Questions Catholics Ask

| ➕ | ➕

More questions...and responses

RSS feed button

Postings by Alice L. Camille

Ask a question now!

What is grace?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 13, August 2023 Categories: Sacraments,Scripture,Doctrines & Beliefs
Like any present offered in love and presented in grand style, grace comes to us free of charge.

A big question to address in a small space! The simple definition of grace is God's favor. But what it means to receive such benevolence is demonstrated in boundless ways. As a child in religion class, I remember imagining grace as a birthday present in a brightly wrapped box with a big bow on top. That's because Sister told us grace is a gift, and the only gifts I'd ever seen looked like this.

The Old Testament describes God's favor differently. It's expressed in the act of creation, as well as the covenant with Israel, and the liberating force of Exodus. In the New Testament, Saint Paul rightly calls Jesus Christ the grace of God, using the Greek word charis, from which also comes charisma, the empowering gifts of the Spirit. 

So how do we "get" grace, or know it when we see it operating? Divine grace comes to us through the mercy, forgiveness, and rescue of God at work in our lives. The classic definition of a sacrament is that of a sign rooted in Christ which provides grace. So add the sacraments of the Church to the ways in which we receive this gift. The Eastern Fathers went so far as to say that sacraments "divinize" us: God becomes flesh so that flesh can share in the divine life, including God's immortality.

In the West, Saint Augustine argued that grace heals and liberates our sin-inclined wills so that we can do the will of God. Without grace, we're literally lost. Saint Thomas Aquinas envisioned grace as elevating us to a higher level in closer union with God. Thomas Merton saw grace as the antidote to the "death dance" in our blood. The bottom line on all of these approaches to understanding grace—life-giving force, bonded relationship, liberating power, incarnation and participation in divine gifts, healing, uplifting, unifying, detoxifying—is that it comes to us free and unmerited. We can't earn it by obeying laws or racking up spiritual points. God doesn't "owe" us grace even if we're saintly every moment of the day. In a sense, my childhood notion of grace still applies. Like any present offered in love and presented in grand style, grace comes to us free of charge.

But just like any gift that comes in a pretty package, grace is hardly received if we don't open the box and actually make use of it.

Scriptures: Isaiah 55:1-3; John 1:14-17; 14:23; Acts 6:8; 11:23; 13:43; 14:3, 26; 15:11, 40; 18:27; 20:24; Romans 1:5-7; 3:24-26; 5:1-2, 15-21; 6:1-23; 11:5-6; 12:3-8; 15:15-16; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9; 3:10-17; 4:7; 15:10; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 4:15; 6:1-2; 8:1-2; 9:8; 12:9-10; Galatians 1:6, 15; 2:19-21; 5:4, 22-23; Ephesians 1:3-14; 2:4-10; 3:2-12; 4:7; Philippians 1:7; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 2:9; 4:16; 13:9; James 4:6; 2 Peter 1:4-10

Books: The Experience and Language of Grace, by Roger Haight, SJ (Paulist Press, 1979)

Idol and Grace: On Transitioning and Subversive Hope, by Orlando O. Espin (Orbis Books, 2014)

0 comments  -  Add your own comment  -  Follow my posts  -  Permalink Tags: grace

What is a kiss of peace?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 13, August 2023 Categories: Liturgy,Scripture,Church History
The church restores the ritual practice of the kiss in its liturgy.

A lot of kissing goes on, in the Bible as outside of it. Some 50 references, to be precise—but not all are kisses of peace, nor what the New Testament frequently calls "a holy kiss." Many kisses, within and apart from Scripture, are exchanged between spouses, lovers, children and parents, friends or family in the hour of separation. Such gestures imply affection and a close personal bond.

However, biblical kisses may mean more. Ritual kisses are exchanged between kings and their subjects as a sign of fealty. The prophet Samuel kisses Saul when anointing him first king of Israel. The hand of a lender may be kissed by a borrower. These kisses are promises of action or renumeration to follow. Kisses may also signal reconciliation. In this way, aggrieved Esau kisses Jacob when the long-separated brothers are reunited. Joseph kisses the brothers who sold him into slavery when the family is finally restored. Jesus recommends all divisions be similarly resolved before approaching the altar with a gift.

Proverbs describes an honest reply as "a kiss on the lips." Psalm 85 imagines the meeting of justice and peace as a kiss. Such plentiful ritual use of the kiss is why betrayal with a kiss is both unexpected and reprehensible. As early as Genesis, Jacob deceives his blind father with a kiss, posing as his brother to steal his paternal blessing. King David's general Joab pretends to kiss an enemy Amasa, then stabs him in the abdomen. Most famously, Judas betrays Jesus to a mob in Gethsemane by greeting him with a most unholy kiss.

The church restores the ritual practice of the kiss in its liturgy. The kiss or sign of peace is first mentioned by Justin Martyr as part of the liturgy in the second century. It was delivered after the Prayer of the Faithful: "When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss." In the 5th century, Pope Innocent repositioned the kiss after the Eucharist. In the 11th century, "the bond of peace and charity" preceded communion. The 1474 Missal utilized the words of the Risen Lord: "Peace be with you." In the documents of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI wanted to make the kiss of peace obligatory rather than optional. Even if we don't exchange so much as a handshake these days, the "kiss" is delivered by exchanging the words: Peace be with you.

Scripture: Genesis 27:26-27; 33:4; 45:15; 2 Samuel 20:9; Psalm 85:11; Proverbs 24:26; Sirach 29:5; Mark 14:44-45; Matthew 5:23-24; 26:48-49; Luke 7:38, 45; 15:20; 22:47-48; Acts 20:37; Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14

Books: At the Supper of the Lamb: A Pastoral and Theological Commentary on the Mass, by Paul Turner (Liturgy Training Publications, 2011)

The Liturgy and Catholic Social Teaching: Participation in Worship and the World, edited Danielle A. Noe (Liturgy Training Publications, 2018)

0 comments  -  Add your own comment  -  Follow my posts  -  Permalink Tags: kiss of peace

Can women religious work in law enforcement or in forensic labs?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 10, June 2023 Categories: Vocation and Discernment
The spirit of the community's founder should be represented by the work of the institute and its members.

This is a question best addressed by canon law, and the answers are less clear than might be expected. The section that describes "Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life" (cc. 573-746) notes that laws governing religious life are to meet certain criteria—most fundamentally, the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience (c. 573.1). It's also presumed that the individual and her community are mutually responsive to a call by the Holy Spirit, which must be confirmed by the proper church authorities (c. 573.2). However, it's not specified in every instance whether that authority implies the superior of the order, the local bishop, the Holy See, or any combination of the above.

