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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Monday, June 30, 2003

Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: What is a “graven image?” And what is the Church’s teaching on statues?

The word “graven” is the adjective form of the Middle English verb “grave” which meant “to carve.” It is the word that has often been used in the translation of Exodus 20:4: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…”

This commandment from the Lord comes in the context of him giving what we know as the 10 Commandments to Moses. It is a part of the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange gods before me” (a traditional Catholic phrasing).

So the commandment against making ‘graven images’ tells us that they are statues or other man-made images that are treated as a god that deserves worship.

This does not mean, however, that God forbids the making of any images or statues at all. In fact, later on in the book of Exodus the Lord actually commands Moses to have statues of the cherubim made as a part of the ark of the covenant (Ex 25:18-20). The difference here is that these statues were not to be worshipped as idols but were to be used as a part of the worship of the Lord ordered in the first commandment.

In a similar way the Catholic Church has continued this age old, divinely ordered tradition of making images that aid us in our worship of the Lord. The proper use of statues and icons is especially appropriate for Christians because of the Incarnation, the eternal Son of the Father, the second person of the Blessed Trinity taking on human flesh.

Through the Incarnation, God has revealed himself in the stuff of his creation, in human flesh that we can see and feel. And throughout the history of the Church God has continued to work in and among us through his saints. Therefore many Catholic church buildings have statues or stained glass windows of Jesus, Mary, or the saints within.

But whether a statue or some other image is of Mary or one of the saints, they all point us ultimately to Christ as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches:

‘All the signs in the liturgical celebrations are related to Christ: as are sacred images of the Holy Mother and of the saints as well. They truly signify Christ, who is glorified in them. They make manifest the “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) who continue to participate in the salvation of the world and to whom we are united, above all in sacramental celebrations.’ CCC 1161

This paragraph from the Catechism points us to an important aspect of their use in Catholic church buildings. They are a reminder to us that, when we gather together there for the celebration of the Eucharist or some other liturgy, we here are on Earth are being joined spiritually to the unending praise of God in heaven.

Some non-Catholic Christians have misunderstood the Church’s use of statues and images and so have accused us of idolatry or ‘statue worship.’ Such a charge would indeed be true if we treated our statues and images as gods. But we do not. We use them to help us worship our Lord Jesus Christ more completely.

This is not unlike how many Protestant churches use pictures of Jesus in their homes and even in the churches. But just as they do not worship their pictures or other images of Jesus, so do we who are Catholic not worship our statues of our Lord, his Mother, or any of his saints. We use them to honor the great mystery of our Lord taking on human flesh in the Incarnation, one the central and most fundamental beliefs of Christianity.


Catholic Reasons for Hope appears each week in the bulletin of the parish where I serve as DRE. If you would like to submit questions for this column, you are welcome to do so by e-mail.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul, Mass During the Day

Acts 12:1-11
Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
2 Tm 4:6-8, 17-18
Mt 16:13-19

Many people both inside and outside our Church remind us constantly that our Church has a bad reputation. I want to eliminate this reputation. I know that I am not alone. The reputation of which I speak extends beyond immediate controversies and scandals. In brief, we are accused of being the Church of Rules and Nothing but Rules. Whether a question is either liturgical or sacramental, the rules are spoken of most of all by many people. Even if these critics do not state actual rules, they state a fear of numerous rules. Rules are good and can be helpful, but we are accused of being the Church filled with Pharisees who refuse to lift oppressive burdens.

Our Church has the reputation with some critics that every request, both great and small, must go through the Vatican – the same Vatican that could not take the span of a lunch break to decide that Galileo was accurate after all about the position of the sun. (Believe me when I tell you that his case does not make for a good case against the Church as a whole. It is a complex case, to say the least.) Other critics will tell us that all requests should go through the Vatican, as if they should enforce directly all that takes place throughout the universal Church. In my opinion, it is a shame that anyone who lives outside our ZIP code should ever have to get involved. There should be enough trust and right conduct in all things on the local level that no person should ever be called in from elsewhere to settle any dispute. We should worship and act with a spirit of charity that eliminates any need for disputes.

I speak of all this because the two apostles whom we celebrate today are accused frequently of binding more that loosening. They are accused of making up rules as they went along and basing their decisions solely upon their authority. Such accusations are not deserved. In the Gospel that we have heard today, Peter is given the keys only after he proclaims his belief that Jesus is the Messiah. He did not receive anything as a result of showing that he was a great keeper of the rules. He received from Jesus as a result of believing in Jesus as the Son of God. Along with this Gospel reading, make sure to read the end of the Gospel of John. You will see there how Peter was made humble before he was made an authority figure.

We know that Paul was not one of the original twelve apostles selected by Jesus, yet we celebrate this day as if he was. A significant reason that we must always give due respect and thanks to Saint Paul as we do because he constantly reminded the Church that the people of God were called to live according to the freedom of God and that people were called to serve each other in the same way that Jesus Christ has served each of us from the moment that we were conceived. Some people will seek to remember Paul simply for his statements about head coverings for women and how women should maintain a silent presence in the Church, but Paul said these things only after lengthy periods of prayer. He did not want to make a single snap decision. He did not want to say anything to anyone that could take a person’s eyes away from Jesus. He wanted people to fulfill the laws of Christ that are written on the hearts of all people. He wanted people to lift up each other.

As Paul said within another part of the Second Letter to Timothy: “Continue with what you have learned and what has been entrusted to you, knowing from whom you received it.” What we have received comes from God the Father through His Son. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand it and to share it. In this manner, we can continue to loosen the bonds of oppression and sin – no matter what type of oppression it may be – and help all people live according to the freedom of the Gospel. Everyone here can do something in order to bring Jesus to others. By doing this, we can break the false reputation of our Church being that of restrictive bonds. We can transform this errant reputation of our Church of being an oppressive keeper of the rules to being known as a bearer of true peace and true freedom.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

This Week's Installment of My Column, "Spiritual Reflections"

The heat of summer has come upon us for the first time this past week. Many people had been expecting it as early as May. Undoubtedly, before the end of summer, high heat and humidity will become an old friend.

I certainly have many memories of summer’s heat. During the summer of 1988, I worked at a golf course that at the time was called The Hoosier Links. It was a desperately hot summer. I remember days when there were more employees at the course than golfers.

I would look onto the course from the clubhouse which sat on a small hill. Waves of heat would rise up from the fairways and roughs, making the course look like a mirage in the middle of a desert.

As an employee, I could play on the course free of charge. So when I would see the course with few or no golfers on it, I was always tempted to go out and play, no matter how hot it was.

So at various times that summer, I would eagerly go out to the first tee and start my round, happy in the knowledge that there wouldn’t be anyone in front of me slowing me down nor anyone behind trying to speed me forward.

But by the time that I reached the fifth hole (which came back close to the clubhouse), I was so exhausted from the heat and humidity that I would inevitably give up and walk back to the cool, air-conditioned indoors.

The lessons that I learned in the summer of 1988 about golfing in high heat and humidity can also be applied to spiritual life. I went out to the first tee in that summer unprepared for the heat. I was only thinking of the empty golf course that stood before me.

In the same way, we are often attracted to the spiritual life by the blessings and promises offered to us by God. But too often we pay little heed to the crosses which we must bear along the way to their fulfillment.

When the trials and challenges of the life of faith come upon us, as they inevitably do, we can be unprepared for them. We can feel their oppression sorely in our hearts and minds.

We might even be tempted to walk away from our faith, just as I walked off the golf course when the heat became too much for me.

When I was walking along the fairways and roughs that summer, I would have actually welcomed a cool shower. Playing in the rain wouldn’t have been a problem. Instead, I would have seen it as a blessing.

But such showers were few and far between that year. For not only was that summer hot, it was dry, as well.

The nice thing about the spiritual life, though, is that we can have a shower of God’s grace fall upon us anytime that we ask for it, anytime that we are oppressed by the heat of life’s challenges.

God’s grace can renew our strength when the weight of our crosses feel heavy on our shoulders. It can help us to persevere when we are tempted to lay them down, just as I laid my golf clubs down during that summer of 1988.

Friday, June 27, 2003

The Role of Culture in Ecumenical Dialogue on Evangelization

In his address to a group of bishops from India (see the previous post) Pope John Paul II noted the essential role played by culture in interreligious dialogue. He said that it is in a society’s culture where “the human person comes face to face with the Gospel” and it is within a culture that Christians and those who profess a different faith need to nurture a “relationship of openness and dialogue” which would result in “mutual understanding and respect for one another” and would help “to develop society in harmony with the rights and dignity of all.

