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Does the church teach pacifism?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 26, December 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Pope Francis
In 2018, a tweet by Pope Francis exploded in cyberspace: “Do we really want peace? Then let’s ban all weapons so we don’t have to live in fear of war.” The Pope was derided for “hippie eco-pacifism” and his naïve “ark of fraternity.” The world’s a cruel place, naysayers asserted. Weapons keep what little peace is left intact. 

Historically, Christians held two main traditions regarding conflict: pacifism and just war theory. Originally, Christians refused to fight for the empire. They stood down if they converted to Christianity while soldiers. Saint Martin of Tours was the poster child for all who chose to follow Christ and no earthly commander. Mennonites, Quakers, and Brethren persist in this stance, while insisting that pacifism is not passivity. Rejecting the logic of war, Christian pacifism actively pursues non-violent solutions to social and international conflicts. Even the ark of fraternity recognizes that abstainers are sitting ducks without strong creative engagement.

Under Constantine, Christianity became a state religion, creating confusion. Not following a pagan king into battle made sense; how about a Christian monarch? A church-state partnership meant rulers now expected a blessing on their wars. Saint Augustine posited that Christians might fight in a just war. He left the defining of terms to Thomas Aquinas. 

Aquinas sought to restrict war. First, violence can be waged only by the proper authority. Also, the purpose must be just: national interest is insufficient. Thirdly, peace must be the goal of every soldier. Students of Aquinas added that violence must be the last resort. War was permissible in self-defense. The means must be proportionate. A just fight loses legitimacy if civilians or hostages are harmed. 

The position of “just peace” was ventured by Pope John XXIII (Pacem in Terris, 1963). Peace is more than the absence of war, he argued; it’s grounded in the justice that sustains peace. Recent popes have questioned if proportionality is possible in a world with doomsday weapons. Pope Paul VI, in his 1965 speech at the U.N., declared: “Never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that has to guide the destiny of the nations!” Pope John Paul II hoped the world would learn to “fight for justice without violence.”

On the 50th World Day of Peace, Pope Francis described humanity as “engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal”—through war, terrorism, crime, violence against women and children, abuse of migrants, human trafficking, and environmental devastation. The pope recommended: abolishing nuclear weapons, an ethic of fraternity, the will to resolve conflict diplomatically, and a commitment to active peace-building at every level.

Scripture: Isaiah 2:2-5; Micah 4:1-4; Proverbs 8:15-16; Psalm 118:8-9; 146:3-4; Matthew 5:9; 38-48; Romans 13:1-4; Ephesians 4:23; 6:10-17; 1 Peter 2:13-17

Books: I’d Rather Teach Peace, by Colman McCarthy (Orbis Books, 2008); Jesus Christ, Peacemaker: A New Theology of Peace, by Terrence J. Rynne (Orbis Books, 2014)

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If Jesus is God, isn’t his humanity a form of play-acting?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 26, December 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Sooner or later, religious seekers ask this question. Being divine does seem to give Jesus a celestial advantage that puts him in a whole different category from the rest of us. In fact, our creed confirms his distinctness. Jesus is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father.” These statements are variant ways of saying Jesus shares the essence of the one he calls Father, who is the source of life and all that is.

Does this mean the sinless life and brutal death of Jesus is, in reality, a mirage? It seems contradictory to claim, as Christians do, that Jesus is truly God and truly human. One cancels out the other, since God is eternal, while mortals suffer and die. Divinity enjoys special super-natural powers over creation, whereas humans are subject to the laws of space and time and endure significant limitations.

One way to reconcile these opposing natures is through the concept of kenosis, or self-emptying. Saint Paul is the first to take this approach in the Hymn to Christ quoted in the letter to the Philippians. It’s unclear if Paul wrote this hymn or simply refers to it. But it describes how Jesus, who’s in the form of God, chooses not to cling to his privilege. Instead, Jesus empties himself of favored status and commits to the human condition. He doesn’t cease to be divine, but he elects to embrace mortal existence.

Consider a missionary from the U.S. who chooses to go live in the developing world. She may spend the rest of her life, privileged education, and talent in bringing her advantages to a community that can’t even dream of them. While the missionary never ceases to be a person of privilege who could easily make a phone call and be swooped away from human misery, she elects not to make that call. Such a person may well be martyred in her chosen land, subject to the same dangerous forces that claim the lives of those with whom she has cast her lot.

Is the missionary’s sacrificial life a mirage? Is her violent death mere play-acting? When Jesus chooses to be incarnate in our humanity, the stakes are real. Kenosis is the kind of self-emptying we can all make, of whatever privileged status we enjoy, for the sake of others.

Scripture: Genesis 1:26-27; 3:5-6; Isaiah 52:13—53:12; Matthew 26:39; John 1:1-5, 14; 10:17-18; 17:5; Romans 8:3-13; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 4:4-7; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:16-18; 5:8-10; 12:2

Books: Jesus Our Brother: The Humanity of the Lord, by Wilfred Harrington, O.P. (Paulist Press, 2010); The Disciples’ Jesus by Terrence Tilley (Orbis Books, 2008)

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Who are the Fourteen Holy Helpers?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 13, October 2019 Categories: Church History,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
The Holy Helpers became an established set during the Black Plague epidemic of Europe.

You see them in art, though you may not know their names. The Helpers were a collection of saints from antiquity popularly invoked in 14th century Germany. These individuals weren’t linked by history or geography; like, say, Saint Charles Lwanga and companions, martyred together in Uganda. The Holy Helpers became an established set during the Black Plague epidemic of Europe—since, presumably, the more intercessors you have against plague, the better.

Alphabetically, the Fourteen Holy Helpers are: Achatius, Barbara, Blaise, Catherine of Alexandria, Christopher, Cyriacus, Denis, Erasmus, Eustachius, George, Giles, Margaret of Antioch, Pantaleone, and Vitus. Only half the saints on this list are passably familiar today.

The symptoms of plague influenced the selections for this club. A plague victim could expect the following: blackened tongue, parched throat, violent headache, fever, and boils on the abdomen. Victims became delusional and died within hours. The furious onset of plague made it unlikely the afflicted would have final sacraments. Just another reason to have the Holy Helpers in your corner.

The chaos that plague evoked was comprehensive. Animals died, whole towns perished, the social order collapsed. So why not invoke Saint Blaise, still acclaimed for his work on ills of the throat; or Saints Achatius and Denis, both patrons of headache sufferers? Saint George protected domestic animals, and Saint Erasmus guarded abdominal health. Saint Eustachius was good for family trouble, and Saint Giles the go-to guy for plague and a good confession. Saints Barbara, Catherine, and Christopher were patrons in instances of sudden death. In addition Christopher, the traveler’s saint, also warded off plague. 

Just for good measure, Saint Pantaleone protected physicians, and Saint Margaret promised safe childbirth. Since Saint Vitus is the patron of epileptics, it appears plague victims’ eventual irrationality was lumped in with the symptoms of another disorder poorly understood. The most curious name on the Helpers list is Cyriacus, invoked against temptation. In times of epidemic, looting was rampant and desertion by family members common. One might well be tempted under such conditions.

