Nota Bene

Humble (oh really...?) opinions on matters of faith
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(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, December 31, 2002

A request

Please scroll down to the questions that I posed yesterday about your preferred Bible translations. Let me know what you think. Thanks.


Cindy is working from 12:00pm-7:00pm

So I'll be on baby patrol much of the afternoon and evening.


NY bishops sue the state (NY Times-LRR)

This is a suit to attempt to create an exemption for the Church in the new law passed recently by the NY legislature which obligates any employer which offers health insurance to its employess to cover contraceptives.

There was an exemption written into the law for those religious organizations that have a primarily religious aim (how that is defined I do not know), employ primarily those who are of that faith, and primarily serve those of that same faith. The Catholic Church in New York, with its large hospital, educational, and social service organizations, does not fall within this category.

The bishops are being supported in the suit by various Protestant denominations.

The law was passed and signed by Governor Pataki last June. It takes effect tomorrow. But the suit was only filed yesterday. That seems a little late to me. Any of you lawyer types out there who could give an explanation for the timing of the filing?


The More Things Change...:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

1 Jn 2:18-21
Ps 96:1-2, 11-12, 13
Jn 1:1-18

So many believers nowadays seem to be anxious and angry. They are angry at the people who so often seem to reject Christ and his Gospel. And they are anxious that such peopel are actually putting the faith in real danger. When we get caught up in such feelings it is easy for us to think that the threats we face are new and unique, stronger than any that we have faced throughout the history of the Church.

And yet today's first reading shows us that there have been present from the beginning those who have directly opposed the Gospel. St. John tells us of the appearance of many antichrists coming, no less, from within the body of believers itself. This sounds very much like what we often experience today.

But look at what St. John writes. There does not seem to be present any emotions of anxiety or anger. He writes confidently that the knowledge of the truth resides in those who truly believe. They (and we) need not be anxious about the faith while living in a skeptical and doubt-filled age. They (and we) need not be angry at those who have left our company and who sometimes now disparage Christ himself and his body the Church.

St. John is confident, and we should be too, because he knew that the light of Christ will never be overcome by the darkness, even if that darkness seemsto close in around us.

Anger and anxiety will not give us strength. They will not draw back those who have left our fellowship in the Church. No, our confidence in the strength of the lgiht of Christ proclaimed in today's Gospel will do this. So will that perfect love of Christ which John wrote of elsewhere in his letter, that perfect love which casts out fear.

It may seem difficult to show forth such confidence and love in times like these, but this is exactly what Jesus calls us, his Church, to do. But do know this: he not only calls us to show this confidence and love, he also offers it to us each and everyday through his grace. All we need to do is to persevere in asking him for it in prayer.

Monday, December 30, 2002

Unleash the power of the blog!

Ok, ok, I stole that phrase from Mark Shea. But he shouldn't have a corner on the market of the power of the blog, should he?

Anyway, here are some questions to which I would like to read your answers.

Do you use one Bible translation for spiritual reading and another for study? If so, please identify the translations and the uses connected with them.

If you do not use separate translations for different purposes, please tell me which translation you use and if you have any particular reason for using it.

What's the background behind these queries? My wife gave me a copy of the New Jerusalem Bible for Christmas. I thought that I would like to use it for spiritual reading, if not for study. However, I'm finding that I don't like it all that well. So I'll probably be exchanging it here soon, like I would exchange a shirt that doesn't fit.

Anyway, I'd appreciate your feedback on those questions.


Here's an interesting story on Claude Vorilhon and the Raelian cult that he leads

(thanks to Relapsed Catholic for the link)

At a news conference in Florida yesterday, Mr. Vorilhon's associates -- who refer to their leader as Rael -- announced that his religious sect had finally produced the world's first human clone.

To the millions of people who have never heard of the Raelian religion, the announcement sparked obvious skepticism, which only grew when the group refused to produce either the new baby girl or her mother.

But for the Raelians and their leader, public suspicion is all but irrelevant. As far as they are concerned, they have achieved what the group considers to be the ultimate human destiny, a fate first revealed to Rael on that winter day 29 years ago.

That morning, Mr. Vorilhon claims he was whisked away in an alien spaceship and taken to a hollow in France's volcanic Clermont-Ferrand mountains. It was there, after mingling with a few dozen of history's most renowned holy figures -- and a handful of voluptuous robots -- that Mr. Vorilhon's alien abductors told him the true meaning of life.

They explained to Rael that all human beings were created in alien test tubes and he, like the other prophets among him -- all of whom happened to speak perfect French -- was a supreme type of clone.

In other words, they said, God is not some overriding force but a group of scientists with a significant head start on the current crop of humans.

After the meeting, Mr. Vorilhon dedicated his life to catching up...

In one of the group's more high-profile stunts, members once handed condoms to students outside some of Montreal's Catholic schools, reminding them that they are free to leave the Church simply by signing a special apostasy form...

"I heard the Pope on the radio," Rael told Saturday Night magazine on Christmas Day two years ago. "He said he was against cloning and I thought, 'OK, he's against it, so we'll start a company to do human cloning.' Because everything he is against we are for. Everything. Contraception. Homosexuality. Divorce. All the values we espouse, he opposes."...

Well, at least he's up front about his opinions about the Catholic Church.

What I still can't figure out is how a guy like this, with his background, could be invited to speak before a Congressional committee. Oh, wait a minute, we are talking about politics aren't we?


Here is the latest on the missionary killings in Yemen from Baptist Press News

Hospital administrator William E. Koehn, business manager Kathleen A. Gariety, and nurse Martha C. Myers were killed and pharmacist Donald W. Caswell was injured in the early morning attack.

While initial reports from the scene are sketchy, the Americans were involved in a meeting at the beginning of the work day at the hospital. A single gunman burst into the room and opened fire...

Koehn, 60, of Arlington, Texas, had planned to retire in October 2003 after 28 years of service. Gariety, 53, was from Wauwatosa, Wisc. Myers, 57, was from Montgomery, Ala. Caswell, 49, is from Levelland, Texas. All four served at the hospital as representatives of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

"We are devastated by this news," said IMB spokesman Larry Cox. "We are moving quickly to minister to family members located in Yemen, as well as in the United States."...

The Southern Baptist International Mission Board has operated Jibla Baptist Hospital, located about 120 miles south of Yemen's capital, Sanaa, for 35 years. More than 40,000 patients a year are treated at the facility, which is on property owned by the Yemeni government. The hospital provides free care and medicine to those who cannot afford it. It also has responded to relief needs during earthquakes and famine...


Pope John Paul's homily from Midnight Mass

I know its a little bit late, but, hey, we're still in the octave of Christmas.


"Dum medium silentium teneret omnia"... -- "While earth was rapt in silence and night only half through its course, your almighty Word, O Lord, came down from his royal throne" (Antiphon to the Magnificat, 26 December).

On this Holy Night the ancient promise is fulfilled: the time of waiting has ended and the Virgin gives birth to the Messiah.

Jesus is born for a humanity searching for freedom and peace; he is born for everyone burdened by sin, in need of salvation, and yearning for hope.

On this night God answers the ceaseless cry of the peoples: Come, Lord, save us! His eternal Word of love has taken on our mortal flesh. "Your Word, O Lord, came down from his royal throne". The Word has entered into time: Emmanuel, God-with-us, is born.

In cathedrals and great basilicas, as well as in the smallest and remotest churches throughout the world, Christians joyfully lift up their song: "Today is born our Saviour" (Responsorial Psalm)...


For all of you Fr. Shawn O'Neal fans out there...

...please know that he will not be posting a homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

And groan went forth from the crowd...


Some reactions from the possible recipients of Jack Whittaker's generosity (NY Times--LRR)

TORRANCE, Calif., Dec. 29 — Speaking to the small congregation at Abundant Life Church of God here today, Pastor Gerald S. Abreu had a confession to make about a friend and former parishioner, Andrew J. Whittaker Jr.

"I didn't teach him not to gamble," Mr. Abreu said.

Perhaps that was just as well.

On Thursday, Mr. Whittaker was revealed as a $314.9 million Christmas Powerball winner, and promptly announced that he was going to donate 10 percent of his winnings to various churches.

Gambling is forbidden in the Church of God. Still, Mr. Abreu said today, "If God wants to take the devil's money and give it to us, that's fine."

I'll be interested to see if any gambling critic among Christians here in the United States will claim that they wouldn't have taken the donation or to see what justification they would give for accepting it, despite their rejection of gambling.


Three missionaries killed in a Baptist hospital in Yemen

Such actions are, of course, deplorable and sad beyond description. They are also actions for which any missionary in that part of the world should be prepared. Dying to self is a fundamental part of any work of proclaiming the Gospel. The degree of the intensity of the sacrifices that this involves can vary according to the context in which one is doing this ministry. Obviously, in this case, the sacrifice involved was extreme.

