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Is Pope Francis the first Catholic leader to address the environment?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 06, February 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

Environment
The beauty of creation is a long-appreciated path to knowledge of God. 

While Catholics may seem late to the topic of ecology, Pope Francis was not being a maverick with his widely heralded (and in some quarters, loudly denounced) encyclical, Laudato Si’. In 1988, Philippine bishops had already produced a pastoral letter titled: “What Is Happening to Our Beautiful Land?” Pope John Paul II spoke on the World Day of Peace concerning “The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility” in 1990. U.S. bishops followed with a statement of their own in 1992: “Renewing the Earth.”

Of course, Saint Francis of Assisi was all about preserving the harmony between us and the natural world in the 13th century. Even the birdbath saint was beaten to the game by Hildegard of Bingen a century earlier. Fourth-century Augustine was earlier still, with his lengthy commentaries on Genesis and Creation. Benedict of Nursia followed suit in his attentiveness to creation in the 6th century, though he’s remembered mostly for his monastic rule. As fellow creatures, we have a lot invested in our stewardship of this planet. Our role as Gardener-in-Chief is well established in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

To appreciate the scope of church teaching on the environment, it’s necessary to consider documents that aren’t explicitly about ecology. For example, in 1991 Pope John Paul II wrote Centesimus Annus to mark the century since the issue of Pope Leo XIII’s bold social teaching, Rerum Novarum. In it, the Pope criticized scientific advances that come at the expense of the environment, as well as the toll of warfare, and the disparity of adverse environmental impacts on poorer communities.

What makes it seem like Catholics have ignored the green movement is the otherworldly emphasis of our public profile—and in some cases, a genuinely imbalanced focus on the life of the world to come among some Catholics. Such imbalance is corrected with a renewed appreciation of a few long-standing teachings. The common good, for instance, maintains the good things of the earth belong to all of us. This includes the right to live in a safe environment, whether poor or rich. At the same time, the poor are not to be cut out of progress and development; therefore, ways to sustainable development must be found that serve all. The value of solidarity further insists we must act with other nations to achieve what’s beneficial to global health. Finally, the beauty of creation is a long-appreciated path to knowledge of God. To lose it is to lose a source of profound communion.

Scripture:

Genesis 1:1—2:15; Psalms 8, 19, 104, 148; John 1:1-5; Romans 8:18-23; Colossians 1:15-20

Books: 

Option for the Poor and for the Earth: From Leo XIII to Pope Francis – Donal Dorr (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016)

Living Cosmology: Christian Responses to Journey of the Universe – eds. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016). This includes a book, documentary film, and conversation series.

Do all Christians basically agree on the purpose of baptism, Eucharist, and ministry?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 06, February 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Sacraments
Christian unity
The bishops see much that’s mutual, but not enough for Christians to share Eucharist together.

Such agreement is crucial to hope for Christian unity. Many find hope in the 1982 documents, “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry.” BEM, for short, was produced in Lima by the World Council of Churches—a 348-member organization including most denominations you’ve heard of: Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Mennonite, and Quaker. The Roman Catholic Church doesn’t belong to the WCC, the rationale being that the Church of Rome IS the Church. Joining an organization that renders us one “church” among equals sends the wrong message.

BEM was a work in progress since 1928. The resulting documents have been closely studied by the U.S. bishops. Here’s a short summary of their assessment. BEM on Baptism has much to be admired. Its teaching on Baptism as a cleansing from sin, gift of the Spirit, incorporation into the Body of Christ, all in the name of the Trinity, is sound. BEM recognizes Baptism’s “unrepealable” nature. It describes it as the foundation of, but no substitution for, a life of faith—a nod to both infant and adult baptism.

The bishops’ takeaway: BEM needs work in treating the Spirit’s and the church’s role in Baptism. The unity of all sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist) should be clarified. The BEM distinction drawn between infant baptism and “believer’s baptism” (for adults) is an “unfortunate” phrase. But a movement toward a formal mutual recognition of Christian baptisms is plausible.

Regarding Eucharist, BEM calls it a “thanksgiving, memorial, invocation, communion, and meal of the kingdom.” BEM churches agree with Rome that frequent celebration of Eucharist is desirable. They concur that the entire Eucharistic celebration, not a single “moment of consecration,” makes Christ really present. BEM rightly stresses the social and ethical dimensions that travel with us from the Table to the world.

The bishops would like to see more about how the nature of the church is a direct result of our Eucharist; clarification of how Christ is present as spiritual food; how Christ remains present even when the sacrament is reserved, as in the Tabernacle. The bishops see much that’s mutual, but not enough for Christians to share Eucharist together.

BEM views Ministry as the vocation of all Christians, while holding a distinct place for the ordained kind. It acknowledges the apostolic origins of bishop, presbyter, and deacon. U.S. bishops agree on “interdependence and reciprocity” between the laity and the ordained. They await more clarity on the uniqueness of ordination, its relationship to sacramental ministry, particularly in the forgiveness of sins. Finally, the ordination of women remains a sticking point between BEM and Rome. Reason to hope for unity? Yes. But not for holding your breath.

Scripture:

Mark 6:34-44; 14:22-25; Matthew 16:18-19; 28:19-20; John 6:22-58; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 12:1-31; 1 Timothy 3:1-13

Websites:

World Council of Churches site for entire BEM text:

http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/commissions/faith-and-order/i-unity-the-church-and-its-mission/baptism-eucharist-and-ministry-faith-and-order-paper-no-111-the-lima-text?searchterm=bem

USCCB site for bishops’ statements regarding BEM:

http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/ecumenical-and-interreligious/ecumenical/orthodox/statement-lima-baptism-eucharist-and-ministry.cfm

What is natural law?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 05, January 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Natural law
Natural law remains a fundamental principle in Catholic moral teaching today.

Natural law is the principle that there are higher truths than those dictated by societies and their institutions. It claims these truths are embedded in the natural order of creation. This tradition originated in the Roman Republic with thinkers like Cicero, who reacted against Aristotle’s fierce support for the state centuries earlier. Aristotle had held that society was justified in subjecting women, slaves, and barbarians since they were incapable of moral judgment. Proponents of natural law held that all humans were moral beings; therefore institutions of subjugation were unjust. It was a radical proposition to take back then! 

Natural law adherents admitted that government, while “unnatural,” was a necessary force in society to ensure the protection of the weak from oppression by the strong. Church fathers like Augustine would embrace natural law to express just war theory: that while killing was a moral evil, in certain circumstances it was a necessary action to protect the weak.

For many centuries, natural law was wielded by reformers as much as by conservative factions. In the Middle Ages, however, thinkers began applying these ideas to questions of personal morality as well as to social institutions. Sexual and medical choices were scrutinized according to their biological fittingness. Aquinas was less likely to consider natural law in terms of social systems as Augustine used it.

By the time of the Enlightenment, natural law had bifurcated. Philosophers based the doctrine of universal human rights on its principles and urged political reforms that would incorporate this ideal. Catholic thinkers utilized natural law almost exclusively in terms of personal morality. The Catholic position contrasted the natural design of creation with “the unnatural”—against God’s directive and therefore beyond argument.

Natural law remains a fundamental principle in Catholic moral teaching today. At its best, it admits the existence of universally binding moral principles that all humanity might embrace by reason alone. Yet many modern theologians are uncomfortable with a complete capitulation to a law that admits no conversation with Scripture or expanding church tradition. What’s in and what’s outside the immutable boundaries of natural law continue to be hotly debated.

Scriptures: Genesis chapter 1; Exodus 20:1-17; Psalms 8, 19, 104, 119; Proverbs 1:20—2:22; 9:1-12; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 5:3-12, 17-20; John 1:1-5, 14; 3:31-36; 14:15-27; Hebrews 8:7-12; 10:16

Books: Searching for a Universal Ethic: Multidisciplinary, Ecumenical, and Interfaith Responses to the Catholic Natural Law Tradition –eds. John Berkman and William Mattison III (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014)

Catholic Moral Theology and Social Ethics: A New Method – Christina Astorga (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013)

Some of my friends view belief in God as anti-intellectual.

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 05, January 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Faith versus reason
Faith and reason spring from the same created reality and are in this sense mutually dependent on divine revelation.

The relationship between faith and reason can seem complicated, but is not contradictory. I admit when I was in college, I went to the Newman Center with the same agenda. It seemed there were two camps on campus: the Christians and the thinkers. I went to the priest to find out if it were necessary to choose between the two, which I was not at all comfortable doing.

The priest pointed me toward something wonderful—the rich Catholic intellectual tradition. I learned a valuable teaching from Vatican I: there can be no contradiction between faith and reason, since God is the author of both. Faith and reason spring from the same created reality and are in this sense mutually dependent on divine revelation. This may sound strange, since we think of revelation as a mysterious process involving heavenly apparitions and miraculous unfoldings. Yet talk to a researcher uncovering a new principle concerning the way time operates, or how the human brain functions. Revelation is a word not inconsistent with that scientific seeker’s experience.

If something is discovered to be true, therefore, it cannot be an obstacle to faith. Faith must expand to admit what is true. This explains why the same church that once condemned Galileo’s teachings as a threat to religious belief had to apologize and restore Galileo’s integrity as a Catholic thinker in the long run. God is truth, and truth cannot deny itself.

Needless to say, it would have been better if church leaders hadn’t rejected Galileo to start with! Frequently the obstacle to embracing truth is our faith in our own fallible perception, rather than faith in God.  It takes courage to remain open to the possibility that we’re wrong in our present opinions, comprehension, and vision. More recent popes have viewed science as a partner in the quest for truth rather than an adversary to religious faith.

Two positions are unhelpful to those who think and believe. One is fideism, the other rationalism. Fideism imagines that all truth drops from heaven unaided by human activity. Moral principles are to be accepted and incorporated without nuance, reflection, or relationship to other avenues of knowledge. Fideists don’t want to argue, they just want to imbibe right principles. Rationalists believe all truth can be apprehended and judged by human reason alone. Religious ideas improvable by scientific means are deemed irrelevant if not invalid.

Scriptures: Job 38:1—42:6; Psalm 8; Isaiah 55:6-9; John 1:1-4; 14:6; Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 13:9-12; Hebrews 11:1; 1 John 1:1-4

Books: The Bible and Science: Longing for God in a Science-Dominated World – Vincent M. Smiles (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2011)

Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think – Elaine Howard Ecklund (New York; Oxford University Press, 2010)

How did the veneration of relics get started?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 29, November 2016 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints,Prayer and Spirituality
Mother Teresa relic
A relic of Saint Teresa of Calcuttaa drop of her bloodat St. Ita Catholic Church in Chicago.

