Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Longest Day

In the 19th century, a Christian asked a famous Rabbi why Jews do not have a catechism, a written summary of their beliefs. The Rabbi answered, "The Calendar is our catechism." For a Jew, the rhythms and rhymes of the calendar formed a narrative which was meant to be lived. The catechism was not read as much as it was experienced as the year unfolded.
It's true for Catholics, too, as we live our own liturgical calendar (which is essentially the Jewish calendar transformed around the person and life of Jesus). 

There are so many treasures hidden in the calendar. Here's one I find particularly rich, especially if you're a sun lover. It's about the theological meaning of longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice, June 21.

Look at the calendar and you'll see that it is the Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga. Which may seem innocuous enough. 

But zoom out a bit--bear with me if you dare--and you'll see that June 24 is the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. Spin the calendar like a globe and you'll see that perfectly opposite this on the calendar is the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ, December 25 (obviously Dec 24 being the Vigil). 

What does it mean? Saint John the Baptist is born just as the light begins to fail. Similar to many of the Old Testament prophets, his arrival both announces--and through that divine word--it also triggers the darkness, which is summed up by collapse of the cosmos. John the Baptist is "Elijah" whose entrance onto the scene initiates famine and strife...almost to the point of complete darkness. He--Elijah in the Old and John the Baptist in the new--brings the situation to point of trial, tribulation, desperation and darkness. 

The point is St. John the Baptist triggers--and his birthday on the calendar liturgically coincides with--the diminishment of the light and warmth, two things we need for life. Recall that John Himself said as much of himself: "I must decrease" (John 3:30). 

And so in our experience of our annual lived "catechism" we experience the diminishment of light at the coming of the greatest Prophet, John the Baptist, who announces and triggers the attack of darkness that the Lord Himself will overcome. Just as John the Baptist and Jesus worked in a kind of tandem of inverse complementarity, so the two halves of the calendar: From June 24 onward, the light and warmth of the sun gradually, if imperceptibly, diminishes...right up until Dec 24, when in the that dark and cold of Christmas Eve, Christ is born....of whom John says, "He must increase" (John 3:30).

Just to make the point clearer, St. John the Baptist will liturgically diminish into his own darkness on August 29, when we celebrate his beheading. The light will continue to fade until, as I said, the birth of the Light on Christmas, and gradually His work of restoring the cosmos will gradually unfold. In Holy Week, His struggle with darkness and death with its climactic moment when He dies, rises, ascends and sends the heavenly fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (all this happening usually in March or April).

So: since Jesus' gift of the Holy Spirit is able to recreate and perfect all of creation, the light and warmth continues to expand until June 21st...the longest day of the year. What John the Baptist announces and inaugurates--the coming of God's judgment on this world--Jesus brings about (in the Cross) and overcomes (in the Resurrection, etc). All this is indirectly and quietly packed into the liturgical experience of June 21, and the surrounding bright days. 

In Arizona where I live, June 21st is long. The sun stays in the sky seemingly for ever. It always makes me think of that mysterious vision that St. John has in the Book of Revelation of when Heaven and Earth definitively come together, and God's creation is perfected. He says, "The night will be no more. They will need no light from lamps of the sun, for the Lord God will be their light." June 21st is meant to be an experience, a delightful and earthly reminder, of this theological truth of the future. (I can't imagine how must more "eternal" the day feels in Alaska or other more Northerly places on June 21st). Shout out to you Michiganders. 

So that's what June 21 means on the Catholic liturgical calendar. It symbolizes the day when the Light of Christ has expanded to fill every dark nook and cranny of creation and when the "night" of sadness and death will be no more. 

It teaches us not to fear when God allows the light to diminish (who is the Elijah and John the Baptist in your life? Who in your life "triggers" your humility and helps your ego and plans to diminish? Follow them!). 

It teaches us that when we let God (however humbly and imperceptibly) into our lives in the silent and dark of Dec 24...He will, if we permit Him, make us to resemble, little by little, the glory of June 21.

