Confession: Common things I say

Recently, Sr Teresa Aletheia asked for a quote for me on the topic of Confession. I had returned from World Youth Day, and was a month behind preparing for the new school year, I could only come up with a sentence.

It is important to bear these things in mind:

  1. The Sacrament of Penance may be therapeutic, but it is not a counseling session.

Although I am open to give practical advice, or helpful perspective, I believe the grace of God that they receive in that Sacrament is more important than anything that I can say. I also believe that people would be happy for there to be advice or perspective that is not merely practical, but explicitly  spiritual. Finally, bearing in mind, that many people don’t want or need any advice whatsoever (often this is how I feel going to the Sacrament), I merely need the grace that the Sacrament offers.

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iWorship and the Analogical v Dialectic Imagination

judgmentOne time I went on a rant about iWorship. I saw the thing come up in my Google Play store. I just threw up my arms as another indication of how evangelical christian culture has for decades recycled pop culture gimmicks in order to create a family friendly bubble.

I am referring to all the media, music, books & tshirts which take an item, image, slogan, or idea in pop culture, and spin it for Jesus. While rebranding something as Christian, or Jesus, they will take the exact graphic design, color scheme, or jingle to “give God the Glory!

Nearly 2 decades ago, an LA-area rap group LPG (for living proof of grace), would spend time rapping at non-Christian venues. They went to open mics, and had a lot of street cred. On one of their records, they made the claim that you shame God with lousy art. Being prophetic while maintaining street cred, I imagine it would be difficult to gain a foothold in either the pop culture entertainment industry or the Christian media industry which had become pop culture’s hapless wannabe fangirl.

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Reading & Studying Augustine: Why confessions may not always be the best place to start

Update, September 28, 2018: This, and many other posts, have been updated and moved to Augustinian Link.

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Eschatology Part II: Resurrection, & Communion

Continuing in my serious on reflections on Eschatology, I wanted to reflect on something much more assertive and corrective in regard to how we see Eschatology. Eschatology, is a term, meaning, the theological study of Last-Thing, End-Times, Death, the Soul, and the like.

Previously, I had covered several things which remain in the Catholic consciousness, and which we may have learned overly simplified. Others, in the pop-culture subconscious, have taken Christian concepts, and taken them in another direction, thus stripping it of its power. I wanted to propose some of my reflections on Resurrection and Communion in regard to eschatology.

In the Old Testament, Pre-Christian era, there was a growing sense of afterlife. It was not specific in the Old Testament that you follow the Commandments for a better afterlife, but you find that the Hebrews came to believe that over the centuries. Up to the time of Jesus, many Hebrews were awaiting a Resurrection of the Dead, because no afterlife would be life without a soul-body union.

Therefore, the real reflection of the Afterlife has to come upon by the Resurrection of Christ. It was indeed a bodily Resurrection, signifying our on bodily Resurrection, and even a New Creation. Easter Sunday, after all, has traditionally been seen as the 8th Day. Jesus is physically present, but no physically bound in the ways we are. In fact, their awareness of who he is, only unravels gradually to Mary Magdalene and the other disciples. It is not an unraveling knowledge, but an opening awareness that happens in relationship, in other words, Communion.

This idea of Communion, that is central to our reception of Communion: It means a movement toward Communion with the Lord, and with all the Angels & Saints (including our loved ones gone before us). Joseph Ratzinger signifies that the principle of Communion developed before Christ, as people had a sense that death would begin to bring  us into Communion with the Lord and with our Ancestors. So for the Christian Resurrection will include the reality of Communion in a way we can only begin to try to imagine.

Communion is a sort of unmediated Communication. The awareness the Disciples had of the Lord’s presence in the Breaking of the Bread is not some mere knowledge, but a deep Spiritual Awareness or Comprehension. You might be having the gift of awareness of this Communion if it makes sense, principally after having received the Eucharist, or being in Eucharistic Adoration. Among your brothers and sisters, it will be as if everyone in one mind and one heart, approaches the Lord.

Our whole Liturgical Experience, on Sundays, speaks to this desire for complete communion everytime we sing the Sanctus. In the larger scheme of things, the ideas of Resurrection and Communion make sense as we progress through the Liturgical Year, culminating in the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, and eventually of Christ the King.

As I mentioned, I was stuck, and even somewhat trapped, by a more morbid sense of death, because the superficial ideas of afterlife had no power. I was finally liberated from it, by beginning to experience the person of Jesus Christ, who is the Life and Resurrection.

Eschatology Part I: Misconceptions

I have been engaging in a lot of reflection on the field of Catholic Eschatology in the past several months. I took a class in January on Creation & Eschatology, and already offered some comments on Creation Theology in reference to an assignment in the class. Over the course of the summer, I have been taking a summer chaplain training certification course, and has caused me to again reflect more tangibly on what Catholic Eschatology is about.