A relic is an object kept in tribute to a holy person. Some relics are body parts such as bone chips or teeth. Others are items once belonging to the person, most often snips of clothing. Catholics aren’t alone in collecting relics. Other religions like Buddhism employ them. People of faith backgrounds that permit it keep cremains of loved ones in an urn on the mantle (See here for Vatican instruction on Catholic burial, cremation). I have a shirt that belonged to my dad, which I still wear. Relics are a traditional way of keeping in touch with someone special.

Catholic relics are as old as the church. Martyrdom was a frequent if not typical cause of Christian death. The faithful collected the martyrs’ remains, often in pieces, for secret burial in places like catacombs. When available, the instrument of death was spirited off as well. Think: relics from the True Cross. Christians gathered at martyrs’ tombs to celebrate Eucharist. When the persecutions finally ceased, churches were erected on the gravesites. Christians considered burial near a martyr a privilege. A tug-of-war over these bodies became typical; some were exhumed and re-interred on the properties of those who could afford it. In the Middle Ages, Crusaders pilfered lots of relics and carried them to Europe.

Relics were catechetically useful. They spurred interest in the saint whose virtues might be imitated. In 410, a council in Carthage ruled that saints’ shrines had to contain authentic relics or be destroyed. In 767, a Nicaean council determined that every altar must contain a relic or Mass could not be celebrated on it. This decree echoes the original practice of celebrating Mass on the graves of martyrs and is upheld in current canon law (no.1237). Exceptions are made today for portable altars such as those used in wartime.

Selling relics has always been forbidden. Church law says significant relics can’t even be moved around without express permission from the Vatican (no. 1190).

Attributing magical powers to such items is considered an abuse, but the tendency to be superstitious about holy objects is not unknown in the modern church. From the Holy Grail to the Shroud of Turin, the curious and the credulous will always find a less than edifying fascination with such objects. Church teaching draws a distinction between proper and improper veneration. Worship belongs to God alone. Even if a saint should appear suddenly in an apparition, human honor is the limit of our tribute.

Scripture: The Bible regards holiness as a divine attribute communicable to people, places, and things (e.g. Moses’ shining face, the Ark and its sacred utensils, the Temple’s Holy of Holies.) The topic of relics, specifically, is not treated. But see 2 Kings 13:20-21; Mark 5:25-34; Acts 5:12-15

Books: Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics – Thomas Craughwell (New York: Image Books, 2011)

Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe – Charles Freeman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012)

Why do we worship in buildings instead of in God’s beautiful creation?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 29, November 2016 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

Church building
The word temple means "to be cut from": to be separate from ordinary use and reserved for sacred encounter.

The fixed sanctuary of meeting between God and mortals is an old concept. Your instinct is correct that creation seems perfect for the job. Sacred space is meant to display the cosmos in miniature: a unified center where heaven, earth, and the underworld intersect. Just as mountains reach into the heavens, and roots push deep into the soil, the holy place conjoins the three anciently acknowledged realms. The achievement of this unity is evident in the designs of temples, cathedrals, pyramids, ziggurats, pagodas, monoliths, and even the towering sacred trees venerated in northern lands.

As in many religions, the Judeo-Christian tradition regards this design as divinely supplied. So Moses gets the blueprint for a sanctuary from God at Sinai, as does King Solomon for the Jerusalem temple. Ezekiel receives a revitalized one in a vision after the first temple is destroyed. John at Patmos envisions the Lamb as an incarnate temple in the reign of God at the end of time. In these episodes (which have parallels across ancient cultures), the leader or seer is given precise measurements for the job, including careful attention to the worship space’s orientation toward nature’s four directions and often including a source of living water. Other traditions incorporate architectural elements to interact with the sun and moon, and the seasonal calendar. The design of sacred space always acknowledges the superiority of God’s world design and is not intended to replace it, but rather to celebrate it.

Attention is likewise paid to the meaning of creation, and not just its patterns. The story of creation—again, in our biblical tradition and in other world religions—is a triumph of divine order over primordial chaos. Sacred geometry is therefore strictly observed in these designs, which explains the astonishing exactness of many structures from antiquity, as well as the patience of builders who begin a cathedral which none of them will see completed.

The word temple means "to be cut from": to be separate from ordinary use and reserved for sacred encounter. Our word contemplate reflects the understanding that contemplation is an activity enhanced by the temple, and also that the temple’s mysteries ideally reside inside the worshipper as well as around him or her. Jesus epitomized this understanding when he identified his own body with the Jerusalem temple. Paul repeated this teaching when he called each believer a temple. The more we consider sacred space, the more it can teach us.

Scripture: Genesis 28:10-22; Exodus 25-31; 1 Kings 5:15-7:51; Isaiah 28:16; Ezekiel 40-47:12; Matthew 16:18; John 2:13-22; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Revelation 21:22-22:5

Books: The Temple: Meeting Place of Heaven and Earth – John Lundquist (London: Thames & Hudson, 2012)

How to Read a Church: A Guide to Symbols and Images in Churches and Cathedrals – Richard Taylor (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press/HiddenSpring, 2005)

How can I understand and explain the Catholic position on contraception?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 21, October 2016 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Affectionate couple
In 1965, the unitive value of intercourse was embraced along with its procreative meaning in Catholic teaching. The right and duty of couples to responsibly limit the size of their families was accepted; a distinction was drawn between natural and artificial means of doing so.

Start with two basic teaching tools: That life is a sacred gift from God. And that the family is the primary social unit and what happens within it is of great social consequence. Hang onto these ideas as you reflect on the history below, which demonstrates the evolution of these principles in regard to contraception.

Until the 20th century, the church viewed procreation as the sole meaning of sexual activity. Sex designed to prevent a life, therefore, was an obvious contradiction of its meaning. Ethicist James Hanigan identifies six developments that made this perspective less obvious to many. First, 18th-century biology studied the human reproductive system well enough to prevent pregnancies artificially. Next, sociology pointed to a population explosion in a world with limited resources. Third, political valuing of the dignity of the person as a free chooser rose in the social consciousness. Fourth, as family farms gave way to factories, economic burdens increased with the number of children. Fifth, the contemporary recognition of women as full persons led to aspirations beyond traditional roles. Finally, a reappraisal of the significance of sexuality in human identity led to an acceptance of the unitive meaning of sexual activity.

Modern popes have shown a desire to acknowledge these factors while not abandoning fundamental teachings about life and family. In 1965, the unitive value of intercourse was embraced along with its procreative meaning in Catholic teaching. The right and duty of couples to responsibly limit the size of their families was accepted; a distinction was drawn between natural and artificial means of doing so. Pope Francis reiterated this teaching in 2015, noting Catholics weren’t compelled “to breed like rabbits.” Exceptions regarding the use of artificial contraception have been introduced three times: in the 1960s, Pope Paul VI approved birth control for religious sisters exposed to the risk of rape in the Belgian Congo. In 2010, Benedict XVI noted that condoms used by prostitutes to prevent the spread of AIDS could be seen as a moral choice. In 2016, Pope Francis cited Benedict’s teaching in declaring that women endangered by the Zika virus might use birth control as a responsible choice.

Church teaching in 2016 illustrates how popes are still listening and nuancing: “The just way for family planning is that of a consensual dialogue between the spouses, respect for the times of fertility and consideration of the dignity of the partner.” (Amoris Laetitia #63) 

Scriptures: Genesis 1:27-28; 2:18-24; Ruth; Song of Songs; Ephesians 5:25-32 

Books: Just Ministry: Professional Ethics for Pastoral Ministers – Richard Gula (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2010)

Theology of the Body for Beginners: A Basic introduction to Pope John II’s Sexual Revolution – Christopher West (West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 2009)

What are Catholics to believe about the Antichrist?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 21, October 2016 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

Fires of hell
Technically Antichrist is not a proper name, but rather the description of any power in the universe opposing God’s anointed (hence, anti-Christ).

Antichrist is a term found only in the first two Letters of John in the New Testament. Technically it’s not a proper name, but rather the description of any power in the universe opposing God’s anointed (hence, anti-Christ).

The Book of Daniel contains earlier biblical references to an apocalyptic monster known as the fourth beast. This terrifying creature appears in direct opposition to “one like a son of man”—a human being who is God’s special champion. The Book of Revelation later retrieves the son-of-man figure and identifies him with Christ. This pits Christ against the beast of Revelation associated with the number 666. This beast is clearly anti-Christ, though the term isn’t employed in either context.

Other references both in and out of the New Testament are corralled into the Antichrist category: Belial or Beliar, Gog and Magog, the ruler of this world, the lawless one, the deceiver. Some would include Old Testament anti-God figures such as Rahab the dragon, Leviathan the sea monster, or the Satan who plays adversary in God’s court. All are allusions to figures sufficiently arrogant to challenge the purposes of God. The Antichrist litmus test in John’s letters is unwillingness to pledge belief in God and Christ “in the flesh.” This test is directed at Gnostics, who viewed Jesus as a sort of divine mirage, not a human being. To John, anyone in the Gnostic camp is anti-Christ.

Paul warns against a “man of lawlessness” who would claim to be divine. Christians throughout history have deemed this figure THE Antichrist and have pointed him out in their own generations: Nero, Caligula, Arius and his followers. Martin Luther viewed the papacy as a likely candidate for the Antichrist. He wasn’t the first: as early as the 13th century, Catholics themselves wondered if popes such as John XII didn’t fit the bill.        

The notion of Antichrist became useful to medieval preachers, who rightly declared every sinner contains a spirit that counters Christ. Literature of the period drummed up backstory for the Antichrist: born of a human couple by demonic power, his biography is a mirror-image mockery of the story of Jesus complete with counterfeit miracles. Movies like “The Omen” play on this idea that a child will arrive at the end of time and inaugurate the full horrors of Revelation. Most Catholic scholars would say there’s no need to wait. A spirit in contradiction to Christ inhabits every generation. 

Scriptures: Isaiah 51:9; Pss 74:13-14; 89:11; Job 1:6-12; 26:12; Daniel 7; 8:23-25; 9:27; Mark 13:22; Matthew 24:24; John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 6:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10; 1 John 2:18-23; 4:3; 2 John 7-11; Revelation 13:1-18; 20:8

Books: Who Is Satan? According to the Scriptures – Joseph F. Kelly (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2013)

Sacra Pagina; 1, 2, and 3 John – John Painter (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016)

How is it determined that someone is a saint?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 11, September 2016 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Mother Teresa
The common thread in all of these saintly lives is that they were lights along the way to Christ for others to follow.

