Nota Bene

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

The New Faithful
by Colleen Carroll

by Fr. Francis Sullivan, SJ

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

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Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Reality TV for Anglophiles

PBS has been broadcasting over the past couple of nights a series they call "Manor House" or, as I prefer to call it, "Reality TV for Anglophiles." The concept of the show has a group of folks from the 21st century go to a manor house and live as they would have in 1905 at the height of Edwardian England. Most of them live as servants. A precious few are the family of the house.

As a bit of an Anglophile myself, I've watched some of it. I often focus my Anglophile tendencies in the realm of literature. So this show, from my perspective, would focus more on E. M. Forster's age. Nice enough as far as it goes. I would much rather have preferred the show to have had the participants lived as if it were 1805, in Jane Austen's England.

In some respects, however, there wouldn't have been a great amount of difference in the show if they would have done this, at least in a lot of the things that the producers have chosen to emphasize. There has been much done on the fact that the small society of a manor house was very hierarchically ordered. And when I say this I'm just not saying that there was a division between servants and masters. There were a whole series of levels of priveleges and duties. It would have been much better to have been a butler in 1905 than a hallboy.

Watching all of this brought a few observations to mind.

It made me recall the course, "Castles, Courts and Courtliness", that I took when I was a graduate student in medieval history at the University of Notre Dame. The time period that we primarily studied in that course began in the late 11th century and went up to the 16th. However, it would seem that the same principles that were starting to be well established in the 1100s were still largely in place in 1905.

Now it might be easy for us to say that this world is now gone, a thing of the past. Otherwise, why would there be a reality TV show built around it? But is it really gone? Or is our society as hierarchically ordered as that of Edwardian England only with changed roles, titles, duties, priveleges, etc.? Perhaps this question is more appropriate when directed specifically at English society. But I wonder if what we see in the society of Manor House is universal?

The show also made me think about some folks' criticism of the Catholic Church. Some people are turned off by it from the start because it describes itself as being hierarchical. But if the society in which these folks (and all of us) live is hierarchical as well and they comply to a certain degree with its rules, then why the criticism?

Perhaps it because of our bad experience of the greater value that is placed on some people and lesser value placed on others in the hierarchy of society in general. Surely this happens to a certain degree in the Church as it lives from day to day and from place to place. But this is not reflective of the defined ideals of the Church, where all are called to holiness and can be given it by God in whatever vocation to which they are called.

I've said it before on this blog, but I always return to what Fr. Abbot Lambert Reilly, OSB once said in a homily on All Saints' Day: "The only criterion of success in the eyes of God is holiness." If that is true, then all of the seeming privelege that we see in a bishop with his vestments, presiding over grand liturgies, making solemn decisions in the shepherding of a diocese make no difference in that criterion of success than the lack of privelege seen in a common husband and wife, living their largely anonymous lives.

This is not to say, of course, that the office of bishop is therefore unimportant. By no means. He is an indispensable servant for those anonymous couples seeking the same holiness which he desires as well. He helps guide them in the way of holiness as he strives, with the grace of God, to walk along it himself. But the accidents attached to his office are, in the final analysis, of little import to the success that he seeks in the eyes of God.


Go here for an interview with Coleen Carroll, author of The New Faithful


The problem of reading the Bible but not living it

John Paul II thinks modern man is living a paradox: The latter feels attracted to the Bible's message but rejects the Gospel values presented by the Church.

The Pope pointed out this phenomenon when he met today with members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, which is marking its centenary year. The commission is holding its annual session this week, under the presidency of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger...

"We...see the most varied attempts to unlink biblical revelation from the most binding proposals of life," he added. An "answer to this situation can be found in carefully listening to the Word of God, which has its fullest expression in the teaching of Christ."


Baby Steps

My son Michael will celebrate his first birthday tomorrow.

He is not yet walking but is almost to that point. This morning he was in the bathroom while my wife, Cindy, was getting ready for the day. Michael was standing up, facing the wall, with his hands on it. He wanted to turn and take a quick step to Cindy so that he could stand up with his hands on her leg. But when he turned he slipped and well, knocking his head on the bathtub. Now he has a big bruise on his forehead.

Later on in the morning I noticed that he was getting more and more comfortable standing up on his own. I told Cindy, "Michael is really getting bolder and bolder with standing up." She replied, "Maybe that is why he has a boulder on his forehead."


Proclaiming the Life of the Resurrection:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

Acts 5:17-26
Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Jn 3:16-21

Watch a televised sporting event and you'll likely see it: a person holding up a sign that says "John 3:16." I've sometimes seen the sign bearer try to draw attention to himself and his his sign by wearing a large, multi-colored wig. In the recent past it was even parodied by professional wrestler Steve Austin, prompting his fans to wear shirts that had "Austin 3:16" emblazened on them.

Now while the "Gospel according Austin", chapter three, verse sixteen says, "I just kicked your a**", the same chapter and verse in the Gospel of St. John has quite a different message: "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."

This is the Good News that some people so value that they will going to any end to proclaim it on a sign in a nationally televised football game. It is the same message that led the apostles in today's first reading back to the temple after having just been freed from jail.

They had been put there, we hear from St. Luke, because of the jealousy of the high priest and his Sadducee supporters. They would have been jealous in this particular situation because the message that the apostles were proclaiming and which the crowds were so eagerly embracing was the Good News of the resurrection. This was something that the Sadducees were unwilling to accept. It did not fit within their understanding of the Law and the prophets. Therefore they culd not proclaim it and so experience the approval of the crowds. This may be why they were jealous.

But the apostles didn't chose to preach in the temple simply to experience adulation. In fact, they didn't chose to do this at all. They were commanded to do it by the angel that freed them from jail. They were told to "go and take your place in the temple area,
and tell the people everything about this life.