While the Fourteen Holy Helpers still have a following in Europe, only one parish in the United States is named for their contribution today. We might wonder: if we were to choose a pack of saints as guardians for our times, who would those helpers be?

Scriptures: Psalm 27; Romans 8:18-27; Hebrews 5:7; 7:25; Ephesians 6:18; James 5:13-18

Books: The Fourteen Holy Helpers, by Bonaventure Hammer, OFM (TAN Books, 2009)

Fearless: Stories of the American Saints, by Paul Boudreau and Alice Camille (Franciscan Media, 2014)

Are parishes necessary?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 13, October 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History
While the gathering was essential to becoming the Body of Christ, registering for membership and weekly envelopes wasn’t the point.

Christianity existed well before the present parish system. Before there was a church building on the corner—with its Mass schedule, programs, pastor, and support staff—the followers of Jesus still managed to preach the gospel and share Eucharist. So technically, the answer is no: the parish structure as we know it is not essential. But if by parish you mean a defined and stable community that assembles for worship and embraces a certain responsibility for one another, the answer is yes: such a community is vital to the fabric of Christian life. 

It’s helpful to distinguish Christian faith from an individual spiritual practice. The goal of Christianity isn’t personal enlightenment, getting your act together, or building a satisfying moral ethos. From the beginning, Jesus chose to gather a community of disciples to live with him, share resources in common, and learn his teachings. There was never a time when Christian life was envisioned as a set of principles to live by that could be adopted and practiced on your own terms. From the first generation of the church, believers met in each other’s homes, prayed together, and shared what they had with those in need.

The gospel teaches how to live responsively with others. Loving our neighbors and enemies too, forgiving offenses, welcoming strangers, caring for the unfortunate—we engage these actions in service of others. Our faith is proven out by how we treat others. “Faith without works is dead,” says the Letter of James. Onlookers of the early community could rightfully say: “See how these Christians love one another.” No one was ever quoted as saying: “See how these Christians go to church.” While the gathering was essential to becoming the Body of Christ, registering for membership and weekly envelopes wasn’t the point.

The pre-parish house churches were more intimate, and perhaps more attractive, than today’s sprawling parishes which can feel alienating especially to newcomers. Meeting in homes was also necessary for a community that was vaguely suspect—and that dove into the catacombs when later judged to be outright criminal. Public worship, in buildings established for this purpose, was the gift (and in some ways the curse) of Christianity’s legality under Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. As the nature of community in our media age is transformed, how we are church tomorrow will doubtless evolve too.

Scriptures: Matthew 4:18-22; 25:31-45; 26:26-28; Luke 24:13-35; John 15:11-17; 18:20-26; Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35; 1 Corinthians 12:1—13:13; Ephesians 3:14-22; 4:1-16; James 2:14-18; 1 Peter 2:4-5

Books: We Are All One: Unity, Community and Commitment to Each Other, by Joan Chittister, O.S.B. (Twenty-Third Publications, 2018)

A New Way to Be Church: Parish Renewal from the Outside In, by Jack Jezreel (Orbis Books, 2018)

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Isn’t it a sin to vow something for life to God and then break it? Don’t fully professed sisters sin if they leave their order?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 10, September 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Vocation and Discernment
Religious persons released to the lay state remain baptized Catholics in good standing.

“A vow is a deliberate and free promise made to God concerning a possible and better good which must be fulfilled by reason of the virtue of religion.” So says The Code of Canon Law (CCC 1191). Another section outlines rules for taking public religious vows (CCC 654-658). Yet just as God is merciful, the church must also be merciful. Which is why Canon Law includes a process known as dispensation to relieve a person from such vows (see CCC 85-93). Dispensation is “the relaxation of a merely ecclesiastical law in a particular case” (CCC 85).

Church law is flexible when applied to individuals and specific cases. The law recognizes that human circumstances aren’t static; therefore, some changes receive the favor of the law’s flexibility. For a just cause, a religious sister or brother may request and receive dispensation from solemn or perpetual vows. “Just cause” may be a grave or debilitating difficulty fulfilling the requirements of religious life. No penalty is exacted for being released from perpetual vows. In no way does it remove the person's right of access to the sacraments. Religious persons released to the lay state remain baptized Catholics in good standing.

No shadow of sin is attached to the request for dispensation from solemn vows. Dispensation is offered under the grace and peace of Jesus—who gave Peter the keys of the Kingdom as a symbol of the church’s authority “to bind and to loose.” If a religious person is released from vows on earth, s/he is also assured such release in the sight of God.

To remain in good standing with the Church, a person seeking dispensation must follow the procedure of release from religious life. The dispensation must be sought from the “competent authority”: the major religious superior or bishop in some cases, the pope in others. Once a sister or brother has prayerfully discerned to leave religious life, the order or congregation is obliged to do everything possible to assist in requesting the dispensation. The order or congregation is also required to help the person financially in the transition to lay life.

Scripture has lots to say about taking vows—and breaking them. People are weak and prone to err. Therefore Jesus considers that vows and oaths should be made only sparingly. Thank God that mercy is given to those who show mercy!

Scripture: Genesis 28:20 (first vow); Leviticus 22:20-25 (unfulfilled with imperfect sacrifice); 27:2, 8 (require adjustment); Numbers 6:1-21 (binding for a time); Numbers 31 (women’s vows: inferior?); Deuteronomy 23:22-24; Judges 11:29-39 (keeping an illicit vow); Ecclesiastes 5:1-6; Matthew 5:33-37

Books: Religious Life at the Crossroads, by Amy Herford, CSJ (Orbis Books, 2014)

A Different Touch: A Study of Vows in Religious Life, by Judith Merkle, SNDdeN (Liturgical Press, 1998)

How can I prove the existence of God to atheists?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 10, September 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Faith isn’t an argument. It’s a fundamental commitment we each make for ourselves.

Proofs for God’s existence have been regularly proposed by the learned. Christian apologetics—which doesn’t manufacture apologies, but rather justifications, for believing—has also been busy offering defenses for the faith since the second century. None of this is guaranteed to make your spiritually skeptical buddy fall on his knees and profess the Creed. Faith isn’t an argument. It’s a fundamental commitment we each make for ourselves.

Justin Martyr (100-167) was among the first apologists to present Christianity in a way his Greco-Roman culture might find both reasonable and appealing. Thomas Merton (1915-1968), with his autobiographical Seven-Storey Mountain, attempted to do the same for 20th-century skeptics. Folks as diverse as missionaries, scholars, fiction writers, and filmmakers have tried to make faith reasonable and attractive to those outside the church. See a recent attempt in the 2018 film “An Interview with God,” starring David Strathairn in the title role.

The watchmaker analogy is often invoked to demonstrate the plausibility of belief. Say you find a watch on the beach. Even though you don’t see a watchmaker, you know there must be one. A watch is too perfect a mechanism to have evolved on its own. So too, one might say, the world itself.

