"In verbo veritatis" (2 Cor 6:7)

February 29, 2012

Two avian metaphors

Filed under: Lent 2012 — komonchak @ 9:37 am

The Lord will grant that my weak voice will be strong enough today to keep your attention. Please help me by your silence, for my mind is ready but the flesh weak. Having conceived joyous things from God’s Scriptures, that mind is now in labor, and desires to give birth to them in your ears and minds. Provide a nest for the word in yourselves. The Scriptures praise the turtle dove that seeks a nest where she may lay her little ones (Ps 83[84]:4). (Sermon 37, 1; PL 38, 221)

“I will divide Sichem” (Ps 59(60):8. How does the Church divide Sichem? Sichem means “shoulders”. Shoulders are divided when their sins weigh down some while others bear Christ’s burden. He was looking for devout shoulders when he said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:30). Other burdens press and weigh you down; Christ’s burden lifts you. Other burdens have weight; Christ’s burden has wings. If you remove the wings of a bird, it might seem as if you are removing a burden, but the more of the burden you take away, the more the bird would be earth-bound. The bird you wanted to unburden just lies there; it can’t fly because you took away its burden. When the burden returns, the bird flies. That is what Christ’s burden is like. Don’t be slow to take it on you; forget about the ones who don’t want to carry it. Let them bear it who wish to, and they will find how light it is, how sweet, how pleasant, how it snatches you away from the earth and takes you up into the sky. (Augustine, EnPs 59(60), 8; PL 36, 719)


February 28, 2012

Before and after Vatican II

Filed under: Vatican II — komonchak @ 11:31 am

The first graduate course I taught when I went to Catholic University in 1977 was on the Second Vatican Council. As a way of getting students to reflect on what had changed during and after the Council, I gave them the paragraphs that Garry Wills wrote for the editors of Commonweal in response to their questions: Is there such a thing any more as Catholic culture? Would we be better off with it or without it? [Garry Wills on Catholic culture] (It says something already that the questions could have been posed already in 1967, only two years after the close of the Council.) At first, most of the Catholic students knew about the practices that Wills evoked in stream-of-consciousness fashion, but as the years passed, I had to explain more and more of them even to the Catholic students. The problem was even greater when I began to teach the course also to undergraduates. For them I hit upon the idea of having them conduct an interview with one or two Catholics who were old enough to remember the Church as it was before Vatican II, and for the task I prepared a set of questions that I wanted them to pose. Interview about Vatican II

The exercise was pedagogically very effective, and many students wrote that it had made the Council and its aftermath something very alive and personal, and even familial–more than one told me it was the first conversation about their religion that they had had with a parent. Some also, having received some indication of what it was like to be a Catholic before the Council, wondered what markers of identity they might point to today.

If any reader is inclined to answer the questions, please note that I wanted those being interviewed to have to answer not only about their dislikes then and now, but also about what they liked then and like now. (Why is it that we seem always readier to complain than to appreciate?)

February 25, 2012

Keep it simple

Filed under: Homilies — komonchak @ 3:34 pm


On the first Sunday in Lent, the Gospel is always the story of the temptations–the testing–of Jesus. We are probably all most familiar with the very similar accounts that are found in the Gospels of St. Matthew and of St. Luke–three distinct tests that recall the testing of Israel in the desert, tests that Israel failed but that the one who embodied the new Israel passed in faithfulness. By comparison, the verses we have heard this morning from St. Mark’s Gospel may strike us as almost rude in their brevity. Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the desert where he is tested by Satan. No details are given; it is not even said whether he won or failed during the testing.

And then with equally direct and brief words, St. Mark moves on to a summary of the message that this same Jesus brought as he proclaimed the good news of God: “This is the time of fulfilment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the Gospel.”

The text is striking in its terseness. Its brevity conveys a sense of its urgency and its claim. It is meant to stop us short, to look at things differently. The time is fulfilled–a biblical reader would understand this to mean that the time of God’s action had come–God is about to accomplish his reign. That is the good news–the prophecies are about to be fulfilled. And what is the appropriate response: Repent! Change your minds and hearts. Stop what you’re doing. Turn around. Take stock, and decide. And believe what God is doing in me, Jesus says.