But considering the presence of Moselm extremists in Yemen and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole there and on the French oil tanker, Christian missionaries working in establishment such as that Baptist hospital there should consider real martyrdom a real possibility. I suspect that those working there knew the dangers that they faced when they volunteered to work there.

But this leads me to bring up questions that I have raised before regarding the calling of married Christian missionaries, no matter the denomination. Were the missionaries killed today married? Did they have children or grandchildren? I must say that I have not been able to discover this yet. However, I think that it is reasonable to assume that they were.

Are people who are married and have children called to missionary work that take them away from their spouses and children for months (or longer) at a time to a place that truly puts their lives in danger? Are they called to take their spouses and children with them and so put these who are in their charge also in danger?

Each and every baptized Christian is called to proclaim the Gospel. I do not dispute that. What I do question is the sometimes narrow way that some Christians define this missionary work. With a sacramental understanding of Christian marriage, I recognize that my life as a husband and a father, lived deliberately in this sacramental framework, is real missionary work. It is a real proclamation of the Gospel.

But being a husband and a father does not preclude me from working in some sort of work of evangelization in the way that it is commonly understood. However, I do believe that it prevents me from placing myself in situations where my life is clearly in grave danger. Being a husband and a father is my first calling. It is the primary way that I am called to proclaim the Gospel. And I believe that this needs to be recognized and acted upon by more and more Christians.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Feast of the Holy Family

Gn 15:1-6; 21:1-3 or Sir 3:2-6, 12-14
Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9 or Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
Heb 11:8, 11-12, 17-19 or Col 3:12-21or Col 3:12-17
Lk 2:22-40 or Lk 2:22, 39-40

As I believe you might have heard me say before now, I try to not to use this time as a time of personal reminiscence, but three years ago on this feast day, I preached about this Gospel reading while I was a deacon. I preached at my home church in Charlotte. Unfortunately for me, it was also the first time ever that a pastor asked for a copy of my homily text so that both he and Bishop Curlin could review it as a result of a complaint. I never met the person who complained about what I said. I received no further comment from either the pastor or the bishop, but I learned a valuable lesson: people sometimes take things the wrong way for no apparent reason.

So you know what made such a fuss, I will preach words similar to what I preached three years ago.

Between early June 1998 and late April 1999, I served a year of internship at the Basilica of St. Lawrence in downtown Asheville. Those people familiar with its location know that the closest residential buildings to the church are the former Vanderbilt Hotel and the Battery Park Apartments. Both buildings have served for a few decades as residences for senior citizens. A few of the seniors who live there come to the basilica each day either for Mass or simply to pray. There were a few residents who were incredibly faithful in their attendance. If they did not come to the church, then I would wonder if they were not feeling well. I had a deep respect for their dedication, but sometimes I could not help but wonder of these people were being passed off by a few folks as being “church nuts” – as if spending much time in church is a sign of antisocial behavior.

Two frequent visitors come to mind most of all. One of them suffered from gradual hearing loss to the point that she was completely deaf by the time that my assignment ended. Yet when she prayed, she looked like one of the best listeners that God ever made. The other frequent visitor was someone who suffered a series of nervous breakdowns. She knew that she was eccentric, but after a person became familiar with her, they would discover both how harmless she was and how helpful she could be. She would attend both every wedding and every funeral that was held within the basilica. She liked to help clean the church both before and after a ceremony took place.

I mention these two women because they might have something in common with Anna, the woman described within today’s Gospel reading. I hope that nobody simply wrote her off as a “temple nut”. Her presence in the temple kept her alive. Her prayers could have been the catalyst for someone else becoming alive in the Spirit. Her joy upon seeing the child Jesus is a joy that we should always imitate. We know very little about her except that she was faithful and that she was joyful upon being in the presence of Jesus. She shared her joy with everyone she encountered. Those descriptions should describe us.

Our families seem to share few similarities with the Holy Family, but this family whom we honor is the family whom we should always imitate. The parents will always be the foremost examples of faith and trust. The Son will always by the proof of divine compassion – loving us no matter the circumstance and calling us in turn to love always. Also, this family calls us to expand our understanding of family to include all people. All of us been made in the image and likeness of the same Father; we must treat others as if they are family – because they are family. We must treat others with complete charity, even if they misunderstand what we are attempting to say to them.

If the person who complained about my homily three years ago is here, then I ask the person to come see me after Mass and tell me if the homily makes greater sense now. I hope that a post-Mass discussion can persuade anyone who has concluded that I have insulted an elderly disciple that such an act was never my intent. I do not want to disturb either a brother or a sister in that manner. I hope that none of us either disturbs or insults any brother or sister in any manner. Through the intercession of the Holy Family, I hope that all of us seek to love all people as family and bring them and ourselves closer to the Lord at all times.

Friday, December 27, 2002

Powerball, tithing, and stances on gambling

Andrew Jackson Whittaker, Jr. has won the single largest lottery payout in history. He'll be taking home well over 100 million dollars. But 10% of that will be going to three churches affiliated with the Church of God. I'm not sure which particular Church of God that is. There are lots of different flavors of them.

But his decision to make an offering of $17 million dollars got me thinking a little bit. There are several evangelical denominations out there (and I would, in general, include the Church of God among them) that seem, in principle, to be opposed to all forms of gambling. Would such a stance lead a church to refuse a donation, even one as large as the one that Whittaker is offering?

I realize that St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians said that the eating of meat sacrificed to idols was allowable. The same principle that St. Paul laid out in that situation could apply in this case. However, the apostle also seemed to make a prudential judgment by saying that one should refrain from eating such meat if it would give scandal to those who are young in the faith.

I suspect that the congregations will accept Whittaker's donation. And, frankly, I think that this is a good choice. Much good can be done with it. At any rate, I, as a Catholic, am not opposed, in principle, to gambling, although considering the way that it has proliferated in the United States over the past decade or so, I do think that there are good arguments to avoid it in many cases.

I am just curious to see how some evangelical commentators will react to this situation over the coming days. How would you assess this moral question?


The holidays and the loss of friends and relatives

It seems to be not uncommon for people to have friends or relatives pass away at this time of year. I am no different. Thirteen years ago today my grandfather Victor passed away. He had lived with the effects of a significant stroke for sixteen years. One of those effects was to make him a much more outwardly devout man. In fact, he died in his bed with a rosary in his hand, a rosary that I had bought for him in Rome just a year and a half earlier.

For a while his death had a direct impact upon the way that I experienced Christmas. And although that effect has now passed, my love and affection for my grandfather has not. I still love him dearly and the impact that his love of his Catholic faith has had on me.

Today Cindy and I will be experiencing another loss, if one that is not nearly as significant as the passing of a grandfather. Today Cindy and I will take our dog, Britain, a golden retriever, to be put to sleep. For close to two years now her kidneys have been slowly failing. Over the past month or so she has noticably declined in health. And that decline has increased rapidly over the past ten days or so. In fact, she hasn't eaten any of her dog food for about a week.

And so we have made the difficult decision to end her life, to end her needless suffering. The loss will have more of an impact upon Cindy than myself. Britain was her only companion in this house before I re-entered her life.

Hopefully our happy memories of her will ease our pain. Just last night we both sat on the floor by Britain. As I was stroking her leg and telling her how good of a dog that she had been, she reach out her paw and touched my arm, as if saying, "Thank you. It will be alright."

This morning when I awoke I sat for a while in our family room. I looked at a framed picture of Cindy, Britan, and myself. It had been taken here in this house by the person who was, at the time, taking our engagement picture. The photographer had extra film and though that it would be nice to have Britain in a couple of pictures. Britain sat next to Cindy who was herself seated on the floor. Just before the photographer took the picture, Britain planted a big kiss on Cindy's cheek. The picture captured that moment, one of joy-filled fun for all of us.

Hopefully it will be these memories which will ease my own pain and Cindy's as well. But they will not eliminate it. Even though Britain is only a dog, without a human soul, she still has revealed to us a small part of God's glory. And so part of that glory will be gone when she is put to sleep. Losing such glory is a difficult and painful thing. There is no avoiding this. In fact, it is good that we feel pain at a moment like this. It shows that we valued and loved Britain for who she was, a gift to us from God.

Of course we need not pray for Britain after she has died as we might for a deceased relative or friend. But please do say a prayer for Cindy and myself as we mourn our loss. Pray that God may give to us another sign of his glory after the glory that is in Britain has passed from our midst.


The latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections"

The following will appear in the Saturday, December 28 edition of The Shelbyville News. I would appreciate any comments that you have to offer on it.

“Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!”

So often we hear these wishes expressed for us at this time of year in greeting cards, in conversations with distant relatives and close friends, even from people we do not know. We ourselves might say the same to those same people, to the checkout person at the grocery, and maybe to a person who might simply open a door for us.

