Friday, June 24, 2011

John is the voice: The Nativity of John the Baptist

The following is from St. Augustine's sermon #293:

John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever. Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.

However, let us observe what happens when we first seek to build up our hearts. When I think about what I am going to say, the word or message is already in my heart. When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine.

In my search for a way to let this message reach you, so that the word already in my heart may find place also in yours, I use my voice to speak to you. The sound of my voice brings the meaning of the word to you and then passes away. The word which the sound has brought to you is now in your heart, and yet it is still also in mine.

When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: The word ought to grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: My joy is complete. Let us hold on to the word; we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.

Do you need proof that the voice passes away but the divine Word remains? Where is John’s baptism today? It served its purpose, and it went away. Now it is Christ’s baptism that we celebrate. It is in Christ that we all believe; we hope for salvation in him. This is the message the voice cried out.

Because it is hard to distinguish word from voice, even John himself was thought to be the Christ. The voice was thought to be the word. But the voice acknowledged what it was, anxious not to give offence to the word. I am not the Christ, he said, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. And the question came: Who are you, then? He replied: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord. The voice of one crying in the wilderness is the voice of one breaking the silence. Prepare the way for the Lord, he says, as though he were saying: “I speak out in order to lead him into your hearts, but he does not choose to come where I lead him unless you prepare the way for him”.

What does prepare the way mean, if not “pray well”? What does prepare the way mean, if not “be humble in your thoughts”? We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.

If he had said, “I am the Christ”, you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself.

He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Two more books on the new translation of the Mass

In addition to the three books I mentioned earlier, there are two more that have recently come to my attention.  Magnificat has one coming out this month (The Roman Missal Companion), and another local author (Mary Poust, from the diocese of Metuchen, my former stomping grounds) published a book on the Mass and prayer in March, The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tools back online!

Thanks to the generous offer from Ryan M. (who I know through the Catholic Answers Forums), my Catechism, Lectionary, and Magisterial Documents search tools now have a new home, with an easy-to-remember address (as recommended by John):

I will be making several enhancements to the web site over the next two weeks, but the tools are operational right now.  Look for a shiny "official" release on July 1 (the Feast of the Sacred Heart and the Feast of the Most Precious Blood).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Books on the new translation of the Mass

I've just finished reading Mystical Body, Mystical Voice.  I've already read A Biblical Walk Through the Mass and The Mass.  These are the three other books on the new translation I'm aware of.  In the near future (July?) I will post reviews of each of these books.  I'll also highlight how my books differ from these others.

Have a blessed Pentecost!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Tools offline

Update:  The tools are back online at

For the past two weeks or so, my Catechism, Lectionary, and Document search tools have been offline.  This is a server problem which is outside of my control.  The administrator of the web server which hosts my programs is attempting to resolve the issue.

The technical details:  the web server did not restart after a power outage and is not booting up completely.  The hard disk is expected to be recoverable (meaning my code is not lost), but I do not have a time-table for this.

I've received a few emails about this and have responded individually, but this is the most convenient way for me to get this information across to my readers and those who use the programs.  When a solution has been found, I'll announce it here.

One possible solution was provided by a generous reader who offered free server hosting for the tool.  I may very well take him up on this offer.  Any recommendations for a good domain name for a web site hosting Catechism, Lectionary, and Church Document search tools?  Memorable and easy-to-type are good qualities to aim for...

What Anthony Weiner can teach us

After a rather lengthy absence from blogging — between my personal life and my work, including a coding binge during April so that I could take a nearly three-week vacation in May (including two glorious weeks in England... post coming on that later) — I'm back on the scene.

By now you have heard of Rep. Anthony Weiner (NY-D) and "Weinergate".  Long story short: congressman has sexually explicit conversations with several women online and on the phone, and accidentally sends a woman an inappropriate picture via a public tweet.  (He meant it to be a direct message, a private tweet.)  In a panic, he began concocting a fable that his Twitter account was hacked, and that he was the victim of some hoax or prank.  Yesterday, he set the record straight and took responsibility for his actions; he was visibly distressed during his public apology, which appeared heartfelt.

What can we learn from this?  What can be gained by looking at this little (?) scandal from a Catholic perspective?  A little foray into the Catechism of the Catholic Church (II.2.2.4 — The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, specifically nn. 1451-1454) sheds light on the matter.

When it comes to sin and reconciliation, Catholic theology calls the sinner's first step towards reconciliation contrition.  The Catechism defines it as "sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again." (CCC 1451)  The Catechism goes further and distinguishes between two kinds of contrition:  imperfect and perfect.

Imperfect contrition is what we express when we consider the ugliness of sin or, more likely (I think), the eternal ramifications that our sins have on our own selves.  Yes, I'm talking about "the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner." (CCC 1453)  This imperfect contrition (also called attrition) is a contrition which grows out of fear.  This sort of contrition is not the ideal, but it is still a gift of God, a movement of the Holy Spirit within us:  it is sufficient for our honest entreaty to God for pardon and forgiveness, which is brought to completion in sacramental confession.  Imperfect contrition is infinitely and eternally better than no contrition!

The ideal, however, is perfect contrition.  While imperfect contrition is derived from fear of Hell, perfect contrition is derived from love of God, "a love by which God is loved above all else." (CCC 1452)  Instead of thinking of ourselves and the mess we've gotten into, we think of God and how, by sinning, we have offended Him, Who is "all good and deserving of all [our] love", as one popular Act of Contrition puts it.  This contrition moves us to be sorry for our sins out of our love for such a great and merciful God, a God Who endured the Passion and Crucifixion for us, because of our sins.

So what does this have to do with Rep. Weiner, the scandal, and the public apology?

If we take Rep. Weiner at his word, he is "deeply sorry" for the "terrible mistakes" he had made.  He is aware of "the pain this has caused" his wife, family, constituents, friends, supporters, and staff.  (Realize that his staff was told to lie about the situation — whether they knew it or not, they were spreading mistruths by advancing the "hacking" fable.)  He admits to not telling the truth and to doing things he "deeply regret[s]", and he apologizes for it.  He is "deeply ashamed of [his] terrible judgment and actions."  One would hope he will not make this errors in judgment in the future; that is, that he has a "firm purpose of amendment."  (He did not make this clear in his statement.)

Rep. Weiner is showing contrition for his sins, even if he didn't say it that way.  But let us consider why he is contrite:  due to a small accident of his keyboard, his actions were suddenly made public, brought to light.  I'm sure he would have preferred no one else ever knew about these things.  But because his conduct is becoming public knowledge, he feels remorse for what he has done.  I think we could consider that "imperfect contrition".  Who knows if he would have ever been moved to contrition if that inappropriate picture had been privately (rather than publicly) transmitted?

But let us not find ourselves in Anthony's situation of having a private mess made public, compounding our sin with more sin (such as lying), compelling us to come clean.  We should not wait for imperfect contrition, for a soul-shuddering fear of Hell to move us to ask God for pardon.  We must want to love God more fully so that our fear diminishes — as St. John so eloquently wrote in 1 John 4:18, perfect love casts out fear.  Let us learn from Anthony's mistakes, and our own, and approach the throne of grace and mercy, not looking over the precipice to the depths below, but looking ahead and up at our loving Father.  May we receive the grace to be truly and perfectly contrite for our sins.