So I give you June 21st: the longest--and probably a rather unnoticed but nonetheless awesome--day of that Catholic catechism we call the calendar.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Seeing the price of her freedom

For all those who desire deeper interior freedom...or wish to understand the deepest causes of real freedom...consider these words on St. Mary Magdalene from the great and late Fr. Hans Urs Von Balthasar. It's meaty and dense, but give it a shot. I'm on my third read of it today. Good stuff. I'd love to know what gems you find in it. Let me know!

from Magdalen
 by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

"At the Cross she learns how much it cost him to deliver her from seven demons.  Even before that she was certainly filled with nothing but gratitude and had placed all she had at the disposal of Jesus and his followers.  Freed from a sevenfold servile bondage, she had entered a freedom unknown to her like one who steps out of a gloomy dungeon into the open air.  Everything within her was drawn toward her liberator, to whom she owed a completely new existence exceeding all her hopes.  For these reasons what she experiences at Golgotha cannot be put into words.  Her liberator cruelly nailed up in a tortured death agony and she, the one he set free, unable to do anything at all to free him.  Moreover, she knows, unbearably, that her freedom to love him is purchased by this torment.  She cannot return to her prison and thereby set him free; she must simply endure having her freedom paid for with this breathtakingly high price.  She realizes that her offer of love can do nothing now to brighten the dark night of his abandonment by God.  She cannot offer her suffering as a balm for his.  His is alone, on the other side of a broken bridge.

She cannot make herself useful in any way.  She hears the death rattle, sees the blood run from his open side, but it is the men who take the corpse down after Joseph of Arimathea finally returns from seeing Pilate and buying the linen.  They may have laid his body on his Mother's lap, but certainly not on Mary Magdalen's.  She is an observer and remains one while the corpse is prepared for and finally placed in the tomb, which is then sealed.  "Mary Magdalen and the other Mary stayed there, sitting down across from the tomb" (Mt 27:56).  Behind the stone that cut off her line of vision lay what had once been her life.  For the entire following day the stone of the Sabbath weighed heavily upon her existence and robbed her of all action.  "On the Sabbath they rested according to the law" (Lk. 23:56)
Then comes the report of a Resurrection morning that cannot be entirely reconstructed with certainty: carrying their spices, the women find the open tomb; Magdalen runs to the disciples to give them the news (before or after the angels' proclamation in Mk 16:5-7?) and then finds her solitary way back to the grave for the great scene reported in Jn. 20:11-18.  Neither the gaping emptiness nor the conversation with the two angels who sit at the head and at the feet of a missing corpse, not even her words to the supposed gardener, can drive the opaque darkness of Good Friday away from the woman's soul.  Only with the name: "Mary" does the whole light of the Resurrection flood into her.  And therewith the heavy rock that separated her from her Master under the Cross is pushed aside: "Mary - Master" is a pure merging of love.  Yet in the same moment a new curtain of separation falls: "Don't hold on to me."

The woman must hold.  The man holds not: he takes hold and lets go; he goes his own way, does his own deeds.  But in his taking hold he forces the woman to hold, and she will hold the child in a completely different way than he.  And, if the man holds her not, she has a deep desire to hold God, to present herself to him as a "bride" whom he cannot leave behind.  The same applies if Mary is personam Ecclesiae gerends, that is, playing the role of the Church, as the Church Fathers say: the Church must also grant freedom to her Bridegroom ("If it is my will, what does that matter to you?" Jn 21:22-23).  For that is the only way she receives the freedom of Easter.  As she lets go, she can receive Jesus' message for his brethren; had she clung tight in spirit, she would never have been able to carry it out.  The Lord granted the woman - both as the Church and as the individual - freedom to say nothing of her experience with him and rather simply to pass on his message.  "Mary Magdalen went thither and announced to the disciples: I have seen The Lord, and that is what he told me" (Jn. 20:18).

The men - who dismiss the women's message as "empty talk" and receive a scolding from Jesus for having done so - take over the proclamation of the Resurrection, with Peter as their head.  The message of the women disappears behind them (in Jewish law women were not legitimate witnesses).  But this message dare not be forgotten, for it is the message of that Church who was present at the end of the Crucifixion and the first to be granted a glimpse of the Resurrection.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

3 minute celebration of 50 years!

You know you're freaking out, just a little. Admit it. Today, Dec. 4,  is the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the first major document of the Second Vatican Council, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (known by the shorthand Latin name Sacrosanctum Concilium). 

And if, like me, you are kicking yourself for not throwing a huge party and/or taking the day off to meditate on this awesomeness, fear not! 

I took the liberty of sketching out a little cliff-note-like sketch of the highlights what the Council said about the liturgy, using--get this--the words of the Council itself, and that from (for the most part) the Constitution that today turns the big five-0. This blog's name is inspired by the very purpose of the Sacred Liturgy. If you get that, you get a lot of what the Council wants us to know. 

Skim it, pour over it, or glance at it--either way, happy 50th, SC!

What is the Sacred Liturgy, according to the Second Vatican Council? 