What was "this life?" It was and is nothing less than the new and eternal life of the resurrection of which the apostles were given a share on Pentecost. I was that life that God the Father wanted to share with his adopted sons and daughters because he loved the world so much that he gave his only Son. And it was, sadly, the life that the Sadducees simply would not accept.

In coming forth from the dark jail into the temple bathed in the first light of dawn, the apostles fulfiled Jesus' words to Nicodemus that we hear in today's Gospel: "But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God." The life that the angel told the apostles to preach was the life of the truth of the resurrection, a work surely done in God.

The Sadducees, on the other hand, did not want their actions to be clear at all. When they had the apostles re-arrested, they had it done without any show of force, out of fear of the crowd.

When a man enters fully into this life of the resurrection through baptism, he does not care how how his actions will be received. He simply wants to proclaim that life through his every thought, word, and deed. He does not fear a violent reaction for he believes firmly that nothing can separate him from the love of God. That is why the apostles went straight back to the temple after having been in jail.

We are people who were born again in the waters of baptism into that new life. And yet there are many around us who, like the Sadducees, are simply unwilling to accept this message because they have locked themselves into their own ideology, theology, or cosmology. That should not prevent us from telling others about this new life, for we can affirm that the same Lord who broke forever the chains of death can also, by his grace, free these people from their bonds as well.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Seen on the marquee of an Assemblies of God church on the way to work:

"The Rapture: The only way to fly"

Any comments?


The Passage of Scripture That Launched a Thousand Orders:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Memorial of St. Catherine of Siena, virgin and doctor of the Church

Acts 4:32:37
Ps 93:1, 1-2, 5
Jn 3:7-15

What we hear in today's first reading is the passage that launched a thousand religious order:

"The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the Apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the Apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need" (Acts 4:32-35).

Century after century, everywhere throughout the world, people have read this passage or heard it proclaimed and their hearts have told them, "This is how it all should be."

But this same passage or the ideals expressed in it has also surely inspired the founding of countless communes and cults that ended in failure. Indiana is the home of the remnants of one of them: New Harmony. It is now a small townlies in the extreme southwestern corner of the state. But about two hundred years ago it was a place where a hearty group of Christians went to await the return of the Savior.

German Lutheran pastor Georg Rapp led his followers to the edge of the American frontier to be of one heart and mind, to live the common life. They believed that the Lord was going to return soon and so they wanted to show themselves to be busy on his return, being good and faithful servants. Therefore they devoted themselves to work.

They were so successful in their crafts and industry that they soon forgot all about the parousia. They were more interested in business. And with this interest in mind, they concluded that living far away from the rest of society didn't make good business sense. Therefore they moved to Pennsylvania where they established a town which was aptly named, "Economy."

The Rappites were followed in New Harmony by Robert Owen and his group of secular academic and industrial idealists. They came to southwestern Indiana to be a living example of the perfect society that man can create when he is freed from the prejudices and limitations of the culture at large. However, this example did not live very long. After just a few years the members broke up in the midst of resentment and divisions. Apparently in their attempt to get away from it all they couldn't get away from human sinfulness.

And yet the Church has been faced with that same sinfulness throughout the past 2000 years. Still, unlike Owen and his companions, the Church as endured. What made the difference?

The difference can be found in today's readings. Jesus told Nicodemus that those who believe in the Son of Man lifted up will have eternal life. And it was that eternal life of the resurrection to which the apostles bore witness with power. Surely that happened as much through the common life that they shared as in the common message that they proclaimed.

Some religious orders are struggling to survive at this moment. Now with some of them this simply a natural process. They were founded with the needs of a specific time and place in mind. When the historical context changes, the reason for the order might fade away and the order with it.

But other orders, far older and much more timeless in its founding principles, are also struggling to survive. They are finding it difficult to find new members to replace those that are dying or leaving. Why is that?

I think that, in some cases, it could be that they have obscured the message that we hear today. The death and resurrection of Jesus is to be the source of life for the entire Church and all the religious communities within it. When this basic message is only tangential at best to the message of a community and the life it lives, they set themselves on the same course to oblivion that Robert Owen and his friends followed.

This season of Easter is a wonderful time for each one of us as individuals and all of us as the Church to embrace with new fervor the simple yet powerful message of the death and resurrection of our Lord. The Holy Spirit can bring us together in one heart and mind in this. We can all with power bear witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus in the words we proclaim and in the common life that we share. I feel confident that if we allow the Spirit to work through us as it did in those first believers, the Church will be renewed and spread to the ends of the earth.

Monday, April 28, 2003

The relationship between the Resurrection and the Eucharist, as described by Cardinal Newman

He who from eternity was nothing but infinite incomprehensible Spirit, beyond all laws but those of His own transcendent Greatness, willed that for the eternity to come He should be united, in the most intimate of unions, with that which was under the conditions of a creature. Thy omnipotence, O Lord, ever protects itself—but nothing short of that omnipotence could enable Thee so to condescend without a loss of power. Thy Body has part in Thy power, rather than Thou hast part in its weakness. For this reason, my God, it was, that Thou couldst not but rise again, if Thou wast to die—because Thy Body, once taken by Thee, never was or could be separated from Thee, even in the grave...

I look at Thee, my Lord Jesus, and think of Thy Most Holy Body, and I keep it before me as the pledge of my own resurrection. Though I die, as die I certainly shall, nevertheless I shall not for ever die, for I shall rise again...

O my God, teach me so to live, as one who does believe the great dignity, the great sanctity of that material frame in which Thou hast lodged me. And therefore, O my dear Saviour! do I come so often and so earnestly to be partaker of Thy Body and Blood, that by means of Thy own ineffable holiness I may be made holy...

(Taken from "Resurrection", a selection from Meditations and Devotions.)


