a change that reaches into the deepest fabric of the universe and gives the Good, the True, and the Beautiful the last word.  It might not come right away, but it will come.
     And so we wait…  


Good Friday 2013

Monday, March 4, 2013

"To all God's beloved in Rome..."

The following was a sermon I delivered on 2 March 2013 following the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI from the Chair of St Peter.

            My friends, tonight I’d like to do something different.  The Holy Roman Church is without a bishop.  I’m sure that many of you are wondering why any of this should be a big deal.  Since we are in a rare situation called the ‘Vacancy of the Apostolic See,’ I have decided that we will talk about why the Church of Rome is so important to us as Catholic Christians.  So instead of a homily, you’re getting a sermon.  And if you’ve got a pen and paper handy, I would encourage you to take some notes.
          St Paul the Apostle went on three missionary journeys, covering what is now Greece and Turkey.  Christianity, we know, grew out of Judaism, and in the short four decades or so after Jesus’ earthly life, the Church was locked in a struggle about what to do with non-Jews who wanted to become Christians.  Do they have to follow the entire Jewish law, too?  Eat only kosher food?  Observe the festivals and Sabbaths?  And, boys:  For those non-Jews who came to believe in Jesus do they have to be…circumcised?  The short answer, according to St Paul, was No.  (Thank God for that.  I do love my bacon.)  If we think the aftermath of Vatican II was difficult, think about Sts Peter and Paul butting heads over the very question of whether Gentile Christians were bound to follow all 613 commandments in the Law of Moses.  Paul won the day—you can read all about that in Acts 15 and his rather hotheaded follow-up in his Letter to the Galatians.
          Hold that thought for a moment.
          Either on his Second or Third Missionary Journey, St Paul wrote his magnum opus, his great work:  the Letter to the Romans.  Think for a moment about how the eyes of the world are now turned towards Rome.  Bear this in mind, and listen to how St Paul opens his letter to the Romans:  “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God…  To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” [Rom 1:7].  Paul greets the Christian community in Rome, and continues:  “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.”  The faith of the Roman Christians is “proclaimed in all the world.”  This is no small compliment.  This letter was written sometime in the mid-50s of the first century; St Peter would not go to Rome until at least the end of the 60s.  Already, then, less than three full decades after Jesus’ earthly life, the faith of the Roman Christians had already impacted the world from the world’s capital.  A few lines later, he writes:  “I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at least succeed in coming to you” [vv. 9-10].  For some time, Paul’s wanted to visit the Christians in Rome, and prays that God would somehow make it happen.  He goes on, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.  I want you to know, brethren, that I have often intended to come to you (but have thus far been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles” [vv. 11-13].  There was already a sizeable Jewish community in Rome, many of whom became believers in Jesus Christ.  But St Paul wanted to win more souls for Christ—to win the pagan Romans to Christ, too.  “I am under obligation” he writes, “both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish:  so I am eager to preach the Gospel to you also who are in Rome" [vv. 14-15].
          Now back to the Jewish Christian versus Gentile Christian imbroglio:  Christian or not, Paul’s agenda was bound to rile devout, Law-observing Jews.  Paul—and the rest of the Church’s leadership at Jerusalem—disagreed that Gentile Christians were bound by the Law of Moses.  So he was heckled, and the heckling became a riot, and St Paul was accused of insurrection.  After moving from one court of law to another, he finally saw his golden opportunity.  Before a judge, St Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried…  If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death”—here he is opening himself up to martyrdom.  But then comes that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity:  “…but if there is nothing in [the] charges against me, no one can give me up...  I appeal to Caesar.”  Little did the judge know that he would become an instrument of the Gospel:  “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go!”   Finally, I’m sure St Paul thought.  Finally, he would take that long-dreamed missionary trip to Rome.  Sure, he was in chains, the the Gospel can never be!
          Chapters 25 to 28 of Acts show Paul bouncing from one place to the next that you’d think he was taking the LRT.  The narrator pens these melodious words:  “And so we came to Rome” [Acts 28:14].  By this time, his Letter to the Romans had already been received and had nourished the Christians there, and of course Paul’s reputation in Rome was outstanding.  “And the brethren there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us” [Acts 28:15].  That’s like walking from Leduc to Edmonton.  “On seeing them Paul thanked God and took courage.”  During his time in Rome, Paul explained the Gospel to anyone who would listen:  “And he expounded the matter to them from morning till evening, testifying to the Kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from the law of Moses and from the prophets” [Acts 28:23].
          Remember:  At the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus commanded His Apostles to preach the Gospel “…and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” [1:8].  At the end of Acts, the author closes with Paul proclaiming the Gospel from the City that governed the world, and it would be from Eternal Rome that Jesus’ commandment would be fulfilled:  “you shall be my witnesses…to the end of the earth.”  That St Paul did, and proclaimed Christ to his last moments, being beheaded, which is why his icon or statue always shows him holding a sword.  He was buried and now over his grave is the magnificent papal basilica of San Paolo Fuori di Mura.  In the cloister garden is a portrait of each pope, from the first to Benedict xvi.
          St Peter the Apostle, upon whom Jesus built his Church—“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church…I give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven” [Mt 16:18]—in his first letter, hinted that he was in hiding in the world’s capital:  “She who is in Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings.”  Because of the persecution of Christians, Peter had to obscure his whereabouts by using ‘Babylon’ as a code-word for ‘Rome.’  In this letter, he tells the bishops in Asia Minor:  “So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and a witness to the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed:  Tend the flock of God that is in your charge!” [1 Pet 5:1-2].  From Rome, Peter fulfilled the charge of Jesus to “confirm his brothers” in the far reaches of the Empire.
          But he, too, would proclaim Christ by his life to the end.  Convicted for being a Christian, he was executed; because he wasn’t a Roman citizen, he was crucified upside down.  He is now buried somewhere in the Vatican Hill west of the Tiber River, over which St Peter’s Basilica now sits.
          The historical records are fuzzy, but it seems that a Christian named St Linus was ordained by Paul [2 Tim 4:29?] and took up the leadership that Peter left behind:  Habemus papam, we have a pope.  One after the other; some great, others not so much; the march of centuries and the opposition of the world notwithstanding:  the Keys entrusted by Jesus to Peter were handed down, last picked up on 19 April 2005 and then laid aside last Thursday by our Most Blessed Father in God, His Holiness Benedict xvi.  Having abdicated the Ministry of Peter, he reminds us that the Church is governed, invisibly, by Christ Himself.  This situation we find ourselves in now, the ‘Vacancy of the Apostolic See,’ means that the seat of authority left by the great and glorious Apostles Peter and Paul, is empty and awaits another occupant to shepherd us, a visible sign of the invisible Good Shepherd.
          Dearest Sisters and Brothers in Christ:  This is why the Holy Roman Church is our Mother Church.  Thus the Lateran Basilica—the cathedral church of Rome, bears the following inscription on the façade:  Omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput—the Mother and Head of all the Churches in the City and in the World.”
          One last thing.  In ancient times, it was customary for the pope to leave aside a portion of the Sacred Body from his Mass and to have it sent to the neighbouring parishes outside of Rome; these parishes would receive their portion of the Sacred Body from the pope’s Eucharist and drop it into the chalice as a symbol of their fellowship with the Bishop of Rome.  That is why the priest breaks off a portion from the Host and drops it into the Chalice, to remind us that we, as Christians, are inseparably united with the Mother-Church at Rome, from whom we received the Gospel.
          Bear this in mind, and when you receive the Lord Jesus in Communion, ask Christ—who is the invisible Head of the Church—to give to us a shepherd who will boldly proclaim His Gospel “to the ends of the earth.”

