Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Martha and Mary: Chose as You are Chosen

Life is a litany of choices.  As I tell folks discerning their vocation, the worst decision is not to make a decision – do not fool yourself, not choosing is choosing. 

And the decisions we make, remain with us.  How difficult was it for St. Paul to become a self-described “Apostle” for the very people he persecuted?  How could his past not have haunted him?  Even today, commentaries suggest Paul persecuted Christians before and after his conversion to Christianity.  He was, without question, passionate about his beliefs. 
The story of Mary and Martha is a complex reflection on choice.  For one thing, it is easy to identify with both characters – there is a bit of Mary as well as Martha in each one of us; both exhibit social virtues.  

For starters, Martha welcomes Jesus into her home.  And then she busies herself with household tasks, in what would appear to be an effort toward hospitality.  But Martha, on this occasion, misses out.  Her sister Mary is the one who capitalises on the presence of Jesus; Mary spends time with the guest and learns from him – a fact that very much angers her sister Martha.  Martha is so bothered that she tries to tell Jesus, a guest in her home, what to do.  “Tell her to help me”, she says.  But Jesus does not concede.  “Mary” he says, on this day, “has chosen the better part”.  And he is will not take that away from her.

In life situations such as these arise all the time, and for everything to do there is a time.  For us, the question becomes what time is it?  In each moment there are choices to make.  Do I prepare, as a good host does, or do I just be?  Do I teach, or do I learn?  So often there are no wrong choices, just choices.

For God, the choice is always the better one.  God, at a moment in time, chose to be with us.  God chose relationship, the consequences of which we still bare today.  God chose to receive whatever this world put in front of him, and God suffered for it.  But because of the choice God made, in the form of his Son, we have yet better choices to make.  We chose to or not to relate as God relates with us.  We chose to take what is offered, or to reject it.  We chose to let God love us, or not. 

As believers in a God who unequivocally chooses us, may we learn from what God does.  May we take what this world has to offer, and give of ourselves to it.  May we share who we are, do what needs to be done, and hear what our God has to say. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Feast of St. Francis Homily

It is never good to be alone.  This is a fact we sometimes forget.   
In Genesis, where the good of Creation and humanity in particular, is defined, so too is our Franciscan identity moored.   A Christian reflection on the Universe asks why.   Why this planet or solar system as the birthplace of salvation?  Why God did you choose humanity, the only beings made for faith or reason?  Since nobody in the history of time has answered this question, it will be the first I ask the Maker when we meet. 
God’s Word speaks of love between creatures, and the relational nature of human beings.  And so, by the way does our particular tradition. 
In his Feast Day Homily two years ago, Minister General Jose Carballo noted that St. Francis was “radically relational”.  For Francis, the Word of God and he shared in “intimate relationship”.   The two expressed themselves sine glossa, freely and without interference, to each other.  To what the Lord said in the Word, was the heart of Francis totally open.  Francis was very aware that the closer he got to God’s Word, the closer he got to God Himself. 
But Francis was not only relational, he was communal.  “He knew well,” Brother Jose insists, “that when the Lord spoke and he responded communion was established.  Listening to the Word and devouring it, Francis not only edified himself, but conformed to the God speaking.”   As the law of love states: a lover conforms to his beloved.  Observe a married couple for a few years to see this occur.  And dare I say that such is even seen in community.
When he wrote his testament, a look back on life lived, our Father Francis referred to the difference between the man he was without brothers and the man he became once no longer alone.  In community Francis changed, the pious disciple adopted new priorities.   When alone Francis enjoyed an exclusive relationship with God, and while never losing this completely, in community he became concerned about something known as “the common good”, and how others related to each other.       
Brothers, I inserted in today’s liturgy a short reading from Celano as a reminder to us all about who we are, where we come from and where we, ideally, go. 
In the gospel, Jesus invites us to be like children, which as Friar Charles Talley of the Santa Barbara Province tells us is to be “open, innocent, spontaneous and joyful”.  To be childlike is not to be childish, which is perhaps dodgy, manipulative, fearful, to scratch the surface. 
If childlike we are brothers, men who holistically depend on one another but do not own one another.  If like children, we trust in one another.  If truly brothers, we are men who celebrate the gift of one another as totally other than ourselves. 
The gospel Jesus preached invites us to be brothers.   In the same way friars were called 800 years ago, Jesus gathers us together in a spirit of holy simplicity, innocence of life, and a purity of intention stemming directly from the human heart.  And even though such seems impossible (I do tend to doubt historicity of Celano’s romantic memory), even though the bar is high, we as men of common faith are directed to common ground.  We are to be of a common spirit, a common will, a common mind, harmony and common virtues.  God, for whatever reason, God for faith, chose us, as so we share a common call. 
Now Jesus says, my yoke is easy, my burden is light, but brothers the aforesaid seems impossible.  I doubt that all of us can agree on much.  I fail to foresee multiple friars excited about many common causes.  But brothers, the same gospel is ours to share.  
And so, if we do nothing else, may we live it with passion!  May each and every one of us love the Word of God and be drawn together.   Like and as faithful children, may we be brothers to one another.     

