Sunday, November 30, 2008

Scripture: All our good deeds are NOT like polluted rags

This morning, the first reading from Isaiah included verse 6 from chapter 64 (or verse 5, as the NAB reckons it):
"all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment" (RSV)
"all our good deeds are like polluted rags" (NAB)
"all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (KJV)
"all our justices as the rag of a menstruous woman" (DR)
Please don't be offended by the Douay-Rheims. It's the most literal translation. The Hebrew word `ed is used here to describe the rag; it literally refers to the blood from a woman's period. From this meaning is derived the sense of "filthy" or "polluted".

Anyway, this verse is often taken out of context by non-Catholic Christians. They use it to show that our "good works" are displeasing to God. But from the context (Isaiah 64 at the very least) you can tell this isn't true. It was true for Israel at the time of this prophecy, but it isn't necessarily true of Christians today.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Catechesis is the best form of reform!

Catechesis forma optuma instaurationis est!

O Come, Let Us Adore Him

“O Come, Let Us Adore Him”
Celebrating the Incarnation with
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
(An Advent Exposition on Pope John Paul II’s Ecclesia de Eucharistia)

Queenship of Mary Parish
16 Dey Road, Plainsboro, NJ
Presenter: Jeff Pinyan
Tuesday, December 2, 7:30 PM - 8:45 PM
Saturday, December 6, 3:30 PM - 4:45 PM

Every Advent, the Church prepares herself in a special way for the celebration of the Incarnation of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Before He ascended into heaven, He left with His disciples a pledge of His eternal real presence: the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist. The Eucharist is directly connected to the Incarnation, and therefore, to the Blessed Virgin Mary as well: there is no Eucharist without the Incarnation, and God willed for the Incarnation to come about through Mary. The Eucharist, then, is a celebration and continuation of the presence of Christ that began at the Incarnation.

In 2003, Pope John II wrote a letter to the whole Church entitled Ecclesia de Eucharistia. In it, the Holy Father spoke of the amazement with which the Church regards the Holy Eucharist, the "Mystery of Faith". He desired to rekindle Eucharistic amazement in the Church by means of a specific plan for us in this third millennium of the Church: "to gaze upon and bask in the face of Christ, with Mary … above all in the living sacrament of his Body and Blood."

Come to learn about the history, theology, and spirituality of Eucharistic Adoration as it relates to Advent and the Incarnation, with Mary as our model and companion. We will uncover the relation of Adoration to the mystery of the Incarnation which we remind ourselves of at every Mass, prepare ourselves for during Advent, and celebrate joyfully at Christmas.

Venite, adoremus!
Come, let us adore Him!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Catholic Conscience

Fr. Z has a take on the disturbing Letter to the Editor from Mr. O'Brien of "Catholics for Choice". I strongly urge people to read the Catechism, articles 1776-1802, to see how the Church says a conscience should properly formed. Mr. O'Brien is not the Magisterium of the Church and his opinion on the matter appears to be the product of an improperly-formed Catholic conscience.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Politics: Anti-abortion policy is OPPOSED to job-discrimination laws?

So President Bush has taken some last-minute measures to protect the rights of medical professionals who are opposed to abortion. Here's a several-paragraph excerpt from the article:
A last-minute Bush administration plan to grant sweeping new protections to health care providers who oppose abortion and other procedures on religious or moral grounds has provoked a torrent of objections, including a strenuous protest from the government agency that enforces job-discrimination laws.

The proposed rule would prohibit recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to perform or to assist in the performance of abortions or sterilization procedures because of their "religious beliefs or moral convictions."

It would also prevent hospitals, clinics, doctors' offices and drugstores from requiring employees with religious or moral objections to "assist in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity" financed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

But three officials from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, including its legal counsel, whom President George W. Bush appointed, said the proposal would overturn 40 years of civil rights law prohibiting job discrimination based on religion.
That confuses me. How does this policy overturn policies meant to prohibit religion-based job discrimination?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Q&A on the Extraordinary Form of the Liturgy

(First, I'd like to apologize to the gentleman from the CMAA, from Old Bridge / South Amboy, whose name I had forgotten by the end of our conversation. He is starting up a schola and brought along a few of the members.)

The Q&A was rather decent. The monsignor who led the discussion admitted, rather bluntly, that the liturgy of the Catholic Church in the U.S. went from "poorly done in Latin" to "poorly done in English" because of the reforms of Vatican II.

Some interesting comments included a concern for the Precious Blood being spilled (since a woman said she often sees a carpet stain where the EMHCs with the chalice are standing) and a question about use of a Communion rail and restricting Communion to one species. I learned that it is a diocese-wide "mandate" to offer Communion under both kinds at every Mass; quite surprising, given the sordid history of Communnion under both kinds in the U.S.