Saint Anselm (1033-1109) claimed God must exist since we can imagine the most perfect Being. What would make this Being even more perfect is to actually exist. Other scholars like Baruch Spinoza (1232-1677), Rene Descartes (1596-1650), and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) also formulated intellectual proofs. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) offered five possible proofs: there must be an Unmoved Mover at the back of all movement, an Uncaused Cause at the start of all being—and ditto for contingency, gradation, and design.

Blaise Paschal (1623-1662) offered a wager rather than a proof. We have the option to believe or not. If we believe and are wrong, we live a good life with the respect of friends, enjoy the consolations of religion, and are none the wiser after death. No harm done! If we don’t believe and are wrong, we have lots of explaining to do, and possibly face eternal damnation. If however, we believe and are correct, we receive eternal reward. Belief is a better wager than unbelief.

Perhaps the best choice of all is not to argue, prove, or bet. Just offer the example of a life of genuine discipleship, and see who’s attracted!

Scripture: John 20:24-29; 1 Corinthians 13:8-13; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 11:1; James 2:14-18; 1 John 1:1-4 

Books: Chasing Mystery, by Carey Walsh (Liturgical Press, 2012)
Holy Clues: The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmes (Vintage Books, 1999)

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When will there be saints of color the U.S. can claim as their own?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 13, August 2019 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Saints of color
There already are—and we’re poised for more.

There already are—and we’re poised for more. Mohawk Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), from what became upstate New York, was known for her healing abilities. Filipino Saint Pedro Calungsod was a teen missionary martyred in Guam in 1672. Since Guam is now U.S. territory, we share this saint with the Philippines. In Puerto Rico, Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodrigues Santiago (1918-1963) brought a historically disaffected laity to the liturgy and sacraments. He translated works into Spanish to instruct the faithful. Blessed Charlie, as he’s called, awaits one more miracle for canonization.

Also keep your eye on five Venerables. Born a slave in what’s now Haiti, Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853) relocated to New York with the household. There he studied hairdressing, as elaborate hairstyles were in vogue. Even before acquiring his freedom, Toussaint was a powerhouse of charity with the wealth he accrued, buying the freedom of other slaves and assisting the needy regardless of color. Rafael Cordero Molina (1790-1868) was denied an education as part of the African community in Puerto Rico. Under his parents’ instruction, he became a teacher dedicated to the literacy and faith formation of black children, while working as a cigar maker and shoemaker.

Henriette DeLille (1813-1862) of New Orleans was a free person of mixed race. Such women customarily were “kept” by a white man, marriage being unlawful. Attracted by the ministry of French sisters, Henriette desired admittance to religious life instead. Barred from white orders, she formed the Sisters of the Holy Family, teaching Creole children, and caring for the sick and orphans. Augustus Tolton (1854-1897), first acknowledged black priest in the United States, was born to slave parents in Missouri. (Mixed-race brothers James, Patrick, and Alexander Healy were ordained earlier, but their light skin invited less scrutiny.) After a long struggle for the right to be ordained, Tolton’s ostracization by an all-white clergy made his ministry a lonely vigil of courage. 

In addition, three black Servants of God are in the pipelines. From Cuba of Haitian parents, Mary Elizabeth Lange (1794-1882) founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore to provide education for black children. Her sisters also treated the sick, opened a night school for black women, and took in orphans during the Civil War. Julia Greeley (ca. 1833?48?-1918) was born a slave in Missouri. She moved with various families until arriving in Denver. After becoming Catholic, Julia promoted devotional literature she herself couldn’t read. Begging on behalf of others, she became known as Denver’s Angel of Charity. Thea Bowman (1937-1990) of the Franciscan Nuns of Perpetual Adoration, was a tireless instigator for racial justice in the church. The edict promoting her cause defines her as “Educator, Evangelizer, Missionary Disciple, Advocate for Cultural Awareness and Racial Harmony.” Through song and inspired evangelization, Sister Thea moved the hearts of bishops and laity alike. 

Book: Saints of North America, by Vincent O’Malley, C.M. (Our Sunday Visitor, 2004). Not inclusive of all biographies above.

Check out the online Hagiography Circle for updates on causes presently in motion:

How many times has Mary appeared in history and where?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 13, August 2019 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
The church considers Marian apparitions open for selective acceptance and devotion.

This is a loaded question. The Vatican supplies no exact number of Marian apparitions. The current spokesperson for the Marianum Pontifical Institute in Rome, Father Salvatore Perrella, reports that nine apparitions have been declared worthy of belief in the last century. This doesn’t imply they occurred in the past century, only that they were examined in that period. The lists of bona fide Mary sightings are generally confined to less than a dozen, including: Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico, 1531), Laus (France, 1664), Rue du Bac/Miraculous Medal (France, 1830), La Salette (France, 1846), Lourdes (France, 1858), Pontmain (France, 1871), Knock (Ireland, 1879), Fatima (Portugal, 1917), Beauraing (Belgium, 1932), and Banneux (Belgium, 1933). Recently, Green Bay, Wisconsin’s own Our Lady of Good Help (1859) was granted local devotional approval.

No doubt some will be concerned that Medjugorje isn’t on that list, but the inquiry into these apparitions hasn’t been concluded. In fact, about 300 Marian sightings from the 20th century alone have been or are being considered in Syria, Japan, Korea, and Rwanda, as well as across Latin America and Europe. How frequently have such claims have been made in the past? Estimates careen widely between 1,500 and 21,000 apparitions, including eight sightings in the United States and six in Canada. Whichever number is more credible, the vast majority of these claims received only limited or local interest.

When did Mary start showing up? According to tradition, the apostle James first encountered Our Lady in Zaragoza, Spain in the year 40. Saint Gregory of Nyssa avowed a personal experience of Mary, and the construction of St. Mary Major Basilica was prompted by an apparition—both in the 4th century. Marian apparitions remained rare until the second millennium. Since then, sightings have multiplied. Still, the messages received have been fairly uniform. Our Lady encourages conversion, prayer, penance, and reconciliation. She offers rosaries, medals, scapulars, and healings. She prevents invasions and ends wars. The recipients of these apparitions are most often poor children or humble adults.

What are we to make of all this? The church considers Marian apparitions open for selective acceptance and devotion. These private revelations “do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith” and “it is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation.” (CCC 67) This is church-speak for: belief in apparitions isn’t required, and must not contradict the faith of Christians.


Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations, by Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1978

Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, by Hilda Graef (Ave Maria Press, 2009)

Who or what is the Holy Spirit?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 03, July 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Holy Spirit
The spirit of God is part of the story from the beginning.

We’re primed to think of the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, “preceding from the Father and the Son,” who debuts at Pentecost and inaugurates the church. This last idea overlooks that the spirit of God is part of the story from the beginning. God’s spirit is a divine wind or breath blowing over the waters of chaos at Creation. This same breath brings humanity to life. As such, spirit is hardly a latecomer to the party. (Don’t be alarmed by the lower case “s”: neither Hebrew nor ancient Greek employed case distinctions.)

