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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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Speaking of Mary and of Dialogue between Catholics and other Christians...

Here's an interesting reflection taken from the writings of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap. on Mary's Immaculate Conception--a topic about which it can seem very difficult for Catholics and other Christians to enter into dialogue on:

When talking of hte title "full of grace" with which the angel addressed Mary, it is easy to make the mistake of insisting more on Mary's grace than on God's grace. The title "full of grace" was the privileged starting point and the basis for defining the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, and almost all of Mary's other privileges.

All of these constitute progress of the faith. But once this has been understood, we must move back to the original meaning, which talks to us more of God than of Mary, more of him who gives grace than of her who receives it, because this is exactly what Mary herself wants. Without this balance, grace might actually and imperceptibly indicate its opposit, which is merit.

In defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Church declared that Mary was preserved from sin, "in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, our Savior."

In this brief reflection Cantalamessa, who holds the title "preacher to the papal household", gets right to the heart of some objections that some Christians to this dogma defined by Pope Pius IX.

Many Christians, but I suppose most especially the Orthodox, would object to Cantalamessa's use of the phrases "progress of the faith" and "original meaning." They might argue that no progress is needed in the faith, that which was handed down whole and entire from Jesus to his apostles and that the original meaning is the only one that we need.

If such an objection were raised, I would first point out that this excerpt was not drawn from a text of systematic theology where a high value is placed on preciseness. It seems to me that, in this case, 'progress of the faith' refers more to the progress of the Church's public stated understanding of that faith handed on from the beginning and that to go back to the 'original meaning' by no means implies that a later formulation of the doctrine differs in any fundamental way from what was believed in the past. Instead, it seems to me that, in referring to the 'original meaning', Cantalamessa is really referring to the heart of the doctrine.

And that heart has to do only with what God did through his grace for Mary and not what Mary, in any way, merited for herself. This, then, points to one of the primary objections that many Protestant Christians might raise about what Cantalamessa has to say here.

But it seems to me that the Capuchin preacher is trying to answer such an objection before it is ever raised. He reminds Catholics that Mary's Immaculate Conception is a total gift of God's grace, nothing which she merited in any way.

Whether or not Protestant Christians would accept such an explanation of that aspect of the dogma is an open question.

Those of you who are Protestant Christians, what do you think of Cantalamessa's explanation? Those of you who are Orthodox, do you think that he is promoting an understanding of the faith that has room for progress, understood as is?


George Weigel on Pope John Paul II as the 25th anniversary of his election approaches

...Q: What would you say have been his three greatest accomplishments?

Weigel: The great question for the Catholic Church at the end of the second millennium of its history was: Could the Church give a coherent, compelling, comprehensive account of its faith and its hope?

John Paul answered that question in the affirmative: through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, through his own magisterium, and through this remarkable capacity to make Catholic convictions "come alive" in history -- as in the collapse of European Communism.

So it all fits together -- the renewal of the Church and the impact on the world. It would be hard to identify three "greatest" accomplishments within that framework, but three emblematic accomplishments would be the Catechism, the June 1979 Polish pilgrimage, and the Great Jubilee of 2000...

I have seen Christians, who otherwise could be described as being rather anti-Catholic, give great praise for the work and witness of Pope John Paul II. No less than Jack Van Impe has done this, praising the underlying teachings of Veritatis Splendor and claiming to have been impressed with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Could, then, the ministry and, possibly, even teachings of Pope John Paul II be a starting point for discussions between Catholics and other Christians?

Q: The Holy Father credited the Blessed Virgin with saving his life on May 18, 1981. How has his devotion to Mary affected his pontificate?

Weigel: The Pope has constantly proposed Our Lady as the pattern of all Christian discipleship, and I think that's been his most important Marian theme.

John Paul seems to accept Hans Urs von Balthasar's insight that all Christian life is, somehow, formed in the image of Mary, whose "fiat" makes the Incarnation possible and is in some sense the beginning of the Church.

John Paul also insists that all true Marian piety is Christ-centered and Trinitarian. As at the wedding feast at Cana, Mary always points beyond herself to her son -- "Do whatever he tells you"; and because her son is both son of Mary and Son of God, by pointing us to him she points us into the heart of the Trinity itself

This last point, about Mary being a (the) model of Christian discipleship could be an interesting topic for discussion between Catholics and other Christians. I think that it would be a difficult discussion to begin, but if it could start, I think that it could be fruitful, one that could begin to dispel the great phobia that many other Christians seem to have about giving attention to the Mother of God.

Pope John Paul has indeed given a great amount of attention to her during the course of his pontificate. At the same time, as his apostolic letter on the rosary emphasized last year, all devotion to Mary is ultimately to be Christocentric. Perhaps the way in which John Paul has shaped his devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the way that he has encouraged other Christians to do so could be a starting point in these possible discussion.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Open House

The parish where I serve as DRE is hosting an 'open house' for the broader community on Sunday, October 12. It is being organized as a part of the parish's participation in Make-a-Difference Day (which is actually observed on Saturday, October 25), sponsored by the Points of Light Foundation and publicized by USA Weekend.

The open house will be on that Sunday afternoon and will allow the people of the broader community to come and see our church building and learn of its history and the people who have filled it in the past and who do so today.

I just sent out a mailing to 34 Protestant churches in our community announcing the open house and inviting them to announce it at their services and in their bulletins. We're also advertising the open house in the local daily newspaper.

It will be interesting to see if there will be a responses to the letter or the advertisement. I sent out the letter to a broad range of churches--from mainline churches (United Methodists, Presbyterians, etc.) to those that could be considered more on the periphery (Seventh Day Adventists, Baptist Temple, etc.).

I hope that the open house goes well. It could be a real opportunity for the parishioners to meet other Christians in the community and for other Christians to learn about the Catholic Church's presence here. Hopefully some good natured dialogue will spring from it.


My son Michael on the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel

This is the patronal feast of my son, Michael Joseph. Cindy (my wife), Michael, and I will be celebrating it with special joy this year having experienced so much fear and uncertainty this past summer when he was suffering from a severe case of pneumonia. I trust that, among the many other prayers offered for him, it was the intercessions of his holy angelic patron that invoked the healing grace of God upon him.

And yet we're still experiencing some after effects of his illness. The inability of his immune system to fight the infection caused his doctors at Riley Hospital to wonder if he had any kind of deficiency. We're still waiting on some test results that will give us the answer to that question.

Michael has also had a fever over the past day. Ordinarily it would be something that I wouldn't think twice about. But, after what happened last summer, Cindy and I aren't living in ordinary circumstances. I suppose our family doctor doesn't think that we are either because she brought us into the hospital yesterday afternoon to examine him after we made a phone call to her. He had visual signs of strep throat, but the initial tests came back negative. I'm not really worried about this case. Its more of a worrisome nuissance than anything else.

Interestingly enough this could be considered an 'interreligious' feast day, as St. Michael is honored by Jews and Moslems as well as Christians.