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Accept, Believe, Live: Happy Feast of Angels!

It is traditionally, and often, said that faith is a gift.  Those who profess to have faith express various reasons for theirs’.  “This is just how I was brought up”, some say.  Sometimes faith is credited to a significant event: like “when I saw my newborn baby, I could not help but believe”.

When Jesus sees Nathanial, he demonstrates an awareness of the man that takes Nathanial by surprise.  For starters, Jesus compliments him: “You are a true Israelite,” he says, “in whom there is no deception”.   Jesus affirms that Nathaniel is an ‘honest seeker’; and Nathaniel is shocked by the recognition.  
For starters, he probably isn’t accustomed to compliments.  And he might have good reason to wonder why anyone, such as Jesus, would know him at all – how Jesus would even know his name.  When Jesus refers to a past event in Nathanial’s life, the future disciple is overwhelmed.  Based on this event, a profound encounter with Jesus Christ, Nathaniel becomes a believer.  His faith here is but a shadow of what it will become as he gets to know God better, but Christ meets him where he is, and draws him forward.

Today is a feast of three Angel’s in the Judeo-Christian tradition: Michael, known as a protector, Gabriel, a foreteller, and Raphael, a healer, respectively.  And while Angels are not a big part of my spirituality (perhaps such are not an integral aspect of Christian spirituality in general anymore) their existence in Scripture indicates that God connects, that a higher power finds us where we are at. 

So if I don’t really believe in Angels, I probably don’t need to believe in Angels, God reaches me in other ways.  But the question people of faith need to ask themselves is not just where has God met me (in the past) but where is God taking me now? 

To believe is a gift, to behold faith is to live.  I may not fully understand why I believe, but I should be able to proclaim what I believe.   What sort of God have I encountered?  A God who sees me as I am, like the God who saw Nathanial?  Do I believe in a God who seeks?  

As believers in a higher power, we are invited to get to know the force who found us.   Faithful and prophetic, our persistent seeker truly heals.  Like an Angel, but much more, our God comes to us in ways that are profound. Our God builds trust. May we do the same. 

May we seek and find the one who sought and found us.   May we accept faith as given, believe as we are believed in, and live. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

(From a Gluten Free Priest) Feed Them Bread They Can Eat!

Last week the diocese of Calgary responded to demand for clarity around gluten free communion bread.  The bishop’s office thus forwarded a September 2006 release from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Liturgy Office.[i]   There is found a “Pastoral Response” to an increasingly prevalent issue for Canadian Catholics, and its subsequent impact on Eucharistic Celebration.   For those who are not aware, the Canadian bishops remind all that Celiac Disease is an absolute intolerance to gluten (a by-product of wheat, barley, rye and oats) that causes discomfort and indigestion within the intestines – a bodily reaction similar to food-poisoning.  The bishops cite estimates that one in two-thousand Canadians suffer an inability to digest wheat gluten.

In response to a faithful who long to participate, and their pastors, the CCCB rightfully acknowledges the complex problem that the disease is and encourages priests to be sympathetic.  While the NLO admits that persons with Celiac Disease cannot consume any gluten at all, they, bound to precedence, fail to clear-up theological confusion around Eucharist or comfort those afflicted.   

Since the peak of Christendom, when the influence of Greco-pagan and Islamic ideologies pushed liturgical practice away from Hebrew roots, the Church has scrupled over sacramental matter.  Although Vatican II addressed the problem (providing a well developed Judeo-Christian theology of Symbol in Sacrament), tradition yet underrates the freedom and power of the Holy Spirit in Catholic Liturgy.  Can Christ be present to/in Gluten Free bread?  I believe so.  Does the law concur?  Not yet.  Dualistic categories (substance and accidents) consistently muddle the "statements" on Liturgy and Eucharist in particular.  The unintended result portrays a God inhibited, restricted to specific ingredients, rather than free and effective.    

Canada’s bishops reference the only response to Celiac Disease ever published by the Vatican.   A Letter from Cardinal Ratzinger, as Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2003,[ii] references the theological doctrine of “concomitance” – that under either kind, bread or wine, the whole of Christ is received.[iii]  He explains that communion under one kind is as valid as communion under both kinds.  The notion comes from the Middle-Ages when the Ecclessial Hierarchy first denied Christ’s faithful the precious blood of Jesus and had to explain how the laity nevertheless received the fullness of God’s fleshly presence in Eucharistic bread alone.  And thus the Church had to state that what applies to bread alone applies to wine alone.   

