Friday, September 4, 2015

Sans Excuse, et la proliferation de relativisme

123. La culture du relativisme est la même pathologie qui pousse une personne à exploiter son prochain et à le traiter comme un pur objet, l’obligeant aux travaux forcés, ou en faisant de lui un esclave à cause d’une dette. C’est la même logique qui pousse à l’exploitation sexuelle des enfants ou à l’abandon des personnes âgées qui ne servent pas des intérêts personnels. C’est aussi la logique intérieure de celui qui dit : Laissons les forces invisibles du marché réguler l’économie, parce que ses impacts sur la société et sur la nature sont des dommages inévitables’. S’il n’existe pas de vérités objectives ni de principes solides hors de la réalisation de projets personnels et de la satisfaction de nécessités immédiates, quelles limites peuvent alors avoir la traite des êtres humains, la criminalité organisée, le narcotrafic, le commerce de diamants ensanglantés et de peaux d’animaux en voie d’extinction ? N’est-ce pas la même logique relativiste qui justifie l’achat d’organes des pauvres dans le but de les vendre ou de les utiliser pour l’expérimentation, ou le rejet d’enfants parce qu’ils ne répondent pas au désir de leurs parents ? C’est la même logique du “utilise et jette”, qui engendre tant de résidus, seulement à cause du désir désordonné de consommer plus qu’il n’est réellement nécessaire. Par conséquent, nous ne pouvons pas penser que les projets politiques et la force de la loi seront suffisants pour que soient évités les comportements qui affectent l’environnement, car, lorsque la culture se corrompt et qu’on ne reconnaît plus aucune vérité objective ni de principes universellement valables, les lois sont comprises uniquement comme des impositions arbitraires et comme des obstacles à contourner.
- le Pape Francios Laudato Si encyclique sur l'environment 2015

On voie ici, dans cette paragraphe, une excellent summaire des problemes de notre monde et les difficultes la-dedans - de transmettre l'esprit du Christ.  - Pere Aaron

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Shaun the Sheep and the Good Shepherd

Just a few days ago I watched Shaun the Sheep with two professors who hold doctorates.  We ate and laughed and smorged on popcorn.  And this was good!    - Fr. Aaron

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


One of the best known parables of Jesus' teaching is undoubtedly the parable of the prodigal son.   In Jewish society it was a terribly callous thing to ask for one’s inheritance before the death of one’s father and yet this is precisely what the younger son does. It would be hard to overstate the offensive nature of the son's request.  In seeking his inheritance early the son was in fact saying to his father, ‘You are as good as dead to me’.  Despite this, the father acquiesces to his son’s request; and the son quickly takes what belongs to him, packs his things, and (with hardly so much as a goodbye) leaves for a distant country. 

And this is where the prodigal part comes in (from the Latin prodigus meaning to drive away, to squander) – the younger son spends it all in dissolute living.  ‘Dissolute living’ is a rather sanitized expression for what was really going on here – indulgence in all worldly pleasures and excess.  Think of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas mixed with Hangover III topped off with Supersize Me.  He was quite literally devoured by the world and consumed with consuming.  The son was living it up…but it did not last.  Soon the son finds himself in that perpetual state many college students and young families …he was broke.  And not only was he broke – but there was a severe famine in the land.  The mere basics needed for survival were now scarce.  

The son, finding himself in need, hires himself out to the local pig farmer – and this piles on new humiliation.  For an observant Jew pigs are an unclean animal...and now the younger son lives among them and lives like them.  In fact, he doesn't even live as well as them, as the parable indicates, "No one gave him anything."  The scene is what Alcoholics Anonymous refer to as rock bottom.  From playboy to pigpen, the younger son’s prospects have grown dim.  And it is at this crucial juncture that the younger son begins to consider his options.  “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare…and here I am dying of hunger.”  He makes up his mind: “I will return to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned, take me back no longer as a son but as a servant.’  In one last, desperate attempt to save his life, he begins the pilgrimage back home, rehearsing his speech.

After a long journey, he finally catches a glimpse of his father’s land and of his home; and a strange sight greets him, a figure off in the distance.  The person in the distance appears to be running.  This is a strange sight in Jewish society because running was considered undignified.  Soon the son realizes, to his own amazement, that it is indeed his own father who is rushing towards him…along with some breathless servants.  The son is caught off guard as the father throws his arms around him, kisses him and – just as the son begins his rehearsed apology – the father joyfully interrupts him and commands his servants to bring a robe and a ring and sandals, and for a banquet to be prepared, “...for this son of mine was lost and is found.”  Gone are the robes of the pigs and their unsavory smell.  Gone are the younger son’s apprehensions.  And yet all is not well, there remains the elder son, who is not at all pleased at the goings-on. 