I mentioned the CMAA ( and the new instructional DVD on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass by the Priestly Society of St. Peter ( as resources for musicians and priests and seminarians who are interested in the the traditional music and liturgy of the Church.

Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy called for liturgical reform, it is true, but it also called for better liturgical formation and catechesis for clergy and laity alike. Let's pray for that part to get implemented in the coming years!

Bible Study: Last Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, Year A

1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28
Christ will hand over the Kingdom to the Father
Sicut enim in Adam omnes moriuntur, ita et in Christo omnes vivificabuntur!
Download this study [MS Word, 91 k, 4pp]

Friday, November 14, 2008

Living the Mass

This Sunday, I will be leading an RCIA session entitled "Living the Mass". The purpose is to look at the layers of the Mass, from the spiritual to the didactic to the missionary.

How is the Mass missionary? I defer to Pope Benedict XVI:
After the blessing, the deacon or the priest dismisses the people with the words: Ite, missa est. These words help us to grasp the relationship between the Mass just celebrated and the mission of Christians in the world. In antiquity, missa simply meant "dismissal." However in Christian usage it gradually took on a deeper meaning. The word "dismissal" has come to imply a "mission." These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church. The People of God might be helped to understand more clearly this essential dimension of the Church's life, taking the dismissal as a starting-point. (Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 51)
To understand the missionary layer of the Mass, one has to consider the Mass as a communion between God and man. The Mass is full of giving and receiving and "coming near to". We begin Mass "going in to the altar of God" (even if those words are not present in Ordinary Form of the Mass) in the entrance procession; we come near to God. In the Liturgy of the Word, God comes to us in His Word. Then the priest offers our bread and wine to God, who returns them to us as the Body and Blood of His Son. Then the priest offers Jesus Christ, the Divine victim, the Eucharist, to the Father; and God, through the hands of His priests (ideally...), offers Himself to us in Holy Communion. At the end of Mass, the priest gives us God's blessing, and says (ideally...) Ite, missa est! We are sent on a mission. What are we sent with? The Word of God (which we received in the Scripture), the Eucharist (which we received in Holy Communion), and God's blessing. That is sufficient for any mission.

I can see the Mass as being a portrayal of Holy Week (and beyond), encapsulating Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem through the Passion and all the way to the Ascension.

Anyone care to chime in on the spiritual and didactic layers of the Mass?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Liturgy: When will we have a new translation?

A bishop at the USCCB meeting asked Bishop Serratelli (Diocese of Paterson, chairman of the Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship) when the revised translation of the Roman Missal would be completed. Bishop Serratelli wrote out the answer to this question ahead of time! Paraphrasing him:
As of the September meeting of ICEL, ICEL had finished all the translations. As of November, all the "grey books" are complete and ready for examination by the Episcopal Conferences. Hopefully by November 2010 (two years away), all the grey books will have been completed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and sent to the Holy See for approval. Once approval has been given and the publishers have had a year to do their work, we can expect the new texts to be used starting in Advent of 2012 (four years away).
Why not 2011? Well, we can hope, but I think 2012 is more reasonable. Plus, it gives our bishops and priests and deacons more time to catechize us!

God is Big! Real Big!

A 2004 book by an Australian priest who denies that Jesus is God recently made the news. In chapter 5, "Jesus the Avatar", of God is Big! Real Big! -- and yes, that is the actual title -- Fr. Peter Dresser insists that Jesus is not God and never considered himself to be God.

Fr. Z tackles the story as well.

This is the same place that had been (and possibly still is) baptizing invalidly, "in the name of the Creator, the Liberator, and the Sanctifier".

You can read the whole book online... but... why? Adding to my prayer intentions.

Update: The problem with ressourcement ("returning to the sources") is you must be careful which sources it is you are returning to! Are they orthodox or heterodox? As canonist Edward Peters puts it: "The more modernistic the liberal clerical cohort in Australia tries to become, the older are the heresies that they promote."

Update 2: Fr. Dresser has taken the book offline, and put the following message on his blog:
I can understand why the article in “The Australian” (October 29) has appalled so many people. It has caused scandal and anger, concern and anguish and has hurt me personally. It saddens me that such hysteria has erupted and I feel obliged as a Catholic priest to quell the tempest as best I can.

At the outset I want to reaffirm my belief in the Divinity of Jesus, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Jesus. This affirmation is entirely unsolicited and comes from the heart of a person who has cherished his Catholic religion from childhood and has no reason to repudiate or disparage its core tenets.