There are also a whole boatload of various professions for which St. Michael is a patron, some of which were very appropriate this summer when my own Michael was so sick. (He's the patron of EMTs, ambulance drivers, radiologists, and sick people).

Saint Michael, Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray. And you, Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into Hell Satan and the other evil spirits who prowl the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Nm 11:25-29
Ps 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14
Jas 5:1-6
Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

Catechetical Sunday is not a celebration on the Official Roman Calendar, but it is a great tradition that deserved to be celebrated in all Churches. It is usually celebrated on the 3rd Sunday of September, but we have done things a little differently here. I’ll go ahead and say that it was intentionally moved because catechists are the present-day Eldads and Medads of the Church. Catechists are people who believed that the Holy Spirit has rested upon them and given them the desire to educate people of all ages about God and the Church. The Holy Spirit has not only called them to serve in the manner, but the Spirit also helps the teachers teach well both in their presentation and in their living examples.

As much as I thank God that He has entrusted a great responsibility on me, I am thankful that I am not the only person within this church to whom the Lord has given the power of the Spirit. Whether everyone here has been confirmed or has not been confirmed according to the rites of our Church, the Lord has called down the Holy Spirit to rest upon us so that all of us can educate the world about the love that God has for all his people.

I know that I have been called to act on behalf of the bishop and I know that there are gifts and duties that I have received through the Sacrament of Holy Orders that not every believer has been given, but I am not the only teacher here. I hope that I am never the only teacher here. Jesus is the teacher. Jesus has sent the gift of the Holy Spirit to all people so that everyone can bring forth the Kingdom of Heaven and also to manifest the presence of God in this world by doing beautiful works in His name, especially teaching.

If you are Christian, then you have been called to be a catechist. If you have been called by God to share in eternal life, then you have been called to do works in His name during this life. The phrase “in His name” is important because that phrase keeps a believer from becoming an egoist. If we do things in His name, then we do not do them simply for the sake of our own gain, but for the sake of giving praise to God.

Catechists show the people in their care how to see the glory of God both in daily life and in the way we worship as a Church. Perhaps you have heard before the parents are a child’s first and most frequently-consulted catechists. I hope that it is the case for all parents in the Church. Do not wait for someone else to be a good example; be the good example yourself.

Moses has been quoted at the end of our first reading as saying: “Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit upon them all!” We believe that the Lord did just that after he rose from the dead. Whether it occurred on Pentecost, as in the Gospel of Luke, or on Easter Sunday, as in the Gospel of John, it occurred. The Lord has bestowed His Spirit upon all of us. He has done this with the expectation that all of us, in some way, will use this Spirit to teach the world about the love of God. Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! That is exactly what the Lord expects us to be each day.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Is Notre Dame Catholic in Its Morals?

I'd have to say a qualified yes. The University of Notre Dame owns two NBC affiliates, WNDU in South Bend, IN and KSL-TV in Salt Lake City, UT and has refused to broadcast NBC's new sitcom "Couplings", whose humor seems to be centered on the sexual licentiousness of its characters.

I'm glad that Notre Dame has made such a public stand, especially given the fact that they could have felt pressure from the network because of its lucrative contract with them to broadcast their home football games. Still, if they are objecting to the show because of the immoral way that it approaches sexuality, one could make the argument that the university should refuse to broadcast a whole boatload of shows.

But, at the least, its a start. And its one that is getting some attention. Hopefully the show will be a bust and will be cancelled fairly quickly.

One thing to note in closing. Although Notre Dame took action to try to prevent their viewing audiences from being exposed to this raunchy show, NBC has outflanked them anyway, contracting with a UPN affiliate in South Bend and a WB affiliate in Salt Lake City to broadcast the show despite the university's stand.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Passing on and Receiving the Faith

Catholics make a big deal about the faith, the Gospel, the Gospel message--whatever term you want to use for it--belongs in a very real sense to the Church, the Church that Christ established and which was brought to life on Pentecost.

It proclaims the Gospel, passes on the faith. Those who have not heard it receive it. They can choose to accept it or reject it. If they accept, become a disciple of the Lord, and are baptized, they then become a part of the Church. Then they become apostles, proclaimers of the same faith which they received from someone else who had proclaimed it to them.

Of course the Gospel originates and finds its fulfillment in the person of Jesus. But Catholics believe that, after his ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit, the task of proclaiming that Gospel has been entrusted to the Church, his body on earth--a complex reality that is both visible and spiritual.

This, in short and in general, is the Catholic vision of the relationship between the faith of the individual and the faith of the community. Of course, when getting down to brass tacks, the process by which this relationship takes shape happens in countless formal and informal ways.

Is there much of a difference between the Catholic understanding of this relationship and those held by Protestant Christians? In some respects, yes. But I think that it has much more to do with what is emphasized rather than its fundamental meaning. Protestants tend to emphasize the individual accepting the Gospel, Catholics tend to emphasize the Church proclaiming it.

Although our ecclesiologies are, to varying degrees, fundamentally different, I still believe that both Catholics and Protestants would hold that it is the Church that proclaims the Gospel and the individual who receives it and comes to accept it.

What is a common story of a non-Catholic (perhaps also non-Calvinist) Christian coming to accept the Gospel? I was going along, living a life filled with sin. Then I met this fellow. He told me about Jesus Christ. He told me how he could save me from my sins if only I repented and accepted him in my heart. So I became convicted and accepted Christ as my Savior. My life has been very different from that day to the present.

Some adults who come into full communion with the Catholic Church experience a conversion not unlike the one described above. Of course, it would also involve at some point, the celebration of all of the Easter sacraments (if the person is unbaptized) or confirmation and the Eucharist (if ther person was already baptized).

Others experience their conversion in a much more slow, drawn out way but still experience it and come to accept the Gospel as proclaimed by the Catholic Church. It might happen through a relationship with a spouse or a co-worker. But it is often the case that adults who come to be Catholic cannot identify the specific day on which they knew that they had to come into full communion with the Church.

But in any case, what is so much different, at a fundamental level, about the somewhat typical Protestant story of coming to the faith that I described above from the various ways, either outwardly similar or different, that adults come to choose to accept the Gospel as proclaimed by the Catholic Church?

I would argue that there is nothing fundamentally different here. In either case someone who had accepted the Gospel in the past and so became a member of the Church proclaimed that Gospel to someone else who had not heard it, at least in its entirety. That person then accepted the Gospel as proclaimed, fundamentally, by the Church.

It is the same for Protestants and Catholics alike.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 23, 2003


Mark Shea in the post to which I linked yesterday gave one of the reasons why he became a Catholic. It was relatively easy for him to do that since he came into full communion with the Church as an adult.

However, in the best of situations it should be no less easy even for those of us who were baptized as Catholics as infants.

If you came into the Church as an adult or as an infant, what were your reasons either for coming into full communion with it or remaining with it once you were grown?

If you decided to leave the Catholic Church at some point in your life, what were some of the reasons that led to that choice?

For those Christians who have never been in full communion with the Catholic Church, what were the reasons that you became (or remained) a Christian if you were raised in a Christian home? If you were not raised in this kind of environment, what were the reasons that you became Christian and have remained so?

