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April 2017 Posts

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Don’t we have to obey what the church teaches, or be kicked out?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 15, April 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Catholic school teacher
Teaching is not about imparting abstract truths written in stone but awakening an appreciation for the rules that govern reality.

The phrasing of this question suggests a difficult academic experience! The church’s role as teacher, expressed as magisterium, describes the church as “master” in the school of faith. But who, precisely, holds this authoritative position? Thomas Aquinas applied the term magisterium to the university professor (master of a given subject) as well as to the bishop. Our present understanding limits the teaching role to popes and other bishops, who in turn rely on Scripture and tradition.

Most of us are lulled by our past schooling to equate teaching with telling—and not listening as grounds for failure or even expulsion. “I am teacher, hear me impose!”, as a professor once summarized. This relationship to the teacher/headmaster presumes that teaching is a matter of laying down the law or the truth. If teaching is merely telling, then what the bishop says, rules. Not submitting is therefore a kind of crime with consequences that match the severity of the offense.

The Old Testament word for law or commandment is also understood as guidance. Law dominates from a higher position; guidance operates as a benevolent companionship—like the fellow holding the lamp just ahead so you can find your way on the footpath. This fellow may call out instructions—“Avoid the thorny branches on the left!”—because if you don’t, there will be consequences, some costly. Yet this fellow’s not out there to identify and punish your failures along the route. His intent is always that you make your way safely.

“Teaching is a real-world intervention,” as professor Molly Hiro notes. It’s not about imparting abstract truths written in stone but awakening an appreciation for the rules that govern reality. History is full of competing truths that have led along some pretty dark routes. When the church teaches, it shines light on the path to assist our discernment of the morally secure way. Just as in mathematics, not all rules are created equal. Some bend, others are unyielding. It takes practice and experience along the path to know which is which.

When Augustine reflected on a more biblical relationship to law, he arrived at this conclusion: “Love, and do as you will.” If love truly does shape and inform our will, then we can safely follow it. The church describes this condition as “the informed conscience,” the highest authority to which we must answer. This doesn’t mean we should ignore the fellow with the lantern, calling out from his long mastery of this road. Love is the subject he’s mastered, and it’s the lamp he shares with us.

Scripture: John 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 14:6; Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:4—13:13

Books: The Church, Learning and Teaching: Magisterium, Asset, Dissent, and Academic Freedom – Ladislas Orsy (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1987)

With the Smell of the Sheep: the Poe Speaks to Priests, Bishops, and Other Shepherds – Pope Francis (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2017)

How do I reconcile patriotism and faith? Sometimes it feels like dueling citizenships!

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 15, April 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
American flag
Our greatness as a nation doesn’t have to come at the expense of our goodness as a community.

Is there anything wrong with wanting our country to be the best, the first, the greatest? Of course not. Most of us have a natural loyalty to the land of our birth, as well as to any later adopted country. I think of my grandparents, three of whom were born in Europe. They were the most enthusiastic U.S. boosters you can possibly imagine, and no one celebrated the Fourth of July like they did. Yet they also spoke wistfully of the old country: about the communities, customs, and languages they surrendered to come here. Citizens of two places, they held allegiances to both. Yet it would be wrong to say their hearts were divided or in any way compromised by these loyalties. They each had very clear reasons why they had chosen the difficult path of immigration.

Is it any different for us who count ourselves as citizens of this world AND the kingdom of God? In this case, we’re not talking about geographic territories, but alternate realms with often competing values. For example, in your country a thing may be legal that is nonetheless immoral to a Christian. So yes: we must acknowledge that sometimes our values as citizens of countries are on a collision course with Christian values that compel us in a primary way. That may make us conflicted; it should. When values collide, we’re obliged to choose among loyalties, which is never that simple.

Back to wanting to be the greatest: Is this idea in conflict with the spirit of the reign of God, in which the last will be first, and the meek shall inherit the earth? I don’t think one could sell many hats that say “Make My Country Meek.” But I do think Christians need to ask the question: What is the basis for my country's greatness: For what should my country be great? For whom? For ALL residents, or just some? ONLY for my country, or for the common good of the international community that shares this little planet? Our greatness as a nation doesn’t have to come at the expense of our goodness as a community. It doesn't have to come in a limited, materialistic, or military sense; and only for an exclusive number of approved citizens. This interpretation of greatness is obviously in conflict with the great goodness of God. When such conflicts happen, it does require us to consider, which citizenship do I value more: that of my country or that of God's kingdom?

Scripture: Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-5; 49:6; Matthew 5:1-16; Luke 6:20-36; Acts 3:25

Books: Politics, Religion, and the Common Good – Martin E. Marty (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000)

On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good – Jim Wallis (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2013)

Our priest cancelled Saturday Vigil Mass, citing Dies Domini and pastoral necessity. Is this valid?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 01, April 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy
Saturday evening Mass
The Saturday evening Mass isn’t a Vigil, but an anticipatory Mass for Sunday.

