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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Friday, May 30, 2003

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Acts 1:1-11
Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Eph 1:17-23 or Eph 4:1-13 orEph 4:1-7, 11-13
Mk 16:15-20

For a few moments, forget about either picking up serpents or driving out demons. I return to a theme that I have used within the past month: the Gospel passage takes on new meaning when the verses around the Lectionary reading are placed along with the reading. In this case, I am going to read to you the verse found immediately before the start of this Gospel reading: “Later, as the eleven were at table, Jesus appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised.”

Notice that in this Gospel reading, there is no final setting on the side of a mountain as we find within Matthew and there is no dramatic ascension as we find within Luke. As the Ascension is presented within Mark, we lack a scene for great cinema. Also, we lack a dramatic Pentecost scene. The one big type of fire that can be imagined as a result of what we have heard is the fire-breathing done by Jesus toward his disciples – and I do not mean a gentle “Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Do any of us have a problem with the Resurrection? I doubt that any of us disciples are that obstinate, but if any of us has a problem with it, then we need to be honest enough to ask God for our eyes to be opened so that we can see the signs that God placed in front of us years ago. If we do not have a problem with the Resurrection, thereby allowing ourselves to be open to what the Risen Lord wants us to do, then I ask: How are we going to let the Lord work in us today as individual believers and as a Church? He wants to work in us. He wants to work with us. He wants all of us to display his signs of hope and salvation by acting as he acted and by loving as he loves.

Many believers need to do a better job confirming the authority of the Word of God through any type of sign. Believe me, we can bring many people closer to Jesus if this one thing is done. Many believers pray, “Come, Holy Spirit!” However, it might be possible that the Holy Spirit wants the person praying for the coming of the Spirit to be a great beacon as a result of the light that he has already received. Perhaps the person praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit needs to pray for the gift of understanding how the Holy Spirit has already come to him. Perhaps the prayer must be changed to one of joy: “Thank you for being here all along, Holy Spirit!”

Our Church is going to celebrate the coming of the fire of the Holy Spirit next Sunday, but as for this week, we have been roused by a Savior who has not placed tongues of flame over our heads; he has placed a fire under our rear ends. We can either sit around complaining about the heat or we can take the spiritual energy that we have received and bring the light of the Gospel to this community and to all parts of the earth. Call me crazy, but I do not believe that any of us have received the Sacrament of Confirmation simply so that we can take the Word of God sitting down. If we stay seated, we can get burnt. If we carry the flame, we can set the world on fire as Jesus wanted it to be done. His will be done.


A Garden Variety Flu and Blogger Tunnel Syndrom

Didn't blog much yesterday and yet today because I've been hit with your regular garden variety 24-hour flu. Well, its been about 24 hours now and I seem to be getting over it. We'll see if I feel up to doing any blogging in the afternoon.

Went to the doctor yesterday complaining about a couple different ailments (not the flu--it was just after seeing him that it came on). He's going to have me checked out to see if I have corpal tunnel syndrome. It looks fairly strongly that I do and have a fairly severe case of it in my right wrist. If that is the case, I'll have to have surgery.

I don't know how long that would put writing and keyboard work on the shelf. But if it does, it will certainly be a real period of fasting for this writer...

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Learning through Living:

A Reflection on Today's Readings

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(yeah, I live in one of those dioceses)

Acts 18:1-8
Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
Jn 16:16-20

As a person who loves to learn, I would never agree that some things can only be learned wholly and entirely through experience alone. At the same time, I do acknowledge that there are some aspects of things, even some essential aspects, that one can only learn through lived experience.

This is true in vocational discernment. Years ago, before I became a novice monk at St. Meinrad Archabbey, I spent a lot of time learning and reading about the life of a Benedictine monk. I had also done a lot of observing and conversing with monks. I had even spent a few nights and days as a guest in the monastery. But there were many aspects of the monastic life that I simply could not learn until I actually wore the habit.

Similarly, before I married my wife, I read much about the deep meaning of the sacrament of matrimony. And yet the divine truths revealed in it meant so much more to me once I was actually a husband.

Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, the transition to fatherhood showed me clearly how some things can only be learned through the living of life. No amount of reading, conversations, videos, or even prayer could have prepared me completely for the changes ushered into my life both once Cindy and I knew that we were expecting and the moment that Michael was born.

Just a day before he was born I could sit quietly in a room and write prayerful reflections like this one. I thought that I knew that such calm and solitude was necessary for such prayer. But now my understanding of prayer has expanded. I can write my prayerful reflections with the patter of little feet going in and out of the room where I sit.

Jesus, in today's Gospel, tried to tell his disciples about the changes that were about to happen. He told them that he was going away soon but that they would see him again. He told them that they would grieve but that their grief would be turned into joy.

The disciples simply could not grasp what the Lord was telling them. And they wouldn't until his words came to pass, until he ascended to his Father and the Holy Spirit descended upon them. How was it that they could have understood beforehand that, in the Spirit, they could see again the Lord who had gone up to heaven? It was impossible.

But as the acccount of the first Pentecost tells us, those disciples must have believed Jesus' words despite their lack of understanding. For on that day in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came upon them they knew the Lord's presence in themselves, in each other, and in the crowd as they boldly and joyfully proclaimed the Gospel.

I am certain that the Lord is calling each of us to embrace truths that we cannot fully understand until we live them. Such is the nature of the paschal mystery and the kingdom of God. So go forward into life with the power of faith, learning, living, and proclaiming the truth of the Gospel.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

James Dobson on Population, Abortion, and Contraception

Rachel Watkins has some interesting comments on this over at HMS Blog:

Matt listens to Dr. Dobson's "Focus on the Family" almost every day during his rides around the county. He came home yesterday relating some info from a recent (perhaps yesterday's) program that discussed the inverted triangle of population we are currently suffering under and abortion.

Sadly, he stated that 28% of the expected population has been lost to abortion but even more sadly he blamed the inverted population figures (more elderly than young at staggering numbers) only on abortion and not on birth control...


I have a spiritual session this morning

In the meantime, I'd recommend that you scroll down to a post from last Thursday where I provided a link to a post at Disputations that provided dates for pre-Reformation vernacular translations of the Bible. I think that there is an interesting dialogue going in my comment box there. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: What is the ‘virtue of religion’? It was mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Is it based in Holy Scripture?

A: The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) mentions ‘the virtue of religion’ in the section in which the first commandment, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve. You shall have no other gods before me.”, is discussed. In particular it appears in the subsection where the way in which we serve God is explored.

No precise definition of ‘virtue of religion’ is provided in the CCC. However, paragraph 2095 points in the direction of an understanding of the term:

“The theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity inform and give life to the moral virtues. Thus charity leads us to render to God what we as creatures owe him in all justice. The virtue of religion disposes us to have this attitude.” (emphasis in original)

Before we can arrive at a definition of ‘virtue of religion’, I think that it is important to know what a virtue is. A virtue is a habit, a pattern of thinking, speaking, or acting that we build up. A virtue is a good habit. Virtues are built up through the aid of God’s grace. On the other hand, a vice is a bad habit. It is built up through our turning away from God and his grace.

With paragraph 2095 and this understanding of virtue in mind, the ‘virtue of religion’ can be seen as the habit that precedes and continues to support our living out of the virtues of faith, hope, and love. It is what keeps us directed toward God in a sense of gratitude and adoration, as paragraph 2096 shows us:

Adoration is the first act of the virtue of religion. To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love…” (emphasis added)

Before we can live out the life of grace in the particular virtues of faith, hope, and charity, we need to acknowledge the existence of God in his fullness.

Now is ‘the virtue of religion’ biblical? One might not find that particular phrase in Sacred Scripture, but it permeates the Bible from beginning to end. All of the divine revelation that we receive in the Bible is directed toward helping us recognize “God as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love…” If it is hard to recognize this in the Bible in a particular chapter or verse, it might be because it is there, in one way or another, in every chapter and verse. It might be that we are unable to see the proverbial tree for the forest.


If any reader of Nota Bene would like to submit questions for "Catholic Reasons for Hope", please do so by e-mail.


Who says World Youth Day doesn't have a positive impact?

A senior at Columbus North HS was recently named a Presidential Scholar, an award that is given to only a small handfull of students in each state each year. The nominees are judged on various criteria: grades, extra-curricular activities, service in the community, and an essay.

The winner from Columbus happened to write his essay on the positive experience he had at the recent World Youth Day in Toronto. He was quoted in The Republic (Columbus' daily newspaper) as saying that getting to meet President Bush will be great but that it won't compare to being just a few feet away from the Holy Father in Toronto. Good choice of priorities.

