Nota Bene

Humble (oh really...?) opinions on matters of faith
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What I'm Reading
(The Bible should always be assumed...)

The New Faithful
by Colleen Carroll

by Fr. Francis Sullivan, SJ

Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism
by Irene Lape

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Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Something Significant Accomplished

I've cleaned off my desk for the first time since the baby was born! Ahh...that feels much better now. Well, I'm going home to try to get the lawn mowed before the storms move in. And while I ride around on our Craftsman, I'll be giving some thought to the next question in my series of posts on Church History and The Situation: Would a better knowledge of Church history by today's faithful help them in coming to grips with our current crisis?

Not what the average Joe thinks about when mowing the lawn, huh?


Tim Drake on Blogging

Go to Tim Drake's blog for an article he wrote on Catholic bloggers that was published in the National Catholic Register.


Church History & The Situation, Part I

Yesterday, Amy Welborn posted a long and thoughtful reflection on The Situation entitled 'No Simple Solution.' It would seem that her primary message in this post is that when the bishops meet in Dallas, they need to:

reassure the Catholic faithful that their primary concern is Christ and that it is His voice which they are discerning and are committed to follow.

She then goes on to explain the reason why such a basic message needs to be sent out from Dallas:

For you see, over the past decades, for scores of reasons, the Catholic faithful have come to doubt very much that their leaders, from bishops on down, can be depended on to be led by Christ alone.

Now, for my own part, I agree in large part with what Amy has to say regarding what the bishops should do and say in Dallas. And, I suppose that I even agree with her reason, strictly stated, for why this task is to be done. She says that it is the 'Catholic faithful' who, 'over the past decades', 'come to doubt very much that their leaders, from bishops on down, can be depended on to be led by Christ alone.'

Now, in the light of her analysis of what should be done in Dallas and why, I have asked myself questions such as these:

'Has it been only in the past few decades that the Catholic faithful have come to doubt their leaders in this way?',

'If such doubts have existed throughout the history of the Church (and I believe they have), would a better knowledge of them by today's faithful help them in our current crisis?'

I have even re-examined some more fundamental questions such as,

'If such doubts about the leadership of the Church have always been present, why does the Church still exist?',


'Why am I myself still in the Church, given its history?'

Answers to the questions will inevitably be complex. And so I will address them one by one, in different posts.

Has it only been in the "past decades" that the "Catholic faithful have come doubt very much that their leaders, from bishops on down, can be depended on to be led by Christ alone."

In short: no. Various parts of the Catholic faithful have, to varying degrees, doubted in every age of the Church's history the sincere leadership of their priests and bishops. In the apostolic age of the Church, there were deep divisions over the issue of whether or not observance of the Law was required of the followers of Christ. Many felt that it was required. Many others felt that it was not. And I believe that scripture itself (Gal 2:1-14 is a clear example, although others also exist) attests to the fact that some of the leaders of the early Church (Peter included) were questioned as to whether they were truly following the message of the Gospel.

Such questioning, it would seem, occurred not only among the general body of the faithful, but among the leaders themselves. When Peter, who had eaten with Gentiles, later chose only to eat with Jews, Paul 'opposed him to his face, because he was wrong.' But I tend to think that such opposition was not based solely on principle, but also on Paul's fear that Peter's behavior would be a stumbling block, a 'scandalon', a scandal to the Gentile believers.

Such scandals in the behavior of bishops and priests have existed in all ages of the Church. In the patristic era it happened when some bishops and priests concerned themselves first with the favor of the emperor than with the favor of Christ. In the middle ages and during the era of the Reformation, various bishops and priests often listened to the voice of greed and political power than to the voice of Christ. It was also during this time (and surely before as well) that some of the same sins were committed that have been revealed to have been committed by many of our own leaders. Similar scandals have emerged in the time since the Reformation, all the way up to and following the Second Vatican Council.

And all of these scandals have been the motivation for various members of the faithful to, in Amy's words, 'doubt very much that their leaders, from bishops on down, can be depended on to be led by Christ alone.'

After becoming aware of this, one might think that the more one knows about Church history, the harder it is to remain a believer. So each of the following questions to be addressed in later posts will, in part, address this issue. And the next question that I will address will be, "Would a better knowledge of Church history be helpful for the Catholic faithful in the face of The Situation?"


A Ministry of Encouragement:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Memorial of St. Barnabas, apostle

Please note: The readings for the day on the USCCB's website were not the proper readings for the day that I had found in my own lectionary. Therefore on the list of readings below, I have links to the readings that are particularly called for on the Memorial of St. Barnabas

Acts 11:21-26, 13:1-3
Ps 98:1-6
Mt 10:7-13

What was going on in Antioch worried many of the believers in Jerusalem. They were concerned that the acceptance of the Gospel by so many Gentiles would mean that the observance of the Law and other Jewish practices would become less important among the followers of Jesus. So they sent a good man in their Church, Barnabas, to go and see first hand what was happening.

But what others had felt was a cause for anxiety, Barnabas saw as a reason for rejoicing. He took joy in the changes brought about in the Gentile believers in Antioch, a town known far and wide for its wickedness and licentiousness. And so he encouraged them to remain firm in the faith that they had already received.

It would seem that Barnabas put more priority on praising the progress the believers there had already made than on immediately laying upon them any requirement regarding the Law. And it would seem that through this approach and through his teaching that many more became believers. In fact, the Church in Antioch became strong enough in the year that Barnabas was there that the believers there felt confident enough in their faith to send him and Paul off as apostles, to do in other cities what they had together there.

In the midst of the uncertainty of a young Church and the anxiety of an established one, Barnabas truly lived out the meaning of his name. He was a 'son of encouragement.' He followed Jesus' commands heard in today's Gospel and showed the believers in Antioch how close they were to the reign of God. What an encouraging message! And such encouragement came, not through any gold, silver, or copper that Barnabas could have brought with him, or the prestige shown by fine clothes, but alone through his joy-filled words, inspired by the Spirit and strengthened by his faith.

Indeed, when Barnabas arrived in Antioch, he blessed the house that he entered, the house of God t hat was the body of believers there. And over the course of the year that he was there that blessing descended upon them. He took a potentially tense and worrisome situation and, under the guidance of the Spirit, made it an occasion of encouragement and rejoicing.

The story of Barnabas can surely be good news for us today. We can learn from him how to see how close to us is God's reign, even in the midst of the anxiety of our own lives, the life of our families, and the life of our Church. And so may God, through the intercession of St. Barnabas, fill us all with the encouragement of the Spirit and help us proclaim with great joy that his reign is truly at hand!

(For a different perspective on today's Gospel, go read what Peter Nixon has to say at his blog, Sursum Corda)


Novena of the Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim

In prospect of the American bishops' meeting, Dallas, May 13-15, 2002

Day Eight

Prayer for today, from the Sacramentary of the Roman Missal, the opening prayer of one of the Masses for Pastoral or Spiritual Meetings:

Lord, pour out on us the spirit of understanding, truth, and peace. Help us to strive with all our hearts to know what is pleasing to you, and when we know your will make us determined to do it. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(This is also number 16 in Appendix III of current volume of the Liturgy of the Hours.)

Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ Priest and Victim

Intentions for Prayer Vigil for Holiness During Bishop’s Meeting, Dallas, May 13-15, 2002

Monday, June 10, 2002

Upcoming Post on Church History & The Situation

For those two or three of you who actually came to this blog before making the obligatory visit to Amy Welborn's In Between Naps, I would recommend that you go there and read her thoughtful post on The Situation entitled 'No Simple Solution.' I submitted my own comment there where I suggest that we look at the current crisis from a wider historical viewpoint. I hope either sometime this evening or tomorrow morning to write an extended reflection upon the relationship of Church history and The Situation.


Sadly, the past and the present meet again

I learned of this sad news item from Amy Welborn's blog. Two monks were killed today in a shooting at Conception Abbey in Conception, MO.

I must say that I was shocked when I read it. But my astonishment was increased when I realized that I was writing my reflection on today's Mass readings (see below) at about the same of the shooting itself. In my reflection, I spoke about how the monk, St. Meinrad, welcomed all guests as Christ, even those that he knew were going to murder him.

I suspect that the monks who died today had no foreknowledge of their death. On the other hand, I imagine that the open, welcoming nature of most monasteries would make it very easy for such an event, like today's tragedy, to occur. It is sad to see the events of the past and present meet as they have done today.

I pray that God may strengthen all Benedictines in their service of hospitality in the face of such horror.