Hispanic ministry close to home

Some reader may remember how, in the parish where I serve as DRE, we began having a Mass in Spanish on a monthly basis last November. Well, that has now expanded to twice monthly. There is also starting in the Hispanic community in Shelbyville a catechetical program for First Reconciliation and First Communion. Finally a prayer group among Hispanics here will be starting soon. Its good for me to see the life of this community bloom so quickly.


On the other hand... would appear that Bishop John D'Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend here in Indiana has decided to merge a parish that has 1500 Hispanic parishioners with another nearby parish due to financial and priestly limitations:

The Ft. Wayne/South Bend diocese has officially announced St. Stephen's Catholic Church and St. Adalbert's Catholic Church will be merging. Bishop John D'Arcy announced Sunday that St. Stephen’s on the west side of South Bend is closing due to a shortage of priests and shortage of funds.

St. Stephen's is one of the few churches in Michiana to say mass in Spanish and now more than 1,500 Hispanic parishioners are looking for a new place to worship.


A good example of ways that American Catholics can help the Church in Central America

Hundreds of Georgetown-area residents couldn't go home last fall for the community fiesta in Ixchiguan, Guatemala, so Wilmington filmmaker Mike Oates brought the annual tradition to them.

More than 150 villagers now living in Sussex County came to St. Michael's Catholic Church in Georgetown to watch Oates' video of the festival and celebrate with a live band.

It was one of the few opportunities members of the county's growing Hispanic community have to reconnect with the friends, family and culture left behind when they journeyed north in search of jobs and a future for their children.

Those opportunities soon will grow through a three-year partnership between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington and the diocese in San Marcos, a state in southwestern Guatemala. It will link the church communities to enhance spiritual and cultural ties.

Hopefully partnerships like this will be able to lend strength to both parties. Churches in Central America will be given aid to help strengthen the faith of Catholics there. Churches here in the United States will learn ways of effectively reaching out the growing Hispanic and Latino populations here.


Icon a copy?

(after taking the link, scroll down about halfway down the page to read the article)

You may remember a post from last week where I linked to an article that claimed that the Holy Father might make a brief trip to Russia this summer in which he would return to the Russian Orthodox Church a revered 16th century icon of the Mother of God of Kazan.

Well, it appears that the icon might be an 18th century copy:

"Russia's culture minister said that the revered icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, which Pope John Paul II would like to return to Russia, is an 18th-century copy of the 16th-century original, the Interfax news agency reported Saturday.

A group of Russian museum experts, Russian Orthodox Church officials and representatives of the regional government of Tatarstan - of which Kazan is the capital - have researched the icon, which is hanging in the pope's apartments in the Vatican. The group also performed a joint expertise with Vatican experts, but the results of their work have not been made public...

No one at the Vatican could be reached for official comment, but officials have indicated that even if the object at the Vatican ends up being considered a copy, the religious value the icon holds for the faithful doesn't change, and the pope has said he intends to give it back.

Well, from that last paragraph it would seem that officials in the Vatican hope that these findings won't endanger the possibility of the papal trip. It would be interesting to know how the judgment about the icon's status will be viewed by the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church.


Baby Day

My wife Cindy is working today. And since I worked at the parish on both Saturday and Sunday, I'm taking the day off and spending it watching Michael. Then again, maybe I'm not taking the day off...

Saturday, April 26, 2003

The latest installment of my monthly column, "Faith and Family"

Editor's Note: This column appears monthly in The Criterion, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. A slightly edited version of it also appeared in my weekly column, "Spiritual Reflections", which appears in the daily newspaper, The Shelbyville News of the town of the parish where I serve as DRE.

The Easter baskets will soon be stored away along with the plastic eggs discovered during Easter egg hunts. The artificial grass is a thing of the past. The jelly beans, chocolate rabbits, and peeps found last Sunday morning have been duly eaten, their wrappers carefully thrown away.

Throughout the six weeks of Lent stores were filled with signs advertising the coming of Easter. Now that we have begun to celebrate it the signs have been taken down and replaced with advertisements for merchandise to be bought for Mother’s Day.

It would seem that the culture and society in which we live is more interested in experiencing the anticipation of a holiday than in actually celebrating the holiday itself. Perhaps that is because we are not as interested in the meaning of holidays as we are in simply the trappings that go along with them, trappings that, of course, have to be bought. I mean, how long can one really commemorate M&Ms that have special Easter colors?

On the other hand, the celebration of the conquering of death through our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection simply cannot be bound within a twenty-four hour day. His rising from the tomb is the axis around which the life of the Church and of all Catholic families have revolved for 2000 years. And we will only come to experience the fullness of the meaning of this event at the end of the world.

With this in mind, the Church has chosen to celebrate the joy of Easter for a full 50 days. For centuries, the Church in her liturgical life has set the season of Easter apart in distinctive ways. The alleluias that were so prominently absent during Lent cannot be avoided during Easter. The first reading at our Sunday Masses are taken from the Acts of the Apostles instead of the Old Testament so that we can remember how the first followers of Jesus proclaimed the joy of the resurrection.

If Easter is celebrated as a season in the Church at large, we must also do this in our families, in the domestic church. But in order for us to do this, we do not necessarily have to do a lot of new things around the home. I think that if we merely change some of the things that we ordinarily do to fit the season, the joy of Easter will be revealed to all who enter our homes.

For example, many families pray the traditional Catholic blessing before meals, the one that begins, “Bless us, O Lord,…” I would suggest that, throughout the season of Easter, families begin it first with the words, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” The member of the family who leads the prayer could say the first part while the rest of the family could respond with the second. Likewise, at the conclusion of the prayer during the season of Easter, don’t just say “Amen.” Instead, say, “Amen. Alleluia!” Families who pray the rosary together could also perhaps focus on the glorious mysteries and even intersperse alleluias after the various prayers.

