Nota Bene

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

The New Faithful
by Colleen Carroll

by Fr. Francis Sullivan, SJ

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

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Friday, August 29, 2003

A Sneak Preview: Tomorrow's Installment of My Column "Spiritual Reflections"

I have been observing over the past few weeks the struggle of Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, and his supporters to keep a two and a half ton monument of the ten commandments in the rotunda of the state court house in Montgomery. Moore has opposed one court decision after another which stated that the presence of the monument in the building contradicted the establishment clause of the United States Constitution.

As I have watched news reports and read articles about the struggle, I have had many mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I feel sad that we as a society feel unable to distinguish between a monument recognizing the historic basis of our legal code and a government’s endorsement of a particular religion. In my opinion, I do not feel that the monument represented a governmental endorsement Judaism or Christianity (the two religions which recognize the ten commandments as revealed by God) to the exclusion of all other faiths.

I sympathize to a certain extent with the Christian protesters who came to the side of Judge Moore. Many of them feel that the basis of our legal code in the ten commandments and other biblical texts has been being slowly eroded over the past several decades. Those who protested the removal of the monument chose the steps of the Alabama state court house as their line in the sand. They moved back there and did not want to go back further.

And yet I believe that all Christians have at their disposal a testament that is much more powerful than that granite memorial of the ten commandments. It is the human heart turned by grace toward the Lord, seeking to follow in his steps in every thought, word, and deed. The prophet Jeremiah called the people of Israel to this powerful testament, encouraging them to look forward to a new covenant with the Lord:

“The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself their master, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will place my law within their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:31-33).

The covenant of which Jeremiah spoke is the covenant established by Jesus Christ and continually renewed in his people, the Church, by the working of the Holy Spirit. Were all Christians to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and live out fully that covenant relationship with our heavenly Father, then there would be powerful living monuments filling every courthouse and public square in the land.

The meaning of these monuments would be clear and could never be blotted out or taken away. The meaning would be nothing less than this: following the law of the Lord is a light yolk, an easy burden, one that leads us through torment and pain to the Kingdom of God.


Food! Glorious Food!

From a reader who found this letter to the editor of Crisis at The Corner:


I was delighted to read the Manichaean ramblings of Danel Paden, director of the Catholic Vegetarian Society ("Letters," June 2003). It confirmed my theory that fanaticism in Western society alternates between nudism and vegetarianism, both of which contradict the order of grace.

As an optimist, I happily trust that Paden confines his extreme commitments to vegetarianism.

Taste is one thing; it is another thing to condemn meat eating as "evil" and permissible only "in rare and unfortunate circumstances." Paden disagrees with no less an authority than God, Who forbids us to call any edible unworthy (Mark 7: 18-19), and Who enjoins St Peter to eat pork chops and lobster in one of my favorite revelations (Acts 10: 9-16). Does the Catholic Vegetarian Society think that our Lord was wrong to have served up fish to the 5,000, or should He have refrained from eating the Passover Lamb? When He rose from the dead and appeared in the Upper Room, He did not ask for a bowl of Cheerios, nor did He whip up a meatless omelette on the shore of Galilee.

Man was made to eat flesh (Genesis 1: 26-31; 9: 1-6), with the exception of human flesh. I stand on record against cannibalism, whether it be inflicted upon the Mbuti Pygmies by the Congolese Army or on larger people by a maniac in Milwaukee. But I am also grateful that the benevolent father in the parable did not welcome his prodigal son home with a bowl of radishes.

Vegetarians assume an unedifying posture of detachment from the sufferings of vegetables that are mashed, stewed, diced, and shredded. In expensive restaurants, cherries are publicly burned in brandy to the applause of diners. It is not uncommon for people to submerge olives in iced gin and twist the peels of lemons. Be indignant, vegetarian, but not so selectively indignant that the bleat of the lamb and the plaintive moo of the cow drown out the whine of our brother the bean and the quiet sigh of the cauliflower.

Vegetables have reactive impulses. Were we to confine our diet to creatures that lacked sense and do not even respond to light, we could only eat liturgists and liberal Democrats.

The Rev. George W. Rutler
New York City

I somehow sense the spirit of G. K. flowing through the pen Fr. Rutler.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Why write posts when others put out such good writing?

Reformed Christian David Heddle writes well here. Mind you, I don't agree with his arguments for sola scriptura, but its still good writing.


On the feast of St. Monica

Today in the Catholic Church is the feast of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. His feast will be celebrated tomorrow.

St. Monica died over 1,600 years ago. Nevertheless I believe that the example of her life of faith is becoming more and more relevant every day.

She lived much of her life in a 'mixed-marriage', her husband not becoming a Christian until late in his life. More and more marriages in the Catholic Church today are either mixed in that one party is Catholic and the other is a Christian of another tradition or it is mixed in the sense that Monica's was, where a Catholic is married to one who is not Christian at all.

St. Monica also experienced the hardship of her son refusing for many, many years to embrace the faith which she had introduced to him as a child. This is the sad experience of many Catholic parents today who are forced to witness the choice of their children to walk away from the Church.

And yet the story of St. Monica is ultimately a story of hope. Yes, she carried heavy crosses. She daily died to herself in her relationship with her husband and her son. And yet she and they in the end experienced the new and eternal life of our risen Savior. Her husband embraced the faith and became a Christian. Her son, St. Augustine, did as well and became a great leader in the Church in his time and a theologian whose writings are still honored today.

Yet these happy outcomes that all of these people were not the result of any efforts or perseverance of St. Monica in and of herself. No, they occurred because of the grace of God flowing through her, through her God-given faith working in love in their lives.

A sign of this can be seen in one incident in St. Monica's life. One day she felt the weight of her son's faithlessness fall especially heavily on her shoulders. So she went to her bishop to speak with about it. Shedding many tears, she shared with him her troubled relationship with her son, how she continued to fail to persuade him to embrace the faith. The bishop looked at lovingly and simply said, "Monica, it is time that you speak less to Augustine about God and more to God about Augustine."

Following the bishop's advice required an act of faith on the part of Monica. She had to trust that God would lead her son closer to him without her external efforts. The story of her life and of the life of her holy son tells us that she did place her trust in the Lord. And the Lord did not fail her but brought her, her husband, and her son into the communion of his life and love.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Pope John Paul I

Today is the 25th anniversary of the election of this interesting figure in the recent history of the papacy, a man who sat on the seat of St. Peter for one month. I have faint memories of him being elected and, of course, of his charming smile. I certainly remember his death and my going over to our neighbor's kids and telling them about it. They weren't Catholic and so looked at me as if I was talking about the man on the moon.

Some fifteen years later when I was a senior in college I made a trip to Rome and visited the crypt of St. Peter's. While there I stopped by the tomb of John Paul I. Interestingly enough, his tomb sat directly across from the tomb of Pope Marcellus II, a Reformation era pope who held the office for only 22 days. Today his name is primarily only known among music historians and lovers of Renaissance polyphony. For there was a famous and very beautiful Mass setting composed by Giovanni de Palestrina dedicated to him. Any student of music history (as I was then) would certainly have heard of the Pope Marcellus Mass.

So a music composer's dedication preserves the memory of a man who lived 500 years ago who was pope for a month. What will it be that will maintain the memory of Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I in the years and centuries to come?


Another Sad Case of the Christian Faith Gone Awry

The 8-year-old autistic boy who died during a weekend prayer service suffocated after a church elder sat on his chest, police said Monday. The Milwaukee County medical examiner's office has ruled the death a homicide...

Terrance Cottrell Jr. died Friday night at the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith on Milwaukee's northwest side. The cause was "mechanical asphyxia due to external chest compression," according to the medical examiner's office...

A high-ranking Milwaukee police source said Ray Hemphill told investigators that he would sit on the boy's chest for up to two hours at a time during prayer services at the small storefront church at 8709 W. Fond du Lac Ave. The nightly prayer services started three weeks ago, police say Hemphill told them...

This report from CNN has the accused's brother, the pastor of the church, cite Mt 12:43 as a justification for their particular practice of faith healing.

Here's the text: "When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none."

I just don't know one could read into this the practice of an adult man sitting for two hours on the chest of an eight-year-old boy. Sad...very sad.

Monday, August 25, 2003

A Sad, Sad Case of the Christian Faith Gone Awry

Sheriff's deputies continue to investigate the death of a Johnson County infant from an infection after her parents did not seek medical treatment because of their religious beliefs.

Now, the life of the baby's mother could be in danger if she also is suffering from sepsis, an infection that an autopsy determined killed 2-day-old Rhianna Rose Schmidt, said David Lutz, Johnson County deputy coroner.