And if you would have described yourself as a Christian at one time but not necessarily now, what were the reasons that led you to make such a change in your life?

I ask these questions because I think that Christians of various kinds, Catholic or not, will find when they view the reasons why others chose the faith that they now or at one time professed, they will see many important things that unite them, without ignoring the usual differences as well.

Such stories of coming to or being raised in the faith can be the launching pad for deeper conversations about those things that unite and divide us.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Mark Shea on one of the reasons he became a Catholic:

...The non-denom Evangelicalism that I hail from made a frequent practice of identifying our sinfulness with our humanity...The Catholic faith insists, on the contrary, that sin destroys, not constituted our humanness. Yes, sin is endemic in the human race. But the merely means it is normal. It is *never* "natural"...

This sounds like the beginning of an interesting discussion on the various anthropologies that Evangelicals and Catholics work with.

What do you think?

Update: Oh, by the way, go here for a little interesting thing that he had to say today on the deuterocanonicals.


My Day at Notre Dame

Last week I explained to you how I received a couple of tickets to last Saturday's ND football game against Michigan St.

Well, the game wasn't much to blog about--for either side. It was ugly all the way around. But for a Domer like me, even though I'm a huge sports fan, going to an Irish football game is always about much more than the game.

My cousin and I arrived at around 11:00 am, after a three and a half hour drive from south-central Indiana. After paying $20.00 to park in some guy's yard we made our way onto the campus. Just as we were grabbing some lunch at a student run stand (the guys of O'Neill Hall were staffing it) the football team came walking by. They seemed to me to have rather glum looks on their faces. In hindsight, I can understand why.

After scarfing down our lunch while sitting by the statues in front of O'Shaughnessy Hall, we made our way over to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Of course there were the streams of tourists going through it as if on a conveyor belt. But there were also a relatively large number of individuals there on their knees praying.

I stopped by a large image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a side chapel near the Lady Chapel in the back. The image is relatively new. It certainly wasn't there when I was a grad student from '93-'95. At any rate, as I knelt there I asked for the Blessed Virgin's intercession for my wife and son who had gone to a pro-life Mass and were going with a group to pray in front of an abortion clinic in Indianapolis. I also offered it for the others who were praying with them and for those for whom they were praying.

After leaving the Basilica we went and heard the band play very well on the steps of the Architectural Building. At least I tried to listen to them. While standing in the back off to the side, a 68-year-old member of the subway alumni from Scranton, PA started talking to me. He never introduced himself to me, I didn't introduce myself to him. But once I happened to let slip out that I had actually gone to the school, the flow of stories from didn't stop.

With my ears still ringing from all of the tales from my new found friend, my cousin and I made our way to the Grotto where I tried to light a candle and say a prayer. The first part didn't happen. There were no more candles. And even if there were, there were no spots on the candle stands on which to put one. So I knelt on the kneeler there and offered my prayer, with about a dozen other people doing the same, and with several dozen more milling about behind me.

Finally meandered over to the stadium. Our seats were in the northwest corner of the stadium on the next to last row. I suppose the bright side to that location is that, if you're going to be in the corner of the stadium, its better to be high up than at field level. As I noted earlier, there wasn't much in the game to write about, but it was fun for my cousin and I to watch.

The start of the game was a bit touching. Newly sworn-in governor of Indiana, Joe Kernan (an ND alum, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and the former mayor of South Bend) presented the flag to the Irish Guard. I got to see the flag raised to the top of the pole and then lowered to half-staff in honor of the recently deceased Gov. Frank O'Bannon.

The half-time show was great. All biases put aside as best as I can, I honestly think that Notre Dame's band sounded much beter than Michigan State's.

Now I just wish that ND's football team was as good as the band...

Update: One thing I forgot to mention was that I noticed a group of women of various ages standing together at the band concert all sporting 'Howard Dean for America' t-shirts. I'm just hoping that they weren't alums or students. However, I sadly suspect that at least some of them were...

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Catholic Reasons for Hope--1 Pt 3:15

Q: What does it take to get to heaven?

In short, what it takes to get to heaven is the sanctifying grace of God.

Rev 21:27 tells us that nothing unclean will enter heaven. Therefore everyone who enters heaven will be perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48). It is sanctifying grace alone that achieves this in us.

This is something that we cannot earn. It is a totally free gift of God. His sanctifying grace is poured into hearts for the first time when we are baptized. God expects us to cooperate with this grace by choosing to do his will, allowing our faith in him to work through love in doing good for others (Gal 5:6).

However, at any time we are free to reject the sanctifying grace given to us at our baptism. This happens through our choice to commit a mortal sin. We can then be reconciled with God and have his grace restored to us by the sacrament of penance. The other sacraments of the Church, especially the Eucharist, are other instruments of God’s grace. We can also be strengthened his grace through living a life of prayer.

In establishing his Church, Jesus paved the way for us to enter heaven. He established the Church as the primary channel by which his sanctifying grace is poured out upon us and the entire name.

As we receive his grace and the live the life it offers us, God will be preparing for sharing fully in his eternal life forever in heaven.

Q: If I had my leg amputated, would it be waiting for me in heaven?

A person who would have had his or her leg amputated during his or her life on earth would have it restored at the resurrection of the dead, not just after death when he or she might go to heaven.

At a person’s death, he or she receives what the Church describes as his or her ‘particular judgment’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 1021-22). This will result in the person either entering heaven, being purified in purgatory of any remaining temporal punishments for sin or any attachment to sin, or in everlasting damnation. This particular judgment is illustrated in several places in the New Testament (Lk 16:22, 23:43, Mt 16:26, 2 Cor 5:8, Phil 1:23, Heb 9:27, 12:23).

If a person’s particular judgment results in either of the first two possibilities (for all who go to purgatory eventually go to heaven), when he or she enters heaven it will only be with his or her soul, although he or she will fully experience the entire blessedness of heaven.

It will only be at the last judgment (CCC 1038-41) when our bodies and the bodies of all who have died will be raised. Although we will have already as individuals received our particular judgments, at the last judgment all judgments will be revealed for all to see.

At the final judgment our bodies will not simply be raised as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11:1-44). Lazarus died again. At the resurrection of the dead, we who, in our particular judgments, went to heaven or to purgatory will have our bodies raised and transformed just as Jesus was at his resurrection from the dead.

St. Paul speaks of this in his Letter to the Romans: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom 8:19-23, RSV).

At the final judgment we who would have died in God’s grace and so would have either immediately or eventually gone to heaven will experience the redemption of our bodies of which St. Paul wrote. They will be just as God created them to be, no longer subject to the effects of original sin. Therefore, they would presumably include two fully redeemed legs.

Friday, September 19, 2003

An interesting interview on the process of canonization

The interview was with Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Sainthood Causes. Here's an excerpt:

...Q: Some people think that too many saints are being canonized.

Cardinal Saraiva: The Church of today needs models and examples. Moreover, our world has no values and society is in need of ideals for man. Sanctity is the proclamation of human and Christian excellence.