Canonization, the process of adding a name to the canon of saints, has been a formal procedure in the church since the 13th century. Informally, the church has noted saints (“holy ones”) since the first generation, when such recognition was given to martyrs. Those who died for belonging to Christ, even if flawed individuals, earned the claim of “no greater love” since they did indeed “lay down their life for a friend.”

Sainthood was soon extended to confessors: those who defended and suffered for the faith even if not murdered for it. The category opened next for those who gave their testimony in lives of austerity and penance—living martyrs known as white martyrs in contrast to those defined by the color of their blood. Those who taught Christian doctrine with insightful new clarity—doctors of the church—were admitted to the circle of sanctity, along with evangelists and models of heroic virtue who spread the faith by word or deed. A reputation for miracles never hurt.

The common thread in all of these saintly lives is that they were lights along the way to Christ for others to follow. Their lives “corresponded with grace,” as James McGrath puts it, as if grace were a lifelong dancing partner with whom they came to share perfect synchronicity.

The process discerning that synchronicity has gone through various phases. Originally a saint was simply locally declared as such. Needless to say, unsubstantiated accounts of largely or entirely fictitious lives worked their way into the canon: Saint Christopher medals, anyone? Saint George fought a dragon? Church authorities began intervening in the process in the 6th century, but the first papal paperwork to be filed on a saint was for Saint Udalricus, a German bishop, in 973. It wasn’t until 1738 that Pope Benedict XIV wrote a treatise on the proper way to discern and attest to sainthood. His guidelines became part of canon law and were observed until the revised Code of Canon Law in 1983.

Church teaching is cautious in its claims about the saintly canon. It reminds us the church doesn’t make saints: God does. The church, through the work of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, simply acts to lift up some of these holy lives to the world for contemplation and imitation. Saints can intercede for the world as well. They’re useful lives on both sides of eternity.

Scripture: Matthew 27:51-53; John 15:12-17; Ephesians 4:11-24; Philippians 1:9-11; 2:13-16; 3:12-14, 20

Books: Saints: Men and Women of Exceptional Faith – Jacques Duquesne (Paris, France: Flammarion, SA, 2012)

Making Sense Of Saints: Fascinating Facts About Relics, Patrons, Saint-Making, and More – Patricia Ann Kasten (Huntingdon, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2014)

What can we expect from the Vatican Commission on women deacons?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 11, September 2016 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Clergy
Women of the early church
What’s at stake: not the idea that women might have been deacons once upon a time. We already know they were.

The Commission was formed to address a question Pope Francis frankly admits he doesn’t have the answer to: can women be deacons? What the Commission will do is study the history of female deacons in the church. What it won’t do is determine what the Pope will do with the information. As some will recall from 20th-century study commissions on birth control and women’s ordination to the priesthood, popes are free to reject the findings of such commissions and go their own way. The guy in Peter’s Chair gets to make the call.

Which is not to say the appointment of this commission is unimportant. Earlier popes, including most recently John Paul II, not only rejected ordained ministry for women at any level: John Paul emphatically said the church has no authority to ordain women. By calling a commission together, Francis suggests that the church may find such authority buried in historical precedent.

What’s at stake: not the idea that women might have been deacons once upon a time. We already know they were. The record is clear, from Paul’s letters to church history, that the church employed female deacons as early as the year 55. Paul calls Phoebe a deacon (not deaconess) in Romans 16:1. In 1 Timothy 3:8-12, after a description of what makes for a good male candidate for diaconate, the letter states: “Women, similarly, should be dignified ... temperate and faithful … .” The next sentence continues the description of the ideal deacon. It’s evident both male and female candidates made viable deacons.

What the Commission will seek to determine is whether women deacons were “ordained” or “installed” to their office. It makes a difference to the sacramental character, if any, of their service. Here, lines are drawn in the sand. Some scholars insist the rites of diaconate for men and women were identical as evidenced by existing materials. Others disagree. Still others say it doesn’t matter whether the rites were the same; what matters is how they were understood. The differences in service rendered by male and female deacons are less clear to some scholars. Others question whether past practice must dictate present needs. A bishop was once required to be “the husband of one wife,” according to 1 Timothy 3:2. That’s no longer true. The church evolves. For the moment, it’s up to Francis: is it time for the church to restore the women’s diaconate? And how?

Scriptures: Romans 16:1; 1 Timothy 3:2, 8-12

Books: A New Phoebe: Perspectives on Roman Catholic Women and the Permanent Diaconate – ed. Virginia K. Ratigan and Arlene A. Swidler (Kansas City, MO: Sheed and Ward, 1990)

Women in Ministry: Emerging Questions about the Diaconate – Phyllis Zagano (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2012)

Women Deacons? Essays With Answers – Yves Congar, et.al. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016)

Is the Bible infallible?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 03, August 2016 Categories: Scripture,Doctrines & Beliefs
Is the Bible infallible?
Biblical truth is sometimes a matter of historical record, but always a matter of revelation.

The reliability of Scripture is an important issue. Let’s start with a basic Catholic position: The Bible is true. And some of it really happened. In other words, our understanding of Scripture has to address not only whether it’s true but how it’s true. Biblical truth is sometimes a matter of historical record, but always a matter of revelation. These texts were produced to impart the lived tradition of believers. If you trust in the God of Israel and commit to the way of Jesus, the Bible is a primary means of exploring the truths of your faith.

Does this imply that the Bible contains no mistakes? Obviously, ahistorical sections won’t necessarily square with “the facts” as we appreciate them archaeologically. Plus the Bible’s pre-scientific origins frequently betray a sense of the world we moderns flatly reject. The ancients’ lack of concern with historical method and complete innocence of scientific principles place sacred texts like Scripture in the category of mythos, or “higher truth.” This creates a dilemma for modern folk, who rely on science to “tell us the truth” about reality. Our ancestors used storytelling to convey what’s genuine and reliable.

Should we expect discrepancies between the cultural and scientific sophistication of writers who lived 2,500 years ago and today? Absolutely! Nonetheless, antique perceptions of the world don’t jeopardize the sacred writers’ transformative revelation: that God is creator, redeemer, and sanctifier of us all.

Vatican II explained the Bible’s validity in this way: "The books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures" (Dei Verbum, 11). This careful statement underscores that the truth we need for our ultimate rescue from sin and death is entirely and safely transmitted by these sacred stories.

Catholics view Scripture as a collaboration between inspired authors and the Holy Spirit. Wherever human beings are involved, naturally, human limitation can’t be far behind. Early church fathers such as Origen and Augustine accepted biblical inaccuracies and literary exaggerations as a natural feature of God’s full partnership with the sacred authors. Thomas Aquinas accepted “something imperfect” in any prophetic work for the same reason. Acknowledging pre-scientific miscalls and literary license is a far cry from insisting the Bible must either be inerrant or bogus. For believers, truth is bigger than history or science.

Scripture: Baruch 3:36-37;John 1:1-3, 14; 14:6; 20:30-31; Romans 1:19-20;2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:9-10; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 2 Peter 1:19-21; 3:15-16

Books: The Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture – Pontifical Biblical Commission (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014); Biblical Fundamentalism: What Every Catholic Should Know – Ronald Witherup, PSS (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2001)

Can Catholics practice yoga?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 05, July 2016 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Doctrines & Beliefs

Yoga

Full disclosure: I’ve been taking yoga classes on and off (mostly off) for 30 years. Fuller disclosure: I’m lazy and this is the closest to exercise I’ve ever come. So I admit I’m stunned whenever the suitability of yoga for Christians comes up. My first yoga teacher from 30 years ago is today a well-respected Catholic priest. My current teacher is a devout Russian Orthodox woman whose 40-day fast during Lent put my wobbly lenten observance to shame.

Those who are suspicious of yoga quote the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue’s document: Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life. This text considers New Age beliefs in a discerningly critical light, and I agree with its principles. As a catechist I don't espouse New Age religion, and as a former librarian I know quite a bit about how flakey and narcissistic New Age teachings can be. Religion loses something vital when reduced to a spiritual selfie. On the God quest, God necessarily displaces the ego as the center of meaning and authority.

The anxiety about yoga seems to reside in its origins in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainist spiritual practice. Nobody seems anxious that the Olympic Games began as a religious festival honoring the Greek god Zeus. Catholics who borrow the Sedar celebration from Judaism during Lent don’t fret about whose faith it properly belongs to. Contemplation is a prayer form that Thomas Merton shared with Buddhists with no apparent harm done.

Is yoga a valid form of prayer for Christians? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (especially #2697-2719 on "The Life of Prayer") offers a good understanding of what Christian prayer is and is not. So, while many fishermen, mountain climbers, and camping enthusiasts tell me they find God in these activities, the Catechism makes it clear that the experience of physical fitness and enjoying nature, while good in themselves, are not the same thing as praying or worship. This means Sunday morning is for Mass; put on your running shoes later.

A distinction might be drawn between restless Catholics who go to ashrams to explore alternative spiritualities to their faith, and folks who do yoga or tai chi at the gym for the exercise. I go to church to express my Catholic Christian relationship with God. When I leave church, I seek to bring the encounter with God everywhere I go. To the laundromat, the grocery store, and yes, to the gym.

Scripture: 2 Samuel 6:14-15; John 8:31-32; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Books: Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation and Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice – Thomas Ryan, CSP (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2001); Holy Goals for Body and Soul: Eight Steps to Connect Sports with God and Faith – Bishop Thomas Paprocki (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria, 2013)

Where can Mass be celebrated?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 05, July 2016 Categories: Sacraments,Liturgy,Doctrines & Beliefs
Saint Ita Catholic Church in Chicago

The Eucharistic celebration is called “the source and summit” of our faith—both the origin and epitome of what we believe—in church documents. The Table of the Lord, AKA the altar, is at the center of our lives as Catholic Christians. Everything we do emanates from that starting point.

So where that celebration takes place is of no small consideration. According to the General Instructions for the Roman Missal (GIRM 288), the People of God normally gather in a church. When the local building is too small for the assembly, as for a papal Mass, another “respectable” setting (auditorium or stadium) can be employed. Another lovely provision is this: “sacred buildings and requisites for divine worship should be truly worthy and beautiful and be signs and symbols of heavenly realities.” So all that floor polishing and statue dusting my mother does in her home parish with her friends is canonically approved.

Canon Law (n. 932) specifies that Mass is to be celebrated on a dedicated or blessed altar, as well as in a sacred place—unless “necessity requires otherwise.” Necessity has made the hood of a Jeep into an altar in wartime; wooden pallets or crates can be fashioned into a vineyard altar for farm workers; a hut can serve as a chapel in mission lands. In lands where Mass is prohibited, the celebration can be held in hidden places like mines, caves, or tents. Leading youth groups on hikes, Archbishop Karol Wojtyla (Saint John Paul II) celebrated Eucharist on a flat boulder in the woods. In any setting, the traditional cloth and corporal should be used to designate the table or surface commandeered for divine service.