Hoping against Hope:

A Reflection upon My Child's Baptism & Sunday's Mass Readings

Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Hos 6:3-6
Ps 50:1, 8, 12-13, 14-15
Rom 4:18-25
Mt 9:9-13

Last Saturday evening during 5:00pm Mass at the parish where I serve as DRE, my wife Cindy and I brought our son, Michael Joseph, before God and the Church and asked that he be baptized. As I reflect upon this blessed event, one section at the start of the Rite of Baptism continues to strike me, to strike fear in me:

The Celebrant: You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him up to keep God's commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?

Obviously, this is a very serious question. It should not be seen as merely formulaic. Are Cindy and I truly able to fulfill this solemn duty, this sacred responsibility? Are we even able to understand them, let alone fulfill them?

Such honest questions, motivated by a humble and healthy self doubt, did not, however, prevent us from responding, 'We do.' We were able to respond in this way because of our knowledge and experience of the mercy of God. He knows that we will, at times, fail in our duties and reponsibilities to our child. We who are unable to fully practice the faith according to God's commandments will surely fall short of the ideal held up to us by the celebrant in his question to us.

We were able to respond in this way because of our knowledge and experience of the grace of God. Yes, we recognize that we will not be able to follow through in our duties. Through our sinfulness we will fail our child at times. But where sin has prevailed, grace will prevail all the more. God will aid us with his grace in our brokenness as we strive to raise Michael to be a follower of his Son.

And we were able to respond "We do" because of the consolation given to us in the readings that had just been proclaimed. In the first reading, the prophet Hosea, speaking in the name of the Lord, tells them (and us) that "it is love that I desire, not sacrifice,
and knowledge of God rather than holocausts.
" Surely when Cindy and I continually place high expectations upon ourselves as parents, desiring to do all of the best things for Michael, we are trying to place before the Lord the most precious sacrifice and holocaust that we could offer.

Of course, we never meet up to our these expectations. But God didn't place them upon our shoulders. We ourselves did. God does not desire us to follow all of the high ideals of parenthood which, at any rate, seem to change from generation to generation. What God does desire is simply that, in both our successes and our failures as parents, we simply love Michael and help him to come to his own knowledge of the presence of God in his life.

Paul's reflections on Abraham in the second reading also gave us hope in the face of such serious duties and responsibilities. For he wrote of how this old man and his barren old wife were both 'hoping against hope' in their trust that God would make them the parents of a great nation. In fact, the more he knew of his own shortcomings, the more he was able to trust in God and give him glory.

That, indeed, is how it will be with Cindy and I in our sacred duties to Michael. We are well aware of our own faults and failings. And the more we enter into this humble knowledge, the more we can only depend upon God to aid us in training Michael in the practice of the faith, in bringing him up to follow God's commandments. In this knowledge and in this trust, our eyes will be open to see the wonders that God works in our lives, our tongues will be loosed to sing his praise. This in itself will be a great aid in our fulfilling our duties and responsibilities.

The Gospel reading, of course, gives us parents the most comfort of all. Jesus' words, 'Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. ... I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.' of course were spoken to all of us. But, in many ways, I think that they especially apply to us Catholic parents. Being a good parent is hard enough. Simply caring for the physical and psychological needs of a child is a terrific challenge. But when the spiritual needs are added in, the challenge can be overwhelming.

Standing before all of these needs can, again, make Cindy and I quite aware of our own shortcomings. But this knowledge does not fill us with despair but hope. For we have chosen to trust in Jesus' words. The healing grace of this divine physician will bind the wounds of our sinfulness and raise us up to be loving and providing parents for all of Michael's needs: physical, psychological, and spiritual.

When the holy water was poured over his tiny head, the floodgates of God's grace were opened. His grace will flow upon him every day of his life. But this holy event also saw grace being poured upon us, his parents, as well. For God will surely aid us in our need, as we strive to help Michael come to cooperate with that grace that he has given him in this sacrament.


Catholic Lay Missionaries

Last week I wrote that the example of Protestant missionary Martin Burnham was a challenge to lay Catholics to get more involved in the missionary work of proclaiming the Gospel. Well, I've been searching internet for websites dedicated to organizations that have sponsor or support Catholic lay mission workers both here in America and around the world. The searching hasn't been easy, but here are some results:

Catholic Extension: Supporting Missionary Work in America

Glenmary Home Mission Sisters

Maryknoll Mission Family

Sending Out Servants

Comboni Lay Mission Program

Society of African Missions--Lay Program

Claretian Volunteers

Catholic World Mission

Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate--Lay Oblate Missionaries

Missionary Society of St. Columban--Lay Missionaries

This is just a small list of links to organizatons that sponsor or support lay Catholic missionaries. I am also aware that many dioceses and parishes support groups of the faithful in their area in mission work. If you have websites of other organizations, dioceses, or parishes that support these folks, let me know, and I'll put together another list later. Lets get the good news out about Catholic lay missionaries!


Blessed Are the Pure of Heart: Seeking God in All Places, at All Times, in All People

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Monday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

1 Kgs 17:1-6
Ps 121:1bc-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Mt 5:1-12

If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einseideln in St. Meinrad, IN, you will see a series of windows depicting the beatitudes as St. Matthew recounted them in today's Gospel reading. From window to window, various saints are portrayed living out the particular virtue which Jesus praised on the mountaintop.

But as might be expected in this church of the Benedictine monks of St. Meinrad Archabbey, the window that stands out among all the others is the one which illustrates 'Blessed are the pure of heart.' In it is seen St. Benedict gazing at Christ enthroned in glory with a pathway made of a tapestry, lined with lamps, leading straight from the 6th century monk to the heavenly court. It shows Benedict at his death as described by St. Gregory the Great in Book II of his Dialogues.

In his living and in his dying, Benedict was a powerful example of this beatitude. To be 'pure of heart', or 'singlehearted', or 'clean of heart' (as various translations have it), is to live for the single desire of serving God. This does not mean that one's life is focused on just one task. A quick reading of St. Benedict's Rule. will show how mult-faceted the life of a monastery is. The monks do lots of different tasks. And their work is balanced with prayer (public and private) at various times of the day.

All of this, however, is directed at serving God. The presence of Christ is to be sought and honored is so many different people: in the abbot, in the sick, in guests, simply in one another. The ordinary work tools of the monastery were to be cared for as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar, showing how the divine was discerned in the mundane. No matter what a monk does, where he is at, or with whom he finds himself, he is to seek God. He is to be pure of heart.

A few centuries after Benedict's death, one of his followers, a monk named Meinrad, showed in his living how this spiritual virtue was also enfleshed in the ancient prophets. For God allowed him to imitate the prophet Elijah. While living in his hermitage in the wilderness, Meinrad had food brought to him by ravens, just as we see being done for Elijah in today's first reading. Meinrad, in his daily tasks and prayers, in his hospitality and humility, sought the presence of God all around him, he sought the face of God in all of his visitors. This was true even when he knew that two of his visitors had come to murder him.

Elijah, Benedict, and Meinrad were all singlehearted in uncertain times when it would have been natural to focus first on protecting oneself. Elijah remained true to the word that the Lord spoke to him and to his covenant with the people of Israel even when the rest of the nation and the king himself abandoned it and violently opposed the prophet.

Benedict lived in a time when Italy was filled with the violence of war. Many living there wondered if God had abandoned his people. But Pope St. Gregory wrote his Dialogues, a collection of stories of saints (including Benedict) from his own time, in Italy, to show them that God indeed was still working through his faithful. They could work through them, too, if they would be pure of heart, like St. Benedict.

St. Meinrad, too, lived during a time when there was little power wielded by a central government. No one, not even a holy man of God, could expect to be protected from either robbers living nearby or invaders coming from afar. And yet his purity of heart, his focus on God, allowed him to live in serenity in the midst of great uncertainty.

All of these men might seem to be quite different from you and I. They were prophets, monks, and hermits. Their world was so entirely different from our own. But I believe that we can all be prophets like Elijah by being true to God's word in our daily life, even if that can make our relationships uncomfortable at times. We can follow the example of St. Benedict by deliberately seeking the presence of God in all that we do, in all whom we meet. And we can be challenged by St. Meinrad to welcome as Christ all who come to us, be they threatening beggars, selfish relatives, or betraying friends.

We, like those men, live in uncertain times. Some priests and bishops who may have appeared to have been holy now have been revealed to be great sinners and habitual criminals. And yet I, like Gregory writing about the saints of his own tumultuous days, believe that there are holy men and women living among us this very day, even if they may be living very ordinary lives. Let us seek them out and thank God for them. And let us, with the aid of God's grace, strive to be pure of heart and so be small examples of holiness for others.