If what the Holy Father says is true regarding the role of culture in interreligious dialogue, I think that it is also true regarding ecumenical dialogue, especially when it involves the work of evangelization of people from one culture within a different one.

For example, I think that an important element in ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Evangelicals who both reside within the culture of the United States is the work of evangelization that both groups do in the cultures of Central and South America.

Kristine Franklin, once an American Evangelical missionary in Guatemala and who now is Catholic, began to be rethink her religious convictions when she was in that Central American country. She noted how much the culture of the United States formed the message of her Evangelical companions there.

For example, a basic element of American culture is that it is a literary culture, even if it is less so now than it was in the past due to the advent of radio, television, etc. At any rate, the American culture is far more literary than the culture of Guatemala where literacy rates are only a fraction of what they are here.

But, in Franklin’s experience, this difference was not really taken into account by those Evangelicals with whom she worked. For them, prayerfully reading Sacred Scripture is the only sure way that one can come to a full understanding of the faith. How, then, at least in the short term, can proclaim the Gospel in a culture where most of one’s audience cannot read? (In the long term, they might foresee an increase in literacy rates due to the establishment of schools by missionaries.)

Their answer was simply to preach to the Guatemalans and teach them through word of mouth. Kristine, however, saw a contradiction in this. How could a Gospel that was based on the presumption that the word of God was the final authority in the faith be passed on to those who could not read? It could not. For those Guatemalans who could not read, the final authority ended up being those who preached to them or who taught them by word of mouth.

For those who are Catholic missionaries from America, working in Central and South America they do not have to grapple with this contradiction since the authority of the Church’s teaching office is a fundamental element in the passing on of the faith that we draw from Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

But this does not mean that those Catholics from the United States (and there are more and more of them all of the time) who do missionary work in those regions do not have to take cultural differences into account. Indeed, it is very important that they have a good grasp on the particularities of the culture in which they will be working before they arrive there.

What do you think are some important aspects of the cultural differences between the United States and the various cultures of Central and South America that Catholics and Evangelicals need to take into account as they go to do missionary work there? What are some of those aspects that have an impact more upon Catholics or more upon Evangelicals? How are Catholics and Evangelicals working in these regions responding or failing to respond to these differences?

I look forward to reading your responses.


The Holy Father on the relationship between Interreligious Dialogue and Evangelization

..."Culture is the space within which the human person comes face to face with the Gospel. Always respectful of differing cultures, the Church seeks to engage her brothers and sisters of other religions in order to foster a relationship of openness and dialogue."

"Thus considered, interreligious dialogue will not only increase mutual understanding and respect for one another, but will also help to develop society in harmony with the rights and dignity of all," the Pope said.

This principle of dialogue explains the commitment of the Church in India "to the principle of the inalienable dignity of the human person through her numerous social institutions, offering unconditional love to Christians and non-Christians alike."

"Her schools, dispensaries, hospitals and institutes, aimed at the integral development of the human person, give untold assistance to the poorer members of society, regardless of creed," the Holy Father observed. "It is unfortunate that some of the Church's honest attempts towards interreligious dialogue at its most basic level have sometimes been hindered by a lack of cooperation from the government and by harassment from certain fundamentalist groups...

Go here for a link to the text of the Holy Father's entire address.


Good Examples of Ecumenical Dialogue between Catholics and Evangelicals

Its been sad that I've seen some harsh dialogues going on between Catholics and Evangelical Christians at Envoy Encore and Vessel of Honour. But these need not be the only way that these groups can enter into discussion.

A good example of ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Evangelicals, even within an American context, is that of the group called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together." They have been around for what seems to be about 10 years and include such Evangelicals as Charles Colson, Dr. Richard Land, and Dr. Jesse Miranda, and such Catholics as Archbishop Francis J. Stafford, Bishop (at the time of Yakima, WA) Francis George, and Fr. Avery Dulles.

They have produced documents on evangelization and salvation. These and other responses to these documents have been published in First Things. Go here for a link to all of these documents.

The participants in these discussions did not come 'together' by compromising their vision of the truth. Instead, they chose to accept the necessary tension in such dialogue while treating each other as brothers in Christ, together desiring that unity for which Christ prayed.

The men who participated in these discussions were professional ministers or theologians. But it is my opinion that one need not be a professional to be able to live in charity with one charity and yet also live with the tension that will be present in informal conversations between Catholics and Evangelicals.

For anyone, whether he be an ordained minister, an academic theologian, or an average believer in the pew, prayer is absolutely necessary if anyone is to enter into such a dialogue in charity and without compromising one's understanding of the truth.

I've provided links to examples of good ecumenical dialogues carried on at a professional level. I would be interested to read some accounts from readers of informal discussions that they may have had that could be described as ecumenical.

If you are a Catholic reader, please tell share any examples of good discussions that you may have had with Evangelicals, Pentecostals, or folks in the mainline denominations, or those in the Orthodox Churches. If you are not Catholic, please share examples of good discussions that you have had with Catholics or other Christians who confess and practice a faith that is significantly (if in varying degrees) different from your own.

As I noted, these can be informal discussions--between spouses or other relatives, between co-workers or friends, or even between strangers. If any of you have participated in any kind of good formal discussion, please share your experiences of them as well.

I look forward to reading about your good experiences. After the tough discussions that I've seen over the past few days, I'm ready for something good.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Barbara Nicolosi of Act One has seen a "rough cut" of Mel Gibson's The Passion

It sounds like it will be a wonderfully powerful movie to view. I just hope Gibson is able to get distribution that has its actors speaking in Aramaic and Latin with little or no subtitles. Here are a few excerpts from her post:

The Passion is a stunning work of art. It is a devout, act of worship from mel and his collaborators - in the way that Handel's Messiah and Notre Dame were artistic acts of worship in previous times...

...The Passion is high art. It is the greatest movie about Jesus ever made. In the discussion following the film, Mel and co. were asking us how mainstream theater audiences would react to the film. I told them, "Who cares? What you have here is so much more than just a product to sell. It will live forever, regardless of whether it is a commercial success for you."...

...The film is strongly Eucharistic. There is a beautiful juxtaposition of images that cuts from the stripping on Calvary to the unwrapping of the bread to be used at the last Supper. Fabulous stuff.

Every Christian needs to see this film at least once. Just to remember, in our current comfort zones while evil is closing in, the price that was paid for us...

Does Barbara need a little distance in time to give a more objective assessment of the film? Who knows, I wasn't there in the screening room with her (although I wish that I would have). But when I see sentences thrown out like "Its the greatest Jesus movie ever made" thats saying a lot, since there are a lot of Jesus movies out there (although a number of them have, admittedly, some real problems with them).

At any rate, Barbara's take on the film certainly confirmed my desire to want to see it for myself.

If you have any questions about the film, take the link and place them in the comment box. Barbara says that she is open to questions.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Cardinal Walter Kasper Preaches in Methodist Church in Rome

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, preached at the Methodist church of Sant'Angelo Bridge in the heart of Rome, in the context of an ecumenical celebration.

The celebration Sunday marked the third centenary of the birth of Englishman John Wesley, founder of the movement centered on the preaching of the Gospel, which gave rise to the Methodists.

The cardinal began with the words "Brothers, Sisters, Friends," and relayed the Pope's blessing, saying "the unity of the Church is in his heart."...


Good Trees and Rotten Trees:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time, Year I

Gen 15:1-12, 17-18
Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9
Mt 7:15-20

We who strive to be true to the faith given to us by God through the Church often make sharp distinctions between what is good and what is bad. And, in some important senses, such a perspective is good and true. There are some acts that are objectively good and some that are objectively bad.

But its a different story when it comes to a person's growth in holiness. We start off our lives with the burden of original sin and we hope to end them with God's grace filling our souls. But for the bulk of our lives we are somewhere in the middle in our growth toward complete holiness.

In so far as we show forth holiness, we are revealing the work of God in our world. And so to the degree to which we do this is the degree to which we are his prophets.

Jesus in today's Gospel gives us advice on how to determine if a prophet is true or not. He compares them to fruit-bearing trees. Good trees produce good fruit. Rotten trees bear bad fruit. Since we mostly find ourselves in the middle of our growth in holiness, some of our branches (to continue Jesus' image) are good and some are rotten.

