Friday, July 31, 2009

Fr. Leo: "Grace Before Meals"

Fr. Leo is a Filipino priest from Emmitsburg, Maryland, who founded a movement called "Grace Before Meals":
Grace Before Meals is centered on one fundamental concept: the simple act of creating and sharing a meal can strengthen all kinds of relationships. Founded by Fr. Leo Patalinghug in 2003, Grace Before Meals has grown from a simple idea to a worldwide movement, producing a book, blog and even a pilot for a TV show endorsed by PBS.

Research shows that having frequent family dinners can reduce the susceptibility of teens to risks like teen pregnancy, smoking, drug use and depression. And these benefits don’t just apply to traditional families or people with kids. Stronger families foster stronger communities, and that’s the goal we’re striving for–one meal at a time.
I found out about this by listening to EWTN Radio's "Catholic Connection" hosted by Teresa Tomeo.

Check out Fr. Leo's web site. He has a page with several traditional prayers before and after meals, two of which are in Latin!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The new Bishop of Allentown on Confession

"The diocese of Allentown is not and will
not be resigned to empty confessionals."

News: Sudanese Bishop warns faithful about the "Reformed Catholic Church"

Update: To be clear, the "Reformed Catholic Church" is a church with purports to have valid apostolic orders and a valid Eucharist; however, they ordain men and women. They are a denomination or ancestor of the "Old Catholic Church" (which broke off from the Catholic Church after Vatican I in the late 19th century). They have some of the Catholic faith, and some of their sacraments may be valid, but they are not in communion with the Catholic Church, because they do not recognize the primacy of the successor of Peter (the Pope, the Bishop of Rome). It is a grave sin for a Catholic to receive Communion in such a church.

Here are some excerpts from a ZENIT article. In a pastoral letter to his flock, Bishop Cesare Mazzolari of Rumbek, Sudan, warned the faithful about the breakaway sect calling itself the "Reformed Catholic Church":
"I am clearly and strongly alerting you, dear Christians, that people who call themselves The Reformed Catholic Church, in all truth, are no longer acceptable members of the Catholic Church and you should not follow them. ... These teachers are merely imitating the external ceremonies of the Church and some of its practices, but theirs is a false religion, not the Catholic faith that we know."


Followers of the Reformed Catholic Church are "perfect copy cats," Bishop Mazzolari warned, imitating prayers, readings, and external ceremonies so that "simple people" think they are attending a Catholic Mass. He continued: "Be advised that these are false practices, not Catholic practices. Do not attend such services or you will only become confused."
Read the whole article.

Making Sense of Sunday: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B), August 2, 2009

This series, Making Sense of Sunday, is meant to be an aid both to lectors and the people in the pews. I cover both the First Reading and the Second Reading, usually giving more attention to the Second Reading, since it's usually omitted from the homily and only rarely topically related to the First Reading and the Gospel.

First Reading: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
In Exodus 15, the Israelites sing a triumphant song to the Lord Who has just defeated Pharaoh's entire army by drowning them in the Red Sea. The chapter ends, though, with grumbling: the company of Israel had walked through the desert of Shur for three days without finding water, and when they finally did find water, it was too bitter to drink. The Israelites called that place Marah (meaning, "bitter").

So faced with bitter water, the Israelites complained to Moses, "What are we to drink?" The Lord instructed Moses to throw a certain type of wood into the water to make it drinkable. Could this be a sign pointing to the wood of the cross by which death (often represented by water) is transformed from being bitter to being our final passage into the sweetness of eternity?

After Marah, they travel to Elim, "where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees." (Exodus 15:27) From there, they set off through the desert of Sin (what a name, eh?) which is between Elim and Sinai. (cf. Exodus 16:1) They have not yet reached Mt. Sinai and received the Commandments; they reach it in Exodus 19.

I have included the whole of chapter 16; verses omitted from the liturgical reading are in italics and placed between { and }.

{ [1] Having set out from Elim, the whole Israelite community came into the desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt. }

[2] The whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.
[3] The Israelites said to them,
Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt,
as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!
But you had to lead us into this desert
to make the whole community die of famine!”

[Ps. 78:23-25; 105:40[4] Then the LORD said to Moses,
Wis. 16:20]“I will now rain down bread from heaven for you.
Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion;
thus will I test them,
to see whether they follow my instructions or not.

{ [5] On the sixth day, however, when they prepare what they bring in, let it be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

[6] So Moses and Aaron told all the Israelites, At evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt;
[7] and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, as he heeds your grumbling against him. But what are we that you should grumble against us?
[8] When the LORD gives you flesh to eat in the evening,” continued Moses, “and in the morning your fill of bread, as he heeds the grumbling you utter against him, what then are we? Your grumbling is not against us, but against the LORD.”

[9] Then Moses said to Aaron, “Tell the whole Israelite community: Present yourselves before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.”
[10] When Aaron announced this to the whole Israelite community, they turned toward the desert, and lo, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud!
[11] The LORD spoke to Moses and said, }

[12] “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites.
Tell them: In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh,
and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread,
so that you may know that I, the LORD, am your God.”

[13] In the evening quail came up and covered the camp.
In the morning a dew lay all about the camp,
[14] and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert
were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground.
[15] On seeing it, the Israelites asked one another, “What is this?”
for they did not know what it was.
But Moses told them,
“This is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.”

{ [16] “Now, this is what the LORD has commanded. So gather it that everyone has enough to eat, an omer for each person, as many of you as there are, each man providing for those of his own tent.”
[17] The Israelites did so. Some gathered a large and some a small amount.
[18] But when they measured it out by the omer, he who had gathered a large amount did not have too much, and he who had gathered a small amount did not have too little. They so gathered that everyone had enough to eat.

[CCC 2836-2837][19] Moses also told them, “Let no one keep any of it over until tomorrow morning.”
[20] But they would not listen to him. When some kept a part of it over until the following morning, it became wormy and rotten. Therefore Moses was displeased with them.

[21] Morning after morning they gathered it, till each had enough to eat; but when the sun grew hot, the manna melted away.
[22] On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers for each person. When all the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses,
[23] he told them, “That is what the LORD prescribed. Tomorrow is a day of complete rest, the sabbath, sacred to the LORD. You may either bake or boil the manna, as you please; but whatever is left put away and keep for the morrow.”
[24] When they put it away for the morrow, as Moses commanded, it did not become rotten or wormy.