Lent is supposed to be a time for such stopping short, for stock-taking, for deciding whether the road we’ve been walking is the one we ought to be on. It’s meant in its own way to repeat the startling and challenging character of Jesus’ announcement.

The challenge echoes the words of St. Paul we heard on Ash Wednesday: “Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation.” And the words of the antiphon before the Gospel on the same day: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” And the words of Moses on that day: “I set before you today life and death, blessing and curse: Choose life.”

Simple enough–but sometimes we shouldn’t complicate things. Choose life. If you hear him today, don’t turn a deaf ear and a hard heart to him. Now is a moment when the good news could break in on you, if you will only let it. Turn around if it’s necessary. Have the courage to believe in the good news. Have the courage to let it guide your life.

Fasting is not enough

Filed under: Lent 2012 — komonchak @ 9:09 am

Keep watch in good works. Play the psaltery by obeying the commandments; play the harp by enduring your sufferings. “Break your bread with the hungry,” you have heard from Isaiah (58:7). Don’t think that fasting is enough. Fasting chastises you but does not renew anyone else. Depriving yourself will be fruitful if by it you bring comfort to others. OK, you’ve deprived yourself: to whom are you going to give what you took away? Where will you put what you denied yourself? How many poor people can feast on the meal we gave up! Fast in such a way that your joy is that your meal is that someone else is eating.

And do it for the sake of your prayers, that they may be heard. For he says there: “While you are still speaking, I shall say, ‘Here I am,’ if you break your bread from the heart” (Is 58:7, 9, 10). For quite often this giving is done by sad and grumbling people, just to get away from an annoying beggar and not in order to restore a needy person. “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). If you give your bread reluctantly, you’ve lost both your bread and your merit. So do it from the heart so that the one who sees what is within you will say, even while you’re still speaking, “Here I am”–how swiftly are received the prayers of those who do good! This is our righteousness in this life: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Do you wish your prayers to fly to God? Give them two wings: fasting and almsgiving. May God’s light and God’s truth find us to be such persons, find us without fear when he comes to free us from death who has already come to undergo death on our behalf. Amen. (Augustine, EnPs 42[43] ; PL 36, 482)

February 24, 2012

Drunk in God’s house

Filed under: Lent 2012 — komonchak @ 8:42 am

“They shall be drunk with the abundance of your house, and you shall make them drink of the torrent of your pleasure” (Ps 35[36]:9)

Spiritual refreshment consists of two things: the gifts of God and his sweetness. With reference to the first, it says: “they shall be drunk with the abundance of your house.” The house is the Church (1 Tim 3:15: “so you may know how to behave in the house of God that is the church of the living God”). And this house, which is now on the earth, one day will be transferred to the heavens (Ps 121[122]:1: “Rejoicing we shall go into the house of the Lord”). In both houses there is an abundance of God’s gifts, but in this Church it is imperfect, while in the other there is an utterly perfect abundance of all good things, and by it spiritual people are filled (Ps 64[65]:5: “We shall be filled with the good things of your house”). And even more: “they shall be drunk” insofar as desires are fulfilled beyond all measure of merit, for drunkenness is a kind of excess (Is 64:4: “Eye has not seen, O God, what things you have prepared for those who wait for you”; Cant 5:1: “Eat, o friends, and drink, and get drunk, my dearly beloved”). People who are drunk are not inside but outside themselves. Thus those filled with spiritual gifts have all their attention on God (Ph 3:20: “Our conversation is in heaven”).
And they are refreshed not only by these gifts but also by love of God (Job 22:26: “Then shall you abound in delights in the Almighty and shall lift up your face to God”). And so it says, with regard to the second point: “And you shall make them drink of the torrent of your pleasure.” This is the love of the Holy Spirit which causes a force in the soul like a torrent (Is 59:19: “Like a violent stream which the spirit of the Lord drives on”). And it is a torrent of pleasure because it causes pleasure and sweetness in the soul (Wis 12:1: “O how good and sweet is your spirit, O Lord, in us”). And good people drink from it (1 Cor 10:4: “They drank the same spiritual drink”).
Or “the torrent of your pleasure” could mean God’s pleasure, which is called a torrent (Prov 18:4: “The fountain of wisdom is like an overflowing stream”), because his will is so efficacious that, like a torrent, it cannot be resisted (Rom 9:19: “For who resists his will?”)
Such refreshment is a matter of being joined to the source, and as those who keep their mouths at a source of wine will become drunk, so those who keep their mouths, that is, their desire, at the source of life and sweetness are made drunk (1 Cor 11:21: “Another is drunk”). (Thomas Aquinas on Ps 35[36]:9)

