Memorial Day in Marblehead — 2016

Because of a rainstorm moving up the coast overnight, our parade was cancelled and the ceremonies moved indoors to the Abbot Hall auditorium. (When I was a selectman, we never had rain on Memorial Day.) It was unfortunate that the units that make up the parade were unable to participate, except for the band which comes from Lawrence. They provided music before the program began and provided the national anthem, “Marblehead Forever,” and “God Bless America” at the end.

The ceremonies began with the advancing of the colors from the rear of the auditorium followed by an excellent invocation by Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El. Next was the laying of wreaths by various officials, including Roger Hamson the honorary grand marshal, our speakers, Congressman Moulton in his marine uniform, and various Town officials. Our speakers were two Grader cousins, both Marine Corps veterans. (See this story for brief biographical information.) The first speaker was Lt. Col. Derek Grader, who had served in the Middle East. He spoke specifically of the holiday as one honoring those who gave their lives in defense of our country. He gave three specific examples of individuals he had known in the service. Two were people he had met during his service, good people whose deaths he grieved. The third was a classmate of his from Marblehead, Chris Piper. All three left children behind when they were killed. He made the point with these examples that the people whose memories we honor are not numbers in a toll or names on a page or monument: they are individuals with their own life stories; they are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. It was a very poignant speech.

Next, Capt. Moses Grader spoke of our military as citizen soldiers. In the oath of enlistment they freely take they swear “to defend the Constitution of the United States of America,” — not the United States, not a king or queen, idea or ideology. This, he said, is unique. It is the Constitution which guarantees our rights and liberties as citizens and makes the United States exceptional. Thus what they defend is those rights and liberties. In swearing to obey the orders of the President and the officers above them in the chain of command and the regulations of the service, they give up some of their freedoms and liberties as citizens in order to defend those freedoms and liberties for their fellow citizens. Because of the burden of service which they willingly  undertake, it is appropriate that the oath concluded with an invocation of God’s help in fulfilling it. It was a thought-provoking speech. Both speeches were well received.

Then Dave Rogers, our Veterans Agent, read the roll of the veterans who had died since Memorial Day, 2015. It amazes me that there are still dozens of World War II veterans whose names are read every year. It seems as if most of our young men at the time must have served. The playing of Taps followed the reading of the names of the deceased. After a fine benediction by Rabbi Meyer, the musical selections and the retiring of the colors concluded the ceremonies.

I’m very proud of Marblehead for the way we observe Memorial Day every year. Other towns may do something similar; I’m not familiar with their observances. But what matters to me is that my town maintains such a fine tradition, reminding ourselves on this day, and again on Veterans Day, of the gratitude we owe to those who served in our armed forces and, especially today, those who gave their lives for us. It’s good that that we honor them as we do.

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Trinity Sunday — 2016

As I went to create this post, I noticed that I haven’t yet posted for Pentecost Sunday, just for the Vigil. I’ll try to get around to filling that blank within a few days, but at this point I think it’s more important to be timely with the current Sunday, so here’s something for the readings for May 22, 2016.

 

There are many references to God as Father throughout the scriptures, and in the New Testament Jesus, in calling God his father indicates that he is God’s son, and he speaks of the Holy Spirit whom he and the Father will send. Last Sunday, we celebrated the descent of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul speaks of living in or according to the Spirit. In short, the New Testament is clear that there is God who is Father, that Jesus is his son, and that there is a Holy Spirit. Jesus commands us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 28:19.

Several centuries of reflection and theologizing were needed before the 4th Century Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople were able to proclaim the doctrine of the Trinity with precision. They did it in response to a priest of Alexander, Arius, who believed that Jesus was a being inferior to God the Father, a creature. The councils declared that the scripture-witnessed faith of the Church is that Jesus is of the same nature and substance as the Father. In other words, he is fully God. The Holy Spirit is likewise fully God. Over the next thousand years, the liturgical celebration of this belief gradually developed, from the writing of the Roman Missal’s preface of the Holy Trinity in the 4th Century, through the composition of a Mass, to the insertion of the Feast into the Church’s calendar in 1334. Now, each of the three years of the lectionary cycle has its own assigned readings.