Through these and other simple ways, our families can celebrate the joy of the season of Easter for a full 50 days, long after all of the candy has been eaten and the decorations put away for another year.


Consecrated virgins profiled in todays NY Times (LRR)

Their numbers are growing here in the United States. Could they be viewed as agents of the new evangelization? Perhaps:

Loretta Matulich, a consecrated virgin from Oregon City, Ore., and president of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, said there were at least 100 consecrated virgins in the United States, up from about 20 in 1995. In just the last year, about 15 women around the nation were consecrated, and in the next six months, another 15 will be, Ms. Matulich said.

Ms. Matulich said that although she was drawn to a religious life, becoming a nun was not her calling.

"I knew from childhood that I wanted to give my entire life to Jesus Christ in love," she said, "but I also knew that I wanted to teach in the public schools and live and work with a variety of people from all walks of life."

In Los Angeles in the 1950's, when Ms. Matulich considered the sisterhood, nuns did not teach in public schools or live and work outside Catholic institutions, she said.

"So I waited until God would show me where I fit," she said. "I found the exact fit in consecrated virginity lived in the world."

Friday, April 25, 2003

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Please note: Fr. O'Neal will be presiding at Mass this weekend at a parish where he is not usually assigned. He is filling for its pastor who will be away.

Second Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy Sunday

Acts 4:32-35
Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1 Jn 5:1-6
Jn 20:19-31

Some of you might not know that three years ago, Pope John Paul II decreed that this closing Sunday of the Octave of Easter was to be known as Divine Mercy Sunday. If you do not know some of the history about it, then I will be glad to provide with information and resources in full after Mass. So you know now, it has come as a result of visits begun in 1931 by Jesus to a Polish nun, now known as Saint Faustina Kowalska.

I am honored that Fr. Mark invited me to come to your church so that you can receive the Lord in a beautiful manner that goes beyond words. I am thankful to have the opportunity to be your servant today.

Let me give you some advice about Divine Mercy Sunday that comes as a result of my priestly experience, as new to this life as I may be.

Firstly, pray that more people come to receive God’s grace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is an honor to be able to grant God’s healing grace to people. Not that I do not want to hear everyone’s confession tonight and tomorrow morning, but I recommend that you make an appointment with your pastor. You have a prayerful pastor who does not take being your shepherd for granted. He will do all that he can to help you grow both in understanding and in appreciation of this sacrament. Don’t worry about telling him your deepest, darkest fault; both he and all the angels in heaven will be quite happy that you confessed it.

If you want to confess to me, then I am glad to give you God’s healing, too. I have received the impression at times that people like to confess to guest priests because the sins get packed into the guest’s car and they go with him down the mountain.

The second thing that I want you to do in regard to Divine Mercy Sunday is to study with greater hunger the original chronicle of Divine Mercy, the Holy Bible. This is not to say the autobiography of St. Faustina is not worth reading, but within the Bible you can read the complete version of Psalm 118, the psalm that we heard moments ago. You can read numerous accounts of God acting with mercy and love toward his people. I do not know all the things that Jesus said to St. Faustina, but I do know that Jesus unrolled the scroll upon which was written the prophecy of Isaiah, and Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and new sight to the blind.” All books that lead us to a deeper love of God are good books. The book commonly called the Good Book is still the best book.

Thirdly, do not seek God’s grace today simply because you seek the indulgence – the removal of temporal punishment that comes with each sin we commit – that comes along with confessing sins and receiving the Eucharist on this feast. Approach God simply because you love God and because you know that you have not loved him as well as you should. Have little enthusiasm for reducing any Purgatory time from your record. Consider only the unity with God through Jesus. This is the unity that God wanted us to have with him from the beginning of time. Do not worry about punishments; simply consider the beautiful words of Psalm 118: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”

It might seem odd that we have a new feast now sharing a day with as ancient a feast as can be found within the Church, such as Easter. As odd as it might seem, it has been done this way so that the people of God can gain a seat at the Great Feast in Heaven. This is the day that the Lord has made for us so that we can reserve our seat at the feast; let us rejoice and be glad.


Cardinal Newman on the witnesses to the resurrection

Newman proposes a curious question, "Why did not our Saviour show Himself after His resurrection to all the people? why only to witnesses chosen before of God?", and offers an interesting answer, "Because this was the most effectual means of propagating His religion through the world."

He wonders what would have been the reaction had the risen Savior appeared to the multitude:

What would have been the {284} effect of this? Of course, what it had already been. His former miracles had not effectually moved the body of the people; and, doubtless, this miracle too would have left them as it found them, or worse than before...Nothing is done effectually through untrained human nature; and such is ever the condition of the multitude. Unstable as water, it cannot excel. One day it cried Hosanna; the next, Crucify Him. And, had our Lord appeared to them after they had crucified Him, of course they would have shouted Hosanna once more; and when He had ascended out of sight, then again they would have persecuted His followers.

Newman also notes that, had Jesus appeared to the crowds, people would have made all sorts of excuses of their abiding unbelief. He points to St. Matthew's account of the ascension where even some disciples doubted what was going on.

So, if it is a given that the Lord chose to reveal himself to a chosen few after his rising, why did chose the few that he did?

"It is, indeed, a general characteristic of the course of His providence to make the few the channels of His blessings to the many; but in the instance we are contemplating, a few were selected, because only a few could (humanly speaking) be made instruments... be witnesses of His resurrection it was requisite to have known our Lord intimately before His death. This was the case with the Apostles; but this was not enough. It was necessary they should be certain it was He Himself, the very same whom they before knew. You recollect how He urged them to handle Him, and be sure that they could testify to His rising again...

...Doubtless, much may be undone by the many, but nothing is done except by those who are specially trained for action...

