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They Killed Him
Saturday, April 7, 2012, 10:43 AM

The Christ is dead; the corpse of the Son of God lies on a cold slab in a suffocating, lightless tomb.

Holy Saturday is a difficult day to keep holy. My parish marked it with morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, but most churches don’t do anything, which is certainly appropriate; Jesus Christ is liturgically dead. And so I’ve taken to my own observances. Late last night after the Good Friday communion liturgy, my wife and I watched The Passion of the Christ, and today I’ll keep things low-key while listening to Bach’s Matthäus-Passion and Johannes-Passion as well as Mozart’s and Verdi’s Requiems.


Does Jesus Care about Sex and Marriage?
Friday, April 6, 2012, 10:28 AM

Yes, of course. I bring it up because Rod Dreher and Andrew Sullivan have been having a go at each other on the subject. Before I get to my own points, I’ll get you up to speed. Sullivan writes:

It’s revealing that for Rod, sex is the first thing that comes to mind after reading my essay. Which kinda proves my point — which is that in the grand scheme of Jesus’ teaching, sex is an extremely minor theme, while the current Catholic and evangelical leadership regards it as a central defining issue.


Holy Thursday: John 13 and the Priesthood
Thursday, April 5, 2012, 3:03 PM

At the Christian Leadership Center website, I offer some reflections on the priesthood in interpreting John 13:

In John 13 we find parallels to Leviticus 16, the Day of Atonement ritual. Lev 16:23-24 reads, “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting, and shall put off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there; and he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place, and put on his garments, and come forth, and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people.” Observe the pattern: The high priest undresses, bathes, dresses, and offers sacrifice. In John 13, Jesus undresses (v. 4), washes the disciples’ feet (v. 5-11), dresses (v. 12), and will soon offer himself in sacrifice. Whereas in Leviticus the high priest washes all of himself, in John, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. Jesus is sharing his high priesthood with the disciples; he must wash them — ordain them as priests — lest they have “no part” in his priesthood.

Indeed, washing seems part of priestly ordination elsewhere in the OT. In the midst of the “consecration” (Lev 8:10) of Aaron and his sons, Moses “washed them with water” (Lev 8:6). We also see Aaron and his sons being washed in Exodus 40:

Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the door of the tent of meeting, and shall wash them with water. (v. 12)And he set the laver between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it for washing, with which Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet; when they went into the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed; as the LORD commanded Moses. (vv. 30-32)

Furthermore, the mention of a “part” (μέρος) in John 13:8 recalls the Levites having their portion (μερίς) in the LORD (Num 18:20 and Deut 10:9 LXX).

Read the whole thing.

Benedict the Homilist, In Flammen
Thursday, April 5, 2012, 3:00 PM

That’s German for en fuego, on fire. First, from his Chrism Mass homily:

Two things, above all, are asked of us [priests]: there is a need for an interior bond, a configuration to Christ, and at the same time there has to be a transcending of ourselves, a renunciation of what is simply our own, of the much-vaunted self-fulfilment. We need, I need, not to claim my life as my own, but to place it at the disposal of another – of Christ. I should be asking not what I stand to gain, but what I can give for him and so for others. Or to put it more specifically, this configuration to Christ, who came not to be served but to serve, who does not take, but rather gives – what form does it take in the often dramatic situation of the Church today? Recently a group of priests from a European country [Austria] issued a summons to disobedience, and at the same time gave concrete examples of the forms this disobedience might take, even to the point of disregarding definitive decisions of the Church’s Magisterium, such as the question of women’s ordination, for which Blessed Pope John Paul II stated irrevocably that the Church has received no authority from the Lord. Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church? We would like to believe that the authors of this summons are motivated by concern for the Church, that they are convinced that the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and to bring the Church up to date. But is disobedience really a way to do this? Do we sense here anything of that configuration to Christ which is the precondition for all true renewal, or do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?

