dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

dotCommonweal Blog

Alleluia

Happy are those who dwell in your house. [Ps 83:5]... They will possess the heavenly Jerusalem without being confined, without being pressed, without boundaries dividing them from each other. All will possess it, and each will possess the whole....

And what will they do there? After all, the mother of all human activities is necessity... Tell me what they will do there since I don’t see any needs that would move me to act. That I am now speaking and preaching is out of necessity. Do you think there will be preaching there, the kind that teaches the ignorant and reminds the forgetful? Will the Gospel be recited there where the very Word of God is being contemplated? The Psalmist whose desires and sighs express our desires and sighs has told us what they will have in that sighed-for homeland: Blessed are they who dwell in your house; well, then, let him tell us what they will do there: For ever will they praise you. Our whole employment then will be an unfailing Alleluia. [Hoc erit totum negotium nostrum, sine defectu Alleluia.]

And don’t think that you will get tired of it, as happens now if you do it for a long while until some need calls you from this joy.... When death has been swallowed up in victory, when this mortal has put on immortality, and this corruptible has put on incorruption, no one will say, “I’ve been standing so long!” No one will say, “I’ve been fasting so long!” No one will say, “I’ve been keeping vigil so long!” There will be great steadiness there, and the very immortality of our body will be caught up in the contemplation of God. If the word I am giving to you can keep your frail flesh standing for so long, what will that joy do! How it will change us! For we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is (1 Jn 3:2). If we shall be like him, how shall we grow weak? To what could we be turned aside? Don’t worry, then: the praise of God, the love of God, will not cloy us. If your love were to fail, your praise would fail. But if your love will be eternal because that beauty will never cloy [insatiabilis pulchritudo], don’t be afraid that you will not be able always to praise the one whom you will be able to love always.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house; for ever will they praise you. Let us desire this life. (Augustine, In Ps 83, 8; PL 37:1061-63)

_____

These holy days that are celebrated after the resurrection of the Lord symbolize the future life after our resurrection. Just as the days of Lent before Easter symbolized the labor and troubles of this mortal life, so these happy days symbolize the future life when we will reign with the Lord. The life symbolized by the forty days before Easter is the life we have now; the life which is symbolized by the fifty days after the resurrection of the Lord we do not yet have; we hope for it, and in our hope love it, and in that love the God who promised it is praised, and these praises are our Alleluia. For what does “Alleluia” mean? It is a Hebrew word, and it means “Praise God.” Allelu is “Praise”, and Ia is “God”. When we praise God with our Alleluia, we are stirring each other to the praise of God.  With hearts more in tune than the strings of a lute, we praise God, sing Alleluia. (Sermon 243, 8; PL 38, 1147)

The Christic Imagination – VI

"Then the other disciple, who had arrived at the tomb first, also went in. And he saw and believed."

Fourteen hundred years later an English woman, Julian of Norwich, pondered the meaning of what she had seen years before during a night of prolonged sufferings. She concluded her account in her book, The Shewings, with these words:

And I saw full surely that ere God made us he loved us; which love was never slacked, nor ever shall be. And in this love he hath done all his works; and in this love he hath made all things profitable to us; and in this love our life is everlasting.

In our making we had beginning; but the love wherein he made us was in him without beginning. And all this shall we see in God without end.

Easter blessings Urbi et Orbi!

 

The Christic Imagination – V

The prayer at the Easter Vigil that follows upon the seventh reading (from the Prophet Ezekiel):

O God of unchanging power and eternal light, may the whole world know and see that what was cast down is raised up, what had become old is made new, and all things are restored to integrity through Christ, just as by him they came into being. Who lives and reigns forever and ever.