Here is another reason why the risen Lord chose to appear to a few:

Remember, too, this further reason why the witnesses of the Resurrection were few in number; viz. because they were on the side of Truth. If the witnesses were to be such as really loved and obeyed the Truth, there could not be many chosen...

...He specially chose twelve. The many He put aside for a while as an adulterous and sinful generation, intending to make one last experiment on the mass when the Spirit should come. But His twelve He brought near to Himself at once, and taught them. Then He sifted them, and one fell away; the eleven escaped as though by fire. For these eleven especially He rose again; He visited them and taught them for forty days...These were His witnesses, for they had the love of the Truth in their hearts. "I have chosen you," He says to them, "and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain."

Ok, all of this is nice and interesting, but what point does it have for us in our day-to-day life of faith? Newman suggests an answer:

We learn from the picture of the infant Church what that Church has been ever since, that is, as far as man can understand it. Many are called, few are chosen...

Who those secret ones are, who in the bosom of the visible Church live as saints fulfilling their calling, God only knows. We are in the dark about it. We may indeed know much about ourselves, and we may form somewhat of a judgment about those with whom we are well acquainted. But of the general body of Christians we know little or nothing. It is our duty to consider them as Christians, to take them as we find them, and to love them; and it is no concern of ours to debate about their state in God's sight.

Newman also notes how we can be witnesses of the resurrection:

We, too, though we are not witnesses of Christ's actual resurrection, are so spiritually. By a heart awake from the dead, and by affections set on heaven, we can as truly and without figure witness that Christ liveth, as they [the apostles] did. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself. Truth bears witness by itself to its Divine Author... a dark world Truth still makes way in spite of the darkness, passing from hand to hand. And thus it keeps its station in high places, acknowledged as the creed of nations, the multitude of which are ignorant, the while, on what it rests, how it came there, how it keeps its ground; and despising it, think it easy to dislodge it. But "the Lord reigneth." He is risen from the dead...

In his conclusion, Cardinal Newman points to the example of St. Ignatius of Antioch before the emperor Trajan:

...When St. Peter's disciple, Ignatius, was brought before the Roman emperor, he called himself Theophorus; and when the emperor asked the feeble old man why he so called himself, Ignatius said it was because he carried Christ in his breast. He witnessed there was but One God, who made heaven, earth, and sea, and all that is in them, and One Lord Jesus Christ, His Only-begotten Son, "whose kingdom (he added) be my portion!" The emperor asked, "His kingdom, say you, who was crucified under Pilate?" "His (answered the Saint) who crucified my sin in me, and who has put all the fraud and malice of Satan under the feet of those who carry Him in their hearts: as it is written, 'I dwell in them and walk in them.'"

Ignatius was one against many, as St. Peter had been before him; and was put to death as the Apostle had been;—but he handed on the Truth, in his day. At length we have received it. Weak though we be, and solitary, God forbid we should not in our turn hand it on; glorifying Him by our lives, and in all our words and works witnessing Christ's passion, death, and resurrection!

Consider these thoughts on the witnesses to the resurrection and how you and I can join them in this, the Octave of Easter.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

The Holy Father to visit Russia?

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov supported John Paul II's wish to visit Russia, and said his government is doing everything possible to overcome the opposition of the Orthodox Church.

"I think that the efforts made until now and the ones we are making to eliminate the differences between the two Churches will be crowned with success," Kasyanov said during a press conference Friday with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, while on a visit to Rome.

For his part, Berlusconi said that he has requested a meeting with Patriarch Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

John Paul II would like to stop over in Kazan, 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of Moscow, during his August visit to Mongolia, Vatican sources disclosed recently. It would mark the first time this Pope steps on Russian soil.

The Pope's objective is to return the icon of Our Lady of Kazan to the Russian Orthodox Church. The image is one of the most venerated by Russian faithful. It arrived in the Vatican in the 1990s, after being lost when the Bolsheviks came to power.

I wonder if the plans to visit Mongolia were made with the trip to Kazan in mind? The Mongolia trip has been talked about for several months now, but this is the first that I've heard of the possibility of a trip to Russia. I also wonder if the Holy Father were to visit Russia if it would be in his capacity as head of state, as he did a while back in his trip to Greece?

Even if that was the official reason for his trip (him being invited by the Russian government), it cannot be separated from his pastoral duties, especially when we see that the proposed trip is tied closely to the returning of a beloved Russian Orthodox icon.

Is glasnost on the rise in relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. One can only hope.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Catholic Reasons for Hope

Editor's Note: This is an installment in this column which I wrote during the season of Lent. Some installments during that time deal specifically with Lent. I will not be posting them at this time.

Q: We, as Catholics, believe in purgatory and those who are not Catholic do not. Does that mean we go to purgatory and they do not?

A: The Church’s teaching on purgatory is related to our beliefs about the way in which we come to experience the fullness of salvation in our union with God in heaven. This is a part of the Church’s teaching on faith and morals. We believe that Christ promised to keep the Church free from error when teaching on faith and morals.

He promised his apostles at the Last Supper that, after he ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit would “guide them into all truth” (John 16:13). He also told his disciples that “whoever listens to you, listens to me” (Luke 10:16).

The truths of God that the Church proclaims in its teachings on faith and morals apply to everyone, not just those who accept them. These are “universal truths.” Therefore, since we believe that purgatory to be true in this way, we can say that we believe that those who are not Catholic also go to purgatory.

I think that it is important to note briefly what we do indeed believe about purgatory since it something that many, both in and outside of the Catholic Church, are sometimes confused about.

Paragraph 1030 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins its explanation of purgatory in this way: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

This teaching hearkens back to what St. John tells about heaven in Rev 21:27: “...nothing unclean will enter it, nor any (one) who does abominable things or tells lies. Only those will enter whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.”