[25] Moses then said, “Eat it today, for today is the sabbath of the LORD. On this day you will not find any of it on the ground.
[26] On the other six days you can gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, none of it will be there.”
[27] Still, on the seventh day some of the people went out to gather it, although they did not find any.
[28] Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and laws?
[29] Take note! The LORD has given you the sabbath. That is why on the sixth day he gives you food for two days. On the seventh day everyone is to stay home and no one is to go out.”
[30] After that the people rested on the seventh day.

[31] The Israelites called this food manna. It was like coriander seed, but white, and it tasted like wafers made with honey.

[32] Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded. Keep an omerful of manna for your descendants, that they may see what food I gave you to eat in the desert when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.”
[33] Moses then told Aaron, “Take an urn and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the LORD
in safekeeping for your descendants.”

[Heb. 9:4][34] So Aaron placed it in front of the commandments
for safekeeping, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

[35] The Israelites ate this manna for forty years, until they came to settled land;
[Jos. 5:12]they ate manna until they reached the borders of Canaan.

[36] (An omer is one tenth of an ephah.) }
  • The Israelites' lack of satisfaction with Moses and with God (vv. 2-3, 12)
  • The Israelites' inability to obey (vv. 4, 20, 27-28)
  • God testing and providing for His people (vv. 4-8, 12-14, 29, 35)
  • The manna as "bread from heaven" (vv. 4, 14-15)
  • The sabbath rest (vv. 23-30)
The first verse helps situate the narrative in time. The first month of the Hebrew calendar, Nisan, was the month when they celebrated the first Passover and left Egypt. The incident with the manna is taking place on the 15th day of the second month, exactly one full month since they began to leave Egypt. This grumbling occurs on a Saturday (Sabbath), and the quail appear that evening, and the manna begins to appear on Sunday morning. The manna appears for six days, but not on the following Saturday, the Sabbath.

This is the first time the Israelites are hearing of this "Sabbath" idea: this is before the Law has been given, before Israel has heard of the commandment of keeping holy the Sabbath. The Bible does not go into great detail about how Israel worshiped God before they went into Egypt.

The Israelites are not happy with God or Moses: they long for the days when they were back in Egypt, where despite being slaves, they could eat and drink better than now. This problem plagues (no pun intended) the Israelites throughout their Exodus. After taking the Israelites out of Egypt, God spends 40 years getting Egypt out of the Israelites. God sends the quail and the manna to show Israel that it is He, the Lord, who is God, who brought them out of Egypt (for which many of them still long).

The part of Exodus 16 read at Mass this Sunday focuses on God sending the manna (Hebrew man hu, meaning "what is this?", v. 15) as bread from Heaven. This is a prefiguring of the Eucharist, of the very flesh and blood of Christ, as Jesus makes clear in the Gospel reading from John 6. The manna in the desert was the Israelites' "daily bread." God introduced them to the concept of the Sabbath by letting them take twice as much on Friday and not sending any manna to them on Saturday. By a miracle, the leftovers from Friday would not go bad, unlike the leftovers from the other days.

The remainder of the chapter deals with their inability to follow instructions: some of them try keeping some manna for another day, but it rots; others waste time on Saturday going out in search of manna, despite being told that it would not appear. First Moses is displeased, then God is displeased. It will take the Israelites a long time before they come to trust God and believe in His words to them... and this, after all the miracles and signs He accomplished for them!

The last verses of the chapter do not immediately follow the action described in the rest of the chapter. Verses 32-33 may refer to carrying of a jar during the Israelites' march to Sinai, but they are most likely in direct connection with verse 34, which relates an event that happened at Mt. Sinai, once the tablets of the commandments had been created and the Ark had been constructed. Verse 35 records how long the manna came to them. These verses are found here simply because this is the part of Exodus which records their experiences with the manna. (For more on the apparent anachronism of verses 31-35, read this brief post.)

In case you don't know how much an ephah or an omer is, an omer is about two quarts (half a gallon). That's how much manna each Israelite ate daily, and that's the amount which was reserved (also miraculously!) in the jar.

Second Reading: Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
Last week, we heard St. Paul calling the Ephesians (both Jews and Gentiles) to maintain unity and peace among themselves. The faith is one, he told them. In the verses between last week's reading and this week's, he writes that God has distributed grace to us "according to the measure of Christ's gift." The members of this one Church are one body, despite holding different offices and having different functions: "And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ..." (vv. 7, 11-13)

Then he reminds them that the whole body is being built up in love so that it may grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. The verses we hear at Mass are an admonition to the Gentiles in Ephesus.

Brothers and sisters:

[CCC 2219; Col. 3:12-14][17] I declare and testify in the Lord
that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,
in the futility of their minds;
[Rom. 1:18-32]{ [18] darkened in understanding,
alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance,
because of their hardness of heart,
[19] they have become callous
and have handed themselves over to licentiousness
for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess. }

[20] That is not how you learned Christ,
[21] assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him,
as truth is in Jesus,
[Col. 3:9-10][22] that you should put away the old self
of your former way of life,
corrupted through deceitful desires,
[23] and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
[CCC 1473; Rom. 13:14; Gal. 2:20; 3:27][24] and put on the new self,
created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.
  • Corrupt way of life of the Gentiles (vv. 17-19, 22)
  • "Learning" Christ (vv. 20-21)
  • Renewal from the old self to the new self through Christ (vv. 22-24)
This reading (with the two omitted verses supplied) is the juxtaposition of two ways of life: the former way of life before/without Christ (vv. 17-19) and the new way of life after/with Christ (vv. 20-24). Because the Gentiles do not know God — although evidence for His existence is made known to them through nature, cf. Rom. 1:18-32 — they have hardened their hearts and become wicked and devoted to all kinds of impurity. St. Paul contrasts that ignorance with "learn[ing] Christ" who is truth: hearing of him and being taught in him. From this knowledge (gnosis in Greek) of Christ flows the renewal of our minds.

What is this "old self" that can be "put away"? What is this "new self" that can be put on? This is, perhaps, a reference to the rite of Baptism. The book of Revelation speaks of the saints washing their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. The Church eventually incorporated into her rite of Baptism the clothing of the newly baptized Christian in a white garment. If this was already the practice in St. Paul's day, that may be to what he is referring. This white robe, our "wedding garment," if you will (cf. Matt. 22:11-12), is a sign of being made a new creation in Christ. Our old self is nailed to the cross with Christ (cf. Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:19-20; 5:24; 6:14) and our new self is living in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ.