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Defending the Immaculata


The following is an email I sent to a Fundamentalist gentleman who approached me at a Deaf club several weeks ago and proceeded to attack the Catholic Church.  It may he helpful to our Protestant friends who do not understand the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and to help those Catholics in understanding it better.

I need to respond to your attack on the Mother of Jesus from two Fridays ago as (1) you do not understand what is meant by the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and (2) you misunderstand the Scriptures you used to attack the Mother of Jesus.

First of all, yes of course Mary needed a Saviour, and indeed she did call God her Saviour.  But here's the real question:  How could God be Mary's Saviour when the finished work of the Cross had not yet happened?  John Duns Scotus answers that question clearly for us, and we'll get back to that in a moment.

Notice that the greeting from the Archangel Gabriel to Mary was in the same pattern as the Old Testament saints whose names were changed:  Like Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, etc.  In like fashion, Gabriel does not say "Hail, Mary, full of grace!"  No; he says "Hail, full of grace!" (Lk 1:28, AV and RSV CE).  The Greek word for "full of grace" is κεχαριτωμένη,which is in the perfect passive participle voice.  In other words, (a) the perfect tense means that the action took place and was completed some time in the past; (b) the passive voice means that the action was done by somebody else.  Translated literally, it means "you-who-have been-graced."  Furthermore, the perfect tense indicates that the past action has implications for the present.  What's significant is that it's not in the aorist tense, which means a past event that remains past.  Thus κεχαριτωμένη means that Mary's being full of grace bears on the present circumstance of her becoming the Mother of the Incarnate Word.  Neither is it in the imperfect tense, in which case it would be translated as "you-who-are-being-graced"--because she is already "full" of grace that no more can be added; nor is it in the pluperfect tense (which is similar to the aorist tense).  This is exactly what we miss in English--the Greek New Testament is far, far clearer than any English translation because the "perfect tense" does not exist in English apart from the use of auxiliary verbs and because Greek tenses behave in ways that are untranslatable in English.