So who are those who “die in God’s grace” but who are still “imperfectly purified?” They are those who indeed die in God’s grace but who have either not yet been wholly purified of their desire to sin or who have not yet fulfilled all of the temporal penances for the sins that they committed while on the earth. When we are freed by the fires of God’s love from any desire to sin and of any temporal penances for sins committed in the past, we will be ready to enter into union with him in the joy of heaven. This purification is what happens in purgatory.


On the Road to Emmaus:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Wednesday in the Octave of Easter

Acts 3:1-10
Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9
Lk 24:13-35

Everyone who is baptized has a faith that is incomplete. Sometimes, as with infants, the quality of that faith is mysterious and seems, at any rate, to be held in trust by the parents and godparents. But even an adult who is baptized need to continue to grow in the strength and knowledge of their faith in the time following his or her faith.

All of us are like those disciples that we see in today's Gospel, on the road to Emmaus. Travelling from town to town had become an ordinary part of their day-to-day lives as disciples of Jesus. They found themselves on the road a lot. Their time on the road might have been a time of reflection, a time for them to receive direct instruction from Jesus. For when they would arrive at towns there would be crowds to preach to, people to visit. Miracles would happen. But the time on the road might have afforded some more personal time between Jesus and his disciples.

It would seem that our risen Lord remembered this and tood advantage of it as two of his disciples were on the road to Emmaus. He walked with them and learned the degree to which they understood the events of his passion and death and the extent to which they trusted in the truth of his rising. Then he proceeded to reveal to them how the Law and the prophets all announced that which had happened to him in Jerusalem and that it would lead to his glory.

Then they arrived in Emmaus. And, as in the days when they travelled with Jesus into towns, a miracle happened, only this time tiwas directed at the disciples themselves and not to one of the townsmen. In the midst of the breaking of the bread Jesus opened their eyes and allowed them to recognize him.

That Jesus did this miracle in this context surely was no accident. One of the last moments that the disciples would have shared with Jesus before his arrest would have been that last supper with him, where he told them how the bread and wine were his body and blood, and how they were the beginning of a new covenant. Just as Jesus on the road had opened their hearts and minds to the meaning of the Law and the prophets, so now in Emmaus he opened their hearts and minds to the meaning of the Eucharist an their eyes to his presence among them.

Yes, each of us are like those disciples. From the time of our own baptism until the present, we have been on the road, journeying with the Lord. He has probed us to see the degree to which we understand the spiritual meaning of the events of our everyday lives. He opens our hearts and minds to the meaning of the word and sacrament. And he opens our eyes through these gifts of his to us to see his real presence in the peopel we meet from day to day and in our very selves.

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, our faith in Jesus grows over time. t did not start out at our baptisms wholly complete. It grows by grace through our continual encounters with the Lord in that same word and those same sacraments which he gives to us.

Those disciples failed at first to discern Jesus' presence with them on the road. But they were open to learn. They listened attentively to the Lord's words. We, too, might not always come to see Jesus in the people with whom we live and work. But if we are willing to learn, he will reveal himself to us.

And when Jesus does this in our lives, we will be like the disciples again. When Jesus, through his word and sacrament, opens our eyes to his presence in our lives, we will immediately want to share this Good News with others, just as the disciples in Emmaus travelled back to Jerusalem in the middle of the night to tell their friends what had happened.

What we hear in today's Gospel is not just the account of some events that happened 2000 years ago. The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is to be our own story as well. Let us embrace it and so be transformed!

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

More ripple effects from the discovery of the ossuary of James

A couple of issues back, USA Weekend published an article by Ben Witherington (who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky) and Herschel Shanks (who is the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review) entitled, "In the Name of the Brother" in which they, in essence, give a plug for their co-written book, "The Brother of Jesus."

One of the things that Witherington wrote in the article was a commentary on the possible impact of the discovery of the ossuary on the Catholic and Orthodox belief of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

It is possible the inscription on the ossuary -- "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" -- provides us with a challenge in regard to some basic Christian assumptions about James. The Roman Catholic tradition is that Jesus' brothers and sisters actually were cousins; Orthodox Christians believe they were Joseph's children by a previous marriage. The inscription conflicts with both of those Christian traditions, in fact, for there certainly was an Aramaic word for "cousin" that could have been used in this inscription but was not. If Jesus was the son of only Mary, and James was the son of only Joseph, then Jesus and James would not literally have been brothers, as this inscription states.

I read this article when it came out. I was a bit troubled by it and gave it some thought, but I suspected that there was a strong answer out there in defense of the Catholic and Orthodox belief. Well, apparently I wasn't the only person who had a reaction to it, for Jimmy Akin at Catholic Answers seems to have gotten a number of calls regarding it. In response, he has written an article entitled "Bad Aramaic Made Easy", which is posted on the website of Catholic Answers.

In his article, Akin has this to say at the start about Witherington's argument:

Witherington's characterization of Catholic teaching is not without problems, but the argument he makes regarding the Aramaic on the ossuary is fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is his assertion that there is an unnamed Aramaic word for cousin.

Akin's article is thorough. You should read it if you're interested in this topic. I think that he shows that the real problem with Witherington's argument is as much the fact that he fails to explain his claims about Aramaic as in the claim itself. If one is going to make an argument that tries to show the invalidity of a belief that has been articulated by the Church from nearly its beginnning, then that argument needs to be strong and supported with all kinds of evidence. It would seem that Witherington has failed to do this.

Perhaps he will respond to Akin's correspondence and show evidence backing up his claim. I will be interested to see it if he does.


A new arrival at St. Blog's

No, it isn't a new blog. It is something, or, rather, someone much more important than a blog. The wife of the writer of Summa Contra Mundum delivered little baby Sarah Theresa. Pictures of the precious treasure can be found here.


