Sunday, May 31, 2009


Here's a Whitsunday miscellany:

1) Insights from Pope Benedict XVI's homily:Jesus said in Luke 12, "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!" (From the RSV, because the KJV translates this poorly). Thus, Pentecost is an actualization of the mission of Christ. This gift of "fire" shows Christ as the true Prometheus—reversing the myth, because Jesus' fiery love can only be ours because he broke free from bondage! He gave a token of this "mighty wind" when he breathed on his apostles.

The scriptural account begins while the disciples are gathered together in an upper room (hearkening back to the Lord's supper). (A) They are probably frightened; all this is new and their responsibilities are daunting. (B) They are gathered together in unity, and, significantly, (C) Mary is in their midst. So now, in Acts, we witness the arrival of Love Himself. (A') This Love casts out all their fear and the Apostles begin their work with boldness, (B') their previous (spatial) unity is rewarded, and they remain in (spiritual) unity throughout their work, and (C') Mary's presence reminds us that the Annunciation to the Virgin was a kind of "little Pentecost": the fire of Love came to her from heaven, and she was moved to speak (with fearless faith!) the ecstatic, holy hymn, the Magnificat. So the birth of Christ comes again; this time, it is the nativity of His mystical body, the Church.

As mentioned, the two important images of Pentecost are "the tempest" (or wind), and "the fire." These images draw the mind to Sinai; this is dangerous stuff. Wind = breath = life: it is only the Spirit that can give life to the church. Fire = a powerful element, and (as in Prometheus) a godly gift: separated from God, it cannot be used safely. (The Prodigal can only fail when separated from his Father.)

The Wind (which bloweth where it listeth) drives us, and the Fire lights our way. In Pentecost the Church is renewed and moved.

2) Thoughts from Father Peter:In yesterday evening's Vigil of Pentecost, the first reading is the account of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9). Babel prepares for the Acts reading of the Day Mass: the Spirit does not create unity by restoring pre-Babel uniformity. Rather, Pentecost’s Spirit creates unity-in-diversity: people of many languages hear the one message of God’s salvation in Christ, but each in his/her own tongue! Exodus (19:3–8a, 16–20b) foreshadows Acts’ wind and fire. Ezekiel (37:1–14) comforts those distressed by the gulf between the Spirit’s promise and the community’s reality. Joel (3:1–5) heralds an evangelization transforming the world, but beginning with a “remnant” of spent energies and failed visions.

Paul (Romans 8:22–27), echoing Ezekiel, reassures all who wrestle with the gap—in the Church and ourselves—between promise and fulfillment, the boundless potential envisioned by the prophets and Jesus and the disappointing reality of our communities and personal lives.

Traditionally the “Birthday of the Church,” Pentecost mirrors nature as the Church’s spring, refocusing our faith on birth, not death; on the womb (image of the baptismal font), not the tomb. In the Easter Vigil Gospel, a young man in white greeted the women at the tomb and commissioned them: “Go, tell” (Mark 16:6–7). Instead, they “fled, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8). Today, “the last and greatest day of the feast” (John 7:37), Jesus reassures us: he will satisfy our thirst, lead us beyond fear, strengthen us to live our baptismal mission.

In this morning's Solemnity of Pentecost
, in Acts (2:1–11), the Spirit seems, at first, to reverse Babel’s confusion of tongues. But the Spirit’s unity is not uniformity, but unity-in-diversity. The gospel is one, but its manifestation diverse: “we hear them speaking in our own tongues” (Acts 2:11). Contrasting different/same (three times in three lines) and many/one (twice in two lines), Paul challenges the Corinthians (1 Cor. 12:3b–7), and us, not merely to tolerate but to celebrate the Spirit’s manifold gifts in our unity of faith.

The Sequence, Veni, Sancte Spiritus, a gem of Catholic tradition, deserves to be heard in its original Gregorian beauty, the melody dubbed by medievals “the Golden Sequence,” in Latin or an English translation fitting that melody. Where the Spirit breathes, the arid, rigid and frigid are transformed, the sordid cleansed, the wayward restored.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus,
et emitte caelitus
lucis tuae radium.

Veni, pater pauperum,
veni, dator munerum
veni, lumen cordium.

Consolator optime,
dulcis hospes animae,
dulce refrigerium.

In labore requies,
in aestu temperies
in fletu solatium.

O lux beatissima,
reple cordis intima
tuorum fidelium.

Sine tuo numine,
nihil est in homine,
nihil est innoxium.

Lava quod est sordidum,
riga quod est aridum,
sana quod est saucium.

Flecte quod est rigidum,
fove quod est frigidum,
rege quod est devium.