In fact, sanctity is no more than the fullness of man. We say of Jesus Christ that he is the perfect man because he is holy.

Q: But, what does the Church obtain with a canonization?

Cardinal Saraiva: The principal fruit for the Church of any beatification or canonization is the glory that is given to God and, in addition, the great quantity of "moral miracles" that accompany it.

Every canonization or beatification is accompanied by a wave of grace which impels to conversion [and] faithfulness, and which elicits the desire for holiness in other people. They produce extraordinary spiritual fruit...

The Catholic Church's beliefs about the saints can often be an occasion of division between Catholics and other Christians.

I wonder if the way in which Cardinal Saraiva discussed saints here, as an instrument through which glory is given to God, could be an avenue for some serious discussion about this topic between Catholics and those who do not share our beliefs on this topic?

Let me know what you think about this.


Anti-Catholicism Watch: Australian Bill Aims to Break Seal of Confessional

ADELAIDE, Australia, SEPT. 18, 2003 ( A Catholic archbishop wants to meet with a member of the state Parliament who proposed legislation that would force priests to report confessions of child sex abuse.

The bill by Nick Xenophon, the Independent Member of the South Australian Parliament, would require priests, church workers and all volunteers who work with children to notify authorities of child abuse concerns, including priests hearing confessions, the Adelaide Advertiser reported...


Mark Shea on Catholics, Evangelicals, and being prone to fads

His post was actually inspired by Amy Welborn linking to two articles about the 'Purpose-Driven Guy.'

Here's his overall take: "These sorts of fads tend to gust through Evangelicalism in ways that are much more uncommon in Catholic circles. Catholics tend to have long slow steady breezes from the culture..."

True or false?

Thursday, September 18, 2003

My RCIA Presentation for Tonight: "What Do Catholics Believe"

Editor's Note: The title of the presentation comes from a booklet that the participants will have read prior to this evening. It is a short set of reflections on the Nicene Creed. Last's week booklet was on faith in general and how individuals come to faith. This week is on how the Church presents faith to those individuals.

Please also note that this outline is just that, an outline. I expand upon various points and digress at other points. If any of you have any suggestions for other things that could be added to the presentation, please share them.

Finally, please take into account that last week's presentation was by the parish's pastor, not myself. Therefore I did not prepare any material for the session.

Last Week: The Journey of Faith

§ Last week we explored what it means for an individual to have faith in general and to come to faith in God in particular. This is sometimes hard in a world that seems place a priority on scientific proof.

§ The booklet for last week ended with a short commentary on what it means to believe in God in the midst of a community of other believers. It stated that faith comes through hearing the word of God (Rom 10:17), heard as it is proclaimed by another person.

§ Earlier in that same passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we learn a little more about the way in which the word of God is proclaimed and its relationship to how those who hear it come to faith: “But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:14-15a).

§ Each of you who are participants in RCIA have responded to God’s call to you in particular to consider strengthening your relationship with him through becoming a member of the Catholic Church. But how was that call made to you? Through a spouse? Through Catholics whom you have known? Through simply learning about the Catholic Church and its message? In any case, that call was made to you through other people, other people who were, through either word or deed or both, proclaiming the faith of the Catholic Church.

So, what do Catholics believe?

§ Hearing the call and responding to it are just the beginning. God doesn’t reveal the entirety of his Good News through the call in and of itself. This didn’t even happen with St. Paul who was given a rather clear-cut call from Jesus.

§ Instead, as the title of this series of booklets suggests, this happens on a ‘journey of faith.’ This journey is truly a journey of a lifetime. But over the course of the next several months, all of us together will be taking the first steps in this journey down the particular path of the Catholic faith.

§ The Catholic Christian faith, as today’s booklet seems to imply, can be summarized in the Creed, that which we proclaim and pray at every Sunday Mass after the homily which the congregation starts by saying, “We believe…”

§ What is the Creed?—First, lets look at the very word itself. Why do we use it and not something like “Articles of Belief” or something like that? The Catholic Church (and, indeed, many other Christian faith traditions) use this term because it has been used by Christians for well over 1,000 years to refer to the beliefs that we profess in it.

The word “creed” comes from the Latin word “credo” (pronounced “craydo”) which means “I believe.” We have translated it as “We believe” because it is something that is professed and proclaimed by the entire Church, especially at the Mass.

§ Why have the Creed? Isn’t it just divisive?—Some Christian denominations, such as the Disciples of Christ, made in the beginning of their history a deliberate move away from proclaiming a particular creed, claiming that they only served to divide people. Such a choice was informed by the history of the Reformation and the controversies and wars between different groups of Christians that followed for many decades and, indeed centuries.

The Disciples of Christ, instead, choose as a kind of motto, “No creed but Christ”, thus implying that the only thing that would ultimately unite believers was Jesus Christ himself. In so far as this goes, the Catholic Church has no problem. All of the Catholic Church’s beliefs about God, expressed in its Creed, was ultimately revealed to us through Jesus Christ. It is him who is the source of our unity in God.

§ Our Creed is an Expression of Love—But the Catholic Church believes that, in Jesus Christ, God has revealed himself to us to heal our relationship with him that had been broken by sin. And the kind of relationship that God wants to have with us is one of love.

When two people love each other they want to know more and more about each other. Although God knows everything about us at all times, he showed how he wanted to know us in a special way by becoming man in Jesus Christ. We show our love for God by coming to know more about him through paying attention to the way that he has revealed himself to us in Sacred Scripture and in Sacred Tradition. This love for God through coming to know Him that we have is expressed in our Creed.

Love, in the end, is never divisive but unifying. The Creed of the Catholic Church (which it shares with the majority of other Christians) is intended to be an expression of our knowledge of the God in whom we place our faith, a knowledge that flows from our love for him, a love that always originated with him.

§ The Creed we profess—In particular at Mass we profess what we call the “Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed” or Nicene Creed, for short. It is called this after the places where two Church councils were held in the 4th century, Nicaea & Constantinople (both in present day Turkey).

However if we look at Sacred Scripture, we see evidence of primitive creeds in the very beginnings of the Church (see Rom 10:9, 1 Cor 15:3-5) (see CCC 186).

Creeds also are intimately connected with Baptism. One enters the Church through Baptism and expresses their sharing in what the Church believes in the profession of faith in that sacrament. Baptismal creeds can be boiled down to a profession of faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (see Mt 28:19-20). All other truths professed in a Creed are always related back to the Trinity (see CCC 189).

The primitive creeds of the earliest days of the Church were expanded later on as the Church grew, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in its understanding of the truth that had been handed on to it by Jesus (see Jn 16:13).

Another creed that is important to the Catholic Church and many other Christians is the Apostles’ Creed. It was given this name because the believers in the early Church trusted that it reflected the beliefs of the apostles themselves. St. Ambrose, living in the 4th century, described it as “the Creed of the Roman Church, the See of Peter, the first of the apostles, to which he brought the common faith” (see CCC 193).

To view the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed side by side, you can find it immediately following CCC 184.