Oddly enough, many parishes continue to hold-back the cup despite the General Instruction of the Roman Missal which encourages communion under both species:
The sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since the
 sign of the Eucharistic meal appears more clearly. The intention of Christ that the
new and eternal covenant be ratified in his blood is better expressed, as is the
relation of the Eucharistic banquet  to the heavenly banquet.[iv]   

Ratzinger’s document however, like the Canadian bishops', explains why one need not eat the bread (can consume merely the wine) and validly (fully, consciously, and actively) participate in the Celebration of Eucharist.  Cardinal Ratzinger stopped short of permitting the use of gluten-free hosts or even encouraging the use of low gluten hosts; the Canadian bishops, while admitting the harm that even the slightest amount of gluten can do to a Celiac, do permit the latter.   

As a Celiac, and Catholic Priest, I can personally speak to the experience of a marginal group in the Church.  In a Communion that solicits the “full, conscious, and active participation[v] of all in Liturgy, a non-gluten dieter can feel as though she/he does not fit in.  As frequent reception of the Eucharist is pushed and the significance of bread in Scripture is honoured, Celiacs are less likely to get passionate about "the Symbol".   

So what is a Celiac to do?  Show up early?  Ask Father if the parish has gluten-free hosts?  
A Celiac can and should do such, but must be prepared for a range of reactions.  Some pastors are mercifully sensitive to the issue and provide the hosts.  Others will provide low-gluten hosts.  A pastor might invite inquirers to submit their personal pix and instruct to see him at communion time.  Other Presiders are less hospitable.  
The Canadian Bishops Conference, strictly reiterating the 2003 CDF document, suggests that those who cannot consume gluten receive from the cup, possibly even a special cup, exclusively.  Lay Catholics have the right to do this even in situations where the cup is not offered to the entire congregation, they say.  

Being Celiac and Catholic is awkward.  
Eucharist is the “source and summit[vi] of our lives, which makes Christ the center.   A good Catholic is neither accustomed to nor comfortable with being singled out at Liturgy.  Jesus said, when you enter a place and are welcomed, simply “eat what is put in front of you” (Luke 10:8).   He did not say “warn the host of your dietary needs” or “just drink!”  

Legalists fuss about ingredients, liturgists muse about appearance (the joke is that more faith goes into believing white wafers are made from wheat than honouring the presence of God).   Few among the former complain about the obvious non-bread-like (rice-cracker-like appearance) look of standard communion bread.   Yet ingredients, for philosophical reasons, continue to distress.  

People of God need sacramental standards, but the Spirit cannot be caged.  I firmly believe that God is where God chooses to be - creatures do not determine their makers' actions.  Faith suggests that a crucified and risen Lord exists, is more real, beyond the senses.   When the Church celebrates she in faith professes that Christ is in the elements of bread and wine, the Word Proclaimed, the Liturgical Presider and no less the people gathered for worship; she also insists that God is infinitely more.  Even though Christ is in Eucharist, God is not (nor restricted to) the material.  Liturgy is but a foretaste of heaven, not heaven itself.   

Nothing the Church says can change the effects of wheat on my body.  Liturgy, at which I preside, demands the full, conscious and active participation of me and all gathered.   Sure, I can receive the fullness of Eucharist in liquid alone, but see no harm in adding edible food (a gluten-free product) to “the meal”.  Does serving bacon with eggs detract from the substance of eggs?  I think not.  Does the use of gluten free bread detract from Christ’s presence in Eucharistic wine?  I hope not.  

All baptised are called to “sacramental participation” by receiving communion under both kinds whenever possible.  Ideally, they are provided every means and opportunity to do so.  Personally, I am not offended by those who maintain that my bread is less Jesus than theirs.  I trust in the holy work of the Spirit, and thanks to a little creativity I too partake in my Lord’s Eucharistic feast.  

May hosts of Liturgy be guided by faith and hospitality, and serve what guests can eat.      

[i] (http://www.cccb.ca/site/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2124&Itemid=1226&lang=eng)
[ii] (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030724_pane-senza-glutine_en.html)
[iii] (cf. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no.282; Catechism of the Catholic Church, no.1390; Council of Trent, session 21, Doctrina de communione sub utraque specie et parvulorum, 16 July 1562, chapters 1-3: Denzinger –Schonmetzer, 1725-1729)
[iv] (GIRM, 281, 282)
[v] Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14
[vi] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324