So if Mary is "full of grace" or κεχαριτωμένη (=you-who-have-been-graced), we need to ask two more questions:  If Mary's grace was begun sometime in the past, when did it begin?  This is significant because it is St Luke who is writing, St Luke who was a companion of St Paul the Apostle, the great theologian of grace and he doubtless has a Pauline understanding of grace.  This leads us to the second question:  How could Mary be full of grace prior to the Cross?  We know that the Cross is the fountain of every grace and blessing.  But Mary had not even conceived the Incarnate Word in her womb until her "Yes" to God's plan (Lk 1:38).

This question also speaks to the Magnificat:  "Mary said...my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour" (Lk 1:46, 47).  How could Mary be full of grace before the Cross, let alone the Incarnation (cf. Jn 1:14)?  And how could Mary claim God to be her Saviour before the finished work of the Cross?  St Paul is strikingly clear:  "[T]hey are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by His Blood, to be received by faith" (Rom 3:25).

The answer is simple:  Crux stat dum volvitur mundi--the Cross stands while the world turns.  The Mystery of the Cross of Jesus is that it was a reality even before creation.  Hence the Apocalypse speaks of "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev 13:8).  John Duns Scotus teaches that the Cross of Jesus transcends time, and it was the grace of the Cross which was retroactive in time which wrought the salvation of Mary.

But this still leaves unresolved as to when Mary's grace began.

The answer is found in the Protoevangelium (Gen 3:15):  "I will put enmity between you and the woman."  The enmity between the serpent--who is Satan (cf. Rev 12:9)--and the "Woman"--who is Mary (cf. Jn 2:4, 19:26; Rev 12:1).  But what is the extent of this enmity (Gk ,ἔχθραν, Heb וְאֵיבָ֣ה׀ )?  It is total enmity between Satan and the Woman--who is Mary since she gave birth to Christ who "crushed the head of the serpent."  The opposition between Mary and Satan is repeated in Rev 12 which actually echoes the Protoevangelium of Gen 3:15.  The enmity between Mary and Satan is absolute and total.

If the enmity between Mary and Satan is absolute and total, it follows that the total enmity on Mary's part is in the totality of her life--from conception.

It is at conception, then, that the first moment of Mary's being full of grace (Lk 1:28) took place (since, again, since κεχαριτωμένη  is in the perfect tense).  If Mary was full of grace at her conception, and since grace and sin are opposed (as the Woman and the serpent are opposed), it follows, then, that Mary's conception was an immaculate one.

But what about "All have sinned" as St Paul said?  He was referring to personal sin.  And despite the quantifier "all have sinned..." we still have to exclude Jesus a priori because He was without sin (2 Cor 5:21; Pet 2:22) and, of course, children, who are incapable of committing personal sins before the age of reason.  

We cannot get into this question without starting another email but suffice it to say that the historic, Christian method of reading the Scriptures differs from the Fundamentalist in that Christians--especially Catholic Christians--use Scripture to interpret Scripture.  We do not, like Fundamentalists, use one Scripture to "cancel out" another--which is what you did in our discussion of humanity's sinfulness versus the Annunciation.  Thus we must be cognizant of the sinfulness of the human race; this bearing on Mary is such that she was saved from sinat the moment of her conception.  But we must be more specific:  the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception says that God preserved Mary free from all "stain of original sin."  Does that mean that the fallenness of humankind did not apply to Mary?  Absolutely not.  Whereas you and I are saved from sin in the same way that a lifeguard jumps into the water to save a drowning swimmer, Mary was saved analogous to that of a person who could not swim about  to fall into the water but was caught by the lifeguard.

So it is clear that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is consonant with the Scriptures:  Mary's being full of grace, on account of her total enmity with Satan, took place at the very beginning of her life, i.e., at conception, and the finished work of the Cross worked its power against the flow of time, backward, to Mary's life.  So Mary was indeed saved, and that more perfectly than any of us!