But, before I could offer that, I think there are a lot of misconceptions, or at least, over-simplifications on the topic. Traditionally, it was seen in terms of Hell, Purgatory, & Heaven. Often times, people conceive of these as locations or places, when they are more of a state. Conversely, people conceive of them principally as non-body places. That is, our soul, a pure thing, must escape the flesh/body, and go to the purely spiritual heaven. That is not the Catholic Tradition.

The trouble with this is, is that we, as a culture, have drifted so far from Christianity, that we no longer imagine, or conceive of ourselves as psycho-somatic unions (soul-body) unions, and in that unity we are ourselves. Instead we view ourselves disembodied, and the body as more of a hindrance, or perhaps something to be dismembered by plastic surgeries, and covered in tattoos. (Now don’t get me wrong, I personally like tattoos, but I wonder to the extant that we don’t truly value out bodies).

Even Christians, who become fascinated with the End-Times, and the Second Coming of Christ, imagine a heaven of disembodied Spirits, where the few righteous will be raptured and swept up away from all the sufferings that God’s wrath is just itching to unleash on humanity. In addition, I wonder to what extant their focal concern for Christ’s Second Coming is the result of having no theology of God’s immanence (God’s closeness). The Catholic Imagination is incredibly Sacramental, meaning God is bursting forth in so many moments in history and in the world.

Finally, in the west, Heaven has been conceived of in such shallow terms, that it looses is grandeur and power. For one, we non-challantly throw around stuff like “They are in a better place.” Which obviously offers no real consolation, because all the unjust malevallent villians will be dining with the decent people in a better place. Moreover, the better place, is more like suburban, upper class America, on an endless shopping spree, free of all imaginable inconveniences. Gone is the idea of Communion with the Lord and with our loved ones.

Therefore, your left with one other alternative, in the opposite extreme. Death is the end. Death is violent. Death is merciless. When we die, all is lost, and there is no more. I think I grew up believing in a superficial heaven, but I had not the strength, or confidence in the authority of that believe, to actually believe it. So instead, when I was confronted with death, I stuck with this morbid alternative, simply because it was the only thing that we could actually verify.

The Trinity for Agnostics Part 4

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

Trinity is very personal. Person was the term used to distinguish the Trinity in the early Church. Three persons of one substance. The substance is the communion of persons. Persons was a Latinization of the Greek Hypostatis. Hypostasis means the grounding of being. Each Hypostasis had a grounding distinguishing integrity, in much the same way that each of us do.

But even this entire philosophical processing can feel cumbersome that it is not even talked about in our Church.

Contrasting to many the pop-culture eastern mysticism, has at its heart, that the individual and personal integrity of the individual is meant to diminish until the person becomes non-existent. That is Buddhism. Self-Annihilation. Many of the self-asserting individualists who turn Buddhism into their consumer product don’t actually realize the hypocrisy in their spiritual quest. People who want the Dalai Lamas new book like it’s a trendy pair of jeans miss the point entirely.

Yet, in contrast, the Christian is to believe that we become most fully ourselves in God. We have all our personal integrity intact. We are not meant to lose it. We are, however, meant to diminish in the sense that we deny and die to our petty ego-centricism. This is not self-annihilation, neither is it self-assertion.

So we are most our own person in God’s person.

Conversely, we are most our own person in God’s communion, and in relationship to God’s communion in the Trinity. There is a relational dimension we are invited to. This is our salvation. We are redeemed from the wretched suicide of sin.

It is hard for me to describe God in his own existence. But even that is important to consider, because we are so obsessed with our own well-being. Having made it clear that God is more concerned with care for each of us then anything, we also have to shift our concern.

God existed as a communion of persons eternally, preceding any history or creation of the world. Preceding our own existence God was a communion of love. Some of the Church Fathers referred to this as a mutual indwelling of the three persons in a Pericoresis. Pericoresis was a dynamic Greek term that connoted a rotating. The strange thing for present theologians to consider is that the term implied dance.

The Triune God has engaged in a mutual indwelling dance from all eternity.

Augustine also referred to the Holy Spirit as the Unity of Charity between the Father and Son. Therefore we can say that God is Love. Therefore we can say that the Spirit unites Christians and peoples. Therefore we can say the Spirit is always moving in love in all the world.

Some of these images form a basis for reflection in prayer and theology, and they have helped me at all times. The God who is so magnificent and glorious to be conceived by my petty human mind, is the same God who discloses himself in the events in history, and particularly fully reveals himself in the man  Jesus of Nazareth, and the fire and life of the Church the Holy Spirit. God is already active before I was born, in a loving dance of unity. The Incomprehensible Transcendent Triune God existent before all ages, is the same God who cares and saves us.

