Nota Bene

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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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Saturday, November 30, 2002

The latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections"

Please Note: Since The Shelbyville News is having folks register now, I'm going to go ahead and post on my blog the weekly column ("Spiritual Reflections") which I write for them. By the way, it is virtually the same one that was also published in this week's edition of The Criterion, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. That is a monthly column entitled "Faith and Family." I'd appreciate any comments that you might give me on it. Thanks.

Advent is the season that begins the Catholic Church’s liturgical year. It takes in the four weeks just prior to Christmas. Advent is about waiting. But we are not waiting for some ordinary event, as we might at a bus stop; we are waiting for the glorious arrival of our Lord. His coming is the hinge of history, not the arrival of our ride downtown.

At the same time, while we are sure that he will arrive, we do not know exactly when. Therefore, we always have to be on the lookout, vigilant, and sharp. It can be difficult to take on this attitude considering that we know that we celebrate his birth every year on Dec. 25. And we also know that his birth, life, passion, death and resurrection have already happened a long 2000 years ago.

In light of these facts, why is it important for us to be vigilant in our waiting for the appearance of our Lord? Because Jesus Christ is coming into our world in secret and mysterious ways even now.

When we take on the attitude of hope-filled watchfulness, it is easier for us to see in new and glorious ways how the real presence of Jesus breaks into our lives from day to day. When we open our eyes to such everyday wonders, Jesus will become the hinge of our own personal histories. For when we become aware of the way that he sneaks into our lives, he will change us forever. We will never be the same.

April 30, 2002 began for me as an ordinary day. I got up at 4:45 a.m., showered, had breakfast and read the newspaper, prayed, went to Mass and then to work, and came home. In the evening I did some television watching, reading and some writing. I went to bed at around 11:15.

About fifteen minutes later, just as I was nodding off to sleep, Jesus broke into my life and changed it forever. He did it when my wife Cindy woke me up with the words, "I think that my water just broke."

I didn’t know at the start of that day that Jesus would enter into my life in such a dramatic fashion. And yet I had known for months (nine to be exact) that he would come and would do so in a way that I would never forget. I just didn’t know when he would come.

In the nearly seven months since April 30, Jesus has not stopped breaking into my life. His entrances may not have been as dramatic as on that night, but they are no less significant. Each day there are opportunities for me to be surprised by the ways that God’s grace works in my son Michael.

So when my eyes are sharp, I can see the beautiful ways that Jesus enters into his life. One day he couldn’t sit up. The next day he could. In the coming months, there will be a day where he couldn’t crawl, then a day when he could, a day when he couldn’t walk, then a day when he could. All of these things will happen by the grace God. I just don’t know when they will happen. And so I have to wait with sharp eyes.

This is what Advent is all about. It is really a never-ending season for all of us, for Christ is breaking into the ordinary lives of our families in common ways each and every day. If we look at our world with advent eyes, then we will see him arriving in our world from moment to moment. And when that happens, each of us will be changed forever. We will never be the same.


The Theology of For Better or For Worse

Over the past few months I have started to like reading Lyn Johnston's comic strip, For Better or For Worse. But I started to be a bit (if only a bit, after all, its only a comic strip) concerned over the past few days when I started to see some of the strip's 'theology' come out.

Over the past couple of days the the mother of the family, Elly, has been comforting her youngest daughter, April, over the dying of the family's pet rabbit, Mr. B. You can go here for yesterday's strip and here for today's.

In yesterday's strip, April asked her mother if animals had 'spirits.' Elly answered by saying that "all living things are filled with energy and when they die that energy goes somewhere." April asked if that place is heaven and Elly answered "Maybe." Apil expressed her wish that they do go to heaven because "if there's no pets allowed--I don't want to go there."

Two points. First, that interpretation of equating the 'spirits' (the same as souls?) of all 'living things' (presumably including humans) with 'energy' sounds awfully materialistic. Second, I realize that the character of Apil is probably only a 'tweener' and I realize that she is mourning over the death of her pet. But not wanting to go to heaven if there aren't any pets there is a bit troubling. First, I suspect that pets, as we know them, aren't in heaven since they don't have souls like humans do. But there's something far greater in heaven than Mr. B. Thats something really to look forward to, even for a tweener.

In today's strip Mr. B dies. As he dies, April asks her mother if his spirit is leaving him. Elly answers her by stating that she has "just seen a miracle. Right now something is being born." So far so good. Its good to see death as a kind of birth, a birth unto eternal life (but for a rabbit?). The problem comes when she keeps on talking, describing the miracle: "One life leaves earth and another one comes to take its place. Birth and death are miracles." Indeed, birth and death are miracles. But they aren't the miracle of the transmigration of souls, which Elly seems to be implying here.

In the end you may think that I am a curmudgeon for criticizing a comic strip. You may think that I am a few rungs down from Dan Quayle. After all, he went after a TV sitcom and I've lowered myself to go after a comic strip. But I tell you, I just don't like waking up in the morning, going and getting my morning newspaper, and having some vague, materialistic theology thrown at me. I'm not, like some critics claimed Quayle was doing, criticizing fictional characters. I'm criticizing the comic strip artist for using her strip as a national soap box from which she proclaims her theology.

All I want is to be able to read the comics and get a few laughs at the start of the day, not new age theological speculation. Is that so much to ask?

Friday, November 29, 2002

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

First Sunday of Advent, Cycle B

Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1Cor 1:3-9
Mk 13:33-37

It is probable that Saint Paul would have preferred to write a complete letter to the people of Corinth in the spirit of joy and commendation that we have heard today. Instead of taking such a course, he pulled the feet of the young Christian community in Corinth back to earth. Paul wrote in the verses immediately following those that we heard within the second reading: “I beg of you, brothers, in the name of Christ Jesus, to agree among yourselves and do away with divisions; be united with one mind and one purpose.” As we have heard within the second reading, God enriched the people with all discourse and knowledge and also not lacking in any spiritual gift. One can only imaging Paul’s disappointment, to say the least, in the people of Corinth. They received much, accepted it with joy, and then returned to their old routines as if they had neither heard the Gospel nor had been transformed because of it.

The big divisions problem revolved around personalities. Corinth was the dominant port within its region. It was a hub city. Many people traveled through Corinth on their way to other places and many of these people were Christian missionaries. Not many of these might have been attempting to build cults of personality around themselves, but it seems as though it happened due to the misguided enthusiasm of some local church members. These members spoke more about the goodness of various preachers rather than about the Great Preacher. The great “I am” was replaced by the great ego.

Paul had to redirect his people back onto an appropriate course. Paul had to remind the people of the wisdom that they had received from God and that it was their responsibility to use that wisdom in all aspects of their lives. It was their responsibility to build up the local Church and to build up the Kingdom. Instead of doing this, they built up their pride. They would not say “Watch!” as Jesus instructed within today’s Gospel reading; they would say, “Watch me!”

God does not want all of us to look the same, but we are called by God to look at all people as they are – created in the image of him. God does not want all of us to act the same in regard to personalities, but he wants all of us to act as if united in love – according to the terms that we agreed to when we agreed to share a Covenant relationship with him. We have been called to maintain the Covenant and we have been called to renew our desire to share in it now and forever.

During this Advent season we need to think less about what we want and think more about what God has given us – and what he promises to give us in the future. God does not give the same talents and gifts to all of his people in an equal measure, but he gives us enough to proclaim news of hope and joy and to raise people from suffering and despair. In truth, he has enriched us in every way with all discourse and all knowledge. He has not kept us lacking for any spiritual gift. What we have received is meant to serve a greater purpose than the boosting of our own esteem and status.

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Michael's first Thanksgiving, my first with him

Today will be my son Michael's first Thanksgiving. We will be spending it, as many others will, with many relatives. However, my wife Cindy will be working for much of the day and will only catch up to us later on.

Cindy and Michael have been awesome blessings for me from God, blessings for which I will be eternally thankful. I simply hope that, through the grace of God, I will continue to be a blessing for them.


May all of you have a blessed Thanksgiving

Heavenly Father,
in your generous Providence,
you provide us with all good gifts,
open the eyes of us, your children,
to see how the bounty of your love
surrounds us every moment of every day.
Inspire in us on this Thanksgiving Day a
deep and abiding spirit of gratitude so
that all of our thoughts, words, and deeds
may proclaim our thanks and praise of you
and may thus share the Good News of your Kingdom
where you live and reign with the Son and Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever, amen.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Mary as a Boost for Ecumenical Dialogue

So read the headline on a Zenit story. It described a conference on mariology held in Italy where representatives of different faith traditions also participated. I was certainly surprised to read it, considering the strong reaction of many Protestants against the Church's beliefs about and veneration of the Blessed Virgin.