A thing that is rotten is a thing that was once alive and now is dying or is dead. But this is, in a sense, true of any human being. Even the most healthy baby born will not live forever in his body. As soon as a person is created that person begins to die. Without God's grace, his very life that he shares with us, each of us would become, in our entirety, one of the rotten trees. A thing that is rotten is losing what life it had. And that is the human situation without the grace of God.

This grace, poured into our souls for the first time at our baptism, can transform each of us from a rotten tree to a good tree. It would be wonderful if each of us who were batpized would forever continue in that state of grace into which we were re-born in those holy waters. But this sacrament does not eliminate our free will nor the effects of original sin which often leads us to use our free will to make sinful choices.

And so we are continually being invited by God to grow in holiness, to let his eternal life grow in us and let our dying life be absorbed by and transformed into his. This is a lifelong process of change, one in which we are called to participate each and every day of our lives.

In a sense we see this process at work in today's first reading. We see Abram hearing God make great promises to him. And yet Abram is unsure of them. After all, he is an old man without any children. God addressed those fears and asssured him that he would have as many descendants as there were stars in the sky. Abram, with nothing to go on but God's word, chose to trust him. This faith was the first fruit of him who had been up to that time a barren tree.

Up to that time he had produced no fruit at all. He would seem to have been lower than a rotten tree. At least they produced some kind of fruit, even if it was bad. When God offered Abram the choice to trust in him or to reject him, he started to bear fruit.

The kind of tree Abram was judged to be was determined by the choice he made when God called to him. The same is true for each of us. God offers us the life of his grace each and every day. He offers us this grace so that we might live like him now and with him forever in heaven.

So what will you choose today? Will you be a rotten tree that is loosing its life, producing bad fruit? Or will you be a good tree, bearing good fruit? The choice is up to you, just as it was for Abram.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Here's a good example, in my opinion, of a religious dialogue

Interestingly enough, it was inspired by Mac Swift's anti-Catholic screed. I guess God can indeed draw good out of something bad.


A Note on the first reading from today's Mass

Today's first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah has in it the origin of the title of Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (Light of the Nations):

"I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

On this Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist it might be good for us to consider how the Church and each of us who are members of it are called to be like him who proclaimed the coming of the Lord. How can we, as individuals, be a light to those around us, helping to take the salvation of the Lord to the ends of the earth?


The Word of Salvation Was Sent to Us:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist,
Mass duringt the Day

Is 49:1-6
Ps 139:1b-3, 13-14ab, 14c-15
Acts 13:22-26
Lk 1:57-66, 80

The date for this Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist is fitting in a chronological sense. In the Gospel of St. Luke we read that Mary, after the angel Gabriel had visited her, went to her cousin Elizabeth who was then in her sixth month. She stayed with her for three months, presumably until her cousin gave birth. At that point Mary would have been in her third month, six months away from the birth of her own child. And so here we stand today--six months and one day from the celebration of Christmas.

But that which we celebrate today is not merely a historical timeline. We, living here and now, 2000 years after the events remembered today, are called to hear the word of salvation of John the Baptist. In today's second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear part of an address that St. Paul delivered in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia. He said that it was "to us this word of salvation has been sent." This word of which he spoke was the word of salvation spoken by John the Baptist, a word that calls us to repentance, a word that pointed beyond its speaker to the one who was to come after him.

There is a timelessness in St. Paul's statement. Although he spoke it to a specific audience 2000 years ago, it applies to us as well. John the Baptist's word of salvation was sent forth to us, living here and now. All of us are called to repentance. All of us are called to beyond John to the promised Messiah.

His message began to be proclaimed even in his birth. Yes, there was attention given to his mother, his father, and himself. But his birth called people to repentance and pointed beyond itself to the Lord. The neighbors of his parents praised the Lord for the mercy that he had shown his mother in allowing her to have a child beyond her child-bearing years. When his father's tongue was loosed on the day of his naming, he immediately began to praise the Lord. And all of the people of the hill country of Judea who heard of his birth were described as returning to a fear of the Lord, presumably a fear that would lead them to repentance.

The message proclaimed in John's birth rings true for us today. Each of us who have families can often find it hard to look beyond the duties to which we are called. We are often caught up in caring for our spouse, our children, and the material goods of our household.

But the word of John the Baptist proclaimed in his birth invite us to broaden our vision. Babies are born into families every day. They are given names every day. There are baptisms of babies every day. But the feast which we celebrate today shows us that these ordinary events are filled with extraordinary meaning. We can take in this meaning and be transformed by it if we simply open our eyes to it.

The stuff of ordinary family life is changed with the grace of God. It proclaims the word of salvation of John the Baptist. It calls us to a fear of the Lord and to repentance. It points beyond itself to the Lord. This is the word of salvation sent to us, living here and now.

Monday, June 23, 2003

You wanna see anger at the Church? Go here. There's some anger for you.

And oh, by the way, check out the comments in the comment box. It would appear that Barbara is a Christian who has never been in full communion with the Catholic Church. What, then, might be the source of and actual target of her such venomous hatred? God only knows--literally.

Trying to enter into dialogue with a person who has views and emotions such as Barbara toward the Catholic Church is like when the disciples tried to cast out a demon from a boy. They were unable to do so, but Jesus was. When the disciples asked him afterward why they weren't able to drive the demon out, Jesus responded, "This kind of demon can only come out through prayer" (Mk 9:29).

In the end, it would seem that the best approach to a person like Barbara is a spiritual one--through prayer.

And in the midst of those prayers, don't forget to pray that God might protect us from taking on such a hatred ourselves--for anyone.


Who are you really angry at?

This was a question that a priest I know would sometimes ask a seminarian when he was the seminary's vice rectory and the seminarian was withdrawing. The priest would, as a matter of course, have an exit interview with the man. And, sometimes, he would express anger, sometimes strong, at the Church for its policies on this or that issue or for the way it treats this or that group of people.

He would listen in patience to what he had to say. And, often times, if he thought that it was appropriate to the particular situation, he would pause and then ask the question, "Who are you really angry at?"

This priest sometimes asked this question because he knew that some people express anger at the Church when they are really angry at their parents or a particular sister, brother, priest, school teacher, professor, etc. Indeed, this is true not just for some people who are mad at the Church, but also for some who are mad at other institutions in general as well.

I think that this is an important phenomenon to keep in mind when speaking with someone about the faith when he or she might express anger at the Church. The person might have been a Catholic who has since left the Church or is considering such a move. He or she might have never been in full communion with the Church at all. But in any case, when you speak with lots of different people about the Catholic Church, you will inevitably run across those who are mad at it.

Granted, there will be times when they are truly mad at the Church for one reason or another (whether or not that reason is justified is another question). But there will just as surely also be instances where people express anger at the Church but where they really are angry at a specific individual or group of individuals who may or may not be members of the faithful at all.

Now it might be argued that such individuals might have transferred their anger toward the Church because they believe that the actions of the individuals or groups of individuals that is at the root of their emotions was reflective of a belief or practice endorsed by the Church. As with those who are truly mad at the Church, whether or not such a transference of emotions is justified or not is another question. Sometimes it might be. Other times it might not.

If this anger is indeed misdirected it might lead the person to unnecessarily cut his or her ties with the Church completely. (In actuality, I find it difficult to imagine a justifiable reason to cut one's ties with the Church based upon its official beliefs and practices.) Therefore, in the midst of conversations when such anger might be expressed, it might on some occasions be good for us to help the other explore the root of their emotion.

Ok, ok, before you accuse of me of psychobabology, hear me out. I'm not saying that this appropriate on all occasions where anger is expressed at the Church in a conversation in which you are a partner. And I'm not saying that the root of such emotions can be discovered easily. Even if you do help the person find it, it might happen over the course of several conversations. It might not happen with you in the context at all. But you may have simply helped to start the process whereby a person really starts to sort out his or her feelings toward the Church.

This is not easy work. In fact it can be very hard and arduous work. But it can be the work of an apostle, the work to which all of us who are baptized are called.


Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: What is the Catholic Church’s teaching on cremation?

Both the 1983 Code of Canon Law (CIC) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) show us that the Church allows the cremation of a deceased member of the faithful under specific conditions:

The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.

CIC, Canon 1176§3

The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.

CCC, Paragraph 2301

These rules regarding cremation are part of the customs and disciplines of the Church and are simply practical applications of its doctrines on faith and morals. Therefore, they can be changed from one period of history to the next. Indeed, there can be different local laws at any one time regarding burial customs that suit the particular cultures of particular locales.