I'd provide a link to the article, except that the folks at The Republic only allow print subscribers to view them online. Here is an excerpt though:

Within two summers, Columbus North senior Phillip Milroy will have seen in person two of the world’s most powerful leaders.

Milroy, a 2003 Presidential Scholar winner, will attend a June medallion ceremony in Washington D.C. in honor of the award. It is customary for the president to be there.

“That’s so cool,” he said. “I have so much respect for the office (of the presidency).”

But Milroy said the possibility to greet President George W. Bush won’t top standing within 10 feet of Pope John Paul II last summer at World Youth Day in Toronto.

“With all due respect to President Bush, my memory of the Pope will mean more to me than shaking the president’s hand,” he said.

The scholar’s loyalty to the pope is understandable. Milroy, an active member of St. Bartholomew Church, was named one of about 140 Presidential Scholars nationwide partly because of the pope.

The U.S. Department of Education selects one male and one female from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and from schools in cities where U.S. families live abroad.

Another 20 students are selected for artistic talent.

Students are chosen by college-entrance test scores, letters of recommendation and essays.

Milroy, ranked fourth in his class, wrote the largest of his five essays about what his experience in Toronto meant to him.

“The majority of it was a rundown of my trip to see him (the pope),” he said. “I saw him from 10 feet away. That was the focal point of my essay.”...

Saturday, May 24, 2003

This week's installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections"

This is a time of year for graduation ceremonies. Many of you may have already attended a few of these in the high schools and colleges in our area. Others of you are probably making plans to do so. Large groups of friends and relatives of graduates come to these ceremonies and the requisite open houses that follow them to honor and show support for these young people.

It is fitting that a ceremony at which diplomas are bestowed is called a ‘commencement.’ The word ‘commencement’ means the beginning of something. For those graduating from high school or college it can mean the beginning of one’s years in college or the start of a career and the establishment of their own household. However, those who participate in a commencement are often more focused on endings rather than beginnings. They see it as the ending of one’s high school days or their college years.

Perhaps another way to describe a commencement is to call it a ‘liminal moment.’ The word ‘liminal’ comes from the Latin word ‘limen’ that means ‘doorway.’ In a liminal moment a person, in a sense, goes through a doorway, from one room into another. For those who participate in commencement exercises they might think that are going from the room of school to the room of life. They are putting their books behind them and wanting to apply that what they learned in them.

But although a commencement ceremony might be a liminal moment, what we do from one room of our lives to the next does not change. It is only the context that does. In every room of our lives we are to continue to learn. That is what we human beings made in the image of God were created to do. Human beings were made to strive for transcendence, to go ever further, ever higher. And we do this by learning in a myriad of ways. In some periods of our lives it is through the study of textbooks. But at all times it also should be through reflection upon lived experience. No matter what, being a learner is a fundamental part of what it is to be a human being.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, he through whom each of us were created, showed his keen awareness of this by calling his followers ‘disciples.’ The word ‘disciple’ is a Latin word meaning ‘student.’ We who are his followers today have this title as well, no matter what age we are or how long we have lived the life of faith.

The words and deeds of Jesus that we, as his disciples, are to study and emulate are relatively small in number. The raw material that is presented to us in the Gospels might make up only a chapter or two in an ordinary textbook. But the meaning and the truths that his words and deeds reveal to us cannot be contained in all the books of the world.

For two thousand years the disciples of Jesus have studied at the feet of their Master. The learning never stops. It would seem that there is never a commencement ceremony for the students in Jesus’ school of love. But there is. And it is a beginning of something greater than anyone of us can imagine. The commencement ceremony of a disciple of Jesus is that birth into the eternal life of heaven. It is the liminal moment when we, by grace, pass through the doorway of mortality to immortality.


"Spiritual Reflections" is published weekly in The Shelbyville News.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Please look at this post

I have a post on NFP and Evangelicals a bit down on the page. If you would scroll down, take a look at it, and share your comments, I would appreciate it.


Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
1 Jn 4:7-10
Jn 15:9-17

During the past two months, our school was informed about an organization based in middle Tennessee that gives students financial incentive to memorize the Ten Commandments. All that our students had to do in order to receive money was to recite the Commandments in front of a teacher or another school official; in turn, the student received a form that was to be sent to the organization. I hope that the children receive their money.

But in all honesty, I must say that I hope that no person memorizes the Ten Commandments simply for the sake of fattening their wallet. If disciples’ motives stay on such a base level, then the disciples show that they seek to avoid growth in both their individual and collective relationships with God. On this base level, they simply want to serve their own interests.

Also, I wish to say about the Ten Commandments that it has been a recent trend to place the Commandments on some manner of public display. I hope this is being done for the purpose of teaching a good lesson; unfortunately, the posting of the Ten Commandments can serve as a form of personal boasting. I have seen signs with the Commandments printed on them placed along the sides of streets. I have seen the Commandments posted on the walls near the cash registers in fast food restaurants. I have heard about numerous courthouses making room on their walls for the Ten Commandments. It can appear sad to some that we have to be reminded about the Commandments in such places. I say that because no disciple, no matter what age, should ever have to look beyond their families, their friends, and their community to see either the Ten Commandments or any other divine commandments brought to life each day by disciples of the God who has bestowed these commandments upon His people. First and foremost, the people of God must be living signs.

Secondly, the mere memorization of God’s Commandments can never replace daily putting the commandments to action. Many people know how to memorize many things. A good disciple can never be content with putting something into memory; a good disciple goes beyond memorization and has the commandments written on their heart. A wise disciple acts out of love rather than by what they know. Such a transition from mere memorization to actualization is always necessary. It takes little skill to see the difference between when someone does something because they remembered to do it and when someone does something out of love. Jesus has called us to love and to act out of love.

However, there is a beautiful place where memory and love meet. They meet on the altar when Jesus says: “Do this in memory of me.” That is what we are meant to remember more than a list of Commandments. We are called to remember how much Jesus loves us. He loves us so much that He completely offers himself to us. He wants us to offer ourselves to Him and to His people. He wants us to share with all people the love that He has shared with us. This commandment might not appear on the list of ten, it might not appear near a cash register, and it might not get us cash from some foundation in Tennessee, but it will unite us more with God. Following the command to do this or anything in memory of Jesus’ love will gain for us a reward of greater value than any dollar.


Laying down One's Life for One's Friends, Then and Now:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Acts 15:22-31
Ps 57:8-9, 10-12
Jn 15:12-17

"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."

Jesus' words at the Last Supper, which we also hear in today's Gospel, must have been ringing in the apostles' ears as they, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, made their decision at the council of Jerusalem and sent it off to be announced in Antioch and elsewhere. Their hearts and minds must have been opened to a deeper level of meaning in those words than they had previously known.

Before the complaint had arrived from Antioch in which Gentile believers told of themselves being harrassed by Jewish believers to be circumcised, following the law of Moses had the life of the apostles in Jerusalem. Now, as a result of the council, they were starting to realize that the Law was not important in any ultimate sense. They were being asked, in essence, to lay down that life for their friends.

Yes, these Gentile believers in Antioch were their friends, their brothers. This was te ultimate question on the table in the council. Were Gentile believers, not bound to the Law, truly brothers of those who felt that they were?

The greeting of the lettter that the apostles in Jerusalem sent out to the Gentile believers might have been more important than the body of it: "The Apostles and the presbyters, your brothers, to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin: greetings." They went to great pains in this greeting to emphasize the fact that they were all brothers one of the other.

But surely those who still followed the Law also felt great pain as they came to realize that their life in the Law was, in essence, coming to an end. They might have been able to take solace, however, in the knowledge that this pain was joined to the pain that Christ felt in his passion and death. This, of course, as the prototypical example of that greatest love of which Jesus spoke at the Last Supper.

The life of the Law that was being laid down was being raised up and transformed into the life of the Spirit. It was this same Holy Spirit that moved among the brothers in Jerusalem and helped them make that decision to not require those believers of Gentile origin to follow the Law as they did. It was that Spirit that helped the brothers in Jerusalem recognize Gentile believers as their brothers.

Too often in our parishes and in our families we, as individuals, like to cling to a large set of personal preferences. We often even go so far as to try to make them define the life of the others around us. But if these preferences do not touch on truly important matters, and if they are not shared by the rest, then our clinging to them and pushing them on others will only be a source of division.