The comments in the newspaper were taken from a manuscript I compiled prayerfully and reflectively over many years. In that document I attempted to go beyond doctrine and dogma and to discover God’s magnificence and friendship in the world of science and evolution and in the immensity of the universe. It was not an arrogant attempt to spurn or scorn my Catholic theology. It was more an attempt to personalise and retheologise my Catholic faith and so allow my religion to provide greater nourishment for me in my spiritual journey. It was also my intention to emphasise the human nature of Jesus and Mary. It was a very worthwhile and meaningful experience for me and for others with whom I shared it.

The manuscript is not easy to read and so I can readily appreciate that many people have found its content confusing and indeed even “heretical”. Unfortunately people have not appreciated that my explorative theology is not a credal statement. I also employed a jargon in the process which has made the document even more confusing for so many. My sole intention was to make our beautiful Catholic religion and its beliefs more meaningful in our contemporary world. I am distressed that I have caused pain and anguish instead.

With hindsight it would probably have been wise not to have allowed random access to the manuscript. I requested that the web site which hosted this document be closed down and this has happened. At this stage there is very little else I can do except to apologise to anyone who has been scandalised by what was meant to have been a prayerful, refreshing and invigorating document.
As sincere as he may be, his belief in the Divinity of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection of Jesus are beliefs in names of dogmas with radically altered substance.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Q&A Session on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass

My diocese is holding an event entitled "Questions and Answers on the Latin Mass" [sic]. I'm very pleased that they're openly discussing the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. I plan on attending, even though I'm not ordained nor a member of a music ministry, but I would very much like to receive formation and training either to assist at the altar as a server or to sing in a schola.

I'll come equipped (including a pad of paper for copious note-taking).

3 x 3 x 3

I am 27 today. That's 3 to the 3rd power. I'd say that's a good number then.

The wife and I went to Mass last night (RCIA Rite of Welcoming for our parish's two catechumens and one candidate), so this morning we slept in, and are heading out to have brunch at Lambertville Station.

After Bible Study from 4pm - 6pm this afternoon, there'll be dinner and cake (the cake is not a lie) and then we watch the New York Football Giants decimate the Philadelphia Eagles. Hopefully.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Word Study: "Religion"

My friend Tim, from Army of Martyrs, had a post today about the ideology (popular in some circles) that Christianity is not a religion so much as it is about a relationship. It's very short, so I'll post it all here, and then give my response:
Christianity - Relationship not Religion?

If I hear that line one more time I'm going to puke. If we say Christianity isn't a religion, then all we've done is re-define the word "religion". In any meaningful sense, yes Christianity is a religion. The statement can't be true unless it's meaningless and nothing can be true without meaning. Therefore Christianity is a religion.

This popular sentimentality is most often found spewing from those who think that Jesus' primary purpose was to teach Jews how to be Platonists (and when they didn't get it, He went and taught the Gentiles).

I called my boss out on it this morning perhaps a bit too hastily. She said something like "we don't like to feel like we're religious here - we think religion is a bad thing" and I responded "that's funny because Christianity is a religion".

Sentimentalism is lack of emotional sobriety. It's not just distasteful and embarrassing, it is a sin.
What follows is my response...

Here's the kicker: "religion" = "relationship". Sorry, Christians who despise "religion". Bear with me!

The dictionary says this about the origin of the word "religion":
[Middle English religioun, from Old French religion, from Latin religiō, religiōn-, perhaps from religāre, to tie fast. See rely.]
The Oxford English Dictionary confirms this:
[a. AF. religiun (11th c.), F. religion, or ad. L. religion-em, of doubtful etymology, by Cicero connected with relegere to read over again, but by later authors with religare to bind, RELIGATE (see Lewis and Short, s.v.); the latter view has usually been favoured by modern writers in explaining the force of the word by its supposed etymological meaning.]
The Latin religare means "to bind fast; to moor"; ligare on its own means "to bind, tie, fasten; to unite". So that is (most likely) whence came the word "religion" (as far as the English word and its origin).

Where does the word "religion" show up in Sacred Scripture? A quick check shows that the word "religion" (and its forms) shows up in English translations of the Old Testament almost exclusively in the deutero-canonical content; that is, in those books or parts of books which nearly every Protestant community disregards as inspired canonical Scripture. I'm looking at the Douay-Rheims (DR), King James Version (KJV), Revised Standard Version (RSV - not the Catholic editions), and the New American Bible (NAB).

"Religion" in the Old Testament

The only non-deutero-canonical occurence of the word is in Leviticus 16:31 (as rendered in the DR): "For it is a sabbath of rest, and you shall afflict your souls by a perpetual religion." The RSV renders this as "It is a sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute for ever"; the NAB as "by everlasting ordinance it shall be a most solemn sabbath for you, on which you must mortify yourselves"; the KJV as "It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever."