More on the Creed and the Church (see CCC 166-184)

§ The Individual Believer and the Church—As noted before, the choice for faith is a personal act, but one that is intimately related to a community of believers. The individual believer is brought to belief in God through the proclamation of his word by his Church.

§ In essence, it is the Church that believes first. We can see this in Jesus’ address to the beginnings of his Church, just before he ascended to heaven: “Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:18b-20).

§ The apostles then go forth to proclaim the Gospel, to baptize, and to teach. Those who heard their words and come to faith, received their faith from the Church, as it were. When they are baptized, they then received the same charge to go forth and make disciples. We are baptized now have the same commission.

§ The Church and the New Life of Salvation—Still, it is important to remember that the Church is means that Jesus uses to continue the proclamation of his Gospel, to bring more and more people to salvation. “Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: "We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation." Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith” (CCC 169).

Although the Church, like a mother, in a sense gives birth to new believers through its continual proclamation of the Gospel, it is not the source of the life of those who are new born, just as a mother is likewise not the source of the life of her new child. God is the source of all life, spiritual and physical.

§ Creeds and the One in Whom We Believe—As important as creeds are in the life of the Church, its members do not place their faith in the words of the creeds themselves, but “in the realities they express” (CCC 170). St. Thomas Aquinas explained it this way: “The believer’s act of faith does not terminate in the propositions, but in the realities which they express” (quoted in CCC 170).

Nevertheless, the creeds represent the way in which the Church is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tm 3:15), the way that it protects “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The Creeds, again, are a primary expression of the Church’s loving relationship with God the Father, in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

§ Creeds and Different Cultures & Languages—Since the creeds are symbols of the Church’s relationship with the Blessed Trinity, it does not change in its essence when it is proclaimed to peoples of different languages and cultures.

In this light, consider what St. Paul teaches us in his Letter to the Ephesians: “I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:1-6).

The Church’s understanding of this unity in God amid the diversity of humanity grew quickly. St. Irenaeus of Lyons did much of his writing in the second half of the second century. He had been a student of St. Polycarp, who had been a student of the apostle, St. John.

St. Irenaeus had this to say about how the Church guards and proclaims the faith given to it by Jesus:

"Indeed, the Church, though scattered throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, having received the faith from the apostles and their disciples. . . guards [this preaching and faith] with care, as dwelling in but a single house, and similarly believes as if having but one soul and a single heart, and preaches, teaches and hands on this faith with a unanimous voice, as if possessing only one mouth...

For though languages differ throughout the world, the content of the Tradition is one and the same. The Churches established in Germany have no other faith or Tradition, nor do those of the Iberians…nor those established at the center of the world. . ." The Church's message "is true and solid, in which one and the same way of salvation appears throughout the whole world.

We guard with care the faith that we have received from the Church, for without ceasing, under the action of God's Spirit, this deposit of great price, as if in an excellent vessel, is constantly being renewed and causes the very vessel that contains it to be renewed
” (CCC173-75).


§ From the first days of the Church there has always been an intimate relationship between the faith of individuals and the faith presented to them by the Church. They both give life to each other and help each other to grow. The Church’s faith becomes the faith of more and more individuals who then become part of the Church. Those individuals then go out and proclaim their faith (the faith of the Church) to others who have never heard it. These newcomers accept the faith, presented by individual members of the Church, and join the Church. And the cycle goes on and on.

§ It is going on right now in our midst. And it will not come to an end if, God willing, you make the choice to embrace the faith presented to you and become part of the Church that Jesus established to proclaim his Gospel. You will then become one of its newest apostles. professing its Creed, proclaiming the Good News contained in it, the Good News of the relationship that we can have with our Heavenly Father.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Jim Bakker is back on the air

And this time its with his new wife, Lori. But apparently he's sing the same old song, at least according to this reporter of the Charlotte Observer (or Disturber, as Fr. Shawn O'Neal refers to it):

On "The New Jim Bakker Show," the TV evangelist sits beside his perky wife, pleads for money, occasionally cries and closes the show with "God loves you. He really does."

I wonder if he'll talk about Revolve? Better yet, I wonder if TBN will pick him up?

(link via ut unum sint)


Go Irish!

There is an interesting post over at Mark Shea's blog about the state of the life of faith on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. Its a topic of interest to me as I earned an MA there in medieval Church history. But I think that it could a topic of broader interest for Catholics in America because of the relative prominence that Notre Dame has in the Church here and, indeed, in the broader American culture as well.

I've added a few comments to the discussion going on there. But something happened last night that seems typical for Notre Dame grads like me. Yesterday was the first time in quite a while that I stood up to defend my alma mater, while still not ignoring its faults.

Well, you see, I haven't been to an ND football game in three years. So last night I got a call from a parishioner who had tickets to this weekend's game. And I just happened to be able to go to it. Was God blessing me for speaking in defense of Notre Dame? That may be what a typical ND grad would say (after all, one of the chants that we used to do up there was "God's on our side!"). It may not be a true interpretation of the events. But its a fun one for an ND grad like me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Lutheran blogger Josh S has some interesting things to say about Catholics being Christian

I have disagreed with Josh S on more than one occasion, and I have some problems with some of the things that he says in this post. But I think that he has some sensible things to say here, especially in regard to how Christians who are not Catholic can approach the issue of whether or not Catholics can be Christian by virtue of the fact of their Catholic beliefs.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Catholic Reasons for Hope--1 Pt 3:15

Q: Please explain the three liturgies (liturgy of the word, etc.).

It would appear from the request that the questioner is interested in learning more about the basic structure of the Mass, the celebration of the Eucharist. In it there is indeed a ‘Liturgy of the Word.’

However, in the Mass there are two liturgies, not three. These constitute the two main sections of the Mass. There is the Liturgy of the Word in which there are readings from scripture, a homily, a profession of faith, and the prayers of the faithful.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist immediately follows. It consists of the preparation of the gifts, also known as the offertory, when the gifts of bread and wine are brought forward to the altar. Next is the prayer over the gifts in which the priest asks God to bless them. The eucharistic prayer then follows.

This is the long, extended prayer in which the priest gives thanks and praise to God for all of creation and for especially sending his Son to us to die and rise for us. It is in this prayer that we pray that the Holy Spirit might sanctify the bread and wine on the altar, consecrating it, making them become the true Body and Blood of the Lord. Finally, it is in this prayer that the priest repeats the ‘words of institution’, the words that Jesus said at the Last Supper (“This is my body…”, “This is my blood…”).

Following the Eucharistic prayer, the congregation prays the Lord’s prayer, exchanges a sign of peace, and prays the ‘Lamb of God.’ The congregation then comes forward to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. Finally, the Liturgy of Communion concludes with the prayer after communion.

Those of you who know the Mass well or observe it closely may have made note that in explaining the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist I have not mentioned everything that goes on at Mass.

That is because, in addition to these two liturgies (the main parts of the Mass), there are also two short sets of ‘rites’, one that begins the Mass, and one that ends it.