So what other faith tradition, you might ask, is interested in an ecumenical dialogue about Mary? Well, it appears that one of the major participants at the conference was a Waldensian pastor. No, he doesn't represent some obscure Orthodox branch, let alone a group founded in the 16th century reforms. No, the Waldensians were a heretical group founded in the 13th century (on one level, very much like the Franciscans, but without the essential obedience to authority).

So maybe this isn't on the cutting edge of ecumenism. But its good anyway.


A comic book version of the life and ministry of St. Francis Xavier to be released in 10 languages

It was produced to celebrate the 450th anniversary of his death. Now that he has entered the realm of comic books, I wonder if St. Francis Xavier could be considered an "X" man?


Persevering through Trials in Order to Sing the Song of the Lamb:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

Rev 15:1-4
Ps 98:1, 2-3ab, 7-8, 9
Lk 21:12-19

St. John would surely have been one of the disciples who heard what we read in today's Gospel: Jesus giving warnings about the persecutions to come and speaking about the need for perseverance. As an old man, writing down the visions that we read in today's first reading from the book of Revelation, he would have experienced the fulfillment of Jesus' words. He would have known the pain of persecution and betrayal but also the great gift of perseverance.

And after having endured so much for the Lord during his life he was finally given a vision of the fruits of his and so many other disciples' grace-inspired patience. He saw opened up before him a sea of glass where were gathered all of those who had won victory over the beast, the source of all persecution. Yet they endured his torments and were brought to this glassy sea where they sang the song of the Lamb.

Disciples who, through the grace of God, persevere through great trials are much more able to recognize the greatness of the Lord afterwards than beforehand. Facing the start of their trials, they don't know how they will endure them. But, in a faith that knows not the future, they step forward nonetheless. And they find in their experience that the Lord is indeed true to his promise. He gives them strength to carry their crosses. He gives them "wisdom in speaking" which their "adversaries [are] powerless to resist or refute."

And so on the other side of their trials they are much better prepared to stand on the sea of glass and sing the song of the Lamb than they were before they persevered through those hardships. Having experienced the awesome working of grace in their lives, they can no longer dare to refuse to fear the Lord or give glory to his name. Through their patient endurance their eyes of faith are opened and the "righteous acts" of the Lord are clearly seen.

So when you read of Jesus' warnings about betrayals and persecutions, do not be disturbed, do not lose faith. For it will be through the perseverance of these trials that we, his disciples, will be brought closer to him. The cross cannot be avoided in the life of hte disciple. But if we choose to embrace it, then the Lamb will surely give us the grace to persevere and so be brought to that sea of glass where all of us will sing his song.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

How can one be certain, from an evangelical perspective, if another person is a Christian?

I've been thinking about this topic a little bit in my reflection upon various issues about which I've written in the past. It relates to my writing about evangelical and pentecostal evangelization of Catholics in Central and South America and among Hispanic Catholics in the United States. It also relates to my interest in the support that can be given to Catholic college students.

Some of you may remember that I had a dialogue a while back with Glen Davis, an Assemblies of God missionary at Stanford University. The dialogue had a lot to do with all three of the topics I described above. At any rate, one of the questions that I asked him was how he, as an Assemblies of God missionary, would help a Catholic student grow in his or her Catholic Christian faith. You can go here to see Glen's response.

I think much what underlies this question is how one identifies another person as a Christian. Of course, the Catholic Church teaches that a person is a Christian by virtue of his or her Baptism, regardless of how little or how much he has cooperated with the grace of that sacrament since then.

Certainly all who are baptized are called to continuing conversion. No doubt about that. But the need for continuing conversion, even if it is especially great among one who has done little to cooperate with the grace God gave in Baptism, does not change the fact that this person is a Christian. But the Catholic Church teaches that, according to the teachings of Sacred Scripture, apostolic tradition, and the historical teaching of the Church, the sacrament of Baptism seals the baptized with an indelible mark.

If a baptized person has done little to live out his faith, he certainly needs to be re-evangelized and needs much help from the Christian community in which he was baptized. What he does not need, in my opinion, is a missionary from another community (be it Catholic, evangelical, or otherwise) presuming from the start that he is not a Christian and so recognizing the need to preach the Gospel to him or her as if he or she had never heard it before or ever accepted it.

Evangelization, re-evangelization, and ecumenism are all interrelated but are certainly not all the same task.

This discussion relates very much to the way in which evangelical Christians identify others as being Christians. In my discussion with Glen Davis (whom I believe would, by and large, not take issue with himself being identified with evangelicals), he explained that one became a Christian by accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior in one's heart. Baptism necessarily followed but God bestowed no grace through it. Baptism is simply an outward sign of an inward conversion, a public statement of faith. Also, according to Glen, one only ceased to be a Christian if he formally renounced Christ. Any particular sin or a collection of sins would not make one cease to be a Christian.

(Please note: If I have misrepresented evangelical's views in general or Glen's in particular, it is my fault alone. If I have done so, please let me know. One of the primary goals in such a discussion is the increase of knowledge of both sides of the other's beliefs.)

In light of the evangelical beliefs described above, how can one be certain in determining if another is or is not a Christian? Such a determination would seem to be crucial to the way in which one would minister to that person.

If a person identified himself as a Christian when asked, it would make no difference, under the conditions set by the evangelical beliefs described above, what kind of life that person led. If he had in his heart accepted Christ as Savior and Lord, then no matter what sins he might commit later he would still be a Christian if he had not formally renounced Christ.

I think that this would even apply to a person who might not be able to explain the way in which he became a Christian in terminology which an evangelical would recognize as being consistent with the way in which he believes anyone would become a Christian. Whether or not a person can explain their faith in Christ in the traditional terminology of evangelical Christianity would seem to have no effect on whether or not he is indeed a Christian.

Glen had stated his opinion that some Catholics are Christian and others are not, it all depending on whether or not the person in question had accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. But, in light of his stated belief about the way in which one becomes a Christian, how does he (or any other evangelical) come to a certain conclusion that the person in question is or is not a Christian?

I can't answer that question. But I do feel that, in light of the uncertainty that it would raise in my mind, I would want to give a student that identified himself as Catholic the benefit of the doubt as to his faith status. If it appeared, by his way of his life, that he needed to be strengthened in his ongoing conversion, then I would point him in the direction of a Newman center, a nearby Catholic parish, or an organization like FOCUS.

In the end, answering the question that I posed in the title of this post, is crucial to the determination of the way in which one ministers to another person.

A hope of mine that underlies my interest in all of this is that someday other Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church may approach the broad outlook of the Church in what determines a person to be a Christian. This in itself would not bring about unity, but I think that it would help all Christians come to see the important distinctions between evangelization, re-evangelization, and ecumenism.

I am interested to read your thoughts on these issues and on what I've written in this post.


Signs of Things to Come:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

Rev 14:14-19
Ps 96:10, 11-12, 13
Lk 21:5-11

As I travel around central Indiana during the spring, summer, and fall, I've noticed that almost as soon as corn reaches the height of its growth that it's bottom leaves start to turn brown. The fields do not allow me to take in the height of their glory for very long. As soon as the process of growth is finished, the process of dying begins.

So there I am, in the middle of the summer, with everything around me a lush green and my thoughts turn to the autumn harvest. Why? Because a tinge of brown is starting to appear at the bottom of a stalk of corn.

These colorful signs tell me of the end of the growing season and the coming of the harvest. In today's Gospel reading, Jesus told some people about the future destruction of the Temple. They responded by asking him what the signs would be that would tell them that it was about to happen.

Jesus described various signs--wars, natural disasters, omens in the sky--but also added that "it will not immediately be the end." And so he tells them not to be terrified upon seeing them.

I believe that he advises his audience at the time to remain calm not so much because the destruction of the Temple would still be far off (not to mention the true end, the final judgment) as that he was trying to reassure them them that something great awaited them on the other side of the those fearful signs.

When the end does come, it will not just be the end of the world as we know it (ok, all of you REM fans can hum the tune right now--you really smart ones can sing all of the lyrics), but the end of the long growth of the kingdom which had begun so long ago with Jesus' incarnation, his death and resurrection. And if it is the end of the growth of the kingdom, it will also be the beginning of its fulfillment and consumation.

For unlike the fields of corn that I see start to turn brown as soon as they reach the height of their growth, the kingdom of God will never fade when it reaches its zenith. When all of creation is brought into the reign of God all things will have been put under the rule of the everlasting Son of the Father.

There will be on that day no need of signs of things to come for we will have come to the end of history where all of creation will be brought into the eternity of the Creator.

This is the great hope of our faith. This is what allows us to be free from terror in the face of wars, famines, plagues, and awesome signs in the sky. Hold that hope in your hearts and proclaim it to others with your tongue!

Monday, November 25, 2002

Some thoughts on the differences between Catholics and some Protestants

I’ve recently come across an interesting blog entitled “He Lives.” It is maintained by David Heddle who seeks to present to the reader “reformed theology from the point of view of a nuclear physicist.”