It is in instances like these that we are called to lay down our lives just as the apostles in Jerusalem did so long ago. The Spirit helped them do this 2000 years ago. Surely he will help us as well. And just as the Spirit raised them back up and filled them with new and eternal life, so will we be filled with it as well when we love our brothers with that greatest of loves.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

So the Catholic Church fought like Hades to keep the Bible out of the vernacular?

Not according to Tom over at Disputations, who provides some interesting data about scriptural translations.

If you ever have that tired old line thrown at you, throw those stats back.


Is there a peculiarly Evangelical argument for NFP and against contraception?

Recently I read Sam and Bethany Torode's book Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception. Overall I felt it was a good book which presented its arguments clearly and in a way that reflected the lived experienced of this admittedly young couple.

However, apart from an appeal to the authority of the Magisterium, the arguments for NFP and against contraception presented by the Torodes was essentially the same argument that has been offered by the Catholic Church.

This got me wondering. Is there a peculiarly Evangelical argument for NFP and against contraception. I chose to use the term 'Evangelical' here instead of 'Protestant' because, from my observation, it seems that, among Protestants, Evangelicals form a larger group than, say Fundamentalists, but are still dedicated in general to living out a peculiarly Christian worldview. They seek to shape the world in which they live to Gospel values.

On the other hand using merely the term 'Protestant' might include too many 'mainline' Christians which, from my observation, seem to try to reframe their Gospel values to the world in which they live. This is not to say that there are many Christians in mainline denominations which might also describe themselves as Evangelicals. But this simply points to the fact that, perhaps, the term 'Evangelical' would be the best adjective to describe the kind of Christian whose views on NFP and contraception I am seeking to learn.

These observations may be overgeneralizations. And if any of feel they are, please let me know.

When one lays aside the appeal to the Magisterium, the Catholic argument will appeal to such passages of scripture as Gen 1:28, Mt 19:5-6, and Lk to demonstrate God's design for marriage and how NFP is consonant with this and contraception is not. The Catholic argument would also look to passages such as Gen 38:8-10, Gal 5:20, and Rev 9:21, 21:8, and 22:15 as showing direct scriptural condemnations of contraception while 1 Cor 7:5 might show direct scriptural support of the principles of NFP. Many more scriptural passages could be cited, but I believe that they would simply support the same conclusions drawn from the passages described above.

The Catholic argument would also appeal to natural law. This aspect of the argument can be seen as very much tied to an appeal to the Magisterium since it is this that provides the authoritative interpretation of natural law in Catholic moral teachings. However, it seems that among some Evangelicals there has always been an interest in natural law. How they would see this either tied to or distinct from Scripture, however, I cannot say. Would the degree to which natural law is separated from (i.e, not revealed in) Scripture reduce its authority for them?

The Catholic argument would also appeal to tradition. It appeals to patristic sources as far back as the Didache to show that the Church has shown opposition to contraception from the earliest days of its history. That it has become more precisely defined in the recent past (not just since 1968 but for at least a century earlier than Humanae Vitae) does not necessarily mean that the recent definitions are novel. They were simply restatements of a teaching in a language that is intelligible to a modern audience and which was prompted by recent developments in society.

Of course an appeal to tradition would, in general, hold less weight for an Evangelical than an appeal to Scripture. For some it would very little weight at all. Perhaps this is why it has been difficult for me to discover any kind of explanation for why all Christian communions, including those that could be described as Evangelical, opposed contraception before 1930 but have, since that time, reversed their teaching. An Evangelical trying to defend a current belief by appealing to how his ancestors believed in 1900 would not necessarily hold a lot of weight because it would be, in essence, an appeal to tradition.

This, then, is the Catholic argument and a perspective on how Evangelicals might relate to parts of it.

In seeking out a peculiarly Evangelical argument for NFP and against contraception, I am assuming that it will primarily involve an appeal to Scripture. But would an Evangelical appeal to the same passages of Scripture that a Catholic would, and would he have the same interpretation of those passages as the Catholic? What would an Evangelical say about natural law in crafting his or her belief for NFP and against contraception? And what, if anything, would he or she say about tradition?

Perhaps, in the end, there doesn't need to be a peculiarly Evangelical argument for NFP and against contraception. After all, Evangelicals and Catholics hold a lot of beliefs in common, whether individuals on either side would like to admit this or not. Perhaps a belief for NFP and against contraception could be one of them. If it cannot, what is it in the fundamentals of Evangelical theology that would not allow for such common ground?

If any of you have any thoughts on this, I would appreciate your insights and comments.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Out of the mouths of babes...

My wife Cindy heard the following told at a La Leche League meeting yesterday. Another mother in the group (who is also a promoter of NFP) said that her four year old daughter had told her two-month-old brother that he should stop nursing soon so that she could have another brother or sister...

Out of the mouths of babes comes...wisdom.


Its hard all over...

Thats a phrase you might hear when one person complains about being in a bad situation and when another person retorts that everyone else has troubles too.

Well, it kind of came to mind this morning as I read this morning's edition of The Republic, the daily newspaper of Columbus, IN, the town where I live. (I'd provide the URL but its pointless. Only print subscribers can access articles. Killjoys.)

Anyway, there was an article about a probation office in the county that was recently fired. Since the man had been a public employee, the newspaper requested to see the paperwork relating to the termination of his employment. It was released yesterday but only said that he was fired because of behavioral reasons. No other details were revealed because apparently the discussions between the former probation officer and his employer (the county's judges) were entirely oral with no documentation.

This situation reminded me very much of The Situation. With no documentation for the specific reason for the termination of his employment the former probation officer could arguably go to a different state or even a different county within Indiana and get another job, similar to the one that he had here.

Would the behavior that led to his firing keep him from being employed as a probation officer in another jurisdiction? We don't know. But thats the problem. That was the problem with some of the dealings of sexually abusive priests in the Catholic Church. And it would appear to be a problem that is not limited to the Church.

It is indeed hard all over.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Today is the optional memorial of St. Bernardine of Siena

Here is a quote from a sermon by St. Bernardine:

...When a fire is lit to clear a field, it burns off all the dry and useless weeds and thorns. When the sun rises and darkness is dispelled, robbers, night-prowlers and burglars hide away. So when Paul's voice was raised to preach the Gospel to the nations, like a great clap of thunder in the sky, his preaching was a blazing fire carrying all before it. It was the sun rising in full glory. Infidelity was consumed by it, false beliefs fled away, and the truth appeared like a great candle lighting the whole world with its brilliant flame..

An interesting perspective on St. Paul, especially in light of today's first reading. In today's first reading, and those in some previous days, we see St. Paul being violently opposed in one town after another. While he didn't seem to cower in fear at this persecution, he also didn't seem to stay in any town long enough to meet his own death.

Prudence and courage are two good virtues that can complement each other very well. They did in the life of St. Paul. The balance of these two virtues in him, combined with the constant work of grace within him, allowed his evangelization to eventually have enormous success. It allowed St. Bernardine of Siena to praise him as he did some 1400 years after his death.


A Prophetic Reflection

The readings for today's Mass were the readings for the Mass on the day last year on which my wife Cindy's water broke. My reflections on how I experienced the peace of Christ in that calm before the storm were quite prophetic. Check out what I wrote back then, in a world so different from the one in which I live now...


The real peace of Christ:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Acts 14:19-28
Ps 145:10-11, 12-13ab, 21
Jn 14:27-31a

In today's Gospel reading, we see Jesus speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper. He is trying to prepare them for his passion, death, resurrection, and, ultimately, for his ascension back to his Father in heaven. To help them endure all of this and also to be like him when he sends them out to proclaim his Gospel he gives them his peace: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.

That peace of the Kingdom allowed St. Paul, as we read in the first reading, to not only endure being dragged out of Lystra and stoned, but also indeed to go straight back into the town. It was that same peace that gave him the strength to return to Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia where he had also met with violent opposition.

How do we experience Christ's peace today? I experienced it today when, in the midst of trying to pray over these readings and write a reflection on them, I was called away to care for my son Michael while my wife was taking a shower. Usually he entertains himself fairly well, now that he is walking. But today he wanted a playmate.

If I had depended upon the world's peace I would have been frustrated that this little boy was interuppting my prayer time. I would have been frustrated that my wife had chosen to take a shower at the only time that I had available for some quiet prayer.

Thankfully, however, I depended upon Christ's peace and felt fine putting down the readings, my notebook, and my pencil. I got down on the floor and Michael and I had a fun time together. That is the peace of Christ

How do you experience the peace of Christ?

Monday, May 19, 2003

Negotiations underway for the Holy Father to make a brief visit to Russia

The Vatican confirmed that negotiations are under way to make possible a papal trip to Russia to return the icon of Our Lady of Kazan to the Russian Orthodox Church.