When the elder son learns that his father has welcomed home the prodigal son he is so scandalized that he refuses to enter the father's banquet - thereby publicly castigating his father.  Ironically, he does this while brashly asserting how obedient he has been all through the years. Thus, he betrays the limits of his respect and devotion.  And yet the father, publicly rebuffed by his elder son, nonetheless comes out and pleads with him to come and celebrate the prodigal’s banquet, “We had to celebrate, for this brother of yours was dead and has come back to life”.   

Jesus told this parable because experts in the law and of religion scoffed at his choice to fraternize with sinners.  They couldn't understand why a teacher and preacher would prefer the company of those whose moral lives left so much in need for correction.  And so Jesus shared with them this parable to reveal in so many words a point he would make elsewhere, "the healthy have no need of a physician, but those who are sick do."

The centrality of the father who forgives the younger son's indiscretion and overlooks the insult of the elder son has led to some calling this the parable of the prodigal father.  Since prodigal means extravagant and luxurious we can readily see that the father was extravagant...extravagant in mercy and luxurious...luxurious in love.  

 I include this reflection during what is called the Octave of Easter.  Because the Church celebrates Easter Sunday for eight consecutive days.  Solemn vestments of gold are worn, the Easter Alleluia dismissal is used, and the mood remains festive.  In a world that moves so quickly we are tempted to dismiss Easter as soon as we find ourselves collecting the disposable foil from our Easter bunnies and eggs.  But the Church is wise; she calls us to reflect for a bit longer.  In fact, she lays out for us an entire Easter season, which lasts 50 days.  Perhaps the story of the prodigal father seems out of place during this time of reflection on the Resurrection of Christ.  But somehow it's what I have to offer at this time.  Perhaps there is a gift for us in that.  

Happy Easter everyone!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

All But the Kitchen Sink

Tonight we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  First we remember that night when God liberated His people from the clutches of Pharaoh and instituted the Passover meal.  It is from these roots that Jesus transitions into the particular rites of the Last Supper.  These are outlined by Saint Paul – namely the scandalous association of the bread becoming his flesh – and the wine being transformed into his blood.  So far so good, but then things get a little strange.

For tonight’s Gospel the Church does not, as we might expect, turn to the evangelists Matthew, Mark or Luke, who unanimously highlight the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood.  Instead, strangely enough, the Church draws from John’s account, which recounts instead the washing of dirty feet.  What is going on here?

I was mulling this over and eventually realized I needed some help.  Instead of going to my bookshelf I went to my living room.  I sat down beside our friendly neighborhood canonist and laid out the parameters of the question. 

The Church, Fr. McGowan said, selects John’s passage because it reflects the element of service.  The washing of the feet is a reminder to serve.  We receive the Eucharist and then are bid to go out and serve.  We are called to live Jesus’ new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” 

On hearing this I got the impression of the Church as mother – the Church as Italian mother to be precise.  Here she is, on one of the most solemn nights, and she, like a good Italian mama, is trying to stuff us full.  Not content to merely proclaim what we believe about the Eucharist and the priesthood; she also gives us a lesson on humble service and unpretentious leadership. 

And this lesson is laid out in an optional rite.  In imitation of Christ the priest removes his chasuble and lowers himself to wash feet.  This will take place after the homily.  You will notice that only men have been selected for this rite.  This is done purposefully.  Why?  Because this night is not about empowerment but rather discipleship – and the 12 apostles were men who were chosen by Jesus to a unique discipleship.  This rite has everything to do with recognizing that reality.  It may not be popular – but we figure neither was Jesus. 

Mass concludes with a solemn procession through the Church, accompanied by incense and the music of an ancient hymn.  Following this the Church is left open until midnight for any who wish to make a visit.  Meanwhile Rosemary and her helper will strip the altar bare, the candles will be removed, the sanctuary lamp extinguished, the bells put away, the flowers removed and the stark reality will hit us: Jesus is soon to be taken away. 

Make no mistake, over the next three days the Church is not just trying to tell us something – it is trying to tell us everything.  We must listen then, attentively, with the ears of our heart, so that at their conclusion we will find ourselves full not with chocolates or candy, but with new hope.  Fresh vision.  A reconciled heart. 

Holy Thursday 2015
Mass of the Lord's Supper 

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Tale of Two Gospels

On Palm Sunday the Church places before us the tale of two gospels.

