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Sine Dominico Non Possumus

Pope Benedict's homily in St. Stephen's Cathedral Vienna this morning began with a phrase that is dear to him and that guides his theological vision: "Sine dominico non possumus." He explains its significance:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Sine dominico non possumus! Without the gift of the Lord, without the Lords day, we cannot live: That was the answer given in the year 304 by Christians from Abitene in present-day Tunisia, when they were caught celebrating the forbidden Sunday Eucharist and brought before the judge. They were asked why they were celebrating the Christian Sunday Eucharist, even though they knew it was a capital offence. Sine dominico non possumus: in the word dominico two meanings are inextricably intertwined, and we must once more learn to recognize their unity. First of all there is the gift of the Lord this gift is the Lord himself: the Risen one, whom the Christians simply need to have close and accessible to them, if they are to be themselves. Yet this accessibility is not merely something spiritual, inward and subjective: the encounter with the Lord is inscribed in time on a specific day. And so it is inscribed in our everyday, corporal and communal existence, in temporality. It gives a focus, an inner order to our time and thus to the whole of our lives. For these Christians, the Sunday Eucharist was not a commandment, but an inner necessity. Without him who sustains our lives with his love, life itself is empty. To do without or to betray this focus would deprive life of its very foundation, would take away its inner dignity and beauty.

Does this attitude of the Christians of that time apply also to us who are Christians today? Yes, it does, we too need a relationship that sustains us, that gives direction and content to our lives. We too need access to the Risen one, who sustains us through and beyond death. We need this encounter which brings us together, which gives us space for freedom, which lets us see beyond the bustle of everyday life to Gods creative love, from which we come and towards which we are travelling.

Vatican Radio provides the full text here.

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Though not directly connected to the Pope's homily, there will be another religious event of note in Austria next month: Franz Jagerstatter, the Austrian conscientious objector who was beheaded by the Nazis in 1943 for refusing to serve in Hitler's army, will be beatified on October 26 in Linz. I had never heard of Jagerstatter until he was mentioned some months ago on this blog. Also mentioned was Gordon Zahn's "In Solitary Witness," and how the 1964 book essentially single-handedly brought Jagerstatter to the attention of the world and to the attention of those in the Vatican who consider causes for canonization. It took me a bit of time to find a used copy of Zahn's interesting book; the author, a sociologist, wrote it almost like a case study. He's deceased, but on 10/26 he'll no doubt be beside Jagerstatter when the martyr is formally recognized by the Church. Zahn said it all in his dedication, however:"This book is humbly dedicated to the memory of Franz Jagerstatter and to all others who, like him, stood alone and said 'No'-- many of whose stories have been completely lost to history, at least as it is kept and written by men."

I do like the way both these homilies link the personal and the corporate, the individual and the institutional. To say that we need friensdhip with Christ, relationship with him is one thing. To say that this friendship cannot sustain itself in a one-to-one vacuum but needs a communal and sacramental dimension--well, that grounds the first claim in everyday reality. It's a beautiful pairing, and one that reflects so much of the Catholic tradition in a few simple words. Absolutely beautiful.My question, however, is: How well do these words reflect the experience of everyday Catholics? Does their attendance at Sunday Mass lead to a deepening friendship with Christ?This is not to start a discussion about differing liturgical styles or the usefulness of the coming new translations--please! Rather, it's a question of the extent to which people come to Mass seeking a friendship with Christ. Is this really what they're looking for? Or is it something else--like community, belonging, moral grounding for their kids, a quiet oasis in a busy world, etc?Not that there's anything wrong with that, and not that these elements are mutually exclusive. But just where does this thirst for an intimate encounter with Christ fall in the list of priorities/needs/desires?

Yesterday's Sunday NY Times piece seemed to emphasize the turnout for Benedict was comparatively small and by extremly "committed" Catholic.If that's the case, perhaps there was some preaching to the choir here.The Times article indicated Benedict stressing the need for the Truth (in the face of the drop of of participation) by Austrian Catholics. Given the emphasis by some on a smaller, purer Church - this too may have been preaching to the choir.I was reminded of the session on senior spirituality given at our Conference on Ading last year. A nun, probably in her 80's, spoke of how we are drawn to God by our exoweiences with others showng the love of Christ.If we want to bring folks to communion and liturgy more, I don't think it will be didactic propositions that evoke their desire but rather the love they see in their fellow worshipping members.

I wonder if talk about Jesus as friend and personal encounters and all that don't play somewhat differently in Europe than in the US where we are conditioned (rightly, I would think) to mistrust that kind of approach because of too much experience of a soggy sentimental and often manipulative version of it.On the other hand, in combination with Benedict's formidable intellectual underpinning it might be a lot more effective.

I think the question about whether Catholics go to mass expecting to deepen an intimate relationship with Christ is, at best, blissfully nave.When were Catholics taught that this is a goal? In their childhood? At home? I doubt it seriously. When I was in a formative stage my Catholic education (school and home) was concerned about knowing and obeying the rules. Various gradations of sin were revealed in excruciating detail. It was very hard to avoid a mortal sin, particularly as an adolescent. Mary was extolled ad nauseum. But an intimate relationship with Christ? I dont think so!Granted that was a long time ago. However, I havent seen anything in the post-Vatican II generations that lead me to believe that they have been pushed any closer to the ideal. In all cases of course, there are notable exceptions. But the vast majority of Catholic pew potatoes who go to mass do so expecting to .. ?? Get their obligation ticket punched? Enjoy the music? Observe some cultural ritual that was more important to the parents than to them? Beats me.I had to send many years in a non-denominational church before I developed a full appreciation of Gods love and the need to encounter Christ daily in others as well as weekly in Sunday worship. And Im a former seminarian, albeit of the minor variety.

I think many things are necessary in a Christian life. Christianity must be shown and demonstrated with everyone you meet. You must see Christ in them and they must see Christ in you and your actions. You must also have a private life with Christ, and you must have a communal worshipping life with Christ. I think to leave any of these makes the balance much harder.