It was only fairly recently that cremation was permitted for the Catholic faithful in the United States. The past prohibition against cremation, however, was quite reasonable.

The cremation of the dead was and is reflective in many cultures and religions of beliefs contrary to the Christian faith. It can demonstrate a belief in the superiority of the spirit over the flesh in human life—something that the Church does not teach. It can also demonstrate a denial of any form of physical resurrection.

That was the primary reason why the Church hesitated in the past to give permission for the cremation of the dead. The physical resurrection of all of who have died has been a constant belief of the Church. Indeed, it is stated in the Apostles Creed itself: “I the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.”

Since this belief is such a fundamental part of our Catholic faith, the Church only allows cremation if that act does demonstrate a denial of this doctrine.

Although this permission has been granted, it still strongly encourages through the Code of Canon Law the “pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased.” The practice of burying the bodies of the dead is encouraged because of the sacramental principle in the life of the Church.

As Catholics, we believe that God uses physical objects to reveal aspects of his life of faith, hope, and love that he offers to us. This is at the heart of our beliefs regarding the sacraments and sacramentals. The Church has recognized that the burial of the body of a deceased person has a higher symbolic value of our faith in the resurrection of the body than if we simply cremate it.

The pious practice of the burial of the body of a deceased member of the faithful can then serve as means to strengthen the faith in that belief in the life of those whom the deceased has left behind.

Nevertheless, cremation in and of itself does not necessarily deny the resurrection of the body and so the Church does allow it.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

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

St. Joseph Catholic Church will soon be changing pastors. This is an event that most churches experience on a fairly regular basis.

Even in our own private lives, there are always changes. We leave one job behind and take up another. Students graduate from high school or college and move away from their home to establish one of their own.

In all of these changes, there is usually unfinished business left behind. It seems to me that this is a natural part of the human condition. Even when we try to make a good preparation for changes, there always still seems to be some loose ends remaining when we leave.

Loose ends may be something that we do not like, but it actually can be a good thing. It can be the occasion for creating a continuity from us to those who replace us. They take up where we left off.

This even happened when Jesus came to the end of his time here on earth. It may be a little disconcerting to say, but it is true. Although His death on the cross was a perfect and complete sacrifice, He still only personally proclaimed his Good News to a relatively small number of people.

And so at the end of his days here on earth, Jesus charged His apostles to take His Good News to all nations, to complete His unfinished business after He ascended to the Father.

In order to prepare them for this task, Jesus prayed to the Father at the Last Supper. He asked Him to protect His apostles from the Evil One and that they be “consecrated in the truth” (John 17:15, 17).

Most importantly, Jesus promised to send upon the apostles the Holy Spirit to fill their hearts with courage and with wisdom for the task set before them.

And yet the commission which Jesus handed on to the apostles was not completed at the end of their lives. Therefore, they passed it on to those whom they, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chose to succeed them. They gave these men their unfinished business.

This task remains a work in progress in our own time. We who are the faithful today have been given, by those who came before us, a share in this work in a way that is appropriate to our own vocation. We, in our turn, will hand it on to those who follow after us.

The unfinished business which Jesus first handed on to the apostles, and which we ourselves will also hand on, is nothing less than the proclamation of the Gospel to every man and nation. This is the mission which each of us received at our baptism.

I received it at my baptism, and I handed it on to my son Michael when he was baptized one year ago. God willing, I will still have many years ahead of me in which I will still be able to do this work.

But now, an important part of it will be to prepare Michael to carry it on once I am gone, when I will leave with unfinished business left behind.

Those of you who are parents, take seriously this task of preparing your children for the work of evangelization. This is a solemn charge which we have been given. And, undoubtedly, it will remain unfinished when our children leave us.

But be assured that Jesus’ prayer to his Father will be fulfilled for them. He will protect them, consecrate them in the truth, and send the Holy Spirit upon them to loosen their tongues to proclaim Jesus’ Good News.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Some interesting posts and comments on the ecumenical dialogue front

Just before I got back from my trip there were some interesting posts about dialogues between Catholics and those Christians who sincerely believe that Catholicism is not Christian and is, from their perspective, paganism. Go here to see a post from Mac Swift that defends the latter position (today he's also added a couple of short posts on the dialogue). Tom over at Disputations has this to say from the Catholic perspective. Mark Shea adds his comments on the dialogue here.

Check out especially the dialogues that are going on in the comment boxes for the various posts.

Update: Go here for an interesting perspective on all of this by a Quaker blogger. Very well thought out post. This is the kind of Christian with whom I think that a dialogue could be very fruitful for all involved.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Of Airports, Zoos, and Golf Courses or What I did on my summer vacation

Well, my wife, son, and I safely arrived back home this afternoon from an all-too-short summer vacation. It kind of started last weekend when we flew from Indianapolis to Fort Smith, Arkansas. I say 'kind of' because we went there so that I could give a presentation on the history of the diaconate to a group of 21 men from the Diocese of Tulsa who are deacon aspirants (they soon will be candidates).

A short (?) side note on the airport in Fort Smith. Ok, its small. There are only three gates (maybe thats a good thing). But the amenities are the best that I've ever seen in an airport. Instead of small, old seats in which too many people have sat in, slept in, etc. so that their cushions are now next to nothing as if they were anything from the start, the seats that I found there were large, soft wingback chairs. Very nice for an all-too-long wait brought about by the Department of Homeland Security.

And the bathrooms! There were wingback chairs in there too. I was just waiting for a little old guy to be sitting in the corner offering me a towel and a mint. The toilet seats had machines attached to them. Just push a button and a new plastic liner comes slithering out of its holder, ready to play its part in providing you with a clean bathroom environment. Now how can I get one of these for my home?

After spending the weekend at St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, my family and I flew to Memphis where we have spent the bulk of this week visiting with relatives there. Its always good to spend time getting to visit with uncles and aunts, cousins and second cousins with whom I have the chance to see far too few times during the year.

Cindy, Michael, and I also visited the Memphis Zoo. The centerpiece of the Zoo at this time are two giant pandas on loan from zoos in China. We had to pay an extra fee just to get in to the panda exhibition. And all visitors had to watch a video on the work to help preserve panda populations before venturing in to see the black-and-white living stuffed animals. Toward the end of the video, the narrator said that, in order to save living creatures that were threatened, it was necessary to protect the environment in which they lived.

When he said this, my mind didn't turn first to the dwindling bamboo forests of China, but to the wombs of women from which are taken in violence far too many living human beings.

On a far less serious note, I got to play my first round of golf in at least a couple of months. I went by myself but ended up being matched up with a young man who just finished his seventh grade year. He was a fairly decent golfer, much better than myself at times. But he told me that he plays most every day and was planning on playing 36 holes that day.

In the midst of our polite chit-chat over the first few holes, he asked me what brought kind of work that I did. When I said that I worked for a church, he asked what kind. When I said the Catholic Church, he matter-of-factly replied, "Oh, my Dad used to go to the Catholic Church."

Although my thoughts turned to that reply a few times in between the consternation that I felt over my wild hooks and poor putting, I chose to refrain from pursuing that line of the conversation with my young playing partner. A chance missed for some informal ecumenical dialogue? Perhaps. But hopefully the young man was able to see in my polite manners and honesty (yes, I counted all of my strokes--ALL of them) a good portrayal of a Catholic who seeks, with God's grace, to be faithful to his baptismal call.

Also while in Memphis I visited their Pauline bookstore. I purchased two books: The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton (believe it or not I have never read any of his writing) and Why Humanae Vitae Was Right, edited by Janet Smith. It is a collection of some rather serious articles giving either a defense of and/or a greater explanation of the Church's teaching on sexuality in marriage.

At any rate, now I'm back and within three hours of returning to my home, I've had to drive back to my office for a faith formation commission meeting this evening. Ah, the life of a DRE!

Thursday, June 12, 2003

R.I.P., Gregory Peck

Gregory Peck is dead at age 87. Although he had many great film roles, surely none was greater than Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. A lot of people must agree because that role was recently named the #1 hero on film by the American Film Institute.

I first saw that film after having read the book when I was a sophomore in high school. Even then I knew that the scene where Atticus walked out of the courtroom and all of the African-Americans in the gallery silently stood up for him was very powerful. That scene was defined when the Atticus' housekeeper told his daughter Scout, who had fallen asleep, to stand up because "your father is passing."