[JAK:  I post this, first, to show Aquinas’ appreciation of the delights of life in God and, second, to illustrate his method of exegeting the Scriptures by the Scriptures.]

February 23, 2012

Everything is gratis

Filed under: Lent 2012 — komonchak @ 8:17 am

Let us love God purely and chastely. A heart is not chaste if it worships God for the sake of reward. What, then, are we to have no reward for worshiping God? Indeed, we shall, but the reward is the very God whom we worship. He himself will be our reward because we shall see him as he is (I Jn 3:2). Consider what reward you will attain. What did our Lord Jesus Christ say to those who love him? “Anyone who loves me will keep my commandments, and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him” (Jn 14:23). This may seem a small thing to someone who doesn’t love. But if you love, if you sigh for, if you freely [gratis] worship him by whom you were freely [gratis] bought–you had not merited it that he redeemed you–, if you sigh for him as you consider his blessings to you, and if your heart is restless with desire for him, then don’t seek something apart from him: he is enough for you. No matter how greedy you are, he is enough. …
Let me give an example from human marriages of what a chaste heart is in relation to God. In human marriages, a man does not love his wife if he loves her because of her dowry; a woman does not love her husband if she loves him because he gave her something, not even if he gave her something great…. If, then, a husband is freely [gratis] loved if he is chastely loved, and a wife is freely [gratis] loved if she is chastely loved, how is God to be loved, the soul’s true and faithful husband?… Let us love him, then, in such a way that nothing apart from him is loved, and then happens in us what we have said, what we have sung, because here is our voice too: “On whatever day I called on you, behold I came to know that you are my God” [Ps 55[56]:10). This is what it is to invoke God: to invoke him freely [gratis]. (Augustine, EnPs 55, 17; PL 36, 658)


[JAK: God’s love for us is gratis, gracious, generous, not given because we earned it. Our love for God is supposed to be gratis [Gratis amandus Deus, he writes elsewhere], because it is not love for the sake of reward. It is hard with a single word to convey these meanings in English.]

February 22, 2012

“Now is the day of salvation”

Filed under: Lent 2012 — komonchak @ 9:14 am

The second reading for Ash Wednesday invites us to apply to the season of Lent the words, first, of the prophet and, second, of the apostle: “‘In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is the acceptable time! Behold, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor 6:2). Here are two passages in which St. Augustine echoed the theme:

In the first, he has been urging his people not to put off their conversion.

What’s that you say?
“God promised me forgiveness; he’ll give it when I turn back to him.”
Of course he’ll give it when you turn back to him, but why are you not turning back to him?
“Because whenever I turn back, he’ll give it.”
Yes, indeed, when you turn back, he will give it, but when is that “when” of yours? Why is it not today? Why not as you listen to me? Why not when you cry out? Why not when you praise? Let my shouting be a helper on your behalf; let your cry be a witness against you. Why not today? Why not now? (Augustine, Sermon 20, 4; PL 38, 140-41)

