Who Are You, Lord?

The 40 days of Lent spent walking the dusty byways of Palestine with the disciples and their Lord, witnessing miracles of healing, hearing the Lord’s words, and then following him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday through crowds shouting ‘hosanna’, coming to the upper room to celebrate a very different kind of Passover – the Lord washing the disciples feet, even the horror of seeing the Lord crucified after he has been betrayed and abandoned by all – this panorama of scenes is familiar in a way that Holy Saturday and the Resurrection of Easter Sunday are not. Prior to his burial in the tomb, all of the Lord’s actions and words were witnessed by those around him. This was the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. But sealed in the rock tomb another ministry took place, a cosmic ministry perhaps, beyond the ability of human senses to perceive. Unlike the raising of his friend Lazarus which many saw, no one saw Jesus descend to the realm of the dead or walk out of the tomb. So, in our mind’s eye, the pictures painted by the Gospel writers of the events of the life of Jesus Christ up to his death and burial are available to our imagination. But, as we believe, Christ on Holy Saturday took death captive and on Easter Sunday, once dead but now alive never again to die, took on a life that is beyond anything we can imagine. No longer hindered by physical barriers the risen Lord appears when and where he wills, often not immediately recognized by those closest to him. In John’s gospel when the risen Lord is eating breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee with his disciples, in the third post-resurrection appearance, John writes, “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ – knowing it is the Lord“. It is the Lord, but something has changed so that the question lingers, ‘Who are you?’.

Over the 50 days of the Easter season we are invited to reflect on that question.

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We call this Friday good…

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed , then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood-
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

Four Quartets, East Coker IV  –  by T S Eliot

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In the Garden…revisited

Last year we posted some reflections on the Bob Dylan song ‘In the Garden‘ as a point of departure for those who may be looking for an entry into the Triduum beginning on Holy Thursday. (The post is reprised below.) Late last year Dylan’s record label released ‘Trouble No More – The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981‘ a multi-CD set of live concert and unreleased studio recordings from this period. A list of some of the song titles, besides ‘In the Garden‘, give a sense of the intensity and devotion expressed in these performances:

Gotta Serve Somebody, I Believe in You, When You Gonna Wake Up?, When He Returns, Gonna Change My Way of Thinking, Solid Rock, What Can I Do for You?, Saved, Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody, Ain’t No Man Righteous No Not One, Saving Grace, Blessed Is the Name,  Every Grain of Sand, Jesus Is the One, Thief on the Cross, Yonder Comes Sin.

Surprisingly, many of the secular press reviews of this set were positive, even laudatory saying these songs were some of Dylan’s best work. There are Amazon reviews that claim these songs provided an opening for a new or recovered faith in Christ for the listeners. A short essay by a well known self-professed atheist included with the materials in the deluxe boxed set makes clear that his ears were opened to hear the message contained in these songs for the first time. No suggestion is being made that these songs reflect the fullness of Christian faith found in the sacraments. However, they are at least an expression of what St. Paul wrote of in Romans 10 that “…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.


On Holy Thursday in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we commemorate the last Passover meal the disciples shared with Jesus, their Teacher and Master. Afterward, the whole party retired to the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. There, while the disciples slept, Jesus experienced an agony unknown and unknowable to mere men. In 1980 Bob Dylan wrote a song entitled “In the Garden” that begins:

When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
Did they know He was the Son of God, did they know that He was Lord?

In a filmed recording of a live concert performance in the early ’80s Mr. Dylan is heard to introduce this song by asking the Australian audience if they have any heros, suggesting the names of famous Aussies to which the crowd responds. He follows up by saying he doesn’t care much for any of the ones he mentioned, but that he does indeed have a hero and will sing a song about his hero – launching into a rocking version of “In the Garden”.

More recently Mr. Dylan has been exploring the ‘Great American Songbook’ recording songs by George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin among others. In a recent interview exploring his long and varied songwriting career Dylan was asked if he thought there were any of his songs that did not receive the attention they deserved. He named two, one of which was “In the Garden”.