The spirit of the community's founder should be represented by the work of the institute and its members (c. 578). Which means an order founded to be contemplative should pursue this vocation, just as those founded for teaching, healing, service to the poor, etc. should maintain this calling. These guidelines are deliberately drawn very broadly, to admit the ongoing guidance of the Holy Spirit as well as the evolving need of each new generation. For example, Mother Frances Cabrini's Missionary Institute of the Sacred Heart originally embraced service to Italian immigrants in the U.S. In later generations, their service expanded to other immigrant groups and to other countries.

Does the flexibility purposely built into these canons expand to admit a woman religious to the field of law enforcement if her religious community was founded on the charism of justice for the poor or prison ministry? Might she fulfill her calling serving in a forensic lab if her intent is to ensure that DNA testing is properly done for incarcerated persons who were poorly represented at trial or whose guilty sentence may have been racially motivated? These occupations likely didn't exist at the time of her community's founder. Yet were the founder alive today, would she see this work as an extension of the charism?

Other canons concern "unbecoming activity" for church leaders (see canons 285-289), but these explicitly refer to ordained clergy. These activities presently include holding public office, but historically included fox hunting, bartending, cab driving, professional prize-fighting, horse racing, and serving as a jailor. The "Worker Priest" movement of the 1940s and 50s—in which some clergy worked among the people at manual labor—was dimly viewed, yet there's still no canonical impediment for clergy to do so.

Scriptures: Amos 1:1; 7:12-15; Acts 18:3; 20:33-35; 1 Corinthians 4:11-13; 9:1-18; 1 Thessalonians 2:9

Books: God's Call Is Everywhere: A Global Analysis of Contemporary Vocations for Women, by Patricia Wittberg, SC, Mary L. Gautier, Gemma Simmonds, CJ (Liturgical Press, 2023)

Called to Serve: A History of Nuns in America, by Margaret M. McGuinness (New York University Press, 2015)

0 comments  -  Add your own comment  -  Follow my posts  -  Permalink Tags: vocationcharism

Why is being rooted in Peter's authority so important to the Catholic Church?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 10, June 2023 Categories: Church History,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints,Scripture
To find the job description of a modern pope, look no further than Peter's example.

Peter's a remarkable person in the New Testament. Many people counted themselves as admirers of Jesus for shorter or longer periods during his earthly ministry. Some, both women and men, were serious disciples who accompanied Jesus since the Galilee days. A mere dozen were special members of his inner circle, known as the Twelve. Among the Twelve, three (Peter, James, and John) became Jesus' most trusted friends: present at the Transfiguration, and also invited to pray with him in Gethsemane just before his arrest. Yet even among these favored three, Peter makes a singular impression.

Peter is mentioned nearly 175 times in the New Testament, almost twice as often as John and three times as often as James. Peter is a fisherman personally invited by Jesus to fish for people. In John's gospel, he's called a shepherd of Christ's sheep. In Matthew's narrative, Jesus declares Peter the rock upon which his church will be built. This is because Peter receives the special revelation that Jesus is the Son of the living God.

In Acts, Peter has a vision that reveals to him that Gentiles as well as Jews will be welcomed into the church. In the letters attributed to him, Peter is perceived as an elder among elders, as well as one capable of amending errant teachings. Yet Peter's also represented in Acts as a team player, working in full partnership with John and willing to accept the discernment of James when in Jerusalem. Peter's not just the boss left in charge after Jesus returns to his Father. After an early career of impulsive speech and rash behavior, Peter's been humbled, becoming a leader who appreciates that the wisest way to wield authority is to seek good counsel and faithful collaborators all along the path.

To find the job description of a modern pope, look no further than Peter's example. The fisherman who casts the broadest possible net, the shepherd intimately companioning the sheep, the rock upon which the structure of church depends: these are the fundamental tasks of the papacy. A pope must also be a person of deep prayer open to revelation and new insights—even spectacular ones that shake up social expectations. A pope must gather wise and collaborative counselors, yet be ready to make the final call when necessary. All of this makes a Petrine foundation an essential component of Catholic authority.

Scripture: Matthew 16:16-18; Luke 5:10; John 21:1-17; Acts 1:9-16; 3:1-11; 4:1-22; 8:14; 1 Peter 5:1; 2 Peter 3:15-16

Books: Four Times Peter: Portrayals of Peter in the Four Gospels and at Philippi, by Richard J. Cassidy (Liturgical Press, 2015)

Petrine Ministry and the Unity of the Church: Toward a Patient and Fraternal Dialogue, by James F. Puglisi, ed. (Liturgical Press, 1999)

0 comments  -  Add your own comment  -  Follow my posts  -  Permalink Tags: popepeter

My mom asked me to promise her a Christian burial. What does that involve?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 10, June 2023 Categories: Sacraments

Your mother is asking for her departure from this world to be accompanied by the rituals of the church.

Good news: it no longer involves descending into a catacomb, which was the normative way Christians were buried for the first five centuries. Unlike most earlier societies, Christians weren't buried in these underground vaults with valuable objects they might require in the afterlife—a disappointment to grave robbers. But at my dad's viewing before the casket was closed, his small grandson saw fit to tuck a Hot Wheels car in beside Grandpap. That sort of generous gesture is entirely okay.

Your mother is asking for her departure from this world to be accompanied by the rituals of the church. Christians share with Jews and other ancient religions a respect for the dead and how their bodies are treated posthumously. This included washing and dressing the bodies with care. What distinguishes the Christian response to death is that we rejoice and give thanks for those who have "gone before us marked with the sign of faith." So no need to hire a band of mourners, though it's natural to shed a tear at the loss of our dear ones.

As early as the seventh century, a believer near death was given the Eucharist along with a reading from Scripture. After death, the body was delivered to the church, psalms were prayed, followed by a procession to the place of burial. Catholics still follow a similar format. Calling the priest to administer "last rites" when a person is expected to die is proper, a ritual known as viaticum ("on the way with you"). Even if your mother is unconscious, it's possible to perform this rite. 

After death, the body may be brought for a church viewing, though this vigil service popularly known as a wake or rosary is often held at a funeral parlor. A priest may be present, or the vigil can be led by anyone. It typically includes a Liturgy of the Word: a song, prayer, Scripture reading, psalm, gospel, short reflection, and prayers of intercession, concluding with the Lord's Prayer. That's the standard vigil; however, many wakes involve little formal prayer, since many attendees aren't Catholic. While the church’s preference is that the body be present for the vigil and funeral Masses, some families choose cremation. "In all, pastors are encouraged to show pastoral sensitivity.” (Appendix #415 Order of Christian Funerals.) 

The final part of fulfilling your mother's request is the funeral and committal rituals. Her pastor will know what's required for these rites at the church and gravesite. These four moments of passage together–the dying time, vigil, funeral, and burial—are marked by simple rites acknowledging a life is ending, yet life continues.