The infection is one newborns can acquire in the first 24 hours after delivery, and one that can be successfully treated with antibiotics, Lutz said.

But Maleta K. and Dewayne Schmidt's religious beliefs don't include seeking medical treatment, authorities said.

The couple, members of the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn, trust in God to cure illness, said Tom Nation, an elder at the Morgantown-area Protestant church attended by the couple.

"We have a love for our children. Really, I think it's greater than people that go to doctors," Nation said. "Our bond is closer."...

I'm curious to know how such congregations justify their beliefs regarding medical treatment and faith healing. If it is a scriptural justification in any way, it is, in my opinion, a serious, deadly misunderstanding of the meaning of God's word.


Slow blogging day

I'll be taking care of Michael until the early afternoon today so don't expect much if any blogging until then.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: What are the major religious differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants?

The answer to this question is a bit mysterious, for it is both big and small at the same time. It is big because the differences between Catholics and Protestants are very important. But it is also small because there are still some very fundamental things that we share in common.

Explaining the differences is a bit tricky, because there is a much variety of belief and practice among Protestant Christians. Therefore it is really impossible to give a blanket description of the differences.

However, one difference that all Protestants would have in common is their lack of recognition of the spiritual authority of the bishops of the Catholic Church in union with the bishop of Rome, the pope. Still, different Protestants would give different reasons for this.

Related to this difference is the lack of ‘apostolic succession’ in Protestant congregations. We in the Catholic Church believe that our bishops in union with the pope are the true successors to the apostles and St. Peter in their leadership of the Church. A small number Protestants (e.g., Episcopalians) would argue that they have maintained this, although the Catholic Church holds that they have not. Still other Protestants would say that the understanding of apostolic succession held by the Catholic Church is false from the start and so would recognize no need to have bishops, priests, and deacons as our Church does.

A result of this difference regarding apostolic succession is a difference regarding the Eucharist and most of the other sacraments. We in the Catholic Church believe that in order to validly celebrate the Eucharist, one in which Jesus becomes truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, it needs to have as its celebrant a priest ordained by a valid bishop of the Church, one in apostolic succession. Although some Protestant congregations (e.g., Episcopalians and Lutherans) believe in some form of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist ,we in the Catholic Church believe that their celebrations of this are invalid, that Christ is not truly and fully present in there.

Other Protestants don’t believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist from the start and so aren’t concerned about the relationship of what they call ‘the Lord’s Supper’ to apostolic succession.

Similarly, nearly all Protestants do not accept that Confirmation, Reconciliation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick are truly sacraments as the Catholic Church understands them to be.

However nearly all Protestants recognize the importance of Baptism and so the Catholic Church accepts as valid the Baptisms performed in most Protestant congregations. This is one of those things that I mentioned at the start that Catholics and Protestants have in common that are of fundamental importance.

Another piece of common ground that joins us together is our mutual love and reverence for the Bible, the inspired word of God. In addition, nearly all Protestants believe, along with Catholics, in the Blessed Trinity, the very foundation of all of our beliefs, that which we worship and adore in all of our worship, and that in which we profess belief in our Baptism.

The importance of these and other commonalities, especially in moral teachings, cannot be underestimated. At the same time, we must recognize that those areas of divergence (including others not listed here) are significant as well and must not be ignored.

In the end, we should all continuously pray to the Holy Spirit to bring about that unity among all Christians for which our Lord Jesus Christ prayed 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 17:21-22).


Catholic Reasons for Hope is a column that appears in the bulletin of the parish where I serve as DRE. Any reader of Nota Bene is free to submit questions to me by e-mail for it.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

A Reader Writes:

Regarding the discussion in which I participated over at Josh S's blog on the supposed 50% divorce rate in the United States:

I've been told that the "50% divorce rate" is an application of voodoo stats: it simply takes a # of marriages in a year in the U.S. (let's say 1,000) and a # of divorces (say, 500) and extrapolates that half of all American marriages end in divorce. This wouldn't take into account the intact marriages already existing prior to that particular year. Does that make sense, or were the pro-marriage sources I've read comforting themselves for naught?

So, class, how would you answer the reader? Any statisticians out there, please chime in.


Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Ps 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21, 22-23
Eph 5:21-32 or 5:2a, 25-32
Jn 6:60-69

I must share with you that I will preside at a wedding near Philadelphia next Sunday and today’s second reading is not on the list. Imagine that! Also, one thing I love about both today and the Feast of the Holy Family (celebrated the Sunday after Christmas) is that I get to see many husbands receive a cold stare, at the least, if not an elbow to the ribs, from their wives.

If you thought that Jesus’ commands to eat His flesh and drink His blood were hard teachings, then your head must be spinning as a result of the second reading. Many people consider subordination, whether voluntary or involuntary, to be no good whatsoever. Few people want to be a subordinate when they grow up; those who do are looked upon with scorn. Millions of people have come to our country for decades so that they can be free from many types of subordination as they were under the conditions from which they departed. This nation was founded because we could not tolerate being subordinate to both a monarch and his cronies who lived across an ocean from us.

Numerous women hate the words of the second reading today because they find it difficult to believe that a man has some type of tacit advantage over women simply because of anatomical reasons. At the same time, many women who both love their husbands and love sharing their lives within the Sacrament of Marriage do not like the word “subordinate”; however, that dislike is more within the context of how American people in general hate the word “subordinate”, as previously described.

The key to understanding this reading is recalling that all disciples of Jesus have been called by God to be subordinate to Him in one manner or another. Many men love that passage from the letter to the Ephesians because they believe falsely that this passage gives them license to say and to do what they want when they want to do it. A good Christian does not act in the manner. A good Christian knows that they gain true joy only when they are subordinate to God. Many men mistakenly believe that they are the “brains of the family” simply because they are the head of the household, but a good Christian man asks God to occupy his mind so that the man’s thoughts may be directed always toward and for bringing forth God’s plans for all of us, but especially for each member of his family. A good Christian husband/father understands that his role involves service much more than it involves dominance. A good Christian husband/father never tells anyone to do anything that he should not seek to do himself – and what he should seek to do at all times is seek the Kingdom of God.

I hope that the couple whose marriage I am going to witness next Sunday is going to serve each other and their future children as they would seek to serve Jesus. I hope and I pray that all disciples seek to serve all people as they would seek to serve Jesus. Perhaps what we need to be subordinate to most of all is a greater understanding of how Jesus is alive within all people at all times. This type of subordination can both clarify the mystery for us and help us grow in desire to be part of the great, beautiful divine mystery that is Our Lord.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Is the Navy being ecumenical or discriminatory?

That seems to be the question of a law suit filed against it by a group of Evangelical chaplains, detailed in this story. It also involves the alleged actions of the late Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John O'Connor.

The chaplains claim that the service unfairly promotes Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants ahead of evangelicals, thereby forcing the latter out, and that the resulting mix fails to represent the religious preferences of sailors...

Initially, the evangelicals maintained that the Navy's alleged discrimination began in the late 1980s, with the introduction of what they call "the thirds policy" -- a purposeful organizing of the Christian element of the Chaplain Corps into one-third Catholic, one-third Mainline or "liturgical" Protestant and one-third evangelical, or "nonliturgical."

The chaplains claim such a system fails to reflect the numbers of evangelicals in the Navy. The Navy denies any such policy...

Evangelicals complain that sermons have been censored or watered down in the name of pluralism, or cooperation among religions. Spiers, the Navy personnel spokesman, said pluralism is important.

"It's your job to help out everybody, regardless of their faith preference."

Those in the lawsuit say that they'll help everyone, but won't modify their message in the process.

According to court documents, the suing chaplains filed a motion to move the date of review back to 1977 after discovering that the then-chief of chaplains, the Rev. John J. O'Connor, ordered a "stacking policy" requiring at least two Catholic priests to sit on every chaplain selection board. Schulcz said the practice was stopped in 1986 due to a lawsuit, but he believes the precedent bolsters his position.

"Rear Admiral O'Connor's placing of two Catholics on the board is typical of the arrogance with which the Chaplain Corps and Navy deals with promotions," Schulcz said...


More on the end times watch

A Christian author who specializes in end-times prophecy says world events are pointing toward the return of Christ for his Church.

Mark Hitchcock, an Oklahoma pastor and Bible prophecy expert, says current events and political and social unrest throughout the world should reassure Christians that God's Word is true and perfect. Hitchcock, who has written a series of books looking at biblical prophecy and current events, says the war in Iraq and other events in the Middle East and around the world fall in line with biblical accounts of the days leading to Christ's rapture of the Church.