The verses of ‘In the Garden’ are comprised of a series of questions, like the one quoted above. Anyone familiar with the Biblical stories from which this song was taken will sense the ambiguity and uncertainty involved in attempting to answer them. Jesus’ foremost disciple, Simon Peter, had in earlier days declared that he knew or believed Jesus to be the Messiah, the son of the Living God. On this night, however, he abandoned his Lord in the garden and denied him three times in the high priest’s courtyard shouting with curses, “I do not know the man!”. We ask ourselves, ‘Did Peter really know Jesus was the Lord?’. I ask this question of myself even I as tap out the words, knowing of my own betrayals.

As we traverse this Triduum recalling the events leading into the Paschal Mystery of Easter Sunday it would be a profitable exercise to reflect on the questions posed ‘In the Garden’.

The final verse ends with the repeated question:

When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
When He rose from the dead, did they believe?

A blessed Easter to all,

Randy Coleman-Riese

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Via Crucis – images by Vonn Hartung

Traveling the path of Holy Week we enter into the Triduum and its mysteries. Our friend Vonn Hartung has by the sacramentality of painted images provided us access to the depths to which these days are intended to lead. You are invited to take a few minutes to follow the Via Crucis…

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Holidays and Holy Days

What are we to make of this year’s overlapping holidays and holy days? Lent began February 14th, Valentines Day with Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday will coincide with April Fools Day. (Technically, April Fools is not a holiday. But perhaps we should rethink that and consider making it Federal holiday.)

Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day would seem at odds with each other. Some priests even encouraged their parishioners to perform their amorous displays on the day before so as not to interfere with the appropriate attitude of repentance and sorrow for sin when receiving the ashen mark on their foreheads. Even so the Gospel reading prescribed for the day enjoins us to ‘not look gloomy’ while performing our fast. Sacramentality asks us to see and experience the inexplicable union of spirit and flesh whose source is the Incarnation and whose end is subsumed in the Resurrection. No doubt there is a tension between the secular understanding and expression of Valentines Day and the Christian self-examination and humiliation in hearing ‘remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’. But it is a good tension, the kind Kierkegaard likened to the tension of the stings of a musical instrument. Without it there would be no music, no love songs or hymns like the Dies Irae.

Risking sacrilige, how might the combining of the great Easter feast of the Resurrection and the rather goofy pranks of April Fools Day be viewed together? St. Paul provides a  segue in the first letter to the Corinthians chapter four when he upbraids some of those in the church of Corinth for their haughty manner and rivalry saying that he and the other Apostles “…are fools for Christ…to this very hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are vilified, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer gently. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” Then St. Paul privides fatherly advice to his arrogant children in the faith…”I urge you to imitate me.”

Shall we?

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The Predicament

“There are still countries today where, even in the Catholic Church, the individual is in a situation reminiscent of that in which Kierkegaard found himself, in a national church that had fallen into liberalism: however willing the individual is to submit to the Church’s direction, he can no longer find a firm representative of ecclesiastical authority; as for having recourse to the Pope’s teaching, the latter may become almost inaudible and practically inaccessible. Those he finds around him acting the part of the ‘Church’ and of the ‘clergy’ are under more than just suspicion of having made a pact with anti-Christian power-structures; or, what comes to the same thing, though more covertly, they are subject to a system of terror within the Church herself that does not allow the bishops freedom to act responsibly as they see fit. Or alternatively – and again these features are related – they are caught in a net of ideological slogans that has entangled both the hierarchy and a large proportion of the Catholic people too (to say nothing of the intelligentsia).”

– Hans Urs von Balthasar

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Big Data & Human Sacrifice

The following comes from an article posted on The Atlantic magazine website:

In 1598, a European miner working in the Bolivian highlands stumbled across a 10-year-old Andean girl who was still alive, despite having been walled up inside a funerary tower three days earlier. Several decades had passed since the Inca Empire—the most sophisticated in the world at that time—had fallen, but its practices lived on among the Incas’ descendants in the region, including human sacrifice. The practice held on a little longer after this incident. Around 20 years later, a boy, who had escaped from local chiefs attempting to bury him alive, took refuge in a Spanish community in the Peruvian Sierra. But the tradition was incompatible with the moral outlook of the new Catholic regime, and die it did, eventually.

The question scientists are debating now is: Did our modern world spring from the beliefs of those who buried the girl alive, or from those of the miner who freed her?

To put that question another way, were human societies able to grow so large and complex because cruel practices like human sacrifice shored them up, or because human sacrifice was abandoned in favor of other forms of social glue—notably, major religions like Christianity?