Waiting

“And you, Lord God, compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and most merciful, and true” (Ps 85:15)–because hanging on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). Whom did he pray? For whom did he pray? Who was it that prayed? Where did he pray? The Son prayed his Father; the one crucified prayed for the wicked; amid all those insults not just of the words but of the death inflicted; hanging on the cross as if he was stretching out his hands in order to pray for them, so that his prayer might be directed as incense in his Father’s sight and the lifting up of his hands be like an evening sacrifice (Ps 140:2). “Long-suffering, and most merciful, and true.” (EnPs 85, 20; PL 37, 1096)

_______

No part of Christian faith is more contradicted than the resurrection of the flesh. To meet such a denier, he who was born to be a sign of contradiction (see Lk 2:34) raised his own flesh, and he who could have so healed his members that their wounds would not appear preserved the scars on his body in order to heal the wound of the heart’s doubt.  But there is nothing in the Christian faith that is so vehemently, so persistently, so obstinately and contentiously opposed as its faith in the resurrection of the flesh. Many Gentile philosophers debated at length about the immortality of the soul and in many and varied books they have left arguments that the human soul is immortal. But when it came to the resurrection of the flesh, they did not waver but quite openly denied it, arguing that it is impossible for this earthly flesh to ascend into heaven. (EnPs 88[89]/2, 5; PL 37, 1134)

________

Augustine, after speaking about the warfare between the flesh and the spirit:

I want the whole to be healed, because I am the whole. I don’t want my flesh to be eternally separated from me, like something foreign; I want it to be entirely healed with me. If you do not want this, I don’t know what you think of the flesh; I guess you think it comes from some unknown place, as if from an enemy nation. That’s false; its heretical; its blasphemous. Mind and flesh have a single artisan. When he created man, he made them both, joined them both; he subjected the flesh to the soul and the soul to himself. (Augustine, Sermon 30, 4)

The Christic Imagination – IV

There is the cryptic article of the Apostles Creed: "He descended into hell."

There are the enigmatic and controverted verses of Scripture: "For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water" (1 Peter 3:18–20).

Little more.

Over the centuries Holy Saturday had contracted liturgically, leaving little breathing space between the desolation of Good Friday and the exuberant joy of Easter. Within living memory of some (many?) who read this blog, the Easter Vigil was celebrated Holy Saturday morning, with the risen Lord proclaimed amid song and tears of joy at noon of Saturday.

Pius XII's restoration of the full scope of the Triduum happily returned Holy Saturday to its proper place and proportion. But what is that place?

One suggestion is that it is a time of contemplative wonder mixed with dread. Perhaps what I am gesturing towards finds expression in that magnificent ancient homily, read at this day's Office of Readings/Tenebrae Service:

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

The Christic Imagination - III

All of the recent posts on the Triduum and Anthony Domestico’s interview with Christian Wiman have brought me back to one of my favorite living poets, Geoffrey Hill. In the interview with Wiman, Domestico classifies two types of Christian poets: those who emphasize the incarnation and those who emphasize the crucifixion. In the second camp, Domestico quite rightly places Hill. And so I thought dotCommonweal readers would be interested in two of Hill’s poems. “Canticle for Good Friday” comes from his first collection For the Unfallen (1960) and “LACHRIMAE ANTIQUAE NOVAE” comes from Tenebrae (1978). Hill’s Broken Hierarchies, Poems 1952-2012 has just been published by Oxford University Press.

Read more

St. Cecelia's in Detroit: Patron Saint of Basketball

Paul Wachter has a lovely piece on Grantland about "The Saint":

“If you were a player in Michigan, you had to play at St. Cecilia,” said Earl “The Twirl” Cureton, a Detroit native who won two NBA championships with the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets in a professional career spanning from 1980 to 1997. But even after he’d made the NBA, Cureton returned each summer to St. Cecilia’s to play in the church gym’s pro-am league.

“It didn’t matter what you had done that season in the league,” he said. “You still had to prove yourself back at the Saint.”

The rise of St. Cecelia's basketball program began during the 1967 riots when the parochial school's athletic director, Samuel Washington, Sr., opened the gym so his children and their friends could be safe.  Wachter writes about both the legendary players and games at St. Cecelia's, and the distinctively Catholic ethos that allowed basketball to flourish at "The Saint".