Here’s a surprise: When the cause is just and with proper approvals, a priest can also celebrate Mass in an ecclesial community or church structure that is not in full communion with the Catholic Church “so long as there is no scandal.” (n. 933) The aforementioned scandal might include the confusion that results if some did not appreciate the difference between, say, the Lutheran host church and the Roman Catholic liturgy being offered. Such time-shares are often necessary when a Catholic church has been damaged or destroyed by natural disaster, terrorist attack, or military forces. The bottom line is that sacred space with an attention to beauty and respectful worship is the norm for Mass. But even more important than the venue is the necessity to make the Eucharist available to all under every circumstance.

Scripture: Mark 14:22-24; Luke 21:5-6; 2 Corinthians 4:7-11; 5:1; 1 Peter 2:4-6

Books: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011); The Liturgical Environment: What the Documents Say – Mark G. Boyer (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015); The Ministry of Liturgical Environment – Joyce Ann Zimmerman (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016)

I've been told Catholic devotion to saints contradicts what the Bible says about graven images.

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 15, June 2016 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
Golden calf

Let's talk about that. Someone knocks on your door and presents you with some Bible passages: Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:8-10. They advise you to take down your Madonna and Child statue and to stop wearing your St. Anthony medal. Does the Bible view these objects as dangerous or even blasphemous?

In the first of the Ten Commandments, the passage reads: "You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or serve them." This command has been interpreted in Orthodox Judaism as a complete ban on image-making, even in art. Muslims also ban images of any living creatures, although the Qur'an does not. Protestant founders John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli forbade the use of religious images specifically. Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists view religious statues, stained glass images, and icons as blasphemous. This battle has been actively engaged at many points in church history. Churches have been destroyed, windows smashed, art burned because some saw such images as contradicting the First Commandment.

Iconoclasm, as image-busting is called, is not just a religious phenomenon. In the ancient world, smashing the statues of a previous ruler was often a political maneuver more than a religious reform. When modern terrorist groups destroy religious artifacts that are also culturally significant sites, it's unclear whether the destruction is about restoring religious purity or asserting control.

Biblically, Moses did destroy the Golden Calf permitted by his priest brother because it imitated religious practices that predated the religious movement Moses was attempting to establish. But later, Moses commands that a bronze serpent be made to heal the people—a beneficial image, but still an image. Still later, King Hezekiah will have the bronze serpent destroyed because the people have begun to worship it. The message is clear: it's not art that God doesn't like. It's the use of idols that limit the idea of divinity or divert a believer's fidelity away from the one God of Israel.

I've rarely met a Catholic in danger of idolatry in relationship to images of the Sacred Heart or devotion to a patron saint. If religious images assist you in prayer or widen your appreciation of divine mysteries, then use them. If they interfere with or narrowly define your sense of wonder, let them go.

Scriptures: Exodus 20:4-6; 32:1-35; Leviticus 26:1; Numbers 21:9; Deuteronomy 4:15-24; 5:6-10; 1 Kings 12:26-31; 2 Kings 18:4; Isaiah 40:18-20; 44:9-20;  Jeremiah 10:1-15

Books: The Laws of Yahweh: A Handbook of Biblical Law - William J. Doorly  (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2002)

Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction - Lawrence Boadt  (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2012)

Where in the Bible does it say Jesus' birthday is December 25th?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 02, June 2016 Categories: Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
Nativity
 

You won't find a biblical text verifying the date of the birth of Jesus. December 25th has a 1-in-365 chance of being the historical date. It's simply the liturgical date the church settled on to celebrate Incarnation, the mystery of God-made-flesh, officially called the Nativity. We have no idea what time of year Jesus was born. There are debates about what the actual year may have been. Because of calendar anomalies like leap years and other early errors made in the Gregorian calculations that established the Western calendar, the year Zero isn't an accurate starting point for the life of Jesus. Scholarly speculations generally include a range between what we call 7 B.C. to 4 B.C.

December 25th wasn't immediately selected for the celebration of the Nativity. Early Christian observances had strong Jewish roots. For example, they utilized the Jewish calendar in Sabbath observance, shifting allegiance early from the last day of the week to the first to honor the resurrection day. The original Christian feast was therefore Sunday, when Eucharist was celebrated. Easter became the first annual Christian liturgical season to be put in place universally, fixed as it was to the Jewish observance of Passover. It soon grew to a constellation of before-and-after observances, including an entire preparatory season (Lent).

 As the church expanded into the Hellenistic world, feast days were added, typically wedded to whatever local civil calendars were in operation at the time. The Nativity was the second universally popular observance, developing its own preparatory season (Advent), but the length of the season varied and even the date wasn't uniform.  The Western Church chose December 25th to coordinate with the already popular secular celebration of the Winter Solstice, when days began to lengthen with the sun's annual return and winter darkness was conquered by light. The solstice made a useful pairing and natural catechetical tool in declaring the arrival of Jesus, the light of the world, vanquishing the darkness of sin and death.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Church celebrated the Nativity on January 6th, now the feast of Epiphany in the Western Church. These dates were never intended to imply historical accuracy, but rather a theological reality to be recalled and honored. The liturgical calendar focuses on uniting the universal church in commemorating the birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus as cosmic realities, not past occurrences.

Scriptures: Isaiah 9:1; John 1:3-5, 9; 3:19-21: 8:12; 9:5; 12:35-36, 46

Books: The Origins of Christmas - Joseph F. Kelly(Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014)

The Feast of Christmas - Joseph F. Kelly (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press,  2010)

Is Jesus truly the Son of God or is it just a story?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 15, May 2016 Categories: Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
Transfiguration

This question hinges on the term "Son of God," which sounds simple but is actually theologically dense. "Just a story," of course, implies the alternative to claiming Jesus as God's Son is to admit it's a false identification. I should probably say up front that, for Christians, Jesus is truly the Son of God. It's fundamental to our faith that Jesus is the divine Son. But we further embrace that Jesus enjoys a dual nature: born of a woman and therefore truly human; yet with origins in God and therefore truly divine. Fully human, AND fully divine. Jesus is both, Christians say. To claim him as one or the other—as merely an exemplary mortal, or a divinity who presents a brief human mirage—is to express any number of heresies recorded in church history.

If you accept Jesus is the Son of God, what are you saying? In the Old Testament, son of God was a title used to describe heavenly beings altogether: angels or superhuman creatures sent to enact the divine will. In ancient Hebrew idiom, the word "son" implied membership in a species: so "son of God" suggested a being of a celestial subset none too specifically parsed. Please note: the nation Israel was also identified as God's son. The covenant bond made Israel an adopted child of God. Israel's identity as son of God was not, however, equivalent to other nation's identification of their leaders as divine sons, as the Pharaoh of Egypt was considered to be. For Israel, it was a designation of relationship, not substance or essence.

In the New Testament, Son of God is applied to Jesus 31 times in Matthew, Mark and Luke's gospels, and 23 times in John's, where it is the preferred title.  The NT letters employ the term 42 times. Clearly the first generations of the church found this title key to their understanding of Jesus' identity. They didn't limit it to the definition implied by OT usage, nor to the title's meaning in Greek culture: that of a hero, king, or demigod. For early Christians, "Son of God" became a unique category for Jesus. While we are all "children of God," Jesus is "Son of God" in a way no one has been or will be. More than a statement of relationship or location with the celestial ranks, Jesus shares God's very substance (is "consubstantial," in the Creed) and cannot be known apart from this essential unity.

Scriptures: Genesis 6:2; Pss 29:1, 89:7; Job 1:6; 38:7; Exodus 4:22-23;Deuteronomy 14:1-2; 32:19; Isaiah 1:2; 43:6; Jeremiah 31:9, 20; Hosea 2:1;     11:1; Mathew 3:17; 16:16; John 1:34; 11:27; Romans 5:10; Galatians 4:4-7
Books: God: Three Who Are One - Joseph Bracken, SJ (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008)
What Are They Saying About the Historical Jesus? - David Gowler (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2007)

If you're married, is it still possible to become a priest? If yes, what are the steps needed?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 11, May 2016 Categories: Clergy,Doctrines & Beliefs
Priest kissing baby

If you're a Roman Catholic male, this is a thorny issue with no clear solution in 2016. But the surprising truth is, the answer is not exactly no for others. Consider: the 1965 Vatican II Decree on Priestly Ministry and Life, states that "(Celibacy) is not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood, as is apparent from the practice of the early Church and from the traditions of the Eastern Churches where . . . there are also married priests of highest merit." (no. 16) While this statement appears in a section on the gift of celibacy, it opens a door to other priestly possibilities.

Celibacy was practiced by many priests from early in the church’s history. However, at the Second Lateran Council of 1139, a rule was adopted forbidding married priests in the Roman church. The Council of Trent reaffirmed the tradition of priestly celibacy in 1563. A married clergy in the Roman tradition seemed a closed issue.

Then in 1951, Pope Pius XII permitted some married Lutheran clergy in Germany and Sweden to be ordained Catholic priests. In 1967, Pope Paul VI called for a study of the effectiveness of married ministers in other denominations. He entertained the possibility of admitting to the priesthood married ministers received into full communion with the Catholic Church. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI allowed married Episcopal and Anglican clergy to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church under certain circumstances.

Today, around 200 married Catholic priests from other communions serve in the U.S. clergy. In order to ordain such a candidate, a bishop must appeal to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The petition for a "dispensation from the impediment of marriage" can only be granted by the pope.

In February of 2015, Pope Francis addressed priests in Rome, noting the question of married priests “is on my agenda.” Asked whether priests who had left to be married could receive a dispensation to celebrate Mass, the pope replied that the Congregation for Clergy was looking into it, but “it is a problem that does not have an easy solution.” The problem is not Scriptural, since the prophet Jeremiah was the only person in the Bible obliged to celibacy. Historical practice and a rich spiritual tradition have made priestly celibacy seem inevitable. But a door once slammed shut seems to be opened just a crack in recent times.

