Questions Catholics Ask

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More questions...and responses

What does the Bible say about discipleship?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 04, December 2008 Categories: Scripture

Ah, here's a word we should be asking about! Discipleship means "student," from the Latin discipulus. But that's deceptive: Today's student doesn't have to crack a book to qualify-just show up. That never would have flown in ancient times, when disciples lived with their teachers night and day and imitated their actions as well as listening to their words.

Discipleship has a wonderful evolving meaning between the two Testaments. Originally it described Israel's relationship with God. The Lord was the nation's ultimate teacher through the instructive power of the Law. The psalms frequently record Israel's pleading: "O Lord, teach me your ways!" Because God dwelt in the midst of the nation in the Jerusalem Temple, the people did share quarters with their Teacher.

Later, the prophets had protégés of their own: Elijah with Elisha or the school that added to Isaiah's writings. The sages of the later Wisdom tradition rooted instead for the domestic school: fathers teaching sons and mothers daughters. The Wisdom Woman, a personification of divine wisdom in Proverbs and the Book of Wisdom, called disciples to herself as well.

A natural progression existed between the roles of student and instructor. Disciples lived with their teachers until they were ready to become rabbis or prophets themselves. So it was startling when Jesus came along and made permanent disciples of his followers. "You have only one teacher and father in heaven," he told them. (Saint Paul later rejected the idea that Christians could "belong to" anyone but Jesus.) That harked back to the early design of God being the nation's sole instructor.

Another distinguishing feature of Jesus' disciples is that he chose them, not the other way around. Jewish disciples generally picked their own rabbis, as you might choose a college or major for yourself today.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of Jesus' invitation to discipleship was that it took place in the ordinary context of life-a fisherman's workday-not in a religious setting like the Temple. It required an immediate response. Discipleship then deepened "along the way" with Jesus, as the past with its possessions and priorities were gradually relinquished in favor of a radically new life.

Scripture
Deuteronomy 4:1; Psalm 25:4-5; Proverbs 1:20-33; Ecclesiastes 12:9; Isaiah 2:3; 48:17-19; Matthew 4:18-22; 23:8-9; Mark 8:34; Luke 10:1-20; 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Books
To Live in Christ: Discipleship
, by Robert Fabing, S.J. (Paulist Press)
Can You Drink the Cup? by Henri Nouwen (Ave Maria Press)

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How do I know whether be an order priest or a diocesan priest?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 03, November 2008 Categories: Vocation and Discernment

I’m happy to count among my friends Franciscans, Jesuits, Oblates, Paulists, Marists, and even the rare Camaldolese monk. I also know and love a small army of diocesan priests. I’ve often wondered why each one entered the ministry and, in particular, wound up in the “lifestyle” he currently enjoys. Because I’m curious and also pretty bold, I always ask.

Their candid replies have helped me appreciate the process of discernment, the power of the Spirit, and the beauty of personal testimony. Diocesan priests are characterized primarily by their priestly call to serve a specific community of faith. Their avenue of service is literally a geographic region—a diocese—and within that patch of land they pledge to pastor, preach, teach, and lead. Most diocesan priests talk about feeling called to serve in parishes, to lead the assembly at Mass, to share in the whole cycle of people’s lives from birth to death. They hope to minister in seasons of sorrow and joy to the love of God and the hope we bear in Jesus.

Priests who belong to a religious order may also feel the profound call to lead worship, preach, and teach. But they also speak of being powerfully drawn to a special charism or spiritual gift a particular religious community embodies. For example, Franciscans are noted for their commitment to poverty; Jesuits for their academic excellence; Paulists for their pioneering media-savvy; and monks to a life defined by prayer and silence.

Although diocesan priests may or may not share a residence with other priests, religious order priests are usually dedicated to a communal lifestyle by design. If you spiritually yearn for communal life or to serve in parish ministry, those promptings might be trusted as the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

But nearly every priest I know begins the story of his call with the story of another vocation: the priest he knew whose generous ministry first compelled him to draw more closely to a life of service. So priests of every variety and charism continue to give birth to the next generation of leaders.

Scripture
Psalm 110:4; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; 1 Timothy 4:6-16; 2 Timothy 1:6-14; 4:1-5

Website
Look no further! You have arrived! See the many resources on the Vocation Network website for descriptions of religious communities of men and to take advantage of the Vocation Match.

Books
Paths of Love: The Discernment of Vocation According to Aquinas, Ignatius, and Pope John Paul II by Joseph Bolin (CreateSpace)
Diversity of Vocations by Marie Dennis (Orbis Books)

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What do Catholics believe about scripture and tradition?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 01, October 2008 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

This question is a little like asking, "To whom must I listen: my mother or my father?" For those who view scripture and tradition to be separate—or even in opposition, the answer may be surprising. “Sacred tradition, sacred scripture, and the teaching authority of the church,” says Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council’s document on divine revelation, “are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others.”