Unobligated generosity

[In Book 13 of his De Trintate, Augustine addressed the theme of our redemption by Christ. He introduces the subject by asking a question that may have been asked in every generation–it is still being asked today. As the following excerpt indicates, he was concerned to eliminate from the beginning the misunderstanding that has plagued some presentations of the atonement and I once heard summarized in these terms: “God was so alienated from sinful human beings that it required the blood-sacrifice of his Son before he could forgive them.” As always Augustine approached the subject on the basis of Scriptural teachings that he accepted as posing the real terms of the question.]

Some people say, “Did God have no other way to free human beings from this wretched mortal condition than that he should want his only begotten Son, God co-eternal with himself, to become man, to take on human soul and flesh, to be made mortal, and to suffer death?” To refute them, it is not enough to assert that this way by which God deigned to free us through “the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5) is good and befits the divine dignity; we must also show, not that no other way was possible to God, since all things are equally subject to his power, but that there was not and ned not have been any way more fitting for healing our wretchedness.

Read more

The Christic Imagination - II

In her reflection on the Good Friday Liturgy Rita Ferrone writes:

The choice of John’s Passion is pivotal. Jesus reigns from the cross. His hour of glory is on the cross, for it is not simply an instrument of his humiliation and suffering but the access point of life and salvation for those who believe.

Bach's faith-filled imagination sublimely proclaims this truth in the majestic opening chorus of his Saint John's Passion, "Herr, unser Herrscher:"

The hammer-like repetition of "Herr, Herr, Herr" and the sinuous melodic line that follows resounds both plaintive and triumphant.

Lord, our sovereign Lord, your glory reigns in every land. Show us by your Passion that you, the true Son of God, are ever glorified, even in the most profound humiliation.

 

 

National Poetry Month - Mary Szybist

I could take the easy way out and tell you to read Christian Wiman, whose words are currently featured in the magazine. But instead I'm going to suggest Mary Szybist, whose 2013 collection Incarnadine won the National Book Award.

In Incarnadine, Szybist returns again and again to the Annunciation--or, it might be more accurate to say that she returns to "the annunciations," since she's interested not in a singular incursion of the eternal into the temporal but in an intersection that is more habitual. Think of Eliot's Four Quartets. There, Eliot describes epiphanic moments as "hints and guesses, / Hints followed by guesses," and goes on to claim that "The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation." For Szybist, the hint half guessed, the gift half understood is Annunciation, and this revision hints at some of the collection's major themes: motherood; the female body; the bewilderment and ecstasy of being called by love.

Like Wiman, Szybist is haunted by transcendence: yearning for something beyond her that can't be articulated completely but must be brokenly, desperately gestured towards. Take these lines from "Yet Not Consumed":

Read more

The Liturgies of the Triduum

It’s Holy Thursday. The Paschal Triduum is about to begin this evening with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. For Catholics these are our “high holy days,” a single celebration of the Paschal Mystery spread out over three days, the center and high point of which is the Easter Vigil.

How important is it to get to the three great Triduum liturgies? For a lot of Catholics, it’s getting harder and harder, because of work.

Read more

The Christic Imagination

We just concluded the Tenebrae service at Saint Theresa's in the Bronx: the psalms were chanted, as were the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Several classes of the parish school were present -- and participating! After each psalm two candles are extinguished. At the end, the lone candle remaining lit was taken from the candelabrum and led the procession out of the church. There was rapt silence.

One of the readings is from the ancient homily of Melito of Sardis. Here is an excerpt:

There was much proclaimed by the prophets about the mystery of the Passover: that mystery is Christ, and to him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

  It is he who was made man of the Virgin, he who was hung on the tree; it is he who was buried in the earth, raised from the dead, and taken up to the heights of heaven. He is the mute lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock, dragged off to be slaughtered, sacrificed in the evening, and buried at night. On the tree no bone of his was broken; in the earth his body knew no decay. He is the One who rose from the dead, and who raised man from the depths of the tomb.