Spirit suggests a subtle and immaterial being, in contrast to the tangible Jesus. But the original spirit in Scripture may not be a being at all: “a principle of action, not a subject,” as scholar John McKenzie describes it. Early references to the divine spirit involve a communication that variously clothes, pours out, leaps upon, or fills up the one who receives it. The spirit can be given or removed, at God’s desire. The spirit can possess a person, as it does to judges in the Book of Judges, who are suddenly snatched up for divine service. This possession isn’t experienced in the negating way of a demon who eliminates the will of the host. Spirit enhances the recipient’s abilities, enabling the person to do feats beyond his or her skill. Such a person is charismatically charged for divine action, literally “inspired”.

Examples of the spirit at work include: the ecstasies of prophets in Saul’s time; the spirit passing from King Saul to David after his anointing; Elisha acquiring a double portion of the spirit given to his predecessor Elijah; Ezekiel’s trances; the bestowal of divine gifts like wisdom and counsel; the divine spirit released on the servant of God in Isaiah’s poems; the promise of a new heart and spirit rejuvenating Israel after the exile. 

The Spirit shows up in the gospels as early as the Annunciation. Mary is told, “The holy Spirit will come upon you… therefore the child to be born will be called… the Son of God.” Christian writers perceive more than a communicating action here; rather, a manifestation that modern translators honor with uppercase distinction. John the Baptist foretells a baptism of Spirit. At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descends dovelike upon him. This Spirit drives Jesus into the desert to encounter temptation. Spirit drives the action in Luke and Acts, showing up fifty-six times as the principal actor. Jesus promises that the arrival of this Advocate ensures that we’ll not be orphans through the end of the age.

Scripture: Genesis 1:2; 2:7; Exodus 31:3; Numbers 11:17, 25; Judges 6:34; 14:6, 19; 1 Samuel 10:10; 19:20-24; 2 Kings 2:9; Psalm 51:13; Isaiah 11:2-3; 42:1; 61:1; Ezekiel 36:26-28; Mark 1:8, 12; Luke 1:35; 3:22; John 14:16-18, 26; Acts 2:1-18

Books: The Other Hand of God: The Holy Spirit as the Universal Touch and Goal, by Kilian McDonnell, O.S.B. (Liturgical Press, 2003)

The Holy Spirit: Setting the World on Fire, edited by Richard Lennan and Nancy Pineda-Madrid (Paulist Press, 2017)

Is Jesus the Messiah?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 03, July 2019 Categories: Scripture
Jesus the Messiah
Isaiah upgrades salvation to universal dimensions: all nations have a stake in the coming Messiah.

The word MessiahHebrew for “anointed”—has a complex history. Between Messiah and Christ—Greek for “anointed”—lies a thousand years of evolving expectations. Best to review those before addressing the age-old Christian query: Why don’t Jews, reading the same ancient texts, accept Jesus as “Messiah”?

Scholar Raymond E. Brown cautions that messiahs aren’t the only saviors in Israel’s history. Moses, the judges, Nehemiah and Ezra, even young Queen Esther are identified as savior figures. Anyone divinely appointed for the work of rescue is a savior. Israel’s in need of frequent rescue, so the Bible contains a lot of saviors.

The gallery of saviors gains new candidates in the era of kings. Anointed to lead at God’s command, Judah’s kings are messiahs in a nationalistic sense. They don’t save the world; and they only keep the nation safe for their particular generation. Contrast them with the kings of northern Israel, who are viewed more skeptically. Then recall that southern Judah writes the Bible. 

Messianic kingship reaches its height with Judah’s second king, David. His line is endowed with an everlasting, rollover anointing. The salvation coming from David’s house, however, doesn’t extend to the afterlife. Nor is it universal. Davidic kings won’t “save the world”: they’ll keep Judah safe. The problem is, they don’t. Soon after David, Judah is ruled by a string of monarchs who disregard God’s guidance. Two centuries in, the prophet Isaiah views his king Ahaz as gone totally off the rails. 

Isaiah reboots messianic hope. While linked to David’s line, the Messiah will be loyal to God and establish justice and peace. Eden-like conditions will be restored. Isaiah upgrades salvation to universal dimensions: all nations have a stake in the coming Messiah. The prophecy adds a sober note: this Messiah will come in humility and go the way of suffering. Other prophets embrace Isaiah’s vision. 

Messianism undergoes a third overhaul after Babylonian exile and the monarchy’s extinction. Without kings, can there be a Messiah? Biblical history has a big hole in it between the 5th and 1st centuries B.C. By the time of the gospels, it’s clear that anyone still dreaming of a Messiah wants to see David’s kingdom restored and a better world for Israel ensured. Jesus reaches back into prophecy, embracing the image of a suffering servant who saves much more than a precarious political situation. That’s a Messiah few were waiting for, and perhaps few find attractive today.

Scripture: Genesis 49:9-12; 2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89:20-38; Isaiah 7:10-17; 9:1-6; 11:1-9; 52:13—53:12; Zechariah 9:9-10; Mark 8:27-30; Matthew 2:1-6; John 7:25-31, 40-52

Books: Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus, by Richard Horsely with John Hanson (Harper & Row, 1985)

The Death of the Messiah, From Gethsemane to the Grave, by Raymond E. Brown (Yale University Press, 1998)

What exactly is the Easter duty?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 15, June 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Sacraments

The Easter duty

The Easter duty is again viewed properly as a minimal requirement rather than a recommendation.

The Easter duty has seen some flux in church tradition. The Eucharistic Precept, as it’s formally called in the list of Church Precepts, was conceived in the 6th century as a way to ensure that the Sacrament of Holy Communion wouldn’t be neglected by the faithful. Early church councils enforced regional versions of the precept, which in one form mandated receiving communion three times annually: at Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) reduced the mandate to once annually at Easter time, widening its application to the whole church. The Council of Trent and the Code of Canon Law restated this obligation. Ironically, the attempt to safeguard reception of the Eucharist by insisting on minimal participation had the opposite effect. Clergy preached on the evils of taking communion in a sinful state a little too effectively. Churchgoers developed a fear of receiving the Eucharist “unworthily.” Many were convinced they could never be in the proper state of grace to merit the privilege. Add to that the phenomenon of what we might call “mortal-sin creep”: in the hands of a number of confessors, venial sins got an automatic upgrade to fatal status.

It wasn’t until the 20th-century arrival of Pope Pius X, “the pope of frequent communion,” that Catholics returned to the sacrament more regularly. The Easter duty is again viewed properly as a minimal requirement rather than a recommendation.

What hasn’t always been clear in the Easter duty is the definition of Easter. Technically Easter is not a day on the church calendar so much as an Octave (eight-days-long feast) contained within a seven-week celebration. The latest Code of Canon Law (1983) defines the fulfillment of the Easter duty to the time from Palm Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. This period, from Holy Week through the Easter Season, offers an eight-week window to meet the obligation.