Scripture: Jeremiah 16:1-4; Matthew 19:12; Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9    
Books: Accompanied By a Believing Wife: Ministry and Celibacy in the Earliest Christian Communities - Raymond F. Collins (Liturgical Press, 2013)
The Case for Clerical Celibacy: Its Historical Development and Theological     Foundations - Alfons M. Stickler (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995)

What's a halo, really?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 11, April 2016 Categories: Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
Virgen de Gudalupe

Technically, it's a visible depiction of an otherwise intangible characteristic: glory. In biblical stories, glory describes the "shine" of God, an emanation of light so powerful, it "afflicts" Moses, who's the one human being routinely standing close to God in the Old Testament. When Moses enters the Tent of the Presence, he comes out with an unbearable brightness in his face that requires him to veil himself. Either Moses is protecting the vestige of God's glory from being viewed by profane onlookers, or protecting the unprepared onlooker from a potentially dangerous contact with divinity's afterglow. As we know from other stories, unworthy contact with holy things can kill you. The tribe of Levi was dedicated to God as the only Israelites allowed to touch, tend, or transport utensils and objects used in ritual sacrifices for this reason. They made a living out of keeping themselves pure enough to perform their duties.

The Greeks also imagined sunbursts emanating from Helios, their sun god. Pharaohs of Egypt wear a crown of light in some depictions. It makes sense that Christians would employ the halo when portraying Christ, later extending the usage to angels and finally to saints. Jesus and Mary alone are honored with full body haloes, called aureoles—the most familiar of which surrounds the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Most saints are portrayed with round haloes in the West, which can be thin circlets of gold or full discs of yellow. The circle is a perfect form, which hints at heavenly perfection. Some artistic renderings utilized a square halo when depicting a still living person who is revered: the square is an earthly, less perfect geometric form recalling the four elements, winds, or directions. A triangular halo is reserved for the less common depiction of God the Father, to recall the Triune nature of the divine. Very occasionally, Jesus will wear the triangular halo for the same reason. Jesus is the only icon who is permitted to be defined by the cruciform halo.

Sometimes anthropomorphic images of the Virtues—theological virtues like Faith, Hope, and Love, or the cardinal virtues Justice, Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance—will wear hexagonal haloes, to remind us they are attributes of God. So altogether, we conclude that the "shine" on a person or thing speaks to us of their nearness to God or their out-and-out resemblance to the divine. We should all be working on our shine!

Scriptures: Exodus 33:7-23; 34:27-35; Numbers 1:49-54; 1 Samuel chs. 4—6; 2    Samuel 6:1-19; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 1 Chronicles 23:25-32

Books: The Square Halo and Other Mysteries of Western Art - Sally Fisher (New York: Harry N. Abrahms, Inc., 1995).

Saints and the Symbols: Recognizing Saints in Art and in Popular Images -Fernando and Giolia Lanzi (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2004).

Is the parish expected to give the pastor and secretary a bonus at Christmas?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 14, March 2016 Categories: Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs

Full disclosure: I was a parish secretary, so I have a personal investment in this question. "Expected" is a telling word in your query. Since a bonus is a gift, and a gift is not obligatory, the short answer is no. The parish isn't obliged to offer a gift to anyone at Christmas or at other times.

But does that absolve the parish from considering doing so? Canonically speaking, church law says this: "The Christian faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for apostolic works and works of charity, and for the decent sustenance of ministers." (Canon 222—my emphasis. See also c. 231 and 1286 regarding the same for lay workers.) Unless things have changed drastically since I sat at the front desk, I can assure you parish staff members are not lavishly compensated for their labor. Many are glorified volunteers, work part-time without benefits, or accept modest salaries for the privilege of serving the parish. While service is its own reward in many ways, justice requires that folks can make a livelihood and provide for their families. 

Many dioceses have a recommended pay scale as a standard for positions across their parishes. Such a rate can be modest according to the means of a wealthy parish and still entirely out of the question in a poorer one. To make up for the lack of parity, many pastors offer other forms of compensation to make a parish position more appealing: say, more personal time off, or flexible hours. A bonus at Christmas or after a special assignment is another way to let your staff know they're appreciated. I remember spending a month redrawing the map of the parish cemetery, locating graves long obscured or lost. I received a bonus for this, since the cemetery beat wasn't normally a part of my job description. I would have done it anyway when asked.  But it was nice to go home with that extra check.

Most of us in parish work appreciate this isn't Wall Street. We're not here to make a killing. The diocesan priest salary is measly compared to any other professional career scale. While I'd look twice if the pastor gives himself bonuses without oversight, once the finance council clears it, that's enough for me. As for most parish secretaries, who are the backbone of parish life, I'd say give them a bonus. And flowers on Valentine's Day. And take them to dinner on their birthdays....

Scripture: Deuteronomy 25:4; 1 Corinthians 9:9-12; Matt 10:9-10; Luke 10:7;  1 Timothy 5:17-18

Books: The Laborer is Worthy of His Hire: A Survey of Priestly Compensation in the Roman Catholic Dioceses of the United States - William P. Daley (National Federation of Priests' Councils, 1999)

Catholic Parish Administration: A Handbook - Paul F. Peri (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2012)

 

Is it necessary to attend Mass on Sunday? I can't go to church because of my job. What should I do?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 13, February 2016 Categories: Liturgy,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
Priest with parish

Attendance at Sunday Eucharist is one of the most solemn commitments in the life of a Catholic Christian. The 1983 Code of Canon Law states: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.” (canon 1247)

This obligation is naturally suspended in time of illness, or when there is no means of satisfying the obligation, as when traveling through territory in which there is no opportunity to attend Mass.

It should be noted that "Sunday Mass" also includes the celebration of Eucharist on Saturday evening. "Sunday" in secular culture follows a morning-to-evening definition of the day. The biblical day is counted from one evening to the next. (See the repeated usage starting in Genesis 1: 5— "Evening came, and morning followed: the first day.") This liturgical appreciation of a day makes possible the fulfillment of the Sunday obligation by attending Mass on Saturday evening. In most dioceses, opportunities to attend Sunday Mass extend from around 4:00 pm on Saturday until 5:00 pm on Sunday—even later in contexts like a campus Newman Center where students keep late hours and might more likely attend a 9 or 10 pm liturgy.

It would be rare for a person to have a regular work schedule that extends for 24 hours from Saturday evening to Sunday evening.

Canon law does provide for circumstances in which Eucharist is simply unavailable, as in the absence of ordained clergy. Canon 1248 says: “If participation in the eucharistic celebration becomes impossible because of the absence of a sacred minister or for another grave cause, it is strongly recommended that the faithful take part in a liturgy of the word if such a liturgy is celebrated in a parish church or other sacred place according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop or that they devote themselves to prayer for a suitable time alone, as a family, or, as the occasion permits, in groups of families.”

A local pastor has the authority to judge particular cases and grant dispensation from the obligation of participating in Sunday Mass (canon 1245). When there is truly no opportunity to participate, there is no obligation. At the same time, a faithful Catholic might seriously consider a vocational or geographic context in which he or she never has the opportunity to participate in Sunday Mass.

Scripture: Exod 16:22-30; 20:8-11; Deut 5:12-15; 1 Cor 11:23-26

Books: Sunday Mass: Our Role and Why It Matters - Anne Y. Koester (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007)

Mass on Sunday: And Other Ways of Being Catholic - Charles E. Miller (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2004

Can Catholics be cremated?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 03, February 2016 Categories: Liturgy,Doctrines & Beliefs
Urn and flowers

The teaching on cremation is one more evidence that Catholic traditions evolve in time, responsive to both external circumstances and internally developing theological understanding. Cremation—the reduction of a dead body to ashes through burning—has been a commonly accepted form of body disposal in many cultures, including the Greco-Roman world from which Christianity emerged. The utility of the practice is evident in that ashes require little space for deposition where land is scarce. Cremation also prevents the spread of disease during epidemics. Yet Christians traditionally avoided the practice. One reason was Christian reverence for the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.  Another was  the teaching on the resurrection of the body. A third concern was the many non-Christian ideologies frequently attached to the act in some cultures. Catholics in particular were forbidden to cremate their dead except when public necessity intervened—as with epidemics or natural disasters when the death tolls were great. The ashes of those who were cremated were not permitted to be buried in consecrated ground, as in a Catholic cemetery.

 When the 1983 Code of Canon Law was introduced, the restriction against cremation was lifted. The new Code still "earnestly recommends" burial of the body as the preferable option. Yet unless the intent is to deliberately contradict Christian teaching on the resurrection by its practice (canon 1176.3), cremation is now permissible, especially where land resources make it more feasible than burial.  I've personally known several devout Catholics who held fast to the hope of resurrection yet nonetheless requested cremation after death because of the exorbitant cost of modern burials and a concern that surviving family members would be obliged to absorb the debt.

 The Order of Christian Funerals published in 1989 contains instructions for the funeral rite when a body is not present for the service, as well as prayers for the interment of ashes. In the end, the funeral rites are meant for the "spiritual assistance" of the departed and to honor them, while bringing "the solace of hope to the living." If these ends can be accomplished with cremains, there is no impediment. 

Scripture: Gen 23:1-20; Deut 28:26; Jer 7:32-33; Matt 27:57-60; Luke 23:50-53; John 11:33-44; 19:38-41; Acts 9:36-41

Books: Honoring the Dead: Catholics and Cremation Today - H. Richard Rutherford, CSC (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000)

Order of Funerals Appendix Cremation (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1997)

Is it a sin to eat meat on Fridays during Lent or just a suggestion?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 13, January 2016 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Lent cross

As early as the 2nd century, the Didache notes the practice of abstaining from meat on all Fridays of the year as a penitential observance recalling the crucifixion. There is no corresponding insistence on eating fish. (Some members of my family consider seafood a form of poison, so not everyone shares your enthusiasm for it.) It was Pope Nicholas I (9th c.) who made this practice binding under pain of mortal sin—and not because his family owned a fish market, as is sometimes suggested. Pope Innocent III (12th c.) made an exception for when Christmas falls on a Friday.

Thomas Aquinas considered meat, milk, and eggs all foods that incite desire. Fasting and abstinence were meant to bridle "the concupiscences of the flesh, which regard pleasures of touch in connection with food and sex.” Vegans might find incidental common cause with this doctor of the church.

It wasn't until 1966 that Pope Paul VI advised local church officials to modify the abstinence rule as they saw fit. That same year, U.S. Bishops issued the Pastoral Statement On Penance And Abstinence allowing a substitution of some other form of penance in place of abstinence on all Fridays except for those that occur in Lent. However, persons in good health between the ages of 14 and 59 must abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and lenten Fridays.

Some bishops or pastors make exceptions for St. Patrick's and/or St. Joseph's Day when they fall on lenten Fridays. In 2012, the U.S. bishops reconsidered reinstituting abstinence for all Fridays of the year, but preferred to make it optional to abstain on Friday for the intentions of life, marriage, and religious liberty. In 2010 the bishop of New Orleans reclassified alligator as a non-meat item on the menu.