 
Although the Old Testament gives no explicit teaching that God is a trinity of persons, there are adumbrations, as in today’s first reading — Proverbs 8:22-31. There we hear of Wisdom as a person who preexisted the creation of the world, who was present at the creation, who was God’s craftsman in creation. God delights in the presence of Wisdom. The beginning of the Gospel of John say, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and goes on to say that “through him all things were made.” John 1:1, 3. So we can identify the Wisdom in this reading with the Word of John’s gospel. When today’s passage speaks of Wisdom as “poured forth,” we can see this as an expression given a systematic precision in the phrases of the creeds, “his only-begotten son,” and “born of the Father before all ages, … begotten, not made.” And in the conclusion, “playing before God on the surface of the earth; and I found delight in the human race,” we can be drawn to consider the ultimate expression of this in the incarnation of the Word of God: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14.

 
The responsorial psalm — Ps. 8:4-9 with refrain from verse 2a — takes up the theme of creation from the first reading and then goes to the theme of the human race from the end of the reading. While humanity may seem small in the vast scale of the universe, God cares for us, and indeed exalts us over the rest of the world. Reading more carefully, we notice the phrase, “the son of man.” while this may have been a generic term in the mind of the psalmist, we are led to think of the Son of Man, the incarnate Word of God, the Wisdom of God, who has been exalted at the right hand of the Father as Lord of creation.

 
The second reading — Romans 5:1-5 — gives us one of the instances in which Paul makes reference to God (the Father) Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Paul doesn’t present the precise theology of Nicaea and Constantinople — he’s not writing systematic theology, he’s dictating letters — but it is through Jesus that we gain access to God by faith and through the Holy Spirit that the love of God is poured into our hearts. It is the action of these three persons that we have the strength to endure the hardships of life.

 
The gospel — John 16:12-15 — shows us Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a dynamic relationship of cooperation. The Spirit is to guide the disciples to the truth they couldn’t bear at the moment Jesus was speaking to them. But he won’t be speaking a truth that is his own. He will get it from Jesus, who in turn has it from the Father. The three divine persons work with each other and share everything with each other.

 
The two councils whose work gave us the Nicene Creed responded to error by defining the truth about the Trinity with precision. But what they said does not fully present the reality of God. It is impossible for finite human minds to fully grasp and express the reality of the infinite God. Beyond that, we may ask what the doctrine of the Trinity means for us. Why is it important. For one thing, it tells us that God is not some impersonal force of the universe. God is relationship within himself, among the three persons not just with us. God is love within himself, among the three persons, not just toward us. God is, in his infinity, what we are to be — to the extent we can be as limited creatures. Created in his likeness, we are created for relationship, we are created for love. We are are not to be isolated, unfeeling, self-absorbed, self-sufficient. We should be in relationships of love with others who share our human nature as the persons of the Trinity are in relationship with one another in their divine nature.

Pentecost Vigil — 2016

This is extremely late, but I think it’s worth my effort. I hope you’ll find it worth reading.
Pentecost is one of a small number of solemnities which have a different Mass formulary for the vigil than for the day. When vigil Masses on Saturday evenings that would fulfill the Sunday obligation were permitted, new Masses were not composed for the vigils: the Sunday Mass texts were brought back to Saturday evening. But for Pentecost, not only is there a separate set of prayers and readings for the vigil, but there is even an option to have an extended vigil, similar to the Easter vigil, using all the optional readings. This is appropriate because in ancient times, baptism was conferred by the bishop at the Easter Vigil. If a catechumen was ready for baptism but unable to attend the Easter Vigil, the bishop would baptize him at a “make-up” celebration at Pentecost.
The first reading — Genesis 11:1-9 — provides a context for understanding the meaning of the descent of the Holy Spirit recounted in Acts 2:1-11, the first reading of the Sunday Mass. It is the familiar story of the Tower of Babel. It is situated about five generations after Noah in the genealogies of his descendants. The descendants of Noah are still in a single community, but they decide to seek to build a tower that will reach heaven, which is an implicit challenge to God’s transcendence. It is also wrong because it is being done for selfish motives. But it turns out to be counterproductive because, instead of keeping them together, as they had hoped, it becomes the occasion for their being scattered. God confuses their speech, giving them different languages, and disperses them over the earth. We don’t have to take this story literally to take the message that sin divides us not only from God but also from our fellow humans.