However, in the United States, the Eucharistic Precept can be fulfilled from the First Sunday of Lent until Trinity Sunday. Lent adds an additional five weeks; the time from Pentecost to Trinity Sunday, another week. Altogether, this opens 14 weeks of the church year to fulfillment of the Easter duty.

Many Catholics are under the impression that the Easter duty also requires going to Confession. While receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation annually is certainly a good idea, it’s not part of the requirement.

Scripture: Psalm 119 (In praise of precepts and instructions); Proverbs 1:2-7; 4:13; 8:33; 10:17; 23:23; Mark 14:22-24; Matthew 26:26-28; Luke 22:14-20; John 6:27, 34- 35, 48-59; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-27; 14:26; 1 Timothy 1:5

Books: 101 Questions & Answers on the Eucharist, by Giles Dimock, OP (Paulist Press, 2006)

The General Councils: A History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicaea to Vatican II, by Christopher Bellitto (Paulist Press, 2002)

What are beatitudes, and why are they so important?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 15, June 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Scripture
Beatitudes are assurances that we’re on the right track.

The simplest understanding of beatitudes is that they’re a form of congratulations. If words were awards, beatitudes would be blue ribbons. Most people associate this term with THE Beatitudes, the famous blessing lines of Jesus—“blessed are the peacemakers,” etc.—delivered at the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew’s gospel) or on the Plain (in Luke’s account). But beatitudes are found in the Old Testament also, in psalms and wisdom writings. Apart from the sermons, other New Testament beatitudes appear in John’s gospel, letters of James and Peter, and even the Book of Revelation.

To appreciate how beatitudes operate, we might compare them with commandments. The well-known Commandments in the Decalogue tell us bluntly which actions to take or evils to avoid. Commandments speak in imperatives (“Honor your father and mother”) or issue orders (“You shall not kill”), and their sole justification is in the authority of the God who set them in stone. Only incidentally may commandments offer a rationale for keeping them. For example, we’re told to honor our parents so that we may have a long life in the land up ahead. This stick-and carrot approach is not to be misread: promised land or not, the mandate to respect elders still stands.

By contrast, beatitudes are assurances that we’re on the right track. They don’t instruct so much as highlight the reward of certain behaviors. As Sirach extols the happiness of a husband with a good wife, he reminds us why it’s great to choose the right mate: “A loyal wife brings joy to her husband, and he will finish his years in peace.” Before we frown at the lack of reciprocity, please note that Ben Sira, author of these instructions, ran a boys’ school and had no reason to describe the joy of wives who choose the right guy—not that many had the option. Beatitudes recall that keeping the Sabbath doesn’t just make God happy; who doesn’t want a day off?

The two most famous lists of beatitudes aren’t identical. Matthew includes nine attitudes that lead to happiness: things like poverty of spirit, a hunger for justice, meekness. In contrast, Luke speaks of real poverty, actual hunger, public humiliation in his list of four blessings, and balances that list with four corresponding woes, or old-world curses. They warn us that choosing vice over virtue leads to misery on the far side of that decision.

Scripture: Exodus 20:1-17; Pss 1:1; 41:1-4; 65:5; 84:5; 106:3; 112:1; Sirach 25:8-9; 26:1; Isaiah 56:2; Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-26; John 13:17; James 1:12; 1 Peter 3:14; Revelation 16:15

Books: Blessings for Leaders: Leadership Wisdom from the Beatitudes, by Dan Ebener (Liturgical Press, 2012)

What’s So Blessed About Being Poor? Seeking the Gospel in the Slums of Kenya, by L. Susan Slavin and Coralis Salvador (Orbis Books, 2012)

How does the church determine who’s “Great” and who’s a regular saint?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 17, May 2019 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Anthony the Great
There’s no “master list” and no real standard by which one might be so declared.

Turns out the church doesn’t grant this title at all. Popular acclaim attaches “greatness” to individuals who wowed their generation. Any list of Catholic Greats always includes Father of Monasticism Anthony of the Desert, Bishop Basil, Pope Leo, Pope Gregory, Dominican scholar Albert, and Benedictine nun Gertrude. Some add Bishop Nicholas, beloved even by those who only know him as Santa; as well as King Alfred of Wessex; Carthusian founder Bruno; Hugh, Abbot of Cluny. The Orthodox honor many more by this title, including Bishop Athanasius. One apostle is called James the Greater, to distinguish him from another regrettably known as James the Lesser. Some Catholics declare recently canonized Pope John Paul II as Great. There’s no “master list” and no real standard by which one might be so declared.

Titles granted regularly to canonized saints include Martyr (one who witnesses to their faith by surrendering their lives) and Doctor of the Church (one whose writings contribute to church teaching).

What made such folks “great”? Anthony started monasticism by heading into the wilderness in the 3rd century. Others followed and Anthony became a one-man school of wisdom. He lived to be 105, legendary in his own time. Basil helped establish the Nicene Creed, wrote significantly against 4th-century heresies, contributed to the liturgy and to monastic practice—leading to his recognition as a Doctor of the Church. Fifth-century church doctor Pope Leo had vast political influence and impact on doctrines concerning the nature of Jesus. A contemporary of Attila the Hun, Leo met him personally, warding off an invasion of Rome.

Sixth-century Pope Gregory launched a major wave of missionaries from Rome. His writings earned him church doctor status, and he’s considered “the Father of Christian Worship”. He may not have invented Gregorian chant but it was standardized under his watch. Bishop Albert was a renowned philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages. He was also a scientist, ecumenist, and later church doctor. Gertrude, the only woman on the list, was a theologian and mystic devoted to the Sacred Heart. She wrote prolifically, her prayers and meditations gaining great influence. Most of her books were lost after her death, but her effect was weighty on saints like Philip Neri, Francis de Sales, and Teresa of Avila. Bottom line: want to be Great? Start a movement, write a vital book, save a city. As a last resort, imitate Nicholas: get the kids on your side.

Scriptures: Genesis 12:2; Psalm 18:36; Matthew 5:19; 11:11; 18:1-4; 23:11-12

Books: Saint Basil the Great, by Richard Travers Smith (Aeterna Press, 2015)

The Herald of Divine Love: Gertrude of Helfta, translator Margaret Winkworth (Paulist Press, 1992)

Gregory the Great: Perfection in Imperfection, by Carole Straw (University of California Press, 1991)

Whoever came up with a feast called “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe” to end the church year?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 17, May 2019 Categories: Church History
Christ the King
As long as Christ reigns, princes of the world are assured no more than a season of power.

The short answer is Pope Pius XI in 1925. The long answer concerns why he did it. It helps to know the situation of his time. Before Italy became a sovereign nation in the late 1800s, popes had ruled over actual geographical territory for centuries. The papal states were erased permanently with the fall of Rome in 1870, leaving then-Pope Pius IX a prisoner of the Vatican. Four popes later, the so-called “Italian Question” was still unresolved. What tangible territory, if any, could the Roman Church claim?