That judgment will come…, and you who in this life refused to set your heart right to the rightness of God and to prepare yourself for his right hand where “all the right of heart will be praised,” you will be on his left where you will hear: “Go into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25: 34, 41). And will there be time then to set your heart right? Set it right now, then, brothers and sisters; set it right now. What is stopping you? The Psalm is sung, the Gospel is read, the reader has spoken, the preacher has spoken. The Lord is patient. You sin, and he forgives. You sin again, and he forgives again, and then you add another. How long must God be patient?
You know that God is also just. We frighten because we’re afraid. Teach us not to fear and we won’t frighten you. But God teaches us to fear better than anyone teaches not to fear. For “everyone has feared, and they proclaim the works of God” (Ps 63[64]:10). May God reckon us among those who feared and proclaimed. Because we fear, we are proclaiming to you, brothers and sisters. We see how eager you are to hear the word, how urgently you demand it, how much you love us. The rain is falling on the ground; let it yield grain and not thorns; there’s a barn for grain but fire for thorns. You know what to do with your field, and does God not know what to do with his servant? The rain that falls on the fertile field is welcome, and so is the rain that falls on the thorny field. Will the field that yielded thorns accuse the rain? Will not that rain be a witness at God’s judgement and say, “I fell sweetly on all the fields”? So look at what you’re yielding and consider what’s being prepared for you. If you’re yielding grain, expect the barn; if you’re yielding thorns, expect the fire. But the time for the barn and the time for the fire have not yet come. Prepare now, and you will not be afraid.
We who are speaking to you in Christ’s name are alive, and so are you to whom we are speaking. There is still space and time, is there not, for getting one’s plans right, for changing a wicked life into a good one. If you want it, can it not happen today? If you want it, can it not occur now? What must you buy in order to do it? What medicines do you have to search for? To what Indies must you sail? What ship must you get ready? Change your heart while I’m speaking, and that happens which you have cried for so often and so long, and if it does not happen, the result is eternal punishment. (Augustine, EnPs 63[64], 19; PL 36, 772)

February 21, 2012

Veterum si! Sapientia no!

Filed under: Vatican II — komonchak @ 2:57 pm

Fifty years ago tomorrow, February 22, 1962, there gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica several thousand priests, seminarians (among them your humble servant), and religious, forty-one Cardinals, around a hundred bishops, members of the Roman Curia, the members of the Central Preparatory Commission, and many lay people. Pope John XXIII’s chief purpose in gathering such an imposing audience was to give the clergy an exhortation to prepare themselves and their people for the celebration of the Second Vatican Council whose opening had been announced for October 11, 1962. But this intention was overshadowed by what preceded it when Pope John signed the Apostolic Constitution Veterum sapientia, on the study and use of Latin in the education of priests. (The Latin text can be found here, an English translation here.) (more…)

February 18, 2012

“Behold, I am doing something new!”

Filed under: Homilies — komonchak @ 4:30 pm

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 19, 2006 – Blessed Sacrament


There is wisdom in the Church’s choice of today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah to prepare us for the Gospel we have just heard, in which the healing of a paralyzed man is presented as the proof that “the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth.”
It is natural, and not really wrong, to emphasize the importance of that assurance for individual sinners. After all, Jesus was healing and forgiving that individual man, lowered down in front of him by the extraordinary efforts of his friends.

But the passage from Isaiah places this individual blessing in the context of a larger blessing that comes to Israel through the ministry of Jesus. (more…)

God’s Yes and our Amen

Filed under: Homilies — komonchak @ 3:52 pm

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 19, 2012 – St. John’s

Our second reading has one of those statements that briefly sum up the essential Christian message. In a slightly different translation than the one we heard, it says: “Jesus Christ is the ‘Yes’ pronounced upon all God’s promises; that is why, when we give glory to God, it is through Christ Jesus that we say ‘Amen!’” Jesus Christ is God’s Yes to his promises and the Amen of our thanksgiving. A message echoed each Mass at the end of our great prayer, when we say: “Through him you give us all that is good, and through him, with him, and in him all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Every blessing we receive comes from Christ. (more…)

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