 

Passages

 “Before the feast of Passover [Pascha], Jesus, knowing that his hour had come that he should pass out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1). Pascha, brothers and sisters, is not, as some think, a Greek but a Hebrew word, but in this word the two languages come together in a most appropriate way. Because the Greek verb for “to suffer” is paschein, it has been thought that Pascha means “suffering” [passio]. In its own language, Hebrew, however, Pascha means a passage, and for that reason the people of God first celebrated Pascha when they fled from Egypt and passed across the Red Sea (Ex 24:29). Now that prophetical symbol has been completed in reality when Christ is led like a lamb to the slaughter (Is 53:7); his blood marks the lintels of our gates, that is, his cross is signed upon our foreheads, we are freed from the ruin of this world as if from an Egyptian captivity or destruction, and we enact that most salutary passage when we pass from the devil to Christ and from this unstable world to the solidly founded Kingdom. We pass to God in his permanence lest we pass away with this passing world. Praising God for this grace given us, the Apostle says, “He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us across into the Kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13). ....

But why should we wonder that he rose from supper and laid aside his garments, who, being in the form of God, emptied himself? And why should we wonder, if he girded himself with a towel who took upon himself the form of a servant and was found in the likeness of a man? Why wonder if he poured water into a basin with which to wash his disciples' feet, who poured his blood upon the earth to wash away the filth of their sins? Why wonder, if with the towel with which he was girded he wiped the feet he had washed, who with the very flesh that clothed him laid a firm pathway for the footsteps of his evangelists?...

All that suffering of his is our cleansing. About to suffer death, he performed his act of service beforehand, and not only for those for whom he was about to undergo death, but even for the one who was about to hand him over to that death. So great is the usefulness of human lowliness, that divine loftiness commended it by its own example. Lofty man would have perished for ever unless a lowly God had found him. The Son of Man came to seek and to save what had been lost. As we had been lost by imitating the devil’s lofty pride, let us, now that we have been found, imitate the Redeemer’s lowliness. (Augustine, In Ioannem Tr. 55, 1 and 7; PL 35, 1785-1786, 1787)

Secretary Kerry: Nice Try

Secretary of State John Kerry's effort to bring the Israeli-Palestinian stand-off to another level is clearly failing, if it has not already failed. So what's next? Some weary but knowledgable observers offer their thoughts. I read them to say in general: time for the United States to sign off.

Tom Friedman at the NYTimes: "The truth is Kerry’s mission is less an act of strategy and more an act of deep friendship. It is America trying to save Israel from trends that will inevitably undermine it as a Jewish and democratic state. But Kerry is the last of an old guard. Those in the Obama administration who think he is on a suicide mission reflect the new U.S. attitude toward the region. And those in Israel who denounce him as a nuisance reflect the new Israel."

Henry Siegman at Haaretz:  America has been seen by the entire international community as “owning” the peace process, not because its statesmen are believed to be wiser than all others, but because it enjoys leverage with Israel that uniquely enables it to influence the Jewish state’s policies.....[I]t is the consequence of the many decades of unprecedented U.S. generosity towards the Jewish state in the form of virtually unlimited military and economic assistance.... It has long been assumed that a point would surely come when Washington would use its long-accumulated leverage to inform Israel’s government that it could no longer fend off international criticism of Israel’s occupation without incurring serious damage to its own credibility and national interests. It was believed that when the U.S. reaches that point, Israel would have no choice but to withdraw from the West Bank to the pre-1967 lines, subject to minor mutual border swaps and appropriate security guarantees....But that moment of truth never came, and no one believes any longer it ever will.

Paul Pillar at National Interest: Reviews "What to Do After Peace Process Failure."