(For a different perspective on today's Gospel, go read what Peter Nixon has to say at his blog, Sursum Corda)


Novena of the Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim

Novena of the Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim

In prospect of the American bishops' meeting, Dallas, May 13-15, 2002

Day Seven

Prayer for today, from the Sacramentary of the Roman Missal, the opening prayer of the Mass for the Local Church:

God our Father, in all the churches scattered throughout the world you show forth the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Through the gospel and the eucharist bring your people together in the Holy Spirit and guide us in your love. Make us a sign of your love for all people, and help us to show forth the living presence of Christ in the world, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(This is also number 5 in Appendix III of current volume of the Liturgy of the Hours.)

Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ Priest and Victim

Intentions for Prayer Vigil for Holiness During Bishop’s Meeting, Dallas, May 13-15, 2002

Saturday, June 08, 2002

No homily from Fr. Shawn O'Neal this week

Many of you may remember that Fr. Shawn O'Neal, formerly of the blog Onealism, was going to have me post his Sunday homily on this blog, usually on Friday afternoons. Well, Fr. Shawn is on vacation at the moment, far away from his home in North Carolina. He's bopping around the Pacific northwest, madly searching for homes that have cable and who don't mind a soccer-hungry priest hanging around at 3:00am.

So, needless to say, there will be no Sunday homily from Fr. Shawn. But, if you listen closely, you might be able to hear him scream "Goooooooooaaaaaaaaalllllllll!" when the US (or any of his other half dozen favorite teams) score one.


Busy Day, Little Blogging

Today, I'll be singing at a wedding and having my son, Michael Joseph, baptized at 5:00 Mass at St. Joseph Parish, where I serve as DRE. I have to do a number of domestic things in the morning, so there will little time for blogging.

As of this moment, I have not received the latest installment of the Novena of the Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim. Go 'The Blog from the Core' for Day Five of the novena.


First Installment of my Weekly Column

Take the link to The Shelbyville News if you want to read the first installment of new weekly column for the newspaper. The running title of the column is 'Spiritual Reflections.'

Friday, June 07, 2002

A New Column for Me

In tomorrow's edition of The Shelbyville News, my first installment of a weekly column that I will do the paper will appear. The Shelbyville News is the weekly newspaper of Shelbyville, IN, the town where I was born and raised and where I now serve as DRE in the local Catholic parish, St. Joseph. The running title of the column will be 'Spiritual Reflections.'

Tomorrow I'll provide a link to the page on the website where my column will appear.


The Burnhams and My Views on Evangelical Missionizing

Some of you who read my blog on a regular basis may have found it a bit odd that, in honoring Martin Burnham in my previous post, I did not mention my difficulties with evangelical Christians missionizing in traditionally Catholic lands that I discussed a few back in a post on St. Charles Lwanga.

First, I simply did not think it appropriate to expound upon own views on a controverted topic while trying to honor an honest Christian who gave his life while proclaiming the Gospel. Second, while the Philippines has a large Catholic population, the current struggles going on there with the Islamic rebel group known as Abu Sayaff is evidence of the religious pluralism existing in that country. And the fact that the Burnhams were captured in an area where Abu Sayaff were active might be evidence that they were working among Moslems and not Catholics.

But even if they were working among Catholics, I still have to say (as I did the other day) that my feelings about such proselytizing are not one-sided but rather mixed. I am a bit frustrated that evangelical Christians see a need to 'build on another's foundation' (Rom 15:20) but I also saddened that we Catholics have, in many places, only laid a foundation and have built precious little on top of it.

In the end I am see the story of Martin and Gracia Burnham as a challenge to lay Catholics. I know that there are many lay Catholics working as missionaries around the world. Maybe the rest of us need to learn more about them, publicize their stories more, and encourage more to follow them.

On the surface, the Burnhams seem like an average husband and wife, father and mother, living in the midwest, practicing their faith. Were they Catholics, they could have easily been an average set of parishioners in an average parish. But their faith was so strong that it impelled them to leave their children in the care of other relatives and travel to a place the Philippines, a place very different from their home in Witchita, KS. Would that the faith of us average Catholics be as powerful as that of the Burnhams.


In Memoriam: Martin Burnham (1960-2002)

I learned this morning of the death of the Protestant missionary Martin Burnham while listening to the radio this morning as I was getting ready to go to my office. When I arrived, I sat down to read, pray with, and write about today's Mass readings. But, at the time, I had forgotten that today was the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart and so I read what would have been simply the readings for the Friday of the ninth week in Ordinary Time, Year II. I think that they speak well of Martin Burnham's life and death.

Here is a list of those readings with links to them:

2 Tm 3:10-17
Ps 119:157, 160, 161, 156-166, 168
Mk 12:35-37

Paul certainly is very clear about the cost of being a disciple of Jesus. He tells Timothy directly that "all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." When I read his words, written almost 2000 years ago, my mind immediately turns to Martin Burnham, a Protestant missionary, held prisoner in the Philippines for over a year, and killed today in an attempt to rescue them. I think also of his wife, wounded in the attempt, and surely a witness to his death.

This husband and wife trusted Jesus so much that they gave up their comfortable life in Witchita, KS to proclaim his Gospel in a land far away, one filled with violence. They were imitators of Paul who also left his comfortable life in Antioch to proclaim the Gospel and experience persecution in the cities of Asia Minor (today, modern Turkey).

When he reminded Timothy of his sufferings in those places, there is no tinge of regret in his words. Rather, he only focuses on the "teaching, way of life, purpose, faith, patience, love, [and] endurance" which allowed him to carry on in the face of so much violent opposition. Surely all of these grace-inspired traits filled Martin and Gracia in their time as missionaries and at the time of Martin's final trial.

People like Martin Burnham, Paul, and Timothy were citizens of the Kingdom who walked on the earth. Martin was able to use his citizenship in this prosperous country to make possible his trip half way around the world to proclaim the Gospel. Paul used his Roman citizenship to be able to go that city, if only as a prisoner, to do the same. Both of these men put their earthly citizenship to the service of the heavenly one.

The scribes to which Jesus referred in the Gospel looked to the ruling families of the day for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus, on the other hand, said that the Messiah would be someone who would transcend any secular ruler. Many in the crowd who listened to Jesus delighted in his words, for their rulers were far from Messiah material and often only brought them misery and pain.

In a world that gravitates around economic, political, and military power, a person who will instead place his or her trust in the power of grace will indeed expect to be persecuted. Paul and Timothy knew this. So did Martin Burnham, who fell through a clashing of opposing military forces. And yet it would appear that none of these men counted the cost of such trust. They had no doubt that the Lord in whom they placed their trust had already conquered all of these earthly powers that so many others turn to in their need.

On this day, Martin Burnham, in his death, has served as a prophet for us, speaking to us in his being faithful to the end, of the steadfast love of God for us. May God on this day that has seen Martin being taken to heaven like Elijah, give us a double portion of his spirit and so have our trust in the Lord Jesus increased.


A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Dt 7:6-11
Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 10
1 Jn 4:7-16
Mt 11:25-30

In two days, my wife Cindy and I will celebrate the first anniversary of our wedding. We will observe that day with joy and happiness, calling to mind that day when God joined us together as one in his Spirit and marvelling at the wonders he has wrought in our lives in just twelve short months. But in a real sense, we will also be observing this anniversary today, for we believe that the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose solemnity we celebrate this day, has a special meaning for us and for all husbands and wives.

The Sacred Heart is a special sign to all believers of the unfathomable love that God has for us, of that love which we can experience through our baptism, and of that love that we are invited to show one another. For us who find much of our meaning through those material things which come to us through our senses, the Sacred Heart is a tangible symbol of that spiritual love that knows no end. That love is also revealed in our midst through the sacrament of holy matrimony.

In today's second reading, John beautifully writes of the mystery of this love. He tells us that, although "no one has ever seen God", his presence is in us, and his love is perfected in us "if we love one another." Cindy and I choose this same reading as the second reading for our wedding. For us it spoke of the love which God was giving to us, which we were to show one another, and which we together were to share with the Church and the world.

Not long after we exchanged our vows, after we had become that sacrament of God's unending love for all to see through faith, the priest presiding at the Mass exhorted all present to 'lift up their hearts.' At that moment, Cindy and I lifted up our hearts in rejoicing to Jesus who joined them together with that powerful love that flows from his Sacred Heart. And ever since that moment, we have been growing more and more into that unity where his love becomes all the more real for us and for others who see us as a sacrament.

Yes, our wedding was a day of rejoicing. But holy matrimony is not all rainbows and roses. Neither is the Sacred Heart. It and marriage are as much about mercy and forgiveness as they are about love and comfort. Yes, at our wedding we knew the love of God poured upon us through Jesus' Sacred Heart. But the mercy of God poured upon all of humanity through that same Sacred Heart has been revealed in our marriage through the forgiveness that we have shown each other in times of trial. Indeed, it is actually through this mercy and forgiveness that we are brought back to that love and our knowledge and experience of it is being ever expanded.

