Vocations find their true meaning in Christ
Three young men share their stories as they are just days away from receiving an irreversible grace of being ordained priests. They speak about how they were influenced by others and how they could not avoid the call from God to be men who serve others.
Click here to see their video.
Keeping the Light Burning
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Jesus and Hitler at Sundance
3rd Sunday fo the Year
Fr. Dominic DeLay, OP
When you think about it, isn't it a little bizarre, the immediacy of the disciples following Jesus, a stranger after all, and their leaving nets and families behind? It sounds sort of cultish, doesn't it? Even St. Paul sounds a bit cultish today: "I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose."
I saw a Sundance documentary this week called "Durakovo: Village of Fools," about a Russian village where youth go to get indoctrinated into the country's widespread and Christian nationalist movement. None of that here in the United States, thanks be to Jesus. "God, tsar, and fatherland" -- that's the motto of the village and the movement, and they want to get rid of all foreigners and Western influences. The leader of the village is a fat man with a swimming pool, sauna, and two overworked cellphones. He's a mean and unpredictable man whose whims are obeyed with fear. Okay, so he doesn't sound so much like Jesus but more like a stereotypical Hollywood producer.
A very appealing leader, though, is at the center of my favorite Sundance film this year, "The Wave," based on the true story of a California high school's experiment in autocracy in the 1960's. The film is set in current Germany, where the students are especially tired of the subject of autocracy. They've been taught all their lives about the evils of Nazism and are certain that such a movement could never happen in their country again. Their upstart teacher, who would have preferred to teach the unit on anarchy, gets the attention of his bored students, though, with a participatory experiment.
The students are quickly taken with the camaraderie established by the project. They have a new sense of purpose and belonging, such important needs for teens, for everyone really.
And they place their trust in their charismatic teacher, who they know has their best interests in mind. And he gives them a grand vision: he wants to empower them to counter social injustices in Germany. The Wave will engulf the entire nation with its enlightened way of life.
Now this is sounding even closer to home than the Russian village of fools, isn't it? Isn't it nice that through democracy we are insured of electing a leader that we can trust, so that we don't have to think for ourselves? If he says we need to take a certain course of action, he must be right. Why trouble ourselves with the confusing and conflict-producing process of asking questions? Besides, in the United States, we elect Christian leaders, who sometimes even get direct guidance from God.
The Wave sounds like the Church as well: a charismatic leader we can trust -- Jesus, perhaps the pope as well, community, mission, especially to the oppressed. But the high school students in "The Wave" have no tolerance for those who don't buy into their new society, or even for those within their group who deviate from the program. That definitely doesn't sound like us, does it? I guess we're safe.
What's the difference between the Church -- originally called "the Way" -- and the Wave? Sometimes not much, I suppose. But surely there's a difference, an essential difference, between "The Wave" and the Church at our best.
Perhaps it's a difference between purpose and method. The purpose of autocracy is to serve the needs of the few by manipulating the wills of the many. But the purpose of Christianity is to serve the needs of the many -- no, the needs of all, especially the poor and oppressed, through complete freedom from manipulation, freedom from being manipulated ourselves and freedom from our tendency to manipulate others.
And what about Jesus? Jesus is charismatic, it's true. And he calls us to give ourselves over to him in trust. But this call is an invitation, not a mandate or manipulation. And Jesus doesn't use us for his own purposes but rather gives his entire self over to serving us, loving us. He calls us to deeper, truer freedom. He calls us to be more fully human and empowered. He calls us to think for ourselves rather than to let others do our thinking for us.
When St. Paul says we should agree and have no divisions, that we should be united in the same mind and purpose, he's not talking about mindlessness but rather thoughtfulness, in both senses of that word. We look to, even revere, the wisdom of tradition, but not so that we don't have to do our own thinking and choosing. Our tradition is meant to empower us and make us fully human.
And Jesus calls us to put the dignity of the individual and the importance of the common good side by side as complementary goods rather than worship the cult of group identity at the expense of both authentic community and its respect for the individual. By giving ourselves over to Jesus we are also giving ourselves over to one another -- not to be used but to serve in freedom. As the prophet Isaiah promises us today, "the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster, you have smashed, as on the day of Midian." And most of all, Jesus calls us to forgiveness and mercy.
I saw a really tender and touching Jordanian film this week called "Captain Abu Raed," which one the audience award. It's about an old airport janitor who finds a pilot's hat in the garbage one day. When a boy in his poor neighborhood sees him wearing the hat, the boy asks the old man to tell him stories about his adventures around the world as a pilot. The old man insists he's not really a pilot, but the boy will have none of it, so eventually the old man finds himself telling stories to all the local children about his fictitious adventures as a pilot.