Paul speaks twice of "taking off" the old self and "putting on" the new self: here and in Colossians 3:9-10, where he says: "Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator." Once again, he connects the old self with former sinful practices (lying among other things: "immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry ... anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out of your mouths," cf. Col. 3:5-8), and he connects the new self to renewal and knowledge and conformity to Christ.

The verses that follow this week's Second Reading echo those of Colossians 3:5-8: "Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil. The thief must no longer steal, but rather labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with one in need. No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear." (Eph. 4:25-29) This message is continued next Sunday, with verse 30.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Excellent article on the liturgy and the new translation

US Catholic has a rather lengthy article which touches upon the liturgy in general, the "reform of the reform" movement, and the new English translation of the Mass. It includes hefty contributions from Jeff Tucker and Fr. Jeff Keyes. It is well worth the read. The comments (a couple dozen or so) are half-pro and half-con.

Here are a couple excerpts:
A trained musician with a number of published compositions to his credit, Keyes was particularly disturbed by the parish's musical repertoire. At his first Mass, for example, the choir sang "Gather Us In," whose third verse begins, "Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven light years away." Keyes was frustrated that a Catholic hymn would appear to dismiss our desire for heaven. "I said to people at the parish, ‘That's not what we believe!' " says Keyes.


The first few months [of liturgical changes by Fr. Keyes] were difficult. The original choir of almost 30 voices dwindled to a small handful. A number of families left the parish. Some parishioners accused him of wanting to return to a pre-Vatican II liturgy. The charge is ironic, says Keyes, because the Second Vatican Council's Sancrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) specifically envisioned Catholics learning to sing the key parts of the Mass in Latin.


While [Jesuit priest John] Baldovin agrees that more reverence in the celebration of the liturgy is needed, he thinks that implementing these changes would be a mistake. "I call it ‘Amish Catholicism.' It's nice, quaint, traditional, and even commendable in some ways. But it's not real," he says. "The world that supported that understanding of the liturgy has passed away."

Sister Joyce Ann Zimmerman, a former seminary professor and director of the Institute for Liturgical Ministry in Dayton, Ohio, worries that these changes would make it harder for the assembly to participate actively in the liturgy. "There is a risk of returning to a very privatized religion with a large rift between the ordained minister and the people, where the priest is celebrating for us rather than with us. That's not what Vatican II was about."

Some liturgists, though, question whether the concept of "active participation" in the liturgy is adequately understood. "It is sometimes treated as a slogan," says Father Douglas Martis, who directs the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago. "We tend to say people are ‘participating actively' if they sing and say the responses. But participation is more complex than that."
Go, read the whole thing!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Card. Canizares: The future of humanity is in the liturgy

Father Z. provides his usual commentary, this time on an interview of Cardinal Canizares (prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments). Father Z. gently corrects a couple generalizations made by the Cardinal, but primarily offers a great analysis of how the Cardinal's words are related to Pope Benedict's ongoing reform and restoration of Catholic identity.

Who interviewed the Cardinal? LifeSiteNews, "a non-profit Internet service dedicated to issues of culture, life, and family." The interview is about the relationship between the Mass (and other liturgy) and the duty we have to love and respect human life.
"[T]here is no new humanity and there is no hope for man that is not grounded in God that would come from God and would return everything to God as His glory. The future of humanity is in the liturgy."

Scripture: The Old Testament points to Christ

I am increasingly convinced that many Catholics are simply unaware of what the Church actually teaches about Scripture. Take the following two comments from people discussing the subject matter of "Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets" for an RCIA curriculum:
Person 1: These are important topics because it is hard to understand Jesus, his mission and the Church without knowing about them. What does the New Covenant mean to us if we are ignorant of the "old covenant?" How many times do the Gospels and letters in the Christian scriptures refer to the Prophets? They are also important figures, and the messages they deliver are significant in our religious history and culture. I think the sessions should stay, but I think we should make a bit of an effort to tie them in with Jesus and Christian themes — although I am wary of making everything in the Hebrew scriptures only a prefiguring of Christ.

Person 2: I like how [Person 1] put it. It is important to have a sense of the old but not make all the old about prefiguring Jesus. Having the sense that God has been trying to "reach" us humans in many ways long before he decided to send Jesus truly give the feeling of his commitment to us.
Ouch. Now, I want to make sure I'm not putting words in people's mouths, so I'm going to address only the words they've used here.

It should be clear to any Christian (as I pointed out in my earlier post) that knowledge of the Old Testament is essential for an accurate understanding of the New Testament. Two of the four reasons I highlighted previously were that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of prophecy, and that the Old Testament has an unfathomable spiritual depth which can only be plumbed[?] in the light of the full revelation of God in His Son Jesus Christ.

But the three spiritual senses of Scripture (allegorical, moral, and anagogical) are based on the literal sense. (cf. Catechism 115-119) So we can never, in the words of Person 1, "mak[e] everything in the Hebrew scriptures only a prefiguring of Christ." If someone ever considers the Old Testament as "only a prefiguring of Christ," then they are missing out on the historical context of the Scriptures they are reading. Abraham and Isaac were not having a conversation about the coming Messiah as they climbed Mt. Moriah, although Abraham did prophesy about it! We cannot fail to see Christ's prefiguring in the Old Testament, but we must not forget that the events really took place and had their own meaning in their own time. These two meanings must both be respected.

In answer to Person 2, the Old Testament, all of it, is about prefiguring Jesus. It is not always clear how (although some of the Church Fathers tried very hard to see Jesus in practically every single verse), but God was preparing His people for the summation of His revelation to them. It is dishonest to avoid or disdain Christological interpretations of the Old Testament. Christ did it himself for his disciples. (cf. Luke 24:25-27, 44-48) It is not unfair or insensitive to Jews to teach the Old Testament in a Christological manner, just like it is not unfair or insensitive to Muslims to teach that Jesus Christ really is the Son of God and really did die upon the cross.

Jesus was not some sort of "last resort" of God's. The Old Testament records God's preparation of His people — indeed, of the whole world, of all men, and of all mankind — for the coming of His Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Doesn't that "truly give the feeling of his committment to us"?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Making Sense of Sunday: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B), July 26, 2009

This series, Making Sense of Sunday, is meant to be an aid both to lectors and the people in the pews. To that end, I will try to cover both the First Reading and the Second Reading. More attention will be given to the Second Reading, since it's usually omitted from the homily and only rarely topically related to the First Reading and the Gospel.