At the time of Pius XI’s election, Mussolini was in power. The new pope surprised the world by emerging on the balcony of St. Peter’s to offer his first blessing urbi et orbi: “to the church and to the world.” No pope had done this since 1870. It signaled his papacy’s willingness to engage as a force in world affairs. Pius XI was convinced the church had to possess some clearly defined temporal power to operate effectively.

Negotiations with Mussolini’s government took place in back channels, resulting in the Lateran pacts of 1929. These defined the Holy See’s independence from Italy, creating the tiny state of Vatican City as a political entity. The pacts included a small financial concession from the Italian government for the loss of the papal states. It defined relations between Vatican City and Italy for the future.

Mussolini had imagined the agreements left him with the upper hand over a subordinated church to which he’d thrown a modest bone. When Pius later attacked fascism in a bold encyclical, Mussolini was caught off guard. That a librarian-cleric-turned-pope could be a public force to be reckoned with hadn’t figured in the dictator’s plans. He might have paid more attention to Pius’ urbi et orbi blessing. And to the institution of the Feast of Christ the King early in his papacy.

Proclaiming Christ as King was, to Pope Pius XI, a clarification of the relationship between the church and temporal affairs. Though men like Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler ascended to seats of worldly domination in Pius’ generation, the throne of Christ superseded their grasp. As long as Christ reigns, princes of the world are assured no more than a season of power. We as church continue to affirm this truth on the last Sunday of every church year.

Scripture: Pss. 93, 95-99; Isaiah 9:5-6; 43:15; Zephaniah 3:15; Matthew 2:1-6; 4:17; 27:37; Luke 23:42: John 18:33-37; Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 1:11; Revelation 1:5

Books: The Liturgical Year, Vol. 3: Sundays Two to Thirty-Four in Ordinary Time, Adrien Nocent (Liturgical Press, 2013)

The Popes: Histories and Secrets, by Claudio Rendina (Seven Locks Press, 2002)

What are small church communities? Are they the same as base communities?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories:
Small church
Smaller units of community and responsibility within a parish can be the answer to reuniting parishioners with the purpose of church life.

Once upon a time, Catholic parishes were local, intimate, and well staffed with clergy. These days, especially in urban environments, parishes may be large, impersonal, with members from far-flung neighborhoods, served by a single priest or lay administrator. Under these circumstances, one might feel lost in the pews, disconnected and spiritually stagnant. Smaller units of community and responsibility within a parish can be the answer to reuniting parishioners with the purpose of church life.

The idea for small church communities in the U.S. began in 1956 with basic ecclesial communities in Brazil, where the shortage of priests was acute. These groups were “basic” because they grew up from the grass roots of the church. “Ecclesial” meant the members recognized their connection to the institutional church and the local bishop. Fundamentally, these groups were “communities”: defying the modern emphasis on the individual in opposition and competition with the greater society.

In base communities, small groups of Catholics gather regularly for prayer, Bible study, and faith sharing on all aspects of their lives. These close units not only hold the worshipping community together in the absence of a priest and without the privilege of Sunday Mass. These lay-led groups are also a source of instruction and support that enables uneducated and oppressed populations to mobilize, improve their conditions, and work for justice.

The success of base communities quickly spread the model to developing countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Bishops’ conferences in Medellín, Columbia (1968) and Puebla, Mexico (1979) lent the movement official support and popularized the gospel ideal of “the preferential option for the poor.” The first Vatican recognition of the phenomenon came in 1975 from Pope Paul VI, who championed base communities as a way for the laity to be proactive in the church’s mission of evangelization.

Small church communities take their lead from basic ecclesial communities but are not identical to them. The most obvious difference is that in most U.S. parishes, such groups operate in the presence rather than the absence of a pastor. Often called faith-sharing groups, communities may gather to study Scripture or other religious materials. Though parishioners may reside in affluent communities, the aim of such groups usually moves toward tackling local justice issues or adopting a cause with farther-ranging impact. The focus remains on “opting for the poor” as the gospel demands.

Scripture: Isaiah 10:1-4; 32:1-8; Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 4:32-35; James 2:14-17

Books: Ecclesiogenesis: The Base Communities Reinvent the Church, by Leonardo Boff (Amazon Digital Services LLC: Kindle Edition, 2012)

God’s Quad: Small Faith Communities on Campus and Beyond, by Kevin Ahern and Christopher Derige Malano (Orbis Books, 2018)

I keep hearing we’re all supposed to be saints. Is that realistic?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Instead of fullness of life, most of us settle for just a sip.

Yes—if we have a good appreciation of what a saint is. A saint is a sinner who just keeps trying, as the saying goes. The essential interior difference between the average person and the saint is perseverance in the quest for fullness of life.

But even that sounds like jargon. Fullness of life? It’s a Scripture term meaning everything human life is supposed to be but often isn’t. Genesis says we’re made in the divine image, so whatever divine life is, that’s what we have the inbred capacity and yearning for. We’re designed to be creative, wise, loving, compassionate, just, limitless, eternal. But too often, we turn out dulled and thwarted, pinning our hopes on foolish goals and pursuits, jaded and cynical, lonely, judgmental, and biased. Far from being expansive creatures, we hurl away our freedoms in favor of programmed entertainments and prepackaged consumer ambitions. Instead of fullness of life, most of us settle for just a sip.

The way to get it all, curiously, involves giving a lot of what we currently value away. The secular gurus of simplification are right: our modern lives are choking us with stuff, and we need to divest, downsize, and aim to own less, want less, do less. Thérèse of Lisieux counseled that Our Lord cherishes simplicity. We have to un-complicate our calendars and find silence in the cacophony demanding our attention. Once we create some blissful empty space, we can load up on virtues, which Anthony of the Desert considered a better source of nourishment than what’s usually on the table.

Being holy doesn’t involve cosmic revelations. Vincent de Paul offered a simple way: will what God wills, see as God sees. If that’s still too lofty a starting place, consider Dominic’s advice to master your passions or be mastered by them. Newly canonized Pope John XXIII believed ten minutes of spiritual reading a day would feed the soul. Camillus de Lellis had his own pithy formula: Think well. Speak well. Do well.

If this short listing convinces us of anything, it’s that many paths lead to holy living. What’s vital is to begin—somewhere. You can’t go wrong by embracing the spirit of humility, which is every saint’s favorite virtue. Paint the house of your soul with it, John Chrysostom recommended. Or how about capitalizing on love? Clare of Assisi observed that we become what we love. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love Christ, we become sons and daughters of God.

Scripture: Psalm 16:11; Matthew 5:3-12; John 10:10; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Ephesians 2:19-22; 3:14-19; Galatians 4:3-7; Colossians 2:6-10; 1 Timothy 1:16

Books: The Saints’ Little Book of Wisdom: The Essential Teachings, by Andrea Kirk Assaf, Kelly Anne Leahy, compilers (HarperCollins, 2016)

My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous Women Who Showed Me How to Live, by Maria Morera Johnson (Ave Maria Press, 2015)

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Has Pope Francis changed church teaching on birth control?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Church teaching on birth control
Current teaching permits natural family planning (a form of birth control) and affirms martial sex as a vital part of the marriage bond as well as a means of procreation.