When one boy tries to tell the other children that the old man is a janitor, the old man invites him into the group rather than excluding him. But when the boy manages to convince the other children that the old man is a janitor and not a pilot, the other children disown the old man.
However, the old man forgives him with gentleness and grace. "Malish," he tells the boy. "It's okay." In fact, at great risk to himself, the old man decides it's time to act on protecting the boy from his abusive father. Like Jesus, the old man leads the children to freedom and true humanity rather than manipulating them into blind obedience, reducing them to something less than human.
We're called not only to follow Jesus into freedom and love but also to lead others into the same freedom and love. Not by forcing them to be a part of the group but by showing them through our love and service their dignity as human beings. Not by demanding they sacrifice their personalities and ideas to the false god of group identity but rather by sacrificing our own lives for the sake of their human dignity.
Jesus invites us today, as he does each day, to follow him into freedom, to let go of everything and everyone we lay claim to, to let go of every false way of living, so that we can embrace and be embraced by everything and everyone that lead us into the way and wave of love.
"That my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth"
2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Is 49:3, 5-6; 1 Cor 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34
Fr. Bryan Kromholtz, OP
A friar from my province just returned from preaching in India. The trip was a success; people learned from him, and he from them. It was a fruitful exchange. But he caught a disease there, of a kind that is not normally caught here. He was hospitalized for it, but he finally recovered.
This is an example, on a small scale, of what happens when people from different civilizations or backgrounds meet: there is a great fruitfulness that results from making new connections. But there are also risks involved: a risk of conflict, of one side dominating the other, or of one being damaged by or absorbed by the other. It is no secret that we are living in a world in which civilizations are coming in closer and closer contact with one another, and mixing with one another. More and more, we must deal with people from all over the world. It seems as though we need to be concerned about the whole world.
Yet curiously, God first revealed his salvation not to the whole world, but to a small nation. When we lost our way and were estranged from God through the first sin of Adam and Eve, the Lord began to seek us out, to save us. But he did not reveal himself first to the whole world, to all people in general. Rather, he first chose to reveal himself through his chosen people, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their descendants: to Israel.
Still, even to this small nation of Israel, the Lord would begin to reveal that the work he was doing in them was also for the rest of the world. This is what we hear in the first reading in Isaiah's prophecy about the "servant": "It is too little, [the LORD] says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6). Elsewhere, Isaiah says to the "servant": "I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations" (Isaiah 42:6). It is revealed through Isaiah that God's work of salvation in his chosen people Israel will also reach to "the ends of the earth," the whole world.
In Luke's Gospel, where Jesus is presented in the temple, we learn of a certain man of Jerusalem, Simeon, a righteous and devout man who was awaiting the consolation of Israel, the Messiah. He recognized that the child Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. Praying to the Lord, he called Jesus: "a light to reveal you to the nations"—all nations—"and the glory of your people Israel" (Luke 2:32). Indeed, salvation comes through Israel, but it comes for all nations.
As Christians, then, we have to be concerned about the whole world, because the world is the place where Jesus was sent. In the Gospel reading for today, John the Baptist, pointing at Jesus, proclaims for all to hear: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29)—the world. Elsewhere in the Gospel of John, we read: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:16-17) Speaking of the Eucharist itself, Jesus promises: "The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" (John 6:51). But what is more, it is not only Jesus who is sent to the whole world; we are sent there in his name. Praying to his Father, our Lord says: "As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world" (John 17:18).
In our own day, we may believe that this is an outdated idea. After all, other people already have their own religion or belief—whether Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or other something else. Or perhaps they choose to follow no religion at all. Is this really our business? In a world that is becoming more and more closely connected, we are coming into closer and closer contact with people of other faiths, and with people of no faith. Many of us may think that perhaps the best we can do is simply to try to get along, living peacefully as best we can, without trying to bring the Gospel to others.
Certainly, we ought to try to live peacefully among others. As St. Paul says: "If possible, on your part, live at peace with all" (Romans 12:18). And we are not called to force or coerce others to our own belief; we know that. But we do have a mission from our Father: to bring Jesus Christ to the world. He has given us gifts from the Holy Spirit for the sake of others. In our profession of faith, we proclaim that our Church is catholic and apostolic. "Catholic" means universal, that is, for the whole world. "Apostolic" means not only that we are to follow the faith received from the Apostles, but also that we are to be apostles, in a way—and to be an apostle means to be sent, sent to the world.