On May 4, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls mentioned the possibility that the Pope might make a stopover in the city of Kazan -- capital of the autonomous Russian Republic of Tatarstan, 500 miles east of Moscow -- on his way to Mongolia, the final destination of his trip, which might take place this summer...

I hope that it happens, if only to try to begin a thawing of relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church.


Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: Could you please explain why we say just before receiving communion, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

A: These words, spoken by all at Mass, including the priest, at the beginning of what is known as the “Communion Rite.” This is the part of Mass where we receive Holy Communion.

We speak these words after the priest holds up a consecrated host and says to all, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.”

In essence what the priest is saying is that this host that he is holding up is not a piece of bread, but is Jesus Christ himself, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

What we then say in response to this is quite natural. As beautiful and as good as each of us are in being adopted children of God, we are still unworthy to receive Christ into our own bodies, he who is the everlasting Son of the Father, he through whom each of us and the entire universe was created. This is not so much an expression of us being hard on ourselves as it is our acknowledgement of the supreme greatness of our Savior.

Yet after we have expressed our unworthiness to receive Christ, we immediately acknowledge that he can heal us and make us worthy of him by only saying a word.

All of this hearkens back to the healing of the centurion’s servant that is recounted in the Gospel of St. Matthew (Mt 8:5-13) and the Gospel of St. Luke (Lk 7:1-10). In this miracle, a Roman centurion asks Jesus to heal one of his servants who was deathly sick. When Jesus agrees to come to his house, the centurion replies, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed” (Mt 8:8).

Each of us are servants of the Lord. We, as his servants, are unworthy to receive so great a Master into the home of our bodies and souls. As servants, we should all seek to do his will. But in order for us to do this we need to be healed. And we know, like the centurion did, that Jesus need only say the word and this will happen.

These words at Mass also reveal how what the Eucharist is a foretaste of heaven itself. In the book of Revelation, St. John describes his vision of the great liturgy of heaven. He calls it the “wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9). To whom is the Lamb being married? The Church itself, described in Rev 18 as those who are faithful to their deaths. This is the Lamb “who was slain” and who, by his blood, bought and purified all of his faithful (Rev 5:9-10, 7:13-17).

At each Mass, the Lamb marriage to his bride the Church is renewed when we receive Holy Communion. Much of what I described above happens at the very end of the Bible. But in its beginning we learn that in marriage the two spouses are joined together as one: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Gen 2:24).

When we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord in Holy Communion we are renewing this marriage, this total ‘communion’ of the Lamb and his Church. This is indeed something so great that we have to say that we are unworthy of it. But we can take great joy in the fact that our Lord wants to be one with us despite this, and makes us worthy simply by his speaking to us his words of healing love.


"Catholic Reasons for Hope" appears weekly in the bulletin of the parish where I serve as DRE. If any reader of Nota Bene would like to submit questions for this column, please do so by e-mail.


Comments on Ecclesia de Eucharistia: Introduction (concluded)

(go here for the first installment of the comments, here for the second)

The Holy Father noted at the start of the encyclical that the Eucharist "contains the Church's entire spiritual wealth" (1) He returns to this idea near the end of the introduction by stating that it "is the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history" (9).

He does this to highlight the importance of the Eucharist at the highest level of teaching authority of the Church in the last 500 years of its history: from the Council of Trent, through Popes Leo XIII, Pius XII, and Paul VI, and himself. This places this encyclical within a broad historical context. Offering such an extended and focused teaching on the relationship of the Church and the Eucharist may add a new facet to the Magisterium's overall doctrine of the Eucharist. But the fundamental teachings found in this encyclical are not novel.

What, then, is the point of such and encyclical? Hasn't everything in it been taught before? The point of this encyclical is the same one of Vatican II: to express ancient, timeless truths in a language that is more understandable to the men and women of today.

The teachings of the Councils of Trent and Vatican I, and of the various popes over the past 500 years, while all still valid, were, nevertheless, crafted for a particular time and in the particular language (understood broadly) spoken in it. But the mission of evangelization given to the Church by Christ demands that these truths be returned to again and again. Indeed, when the bishops at the Council of Trent made their definitions, they were only restating in the language of their day what the Church had taught in ages past.

Yes, these doctrines surrounding the Eucharist may have been defined in the past, but if this most blessed of sacraments is the greatest possession of the Church in its pilgrimage to the Kingdom, then it will only increase the size of its travelling band by proclaiming this great gift and sharing it with those who do not yet know it, they who are present in every age and place of the Church.

The introduction to this encyclical ends with a reference both to the good brought about by the liturgical reforms spurred by Vatican II and to the "dark clouds" and "shadows" of various misunderstandings of Church teaching on the Eucharist and abuses in its celebration. The Holy Father even pointed out his hope that this encyclical will "banish the dark clouds of unacceptable doctrine and practice, so that the Eucharist will continue to shine forth in all its radiant mystery" (10).

Some might see this closing of the introduction as the aging Pontiff wagging his finger at the faithful. I see it, in part, as a particular expression of a profound mystery in the nature of the Church, one that was taught in Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium:

Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element. For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body (8) (emphasis mine).

Like Christ himself, the Church is a mysterious joining of the human and the divine. But, unlike Christ, its members, as individuals, continually fall into sin. The Church is, at one and the same time, both pure and in need of purification. A profound mystery indeed, one which confonts us every day. That is why Pope John Paul II can address, in the same sentence, both the radiant mystery of the Eucharist and the dark clouds surrounding its celebration and teachings.

This reality should give all the faithful pause for reflection. As long as we are living on this side of our resurrection we will always experience this mixture of darkness and light, of the human and the divine. When we, as individuals, call for reform and then expect perfection, we are only setting ourselves up for resentment and disappointment. And if we make these calls without recognizing the need for reform within ourselves then we are really only showing forth the dark cloud sinful pride within us.

But the constant presence of sin, both within ourselves and in others, should not lead us to despair, it should not lead us to forever silence the call for reform. Christ's triumph over death was a triumph over sin. He gives each of us and the Church as a whole a share in that triumph. Still, it is always essential for us to remember that this victory will not be complete until Christ's return in glory, when all of the sacraments, including the Eucharist, will be no more.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

This column on the other hand...

...maybe its not as worth reading as Paul Elie's book. But, at any rate, here is the latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections":

Spring is a time of promise and of patience. The promise of new life and new beginnings is seen in every blooming flower and in the first crops that break through the soil. And yet the showers and storms that always come with spring call us to be patient in waiting for the growth of this new life.

I think that farmers may experience the tension of this season more than other folks. On the one hand, they will see the coming of spring as the start of another growing season, a time to till the fields and sow the seeds. And yet, on the other hand, the very rain that makes the growth of their crops possible also can keep them from planting them in the first place.

And so, farmers need to be both precise and flexible. They know what they can control and what they can’t. They have precise knowledge of the amount of days that a certain variety of a crop needs to come to full maturity, of the kind of soil it needs and how to prepare it. Yet they are also flexible when the forces of nature keep them from carrying out the particular plans they have for their fields.

None of this is easy for farmers to endure, but it is something that they cannot avoid. The tension of the promise and patience of spring, of being precise and flexible, of being in control and of having no control is something with which all of us struggle. It is something that is a fundamental part of the relationship that each of us has with God.

The people of God have had a keen awareness of this for thousands of years. The prophet Isaiah, speaking the word of the Lord hundreds of years before Christ, pointed to the cycles of nature to help his people understand how the Lord’s providence worked mysteriously in their lives:

“For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it” (Is 55:10-11).

These words remind us of the truths of life that the promise and patience of spring reveal to us. Yes, the grace of God is showered down upon us like the gentle spring rains. But sometimes that grace can seem to keep us from carrying out our own plans, from tilling and preparing the fields of our lives. This can feel frustrating to us, but it is all a part of God’s providential plan.

We often establish strategies for our lives, filled with specific goals and a road map of how to arrive at them. But just like the farmers who have to be flexible in planning what crops they will plant in their fields, we too have to be accommodating to the greater designs that our Lord has for us. The word that He sends into our souls will work wonders in our lives if we will simply be faithful to His will and be willing to change our own.

When we do this, we will experience the promise and patience of spring in our lives, no matter where we are on the calendar.


A NY Times (LRR) review of Paul Elie's book, 'The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage

Graham Greene once complained about being pigeonholed as a ''Catholic writer,'' remarking that he used Roman Catholicism only ''to measure my evil against.'' George Orwell countercomplained about Green's pretense ''that there is something rather distingue in being damned; hell is a sort of high-class nightclub, entry to which is reserved for Catholics only.''...