First Reading: 2 Kings 4:42-44
The prophet Elisha was the successor of Elijah. Chapter 4 of 2 Kings records several miraculous acts at the direction of Elisha. First, he helped a widow save her two sons from slavery (for failure to pay a debt) by causing a single jar of oil to fill numerous vessels, thus providing her to sell the oil to pay off her debt and live off the remainder. (2 Kings 4:1-7) Then, in Shunem, he received lodging from a woman with no child an aging husband; for her hospitality, Elisha prophesied that she would have a son in a year. (2 Kings 4:8-17) When the boy had grown, he died suddenly one day, and the woman sought Elisha, who came to her house and brought the son back to life. (2 Kings 4:18-37) On another occasion, Elisha countered some poisonous substance in a stew. (2 Kings 4:38-41) The last vignette in the chapter is the one we hear at Mass, where Elisha multiplies bread to feed a hundred people. (2 Kings 4:42-44)

[42] A man came from Baal-shalishah
bringing to Elisha, the man of God,
twenty barley loaves made from the firstfruits,
and fresh grain in the ear.
Elisha said, “Give it to the people to eat.”
[43] But his servant objected,
“How can I set this before a hundred people?”
Elisha insisted, “Give it to the people to eat.
For thus says the LORD,
'They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’
[44] And when they had eaten,
there was some left over, as the LORD had said.
This short vignette is not situated very clearly in time or place, but some scholars assume it took place in Gilgal (where the previous miracle took place). This miracle is a clear prefiguring of the multiplication of the fishes and loaves which we hear in the Gospel. It does not appear that Elisha is quoting a former word of the Lord, although it does seem a bit reminiscent of the statements God made regarding the abundance of manna and of quail in Exodus; rather, Elisha's message that "they shall eat and there shall be some left over" seems to be a word given to Elisha at this time for this occasion.

Note that the man presenting the bread was offering the first-fruits. This was the customary practice: the first and best was offered, trusting in God's generosity to repay abundantly.

Baal-shalishah is pronounced Bah-ahl-shal-ee-shah.

Second Reading: Ephesians 4:1-6
In Ephesians 2, St. Paul re-affirmed the unity of Jew and Gentile in the one body of Christ, his Church. In Ephesians 3 (which begins with a reference to Paul's being "a prisoner for Christ Jesus"), Paul explains his ministry to the Gentiles, affirming once more that, through a mystery made known only in these later times, "the Gentiles are fellow heirs [with the Jews], members of the same body [the Church], and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." Then, in Ephesians 4 (also beginning with a reference to Paul's being a prisoner), he repeats once more this call to unity.

Brothers and sisters:
[1] I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
[CCC 2219; Col. 3:12-14][2] with all humility and gentleness,
with patience, bearing with one another through love,
[CCC 814][3] striving to preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace:
[4] one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
[5] one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
[CCC 172-173][6] one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.
  • Live worthily of Christ (vv. 1-3)
  • Unity; oneness (vv. 4-6)
St. Paul writes in his letters on many occasions about the need of living worthily of the gift we have received. It is clear he sees grace as a gift we do not deserve... but as one which we can disqualify ourselves of after having received it. Thus, here as elsewhere, he admonishes these Christians to be humble, gentle, patient, and loving; he challenges them to strive to maintain unity through peace.

The second half of the reading is Trinitarian in nature: one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father. It also lists seven ones, seven being a number signifying completion and perfection: one body (the Church), one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father.

Gregorian Chant Pilgrimage in Washington, DC

This is excellent! Musica Sacra is organizing a Gregorian Chant workshop the last weekend of September in Washington, DC, at the National Basilica Shrine. I am going to try and keep my schedule clear!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Four Reasons Every Christian Should Know the Old Testament

I'm watching the Great Adventure Bible Timeline videos and taking copious notes. I'm studying the Old Testament specifically, because I'll be a catechist for 6th graders in the Fall, teaching them about the Old Testament (and a bit about the New Testament as well). I plan on giving an "assessment" (not a quiz!) on the first day, to find out what they know about the Bible and the Old Testament in particular. I'll also ask them why they think Catholics should know the Old Testament, and what they expect to (or want to) learn about the Old Testament.

Why should a Catholic (or any Christian) know the Old Testament? I'll give you four reasons. Four Scriptural reasons. Just use this simple mnemonic: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Ok, it's not actually a mnemonic. But in those four names (which you know so well) are the four reasons. What do I mean? Well, you needn't go further than five verses into any of the Gospels before you come across a reference to the Old Testament!

Who are these people? (Matthew 1:1-16)
[1] The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

[2]Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, [3] and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, [4] and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, [5] and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, [6] and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, [7] and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa, [8] and Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, [9] and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, [10] and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, [11] and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

[12] And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of She-alti-el, and She-alti-el the father of Zerubbabel, [13] and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, [14] and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, [15] and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, [16] and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
The first line of St. Matthew's Gospel presents us with three questions: who is David, who is Abraham, and why does it matter? The next fifteen verses answer these questions, but only if you are familiar with the Old Testament. The genealogy provided by the author of the Gospel is saturated with the Old Testament.

Matthew tells us of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Matthew mentions four women who were ancestors of the Christ: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (the wife of Uriah). Why does Matthew mention them? Because of the peculiarity of their circumstances:
Tamar was married to Judah's son Er (who died), so Judah gave her another of his sons, Onan, as a husband (who also died). Judah promised her another of his sons as husband, Shelah, but Judah sent her away and never fulfilled his promise (for fear that Shelah would also die). So Tamar disguised herself as a harlot, and Judah went into her and she conceived twins (Perez and Zerah). When this was all revealed to Judah, he was greatly ashamed. Yet it was through this pseudo-harlotry that Perez, a forefather of Jesus Christ, was born. (cf. Genesis 38)

Rahab was a pagan harlot from Jericho who aided the Israelites spies sent into the city by Joshua. Because of her fidelity to Israel, she and her family were permitted to live when the Israelites captured the city. For her faithfulness, she is mentioned in the "Hall of Fame" in Hebrews 11. (cf. Joshua 2, 6)