How we are to live Christ's Gospel and bring him to our world is the calling of our whole lives. Yet we may find it difficult, especially at a time in which faith seems to be a source of conflict. I believe that we can better fulfill our mission of bringing our Lord to the world, and understand it better for our own times, if we keep in our hearts our own that we, too, still need him.
God sent his Son, the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world. That includes our own sins; as St. Paul says: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). This is not always evident among those who wish to spread the faith. I think that many of us may be uncomfortable with the idea of spreading the faith precisely because of this. We may have the suspicion—perhaps well-founded in some cases—that those who say that they want to "spread the faith" are in fact seeking to do this in order to gain a perverse satisfaction from being the one "in the right," feeling superior by putting the other person in an inferior position. This kind of "self-righteousness" would really be an attempt at self-justification. But our faith tells us we cannot justify ourselves. Only Jesus Christ saves us. We bear the good news as sinners who have been saved. We come to share God's mercy because he has shown us his mercy: "For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all" (Romans 11:32). This should lead us to humility in the service of God's Word, not to arrogance and self-righteousness.
This humility should become even easier to embrace when we reflect on the people through whom God revealed himself. God decided to save the world through Israel, as Jesus says: "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22). We believe that God has made promises to them, and as St. Paul says in the letter to the Romans: "The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29). It is a mystery why the Jews as a people did not accept Jesus as the Messiah (although many of them did so as individuals). Yet because salvation comes from them and through them, as a people, no people that has come to Christ can claim any superiority over any other. We do not believe that we are called particularly to spread our own ethnic civilization. We are called to bring the Good News of Jesus, who may be at home among any people, among any race. Certainly, the Gospel will shape culture, enrich civilization, and make more like the kingdom of God the culture and civilization of the peoples in which it takes root; the good aspects that are part of cultures shaped by Christianity are worth sharing. But the Gospel remains the Gospel of God. As the parable of the workers in the field illustrates, those who come later to work in the field, even at the eleventh hour, are to receive the same reward. And the last shall be first and the first shall be last (Matthew 20:1-16). This should be true not only of individuals, but of peoples as well. God has his own reasons for why some come earlier and some later to Christ.
Our own humility, our own need for salvation, comes even clearer when we reflect on the divisions even among believers—and these divisions are nothing new. St. Paul already, as we hear in the first reading, has to remind the members of the Church at Corinth that they are called to be holy along with "all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours" (1 Corinthians 1:2). In this week of prayer for Christian unity, we have been asked to take a passage from St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians as a point of reflection. There, we read him pleading with the Thessalonians: "Be at peace among yourselves" (1 Thessalonians 5:13). There are great divisions among our churches and communities, and even within them. We Christians—even among ourselves—need Christ as much as everyone else does.
As we seek to bring our Lord Jesus Christ to our world, let us do so, not as know-it-alls, not as those who seek to justify themselves, but as those who wish others to receive from God the same mercy we have received, through the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.
Friday, 8 February 2008, 7:30 p.m.
Metaphor in the Light of On Interpretation, 16a 3-8
The theory and use of metaphora by Aristotle is a problem that scholars have addressed without a satisfactory answer. Instead of simply tracing the varied uses of metaphora in the various treatises, I propose that the semantics of metaphora needs to be explained. Aristotle's views about the relation between language, thought and reality as depicted in On Interpretation 16a 3-8 in conjunction with the references to metaphora throughout the Corpus provide a framework to understand metaphora as a complex phenomenon of epiphora, metapherein and metaphorikon einai. Aristotle's theory of metaphora helps us to understand the relationship between language and thought in Aristotle's philosophy.
All lectures will be held at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology
2301 Vine Street (at Arch and Vine), Berkeley, CA 94708
The lectures are free and open to the public.
Epiphany: A Mystery in Contrasts
Mt. 2: 1-12
Fr. Michael J. Dodds, OP
Ever since my cousin, Monica, married into a Polish family and became a "Grycz" some years back, I've had the happy blessing of being invited to their Polish Christmas Eve celebration, which is called "Wigilia."
The evening includes many wonderful customs. There's the "oplatek," the wafer of unleavened bread that, with a prayer, is broken and shared among the family and guests. Everyone then shares a fragment of their morsel with each of the other guests, exchanging Christmas good wishes as they do so. (With many guests, the fragments can get more and more miniscule, even as the good wishes multiply, growing warmer and grander.)