The ‘Introductory Rites’ start with the priest’s entrance into the church and his veneration of the altar. Then, within the Introductory Rite, we observe the ‘penitential rite’, in which all present prepare themselves for the sacred rituals to come by calling to mind their sins and asking God for his mercy, confident that he will answer their prayer. On Sundays and holy days the Gloria is sung. The Introductory Rites then conclude with the Opening Prayer which leads the way into the Liturgy of the Word.

Following the end of the Liturgy of the Eucharist are the Concluding Rites. These can start with any announcements to be made. There is blessing of the congregation by the priest and then they are dismissed (‘The Mass is ended. Go in peace.’) Finally, the priest again venerates the altar and leaves the church.

And so in every celebration of the Mass there are the Introductory Rites, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the Concluding Rites.


Catholic Reasons for Hope is a weekly Q & A column that appears in the bulletin of the parish in which I serve as DRE. Any reader of Nota Bene is welcome to submit questions for the column by e-mail.


The Holy Father in Slovakia on Evangelization and on the Sanctity of Life

(yes there was other news about his trip other than his health)

ROZNAVA, Slovakia, SEPT. 14, 2003 ( John Paul II urged Slovakians and others to carry out an evangelization not just with words but with the witness of their life.

On the third day of his stay in Slovakia, the Pope celebrated Mass on Saturday in the Podrakos Field, on the outskirts of Roznava, an old city of some 20,000 inhabitants.

"Words admonish, examples move," the Pontiff told 150,000 pilgrims, who included 15,000 Hungarians and 10,000 Poles.

"You, with the style of your Christian life, can make a great contribution to the evangelization of today's world and to the construction of a more just and more fraternal society," the Holy Father said during a homily in which he addressed the main concerns of the local people.

Roznava, near Poland and Hungary, is a mining city with an unemployment rate over 50%. Many inhabitants feel abandoned by the nation's politicians...

The commitment to Christian life requested by the Pope was exemplified when a pair of twins made him a gift of their dolls. The girls, born Siamese twins joined at the hip, were successfully separated in an operation in 2000.

The twins, Lucia and Andrejka, were introduced by Bishop Eduard Kojnok of Roznava, as examples of the commitment against abortion. "The mother could have killed two beautiful healthy girls if she had decided to abort," he said.

The gesture served to support the decision of Slovak President Rudolf Schuster, present at the Mass, who refused to sign an amendment of the Slovak Parliament to extend the legality of abortion...

Go here for the entire text of his homily.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Govenor of Indiana, Frank O'Bannon, passes away at 73

Earlier in the week the govenor had suffered a cerebreal hemorrhage while attending a conference in Chicago. His condition worsened today and he quickly passed away.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon him.

May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


Friday, September 12, 2003

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Editor's Note: Fr. Shawn O'Neal, former blogger, is a priest of the Diocese of Charlotte and the administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Bryson City, NC and of the mission church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Cherokee, NC.

Solemnity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Nm 21:4b-9
Ps 78:1bc-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38
Phil 2:6-11
Jn 3:13-17

To those of you who do not recall celebrating this feast last year on a Sunday, I say do not be confused; our Church has not celebrated this feast on a Sunday since 1997. In an attempt to explain the laws and intricacies of the Roman Catholic Church calendar, I turn to the rules of poker. As a flush beats a full house, so does a feast of the Lord take precedence if the feast occurs on a Sunday during Ordinary Time. That is one of the easiest of calendar rules to explain. Believe me, the determination of feasts can be as complicated as anyone can imagine within the Roman Catholic Church.

This feast day has a complicated history to it, too, and I will give you a very compact history. The legends are as good as the facts. This feast was first celebrated in the Holy Land around 335 for the sake of celebrating the anniversary of the dedication of the Basilica Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. The construction was ordered by the Roman Emperor Constantine after his mother, Saint Helen, our Church’s patron saint of archaeologists, discovered the True Cross on Calvary. Another reason why this feast is celebrated on this date involves the return of the Holy Cross back to Jerusalem in September 628 by the Roman Emperor Heraclitus. The cross was stolen by the Persian army on May 4, 614 during a successful invasion of Jerusalem which included the burning of the interior of the Church of the Resurrection. I could add much more detail about these events, but I prefer to add more to the complications concerning the Holy Cross.

When the emperor returned the Cross to Jerusalem after a successful retrieval, pieces of the Cross were sought after both by pilgrims with good intentions and thieves who sought to gain some dishonest income. Protection of the Cross was of the highest priority; deacons were instructed not only to guard the Cross, but to make sure that pilgrims did not bite the Cross as they came to venerate it with a kiss

You probably know that you cannot go to a specific church in Jerusalem and see the True Cross these days. As far as we know, it was carved down into numerous pieces not for the sake of public sale, but so that churches throughout the world could share in a sense of unity by having a relic of the True Cross. Many critics of the Church accused it of never having the Cross in the first place as if it were all a stunt. Many other critics assaulted the whole of the Catholic faithful for being a pack of idolatrous souvenir-chasers who sought to possess an item rather than worship the one who died on that item. Along with that, Protestant critics accused Catholics of having so many supposed pieces of the True Cross either in possession or in distribution that if all the pieces of the cross were put together, it would build a monstrously tall ship. If you want to read something incredibly astounding, then read the book published in 1870 by Frenchman Rohault de Fleury within which he mathematically concluded that the Protestant critics were incorrect, as according to his calculations, only 4 million cubic millimeters of the True Cross were known to have been in possession, thereby leaving an estimated 174 million cubic millimeters still at large.

All this is rather complicated, do you not agree? Here are some things that are not complicated. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that he who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. As complicated as the human history of the feast day is, what God always does for us is simple. God loves us. He wants us to be with him. God came to our world as a man so that man could be reunited with God. As complicated as religion can be at times – especially the theological aspects of it – what we believe is rather simple. One of the simple things that we believe is that when Jesus died on the cross, death died, too. When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, death could not match him. Game over; it’s that simple. God is love. Love is stronger than death. Jesus proved that when he walked away from the tomb on the third day after he died.


Mark Shea & one of his readers on different styles of evangelization and understandings of conversion among Evangelicals and Catholics

Interesting stuff. Check it out.

One thing that I would add to the analogy that Mark sets up. He argues that Evangelicals tend toward a 'Pauline' understanding of conversion (one that happens in a flash) while Catholics tend toward a 'Petrine' understanding (one that happens slowly and gradually over time). I might add that one could use the image of Mary as a way of understanding the way in which many (but not all) Catholics experience the grace of conversion.

Catholics, of course, believe that God, in a singular act of mercy, kept Mary free from all sin from the first moment of her conception. That does not mean that she came out of the womb with a full understanding of all things. She in a very real sense still had to grow, like Jesus later, in wisdom and in grace.

(There is a beautiful statue at my parish depicting this. It is a statue of St. Anne instructing a youthful Mary who is standing at her side, holding a small book.)

The amazing grace that God gave to Mary from the first moment of her life in her mother's womb prepared her to be able to make that free choice to bear in her own womb the Word made flesh when the angel Gabriel came to her many years later.