Scripture: Genesis 23:1-9; 49:29—50:14, 24-26; Exodus 13:19; Deuteronomy 34:5-8; Joshua 24:29-33; 2 Samuel 21:13-14; 1 Kings 2:10; 11:43; Tobit 1:16-20; 2:3-8; Sirach 38:16; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42; 1 Corinthians 15:55

Books: Planning the Catholic Funeral, by Terence Curley (Liturgical Press, 2005)

Now and at the Hour of Our Death: Instructions for My Medical Treatment, Finances, and Funeral, by Victoria Tufano et. al. (Liturgy Training Publications, 2022)

What's the vocation of a religious brother about?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 10, June 2023 Categories: Vocation and Discernment
The communal life is key, as it becomes a form of spiritual family to stabilize the commitment of its members even as it liberates them from the responsibilities of typical family life.

To many Catholics, religious brothers are invisible in the hierarchy of church leadership. Clergy play public liturgical roles, and religious sisters were traditionally set apart by their habits and occupations as schoolteachers and nurses. But brothers? It's possible you never met one, or didn't know it if you did.

Religious brothers are members of the laity, as religious sisters are. They consecrate themselves to the three traditional evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity, obedience. Three distinguishing marks of a brother are his public profession to consecrated life, commitment to a religious community, and dedication to some aspect of church service. Some brothers are called monks (like Benedictines and Trappists) or friars (Franciscans or Dominicans), while others are simply known as brothers within a larger community that may include ordained members as well (like Oratorians and Jesuits).

Some teaching orders, such as the Christian Brothers, are entirely composed of consecrated laymen. Yet early in church history, most monastics and religious were brothers, ordaining members only when their community needed a priest to serve them. Later on, many deep-rooted religious orders began to ordain most of their members as a matter of course. Those who presented themselves for religious life but were uneducated or ill-suited for ordained ministry remained brothers, serving the community in supportive roles as porters, cooks, and gardeners. This contributed to a class system in religious life, as brothers had less voice, vote, or authority within their communities. Since Vatican II, in modern community life more brothers are attaining leadership roles and equivalent status as full peers to priestly members.

You may wonder why someone chooses to formally profess as a religious brother (or sister), since the work they do can be done by unprofessed people. The communal life is key, as it becomes a form of spiritual family to stabilize the commitment of its members even as it liberates them from the responsibilities of typical family life.

Each religious community may orient the ministry of their brothers to a particular kind of service, as religious sisters do: education, healthcare, social services or social justice action. Precisely because they aren't ordained, brothers can be more flexible and versatile in their work, responding to the needs of their generation. Brothers today may serve in the areas of ecology, racial justice, migrant ministry, media, or wherever their talents and the world's need come together. When you think about it, who couldn't use a helpful brother?

Scripture: Mark 10:17-31; Matthew 5:3; 19:16-30; Luke 6:20; 18:18-30; John 4:31-34; 6:37-; Philippians 2:8-10; Hebrews 10:5-7

Books: Brother Andre: Friend of the Suffering, Apostle of Saint Joseph, by Jean-Guy Dubuc (Ave Maria Press, 2010)

Francis and His Brothers: A Popular History of the Franciscan Friars, by Dominic Monti, OFM (Franciscan Media, 2009)

Are Hebrews the same as Jews?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 09, June 2023 Categories: Church History,Scripture
How did Israelites known widely as Hebrews become Jews?

A Venn diagram of these two words would find some overlap. But they're not equivalents. Jews have their origins in a people once known as Hebrews, whose story is recorded in the Old Testament. Their story doesn't begin with Adam and Eve, the mythical first people, but in chapter ten of Genesis with the descendants of Eber, son of Shem, noted in the Table of Nations. 

Abraham is called a Hebrew, as is his great-grandson Joseph. Their community as a whole is often identified as Hebrew. But the designation is not used by the people themselves, who later identify primarily as Israelites, a name tying them to their patriarch Jacob, grandson of Abraham. Jacob's name is changed to Israel after he wrestles with an angelic being. 

Other biblical nations primarily refer to Israelites as Hebrews, a term rooted in the Near Eastern word 'apiru. Neither an ethnic nor a racial category, 'apiru is the political status of wanderers, dissidents, or unwelcome non-citizens. Such nomadic people were viewed as vagabonds, withdrawn from the social networks and responsibilities of upstanding people in the land. As Israelite dietary restrictions and purity laws evolved, these made it increasingly difficult for them to associate in the amicable venues of other nations. The more they distinguished themselves as different, the less welcome Israelites were.

We can appreciate why Israelites didn't use the name Hebrew, especially after they settled in the land of Canaan ca. 1225 BCE. Yet the name is retained for the ancient language of Israel. Hebrew derived from a Semitic language of Canaan. But in the 6th century BCE, after a generation of exile in Babylon, the spoken language of the people became Aramaic. It was the preferred tongue of the Persian Empire of which they were now a part. Hebrew was used only in prayer and scholarship, much as Latin was in the Roman church long after it ceased to be a living spoken tongue.

So how did Israelites known widely as Hebrews become Jews? The southern kingdom of Abraham's descendants was originally given to the tribe of Judah. (The north was called Israel, destroyed by Assyria in 722 BCE). When the Judahites were hustled off to Babylon, the land formerly known as Judah became known by the Persian designation Yehud. When the Romans took it over in 66 BCE, they called it Judea. Judeans became Jews, and the name stuck.

Scriptures: Genesis 10:21 (see footnote NABRE), 24-25; 11:14-17; 14:13 (see footnote NABRE); 39:14, 17; Exodus chs. 1—7; 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12; 1 Samuel chs. 4—14; Acts 6:1

Books: Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, by Lawrence Boadt, CSP, revised edition by Richard Clifford and Daniel Harrington (Paulist Press, 2012)

A History of Ancient Israel and Judah, by J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes (Westminster John Knox, 2006)

What does it mean to be saved?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 09, June 2023 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

God's desire to save includes everything.

Salvation is one of those churchy words we use all the time with relatively little reflection. To Catholics of a certain generation, or Christians of some denominational persuasions, it simply implies you're not going to wind up in hell for your sins. But that's a very reductive idea. Being saved is so much more than that.

In theologian Jon Nilson's wonderfully rich definition, salvation is the condition of the ultimate restoration and fulfillment of humanity and all creation effected by God's action in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. I mean, wow! This is so much bigger than the singular rescue of your soul or mine from eternal flames, so to speak. God's desire to save includes everything. This reminds us of the words of Jesus after the multiplication of loaves: "Gather up the fragments that nothing may be wasted." It's God's plan that no crumb of creation is wasted.