Hitchcock lists the re-gathering and return of Israel to her homeland, the European Union, the reunion of Rome, and the trend of globalism among modern developments that end-times prophets foresaw. And he says the rebuilding of Babylon, or present-day Iraq, is further evidence that the current generation is watching the unfolding of Biblical prophecy...

The 'reunion of Rome'? What's that all about?

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Look what I've started now...

Josh S, Lutheran blogger of "I Think I Need a Stiff Drink", contemplated in this short post the difficulty of marriage today with our 50% divorce rate. So he was wondering why even take steps to establish any kind of long-term relationship.

In the comment box I merely noted that couples that use NFP have a divorce rate of less than 5% and that this was simply advice to think ahead.

Then the comments from other readers came flooding in. Take a look at it all if you wish.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Want a quick guide to TV preachers?

Go here. I liked his take on Benny Hinn: "Please send this guy some breath mints. Everytime he blows on people they fall down!!"


An interesting call from a Reformed Christian to 'join Rome'

(thanks to Mark Shea for the link)

No, it isn't an encouragement to become Catholic, but to cooperate with the Catholic Church in its work to bring the Christian faith to bear on the prevailing culture.

The particular issue that motivated this piece was the issuing of the document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that called on Catholic governmental leaders to oppose the legal recognition of same-sex marriages. However, the thoughts expressed in this piece speak to some a fundamental principle of the faith: that if we are to be faithful to the covenant with God of which are a part, then we are to bring the faith to bear on the culture in which we live.

...Rome, both the engine behind and the recipient of Christian culture for 1000 years (c. 500-1500), has a long history of introducing the Faith into the socio-political realm. Unlike many pietistic Protestants, for whom the Faith is about little more than “Jesus and me,” a tidy Sunday-go-to-meetin’ affair with a daily “quiet time” tacked on for good measure, Rome is fully aware that, over time, the Church and the Faith require a culture to sustain them. Culture and Faith are inextricably interwoven. To assume that Christians can keep the Church and family unspotted from cultural depravity by building sufficiently high walls of isolation is naiveté of the highest order...

This could be the stuff of some very fruitful discussions between Catholics and other Christians.


Evangelization, RCIA, and the relationship of Catholics to other Christians

The leadership of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II following the Second Vatican Council has sought to bring about a greater awareness among all of the Catholic faithful of the duty of all who are baptized to participate in evangelization. The have taught that the proclamation of the Gospel is to happen in all places, not just in places where it has not yet been heard.

They feel that this is needed because many societies that were in the past Christian (e.g., in western Europe and even, to a certain extent in the United States and Canada) are now tending to shed that aspect of their identities.

Such a perspective obviously needs to bring about a distinction in different kinds of evangelization. At times this has been described as the difference between 'primary evangelization' (or ad gentes evangelization, to those who have never heard the Gospel) and 'secondary evangelization.' Pope John Paul II in particular has elaborated upon the latter and called it 'the new evangelization.'

(It must be noted, however, that some aspects of the new evangelization apply to ad gentes evangelization, especially that part that seeks to engage a society's culture and embrace those parts of it that are consistent with the Gospel and transform those that are not.)

One simple way that average lay Catholics can actively participate in the new evangelization is something that I described in a post from last week. They can learn more about their faith and deliberately bring it to bear in conversations with those who are not Catholic or poorly catechized Catholics.

I believe that I participate in it by my work as a freelance columnist in the local secular daily newspaper in the town of the parish where I serve as DRE. Many of the topics about which I have written bring my Catholic faith to bear on ordinary topics in a person's day to day life: the change of seasons, the relationship of parents to their children, education, etc.

I have also begun to use the column periodically as a question and answer forum where readers can ask me about aspects of the beliefs and practices of Catholics, about how Catholics understand themeselves and their Christian identity. I have chosen to do this not to use my column as a public platform on which I can trumpet the superiority of Catholicism. I simply lay out how the Catholic Church understands its beliefs or practices and allow the readers to place a value judgment on it.

At any rate, I have had a reader who may be a Christian (I haven't had an in-depth conversation with her yet) but who is not Catholic contact me and express interest in participating in our parish's Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. I am happy that this person has done this and will be learning more about the faith of the Catholic Church, but I did not write my column with the express intention to convince non-Catholic Christians to come over to the Church.

I think that Catholics have to be very careful about the way that they approach their conversations with other Christians. Catholics need to respect them and the fact that they (in most cases) are baptized and seek, with God's grace, to follow the way of the Lord. They should not, in any way, think of such people as not being Christian. They are brothers and sisters in Christ and have a fundamentally different relationship with we who are Catholic than those who are not Christian.

I think that it is good for Catholics to enter into conversation with other Christians about those many beliefs and practices which they already share and those in which there are differences that separate us. But I believe that the intent of the conversation from the perspective of both participants should not be to show the other is not Christian, must accept his point of view in order to be a Christian, must abandon his current beliefs in order to be assured of salvation, etc.

Even though this may be felt by the person saying it to be a form of evangelization, it is not. It is a form of proselytism, a way of trying to force someone to enter the church of which the other person in the conversation is a member, be he Catholic or a Christian of another faith tradition. It is a form of communicaiton which is usually seeks to nurture fear in the hearts of others and does not respect the freedom of conscience of other individuals.

I am entering my fourth year in my ministry as a director of religious education in a Catholic parish. During that time I have had numerous non-Catholic Christians come to me to seek to learn more about the Catholic faith and possibly enter into full communion with it. In most of these cases, it has been the non-Catholic who initiated the process. There have been a few cases where I have made the first step, but in all of those cases I merely presented RCIA as a way for them to simply learn more about the Catholic faith.

This is also the approach that I took in advertising the classes in the local newspaper. Although RCIA is the primary way that the Catholic Church prepares adults for entering into full communion in the Church, the choice to do that is always with the participant. In no session of RCIA in the three-years that I have been doing them did I ever try to show how Catholicism was superior to another Christian tradition. I may point out differences here and there, but, as with my column in the newspaper, I leave the value judgment up to the participant.

And when the rites come up in the RCIA, the rites through which participants step by step enter the Church, I in no way try to force any participant to make a choice for Catholicism. In fact, in my first year, I had a fellow go all the way through until Palm Sunday, a week before he would have been accepted into the Church, and then choose not to do so. I accepted his choice and went on.

That may happen again this year. So far I have signed up two former Mormons, one who was raised in the Disciples of Christ, and two others with whom I will be speaking tonight. Others have also called me and I hope to speak with them in the coming week. In all of these cases, if the person with whom I am speaking is a Christian, I respect that fact very much. The Catholic Church as a whole does as well, treating their baptism as being valid (it must be noted, however, that the Catholic Church does not accept as valid a Mormon baptism since the LDS have such a radically different understanding of the Trinity than the Catholic Church and most other Christians do).

I believe that my journey of faith through RCIA with other Christians in the past three years have been fruitful for all who have been involved. But I think that this fruitfulness is directly tied to the respect that the Catholic Church has for the Christian identity of those who are not in full communion with it. Were that respect lacking, I think that I would have had few if any participants.


Chilean Evangelical Christians burn a statue of Mary

Fundamentally what these Christians did was simply vandalism. But it was an act of vandalism that showed disrespect for the religious freedom of other people. It was also an act that would make honest, open dialogue between Catholics and Evangelical Christians in that area much more difficult to happen than if they had not done it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

On Baby Patrol

My wife will be working today, so I'm taking care of Michael. I'll wait to see how much blogging I'll be able to do between chasing him down here and there.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: We believe that Mary is in heaven and that she was crowned “Queen of Heaven and Earth.” Who told us this?

Strictly speaking, we in the Catholic Church believe that God told us this.

I say this because the Catholic Church believes that Mary’s Assumption into heaven and her Queenship over heaven and earth are a part of divine revelation that comes to us through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

Her being assumed, body and soul, into heaven has been celebrated liturgically by the faithful for over 1,500 years. The Church, in reflecting upon Sacred Scripture, has recognized as a kind of veiled evidence of this event St. John’s vision in the twelfth chapter of Revelation: “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1).

Immediately preceding that verse, in the last verse of chapter 11, St. John described this vision: “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of the covenant could be seen in the temple (Rev 11:19). Mary was often described by the Church fathers of the first centuries of he Church as the ‘ark of the covenant.’ Just as in the Old Testament the people of Israel believed that the Lord was truly present to them in the ark of the covenant which they carried with them through the desert, so the Blessed Virgin Mary is understood to be the ark of the new covenant since she carried God incarnate in her womb.

Although Catholics have believed in and celebrated the Assumption of Mary for a very long time, it was not formally defined as a dogma until November 1, 1950 when Pope Pius XII did so in his apostolic constitution, Munificentissimus Deus (Most Gracious God).