Second, from his Holy Thursday mass, on posture in prayer and worship:

Before reflecting on the content of Jesus’ petition, we must still consider what the evangelists tell us about Jesus’ posture during his prayer. Matthew and Mark tell us that he “threw himself on the ground” (Mt 26:39; cf. Mk 14:35), thus assuming a posture of complete submission, as is preserved in the Roman liturgy of Good Friday. Luke, on the other hand, tells us that Jesus prayed on his knees. In the Acts of the Apostles, he speaks of the saints praying on their knees: Stephen during his stoning, Peter at the raising of someone who had died, Paul on his way to martyrdom. In this way Luke has sketched a brief history of prayer on one’s knees in the early Church. Christians, in kneeling, enter into Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives. When menaced by the power of evil, as they kneel, they are upright before the world, while as sons and daughters, they kneel before the Father. Before God’s glory we Christians kneel and acknowledge his divinity; by that posture we also express our confidence that he will prevail.

Feel free to draw the liturgical moral.

It’s good to see the Holy Father come out in crisp and clear ways on crucial issues here. But know I’ve highlighted the few words in each homily involving explicit or implicit critique; as always, the Holy Father’s messages are full of joy and challenge, full of “yes.” Do read them in their entirety.

A Report on a Religious Freedom Rally
Friday, March 30, 2012, 10:19 AM

Last Friday, March 23, I attended a rally for religious freedom at the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck protesting the Administration’s HHS mandate, which requires health plans to cover contraception, chemical abortion, and sterilization. Our rally was one of over one hundred and forty around the country.

I played a very small part in advising the organizers of our rally, and as it was being planned with little lead time, I was concerned turnout might be small, as we were holding the rally during the working day and especially as we were calling upon North Dakotans to take a stand, notoriously diffident citizens who lack activist genes and refrain from discussing religion and politics in polite company. Or any company whatsoever. Although we bleed Viking purple due to our proximity to Minnesota, we’re even nice to Packers fans. Would anyone show?

Over seven hundred North Dakotans turned out for the rally. (more…)

PPACA Compels Complicity in Abortion
Tuesday, March 27, 2012, 11:31 AM

Here we’re not talking about the recent HHS mandate requiring health plans to cover abortifacients, but a different rule designed to co-opt you and me:

Finalized on March 12, 2012 (and set to go into effect with the 2014 exchanges), the new HHS rule implements Section 1303 of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” The new rule imposes mandates on every single enrollee in a qualified health plan that happens to include abortion coverage. In particular, federal law will soon mandate that every single individual enrolled in such a plan make payments to a private fund designated solely to the payment of abortion. This scheme allows Obamacare to get around the controversial issue of government-funded abortions with a new funding source: mandatory private payments by you, the insured. (more…)

Faith, Reason, and Canadian Justice
Friday, March 23, 2012, 11:21 AM

An Ontario judge engaged in a tirade when, ignoring a deal proposed by the Crown and the defence, he sentenced Canadian pro-life activist to an additional 92 days in jail for mischief and failing to comply with probation orders; Ms. Wagner walks into clinics and engages women there, in the waiting rooms, giving them a rose and pro-life counseling. According to LifeSiteNews.com, the Justice, S. Ford Clements, said the following:

“She can sit in jail, if that’s the only way to protect people,” [Clements] fulminated, calling Wagner “cowardly” for “abusing other human beings” and not having the courage to make her views known through other channels. “This is an extraordinary waste of resources. Get a grip!”

“You don’t get it, do you? What’s the rule of law? You’re required to abide by it … You’ve lost the right as a citizen to be anywhere near an abortion clinic or to speak to an employee,” he said.

“You’re wrong and your God’s wrong,” he continued. “You have complete contempt … There is a right to (abortion) in this country … You don’t have a right to cause (abortion-seeking women) extra pain and grief the way you do.”

I don’t doubt Mary Wagner’s faith informs her faith and motivates her actions. But the judge is wrong in implying pro-life passion is purely religious. Indeed, thanks to the historic and deleterious fissure between faith and reason that opened up in the middle ages, most people on whatever side of the political, cultural, and religious spectra today assume social conservatism and concomitant political action is motivated purely by religion. (more…)

Me on the Fourth Gospel
Tuesday, March 20, 2012, 9:56 PM

I was recently interviewed for The Sacred Page podcast on the Gospel of John. It’s here. I’ve also written a little piece on “Preaching John” here.