The sacred liturgy, especially the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is where “the work of our redemption is accomplished.” (SC 2)

The sacred liturgy is the action whereby Jesus Christ the High Priest performs “full public worship,” in his Mystical Body, that is, “the Head and his members.” (SC 7)

The sacred liturgy is a “foretaste of that heavenly liturgy,” which is celebrated in heaven, where Christ sits at the right hand of God with all the heavenly army.” (SC 8)

Mass is inseparably the following things: the sacrifice of the cross, a memorial of the Paschal Mystery, a sacred banquet of the Lord’s Body and Blood, and the foreshadowed and anticipated eschatological banquet “when he comes.” (Eucharisticum Mysterium, EM 3a, a few years after SC).

What is active participation, according to the Second Vatican Council?

Participation in the Lord’s Supper is always communion with Christ offering himself for us as a sacrifice to the Father. (EM 3b: *quoting Mediator Dei)

“In liturgical celebrations each person, minister, or layman who has an office to perform, should carry out all and only those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the norms of the liturgy.” (SC 28)

The Nature of Active Participation in the Mass: The priest alone, in persona Christi, consecrates the bread and wine, but the role of the faithful is the Eucharist is to recall the passion, resurrection, and glorification of the Lord, to give thanks to God, and to offer the immaculate victim not only through the hands of the priest, but also together with him; and finally, by receiving the Body of the Lord, to perfect that communion with God and among themselves which should be the product of participation in the sacrifice of the Mass.” (EM 12)

“(The faithful) should give thanks to God. Offering the immaculate victim not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him, they should learn to offer themselves.” (SC 48)

“The faithful participate more fully in this sacrament of thanksgiving, propitiation, petition and praise, not only when they whole-heartedly offer the sacred victim, and in it themselves, to the Father with the priest, but also when they receive this same victim sacramentally.” (EM 3e)

To produce its “full effects,” the faithful must come with “proper dispositions,” with “minds attuned to their voices,” understanding what they are doing, to be “actively engaged in the rite and enriched by it.” (SC 11)

“The Church, the spouse and minister of Christ, performs together with him the role of priest and victim,” offering Him and herself in union with Him. (EM 3c)

This sacrifice “has no effect (in the faithful) except in those united to the passion of Christ by faith and charity;” the benefit {not the sacramental validity, etc) for the faithful is “in proportion to their devotion.” (EM 12)

The community, in its unity, is arrange in hierarchical order. Therefore, “each person, performing his role as a minister or as one of the faithful, should do all that the nature of the action and the liturgical norms require of him, and only that.” (EM 16)

Concretely speaking, What did the Second Vatican Council say about sacred art and other externals used in the liturgy?

“In liturgical celebrations each person, minister, or layman who has an office to perform, should carry out all and only those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the norms of the liturgy.” (SC 28)

In Catholic institutions and schools, “great importance is to be attached” to the teaching and practice of the “treasury of sacred music.” (SC 115)

Sacred Music forms a “necessary and integral part of the solemn liturgy,” and is a “treasure of inestimable value,” greater than any other art.” (SC 112)

The purpose of sacred music, like that of the divine liturgy itself, is “the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.” (SC 112b)

 “Care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.” (SC 54)

All things set apart for divine worship should be worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of things supernatural. (SC 122)

In the sacred arts, e.g., sacred art, vestments, and ornaments, etc., “noble beauty” is to be sought. (SC 124)

 “The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites.” Vernacular may be used, “especially in readings, directives and in some prayers and chants.” (SC 36)

Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, no the Apostolic See;” therefore, “no other person , not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” (SC 22)

 “Liturgical ceremonies should be celebrated with the utmost perfection.” For this reason: The rubrics are to be observed carefully, under the watchful scrutiny of the ecclesiastical superiors. (IE 13)

 “In the celebration of the Eucharist above all, no one, not even a priest, may on his own authority add, omit, or change anything in the liturgy.”  (EM 45)

Where are concrete instructions for the celebration of the liturgy be found?

The Typical Edition of the Roman Missal is the primary source for the “what’s” and “how’s” of the Mass. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM, or IGMR) has further clarifications. Book IV of the Code of Canon Law has helpful laws and principles for the liturgy. The above mentioned Conciliar and post-Conciliar documents are helpful. The U.S. bishops council also published liturgical documents, available at Other privately written books are helpful, e.g., Elliot, Peter. Ceremonies of the Roman Rite, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995.