Religious imagination -- the sense that human actions are played out against a cosmic canvas of good and evil, of right and wrong -- is hardly a Catholic preserve. But in the mid-20th century, as the mainstream churches secularized, Orwell's quip that hell had a Catholic brand name didn't seem far off the mark.

Paul Elie's first book, ''The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage,'' is a study of the religious imagination at work in four American writers -- Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day. All of them were Catholic, and all of them flourished over the roughly 30- or 40-year period from the 1930's through the 60's that is sometimes called ''the Catholic moment'' in America...

This sounds like a book that is definetly worth reading...

Friday, May 16, 2003

A Few Comments about Prayer

The writer of Summa Contra Mundum tells in this post at his blog that he and his wife often pray this particular intercessory prayer when they pray together: "For whoever in the world is experiencing the greatest temptation right now, that You will give him (we aren't inclusive in my house) the strength to overcome it."

In my opinion that is a good prayer in both content and style. Lots of people, things, and causes can be the subject of an intercessory prayer, so there aren't a lot of strict boundaries there. But I think that when intercessory prayers are crafted it is important that we actually ask God to do something and not just be somewhat preachy toward a particular group of people.

For example, I think that this is an example of a prayer where we ask God to do something:

For leaders of nations, that God may inspire them to build a society of justice and a culture of life, let us pray to the Lord.

Here is an example of a prayer where the request made of God is more hidden and where it seems a bit preachy instead of prayerful:

For leaders of nations, that they will build a society of justice and a culture of life, let us pray to the Lord.

Yes, we are called to pray to the Lord. But are we asking the Lord to do anything? Not that I can see.

I'm also heartened to see "Athanasius" (the writer of Summa Contra Mundum) and his wife pray this prayer together. Spouses praying together is very important. If you are living out the sacrament of marriage, you are doing a holy thing. I think that praying together is a visible sign of this to the spouses themselves, the Church, and the world as a whole.

My wife and I often pray a version of Night Prayer (Compline) before going to sleep for the night. Sometimes it includes a couple of short psalms plus the Canticle of Simeon. At other times the psalms are laid aside. Following the Canticle of Simeon we pray our own intercessions, then the Our Father, then a closing prayer and closing verse.

You can go here to see all of the elements of Night Prayer as it would appear in the official Liturgy of the Hours. If you don't feel comfortable with all of that at first, you could certainly adapt it. The important thing to do is to pray.

I think that praying Night Prayer (or any other part of the Litugy of the Hours) could be especially good for a couple in a 'mixed marriage', where one spouse is Catholic and one is Christian but not Catholic. The prayer is very scriptural and so could appeal to an Evangelical or other Christian who values the Bible to the exclusion of other 'traditions.' On the other hand, it is also true to the life of prayer of the Catholic Church and so should be in harmony with the faith of the Catholic spouse.

The way in which my wife and I pray it together has a good balance of both what is the formal prayer of the Church and a prayer that is from our hearts in particular. This latter part comes in especially during the time when we offer our intercessory prayers.

Night prayer has been good for my wife and me. Perhaps it would be good for you as well. At any rate I encourage all of you who are married: pray together as a couple on a regular basis!


Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:26-31
Ps 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32
1 Jn 3:18-24
Jn 15:1-8

I thank God that I have had the opportunity especially during the past few weeks to bring people back to God after they have been away for many years. I have been inspired by their humility. I hope that they have been happy as they left the confessional; I do not see their faces. So many of them have been filled with deep remorse as they confessed their sins. I ask all of you to pray for the people who have received the Sacrament of Reconciliation after many years away from it. Pray that they feel joy within their hearts. Angels sing with joy when one sinner repents and turns back toward God.

I have told you about these people because they have said in implicit terms that they thought that they could achieve happiness by doing anything and everything, but they discovered that all that they thought was happiness was an illusion. I hope that they feel as Saint Paul felt when he wrote with joy that all that he thought that mattered no longer matter. Jesus had him. He had Jesus. He had everything that anyone could ever want.

Jesus strikes us between the eyes today with the same intensity as when he said during the Last Supper: “without me you can do nothing.” What Jesus said is simple and true. It speaks so simply that we can overlook it. It can be something that we can learn only by learning the hard way, but Jesus does not want us to live that hard. Jesus does not want us to live burdened lives.

If we seek to do without Jesus, we will do nothing. If we seek to live without Jesus, we will live with nothing. Remove from your minds the idea of Hell being filled with fire and wailing, tortured souls. Imagine it being nothing – a big nothing. Nothing for entertainment. Nothing for leisure. Nothing for pain. Simply nothing but a soul without union with God. I find that type of Hell scarier than that of the lake of fire because I could not imagine the pain that would coincide with such a degree of solitary confinement.

I wish that I could say that God does not let people suffer in this manner. He does. He allows it because the people have insisted on this result. These people have insisted that they could build the best palaces for themselves, only to find out too late that they built prisons. God warned them all along that they were not building as beautiful a palace as they believed that they were building, but these people insisted that they knew best. These people have told God that they knew what was best for them. It is only too late that these people discover that what they thought was best was really nothing at all.

I am honored to bring people back to God and to His Church. If you have found that you have nothing but nothing, please come see me. If you wish to receive everything, then please come see me. I am not an exceptional confessor, but I believe that God has given me something that He wants me to share with you. He wants you to do everything united with Him, thereby filled with joy.


Hearing the Gospel again for the First Time:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Acts 13:26-33
Ps 2:6-7, 8-9, 10-11
Jn 14:1-6

What would it have been like to have been in that synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia when St. Paul stood up and spoke boldly about the fulfillment of ancient promises? How would you and I have reacted to the message? Would we have believed him? Would we have scoffed at his words? Would we simply have been left with feelings of uncertainty?

No matter what, there would have been a reaction. No one could stand up before a crowd of the children of Abraham, proclaim that the prophecies had been fulfilled in their own time, and then fail to elicit some sort of reaction.

I suspect that were I in that audience that day, I would have been astonished at and a bit doubtful of Paul's words. After all, how could it be that all of the great promises that the Lord had made to his people could be fulfilled in the execution and so-called resurrection of some preacher from Galilee? The rise and fall of such men was fairly common, so common that news of it probably did not reach Asia Minor, where the synagogue was where St. Paul was speaking.

And yet this story did reach there, and with great force. Paul seemed to deliver his message with a passion and a fervor that might have come from God. He could not be dismissed quickly and easily. His claims deserved close examination.

If the people in Antioch in Pisidia would have looked into the message spoken by Paul, they might have discovered that it had begun to be proclaimed far away in a home in the hill country of Judea, in the home of Zechariah the priest. Paul ended his address with the climactic words: "We ourselves are proclaiming this good news to you that what God promised our fathers he has brought to fulfillment for us, their children, by raising up Jesus." His words were a kind of echo of the words sung by Zechariah on the day that his son, John the Baptizer, was named: "...the promises that the Lord made to our fathers, he has renewed for us."

Hearing this message confirmed and re-echoed again and again might have planted the seeds of possibility in the people of Antioch in Pisidia. I can hear them saying, "Maybe what this man and so many others have said is true. If they are right, then we are living in important times and are very blessed indeed."

The seeds of possibility, watered with the soft rain of grace, can blossom into the flower of faith. This was surely true for some of the people in the synagogue that day. And it can be true for us as well. We cannot experience St. Paul's message as the people in Antioch in Pisidia did. But neither should we take it for granted.

We should open ourselves to its enormous power, the power of the knowledge that promises made to our ancestors in faith are fulfilled for us as they were for St. Paul and his audience.

Perhaps one way to do this is to periodically re-examine our core beliefs as if for the first time. This advice came to me about a year ago from none other than one of St. Paul's successors in the apostolic ministry, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria. He told those who graduated from St. Meinrad School of Theology in 2002 that he himself would 're-learn' some of our most basic beliefs every few years and he recommended them to do it as well. Strong words from a bishop, one who is charged to be the primary teacher of the faith in his local Church.

Now the prospect of 're-learning' the faith every so often might either seem impossible or potentially dangerous. It could seem impossible in that a person cannot simply deleter his or her memory like one deletes a file on a computer. And it could seem potentially dangerous in that it might be the occasion for one to begin to walk away from the faith.

These objections have some truth to them. No, we can't delete our memory. But we can, with the help of grace, delete our presumptions that we know all that we need to know about our faith. If we can do that we might, like the people in Antioch in Pisidia, not take our beliefs for granted and experience their power in a new way.