Elsewhere

Dean Baker on education and inequality:

The patterns in the data show that inequality is not a question of the more-educated gaining at the expense of the less-educated due to inevitable technological trends. Rather, it has been a story in which a small group of especially well-situated workers — for example, those in finance, doctors, and top-level corporate executives — have been able to gain at the expense of almost everyone else. This pattern of inequality will be little affected by improving the educational outcomes for the bottom quarter or even bottom half of income distribution.

Jonathan Cohn on taxes:

Relative to other countries, tax rates in the U.S. are relatively low, even when you throw in local and state taxes and add them to federal levies. Overall, according to the Tax Policy Center and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which supplied the graph above, taxes in the U.S. are among the lowest in the developed world. The average for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an organization of rich countries, is higher. And in countries like Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands...the average is much higher. In those nations, taxes account for more than half of total national income.

That level may sound scary but, as many of us have written before, you could make a good case that the people of Scandinavia and Northern Europe know what they are doing. They are far more secure, thanks not only to national health insurance but also to generous provision of child care and unemployment benefits. And despite the high tax burden, their economies have historically been strong—in part, because the combination of investment and a secure safety net makes people more comfortable with a dynamic, ever-changing economy. The wonks used to call this economic model “flexicurity.”

Thomas Nagel on regret:

If someone breaks his promise to drive you to the airport, causing you to miss your flight, then even if the flight crashes with no survivors your friend is not excused: he shouldn’t have broken his promise. The retrospective effects of later outcomes have to do not with justification but with affirmation or regret, which are independent of justification or its absence.

New stories on our homepage

Now on the homepage, "Being Prepared for Joy," Anthony Domestico's fascinating interview with poet Christian Wiman. An excerpt:

AD: You’re currently teaching a course called “Accidental Theologies,” which you define as the kind of theology that gets done in seemingly nontheological texts—letters, poems, and novels, for example. Why are you drawn to this kind of writing? What in particular interests you about the kind of theology that gets done in, say, the novels of Fanny Howe or Marilynne Robinson? And how do the pleasures you get from accidental theology differ from the pleasures you get from the more traditional theology of a Karl Barth or Hans Urs von Balthasar?

CW: I seem immune to ideas that have no concretion to them. Most systematic theology—modern theology, I should specify, like Barth or Balthazar—just bounces right off the stone of my brain. I don’t mean that I don’t enjoy it—I do—but it seems not to stick with me in any meaningful way, seems ungraspable the minute I’ve closed the book.

Embodied theology, though, ideas about God that have some music and physicality to them, ideas, that is to say, that aren’t primarily ideas—these sorts of works I understand and love and am able to carry with me in my life and faith. I’m not ranking the ways one does theology, though; just diagnosing my own magpie method, which has its own strengths and weaknesses.

But you should really read the whole thing.

Also, the editors write on Republican efforts to tighten voting rules in a number of swing states:

Republicans in nine states have pushed through laws with strict photo ID requirements as well as a variety of limitations on early voting, extended voting hours (including weekends), same-day registration, and absentee voting. All of these restrictions would disproportionately affect minority voters. Many African Americans, especially those living in cities, do not have the state-issued photo IDs, such as driver’s licenses or passports, required by the laws. Many cannot get to the polls until early evening. Sunday voting, often organized around church services in African American communities, is especially important for increasing turnout. How can prohibiting Sunday voting, as Ohio has just done, be anything but discriminatory?

Read all of "Voting Rights & Wrongs" here.

Finn flayed.