What seems clear is that the author of the article and, likely, the scientists in the debate are unfamiliar with the work of one scholar who spent most of his life studying violence and religion and the origins of human culture, René Girard. The article describes research being conducted by teams of university based scholars mining the data from anthropological studies of thousands of primitive cultures both living and extinct and pooling the information in vast databases. Without the tools that Girard’s work provides it is not surprising that the researchers fall into the materialistic and utilitarian hypotheseses regarding us humans and our social interactions. Perhaps you have heard of ‘big data’ and, like many, have relegated that term to the realm of topics too vast to spend much time worrying about; while at the same time finding it somehow worrisome. I have my own qualms in this regard, however it is possible that big data may in this instance provide another layer of emperical support to Girard’s mimetic theory of the origins of human culture.

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Part 6 of Gil Bailie’s Reflections on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Part 6 of Gil Bailie’s series on Romans is now available on our web store. Click on the image to the left to go our store. In this part Gil Bailie covers chapters 9 through 11 of Romans. In these chapters there is a sense that St. Paul is trying to elucidate a number of troubling issues one of which is our propensity to develop our moral acuities at the expense of those whose moral failures we observe and repudiate. Another theme is the problem of God’s irrevocable covenant with Israel and the Jewish rejection of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and their complicity in Jesus’ death.

The final two parts of this 8 part series will be available on our web store in the coming months.

 

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Surprise…

Last Sunday I happened to watch an hour long CSPAN interview with Robert P. George and Cornel West. It was not what I expected; which was verbal combat between scholars occupying opposite ideological perspectives. Over the years I had read a number of articles by Professor George, who teaches at Princeton, and knew him as a gifted Catholic scholar whose outspoken pro-life, natural law, politically conservative positions have influenced my own thinking. Professor West of Harvard, on the other hand, I knew only from news media accounts, having never read anything he had written that I can recall. However, by his reputation as a political progressive of the left I felt the CSPAN program would provide some verbal fireworks, at least.

What transpired surprised me. I encourage anyone who despairs of high level respectful discourse between ideological opponents to click on the image above to watch the program. It will not be lost on the viewer that both of these men are Christians whose views have been formed by their faith. But it is also evident that the manner in which they hold their differing views on many issues is saturated by a grace that enables them to live and work together as brothers in Christ.

Merry Christmas!

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Autumn & Advent

 

In preparing the digital audio for part 4 of Gil Bailie’s Reflections on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans I heard Gil recite the Rilke poem ‘Autumn’…

 

The leaves are falling, falling as from far,
as though above were withering farthest gardens;
they fall with a denying attitude.
And night by night, down into solitude,
the heavy earth falls far from every star.
We are all falling. This hand’s falling too —
all have this falling-sickness none withstands.
And yet there’s One whose gently-holding hands
this universal falling can’t fall through.

I will leave it to the reader to ponder how the poem relates to St. Paul’s understanding of the ‘new aeon’. For those intrigued by this, the downloadable MP3 will be available in mid-December in our web store…and as we are in the midst of our Fall Appeal, for our friends who support our efforts with gifts of $60/year or more – a complimentary MP3 of Part 4 of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans will be sent via email around the same time. And for those contributing $300+/year – in addition to the MP3 we will mail a  complimentary CD of the audio materials. If you find our work of value please help us by supporting our efforts with your tax-deductible donations.

The Rilke poem at first reminded me of the song ‘Autumn Leaves’, a lament of lost love and longing, not really in ‘tune’ with Rilke’s more metaphysical direction. However, it was the last lines that brought another image to mind, one that had been in the news recently on account of the astounding price for which someone paid to possess it. The image, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci entitled ‘Salvator Mundi‘…

  Because Christ’s visage and gaze are what strikes the viewer most powerfully it is easy to miss, in the lower right corner, the universe is depicted, held in its creator’s hands…

And yet there’s One whose gently-holding hands
this universal falling can’t fall through.

As we enter into the Advent season this Sunday we will have opportunity to reflect on how it was that the creator of this universe became a helpless infant, born of a woman on a cold night in a cattle shed on the dusty fringes of the Roman empire two millennia ago and how this event has changed everything since.

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