Yes, such an exercise could be a danger to our faith. It could be, if our faith is weak, if we do trust much more in ourselves and not as much in God. If we trust in the power of his grace working in our lives, then we can trust that God will take us through such a test of our own choosing and strengthen our faith and our relationship with him because of it. After all, on a regular basis he confronts us with tests of our faith that are not of our choosing and leads us through. Why couldn't he do that with tests of our own making?

Listen anew to the words of St. Paul and the other apostles, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, the message that the promises made to our ancestors are being fulfilled, right here, right now. Examine them anew and be struck by the power of the Gospel. Believe in them anew and be sent out by the Lord to proclaim as apostles in the 21st century.

Thursday, May 15, 2003


Do any of you wise readers know of a saint that could be a kind of 'patron saint' of those who have left the Church? This would be a saint to whom a relative or friend of one who has left the Church might pray in hopes that the grace of God might lead them back.


Paging Tim LaHaye...

A leading pastor has warned Christians against spending too much time debating how close the end of the world is, rather than helping bring it about through what they do.

Some believers have been "distracted with false hopes of a premature Second Coming," says Ted Haggard, pastor of 9,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., in an article in the June issue of "Charisma" magazine, out this week.

But getting actively involved in church life might do more for Jesus' return than "attending a prophecy seminar," suggests the recently appointed president of the National Association of Evangelicals...

...Haggard says: "... it's time to accept the possibility that perhaps the most obvious and clearly articulated messages of Scripture are indeed or primary importance, and the secret formulas pointing to our being the 'last generation' are hidden for a reason: They do not reveal the truth and are a distraction for many in the Body of Christ."...

I wonder how many volumes of the Left Behind series Rev. Haggard has on his bookshelf?


Committed Baptist in the finals of American Idol

After beginning with thousands of hopefuls, "American Idol" contestants have been narrowed to three -- including a Southern Baptist. Clay Aiken, of Leesville Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., will learn during the May 14 show whether he has survived yet another round of the popular talent competition and will advance to one of the top two spots.

Aiken, 24, was a studious special education major at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, devoted to helping kids through the struggles of life, when suddenly a chance at stardom was thrown his way....

...Along the way, Aiken's strong character has been noticeable. He has told reporters that the influence he has gained as a finalist is worth more to him than the money or the fame. Influence is something he used for good even before his stardom, as he worked as a YMCA counselor in his hometown...

Hopefully the principles of service and faith that seem to be important to this young man can be communicated through the prominence that he has been given in some areas of the viewing public. However, I do find it interesting that a young man who is a Southern Baptist would be involved in anything where he himself might be described as an 'idol.'


Limited Blogging Today

I'm taking care of my son today while my wife is working. Michael is walking very well now. Ok, well, I had better go and put my track shoes on...

In the meantime, check out some recent posts (the start of my commentary on Acts 1:15-17, 20-26, the second installment in my comments on Ecclesia de Eucharistia, etc.).

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

A Passage Packed with Meaning

Today is the Feast of St. Matthias. The first reading for today’s Mass is Acts 1:15-17, 20-26. This passage shows a scene from the earliest days of the Church. It is one that is packed with meaning for the rest of the history of the Church, including the days in which we ourselves are living. As I will be referring to it often, I will quote the entire passage here:

Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers and sisters
(there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons
in the one place).
He said, "My brothers and sisters,
the Scripture had to be fulfilled
which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand
through the mouth of David, concerning Judas,
who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus.
Judas was numbered among us
and was allotted a share in this ministry.
For it is written in the Book of Psalms:

Let his encampment become desolate,
and may no one dwell in it.


May another take his office.

Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men
who accompanied us the whole time
the Lord Jesus came and went among us,
beginning from the baptism of John
until the day on which he was taken up from us,
become with us a witness to his resurrection."

So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas,
who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.
Then they prayed,
"You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen
to take the place in this apostolic ministry
from which Judas turned away to go to his own place."

Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias,
and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles.

It is my belief that this passage is packed densely with the foundation stones of some core beliefs of the Catholic Church. Like any other single passage of scripture, this one does not provide all of the justification for these beliefs. But they do lend important weight to them. They provide a part of the starting point for their further authentic development throughout the history of the Church.

Among the beliefs that I believe can be discerned from this passage are the following:

--the primacy of St. Peter
--apostolic succession
--the office of the magisterium

It is important to note that the phrases that I use here to identify these beliefs are just that: phrases. They are phrases that are convenient tools to help us identify beliefs that, in a real sense, are impossible to explain in their fullness from reason alone. Why? Because they are mysteries. They are mysteries that flow from the mystery of the Incarnation and, ultimately, from the central mystery of the Blessed Trinity.

Although convenient, these phrases have unfortunately taken on lots of connotations that can get in the way of our approaching a more full understanding of their true meaning. These connotations can be negative, as with the many Christians who question their validity to one degree or another. These connotations can also be positive but limiting, as with many Catholics who accept them but do not get much in their understanding beyond the phrase alone.

If we Catholics go beyond the phrase and closer to the meaning of these beliefs we will only embrace them more completely. They can become a more real part of our day-to-day life of faith and not just an abstract belief.

In some coming posts, I will examine these beliefs in light of the passage that I have quoted above.


Chosen to Be Sent:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle

Acts 1:15-17, 20-26
Ps 113:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Jn 15:9-17

When St. Matthias first came to be a disciple of Jesus he surely could not have foreseen all that would happen in his life. He couldn't have expected all of the wondrous deeds and words of Jesus in his public ministry. He couldn't have predicted Jesus' betrayal, his passion, death, and resurrection.

And, of course, Matthias could not have had a plan in mind for the event that we read about in today's first reading: his being chosen by the Lord through the disciples to replace Judas in the apostolic ministry. At the end of that day Matthias could surely only sit back and be astonished at all that had happened in his life since he had chosen to follow Jesus.

Perhaps part of that astonishment, however, would have been due to his growing realization that, from the very beginning, it was Jesus who had chosen him, not he who had chosen Jesus. Perhaps at the end of that day where he was chosen to be an apostle he would have remembered and felt the full meaning of those words that Jesus had spoken on the night before his death, the same words that we hear in today's Gospel: "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you..."

But when Matthias sat back and experienced the meaning of Jesus' words he wasn't sitting on his laurels. His being chosen to be an apostle was a beginning, not an end. An aspostle is one who is "sent out." That, indeed, is the root meaning of that word. And just as Matthias wouldn't have been able to foresee all of the things that had led up to his being chosen for this ministry, so also would he have surely been aware of his inability to predict all of the places and people to whom he would be sent to preach the Gospel as an apostle.

Each of us has been chosen by Jesus, just as Matthias was. Each of us has been called to be the people we were created to be, to carry out the unique ministry given to us. Some of you may be still wondering what that calling is. Do not despair if it seems unclear to you. Be faithful to Jesus just as Matthias was and your vocation will become as clear to you as his became to him.

Others of you, like myself, have heard your call and responded to it. Some of you might be priests, men and women religious, or husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. Do not think that your journey of faith is over. Like Matthias, your response to Jesus' call is just the beginning. Like that apostle, you will be sent in your ministry to places and people that you do not as yet know.

What a transforming thing it is to realize that Jesus has chosen us from before we were ever conceived in our mothers' wombs, that he is present throughout all our days to guide us closer to him, no matter what choices we make. The apostle Matthias surely experienced this on the day he was chosen for the apostolic ministry. He experienced that Christ was the guide in his life even then, even after he had ascended to heaven.

We can experienced this too, like Matthias, if we remain true to Jesus each moment of each day, if we hold fast to the truth that it was he who chose us and keeps choosing us, not us who chose him.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Comments on Ecclesia de Eucharistia: Introduction (cont.)

(go here for the first installment in this set of comments)

There are certain moments in every person’s life in which time seems to stand still. There doesn’t seem to be one moment coming after another. Rather, one experiences moments as being drawn out. The feelings that one might have that are fleeting, here one second and gone the next, are, in some way, intensified in these moments.

These are mystery moments. Time in them can feel either feel like it is going more slowly than usual or more quickly. At any rate, the things that we do in them and the feelings that we experience ordinarily become etched on our souls. We are able to recall those events and emotions with a clarity that is not usually possible with our usual day-to-day experiences.

I experienced the birth of my first son, Michael, in this way. My wife’s water broke at about 11:30 pm, just as I was lying down to sleep (I had been up since 4:45 am). Michael wasn’t born until almost 4:30 pm the next day. And yet so many things that happened during that time have been lodged deeply in my heart. They seemed to go by so slowly on the one hand and yet so quickly on the other. It was only after Michael was finally born that I finally realized how tired I really was.