The posture of the Trinity is always one of love, unity, integrity, and mercy. What then is our posture. It is always easier for us to be agnostic, because embodying compassion, charity and justice in the same way as God is always more difficult then in hiding behind the fact that we are a spiritual seeker, who is more apt at aimless drifting. When we encounter a person it demands the greatest reverence, it changes us. Therefore we must be ready to meet the aimless drifters and genuine spiritual seekers of truth with a personal encounter. God afterall, is very personal.

The Trinity for Agnostics Part 3

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Augustine refers to having valued Jesus because of what his mother Monica taught him. He probably admired the person Jesus of Nazareth for being another remarkable teacher or philosopher. I think it would bear resemblance to your average agnostic today.

If you were to take your average lapsed Catholic agnostic, and ask them about Jesus, they would probably be in agreement on many things that perhaps do not agree with the Catholic Tradition. Beyond blaming the sorry catechesis, I think it would be interesting to see the generic and harmless Jesus that can only be the product of an overly materialistic consumer society. Jesus is another self-help guru. I am sure that is how they imagine him. He had some non-religious spiritual wisdom teaching, and he was a healer just like self-help gurus are or whatever. At the same time, there is nothing compelling or urging about this caricature, who can as easily be disregarded with each new pop fad. But by and large, Jesus remains a positive person that even the agnostic has a hard time overtly disrespecting him.

The apostles were vividly struck by this man Jesus of Nazareth. He was like the prophets before him. But he was not like them. He was like the lawgiver before, but Jesus was totally something beyond that. Jesus was, and Jesus was not quite in the way they understood. The Gospel themselves clearly testify to a certain Apophatic reflection on the person of Jesus as they grappled to categorize and bracket him into what their experience knew. Another lawgiver. Another prophet. Another teacher. Another preacher. Another wonder-worker. But Jesus was not any of these things.

Jesus was the son of a carpenter. Yeshua bar Yosef, he would have been referred to. Christ was not his last name (or Joseph and Mary’s). But what was with this guy? He was nothing like his family. There was nothing that could prepare anybody for the authoritative teaching, the inspiring proclamation, and the wonders he worked among the people.

All of this turned them on their head absolutely when they saw him in glory after having been publically executed. Their lives were turned on their head. They all went to the ends of the earth to endure brutal torturous death on account of the proclamation of this wonderful event.

Jesus said that his Spirit would come upon his followers, and there was a concrete and tangible difference. Whereas the Apostles locked themselves away in terror when Jesus was captured, suddenly they had no fear in the face of similarly gruesome torturous assassinations and executions.

They baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each of these titles corresponded to something, or someone they experienced. It was clear that Jesus was not the Father that he prayed to, but Jesus was the one with the Father. That Jesus was not the Spirit who came upon the disciples, but there was a unity.

The whole movement of the Church exploded amidst bloody persecutions. There was something alive and flamboyant at work behind the scenes. It took them a while to let their intellectual reflections catch up with their own experience and the tradition. It was clear from the beginning that there were three divine persons, each with their own solid ground and integrity. Yet, It was clear, as has always been that there is still one God.

As the Church Fathers were quite comfortable with articulations about God, balanced with an incomprehensible Divine Mystery, the idea that there God is Triune was not altogether difficult to accept. It is, unfortunately far removed from our experiences. I do believe that the magnitude of the incomprehensibility of Divine Mystery has been so incredibly undervalued publically, that many people do become agnostics. But God has acted in history. God has acted in our lives. It is quite concrete, so much so that it does not make sense to remain an exclusive agnostic for very long. Jesus, the Son of God, had flesh and blood like us. He hungered and feasted as us. And he spoke to us. He speaks to us in the Scriptures. Perhaps the Father is caring, nurturing, and providing for us. Perhaps the Spirit is moving and vivifying us likewise. It does not make sense to remain agnostic, because God is acting in our lives in a concrete manner, demanding a concrete response.

People who remain hard hearted agnostics, often will find themselves deliberated trapped, to protect themselves from hypocritical Christians. They want to see results. They want to see that following God leads to happiness, that the moral life is possible, and that they are all connected. Most of all they are craving communion, not more abstract moral theories, not more abstract moral doctrines. It is not that these have no value.

But the story of God is very personal. The story of Trinity is very personal. The Son of God is Incarnate. The Son of God has eyeballs, ears, a nose, and a tongue. The Son of God has a story, the story is our redemption, the story becomes our story, our story becomes part of his story, our story becomes the Church’s story, the Church’s story becomes our story, the Son of God’s story becomes our story. The Story of God follows with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we can receive that gift through the Sacraments. We begin our Trinitarian Life at Baptism, in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. So it becomes very important for us to be well versed in this story. It becomes important for us to reflect on our personal part in this story in the Life of the Trinity. We see our past with new perspective, and God transforms our pain into something beautiful.

Augustine looked deeply into the story of Jesus, and the story of the Church, and the story of the Communion of the Saints. He saw something too remarkable to deny, and followed his heart into the story.

Read Part 4