Our belief about Mary being the Queen of Heaven and Earth is closely tied to our belief regarding the Assumption and is just as ancient. It is also founded upon Sacred Scripture. The same vision of St. John quoted above from Rev 12:1 describes the woman wearing a ‘crown of twelve stars.’ Crowns, both within biblical imagery and in our own language to this day, is regarded as a sign that person wearing it is a monarch.

(It should be noted here that these passages from Revelation have several layers of meaning, only one of which is reflected in these interpretations traditionally understood by the Church.)

On October 11, 1954, four years after defining her Assumption, Pope Pius XII reflected upon Mary’s Queenship in his encyclical, Ad Caeli Reginam (On the Queen of Heaven) and declared May 31 to be its feast day. Following the Second Vatican Council the date of this feast was changed to August 22, one week following the Solemnity of the Assumption, thus reinforcing the connection of these two aspects of the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in salvation history.

The bishops at the Second Vatican Council renewed the Church’s teaching on Mary’s Assumption and Queenship in Lumen Gentium (“Light of the Nations”), the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: “Finally, the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all guilt of original sin, on the completion of her earthly sojourn, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and the conqueror of sin and death” (paragraph 59).

The Assumption and Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary have come to us primarily through that part of Divine Revelation which is Sacred Tradition. However, as has been shown here, Sacred Scripture does not contradict these beliefs but, indeed, lends support to them.


Catholic Reasons for Hope is a column that appears weekly in the bulletin of the parish where I serve as DRE. If any read of Nota Bene would like to submit questions for this column, he or she is free to do so by e-mail.


The most recent installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections"

In the coming days our young people will be going back to school. Many of our college students will soon be leaving for their campuses as well.

In my work as the director of religious education at St. Joseph Catholic Church I have been very busy over the past few weeks preparing for the beginning of our Religious Education Program, our Sunday school for children and youth from three-year-olds through the 10th grade, as well as the start of our Thursday night adult program.

This time of the year, with its many beginnings in education, can serve as a reminder to all parents of their duty to ensure the good education of their children.

Any teacher at any level will quickly confirm the vital role of parents in the schooling of their children.

The way in which parents either implicitly or explicitly encourage or discourage their children in their task of learning will have a direct impact upon their work in whatever classroom they will be entering in the coming days.

If this is true for the Monday through Friday classroom setting, it is all the more so for religious education.

Most Christian children will have, at best, one or two opportunities a week to learn more about faith in a church setting. Overall, this will usually amount to no more than three to four hours a week in any kind of formal religious education.

These statistics should make it clear to everyone that parents are the first religious educators of their children. The work done by pastors, Sunday school teachers, and other church-based volunteers is secondary at best.

This would be true even if children had formal religion classes every day. It is all the more true in the real context in which we all live.

Children learn so much from their parents. Some of you moms and dads may not think that you take an active role in the religious education of your children, but you do.

The ways in which you strive to live out your faith deliberately day by day — or fail to do so — has a direct impact upon the way your children will come to practice their faith.

When I was growing up, my family didn’t talk much about our faith around the house. We didn’t even pray that much as a family in our home.

But going to church on Sunday was always a top priority, no matter what other plans we had, no matter how inconvenient going to Mass might have been. This valuing of Sunday worship was abundantly clear to me as I grew up.

What was a little more implicit then, but much more clear to me now, was the way in which my parents modeled good Christian behavior for my sister and me.

In their choices and the ways that they interacted with others, my parents showed me what it meant to live out my faith in a good and positive way.

Hopefully the way that I live my life now is a good reflection on my parents as my first religious educators.

I encourage all of you who are Christian parents of young children to take seriously your duty as the first and foremost religious educators of your children. The impact that you have on them, for good or ill, will be a lasting legacy.

By exhorting you in this manner it may seem that I am laying a heavy burden on the shoulders of parents.

But, in the end, it is important for us all to realize that parents simply sow the seeds of faith in the hearts of their children. It is God alone who does the hard work of bringing forth the growth.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Following in the Way of Humility:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Rev 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab
Ps 45:10, 11, 12, 16
1 Cor 15:20-26
Lk 1:39-56

What great irony there is in the wisdom of God. He exalts that which we consider to be the humblest of all. That is the message for us in today's feast.

Mary's cousin Elizabeth greeted her as if she were a queen: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Mary took her startling words in stride, not considering them flattery at all. Instead of focusing on herself, she only heaped praise upon the Lord: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed."

Mary sings that she will be called blessed forever, not because of any greatness on her part, but because of what the Lord did for her. It is this focus on the Lord and his greatness, this attributing any good in ourselves solely to him that will be our pathway to the place in the heavenly kingdom that he has prepared for us.

On the night before he revealed the perfection of humility, Jesus told his disciples and us that he was going ahead of them to prepare a place for them. At those words the disciples expressed confusion. They didn't understand him and didn't know where he was going. To this Jesus declared, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Jesus' way of the cross, was his way of humility, revealing the truth of our humanity, opening to us the eternal life of the kingdom.

We can look to the example of Mary, Jesus' mother, to see what it means for us mere humans to follow Jesus' way of humility. Her life of humility, the fruit of the fullness of grace poured upon her from the first moment of her existence in her mother's womb, led her, body and soul, to the place prepared for her in heaven, the place which St. John saw in his vision which he recounted in his book of Revelation which we heard in today's first reading.

Jesus prepared that place for her when he ascended to the right hand of the Father. He has prepared a place for us as well. If we live according to the grace offered to us, we too will be humble like Mary and point only to the Lord at the remembrance of any good in ourselves. If we walk this way of humility we, like Mary, will be raised up in our proper order, just as St. Paul promised in today's second reading. Mary preceded us as our model in humanity alone. We, with the grace of God, will go where her Son has gone before her and us.


An interesting discussion on the canon of scripture and the magisterium

Go here for the post. Check out the comments where, fittingly enough for the day, the issue of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is raised.


Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption

Rev 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab
Ps 45:10, 11, 12, 16
1 Cor 15:20-27
Lk 1:39-56

Many of you have heard numerous catechetical exhortations concerning the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but at this time, I invite you to think about our assumption into Heaven. God wanted every child he created to be assumed into Heaven, body and soul, as we believe Mary was when it was her time to leave this earth. He said so through the words of Paul who said "all shall be brought to life, but each one in proper order".

The proper order so far has been of Jesus and then Mary having both their souls and their bodies brought up to Heaven. But remember that it is not supposed to end with the two of them. The proper order has not yet been fulfilled. We believe that Jesus will return and that He will return with the desire to bring us in both body and soul to His realm. It is a pity that many people seek something other than being part of this assumption. We need to pray for them because they are not going to find out what they are missing until the door is locked in front of them and the master at the other end says to them: "I do not know who you are."

As much as this is a day of celebration for our Church, it should also be a day of preparation for us. All of us need to ask God on this day what we must do in order to be assumed into heaven as our Mother has been assumed. It is not enough today to think about Mary's special place in Heaven; we have been called by God to sit near her in the presence of Our Lord. So what are we going to do to let Jesus bring us to life in this glorious manner? How are we going to prepare for the assumption that God wants to give each of us?

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

A Small Word on Prayer

A Catholic priest who was a friend of mine (he passed away a few years ago) once said that 'unless a we see prayer as the best use of our time, we will find it hard to make time for it.'


Some thoughts on the vocation of the laity

Catholic blogger JACK's decision to restart his blog Integrity has spurred me to think about the vocation of the laity (the exploration of which is the primary mission of that blog) and its relationship to our entering into dialogue with other Christians (the exploration of which is the primary mission of this blog).

There is a great deal of religious diversity here in the United States. Think of most any religion that exists anywhere on the face of the earth and you will most likely find adherents of them here in this country. Even simply within Chrisitianity there is a lot of diversity in the United States.

Any lay Catholic will most likely experience various manifestations of this diversity every day of his or her life. If the person is married, there is a fairly good likelihood that his or her spouse is not Catholic. He or she may any number of other relatives who are not Catholic. A large portion of his or her co-workers, friends, and other acquaintances will also not be Catholic.

One way to look at this situation is to see it as an opportunity to learn more about the faith (or lack thereof) held by these other people. Another way (which is not mutually exclusive from the first) ito look at it is to see it as an opportunity to share the Catholic faith with these others.

This give and take is a fundamental part of the task of evangelization which every Christian receives at his or her baptism. But this sharing of the faith need not happen in a context which is seen first and foremost as formally evangelistic. Yes, we are all missionaries. But we are called to carry out this task with the context of our lives in which we find ourselves at any one moment.

