Monday, November 24, 2014

The King and his Immigrant Peoples

Christ the Pantocrator, "the Enthroned"

Policy, politics and liturgy seem to have converged on one fundamental theme this past week: The question of the King.

Every year as the Catholic Church concludes her liturgical cycle, the same stunning Gospel passage confronts us.  Matthew 25's "Judgment of the Nations" rings out regarding the return of the King who will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left, based on one simple criterion:

"Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you...a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?'
...And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you,
whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’" 

(Mt 25:37-40)

The fundamental revelation is that the King is present in the "strangers" or "aliens" whom we welcome--or whom we fail to welcome.  How we treat--or mistreat--them is how we treat or mistreat the King himself.  Therefore, the Christian question regarding immigration policies needs to shift from the merely political to the very personal issue of what our stance will be toward those we see as "outsiders."

Additional questions abound, of course.  For example, in the uproar and furor over the President's recent executive action, will some Anglo Americans give their Hispanic brothers and sisters the not-so-subtle message that they are not welcome?  In the awkwardness surrounding the political polarization on this issue, will Christians unwittingly strike an unwelcoming stance toward the King--suggesting that our nation is somehow impoverished rather than enriched by the presence of hard-working families who want an opportunity to flourish?

Monday, November 17, 2014

These Walls Can Talk

Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica

How do you "read" a church when you walk in?

Are your eyes drawn first to the altar and the sanctuary, or to the stained glass windows?  Are you more of a statue or a painting kind of person?  Do you have favorite symbols or saints whose presence lifts your heart?  (One of my nephews is a great fan of St. Bonaventure, and he feels awfully close to Heaven every time he gets to see his old friend!)

We live during an age in which most people are visual learners.  So we should take the opportunity to explore the visible symbols in our local churches, in order to allow ourselves to be drawn closer to the invisible realities represented.  We should strive to develop the spiritual eyesight which is so necessary for Christian discipleship.  And we should look for opportunities to explore the meaning behind such rich signs.

Many representations of saints depict them holding the instrument associated with their death (if they were martyrs), or with some great insight or pivotal moment from their life.  So who's the guy with the grill, or the young man holding the rocks?  With google images now at our finger tips, it's possible to discover answers to such riddles with relative ease.  (These two examples come from the widows in the chapel of the Diocese of Joliet's Blanchette Catholic Center, by the way, and the searches proved them to be St. Lawrence and St. Stephen, respectively.)

How about the tabernacle which holds the Blessed Sacrament or the mysterious and pivotal presence of the altar, which signifies Christ?  Every church is a treasure trove of real signs which help make present the realities that they represent.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Birth of Counter-Cultural Catholicism

Cultural Catholicism is dead.  Just going through the motions because of ethnic or familial allegiances has proven to be an inadequate response to the challenges posed by radical secularism.

What will replace it is only beginning to emerge, but the birth of counter-cultural Catholicism will undoubtedly require the same the heroic virtue of great Christians from centuries past.  At the very least, this counter-cultural Catholicism will:
  • Not shy away from the call to discipleship, but will purposefully and intentionally follow Jesus, embracing his revolutionary way of life.
  • Not just "sacramentalize" members of the Church, but will promote effective evangelization--helping all Catholics know that the story of Salvation History is their story, that the good news of Jesus is their Good News.
  • Not reduce Christian charity to mere volunteerism or philanthropy, but will see life in terms of a gratuitous gift of one's self--including one's time and money.
This counter-cultural Catholicism will be neither pre-modern and reactionary, nor post-modern and complicit with the nihilism of our time.  Rather, as some observers have noted, it will be "trans-modern." Drawing from the rich treasury of resources within the Christian tradition, it will cut across the assumptions of modernity and open up new horizons for encountering the living God here and now.  Counter-cultural Catholicism will be transformational, changing hearts of believers person by person and so helping to rebuild society.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Naming our Holy Souls

So what's the cast of characters look like on your All Souls Day prayer list?  And are you able to "connect the dots"--in retrospect, of course--regarding how they helped reveal the face of Christ in your life?

Without having to canonize every family member and friend who has gone before us marked with the sign of the faith, the Church's celebration of All Souls Day invites us to commemorate and intercede on behalf of all those who are being purified on their way to full communion with Almighty God.  To pray for such holy souls is a spiritual work of mercy, and the Catechism reminds us that, "Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective" (CCC, n. 958). 
This year my thoughts have returned to a pivotal time and a most memorable group of people.  It was the late '80s in a blighted neighborhood of North Philadelphia.  During a year of service in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I was assigned to work in a day center for adults from the neighborhood who lived in nearby boarding houses and who had a variety of mental and emotional needs.  Many of them were also killer UNO players :)
The Center was housed in the rectory basement of Our Lady of Holy Souls parish.  Little did I know how aptly named the parish was!  It also took me a while to realize that the fun-loving, Philadelphia Philly fanatic, Religious Sister of Mercy named Sr. Mary Agnes (a.k.a. "Sr. Freddy" to her friends) was creating an environment of hospitality and love which reflected our Lord's recommendation.  "When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" (Lk 14:14).