When I was in college I had the opportunity to speak with Brock Peters, the actor who played Tom Robins, the black man on trial in the film. I asked him if those on the set knew that this scene was powerful when it was being filmed. He didn't hesitate and said yes, everyone recognized how significant it was.

Maybe I'll go out and try to find a video of this movie. It would be a good one to show Michael when he grows up.


Before I take my short break...

...I'd like to point your attention to the post entitled "Questions on Marriage" (scroll down a little bit to see it). Check it out and let me know your answers. I'll post mine when I come back from my break.

Thanks. I look forward to reading what you have to say on the topic.


Upgrades (?) to Blogger and a short break in Blogging

For those of you who have your own blogs, you probably know that Blogger has been doing some upgrades. I will wait to pass judgment on whether or not the changes are truly an 'upgrade' or not.

But I will probably have to wait for an opportunity to make that judgment, for, starting tomorrow, I will be taking a short break in blogging. I may do some over the next week, but it is likely I won't be doing any regular blogging until a week from tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

An Insightful Post

Chris Burgwald, over at his blog Veritas, has added some interesting reflections on a post that I made last week on the distinction between a dialogue between a Catholic and a non-Christian and a dialogue between a Catholic and a non-Catholic Christian. Check out what he has to say.

While you're there, you might also check out what says in his post entitled "Alienation verus Persuasion" in which he discusses both his goals for his communication on the internet and the pitfalls which he at times encounters in the midst of it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Questions about Marriage

Recently I had a reporter from The Shelbyville News (the newspaper of the town of the parish where I serve as DRE and the newspaper for which I write my "Spiritual Reflections column) send me some questions about marriage. He was assigned to write an article about the religious aspects of marriage. The questions had to do with this topic. Here they are:

1. What is the role of religion in marriage?

2. What does the Bible say about marriage?

3. What happens when two people of different faiths marry? What problems can this cause? How can they be prevented?

4. What does a Catholic wedding involve? (include any counseling)

5. Feel free to add any thoughts regarding this subject.

I have already written my reply to the reporter and I am willing to share them with you. However, before I do so, I would like to see any reponses that any of you might have to them. Feel free to offer them either in the comment box or in an e-mail to me.


Why are Christians afraid of Hollywood?

Barbara Nicolosi starts to answer that question over at her blog. Take a look at what she has to say.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: I’ve seen the word ‘Jesuit’ used in reference to both priests and institutions, like Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis. What does this word refer to?

The word ‘Jesuit’ is used in reference to those men or institutions who are a part of the Society of Jesus, a religious order in the Catholic Church.

The Jesuits (as they are commonly called) were founded by St. Ignatius Loyola and 1540. Today there are over 24,000 Jesuits working in 112 countries around the world.

St. Ignatius was born in Spain and was a soldier before being wounded in battle. During his recovery he experienced a profound conversion and eventually gave up his military career and began studies of theology at the University of Paris.

He eventually gathered around him a group of companions who were dedicated to forming a group of men who put themselves to the service of the Church, wherever the pope called them to go.

This small group of men would eventually become the Society of Jesus. It was and, in many respects, is still characterized by the military spirit of its founder. They are known for self-renunciation, focusing on what is practical while striving for ideals, a firm discipline of purpose, total obedience, and seeing the going out into missionary fields as a kind of military work.

No matter what work they took upon themselves, it was always directed with a military-like precision to the greater glory of God. This indeed is the order’s motto: Ad maiorem gloriam Dei (to the greater glory of God).

They grew quickly, numbering its members in the thousands by the end of the 16th century. They helped bring vigor back to the life of the Catholic Church in Europe in the wake of the Reformation. And they quickly spread out over the entire world as European explorers crossed the globe.

One of St. Ignatius’ original companions was St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He spent his life as a Jesuit in doing missionary work in India, Japan, and China.

In addition to missionary work, the Jesuits have also been involved in educational work since the beginning of the order. Today there are numerous high schools and colleges run by the Jesuits both across the United States and around the globe. More locally, they run Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School mentioned in the question and Xavier University in Cincinnati.


"Catholic Reasons for Hope" appears weekly in the bulletin of the parish where I serve as DRE. Any reader of Nota Bene may submit questions for it by e-mail.



Yesterday my son Michael celebrated the first anniverary of his baptism, the day on which the life of God was born in him through those holy waters. To celebrate it Cindy and I had some friends over for supper. At the blessing I prayed a special prayer for Michael during which Cindy lighted Michael's baptismal candle.

I strongly encourage all of you who are baptized to learn the date of that important event if you do not know it already. And once you learn it, I encourage you to celebrate it much like a birthday. For our baptisms are as much a day when we were born as the day when we came forth from our mothers' wombs. Surely this is what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

Today my wife Cindy and I celebrate the second anniversary of our wedding, the day on which we entered into that sacramental relationship to which the Lord called us. Today's Mass readings tell me much about the ultimate meaning of our marriage and of all sacramental marriages.

St. Paul, in the beginning of his Second Letter to the Corinthians, praises God, "the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement", for giving him consolation in the midst of his suffering. He went on to show that when he suffered and received consolation, he did this in a saving way for the Corinthians: "If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer."

Every marriage gives to each spouse more than their fair share of suffering. But suffering embraced freely and endured patiently also brings to each spouse more than their fair share of encouragement and consolation. The great blessings of marriage cannot be received without the suffering that goes along with them. Had I chosen to remain single two years ago I would not have experienced the challenges of marriage but neither would I have experienced its great gifts.

This is the great mystery of the sacrament of holy matrimony. Cindy and I are, at one and the same time, both the source of challenges for each other but also the channels of divine grace for each other to overcome these challenges and come to experience the eternal life of Christ.

Both of us embraced this mystery in freedom. And in freedom we chose to live out this beatitude that is offered to us in today's Gospel reading: "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted." When each of us live out the challenges of the sacrament of marriage we are mourning the life that we left behind on June 9, 2001. That was the life of the world, the one where we thought that we had total control.

On that day that life died and we entered into the life of the Kingdom. But as long as we live in this world, we will, to one degree or another, still long for its life of illusions. We mourn for the life that died. And yet since we have embraced the life of the Kingdom, the grace of that life will give each of us comfort.

May God, the father of mercies, continue to shower the grace of his Kingdom upon Cindy and I as we live out the sacramental of matrimony to which he called us in his great love. May he mutiply our years and the love that we share.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Spiritual Reflections: Pentecost

Many Christians around the world will be celebrating Pentecost Sunday this weekend. This is the feast which commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ first disciples in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago.

Actually, the feast predated its Christian celebration. It began, much like the Christian faith itself, within Judaism. The word “pentecost” was originally a Greek word meaning the 50th day. It was a Jewish feast that commemorated the 50th day following the celebration of the Passover. The first fruits of the corn harvest and the giving of the law by Moses was also celebrated on that day by the people of Israel.

For we who are Christians, Pentecost has become the celebration of that day when the disciples of Jesus were empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Lord’s new law of love that is the Gospel. Before that day, the disciples had shut themselves up behind locked doors for fear of the authorities. Perhaps in the days following Jesus’ ascension, they also felt quite alone.

But on that Pentecost day in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit was powerfully sent down upon the disciples. They rushed forth from the upper room just as quickly as the Spirit rushed down from heaven. They went out into the street and immediately began proclaiming the Gospel to anyone who would listen. And apparently many people did listen and were convinced by their words, for the Acts of the Apostles tells us that some 3,000 people became disciples on that day alone.

Many Christians call this feast the birthday of the Church. The Church was established by Christ to continue to proclaim His Gospel once He had ascended back to heaven. One might say that from the time of Jesus’ passion and death until the day of Pentecost, the Church lay hidden in the womb. But on that day it came forth into the world, for all to see, for all to hear its announcing of the Good News.

In every Christian celebration of Pentecost since that day long ago in Jerusalem, the disciples of Jesus have prayed that He and the Father might send upon them the Holy Spirit in a new Pentecost. And surely They have heard and answered their prayers.

Have some Christians through the ages experienced the Holy Spirit working in their lives as the apostles did in Jerusalem 2000 years ago? Most surely.

But the history of God’s people has shown us that the Holy Spirit can work in an endless variety of ways. Each person who has been baptized has been filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a way that is unique to each. Each of us who are Christian today are called to go forth and preach the Gospel in a way that is in harmony with the gifts given especially to us by the Holy Spirit.