For example, during a lunch break various co-workers might start talking about one issue or another which has a moral aspect to it, say, the fraudulent accounting practices carried out by companies like Arthur Andersen, Enron, or Worldcom. This would be a good opportunity for a Catholic to learn more about what the faith tradition of another co-worker has to say or not say about the moral aspect of that issue. It would also be a good opportunity to say what the Church may have to say about it from a moral perspective.

Sometimes this might happen in such a way that the particular faith traditions of each participant in the conversation is never specifically mentioned. But there may be times when it would be good to specifically ask of a co-worker who, for the sake of the example, is a Methodist, what his tradition might have to say about the morality of such practices. Yes, we assume (safely?) that it would say that they are wrong. But why? That is the important question to ask.

Even if the person is unable to answer the question, it might spur him to find out. One little question like that might help another person grow in his faith.

There may also be times in a conversation like that where a person who is Catholic might be able to speak specifically about what the Church might have to say about the moral questions which such situations bring up. It wouldn't be said so much in any sort of argumentative tone, but simply one that offers to add another perspective to the conversation. Now in order for a Catholic to do this, he or she would have to know ahead of time what the Church might have to say about it. So the desire to add these kinds of perspectives to a conversation can serve as a motivation for a Catholic to grow in his or her knowledge of the faith.

These are the little things that, when done again and again, make up a lot of the work of evangelization of a lay Catholic. They can be signs of the slow but sure growth of the Kingdom.

What do you think of all of this? Do you explicitly add the perspective of your faith tradition to ordinary conversations? Is the addition an implicit one or is it explicit? How do you think that you could do this without seeming to be pushing your faith on another?


Birthday Greetings...

...for my dear wife Cindy. The day on which she was born will always be one of great importance for me.

Monday, August 11, 2003

One more prayer request for Michael

Michael has an appointment tomorrow at Riley Hospital for Children. He'll have a CT scan, an appointment with his infectious disease doctor to look at the scan, and an appointment with surgery if the scan shows that he's recovered enough from the pneumonia to remove his central line (the heavy duty IV line in his chest through which he's received IV antibiotics twice a day for the past three weeks).

Hopefully he's recovered enough that that the surgery will happen. Hopefully the surgery will go well. If the surgery does go on, Michael will have to have been sedated twice tomorrow--once for the CT scan, once for the surgery.

At any rate, please say a prayer for him. While you're at it, say a prayer for those children who were in Riley before Michael arrived there in mid-July and will still be there after he leaves tomorrow. And even though I named this post 'One more prayer request for Michael', I didn't mean to imply that you don't have to pray for him again after this ordeal is finally put behind us. I think that it is a good thing for all of us to pray for all of God's little ones at all times.

Update: Michael is safely home from Riley Hospital for Children. Hopefully he won't be making any return visits there.

We spent most of the day waiting. First it was waiting for Michael's sedative to take effect for a CT scan that he needed. He got a full 1000 mg of it (I fail to recall which kind of sedative it was) and fought the good fight, for about an hour. I tell you, the kid has never been a good napper, even when he's given some help.

We also had to wait for a good while to see the infectious disease doctor. He showed us the CT scan from July 14 and from today. the change in Michael's left lung was incredible. It looks almost totally normal now. He did tell us, interestingly enough, that the state health labs had a difficult time getting the particular strain of bacteria that caused his disease to grow. So they've now sent it off to the CDC in Atlanta for further testing.

Later on we had to wait almost two hours for his surgical procedure to remove his central line. It was delayed because the surgeon had to respond to an emergency. All of the doctors with whom we spoke beforehand--a surgical resident and an anesthiologist--all spoke to us assuming that he had a tunnelled central line, something which requires a surgical procedure to remove. We also had assumed that this was what he had. After all, that was what we had signed a consent form for.

But when the surgical attending physician finally showed up, he said that it was not tunnelled but was only a temporary central line. Michael wouldn't even need to go to surgery. He'd just have to snip a couple of sutures and pull it out. When he opened the dressing, he noticed that all of the sutures had already come out on their own. A little flick of the wrist and it was out. Just like that.

Cindy could have removed it. I could have removed it...and Michael could have removed it. I'm glad that everything came to a conclusion so quickly. But it also reminded me of the problems that we could have easily had with it at home. And it explained why the surgical fellow was very hesitant to let Michael go home from the hospital at the end of his hospitalization.

The only question left is, why was a temporary central line inserted instead of a tunnelled one? Oh well, it doesn't really matter now. I'm just glad that it is all over.

Thanks to all of you readers for your prayers for Michael. And thanks to God for pouring his healing grace upon my little son.


Think globally, act my parish's RCIA

It seems that a national story is going to have a small ripple effect on the upcoming RCIA in the parish where I serve as DRE. The pastor told me today that he had had a conversation with a woman who identified herself as an 'Anglican' (mind you, not an Episcopalian) and who wanted to consider coming into full communion with the Catholic Church.

Apparently she wasn't keen about the choice to ordain women, but it was the election of Bishop Robinson who pushed her over the edge.

This should be an interesting class. So far we'll have the Anglican, a couple of former Mormons (one of whom had also been active for a short while with the Jehovah's Witnesses), a young woman who was baptized in the Catholic Church but who received all of her religious formation in a Baptist church, an older man who had been in the Disciples of Christ, and a young man who is 'unchurched.'


Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: Why does the number ‘666’ represent the Antichrist?

I think it is important first to say that it is not at all clear that the number 666 does in fact represent the Antichrist. The only book in the Bible in which that number appears is in Revelation. However, the title ‘Antichrist’ does not appear in that book. Now it has been argued that this person is referred to in Revelation. But the fact that he is not specifically named in the book makes the case for identifying him with the number 666 a more difficult one than if he had been directly identified in it.

Where, then, is the Antichrist specifically mentioned in the Bible? This name appears in the first two letters of St. John (1 Jn 2:18, 22, 4:3, 2 Jn 1:7), the same man who is the author of Revelation. Interestingly enough, however, St. John seems in these passages to be naming several ‘antichrists’ as much as using that term to identify a specific person, thus making identifying 666 with one individual that much more difficult than it was already.

At any rate, the number 666 appears in Rev 13:18 in the midst of that chapter where ‘the beast’ is described as rising up against God, speaking blasphemy, causing men to worship him, and waging war against ‘the holy ones’ (Rev 13:7), the Christian faithful: “ who understands can calculate the number of the beast, for it is a number that stands for a person. His number is six hundred and sixty-six.”

Perhaps because of the difficulties surrounding the identification of the Antichrist described above, the Catholic Church has not definitively identified him as a specific person nor has offered a definitive interpretation of Rev 13:18.

Nevertheless, a common interpretation of this passage from Revelation works like this. In the age of the early church there had not yet been developed the system of Arabic numerals that we use today. Instead, various letters were assigned numeric value. Thus in Latin I was one, V was five, X was ten, and so on.

In both the Hebrew and Aramaic languages (common tongues of the earliest Christians) the numeric value of the name of Nero Caesar was 666. And from the history that we know of his reign over the Roman Empire, his actions fit those attributed to ‘the beast’ in Rev 13.

That chapter describes how people worshipped him. And, indeed, Nero was considered divine by many in the Empire even while he was still alive. In addition, he ‘waged war against the holy ones’, very likely being responsible for the crucifixion of St. Peter and the beheading of St. Paul.

While this interpretation might be correct, it is important to note again that it has not been declared to be so in any kind of definitive way by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. One of the more important reasons that the Church has not made such a definitive interpretation of this passage from Revelation as well as from those passages in John’s letters that speak of the Antichrist is that, like all of Sacred Scripture, they have a variety of levels of meaning.

Yes, the Antichrist and the number 666 may refer to a specific individual (although the person identified as each may be different people). But St. John himself, the interpretation of whose writings still causes swirls of controversy now some 2000 years after he wrote them, seems to show that divine revelation given in Sacred Scripture has different levels of meaning.

In one verse alone he shows that the meaning of the title ‘Antichrist’ can have different levels of meaning, referring at one level to one person, at another level to many: “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared” (1 Jn 2:18).

Were the Church to identify the Antichrist with one person alone, it would ignore the other levels of meaning, all of which are very important.

So, in the end, is the beast in Rev 13 the Antichrist named in the first two of St. John’s letters? Perhaps he is, perhaps not. We do yet not know completely, even if we may have some knowledge of the meaning of these passages.


Catholic Reasons for Hope is a column that appears weekly in the bulletin of the parish where I serve as DRE. If any reader of Nota Bene would like to submit questions for the column, he or she is free to do so by e-mail.