Vivat Iesus,
Revd Hysell

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Wintertown: A Pastoral Possibility

Winter is upon us once again.  Edmonton, being one of the northernmost cities in North America and only seven degrees below the arctic circle, has gained the reputation of being 'Wintertown' or the 'Winter City.'  With October scarcely over, the city is covered by a blanket of fallen clouds and cut across by frozen rivers.
     Come February or March, the mood of Edmontonians will be far from pleasant--the frigid climate will continue to press on and memories of the recent summer all but disappears.  What makes the Edmonton winter all the more oppressive, though, is not so much the subzero temperatures as the nonstop conversation about what a horrible place Edmonton is.  In other words, Wintertown is only as bad as Edmontonians say it is.  So why not change our conversation?
     I do believe that there can be a viable pastoral response to this.  Visiting one of our Catholic schools one day, I noticed a stark contrast between the excitement of the children and the gloom of the adults when the first major snowfall took place.  Then I remembered my own childhood and the seeming magic of snowmen, sledding, and of course everything Christmas.
     My advice?  Pace ourselves.
     We can expect the snow to begin its exit and the first signs of spring in mid-April, even though the vernal equinox has already come and gone.  That having been said, let's keep Advent for what it is, a preparation for the Christmas season.  The tendency to throw Christmas parties before Christmas makes December 25th an end-point rather than a starting-point; by the time December 25th is past, we've exhausted our festivities, only to face another three months of gloomy, pale landscape.  Why not leave the gloomy, pale landscape to the penitential season that Advent is meant to be?
     More to the point, the Advent Season 'dawns' over the last two weeks of November, when the Roman Liturgy begins to speak of the End, a theme that is taken up during the first two weeks of Advent.  Only on the Third and Fourth Sundays of Advent do we get a hint of the upcoming Nativity of Our Lord, piqued by the celebration of Gaudete Sunday and the crescendo of the 'O Antiphons' beginning on 17 December.
     This is not to say that we should scrub any efforts at festivity during the early weeks of winter.  The Feast of St Nicholas--provided he remains in his proper context--offers a real and realistic possibility for a winter festival and one that can be twinned with his claim to fame:  charity towards the less fortunate.  As any Edmontonian can tell you, the plight of the homeless in Wintertown is especially brutal.  Why not be Christian instead of Coca-Cola about it?
     With Gaudete Sunday and the beginnings of the O Antiphons, the Christian community in Edmonton can begin to anticipate--anticipate--the birthday of Christ in a way that is intended by the Sacred Liturgy:  Jesse Trees, Old Testament hopes for the Messiah's advent (get it?), and of course the quintessentially English 'Service of Lessons and Carols.'
     Christian life and liturgical life should never be out of sync--otherwise the Sacred Liturgy is reduced to pageantry.  Thus Christmas decorations and Christmas greetings ought to be put on hold until Christmas Eve.  Practically speaking, however, one can begin to decorate the tree with ornaments based upon the Biblical motifs and the O Antiphons, only to place Christmas decorations on the tree and throughout the house after the Missa in Nocte.  (Why else would we begin to celebrate Christmas before the intoning of the Christmas Proclamation, "Today, the twenty-fifth day of December...  Today is the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh"?)
     By then, already two months since the first snowfall, we've only begun to celebrate the holidays.  Holidays, mind you.  We've still got Mary, Mother of God, Holy Family, Epiphany, Theophany, and finally Candlemas.
     Although it has been suppressed by a less thoughtful contingent of the liturgical reform, the time between Epiphany and Candlemas is enough stretch of time to allow for a continued celebration during the cold and dark.  How many parishes carry through the full celebratory tone of these holidays?  Do we exchange gifts on Epiphany--in commemoration of the Magi who presented gifts to the Infant Christ--or have we already been spent on (obligatory?) giving?  Do we take the time at the Epiphany Mass to solemnly announce the feasts for the upcoming liturgical year and conclude the day with a festive gathering?
     Although the Christmas season is already past, vestiges of 'Epiphanytide' remains in the reformed liturgical calendar.  The Church can still mark Candlemas--the Presentation (or Meeting) of Our Lord in the Temple--and keep to an authentic liturgical life by having February 2nd, instead of December 25th, as the end-point of the winter festivals.
     In this way we can keep to the true intent of the liturgy--proclaiming the wonders of God and the events of salvation history through the narrative of the seasonal cycles--and to offer a Christian response to a bleak worldview that offers only a Wal-Mart "holiday season" which ends on Boxing Day and nothing until the snow melts.
     After all, wasn't it our God who made the seasons?


Monday, May 14, 2012

Mark Seven Bible Institute 2012
19-15 August 2012

Announcing the upcoming Mark Seven Bible Institute 2012: "Mary in Scripture"

 

For more information, please visit our website here.