We are now coming into a season where there will be many weddings in our churches. Many of us may roll our eyes at the commercialism that has taken them over, at how this celebration which is for the whole Church is now a privatized event with only a select few (well, select hundreds in many cases...) friends and family witnessing them, at the lack of understanding on the part of many brides and grooms of the powerful sacrament into which they are entering.

But lets not let cynicism rule the day. May all of us call upon Jesus to pour out his love through his Sacred Heart upon all couples who are preparing to be married. May that same Sacred Heart fill them with mercy and forgiveness for each other in the challenging times that surely lie ahead. And may Jesus help all of us see in all husbands and wives a real and tangible sign of the love and mercy that he has for all of humanity, a love and mercy which continually flows out to us from his Sacred Heart.

(For a different perspective on today's Gospel, go read what Peter Nixon has to say at his blog, Sursum Corda)


Novena of the Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim

In prospect of the American bishops' meeting, Dallas, May 13-15, 2002

Day Four

Prayer for today, from the Sacramentary of the Roman Missal, the opening prayer of the Mass for the Local Church:

God our Father, in all the churches scattered throughout the world you show forth the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Through the gospel and the eucharist bring your people together in the Holy Spirit and guide us in your love. Make us a sign of your love for all people, and help us to show forth the living presence of Christ in the world, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(This is also number 5 in Appendix III of current volume of the Liturgy of the Hours.)

Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ Priest and Victim

Intentions for Prayer Vigil for Holiness During Bishop’s Meeting, Dallas, May 13-15, 2002

Thursday, June 06, 2002

Connecting Faith and Morals

Maureen McHugh over at her blog, Religion of Sanity, has quoted from a recent edition of Catholic Dossier in order to support her belief that the crisis in the Church in America is due to a discontinuity between faith and morals.

I heard this topic discussed on several occasions when I was at St. Meinrad School of Theology. Its president rector, Fr. Mark O'Keefe, OSB, is a moral theologian, and has written a book on this topic, entitled Becoming Good, Becoming Holy: On the Relationship of Christian Ethics and Spirituality, published by Paulist Press.

I'd highly recommend it to anyone who agrees with Maureen. While it does not address the crisis in the Church in America, if each of us take the book's message to heart, then we will all be contributing, in some small way, to a renewal of our Church.


Shopping & Not Feeling Well (Are the Two Connected?)

Haven't done much blogging today because I had to go shopping for a new suit. Then I got back to my office with a horrible headache. Hmmm...I wonder if the two are connected?

By the way, I got the suit because on this coming Saturday, our son, Michael Joseph, will be baptized at 5:00 Mass at the parish where I serve as DRE and where I was born and raised. He'll be baptized in a font that was purchased with donations made to the parish in the name of my grandmother who passed away two years ago.

More reflections on this event in the next day or so...


Novena of the Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim

In prospect of the American bishops' meeting, Dallas, May 13-15, 2002

Day Three

Prayer for today, from the Sacramentary of the Roman Missal, the opening prayer of the Mass for Promoting Harmony:

God our Father, source of unity and love, make your faithful people one in heart and mind that your Church may live in harmony, be steadfast in its profession of faith, and secure in unity. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(This is also number 33 in Appendix III of current volume of the Liturgy of the Hours.)

Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ Priest and Victim

Intentions for Prayer Vigil for Holiness During Bishop’s Meeting, Dallas, May 13-15, 2002


Getting Back to the Basics:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Thursday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

2 Tm 2:8-15
Ps 25:4-5ab, 8-9, 10 and 14
Mk 12:28-34

These readings encourage me to get back to the basics. When Paul was writing to Timothy, he had already preached the Gospel in many places. He had probably given much time to reflection on all the various aspects of the Gospel and the life of faith. He had probably had to confront and refute several challenges to the Gospel. And yet he still tells Timothy to focus on the basic message that he had received at the start. It was upon this truth that all believers could place their trust.

Likewise, the scribe who came up to Jesus was surely well versed in the Law. He had probably debated countless times with countless men the relative importance of this commandment over that one. And yet somehow through all of that he maintained his enthusiasm for the Law and his focus on what was most important. It would seem that he knew well the warning that Paul had passed on to Timothy: "...stop disputing about words. This serves no useful purpose since it harms those who listen." Jesus, then, saw all of this in the scribe and told him that he was "not far from the Kingdom of God."

I think that it is important for me and for all of us to imitate Paul and this scribe in continually getting back to the basics. We may continue to learn more about the life of faith with all of its ins and outs and its ideosyncracies. But the ultimate object of our faith are not these details but He who suffered, died, was buried, and was raised on the third day. We should somehow be able to see how this paschal mystery that is our Gospel is revealed in all of those details that we learn about and discuss.

If I focus on the details alone and get caught up in disputes about words (as I have done recently), then I am expending my energy in something that is fruitless. Indeed, in doing these things, I could be harming those who listen to what I have to say and read what I write. I could be taking their attention away from the basics.

So if in the coming days my writing tends to get back to the basics again and again, it is not that I'm uninterested in anything else or that I have a lack of vision. My motivation in doing this will be to constantly bring myself and hopefully others back to the basic message of Jesus' Gospel. If Paul, in all of his wisdom and understanding, could remain focused on that simple message, then we would be good to strive to imitate him. Then, being drawn by the love of God upon which we trust, we will be drawn closer and closer into his reign.

(For a different perspective on today's Gospel, go read what Peter Nixon has to say at his blog, Sursum Corda)

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Reader Response to Donatism & the RCF

Although relatively few readers have given me their comments on what I have had to write about Donatism and the RCF, their opinions on the matter are quite varied. But what seems to be in common among those who either condemn the organization and its president, Stephen Brady, or defend them is that both groups use what I would describe as an 'extreme mode of discourse.' I will not repeat them here myself, although you can read them by clicking on the various comment lines.

Why will I not repeat them? Because it is one of the aims of this weblog to try to foster a more charitable tone of discourse (while not compromising the truths of our faith) among those of us in the Church who take our faith seriously and desire to discuss it with others. I brought up the topic of Donatism and the RCF originally because I felt that it was an example of how an extreme form of discourse has effects beyond the message they were intended to convey.

It is my belief that the truths that the Church teaches and which the RCF feels a need to defend are in no way served well when such extreme language as is often employed by the RCF and Mr. Brady is used to defend them.

I will, however, attempt to address one charge laid against me personally. One reader has claimed that my "crying 'Donatist'" regarding the RCF and Mr. Brady is "absolutely without merit". He or she then challenged me to retract my "charge." Finally, I was accused of attempting to "smear" Mr. Brady by making such false charges.

While it is true that the RCF and Mr. Brady do not make any positive statement in which they clearly espouse the Donatist heresy or a schism similar to the one created by the fourth century Donatists, it is my opinion that the organization and its president have made statements (which I have quoted elsewhere) which imply that they may hold or at least be sympathetic to both.

But please note the way in which I discussed this topic. If you read my posts on this topic, you will notice that I use words like 'seem', 'appear', or 'allusion' when I feel that the RCF and Mr. Brady may be promoting Donatist ideas or schism. I ask questions and lay out possible answers. And I have written elsewhere in this blog that it is important that when those of us who are not bishops speak about another person's orthodoxy, we should do so in the form of an opinion, since only the episcopacy has been given the ministry of making definitive judgments in these matters.

Were I to have made a direct charge of heresy or schism against them (which I have been accused of doing), then I would have argued that the evidence I laid out had 'absolute merit' (to paraphrase my reader) in demonstrating their heresy and schism. But, of course, this I did not do and so I believe that there are no charges to retract. At the end of one of my posts I stated that the RCF choose their words carefully. Well, it would seem that I, for good or ill, can do this as well.

My intention in bringing all of this up was, as I stated above, to try to foster a more charitable tone of discourse among the faithful while not compromising the truths which we profess and to show. By showing how the RCF's writings seemed to imply heretical teachings or schismatic leanings, I was trying to discourage their form of extreme discourse. I did not intend, in any way, to "smear" Mr. Brady or the organization which he leads.

And as my own writing here reveals, along with the comments written by various readers, both for and against the RCF, my intention in bringing up this matter was not fulfilled. It has not fostered a more charitable tone of discourse but has seemed to have only made it more strident. Therefore, I do not intend to bring up this matter again. And it is my hope that this intention will be fulfilled.


Maybe RCF is just being overdramatic

Some of you have sent me your comments either by the comment box or by e-mail regarding RCF, Donatism, and The Situation. I think that fellow blogger Emily Stimpson assessed the RCF well by saying in her comment that Stephen Brady isn't "advocating schism or necessarily donatism. At least I hope he's not. I just think he's being typically overdramatic."

Thankfully, the last time I checked, being overdramatic is not a sin that brings about an ipso facto excommunication. If it were, then a lot of us Catholic bloggers (myself included at times) would be on the outside looking in.