HAPPY 50th, Sacrosanctum Concilium. In some ways, you're just beginning. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Marriage, Fatherhood, and Being Complete

The Supreme Court's recent legal decisions regarding marriage certainly add to the growing list of reasons to be worried that our nation's public culture is careening toward a moral and social cliff. 
It's easy to feel distressed.  
It's easy to feel helpless. 
But there are a lot of wonderfully helpful things we can do. One simple thing we can do every day is to celebrate the amazing gift of fatherhood and motherhood--the direct fruits of marriage. 
If we remember the amazing good that fatherhood is, for example, I think that it will help us rediscover the unique good that marriage is. 
We just had Father's Day here in the USA. And, coincidentally, Pope Francis said this about fatherhood: 
"When a man does not have this desire [to be a father], something is missing in this man. Something is wrong. All of us, to exist, to become complete, in order to mature, we need to feel the joy of fatherhood: even those of us who are celibate. Fatherhood is giving life to others, giving life, giving life..."

 I’m blessed with a wonderful father. My Dad (that's my Dad on the far left getting a big kiss from my brother) filled my childhood with experiences of fatherly love. In my earliest years, he’d tuck us (five)  little Muirs in bed, pray with us, kiss us on the head, make us feel like we were the most special kids in the world. We just knew he loved us from the way he treated us. 

I assumed his fatherly tenderness to us was automatic. Fatherhood seemed so easy for him. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned my Dad’s love as a father didn’t come cheap. My Dad had been a top-rated college basketball referee when I was born. Against his shocked colleagues’ recommendations, at the peak of his career, he quit…so he could be home evenings and weekends. In my young adolescence, when his successful real estate business (“Muir Real Estate Corner”) began to sap time and precious energy from him, he sold it and became a high school teacher, so was home every day at 3 pm for my Mom and siblings. 
All of my father’s love and tenderness toward my mom and to us kids was purchased at a price. And it made him a great father.  
A Creative Vow. Years later, in the seminary, I came across something by the French Philosopher Gabriel Marcel called “The Creative Vow as the Essence of Fatherhood.”  He said that true fatherhood was born from a special “creative vow”: a father becomes a father not mainly through physical paternity, but through a creative promise in which a man vows to love a child in the “fidelity to a hope which transcends all ambition and personal claims.”  
In a flash, I saw it: my dad’s amazing fatherhood derived its vitality from his promise to embrace his kids without any reference to his own ambition and personal claims. I saw, in other words, that robust fatherhood is born of a weird creative weakness: dying to ambition, rising to relate to a child in a totally selfless way. 
 Gabriel Marcel said that this kind of “creative vow” has to be rooted in the eternity of God, because only God can sustain this kind of radical fidelity and love. During early mornings in my high school years, my Dad often returned from somewhere caring milk and donuts. I thought it was just Safeway. Turns out, he was going to daily Mass before hitting the grocery store. 
 I thought he just really liked donuts. Later I learned he went to daily Mass to receive strength from the “eternity of God” to keep living out the “creative promise” of his fatherhood.  

Fatherhood completes a man because it roots him in God, and teaches him to love. I'm so thankful for the amazing gift that marriage--through my parents--gave to me: Fatherhood. My Dad's fatherhood, and now the fatherhood I seek to grow in as a priest. 
Nothing else could take the place of what marriage gave to me: the experience of a father's love. 

My Two Dads, and other things I liked about "Man of Steel"

 I confess: I attempted to fly when I was a boy. On multiple (but, sadly, unfruitful) occasions. Though I was never too into any comic book superheroes, my wish to fly around and above the maple trees of Mayfair Park (my boyhoood neighborhood) made me relatively sympathetic to Superman.

And the sympathy remains. But now I am a Catholic priest, and I see flying in a slightly more spiritual way. I fly around the Diocese of Phoenix (in my car) fighting the things a priest fights. This, and other themes in the most recent re-hash of Superman, resonated with my life as a priest with varying levels of profundity. So I offer the following list of ways the life of a priest echoes with Superman in the film.

1. Superman has two Dads. Kevin Costner's character tells the young Superman something along the lines of "Clark, you have two Dads. I'm your Dad. But you have another Father who sent you here for a purpose." My Dad is Ronald Muir. But when I became a priest, I was sent with a mission by another father: my Bishop. Of course this is all rooted in Jesus Himself, who has an earthly father (St. Joseph), and a Heavenly Father. His mission was rooted in His being sent by God the Father.

2. Superman's mother is super important to his mission. A priest depends on the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the most important woman in his life, to comfort him, heal him, mother him. My favorite line of the movie was when Superman's enemy attacks Mrs. Kent, his mom, and Superman says, "You threaten my mother?!?" And then he goes ballistic. Loved that scene.

3.  Superman visits his priest/pastor for spiritual direction to help him discern what he should do in a difficult situation. Fight or run? Go public or hide? Protect himself or protect others? His priest/pastor listens and encourages him to trust what God is doing in his life, and his mission begins. I can't tell you how huge my spiritual director's counsel has been to me, and all the times I've received encouragements to make a leap of faith through good spiritual direction. I hope Superman has that priest's cell phone on his "Favorite" list. He's gonna need it.