Ruth was a Moabite, the daughter-in-law of Naomi (wife of Elimelech, of Bethlehem in Judah). When Ruth's husband died, Ruth stayed with Naomi, telling her "where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God." This was a powerful statement in a time when Israel continually rejected the Lord as God. (cf. Judges) Ruth eventually married Boaz, a kinsman of her father-in-law. These had a son, Obed; Obed was the father of Jesse; Jesse was the father of King David. Thus another pagan foreigner became an ancestor of Jesus Christ, in whom the dividing wall of enmity between Jew and Gentile was torn down. (cf. Ruth 1-4)

Finally, Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, a man of King David's army. David was enamored with Bathsheba's beauty and she conceived a son by him. To hide this sin, David tried to get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba. When this plan failed, David had Uriah slain on the battlefield. Because of these two grievous sins — adultery leading to murder — the Lord took the child to Himself. David comforted Bathsheba afterwards, and she born another son, Solomon the wise, who would be an ancestor of Jesus. (cf. 1 Samuel 11-12)
These women, these unions, should be an embarrassing blot on a family tree! What king would be open about being the son of numerous harlots and pagan foreigners? What king would gladly claim the throne of his adulterous murderous ancestor? This (along with the crucifixion) is a stumbling block to Jews, and folly to the Gentiles. Yet Matthew records the power of God to take the lowly and the sinful and exalt them, glorifying Himself in the process.

Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is royalty: he is the descendant of David, King of Israel! (The significance of this is made clear especially in Luke 1:32-33.) Matthew brings in the sordid history of Israel: her deportation and exile. Finally, Matthew draws attention to Joseph and Mary: he does not say "Joseph the father of Jesus," but rather "Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born."

It is clear from the beginning of Matthew's Gospel that he wrote with the expectation that his readers would know who these figures in Israel's history were and why they were significant to be ancestors of the Messiah. That is the first reason to know the Old Testament: to know who these people are, so that we know where Jesus came from.

Isaiah the what? (Mark 1:1-4)
[1] The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. [2] As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; [3] the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight—"

[4] John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
St. Mark gets right to the point. Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. But Mark does not begin by recording Jesus' origin; rather, he tells us of the man who came before him, John the Baptist. But Mark sets the stage for John the Baptist by invoking Isaiah the prophet. If we don't know the Old Testament, we won't know 1) what a prophet is, 2) who Isaiah was and when he lived, and 3) what he prophesied.

So much of the Gospels — essentially all of Christ's life, ministry, Passion, death, and Resurrection — is the fulfillment of Scripture. No less than a dozen times does Matthew inform his reader that some action of Christ was done "to fulfill what was spoken" by some prophet. Luke records that, on the road to Emmaus, Christ interpreted "all the scriptures the things concerning himself," and afterwards told the Apostles that "everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." That is the second reason to know the Old Testament: to realize that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of numerous prophecies.

Herod, Abijah, and Aaron, oh my! (Luke 1:5)
[5] In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
What is Judea? Who is Herod? What's a priest? Who was Abijah? Who was Aaron? This is more than simply knowing who these people are, this is knowing the cultural setting into which Jesus was born.

Israel was a kingdom... but Herod was not a true Davidic King. Israel had been split in two during the time of Solomon's son Rehoboam, and this wound was never fully healed. Judea (i.e. Judah) was the southern Kingdom, home to Jerusalem, where David and Solomon had reigned over the whole Kingdom of Israel for a time.

Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist) was a priest. The priestly men of Israel were divided into three groups: the high priest (a descendant of Aaron), the priests (other descendants of Aaron), and their ministers (other descendants of Levi, the tribe to which Aaron belonged). These Aaronic priests were assigned by King David according to twenty-four divisions, as recorded in 1 Chronicles 24:1-18. Here we find that Abijah's division was the eighth. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth are descendants of Aaron. As for what a priest does, the Old Testament book of Leviticus ("pertaining to the Levites") describes that in detail.

This single verse gives us a historical setting: Herod was king of Judea in a certain period of time, and Zechariah was serving in the Temple during two specific weeks of the year. This verse also gives us a cultural setting: a nation, a kingdom, with a priesthood. This is the third reason to know the Old Testament: to understand the cultural and historical circumstances into which Jesus was born.

Another "beginning"? (John 1:1)
[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Do these words sound a little familiar? Wasn't there some other "beginning" mentioned somewhere in Scripture? Yes.. yes... back in Genesis. The first verse of the Old Testament is recalled by the first verse of the Gospel of John.

John's Gospel is full of spiritual parallels of the Old Testament. In John 4, when Jesus is speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, he records God's unfolding of a historical event (the dilution of northern Israel — Samaria — by five pagan nations by King Sargon, described in 2 Kings 17:24) in the personal encounter between two people. Jesus asks the woman to bring her husband, and the woman says she has no husband. Jesus replies that she has spoken truthfully, because she (representing Samaria) has had five husbands (representing Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sephar-vaim) and that the one she is with now (Jesus, the Lord) is not her husband. This hearkens back to the book of the Prophet Hosea as well.

This does not mean that the Old Testament event (the population of Samaria by pagan nations) nor the New Testament event (the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman) were not actual historical events; but it shows that God planned the historical event of the Old Testament to be a sign pointing to a deeper spiritual reality to be fulfilled and manifested in the New Testament. St. Paul calls the story of Sarah and Hagar an allegory. By this, he does not mean the story of them in Genesis is made up, but that by God's design, it points to something deeper, something which is only made manifest in the light of Christ.

When the authors of the New Testament books wrote in ways that evoke the Old Testament, they did so because God directed them! Without knowing the history of Israel, all the way back to Abraham, Noah, and even Adam, the New Testament lacks a critical dimension. As St. Augustine said, the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and Old Testament is revealed in the New. This is the fourth reason to know the Old Testament: to see it revealed in greater spiritual depth in the New Testament, through Jesus Christ.

I hope these four reasons inspire you to reconsider just how important the Old Testament scriptures are to you and to your faith. If you are interested in learning more about the Old Testament, I strongly urge you to find a Great Adventure Bible Timeline study in your area.

Making Sense of Sunday: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B), July 19, 2009

In an effort to post more regularly (on Scripture), I've decided to blog about the Second Reading from Sunday Mass. In the future, I'll be more timely than I was for this Sunday. The reason for this series is that during Ordinary Time, the Second Reading is taken sequentially from the New Testament epistles and is rarely thematically related to the other readings at Mass; thus it is often overlooked in the homily. In addition to that, there are other difficulties presented: sometimes there is insufficient context for the average Catholic to understand what is being spoken and sometimes there are words or concepts (or exceptionally long sentences) that could use explanation.