The important question this raises is: Is this your plan and mine? Climate change reveals how human beings are very careless about the stewardship placed in our hands for all of life. Pope John Paul II's admonitions concerning our "culture of death" point toward the many ways we "waste" life: in warfare, poverty, capital punishment, and abortion among others. Pope Francis likewise warns about our "throwaway culture," which pollutes the air, soil, and water in its consumptive production, then tops off landfills as we discard it for more. And of course there are other ways in which we squander life: in the wasteful use of our time. In exploitative careers founded in personal greed rather than meeting social needs. In addictive habits, injustice, racism, hate speech, attitudes of resentment, and so much more.

What seems clear is that, if we are not saved, if we are in fact wasted or lost, it's not because God wills it to be so. God's design and desire are to rescue all. The story of salvation history traced in Scripture describes the perpetual efforts of a "saving God" who seeks to rescue and reconcile a people repeatedly and stubbornly choosing to wander into harm's way again. Heaven and hell, properly understood, are images that invite us to participate now in the happiness or misery we ultimately want. In Nilson's words, "Taken seriously but not literally, [heaven and hell] are reminders of the ultimacy involved in one's everyday decisions." There should be no mystery in how we spend eternity. Just contemplate how you spend today.

Scripture: Mark 3:4-5; 10:50-52; Matthew 1:21; 8:25-27; 14:30-32; Luke 1:46-55, 68-79; 2:10-11, 29-32; 7:50; 17:19; 19:9; Acts 4:10-12; Romans 3:21-26; 5:9-10; 8:19-24;  1 Corinthians 1:18; 15:1-2; 2 Corinthians 2:15-17; Galatians 2:15-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:8-10 

Books: Teresa of Avila, the Holy Spirit, and the Place of Salvation, by André Brouillette (Paulist Press, 2021)

Jesus and Salvation: Soundings in the Christian Tradition and Contemporary Theology, by Robin Ryan (Liturgical Press, 2015)

0 comments  -  Add your own comment  -  Follow my posts  -  Permalink Tags: salvation

Who invented the sacraments?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 19, March 2023 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Scripture,Sacraments
Saint Augustine taught that a sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace."

The classic definition of a sacrament is that it's an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. "Instituted by Christ" is a curious phrase. It clearly does not mean that Jesus, in his lifetime on earth, listed seven and only seven actions that will forever be known as sacraments. In fact, Jesus never uses the word.

The definition derives from fifth-century Saint Augustine, who taught that a sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace." He left out the part about where they came from. Third-century theologian Tertullian seems to have begun calling the initiating rituals of the church by the term sacramentum, which at the time was used for the oath of loyalty a Roman soldier vowed to the emperor. This Latin root word for sacrament means hidden or secret, similar to the Greek word for mystery.

Augustine advances the understanding of a sacrament by linking it to efficacy: that is, it effects what it signifies, does what it says. So baptism's waters bring death to sin and new life to us. Bread and wine become Christ's body and blood. However, Augustine fails to supply a definitive list of which actions do this. Nor does he limit sacraments to rituals but also includes objects. Across his writings, some 300 actions and elements are deemed signs of sacred realities; it's unclear that Augustine doesn't intend them all to be sacraments.

The church over time limits sacraments to ritual acts. Things—like holy water, ashes, palms—can be "sacramentals": elements that derive meaning from the sacraments. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 delineated the list of seven sacraments Catholics celebrate today.

In the New Testament, the ritual acts routinely practiced by the early church were baptism of new members and the breaking of the bread on the first day of the week. The Letter of James recommends anointing the sick, in imitation of Jesus who frequently touched those he healed. The practice of laying hands on those chosen for leadership is attested in the Acts of the Apostles. Both Jesus and Saint Paul rigorously support faithful marriages and forgiveness of sins in their teaching. Communicating the Holy Spirit as a seal of mature faith is also demonstrated by Jesus and later the apostles. Theologian Mark R. Francis implies that God "invents" sacraments as they exist to save us. It's the whole reason we have them—and the church.

Scriptures: Mark 1:9-10; 6:41-44; 8:23; 10:2-12; 14:22-24; Matthew 18:18; 19:1-9; 28:19; Luke 22:19-20; John 2:1-11; John 20:22-23; Acts 2:38, 41-42; 6:3-6; 8:14-17; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16; James 5:14-16

Books: Shape a Circle Ever Wider: Liturgical Inculturation in the United States - Mark R. Francis (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2007)

The Sacraments: Historical Foundations and Liturgical Theology - Kevin Irwin (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2016)

0 comments  -  Add your own comment  -  Follow my posts  -  Permalink Tags: sacraments

The Bible mentions Zion a lot. Where or what is Zion?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 19, March 2023 Categories: Church History,Scripture
The idea of Zion continues to migrate.

Zion is a where and a what. Let's start with Jerusalem, built on two hills east and west, 2400 feet above sea level in its present location. Ancient Jerusalem stood slightly lower to the southeast, outside the walls of what's presently known as the Old City. David captured the fortress of Zion from the Jebusites around 1000 BCE, renaming it the City of David. His capital city was built around it on the eastern hill. Yet apparently by the time of first-century historian Josephus, it was the western hill, larger and higher, that was known as Zion. 

Either way, elevated Zion made an excellent capital: naturally defensible on all sides except the north, with a water supply from the Gihon spring on the eastern hill.

After the construction of the temple by King Solomon, Zion came to refer more specifically to the temple mount north of David's city, as the many psalms celebrating the ascent to the temple attest. This may be when the location of Zion decisively shifts from east to west. In Solomon's time the designation Jerusalem—"the foundation of Salem," an earlier name known at the time of Abraham—seems to eclipse other names for the location, both inside and outside the walls. So we see already that Zion was once the name of a hill and also a fortress on that hill. It became synonymous with the City of David, and finally interchangeable with the site of the Temple built in Solomon's time. 

But the idea of Zion continues to migrate. Ezekiel's prophecies re-envision both temple and Jerusalem with a celestial dimension. The Book of Revelation takes them out of time altogether. Geography falls away as "God's holy mountain" (Ps. 2) is infused with an eternal identity. So it happens that, in the Byzantine era, the ridge southwest of contemporary Jerusalem becomes designated as Zion. This ridge contains the traditional sites of both the tomb of David and the Cenacle—the latter being the upper room where the Last Supper was held. Could it be that "God's holy mountain," the place where God chooses to dwell, is reassigned by the actions at the Last Supper? In the new and everlasting covenant of our Eucharist, the "upper" room where this sacrament is instituted is revealed as a new Zion. In that case, each of the elevated sanctuaries upon which our altars stand is a little Zion too.

Scriptures: 2 Samuel 5:6-12; 1 Kings 8:1; 1 Chronicles 11:4-5; 2 Chronicles 5:1-2; Psalms 2:6; 46:5; 78:68-69; Isaiah 2:2-5; 60:1-3; 66:18-20; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Micah 4:1-3; Zechariah 8:20-23; Joel 4:16-18; Matthew 21:5; John 12:15; Romans 9:33; 11:26; Hebrews 12:22; 1 Peter 2:6; Revelation 14:1

Books: The Holy City: Jerusalem in the Theology of the Old Testament - Leslie Hoppe, OFM (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000)

The Long Journey: In Search of Justice and Peace in Jerusalem - James G. Paharik (Liturgical Press, 2009)

Are halos biblical, or just an artist's idea?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 18, March 2023 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints

God's glory is understood as a form of radiance. 