The rest of the references to the word show up in texts not likely to ever be read by a Protestant. The casual reader can feel free to skip over these excerpts.
1 Maccabees 1:43
Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. (RSV - 1 Macc 1:43b)
[A]nd many Israelites were in favor of his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. (NAB)
Yea, many also of the Israelites consented to his religion, and sacrificed unto idols, and profaned the sabbath. (KJV)
And many of Israel consented to his service, and they sacrificed to idols, and profaned the sabbath. (DR - 1 Macc 1:45)

1 Maccabees 2:19,22
"[D]eparting each one from the religion of his fathers... We will not obey the king's words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left." (RSV)
"[S]o that each forsakes the religion of his fathers and consents to the king's orders ... We will not obey the words of the king nor depart from our religion in the slightest degree." (NAB)
"[F]all away every one from the religion of their fathers, and give consent to his commandments: ... We will not hearken to the king's words, to go from our religion, either on the right hand, or the left. (KJV)
"[S]o as to depart every man from the service of the law of his fathers, and consent to his commandments: ... We will not hearken to the words of king Antiochus, neither will we sacrifice, and transgress the commandments of our law, to go another way. (DR)

1 Maccabees 2:29
Then many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to dwell there... (RSV)
Many who sought to live according to righteousness and religious custom went out into the desert to settle there... (NAB)
Then many that sought after justice and judgment went down into the wilderness, to dwell there... (KJV)
Then many that sought after judgment, and justice, went down into the desert... (DR)

2 Maccabees 6:11
[B]ecause their piety kept them from defending themselves, in view of their regard for that most holy day. (RSV)
In their respect for the holiness of that day, they had scruples about defending themselves. (NAB)
[B]ecause they made a conscience to help themselves for the honour of the most sacred day. (KJV)
[B]ecause they made a conscience to help themselves with their hands, by reason of the religious observance of the day. (DR)

2 Maccabees 6:24
"Eleazar in his ninetieth year has gone over to an alien religion..." (RSV)
"[T]he ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion..." (NAB)
Eleazar, being fourscore years old and ten, were now gone to a strange religion... (KJV)
Eleazar, at the age of fourscore and ten years, was gone over to the life of the heathens... (DR)

2 Maccabees 8:1
[E]nlisted those who had continued in the Jewish faith, and so they gathered about six thousand men. (RSV)
[E]nlisting others who remained faithful to Judaism, assembled about six thousand men. (NAB)
[T]ook unto them all such as continued in the Jews' religion, and assembled about six thousand men. (KJV)
[T]aking unto them such as continued in the Jews' religion, they assembled six thousand men. (DR)

2 Maccabees 12:43
In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. (RSV)
In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view... (NAB)
[D]oing therein very well and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection... (KJV)
[T]hinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection... (DR)

2 Maccabees 14:38
[A]nd for Judaism he had with all zeal risked body and life. (RSV)
[C]onvicted of Judaism, and had risked body and life in his ardent zeal for it. (NAB)
[A]nd did boldly jeopard his body and life with all vehemency for the religion of the Jews. (KJV)
[K]eeping himself pure in the Jews' religion, and was ready to expose his body and life, that he might persevere therein. (DR)

Judith 11:17 (phrase absent from the DR)
For your servant is religious, and serves the God of heaven day and night... (RSV)
Your handmaid is, indeed, a God-fearing woman, serving the God of heaven night and day... (NAB)
For thy servant is religious, and serveth the God of heaven day and night... (KJV)

Judith 14:6 (DR, 14:10 elsewhere, but without the highlighted phrase)
Then Achior seeing the power that the God of Israel had wrought, leaving the religion of the gentiles, he believed God, and circumcised the flesh of his foreskin, and was joined to the people of Israel, with all the succession of his kindred until this present day. (DR)

Judith 16:31 (DR, not found elsewhere)
[A]nd is religiously observed by the Jews from that time until this day. (DR)

Sirach 1:17-18,26 (DR, not found elsewhere)
The fear of the Lord is the religiousness of knowledge. Religiousness shall keep and justify the heart, it shall give joy and gladness. ... In the treasures of wisdom is understanding, and religiousness of knowledge: but to sinners wisdom is an abomination. (DR)

Sirach 37:10
Do not consult the one who looks at you suspiciously; hide your counsel from those who are jealous of you. (RSV)
Seek no advice from one who regards you with hostility; from those who envy you, keep your intentions hidden. (NAB)
Consult not with one that suspecteth thee: and hide thy counsel from such as envy thee. (KJV)
Treat not with a man without religion concerning holiness, nor with an unjust man concerning justice... (DR - Sirach 37:12)