You might revisit the QCA essays from October 2016, “How can I understand and explain the church’s position on contraception?” 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, garnering more attention on how/if the church’s position on birth control is evolving.

What’s lost in the debate is how church teaching is always evolving. Saint Augustine took the position that sexual activity was a negative expression only redeemed by procreation. Medieval theologians allowed that sex had other positive values, including health, pleasure, and the deepening of marital love. Pope Leo XIII chose to write a major encyclical on marriage (1880) that never addressed contraception at all. Pope Pius XI (1930) maintained that any sexual act not open to procreation was sinful. Yet Pope Pius XII (1951) sanctioned the rhythm method, suggesting that it wasn’t birth control but artificial contraception that was contrary to church teaching. Current teaching permits natural family planning (a form of birth control) and affirms martial sex as a vital part of the marriage bond as well as a means of procreation.

Pope Francis builds on what previous modern popes have written. When the Zika virus threatened unborn children in Latin America, Francis noted that “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil” and that mothers in affected areas might do so. “Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape,” Francis noted. Under threat of harm, procreative sex is not an absolute good.

In 2015, Pope Francis clarified that church teaching does not insist Christian parents “must make children in series." Paul VI had also recommended "responsible parenthood" in Humanae Vitae (1968), citing "physical, economic, psychological and social conditions" involved in creating a family. While still a Cardinal, the future Pope Benedict ventured that couples with several children must not be reproached for not having more. He declared family size a personal pastoral matter that "can't be projected into the abstract."

In preparation for the international Bishops’ Synod on “The Vocation and Mission of the Family” (2015), theologians considered “natural methods for responsible procreation” and also “the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods in regulating births.” They reflected: “The choice of adoption or foster parenting expresses a particular fruitfulness of married life, not simply in the case of sterility.” They also noted that conscience trains us to listen to God’s voice, to avoid both selfish choices and also insupportable burdens. These recommendations place responsible family planning in the hands of parents, where in fact such discernment ultimately resides.

Scripture: Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-24; Tobit 8:6-8

Books: The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World: Instrumentum LaborisSynod of Bishops, XIV Ordinary General Assembly (Vatican City, 2015)

Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis (Vatican City, 2016)

After we die, we “see God face to face.” Then what?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
What unites us with God, ultimately, is love, which is the very nature of God, according to Christian theology.

You’re quoting Saint Paul. In his passage on the nature of love in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes our present sense of what’s going on as a dim reflection of the reality awaiting us. Even prophecy doesn’t tell all, and knowledge is imperfect. Death’s “big reveal” leads us “to know God fully,” as we are fully known. At present, God has the advantage in knowing us comprehensively. In eternity, God returns the favor.

If this sounds like a big claim, Paul goes further in Philippians stating that, in the life to come, we’ll share in the glorified nature of Christ. The First Letter of John confirms this, declaring that we’ll not only see God, but we’ll be like God in the upcoming realm. From Genesis, of course, we already knew we bear God’s likeness—but Paul and John’s assertions sound like it’s much more than a family resemblance.

In reflecting on such passages full of celestial hints, theologians arrive at what they call the Beatific Vision. Some prefer to emphasize the beatific part: the very sight of God will be a blessing to us. Others lean into the vision part: the direct encounter with God will open our eyes so that we finally truly see. The goal isn’t merely viewing God (“So that’s what Divinity looks like!”) or knowing God (“Pleased to make your acquaintance!”) The eternal goal is union with God, which is what both Paul and John are driving at.

What unites us with God, ultimately, is love, which is the very nature of God, according to Christian theology. In John’s words: “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God.” Paul agrees when he declares that only three things persist for eternity—faith, hope, and love—and that love outshines the other two as the greatest virtue. John and Paul reaffirm what Jesus says in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”

But your question is “Then what?” Beatific Vision unites us with God and allows us “full personal participation in the Trinitarian life of God,” in the words of Jesuit theologian Paul Crowley. Does that sound like enough to keep you everlastingly occupied? The Sister who taught art at my high school used to say: “If God bores you, who in the world will entertain you?” I suspect the Beatific Vision will satisfy.

Scriptures: Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 8:5-10; Wisdom 2:23; Matthew 5:8; John 17:25-26; 1 Corinthians 13:8-13; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 5:7; Ephesians 1:5; Philippians 3:21; Hebrews 11:1; 1 John 3:1-3; 4:7-21

Books: Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition, by Hans Boersma (Eerdmans, 2018)

Toward a Theology of Beauty, by John Navonne, S.J. (Liturgical Press, 1996)

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Is Pope Francis doing anything about the sexual abuse crisis and the bishops’ woeful response?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Clergy
St. Peter's Basilica
The crisis exposes an underlying sin: a self-referential church structure that promotes its own welfare over the community it’s meant to serve.

On January 1, 2019, the Pope released a strong letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The pope has addressed the worldwide crisis of clergy abusers and secretive bishops in speech and writing repeatedly. By his own admission, he’s made some painful mistakes, in misplacing his loyalty and emphasis. In his latest appeal, Pope Francis directed our U.S. bishops, on retreat in seclusion at that time, to pray and discern a gospel-inspired new way forward.

The pope uses terms that are helpful for future dialogue. He refers to the “culture of abuse”: not just thousands of incidents of pedophilia by church leaders but the whole landscape of secrecy, self-defense, and organizational entrenchment that multiplied the harm and deflected the damage. The pope doesn’t call for policies or protocols anymore. He wants a reconsideration of who a bishop is in relationship to his people. Francis demands a reassessment of power in the church that will seek to exhibit the “flavor of the Gospel”—not the boardroom.

The pope rightly names the “crisis of credibility” the U.S. church faces in this generation. He doesn’t name the twin crisis of relevance that naturally goes with it, but it’s there underneath. This present crisis has erupted over the pain and outrage we all feel for children betrayed and abandoned by our religious leaders. But it also exposes an underlying sin: a self-referential church structure that promotes its own welfare over the community it’s meant to serve.

Addressing this deeper failure requires a sea change in our present leadership model. A week of seclusion won’t effect this kind of transformation, but it can awaken sincere hearts to the need to pursue such conversion as aggressively as our leaders once sought to preserve the church’s reputation. The pope aptly notes how “spiritually abandoned” and “disheartened” faithful Catholics now feel, laity and clergy alike, in recognizing how our bishops chose to “defend spaces” over children and families.

The pope is summoning a different model of church to come into being. It’s an enormous undertaking that our bishops can’t undertake alone. We must do this together if it’s to be done, which will require a conversation we’ve never had and can scarcely imagine. It will require using a word Francis doesn’t use in his letter: shame. Our children were forced to carry shame in secret for so long. We all bear it in the open now.

Scripture: Mark 10:42-45; 11:15-18; Matthew 26:31; 1 Corinthians 12:26; 13:1

Books: Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church, by Donald Cozzens (Liturgical Press, 2004)

Clericalism and the Death of Priesthood, by George B. Wilson, S.J. (Liturgical Press, 2008)

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How can I find God in my life?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality
Finding God
Finding God is like falling in love or starting a family: it won’t work unless you’re all in.