May that same Spirit fill all of us with power this Pentecost Sunday so that we might go forth into the streets of our own communities to share with others through our every thought, word, and deed the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Friday, June 06, 2003

News about former blogger Fr. Shawn O'Neal

Fr. Shawn O'Neal, former blogger, is a priest of the Diocese of Charlotte, NC. For the past year he has been the associate pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Salisbury, NC. Beginning on July 8 he will be the pastor of St. Jospeh Catholic Church in Bryson City, NC and its mission church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Cherokee, NC.

Just to orient you a little bit geographically, Salisbury is a suburb just to the north of Charlotte. Bryson City is in the extreme western part of the state, near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And, as Fr. Shawn told me, its also in the eastern part of Eric Rudolph's old stomping grounds.

May God bless Fr. Shawn in his new assignment.


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

The last time I heard this Scripture during Mass, I celebrated Mass with the students of both my alma mater and my first priestly assignment, Appalachian State University, at their campus ministry center. I must admit that during the homily that evening, I went into my A.M. radio preacher impersonation. It is very easy to do with this reading. Perhaps it has to do with the list of the works of the flesh; after all, we do not hear the word “orgy” during Mass very frequently.

What I said to the students that evening was that I knew they were frustrated. I knew that they were frustrated that many people around them claimed to be followers of Jesus, but their extra-curricular activity list seemed to match the works of the flesh rather than the fruit of the Spirit. One thing that I admired about many of the students who came to Mass at the campus ministry center was that they admitted that their acts often matched the works of the flesh much more than they matched the fruit of the Spirit. I am glad that they did not try to act like the proudly pure amidst the unclean. I am glad that they sought God’s grace and healing so that they could be good, humble disciples.

The frustration that they felt is a genuine frustration for many disciples. It can be very difficult to remain a good, humble disciple when we constantly encounter self-professed Christians who act in a blatant manner against God’s Commandments. It is difficult for good disciples to go about the business of bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Many believers replace prayer and witness with hatred for other people. It is very easy to act like the tax collector who boasted of his greatness as he prayed. It is very tempting for any of us to say: “I know that I have done bad things, Lord, but at least I am not like __________.”

We will transform this world through love and generosity much more than we will transform this world through jealousy and rivalry. We will bring many people to Jesus, or perhaps bring many people back to Jesus, by pulling at their hearts rather than by tugging on their ears. We pull at their hearts by acting according to the Spirit. If we act as the Spirit enables us to act, then we can show all people that the greatest joy that a person can find is through unity with God in mind, heart, and soul. The hardest heart and the most selfish will can be changed and we can bring forth these changes living in the Spirit.

If you are someone who believes that religion is wonderful yet impractical, then ask God to help you follow the Spirit. Combine your prayers with those of the students at Appalachian State University. Combine your prayers with those of believers throughout the world. By doing this, you can rise above confusion and frustration. You can receive hope that helps you to persevere. You can help people either come to Jesus or come back to Jesus after a long time away from Him. If we allow the Spirit to be our guide, then He can guide more than us into his heavenly home. We can help people add their names to the only list that matters – the list of names of the souls in Heaven.


Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Homily for the Vigil of Pentecost

Did the last sentence of the Gospel reading confuse you? We have just heard that there was no Spirit yet because Jesus had not yet been glorified. A person who takes the Word of God strictly on a literal level could assume that the dogma of the Trinity has been made false by what John has written within his Gospel. The same person could say instead that John knew not what he wrote within the Gospel. If there was no Spirit yet, then how, for example, was Jesus conceived? Believers need not panic and literalists can calm down as I say this: what we heard was a figure of speech. Many manuscripts and translations used this particular form as a different way of saying: “The Spirit had not been given yet because Jesus had not yet been glorified.” It is not as though the Spirit had yet to exist; the Spirit has existed from the beginning. Jesus had not yet breathed the Spirit onto his disciples.

Jesus could have given the Holy Spirit to the disciples whenever and however He wanted to do it. Being that Jesus is one of the three persons of God, He certainly has the means to bring forth such great power. Yet as powerful as Jesus is, He preferred to follow the plan of His Father. His Father had a time in mind to create the universe. His Father had a time in mind to reveal Himself to his beloved creatures, both man and woman, so that they could enter and remain within a loving, mystical covenant with Him. His Father had a time in mind to send a Redeemer to his beloved people so that through the Savior, humanity could gain a new, glorious, and eternal covenant with God.

No matter whether the disciples were willing to receive the Holy Spirit, it would not have been to their benefit if they had received the Spirit earlier in their period of discipleship, rather than after the Risen Christ appeared to them. I say this only because they might not have been ready to live according to the responsibilities that come with receiving the Spirit. Recent disciples could have taken what they had received and buried it in the sand. New disciples are often enthusiastic, but rarely wise. They are willing to receive the crown but they might not always consider that they must carry the cross and drink from the cup of suffering in order to receive it.

Our Church celebrates this day as the day when the Father said to the Son that now is the acceptable time to preach the message of salvation through Jesus Christ to the world. We do not believe that today is solely the day of our salvation, but we believe that today is the day when we must share all that we have received. We have been called to share the gifts that we have been given both completely and with joy. We have been transformed through the Spirit; now we are commanded to transform this world.

What Jesus has done for us could have come about in any manner; it happened as it did because God the Father willed it to happen as it did. God the Father has commanded us through His Son to bring people to Him all the people who thirst for God. Now is the time for God to be glorified. We glorify God by sharing the Holy Spirit with all people so that, in turn, all people may share in His joy now and forever.


Who Is in Control Here?:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Acts 25:13-21
Ps 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20ab
Jn 21:15-19

St. Paul probably had never met Festus, King Agrippa, or Bernice. Yet here they were, considering the case brought against him. They had the power of life and death over him. I suspect, however, that this did not trouble the great apostle. Instead, he trusted in God's providence.

God had shown on many occasions his willingness to use people who had no relationship with him at all to bring about his will for the good of those who did. The prophet Isaiah tells of how he used the Assyrians to bring the Israelites back to faithfulness. Later, Cyrus, the king of Persia, was described as the instrument by which the Israelites were freed from their exile in Babylon.

These examples, in many ways, only were a foreshadowing of what would happen to Jesus in his passion and death, where Pontius Pilate, who knew nothing of God or his truth, unwittingly served as an agent in the revealing of the paschal mystery. The same thing begins to happen again in today's first reading where St. Paul was placed in the power of those foreign to the Lord.

In today's Gospel, Jesus intimates to St. Peter that he too would experience the same fate. He told him that when he is older he will stretch out his hands, that someone else will dress and lead him where he does not want to go. St. John noted that these words referred to the kind of death that St. Peter would experience, the same as the Lord's. Jesus seemed to confirm this this by finally telling St. Peter, "follow me."

St. Peter was to follow in the steps of his Lord. Like him, he would be condemned to to death, forced to stretch out his hands, clothed with the wood of a cross, and carried off to die by one that he did not know, by one who knew nothing of the Lord.

Being in the power of another wholly unknown to oneself, of another who knows little of God appears to be a common for those who seek to do his will. No one likes being controlled by someone so unknown. It is a harsh reminder of the lack of control that we have over any circumstances in our lives.

It would indeed be a situation where we might give in to despair. But if we take to heart the ultimate meaning of all of the examples that I mentioned earlier, then despair can be eliminated. Sometimes God mght directly use one unknown to us and one who doesn't know him to do his will in our lives. At other times he simply allows such people to have an impact upon us. But, in any case, he wills to use all of the circumstances of our lives for our own good.

When St. Paul came to realize that he, like St. Peter, would be carried off to Rome against his will, he may have come to experience for himself the truth of those words that he had earlier written to the Christians in that city: "All things work together for those who love God."

If we abide in God's love, we need not fear or resent the inevitablility of being controlled by those who are unknown to us. For when we live in God's love we will always know him who has our ultimate fate in his hands. And t his is something that should lead us to an undying hope, not a lifeless despair.


Illinois bishops condemn the Left Behind series

(thanks to Amy Welborn for the link)

The Roman Catholic bishops of Illinois are condemning the best-selling, Christian-themed Left Behind books as "anti-Catholic."

They cite story lines they say are offensive--including one that involves an American cardinal who becomes the right-hand man of the Antichrist.

The Illinois bishops plan to issue a statement to Catholics next week calling the series of novels by fundamentalist Christian authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins anti-Catholic.