Halos are visual shorthand, part of the symbolic vocabulary of Christianity that was for centuries the only catechism for multitudes of believers who couldn't read. In a more literate age, such symbols are no longer necessary. But we still use them, since they reveal at a glance that this person is a guide and helper on our own road to sanctity.

The idea that light emanates from holy ones is also biblically attested. God's glory is understood as a form of radiance. When Moses goes up Mt. Sinai to encounter God face to face, he returns so radiant that he must veil his face from the community so as not to risk contact between the sacred and profane—always a hazardous business. Thereafter, whenever Moses enters the Tent of Presence to meet with God, he covers his face afterwards. Close encounters with God appear to place us in contagious proximity to divine glory. The emanation from Moses was later translated from Hebrew by biblical scholar Saint Jerome as horns rather than rays of light, which is why some artists depicted Moses with horns. 

It may not have been a mistranslation. Egyptian and Mesopotamian gods and heroes wore horns as a sign of their glory, honor, and authority. Later on, horns and rays are rounded out into the more familiar halo, often painted with gold foil or set with precious metals and jewels in icons. Circles are perfect, like divinity. Christ receives the first round halo in art, then the angels, and finally the saints. Interesting, rare portraits of God the Father employed a triangular halo instead to recall the Trinity. Baby Jesus sometimes has one too–perhaps because he so recently departed the Trinitarian realm for earth. Jesus may also be crowned with a cruciform halo, which is uniquely his.

Faith, Hope, and Love are sometimes shown in art as human figures and when they are, they wear hexagonal halos. So too the cardinal virtues Justice, Prudence, Fortitude, and Temperance. The very rare square halo was used to denote a living person popularly proclaimed a saint, but technically not yet eligible for the crown of light. As minimalism became fashionable in art, the halo was reduced to a disc hovering overhead, or even a mere circlet of gold. Animals that symbolize holy ones—the Lamb of God, the Holy Spirit dove, and the four Evangelists of Revelation—might also wear halos. You and I, too, hope to do so.

Scripture: Exodus 34:27-35; Deuteronomy 5:23-27; 2 Chronicles 5:14; 26:18; Psalm 19:2; 79:9; 89:16; Isaiah 35:2; 60:1-3; Baruch 5:1-3, 9; Ezekiel 8:4; 43:2; Daniel 12:3; Wisdom 7:10, 25-30; Sirach 43:9; Mark 15:38; Matthew 27:51; Luke 23:45; John 1:3-9; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 8:16-17; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18; 4:3-6; Revelation 21:11, 22-24 

Books: The Square Halo, and Other Mysteries of Western Art: Images and the Stories That Inspired Them - Sally Fisher (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1995)

Dictionary of Christian Art - Diane Apostolos-Cappadona (New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1994)

Do Catholics believe in fate?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 18, March 2023 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

The key word for Catholics is providence, not fate.

Fate's an interesting word. It derives from the Latin fatum, "that which has been spoken." It's been described as the handwriting on the wall or the inevitability of life's course. When we meet the love of our lives, we may feel this encounter was meant to be. Or we may sense that our vocation, discovered early, was the only career track or direction we were destined to walk.

Truly we're not in control of many factors governing our lives. In some ways we can describe ourselves as pre-determined: our place of origin, race, genetic code, moment of history, an so on. Elements that profoundly affect our course aren't ours to choose, including the unavoidability of death.

So, on the one hand, our faith tells us we're free choosers and co-creators of our destiny. Yet in other ways, we recognize volition isn't the whole story. We plan, but plans may be undone by outside forces. It's no wonder some folks surrender to a suspicion that scientific randomness is the true force that governs history; or, that most or all of what happens to us is already "in the cards" or predestined. Even people of faith may shrug and speak of "God's will" as if God is the divine face of fate, fixing our state of life just as it is.

What does the church teach about all this? The key word for Catholics is providence, not fate. The biblical word is often translated as God's plan, design, or order, but providence is not to be confused with a prewritten history. God's plan, as the sacred stories make abundantly clear, is that creation flourishes and the human community enters into its fullness. This fullness is described as shaloma word meaning peace, justice, happiness, and goodness. If there's a divine design, it's not that we should tread on an immutable path, but that we follow the path that leads to ultimate joy: union with God. God's goal for all creation is the road to salvation, a "new creation."

Providence is the authority governing and illuminating this path. Teachers instruct and prophets may warn, but we won't always attend to their direction. Providence doesn't force us down a chute of decision, but is rather a divine intention we can always trust. Perhaps Julian of Norwich expressed it best: "All will be well, and all manner of things will be well." The happy ending awaits.

Scriptures: Deuteronomy 7:9-11; 11:26-28; Job 10:12; Psalm 33:11; 36:6-13; Isaiah 44:6-8; Jeremiah 7:4-7; Ezekiel 18:1-32; Daniel 12:1-3; Wisdom 6:6-8; 8:1; 11:2; 14:3-7; 17:2; Sirach 32:14-24; Matthew 6:25-34; Acts 2:37-39; Romans 1:1-7; 11:22-24; Hebrews 4:13

Books: Predestination, Grace, and Free Will - M. John Farrelly, OSB (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1964)

Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology, Consciousness - Ilia Delio (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015)

0 comments  -  Add your own comment  -  Follow my posts  -  Permalink Tags: providencefate

What am I to understand from the term "Kingdom of God"?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 02, February 2023 Categories: Scripture
Biblically, the Kingdom refers to God's rule rather than God's realm. 

It's important to get this one right. The Kingdom of God isn't another name for our popular understanding of heaven. That is, it's not where we go when we die. Nor is it even a "place" in the temporal sense of the word. Biblically, the Kingdom refers to God's rule rather than God's realm. Being Kingdom citizens is a matter of embracing God's will as our own and living accordingly.

This helps us appreciate why Jesus refers to the Kingdom as "among" us and even "within" us—always within reach if we but reach for it. We don't have to get there so much as abide there wherever we are. Scripture says we participate in the Kingdom's reality in various ways: repenting and changing our hearts, working toward justice, protecting the vulnerable, and freeing those who are burdened. 

Matthew speaks of "the kingdom of the heavens," while Mark and Luke prefer the more direct "kingdom of God." All three gospels see the fulfillment of the Kingdom as central to the teaching of Jesus. We're taught to pray for its arrival in the Lord's Prayer. Our relationship to money and even to family might be an obstacle to full admission. Jesus offers multiple parables and metaphors for understanding the Kingdom's dimensions and implications: a sower, a mustard seed, treasure, a banquet. Matthew's gospel alone references the Kingdom almost 50 times.

