Monday, March 27, 2017

Ready to Re-Lent?

It may be time to "evangelize the problem."


If your journey into the 40 days of wilderness known as Lent has not gone as planned this year, there's still time to re-boot.

Lent can be a rough season, an extended experience of bumping up against what seem like intractable issues. It may be a bad habit I still can't crowd out of my daily life, or an elusive good habit that just won't stick.  It may be a deeply disordered situation which has resisted resolution after weeks of prayer.  Or it could be worries about the suffering of loved ones.

Pope Francis provocatively challenges us to try a new tact when we encounter such obstacles: He invites us to "evangelize the problem." The idea is to look at the issue, the situation, or the condition and then courageously speak the kerygma to it. That is, the Holy Father advises that we announce the basic proclamation of the Gospel to the problem and thereby put the problem in its proper place--into the context of God's saving action in Jesus.

I imagine the conversation going something like this [fill in the blank with the name of your specific problem]:
  • "______, you have had a hold on my heart for too long. I cannot hang on to you and drag you through my daily life any longer. Therefore, I now hand you over to the Lord Jesus."
  • "It is Jesus Christ who now has a hold of you, ________. He will hang you onto his Holy Cross and drag you up the hill of Calvary with him.  He will take you into the tomb with him, where you will be unable to haunt me."

  • "And when Jesus rises on the third day, ______, you will be a figment of the phantom you are today.  The light of Eternal Life welling up from the empty tomb will transform the pain and shame and fear you have caused me.  The victory of Christ's Infinite Love will swallow up the sting of your previous victories."
This is the basic proclamation we need to announce to each of our problems: Christ has made--and continues to make--all things new.  Here and now, now and forever.

So spread the word: It's time to give up whatever has threatened to derail our Lenten journeys. It's time to "Re-Lent," to reclaim a fresh start, and to resume our journey to Jerusalem by speaking truth to that which most vexes us.

Keep hope alive and remember: God himself is literally dying to take up our daily Crosses....

Monday, March 20, 2017

Foster Father of the Footwasher

Guido Reni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What if glorious St. Joseph, universal patron of Holy Mother Church, became "first" by making himself last?

From the beginning, Joseph's role in the Holy Family was not to be served, but to serve the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Christ Child.  Given this, doesn't it make sense that, as a boy, Jesus would have learned to do the will of his heavenly Father by imitating the other-centered witness of his foster father?

Joseph doesn't need to speak in the Gospels to share what must have been his personal motto: God first, others next, and self last.  A "righteous man," dislocated from the central spot in the Holy Family, finds himself emptied of ego, liberated with Love for the Other in whose presence he lives.

St. Joseph's feast day providentially falls during Lent each year. After all, Joseph is the prototype of what we strive for during this holy season--Prayer-amid-daily-life, Virtue-through-daily-chores, and Humility-in-relationship-with-family-and-friends.

As we journey through Lent again this year, hoping to draw ever closer to the Passover that Jesus will accomplish in Jerusalem, let's pray that St. Joseph will help open our eyes to the Paschal Mystery. He did not witness it firsthand, but may have glimpsed its foreshadowing in Jesus' hidden life.  He may have also given some inspiring example to his divine Son along the way.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Four Ways to Read the Four Years of Francis


"Please pray for me!"  These most frequently repeated words from Pope Francis hearken back to the powerful gesture with which he began is papacy--bowing on the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square and asking the gathered throng to pray that the Lord would bless him.

On the fourth anniversary of Papa Francesco's pontificate, as we continue to pray for our Holy Father, please consider the following "lenses" through which we might read his increasingly complex papacy:
  1. Reading a Walking Parable: Jesus used parables to help reveal deep truths about the Kingdom of God. Scenes or images from everyday life, suddenly turned upside down, now compel a decision on the part of the hearer: Will I open my heart to this surprising revelation?

    Since his first days as Pope, Francis has continued to use symbolic actions--great and small--to capture the attention of the Church and the world. A walking parable does not just preach about love of neighbor or spiritual warfare or global injustices; rather, he acts in often dramatic fashion to grab us by our lapels and shake us up.  Which of Pope Francis' most memorable moments have been particularly compelling for you? Which have been confusing or challenging?
  2. Tracking a Papal Prophet: From St. John XXIII, Bl. Paul VI and St. John Paul II, through beloved Benedict, our recent run of popes has certainly been prophetic leaders. However, if the role of a prophet is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" (F.P. Dunne), then perhaps Pope Francis is best understood not as a reformer but as a prophet.

    Part of the unique dynamic with Francis has been his relentless efforts to challenge those inside the Church--and his apparent preference for those outside! In what ways have you felt comforted and/or afflicted by Pope Francis?
  3. Finding a Third Way: If the political categories of liberal/progressive or conservative/traditional prove to be the only conceptual framework available for reflecting on human existence, then Catholicism has no place to rest its head. Of course, liberals are quick to claim Francis as one of their own, and conservatives seem tempted to reject him for this very reason. But there are too many conflicting realities to make this the true narrative of the pontificate of Pope Francis. 

    Is it possible that Francis is challenging such trite categories? Might he be offering us a Catholic vision of "evangelical orthodoxy"--or "apostolic orthopraxy"? I am convinced that only a paradoxical narrative--one filled with seeming contradictions--is suitable for Holy Father Francis. The Holy Spirit blows where he wills and always breathes new life into the Church, without ever contradicting himself. Real continuity is never a monolithic stasis, just as real change is never the blind adoption of novelties. What if Pope Francis is a progressive traditionalist?
  4. Waiting on a Bonaventure: Peter, the Rock, is supposed to be the symbol of unity. He is like the referee on the field of play who makes sure that the game flows within the prescribed parameters. But, like St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis seems more concerned with disrupting the regular flow than maintaining the status quo. G.K. Chesterton once observed that St. Francis needed to remind Christians how to be Christian; maybe Pope Francis is trying to remind Catholics how to be Catholic (M. Dopp).

Monday, March 6, 2017

“Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness” (AL, ch. 8)

Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia is the hot-button chapter. Dubia and discord hover over it like a cloud, along with vastly divergent interpretations by Bishops around the world. Plus threats of schism.

The controversies should be no surprise, given that Pope Francis had declared in the introduction, “everyone should feel challenged by Chapter Eight” (n. 7). But amid such lingering turmoil, I suspect that Pope Francis may himself be challenged by the questions which surround this section of his Apostolic Exhortation.

Readers who have followed this blog's comments on previous chapters of "The Joy of Love" have likely noted that I see this document as an exercise in creative fidelity: Pope Francis seems to be not only stretching those who want fidelity to the truths of the faith ("let's get more creative pastorally"), but also grounding those who want more pastoral creativity ("let's keep rooted in the unchanging truths of the faith"). Unfortunately, Chapter Eight contains enough ambiguous passages--or even apparent contradictions--that both traditionalists and progressives have much they could latch on to.

Identifying the challenges.  Perhaps the most helpful way to enter into Chapter Eight is to use it as an opportunity for self-examination: As a reader, what do I find most challenging in the passages that follow? Is it feeling that the Holy Father is going too far, or not far enough?