He has a nice list of some of his archived posts. I was drawn to one entitled “I have learned some things about Catholics.” In it he starts by making the observation that he had learned that Protestants and Catholics are primarily interested in different issues. Protestants are primarily interested in sola fide while Catholics are primarily interested in sola scriptura.

He then went on to attempt to answer some Catholic objections to sola scriptura and to the concept of private judgment.

Overall I found it to be an intriguing post. I have taken some excerpts to his post and tried to respond to them. Hopefully I have not taken them out of context. If I have, it is my mistake alone.

Protestants believe that scripture is inerrant, inspired, and sufficient, and that the church does not have a legitimate claim to bind a believer either through its own interpretation or extra-scriptural revelation. Catholics do not like the sufficient attribute.

Not entirely true. A Catholic can legitimately hold that Sacred Scripture is materially sufficient for all of its beliefs. However, the Church teaches that Sacred Scripture is notformally sufficient for all of its beliefs. In the end, the difference between Catholics and some Protestants on this questions comes down to our differing views on the perspicuity of Sacred Scripture.

Many of the questions asked by Catholics are legitimate technical questions such as:

§ Don’t you really have a form of church tradition but you just don’t admit it?
§ How do you decide what is scripture? (i.e., what about the Apocrypha?)
§ What Bible translation should you use?
§ Can you self-referentially support sola scriptura via sola scriptura?

The second question there needs some clarification. In his parenthesis, Mr. Heddle equated the second question to one merely about the status of the Apocrypha. For Catholics, I think the issue involved in the question is much more broad.

If one is to subscribe to sola scriptura, then it seems to me that there needs to be a rock-solid assurance of the infallibility of the entire canon of Sacred Scripture, not just about the status of a handful of books. If Protestant and Catholic can both agree that the canon of Sacred Scripture came to us through the teaching office of the early Church (which, I admit, is by no means a sure given common belief among us), then it seems that there might be a problem with sola scriptura.

For, from the perspective of most Protestants, the teaching office of the Church at any time is certainly fallible. In this light, it would be impossible to say that the early Church’s determination of the canon was an infallible judgment. Therefore, how can we know, with a sure moral certainty, that the Scriptures, from which we base our final judgment on all beliefs and practices, are indeed truly the Word of God?

Perhaps I haven’t taken all the data into account, but it seems to me that sola scriptura is a self-defeating doctrine. In order for it to be able to produce infallible doctrines, then one must first appeal, not to the Scriptures themselves, but to the infallible teaching office of the Church, at least in so far as its definition of the canon of Sacred Scripture.

Am I saying that Sacred Scripture is not inerrant? By no means. Am I saying that it is not fundamentally important in the formation of our beliefs? By no means. I am simply saying that, for us to arrive at the fullness of the truths contained in Sacred Scripture we must also rely on apostolic tradition and the teaching office of the Church.

What seems to be unfathomable to Catholics is the nonchalant way in which we accept the inevitable: intelligent, well intentioned believers will reach different conclusions. Right from the start Luther and Calvin had disagreements. Across the spectrum of evangelical churches there are different views on baptism, the Lord ’s Supper, predestination, etc. It’s the old: In Essentials, Unity; in Non-essentials, Liberty; in All Things, Charity approach.

There is certainly many areas of liberty of thought in the Catholic tradition. Intelligent, well intentioned Catholics can hold various views on the evolution or non-evolution of creation. The problem comes in for us when the different conclusions come in on those essentials which Mr. Heddle himself claims there needs to be unity.

And, in actuality, the problem is twofold. First, at times Protestants and Catholics agree on some categories of what is essential but disagree on the nature of that category. We both agree that Sacred Scripture is a fundamental part of Divine Revelation. We disagree on the nature of its perspicuity and the overall extent to which it makes up the fullness of Divine Revelation.

Secondly, and more fundamentally, who is to say what is essential? Mr. Heddle acknowledged that the various leaders of the Reformation as well as evangelical churches today disagree on such issues as “baptism, the Lord’s Supper, predestination, etc.” But then in the statement that immediately followed he seemed to imply that these issues were not essential: “It’s the old: In Essentials, Unity; in Non-essentials, Liberty; in All Things, Charity approach.

Catholics would see beliefs regarding baptism and the Lord’s Supper (the Eucharist) as being very much part of what is essential. So the old maxim “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity” isn’t as simple as it looks, excepting the final part of it. Protestants themselves disagree about what is essential, let alone the differences on defining essentials between Protestants and Catholics.

Admittedly, Mr. Heddle attempted to address my concerns about unity in essentials:

Now the things I mentioned are not non-essentials in all aspects. The Lord ’s Supper is mandated by Christ. A church that doesn’t celebrate the Lord’s Supper is an apostate church. However, God has chosen not to make it absolutely clear to us precisely what happens during the sacrament/ordinance. So most Protestants (not all, one can never say all) are not overly ruffled by the fact that there are different views.

The fact that we can agree to disagree (by no means always peacefully, but in theory anyway) on important concepts is utterly un-Catholic.

The reason that most Protestants “agree to disagree” on some aspects of those essentials is that, in the end, they are in unity on the fact that the aspects in question are not essential. The fact that Mr. Heddle had to qualify his statement by saying “most Protestants” simply points to the fact that, even among Protestants, there is no unity in essentials.

Catholics, of course, would hold as essential many of those aspects of the essentials that “most Protestants” (but not all) see as being non-essential. For example, the Catholic Church holds as essential the salvific, grace-bestowing nature of Baptism. Some Protestants agree that this is an essential aspect to the essential sacrament of Baptism. Other Protestants disagree and deny that it is an essential aspect. Is there, among Protestants, unity in what is essential? I tend to disagree.

In the end, Mr. Heddle concludes that “the fact that we can agree to disagree (by no means always peacefully, but in theory anyway) on important concepts is utterly un-Catholic. That is why Private Interpretation rattles the cage of Catholics…

Are those “important concepts” part of what Mr. Heddle would describe as “essential”? If so, then he would seem to be acknowledging the fact that there is an clearly imperfect unity even on essentials among Protestants.

Private interpretation, in and of itself, does not “rattle the cages” of Catholics. The Catholic Church allows much freedom of thought on that which the Church, being true to Sacred Scripture, Tradition, and its historical teachings, says is not essential. There is indeed a “hierarchy of truths” in the Catholic Church.

One might point to the sad fact that some Catholics, according to many polls (certainly not an infallible source…), do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. According to this argument, this would point to the fact that there is no unity in essentials among Catholics. In response, I would admit that, sadly, some Catholics have either been poorly catechized and do not fully understand the present and historical teaching of the Church regarding what is essential

Others might indeed know these teachings and freely choose to disagree with them. In so far as they truly know the teachings, truly are free in their choice to disagree with them, such persons knowingly and freely choose to take themselves out of the full communion of the Church.

At any rate, the maxim “In Essentials, Unity; in Non-essentials, Liberty; in All Things” came to be within the Catholic Church. Although I am not certain of this, I believe that it was St. Augustine who coined the phrase.

Go to a celebration of the Eucharist in East Africa and you will see a great difference in the non-essential aspects of it from the way it is celebrated in an average parish in, say, Topeka, KS. But for that matter, go to a number of parishes in Topeka alone and you’ll see a good amount of variety. In the end, however, you’ll see that all of this diversity is unified in their common praising and thanking of the Son of God, truly speaking to us in the proclamation of Sacred Scripture and truly present to them in the Eucharist.

So, in the end, it is not private judgment in general that “rattles the cages” of Catholics but private judgment in particular about what the essentials are and their fundamental nature. From his frequent reference to ‘most Protestants’ (but not all of them), it would seem that this also rattles the cages of many of our separated brothers and sisters.

You see, there’s yet another things that Catholics and Protestants have in common.

I’d be interested to read your views on Mr. Heddle’s thoughts and my response to him.


An interesting website

I've been putting together some Bible study presentations lately. They've often been centered around the biblical basis of various Catholic beliefs. Well, I've found an interesting website that had already done a lot of the footwork for me. Its called "Scripture Catholic: Providing Scriptural Evidence for the Teachings of the Catholic Church."

A fellow by the name of John Salva created it and maintains it. Overall, it has collected over 2,000 scriptural citations giving support to 34 different categories of Catholic beliefs and practices.

There aren't any overview articles here, no dialogues between Catholics and Protestants, no in-depth analyses. It didn't provide me with the full explanations of the scriptural passages that I used in the presentations. But it did provide me with much of the raw material that I needed and did so in short order. When I used it in conjunction with the Scriptures themselves and the Catechism, it helped me put together what I think were good, comprehensive presentations.

Check it out whenever you need or want to find scriptural citations that support this doctrine or that practice. Look up the passages. You can determine the relative strength that the passages give to the doctrines or practices.

Sunday, November 24, 2002

The latest installment of my column "Spiritual Reflections"

Go to the website of The Shelbyville News to read the latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections." As I noted last week, you'll have to register now. Please give me any feedback if you have any. Thanks.