At Pentecost this confusion and scattering is overcome. People of differing languages all understand the apostles and people of differing nations are united in the one community of the Church. The Holy Spirit’s work brings unity.
The responsorial psalm — verses from Psalm 104, with a refrain based on verse 30 — is a meditation on God’s glory, his work in creation, and the dependence of all creatures on him. The refrain emphasizes the role of the Spirit in creation and the continuing renewal of the world. (There is a particular resonance with the alternate reading from Ezekiel, which I will discuss later.)

 

The second reading — Romans 8:22-27 — speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit within each believer. We have received the Holy Spirit in baptism, but the “redemption of our bodies” will not be completed until our resurrection. Meanwhile, we are incomplete. As St. Augustine says, our hearts are restless until they rest in God. But we don’t know precisely what God must do in us, so our praying cannot explicitly ask for what we need. But the Holy Spirit knows and is on our side.

 

The Gospel — John 7:37-37 — tells of words of Jesus during the Feast of Tabernacles (also called Booths, Succoth in Hebrew). This was, along with Passover and Pentecost (or Weeks/ Shavuoth), one of the Feasts on which people were supposed to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Like Passover, it lasted a week. One of the main rituals involved drawing water from the pool of Siloam. Water was understood to represent the Holy Spirit. So, just as in chapter 6 Jesus proclaims himself the true life-giving manna from heaven, here he proclaims himself the source of the Holy Spirit for believers. There is a twofold aspect to the giving of the Spirit. The believer’s spiritual thirst is satisfied (recalling the reading from Romans). Beyond that, the believer becomes a conduit for the Holy Spirit into the world (recalling the Spirit’s work of restoring the unity lost at Babel). The image of rivers reminds us of the life-giving river flowing from the temple in Ezekiel 47:1-12, a river which becomes wider and deeper as it goes.

 
The alternative first readings are Exodus 19:3-8a, 16-20b, an appearance of the Lord at Mount Sinai; Ezekiel 37:1-14, the vision of the dry bones; and Joel 3:15, a prophecy of the giving of the Holy Spirit and the Day of the Lord.

Exodus describes a theophany with thunder, lightning, cloud, trumpet blast smoke, fire, and earthquake. While Acts does not have so many details, there are wind, loud noise, shaking of the house, and fire. Pentecost was the Jewish feast recalling the giving of the Law, the Torah, at Mount Sinai. So the Holy Spirit is the Torah of the Christian, dwelling within the believer. Israel is called to be a holy nation, and the Holy Spirit incorporates us into God’s people.

Ezekiel’s vision of the dry and scattered bones that are rejoined, covered with flesh, and revived by the infusion of the spirit, contains a promise of resurrection (Paul’s “redemption of our bodies”) through the work of the Holy Spirit. As the Psalm says, when God sends forth his Spirit, creation is renewed.

In Joel we have a promise of a pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all people, like the living water Jesus promises. it will lead to the Day of the Lord, marked, as in the Exodus reading, by meteorological phenomena. There will be salvation for all who call on the name of the Lord, as Jesus promises the living water to all who come to him.

 

For us, Pentecost gives a promise of salvation. It also presents a call to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our conduct. This not only assures our own salvation but, when we place no obstacles, makes us channels of saving grace to the world. Especially in the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we should manifest the merciful face of God to all with whom we come into contact. The Holy Spirit is the bringer of unity, and we must not bring discord and strife.

Sunday Scriptures — Seventh Sunday of Easter C, May 08, 2016

My apology for the lateness of this post. I was away on retreat over the weekend and had to “play catch up.” I hope you will still find this worth reading.