Sirach 37:12
But stay constantly with a godly man whom you know to be a keeper of the commandments... (RSV)
Instead, associate with a religious man, who you are sure keeps the commandments... (NAB)
But be continually with a godly man, whom thou knowest to keep the commandments of the Lord... (KJV)
But be continually with a holy man, whomsoever thou shalt know to observe the fear of God... (DR - Sirach 37:15)

Daniel 3:90
"Bless him, all who worship the Lord, the God of gods, sing praise to him and give thanks to him, for his mercy endures for ever." (RSV - Daniel 3:91)
"Bless the God of gods, all you who fear the Lord; praise him and give him thanks, because his mercy endures forever." (NAB)
O all ye that worship the Lord, bless the God of gods, praise him, and give him thanks: for his mercy endureth for ever. (KJV - Daniel 3:91)
O all ye religious, bless the Lord the God of gods: praise him and give him thanks, because his mercy endureth for ever and ever. (DR)

Esther 8:17
And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them. (RSV)
And many of the peoples of the land embraced Judaism, for they were seized with a fear of the Jews. (NAB)
And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them. (KJV)
[I]nsomuch that many of other nations and religion, joined themselves to their worship and ceremonies. For a great dread of the name of the Jews had fallen upon all. (DR)

Esther 9:27
[T]he Jews ordained and took it upon themselves and their descendants and all who joined them, that without fail... (RSV)
[T]he Jews established and took upon themselves, their descendants, and all who should join them, the inviolable obligation... (NAB)
The Jews ordained, and took upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them, so as it should not fail... (KJV)
[T]he Jews took upon themselves and their seed, and upon all that had a mind to be joined to their religion, so that it should be lawful for none to pass these days without solemnity... (DR)
"Religion" in the New Testament

Given the inconsistencies surrounding use of the term "religion" in the Old Testament, I think it will serve us better to look at the New Testament occurrences and see if we can glean what Paul (and other early Christians) used the term "religion" to mean. Here I will also include the actual Greek word (or phrase) being translated as "religion" (or one of its forms).
Acts 10:2
[A] devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God. (RSV)
[D]evout and God-fearing along with his whole household, who used to give alms generously to the Jewish people and pray to God constantly. (NAB)
A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always. (KJV)
A religious man, and fearing God with all his house, giving much alms to the people, and always praying to God. (DR)
The Greek word here is eusebes, which means "reverent, pious, devout, godly".
Acts 13:43, 50
And when the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas ... But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing... (RSV)
After the congregation had dispersed, many Jews and worshipers who were converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas ... The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers... (NAB)
Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas ... But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women... (KJV)
And when the synagogue was broken up, many of the Jews, and of the strangers who served God, followed Paul and Barnabas ... But the Jews stirred up religious and honourable women... (DR)
The Greek word used in both of these places is sebomai, which means "devout, religious, worshipful".
Acts 17:22
"Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious." (RSV)
"You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious." (NAB)
Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. (KJV)
Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are too superstitious. (DR)
The Greek word here is deisidaimonesteros, which means "more religious than others; too superstitious".
Acts 25:19
[B]ut they had certain points of dispute with him about their own superstition... (RSV)
Instead they had some issues with him about their own religion... (NAB)
But had certain questions against him of their own superstition... (KJV)
But had certain questions of their own superstition against him... (DR)
The Greek word here is deisidaimonia, which means "religion, superstition".
Acts 26:5
[T]hat according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. (RSV)
[T]hat I have lived my life as a Pharisee, the strictest party of our religion. (NAB)
[T]hat after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. (KJV)
[T]hat according to the most sure sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. (DR)
The Greek word here is threskeia, which means "ceremonial observance, religion, worshiping".

So let's look at how these Greek words were used in Acts. We see two distinct concepts being translated as "religious": being devout and being superstitious. The word eusebes (meaning devout) has sebomai for a root; sebomai (or forms thereof) is used as the verb "to worship" (Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7; Acts 18:7, 13; 19:27) and as the adjective "devout" (Acts 13:43, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17). Forms of eusebes are used to mean "godly" (2 Peter 2:9) and "devout" (Acts 10:2, 7). Now, consider just who Luke and Peter are referring to as "godly" and "devout":
  • Cornelius and a soldier of his (Acts 10)
  • Jews and converts who were very interested in what Paul and Barnabas had to say... but then were incited to persecute them (Acts 13)
  • Lydia, whose heart was opened by the Lord to give heed to what Paul preached (Acts 16)
  • Certain Greeks in Thessalonica who believed the Gospel (Acts 17:4)
  • Certain people (probably Greeks, possibly converts but possibly also pagans) in Athens (Acts 17:17)
  • Those whom the Lord will rescue from trial (2 Peter 2)
Most of the people to whom the adjective "devout" or "godly" is attributed are those who believe in God, believe that Jesus is the Christ, and are therefore favored by the Lord. If "religious" is used as a synonym for "devout" and "godly", I want to be religious! It sounds like these people have a real relationship with the Lord... I find it hard to believe that a person who is genuinely "godly" wouldn't have a relationship with God!