To that end, I am starting this Making Sense of Sunday series. I will be displaying the Second Reading (as found on the USCCB web site, that is, using the NAB Lectionary text, which differs from the NAB) and providing contextual information, glosses, Scriptural cross references, and my own comments. My primary tool will be the Ignatius Study Bibles.

St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians was probably written around A.D. 60, during his first imprisonment in Rome; this is supported by the multiple references to imprisonment found in the letter (3:2, 4:1, 6:20). There is some doubt as to whether the words "in Ephesus" in the greeting of the letter are genuine. If they are genuine, then Paul was writing to Christians in "the leading metropolis of the Roman province of Asia (southwest Turkey)". If they are not genuine, the impression is that this was a "circular letter" to the churches in Asia Minor, in which case Ephesus would have been one of the recipients. Paul did preach in Ephesus (Acts 18-20), so it is logical for him to have written to them.

The church in Ephesus, like many other (notably the church in Thessalonika) was made up both of Jews (Acts 18:19-28; 19:8-10, 17; 20:21) and Greeks (Acts 19:10, 17; 20:21). In some places, this was an occasion of disagreement and disunity, but this was not necessarily a problem in the Ephesian church, although the reading this Sunday does speak of the unifying effect of Christ's crucifixion.

The verses immediately preceding this reading (vv. 11-12) address the Gentiles specifically: "Therefore, remember that at one time you, Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision, which is done in the flesh by human hands, were at that time without [or: separated from] Christ, alienated from the community of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world." From these two verses, we enter the reading for this Sunday. The next verse after the reading (v. 19) confirms Gentile Christians as equal-status "fellow citizens" in the "household of God" with the Jewish Christians.

Reading (Eph 2:13-18)
Brothers and sisters:
[13] In Christ Jesus you who once were far off
have become near by the blood of Christ.

[CCC 2305][14] For he is our peace, he who made both one
and broke down the dividing wall of enmity,
through his flesh,
[15] abolishing the law
with its commandments and legal claims,
[Rom 10:12; 1 Cor 12:13;that he might create in himself
Gal 3:28; Col 3:11]one new person in place of the two,
thus establishing peace,
[16] and might reconcile both with God,
in one body, through the cross,
putting that enmity to death by it.
[Isa 57:19][17] He came and preached peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near,
[18] for through him
we both have access in one Spirit
to the Father
  • The "far off" (the Gentiles) and the "near" (the Jews) (vv. 13, 17)
  • Christ is our "peace" (vv. 14, 15, 17) contrasted with "dividing wall of enmity" (vv. 14, 16)
  • Reconciling Gentiles and Jews into "one new person" (vv. 13-17) through his "one body" (v. 16)
  • Reconciling through Christ's "blood", "flesh", and "cross" (vv. 13, 14, 16)
  • Trinitarian unity (v. 18)
In the two verses before this reading, Paul mentions the conditions (prior to Christ) of the Gentiles and the Jews according to the flesh: "Gentiles in the flesh" and "the circumcision ... done in the flesh by human hands." These fleshly differences disappear through the flesh of Christ. (v. 14) The circumcision of the foreskin which was the sign of the covenant with Abraham is surpassed by the sign of the new covenant in Christ: circumcision of the heart. (cf. Deut 10:16; Jer 9:25-26; Acts 7:51; Rom 2:29) This circumcision is brought about by Christ in the waters of baptism, not by a surgical procedure with human hands. (cf. Phil 3:3; Col 2:11)

The distance between the Jews (those who are "near") and the Gentiles (those who are "far off") is historical as well as liturgical. In the Old Testament, Israel is commanded by God many times to avoid mingling with the other nations, lest they be seduced by false gods and abandon the one true God, the Lord. Thus, Israel tried to keep its distance from the surrounding nations, but failed over and over again. But in the Temple in Jerusalem, there was a "dividing wall" which separated the outer court of the Gentiles from the inner court. A Gentile who passed into this inner area would be punished with death. This wall in the Temple was a liturgical manifestation of Israel's need to keep itself apart from the pagan nations.

Despite this need for separation, there are plenty of prophecies in the Old Testament which speak of a future time when all nations shall worship God, Jew and Gentile together. One of these prophecies is alluded to by Paul. (v. 17; cf. Isa 57:19) By Christ's crucifixion — his blood, his flesh, and his cross — this "dividing wall" is torn down, just as the veil in the Temple was torn as he died. (cf. Matt 27:51) The "access" (v. 18) may also be a reference to the Temple veil, given the other Temple imagery used.

Christ is the "peace" which defeats the "enmity" between the Jews and the Gentiles. This peace comes through reconciliation with God the Father, necessary because of our sins; this reconciliation of peace comes about through Christ's coming in the flesh and the sacrifice of his blood on the cross. The distinctions of Jew and Gentile are lost in Christ: there is "one new person" in the place of the two, a new Israel comprised of all peoples. Jesus, then, is the universal savior and mediator of the new covenant. The one Lord is the Lord of all.

One last point: Paul says Jesus "abolish[ed] the law with its commandments and legal claims." This is not in contradiction to what the Lord himself said in Matthew 5:17: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill." Rather, Christ did fulfill the law and the prophets, instead of doing away with them before they reached their intended conclusion and end. Jesus is the conclusion and end of the law and the prophets. What Paul means, then, is that Jesus (and the early Church, cf. Acts 15) abolished the necessity for Gentiles to become Jews in order to enter into the covenant.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Reading more Vatican II documents

I'm reading so many things at once. When I was down in DC for Archbishop Di Noia's ordination Mass, I bought a book by Ignatius Press, The History and Future of the Roman Liturgy, a translation of a work by the French author Denis Crouan, STD. I haven't finished The Organic Development of the Liturgy by Dom Alcuin Reid yet. I've got a bookmark that hasn't moved in over a year in Mary and the Fathers of the Church. I started reading a book on John Henry Cardinal Newman by Lawrence S. Cunningham. I'm also trying to go through much of the General Directory for Catechesis. I've read a couple hundred of the 550 Documents on the Liturgy.

And I read Church documents. Those tend to get my best attention. I've just finished Perfectae Caritatis (the decree on the renewal of religious life), and I'll be reading Christus Dominus (on the pastoral office of Bishop) later today. That'll leave just Gaudium et Spes. That will take a while. (I haven't read Pope Benedict's new encyclical yet, either. And then there are those many documents on priests and the priesthood that I intend to read at some point!)