These two sentiments have been connected together, by and large, because of the closeness of the dates of the two events. They stand only a week apart. Their close proximity to each other often has a wide-ranging impact upon our schedules. We might organize vacations around them. Schools are not in session during that time. Some businesses do very little work during that time. Others (particularly retail stores) can be extremely busy.

But have we ever paused to consider the spiritual significance of the closeness on the calendar of Christmas and New Years? Sometimes this might be a little bit difficult. After all, in the secular part of our society, the Christmas season begins sometime in November and closes with a bang on the feast itself. For over a month we are bombarded with one commercial after another about Christmas. And then, on December 26, they all disappear.

The situation is different in our churches. In the Catholic Church, at least, the celebration of Christmas does not begin until December 25. And it is not restricted to that day alone but is an entire season, ending only on the third Sunday after Christmas.

This spiritual calendar of Christmas, then, includes the secular observance of the beginning of the New Year. And although Christmas is, at its base, a spiritual holiday, and New Years is a secular one, there can still be spiritual truths drawn from the closeness of the two on the calendar.

The event that we celebrate on December 25 is the birth of our Savior from the womb of the Virgin Mary. In the course of the history of our salvation, that birth in Bethlehem marked the beginning of the redemption of the human race that had fallen into slavery to sin through the choice of Adam and Eve.

The birth of Jesus Christ marked a new beginning for every one alive at that time and to be born ever after, including each one of us. Because the eternal Son of the Father chose to take on our human flesh, he offered us a share in his divine life. When we believe in him and are baptized, we are given a new beginning. The doors of heaven once closed to us are now flung open.

In a similar way, so many of us, whether Christian or not, see the secular turning of the calendar from one year to the next as a time of new beginnings. People make resolutions to make a positive change in their lives. They want the New Year to be free of an evil of the past or to have something good added that wasn’t there before.

We who are Christian can discern something much deeper in this new beginning. It isn’t restricted to the dates on a calendar. No, for us it has no bounds at all. It opens us to all eternity. Indeed, from a Christian perspective, the celebration of the birth of the Savior marks a new year for all of humanity. It is the year of the Lord’s favor.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Homily for the Christmas Mass during the Day

Is 52:7-10
Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6
Heb 1:1-6
Jn 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9-14

Those of us who prefer to come to this Mass know to expect a different style of worship than one would have seen and heard last night. The music is not as ornate. The fanfare is not as bold. This particular liturgy has a considerably different tone about it whether it is celebrated here at Sacred Heart Church or at another church. If the Midnight Mass is like a grand feast, then this Mass is the bowl of hot oatmeal with more butter and more brown sugar on it than is normally added. This Mass is often preferred by the tried and true believers and daily disciples rather than by the people who seek the big show.

Even the Gospel reading has a different tone to it than the readings from the other Christmas Masses. As beautiful as the Gospel passages from John are to hear, they speak not only of joy but also of contradiction. It speaks about people who do not accept God; it says that his own people rejected him. How can we talk on this day about people not accepting Jesus? Look at the Baby Jesus in the manger. Who here wants to say “no” to him? Who here would not accept him? Yet he was not always accepted. Even Jesus said at the beginning of his preaching that a prophet was to be rejected in his hometown. Jesus said many times that anyone who was not with him was against him. Even his closest believers and his most tried and true disciples have been tempted, if not led, through sin to reject both him and his invitation to eternal life.

Yet the true believer recalls that Jesus’ love is more powerful than our offenses against it. Jesus wants us to be his brothers and sisters; he wants us to be children of God; therefore, he gives us grace constantly so that we can be protected from turning away from him. If we turn away from him, then Jesus offers through his grace the ability to be one with him again. What makes this Gospel reading different from other Christmas Masses is that it speaks not only of a moment when salvation entered this world as flesh, but it speaks of the glorious birth that Jesus wants all of us to share: birth into new life with him.

We know that almost-angelic choirs sang with great joy this past night. We are thankful for it. We might not have joined in their celebration, but we are thankful that we have the opportunity to come to celebrate Our Lord with our finest voices and also thank him for not giving up on humanity. Our presentation of thanks and praise might not be as bold as can be found at Midnight Mass, but it is neither less authentic nor less sincere. It comes from our hearts. Our praise is an act of true love inspired by the God who had shared his love with us by giving us such a wonderful Savior.


Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Homily for the Christmas Mass at Dawn

Is 62:11-12
Ps 97:1, 6, 11-12
Titus 3:4-7
Lk 2:15-20

All of us have set up a few Nativity sets within the past few weeks. We have walked by these sets many times. I am confident that almost everyone here has not walked past a Nativity set without thanking God for what He has done for us, but we have most probably thanked on our feet.

Now the moment has come for us to do what the Mother of God – Our Mother – did when she placed her child in the manger. She reflected on all the things that had happened, all the things that were being said at that moment, and all the things that could happen in the future. On the day that she gave birth to Jesus, she knew neither the meaning of everything nor the progression of his life, but even then, she sought God’s help and wisdom so that she would always accept and perhaps understand God’s plans with greater depth. She could have celebrated as well as someone could celebrate after having a baby, but she chose to reflect and consider the greatness of this particular day that the Lord had made.

Nativity sets come in numerous shapes, sizes, and colors. Some sets are made with the finest gold and some are made with crude materials. Some sets are life-sized figures of humans and, sad to say, some have the humans replaced with animals such as bears (Believe me, you can order one of these sets online.) but no matter the simplicity or the complexity of the set, the figures keep the same poses. Mary reflects upon the birth of her son. She invites all others present to do as she does. God wants us to follow her example. Many days have passed since that glorious day, but God mysteriously helps us bridge the gaps of miles and years so that we may look upon the Lord – resting in a manger.

Have a very reflective Christmas. May you always reflect the Light of Christ so that all people may be guided by it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

And finally, a Christmas prayer for all of you

Heavenly Father,
the Church of your Son gathers once again on
this Christmas night to celebrate his blessed birth,
that moment in time when the Timeless One took on human flesh.

Pour your grace upon us this night so that His life,
which each of us received at our baptism, may be born anew in us.

May the Holy Spirit, which overshadowed the Blessed Virgin at your Son's
conception, empower us to proclaim to all humanity,
through loving words and heartfelt deeds, the Good News of his birth and
the beginning of that Kingdom

where he lives and reigns with you and that same Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

May all of you and your families be blessed by our heavenly Father on this Christmas, the celebration of his Son's birth.


Christian, remember your dignity!: A Christmas sermon by Pope St. Leo the Great

The follwoing is read in the Office of Readings for Christmas. I have a happy memory of proclaiming it as a novice at St. Meinrad Archabbey during Vigils. The community prays this office at about 8:00 or 9:00 on Christmas Eve. The church was full that evening with visitors coming from as far away as Evansville and Louisville to celebrate Midnight Mass with the monks.

My memory tells me that the church was dark but had candles lit all around it. (Perhaps my memory embellishes what actually happened...) At any rate, for a novice still very much in love the monastic life, being asked to proclaim this wonderful reading out of a large and beautifully decorated ceremonial book was a great privelege.

Although a monk no longer, I have still have a love for the monastic life. I love it for giving me a deep appreciation for readings like this which help me deepen my faith in Christ which is reborn each year at this time.


Dearly beloved, today our Saviour is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind.

And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to men of good will as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.

Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom.

Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.


The Proclamation of Christmas

The following is actually known as the martyrology of Christmas. In religious communities it has often been the custom in the evening to announce the next day's feast. Sometimes this happens during Vespers, duirng the community's evening meal, or during a community meeting.

Ordinarily there is little fanfare to such an announcement. There is the naming of the saint of the day and a little bit of historical information about him or her. With Christmas, of course, there is much more emphasis placed on this fairly routine event.

The following is chanted by the choirmaster at Saint Meinrad Archabbey during Vespers on Christmas Eve. As you can see, placing the birth of Christ in historical context is very important.

In connecting what is recorded in the Old Testament with the coming of Christ we often use the phrase, "salvation history." But this is no mere theological term. Our heavenly Father did indeed use the course of our human history to redeem us. He worked and continues to work in the histories of our ancestors and ourselves in order to reconcile us and all humanity, indeed, all creation, to himself.

The axis of all of this work was the taking on of human flesh by his eternal Son. And it is his blessed birth which we begin to celebrate once again this night. Prayerfully read over this proclamation and consider how the history of all peoples revolves around this one event. But consider, too, how your own history is also bound up with this humble birth, 2000 years ago in a place so very far away from most of us.

When we come to see the importance of Christ's birth in each of our lives, we cannot but help but begin to share the Good News of his nativity with so many in our world who so desparately need to hear it.


Some millions of years having passed since the creation of the world, when, in the beginning God created the heaven and earth.