Now, the other two terms rendered in some translations as "religious" were deisidaimonesteros and deisidaimonia. These words are indeed better rendered as "superstitious", because they come from the Greek words deilos and daimon, which together literally mean "fearful (or dreading) of demons". This fear or dread is not the Christian kind (by which he knows not to entertain temptations or near occasions to sin, which are surely prompted by the Devil and his minions) but one which accompanies idol worship. The word is used by Paul to the pagan Athenians with their pantheon of gods (Acts 17:22), and by Festus (a Roman pagan) about the Jews who accused Paul of crimes (Acts 25:19). To misattribute such superstition to a Christian who claims he is "religious" is a disservice.

As for "religion" the noun, we have only seen once such term so far, threskeia. Paul uses it to describe Judaism. We'll see this word and its other forms used in Colossians and James.

Let's turn to the writings of Paul now. I will be omitting the references in Galatians 1:13-14 and X because they use the Greek word Ioudaismos which means "Judaism" and is in some translations rendered as "the Jews' religion". Again, for the casual reader, you can bypass these excerpts and rejoin in the summary section.
Colossians 2:18
Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind... (RSV)
Let no one disqualify you, delighting in self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, inflated without reason by his fleshly mind... (NAB)
Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind... (KJV)
Let no man seduce you, willing in humility, and religion of angels, walking in the things which he hath not seen, in vain puffed up by the sense of his flesh... (DR)
The Greek word rendered as "worship", "worshiping", and "religion" is threskeia again.
1 Timothy 2:10
but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. (RSV)
but rather, as befits women who profess reverence for God, with good deeds. (NAB)
But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. (KJV)
But as it becometh women professing godliness, with good works. (DR)
Here, the Greek word is theosebeian, which means "devoutness, piety, godliness". This Greek word is made up of theos (God) and sebomai ("to adore, to worship").
1 Timothy 3:16
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (RSV)
Undeniably great is the mystery of devotion, Who was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed to the Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory. (NAB)
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (KJV)
And evidently great is the mystery of godliness, which was manifested in the flesh, was justified in the spirit, appeared unto angels, hath been preached unto the Gentiles, is believed in the world, is taken up in glory. (DR)
Here Paul uses the Greek word eusebeias, which we've seen before in a slightly different form; this word means "piety; godliness, holiness".
1 Timothy 6:3-6
If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. There is great gain in godliness with contentment... (RSV)
Whoever teaches something different and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the religious teaching is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid disposition for arguments and verbal disputes. From these come envy, rivalry, insults, evil suspicions, and mutual friction among people with corrupted minds, who are deprived of the truth, supposing religion to be a means of gain. Indeed, religion with contentment is a great gain. (NAB)
If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. (KJV)
If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to that doctrine which is according to godliness, He is proud, knowing nothing, but sick about questions and strifes of words; from which arise envies, contentions, blasphemies, evil suspicions, Conflicts of men corrupted in mind, and who are destitute of the truth, supposing gain to be godliness. But godliness with contentment is great gain. (DR)
The Greek word used in verses 3 and 5 are eusebeian; in verse 6 it is eusebeia. The definition is the same: "godliness, piety".
2 Timothy 3:2
For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy... (RSV)
People will be self-centered and lovers of money, proud, haughty, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious... (NAB)
For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy... (KJV)
Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, wicked... (DR)
This word is, anosioi, from the prefix an- (not) and hosios, which in turn means "divinely right", in the sense of "righteous, pious, holy". So "unholy" or "impious" is suitable; "irreligious", given the right definition of "religious", could work too.
2 Timothy 3:5
[H]olding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. (RSV)
[T]hey make a pretense of religion but deny its power. Reject them. (NAB)
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (KJV)
Having an appearance indeed of godliness, but denying the power thereof. Now these avoid. (DR)
This is the word eusebeias again.
2 Timothy 3:12
Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (RSV)
In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (NAB)
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (KJV)
And all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution. (DR)
This is the adverb eusebos: "piously, godly".
Titus 2:12
[T]raining us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world... (RSV)
[T]raining us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age... (NAB)
Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world... (KJV)
Instructing us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world... (DR)
This word is asebeian, which is a- with sebomai: "irreverence, wickedness, impiety, godlessness".
Hebrews 12:16
that no one be immoral or irreligious like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. (RSV)
that no one be an immoral or profane person like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. (NAB)
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. (KJV)
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau; who for one mess, sold his first birthright. (DR)
This Greek word is bebelos, which means "accessible" in the sense of "crossing the threshold", thus: "profane" (from the Latin profanus, "outside/against the temple"). The term "irreligious" works here if "religious" is understood to mean "worthy of the temple".