About Perfectae Caritatis... this document, among others from Vatican II, could really have benefited from headings. It's not much to ask for. I mean, I finally caught on that the first couple words of a "paragraph" (really, a group of paragraphs with a single number) indicated the content matter for that numbered paragraph, but the organization of the document didn't jump out at me at first. For those of you reading along at home (and you are reading the documents of Vatican II, aren't you?), here's the breakdown of Perfectae Caritatis:
  1. Introduction (1)
  2. Principles of Renewal (2-6)
    1. Five General Principles of Renewal
    2. Call to Renewal
    3. Authority in Carrying Out the Renewal
    4. Dedication to Evangelical Counsels and Contemplation
    5. Sources of Renewal
  3. Types of Religious Life (7-11)
    1. Contemplative
    2. Apostolates (Active Communities)
    3. Monastic
    4. Lay Religious
    5. Secular
  4. Evangelical Counsels (12-14)
    1. Chastity
    2. Poverty
    3. Obedience
  5. Religious Lifestyle (15-18)
    1. Communal Living
    2. Papal Cloister
    3. Habits
    4. Education and Formation
  6. Lifecycle, Work, and Governance (19-24)
    1. Founding New Communities
    2. Community Identity (Ministry and Mission)
    3. Discontinuing a Community
    4. Combining Similar Communities
    5. Conferences or Councils of Major Superiors
    6. Fostering Vocations
  7. Conclusion (25)
I hope that's helpful for you. When I finally get around to writing substantially about the Vatican II documents, this outline will come in handy for me.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Personal: 10-year High School Reunion

My wife and I are going into NYC tonight for a casual 10-year reunion with my high school class. (It won't be like a prom or a fancy dinner or any of that.) It's a bit weird when I realize that I've been out of high school for a decade.

Blogging's been a bit slow for the past week or two. Things will pick up speed again soon.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Photos from the Episcopal Ordination of Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, OP

The Episcopal Ordination of
Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, OP
Titular Archbishop of Oregon City
Secretary for the Congregation for Divine Worship
and the Discipline of the Sacraments

This is where I was all day today. I met His Excellency the new Archbishop who gave me a blessing. He also blessed a copy of my book, Praying the Mass: The Prayers of the People, as I asked for his prayers for its successful publication. I also met His Eminence William Cardinal Levada (who ordained Archbishop Di Noia). And I said hello to Fr. Peter Cameron, OP (editor of the Magnificat), who remembered me from the presentation he gave at my parish several months ago!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Episcopal Ordination of Fr. Augustine Di Noia, OP

I'm driving down to Washington, DC, tomorrow morning to attend the ordination Mass for Fr. Augustine Di Noia, OP, at the National Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at 2pm. Archbishop-designate Di Noia will be the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

In the mean time, I suggest you listen to some of his lectures hosted at the Dominican House of Studies web site. Some are excerpts only a few minutes in length, others are hour-long lectures. I just listened to the first one (about 10 minutes, on the Transfiguration of Christ), and he brought up a point that I made in a Bible study a few months ago.

First he brings up an interpretation by Pope St. Leo the Great, that the Transfiguration was meant to show the Church (us) what will become of her. Fr. Di Noia then quotes St. Paul: "we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another." (2 Cor. 3:18)

Then he brings up the words of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi: "For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."(Matt. 16:25; cf. Matt. 10:39; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33) Here's a decent paraphrase of Fr. Di Noia's words:
Jesus is essentially saying, "Unless you become like me, you will not find your true self." Compare the person making that statement to yourself, as a parent, teacher, bishop, priest, preacher. What one of us would ever say to someone in our charge, "You will never find your true self unless you become like me"?
I brought a similar concept up in the Young Adult Bible Study I lead at St. David the King in Princeton Junction (which will be starting up again in late September). We were studying the Second Reading for the 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year B), John 2:1-5. I've included up to verse 6 here (as I did in the study):
[1] My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; [2] and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. [3] And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. [4] He who says “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; [5] but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. [ By this we may be sure that we are in him: [6] he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. ]
One of the questions I posed to the group was:
The origin of “What would Jesus do?” is probably 1 John 2:6. Is St. John speaking of agreeing with Jesus as a good moral example, or something more?
The language of "abiding" comes up repeatedly in John's gospel and in his first epistle. The point I made at the Bible Study is the same point that Fr. Di Noia was making. We all have role models, people we look up to, people we see as good examples to follow. But would any of us say we "abide" in our models and they "abide" in us? No. But Jesus goes that far: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him." (John 6:56) "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)

Jesus is not just a "good moral example" for us to look up to. He is something more, much more. We are incomplete without him. As Vatican II put it, "Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself." (Gaudium et Spes 22)

Seven Excerpts from Praying the Mass: The Prayers of the People

The following links take you to individual posts of mine on the Catholic Answers Forum, where I shared excerpts of my forthcoming book:

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Meditation on GDC 56c: "Profession of faith"

Abandonment of self to Jesus Christ arouses in believers a desire to know him more profoundly and to identify with him. Catechesis initiates them in knowledge of faith and apprenticeship in the Christian life, thereby promoting a spiritual journey which brings about a "progressive change in outlook and morals". This is achieved in sacrifices and in challenges, as well as in the joys which God gives in abundance. The disciple of Jesus Christ is then ready to make an explicit, living and fruitful profession of faith.
Upon reading these words (especially "apprenticeship"), the following reflection came to me.

The Catholic Church teaches that to be a Christian is more than just to know about Jesus Christ; it's even more than knowing Jesus Christ. It is, in fact, to cooperate with him, to be configured to him, to share in his life and death, and ultimately to participate in the divine life of the Trinity. It is to live for Christ, not for yourself; it is, as the GDC states, "to identify with him." In the words of St. Paul: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20)

We're living 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. There's no vacation, no off-time. Living is a full-time job. Being a Christian means living Christ every minute of every day. It's an occupation: you don't occupy it, it — that is, he — occupies you! If being a Christian is a job, where do you acquire your job skills? Back in Jesus' day, there weren't carpentry schools: if you wanted to learn a trade, you apprenticed under someone. As far as the faith goes, that hasn't changed for us today: you can go to all the schools you want, amass all the degrees you can, but if you haven't apprenticed under the Master Himself, you're not a Christian. Christianity — I mean genuine Catholic Christianity — is not an encounter with a book, but rather, as Pope Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est, it is "the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction."