Some thousands of years from the salvation of man when the family of Noah survived the flood; about nineteen centuries after the promise was made to Abraham, the father of our faith; many ages after Moses brought the people from bondage in Egypt; a thousand years from the anointing of David as King over the cosen people; in fulfillment of the times, years, months, and days discerned by the vision of the prophets.

In the course of secular history: in the one hundred and ninety-third Olympiad; seven and one half centuries from the founding of the city of Rome; in the twentieth year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus, while the whole world enjoyed a span of peace; in the sixth and final age of human achievement...

Wishin to consecrate the whole world and all time by his blessed presence, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, conceived as man by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, after nine months of growth in the womb of his mother, was born of the Virgin Mary and for our salvation became man in Bethlehem of Judah.

Now in our own times this marks the birthday of Our Lord Jesus Christ after the manner of all flesh.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Scriptural references in "O Emmanuel"

The scriptural references that I provide are few in number but ones that should be quite familiar to us. This does not mean that we have explored all of the depth of their meaning. So go ahead and meditate and pray upon them and the antiphon. There are riches there yet to be found:

§ Is 7:10-14, 33:22
§ Mt 1:18


Two interesting notes about the O Antiphons

This last of the O Antiphons should make those of us who do not already know suspect that it is this group of antiphons that serves as the basis for the beloved Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." I emphasize "last" because, oddly enough, it serves as the first verse of the hymn.

There is also an interesting Latin acrostic created when one takes the first letter of the title given to the coming Lord in each of the antiphons and puts them in reverse order. Here is the way that it plays out:

Rex (king)
Oriens (rising sun)

Clavis (key)
Radix (root)
Sapientia (wisdom)

The Latin sentence "Ero cras" translated into English means, "I will be there tomorrow." Now in light of this acrostic some of you may wonder, "Why don't the antiphons end on December 24?" But remember, these antiphons are chanted at evening prayer which is considered the beginning of the liturgical day. So when we pray O Emmanuel on the evening of December 23, we are liturgically doing it on December 24.


A Reflection upon "O Emmanuel", the seventh and last of the O Antiphons

"O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expectation of all nations and their Savior: Come to save us, O Lord our God."

Emmanuel. King. Lawgiver. Expectation. Savior. Lord. God. This last O Antiphon is mainly made up of one-word descriptions of hte One whose birth we will celebrate tomorrow evening. Even the plea that this antiphon expresses is terse in comparison with the others: "Come to save us."

It seems that a focused, yearning desire underlies this last antiphon. There are no thoughtful reflections on the work of the Lord, no detailed explanation of those who call upon him to appear. There are only several strong titles and a desperate prayer.

It shows well, I believe, how the Christians of the early Middle Ages who formulated this antiphon sought to know and make as their own the yearning of the people of Israel for their Savior as expressed in the prophets.

But the real question is, does this antiphon reflect our yearning for our Savior? Do we, living in the 21st century, yearn for the coming of the Savior as the faithful did 1300 years ago and as the people of Israel did before them? If we do, how is it expressed? If we do not, why?

These are questions that confront us in this antiphon as we reach the end of this Advent season. These are questions that reveal the challenging side of Advent. But, thanks be to God, this antiphon also shows us the joy of the season, the reason for all of the yearning that it call us to.

In observing this season and praying this antiphon at its end, we can joyfully acknowledge that the God whose arrival we await is one who will be truly "with us." His coming will fulfill the desire and expectation of all nations. He will protect us and provide for us like a king and establish a lawful order out of our chaotic lives. In short, Jesus will save us. He will be our Lord and God.

All of the titles and expectations expressed in this antiphon are found first in Sacred Scripture, the Word of God. In an attempt to make these desires our own as the faithful did so long ago we can give ourselves to much study and meditation. Ultimately, however, we will only experience in ourselves the yearning for the Savior expressed in this antiphon if God first gives us this grace and we then respond to it.

So as this Advent comes to a close, this season where we seem to work so feverishly to fulfill the desires of others, it would be good for all of us to quiet ourselves, pray to God, and let him bring about in us the greatest desire of all, the desire that only his Son can fulfill: the yearning for the coming of the Savior.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Scriptural references in found in "O King of the Nations"

Not surprisingly, there are many scriptural references in this antiphon. It is not surprising because the image of the king is a very biblical one, not one restricted to European culture. Indeed there have been kings rule over nations in nearly all ages and places. Yet, as I noted, this is a rather challenging image for us. Many states this day have been created in direct opposition to a monarchy.

Therefore I would think that there would be much food for thought and prayer in today's antiphon and its scriptural references:

§ Gen 2:7
§ Ps 2:7-8, 118:22-26
§ Is 7:10-16, 9:1-6, 28:16
§ Mt 21:42, Mk 12:10-11, Lk 10:17
(the parable of the vineyard)
§ Acts 4:11
§ 1 Pt 2:4-8


A Reflection upon "O King of the Nations", the 6th of the O Antiphons

O King of the Nations, whom they have long awaited, the cornerstone, who makes both sides one: come and save mankind, whom you fashioned out of clay.

About a month ago I answered a question in my "Catholic Reasons for Hope" column in which a parishioner asked about the origin of the Feast of Christ the King. When I posted my answer on my blog one reader expressed a concern that the Church was experiencing "ecclesiastical chaos" because it now saw Christ more as a "presider" or "president" and was "constantly at pains to repudiate...European monarchical triumphalism."

If we were to understand Christ as King of the Nations only in light of the many poor examples given us by European royal houses down through the ages, then it would be a model that the Church should indeed repudiate.

But instead of the Church looking to secular rulers for its vision of Christ's spiritual kingship, it should have been the other way around. Any monarch would have done very well for himself to look to the image of Christ recorded in the Gospels and preserved by the Church for the model of their respective reigns.

On the surface, though, such a choice for a model of kingship would have looked risky if not foolish from the start. Why? Because the image of Christ presented to us in today's O Antiphon shows a king working for the good of all people, not just those for whom it would be politically expedient to serve. Indeed, we see him as the cornerstone, holding the entire building together, a building made out of living stones. We se him making both sides one, not favoring one side over the other. And we call upon him to save all mankind, not just a chosen few.

All of us who live in the 21st century would praise such goals. But we hesitate in giving th title of king to the person who would accomplish them. After all we live in a world where monarchs are, at best, a vestige of a bygone era. And yet what is an appropriate other than king for one who is the beginning and the end of the world's peace, who is the source of all of our good, who upholds and protects us at all times. With such high qualities for a king, perhaps it is good that we humans avoid the title.

But, in the end, we also don't like the title of king because we don't like contradictions and paradoxes. Christ is at one and the same time the king of the nations and the one who was silent before Pontius Pilate. He rules over the universe and yet, as a child, was dependent upon Mary and Joseph for everything.

If the image of Christ is itself filled with contradictons, then this should only help us to accept the contradictions in our own lives. A celibate priest is to bear fruit in the life of his ministry. A monk is a man of his community yet he is still what his title implies: a "monachos" (one who is alone). A husband and wife are an example where our Heavenly King has made both sides one, yet each remain unique individuals.

Ultimately the contradictions present in the One whose birth we will celebrate in a few days points us to the paradox of the very object of our worship: the Blessed Trinity. There we are confronted by the seemingly theologically chaotic image of three persons in one God.

So to the kind reader who seemed to bewail the presence of ecclesiastical chaos manifested in our seemingly contradictory images of Christ, I simply offer this: the tension you feel in the face of a paradox in a good thing is a good thing, for it should remind you that you were created in the image and likeness of our Father, redeemed by his Son, and brought closer to him day by day by the grace given to you by the Spirit. For in the eye of God there are no contradictions, no paradoxes. He is all in all. He rules as king over everything that ever was, is, or will be.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Demythologizing Kwanzaa, Rediscovering Christianity

Maybe there wasn't much myth there from the start. Here is an interesting article, written by blogger Kathy Shaidle, about the seven-day festival centered around African traditions and principles and its still living founder, Ron Karenga.

She gives details about Karenga's involvement with intra-racial violence on the UCLA campus in the late 1960s (a group he led is claimed to have attacked the Black Panthers on the campus) and his later felony conviction and four years in prison. Here are some interesting notes about the holiday in particular:

...The festival's seven days commemorate allegedly "traditional African" principles, such as "collective work" and "co-operative economics," each referred to by a Swahili name. "Why did Karenga use Swahili words for his fictional African feast?" asks Mr. Mulshine. "American Blacks are primarily descended from people who came from Ghana and other parts of West Africa. Kenya and Tanzania--where Swahili is spoken--are thousands of miles away. This makes about as much sense as having Irish-Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day by speaking Polish." And why would Karenga schedule a harvest festival near the solstice, "a season when few fruits or vegetables are harvested anywhere?"