Friday, November 22, 2002

Reflections on the etymology of the word 'church'

My trusty American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd ed. tells me that the English word 'church' is derived in the following way.

Most recently it emerged from the Middle English word chirche which found its origin in the Old English word circice. These earlier English ancestors to our current word were borrowed and adapted from the Medieval Greek word kurikon which grew out of the Late Greek word kuriakon (doma), meaning "the lord's house." Ultimately, our English word "church" finds its earliest root in the Greek word kuriakos, "of the lord", and simply from kurios, "lord."

In light of the etymology of the word 'church', it would seem that this word would be able to refer either an actual building or to a person's household, a person's family. Potentially, I presume, it could refer to both at the same time.

Given this etymology, the Catholic Church's understanding of the word 'church' (ecclesia in its official language, Latin) takes on some new meaning for me. Of course, I already knew from the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, that one of the ways the mystery that is the Church was described was "the people of God." This clearly refers to the 'household' sense of that word.

But when is that household most clearly apprehended by our senses? Surely it is when the household gathers as one to celebrate the Eucharist. And where does this ordinarily occur? In a church building or, simply, a church.

Perhaps those parishes and other "ecclesial communities" that want to refocus their attention on the "household" sense of the word "church" might take the step and call themselves a "community", as in St. Aloysius Catholic Community.

As recently as fifty years ago in our country, many Catholic parishes would not have needed to place so much conscious attention to the household sense of the word. Why? Because in cities Catholic parishes were often organized around ethnic neighborhoods, where the church building physically and socially sat at the center of the life of that particular household of the Lord. In rural areas (and this often still continues to be the norm), Catholics were often farmers, miners, ranchers, etc. who knew and supported each other not only in their life of faith but also in their profession as well.

How has this changed in the fifty years since then? In cities at least, the 'neighborhood parishes' have, in large part, been broken up, their residents fleeing for the suburbs. These residents have risen socially and educationally from the status of their forefathers and are now often professionals who commute good distances each day to work and back home. Such commuting would flow easily also in their affiliation to a particular parish. Geographic parish boundaries, at least in cities and suburbs, are, by and large, meaningless now, at least in terms of parish membership.

Therefore any one parish might be a gathering of several hundred if not thousands of families and individuals from a very large geographic radius, maybe as many as thirty miles or more. Is it natural to expect that such a gathering of people could have a clear sense within them that they are, as a whole, a particular part of the household of the Lord? Of course not.

That is why they may take the step to call themselves a 'community' instead of a 'church' or 'parish.' I would hope that such a step would be taken after they have come to the realization that it is through their common celebration of the Eucharist, the source and summit of the life of the Church, that the Holy Spirit, the divine source of the Church's unity, brings together not just them as a single parish into one, but the entire universal church, with all its unimaginable diversity, into the one household of the Lord.

I was able to experience a vision of the broader unity within one church building when I was a junior in high school when I travelled to Italy over spring break with my school's Latin club. Spring break that year coincided with Holy Week and the trip culminated with our arrival in Rome on Good Friday.

I was blessed by being given tickets at the last minute to the celebration of the Easter Vigil in St. Peter's. At that Mass, there were tens of thousands of Catholics gathered from all over the world, worshipping together under the leadership of the Holy Father, our primary human symbol and source of the unity of the household of the Lord.

Men and women from every continent approached the waters of baptim that night, all dressed in their native garb. But they processed out all dressed in the same white garment. They had all 'put on Christ.' In that one house of the Lord that is St. Peter's basilica, my senses were able to apprehend clearly that broad unity of the entire worldwide household of the Lord (by the way, the Holy Father shook my hand as he recessed out of the basilica).

It is in the waters of baptism and ultimately in the Body and Blood of the Lord that all of us who believe are brought into that unity for which Christ prayed at the Last Supper. The more that we realize that and respond to the grace given to us in the Blessed Sacrament, the more, I believe, will we all know and experience the divine unity of the Church. Then we won't need to search out for new names to tell ourselves that our farflung parishes are really one community, one part of the one household of the Lord.


Catholic Reasons for Hope

Please Note: This feature usually appears on Monday. It is a column that I write in response to questions given to me by the parishioners of the parish where I serve as DRE. It appears each Sunday in the parish's bulletin.

Q: I’ve noticed for a number of years that some of the faithful when they receive communion dip the host into the cup containing the Blood of Christ. What is the purpose of it and what is gained by doing it? Should we all start doing it?

A: The practice of dipping a consecrated host into a cup containing the Precious Blood is called “intinction.” It is the ordinary practice of receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord in various Eastern Rite Catholic Churches.

However, in these churches, it is not the person receiving communion (‘the communicant’) himself who dips the host into the Precious Blood, but the minister of communion who does it. And this ordinarily happens with a spoon. The Blessed Sacrament and the Precious Blood thus combined are placed in the communicant’s mouth by the minister of communion, ordinarily a priest.

This is a practice that may be allowed in Latin Rite churches if the bishops of a country allow it and it is then approved by the Vatican. The American bishops recently ruled on this practice in a document entitled “Norms For Distributing And Receiving Communion Under Both Kinds.” It was approved by the American bishops in June 2001 and approved by the Vatican in March, 2002.

In this document they expressly forbade intinction by spoon in Latin Rite churches in the United States. They did allow intinction, but under very specific conditions:

“‘The communicant, while holding the paten under the chin, approaches the priest who holds the chalice and at whose side stands the minister holding the vessel with the hosts. The priest takes the host, intincts the particle into the chalice and, showing it, says: 'The body and blood of Christ.' The communicant responds, 'Amen,' and receives the sacrament on the tongue from the priest.’”

This quotation is from paragraph 49 of that document and was, in large part itself a quotation from paragraph 287 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

Why do some people choose to do this? It is impossible for me to speak for others’ motivations. I suppose some may do it in order to partake of both the Body and Blood of the Lord in Holy Communion but in a way that seems to avoid the germs of other communicants on the cup.

If this is someone’s motivation, then their receiving by intinction is not accomplishing their desired goal, for another person’s germs could arguably be just as present in the Precious Blood itself as on the cup alone.

What is gained by doing it? Again, I cannot speak for other people’s experience of the practice, not having done it myself. But objectively nothing more is gained than would be by simply receiving both the Body and Blood of the Lord in the ordinary fashion.

Should we all start doing it in the way you described it? Well, if we want to follow the norms for receiving communion set forth by the American bishops and approved by the Vatican, then I would say no, we shouldn’t start doing it.

Q: The feast of Christ the King is celebrated on the last Sunday of the Church year. Has the Church always celebrated this feast on this day?

A: No it has not. In fact, there was no Solemnity of Christ the King until Pope Pius XI instituted it in 1925. He did this in part in reaction to the rise in power in Italy of Benito Mussolini and his Fascist party. In creating this feast, the Church was making the statement that, no matter what ambitions to totalitarian power any political leader has, Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be the King of the Universe.

At first it was celebrated on the last Sunday of October. But starting in 1970, following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the Church began to celebrate it on the last Sunday of the Church Year.

Even though the feast is relatively new, our belief that Christ reigns as King over the entire universe is as old as the Church itself. As St. Paul told us in the second reading last week, following his resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand in heaven, Christ “must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor 15:25). This reign continues in our own time. We who are baptized are servants of our loving and all-powerful King, Christ the Lord.


On the use and avoidance of the term ‘church'

Carl Olson at Envoy Encore has commented on an article by Elesha Coffman that appeared in Christian History. Carl wonders why there is so much misunderstanding among non-Catholics about the way in which the Catholic Church understands the term ‘church’ and how it is to be used and not used in relationship to those who are not in its full communion.

I've seen various 'ecclesial communities', some evangelical in nature, others more in the mainline tradition, that are trying to free themselves from the title of 'church.'

I've seen some describe themselves as a "center" or a "community." (I've seen some Catholic parishes do this, e.g., "St. Aloysius Catholic Community").

I think that there are a variety of reasons behind such a move. But I think that some may think that the word ‘church’ is a loaded term, filled with visions of quiet old people praying, of cold, unwelcoming worshippers, and distant preachers whose sermons are superfluous at best. ‘Church’ is not relevant or fresh. Maybe the trend toward some mainline ecclesial communities offering both a ‘traditional service’ and a ‘contemporary service’ is related to such feelings.

Is this yet another piece of evidence that we as a society have cut ourselves off from our history? Is history for us merely a rarely visited museum and a musty library? If we approached as they are, without any modern prejudices, the writings of the Church fathers and other spiritual masters throughout the history of the Church, we might, we just might see that they speak to us words that are incredibly relevant to the circumstances in which we live in the 21st century.

If we did that, the term ‘church’ would still be loaded, but this time it would be loaded with layer upon layer of meaning and truth.


Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Solemnity of Christ the King

Ez 34:11-12, 15-17
Ps 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6
1 Cor 15:20-26, 28
Mt 25:31-46

Perhaps when the day of the Final Judgment comes, the words that we will hear will be as what we have heard presented to us by Jesus. Perhaps the words will be different. No matter what the case may be, the people of God will not sound as surprised as both the righteous and the condemned within the Gospel reading. Unlike these people that Jesus presented within the parable, we know that as we do anything for another person, we do it for Jesus. Millions of our brothers and sisters within our faith tradition have been taught this parable for almost 2,000 years. It is a fairly easy passage to understand, is it not? Why, then, is it that so many people act as if they have never heard this parable during their lives? We have not simply been called to share in the joy of the kingdom, but to share the joy of the kingdom with all people. Our readings today show with as much clarity as on past Sundays how Jesus would rather deal with us: Jesus would much rather invite us to the feast rather than shut the door in our face.

How sad it is that there are people who go out of their way to laugh in the face of God and thereby provoke God’s wrath. When a person is insulted, it is as if Jesus is insulted. When someone is beaten by someone who says that they love them, it is as if Jesus is beaten. When a child is killed through abortion, it is as if Jesus is killed. When we do not support our brothers and sisters,
especially after they have made a various serious decision to keep their child, it is as if we do not support Jesus. Despite all this, Jesus has the power to raise himself up from any and every blow that any person forces him to endure. Jesus also has the power to raise all people from living lives of either cruelty or indifference to living lives of complete charity. He constantly reaches his loving hand toward us. Unfortunately, some people refuse to allow Jesus to lift them out of the pit that they both dug and fell into themselves.

Jesus will destroy the sleek and the strong – or should it be said instead that he is going to permit the sleek and the strong to destroy each other. The sleek and the strong have no other god but themselves. Each member of this pack seeks to be addressed as “lord”. Each lord wants all the other lords to submit to their authority. In this scenario, there will never be submission – only elimination. The sleek and the strong will tear down their small kingdoms rather than build up the great kingdom of God. It might sound cruel that Jesus allows people to behave in this way, but these people have chosen their path. They have been offered Heaven; they have rejected Heaven as a result of their attempt to create something better.

We profess every week that we believe in the judgment of which is described in the Gospel today. Deep down, we want to be on the good side of his judgment. I do not believe that anyone would come to this church at any time unless they wanted to be invited by Jesus to share forever in his joy. In order to receive an invitation, we must show that we are worthy of receiving it. Receiving this invitation is not as difficult as we make it out to be. I know that I am repeating myself if you have heard me within the past few weeks, but it is true. We make going to Heaven far too difficult on ourselves. Because of this, we are blessed with readings today that show in a simple manner both what God wants us to have and how we can have it. He wants to have him, and in turn, have everything.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Minister Warns of 'Lord of the Rings' Deception

Although many Christians have championed the award-winning movie version of "The Lord of the Rings" as a rich spiritual allegory, it is actually leading people into deception, says a former witch-turned-prophetic minister.

Pat Cocking issued her warning, drawn from her own past involvement in the occult, as the countdown began to the Dec. 18 release of the second installment of the three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy classic. In a widely distributed e-mail message, the Kelowna, Canada-based evangelist, teacher and prayer leader said she feared the movie was being used to "beguile the church."

"God would not in any way inspire someone to write an allegory representing Himself as a sorcerer, not represent His Kingdom through sorcery," she wrote. "God would never violate His own Word and use an act that He labels as sin to represent himself or His Kingdom in any way."

I wonder what she would think if she knew that Tolkein was a devout Catholic? I suspect that it would only confirm her in her conclusions...


Pope John Paul receives Mets catcher Mike Piazza

The Zenit article to which I linked reports that Piazza fell to his knees upon meeting the Holy Father. That comes pretty naturally to Piazza though, being a catcher and all.


One more thought about the story from Bangor

It kind of seems like we're in Superman's bizzaro world when a Catholic parish is seen fighting against abortion protesters and the American judicial system is standing up to defend them.


Catholic parish fails in an attempted legal action to stop abortion protesters

Yes, you read correctly. St. John Catholic Church in Bangor, ME, the home parish of governor-elect John E. Baldacci, sought to bring an end to protests outside the church. Abortion opponents had claimed that Baldacci, an abortion rights supporter, had used parish facilities for political events. The governor-elect's spokesman denied that any political event had occurred there.

Fellow Roman Catholic parishioners from the church attended by Gov.-elect John E. Baldacci were unable to secure a protection from harassment order against abortion protesters who are using graphic photos to convey their message...

Parish leaders said the signs, which include photos of Holocaust victims and dismembered bloody fetuses, say they were compelled to ask for a protection from harassment order against the demonstrators.

The Rev. Richard McLaughlin, the pastor, said they are not opposed to the anti-abortion message but to the pictures.

"Some parents have told me that their kids are traumatized," he said. "They cry and hide behind their mothers' skirts. I have heard numerous accounts of children who wake up scared in the middle of the night."

Perhaps the protesters have stepped over a line in the way that they are expressing their opinions. But something just doesn't seem right about a Catholic parish taking legal action to stop a protest which opposes abortion. I suppose there is something even more wrong about the need to have such protests in front of a Catholic church.

But, if the governor-elect's spokesman's statement is true, then there might not need to be a protest there. However, one could make the argument that there should be protests there if a parishioner is a high-profile supporter of abortion rights and is in a position to have a great amount of influence on the issue.

I'd be interested to learn if the protesters themselves are Catholic. The article does not say one way or the other.


The relics of the Little Flower arrive in Baghdad

Hundreds of Christians held a mass to celebrate the arrival of a French saint's relics to Iraq and said they hope the remains will ensure peace in the country...

Some of those attending the mass said they hoped the relics would help prevent war against Iraq and end the sweeping U.N. sanctions imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Ramzia Isaac, a retired teacher, said she hoped Saint Therese would cure her sick son. ``I also hope that she will keep war away from us and end the embargo.''

Imad Elias, another worshipper, said he hoped the saint would cure him of his diabetes and stop ``the hostile war against us.''

I wonder if any of the worshippers might be praying that Saddam's brutal reign might end? If they were, they were probably smart not to say anything about it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Blogger Blues, Part II

I planned on doing some posts this morning but Blogger was down again. It must have gotten working again while I was out on the golf course. It was a balmy 56 degrees today in my part of Indiana.


A Vision of the Heavenly Court:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

Rev 4:1-11
Ps 150:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6
Lk 19:11-28

If you ever visit St. Meinrad Archabbey, be sure to ask to visit the monks' chapter room. For if you go in there, you may catch a glimpse of the vision of the heavenly court which St. John described in today's first reading from the book of Revelation.

At the head of the long rectangular room stands a large, raised seat, definetly throne-like yet plain, with no decorations. This is where the archabbot sits. Two smaller seats to his left and his right are reserved for his prior and subprior. Above these seats is a depiction of the throne seen by St. John with Jesus seated on it with seven stars in his hand. Bowing down on both sides of him are long lines of elders. Only these aren't wearing white garments but the black habit of Benedictine monks.

On the ceiling immediately in front of the archabbot's throne is a depiction of the four living creatures seen by St. John. Proceeding from there to the entrance of the room, one can see portrayed the six days of creation described to us in Genesis 1. All of these heavenly visions were painted close to 60 years ago by Dom Gregory DeWitt, OSB. He was a Belgian monk who came to America after fleeing the Nazi onslaught of his homeland.

I think that these paintings are a statement of Dom Gregory's faith. In the face of the terror and despair of war, Dom Gregory still believed that he could catch a glimpse of the heavenly court here on earth, in the cloister of a monastery.

By the grace of our baptism, each and every one of us can begin, here and now, to praise God day and night just as the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders do in heaven. The monks of St. Meinrad do this first thing in the morning (5:30 am) and just before going to bed as well as several other times during the day. They do it when they gather for prayer, conferences, and community meetings in their chapter room where they are surrounded by visions of the heavenly court that they are called to emulate.

But each and every one of us can shape our days and nights around the praise of God. We can do this by the power of the grace given to us in our baptism. The amazing thing about this is that once we make the choice to cooperate with God's grace in this way, we will come to experience its power in the fullness of our lives in more and more real ways.

It is like the parable that Jesus told his disciples in today's Gospel reading. He has given each of us a sum of his grace and asked us to invest it. If we choose to follow his command, then his grace will not only have positive effects in our own lives, it will also bring about good changes in the lives of those others that we touch from day to day.

When we, powered by God's grace, praise him in our prayer at various times of the day and night, when we allow his grace to shape our thoughts, words, and deeds, then all of us together will see an increase in that grace. We will, like St. John, begin to see visions of the heavenly court in our common prayer and worship, and in our grace-filled relationships with one another.