Similarly, while Catholics believe that the grace of conversion can lead a person to the grace of Baptism, we can also believe, without contradicting ourselves, that the opposite can happen as well. The grace of baptism can lead to the grace of conversion. It can be a continuing conversion for an adult who came to the faith later in life. Or it can be the first experience of a conversion for one who was baptized as an infant. (I say 'experience' because, in a real sense, a conversion happens at every baptism when original sin is washed away once and for all. It happens even if we do not necessarily experience it immediately.)

Thursday, September 11, 2003

A Reflection on the Second Anniversary of the Attacks of September 11, 2001: The Twin Towers and Our Common Human Calling

Earlier this week I watched a documentary broadcasted on PBS on the building of the World Trade Center. The French high wire artist Philippe Petit was interviewed as a part of it. He described how he was mesmerized in the late 1960s by a drawing published in a newspaper of what the Twin Towers would look like when they were completed.

Petit noted that, at the time, he had not even begun to walk on high wires and that his seeing this drawing of the Twin Towers was part of what led him to start. They were very much bound up in his own particular artistic vocation, one that came to something of a climax on August 7, 1974 when he secretly spanned a wire from the top of one tower to the other and then walked across it.

In his book The Genesee Diary the late Fr. Henri Nouwen reflected on Petit's act of daring. He had read a newspaper interview after the event in which Petit had explained why he had chosen to walk on a wire that was over 1,000 above the ground. "When I see three pears, I have to juggle. And when I see two towers I have to walk."

Nouwen saw in this simple statement something of what it means to live out a vocation. It is something that is very simple to the one who is called. Yet it is a profound mystery, perhaps even an absurdity, to those who are not. This is true for men called to be priests or ministers, for men and women called to be monks or nuns, missionaries, and even those called to be married.

Nouwen noted that the New York City Courts also seemed to recognize this truth about the nature of vocations. For although Petit was charged with breaking various laws in the carrying out of his stunt, the only 'punishment' that was laid upon him in return was to perform various high wire acts in Central Park for the children of the city.

The buildings of the World Trade Center were for Petit those two towers that compelled him to walk. They could not be separated from his particular calling. Yet the Twin Towers can also be understood as being closely tied to the more general vocation of all of humanity.

Each one of us as individuals and all of us together were created in the image and likeness of God. Formed out of the dust of the earth, we were created to transcend it. In their decision to sin, our first parents rejected the destiny of rising above the earth, thus falling from the summit to which God had destined them and all of us. The Son of God was thus sent in human flesh to us who had fallen, reversing the course of sin by freely choosing to die on the cross for all of us.

The rising of the Twin Towers thirty years ago can symbolize for us that general human calling to transcend the earth from which we were all created. Their falling continues to stand for us as a sign of the tremendous heights from which we have fallen through sin. Now we who witnessed the destruction of those buildings are called, like all of our ancestors before us, to rise above the pit of the sinfulness of our race through the grace that God provides.

Still, in the wake of the destruction of September 11, this common call to transcendence can seem to us as absurd the particular vocation of Philippe Petit. It is only given meaning through the dying and rising of Jesus Christ. Through the grace that comes to us through this greatest of mysteries we are all given the ability to climb out of the crater of sinfulness our own Ground Zeros and rise to the heights of heaven itself. This is the calling of all humanity. Even in the remembrance of 9/11, let us all, in the courage of faith, choose to embrace it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Some possible interesting fruits of the ecumenical dialogue going on in Aachen

A rapprochment between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church? Perhaps:

AACHEN, Germany, SEPT. 9, 2003 ( A representative of the Moscow Patriarchate said that the time has come for a change in the relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

On Monday, Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad addressed the meeting "Men and Religions," organized in Aachen by the Community of Sant'Egidio in collaboration with the local archdiocese. The three-day event, which ended today, attracted 500 religious leaders.

The head of the Foreign Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate spoke during a discussion entitled "Catholics and Orthodox: The Challenge of Ecumenism." Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, also participated in the discussion.

"The time has arrived to change the present difficult situation between the Orthodox Church of Moscow and the Catholic Church," Metropolitan Kyrill said.

"Moscow is ready to discuss; the issues are on the table," he said. "Once these difficulties are surmounted, the meeting between the Pope and the patriarch of Moscow will serve to turn definitively the difficult page of the past."...


Evangelization--something dear to my hear

Go here to see what the relatively new Archbishop of Milan wants to do about it in his Archdiocese.


Chris Burgwald at Veritas posts an interesting note that he sent to Andrew Sullivan

He also notes that he and Sullivan earlier exchanged e-mails on the topic of infallibility. Those notes would probably make for some interesting reading.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

The bishop of Aachen, Germany on interreligious dialogue

AACHEN, Germany, SEPT. 8, 2003 ( Aachen Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff inaugurated an international interreligious meeting, stressing that the aim of dialogue is not a mixing of religions, but rather the promotion of mutual respect...

(Aachen, by the way, is a neat place to visit)


More Thoughts on RCIA

Many of the people who participate in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) are those who are Christian but not Catholic and who are married to a Catholic spouse.

I've experienced some serious and well-meaning Catholics who observe this and say, "That man should be making that choice for himself alone. He shouldn't be doing it just because his wife is Catholic."

Ok, there's some truth in that statement. Each person should seek to follow God's will for his or her own life when making choices about the faith that that person will embrace. At the same time, I believe that it is consistent with the Catholic understanding of the sacrament of marriage to say that a spouse's choice of faith may be very well intertwined with his or her relationship with his or her spouse.

The Catholic Church's belief about the sacrament of marriage is drawn very much from the Bible. It looks at Gen 2:24 ("Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.") and believes that, through the grace of God, that a man and a woman in a spiritual yet very real way become one through the sacrament of marriage. Their identities become inextricably bound up in one another.

Yet at the same time they mysteriously retain their own identity, their own uniqueness. Its kind of like the Blessed Trinity in that way. This, of course, is very appropriate since Catholics believe that they are given a share in the very life of God (grace) through the sacraments.

So while the person is correct who thinks that each person who enters the Catholic Church should do so for his or her own reasons, it is not incorrect for a person to chose to do this because of his relationship with his spouse or children.

What do you think of this issue?

Monday, September 08, 2003

Catholic Reasons for Hope--1 Pt 3:15

Q: Christ died for our sins, rose from the dead, and came back to earth in a glorified body. His disciples recognized him. It is obvious that our human bodies are not made to last forever. Scripture tells us that we will receive a glorified body when we get to heaven. But will we be able to recognize each other?

The issues that surround this question have been pondered ever since Christ ascended to heaven 2,000 years ago. I suspect that we will only come to know the full answer to this question and other ones like it either at our own deaths or at Christ’s glorious second coming.

The experience of Jesus following his resurrection seemed to have led his first followers to speculate how they would be changed either at their own deaths or at Christ’s second coming. St. Paul wrote about this in his First Letter to the Corinthians:

Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. (1 Cor 15:51-53—RSV).