JACK is back

JACK, the author the Catholic blog Integrity, is back writing it after having left the blogosphere for a while. Take a look at his writing. If you're like me, you'll bookmark his blog.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1 Kgs 19:4-8
Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Eph 4:30—5:2
Jn 6:41-51

How many of you would prefer to be somewhere other than here at this moment? I would love to hear everyone say that they would prefer to be nowhere else but before the Lord right now. Yet would you not agree that is not always easy to muster up enough motivation to come to Mass? There are days when it seems as though both the Sunday obligation and the fear of slipping into a state of mortal sin serve as our prime motivators. Perhaps there are other days when we simply say to ourselves: “It’s time for Mass. It just is. I’ve been going to this Mass for years. This is when I go.”

I neither seek to chastise this parish nor isolate any specific disciple. The reason that I present these questions and examples is because we have a wonderful opportunity through the Gospel reading to transcend any spiritual or motivational rut that we may be in these days. Any believer – no matter his rank within either society or in the Church – can fall into a procedural rut. Jesus gives us strength today so that we may pull ourselves out of the rut.

We do not need to learn any complex motivational strategies because what can help all of us is a rather simple message. We have come here to Mass because God the Father has summoned us here. Of course, we come to Mass because that is what we learned to do through our parents’ and teachers’ instructions, but above that, God has drawn us here. God wants us to be here. God wants to share Himself with us – literally. God wants us to eat of Him by listening to the Living Word, His Son Jesus Christ, and by receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist. God has given Himself to us as He has so that we may be united with Him and that we may seek to be united with Him forever.

We are here because no being other than God has called us to hear Him, to see Him, and to taste Him. This is the root and source of all of our motivation. Our lives should be motivated foremost by this. Our Church should be motivated foremost by this. God wants us to be with Him. It is that simple. God is immeasurable, but His plan for us is that simple.

Everyone can recall the joy that they felt when they received the Lord in the Eucharist for the first time. Even if we cannot remember the definitions that we learned in our catechism classes, we can recall the joy and anticipation that we felt. God wants us to have that same joy and anticipation each time that we come to receive Him. God wants us to give thanks and to help others as well to give thanks so that all people may be united with Him until the end of time.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

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

Editor's note: In this week's installment, I introduce the possibility of periodically making the format of the column 'Q & A.' If you would like to submit questions for this column, published in the daily secular newspaper of the town of the parish where I serve as DRE, please do so by e-mail.

In last week’s column I reflected on the importance of loving God with our minds.

This week I would like to consider the various implications of loving God with our minds and to make an offer to you.

We can love God with our minds in lots of different ways. One way is to learn more about those who seek to follow him and love him.

When we express our love for God by learning more about Christians around the world, we will know God better and know his people better as well. There will be fewer misconceptions which can divide us.

Knowing more about the beliefs and practices of other Christians can be a way that the Holy Spirit works in our lives, bringing to fulfillment — little step by little step — 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.” (John 17:20-21).

When we make the effort to know more about other Christians, we will be giving less opportunity to the Devil to tell us lies, to divide us from each other.

As we come to know each other better, we will be growing in the unity for which Jesus prayed and attracting more people to the goodness of the Gospel.

This does not mean that the real differences which divide many Christians have to be swept under the carpet and ignored.

But learning about other Christians, especially learning about how they view themselves, their beliefs and their practices, frequently softens the harsh feelings that are often attached to misconceptions and ignorance — harsh feelings that can be a symptom of division.

To further this goal of learning more about other Christians, I propose using my column once a month to answer questions that you, the readers, might have.

I, myself, am a Catholic and so should be well qualified to answer questions about the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church. And while doing so, I would, to the best of my ability, base my answers on what the Church officially teaches, quoting from its documents whenever possible.

While I feel qualified to answer questions about what Catholics believe — for example, about the Trinity, the sacraments, and so on — and what Catholics do — such as making the sign of the cross and not eating meat on Fridays during Lent — I do not feel qualified to speak for the motivations of either individuals or groups other than myself or the Church.

I am offering to use my column in this fashion to help all of us together learn more about other Christians, about how they understand themselves. I know that I will be learning as much in this process as I will be teaching.

To this end, I am offering to answer questions in this column not simply to be able to explain Catholic beliefs and practices, but also with the hope that a dialogue may be started that could inspire others to comment and expound on beliefs and practices of Christians other than Catholics as well.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Lots of beginnings coming up

A week from this Sunday the parish where I serve as DRE will be staring its weekly religious education program (REP) for grades 3-year-old pre-school through the 10th grade. We'll also be starting very soon our RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) as well as some small, informal general adult faith formation programs. Our RCIA might prove to be interesting this year. Two of our participants are former members of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). One had also been involved briefly in the Jehovah's Witnesses.

This coming weekend after every Mass there will be a welcoming reception for our new pastor. But he wanted it, in a very real sense, to be a welcoming for all of the ministries in the parish as well. So all of the various ministries will have tables set up where parishioners can get more information about their work and sign up to volunteer if they so choose.

Among the ministries that will be represented are: the Liturgy Commission (including music ministry), the parish's elementary school (pre-school through 5th grade), children's religious education (REP, VBS), adult religious education (RCIA, adult faith formation, including Bible study), ministry to the sick, Hispanic ministry, youth ministry, our parish festival (which is being expanded next year), scouting, the K of C, the Daughters of Isabella, the St. Anne's Altar Society, and much much more.

I think that this will show the great vitality with which God has blessed our parish. Hopefully, as more people get involved with these wide and varied ministries that vitality will flow out from us more and more to the community at large in which we are situated.

Needless to say, with all of these beginnings coming up as well as the welcoming reception, I don't think that I'll have time to blog today.

What I would be interested to hear from you who are Catholic is this: What ministries are your various parishes involved in? How do you think that our parishes' ministries can become a more effective channel of grace for our communities? For those of you who are Christian but not Catholic, how do the various ministries that I've listed that happen at the parish where I work as well as those of other Catholics who post comments compare to the ministries in your congregations? How are they similar? How are they different? Are the similarities or differences reflective of the ways in which the Catholic Church and the various Protestant congreations are both similar and different?

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

I'll be busy over the next few days,... I don't expect to do any blogging until Friday. But, in the meantime, I would ask that you take a close look at the two 'A Reader Writes" posts and comment on them if you so wish. The first was posted on August 4. The second was just before this post.


A Reader Writes

The following are excerpts from a letter from the same reader whose note about evangelization in predominately Catholic countries I excerpted below (I'd encourage you to scroll down to it. I've updated it, including excerpts from my response.).

The note whose excerpts are posted here dealt with my post from last week where I describe receiving in the mail Carl Olson's book, Will Catholics Be Left Behind?: A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Today's Prophecy Preachers, and Jimmy Akin's report, False Profit: Money, Prejudice, and Bad Theology in Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series.

The reader attempted to answer some of the questions that I posed at the end of the post. Here are the questions:

What do you think of the whole "Left Behind" phenomenon? Have you read any of the books? Do you think that they are basically harmless fiction or do you see a real threat in them? Do you think that they are truly "anti-Catholic"? Have you had Evangelical friends encourage you to read them? What effect, if any, have you seen from the books on fellow Catholics who have read them?

Here are excerpts from the readers responses to them:

I have all the Left Behind books except for the most recent, because I want them in paperback. I don't consider the kids books because I see them as a marketing gimmick (besides the age difference!), although I still consider them better than most things kids could be reading, aside from literary classics and whatnot.

I see these books as beneficial fiction in the sense that they bring an awareness of Christ into peoples' lives and has a lot of good Christian spiritual modeling. I do not think that they are one bit anti-Catholic, only pro-Dispensationalist (of course, being dispensational myself, I am somewhat biased). "Pretend" Protestants are no more likely to go to Heaven than pretend Catholics, and you will notice that a great many were raptured. Had it been interesting, I'm sure that the author would also have mentioned the same about Lutherans, etc. I know that you don't believe that being baptized Catholic is an automatic ticket to Heaven.

Maybe you find the part about the pope being more "protestant"? I don't think it is unreasonable to hypothesize such a "Vatican III" in the future; it seems just as reasonable as supposing protestant America discovering an interest in a church that emphasizes liturgy and sacraments. However, I acknowledge that it could be offensive.

My only other thought is that there is a "fake pope" appointed. If this bothers you, please remember that all the "good Catholics" are gone and so all that is left is a symbol and a power vacuum; there's no symmetrical protestant position because there is no equivalent protestant symbol or office.

Other than pushing premillenialism, I see nothing not to admire about the series' content from either a protestant or catholic position. The model Christians in the series own things communally, they pray together a lot, they have unmarried leaders (mostly), ... well, I had a point and then it stopped making sense. Usually, I am unhappy when I hear people using their denominational word instead of "Christians", but when you are saying:

Yet Akin is very concerned that the thousands of young people who read the series will have a very scary portrait of Christianity given to them, a portrait which has the real potential of ultimately alienating many of them from the faith.