This is the vision that hte monks of St. Meinrad see each time that they enter their chapter room. And it is one that you and I can hold in our hearts and proclaim with our lips every moment of every day.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

More reaction to Pelosi's self-description as a 'conservative Catholic'

Judie Brown, a Catholic, and president of the American Life League has released this press release in reaction to Nancy Pelosi's describing herself as a 'conservative Catholic.' Apparently she has written to Pelosi's ordinary, Archbishop Levada, pointing out to him her opinion that Pelosi's support of abortion rights a scandal, in the most technical sense (she quoted the Catechism in the press release) to many Catholics.

"The Catholic hierarchy must be made aware that the public behavior of pro-abortion political figures such as Nancy Pelosi, who claim solidarity with the Catholic faith, creates an extremely dangerous situation for other Catholics," said Mrs. Brown. "It is our hope that Archbishop Levada -- and other shepherds of the Church -- will call these politicians to task for their belligerent and insistent promotion of abortion, an act which, according to Church teaching, is a grievous sin. Souls are at stake. We pray for Rep. Pelosi, that she may repent of her continued advocacy of child killing."


You've got to hand it to Indian journalists

They call a spade a spade or, in this case a miscreant a miscreant. That is how a reporter for The Hindu described the people who burned a bible inside of a church.


Blogger blues

Blogger just doesn't seem to want to post anything that I write. Ok, I know that my writing isn't the best in the world, but at least my Mom wants to be able to read it...


Being Like the Taxman (with all due respect to George Harrison--God rest his soul):

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

Rev 3:1-6, 14-22
Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6
Lk 19:1-10

Jesus said some very powerful words in today's Gospel where the story of Zacchaeus was retold. After the tax collector had repented of his sins by promising to give away half his belongings and to make retribution to those he had defrauded Jesus exclaimed: "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham."

Such words should point us to Zacchaeus as a model for our own life of faith, for all of us are sons and daughters of Abraham, our father in faith. So what is it about this man that we should emulate?

It seems to be that, at a fundamental level, Zacchaeus deeply trusted in the Lord. He was excited enough to get close to him that he risked public humiliation by climbing a tree to see him. He believed that God would not make void his covenant with him. He placed his hope that he would once again taste the delights of the God's banquet if he would repent of his sins. And this indeed was what happened as Zacchaeus hosted Jesus in his own home.

Trust in God's faithfulness, repentance of sins, and the experiencing of salvation--this is what it means to be a son of Abraham.

Each of us who strive to live out our covenant wih the Lord should look to Zacchaeus as a model. We should not deceive ourselves by believing that, because of our striving, we are much better and less sinful than those who do not, in our eyes, seem to care at all about the covenant.

When we live with such an attitude we become like the faithful in the churches of Sardis and Laodicea described in today's first reading from the book of Revelation. Like the people in Sardis, we are asleep in our own fantasy world when we conclude tha we are not sinners and so fail to repent. Like the people in Laodicea, we actually are very poor when we think that we are rich in our own response to God's grace.

The more that we take on the humility of the small statured tax collector of Jericho, the more will we experience the saving presence of Jesus in our lives. When we openly recognize our sins and repent of them Jesus will say to us as he did to Zacchaeus: "Today salvation has come to this house."

It is really only then that we will be able to be empowered by God's grace to participate in the mission of the Church of the Son of Man: to proclaim his Gospel, to seek and save what was lost.

This is what all of us are called to do by virtue of our baptism. We can all return to the empowering grace of that sacrament by continually repenting of our sins.

The second graders of the parish where I serve as DRE did that last night for the first time in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Many of them were nervous about it. But after many of them confessed their sins and received the merciful grace of God I saw many smiles and many hugs from parents.

I daresay that many of us adults are afraid to confess our sins. Maybe we don't really trust that god will be faithful to his covenant with us. Somehow we believe that if we speak our sins God will say, "You did what? Out of my sight you evildoer!" The story of Zacchaeus should give confidence to all of us. He was a notorious sinner yet was ever confident in God's faithfulness.

Let us take the rich that he did. Let us show ourselves to be sons and daughters of Abraham, our father in faith. Then we will be empowered by God's grace to join the Son of Man is seeking and saving what was lost.

Monday, November 18, 2002

An evangelical perspective on birth control

I found an article on this topic at the website of Christian Resources Institute. It was written by H. Wayne House, Academic Dean and Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Michigan Theological Seminary and Professor-at-Large at Simon Greenleaf University. It appeared in the Winter 1996 issue of the Christian Research Journal.

Here is a summary of the article that appeared at the start:

Christian couples are pulled in different directions by people, movements, and circumstances on the issue of whether to have children. Some believe that no birth control should be used, whereas others maintain that a couple may properly choose never to have children at all. Most stand somewhere in the middle. The secular birth control movement glorifies small families while many Christians decry all use of conception-control devices or procedures. The Bible provides a balance. It exalts the bearing of children while recognizing that one’s duties in the world may limit the number of children borne or delay childbearing as husband and wife seek to fulfill the mandate of being stewards over creation.

In the end, House does not address the distinction between natural and artificial forms of contraception. His views on contraception in general are consistent with the Catholic position.

However, he doesn't seem to be basing his argument on any kind of understanding of the inherent dignity of the human person.

In his analysis of Old Testament views on procreation, he quoted Bruce Waltke who contrasted the ancient need of the Jewish people to raise large families and our own, particular modern context:

...Old Testament saints living in the structure of a rural society were much more favorably disposed toward large families than many Christian couples today living in overcrowded cities. For us, children tend to be a financial hindrance rather than help. In the light of these changed conditions we must raise the question: "How relevant is the obviously favorable attitude toward large families in the Old Testament for us?"

House doesn't clarify his support of Waltke's views. And it seems apparent that Waltke is viewing the conception, birth, and raising of children from a primarily materialistic perspective. It is hard for me to find any valuing of the human person at the base of his argument here.

Much later House made various arguments against eugenics (he had shown its connection to the modern birth control movement). One of them was an appeal to the New Testament:

As to the second major argument, that inferior human beings must not be allowed to procreate and produce other inferior beings, such a view needs to be contrasted with the kind of attitude one observes in the life of our Lord. He had compassion on the sick, the weak, the infirm, the handicapped — those who Sanger would consider the "dregs" or "undergrowth" of society. Certainly the parable of the Good Samaritan — in which a person near death, of the "wrong race," and of no great social importance is helped by a "neighbor" — shows the Christian ideal toward those in distress and need.

Perhaps one might say that House, in affirming the attitude of the Lord, is also implicitly affirming his value of the dignity of each individual which is at the base in his attitude. However, there is no explicit affirmation of this value.

He did mention a notable evangelical who opposes contraception: Mary Pride. Apparently this former feminist turned evangelical Christian appealed to Rom 1:26-27 in arguing against any kind of contraception, natural or otherwise. House didn't find her argument convincing and I'm not sure if I do either, at least in the way that he presented it. Any of you out there know about Pride's views on the topic?

In the end, as I have noted, House neither addresses the distinction between natural and artificial forms of birth control nor the relationship of beliefs regarding contraception and the inherent value of the human person.

Could this be due to a near total dependence on Sacred Scripture for determining one's views on the topic to the exclusion of any consideration of natural law? Perhaps. But even in the case of the former, I believe that one can make a strong argument against artificial contraceptives on primarily scriptural grounds. House seems to be splitting hairs in his analysis ofGen 38:8-10:

"Though it may appear that the story of Onan is a condemnation of birth control, it really is about Onan’s unwillingness to bear children under his levirate responsibilities ("lest he should give offspring to his brother," Gen. 38:8–10) after he had received his brother’s wife as his own."

What is birth control other than the unwillingness to bear children?

It seems clear to me that House's argument, while in the end close to the Catholic position (the Church doesn't deny the validity of prudently but naturally planning the size of one's family), there are many holes in it and it is weakened due to its seemingly total lack of consideration of natural law and the impact of the inherent dignity of the human person on beliefs regarding artificial birth control.


Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: Are there any terms under which a husband and wife may be divorced and still be allowed to receive the sacrament of holy communion?

A: For any Catholic to be able to receive holy communion, he or she must be free of all mortal sin. In the case of the husband and wife in question here, if they are divorced, they are not, by necessity, forbidden from receiving holy communion.

The Church recognizes that there are some very serious reasons for a sacramental marriage to be civilly dissolved (e.g., the physical or mental health of one or both of the spouses is put at serious risk if they remain living together and bound together legally). In such cases it might even be found that there was no sacramental bond of marriage from the start.

This could lead to a formal a declaration of nullity made by a diocese’s tribunal (court of canon law).

In any case, if the divorced husband and wife live a life of chastity then they would be able to continue to receive holy communion. This, of course, can be a great challenge. However, it can be said that the grace given to them in the Blessed Sacrament can offer them the strength to carry such a cross.

Underlying all of this is the fundamental Catholic belief that all valid sacramental marriages are indissoluble. A civil divorce does not have any bearing on a valid sacramental marriage.