Let us also consider the words of James:
James 1:26-27
If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (RSV)
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (NAB)
If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (KJV)
And if any man think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation: and to keep one's self unspotted from this world. (DR)
The adjective here is threskos; the noun is threskeia.

So let's look at these uses together to see if we can understand what "religion" and "religious" mean as translations of these Greek words.

As for the noun "religion", we see the word threskeia (in varying forms) used in Col. 2:18 and James 1:26-27. (This word is also spoken by Paul in Acts 26:5.) When "religion" is used in the sense of "godliness", we see two words used: theosebeian (1 Tim. 2:10) and eusebeia in its various forms (1 Tim. 2:2; 3:16; 4:7-8; 6:3-6, 11; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:3, 6-7; 3:11). As an adverb, "religiously" or "godly" is seen as eusebos (2 Tim. 3:12; Titus 2:12) . The opposite of "religious" -- "irreligious" -- is seen as anosioi (1 Tim. 1:9; 2 Tim. 3:2), asebeia (Rom. 1:18; 11:26; 1 Tim. 1:9; 2 Tim. 2:16; Titus 2:12; Jude 1:15,18), and bebelos (1 Tim. 1:9; 4:7; 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:16; Heb. 12:16).

What does James write concerning "religion"?
  • A man's religion is for nought, and his heart deceived, if he has a sinful tongue (James 1:26)
  • Pure religion to God is care for widows and orphans, and keeping yourself free from the stain of the world (James 1:27)
Why do Paul and Peter write concerning "godliness"?
  • We should pray for all men, that we may lead lives of godliness (1 Tim. 2:2)
  • Women who claim godliness should adorn themselves with good works. (1 Tim. 2:10)
  • The "mystery of godliness", concerning the Word-made-flesh (1 Tim. 3:16)
  • Avoid profanity, seek godliness; bodily exercise has value in some things, but godliness has value in all things (1 Tim. 4:7-8)
  • Jesus taught a doctrine "according to godliness"; mere gain is not godliness, but godless with contentment is itself gain (1 Tim. 6:3-6)
  • The man of God strives for "righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness" (1 Tim. 6:11)
  • Avoid lovers of pleasure rather than of God, who have a "form of godliness" but deny its power (2 Tim. 3:5)
  • Our ministry under God is due to knowledge of the truth which comes from godliness (Titus 1:1)
  • God grants us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3)
  • We should supplement steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection. (2 Pet. 1:6-7)
  • We ought to be people of holy living and godliness. (2 Pet. 3:11)
What did Paul write about living "religiously"?
  • Those who live godly can expect persecution (2 Tim. 3:12)
  • The grace of God instructs us to live godly (Titus 2:12)
What do Paul and Jude write about being irreligious?
  • The wrath of God is unleashed against the ungodly (Rom. 1:18)
  • The Deliverer came to remove ungodliness from Jacob (Rom. 11:26)
  • The Law was given for the ungodly, unholy, and profane (1 Tim. 1:9)
  • We should avoid gossip and profane stories which lead to ungodliness (1 Tim. 4:7; 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:16)
  • Unholiness is part of a laundry list of sins of men in the last days (2 Tim. 3:2; Jude 1:18)
  • The grace of God instructs us to deny ungodliness (Titus 2:12)
  • We must avoid falling short of the grace of God, being immoral and profane (Heb. 12:16)
  • The Lord came to convict the ungodly of their deeds (Jude 1:15)
I fail to see how one can be godly and live a godly life without having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. If one is in that relationship, will he not exercise that pure religion which is pleasing to God -- compassion for widows and orphans, and avoidance of the blemish of sin? If that's what it means to be religious... count me in!

Looking back at the definition, I find the link between "religion" and "rely" to reinforce this idea of "religion as relationship". Our religion causes us to rely on Him to whom we are bound, and this reliance is best described as a relationship. It is not puppetry or blind obedience, it is a relationship between the Creator and His creation, between the Father and His adopted sons and daughters, between the Savior of the world and those yearning for salvation, between the Holy Spirit and those who have been born from above in water and that same Spirit.

As a last point... there's a Christian recording artist out there called "Big Daddy Weave" with a song called "Fields of Grace"; which song has a line "There's a place where religion finally dies." There is no such place: in Heaven, religion will be perfected, and we will never again stray from God; in Hell, religion is unto the Prince of Darkness, and there is no loosing his terrible grip.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Scripture Reflection: November 9, Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran

This Sunday, November 9, is the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. This church's proper name is the "Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour, St. John Baptist and St. John the Evangelist at the Lateran". This day also happens to be my birthday!