In his first letter, St. John seems to point to this transformation that we will undergo of which St. Paul wrote: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 Jn 3:1-2—RSV)

The precise nature of the change which we will experience still seems to be something a mystery. Yet I believe that we can answer this particular question in the affirmative. We will be able to recognize each other in heaven, when will have be clothed with those ‘celestial bodies’ of which St. Paul wrote.

Why, because, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches: “The life of the blessed [in heaven] consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of redemption accomplished by Christ” (CCC 1026). In heaven we will be fully alive in God, the Blessed Trinity, having the ability to know and be known perfectly. In the present our ability to know and recognize one another is impeded by the ongoing effects of original sin. In heaven, since we will possess an ability to know that has been perfectly redeemed by Christ, we will be able to know each other in a way that far surpasses even what we can experience now, in this life.

St. Paul eloquently writes of this change in his beautiful thirteenth chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood” (1 Cor 13:12--RSV).

We share in this now ‘dimly’ through the life of God given to us first in the grace sacrament of Baptism and later through the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist. In heaven, where there will be no sacraments, we will share in the life of God to a degree that is far beyond our current understanding.


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

Friday, September 05, 2003

Some Strong Words on Contraception

(link via Ut Unum Sint)

From Lutheran Aaron D. Wolf no less:

...Despite the keen attention given by pro-life crusaders to matters concerning abortion, with far too much detail regularly offered regarding such monstrous practices as partial-birth abortion, very few are willing to consider the possibility that The Pill is an abortifacient. A new life torn asunder from a wicked mother’s womb is deemed horrible, but let’s roll the dice, when it comes to the chances of discreetly flushing one down the toilet, and hope that those fanatical Catholic anticontraception zealots are wrong....

Regarding the Protestant view on natural and contraception, Wolf has this to say:

...the notion that the observable order of nature demonstrates God’s gracious design and intention for His Creation is ignored when it comes to so-called birth control.

This stance is not a reflection of the heritage of Protestantism but of the extent to which Protestant theologians have become victims of their times—especially in the realm of biblical exegesis and natural law. We see this in Professor Van Leeuwen’s statement that, “where there is no law, our choices are free.” It is the Enlightenment, not Sola scriptura, that tells us that we cannot see the intention of the Creator in the basic operations of nature...

Dialogue on this topic in any forum and with any group of individuals is going to be a challenge for the time being because the prevailing culture in which we live takes contraception so much for granted that when anyone questions its use they seem to be like men from the moon.

Nevertheless, the emergence of folks who speak out on the dangers of contraception like Wolf, Evangelicals Sam and Bethany Torode (whom Wolf discusses in his article), a growing number of Catholics, and even those who do not traditionally identify themselves with Christian groups but who are striving to live a more 'organic' life as free as possible from artificially produced medicines (including various forms of the Pill) make this topic less and less avoidable.

Hopefully there can be more and more meaningful conversations about this between folks of different opinions.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Busy again today

The RCIA of the parish where I serve as DRE begins tonight. So far we have eight signed up. Thats three more than last year but a lot less than I would like to see participate. However, I am thankful for each one of them.

Interesting enough, over half are unbaptized. These include two folks who had been baptized in the Church of Latter Day Saints (a baptism that the Catholic Church does not consider as valid). Usually the majority of participants have already been baptized in another Christian tradition.

Have any of you participated in RCIA in any way (as a catechumen, candidate, sponsor, team-member, etc.)? What was your impression of it? How was it good? How could it have been improved?

Those of who are unfamiliar with RCIA at all, let me tell you that the letters stand for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It is the ordinary way that unbaptized adults learn about the Catholic faith and enter the Church. It can also be used for those who have already been baptized in another Christian tradition, although it is better suited for the first group.

If any of you who are wholly unfamiliar with RCIA have questions about it, let me know.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

I've been busy today...

...preparing an outline for a presentation that I will giving this Saturday to a Catholic young adult group in Indianapolis. The topic will be on the new evangelization and will be based on an article that I have written and which should be appear in the next issue of Envoy.

If any of you have any thoughts or questions on that topic, please share them with me.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Catholic Reasons for Hope--1 Pt 3:15

Q: We read in the Acts of the Apostles that Matthias replaced Judas as one of the Twelve. However, St. Paul is also considered an apostle. In the book of Revelation we read about twenty-four elders that are the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes of Israel. Is it Matthias or Paul who is considered as one of the elders?

It seems to me that your question may be based on a misunderstanding of a couple of different matters: one regarding the Bible and the other regarding the early history of the Church.

We read about the 24 elders of which you ask in the fourth chapter of the book of Revelation: “…a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne…Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads” (Rev 4:2, 4).

Now it could very well be that the twenty-four elders do indeed represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. However, nothing in this passage beyond the number twenty-four would make necessary such an interpretation. I would suggest that the number of elders surrounding the throne could instead symbolize the completeness and perfection of the eternal praise given to God in heaven, twenty-four being a doubling of twelve, a number that in the Bible symbolizes completeness.

If we use the different way of interpreting this passage from Revelation that I suggested, we will not have to confront the question of who, in particular, are among the twenty-four elders.

I think that it is also important to take into account how the early Church understood the office of apostle. It was not restricted solely to the Twelve, the special group of men that Jesus chose out his larger group of disciples which he charged with the proclamation of his Gospel to all the nations. All of the Twelve are indeed apostles, but not all apostles are the Twelve.

St. Paul, who considered himself and was considered by the early Church an apostle, seems to refer to this distinction in his First Letter to the Corinthians where he explains to the faithful there the different offices in the early Church: “…God has appointed in the Church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues” (1 Cor 12:28).

It would appear that in this and other similar passages St. Paul is referring to the office of apostle in more general terms and not specifically and only to the Twelve.

In the end, all of the baptized are considered apostles in so far as all of us are charged to proclaim the Gospel in the world in which we live. The word ‘apostle’ comes from a Greek word that means ‘one who is sent out with the authority of the one who sends.’ An apostle is an ambassador, an envoy.

In the Latin text of the Mass, the last words said by the priest are “Ite missa est” (indeed, it is from the word “missa” that our word “Mass” is derived). Translated literally, this means, “Go, it is sent out.” We are being given our marching orders: “Go.” And what is being sent out with us? The Gospel of our Lord and his very presence in our bodies that we received in the Blessed Sacrament.

And so all of us are apostles in this very important sense. We look to the Twelve and the other first apostles as our models and as our heavenly intercessors. And every time that all of us who are baptized gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we are in a very real way joining ourselves to that eternal worship of God in heaven which St. John had seen in his vision and which he recorded for us in his book of Revelation.

All of the faithful, you and I, along with all of the laity, religious, deacons, priests, and bishops are spiritually seated on thrones around the throne of God when we gather together to celebrate that foretaste of the eternal worship of heaven, the Mass.


Catholic Reasons for Hope is a question and answer column that appears weekly in the bulletin of the parish where I serve as DRE. Any reader of Nota Bene may submit questions for this column by e-mail.