The practice of abstinence from meat is intended as a penitential practice. Obviously, if you're wild about fish, that may not be the best substitution with which to observe the sacrifice. While fish, lobster and other shellfish are not categorized as meat and can be consumed without violating abstinence, indulging in a seafood buffet isn't in the spirit of a penitential act. 

Scripture: Pss. 69:11; 109:24; Isa 58:3-12; Dan 9:3; Joel 2:12-17; Neh 1:4; 9:1;             Tobit 12:8; Judith 4:13; Esther 4:3; 9:31; Matt 6:16-18; 9:14-15; Lk 2:37; Acts 13:2-3; 14:23

Books: The Origins of Feasts, Fasts, and Seasons in Early Christianity - Paul Bradshaw and Maxwell Johnson (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2011)

The Spirituality of Fasting: Rediscovery of a Christian Practice - Charles M.Murphy (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2010)

Is astrology compatible with Christian belief?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 08, December 2015 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Considering the role that a certain star of Bethlehem plays in one of our most celebrated stories, one might wonder. Astrology's appearance in the Western world occurred in the 3rd century B.C. It was a rather peculiar mash-up: Chaldean and Egyptian astral religion meets Greek mathematics and astronomy. But once it caught on, every corner of Hellenistic thought was affected by its influence.

This explains why the Old Testament, mostly compiled around the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., shows little interest in the topic. Isaiah pooh-poohs Chaldean astrologers in a poem about the fall of Babylon (Chaldean country, remember). The Book of Daniel, probably written in the 2nd century, makes four references to Babylonian wise men with a Hebrew word that may refer to astrologers.

New Testament evangelists, right smack in the middle of Hellenism's fascination with astrology, take up the subject more often. Matthew introduces a star that foretells the birth of Jesus, and a solar eclipse at his death. Mark and Luke also mention the eclipse. Reading into heavenly portents was discouraged, however, by Jesus himself. While noting that the whole world would be aghast at terrifying sights in the sky and attempt to interpret these signs, Jesus warned his followers against investing in such deceptive ideas. Jesus doesn't negate the significance of heavenly signs, only the meanings attached to them.

Saint Paul, true to his Pharisaical purist roots, is very critical of those who look for signs in zodiac placements (see Rom 8) or celebrate annual celestial events (Gal 4). To Paul, placing trust in "elemental powers of the world" (Col) betrays a lack of faith in Christ.

Church fathers like Tertullian and Augustine viewed astrological predictions as demonic, Augustine insisting that the whole system of astrology was an affront to human freedom. Christianity encountered enthusiasm for astrology again 800 years later with the spread of Islam. Both Thomas Aquinas and Dante treated the potential influence of the stars with guarded respect. During the Reformation, some Protestant leaders denounced astrology and others accepted it. It should be noted, some popes were advised by astrologers (Julius II and Paul III) while others vehemently opposed the practice (Innocent VIII). Astronomical discoveries in later centuries eventually disproved astrological claims as pseudo-science. Since Christianity seeks the truth in all things, it would be incompatible with a belief in astrology today.

Books: The World of the Early Christians by Joseph Kelly (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1997) The Sky Is Not a Ceiling: An Astronomer's Faith by Aileen O'Donoghue (Maryknoll, NY:Orbis Books, 2007)

What does Advent have to do with Apocalypse?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 05, December 2015 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Advent

A perceptive liturgical question! For most of us, Advent is our happy place. We think of it as the prequel to Christmas, an elongated season of joy and warm human feeling toward people of good will. But Advent is not to be confused with Christmas cheer from the perspective of the church calendar, nor from the view of the solar calendar. December is literally a dark time, full of long nights and end-of-year regrets for many. What we have done or failed to do is scrawled in the dust of the eleven months behind us.

Advent was conceived in a cultural context where the promise of the sun's return with the winter solstice was still devoutly anticipated and celebrated. A tinge of anxiety invaded that waiting space. Longing for the light—well before the dream of electricity—was bigger than some of us can imagine. All of which fit in nicely with the construction of a church season that celebrates the return of Christ our Light. "Return" is the operative word here. Just as the sun comes back around at solstice time, Christians anticipate that Jesus Christ will come again.

Most of us aren't thinking about the Second Coming, the End of the World, Last Judgment, or Apocalypse Now as we decorate O Tannenbaum, admittedly. "The Last Things," as this set of ideas is theologically catalogued, is not what we're consciously waiting and longing for during December. When we set up the empty crèche in our parishes, we anticipate the arrival of a little baby in the straw, not the dissolution of all things. But when you think about it, isn't one the same as the other?

The Incarnation is the shattering belief that the eternal God entered the realm of time as one of us. This unprecedented event does dissolve business as usual in human history. It opens a door on one side of reality, just as the Resurrection leaves one open on the other side. Heaven—which is the realm that apocalyptic or hidden writing is most concerned with—has just stepped into time and made it possible for us to anticipate stepping beyond it ourselves. When we read the Book of Revelation, or Daniel, or gospel passages with apocalyptic themes, we awaken to the game-changing reality of our faith.

This is why the first two weeks of Advent each year are given over to Apocalypse. It really is the end of the world as we know it!

Books: A Time of Fulfillment: Spiritual Reflections for Advent and Christmas by Anselm Grün, OSB ( Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2013); Come, Lord Jesus: A Study of Revelation by Mark Braaten (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007) 

Who is Karl Rahner, and why is he important?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 06, October 2015 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Karl Rahner portrait painting

Theologian Karl Rahner is often described as a 20th-century Thomas Aquinas. He fearlessly brought Christian faith and contemporary thought into fruitful conversation. Rahner (1904-1984) joined the Jesuits in a church era still haunted by the fear of "Modernism"—a flirtation with secular ideas deemed dangerous to faith. To combat Modernism, the institutional church of Rahner's generation presented itself as the sole possessor of truth and the singular dispenser of divine grace. It viewed with deep suspicion anything that arose from the secular world, especially ideas, values, and politics.

Rahner changed the starting point of the conversation. What if grace is not exterior to the world at all, but an intrinsic aspect of the universe as God created it? If grace is not added to nature but embodied within it, then all people have grace at their disposal, however improperly perceived or understood. Non-Christian religions, then, aren't automatically dismissible as false, but are potential mediators of grace. What's more, grace need not be viewed as restricted to religious contexts but might be sought in all human endeavors that move toward the blueprint of the Kingdom: social and economic justice, and other movements that seek to liberate God's people from corrupt or evil circumstances.

Approached this way, contemporary times and secular events lose their "enemy threat" status and become dialogue partners in the releasing of grace. While the initiative of grace remains with God, the forces of history are primarily human-driven. This insight leads to Rahner's work being described as a theological anthropology: what we say about divinity always includes a statement about our humanity, since the Christian God is revealed in relationship to us.

The Rahner approach to theological analysis begins with the idea that the human person is the place where divine revelation occurs. If we take Jesus seriously, as Rahner does, we can't overlook that humanity is where the self-communication of God is most perfectly expressed. If we accept this, then humanism is no threat to faith. Christians are actually the ultimate humanists, professing as we do that God assumes our humanity into divinity by deliberate intention.

Rahner's vision was influential at the Second Vatican Council, especially in the "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" (Gaudium et Spes). A church that perceives its mission in dialogue and friendship with the world can lift its truth higher and dispense its storehouse of grace farther.

Books: The Mystical Way in Everyday Life: Karl Rahneredited by Annemarie S. Kidder (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2010)

A Brief Introduction to Karl Rahner by Karen Kilby (New York: Crossroads Publishing, 2007)

I heard all the big heresies were invented by the 5th century

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 23, July 2015 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Questions Catholics Ask: I heard all the big heresies were invented by the 5th century

Most modern heresy has roots in the big five from that period. Just about all the ways you can deviate from Christian orthodoxy were explored as the gospel moved from culture to culture in the ancient world. Before that time—the era of Augustine and Ambrose, Jerome and John Chrysostom and more—the church's theology was argued but not much codified. The canon of Scripture itself was only loosely uniform from place to place. Once the Council of Nicaea (famous for the Nicene Creed) began to nail down what is and is not Christian teaching in 325, any novel thinkers had to pass muster or be excommunicated:officially declared not in communion with the church.

Heresy had its territorial hotbeds. In the Eastern church, most heresy involved the Trinity; in the West, the nature of sin was a wider concern. Eastern heresies gathered like moths to the flame with alternative understandings of Jesus. They included Arianism, Nestorianism, and Monophysitism. Arius was an Egyptian priest who believed Jesus was the son of God, but not an eternal being like God. He viewed Jesus as a creature like the rest of us, therefore denying his divinity. Arianism was answered by the orthodox teaching that Jesus is "begotten, not made, one in being (consubstantial) with the Father." A council in Constantinople fifty years later declared the Holy Spirit also one with the Father and the Son.

Nestorius, a bishop of Constantinople, proposed that Jesus had two distinct persons within: one human, one divine. This idea threatened to make the humanity of Jesus a mirage over his more real, divine nature—essentially pronouncing the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection a charade. Nestorianism was condemned by the third council in Ephesus in 431.

The next heresy proceeded from the last one: Jesus had two natures before his birth and afterwards had one (monophysis). The Monophysites had a lot of support in the Near East and some sects exists today. Meanwhile in the West, Augustine began as an adherent in the Manichaean movement, which saw good and evil spirits in an equal pitched battle for control of the world. That God could have an "evil twin" in the devil was contrary to the teaching of One Supreme Being. Manichaeism was condemned, with no small help from Augustine.

Pelagius in Rome was the last big heretic of the period. He taught that human beings could save themselves by spiritual and moral perfection alone—which contradicts the need for God's grace. A lot of Catholics unconsciously harbor the spirit of Pelagianism today.

Scripture: Genesis 1:1-3; Exodus 1-6; Isaiah 45:5-7; John 1:1-18; 3:16-21; 14:15-31; Books: I Believe in God: A Reflection on the Apostles' Creed by Thomas Rausch, SJ  (Liturgical Press, 2008); Beginning to Read the Fathers by James Boniface Ramsey (Paulist Press, 2012)

What does the church have to say about suicide?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 23, July 2015 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

 

What does the church have to say about suicide?

Suicide is the deliberating taking of one's own life. It may sound simple to pass moral judgment here, but many factors influence the moral value of the decision according to Catholic teaching. For example, a person who witnesses to faith under threat of death is choosing, not death, but the testimony of faith—though death is the sure result. In the same way, medical personnel fighting highly infectious diseases may hear from their relatives that entering such a medical arena is "suicide"—yet the choice is clearly not to die, but to serve.