Do not Cling to Me:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Tuesday in the Octave of Easter

Acts 2:36-41
Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
Jn 20:11-18

"The Apostle to the Apostles." That is how I have heard Mary Magdalene described at times. An apostles is one who is sent ot proclaim the message of the resurrection. In today's Gospel we see Jesus sending Mary Magdalene to his disciples to share with them this good news. They, in turn, will later on be sent by the Lord to "go make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19).

In that account of the Ascension from St. Matthew's Gospel, Jesus also told his apostles to baptize those that would become his disciples as a result of their preaching. This command we can see being followed in today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. St. Peter proclaims to the crowd that they must be baptized in order to be forgiven of their sins and to receive the Holy Spirit. Three thousand accepted St. Peter's words that day and were baptized.

This storyline is about the building of a covenant community. It started with two people: the risen Lord and Mary Magdalene. In today's Gospel Jesus called her by name and she immediately knew that he had risen from the dead. Just as quickly he said to her, "Do not cling to me." This covenant wasn't to be a personal possession. Her relationship with him wasn't exclusive. He was sent by the Father to all of humanity.

And so he sent her to his disciples to share with them the Good News. They, in turn, were sent by him to all of the nations to make of them disciples. This started in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost described in today's first reading. Its work continues today.

Entering into a personal relationship with Jesus, where a person feels him call his or her name as Mary Magdalened did, is an important event in one's life of faith but it is not the ending point. As we see in today's first reading, people ordinarily enter into this personal relationship with Jesus through a person who is sent by a community of faith. They mediate the relationship. This community is nothing less than the Church Christ established. He established it with the mission to proclaim his Good News.

And so when one accepts that message one enters into a relationship both with Jesus and with the Church he founded which shared the Gospel with that person. But the distinction that I make here between Christ and his Church isn't quite as clear as it seems. Christ identified himself with his Church and this mystical relationship was enlivened on that first Pentecost. One can see evidence of it later on in St. Paul's conversion experience where Jesus asks him when he was on the road to Damascus, preparing to arrest Christians there, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"

When Jesus told Mary Magdalene, "Do not cling to me", he revealed to us that he did not intend to save individuals one by one, totally separated from each other. No, he wants to share his salvation with all of his disciples together, that they may be one as he and the Father are one.

So being moved and converted by coming to experience Christ as Lord and Messiah as the crowds did in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost is not enough. We must also, as St. Peter told them, be baptized and be added to the number of disciples.

We can rejoice in the fact that this work of building Christ's Church continues in our time and place. Three Thousand were added on that on which the Church was born. I wonder how many tens of thousands were baptized around the world at the Easter Vigil last Saturday night? How many hearts will the grace of God touch through our words and deeds over the coming year so that they too will be led to the waters of baptism at the Vigil in 2004?

Monday, April 21, 2003

More Catholic Reasons for Hope

Editor's Note: I hope to do some extensive commentary on the Holy Father's latest encyclical soon.

Q: Please tell me about the latest encyclical letter written by Pope John Paul II.

A: The Holy Father issued his most recent encyclical letter, entitled Ecclesia de Eucharistia (“On the Eucharist in its relationship to the Church”) on Holy Thursday of this year. An encyclical letter is a mode of teaching employed by popes which ordinarily carries a large amount of teaching authority. The term ‘encyclical’ refers to the fact that the letter was to make a ‘cycle’ of all of the local churches (dioceses) and thus be directed to the broadest possible audience.

It is my opinion that the primary message which the Holy Father intended to proclaim in this most recent encyclical letter was summarized in its first words:

The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church. In a variety of ways she joyfully experiences the constant fulfillment of the promise: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20), but in the Holy Eucharist, through the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord, she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity. (paragraph 1, emphasis in original)

The message here and the Pope’s exploration of it throughout the rest of the letter’s more than twenty pages is a reaffirmation of the Church’s constant teaching on this most important of topics. However, it is often expressed in inspiring ways and at times shows the Holy Father’s deep, personal love of the Eucharist and its profound meaning in his life:

When I think of the Eucharist, and look at my life as a priest, as a Bishop and as the Successor of Peter, I naturally recall the many times and places in which I was able to celebrate it. I remember the parish church of Niegowiæ, where I had my first pastoral assignment, the collegiate church of Saint Florian in Krakow, Wawel Cathedral, Saint Peter's Basilica and so many basilicas and churches in Rome and throughout the world. I have been able to celebrate Holy Mass in chapels built along mountain paths, on lakeshores and seacoasts; I have celebrated it on altars built in stadiums and in city squares... This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation. The Son of God became man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One who made it from nothing. (paragraph 8)

As some news reports have emphasized (usually to the exclusion of all other matters), the Holy Father also reaffirmed in this encyclical that only validly ordained priests may preside at the celebration of the Eucharist and only those in full communion with the Catholic Church may receive Holy Communion. However, it must be noted that he explained these constant teachings in the context of the broader message shown in the first excerpt provided above and that his words on these specific topics make up only a small part of the overall encyclical.


Catholic Reasons for Hope

Editor's Note: This is the continuing column that I write for the bulletin of the parish where I serve as DRE. I have written two relatively long responses to two questions today due to the fact that I had to submit columns for the next two Sundays today. In the coming days I will post some of the columns that I wrote during the season of Lent when I was fasting from blogging.

Q: Is in vitro fertilization an acceptable way of conceiving a child according to the Church? I've heard that it was not and I was confused. Wouldn't the Church want married couples to have children?

A: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) determined in a 1987 document entitled Donum Vitae ("The Gift of Life") that in vitro fertilization, whereby a husband and wife conceive a child through the intervention of doctors or other specialists, is morally unacceptable. The CDF is the body in the Vatican that aids the Holy Father in making determinations regarding the Church's teachings on faith and morals.