4. Superman is immersed in human life before and after he begins his mission. I can't tell you how often people are surprised that a priest actually does human, oh, I don't, sleep, sneeze, like sports, and lift weights. And any number of normal human things. Superman gets a job (journalism) that will maintain his connection with human life, even with his extraordinary vocation. Priesthood isn't exactly a "job", but our connection with the people we serve is essential. Pope Francis said, "Priests should smell like their sheep." Notice the stained glass in the church scene in the movie? It was of Jesus the Good Shepherd, surrounded by His sheep.

5. Funny clothes. And a cape. No, I generally don't wear it. But I'm ready to...just in case.

6. From Kansas. Two of the most important priest spiritual father-figures in my life have deep roots, like Superman, in Kansas: Archbishop Charles Chaput (accepted me as a seminarian) and Bishop Thomas Olmsted (from Kansas, and was bishop of Wichita, respectively). Coincidence? I think not!

   7. His childhood friends don't understand his vocation/mission.

  8. He frequently "gets away" to contemplate the world from a uniquely high perspective. Completive prayer, silent retreats....standing on clouds. 
  9. He changes clothes a lot.
  10. IHOP. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fingerprints of Providence: 3 amazing days

You couldn’t have scripted the three days I spent in Rome for the papal conclave any better than what actually panned out. From beginning to end, the trip had the tone of a pilgrimage and the fingerprints of God’s gracious--and dramatic!--providence all over it. 

Take, for example, some of the not-so-simple details of throwing together a trip to Rome on crazy short notice. Found convenient flights in a few hours. Found a hotel very close to St. Peter’s square. The manager told us we had booked his last room, and he was daily flooded with requests. 

The most dramatic aspect of the experience was the sheer unpredictability of the timing of everything. First, we didn’t know when the conclave was even going to start, and booked our flights based on our best guess. We arrived Sunday night. The opening Mass (Missa Pro Eligendo) was Tuesday morning, and the conclave began just hours later. 

But even more gut-wrenching was the looming uncertainty of when the new Holy Father would be elected. Every single moment of the trip we felt this concern build as a slow burn of anticipation. Granted, if the Pope had been elected after we left Rome--say, Thursday morning or evening, or Friday, or later--it would have been fine. Still a memorable experience, prayerful and all that. 

But when we realized at our very last opportunity for an election that the smoke filling the sky above the Sistine Chapel was in fact white--it first was convincingly black to our eyes--dejection turned into jubilation.  

Wednesday morning I was doing a live interview on Sirius XM radio. Mark Hart, the host and a friend, said at the end of the interview, when he realized how everything (for us, anyway!) came down to the evening ballots, said, “Let me say, brother to brother, that for your sake, I really hope the white smoke comes tonight, so you can experience it all in person.” I told him that’s I’d be okay with whatever God’s will is..but that it seemed strangely unlikely that God would bring me all the way to Rome for a conclave just to have me miss it by a ballot or two, and fly home to watch it on TV in Arizona. Obviously, that wasn’t the plan. 

Now, with tears in my eyes and cranberry juice in hand on flight home, it unmistakably strikes me: as a Catholic who loves the Church, a student of history who loves pivotal moments, a priest who needs the Pope’s guidance and authentic example of priesthood, and as a son who loves his Papa...I’m not sure I could be an ounce happier, this side of eternity.  


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Buzzer beater

I got to St. Peter's square today at 5 pm. It was my last shot at witnessing the election of a Pope, because my flight back to Phoenix is tomorrow morning.

It rained all day. All day. My friends and I wandered all around, chatted with people, and kept staring at the basilica, the tv screens, and other people. Trying to keep dry and warm and upbeat. Black smoke felt...probably.

We waited and prayed and waited some more.

The time for the first ballot of the afternoon came and went. No smoke. No white smoke.

So we waited, and the anticipation grew. Slow burn.

Waiting. Hoping.

Waiting. Waiting.

We prayer vespers. The first night of the conclave the black smoke came out while we prayed the Magnificat.

That didn't work this time.

Then at 7:06 what looked like black smoke appeared, and a spirit of dejection came over us. The crowd sighed, moaned, lamented.

And then someone yelled, "It's white!!!"
And the place went crazy. Elation, joy, bliss. It's winning the super bowl, combined with being a foster child and getting a new Dad. The thought has been crossing my mind..."Would God bring me all the way to Rome for a conclave, just to fly back to AZ and watch it happen on tv?"

 Apparently not!