Entering into a dialogue with a Christrian such as Tim LaHaye (who happens to have been baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church) where the purpose of the dialogue is a mutual search for the truth is difficult. Take a look here and here at the attempts made by Carl Olson to do so. It seems to me that a fundamental part of LaHaye's beliefs is not just a setting forth of theological system, but also an attack on the beliefs of the Catholic Church. He needs to do this to make his beliefs coherent.

If this is true (and if it is not, please correct me), then it would indeed be difficult as a Catholic to enter into a religious dialogue with a Christian like Tim LaHaye.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Ecumenism to be among the topics of discussion during the Pope's upcoming trip to Croatia

John Paul II will visit Croatia "to give the Church in the country guidelines at the beginning of the new millennium," says the president of the Croatian bishops' conference.

Archbishop Josip Bozanic told Vatican Radio that the Croatian episcopate has organized the June 5-9 papal visit around the theme "The Family, Way of the Church and of the People."

The call of the baptized to holiness, ecumenism, the relation between faith and culture, the new evangelization, and the Marian dimension of the Church are other topics that will characterize the Pope's third visit to Croatia in 10 years...


There's a lot of swimming going on out there

(thanks to Chris Burgwald and Bill Cork for the link)

UPI religion columnist Uwe Siemon-Netto comments on the growing phenomenon of Lutheran pastors in the ELCA leaving that denomination and 'swimming' various rivers to other traditions. Some are described as swimming the Mississippi and joining the Lutheran Church of the Missouri Synod (LCMS). Others swim the Bosphorus, becoming Eastern Orthodox. Still others swim the Tiber, becoming Catholic.

All of this 'swimming' is largely in reaction to what the swimmers see as the departure of the ELCA from traditional and fundamental Christian beliefs.

The relevance of this to dialogue between Catholics and other Christians

What if I were to know such a pastor who seemed to be, as it were, considering putting on his swimming trunks? What would be the nature of my conversations with him?

The answer to these questions came up during an RCIA session last night at the parish where I work as DRE.

Our parish's sole neophyte (sigh--I wish there were more; four other candidates came into the Church with him though) described to me a situation where a supervisor of his at work, who happens to be a Baptist, had been questioning him rather vigorously at times about his choice to be baptized in the Catholic Church.

The young man asked me if his approach to his boss and others in general when speaking about the faith should be to convince them of the truth of the Catholic faith and of the errors of their own way. He came down to it and asked if, when speaking about his own faith to other Christians if his ultimate purpose would be to make them want to be Catholic.

Thats a sticky question in my opinion. I think that the approach that we, as Catholics, take in our conversations about the faith with those who have not been baptized would differ markedly from the approach we would take with those who are. I think that this distinction might also to those who are not baptized but still might strongly identify themselves as Christian (such a person might be one who believes in an utter lack of necessity--even in ordinary circumstances--of any sacrament).

The approach that we would take to those who are unbaptized might be described in a single word as 'evangelistic.' The approach that we would take with those who are baptized or at the least who strongly identify themselves as Christian might be described in a single word as 'ecumenical.'

When speaking in a conscious and deliberate way about the faith with one who is not a Christian, the door is certainly wide open to presenting what we believe to be the truth and good news of the faith to that person (if the circumstances are appropriate). Through our words and actions we would try to show Jesus Christ to this person and try to guide him or her into a relationship with our Lord, a relationship born in the waters of baptism in the Catholic Church.

I noted in the parenthesis in the above paragraph that such an approach should only be taken if the circumstances are appropriate. And, at any rate, I don't think that there should be any 'hard sell' approach in which the person might begin to feel some compulsion to make a choice. This is not evangelization but proselytization. If it would result in a conversion at all, the effect of its grace would certainly seem to me vitiated by the degree to which the person felt compelled to make a choice for Christ by the Christian person in the dialogue.

An evangelistic approach, even when done in complete charity and freedom, would not be appropriate in my mind in a convesation between a Catholic and, say, a Baptist--like the conversation that my parish's neophyte had with his supervisor. Evangelization is directed toward those who are not Christian, toward them who have not been baptized. Most people out there who identify themselves as Christian have been baptized.

This does not mean, however, that a Catholic in a conversation with a Baptist cannot try to explain what he believes to be true and even what he believes to be erroneous. But it should happen in the midst of a dialogue between two brothers in Christ, not as a monologue of teacher to student. And certainly it should not be directed in such a way as to try, then and there, to convince the person to become Catholic.

In essence, a conversation between a Catholic and another Christian (who is not Catholic) in which the faith of each is the subject should have as its focus their mutual search for the truth. If the party in the conversation who is not Catholic is indeed a Christian then he or she does not need a hard sell approach (indeed, no one, of any faith, needs or deserves such an approach). If this conversation is filled with respect and charity and it is one where both seek to find the truth, then the grace of that conversation will have whatever effect that Father wills if either party is open to that will.

In the end, to paraphrase some advice I've seen Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid use in writing, let God do the heavy lifting in such dialogues. All we need to do is approach our brothers and sisters in Christ in love, respect, and with the goal of finding the truth that is of God. He will do the rest.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

What are Catholics and other Christians in dialogue about? And why is dialogue necessary at all?

In the post from yesterday entitled “On Blogging and Life”, I noted that I intended to have as the main focus of my think posts for the future the dialogue between Catholics and other Christians.

But before I delve into the dialogue I thought that it would be proper to address the two questions which I pose in the title to this post.

What Are Catholics and Other Christians in Dialogue About?

First off, Catholics and other Christians often converse about lots of things where their faith traditions aren’t necessarily at the forefront in the discussion. This is not to say, however, that their respective faith traditions are compartmentalized and segregated away from discussion regarding politics, society, the arts, etc.

Sometimes discussions on these topics go on without the parties involved even recognizing that the faith which they hold has indeed had an impact upon the views that they hold on, say, trickle down economics, a local political race, or the moral or even aesthetic quality of the latest shoot ‘em up movie.

At other times Catholics and other Christians do indeed enter into dialogues where they consciously speak as (at the least) informal representatives of their particular tradition. They try to demonstrate through what they say, to the best of their knowledge and ability, what their tradition teaches or practices regarding a specific topic.

Such dialogues can be on lots of different topics: creeds (or lack thereof), other doctrines or categories of theology, morality, sacraments and liturgy (or lack thereof), prayer, ecclesiastical organizations, etc. They can also be on how these beliefs and practices interplay with the world at large and how the parties in the conversation deal with this interplay.

Why Is Dialogue Necessary at All?

Dialogue on Religion Is a Human Activity

There are many Catholics and other Christians out there who see no need for such dialogues (call them ecumenical if you like). They might be explicitly opposed to them for various reasons. They may see no need for them. Or they may not be interested in them in the first place.

Whether or not they are needed, they are happening. And they are having an impact upon the life of faith of the Catholic Church and many other Christian communities. For example, representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church conversed over the course of many years on the doctrine of justification. The result was a joint declaration formally accepted by both bodies in which it was stated that there was now a great deal of mutual agreement on the fundamental meaning of this doctrine which had, in the past, been a significant point of division for them.

At a less formal, more local level, such dialogues happen informally between spouses in a ‘mixed marriage.’ They happen at family reunions, in the break room, in restaurants, in, God forbid, schools, and in parks—wherever people meet.

I think that the fact that such dialogues (whether formal or informal, or even conscious or unconscious) happen could be a sign that they are needed because they are a part of the human condition. Human beings are, by their nature, learners. They want to learn more about those people and things that are not themselves. They want to learn about people and things that are important to them, including religion and the religious traditions that differ from their own. And one of the primary ways that they learn is through conversation, dialogue.

So Catholics and other Christians entering into dialogue (understood very broadly) about their respective faith traditions involves two things that make us human: learning and religion. At the most fundamental level, this is why such dialogues are necessary. In fact if one thought that they weren’t necessary and so chose to avoid them at all costs, one would have to expend a great amount of effort to be successful in this attempt.

Living in Reality

At a different level, such dialogues are also necessary if we are all to live in reality. Often people who embrace one faith tradition or another have a particular understanding of a different faith tradition, one that they may feel is opposed to their own. They may make conclusions based on this understanding about people who have embraced this other tradition. It may guide their thoughts, words, and actions regarding that tradition and its relationship to their own.

But what if this understanding is not consistent with that other tradition as it actually is in reality? Then their conclusions about the tradition and the people involved in it will be faulty to the degree to which their understanding is incorrect. Their thoughts, words, and deeds based upon their understanding will also be faulty. They also, in many cases, can bring about a great deal of unnecessary divisions between and hard feelings among those people in the two traditions.