In John's gospel, Jesus is clear that the Kingdom can't be mistaken for territory gained by power: it operates distinctly from this world. It's a reality where peace rules and oppression ends. Jesus manifests the Kingdom by coming into this world, but its fullness is not yet in view until his return in glory.

Sometimes we make the mistake of morphing the Kingdom of God with the church on earth. At its best, the church is the sacramental sign of the Kingdom: a signpost, that is, not the destination. We the church proclaim the Kingdom both in formal preaching and in works of justice and mercy. No political system or social program can establish God's rule. We can't make "Kingdom come" by our own efforts. Yet we are summoned to cooperate with the Spirit to enter more fully into the Kingdom's reality by our personal choices and in reshaping society to conform to its values.

Scripture: 1 Chronicles 17:14, 28:5; Psalm 99:4; 146:5-10; Isaiah 6:1-5; 24:23; Zephaniah 3:15; Zechariah 14:16-17; Mark 1:15; 9:1; 10:23-25; Matthew 3:1-2; 4:17; 6:10; 10:34-38; 13:18-19, 24-53; 16:19, 28; 19:23-24; 20:1-16, 20-23; 22:1-14; Luke 9:27; 11:2; 14:15-33; 18:24-25; John 3:3-5; 18:33-37; Acts 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23

Books: Parables of the Kingdom/Jesus and the Use of Parables in the Synoptic Tradition, Pts. I-II, by Mary Ann Getty-Sullivan (Liturgical Press, 2007 and 2008) 

A Banqueter's Guide To The All-Night Soup Kitchen Of The Kingdom Of God, by Patrick T. McCormick (Liturgical Press, 2017)

0 comments  -  Add your own comment  -  Follow my posts  -  Permalink Tags: kingdomreign

Why don't all Christians celebrate Christmas on the same day?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 02, February 2023 Categories: Church History

Jerusalem tradition had chosen January 6 for the celebration of this Theophany, Greek for "Divine Manifestation," and this custom was embraced throughout the Eastern churches.

We regard time linearly because we experience it this way: each day marching in a progression toward the future. We view the past similarly, only fixed as if set in amber. It's natural to imagine the birth of Jesus as we do our own birthdays: stamped on the calendar on December 25th and celebrated on its anniversary annually. 

Except in the East, where Christ's coming is observed on January 6th. How can this be?

Consider that the ancients told time in terms of the great sky clocks, sun and moon. Seasons and occasions were established according to the heavenly orbs, not to mention patterns of rainfall. Calendars were shaped by familiar cycles so crops might be planted and harvested successfully.

Another significant factor in dating was the succession of rulers. So Matthew tells us about a new star in the heavens signaling a new king's arrival, but also that this occurred during the present reign of King Herod. Luke also acknowledges who held the reins of power during this event: Roman Caesar Tiberias, Palestinian procurator Pontius Pilate, and high priests Annas and Caiaphas. Details we might prefer—day of the week, date of the month, or month itself—weren't recorded. A study of celestial anomalies of this period hasn't produced an exact calendar date for the newborn king.

As the early church spread out across many cultures, news traveled slowly. Inevitably the church experienced natural divisions and differing customs. Churches of the East and West were both improvising. The winter solstice, the longest night of darkness around December 21, was already a significant observance. It seemed fitting to celebrate the arrival of the Light of the World as days grew longer beyond the solstice. Jerusalem tradition had chosen January 6 for the celebration of this Theophany, Greek for "Divine Manifestation," and this custom was embraced throughout the Eastern churches. Many of these churches observed a sequence of "epiphanies" leading up to the great one: annunciations to Zechariah and Mary, Mary and Elizabeth's visitation, John's birth, the annunciation to Joseph, and finally the birth of Jesus. 

Meanwhile, Western Christians called this same divine manifestation by the name Epiphany, observing it in late December. In time, Eastern and Western traditions mingled to create a unified liturgical chain between Nativity and Epiphany. Choosing a precise date for a historically unknown event was less important than preparing to receive this manifestation with minds and hearts fully awake.

Scripture: Exodus 23:14-17; Leviticus 23:1-44; Deuteronomy  26:1-3; 1 Maccabees 4:56-59; Ecclesiastes 1:4–7, 9-10; 3:1-8; Hosea 2:13; Zechariah 14:6-9; Mark 1:14-15; Matthew 2:1-2; Luke 3:1-2; John 1:1-5, 14

Books: Days of the Lord: The Liturgical Year, Vol. 1: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany (Liturgical Press, 1991)

Biblical Meditations for Advent and the Christmas Season, by Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP (Paulist Press, 1980)

What do theologians do all day?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 18, December 2022 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Scripture,Prayer and Spirituality
Scripture and tradition are the central tools of the theologian's trade. Whatever they propose must be grounded in these primary foundations.

Good question! It doesn't seem one might make a living talking about God. Most theologians have a day job teaching at universities. Yet their vocation remains to pursue "the science of God." These studies aren't merely academic. Theologians invest in the work of understanding as believers themselves, and for the sake of believers everywhere.

Fourth-century Augustine urged seekers of truth to "believe that you may understand." Later Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury coined a phrase from this idea, "faith seeking understanding," to describe the task of theology. Needless to say, theologians don't make stuff up, spinning theories about divinity from their imaginations or faculties of reason. Scripture and tradition are the central tools of the theologian's trade. Whatever they propose must be grounded in these primary foundations. 

In addition, theologians may use methodologies from philosophy, history, and science to stretch toward new horizons of thought, to take in advancements in human learning.  Many theologians specialize in certain approaches or subjects. Systematic theology, for example, explores motifs of church dogma: Trinity, Creation, or Incarnation, say. Soteriology is concerned with the workings of grace and the meaning of salvation. Moral theology examines how to discern value choices. Christology meditates on the mystery of Jesus as both human and divine. Ecclesiology studies the church in its mission, governance, and future directions. Pastoral theology considers how preaching, teaching, and liturgy promote the gospel and connect with the lived situations of real people.

I like Jesuit J.J. Mueller's listing of four major influences shaping the path of contemporary theology. The first is the renewed appreciation for Scripture's privileged role in any conversation about God: not the Bible taken literally and fundamentalistically, yet still embraced foundationally. Secondly is historical consciousness: ways of viewing and valuing the past as central or irrelevant, ongoing or finished business. Next is the opening of new avenues of interpretation: feminist, black, LGBTQ+, and liberation readings, among many others. Finally, we have to be mindful of the quickening of global interconnectedness and the responsibility to make theology universally applicable and respectful.