If there is a unifying element to today’s scriptures, it is a vision of Jesus, our ascended Lord, in the glory of heaven, a glory in which we aspire to participate in.
The first reading — Acts 7:55-60 — despite telling of an event which took place several years after the Ascension, has an indirect reference to it. Stephen is being killed for his vigorous defense of the Messiahship of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. That defense culminates in the words quoted here. What Stephen sees, Jesus standing at God’s right hand, is Jesus after he has ascended to heaven. So we can say that the immediate occasion of Stephen’s martyrdom is that he proclaimed the Ascension. We should also note that his dying words parallel some of Jesus’ last words, and that the passage introduces Saul, who will later change his name to Paul and change from a persecutor of Christians to a great apostle.
The responsorial psalm — Ps 97:1-2, 6-7, 9 with refrain drawn from verses 1 and 9 — draws us to consider God’s universal kingship. The words “heavens,” “Most High over all the earth,” and “exalted” give imagery which calls to mind the Ascension.
The second reading — Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20 — concludes our series of readings from Revelation with the final scene of the book. Jesus promises to return and bring us the proper recompense for our deeds. We are encouraged to accept the salvation offered by Jesus so we can join the inhabitants of the city which was described on the fifth and sixth Sundays. We do this by “washing our robes.” On the fourth Sunday, this washing was said to be in the blood of the Lamb. The washing can be taken as an allusion to Baptism, and the Blood of the Lamb as an allusion to the Eucharist, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, where he gives his Blood, shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. The holy Spirit and the Church (the Bride) long for the return of ur ascended Lord.
The gospel — John 17:20-26 — is taken from Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” at the Last Supper. Jesus is praying in the light of his coming death, resurrection, and return to the Father. Jesus prays that Christians throughout the ages will come to see his glory in heaven. He prays for the spread of faith in him, which requires the unity of believers in love. It’s all about love, and, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we should realize that the love which we are called to is a love which expresses itself in works of mercy.

Solemnity of the Ascension, May 5, 2016

In many places, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is transferred to the following Sunday. Where I live, however, it is still observed on the Thursday of the 6th Week of Eastertide.

The Lectionary provides two options for the second reading: Ephesians 1:17-23 or Hebrews 9:24-28′ 10:19-23. I’ll consider both.

 

The first reading — Acts 1:1-11 — gives us the familiar story of Jesus’ Ascension. Several points are worth noting. The “first book,” mentioned in the beginning, is understood to be the Gospel according to Luke, which also addresses Theophilus at the outset. The resurrected Jesus was seen by the apostles and spoke to them over a period of time. Certain that he was the Messiah, they asked about the common expectation about the Messiah: that he would restore the sovereignty of Israel. Jesus deflects the question, but emphasizes the baptism with the Holy Spirit which they were soon to receive. It would empower them to be his witnesses to the world. Traditions tell of the apostles going to Spain, India, Armenia, Egypt, and points between. The account concludes with two angels promising that Jesus would return.

 

The responsorial psalm — Ps 47: 2-3, 6-7, 8-9, with the refrain from v. 6 — has us view the Ascension as akin to an enthronement with accompanying celebration.

 

The first option for the second reading —Ephesians 1:17-23 — focuses on the role of the Holy Spirit in confirming our faith and our understanding of Jesus’ resurrection and his return to the Father. Now Jesus is Lord of all, including the Church, which is his body. In other words, the Church takes the place of Jesus in being physically present in the world. It presents us with a cosmic view.

The alternative second reading — Hebrews 9:4-28; 10:19-23 — invites us to think of Jesus as the eternal high priest who won salvation for us by his sacrifice of himself on Calvary. His ascension is the moment when he came bodily to the Father to present that sacrifice. As in Acts, there is a promise of Jesus’ return. For now, we can approach God in worship in union with the Church, thanks to our Baptism (“hearts sprinkled … bodies washed”), which unites us to Jesus in the Church.

 

This year the gospel is from Luke —Lk 24:46-53. Like Acts, it contains words of Jesus indicating the work of the Apostles in spreading the gospel around the world and the power which the apostles would soon receive to fulfill that mission. It also speaks of the Ascension itself, placing it in Bethany, a couple of miles outside Jerusalem. Strikingly, there is no indication of a prolonged stay between the Resurrection and the Ascension. The gospel seems to say that the Ascension took place as the final event of the day of Jesus’ Resurrection. Biblical scholar Luke Timothy Johnson sees the promise of power from on high and the Ascension as two moments in a single process, while the account in Acts elaborates on the process.

 

The situation of the Church today, and of us, its members, is essentially the same as that of the Apostles after the Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit. We await the return of Jesus. Meanwhile, we have the task of witnessing to him around the world.

Thinking about Trump as Nominee Presumptive

This is a fine kettle of fish. I blame the Tea Party.

 

Ted Cruz wasn’t acceptable either, although for different reasons than Trump.

 

I don’t want Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders nominating Supreme Court justices — even more so if, as seems quite possible, the Trump candidacy at the top of the ticket causes Republican candidates for Senate to lose in numbers sufficient to give the Democrats the majority in that chamber.