And finally, as part of my work as Director of the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary, I edit a homiletics site providing reflections on the lectionary readings written by a wonderful ecumenical team here.

The HHS Mandate and the Burden of Proof
Tuesday, March 20, 2012, 11:47 AM

In the realm of political and cultural debates, the issue of who bears the burden of proof is crucial but seldom discussed. For instance, the debate regarding the HHS mandate is operating with the assumption that the burden of proof rests upon the mandate’s opponents. That the burden of proof falls upon us makes sense, given the facts of the case. Having the power of the State, the Administration went on the offensive, and unless we can convince our fellow citizens that the mandate is a bad idea, we will lose the argument. (Whether SCOTUS saves us in the short term may be another matter; it depends how much certain Justices follow public opinion.) Further, most Americans accept contraception, sterilization, and chemical abortion as a matter of course. Just yesterday I was a guest on a local television news program here in the capital of a deep red state, and the news story that ran right before my appearance was a puff piece on how many men schedule vasectomies during March Madness so that they can recover on the couch while watching basketball. Nothing in the report suggested that the procedure could be the least controversial; indeed, the peppy, nubile, smiling reporter closed the segment by wearing glasses and a T-shirt from the Oregon Urology Institute’s “Snip City 2012” campaign, promoting vasectomies during March Madness.

So State aggression and contemporary cultural commitments mean the burden of proof is on us. But it shouldn’t be, and that’s a point we should make. For the HHS mandate to be considered a good thing, the Administration should show beyond a reasonable doubt that forcing every single insurance plan to cover contraception, sterilizations, and abortion-causing drugs is good for both (1) women and (2) society at large.

CT Editorial on Religious Freedom and the Supreme Court
Saturday, March 17, 2012, 9:28 AM

Earlier this week Christianity Today published an editorial online entitled “The Supreme Court’s Religious Freedom Reality Check.” The editors look to the recent Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC decision, in which the Court upheld the “ministerial exception” to workplace discrimination laws by a unanimous vote, finding that a Missouri Synod Lutheran school in suburban Detroit had the right to determine who its ministers should be and thus fire a teacher (Cheryl Perich, truly a sympathetic plaintiff) who it deemed unfit to retain employment. In this ruling the editors find deep hope for religious freedom; the editorial closes as follows:

[W]e ask this: Has alarmism blinded us to this country’s extraordinary achievements in protecting religious liberty? Measured against despotism in the past and in other societies today, religious Americans remain enviably free to act on their beliefs. The fact that the Supreme Court willingly vindicated an unpopular form of religious autonomy suggests that the First Amendment’s safeguards are as sturdy as ever.

Our call for perspective is not a call for complacency. Serious battles loom on the horizon. But, in the meantime, let Hosanna-Tabor talk you off the ledge—if not out of the fight.

The term “alarmism” is rhetorically unfortunate, for sounding an alarm when there is a conflagration is an eminently reasonable thing to do. Indeed, the New York Times reported that yesterday Sebelius made clear “many Roman Catholic hospitals, universities and social service agencies that insure themselves” will be required to comply with the mandate so that “female employees and students will still have access to free coverage of contraceptives.” The administration’s “accommodation,” an accounting gimmick in which insurers somehow provide the coverage at no cost, is not a compromise of any sort. (Indeed, the Administration deliberately uses the former term, not the latter, because its members are convinced the State has the absolute right to decide everything and “accommodates” dissenters at its will and whim when it finds it politically advantageous.) This Administration will not relent (as it comprises ideologues committed to the culture of death) and will not be reasoned with (as the whole contraceptive charade is also a cynical political ploy). In short, the full power of the State is being brought to bear against people of faith and conscience who think contraception and abortifacient drugs are intrinsic evils, not merely to shut them up in some obscure corner of the culture but to make them complicit in crimes against humanity.

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