However, that doesn't mean that being overdramatic doesn't have the potential to bring about bad consequences according to Ms. Stimpson: "Given the current state of things in the Church, however, I think it's a dangerous game to overdramatize anything."

Mark Shea at his blog also rightly distinguished between how the RCF used "rhetoric does appear to use Donatist ideas" and other rhetoric that simply "seem to be threatening schism." (It should be noted, however, that Donatists were known as much for their being schismatic as being heretical.)

I suppose it is the frequent employing of such extreme rhetoric that Ms. Stimpson would describe as "overdramatic."


Church Architecture & Memories of St. Boniface

Now with a title like that you might start thinking that I'm as old as Noah or I'm into channelling, neither of which are true, thank you. But I did travel to St. Boniface's tomb in Fulda, Germany in early summer, 1994. In fact, I was there for the feast of Pentecost, celebrated in their large, baroque cathedral, next to which stands a rather primitive (I believe) 8th century Church of St. Michael which dates from around the period of the saint in question. At the time I was a grad student studying medieval Church history at Notre Dame and was visiting a German friend of mine who happened to live close to Fulda.

While his tomb is in the more recent church (I like being able to call a church which itself is several centuries old 'more recent'), the older one was rather unusual. It was octagonal and had one large column in the middle with a plastered ceiling which flared out all around, not so much like the ribbed vaulting of a gothic church. Overall, it was rather small, with a seating capacity that could not have exceeded a few hundred.

With its overall round shape and few colorful windows and other stone or painted adornments, it reminded me somewhat of the churches that have been built, say, over the past thirty years in America. Much of the rationale behind our more recent building styles have centered around liturgical theology and ecclesiology. Much of the rationale behind the building of the St. Michael's Church of Boniface's day was the lack of technological and architectural knowledge that would eventually allow more grand romanesque and gothic churches to be built.

It seems ironic, then, that, while we have the technological and architectural knowledge to build more stately and grand churches, we choose to avoid this because it does not agree with our theology. Some try to claim that our more simplistic designs are a hearkening back to the more simple days of the pre-Constantinian Church or the early Middle Ages. However, I feel that the liturgical theology and implicity ecclesiology present and developing during these times would have supported a more 'decorated' church had they had the technology or finances available to build them.

However, it is in this last point that we find something in common among our own day, that of the early Middle Ages, and of the pre-Constantinian Church: lack of finances. Its all well and good to want to build beautiful churches with lots of stained glass windows, statues, carved marble, ornate high altars and the rest. But the overall cost of building one of those churches is very high, especially when compared with the cost of building one that is more simple.

Now I do not believe in principle that finances should drive the type of architecture we use in building our churches. I think it is ironic, though, that our immigrant ancestors of a century or so ago, with a much lower income than we have now, were able to come together and build many beautiful churches in our country while now we surburanites, with our SUVs, PCs, and DVDs, who often clamor for a church that is more 'transcendent', aren't willing to shell out the big bucks for them. I guess the bottom line is the bottom line in America.

Anyway, I was kind of sad that I couldn't spend more time in Fulda. Pentecost fell late that year, just a few days before St. Boniface's memorial. And if I could have been there for it, I would have seen his skull paraded around town. There's another thing you just don't see enough of in America...


Donatism and RCF's Latest Smoking Gun

When one goes to the website of the organization entitled Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF), that person will be immediately confronted with an open letter from RCF's president, Stephen Brady. In this letter, Mr. Brady connects Pope John Paul II with the current clerical sexual abuse scandal in the United States. In a way that many Catholic bloggers have criticized various American bishops for ignoring sexually abusive priests, he criticizes the Holy Father for ignoring the bishops:

"While we love the Holy Father, if we were to ignore the fact that the Pope has not taken direct public action against any American Bishop, we would give the impression that we, too, have somehow failed in our duty as Catholics. We routinely expose the bishops for not dealing with their abusive priests, but our failure to follow through to the ultimate source of authority would be giving a free ride to the only person who can take decisive action against the errant bishop.

Our present Holy Father may be orthodox in his beliefs, but please take a moment to consider the current scandal. Who appointed these bishops? Who left them in power? If this is an example of a great [italics original] Pope, in what condition would we be if he were a bad one?

Although I, in no way, agree with Mr. Brady's criticism of the Holy Father, I can see how his criticism could be seen as a logical conclusion to other criticisms of local bishops which are justifiable.

In his conclusion to his letter, there seems to allusions made to the kind of Donatist schism which I have been writing about in connection with RCF for a few days now:

"I attend a diocesan parish and have never attended a parish affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X, so I cannot be rightly accused of pushing some “hidden agenda”... The Holy Father knows of these and many more abuses that have occurred with the apparent or outright approval of bishops in “good standing” with Rome. If the Pope does not take some action, and if he allows the continual deterioration of the Church in dissident dioceses, it may yet come to pass that the only Catholic Mass or faithful teachings to be found in these areas will be at a Pius X chapel.

If that is not a threat of a Donatistic schism, heaved at the Pope himself, then I do not know what one is. More from me on this note later. What are your thoughts?


Continuing the Discussion on Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF) and Donatism

A couple of days ago, I posted a piece called ''Roman Catholic Faithful' and creeping Donatism" after a reader had suspected that this organization was promoting donatist views among the faithful. I had perused RCF's website and found that, while they did not hesitate to question the teachings of various bishops, they seemed very careful in their phraseology so as to avoid promoting any view that could be specifically identified as donatist.

Well, the same reader that pointed out RCF to me in the first place took up the challenge and viewed various online editions of RCF's newsletter AMDG. He provided me with a link to the June 1997 edition of that newsletter in which was published an article entitled, "Is the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois Catholic?", by Stephen Brady.

In this article, Mr. Brady writes of his opposition to various teachings and practices in his parish, and justifies his active opposition with the following words:

"When one looks back at the early Church and all those who gave their lives rather than deny their Faith, we must ask —how can we allow the leadership in this diocese to mock the authentic Catholic Faith and tradition?"

The same question could have been asked by a 4th century Donatist of bishops who had been installed who had denied the faith during earlier persecutions. It seems either ironic or strangely appropriate that a person writing for RCF's newsletter would justify his protest against various priests and bishops in a fashion that harkens back to the Donatists themselves.

Mr. Brady then attempted to connect the poor Mass attendance in his parish to his belief that a priest serving there (whether or not he was the pastor or a parochial vicar is not stated) denied the Church's teaching on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist:

"Fr. Costa, in his April 13, 1997 church bulletin states, "Only 32 percent of the registered parishioners of Holy Family parish attend Mass each weekend, and only 36 percent of the registered parishioners of St. John Vianney parish attend Mass each weekend." Can you assure us you believe in the Real Presence Father? If Jesus was there, the people would also be there. Can good fruit come from a rotten tree[?]"

By stating that 'If Jesus were there, the people would also be there. Can good fruit come from a rotten tree?", Mr. Brady seems to imply that the Eucharist celebrated at that parish was invalid due to the priests' questionable beliefs and/or some sort of generalized 'rottenness' in his person (he is compared to a 'rotten tree'). Is the validity of the sacraments contingent on a priest's beliefs or his overall moral character? If it is not, and this RCF newsletter would seem to argue that point, then it would appear that RCF may have, at times, promoted views that are Donatist.

Now since the language used in the above quote is conjectural and metaphorical, RCF could just as easily argue that they were not promoting this ancient heresy. As I said, they choose their words carefully.


From the 'Better Late Than Never' File...

Yesterday, E. L. Core, of The View from the Core and The Blog from the Core started encouraging Catholic bloggers to post a Novena of the Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim. He did this in the hopes that the readers of the various Catholic blogs might pray this novena in the days leading up to the bishops' meeting in Dallas.

Well, yesterday for me was a busy one for taking care of family matters and so I got done very little blogging. Still, I'll post the second day of the novena, working on the principle that its 'better late than never.'

Novena of the Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim
In prospect of the American bishops' meeting, Dallas, May 13-15, 2002

Day Two

Prayer for today, from the Sacramentary of the Roman Missal, the opening prayer of one of the Masses for Pastoral or Spiritual Meetings:

Lord, pour out on us the spirit of understanding, truth, and peace. Help us to strive with all our hearts to know what is pleasing to you, and when we know your will make us determined to do it. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(This is also number 16 in Appendix III of current volume of the Liturgy of the Hours.)

Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ Priest and Victim

Intentions for Prayer Vigil for Holiness During Bishop’s Meeting, Dallas, May 13-15, 2002


The Paradox of Living the Gospel in the World:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Memorial of St. Boniface, bishop and martyr

2 Tm 1:1-3, 6-12
Ps 123:1b-2ab, 2cdef
Mk 12:18-27

It is certainly a great mystery that our life here on earth is, at one and the same time, both a faint foreshadowing of the Kingdom of Heaven, and yet also something quite different from it. We are invited to share in God's life here and now through our baptism. Our celebration of the Eucharist is surely a re-echoing of the perpetual praise of God in the heavenly court. And being sent forth from that worship, we are called to proclaim the Gospel in the world, to let God's Kingdom break into our time and space.

Yet the message of the Gospel runs counter to the message of the world, where the cross is seen as folly, where selfishness is praised and self-giving is scorned, and where we create God in our own image. This is seen in today's Gospel where the Sadducees equated too much of what goes on in this world with what will happen in the next. According to them, when a man dies, he dies. End of story. When a woman and a man marry, they form a relationship which ends with the death of one of them. When that happens, the other is free to marry. With this understanding of the world and of the Law which God gave through Moses, the resurrection of the dead is natually unintelligible.

After listening to them, Jesus let them know clearly that they had been misled. They limited the power of God. In our own lives in the world, we are very limited in what we can do, in what we can control. But God in his Kingdom, as well as mysteriously here on earth, can do anything: he can raise the dead to a new and eternal life, he can help us love him and all people with a pure love, rendering marriage unnecessary. Marriage here and now is a sign of the love that all will have for all in the world to come; it is also an instrument for bringing that love into this world.

And because the message of the Gospel can seem so different from the message of the world, the average person might conclude it to be shameful to suffer for it. Paul seemed to have heard that from various people in his travels. For in the first reading for today, he exhorts Timothy to be unashamed of proclaiming the Gospel. And he himself claims to be unashamed despite the fact that he is now a prisoner on account of that message. We are to feel no embarassment because we can trust Jesus whom we know in faith and in whom we were reborn in baptism. We can trust him to fulfill the Gospel before all eyes on the final day.

However, it is already being fulfilled for those who see with the eyes of faith. Unlike the Sadducees, who defined the next world by only seeing this one, those of us who have faith in the Gospel of Jesus, can begin to see this world as being transformed by the power of the next. Without faith in one as powerful as the Father, as trustworthy as Jesus his Son, and as generous in building up our courage and strength as the Spirit, we could never accept the paradox of living the Gospel in this world. With that faith, our broken world is being healed before our very eyes.

(For a different perspective on today's Gospel, go read what Peter Nixon has to say at his blog, Sursum Corda)

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

A Website that is all Mary, all the time

A reader wanted me to pass on the good word about Mary Links which is, in the words of the reader, a "thorough, organized collection of links about the Virgin Mary." After having perused it myself, I'd have to agree. Check it out!


Good News on the Baby Front

Michael Joseph, our first baby, is now a little over a month old. He was born at 6 lbs 13 oz but soon dropped to 6 lbs 1 oz (somewhat to be expected). Well, we went to the doctor today and learned that he is now up to 8 lbs 15 oz. He had gained almost two lbs in the last two weeks. Now that didn't come as a surprise to his parents, who feel like they've gotten only two hours sleep in the last two weeks...


Limited Blogging Today

Won't be doing much blogging today. Have to tend to family matters first. Gotta have priorities, you know.


The image of God and the image of Ceasar:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Tuesday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

2 Pt 3:12-15, 17-18
Ps 90:2, 3-4, 10, 14 and 16
Mk 12:13-17

Mark tells us that some Pharisees and Herodians came to Jesus with the question about paying taxes in order to "ensnare him in his speech." They wanted to find a way to put a label on him. Would he say that taxes shouldn't be paid and so be an insurrectionist? Or would he say that they should be paid and so be a collaborator? In this way, these questioners have the same kind of motivation that many members of the press and others associated with political parties or special interest groups have: foster division among people.

Jesus, however, refused to be a means to their end. He refused to be pigeonholed. He was sent from the Father who was God and Creator of all, not of just one group or another. And so he said something that amazed his politically astute questioners: "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."

The Lord, indeed, is God of all, including our civil leaders, our 'Caesar.' The civil government under which we live exists either by the will of God or by him allowing it. We have all kinds of coins and currency here in the United States that have on them the image of various presidents. So it would seem that Jesus' words to the Pharisees and the Herodians would apply to us as well.

And for us who live under a relatively just government such a duty is not that challenging except for a few Christian groups (an example of this would be the Indianapolis Baptist Temple, which had its property repossessed last year after it had refused to pay any payroll tax on its employees for several years). Following Jesus' words in other countries, where the civil governments are terribly oppressive is more difficult.

It is my belief thought, that many of these governments are to be legitimately resisted. Why? Because they are demanding not only that which belongs to Caesar but also that which belongs to God. In many cases they demand the dignity and the lives of their very citizens. Although God has allowed such governments to exist, their existence can be an opportunity for us to reveal the full truth of Jesus' statement in today's Gospel.

Yes, a lifeless coin is made of some sort of metal onto which is imprinted the image of a secular ruler. But the person who pays the taxes with the coin, although made of the clay of the earth, has in him or her the breath of God, and has been imprinted with his divine image.

Each human being, then, is like a living coin, with the image of God indellibly imprinted on it. This coin is what is to be given to God and none other. Governments that demand payment in the form of human lives and human dignity, where a living person created in the image of God is objectified and equated with the lifeless material of a coin, are to be resisted.

But they are to be resisted in a way that is consistent with the ways of God in whose image we are all created. In trying to bring about a society where, as Peter in the first reading wrote, "righteousness dwells", we are not to act towards others in ways that would deny their humanity. When we avoid being "led into the error of the unprincipled", when we are "eager to be found without spot or blemish", we will be helping to "hasten the coming of the day of God."

When all of us "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ", we will see being revealed before our eyes a "new heavens and a new earth." This will be the coming of that Kingdom of God where all of us, our faces shining like newly minted coins, will perfectly reflect the face of God in whose image each of us were created.

(For a different perspective on today's Gospel, go read what Peter Nixon has to say at his blog, Sursum Corda)

Monday, June 03, 2002

Reflections on Charles Lwanga and his Anglican companions

Today we are invited to honor a group of martyrs, killed for his faith in 1886 in what is now Uganda. These martyrs are referred to as Charles Lwanga and companions. Now I presume that in the Church in America, St. Charles Lwanga is not the center of many devotions. I would even be interested to know if there are any parishes in the United States that are named after him.

With little general awareness of this saint, many might be surprised to learn that some of the companions who died with him were not Catholics, but members of the Church of England. Although I presume that they are not officially listed among Charles Lwanga's 'companions', they were, nevertheless, mentioned by Pope Paul VI in the Mass (which occurred in the midst of Vatican II) at which Charles and his compantions were canonized.

This 'ecumenical martyrdom, where Catholics and Anglicans died for the faith side by side, has given pause for reflection. An ecumenical issue that I have given much thought to over the past few months is the practice of many evangelical Christians to feel a need to evangelize in countries that have traditionally been Catholic.

I have long been aware of evangelical missionaries working in Mexico, in Central and South America, and in the Philippines. Now such work is, as it were, coming much closer to home. I see it when a local Church of God or a Baptist Church starts offering services in Spanish.

I'll be honest and say that I do not like it. I am, in a sense, jealous for my faith. And while I respect the work of evangelical missionaries, a part of me also wishes that they would imitate Paul who wrote thus to the Romans about his ministry of proclaiming the Gospel: "...I aspire to proclaim the Gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another's foundation..."

Of course, it does not take much further reflection for me to realize that, in many of these places, that foundation is the only thing that was constructed. The Catholic Church has built precious little on top of it. Is it any wonder, then, that other Christians would feel a need to take the Gospel to such places. This not to say, however, that re-evangelizing is not a legitimate task. In fact, it is quite vital today and a central part of what the Holy Father calls the 'New Evangelization.'

Nevertheless, I am aware that many evangelical missionaries would feel the need to proclaim the Gospel in Rome itself, working on the belief that Catholics are 'lost' and are not really Christians at all. Is there any possibility out there for evangelical Christians and Catholic Christians to enter into a fruitful dialogue about matters of evangelization and proselytization.

I know for a fact that, at least here in America, groups of Catholic and evangelical Christians have entered to dialogue about and discovered much common ground on the topic of justification, something that, in the past, was so divisive for us. This was seen in the document produced in 1994 called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium", published in the journal First Things. Strong evangelicals such as Chuck Colson, Max Lucado, and Mark Noll were its signatories. And they were joined by such outstanding Catholics as Fr. Avery Dulles, SJ, Dr. Peter Kreeft, and Fr. J. A. DiNoia, OP.

Do you have any thoughts or feelings about the work of evangelical missionaries among peoples that were traditionally or even strongly are Catholic? Is there any possibility for Catholics and evangelicals to come to some common ground on this topic as they have on such a controverted topic such as justification? Let me know what you think.