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means sitting at his feet (like Martha's sister Mary) and learning from him. The word disciple comes from the Latin verb discere which means "to learn; to hear, get to know, become acquainted with; to acquire knowledge of / skill in." A disciple gets to know Jesus and acquires skill in being like him. This is apprenticeship!

When you are ready to call yourself a disciple of Jesus Christ, when you are ready to accept the Catholic faith, the GDC says you are "ready to make an explicit, living and fruitful profession of faith." Being a disciple is a full-time job. There are no "amateur" disciples, only professional ones. Being a Catholic is more than a "way of life," it is a profession. It's about what you believe: we accept the revelation which God has made to known through His Church. And it's about what you do: the "obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5) we owe to God demands that we conform ourselves to Jesus Christ. No wonder the Church teaches that we are all called to share in the redemptive mission of our Savior: if we're living like Jesus, what else can we do than save souls? If we're as Christ-like as can be, we're all co-mediators and co-redeemers who are living and carrying out the mission of our Lord. (Don't get me wrong: Jesus is the Redeemer and the Mediator, but if we are co-operating with him, we are sharing in his redemptive and mediative works.)

God is hiring. There are openings in His family. The benefits are phenomenal... and eternal.

GDC on Catechesis of Youth

Here is an excerpt which I just read from the General Directory for Catechesis (nn. 181-185). I thought I'd share it.
Catechesis of Young People

Pre-adolescence, adolescence and young adulthood

181. In general it is observed that the first victims of the spiritual and cultural crisis gripping the world are the young. It is also true that any commitment to the betterment of society finds its hopes in them. This should stimulate the Church all the more to proclaim the Gospel to the world of youth with courage and creativity. In this respect experience suggests that it is useful in catechesis to distinguish between pre-adolescence, adolescence and young adulthood, attending to the results of scientific research in various countries. In developed regions the question of preadolescence is particularly significant: sufficient account is not taken of the difficulties, of the needs and of the human and spiritual resources of pre-adolescents, to the extent of defining them a negated age-group. Very often at this time the pre-adolescent, in receiving the sacrament of Confirmation, formally concludes the process of Christian initiation but from that moment virtually abandons completely the practice of the faith. This is a matter of serious concern which requires specific pastoral care, based on the formative resources of the journey of initiation itself. With regard to the other two categories, it is helpful to distinguish between adolescence and young adulthood even though it is difficult to define them strictly. They are understood together as the period of life which precedes the taking up of responsibilities proper to adults. Youth catechesis must be profoundly revised and revitalized.

The importance of youth for society and the Church

182. The Church, while regarding young people as "hope", also sees them as "a great challenge for the future of the Church" herself. The rapid and tumultuous socio-cultural change, increase in numbers, self-affirmation for a consistent period before taking up adult responsibilities, unemployment, in certain countries conditions of permanent under-development, the pressures of consumer society — all contribute to make of youth a world in waiting, not infrequently a world of disenchantment, of boredom, of angst and of marginalization. Alienation from the Church, or a least diffidence in her regard, lurks in many as a fundamental attitude. Often this reflects lack of spiritual and moral support in the family and weaknesses in the catechesis which they have received. On the other hand, many of them are driven by a strong impetus to find meaning, solidarity, social commitment and even religious experience.

183. Some consequences for catechesis arise from this. The service of the faith notes above all the contrasts in the condition of youth as found concretely in various regions and environments. The heart of catechesis is the explicit proposal of Christ to the young man in the Gospel (cf. Matt. 19:16-22); it is a direct proposal to all young people in terms appropriate to young people, and with considered understanding of their problems. In the Gospel young people in fact speak directly to Christ, who reveals to them their "singular richness" and calls them to an enterprise of personal and community growth, of decisive value for the fate of society and of the Church. Therefore young people cannot be considered only objects of catechesis, but also active subjects and protagonists of evangelization and artisans of social renewal.

Characteristics of catechesis for young people

184. Given the extent of this task, the Catechetical Directories of particular Churches and national and regional Episcopal Conferences must, taking into account different contexts, determine more specifically suitable measures for these areas. Some general directions, however, may be indicated.
  • The diversity of the religious situation should be kept in mind: there are young people who are not even baptized, others have not completed Christian initiation, others are in grave crises of faith, others are moving towards making a decision with regard to faith, others have already made such a decision and call for assistance.
  • It should also be remembered that the most successful catechesis is that which is given in the context of the wider pastoral care of young people, especially when it addresses the problems affecting their lives. Hence, catechesis should be integrated with certain procedures, such as analysis of situations, attention to human sciences and education, the co-operation of the laity and of young people themselves.
  • Well organized group action, membership of valid youth associations and personal accompaniment of young people, which should also include spiritual direction as an important element, are useful approaches for effective catechesis.
185. Among the diverse forms of youth catechesis, provision should be made, in so far as circumstances permit, for the youth catechumenate during school years, catechesis for Christian initiation, catechesis on specific themes, as well as other kinds of occasional and informal meetings.

Generally youth catechesis should be proposed in new ways which are open to the sensibilities and problems of this age group. They should be of a theological, ethical, historical and social nature. In particular, due emphasis should be given to education in truth and liberty as understood by the Gospel, to the formation of conscience and to education for love. Emphasis should also be placed on vocational discernment, Christian involvement in society and on missionary responsibility in the world. It must be emphasized, however, that frequently contemporary evangelization of young people must adopt a missionary dimension rather than a strictly catechumenal dimension. Indeed, the situation often demands that the apostolate amongst young people be an animation of a missionary or humanitarian nature, as a necessary first step to bringing to maturity those dispositions favourable to the strictly catechetical moment. Very often, in reality, it is useful to intensify pre-catechumenal activity within the general educational process. One of the difficulties to be addressed and resolved is the question of "language" (mentality, sensibility, tastes, style, vocabulary) between young people and the Church (catechesis, catechists). A necessary "adaptation of catechesis to young people" is urged, in order to translate into their terms "the message of Jesus with patience and wisdom and without betrayal".

Mind, Soul, Strength, Heart: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Here is another installment of the Bible study I'll be leading this fall at St. David the King: October 18th. I welcome all suggestions, comments, questions, etc.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Mind, Soul, Strength, Heart: 27th and 28th Sundays in Ordinary Time

Here are two Bible studies for later in the year: October 4th and 11th. If anyone has feedback on them, I'd be happy to hear suggestions, comments, questions, etc.