 

The silver lining is that when Trump goes down to crushing defeat, Paul Ryan will be the top Republican in D.C., and the Tea Partiers should realize that their intransigence doesn’t work.

 

My dilemma is whether I should vote for a third party candidate (effectively helping the Democratic candidate), or vote for an unacceptable major party candidate. Fortunately (?) my decision is inconsequential, since the Democrats are sure to carry Massachusetts anyway. Cf. http://www.constitutionparty.com

Sunday Scriptures — Sixth Sunday of Easter C, May 01, 2016

Ascension Thursday will be this week and Pentecost two weeks from today. So the Church is turning our attention toward the events they commemorate.

 

In the gospel — John 14:23-29 — Jesus is speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper. What he says about going away, going to the Father, foretells the Ascension. What he says about the Holy Spirit being sent by the Father foretells the event of Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit will do two things for the disciples: he will teach them everything, and he will remind them of everything Jesus told them. This assures us that their proclamation of the gospel was true. But what does it mean for us in our lives today?

In the first place, we receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. So we can expect the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This comes principally in the promptings that come to mind that suggest good things we can do at a given moment or that tell us we shouldn’t do something we are thinking about. We need to try to follow these promptings. It’s easy to dismiss the Holy Spirit’s suggestion, “You should do this,” and say, “not right now.” “Why not spend a few minutes in prayer?” “Later. Right now I’m going to have lunch.” or “That person seems to be struggling with those packages. Lend a hand.” “They’ll be okay.” It’s easy to dismiss all sorts of impulses to do something worthwhile. Likewise with impulses to refrain from something bad. “Slow down.” “But I don’t have much time.” You don’t need that second piece of pie.” “But it tastes so good.” “You shouldn’t be looking at that stuff.” “Just one more video.”

 

But our first reading — Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 — shows that the Holy Spirit doesn’t just speak to us as individuals. Jesus’ promise is one for the whole Church. That’s why we call Pentecost “the birthday of the Church.” The question about whether all Christians needed to follow the Jewish law wasn’t about the details of one person’s life: it involved the whole Church. So a decision had to be made for the whole Church. The apostles were in Jerusalem, so it fell to them to give the answer, and the Holy Spirit was there to teach them. The answer they sent to Antioch noted that the Holy Spirit had given them the answer that circumcision wasn’t necessary: the details of Jewish law don’t apply. As one commentator has pointed out, the decision was accepted by all concerned. The one side didn’t say, “You’re wrong. Circumcision is still necessary,” and the other side didn’t say, “You’re wrong to give those minimum standards.”

The Holy Spirit still guides the successors of the Apostles, the Pope and the bishops. When they clearly teach something, we should be like the early Christians. There can be legitimate questions about how definitive a specific teaching is, but our expectation, like that of the Early Christians, should be to hear the Holy Spirit teaching us through the Pope and the bishops.

 

In the responsorial psalm — Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8 with refrain from v. 4 — we reflect on the call of all nations to join the worship of God by his people. This inclusion of the Gentiles is what occasioned the events of the first reading, and it’s success was greatly facilitated by them. If Gentiles had to follow all Jewish dietary and ritual law, the acceptance of the gospel might have been much less widespread.

 

The Church is that holy city, the Jerusalem whose foundation is the twelve apostles that we hear of in the second reading — Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23. Although we think of Revelation as telling us of the end times, the letters to the churches at the beginning of the book were about the time it was written, the conflicts it describes symbolically were happening to the early Christians, the heavenly realities it tells of are ongoing. If the new Jerusalem is not physically visible yet, it is still a reality in which we participate spiritually as members of the Communion of Saints.

 

So the question for us is how can we be more alert to the Holy Spirit when he speaks directly to us about what to do, and how can we be more alert to what the Holy Spirit says to the whole Church? Hint: Catholic radio and TV and Catholic newspapers will give us much more and clearer information about what the Church is saying than we can get anywhere else other than the Vatican website.

If that’s the question, there is also the great promise behind it: Jesus has promised us his peace, and he has promised us the Holy Spirit. At Mass we claim the gift of peace when we offer the sign of peace, and we claim the gift of the Holy Spirit when the priest asks the Father to send him to consecrate our gifts and again when he asks him to send the Holy Spirit to bring unity to the whole Church through our receiving of the Body and Blood of Christ.