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Archive for the ‘Lent’ Category

Caiaphas Then… and Now

Duccio-di-Buoninsegna-Christ-Before-Caiaphas-Oil-Painting[1]

During the singing of the passion today I sat and contemplated something I’d heard a thousand times and never really gave much thought: St. John tells us it was Caiaphas the High Priest who first floated the idea to the Jewish people the advantage of having one man die for the people. Immediately a thousand pro-choice arguments along similar lines crowded in on me.

Caiaphas was the High Priest, the mediator between God and man, the one who offered animal sacrifice for the remission of the people’s sins, for the Mercy of God. Somewhere along the way Caiaphas lost his faith in God, and he eventually became no better than the Canaanite priests who offered human sacrifice to appease the gods. Caiaphas would offer a man to the Romans, and in so doing he would elevate Caesar above the one true God of the universe.

For Caiaphas, Caesar alone had the power to save and deliver, and he would be offered a human sacrifice in exchange by God’s High Priest. That’s stunning.

The complete perversion and implosion of the priesthood. The God who delivered Israel repeatedly, who blessed Israel abundantly was abandoned by his own High Priest.

Why?

It’s easy to cast stones at old Caiaphas. He’s the villain of today’s narrative, but he’s also pretty tame by today’s standard. In truth, we’ve eclipsed Caiaphas long ago.

The main reason(s) for sacrificing the most innocent of our age have much to do with Caiaphas’ theme of blood sacrifice for material benefit. In the inner-city the narrative is that babies keep girls from becoming all they can be, that they hold girls back from completing education. With 20 million dead Black babies in 40 years, the Ivy League colleges ought to have annexes in Harlem, Watts, and Detroit.

Better the babies should die, that the mothers might live.

However, the truth is that these centers of slaughter are more violent, squalid, and desperately poor than ever before. That’s the real payout from blood sacrifice of humans.

Today’s high priest in the White House has ordained through his healthcare plan that people at age 75 or older may not receive cancer treatments or pacemakers if the physicians can’t guarantee at least five more years of quality life. Such rationing also saves quite a bit of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and government pension benefits for a nation that is dead broke.

Better for them to die that the nation might live.

Caiaphas let Satan lead him into the death cult mentality, and we have followed suit. Thirty-seven years after Caiaphas sold out, the Temple in Jerusalem was leveled by those same Romans to whom Jesus was offered as a peace offering. Thirty-seven years after the embrace of legalized abortion (beginning in New York) we were saddled with a president who has torn down the pillars of American society.

That’s the price of embracing human sacrifice to appease Satan and his lies.

That’s the price of turning one’s back on God.

False gods have a nasty way of enslaving their followers, as Americans are beginning to learn.

But Easter’s coming…

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“We become what we think we are.”

That was the constant admonition of my life’s mentor, Father Luke McCann. Luke was genius, and constantly ahead of the curve by 20 years in everything. As with so much he taught me, I am still unpacking the depth of it all almost twenty years later.

“We become what we think we are.”

The ascendance of the Culture of Death attests to the fact that ever greater numbers of humans have lost sight of who they are, losing their identity in a morass of guilt and shame. These traveling companions need to be teased apart, and Good Friday is as good a time as any to do so.

Guilt is a healthy emotion, as it is the soul’s barometer, a warning that we have committed a transgression that has harmed others and/or ourselves. Guilt gets a bad name when it leads to others shaming us.

Guilt is about what we have done. Shame is about who we are. If guilt is the soul’s barometer, shame is the soul’s cancer.

Shame is about being devalued, belittled, made to feel worthless. Parents who beat their children with fists and belts for transgressions communicate worthlessness to the child; the same holds true for people being belittled for being “thoughtless”, being “clueless”, being “stupid”.

Note that the behavior is not the issue, but the individual. “Being” is who we are.

“We become what we think we are.”

If we are conditioned to think that we are worthless, we will begin to act that way. People who live with ridicule often cannot separate their behaviors from themselves. In time, they do indeed become what they think they are. They begin to engage in behaviors that will reinforce their feelings of worthlessness, of alienation, of shame.

“We become what we think we are.”

Think of the abortionist who was not the brightest bulb in the ceiling in medical school, who has washed out of pulmonology, oncology, pediatrics, etc… and has endured the ridicule from his/her peers (which is seering and brutal). Abortion is the last stop for these people. It is hard to impress upon such a person the intrinsic value of the baby when they have little sense of their own intrinsic value.

Sure, they’ve made their deal with the devil, but why?

Earlier this week I went to confession and the priest offered the following admonition: “You are not what you have done. You are a son of God who loves you as His own, just as you love your own children as your own.”