In theological terms, this has sometimes been called a kairos moment. Kairos is a Greek word used in relationship to time which refers to one of these ultimate moments. In contrast, the Greek word chronos, again used in relationship to time, refers instead to the experience of time passing on from moment to moment.

So when we look at a kairos moment from the perspective of theology, we are looking beyond the realm of mere psychology into something that transcends human experience. Looked at theologically, in these moments we are experiencing something of eternity. In the language of the Bible such a moment would be described as “on that day” or “in that hour.” The prophets referred to these moments time and again.

But so did our Lord. He did at the wedding at Cana when, after his mother Mary told him that there was no more wine, he said to her, “My hour has not yet come.” What was this “hour.” Surely in part it was the hour of the revealing of his paschal mystery of his passion, death, and resurrection, the hour of our redemption.

This is that “holy hour” to which the Holy Father refers in the introduction to his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. As I noted in the first installment in these comments, I noted that Pope John Paul was focusing in particular in this encyclical on the relationship of the Church to the Eucharist.

At the start he note that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist.” Later, in paragraph three he states that “the Church has been born of the paschal mystery.” It is through our celebration of the Eucharist that we are brought into the eternal life revealed in Christ through his paschal mystery. Christ’s celebration of that first Eucharist in the upper room began this revelation of this great mystery.

All that Christ experienced and revealed in that hour of our redemption, the hour of his paschal mystery, is experienced and revealed anew in each celebration of the Eucharist. In Jesus’ kairos moment, the laws of time and space are broken. We are brought into his hour in every seemingly ordinary Mass.

This is what the Holy Father bids us remember in the following passage from paragraph five of the introduction to this encyclical:
“Mysterium fidei! - The Mystery of Faith!”. When the priest recites or chants these words, all present acclaim: “We announce your death, O Lord, and we proclaim your resurrection, until you come in glory”.

In these or similar words the Church, while pointing to Christ in the mystery of his passion,
also reveals her own mystery: Ecclesia de Eucharistia. By the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the Church was born and set out upon the pathways of the world, yet a decisive moment in her taking shape was certainly the institution of the Eucharist in the Upper Room. Her foundation and wellspring is the whole Triduum paschale, but this is as it were gathered up, foreshadowed and “concentrated' for ever in the gift of the Eucharist. In this gift Jesus Christ entrusted to his Church the perennial making present of the paschal mystery. With it he brought about a mysterious “oneness in time” between that Triduum and the passage of the centuries. (emphasis in original)

In confronting anew this great mystery of the Church drawing the very beginning of its life from the Eucharist and experiencing it anew in each of its celebrations, the Holy Father can only express amazement and gratitude to our heavenly Father on behalf of himself, the priests who are given the privilege to preside at them, and the entire Church.

One of the purposes in the Holy Father writing this encyclical was to nurture in all of the faithful this Eucharistic amazement and gratitude. Hopefully as we continue to read and reflect upon this encyclical it will allow us to be open to the working of divine grace offered to us in every Eucharist. I pray that each of us can be given something of an experience of that kairos moment which began in the upper room 2000 years ago and which continues on today in every celebration of the Mass.


George Carey suggests ad limina visits with the Pope for Christian leaders

(thanks to Annunciations for the link)

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, an ad limina visit is where bishops go to Rome every five years to have a formal meeting with the Holy Father. It is usually organized by countries or regions within a country. The bishops usually give a report to the Pope on the state of the faithful in his local Church. The Holy Father can then offer his guidance. The visits are an important way for the Pope to exercise his pastoral care of the entire Church.

Well retired Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested that the ad limina visits be expanded to include leaders of other Christian communions.

Ok, I can hear it now. Various fundamentalists will frantically point to Carey and say that he's come under the spell of the Antichrist.


What a Good Thing It Is to Be in the Hand of the Lord:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Reading

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Acts 11:19-26
Ps 87:1-3, 4-5, 6-7
Jn 10:22-30

The hand of the Lord is mentioned in both of today's readings as an important actor in the lives of those who believe in him. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles it was written that the hand of the Lord was with those disciples who had experienced Gentiles coming to accept the Gospel. And in today's Gospel Jesus tells us that no one can take his sheep out of his hand.

These readings show how the presence of the hand of the Lord is a good thing in our lives. It directs us to do his will and is there to protect us. But often in our culture the hand of God can be seen in a negative light. Consider the title of one of the most famous sermons of early American Reformed preacher Jonathan Edwards: "Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God."

In any case, the work of the hand of the Lord is mysterious and is often difficult to understand. Even when it led the disciples to bring many Gentiles in Antioch to Christ, it must have been met with astonishment, especially among the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem. They had felt up to that point that Jesus' Good News was intended solely for the Jews. Now it appeared that the hand of the Lord was directing them beyond the chosen people to all of the nations.

But they weren't so quick to trust that this was the work of the hand of the Lord. So they sent one of their own, Barnabas, to observe what was happening in Antioch. Despite the expectations that he and his fellow believers in Jerusalem had held in the past, Barnabas could not deny that "the grace of God" and "the hand of the Lord" was teh force behind the Gentiles' acceptance of the Gospel.

The hand of the Lord sometimes leads us where we did not expect to go. As I look back over the last ten years of my life I know that I have revised my plans more than once because of the work of the hand of the Lord. I suspect that this is true of most believers.

And I shouldn't expect anything different for the future. I'm sure that there will be times when I will have charted a precise course of where I want to go and how I want to get there. But I'm also sure that the hand of the Lord will lead me where he wants me to go, not necessarily where I would have expected to have arrived. This was true for those disciples, dispersed from Jerusalem by persecution, having arrived in Antioch, and there have experienced success among those people that they probably felt weren't in the Lord's plan. It was also true for me in my past and I trust that it will be true in the future as well.

We can begin to place my trust in the direction in which the hand of the Lord will lead us because we also know that this same hand will protect us all along the way. Jesus says in today's Gospel that no one will take his sheep out of his hand.

We are those sheep, being led and protected by the Good Shepherd. Having already known that he has died for us and, with great power, arisen from the tomb, we can trust that he will protect us along all of the unexpected courses along which he will have us travel.

He protected those disciples who fled from Jerusalem after Stephen was killed for his faith. They trusted in the protection of the hand of the Lord for they did not hide in the midst of the persecution but proclaimed the Gospel with an even greater boldness than was seen before. Perhaps this courage in the face of oppression was one of the things that led the Gentiles in Antioch to accept the Gospel.

And so, whether it ws those first century disciples, or you and I in the twenty-first, it is always a good thing to be in the hand of the Lord. The Lord will direct us and protect us by his loving hand. He will lead us to greater works and more beautiful places than any of us could have ever imagined. And he will protect us by his hand each step of the way.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: Recently I saw a documentary in which some scenes inside a church in Russia were shown. It showed people making the sign of the cross from the right to the left. Why is there a difference between the way they make the sign of the cross and the way Catholics do it?

A: The church you saw in the documentary may have been a Russian Orthodox Church. This faithful in the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the various other Orthodox Churches, make the sign of the cross going from their forehead to their heart and then from their right shoulder to their left. Also, in doing this, they hold their thumb to the first two fingers of the right hand.

It is important to note that the various Eastern Rite Catholic Churches (e.g., Byzantine, Melkite, Maronite, etc.) also maintain this tradition of the sign of the cross. The faithful in these Churches are part of the Catholic Church in that they recognize the Pope as the leader of the entire Church.

We Catholics in what is known as the “Latin Rite” make the sign of the cross going from the forehead to the heart and then from left shoulder to the right. We also do it with an open hand. This particular tradition of the sign of the cross, which is what all of us know, is actually younger than the custom in the Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches.

All Christians made the sign of the cross in the same way until the later Middle Ages (late 1200s-1500). It was only at that time that the custom that we know now came into existence. Before then our ancestors in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church made it in the same way as the Eastern Orthodox still do.

The fact that our custom changed does not make it any less valid, however. The customs of the Church can change in some ways from age to age. It is the fundamental teachings of the Church which express for us the eternal truths of God which do not change.

Still, it is important to recognize how a simple custom like the sign of the cross can be a small expression of these essential doctrines.

One interpretation of the way in which the Eastern Orthodox Churches make the sign of the cross is as follows. The thumb and two fingers are held together to symbolize the Blessed Trinity. And it goes from the right shoulder to the left (unlike our custom) to help the faithful remember that Jesus had ascended to the right hand of the Father. It also is a reminder that, at the final judgment, the blessed will be placed to the right of Jesus and the accursed at his left, as he explained it to his disciples (Mt 25:31-45).