Arts and Letters Daily

Here's a blog for all of you humanities majors to waste some time on. Thanks to my friend Amy (not Ms. Welborn), for pointing it out to me.


Reverse Donatism

Karen Marie Knapp over at her blog, From the Anchor Hold, has some interesting thoughts on Donatism and The Situation.

But the one that intrigued me the most came at the end of her post. There she expressed her concern that bishops and priests might use the Church's teaching against Donatism (that a sacrament's validity is not dependent upon the holiness of the one presiding over it) as an excuse for not speaking of their own "embarassing truths" and taking actions that would follow from such a revelation. In a note to me she expressed it even more succinctly: "I'm afraid the Donatism problem can work both ways....our bishops using it as an excuse not to do what needs doing."

Another interesting perspective on The Situation that I had not considered.


'Roman Catholic Faithful' and creeping Donatism

A couple of days ago I noted how Archbishop Weakland made passing reference to Donastism (without actually naming it) in his apology which he made last Friday.

Some readers seem to have been wondering, along with me, if this old heresy, which holds that the validity of a sacrament is dependent upon the holiness of the cleric presiding over it, is re-emerging during this crisis. I have also wondered if the definition of Donatism could be broadened. Would the validity of a bishop's teaching be brought into question as a result of the sinfulness of his own behavior?

In a comment on my earlier post (see the link on 'I noted' above), a reader wrote that, in his opinion, the organization Roman Catholic Faithful promotes stances toward various priests and bishops that could be described as donatist. In fact, he claimed that he attended a meeting where the head of that organization spoke and the man openly "...wondered if Jesus will show up in the Eucharist if the sacrament is celebrated by an unworthy priest." If indeed that is what this man said, then it sounds like Donatism to me.

Now, to be fair, I perused several articles on RCF's website. There are many articles on the website that I was unable to read. However, I read one closely, entitled 'For the Permanent Record.' In this article, the author, Thomas Droleskey tries to be clear about the reasons why RCF openly questions the teachings of certain bishops and priests:

It is vital to point out errors in order that the faithful be armed with the means to protect themselves and their families from being seduced by the Devil. Errors are pointed out not as a means of creating scandal nor the sake of dwelling on the salacious. As everything we do must be premised on a desire to save souls (starting with our own), it is a matter of simple justice to help Catholics in the pew to recognize that not everything that may be preached from a pulpit or contained within a diocesan newspaper is actually of the Catholic Faith. If that means that a particular bishop (even one who is a cardinal) has to come in for scrutiny, so be it.

It seems to me that this section, as well as other parts of the article, are very carefully phrased so as to avoid charges of Donatism, strictly speaking, or under the expanded definition that I proposed above. But I just wonder, what source or what authority is this organization using to judge the orthodoxy of a bishop, if we are to presume that bishops are the first teachers of the faith in the Church? It would seem to me that they are close at times to holding the same position that Mother Angelica held when she told the faithful in Los Angeles to render Cardinal Mahoney 'zero obedience' (Mark Shea has an interesting post on this).

At any rate, I haven't formed a full opinion about this matter and what the RCF does in questioning the teaching of priests and bishops, the latter especially. I'd be interested to hear your opinions on this.


Mail Bag

I've had some responses to my question "What else are we feeling?" regarding The Situation. According to Andrew Sullivan and other bloggers, it would seem that rage is what Catholic Americans are feeling primarily.

But not according to some of my readers. One of them argues that the feelings depend upon how directly The Situation impinges upon one's own life:

If it's MY priest who's been accused or, God forbid, MY children who have been abused, there probably aren't words for all the feelings: rage, disgust, dismay, despair probably just scratch the surface. But, even here, I think it depends on how closely you
are involved with this particular priest. In my own parish a priest who comes in for two weekend Masses was accused of improper behavior which occurred some years ago in another city with a legal adult. He has been suspended, and hasn't been back, but there seemed to be relatively little feeling about this, since he just wasn't around that much.

...I think the situation is somewhat similar with bishops. For most in-the-pew Catholics, the Bishop is simply irrelevant. I don't mean that disrespectfully, but really, aside from an occasional Confirmation, most Catholics have no contact with him, and will certainly listen to their pastor more than their Bishop for the same reason as above: they feel they know their pastor.

I also have a sense that many Catholics are reserving judgment: they're neither absolving (so to speak) or condemning priests and bishops, but waiting to see how this all plays out, how it will ultimately affect them personally. And this isn't a matter of a meeting in Dallas, or declarations. It's a matter of what they will experience in the months and years ahead.

Another reader interesting says that he or she has felt relief in the midst of this crisis:

I'm a little ashamed to say that I now feel primarily relief. I figured this sort of thing was going on for a long time (pedophilia being only the very evil tip of a much larger ice berg).

However, the relief is by and large related to suspicions finally being confirmed:

the public dissent on sexual matters so common in the clerical class and, especially, the self-styled Theological Magisterium almost certainly meant either that it rationalized past or present misconduct or predicted future misconduct that the dissent sanctioned. Words and actions tend to be related that way.

Anyway, with the burden of such perspective tainted by cynicism or weltsmertz or bitterness or something, I'm glad its coming out into the open. I hope . . . and I hope that it is good theological hope . . . that the Church can vomit it all out, become a pure, purer anyway, refuge when it does. Not just the pedophilia, however one defines it. All the pornographic stuff, and all the facilitating, enabling, and apologetic rationalizations for it.

Ouch. With relief like that, good old-fashioned ordinary rage might feel a little bit better.

Interesting enough this same reader makes a side point regarding the prevalency of and tolerance for adult/adolescent sex in our society:

That so many are so shocked by adult sex with adolescents puzzles me. Adolescents are having sex and sexual encounters all the time these days, and as a lawyer with some experience with the juvenile and family law, I can vouch for the fact that at least half of it is with men (and women) who are adults. Yet how many men or boys do we have in jail for, say, getting girls pregnant under conditions very little different from when priests have fooled with adolescent boys? Its all statutory rape, you know.

Thats an interesting, if sad perspective on The Situation and its place in our culture that I hadn't considered.


If God is the landlord, is Jesus the super?:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Memorial of Charles Lwanga and his companions, martyrs

2 Pt 1:2-7
Ps 91:1-2, 14-15b, 15c-16
Mk 12:1-12

I'm sure that scripture scholars have spilled much ink with this parable. They probably have written and spoken at great length abou the difficult conditions of tenant farmers and the oppressive schemes of landowners in Jesus' day. Such analysis may even uncover deep layers of meaning of Jesus' words that had remained hidden for a long time.

But the questions that came to my mind when reflecting on this passage is much more simple, probably those that had been asked by many a reader over the centuries. Why didn't this man, who expended so much energy in constructing his vineyard, not tend it by himself or through his own servants? And when his first tenants abused and killed many of his servants and even his own son, why would he bring in more tenants? Wouldn't they be as untrustworthy as the previous group?

Scholars examining this parable from a historical, sociological, or economic point of view might be able to provide some answers, but how many twists and turns would they have to make in order to show the spiritual relevance of them? So lets look at this passage through the analogical eyes of faith. Even from this perspective, many things could be said about the old covenant being replaced by the new, the call of God going beyond the Jews to the Gentiles.

However, I'm not quite sure if this interpretation has a great deal of meaning for the average believer in his or her daily life. So lets probe deeper and try to find a more fundamental meaning. While I recognize that a landowner in Jesus' day would have leased his land to tenants in order to increase his own income, I see a deeper, spiritual meaning in this leasing, especially when he brings in more tenants after the first group had betrayed him and he had destroyed them. He could have had his own, more trustworthy servants care for it, and he could have thus had control over all of its harvest.

But the landowner kept calling in more outsiders to work in his vineyard. I see in this, at a fundamental level, God's loving desire to share his live with those who live outside the interior life of the Trinity. In this interior life of Father, Son, and Spirit, God is wholly fulfilled. Just as the landowner did not need to bring in tenants to care for his vineyard, so also God does not need us for himself to be complete.

Nevertheless, his desire to share this interior life with his creation was so great that he sent prophet after prophet and finally his own Son to bring ever closer to him the people that he had created in his own image in the first place. This desire was fulfilled only through the death of his Son. And that is where the story of our salvation blessedly departs from this parable. For while the landowneer in the story destoryed the tenants who killed his son, our God has forgiven us for doing the same. It is only our sinfulness that has been conquered in Jesus's death and resurrection.

In the parable, the son of the landowner does not rise again. In the story of our salvation, he does. He rises to a new and unending life. He shares with those of us who believe what Peter in the first reading promised: his "glory and power" through which we "may come to share in the divine nature."