I also love Mueller's acknowledgment that theology isn't the exclusive domain of theologians. We all participate in God Talk with family, friends, coworkers, and in the public sphere of politics and the marketplace. What we say to each other, to children, and to the wider world with our values and decisions is part of the greater work of seeking, understanding, and teaching what we believe.

Scripture: Psalm 119; Wisdom 1:1-7; John 1:1-18; Romans 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; 2 Timothy 3:10-17; 1 John 1:1-4; 2:7-11

Books: Theological Foundations: Concepts and Methods for Understanding Christian Faith, by J.J. Mueller, SJ. (St. Mary's Press, 2007)

World Christianity: History, Methodologies, Horizons, by Jehu J. Hanciles (Orbis Books, 2021)

How did the Catholic church get into the hospital business?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 18, December 2022 Categories: Church History
From ancient times, the healing ministry was a natural function of religion.

Hospitals have a fascinating history. In the 19th century, they were popularly conceived as places where you were assured "a bed to lie in and to die in." People reacted to hospitals similarly to the Sacrament of the Sick: as a sure sign you were on your way out. In the era before germ theory was understood, the chances of getting sicker in a hospital—where the critically ill were gathered and treated by doctors who didn't wash their hands between patients—was admittedly high. For this reason, some older people still avoid doctors and hospitals, seeing both as omens of the end.

From ancient times, the healing ministry was a natural function of religion. Faith healing was in the hands of religious practitioners. The Bible describes how priests were invested with the authority to banish the contagious from public life, and also to pronounce them cured and restored to the community. The popularity of healing pools is evident in the gospels, as well as exorcisms and magical rituals. In the century before Jesus, Sirach puts in a good word for doctors too. During Jesus' ministry, people naturally bring their sick to the man "who speaks with authority," and receive physical and mental cures. The evangelist Luke was attracted to the church as a physician and recorded many healing narratives.

As early as the 5th century BC—when Hippocrates uttered his oath, "First, do no harm" —science joined the healing business. Medical schools were operating in 40 BC. Yet the church continued to engage in healing ministries with sacraments for the sick and the sinner. Care for the sick was declared a work of mercy. When Constantine embraced Christianity in the 4th century, hospitals opened in every cathedral town of the Roman empire. Early hospitals functioned as hostels, almshouses, and healing facilities at once. In a word, they offered hospitality: a term rooted in addressing the needs of the stranger. Many saints took the infirm into their homes, or pursued full-time doctoring at no charge like Cosmas and Damian. 

Secular hospitals emerged by the 16th and 17th centuries. Yet often the church embraced patients they refused: Damien de Veuster and Marianne Cope ministered to lepers in Hawaii. Frances Cabrini opened hospitals for the under-served poor in New York and Chicago.  The esteemed Mayo Clinic was founded and funded by Franciscan Sisters in Rochester. If we take seriously the concept that "all healing is faith healing," it's hard to imagine the church getting out of the hospital business.

Scriptures: Leviticus 13:1-46; Sirach 38:1-15; 7:31-37; 8:22-26; Matthew 4:23-24; 8:1-17; 10:5-8; Luke 17:11-19; 18:35-43; John 5:1-9; 9:1-7; Acts 3:1-10; 5:12-16; 8:9-25; James 5:13-15

Books: The Bible and Healing: A Medical and Theological Commentary, by John Wilkinson (Eerdmans, 1998)

Who Shall Take Care of Our Sick?: Roman Catholic Sisters and the Development of Catholic Hospitals in New York City, by Bernadette McCauley (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005)

0 comments  -  Add your own comment  -  Follow my posts  -  Permalink Tags:

Where did the breviary come from?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 18, December 2022 Categories: Church History,Prayer and Spirituality
This sanctification of time acknowledges that time is a divine aspect of creation just as space (i.e. the world) is.

The word breviary comes from the same Latin root as brief. It implies this book is a shorter version of something else: in this case, the Liturgy of the Hours. The complete Liturgy of the Hours is a prayer form that seeks to extend the praise of our Eucharistic celebration through the rest of the hours outside of Mass. This sanctification of time acknowledges that time is a divine aspect of creation just as space (i.e. the world) is.

Sacred times and places are common in world religions. Dawn, noon, sunset, and night are regarded as particular markers when the texture of time is in transition. Think of how your activities shift at these markers: from sleep to wakefulness, work to home environment, productivity to relaxation, and finally from alertness back to sleep. At these junctures, it's good to consecrate ourselves and our window of time to divine safekeeping.

The original prayerbook in the Jewish tradition is the Psalter, or Book of Psalms. Early Christians took this traditional prayer with them into the practice of the church. They found natural correlations between hours of prayer and central gospel events, including resurrection (dawn), crucifixion (noon), and the Lord's supper (evening). Morning and evening prayers were routinely offered by lay members of the church.

During the rise of monasticism, other readings and prayers were added, making the Hours more formal and ritualized. By the medieval period, psalms and antiphons, lectionary readings and books of lessons, observance of the martyrology, plus hymnody, combined to require a library of volumes to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Needless to say, this made the Hours too ponderous and expensive for the laity to participate, and it became a prayer relegated to clergy and cloister.  

Then came the mendicants, those mobile religious orders like Franciscans and Dominicans. Their itinerant lifestyle necessitated a more portable book of prayer, and the breviary was born. This abbreviated version of the Hours wasn't really restored to the average person, however, until Vatican II called for a more accessible form of the breviary to be created. The single-volume book of Christian Prayer, or even simpler and slimmer Shorter Christian Prayer preserve the flavor of a liturgy adapted to hours, days, and weeks, with seasonal touches and a calendar of saint observances. For those still intimidated by leatherbound books, subscriptions to monthly services like Give Us This Day invite us into the spirit of sanctifying our time both morning and evening.

Scripture: Matt. 5:44; 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-13; 18:1-8; Acts 2:42; 3:1; 20:36; 21:5-6; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Eph. 6:18

Books: The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, by Daria Sockey (Franciscan Media, 2013)

Psalms and Other Songs from a Pierced Heart, by Patricia Stevenson (Liturgical Press, 2019)

A Book of Hours, by Thomas Merton, ed. by Kathleen Deignan (Ave Maria Press, 2007)

What's a tertiary?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 18, December 2022 Categories: Consecrated Life,Vocation and Discernment,Prayer and Spirituality
Tertiaries get the nod of approval precisely because of their deep connection to long-established communities with full canonical oversight.

My older sister is a Third Order Carmelite. She's also married, a mother of four children, and a pharmacist. Obviously she's not a nun or religious sister, but if not, then what is she?