This month, the religious satire magazine The Door likewise questioned Kwanzaa's authenticity. "Karenga cobbled together a mishmash of different traditions and languages and blended them with Marxist ideas to reflect a unified African culture that doesn't exist anywhere," the magazine reported. "Ujima, or 'collective work,' one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa, is the term used by the socialist leader of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, for his disastrous policy of placing tens of thousands of Tanzanians on collective farms."

"People think it's African, but it's not," admitted Karenga in a 1978 Washington Post interview. "I put it around Christmas because I knew that's when a lot of 'bloods' [Blacks] would be partying."

Why, you may ask, am I writing about the seeming underside of this youngish cultural holiday? Why am I writing about it in the midst of my reflections on the O Antiphons?

Because the connection between the two seems to be evidence in support of a belief I've held for a while. It goes something like this. Many people my age (I'm 32), a little bit older, and younger, seem to think that Christianity is tired out, that we've gotten all that we can out of it and that it is now only used to maintain the status quo.

With such a conclusion as a starting point, it is easy for those of us born and raised as Christians of various sorts in America or other Western countries to want to seek after spiritual vitality in a Buddhist monastery, in a mosque, or in a traditional African village. What I'm talking about here is much broader than Kwanzaa. But the creation of this holiday seems to be an example of this tendency.

Christianity isn't just the religion forced upon Africans by their slavemasters. It was present in Africa long before there ever was a medieval or modern Europe. And I'm not talking about just those Africans along the coast of the Mediterranean. The Church in Ethiopia is very ancient indeed.

But even if I were only talking about those on the Mediterranean coast, I would have a point. Africa is a continent with many diverse cultures. It would seem difficult, then, to create a holiday like Kwanzaa and say that it represents the principles of African communities and reflect the rituals in African first-fruit festivals in general. But perhaps I have misunderstood the holiday and its origins. If I have, then this article from Microsoft's Encarta (the link provided by Shaidle) would seem to have also misunderstood it.

What I believe needs to happen is for many people to re-examine their initial conclusion that Christianity is tired out, that it has nothing left to offer. Look at these O Antiphons. They are over 1200 years old and continue to be chanted and prayed now in very much the same way as they would have been that long ago. And yet I think that any ordinary believer can find deeply spiritual and deeply relevant truths in all of them. My little reflections on them point to this. Could this be just a little bit of evidence that Christianity might not be as tired out as many think it to be?

In the end, however, this trend isn't really that new at all. There have been men and women in every generation since Christ was born, lived, died, and rose again, who felt that faith in him was rather two-dimensional.

I think of Thomas Merton, sitting in an apartment in New York City in the mid-1930s talking with a Hindu guru, eager to hear from him what great spiritual work he should read to be enlightened. The guru didn't point him in the direction of the Uppanishads or the Vedas, but, instead, to St. Augustine's Confessions...


Scriptural references found in "O Rising Sun"

The following are only a few of the passages in scripture where the Lord and his mighty works are likened to the light of day:

§ Ps 19:6-7
§ Is 9:1-6, 60:1-2
§ Mal 3:20
§ Lk 1:78

God created everything that we can see: the world on which we live, indeed, the entire universe. And so if St. Paul was correct when he said that "all was created through him [Christ], all was created for him", then we should be able to catch glimpses of the Word made flesh in the creation that surrounds us. We are able to do this through the mind and soul given to us by our Heavenly Father, that mind and soul which were redeemed by his Son and in which we were created in his image and likeness.

Reflect upon these passages and upon the antiphon and then consider how God comes rushing to you in the world in which you live.


The ambiguity of today's antiphon: a postscript to the previous reflection

Much of the focus of my reflection on today's O Antiphon was on this being the shortest day of the year. I am sure that this was in the mind of those among the faithful, living some 1300 or more years ago, that were responsible for assigning this antiphon to this day.

But all of this presumes that we are living in the northern hemisphere. For those who live south of the equator this is the longest day of the year. In addition, for those who live close to the equator, the length of the days throughout the year do not change in any significant way. I would be interested to learn how the faithful say, in Australia or South America theologically reflect on the dating of Christmas. It must be a bit different than those of us in the north. Perhaps if Christianity first evolved in the south our date of Christmas might be in late June. Perhaps...

That does not make December 25 any less significant for us. Indeed it is also a reminder to us that we profess an incarnational faith. We do not worship a God who only lives in a heaven that is wholly separated from us on earth. No, we worship our heavenly Father who willed that his Son take on human flesh in space and time. Through his birth, life, death, and resurrection, all times and places have been redeemed and are now opportunities for us to have our God revealed before our eyes, even in a mysterious and veiled way.

This is true whether we live north of that abstract line that we call the equator or south of it.


Reflection upon "O Rising Sun", the fifth of the O Antiphons

"O Rising Sun, splendor of eternal light, and sun of righteousness: come and enlighten those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death."

I had an interesting convesation with a parishioner the other day. He told me about one of his co-workers who refused to celebrate Christmas. I suspected that the co-worker might have been a Jehovah's Witness or did not affirm Christ in any way. But the parishioner told me that the man did indeed consider himself a Christian. He felt, however, that since the Scriptures did not name Christ's birth as what we would now call December 25, and indeed does not name it at all, that we should not celebrate it then or at any time.

I must say that I was a bit surprised by what my parishioner friend told me, for I know that most Christians do not feel themselves so completely beholden to the Scriptures as to exclude the traditional celebration of Christmas, simply because it is not mentioned there.

Lots of extra-biblical explanations are given for the dating of Christmas, most of them centering around the Church's supposed desire to provide an alternative to the pagan festival of Saturnalia. And I do believe that there are some truths in these explanations

However, I believe that today's O Antiphon shows us how Christians for well over 1500 years have encountered the Lord revealing himself not just in the sacred book of the Bible but also in the sacred book of nature (thanks to Greg Popcak for that phraseology).

The night of December 21 brings us to the longest of the year. Every night after that for the next six months will shorten while the light of day will grow. And so on this day as evening draws near it is very appropriate for Christians to invoke the Lord under the title of "Rising Sun." At this darkest time of the year we are about to celebrate the entrance into the world of the splendor of eternal light.

This darkest time of the year can serve as a reminder that, without Christ, all of us would be sitting in the gloomy ignorance of sin and death. To the extent that any person is enlightened and strives to live an upright and righteous life, the light of Christ has shined upon him or her.

Zechariah, hte father of John the Baptist, recognized the great light that was about to dawn upon him and all humanity. We Christians, living 2000 years later, encounter this blessed revelation in many ways: in Scripture, in our worship, and in nature itself.

All of creation is shot through with the glory of God. And even on this day, when it will be more bathed in darkness than on any other day, the Lord's light shall not be overcome. May the light of his grace renew the sight of each one of us, enabling us to see his glory shining through the world around us, even on this, the shortest day of the year.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Scriptural references found in "O Key of David"

So many of these O Antiphons reveal to us deep spiritual truths. "O Key of David" is no different. But interestingly enough, it also has scriptural references that are central to some fundamental Catholic doctrines, especially regarding our beliefs about the papacy:

§ Is 22:15-22
§ Mt 16:13-20
§ Rev 3:7-11

In light of my reflection upon vocation inspired by this antiphon, my thoughts go to the awesome and terrible vocation of the bishop of Rome. I think of the scene in the movie version of Shoes of the Fisherman when all of the cardinals in the midst of the conclave begin to call for the election of Kiril, the Ukrainian bishop recently released from a detention camp. He stands up and protests even while others are calling out his name, seemingly wanting to avoid the office at all costs. But when it seems clear to him that this is God's call, he submits and freely accepts it.


A Reflection upon "O Key of David", the fourth of the O Antiphons

O Key of David, and Scepter of the house of Israel, who open and no one closes, who close and no one opens: come and lead forth from the house of bondage, those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death.

There are many people in our world today who live their days with a sense of frustration about them. So many people feel that their lives are not yet fulfilled and they spend much energy seeking out they key to their lives, the that would open a door to a broad world, filled with a myriad of opportunities.

In so far as this frustration is tied to seeking one's vocation it is good. For one's vocation is indeed very much like the key to one's life. My novice master at St. Meinrad Archabbey once told me that when one finds one's vocation, a lot of energy is freed up in that person for many other things in life. Thomas Merton said it a little more eloquently in Thoughts and Solitude, as I paraphrase: "When a man discovers his vocation, he stops thinking about how to live and simply lives."

I have experienced the truth of these views in my own life. Over the course of several years I expended much energy discerning whether God was calling me to be a diocesan priest, a monk, or a husband and father. After finally determining that it was the last of these vocations to which God was calling me, I noticed a great change in my life.

The energy that I had spent in discernment alone was able to be used in being a good husband and father, a DRE, a writer, a teacher. Discernment is still a part of my life, it is just not as broad and as energy-consuming.