There are also the traditional foods, including Babcia's (Grandma's) famous barszcz (beet soup) that became the stuff of legend one Christmas eve, as she tried (by adding generous doses of a traditional Polish beverage) to duplicate the flavor of the soup she remembered from Poland. -A truly "spiritual" repast.
The whole evening celebration begins when the children sight the first star of evening. Now, it's a tricky thing to find a star. It has to be dark enough to see that little pin point of light against the sky. Stargazing is kind of an exercise in contrasts-- the light against the dark. And of course the darker the sky becomes, the easier it is to see the light.
On this feast of the Epiphany, we hear of the Magi, guided by the light of a star. And if stargazing involves contrasts, it seems the mystery of this feast does also.
The Magi, those wise men or astrologers or kings from the East, are themselves men of contrast. They have the light of learning, enlightened about many things. Yet, in some ways, they deal in darkness. The domain of their study is the dark night sky, where they can observe the movements of the stars and planets. They also plumb the dark mysteries of human cultures- - learned as they are in the legends of many lands. So it is that they discover the Christmas star and find its meaning.
We might contrast these three kings with Herod, the king in Jerusalem. They're foreigners, gentiles, not part of the chosen people, not citizens of the Promised Land. Yet they discover the star and seek its promise in hope and joy. Herod, however, the established ruler of the Promised Land, receives their news of the newborn king with suspicion, fear, and hatred.
The theme of contrasts is also found in the gifts the Magi bring. There is gold-- the proper gift for a king, and yet such a strange king they find in the child of Mary. Jesus is one who will exercise his kingship not in opulence and power, but in weakness and service.
The gift of frankincense betokens a deity, since incense is used in the worship of God. But what a surprising God they find in Mary's child--a God who has "emptied himself" to become human, and who will then "humble himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross" for the salvation of the world (Philippians 2: 7-8).
They also bring the gift of myrrh, a spice used for burial. It's a strange gift for a newborn child (not at all what you'd take to a baby shower yourself). Yet this gift, I think, holds the key to all the other contrasts.
T.S. Eliot brings out the fundamental contrast of this feast of the Epiphany in his poem, "The Journey of the Magi." He envisions one of the kings, years after the event, reflecting on the hardships of their journey and pondering again the mystery of what they found. He asks himself:
"...were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death."
In Christ, birth and death come together. Christ is born, and we celebrate his birth with all the joy of this Christmas season. But he was born to bring salvation to the world through the cross. He was destined to death, that through his death he might show God's surpassing and unconditional love for the world. Yet his death would not be the final word. For he would be raised again to a new life, the life of resurrection which would have no end.
To enter into the mystery of Christ's birth, we have to enter into the mystery of his death. This happens in the sacrament of baptism. There, in the traditional celebration, those to be baptized go down into the waters and allow the water to close over them- as the tomb was closed over the crucified body of Christ. But then, just as Jesus rose again from the tomb, they rise up again out of the water, hearing the life-giving words of the sacrament, and are born into the life the Trinity-- baptized "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
Yet, the pattern of dying and rising doesn't end in the moment of receiving that sacrament. It becomes the daily pattern of our Christian life, as we die to ourselves-- to our selfishness, our ego-- and become more and more alive in the love of Christ.
The choice that's given us each day is illustrated, I think, in the contrasting figures of Herod, the great King, and Mary, the lowly servant of God, in today's gospel. Herod chooses the way of selfishness, power, and ego-- and so becomes an agent of death in slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem. Mary, in contrast, chooses the way of surrender-- the way of death to her own will, in giving herself up to God's will in the moment of the annunciation. Not knowing what the greeting of the angel might mean, in no way comprehending what might be involved in the words of that heavenly messenger, she nonetheless entrusts herself to God: "Be it done to me according to your word." So she who embraces death to herself and her own will becomes the source of life for the world in the birth of her son.
In the contrasts of this feast of the Epiphany, the choice presented to us each day become clear. Shall we enter into the darkness of death to self so that we may become, with Christ, a source of light and life? -So that each of us may become in some way a star, pointing the way to Christ's love.
Aristotle and Contemporary Theories of Mind
Wednesday, 6 February 2008, 10:30 A.M.,
by Joseph Mage
Campaign for Dominican Friars
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Mission West: Campaign for Dominican Friars is a capital campaign to raise critical funds for the support of our mission of evangelization and preaching the gospel in the Western United States, Mexico, South America and other places world-wide. Our mission begins by forming and educating our novices and student brothers to become good priests and brothers, zealous for Christ and His Gospel.
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