That’s the key right there. We are not what we do. If we grasped our true identity and the intrinsic dignity in that identity we wouldn’t cut people to ribbons with our tongues, be they abortionists, siblings, children, or spouses.

When Regina and I had our first real good disagreement, I stopped her and reminded her of the rules of engagement: We address and criticize the behavior, not each other. (I’ve been the biggest beneficierary of that rule.)

How often do we hear people ask if some offender has no shame, when we really mean a conscience. Even Time magazine conflated these terms several years ago when they ran an article asking whatever became of shame.

That’s the problem. We have too much shame with its attendant alienation. We have too many people with poorly formed senses of self (boundary issues), and not enough moral formation.

Morality and ethics only take root in the fertile soil of a self imbued with belonging and intrinsic value. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said that the one who says, “you fool” to his brother is liable to the fires of Gehenna. He knew all too well how those words alienate and isolate people and dissolve the social bonds so necessary for building His kingdom on earth.

To the extent that He came to take away the part of our guilt that carries with it eternal separation from Him, Jesus did so on the cross. Because He did so on the cross, He washed away our shame and restored us to our full dignity. That may not be convincing to unbelievers, but we need to treat them with dignity and value. In time they will come to appreciate Father Luke’s great admonition:

“We become what we think we are.”

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As Holy Week looms large on the horizon, I’m thinking out loud a question I have thought to myself for years:

Were the Apostles really the first Deacons in the Church? Did the Apostles institute the Diaconate, or did Jesus at the Last Supper?

I believe that a scriptural case may be made for the Apostles being the first deacons. To begin, we all know that the Last Supper was the moment where Jesus instituted His Priesthood, conforming His apostles to himself as Priest when He commanded them:

“Whenever you do this, do this in remembrance of me.”

In that moment, with that command, Jesus conformed His Apostles to Himself as Priest. The Church teaches that at the moment of ordination to the priesthood, the very nature of the man is changed forever. A priest is a priest forever.

The Church also teaches that when a man is ordained to the diaconate he undergoes a change in his very nature, that he is a deacon forever. He is conformed to Christ the Servant, and theirs is a ministry of service. (It is important to note that every priest remains a deacon, forever.)

We are also taught, in Acts, that the Apostles selected and ordained the first deacons, conforming them to Christ the Servant:

1 About this time, when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenists made a complaint against the Hebrews: in the daily distribution their own widows were being overlooked.
2 So the Twelve called a full meeting of the disciples and addressed them, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the word of God so as to give out food;
3 you, brothers, must select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom, to whom we can hand over this duty.
4 We ourselves will continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word.’
5 The whole assembly approved of this proposal and elected Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
6 They presented these to the apostles, and after prayer they laid their hands on them.

A proper understanding of this passage in Acts requires a return to the Last Supper in John 13:

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God,he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist.

Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.”

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”

Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.”

For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

So when he had washed their feet (and) put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them,

“Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.”

“If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

With those words, Jesus conformed His apostles to Himself as servants, and this before He instituted the Eucharist. Going ahead to the dilemma of the Apostles in Acts, we see them exercising their ministry of service until the growth of the Church placed too many demands on them. When they laid hands on the seven they were transmitting what had been given to them at the Last Supper, namely, the ministry of service.

The Diaconate.

The Apostles realized that the ministry of service was suffering because of the constraints of time upon them, and so it was that they safeguarded the integrity of this ministry that Jesus conferred on them by ordaining men to that ministry alone while the Apostles pursued the ministry of the Word.

But note: The ministry of service was the province of the Apostles, and they created deacons in response to that ministry suffering for want of time.

As I read the Last Supper narratives, there were two ordinations:

Jesus conforming the Apostles to Himself as servants.
Jesus conforming the Apostles to Himself as priests.

The institution of the priesthood tends to overshadow the institution of the diaconate for many obvious reasons, but this has serious ramifications for those in Holy Orders in the Twenty-first Century.

The Apostles functioned as both deacons and priests until the demands of leadership forced the issue. However, many of the problems stemming from priestly clericalism, even the clericalism itself often arises when a priest forgets that he is also a deacon forever, that he was first conformed to Christ the Servant before he was conformed to Christ the Priest. It is even worse in priests who disparage the Permanent Diaconate, but that is a topic for another day.

Every priest, every bishop today is also a deacon. So, too, does it appear from John and Luke (Acts), were the Apostles.

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Rethinking Ash Wednesday

Some of the loudest lamentations of this penitential season come not from the laity, but from the clergy. Specifically, the churches packed on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday when people who don’t darken a church door all year arrive, “to get something for free.”

I understand their frustration and also see within it a missed opportunity, especially on Ash Wednesday. More on that in a moment. Here are some happenings from a friend’s parish yesterday.