When one authentically enters into vocational discernment one is seeking how God is calling one to give of oneself in loving service to others, how God is calling one to be the image of his Son.

Jesus is the key of of every human life. He is the one who opens and closes doors for us, leading us to where we need to be. The incredible thing is, even if we do not follow his lead and go through doors not meant for us, he will still be there with us, ready to open another door to lead us back to the right path.

Those in the world who are frustrated as they seek out the key to their lives may think htat this image of opened and closed doors to be a little disconcerting. They may feel frustrated now because they feel trapped in a room with many closed doors. They don't want doors at all, but only doorways, open access to any room at any time. For many people this is real freedom.

On the surface there seems to be some truth in such a desire. But it is illusory. The mysterious truth that confronts everyone who seeks out a vocation is that real freedom comes when all other doors are locked and only one door remains open. All the other doors lead only to small, confining rooms. The one that remains open leads us, not into a room at all, but to a vast panorama, a wole new world where personal fulfillment is richly experienced in giving of oneself to others.

Come, Lord Jesus, in this season of Advent, and lead out of the house of bondage those who feel compelled to explore every one of its small rooms. Cast upon them the warm light of your wisdom and love and dispel from them the shadow of death which keeps them in a cold fear of trust in you and your vocation for them.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Giving credit where credit is due

In a comment on a post from a few days ago, a reader expressed thankfulness that I used "real translations" of the O Antiphons instead of ICEL's "transmutations."

Well, they are not my own translation. I have taken them from the translation used at St. Meinrad Archabbey. Although I do not know this with certainty, I suspect that someone at the monastery did the translation.


Scriptural References found in "O Root of Jesse"

As with the previous two O Antiphons, this one also refers to various scriptural passages. Take the antiphon itself along with these passages and pray over them in lectio divina. What is that you ask? Lectio divina (Latin for 'holy reading') is an ancient and very flexible prayer form has the following four steps:

1. Lectio (read)--Read over a passage slowly, either to yourself or aloud. When a particular word or phrase strikes you, stop reading and repeat it to yourself slowly. Let it sink into your mind and your heart.

2. Meditatio (meditate)--Meditate upon the phrase or word that you has struck you. Consider the impact of its meaning in your day-to-day life, the daily life of your family, the Church, and the society at large. If the passage is telling a story, you might place yourself in it and see if this helps you gain additional meaning from it.

3. Oratio (pray)--After finding particular phrases or words and meditated upon them, offer a prayer to the Lord. It might deal with the way in which the passage can have an impact upon your life, that of your family, Church, or the world. It can be a prayer of intercession or of thanksgiving. Again, this is a very flexible prayer form.

4. Contemplatio (contemplate)--Having explored layer upon layer of the spiritual meaning of the phrase or word and offered your prayer to the Lord, sit quietly in his presence and be open to his gift of contemplation. This is something that we cannot accomplish on our own. It is a gift from the Lord. We need only make ourselves open to receiving it.

After a period of quietness and openness to contemplation, return to the passage and continue reading slowly, being open to the next phrase or word that strikes you.

You might consider doing that with today's antiphon and the following passages of scripture to which it refers:

§ Is 11:1-10
§ Habakkuk 2:13
§ Heb 10:32-39


A Reflection upon "O Root of Jesse", the third of the O Antiphons

Not long after Cindy and I married, my father gave us four cone flower plants. We planted them alongside our home where they would get a lot of sun. That first summer they did not grow so well. In the fall, after the first frost, my father had me cut them down to just about one inch above the ground. The next spring they grew strongly and had many beautiful blossoms. Now, near the end of autumn and the start of winter we have cut them back again, close to the ground.

I have faith that they will grow up strongly and beautifully again in the spring. This is a faith that is strengthened by experience. It is the same kind of faith held by the people of Israel, a faith expressed for us in today's O Antiphon.

At the time of the first Advent, the royal house of Israel, through which the entire nation had experienced God's favor, had long since been cut back to its root, the root of Jesse. And although the people were enduring what seemed to be an endless winter, they still placed their faith in the Lord. They still believed that the Lord would be true to his promise and would raise up for them a great leader from Jesse's root. This was a faith born out of experience. The Lord had done it for them before. Surely he would do it again.

This new leader would not just inspire awe in his own people, but in all peoples of the world. This would be a leader from whom all would seek favor.

Indeed, this great faith persisted in the people of Israel for a very long time. Still, they yearned for the coming of this leader and so they never stopped pleading with the Lord. Such a plea is expressed at ends this antiphon, "Come to set us free, delay no longer." It seems very poingant to me. The earlier text was filled with great hope for a universal kingship, but this seems much more personal, like a single believer pleading with the Lord.

In the midst of so earnest a longing the words of the prophet Habakkuk would have consoled them: "...the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late" (Hab 2:3).

Do we, as individuals and as the Church, experience this yearning? Or do we go through this 2002nd Advent simply as a matter of course? I don't think that we are totally free from burning desires.

So many of us, in the face of the current crisis in the Church, seek from the Lord a real and lasting reconciliation, healing, and renewal of the Church. So many of us yearn to see the values of the Gospel have an impact upon our society and culture. More personally, many of us may be asking that the Lord touch the lives of those friends and loved ones who have walked away from the faith, have given up on their grace-filled yearning.

We often look at these desires that we seek the Lord to fulfill and see them only in a very contemporary context. But at one level they aren't so much different than those expressed by the people of Israel in the first Advent.

Our Advent in 2002 is almost over. We know that the Lord will not delay much longer. But in light of this antiphon, let us seek to place our hopes and fears in a broader, more biblical context. Then, when the Lord will fulfill them, we will experience his coming among us as if for the first time.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

My choice of rhetorical style

As you may remember, a few days ago evangelical blogger locdog called for Pope John Paul to resign in light of the crisis in the Church in America and some other other countries. He argued that either that if the Holy Father knew about the situation he should have acted quickly and decisively or if he did not know about it, he should have. In any case, he felt that the Pope had a great deal of culpability in the crisis.

I responded in the comment box to his post (linked to above) and here on my own blog. Locdog responded to me in his own and in my comment box. However, another reader also critiqued my response. His name is Joseph D'Hippolito.

In reaction to the style of rhetoric that I used (which you can see in my previous post), he claimed that I was using "rhetorical eyewash", "intellectual gymnastics and gibberish", "pseudo-theological weasel words", and that I had "retreated into a rhetorical fetal position." This last claim came as a response to my statement that I would no longer carry on the conversation in the comment box because I felt that Mr. D'Hippolito had, among other things, questioned my sincerity.

Although I have chosen to refrain from rejoining him in locdog's comment box, I do think it is appropriate to comment briefly on the style of rhetoric that I have chosen to use. I believe that it corresponds to the very title of this blog, "Nota Bene." I try to share a 'good word' with my readers both through the content which I write and the way in which I write it. I try to avoid presumption and try, in many occasions, to seek the spiritual or theological perspective on many events in the world.

In all of this I am trying to build up a Catholic Christian worldview. And I try to communicate it in humility and in charity. Do I accomplish this perfectly? By no means. But if this leads another to claim that I am insincere and deceptive and that I am avoiding using strongly condemnatory language, then all I can do is what I've done here: try to explain the way in which I communicate. Oh, there's something else that I can do, something that (I pray) lies behind all of my words: prayer.


Scriptural References found in "O Adonai

Compared to the other antiphons, the references found in "O Adonai" are very sparse. That does not make them any less powerful. This antiphon is connected with two very crucial moments in salvation history: the appearance of the Lord to Moses at Horeb and the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. Here, then, are those passages:

§ Ex 3:1-10, 20:1, ff.


A Reflection upon "O Adonai", the second of the O Antiphons

O Adonai, and leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and on Sinai gave him the Law: come to redeem us with outstretched arm.

What a great mystery we see here. The great and powerful Adonai is invoked, is called upon to come and redeem us. And yet those who pray these words know that he will come, not as the mysterious God of Horeb or the powerful God of Sinai but, rather, as the tiny and powerless baby born in Bethlehem.

And yet even in a small infant there is the power to redeem. When a baby looks intently at an adult leaning over him and reaches out to touch his face, something great happens. Such a moment can warm the heart of even the most jaded of grown-ups. Maybe that is one way that the Almighty can come and redeem us with outstretched arm.

Now, yes, that image in the antiphon is a clear reference to the great works wrought in Egypt by the Lord through the outstretched arm of Moses, most especially the parting of the Red Sea.

But again, how can such power be found in a tiny infant? That question would have been very real for me before the birth of my son Michael. Now it just seems all so clear.

In leaning over and looking at him as he sleeps at night I see the image of humanity redeemed. In playing with him as he lies on a blanket, the power of that redemption touches me with his outstretched arm.