The First Reading (Ezek. 47:1-2,8-9,12) is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First, Ezek. 47:1 is the origin of the Vidi Aquam, the traditional (and still used today, hopefully) antiphon used during the Rite of Sprinkling with Holy Water during the Easter season:
Vidi aquam egredientem de templo
a latere dextro, Alleluia;
et omnes ad quos pervenit aqua ista
salvi facti sunt, et dicent, Alleluia. Alleluia.

I saw water flowing from
the right side of the temple, Alleluia;
and all they to whom that water came were saved,
and they shall say, Alleluia. Alleluia.
The Rite of Sprinkling with Holy Water, in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, takes the place of the Penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass. In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, this rite happens before the Mass actually begins (so it is not replacing, but supplementing).

The reading speaks of the east-ward facing temple (also a traditional feature of the great majority of churches). This text is also reinterpreted in the book of Revelation (cf. Rev. 22:2, for example).

Spiritually, the text speaks to me because this reading focuses less on the temple itself and more on the water which flows from it. This speaks to me of the waters of baptism, the regeneration in the Spirit which that sacrament brings. It speaks of this water affected everything it touches, which says to me that our baptismal rebirth is not simply a personal nor private event, but one which is ordered to ALL of creation. As we are created anew in Christ, so the world will be by us AND by Him.

I really hope my parish uses the assigned Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 46:2-3,5-6,8-9), since it is particularly appropriate. Jesus is quoting from Psalm 69, so that is also a relevant Psalm (perhaps one to meditate upon during your personal preparations for Mass).

The Second Reading (1 Cor. 3:9c-11,16-17) re-interprets the Old Testament reading for us as Christians. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, and as the Lord says in John 4:14, the water he gives becomes a spring within us welling up to eternal life. In other words, the baptismal water in which we are cleansed is the "water of life" which then grows within us as a spring, insofar as we are temples of God.

Paul also speaks of the importance of building upon the foundation with great care, and that the only foundation there can be is the one laid by Jesus Christ. We cannot try to build upon our old selves as a foundation: it is not permitted for us to fall back to our old selves or try to restore our old sinful ways and "christen" them. We are a new creation. We must be holy, set apart for God, not for impurity (cf. 1 Thess. 4).

The Gospel (John 2:13-22) shows us how Paul (who was once a Pharisee and a Jew with a mastery of their Scriptures) got from Ezek. 47 to what he wrote to the Church in Corinth: he was building upon the foundation of Christ's teaching: Jesus's body is the true temple, and we, being the Body of Christ, the Church, are ourselves temples of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also speaks of the importance of keeping the temple holy, of not profaning the temple.

Now, the feast day is about a physical edifice, so how does that fit in with all this "spiritual temple" stuff?

Church buildings should be constructions of stone and wood and glass and metal that represent the spiritual temple of our bodies. I think that is why the cruciform floor-plan gained popularity. Churches with tall spires reaching to the sky are not an exercise in vanity (like Babel, cf. Gen. 11) but a testimony to the transcendence and greatness of God. The bells peal forth an echo of the gospel, reaching farther than the eye can see. The sacred art inside, depicting our Lord, his Blessed Mother, and his saints, are pictures of our faith; they are models in our lives of faith.

The glorious beauty of a church building reflects the beautiful glory of the Catholic faith, of the Church, and of Her beloved spouse, our Lord Jesus Christ. It inspires us to holiness, fills us with awe, and reassures the hope that is in us. A church is truly a sacred place, a place consecrated to the Lord, as our very bodies and souls are.

That's what my birthday -- oops, I mean, the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran -- means to me.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Some promises are not worth keeping

Obama: "There will always be people, many of good will, who do not share my view on the issue of 'choice'. On this fundamental issue I will not yield and Planned Parenthood will not yield."

Audience Member: "[T]he recent Bush-Supreme Court's decision really took away critically important decisions from women and put them in the hands of politicians, and as a result of this we're expecting, and have already seen, so much anti-choice legislation at the State level. What would you do at the Federal level, not only to ensure access to abortion, but to make sure that the Judicial nominees that you will inevitably be able to pick are true to the core tenets of Roe v. Wade?"

Obama: "Well, the first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act."
Now, from a grammatical and rhetorical point of view, Obama has not promised (in this speech) to sign the FOCA as his first presidential act. He does appear, though, to promise that signing the FOCA will be his first presidential act toward a) ensuring access to abortion, and b) selecting pro-choice nominees for the Supreme Court.

Mr. President(-elect), don't keep this promise.