Many of us learn from friends that they've joined third orders or otherwise describe themselves as tertiaries. Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, Carmelites, and other religious communities extend their identity to lay people in a "third way" that doesn't include clerical status nor communal living in a religious house. The tertiary designation is a secular association that even has official recognition in canon law: "Third Orders - Associations whose members lead an apostolic life and strive for Christian perfection while living in the world and who share the spirit of some religious institute under the higher direction of that same institute are called third orders or some other appropriate name." (CCC #303)

Third orders aren't the only kind of lay associations mentioned in church law. The earlier Code of Canon Law from 1917 recognized lay confraternities (like the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) and pious unions (think St. Vincent de Paul Society, Knights of Columbus) (see old CIC #700). The distinction between confraternities and pious unions isn't about purpose so much as ecclesial establishment and oversight. Current canon law only formally recognizes tertiary groups while noting the right of other private and public lay associations to form. Needless to say, not every group formed by a Catholic can utilize the name Catholic without competent ecclesial authority. (Heaven knows how the "brand" might be extended otherwise.)

Tertiaries get the nod of approval precisely because of their deep connection to long-established communities with full canonical oversight. The traditional "first orders" were male religious, not necessarily ordained. "Second orders" were composed of women religious. Any layperson who chose to share in the spirit of these communities without taking vows were called oblates by the Benedictines, and third orders by Francis of Assisi.

Today, tertiaries are divided into two categories: secular third orders and regular members. Seculars are like my sister, who lives a relatively normal life while participating in the prayer life and values of her chosen affiliation. She wears a scapular to remind her of her promises, and when she dies, she may choose to be buried in the habit worn by her group. Regular third order members take simple vows as well as following the rule of their community. If a religious community feels resonant for you, inquire about the possibility of associate status.

Books: The Tertiaries Companion - A Prayer Book For the Members of the Third Order Secular of St. Francis of Assisi, by Vincent Schrempp OFM (Franciscan Herald, 2022) 

Rule of the Third Order of the Servants of Mary, Servites Third Order (Ulan Press, 2012)

What is heaven?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 11, December 2022 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

The kingdom of heaven Jesus repeatedly teaches in Matthew's gospel isn't a spiritual land elsewhere.

When our loved ones die, faith prompts us to speak of them as being in a better place. This pinnacle of betterment is theologically described as perfect union with God. What could be better, truly, than to be finally and completely overtaken by the love that made us in the first place? We also speak of heaven as being God's home as well as our ultimate destination. Those whom we love and lose are therefore not lost at all in death. They've simply "gone home."

However, Christian salvation is even more comprehensive than we sometimes imagine. The world God created is not made in vain, but is even now groaning for its own version of rescue in a new heaven and new earth identified as the "new creation." Just as our beloved and beautiful world was never destined for the scrap heap, so our mortal bodies aren't intended to end as "ashes to ashes, and dust to dust." All is to be renewed, restored, revitalized in a "world without end" confirmed in our every doxology. Cosmically speaking, in eternity the material world matters—pun very much intended.

So the kingdom of heaven Jesus repeatedly teaches in Matthew's gospel isn't a spiritual land elsewhere. It's an immediate reality that has ramifications both now and forever. This makes it imperative that we do our "inner work," since our internal condition (traditionally called our state of grace) is represented in that now-and-everlasting realm. We also have to be mindful stewards of our social relationships, as well as the direction history is taking as a whole. I like Jesuit Paul Crowley's phrase here: "Heaven is thus not a radical interruption of these dimensions of human personhood; rather, the entirety of human personhood is taken up into God in the glory of risen life which bears the name heaven." Simply put, heaven isn't "where" we meet God face to face. It's "when." And it's not an interruption of all we presently know and love. It's a glorification of it all. How wonderful is that?

Another Jesuit, theologian Karl Rahner, has something else to say about heaven that's equally fascinating. He suggests that Jesus didn't return to a pre-existing place called heaven at his Ascension. Rather, Jesus established the possibility of heaven–that is, perfect and eternal union with God—by entering into his glory. Heaven is possible for those prepared to be overwhelmed by love.

Scriptures: Genesis 1:1; Pss 2:4; 11:4; 139:8; Isaiah 66:1; Wisdom 3:1-9; Matthew 3:16-17; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34; Romans 8:18-23; Revelation 21:1-5

Books: And the Life of the World to Come: Reflections on the Biblical Notion of Heaven, by John F. Craghan (Liturgical Press, 2012)

The Unmoored God: Believing in a Time of Dislocation, by Paul G. Crowley (Orbis Books, 2017)

0 comments  -  Add your own comment  -  Follow my posts  -  Permalink Tags: heaven

Who are the church fathers?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 11, December 2022 Categories: Church History

The general idea is that a church father was significant to the formation of Christian doctrine in the early centuries.

Often in the course of spiritual reading, we'll stumble on a quote from someone described as a father of the church. Such a person appears to be an authority whose teaching is unassailable. You begin to wonder: how many of these guys are there, and is there a cut-off moment when names were no longer added to the list?

(You may also wonder if there are church mothers. The short answer is: not officially. But of course there are holy women who were teachers and desert mothers, martyrs, and mystics of renown. Their names and stories are collected in many books, including Martha Ann Kirk's Women of Bible Lands and Mary Forman's Praying with the Desert Mothers.)

The church father designation isn't casual, yet it's assigned more by popular acclaim than definitive assignment. The general idea is that a church father was significant to the formation of Christian doctrine in the early centuries. Intriguingly, qualifications for joining this elite group are otherwise vague. Not all were bishops. Some were questionable in their orthodoxy overall. In the eastern tradition, it's generally assumed that the era of church fathers ends in the 8th century with John Damascene. The western church concludes its list with Gregory the Great (7th c.) or sometimes as late as the Venerable Bede (8th c.). 

In biblical times, someone who provides spiritual instruction for another is esteemed as a father. The prophet Elisha calls his mentor Elijah his father. Paul refers to himself as the father of those Corinthians who came to the faith through his teaching. So it was natural for second-century martyr Polycarp to be regarded as a father to his community, and for early leaders like Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen to utilize the relationship in their writings.

By the 4th century, church writers routinely refer to earlier teachers they cite by this title. Bishops who gathered at early councils like Nicaea, which gave us the Nicene Creed, and Ephesus, where certain heresies were condemned, pretty automatically qualified as fathers. Jesuit Joseph Bianco offers a comprehensive list that includes 5 apostolic fathers of the first century, 13 post-apostolic fathers of the second and third centuries, 56 Golden Age fathers of the fourth to eight centuries (31 writing in Greek, 20 in Latin, 5 in Syriac), and 12 desert fathers stretching from the fourth to the fourteen centuries. Bianco's count provides 86 church fathers to the tradition.

Scriptures: 2 Kings 2:12, 1 Corinthians 4:15

Books: The Fathers on the Sunday Gospels, by Stephen Mark Holmes (Liturgical Press, 2012)

Reading the Early Church Fathers: From the Didache to Nicaea, by James Papandrea (Paulist Press, 2012)



Follow Us


Click on a date below to see the vocation events happening that day!