 Modern health care offers extensive means of maintaining biological life. To refuse ordinary care is considered suicide in church teaching, but to refuse extraordinary means of care is not. These distinctions may seem unclear to the layperson but consultations with doctors and chaplains will help clarify the categories. To refuse extraordinary treatments allows the pathology of a disease to run its course, not to actively terminate a life. My sister, for example, was pronounced terminally ill but told that radiation treatments would extend her life for a few months. She tolerated treatment poorly, however, and chose palliative care (for the alleviation of pain only) for the last months of her life instead.

In our times, euthanasia (mercy killing) and assisted suicide have gained many advocates.  Euthanasia is a decision made on behalf of the sick person by a third party, as when someone is comatose or mentally incapable of rational choice. Assisted suicide, sometimes called aid-in-dying, involves a deliberate choice to end one's life with medical assistance. Popular arguments in favor of assisted suicide are the principles of autonomy and utility. Autonomy argues that human beings have a right to freely choose their path. It presumes that a person is free to make the decision to die unimpeded by coercion, stress, crisis, or narcotic substances. Utility argues that an individual's death might be best for all concerned due to economic factors or the burden placed on caregivers.

Catholic teaching on suicide does not accept arguments from autonomy or utility. Our moral tradition is based on four positive principles: the sanctity of human life, the sovereignty of God, personal stewardship, and the commandment against killing. Still, pastoral practice no longer passes judgment on the suicide, as most such acts are not fully voluntary but rather entered under duress. Christian burial is therefore available for the victim of suicide.

Scriptures: Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 30:19-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Job 1:21; Isaiah 45:4-25. Books: Suicide, Despair, and Soul Recovery  by Ken Stifler (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2008); Moral Discernment, Moral Decisions Guide by Richard Gula, SS (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1997).

Where did Limbo come from?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 30, June 2015 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Resurrection Icon
 


When dealing with speculation about the life of the world to come, the admission must be made that we who are living don't know the details of what happens after we die. Having said that, we're obliged to weave into a comprehensive whole the theological threads the church advances with integrity. This, in a nutshell, is how we arrive at limbo (Latin for edge or hem). Limbo is a theological thread that seeks to make sense of other threads already in our Christian pattern of talking about salvation.

The church has much to say about the universal salvific will of God: that God so loves the world, all of it, that God desires to save all of it. That doesn't mean everyone will be saved; only that God desires this end and offers the possibility of salvation to all. It's therefore incompatible to imagine that some parts of humanity never had a fighting chance to be saved: those who lived in the generations before Jesus, or who died before birth or in infancy. The "limbo of the Fathers" and the "limbo of infants" were derived to be of service to these two categories of persons.

Limbo talk resulted from a war of words between Pelagius and Augustine in the 4th century regarding original sin. Pelagius maintained baptism wasn't necessary to erase it, and Augustine vigorously insisted it was. Augustine's view prevailed and Pelagius' position was consigned to the realm of heresy. To be consistent, Augustine was willing to consign all unbaptized babies to hell; however, he softened their suffering there since they weren't guilty of personal sin.

Augustine inhabited the black-and-white theological universe of the Manicheans, who saw good and evil, heaven and hell, angels and demons, as the backdrop for all human dramas. Medieval theologians were uncomfortable with this ruthless perspective, and proposed limbo as a pastoral kindness. Limbo was viewed as a temporary state of separation from God—temporary meaning related to the temporal and therefore coming to a close at the end of time in final judgment. In the meantime, those in limbo enjoy a natural state of happiness exclusive of God's presence. What happens at the end of time to the denizens of limbo is up to God. Presumably, those who choose Jesus Christ at that final hour will enjoy solidarity with redeemed humanity. After all, there's only one kind of redemption, and it's for keeps.

Is limbo still on the books? Since it's never been formally defined by the church, it's never been formally abolished.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 30:19-20; Matthew 10:32-33; 1 Corinthians 15:20-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 21:1-8, 27

Books: Visions of a Future: A Study of Christian Eschatology by Zachary Hayes (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier, 1989); Eschatology and Hope by Anthony Kelly (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006)

How do you know if you're committing heresy?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 13, April 2015 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430).
 

Most Catholics don't think much about heresy, but that doesn't mean we don't flirt with it daily. Canonically, heresy involves an "obstinate denial or obstinate doubt... of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith" (can. 751). Scan the Creed for a reminder of what that grave level of truth involves. If you're not stubbornly denying the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, the efficacy of the Holy Spirit, or the fidelity of Christ to the church, chances are you're not a heretic. Disagreements with your pastor don't weigh in at this level.

Look again at that word obstinate. The occasional doubt about God's personal care for you isn't enough to qualify. And it's not enough to have a general sense of alienation about the church or fulfilling distinct obligations. You have to deliberately and continually reject a dogmatic teaching. Most would-be heretics are far too vague about what the church actually teaches to make that kind of wholesale rejection. When we simply have unresolved issues regarding current church understanding or practice, that's known as heterodoxy (departure from belief) as opposed to orthodoxy (right or straight belief). There could well be some heterodoxy in most pews in our assembly. While heterodoxy is nothing to be complacent about, it does suggest we're still in the dialogue.

Apostasy, by contrast, is the total willful repudiation of Christian faith: no God, no resurrection, no forgiveness of sins. And schism occurs when we refuse to submit to the Pope and deny being in communion with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. (Your Protestant brother-in-law, therefore, is not a heretic but,doctrinally speaking, is a schismatic.) These are very sober positions to take, and can't be wandered into aimlessly as drivers sometimes drift into the opposing lane of a highway. You won't miss Mass for a few weeks and wake up an accidental apostate; or marry a Protestant and instantly contract a schismatic pallor. These positions require sincere dedication to achieve.

The phenomenon of heresy didn't evolve until the fourth century. Before then, Christians believed much about Jesus and the church that varied with culture, language, and local leadership. Since there is no ex post facto heresy—you can't be held to a dogma invented after your generation!—early believers are not accountable for their theological variances. Since the official formulation of the Creed, we are. 

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 15:1-58; Hebrews 2:1-4; 2 Peter; John 1:1-10

Books:

History and Heresy: How Historical Forces Can Create Doctrinal Conflicts - Joseph F. Kelly (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012)

Dissent from the Creed: Heresies Past and Present - Richard M. Hogan (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2001)




Do Catholics believe in psychology?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 13, April 2015 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Doctrines & Beliefs
In 1953, Pope Pius XII addressed the Fifth International Congress on Psychotherapy and Clinical Psychology, imparting a cautious but discernible green light on the fields.
 Pope Pius XII addressed the Fifth Congress on Psychotherapy

 The church's relationship with the mental health fields wasn't always cooperative. The clinical disciplines you mentioned arose with 18th-century European pioneers who sought to move beyond traditional institutional restraint to "moral" treatments. In this country, Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Rush and later Dorothea Dix pushed for gentle, private rehabilitative asylums at the turn of the century. But theirs was viewed as a Protestant effort in that decidedly anti-Catholic phase of American history.

In the century of immigration that followed (1820-1920) with its tremendous stressors on newcomers, the numbers of mentally ill patients overwhelmed U.S. asylum hospitals. The rehabilitation ideal quickly degenerated to basic custody of the ill. Meanwhile, the diagnosis and understanding of mental illness with its physical, conscious, and unconscious elements were advancing under the work of Germans like Wilhelm Wundt and Sigmund Freud. Unfortunately, Freud's theories regarding the basis of sexual morality seemed threatening to Catholic teachings on sin and human responsibility. The church formally viewed the new disciplines as examples of a wayward modern world and did not lend support.

Father Edward Pace, a former student of Wundt, added a psychology department to Catholic University at its founding. Other prominent clergy criticized psychological disciplines as rife with "dogmatic error." In 1953, Monsignor Pericle Felici wrote that Catholics who entered into psychoanalysis were committing mortal sin. Felici was made a cardinal, and popular Catholic mistrust of psychiatry only grew. It should be mentioned that in the same year, 1953, Pope Pius XII addressed the Fifth International Congress on Psychotherapy and Clinical Psychology, imparting a cautious but discernible green light on the fields.

Twentieth-century Catholic lay doctors advanced the cause of psychiatry, including Leo Bartemeier and Francis Braceland, both presidents of the American Psychiatric Association. Gradually the mental health disciplines became less critical of and more receptive to religion as a component of human life. The church's attitude toward these disciplines likewise softened. Today many Catholic clergy view counseling and psychiatric care as a valuable component of pastoral care, and a necessary partner in maintaining good spiritual health.

Scripture: mental illness in biblical times: 1 Samuel 16:14-23; Job 3:1-26; Pss. 13; 22:2-12; 31:10-19; 69; 70; 102; 130; 143; Daniel 4:1-34; Matthew 6:25-34; 8:28-34;  Mark 1:21-27; 9:14-29 

Called to Happiness: Where Faith and Psychology Meet - Sidney Callahan (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011)

Transforming Our Painful Emotions - James and Evelyn Whitehead (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010)




Is there a heaven? What is it like?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 23, March 2015 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Correggio, Assumption of the Virgin, 1526-30
 

Most people define heaven as the place where God lives. They may add that it's where souls go after they die. None of that is exactly wrong. But there's more to say about heaven from a Christian perspective. Heaven is less a place than it is a condition of complete and final fulfillment for creation in relationship with its Creator. Heaven is "when" we get to be who we were destined to be all along.

We look up instinctively when talking about heaven. The vault of the sky is where we've biblically imagined God to dwell. The ancients put God at the highest point available to the eye: on mountain tops, above the clouds. When Jesus returns to his Father, he ascends. Glory to God in the (literal) highest!

The New Testament raises our expectations about heaven as more than the dwelling place of God, however. It's also the ultimate meaning of home and life for us. We hope to experience the maturity of our being in God's presence, as Franciscan theologian Zachary Hayes explains. When Christian believers are reunited with Jesus, our divine likeness will be revealed in our kinship with God's Son. So when we ask what heaven is like, we might well be asking: what will we be like when we reach spiritual maturity?

The religious imagination of the church through the centuries has created images of a celestial realm that have inspired many to lead holier lives. That realm is the place of final joy, eternal rest, the ultimate family reunion. Most of us hope that eternal transcendence won't mean a loss of our selves: we've rather grown to love and identify with our histories, societies, and relationships, and it would be a letdown to find ourselves in an eternal "oversoul" of un-individuated life. The Borg Collective of Star Trek fame is no one's idea of heaven!

Rather than interrupting our humanity, heaven is interpreted as the fulfillment of it. Theological insistence on the resurrection of both body and spirit is a way of saying this. You and I remain "you and I" in the life of the world to come. Heaven is also the attainment of direct and unmediated knowledge of God, AKA the Beatific Vision. Catherine of Genoa perceived heaven as the moment when everything standing between us and perfect love is finally purged away. Only endless joy with the One who is love remains.