I think you should be saying Catholic, because this is an excellent series for non-Catholic Christians which models Christian behavior well and helps nurture Christianity in many people. If you see it as offensive, I understand, but if your point is that it is wrong and dangerous, realize that you are also condemning our religion as well.

I have been unable to find the exact text which I wrote in response to this note. But I offer here the basic message that I did send.

Before I describe how I understand the Left Behind series to be anti-Catholic, I feel that I should describe my understanding of that term. I feel that a person is anti-Catholic if he or she believes that a Catholic cannot be Christian by holding as true all that the Catholic Church teaches to be true in matters of faith and morals. Tim LaHaye, in his theological understanding of dispensationalism, sees the Catholic Church as a false religion and symbolized in the Book of Revelation as the Whore of Babylon. He has written such conclusions clearly in his non-fiction books.

They became part of the Left Behind series through his placing a pope at the head of the one world religion, under the direction of the anti-Christ. The pope that preceded him had been raptured, not by virtue of the teachings of the Catholic Church on matters of faith and morals, but because he had recently taught things that resembled the beliefs of Martin Luther.

When Jimmy Akin in his report described his experience with dispensationalism in his youth, he was telling his reading of his experiences as a young Christian, some twenty years or more before he became a Catholic. He was expressing his concern, not just for Catholic youth, but for Christian youth in general. He feels that his experience with the fearful portrait of Christianity which seems to come from dispensationalists alienated him and many other young people back then from the faith. He doesn't want to see that happen again through the Left Behind: The Kids series.

I think that the Christianity embraced by many dispensationalists is, in many respects, the same as the faith embraced by Catholics, notwithstanding, of course, the significant differences, including those in our respective eschatologies. So in condemning the Left Behind series, I am not condemning the religion of those who would agree with the dispensationalism of Tim LaHaye that is the backdrop of the series. I am only condemning a certain aspect of it, albeit an aspect that is important to many people.

But I suppose that I am concerned that those who feel that by condemning the series that I am condemning their religion value the eschatological aspect as much as they do. I am concerned about this because I believe that their eschatology, at least in so far as it agrees with that of Tim LaHaye, is inherently anti-Catholic. That is, if one believes that, in the final days, the Catholic Church will be revealed to be the Whore of Babylon and that it will lead a false one world religion, then they are making an implicit conclusion about those Catholics now who are devout and hold as true what the Church teaches to be true.

And I would have to say that this conclusion is that such a Catholic can only be a Christian in spite of his or her Catholic beliefs, not because of them.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Haloscan test

Ok, my haloscan comment boxes seem to be working for me but not always for others. Are you folks not using the comment boxes because they're not working or (the more likely answer) because my posts are too boring?


Evangelization and Catholic-Evangelical relations

Such are the topics of this note that Mark Shea received from a friend of his and which he posted on his blog.


Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: What are indulgences?

Although the Church’s teaching on indulgences appears to play a less visible role in the life of the faithful now than in the past, it is still and, indeed, will always be held as true by the Church. This is because there is a solid grounding for that teaching in divine revelation and it was defined at an ecumenical council, the Council of Trent.

Pope Paul VI renewed this definition in his 1967 apostolic letter, On the Doctrine of Indulgences:

An indulgence is the remission before God of the temporal punishment due sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned, which the follower of Christ with the proper dispositions and under certain determined conditions acquires through the intervention of the Church which, as minister of the Redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of the satisfaction won by Christ and the saints. (norm 1)

This definition points us to two realities regarding the just punishment of sins. The first is implied by the definition: there are eternal punishments for sins. These are completely remitted through the sacrament of reconciliation. But, as we know in our experience of this sacrament, there is still a temporal punishment, a penance, that we are asked to complete as well.

The distinction between these two forms of punishment are easy to understand if we take the example of a serious crime like murder. A murderer may indeed have the eternal punishment for his grave sin taken away through the sacrament of reconciliation if he is truly repentant. Nevertheless, that sacrament does not give him a ‘get out of jail free card.’ He still has a temporal punishment to endure.

There are times, however, when the temporal punishment for sin can be remitted through the blessing of God given to sinners through another person’s merit. For example, one of the temporal effects of original sin is human sickness. But there are many stories in the Gospels of Jesus curing a sick person through the good faith demonstrated by another person (Lk 7:1-10).

This ministry of Jesus is continued here and now in his Church. Several passages from the Gospels show us how he gave ‘to men’ the power to forgive the eternal effects of sin (Mt 9:8, 18:18, Jn 20:21-23). If this is true for eternal punishment, it is surely much more true for temporal punishment. Jesus has given his Church the power to ‘bind and loose’ in both heaven and earth (Mt 18:18).

In order for people to experience the perfect blessedness of heaven, they need to have endured both the eternal and temporal punishment , or been ‘loosed’ from it by the merits of another (Rev 5:8). As we know, the eternal punishment for our sins has been paid through the blood of Christ and the infinite merit that flowed from it and applied to us through the sacrament of reconciliation.

When we are in ‘a state of grace’ we can say that our eternal punishment has been taken away, but not necessarily our temporal punishment. Indeed, it is reasonable to presume that many who die in a state of grace might still have temporal punishments to fulfill.

We who are the faithful still living on earth can be like those people in the Gospel stories who interceded with Jesus on behalf of a sick person. We can pray for the dead who, though they died in a state of grace, are not yet in heaven but are being purified of those remaining temporal punishments in purgatory.

Provided we do what its regulations ask of us, an indulgence, a “remission before God of the temporal punishment due sins already forgiven”, can be granted by the Church through its power to bind or loose, either for ourselves, or one of the souls in purgatory.

As a final note, it is important for us to remember that an indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment of a sin whose eternal punishment is already forgiven. It is not a way for us to receive forgiveness simply by paying for it, without being repentant of the sin. This is a common misconception about indulgences.


A Reader Writes

Regarding my comments to this post at Reformed Christian David Heddle's blog, He Lives (where there is, by the way, a new post on Protestant evangelization in Catholic countries:

I agree that many missionaries would be better off unmarried, but Protestants usually believe that celibacy is gift from God and not something people can do on their own; and that God uses both groups in in the religious vocation. I disagree about bringing children along; it can be very beneficial to American children to see what life is like for the rest of the world. Probably it is not so good to drag teenagers off around the world, but younger children should be better off. As long as the parents don't neglect their children (our pastors don't usually, but sometimes it happens. I know that doesn't happen for you guys :)

I think you are very wrong about the next post, where you are offended by not having baptisms respected. I don't support "poaching", but there is a real need for Christ to be preached in many places to many people where the culture is Catholic (as well as Orthodox or Protestant; pretty much everywhere). I know that you don't believe that God only wants people to be baptized, but also to have faith and to act in a Christian manner.

It seems that there are people falling through the cracks and we can reach them; surely that is not offensive to you. And if we preach a Protestant version of Christianity (because that is what we know and believe) and it falls on good soil, are we not also winning souls for Christ? And if some devout Catholics switch (and I never hear of those; usually people of no religious opinion at all), why are you angry with us? What is being taught that makes our gospel more attractive?

I personally know many people who have done missions in Columbia and one in Argentina. Their goals are to:

Feed the hungry,
Support the poor,
Preach Christ to those who need Him.

We can't preach anything but the truth that we know, and so we make other Christians like us.


Editor's note: The following are excerpts from my e-mail response to the reader who sent the above note.

Regarding missionaries, I too think that it has the potential to be a good experience for children, given certain conditions. I don't think that it should be for an extended period of time that would by necessity separate them from their extended family. And I do not think that it should be in an area that would put the lives of the parents or children at serious risk.

For example, some areas of the Philippines are enormously dangerous due to the activity of the rebel group Abu Sayef. They were responsible for the kidnapping of Martin and Gracia Burnham and for the death of Martin. To the best of my knowledge, they had already been there for an extended period of time before they were kidnapped. And they were in the custody of the Abu Sayef for, I believe, several months, if not over a year. Ultimately, Martin died in the crossfire when Philippino troops tried to rescue him and his wife.

Such a place was not a prudent place for children or parents to be. A Christian parents' first responsibility is to each other and to their children. Although I consider him in a certain sense a martyr, I think that, given his children in the United States separated from him and his wife, it was irresponsible for Martin Burnham to undertake missionary activity in a place well known to be very, very dangerous.

Is this merely one anecdote? Perhaps. But I think that there are many, many more Evangelical missionary parents out there who separate themselves from their children for several months, perhaps years, at a time and/or even needlessly put themselves and/or their children in harm's way.