During the Middle Ages, many in the Catholic Church were more interested in what was to be done in worship rather than why it was to be done. Many of the precise symbolic interpretations connected with customs were seen as unimportant. Therefore whether one made the sign of the cross going from left to right or right to left, with an open hand, or with the thumb touching the first two fingers was not as valued as much in the Latin Rite as it was in the various Eastern Rite Churches.

Still, even in the Latin Rite there were symbolic interpretations of our own custom. The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917 notes in its article on the sign of the cross that, in the later Middle Ages, when the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church changed to the custom that we do now, some interpreted it in the following way. We touch the left shoulder first to acknowledge that the Son of God, the eternal Word, took on human flesh in the incarnation and even went so far as to descend to the dead (as we affirm in the Apostles Creed). Then we touch the right shoulder to remember that he did not stay there but rose from the tomb and eventually ascended to the right hand of the Father.

This, of course, is not a definitive interpretation of the custom of the sign of the cross. We are not bound to accept it. Whether we do or not, the sign of the cross in the way that we do it is still filled with meaning, serving as a reminder that, by baptism, we were given a share in the life of the Blessed Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit. We are also reminded that, in baptism, we were given a share in the death that Christ experienced on the cross but also that we are to be raised with him also.


Any reader of Nota Bene is welcome to submit questions for this column. Please do so by e-mail.


The power of words and music

A few days ago I saw this parody of a children's Gospel song quoted at Catholic Light:

Jesus loves me, this I think,
If I'm wrong, to hell I’ll sink,
Little ones to Him belong,
To save or damn, for He is strong!

The post at Catholic Light provided a link to an orthodox blog called St. Stephen's Musings where several verses of the song plus the refrain could be read. The writer of that blog cited an Evangelical-Orthodox discussion group as the source for the parody. Later I saw the entire text cited again in this post at Mark Shea's blog. That post elicited quite a discussion (which is still going on) in the comment box. Mark has made two more posts, here and here, in response to some of the questions raised there and another e-mail that he has received. Finally, the parody turned up at this post at the Envoy Encore blog.

In the comment box to this last post I stated that the discussion elicited by this clever parody shows the power of words when combined with music. This was possibly one reason why, back in the fourth century, the respective supporters of Arianism and the teachings of Nicaea formulated hymn texts that would trumpet the beliefs of their cause.

The way that this happened in the parody in question is clever and cute. But how do you think that it is also happening in the texts and music that we encounter overall in the Catholic Church in America today? I'm not just talking about the text and music put together by the likes of Haugen, Haas, et al. Lots of Catholic parishes sing old standards written by the Wesleys and other English and German hymn writers of the 18th and 19th centuries.

How does the combination of a particular text with a particular musical setting communicate a theological perspective? That basically boils down the question to its most general level. Tell me what you think.


Mission: Possible

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Editor's goof: When I picked up my copy of the lectionary this morning to read the Mass readings for today, I accidentally turned to Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter. Of course, today we are observing the Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter. Still, I'm going to post the reflection that I wrote. Don't have time at the moment to write one of today's reading (take the link provided immediately above to read the real readings for today.)

Acts 14:5-18
Ps 115:1-2, 3-4, 15-16
Jn 14:21-26

Whether you know it or not, you are a missionary if you have been baptized. All who have been baptized are called to take the Good News of Jesus Christ to others. The work of this mission happens every moment of of every day of our lives. In our every thought, word, and deed we are doing the work of an evangelist. You may not think you are doing this, but you are, one way or the other.

The question is, "How effective is our work?" Now don't necessarily start worrying. Our effectiveness is measured by our faithfulness, not by the number of souls that we win. This is so because the most we can do is to lay the Gospel before a person. It will always be up to him or her to choose to accept it, to reject it, or to wait in making that decision. We can only make that choice for ourselves. We cannot make for any other person.

This is what we see Paul and Barnabas experiencing in today's first reading. We see them in Lystra preaching the Gospel. And it would seem that some were coming to accept it. Paul perceived that a man disabled from birth had faith and so ordered him to stand up. The man did so to the amazement of the crowd. And although this miracle was surely intended to show the power of faith in Jesus, many in the crowd were either unwilling to accept the Gospel or did not yet understand enough to do this.

Instead, they saw the curing of the man as the work of the gods. And in Paul and Barnabas they felt that Hermes and Zeus were visiting them. They went so far as to begin preparations to make a sacrifice to them. The two apostles frantically pleaded with the crowd, trying to reassure them that they were humans just like them. Yet, despite their efforts, we learn that "...they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them."

Paul and Barnabas had been true to the Gospel. The crowd simply didn't accept it or misunderstood it. This will happen in our own lives as well even when we, like the two apostles, seek with God's grace to live out the Gospel with our every thought, word, and deed.

Being faithful is the most that we can expect of ourselves. Yet even so it will be natural for us to feel disappointed when our faithfulness seems to be fruitless. Imagine how Paul and Barnabas felt. They had come to Lystra after the people of Iconium had taken the Gospel seriously but had rejected it and even sought to kill the two. Now they were in Lystra where the Gospel seemed to have little effect on most of the people. Perhaps in their frantic frustration they longed to go back to Iconium where, at the least, they would have been seen for who they really were.

Many of us seem to be living in our own version of Lystra. The people around us, for the most part, are not violently opposed to the Gospel (as in Iconium). But they are also so immersed in a culture untouched by the Gospel that it is hard for them to understand it and accept it. They see the good that we do through the grace of God and they think that the gods of pop psychology have visited them. They believe that we are living out the words of the oracle of Oprah.

Such inane reactions to the missionary work that we do every day can be frustrating and can even make us feel very alone. In the midst of this loneliness it woudl be easy to give in and join the crowd in the sacrifices they are preparing to offer. But when you feel this way, try to remember Jesus' words in today's Gospel. When we love Jesus and are faithful to his word, he and the Father will dwell with us. The Spirit will be there also, reminding us of the Gospel when it is so easy to forget it. See, you are never alone when you are faithful.

Seek to be faithful and the Spirit poured into our hearts will help us to do this. The work of bringing others to faithfulness is the work of God from start to finish. Don't blame yourself when you don't see it happen.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

In anticipation of Mother's Day... is today's installment of my weekly column, "Spiritual Reflections", appearing in The Shelbyville News:

People across the country will be celebrating Mother’s Day tomorrow. AT&T and various other telephone corporations tell us that this is one of their busiest days of the year. The good folks at Cossairt Florist tell me that the period leading up to Mother’s Day keeps them hopping as well.

All of this might lead us to think that Mother’s Day is an ancient holiday, one that has deep roots in the history of our culture. In actuality, its observance here in the United States is less than one hundred years old. Compared to other Christian feasts like Christmas or Easter, Mother’s Day is a mere baby. And there are other secular holidays, such as Independence Day, which have a much longer history than the one we will celebrate tomorrow.

Then why is it so popular? Can we explain it away by the mass marketing of holidays that happened in the century just gone past? That may have played a part. But, in my opinion, that doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. Mother’s Day strikes such a chord in so many of us because we’re all sons and daughters of a mother. And on at least this one day each year we want to show our mothers the honor due to them.

If we apply our Christian faith to the way that we celebrate our mothers we might discover that we could do much more than calling them on the second Sunday of May and sending them flowers. The Bible is full of stories of how our heavenly Father has used mothers to show forth his loving concern for his people.

God promised Abraham that he would make of him a great nation. But in order for this to happen he worked a miracle in the life of his barren wife Sarah, helping her to become a mother in her old age. The mother of Moses took a great risk of love in bearing him and protecting him as an infant, knowing that Pharaoh had decreed that all Hebrew baby boys were to be killed. And because she took that risk, her son ended up leading her nation, the nation born of Abraham, out of slavery and into freedom.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, also took a great risk of love in protecting her newborn son from the hands of a king who ordered his death. She and her husband Joseph left their homeland for Egypt because they loved Jesus so much.

These are examples of the way our heavenly Father shows his love for us through the care of a mother. Time and again we see in the Bible that it was the Lord’s will to create a people that were his own, a people on which he could shower his love and through which he would reveal his glory throughout all the earth. But in order for him to do this, he worked and continues to work through mothers.

Our mothers, then, are special bearers of God’s love for us, the love that brought us into existence in the first place. None of us would even be alive were it not for our God and for our mothers. What love the both of them has shown us. This is something which we should celebrate each day of the year.