Yes indeed, God has manifest his redemptive power in infants. How our world would be changed if more of us recognized this truth.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Scriptural References found in "O Wisdom"

All of the O Antiphons are, in a very real sense, an amalgemation of various scriptural references. The faithful who formulated these antiphons some 1200 or more years ago had Sacred Scripture upon their tongues and in their heart throughout their days. Often those men and women living in monasteries had large parts of the Bible memorized, both out of devotion to God's word, but also out of necessity through a lack of the availability of books.

It would have been natural for them, then, when formulating their prayers, to take various parts of the Scriptures in writing them. This is what happened in the writing of the O Antiphons. They show how the faithful so long ago saw the coming of Christ in all parts of Sacred Scripture.

Here, then, are some scriptural references made in the first O Antiphon, the text of which can be found in other recent posts:

§ Wis 8:1
§ Sir 24:3
§ Prov 1:20, 8, 9
§ 1 Cor 1:18-31

Reflect upon the antiphon. Take these passages and reflect upon them. Hopefully, with the aid of God's grace, you will be given deeper insights and a deeper love of the presence of Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, in the Sacred Scriptures, the Word of God.


A Reflection on "O Wisdom", the first of the O Antiphons

O Wisdom, who came forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end mightily and gently governing all things: come to teach us the way of prudence.

When I think of Christ at Christmas, the power of wisdom and the giving of prudence do not usually come to mind. But this virtue (in many respects wisdom and prudence are tightly interwoven) is bound up in me learning how to make good choices so as to prosper and be who God intended me to be. And Jesus, in every moment of his existence on earth, taught me how to make these good choices.

His arrival on earth as an infant teaches me to recognize my own utter dependence and my lack of any effective independence. Just as he, though truly God, was nonetheless as an infant wholly dependent on the care of others, so I can never flourish and be who God intended me to be unless I am helped by others. This fact cannot but have an impact upon my choices. It will encourage me to ask for help in all areas of my life, both those where I know that I am deficient, but even those in which God has blessed me with many gifts.

There are images of the journey in this antiphon. Wisdom is coming forth (and, presumably, also going out), reaching from end to end and teaches "the way" of prudence. With my academic bent it might be easy to imagine God as wisdom in a very ethereal and rather abstract way. In coming close to God, more and more answers will be given.

But in looking at Wisdom in the context of a journey, I see it as wholly practical and down to earth. As I said before, wisdom and prudence help me to make good choices. Each good choice is another step down the road, the end of which will, by the divine grace alone, be my union with God.

This is not to say, however, that God is not present at every step of the journey. For the antiphon also st ates that God gently governs all things. Throughout my days as I come into a closer and closer relationship with Jesus, I perceive him more clearly when I respond to the love he has for me, at this very moment, in making good choices. The growth of wisdom within me as I proceed on my journey is the growth of my effective awareness of the presence of Christ within my very self.

Help me to be your child, O Jesus. Lead on me every step of my journey.


Taking care of Michael

One factor that might delay my writing today is the fact that I am taking care of Michael as Cindy works today.


O Wisdom

At Vespers on this December 17 lay men and women, religious men and women, deacons, priests, and bishops around the world will pray this first of the "O Antiphons", the text of which is found below. It is prayed as the antiphon before and after the praying of the Magnificat. I hope to reflect upon its text later on today

O Wisdom, who came forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end mightily and gently governing all things: come to teach us the way of prudence.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: What is the real origin of our celebration of Christmas? I’ve heard some people say that it is just a pagan festival that Christians took over. Is it really the anniversary of Christ’s birth?

A: From the historical data that is available to us, it would appear that the Church began to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord on what is now December 25 sometime in the middle of the 4th century.

Does this mean that the Christians of that time actually believed that that date was indeed the birthdate of the Savior? Not necessarily. We don’t have enough historical data to know for sure.

More important to ask, is this the birthdate of the Savior? Again, there isn’t enough historical data to make a solid conclusion, although many will point to aspects of the stories of his birth in the Gospels as evidence that it occurred at some other time.

A more fundamental question to be asked, however, is this: Is celebrating Jesus’ birth on his actual birthdate really important? It might be nice or preferable, but, in my opinion, I don’t think that it is necessary. What is necessary is that we do celebrate it at some point in our liturgical year. And this the Church has done for many ages.

The feast of the Nativity of the Lord may in part have been placed on December 25 in order to provide an alternative to the pagan festival of Saturnalia which would have occurred just a few days before in connection with the winter solstice.

However, although we cannot know with certainty that Christ was indeed born on December 25, there are significant theological and spiritual reasons to celebrate it at that time. The winter solstice is the time when the nights are at their longest and the days are at their shortest. As soon as it passes, the days start to be longer again.

From a Christian perspective, it is appropriate that we celebrate Christ’s birth at this time of the year for we believe that he is the Light of the World. We affirm the words of St. John from his Gospel, that Christ our Light “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Q: What is an appropriate way of greeting people when we return from communion? Should we smile at them or do anything else to greet them?

A: The Church does not require us to smile or greet others in the congregation when we return from receiving Holy Communion. But neither does the Church forbid this practice. So, on this issue in particular, the Church is silent.

As a rule of thumb, I would simply say that if you want to smile at a friend or relative, pat him or her on the shoulder, etc. when you see these people on your way back to your pew, feel free to do so. Only do it in a way that is not reasonably distracting to either the person you are greeting or to others in the congregation.

Indeed, such a sign of fellowship is a small bit of evidence that the sacrament of the Eucharist is effecting what it symbolizes. The Eucharist is the sacrament that symbolizes and brings about the “communion” of all of the faithful with each other and, ultimately, with Christ himself. When we smile at our friends or relatives or pat them on the shoulder on our way back from receiving Holy Communion we showing forth signs of the effects of this sacrament.

This does not mean, however, that we must do this. There are many more ways of showing the communion of the Church with Christ than simply smiling at another person. One of these ways would be to return to your pew while giving thanks to the Father in prayer for the great gift of his Son that you and so many others had just received in Holy Communion.


Is Stanford cloning?

The answer is 'yes', from a number of sources, including a nobel laureate who teaches at Stanford:

Wide skepticism has greeted Stanford University's plans to produce stem cells for medical research by means of what it called somatic cell nuclear transfer.

Dr. Irving Weissman, director of Stanford's Institute for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology, was quoted in the Associated Press as saying that his planned research is "not even close" to cloning. The university itself also denied any link to cloning.

But those announcements seemed at odds with the American Association of Medical Colleges, of which Stanford is a member.

The association equates somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) with therapeutic cloning. It defines it as the "removing [of] the nucleus of an unfertilized egg cell, replacing it with the material from the nucleus of a 'somatic cell' (a skin, heart, or nerve cell, for example), and stimulating this cell to begin dividing."

Asked at a news conference if nuclear transfer and cloning were the same, Nobel laureate and Stanford professor Paul Berg had a two-word response: "It is."


Reflections on Subsidarity, Baptism, and the Mystery of the Church

Last week in the wake of Cardinal Law's resignation as Archbishop of Boston, evangelical blogger locdog called for the resignation of the pope, claiming that he bears enough responsibility for the crisis in the American Church to make resignation an appropriate action.

I responded to his post in his comment box and on my own blog here. In essence, I argued that the principles of subsidarity and collegiality led to the Holy Father taking swift and decisive action against abusive priests or mismanaging bishops. At the time, however, I felt that it was necessary to point out why these principles are important. I hope to do that to some extent here with the principle of subsidiarity.

This word is a derivative of "subside" which my trusty my American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, third edition defines as "to sink to a lower or normal level." This points in an effective way to the way that the principle of subsidiarity works in the Church.

Although the holy father has an ultimate pastoral responsibility for the universal Church and his brother bishops have ultimate responsibility for their local Church, each believer has his or her own tasks in the overall life of grace. The principle of subsidiarity allows each believe to allow each specific task in the mission of the Church to 'sink' to its 'normal level.'

In essence the principle of subsidiarity is rooted in the Catholic Church's understanding of the sacrament of Baptism. We believe that Baptism gives the person baptized a real share in the life of Jesus Christ. By dying and rising with Christ in the waters of Baptism, the baptized are filled with his grace and given a share in his threefold ministry of priest, prophet, and king.

Although some believers may ultimately be called to the sacrament of Holy Orders and so serve Christ and his Church in special way in this ministry, that fact does not trump the share given to every believer through Baptism. Those who are ordained are called upon to respect this ministry to which every Christian is called.

It is clear, then, that the Church views Baptism as a powerful sacrament. We believe that God effects a great change through it. We become adopted sons and daughters of the Father, given a share in the life of his Son, and opened to the working of grace through the power of the Holy Spirit. Baptism for the Church isn't just an empty ritual. It is an action willed by God through which he brings about great changes in each of us who come to its waters.