The first gospel, proclaimed at the beginning of Mass, tells of Jesus’ royal entry into Jerusalem – as kingly an entry as anyone could want.  Here Jesus is welcomed with open arms, with palm branches waving in the air, and the chant of the peoples ringing out in the streets, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Jesus is welcomed as a victor and challenger of Roman authority – the palms being an ancient sign of military victory.  But there was a disturbing indication that he would not be a military power – for he was seated on a lowly donkey.  

The second gospel details Jesus’ passion.  We have just recounted it.  It tells the devastating tale of his betrayal, abandonment and death.  This is no glossy, sugar-coated story.  Here the very Son of God is stripped, beaten, and mocked.  He bleeds.  He dies.  Rather than a flight from the suffering and violence of the world, instead the Savior immerses himself in it.  He becomes the suffering servant who ‘does not turn away his face’ from insult and spitting, whose beard is torn loose from his flesh. 

Blessed Guerric of Igny explores further the paradox of these two events recounted in today’s gospels:

If today’s procession and passion are considered together, in the one Jesus appears as sublime and glorious, in the other as lowly and suffering.  The procession makes us think of the honor reserved for a king, whereas the passion shows us the punishment due a thief. 

In the procession the people meet Jesus with palm branches, in the passion they slap him in the face and strike his head with a rod. 

In the one they extol him with praises, in the other they heap insults upon him. 

In the one they compete to lay their clothes in his path, in the other he is stripped of his own clothes.

In the one he is mounted on an ass and accorded every mark of honor; in the other he hangs on the wood of the cross, torn by whips, pierced with wounds, and abandoned by his own. 

Today is a Sunday of juxtaposition.  In this way we begin the week that the Church refers to as ‘holy’.  We begin the countdown to the solemn events that closed the life of our savior.  At this Mass we commemorate the glorious welcome of Jesus in our midst and our devastating betrayal of him into the hands of sinners.  It is not the Jews who are to be held responsible for this but rather all of us who share in this betrayal, because we all walk the path of sin and disobedience.  It is for our sake that the king proclaimed in the royal procession is tortured and put to death.  It is for our sake that the king proclaimed by the marvelous procession into Jerusalem is made to suffer humiliation and sadistic cruelty.  Today’s liturgy reveals to us the scandal of God’s striking abandonment of his royal and divine prerogative.  Here is on display a divinity that does not hesitate to turn upside down every expectation.  To us, the fickle people, Jesus reveals himself as the king, lauded as the Messiah on Sunday and put to death as a criminal on Friday.  Yet Jesus comes forth nonetheless, knowing the miscarriage of justice that will snuff out his life.  He enters triumphant into the city of Jerusalem, treading underfoot the palms laid in his path by those praising his coming…soon to be trod underfoot himself by our own voices, yelling, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’  This Sunday lays bare the opposing extremes present in every human heart.  We welcome the Savior, yet we cannot bear his coming.  We open our hearts, yet we betray in the next breath.  The words of Saint Paul resonate here: “O wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body doomed to death?  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  If anything this phrase encapsulates our attitude this Sunday.

What is left for us to do on this Palm Sunday?  Pope Benedict relates a closing thought in this regard:

Before Christ – the Fathers said – we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration.  As we conclude, let us listen once again to the words of one of these early Fathers, Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete: “So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours.  ... so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet ... let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death.  Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel’” (PG 97, 994).  Amen!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Misunderstood and Maligned? No problem.

In a world dominated by linear thinking and an eye to efficiency Jesus presents a bracing counter-intuitive witness.  Think about today's gospel for a moment.  If Jesus' sole purpose in preaching was to gain adherents it would seem that he has failed.  For his efforts, by the end of his discourse the crowd is ready to stone him to death.  He says those provocative words - “Before Abraham was, I AM.”  This statement, to the average Jewish ear, crossed the line into blasphemy.  It is a phrase that will be used against him in the trial that condemns him to the cross.  But the underlying question for me is – why would Jesus preach this way knowing, as he must certainly have known, that people would be slow to understand?  Why preach this way when some misunderstand him while, at the same time, others, fully understanding his words, reject him outright?  Why not use his divine powers to say just the right words in just the right way?  Yet he doesn't do this.  Instead, he seems to be content to preach and then let the seed fall where it may…on good soil, on bad soil, on soil seemingly unprepared for his words. 

As we continue our journey toward the Easter sacraments let us ask ourselves: am I prepared to share the things of God even when I don't have the perfect words?  Am I willing to risk the rejection and misunderstanding that marked Jesus' own life?