In the end, I simply return to my first principle. A Christian parents' first responsibility, given to them by God, is to each other and to their children.

As regards my comments on the the relationship of the nature of baptism to evangelization, ... reaching out to those who are falling through the cracks is not offensive to me. What is offensive is the underlying assummption that the people to whom Evangelical missionaries are reaching out are not Christian. I believe very strongly that if a person has been baptized he or she is a Christian. And I strongly believe that this should be respected by other Christians.

I am saddened by the poor or lacking support given by many members of the Catholic Church in Central and South America to their brothers and sisters who so desparately need help in living their life of faith. But I believe that such support is an internal issue for the Catholic Church to deal with.

Like you, I have known many lay Catholics who have done relief work in Haiti and others who have worked in Mexico and Guatemala. They, with the great material resources available to them in the United States, have helped to improve the conditions of life for congregations in these places. Hopefully such material improvement have also accompanied spiritual ones as well.

And like you, I don't like poaching. It shows disrespect for their baptism and the faith that they have lived no matter how imperfectly or with how little support.

How, then, are we to reconcile the need to reach out to those who need material and spiritual aid with our condemnation of poaching. Such a reconciliation is not easy and, I believe, can only be achieved through the work of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this is something for which both of us might pray.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

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

What does it mean, in practical terms, to love God?

This is a big question. Nevertheless, it is a question that every Christian should contemplate on a regular basis, because the answer to this question will have an impact on our every thought, word, and deed.

God’s love for us comes rushing at each one of us in every bit of creation. Every molecule of the universe was created by God as a sign of his love for us.

When we know that someone else loves us, we are often drawn to show love in return.

If this is true for human love, which is always imperfect, how much more is it true for the perfect love that God has for each one of us?

The complete love of God for us calls us to love him completely, with our every thought, word and deed.

How, then, are we to come to know the ways for us to express our love of God?

What does it mean, in practical terms, to love God?

A good place for us to start to find the answer to this is, of course, in the Scriptures.

Jesus tells us that we are to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:36).

Now, in exploring the meaning of Jesus’ words here, I could go into all sorts of details of how the Jewish people of His day understood the various parts of the body in relationship to a person’s identity.

But, in the end, I think that Jesus is asking each of us in these words to love God with everything that we are.

I think that, among those who seek to know how to love God, a lot of attention is given to the first two of the ways listed by Jesus: loving God with our heart and our soul.

But I tend to think that too little attention is given to loving God with our minds.

Why is that?

Perhaps it is because we don’t connect the act of loving with the work of the mind.

For us, to love someone means to have warm feelings about that person or to seek to be in close contact with that person.

We often connect the mind with intellectual activities of one sort or another, things that don’t seem too lovable or loving to us.

But the act of learning can be a tremendous expression of love. Those of you who are married, consider how much you know about your spouse.

You probably know more about the story of the life of your spouse than about any other person, except yourself.

Each of us has lots of relatives and friends.

We come into contact with people previously unknown to us all of the time. And yet our knowledge of all of these people pales in comparison with the knowledge that we have about those who are loved by us the most.

God gave us minds to know him. In coming to know him better, our love for him will be increased.

Learn more about God, his relationship with you and all of humanity, and with all of creation.

Love him with all of your mind.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Editor's note: Fr. Shawn O'Neal is a priest of the Diocese of Charlotte. Today the Vatican named Fr. Peter Jurgis the new bishop of that diocese. He is a priest of the diocese and, by Fr. Shawn's account, is well liked by many there. The choice was surprising but welcomed by many.

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Ex 16:2-4, 12-15
Ps 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54
Eph 4:17, 20-24
Jn 6:24-35

God has become very accustomed to the grumbling and complaining of people. He has dealt with this behavior ever since Adam complained that he was tricked by Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. Our first reading today is filled with complaints, but I present to you the same story within which God provides an even sharper rebuke than what we heard within Exodus. The following is from the eleventh chapter of the Book of Numbers:

"Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving; and the people of Israel also wept again, and said, "O that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onion, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at." Is it just me thinking this, or do those words not clash with the pretty picture that was painted for us within the responsorial psalm?

As within the same chapter in Numbers, God responded to the people: "Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you, and have wept before him, saying, "Why did we come forth out of Egypt?"

That scene summed up the tendency of every disciple whom God has called by name. Each disciple of the past, present, and future risks both ignoring what the Lord provides and complaining about something that will give them peace for only a brief amount of time. The people of Israel acted in that manner at times. The Apostles of Jesus acted in that manner at times. Throughout the whole of Christendom, many believers have kept a similar course.

Although many people have repeated this form of behavior, it has not been nor will it ever become an acceptable form of conduct for anyone in a covenant relationship with God. God always seeks to change the people who act in this manner and He can be rather forceful about it when He wants to be that way. I hope that He does not correct us with the forceful means presented within the Book of Numbers, but He can do that if He so chooses to do it. Perhaps there are times when he should do that to all of us. Perhaps God should give us everything we want so that we can learn the lesson that way that having it all is never going to bring us true happiness.

No matter how many times this form of behavior has been repeated in Scripture, people can break the cycle through the power of God. If only we decide to look at what God has given us rather than look at the size of the slice of cake that our neighbor has on his plate, we will achieve that level of contentment that God prepares us to have.

The complaining within our first reading is rather obvious, but tension builds further within our Gospel reading. The disciples are about to move from murmur to revolt because they long for something other than God as He has presented Himself. It can be very easy to complain about these disciples and claim that we are never going to duplicate their behavior, but we should not complain about them. We should use our time to see how God works with, through, and among us, thereby failing to repeat their mistake. Be still, be quiet, and rest in the peace of God who is with us in a manner that goes beyond human senses.

We must always pray for the end of many wrong things; today, we need to pray for God's help for a decrease in complaining.


In Dialogue about NFP

It seems to me that the average Catholic doesn't talk very much about NFP with other Catholics. Perhaps it is because they don't have knowledge of the Church's teaching or they don't agree with it. Maybe they agree with it and strive, with God's grace, to live it but are hesitant to do so because of the lingering social taboos about speaking about such subjects in public (I would tend to think that people who believe in the Church's teaching on NFP don't watch Jerry Springer too often).

Unfortunately, some of the few times when it might come up in conversation between two Catholics this happens. One person who has embraced what they understand to be NFP wholeheartedly are skittish and abrasive when they see a young person, about to be married, suggest that they want to learn NFP and it live it in his or her marriage.

This is really sad. People who affirm the truth of NFP and seek to live it should welcome others who are discovering it for the first time. These people aren't the enemy! If they seek to advise others on it, they should first have a good working knowledge of the various facets of the Church's teaching on the topic. Why? Because this is a very sensitive topic, one that cause people pain if presented harshy and inaccurately, as it seems to have been done in the incident described on Amy's blog.

If it is true that the average Catholic doesn't talk very much about NFP with other Catholics, then they probably speak even less about it with those Christians who are not Catholic.

But, believe or not, I think that various Evangelical Christians could possibly be a receptive audience to hearing about the gifts of NFP. If NFP is presented as a means to strengthen marriages and families (which it is designed to do) and is in harmony with God's design of the human body and of marriage (it is a 'godly' way to act), then I think that those Evangelicals who have a desire to strengthen their own and others' marriages and families in the midst of a society and culture that seems to work against them might be intrigued to hear about what NFP has to offer.

Nevertheless such ecumenical dialogues have their pitfalls. The ones easy to discern is that such teachings are defined by an ecclesiastical authority that many Evangelicals would have an almost instinctive reaction against. But, a little more deeply than this, and perhaps a more difficult hurdle to overcome, is the reaction that might happen in an Evangelical when he or she starts to see how counter-cultural NFP is and how the use of contraceptives is ingrained into the prevailing culture.

For despite the many words we hear from Evangelicals about the 'culture war', they are often very much enmeshed in the culture which they seek to fight. When Evangelicals who like to think that they arre warriors in the culture war come to realize that they, by the behavior (such as using contraceptives), show themselves to a real part of that culture which they oppose, they can often react in a very strongly negative way.

How should a Catholic approach such a reaction? With love, not defensiveness. Affirm the Evangelical's desire to live God's will, to oppose what is wrong in our culture, but also to be a leaven for it. Simply try to show, with a voice of charity, how living NFP can do all of these things. And then, of course, as always, pray.

Perhaps have them read the testimony of an Evangelical couple who have embraced NFP, Sam and Bethany Torode, whose story is found in their book, Open Embrace.

I'm interested to read the views of you readers on these topics, on Catholics speaking about NFP with one another, and on Catholics and other Christians speaking about it together.