Such dialogues can also help the participants understand more clearly the reality of their own tradition. When questions arise that one cannot answer, one might be motivated to do some studying and so learn more about the faith that one has embraced.

The more that each of us lives in harmony with the reality of ourselves and the world in which each of us lives, the likelihood of divisions and hatred will decrease on the one hand and the likelihood of greater unity and harmony will increase on the other.

This is not to say that I believe that division and hatred could totally disappear anytime soon. That will only happen at the end of history with Christ’s glorious appearance, in my opinion. But can we, with the aid of God’s grace, come more closer to it as the ages go by? Yes, I do believe this.

More Effectively Proclaiming the Gospel

At a more properly theological level, I also think that such dialogues have the potential to make our evangelization more effective, in whatever tradition with which we identify ourselves. I believe that evangelization is something that is absolutely necessary for one that identifies oneself as a Christian. Now admittedly the ways in which this task can be carried out can vary widely, but it is necessary nonetheless.

Why is it necessary? Because if a person identifies himself as a Christian, then he identifies himself as one who is a disciple of Jesus Christ, as one who seeks to live as Christ did, and to follow what he commanded his followers to do. We can learn of one of his most clear commandments at the end of the Gospel of St. Matthew:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Mt 28:19-20)

Although this task was given most directly to those disciples who were before him at the time, the tasks are not yet complete. And the history of the Christian faith tells us that all have believed that this task of making disciples of all nations was passed on to them from the generation that preceded them.

As we get past misunderstandings, divisions, and hard feelings through dialogue and as we come to accept the reality of each tradition that can be explained in them (all of this beginning and ending with the work of grace), the more that Christians of all sorts will begin to be a manifest fulfillment of Jesus prayer at the Last Supper:

I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. (Jn 17:20-21)

It seems to me that, at least in part, Jesus is saying in these words that his identity as the Son of God will be believed to the extent that his believers are seen as being one, in a unity. This unity will be brought about, in my opinion, in large part through dialogues of many sorts between Catholics and other Christians.


In this post I have only offered a small list of the topics about which Catholics and other Christians might enter into dialogue. And I have only offered a few reasons why I feel such dialogues are necessary.

I would interested to read what you think about what I’ve had to say here and what topics in which any of you might be interested to discuss.


The American Film Institute's Top 100 Heroes and Villians (Adobe Acrobat needed)

Rachel Watkins has a nice piece on the show on CBS last night over at HMS Blog. The only thing that I would add is my wry astonishment at the fact that Moses was the #43 hero on the list and that Lassie was #39. Yeah, I know, they were judging the portrayal of the hero on film and not necessarily the hero him-(or it)self. But something tells me that some of the values of the Hollywood establishment comes shining through in the fact that a dog was ranked as a greater hero than Moses himself. And, hey, why was Jesus left off the list altogether?


Unfinished Business:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Acts 20:28-38
Ps 68:29-30, 33-35a, 35bc-36ab
Jn 17:11-19

It seems to me that a natural part of the human condition is to leave behind unfinished business when we move on to other things. Even when we try to make a good preparation for changes there always still seems to be some loose ends remaining when we leave. This may be something that we do not like, but it actually can be a good thing. It can be the occasion for creating a continuity from us to those who replace us. They take up where we left off.

This reality appeared to have been on the minds of St. Paul and our Lord in today's readings. In the first reading we see St. Paul addressing the elders of the church at Ephesus. He warned them to keep a careful watch over the faithful there, for after he leaves others will come and threaten them. Despite all of the hard work that he did among them, St. Paul knew that he was leaving the elders with unfinished business.

It may be a bit disconcerting to say that Jesus too left unfinished business behind him. Yes, his sacrifice of himself on the cross was complete and perfect. But he personally proclaimed his Gospel to only a relatively small amount of people. He then charged his apostles to take his Good News to all nations, to complete his unfinished business after he ascended to the Father.

An in order to prepare them for this work, Jesus (as we see in today's Gospel) prayed for them to his Father. He asked that they be protected from the evil one and that they be "consecrated in truth." And most importantly, as we will celebrate this Sunday, he sent the Holy Spirit to fill their hearts with courage and with wisdom for the task set before them.

This handing on of unfinished business is a natural part of life and so it is also a part of the life of the Church. That is an important reason why Jesus set the precedent for what would be later called 'apostolic succession.' Jesus' work was not completed, so he gave it to his apostles to complete. St. Paul, himself an apostle, did not complete the work and so he handed it on to, among others, the elders of the church of Ephesus. We who are the faithful today have been given a share in this work that is appropriate to our calling by God through those who came before us. We, in our turn, will hand it on to those who follow after us.

The unfinished business which Jesus first handed on to the apostles and which we ourselves will also hand on is nothing less than the proclamation of the Gospel to every man and nation. This is the mission which each of us received at our baptism.

I received it at my baptism and I handed it on to my son Michael when he was baptized almost one year ago. God willing I will still have many years ahead of me in which I will still be able to do this work. But now an important part of it will be to prepare Michael to carry it on once I am gone, when I will leave with unfinished business left behind.

Those of you who are parents, take seriously this task of preparing your children for the work of evangelization. Those of you who are religious, give special care to the newcomers in your community who are just starting their formation. Those of you who are in holy orders, lend a loving, guiding hand to those who are newly ordained. And those of you who are single and still discerning your calling, consider giving of yourself to the service of others in your parish or other organizations in the Church.

There are many special people all around us who will take up the work of our unfinished business. May our heavenly Father continue to fulfill for us and for them the prayer that Jesus prayed so long ago. May he protect us all from the evil one and consecrate us in the truth. And overarching all of this, may send upon us anew his Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

On Life and Blogging

My blog has been running now for over a year. I hope that what I have written has been helpful (at least in some small way) for those of you who have chosen to read it. If it has, then say a prayer of thanks to God, for it is he who gave me my desire to write and to be of service to him through my talents.

I still intend to continue Nota Bene into the future. Be assured of that much.

Is it as an important part of my life now as it was when I first started it? No. Am I glad for that change? Yes. It is far down on my list of priorities. Maybe in the future, with God's grace, it will drop even further. This is not to say that it lacks much value at all. But many other things in my life have much more value. High among those are my relationships with God, his Church, my wife, my son, and my broader family.

And so in the future I may do less blogging than I have in the past. Hopefully the quality will remain the same or increase. But I will want in the future to avoid setting up impossible expectations for myself in regards to my blog. The way that I blog will reflect its importance in my life.

In the past I had intended at various times to write a series of posts on this or that topic. Regularly keeping up with such a series is difficult given the values that I have embraced in my life. Therefore in the future I will avoid starting a series of interrelated posts that I cannot expect myself to complete.

But I will still conintue to post reflections on Mass readings and the various columns and other articles that I write. I will continue to post links to articles that I either find intriguing or are on topics that I find interesting. As to my general 'think' posts, I hope to be more focused in the future.

I am very interested in entering into grace-filled, charitable dialogues with those Christians who do not share all of the beliefs and practices that I, as a Catholic, profess and strive, with the grace of God, to live out in my day-to-day life. There would, in my mind, be multiple purposes (they may be hopes as much as purposes) for such dialogues. One, I hope that they would increase for all participants the accurate knowledge of and respect for the faith traditions of the others. Two, I hope that they would be able to lead those Christians who participate and who do not share all of my Catholic beliefs and practices to at least be able to view as a whole the Catholic Church as being Christian.

Many Christians who are not Catholic already do this. But there are also many who do not. This saddens me and it frustrates me on a personal level. But on more broad level, I think that our common mission to proclaim the Gospel to all nations is impeded by the degree to which various groups of those who are truly Christian are either unable or unwilling to accept one or more of the other as being Christian.

Will there be 'think' posts on other topics? I'm sure that there will be. But I hope that the general thrust of my think posts in the future will be about various aspects of dialogues between Catholics and other Christians or will be posts in which such a dialogue can happen, especially through the comment boxes or through e-mail.

Even with this change in the thrust of my blog, I think that the title that I gave it originally is still appropriate. Nota Bene is Latin for "a good word." I think that Christians entering into dialogue in mutual respect and in charity is a good word indeed.

So please stay in touch those few of you who are regular readers. And let others know about it whom you think would be intrested in it. Thanks for reading my blog thus far. I look forward to giving more of my writing to you in the future.