One of my friends who is a pastor has decided to tie the distribution of ashes to the mass. When one of the priests distributed ashes after the homily, more than 60% of the Church cleared out before the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

At another mass, when ashes were to be distributed after mass had ended, a man came up the communion line and when the host was extended to him replied, “I don’t want that. I’m here for ashes.” (At that mass, everyone stayed for the entire mass in order to receive ashes at the end.)

What was missing there, and at a great many churches yesterday, was the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I’ve often heard it said that it would be too much all in one day. I disagree.

Perhaps tying the reception of ashes to the Sacrament of Reconciliation wouldn’t be a bad idea. Perhaps through a penance service. Yesterday, I saw a church packed to the rafters (literally) sit through an entire noon mass in order to receive their ashes.

What is needed is a stemwinder of a homily on the Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell. Tying that in with the opportunity in the present moment to receive another free gift, God’s forgiveness and mercy, might not be a bad way to go. Having several priests on hand to hear confessions (doable in most areas with a little creativity) might well yield surprising results.

It might also be beneficial to offer Reconciliation at times that dovetail more with contemporary schedules than the 1930’s Saturday afternoon-only.

There is something that draws such crowds on Ash Wednesday, a spark that needs to be gently nurtured into something a bit brighter and more intense. It’s easy to become discouraged and even cynical. However, many of these people will not be seen for another year, and what holds them back is the power of guilt and sin.

We must encounter them not on the terms of our predilections, but where they are at in their journey. If Ash Wednesday is the only day of the year they can be expected to be in Church, then we should be waiting with what they need most:

Forgiveness.

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Contemplating Lent and Imperfection

One of my favorite actors, for a host of reasons, is Peter O’Toole. I recently viewed a video of him being interviewed by David Letterman in 2007. At one point in the interview Letterman asks O’Toole if he ever thought of an epitaph to leave the world when he’s gone.

O’Toole, who has led a rather colorful life of alcohol-related antics, replied that the epitaph came to him in a note from a dry cleaner in the 1960’s. He recounted the story of a favorite leather jacket that had seen all of his antics and was covered in “Guinness, blood, and vomit. The ususl.” O’Toole sent the Jacket to the cleaners and it came back with a note pinned on it, which read:

“It distresses us to return work which is not perfect.”

I love it!

It is the plaintive cry of the struggling sinner. O’Toole is a brilliant Shakespearean actor who has struggled mightily for decades with alcohol. In 1987 I saw him on Broadway in a production of Pygmalian. It was a graduation gift from my brother, and I sat in the third row, center Orchestra. O’Toole was wrecked, and I winced as I saw him struggling to carry on. If I was disappointed at first, I found myself silently praying and pulling for him. He didn’t quit.

He never has.

That’s what makes him so lovable and endearing to so many, I think. His struggles, because of his work, are out there for all the world to see. His response to Letterman was the perfect deflection of harsh judgement, if any were to come his way. The man knows his imperfections better than anyone.

On the night before Lent, it is a time for me to contemplate my own imperfections. As I contemplate them I think of how often my imperfections, my own shortcomings as a human being have enfolded me in paralyzing fear and guilt and have prevented me from becoming all I can be, all that God has called me to be.

I admire O’Toole. He has failed repeatedly, yet he keeps coming on. It’s a lesson that I have been slow to learn. The turning point for me was when my best friend, Father Steven Clark said to me that Confession isn’t all about my sins. It’s about God’s Love and Mercy.

It’s about the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son who is waiting on the road for his son to return, waiting with a heart that is at once broken, yet filled with hope.

It’s about that heart bursting with joy at the sight of his broken son returning.

It’s about the father calling for a feast and begging for reconciliation within the family, a father wild with joy.

Yes, Lent is a time to focus on that which keeps me from drawing closer to God, and to work toward eradicating it. But the focus can’t be all about my sin to the exclusion of the sight of a Father wild with joy at the sight of me returning with my rehearsed script of unworthiness, and not even hearing what I’m saying as He calls for a feast in celebration.

I’ve learned that, too, by my own experience as a father. I know of my own wild and passionate love for my children, and know that God is not less loving, less forgiving than I am. My fatherly love is a mere shadow of the Father’s Love.

So, while I share the sentiment’s in O’Toole’s epitaph, my distress at one day returning work which is not perfect is tempered by the realization that a Father wild with joy awaits me on the road.