Last week, Kansas City Detective Maggie McGuire was honored for her work on the troubling case of Shawn Ratigan, a now-laicized priest serving a fifty-year sentence for possessing and creating child pornography. Recall that in 2012 Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph was found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse--after diocesan personnel informed him that they had found pornographic photographs of minors on Ratigan's laptop and the bishop failed to notify police. Obviously Deputy U.S. Attorney Gene Porter hasn't forgotten the details of that case, because when he presented the Crystal Kipper & Ali Kemp Memorial Award to McGuire, he delivered a stinging rebuke to Finn and his diocese:

When it becomes clear at the outset of the investigation that the entire hierarchy of a centuries-old religious denomination does not seem willing to recognize that the children depicted in the images are, in fact, victims of child exploitation, nor seem very willing to help establish the identity of the children depicted, and instead are spending millions of dollars on legal counsel in an ill-advised effort to avoid having the priest and bishop accept legal responsibility for their crimes, then you know, as an investigator, that your work is cut out for you.

He continued:

But for [McGuire's] work, multiple victims might not have been identified, a predatory priest might not have been removed and sentenced to the functional equivalent of life in prison, and Robert Finn never would have become the first cleric of his rank in the United States to sustain…a criminal conviction for failure to report suspected child abuse.

A judge sentenced Bishop Finn to two years of probation. He has not been censured by church authorities.

(H/T NCR)

Greater grace, greater praise

The heavens will confess your wondrous deeds, O Lord” (Ps 88[89]:6). The heavens will not be confessing their own merits: “the heavens will confess your wondrous deeds, O Lord.” In any mercy shown to the lost, in the justifying of the wicked, what do we praise if not the wondrous deeds of God? You give praise because the dead rise again; give even greater praise because the lost have been redeemed. What grace! What mercy of God! You see someone who yesterday was a whirlpool of drunkenness and today is a model of sobriety. You see someone who yesterday was a cesspool of excess and today is a paragon of temperance. You see someone who yesterday was blaspheming God today is praising God. You see someone who yesterday was a slave of creatures today is a worshipper of the Creator. People are being converted from all those desperate conditions. Let them not consider their own merits. Let them become heavens and let those heavens confess the wondrous deeds of the one who made them heavens. (Augustine, EnPs 88[89], 6; PL 37, 1123)

Christian seders: always a bad idea?

Can Christians host seders? Should they? It's a question I've seen raised and answered in a few places this Passover, with some interesting responses, mostly in the negative. I've never been to a seder, Christian or otherwise, and no parish I've been in has ever tried it, so I'm interested in the question without being very invested.

Everyone whose opinion I've read concedes that Christian seders are a well-intentioned practice -- usually, anyway, an attempt to learn more about what Christ believed and did, and what Jewish neighbors do today. But most think they're a bad idea nevertheless. An exception is Mark Silk, who gives the Christian hosts his blessing.

He notes concerns raised by Rebecca Cynamon-Murphy ("a Christian woman married to a Jewish man") in a piece at Religion Dispatches: the practice appropriates a Jewish ritual, ignoring the history of Christian persecution of Jews as well as the still-vibrant religious experience of Jews today. She gives a clear explanation of the danger of theological insensitivity and error:

Christians mounting their own reading of the Haggadah almost always want to discuss how Jesus is like the paschal lamb, using the occasion to show how all the Hebrew scriptures point to Jesus as fulfilling the prophecies. This theological exercise, known as supersessionism, is problematic enough in a purely Christian context, but as part of a Jewish ritual it is deeply out of place.

At Religion News Service, Silk writes,

Read more

Losing my religion? I blame the Internet!

This is kind of an old story in online time, dating all the way back to last week, on a study that links declining interest and participation in religion to the rise of the Internet. Of course, there's been handwringing over the weakening of interest in religion almost as long as there's been organized religion, something Elizabeth Drescher tidily sums up (again) at Religion Dispatches: from the piper on the English green to colonialism in the New World to Industrial-age indifference to--according to "research" from 2010--Facebook, there's always something steering people away from church. And she doesn't even mention radio, TV, professional football, or kids' soccer games. 
 
Never mind whether any of these have been definitively linked to "the problem" anyway; like video games and gun violence or vaccines and autism, blaming the Internet for [insert name of ailment here] has that easy intuitive appeal that comes with any simple, single-cause explanation for something that had seemed too complex or concerning to consider more deeply.
Read more