On what do we base such beliefs? Sacred Scripture. In Mt 19:3-9, Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father is himself the author of marriage. It was he who created it at the beginning of time with the very creation of human beings:

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?" He said in reply, "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female [Gen 1:27]'and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh [Gen 2:24]'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate." They said to him, "Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss (her)?" He said to them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, 7 whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery."

It seems clear that Jesus places a higher priority on the intention of God in creating marriage at the beginning that on the conditions placed on it later by Moses.

As you can well imagine, much ink has been spilled in trying to interpret Jesus’ words “unless the marriage is unlawful.” We could do all kinds of linguistic analyses of the Greek word porneia (“unlawful”), but, in the end, the Church has understood this statement by our Lord to be referring to marriages that were not valid from the start.

There are lots of different conditions which render a sacramental marriage invalid from the start. They depend upon some very specific things in very specific cases. It would be impossible for me to go into them in any detail in the short space of this column.

But do try to understand what makes a sacramental marriage valid: the free consent of the man and woman entering into the marriage covenant. Canon 1057, paragraph 2 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law defines consent in this way: “Matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which a man and a woman mutually give and accept each other through an irrevocable covenant in order to establish marriage.” This, of course, refers not just to any “man and woman” but only to those who are free to give this consent in the first place.

As you can tell, there is a lot of attention given to defining the validity and invalidity of a sacramental marriage. Why? Because the life of sacramental marriages is a fundamental part of the very life of the Church. It is as important as the priesthood and the religious life. Just as we pray for an increase in these vocations, we should also pray for an increase in Christ-centered marriages. We should also always pray for couples who struggle in their marriages, that God may strengthen them with the grace of the sacrament which they can give to each other.


Sailing in the Ship That Is the Church:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul

Acts 28:11-16, 30-31
Ps 98:1-6
Mt 14:22-33

These two main readings from today's Mass show the apostles Peter and Paul travelling in boats. I think it is such appropriate that such readings be chosen for the feast of the dedication of a church built in their honor. For it is is the ship of the Church that I and all the faithful travel on our pilgrimage to the Lord.

The wind that powers its movement, that fills its sails is the Holy Spirit. None of us can control the movement of the Spirit just as sailors cannot force the winds to blow. But whatever way the Spirit blows, he gives us opportunities to come closer to the Lord.

At times it might seem that way. At times it might seem like the Spirit is blowing against us, keeping us on shore, like the north winds that kept St. Paul on Malta over the course of an entire winter. His progress to Rome was impeded. But the progress of the Gospel was not. While waiting there for the winds to turn, he showed forth the power of the Lord through the healing of hte father of Publius, the leader of the island.

At times it might seem that the Spirit is blowing strongly, overpowering us, like the winds which tossed about the boat of the disciples as they went ahead of the Lord across the lake in today's Gospel. During such times we can become confused and disoriented, thinking the presence of the Lord in our midst to be only a ghost, a shadowy spirit.

It is during these times that the power of faith planted in our hearts can overcome the fierceness of the winds which batter us. With faith we can walk out onto the water to meet the Lord.

And as we re-enter the boat with him the blowing of the Spirit will become calm, no longer seeming to toss us to and fro, for the Lord himself will be directing our course. It is only the Lord who can command the winds; it is only him who can direct the movement of the Spirit.

Let us then be like the disciples in the boat, showing him reverence and declaring in faith that he is the Son of God. Let us give up any pretense of knowing how to direct the ship that is the Church. Instead, let us be faithful sailors, following the lead of our Lord, allowing the Spirit to take us where he will.

We have such strong examples of this in Ss. Peter and Paul. May the Lord, through their intercession, fill our hearts with faith, helping us to trust that he and he alone will lead us out into the deep and finally back into the harbor of the kingdom.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Ve have vays ov making you vorship

I had an interesting conversation today with a catechist in our parish. She has a daughter (who is Catholic) who is a freshman at Anderson University in Anderson, IN. The university is run by a particular branch of the Church of God which is headquartered in that town. (Don't ask me how that branch is distinguished from the others. There's no way that I could trace all of the wide and varied strains of the Church of God.)

Anyway, unlike a lot of religious colleges and universities, Anderson has kept a strong hold on its faith tradition. This might be because the school is still less than 100 years old. At any rate, one of the ways that they do this is by requiring student attendance at a chapel/convocation service that they hold twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The description of these services provided on the school's website seems rather inocuous. However, from what my catechist told me today, missing them is highly discouraged. How do they go about discouraging missing them? Well, if you have an unexcused absence you are fined $50.00. After several unexcused absences you can be asked to leave the school.

I wonder what the Church of God folks who run the university would think if they knew the word "chapel" finds it origin in the Catholic veneration of the saints?

Oh, and thats not all. Apparently students are encouraged to keep each other chaste, very chaste. I was told of one student "turning in" another who was seen in a dorm lobby placing her hand on her boyfriend's knee. Punishment? $50.00 fine.

School dances are not allowed on campus. They can occur off campus, but not on. During freshman orientation they apparently had a square dance session on campus. So apparently "swing your partner" is ok, but "shake that booty" isn't.

I know that a lot of colleges nowadays are looking for "alternative sources of revenue." Who knows, maybe what Anderson is doing is as much about that as it is upholding their spiritual roots. It also all kind of reminds of me of what I learned about Wheaton College. A faithful evangelical school, at one time (probably also now) they had their students promise to refrain from drinking alcohol and from dancing.

My first roomate at Notre Dame was an alum of Wheaton and his fiance was one as well. Unlike some students of the school who rolled their eyes at the promise, they took it seriously. What was their wedding and reception like? The wedding was in the mid-moring and the reception was basically a short luncheon. No alchohol, no dancing. Not like the Polish wedding reception I once went to.

Any of you Steubenville alums out there, let me know if there are any similar "chapel" requirements there or fines system that enforces chastity to the degree that Anderson seems to.

Saturday, November 16, 2002

The latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections"

Go to the website of The Shelbyville News to read the latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections." But be warned. Big brother has made his way all of the way to Shelbyville, IN. You now have to register to go on to the website of Shelbyville's newspaper.

Friday, November 15, 2002

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
1 Thes 5:1-6
Mt 25:14-30 or 25:14-15, 19-21

Call it an attention grabber that I couple this Gospel reading with a popular component of the spiritual writings of St. Therese of Lisieux. I admire her contributions to the prayer lives of millions of people. Many people love the Little Flower. They want to follow the Little Way. They would like to fly as the soul of the Little Bird fluttered on earth – and soars in Heaven.

It is good to want to do all of these things, but people who seek Jesus whether in imitation of St. Therese or in imitation of anyone must understand that there comes a time when a disciple can no longer do little things with little love and have these things considered acceptable in the eyes of God. No matter how much we like to live according to the Little Way, whichever way we perceive it to be, we must both understand and accept that the Little Way must grow in some way as soon as possible. Jesus made that point very explicit within the Gospel reading that we have just heard. The Little Way is not the same as the Easy Way. If we wish to keep the Little Way little or if we try to make it easy, then we act in the manner of the wicked, lazy servant.

Even if a saint has been given a small amount in the eyes of the world, the saint gives what they have to the brothers and sisters as a way of saying, “Come, share our Master’s joy.” No matter how much or how little we are given by God, we are called to share it joyfully. The idea of sharing can provoke fear and anxiety in some people because when someone shares either their own self or something they have, they then become responsible for something other than their own self and their own things. These people find it easy to recall the mighty God yet they forget about how God so loved us that he gave us his only Son so that we may share eternal life with him. These people have prudence and holy fear confused with cowardice and human fear.

The last time I checked the readings of St. Therese, I do not believe that she said her vocation was either fear or caution. She said that her vocation was love. Her vocation might have appeared small, but she received a talent or two, took a good risk, and thereby gave back many more talents. That is why she was invited to share in her Master’s joy. It is not difficult for us to share in that same joy; we simply have the tendency to make the Little Way either easier or more complicated than it ever needed to be.


Rowan Williams said to be opposed to allowing Masons to be in positions of leadership in the C of E

Dr Rowan Williams, who becomes head of the Church of England next month, told The Independent that he is not in favour of ministers being Masons because it is a "secret organisation" whose views are questionable.

He also voiced doubts in a letter to Hugh Sinclair, who has been investigating the Brotherhood: "I have real misgivings about the compatibility of Masonry and Christian profession ... I have resisted the appointment of known Masons to certain senior posts."...

He also voiced doubts in a letter to Hugh Sinclair, who has been investigating the Brotherhood: "I have real misgivings about the compatibility of Masonry and Christian profession ... I have resisted the appointment of known Masons to certain senior posts."

Dr Williams' comments will renew controversy about the Freemasons. In the past 50 years some of its most senior members have been in the Church's higher echelons, and there have been links between the two organisations for centuries. Thousands of leading clergymen and churchgoers are among its 350,000 British members.