The principle being brought to bear here is the Church's constant belief, based upon divine revelation in Sacred Scripture, that God has willed that it is a husband and a wife who are his exclusive cooperators in the continuing creation of new life. From the very beginning of the Bible we see that God is the author of life but also that he has chosen to make husbands and wives his "co-creators" in the continual passing on of the gift of life. We see this when he blessed Adam and Eve, saying to them, "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen 1:28).

God created Adam and Eve with the natural means to cooperate with him in the creation of new life. This continues today in us. However, we today are still affected by the sad consequences of the original sin of our first parents. One of those effects is, in this particular instance, the fact that some married couples are unable to conceive a child through the natural means created by God.

This is a particularly difficult situation for many couples. And it is made even more so by the laudable desire to have children. That indeed is one of the primary purposes of marriage. For a husband and a wife to thus be unable to conceive a child can be especially troubling to them. All of us in the Church have a duty to show them support and offer them up to our heavenly Father in prayer.

However, because of God's design of marriage and of the procreation of children, it is morally unacceptable to use in vitro fertilization to bring about the conception of a child. Procreation is to be the result of a couple's mutual self-giving to each other, a reflection and symbol of God’s gift of himself to us in his Son.

God's design for procreation is fundamentally contradicted, therefore, when a third party is brought into the equation. This happens in the process of in vitro fertilization when a husband a wife have a doctor or other specialist bring about the conception of child through their own expertise and technological aids.

This explanation speaks to the nature of in vitro fertilization in and of itself. However, there are other effects of this process which, in a sense, confirm the fact that it is morally unacceptable. It is often the case in this process that many ova are fertilized, and thus many embryos, many new persons are created. This, as a result, places a married couple in the troubling position of having to make a decision regarding what is often termed, "selective reduction", wherein some embryos are destroyed or frozen.

But even if it could be guaranteed that such terrible things would not happen, in vitro fertilization is still morally unacceptable due to the fact that it directly and actively contradicts the revealed design for procreation created and willed by God.

In the end, the Church in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) shows couples struggling with infertility how they can find meaning and consolation in this most difficult of burdens:

"The Gospel shows that physical sterility is not an absolute evil. Spouses who still suffer from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the Lord's Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity. They can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others" (CCC 2379).


Getting back in business

I'm not the only blogger back online following the conclusion of Lent. Peter Nixon of Sursum Corda and Mark Shea of Catholic and Loving It are alo back blogging.


Which story will you believe?:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Reading

Monday in the Octave of Easter

Acts 2:14, 22-32
Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
Mt 28:8-15

How do you account for the empty tomb? St. Peter in the first reading proclaimed to a crowd in Jerusalem that Jesus had been raised from the dead. He annunced that Jesus was the Messiah, that his rising was confirmation of that, and that David prophesied all of this in Psalm 16. Finally he pointed to himself and his fellow disciples as witnesses to the truth of Jesus' resurrection.

On the other hand we are also confronted with the story of the elders and of the guards assigned to the tomb which is recounted in today's Gospel. They claimed that Jesus' disciples stole his body from the tomb in the middle of the night.

These were the two explanations for the empty tomb that seemed to have circulated in the first decades following its discovery. No court of law was ever asked to give some sort of definitive judgment as to the veracity of one or the other account. It was and is simply up the determination of the conscience of each individual who is confronted by the empty tomb.

This was true in the day of St. Peter. But it is also true here and now, for lots of different people like to give lots of different accounts for the story of Jesus' rising. Some of them are very much like the story told by the elders and the guards.

There are many people living around us who have not decided yet which account is true. In a certain way they are like the women who left the empty tomb in today's Gospel. The women were confused and did not know what to think. So are the people around us today who still have not decided if Jesus truly did rise from the dead. They would like to think that Jesus rose, but they're just not sure. These people, like the women, have a strange mixture of feelings. They are "fearful yet overjoyed."

Their joy can, like that of the women, become complete by experiencing the risen Christ for themselves. When the women, with their conflicted emotions, saw Jesus standing before them, they knew at once the truth of the empty tomb. Jesus' first words to them, "Do not be afraid", dispelled their doubts and filled them with joy.

The experience that we can have of the risen Christ might not be as dramatic or as direct as the one described in today's Gospel. It will probably begin through the account of the empty tomb given to us by others. When St. Peter finished his address to the crowd, many of them became disciples merely out of trust in his words. They hadn't seen Jesus stand before them like the women did.

In one way or another, many of us have examined the accounts offered to us in Scripture, Tradition, and of the beliefs of our faith. Many of us have experienced, in a spiritual way, the presence of the risen Christ in our life of prayer and service. It is up to me, then, to share the good news and jy that I have embraced with those who are still in doubt, who are "fearful yet overjoyed."

So long ago, St. Peter proclaimed the truth of Jesus and his empty tomb. Others gave a different account. Witnesses are needed when different explanation are given for a specific event and when the person considering them want to arrive at the truth. You who believe what St. Peter tells us in today's first reading are witnesses today. Will we be as bold as he was on that first Pentecost?

St. Peter, intercede for us with the Lord, that he might give us the strength to be a convincing witness to the truth of the empty tomb, just as you were.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Alleluia! He is risen! He is risen indeed!

It's good to be back blogging again. But it's even better to be celebrating the great and joyful feast of Easter with Catholics around the world and with friends and family here in my family's home.

The celebrating of the Easter Vigil was special last night, as it always is. Five people came into the Church last night in the parish where I serve as DRE. That's not as many as I would have liked. But that was five people who weren't members of the Church before last night. Praise God!

May our heavenly Father shower upon all of you the grace of his risen Son, filling your hearts with his new and eternal life. Happy Easter!