In the light of this understanding of Baptism (one that is rooted firmly in Sacred Scripture, by the way), it becomes a bit more understandable why the Pope would not be keeping a sharp eye on St. Anthony Parish in Morris, IN. He believes that its pastor and parishioners have a real share in the threefold ministry of Christ by virtue of their Baptism. He believes that the archbishop of Indianapolis has been given the responsibility of the pastoral care of this parish and all those in his local Church.

Does this view of Baptism deny the possibility of further sinfulness? By no means. Although the grace of Baptism gives us the grace to avoid what is evil and to choose what is good, we are still free to choose either. And, sadly enough, all of us do choose evil more times and to higher degrees than we would like to admit.

That is one reason why we believe that Christ established his Church in such a way that there would be men, ministering in a special way in his name (i.e., the bishops most especially) to give all us encouragement and strength in living the life of grace, in avoiding evil and choosing good. It does not take much effort, sadly enough, to recognize that these men charged by Christ and the Church to strengthen us in our life of grace themselves are just as open to the mystery of evil as anyone else.

Even in the best of circumstances, this ministry of the bishops has to be balanced with the recognition that each member of the Church, each baptized person, has a share in the threefold ministry of Christ. A bishop may have a share in the fullness of the priesthood of Christ, but, as I noted above, this does not trump or eliminate that smaller but no less essential share held by every believer.

When viewed from the good opened to us by the sacrament of Baptism, the principle of subsidiarity is empowering and gives every baptized person a fundamental and necessary share in the very mission of Christ and his Church. When viewed from the evil still open to us in our freedom, the principle of subsidiarity can become an excuse for inaction.

This finally points us to the mystery of the Church. Whenever I teach a course on Church history, one of the things that I talk about first is our belief that the Church is, at one and the same time, both wholly pure in its divinity and needing constant renewal in its humanity.

In our desire for our world to be able to be wholly contained with our own power of reason, we would like the Church to be one or the other. But our experience over the past 2000 years has shown us that this desire cannot be fulfilled, at least not in this world. The Church, in every place and age, has shown itself to be peopled with both saints and sinners. Our place and age is no different.

Our recognition of this fact should lead us to give thanks to God for our saints, to intercede with him for our sinners, and to pray that the grace that each of us received at our Baptism may be renewed each day so that we may become more and more effective signs of his Son as we strive to proclaim his Gospel through his threefold ministry of priest, prophet, and king.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Mark Shea on locdog on the Pope

From the comment box to this post:

Locdog's opinion is duly noted. Another independent thinker who prides himself on his courageous resistance to Catholic teaching and gullibly believes the first thing to pop out of a reporter's mouth.


Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Third Sunday of Advent, Cycle B

Is 61:1-2a, 10-11
Lk 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
1 Thes 5:16-24
Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

Those of you who use missalettes might have noticed that today’s Gospel reading has a great verse gap within it; the first part ends with the eighth verse of the first chapter and the second part begins with verse 19. For those of you who are not familiar with verses nine through eighteen, I will read them to you now.

(John 1:9-18 read to congregation)

Now take these words that I have just presented to you and tie them together with the words of the first verse of this chapter: “In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

Jesus, the Eternal Word, had always been with his people, but they did not always listen to him. God had given his people grace and truth. He gave it to them many times over. He gave them his Son so that his people could be one with him in grace and in truth, but his people have not sought to be in his grace and in his truth. They have not recognized God as being with us. They sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” without understanding that “Emmanuel” means “God with us” and not “God who is coming to be with us”.

People need signs. How sad it is, though, that we are also people who have rejected at times the signs that we have been given. God has revealed himself to the world in many ways; we have not accepted it. God sent a prophet named John to prepare his people for the great coming of the Lord. Some of God’s people have questioned John because he did not fit their expectations for what the sign was going to be. God has been a problem for many people – to both believers and non-believers – because he has not followed their schedules and he has not manifested himself according to their expectations. As we heard in the Gospel, “He came to those were his own, but they did not accept him.” I am not referring only to people outside of our faith tradition. Many disciples have a problem with letting Jesus be the Lord of their lives. Many disciples, including our own selves, mistakenly believe that we can and must be our own Savior.

We will soon celebrate the birth of the Lord. We are called to reflect upon the magnificence of the moment. We anticipate that moment. What we need to do as well before that glorious night arrives is to consider how Jesus is with us today. The Light and the Word has already come to his people – John the Baptist’s words ring true today – but we all run the risk of neither seeing that Light now nor hearing that Word now. We believe that we are supposed to think about these things at Christmas Mass. That is accurate, but it is not totally accurate. We are called to see and to witness to God’s Presence in the world now – both in the ways that we know and in the ways that we do not know well. Make straight your path now; do not wait until the last minute. This applies to both the coming of the child Jesus and to the coming of Great King who has promised that he will return so that can share his Eternal Kingdom with us.

Jesus is already here; he wants to walk into our lives so that we may walk with him now and forever.


A Reformed Protestant theologian with a positive take on the rosary

(thanks to Kevin Miller for the link)

Not only does Stephan Tobler, of Tubingen University, have praise for the rosary, but, in particular, for the Holy Father's recent apostolic letter on it.

I'd be interested to see what our Reformed brothers and sisters here in the states think of Prof. Tobler's comments and, if they have read it or are willing to read it, on the apostolic letter.


James Akin explains it all for Pat Buchanan

Yesterday on Catholic Answers Live, apologist James Akin responded to a caller who had read Pat Buchanan's column and then had questions about Vatican II. Fast forward to about the 14:00 mark. You'll need Real Player to listen to what Akin has to say.


How others have reacted to Law's resignation

Evangelical blogger locdog has, in the wake of Cardinal Law's resignation, called for the resignation of the Holy Father. I was suspected that such reactions might happen. I have been wondering if the news out of Rome today would bring about many renewed criticisms of the Church in general and of its leaders in particular, at all levels.

At any rate, here are some excerpts of what locdog has to say on the matter (please note: he wrote this before the actual announcement of the resignation):

a group of some 58 boston priests have called for law's resignation, and it is well for them that they did. where are the calls for john paul's resignation? how is he, as the leader of the church, not tainted by the sin that seems to stain every level of church hierarchy from lofty rome to the lowliest of backwater parishes? wasn't he aware of what was occurring in his church? how could he not be? i find it hard to believe that a scandal this pervasive could have slipped his notice.

what's that? a cover-up, you say? the aged pope cloistered away in the vatican, kept from the truth by well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) insularies? my friends, if john paul the second, as God's supposed foremost representative upon this earth, cannot or will not rule the so-called universal church, then he has no business being pope.

I have written a lengthy response to locdog in his comment box. Here it is in full:

You seem to argue that Pope John Paul (or, at least, his representatives) has claimed that he did not know about the sinfulness of some priests and bishops in the United States. And because he is either lying in such a claim of ignorance or shows incompetence in being sincerely ignorant that he should resign.

I think that there is a real problem with the very premise of your argument. I think that Pope John Paul knows very well that some priests and bishops in the United States are sinful.

Now, you might claim in response, if he knew then he should have taken control and shaken things up in the American Church. And because he didn't he should resign.

Such a reaction (if, indeed, that is your reaction) would reveal an understanding that the Catholic Church can be likened to an American corporation with the Pope as the CEO and bishops as mid-level managers or a group of executive vice presidents.

Such an understanding is not consistent, however, with the way that the Catholic Church believes that Christ established it. When it comes to ecclesial governance, the Church works as much as it can under the principle of subsidiarity. Make decisions at the lowest level possible.

You also must understand that the Bishop of Rome and his brother bishops around the world make up a college of bishops. Each diocese is, in itself, a complete local manifestation of the entire universal Church. All of the local dioceses together, with the Diocese of Rome at its head, make up the entire universal Church.

Now does this mean that the bishop of Rome has no authority over any other bishop? By no means. But, unlike a corporate CEO, a pope is, first and foremost, a pastor. He is to respond to the mandate that Jesus gave to St. Peter to "strengthen his brothers" (Lk 22:32).

To the degree to which he responds to the grace given him by our Lord he succeeds in this duty. Has Pope John Paul responded to this grace as well as he could have? Perhaps not. He would be the first to admit this. Indeed, during the Jubilee year 2000 he publicly repented of his own sins and those of other Catholic Christians throughout the centuries.

Now should Pope John Paul resign as a result? In my opinion I believe that he he should not. When one takes into account the self-understanding that the Church has based upon Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, then the culpability that the Holy Father has in regards to the scandals plaguing the Church in America is not high enough, in my opinion, to warrant his resignation.

In the end, it is impossible for us humans to wholly reconcile the aspects of the Church that emphasize collegiality and subsidiarity with the aspects that rightly emphasize the Pope's universal leadership. But I think that this simply reflects what Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Tradition have taught us about the Church over the past 2000 years: that it is a sacred mystery.


I'd be interested to read your comments on locdog's thoughts and on my response to him.