It’s one of the most profound questions a person can ask. A friend recently noted that the only time he hears the name of God invoked is when someone sneezes or runs a red light. To seek God less prosaically requires a personal investment. Finding God is like falling in love or starting a family: it won’t work unless you’re all in.

A lot of folks these days seek spirituality without an anchor in religion. They’d like to have the benefits of the God Quest—things like meaning, depth, values, direction, simplicity, security—without the inconvenient truths that go along with it. These include a dedication to justice and peace, moral responsibilities, and a fundamental humility about one’s role in the universe. The first step in the God Quest is to bow down, to incline our spirit in acknowledgment that there are things we don’t know, can’t see, can’t do from where we sit. Science rightfully explores what human beings can observe from our cheap seats in the universe—or multiverse. Religion is the sacred journey that explores what’s above, behind, around, and within that observable reality.

Bowing down, or cultivating the virtue of humility, is not merely the first task of the God Quest. Bernard of Clairvaux made it the all-permeating work when he taught his monks that there are four essential virtues: humility, humility, humility, and humility. The human ego is the source of all that ails our world, from greed, dominance, prejudice, and oppression to the everyday rotten fruit of envy, anger, gossip, and unforgiveness. If we practice removing ourselves from the center of existence and own that God alone belongs at the core of reality, we’ll be well on our way to lifelong spiritual growth.

The rest, we might say, is methodology. The Judeo-Christian tradition is a story of a people who took the God Quest and wrote down what they learned in cultivating that relationship in the Bible. Catholicism—the name meaning universal, comprehensive, or whole—is really a spiritual multiverse of ways to take the God Quest. Anchored in the Judeo-Christian story, it contains optional paths for seekers: solitary (hermits), communal (monastic and religious life), coupled (marriage and family life), as well as the priest or dedicated single person. All of these ways involve service to God and others in unique ways, as well as different forms of prayer, obligations, and commitments. Choose one, and begin.

Scripture: Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 3:1-6; 1 Kings 3:5-15; Job 38:1—42:6; Psalm 139; Isaiah 6:1-8; Tobit 5:4-22; Mark 1:16-20; Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 4:16-21

Books: Your One Wild and Precious Life: Thoughts on Vocation, by Mark-David Janus, C.S.P. (Paulist Press, 2018)

Visions and Vocations: The Catholic Women Speak Network (Paulist Press, 2018)

What is prayer?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality
Prayer is a kind of creed in motion: we pray our faith.

I’ve always appreciated Edward Farrell’s observation that prayer is not a thing. It’s not a collection of words or a ritual activity. To begin by defining “what prayer is not” clears the air of our nonsense about prayer as a pious formula that needs to be gotten right. Prayer is a relationship that tells us, as all relationships inevitably do, who we are.

Think about the relationships in which you come to know yourself: as child or parent, sibling or friend, boss or servant, mentor or student. Who are we in relationship to God? Fragile, perhaps. Dependent, and certainly the weaker party. We are, after all, the ones repeatedly asking for stuff, whether it’s help for a sick family member, clarity for an exam, courage to apply for that new job, or peace on earth. We also try to remember to thank God for stuff, too. This is how we acknowledge that God is the source of every good, and our ultimate benefactor for the life we live.

In our relationship called prayer, we also praise God, which may be the most defining aspect of our exchange. Praise is a free celebration of the recipient’s greatness. God doesn’t need a reward or statuette from us acknowledging the exalted nature of divinity. Our praise is a way to “be still and know” which of us is Creator, and which creature.

Prayer is a kind of creed in motion: we pray our faith. The fact that we pray is a form of admitting that God exists—even if we don’t have all the details of that existence down pat. It also establishes that we trust in God. We’re not indifferent objects of divine invention but beloved and significant.

The deeper any relationship goes, the more we carry the other person around within us. We become what we love, in the way family members come to share traits and habits and character. As we deepen our relationship to God in prayer, we finally become what we believe. Receiving Eucharist—another form of prayer—is an incarnate way of expressing the same idea.

St. Jerome, a brilliant and rather cranky Scripture scholar of the 4th century, said prayer is a groan. Lamentation is another variety of prayer that is basically holy complaining. We complain by lifting up everything that’s wrong with the world, our society, and our lives. What makes lamentation a holy form of complaining is that we’re not just venting to a friend. We expect God to do something about this—and we believe that God can.

Scripture: Matthew 6:5-13; 7:7-11; John 15:7; 16:26; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Philippians 4:4-9; Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 3:12-17; 4:2

Books: The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer, by Joan Chittister, O.S.B. (Twenty-Third Publications, 2009)

Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales (Dover Publications, 2009)

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If I attend a wedding with a full Mass on Saturday at 1 p.m., does that Mass count for Sunday?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Liturgy
Wedding Mass
As members of Christ’s Body, we’re privileged to participate in this celebration of Mass.

No. But let’s explore why that’s true. It’s not just liturgy police making arbitrary rules. It’s about why we attend Mass on Sunday. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, the first precept of the church states: “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.”

Canon law further explores this precept: “Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal church.” Reflect on that for a minute: Sunday is the biggest holy day of the church! The church fathers called every Sunday a “little Easter.” Participation in the Sunday gathering goes back to the apostles, and is the celebration defining us as part of Christ’s Body. “Obligation” is a poor word to express this. Consider “privileged.”

As members of Christ’s Body, we’re privileged to participate in this celebration. Sunday observance doesn’t merely establish a time window for Mass attendance. Each Sunday liturgy is a specific Mass with its own gospel and readings and corresponding prayers. Together we celebrate a particular event in the life of the church, whether it’s the Second Sunday of Lent or the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Over the course of a church year, we absorb a complete gospel and recall specific moments of our Christian history together.

Now, consider the nature of a Nuptial (wedding) Mass. It’s also a liturgy of the church with readings, prayers, and rituals appropriate to its occasion. Unlike the public gathering of the community for the Sunday observance, Nuptial Masses normally involve families and friends of the couple receiving the sacrament. Even if the priest performed a Nuptial Mass at 7 p.m. Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning, participants would still not be observing the liturgy for that weekend. It would be like saying: I had supper with a few friends tonight: does that count for dinner with the extended family tomorrow?

Now for the exception. Rarely, couples celebrate the Sacrament of Matrimony WITHIN the confines of the Sunday liturgy. That is, they choose not to have a private Mass with friends and family, but prefer to share their commitment with the entire community of faith. Since the marriage rite is inserted into the Sunday Mass, it utilizes the readings and prayers for that Sunday of the church year. In that case, yes, the Mass "counts" for both occasions.

Books: 101 Questions & Answers on Catholic Marriage Preparation, by Rebecca Nappi and Daniel Kendall, S.J. (Paulist Press, 2004)

Inseparable Love: A Commentary on the Order of Celebrating Marriage in the Catholic Church, by Paul Turner (Liturgical Press, 2016)



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