Let me ask the question in another way: Which came first, scripture or tradition? Our impulse is to answer, "Scripture, of course!" But in reality, tradition did. Where did scripture come from, after all? Centuries of prophets, sages, and evangelists wrote down the community's experience of God as it unfolded through revelation, ritual, and history. Lots of things got recorded, many of which are not included in our Bible today.

Which brings us to the second level of tradition: Some group of people had to sift through piles of traditions to determine which would be included in the "canon" of scripture (authoritative texts) and which would not be binding on the community for the future. Jewish teachers made that determination for the documents known as the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. A later group of Christian leaders made that decision for what would become the New Testament. As Dei Verbum puts it, “Through . . . tradition the church's full canon of the sacred books is known.”

So in a nutshell, teachings became traditions and were later selected by leaders whose authority itself was determined by tradition. These leaders in turn shaped the scriptures we have today. In the most meaningful sense, then, scripture is the very heart of tradition.

To separate scripture from tradition as if they were alien concepts is to misunderstand the origin of scripture. If the Bible had dropped from the sky as is, cover to cover, you could talk about scripture as your sole authority. But without tradition, there would be no scripture, and the reading of scripture itself has contributed to ongoing development of tradition.


Scripture
Luke 4:16-21; John 1:1-5, 14; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21; Hebrews 1:1-3; 4:12

Church document
The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) of the Second Vatican Council

Book
Scripture in the Tradition: Milestones in Catholic Theology by Henri de Lubac (Crossroad)

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"Sin" is such a negative word. Can't we just talk about “failure”?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 15, September 2008 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

I wish I had a dollar every time someone objected to the word sin! And guilt, too. Our objection to both words comes from the same source: our discomfort at the implication of blame. No one likes to be accused. We'd rather say noncommittally, "Mistakes were made" than to admit, "I was wrong"!

The beauty of our religious language is that it's unblinkingly honest. There's no spin with sin; no campaign launched to cover up the mess. When we talk "sin," we're saying: "My bad. I knew that house was on fire when I entered it!" So let's say we're sinners, firstly because it's true and also because telling the truth is an incredibly healthy choice to make. Our society is so geared to the airbrushed image we may begin to accept that hiding a blemish here or a gray hair there is normal.

But the airbrushed image is phony. Sooner or later the real person will tumble out from behind the artful deception. Religious language provides us the chance to be authentic, apart from the spandex and the posturing. When we admit we've done wrong, we take a big first step into freedom.

Where does that step take us? From personal responsibility we can move into some pretty wonderful territory. Owning our sinfulness gives us access to forgiveness and the joy known only to the children of God. By contrast, where does the denial of responsibility get us? From the vague nod that "mistakes were made" we can't move to forgiveness and healing. If we refuse the identity of the sinner, we're shrugging our shoulders, burying the injury under the rug. As we know from our experiences with physical healing, wounds that are not cleansed, treated, and brought into the open air tend to fester, become infected, and lead to more serious conditions.

So it is with the spiritual wounds human sinfulness causes. One lie creates the foundation of the next. Unaddressed pride leads to uncontrolled egotism. Sexual irresponsibility prompts a habit of exploiting others. Self-righteous anger justifies an inner world of aggression that paves the way to violence.

The traditional daily habit of examining your conscience and admitting fault is the best antidote to living in the land of self-justification. I'm a sinner! I'm also, thanks be to God, forgiven.

Scripture
Psalm 51; Matthew 9:1-13; Mark 7:1-23; Luke 15:1-32; 18:9-14; 19:1-10; Romans 5:6-6:23; James 3:1-4:10

Website
Forgiveness prayers

Books

Reconciliation by Bishop Robert Morneau (Orbis)
The Forgiveness Book
by Paul Boudreau and Alice Camille (ACTA Publications)

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Why should I read the Bible?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 25, August 2008 Categories: Scripture

I hesitate to stamp Bible-reading as an obligation. We resist things that oblige us to do something, whether it's brushing our teeth or paying taxes. So let me speak not only as a catechist but also as a 30-year Bible-reading Catholic: Don't do it because you have to. Do it because it's the most wonderful choice you can make for your life!

This will come as a relief to new Bible readers: If you attend Mass regularly, you're more familiar with the Bible than you imagine. The lectionary—the book of readings used at Mass—covers a cross section of passages from the Old and New Testaments. So even though the stereotype claims that Protestants know their Bibles and Catholics don't, active Catholics may have a more comprehensive appreciation of scripture than some fellow Christians, who tend to focus on specific sections according to their denomination's (or pastor's) inclinations.

As far as personal reading goes, the idea of opening to Genesis, page one, is probably what makes many people shrink from the idea. You don't have to read scripture cover-to-cover (though kamikaze readers like me may enjoy the challenge). Some folks will appreciate support for the journey: Many parishes now sponsor Bible study or faith-sharing groups precisely for that reason. If private meditation works better for you, consider subscribing to a scripture journal that offers a daily guide through selected material.

You may also want to take baby steps in: There are page-a-day books geared to the five-minute reflection approach that provide a great introduction for beginners. It's like taking a swim class: Sign up at the level that suits your present skill and go from there. No one expects you to dive in at the deep end!