This column isn’t designed to challenge local pastoral decisions, which can be more complex than they appear. But let’s start by clarifying terminology for the nitpickers: the Saturday evening Mass isn’t a Vigil, but an anticipatory Mass for Sunday. On Saturday night, we use the same Scripture readings and prayers prescribed for Sunday. So the Saturday evening 5 p.m. liturgy IS a “Sunday Mass,” liturgically speaking.

Vigil Masses have distinct texts, or “Propers,” associated with them. Vigils are approved for: Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension Thursday, Pentecost, St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mother. When you attend Vigil Masses, the readings and prayers are different from (though thematically related to) those used on the feasts themselves.

Dies Domini (“The Lord’s Day”) is a 1998 Apostolic Letter from Pope John Paul II "to the bishops, clergy and faithful of the Catholic Church on keeping the Lord’s Day holy.” It affirms the important role of Sunday in the life of the believer, and the vital part Eucharist plays in the context of the Sunday Sabbath. It expresses concern that the significance of a Sabbath day not be obscured by the separation of the celebration of Eucharist from the traditional morning observance.

Does Dies Domini address the validity of attending a Saturday anticipatory mass? Yes. #49 of the document states: “Because the faithful are obliged to attend Mass unless there is a grave impediment, Pastors have the corresponding duty to offer to everyone the real possibility of fulfilling the precept. The provisions of Church law move in this direction, as for example in the faculty granted to priests, with the prior authorization of the diocesan Bishop, to celebrate more than one Mass on Sundays and holy days, the institution of evening Masses and the provision which allows the obligation to be fulfilled from Saturday evening onwards…”

“Pastoral necessity” refers to the modern reality that many Catholics need to work on Sunday in order to provide for their families. Because of this, it becomes pastorally necessary to provide an opportunity for people to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist during non-working hours, specifically Saturday evenings. To my knowledge, there’s no impediment preventing a person who doesn’t work on Sunday from attending the Saturday anticipatory Mass. Nor have I met many pastors eager to have the greeter do a “necessity check” at the church door on Saturday nights.

Scripture: Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17; Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Books: Dies Domini: Apostolic Letter – Pope John Paul II (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000)

“Anticipating the Sunday and Feast Day Masses on the Previous Evening,” Instruction on Eucharistic Worship. Sacred Congregation of Rites (Washington, DC: USCC, 1967)

With the recent opposition to Muslim immigrants, I wonder: Were Catholics always welcomed here?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 01, April 2017 Categories: Church History
Catholic/Muslim
The intention of the Know-Nothing Party was to curb the Catholic population—which required keeping the Irish, Polish, Italians, and half the Germans from emigrating. Image: New York Times.

Definitely not. The original American Dream didn’t include “Romish” or “Popish” adherents. In pre-colonial times, of course, a strong Catholic presence seemed likely. Of the three powers claiming New World territory, Spain was officially Catholic, with church and state operating in unison. Spanish regions such as Florida, Texas, the Southwest, and California were colonized by soldiers and missionized by priests almost seamlessly. France also exported Catholicism by means of Jesuit missionaries throughout the Louisiana Territory. 

However, the English presence in the Northeast assumed control of the American narrative in generations leading up to the Revolution. The Mayflower and subsequent ships brought all manner of Christian sects seeking freedom from the Catholic influence. Except for Maryland, the colonies were decidedly Protestant.

British law left its mark on the colonies. Public Mass was forbidden. So were Catholic schools. Catholics in Maryland were obliged to send their children to Europe for an education, since local schools were predominantly run by ministers whose biases were expressed in classroom worship and the curriculum. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington had to request special permission to permit Lafayette and his men access to priestly ministry. After independence was declared, only one Catholic signature was affixed to the document: Charles Carroll, whose brother John would become the first U.S. bishop.

Opposition didn’t disappear after the new country was launched. The Know-Nothing Party was a secret society established a half-century later. Adherents received their peculiar name for their refusal to admit any knowledge of their organization. Their intention was to curb the Catholic population—which required keeping the Irish, Polish, Italians, and half the Germans from emigrating. They lobbied for a 21-year ban on immigration. Members were responsible for church, rectory, and convent burnings, and published scandalous accusations against church leaders. They also launched a presidential candidate, Millard Fillmore, in 1856. The Know-Nothing Party was replaced by the American Protective Association, which pledged to keep Catholics out of elected office, to curtail immigration, and to lengthen the period before naturalization. At its height, the APA had more than a million members and was influential until 1911.

Scriptures: Leviticus 33-34; Exodus 15:15; Deuteronomy 10:17-19; Job 31:19-22; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Malachi 3:5; Matthew 25:31-46

Books: The American Catholic Experience – Jay P. Dolan (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985)

American Catholicism – John Tracy Ellis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969)

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