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From the Holy Saturday Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings:

A reading from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow- prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: “My Lord be with you all.” And Christ in reply says to Adam: “And with your spirit.” And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

“I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

“I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

“For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

“Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

“See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

“I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

“But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”

Prayer

Almighty, ever-living God, whose Only-begotten Son descended to the realm of the dead, and rose from there to glory, grant that your faithful people, who were buried with him in baptism, may, by his resurrection, obtain eternal life.
We make our prayer through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

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Today is Good Friday. If today could be summarized in a word, a good choice would be:

Will.

Great battles have raged in academia over that word, that idea, the degree to which humans exercise autonomous judgement and action. In psychology, Sigmund Freud theorized in his Psychoanalytic Theory that man’s behavior is shaped by subconscious forces, rooted in a past that is no longer directly accessible to memory, but can only be accessed through the interpretation of dreams and behaviors.

The father of Behaviorism, B.F. Skinner wrote his book, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, in which he advanced his belief that humans are driven by nothing more than stimulus and response, that there is no such thing as human freedom. Our “choices” are really nothing more than complex response patterns.

Freud and Skinner are often seen as opposing points of view; thesis and antithesis. In one sense, Freud and Skinner do represent opposing points of view. In another, they are horrifically the same. Neither posits in the individual the caphttps://m.mg.mail.yahoo.com/hg/?.intl=us#/mail/list?fid=Inboxacity for free will. Both see the individual as hopelessly driven, and never able to consciously become aware of the rationale for their behavior. As such, they both take us, “Beyond Freedom and Dignity,” not forward as Skinner believed, but backward to a pre-Christian, pre-civilizational animal existence.

The tension between the two opposing views would find its resolution in Cognitive Therapy, advanced by Aaron T. Beck. Cognitive Therapy sees behavior as rooted in past events which shape current behavior, but it also sees those precipitating events as accessible through therapy. Further, it seeks to help the client be able to reinterpret the event with the help of the therapist and to free the individual of the shackles that came with the original trauma.

There is no free will in either world of Freudian Psychoanalytic Theory, or Skinnerian Behaviorism. Beck’s cognitive approach has rescued psychology from two powerful schools that, in their purest form, have done great damage to Christian Anthropology. That anthropology has at its core the understanding that we are made in the image and likeness of God, being endowed with the capacity to choose freely. We make acts of will. Free will.

Yes, psychology teaches us that there are powerful forces that shape human behavior and the antecedent choices for that behavior. Freud and Skinner had it partially correct where that is concerned. We can employ Skinner’s system of rewards to reinforce desirable behaviors with humans, and we in fact do this to great effect in teaching autistic children. It’s called Applied Behavioral Analysis, and it’s a good first step in shaping behavior.

Unfortunately for Skinner, that’s where he ended. He and Freud set generations against their faith. So did renowned psychiatrist Dr. Karl Menninger. Many are familiar with Dr. Menninger’s famous 1973 book, Whatever Became of Sin?. That work was an act of atonement, as Dr. Meninger did much to ridicule the notion of sin in his lesser-known 1931 book, From Sin to Psychiatry.

Indeed, with the exception of Beck, these men did much to corrode the idea of sin, which has the misuse of free will at it’s core. In attempting to construct their brave new world, they simply neglected a great deal by dismissing opposing views with the back of their hands. They neglected the overriding power of grace. They neglected the overriding power of forgiveness. They neglected these things because they rejected God. They rejected God because they believed their hypotheses to contain within them the fullness of truth regarding human nature.

Today as we meditate on Jesus’ sacrificial death, the very nature of His sacrifice stands as a rebuke to those who would deny humanity’s free will. Were our behavior merely the result of unknowable antecedents and not freely chosen, then there would only be a need for therapy, but not redemption.

Today, we recall the beauty of forgiveness, which is redemption. In the garden, Jesus prayed to the Father an earnest prayer:

“Let this cup pass me by, yet not as I will, but as you will.”

He knew what was coming His way, and though He was God, His human nature gripped Him with ice cold fear. From Mary’s, “Be it done to me according to your word,” to Joseph’s obedience to a vision when he wanted to put Mary away quietly, to Jesus in the garden, we see the triumphal and transforming power of submission to God’s Will.

It requires sacrifice, and the first thing to be sacrificed is our pride. That’s not an accident, as pride is what leads us into sin every time.

In his pride, Karl Menninger rejected the notion of sin.

In his pride, Skinner rejected the notion of sin, as he rejected the concepts of freedom and will.

In his pride, Freud rejected will and rejected God.

They were powerful shapers of twentieth century thought and played a significant role in shaping the atrocities of the last century which arose from the “God is Dead,” movement in which they participated. Only Menninger saw clearly the effects of rejecting the concept of sin and all that goes into such rejection. If it’s true that he lived to regret where he led people, it’s doubly true that he spent the rest of his life trying to lead people back.

An act of obedient will.

An act of redemption.

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