Da tuis fidelibus,
in te confidentibus,
sacrum septenarium.

Da virtutis meritum,
da salutis exitum,

da perenne gaudium,
Amen, Alleluia.
Come, Holy Spirit,
send forth the heavenly
radiance of your light.

Come, father of the poor,
come giver of gifts,
come, light of the heart.

Greatest comforter,
sweet guest of the soul,
sweet consolation.

In labor, rest,
in heat, temperance,
in tears, solace.

O most blessed light,
fill the inmost heart
of your faithful.

Without your divine will,
there is nothing in man,
nothing is harmless.

Wash that which is unclean,
water that which is dry,
heal that which is wounded.

Bend that which is inflexible,
warm that which is chilled,
make right that which is wrong.

Give to your faithful,
who rely on you,
the sevenfold gifts.

Give reward to virtue,
give salvation at our passing on,
give eternal joy.
Amen. Alleluia.

Today's Gospel (John 20:19–23) repeats the Gospel prescribed annually for the Second Sunday of Easter, thus “closing” Eastertime’s circle. Jesus breathes his recreating Spirit on the disciples, shows them his wounds, vulnera, from which derives vulnerability, true love’s most poignant quality, then sends them, and us, forth to love as he loved, to forgive, to reconcile. He adds, “whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (20:23). But, like the disciples, forgiven our own sins of denial, desertion, and cowardice, what sins would we dare not forgive?

3) A lovely meditation on fruits of the Spirit:
My Gifts, by Russell Arben Fox.

4) A timely criticism of a growing practice:
Assigning GC Talks to Sacrament Speakers, by Kevin Barney.

My comment on this awful stuff:
The “regurgi-talk” phenomenon is loathsome and abhorrent. It finds traction within the leadership style you see sometimes in the Church that tries to suggest that banal = virtuous. (As though the Lord desires suicidally boring Elder’s Quorum lessons, because it is His way of testing the faithful.) Give me interesting false doctrine any day; at least there would be something to discuss after church.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Three Thoughts: Familial Blessings of the Temple

The following are some thoughts I scribbled down after my mother asked me, in preparation for her talk, how I felt my family had been blessed by the temple.

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

1) Anciently, and even in the earlier part of this dispensation, temples were oriented spatially along the cardinal directions. (For instance, the first cornerstone laid was often at the South East corner, because this was the point of greatest light.) We can learn from archaeology that many early temples in pagan systems were actually elaborate heavenly observatories, oriented according the movements of the sun and the stars. In short, temples were a point where it was possible to get one's bearings within the universe to a high degree of precision. They represented a point of sacred space in which all of space could be brought into order.

The same is true for us today. The temple is the only place I know of where what is inside is larger than everything outside. It is a microcosm of the universe and of the plan of salvation which shows us where we truly are, and where we need to go. By entering the temple, we step –– in a way –– out of space and time. As we keep our covenants when we leave the temple, we carry with us both physical and mental reminders. These, if we are valiant, can make all space and time sacred for us.

2) In the temple, we are given a foretaste of things to come. Just as the emblems of the sacrament are in some ways a promise and a preparation for partaking of the fruit of the tree of life, the temple can offer hope in the future blessings the Lord has for us. At the same time, we begin to feel within holy walls a bittersweet kind of homesickness. Passing into the Celestial Room, amid all the beauty, the sweet peace of the Spirit, and the loving faces of family members, we must recognize that our Father is not present in His fullness. We yearn more deeply for our real Home, and we seek more truly for those we love to come with us. Just as the temple can show us the arrangement and order of the universe, this ache and longing we feel can draw us to True North.

3) The Atonement of Jesus Christ is available for us within the House of the Lord. There, the wells of living water are deep. We are taught, as Paul instructs us in Hebrews, that He opened a way for us through His rent flesh (Hebrews 10:20). Thus, we may only approach the Father through Christ and His sacrifice. Sacred vestments, the veil, even the sealing power exercised at holy altars –– these are all facets of the Atonement we seek to make us whole.

We often underestimate the true scope of Christ's healing power, and what He intends for us. In the Temple, we may have clearer glimpses of what this all means. Too sacred to speak of in anything but generalities, we may say that the ultimate expression of the Atonement possible in mortality is had only within those dedicated precincts. As the prodigal could only know how well he was loved by returning home –– embraced, blessed, and clothed by his father in an act of immeasurable mercy –– so we can only know our Father truly as we come running to Him on the road Home: that road always passes through the temple, where we will feel His arms about us, we will be nourished by the Lamb slain for our sake, and we will hear Him whisper of a love stretched "wide as eternity" (Moses 7:41).