Is anyone else baffled at the hardline that Rowan seems to be taking here but seems to shrug his shoulders or wrings his hands on so many other issues? I suppose considering the history of the C of E such "ecclecticism" is to be expected.


Church of England to allow divorce and remarriage

Divorcees may remarry in church in "exceptional circumstances", the Church of England's governing body has decided, making ecclesiastical law conform to existing practice.

The General Synod voted 308 to 110 in favour of rescinding acts that said the church should not provide a wedding to "anyone who has a former partner, still living".

But the synod added that it should not turn into a free-for-all for church weddings for divorcees.

"This does not automatically guarantee the right of divorced people to remarry in church," a church spokeswoman said. "They will still have to discuss it with the clergy and may in the end be refused."

"Exceptional circumstances" huh? I suppose those might include circumstances where a monarch wants to produce an heir with his wife but is unable to and so wants to get rid of her to marry another. Hmmm...seems that they've been doing that for almost 500 years.


An interesting article on the head of the Vatican observatory who is an American Jesuit

At one point in the article, the reporter describes a meeting that she and Fr. George Coyne (the head of the observatory) had with the Holy Father.

Our party is ushered into a room to await His Holiness. He enters accompanied by a burst of song - young priests chanting hosannas. Our conference has been wrestling with evolution, both biological and cosmological. And so has he, John Paul tells us. "The Church's Magisterium is directly concerned with the question of evolution, for it involves the conception of man." Though "Revelations teaches us that man was created in the image and likeness of God," says the Pope, "new knowledge has led us to realize that the theory of evolution is no longer a mere hypothesis." It's good to hear, but hardly breaking news. The Catholic Church has long accepted an evolutionary worldview, complete with descent from apes and a big bang beginning. John Paul in particular has championed science and lent his personal support to "Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action," a decade-long program of which our conference is a part.

As the Pope finishes speaking, Coyne approaches the dais. Their lives have followed similar paths: Both were rigorously schooled in theology and philosophy, both speak multiple languages, and both hail from humble backgrounds. But what a difference a throne makes — without hesitation, Father Coyne drops to his knees to kiss his superior's ring. As a Jesuit, he is bound by absolute obedience to the Pontiff. Symbolic, ritualized, and utterly expected by a priest, it's an act of self-abnegation that seems shockingly out of place in a scientist. In this gesture lurks a fundamental tension: How can Coyne live both in the hierarchical world of the Catholic Church and the egalitarian world of science, where there is no higher authority?

Interesting question. No easy answers however.


Helping Others back to the Path of Truth and Love:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Friday of the Thirty-second Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

2 Jn 4-9
Ps 119:1, 2, 10, 11, 17, 18
Lk 17:26-37

St. John commended the woman to whom he was writing in today's first reading for the fact that some of her children were walking in the way of truth. Does the word "some" imply that some of her other children were not walking in that way? If this is true, then St. John's next words seem especially poingnant. He commanded that, in addition to walking in the path of truth, they must also walk in the path of God's commandments, of which loving one another is fundamental.

Perhaps some of this woman's children deny the truth that the rest of the family accepts. Perhaps they are being tempted to follow those that St. John mentioned next, those that denied that Christ came in the flesh.

Such an occasion would surely bring about a great amount of sadness, tears, and frustration in the rest of the family. St. John seemed to have been aware of this and encouraged them to love one another. Maybe he realized that showing the truth to another who is straying from it is not enough to bring them back. We also need to show them our love for them.

That is how we will lead them back to the teaching of Christ. That is how those who walk on their own path will eventually return to the path of truth and love, paths that lead to the possessing of the Father and the Son in the fullness of the Spirit.

All of this makes this reading from the second letter of St. John very relevant. So many Catholic families, including my own, have the experience of the woman to whom St. John wrote. Some members of these families are walking on the path of truth and love, some are not. If this is the case with you, continue walking on the path of truth, but live out that commandment of love as well.

Ultimately it will be the power of God working through love that will gently draw those back to him who had walked on their own paths. So show them love in ways that they can see and hear: in your actions and in your words. But show love in secret ways as well: in your thoughts and in your prayers.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

An Israeli reflection on the pontificate of John Paul II

It seems to show the conflicted contemporary views of many Jews regarding the Holy Father. On the one hand they recognize the unprecedented strides he has made in bringing the Church closer to the Jewish people. On the other hand they are frustrated with his seeming ambivalence regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This meandering article gives details on the history of the Jewish community in Rome and the views of that community's leaders on Pius XII and the carrying out of Mussolini's anti-Jewish laws. Finally it also, like so many other articles and news reports, tries to predict who the next pope will be or, at least, where he will come from.


I just thought the headline was interesting: "Church has new body for women"

Ok, from the headline what do you think the story is about? Some new take on John Paul's 'theology of the body'? Maybe its about Church-sponsored cosmetic surgery?

Actually, the story is rather ordinary: a diocese in Australia setting up a panel to explore ways that it can integrate women into the ministry of the Church.


The Church of England takes a strong stand: it won't allow vicars to wear t-shirts and jeans

The Church of England's governing body on Wednesday threw out proposals to change its strict dress code for clergy which could have seen vicars carrying out certain church duties in jeans and T-shirts. Modernizers felt ordained Anglican ministers would benefit by appearing less formal, without having to wear items like the surplice.

Why doesn't the fact that the C of E tries to take a 'tough stand' on this kind of issue but gives in on more weighty ones not surprise me?


So much for sanctuary

Refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq seeking asylum were evicted from a French Catholic Church by the police.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Cooperation with grace, predestination, etc.

There are some interesting writing among some Catholic and Protestant bloggers regarding the question of whether or not humans can cooperate with grace, on the question of predestination, and on the related distincton between Calvinists and Arminians.

The writer of the Calvinist blog "He Lives" has posted his thoughts against Arminianism here and here and his thoughts in favor of Calvinism here.

The evangelical blogger locdog has posted his thoughts on the distinction between Calvinists and Arminians here and his thoughts on predestination here.

Finally the contributors to the Catholic blog Veritas have weighed in on it all here and here.

Maybe if things slow down (yeah right) I'll post some thoughts on these issues.


Ministry to Hispanics and Latinos a priority among U.S. Catholic bishops

Thanks to Amy Welborn for the link. It comes from the L.A. Times (LRR). They approved a new plan for ministry to this rapidly growing minority (a majority in many areas in the country) at this week's meeting in Washington.

The new ministry plan, "Encuentro and Mission: A Renewed Pastoral Framework for Hispanic Ministry," calls for incorporating Latinos into the life and leadership of the church and grooming them for leadership positions. Music, language and ritual books should be available in Spanish, and evangelization of the Latino population should be a major emphasis, the report says.

That emphasis on evangelization reflects a major problem the church faces. Even as Latino numbers are growing in Catholic parishes, many other Latinos are leaving the church, often for Protestant evangelical congregations...

The shortage of Spanish-speaking priests is a major factor in the success that evangelical churches have had in proselytizing among Catholics, according to the bishops' Committee on Hispanic Affairs, which produced the new plan for Latino ministry.

As many of you know ministry to Hispanics is a growing interest of mine. I am happy that the parish where I serve as DRE has now started having a Mass in Spanish, if only right now once a month. I think that it is good that we started our ministry to this community with the Eucharist. Such a move is reflective of the fact that we believe that it is the Eucharist that is the source and summit of the life of the Church.

I am confident that other ministries will grow out of this source and will lead to a more vibrant gathering at the summit. But considering how festive and well attended was our first Mass (we had over 300 Hispanics there with a great fiesta afterward), it will be interesting to see how it grows from here.

Where I hope it goes from here is not so much a growth in enthusiasm (that is already there in abundance) as in a growth of integration. I hope to be able to integrate into the life and leadership of the parish. This seems to be a goal of the bishops' new plan.

One thing that will be important to keep in mind, however, is the different ways that Americans and newly arrived Hispanic immigrants understand parishes. I have been told by a priest that ministers among Hispanics that many Mexicans often don't have extremely close ties to one parish over another. Because Catholicism is so prevalent there, parishes can tend to be very, very large. It is easy, then, for an individual to feel no obligation to give of him- or herself to a particular parish community on a regular basis.

If this is the case in general, it may not be the case entirely here. As I noted in a post the day after our first Spanish Mass, a number of Hispanics stayed behind after the fiesta broke up to help with the cleanup. Would that that the Anglos in the parish would do the same. Maybe their and our understanding of parish life isn't so different after all...

Regarding the proselytizing of evangelical churches among Hispanic Catholics, it is a phenomenon that I have observed here in Shelbyville. A Baptist church and a Church of God church here in town have had services and Bible studies in Spanish for upwards to two years before any ministry really began here in the parish. And in the article that I got The Shelbyville News to do on the Mass, there was mentioned at the end the ministry offered to Hispanics at the First Baptist Church.