The Bible is the Mt. Everest of books; you won't conquer it at once, and it will take training to reach the exotic parts, like Maccabees or the Book of Revelation. But within a year you'll be surprised how much more comfortable and fit for the journey you are. Start today. "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).

Scripture periodicals
Lectionary based: "Exploring the Sunday Readings" (Twenty-Third Publications)
Examines one book per issue: God's Word Today journal (Twenty-Third Publications)
Explorations by themes: Threshold Bible Study
A page-a-day, geared to the current year: A Book of Grace-Filled Days (Loyola Press)

Website
CatholicsRead program: Bible study and resources from the Catholic Book Publishers Association, www.catholicsread.org/.

Book
God's Word Is Alive by Alice Camille (Chicago, ACTA Publications, 2007)

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How can I be happy?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 07, August 2008 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality

Happiness is the stick by which we tend to measure the success of our lives, isn’t it? Even Saint Augustine admitted, “We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition.” Yet many people seem to think that happiness is an accident of birth, or tied to particular circumstances or acquisitions, or even a goal to be pursued in itself. Scripture teaches that happiness is not a goal; it is a gift. God offers this gift through the works of creation, and we discover it ultimately in coming to know the Creator behind it all.

The biblical idea of happiness is linked to the word beatitude (Latin for “bliss”). We think first of the Beatitudes Jesus offers in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Sometimes the primary word of each beatitude is translated as “blessed,” but a more literal rendering would be the cry, “Happy you!” The eight choices noted in Matthew’s list—including being just, pure of heart, merciful, a peacemaker—already find the chooser in a happy state. Because God is the source of human happiness, doing as God does automatically places us in the condition of bliss.

So the short answer to the question is: Happiness comes from living according to God’s will. Following God's will, in fact, is the only things that does; or as Saint Thomas Aquinas put it, “God alone satisfies.” It’s not for nothing that the word gospel literally means “good news.” Like any good news that comes to you, the gospel ought to make your day—or in this case, your lifespan and then some.

Saint Paul also lists joy as one of the nine fruits or by-products of the Holy Spirit. As Christians we carry the Spirit’s joy within us, and one way to tell is how joyfully we experience our lives. Saint Francis de Sales went so far as to warn against giving in to excessive sadness because it was counter to the life of faith.

That doesn’t mean that sadness is never appropriate; as the Book of Ecclesiastes says, there’s a time for everything under heaven. But clinging to moods does mean that we miss opportunities to demonstrate to others that the news of Christianity is, in fact, as good as advertised.

Scripture
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11; Matthew 5:3-11; Galatians 5:22-23

Audiotape
The Call to Christian Happiness, “talks on the shortest route to happiness,” by Sherry Weddell and Father Michael Sweeney, O.P., from the Catherine of Siena Institute, a nonprofit ministry of the Western Province of the Dominicans, http://shop.siena.org/. 

Books
Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden (Loyola Press)
Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis (Harcourt Brace)

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How can I live a holy life?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 01, August 2008 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality

The pursuit of holiness isn’t an item guaranteed in the American Declaration of Independence. But it is a quest worthy of our lives. What is holiness? Nothing less than the essence of God. The prophet Isaiah is the first to encounter God as the “Holy One,” which enables him to recognize his own unworthiness in God’s presence. The call “to be holy, as God is holy” issued in the Book of Leviticus means drawing even closer than Isaiah did, to unite with God utterly—to be as God is.

Intimidated? I admit it’s a pretty challenging path. Yet it’s in keeping with everything else we seek as believers: wisdom, justice, peace, goodness, love. These are all aspects of God in which we are invited to take part. Why does God want us to share in the divine life? Because that’s who we really are and were created to be. Remember: We were first made in the image of God and later went astray; our quest for holiness is just a U-turn back to our original likeness.

So how do we get there from here? In the Old Testament, when called to be a holy nation, Israel is given the Law of Moses to assist in this new vocation. The law is understood not as simply a list of things to do or avoid doing but a lamp to illuminate God’s will. If our goal is to be like God, knowing God’s ways is essential.

Jesus provides his followers with a more compact instruction: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Love will teach us everything we need to know about being like God, for as Saint John says, “God is love.” Saint Paul also gives us a helpful rearview mirror in which to check our attempts at loving by telling us what love looks like in 1 Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind.”

Many of us don’t see ourselves donning a halo anytime soon. Even the canonized saints (“saint” comes from sanctus, Latin for “sacred” or “holy”) didn’t start out holy-card ready. But we don’t have to worry about that. The way to holiness is the work of love.

Scripture
Exodus 19:6; Leviticus 19:2; Isaiah 6:1-7; Luke 10:27; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13;1 John 4:16

Websites
For more on saints: www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/faqs.asp; www.cin.org/saints.html; www.beliefnet.com/ep/patron-saints.asp.

Books

Holiness by William J. O’Malley, Maryknoll (Orbis Books)
Life and Holiness
by Thomas Merton (Doubleday)

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