(For a different perspective on today's Gospel, go read what Peter Nixon has to say at his blog, Sursum Corda)

Sunday, June 02, 2002

Ita missa est

These are the words that concludes the Mass as it is celebrated in Latin. It is the phrase from which comes the word 'Mass' itself. And it is a phrase that deserves some thoughtful reflection this Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

In English, these words are not so much translated as adapted. We basically hear each Sunday, "The Mass is ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." And those words are fine and can have an important meaning for us.

But I believe that something was lost in this adaptation. For if one were to translate the words "Ita missa est" literally into English, it could read, "He is sent out." (Those of you with a good knowledge of Latin may argue the niceties of this translation, but I believe that this is one possible true translation). What is it that is being 'sent out' if not the body of Christ itself. Were the words to refer to the worshippers apart from their collective connection to Christ, it would read, 'Ita missa estis." But the Latin word 'est', is a third person singular verb.

Such a translation has a great deal of meaning. It points to our collective identity as the body of Christ on earth. And it is forceful in sending us out. We are to go forth from our worship to share the life of Christ which we have taken with us with those whom we meet once we leave. Hopefully such sharing will increase the size of the body when we then return to our worship.

This is what happened when Jesus sent out his apostles in the ninth chapter of Luke. He sent them forth (the Greek word for this is the root of the word 'apostle') to proclaim his Good News in word and in deed, in their very persons (Lk 9:1-6). And when they returned, it would seem that a large crowd came soon thereafter, looking for Jesus, whereupon our Lord fed them with only five loaves and two fish (Lk 9:10-17).

Sending forth and coming back. Mission and communion. This is the rhythm of the life of the Church, the living body of Christ on earth. It is a rhythm which is fueled by that body and blood, that life of God given to us in the Blessed Sacrament. So when we go to Mass, be it today on this great feast, on another 'ordinary' Sunday (is there such a thing?), or on an average weekday, take a few moments to consider one of the most important phrases in the entire liturgy: "Ita missa est." "He is sent out." When you leave, take him with you. When you return, may the body be increased.


The Pain of the Eucharist:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Although we are now in the midst of the season of Ordinary Time, the past two Sundays have continued to celebrate the rippling after effects of Easter. We ended our paschal season with the celebration of Pentecost Sunday. Having observed with joy the coming of the Holy Spirit, we then honored God in all Three Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, on Trinity Sunday. And today faithful Catholics come together to celebrate the central way that all of us have been given a participation in the life of Trinity: through our sharing of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

(As a side note, the ripples of Easter will still continue on through next Friday and Saturday when we will celebrate respectively the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.)

In many respects, all of these feasts are occasions of joy. What great blessings have been showered upon us in Jesus's resurrection, in the descent of the Holy Spirit, in our very sharing in the life of the Trinity, and in Jesus coming to dwell in us as individuals and in the Church through his body and blood. Our knowledge and experience of these blessings should cause us to rejoice not only on these special Sundays, but whenever they come to mind.

However, it may be hard for many Catholics, at least those of us in America, to rejoice at this time. Many of us feel threatened by outsiders and betrayed by those leaders in whom we had placed our trust. It might seem difficult, then, to come together and raise our voices in praise and rejoicing.

But I believe that the pain that we feel now is as much a part of the Eucharist as rejoicing is. In fact, it is when we bring our pain, anger, sadness, and all of the other emotions evoked by this crisis, that these feelings will be redeemed in and through our Lord. He who was able to take the worst sinfulness of mankind and make the greatest good out of it through his death and resurrection, he who experience all of the wrenching emotions that can fill us, this One can surely take the painful emotions that we feel right now and give us all new life out of all of it.

Our readings today point to the pain that is involved in the Eucharist. Yes, God fed the people of Israel with manna after they had been freed from slavery. But they needed this heavenly food because they were journeying for forty years in a dry and lifeless desert. They experienced the pain of living and travelling in such a desolate place to such an extent that they looked back with nostalgia upon the days they spent in slavery in Egypt.

The cup and the bread to which Paul refers in the second reading allows us to participate in the blood and body of our Lord. They allow us to share fully in his life--in his joys and in his pains. The apostles James and John wanted to share in his triumph when they came before him and asked him to place them at his right and left when he entered into his glory. Jesus asked them, "Can you drink the cup that I drink?" (Mk 10:38), referring to the passion and death he was to endure. When drink from the cup and take into ourselves the precious blood of our Lord, we too are given a share of his pain.

And the bread that gives us a share in the body of the Lord reminds me of the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch which he wrote to the faithful in Rome. Ignatius was on his way to that city to be martyred. He commanded the believers in that city to allow this to happen, to lay aside any plans to try to keep him safe. Ignatius wanted to face the wild beats that would kill and devour him:
"Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ" (Letter to the Romans 4:1).

And surely in the Gospel, we can hear some reference to Jesus's saving passion and death when he says: "...the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." But, of course, this is not only a reference to his passion and death, but our participation in it as well when we who are his followers eat his flesh and drink his blood in the Eucharist.

So, as you can see, the pain, anger, and anxiety that many of us feel at this time is something that can bring us close to Christ through the Eucharist. He who experienced all of these emotions in his life on earth comes to us in his body and blood to give us strength in our own trials. And we will not only be given strength to endure a passing time of anxiety, but something far greater: eternal life itself: "This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."

Therefore we have nothing to fear from the anger and pain that some of us feel in the midst of our current crisis. When we come to Jesus in the Eucharist, we are given his patience and endurance. We are given his eternal life. And so the pain that we feel, the pain that is present in his body and blood, will be transformed into blessed joy and peace.


June 2, 2002: Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

For a good homily on today's Mass readings, you might scroll down to Fr. Shawn O'Neal's good word for today which I posted last Friday eveing. I hope to offer my own reflection later on today.

Saturday, June 01, 2002

Donatism, The Situation, & Archbishop Weakland's Apology

Early on in his apology, Archbishop Weakland made the following interesting statement:

The early Church was wise to declare that God can use imperfect instruments to build the Kingdom and that the effectiveness of the sacraments does not depend on the holiness of the minister. For me that thought brings some, though meager, consolation. It does not in any way diminish my need to beg forgiveness of all of you.

This strikes at the heart of an issue that I believe has been central to The Situation: the possibility of the re-emergence of a kind of Donatism. About a month ago I reflected upon this issue in two different posts: Is Donatism Rearing Its Ugly Head, Part I, and Part II.

My thoughts on Donatism and The Situation then led me to consider the meaning of a word often used during this time, 'defrock', and to other related words, 'unfrock, and 'laicize.' The posts on these words lie inbetween the two posts for which I provided links above.

I was intrigued that Archbishop Weakland brought up this issue, even if he did not specifically name the heresy. More than intrigued, though, I was gladdened that he found only "meager...consolation" in the Church's rejection of Donatism and that "It does not in any way diminish my need to beg forgiveness of all of you."

Well said, Archbishop, well said.


The humble apology of a Benedictine

Last night, Archbishop Rembert Weaklan, OSB, stood before a group of his faithful gathered in prayer. And before them he offered the humble apology of a Benedictine.

Three days ago, I questioned how a columnist of the Indianapolis Star could describe Archbishop Weakland in this way: "His life is a cathedral built on humility." I wondered how this could be accurate when Archbishop Weakland had seemingly tried to hide his own sinfulness and failed to depend upon the strength of God to protect himself and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee were that sinfulness to be revealed.

In that earlier post, I stated that a Benedictine understanding of humility (and that virtue is a centerpiece of the Benedictine life) involved a full embrace of the full truth of oneself and one's relationship with God. And I claimed that Archbishop Weakland, himself a Benedictine, had failed to live out this humility in his earlier sinfulness and in this current crisis. And where humility is lacking, I said, pride takes its place.

Well, having read and listened to Archbishop Weakland's apology, I believe now that this Benedictine has returned to the heart of his monastic vocation: a life of authentic humility. Although he never uses the word, humility pervaded his apology. I believe that it shows itself most clearly and fully when he expressed his "willingness to accept my humanity totally" and "to be fully receptive to whatever God wants to place in [my] hands."

This is the humility that I described above, one embraces the full truth of oneself and of one's relationship with God. This is the humility which I tried to make a part of myself as a Benedictine and which I still strive to live out today.

Later, Archbishop Weakland manifested this humility when he acknowledged the place of pride in his life: "...I am also aware much self-pity and pride remains. I must leave that pride behind."

In the storms and shifting sands of a crisis, many people will cling to their roots, to the things that they learned long ago and which still remain true. I think that Archbishop Weakland showed this in his apology that he has done this by returning to the Benedictine humility around which he was formed so long ago as a novice at St. Vincent Archabbey, long before he wore an abbot's or bishop's miter.