Scripture: Genesis 1:1, 8; Isaiah 6:1-8; 65:17; 66:1; Pss 11:4; 19:1-7; 139:8; Mark 1:9-11; Matthew 3:2; 5:8; 10:32; Luke 24:50-51; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2

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

C.S. Lewis on the Fullness of Life: Longing for Deep Heaven - Dennis J. Billy, C.Ss.R. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2009)

What's important about the Avignon papacy and the Great Schism?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 17, March 2015 Categories: Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
Pope Gregory XI returns Catholic Church headquarters to Rome.
 

 

This story includes enough drama for a mini-series. Apostolic succession presumes a direct line of authority proceeding from Peter the Apostle to Pope Francis I. That line got blurred during the Western Schism, which inadvertently sprung from the Avignon papacy.

In the 14th century, Rome was in a state of political anarchy and became too dangerous to contain the pope. One pope was imprisoned, and a later one elected under military pressure. In 1309, Clement V moved to Avignon, France, for safety and stability. Six more popes remained at Avignon, and the papal office became increasingly worldly in what was described as "the Babylonian captivity of the papacy". Saint Brigitta of Sweden pleaded with Avignon Pope #6 to return to Rome, but it took Saint Catherine of Siena's relentless spiritual clout to convince Pope Gregory XI (Avignon Pope #7) to comply in 1377.

Not long after returning to Rome, Gregory XI died. The next papal election was influenced by rioting Italians who called for a native successor, and cardinals still behind in Avignon didn't get to vote. The mentally unstable Urban VI was the result. The French cardinals rejected Urban and held their own conclave, electing Clement VII. England and most of Italy sided with Rome; France, Sicily, Scotland, Naples, and Spain preferred the French pope. This led to a 39-year schism that confounded rulers and bishops. Double appointees were obliged to duke out the details in monasteries, religious houses, even parishes.

Urban returned to Avignon and was probably poisoned. Roman cardinals elected Boniface IX, who was promptly excommunicated by the French Clement VII. Boniface reciprocated. Clement died and was replaced with Benedict XIII by the French. The Roman Pope Boniface died, followed by Innocent VII and then Gregory XII. While several popes on both sides had wanted to end the Schism, Gregory and his counterpart Benedict agreed to sponsor the Council of Pisa in 1409 to resolve the problem. The Council deposed both popes and elected another, Alexander V. The other two popes refused this solution. Now there were three popes. Alexander soon died—probably poisoned.

 The Pisa Council replaced him with John XXIII who was hardly better than a pirate. Another Council was held in Constance in 1414 and it elected Pope Martin V. All other contenders lost their supporters and the Petrine successors were thereafter traced through the Roman line of popes.

Scripture:
Mark 3:16; Matthew 16:18; Luke 22:32; John 21:15-17; Acts chs. 1–15

Books:
Authority in the Church - David J. Stagaman, SJ (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999)

The Popes of Avignon: A Century in Exile - Edwin Mullins (Ketonah, NY:BlueBridge Books, 2011)

Is premarital sex a sin?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 27, January 2015 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Engagement ring exchange
 

We'll start with sin. Sin too often gets interpreted as "Oh, I'm so bad and awful" and "God must hate me." Actually, sin means missing the mark of ultimate goodness set by the God who loves us literally to death! Sin is any action that falls short of what we might achieve if surrendered to God's loving purposes instead of our own short-sighted ones. As the church views marriage to be the context in which intimate sexual expression achieves its fullest good, then yes: sexual intimacy short of marriage is missing the mark and qualifies as sin.

Is it going to "send you to hell?" Going to hell is the formal result of a mortal sin that remains unreconciled: a sin grave enough, premeditated enough, and deliberately chosen to separate you from God for all eternity. You literally have to plan on doing something that creates a permanent breech between God and you: like choosing a life of hatred and destruction rather than the way of love and goodness. Most people in monogamous relationships are choosing to love, however imperfectly, and not signaling their eternal rejection of God.

When someone asks questions like these, I presume it's because a Catholic family member, friend, or pastor is voicing them. Or it may be an echo of something heard in Catholic school or religion class. When you hear this echo in your head, try to imagine that the speaker is primarily voicing his or her concern for you. He or she probably believes (and may have been taught by another well-meaning person) that sex outside of marriage equals hell-in-a-handbasket, no questions asked. Just as they probably won't convince you that a non-marital monogamous relationship separates you from God forever, you won't convince them that non-marital sex isn't a chute straight to hell. This is not a winnable argument.

But if you're able to accept the premise that a monogamous relationship that's not a marriage is not a perfect arrangement, then you might consider why you're choosing it. Living together is at best a prelude to marriage—and at worst an avoidance of deeper commitment. You might ask each other: Is this a trial marriage, or a pairing of mutual convenience until something better comes along? Are we open to marriage and if so, what circumstances keep us from taking that step? When it comes to loving commitment, hitting the mark is always preferable to missing it.

Scripture: Genesis 2:23-24; Song of Songs 8:6-7; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 6:18-20;Colossians 3:14

Books: In Pursuit of Love: Catholic Morality and Human Sexuality - Vincent J.Genovesi, SJ (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996)

Marriage and the Catholic Church: Disputed Questions - Michael Lawler (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002)

 

What is papal primacy and where does it come from?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 08, January 2015 Categories: Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
Chair of St. Peter
 

Primacy means "first." What makes the pope first in the church? The idea goes back to Peter the Rock, upon whom Jesus chooses to build his church. Peter's at the top of every list of the Twelve and the obvious spokesperson for the bunch. He receives the threefold command to feed the Lord's sheep, and he's the one whose faith must strengthen his brothers, according to the prayer of Jesus. Because Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome, the bishop of that city was early seen as the one who assumed Peter's leadership. Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Dionysius in Corinth, and Tertullian all viewed this authority as the destiny of the one who occupies Peter's Chair in Rome.

Papal primacy is in a constant balancing act with the collegiality of all bishops worldwide. Collegiality too dates back to the early church and doesn't contradict primacy, as Vatican II confirmed. (See Lumen Gentium's concluding explanatory  note.) The first Vatican Council addressed primacy with the now-famous doctrine on papal infallibility. We often forget this Council was interrupted by war in 1870 and that clarifications about the role of the other bishops in preaching, teaching, and governance—already on the agenda—had to wait another century for a second Council to treat them.

Papal primacy hasn't always led to the unity it suggests. Papal power is juridical, not political, meant to judge all matters in light of the gospel. Yet the church has certainly wielded its share of temporal power since Constantine gave Christianity a privileged place in his empire. The bishop of Rome was originally an ecclesial referee: addressing controversial theological questions; mediating conflicts to protect the rights of other bishops; and making the call on excommunications when necessary. Papal judgments expressed the communion of local churches and weren't meant to swallow up all ecclesial power in the room. The authority of local bishops, according to Vatican I, is essential to the life of the church and is not reducible to mere capitulation to the Boss in Rome. Each bishop is the Vicar of Christ in his own territory, not the Pope's local representative.

When Pope Francis talks about wanting to hear from his bishops about how best to shape church leadership in the future, he's working from a papal model that has deep roots in church history. Papal primacy makes him the head of the episcopal college, not a supreme private ruler.

Scriptures: Mark 3:16; Matthew 16:18; Luke 22:32; John 21:15-17; Acts chs. 1–15

Books: Papal Primacy From Its Origins to the Present - Klaus Schatz, SJ             (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996)

A Service of Love: Papal Primacy, the Eucharist, and Church Unity - Paul McPartlan       (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 2013)

Why do we "respect life"?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 17, November 2014 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Second Vatican Council
 

From the opening pages of our scriptural tradition, we learn that life is a gift from God. Human life is literally animated with the divine breath, imparting a dignity to humanity that is indelible. For this reason, we declare that life is sacred, holy, participating in God's own life at its roots.

In the Bible we also learn that life is a choice, freely and fatefully determined: "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live by loving the LORD...." (Deut 30:19-20) Throughout the generations of the Bible, we come to appreciate that life is so precious to God that God will sustain, heal, and restore it when necessary. Jesus comes into the world as "the way, the truth, and the life," and offers himself as "the bread of life." (Jn 14:6; 6:35) In fact, because life has such significance, God proposes resurrection as the ultimate measure to preserve our lives for eternity.The motto "respect life" originated in the pro-life movement which sprung into action after the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion in Roe v. Wade. This movement certainly found strong grounding in biblical tradition as well as church history. Its call to honor the human dignity and rights of every person also echoed teachings of the Second Vatican Council like Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the World). Church theologians later broadened the call to respect life by speaking of a "consistent ethic of life" that considers human dignity and rights at both ends of the spectrum and in every circumstance throughout life. This is sometimes referred to as the "seamless garment" ethic, a term popularized by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago.

A consistent ethic of life concerns itself with decisions pertaining to conception and child-bearing, as well as death and dying. It also considers justice issues like poverty, immigration, capital punishment, the conditions of warfare, a living wage, the treatment of workers, racism and prejudice, and any stance that threatens the dignity or rights of a person or group. It would be inconsistent to respect the right of every person to be born, and otherwise to deny certain people rights and dignity once they're among us.

The phrase "respect life" remains popularly associated with the pro-life (anti-abortion) movement. A consistent ethic of respect for the gift of life is not a boutique option for Christians, however, but central to our purpose.

Scriptures: Gen 2:7; Ps 36:10; Ezek 37:1-14; Jn 10:10; Rom 14:7-9; Gal 2:20

Books: The Consistent Ethic of Life - Thomas Nairn, ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008)

The Seamless Garment - Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008)

What is a patron saint?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 07, November 2014 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
St. Monica
 

Depending on the name we received at baptism, each of us has a special intercessor or protector in the heavenly communion known as our patron saint. The saint can also, technically, be an angel. But either way, having help on the celestial end of Christian reality is a distinct advantage.

The practice of selecting a patron has early roots in Christianity, as the catacombs make clear. When the mostly-adult converts of the Roman Empire were received into the church through baptism, they often took the names of apostles or early martyrs. The history of a particular patron might figure into the identification one felt with him or her: by manner of occupation, personal suffering shared, or desirable virtue to be emulated.

In time, the patronage of saints was extended to entire nations, professions, illnesses, or other special needs. Also, individual parishes and whole dioceses are given into the patronage of particular saints. In light of these layers of patrons, each of us probably has quite a few celestial personalities to call upon in time of need. 


If you're a United States citizen, you have the patronage of Mary under her title Immaculate Conception. If your home is in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, you have a link to Francis of Assisi as well. Your parish may be St. Gabriel's, so add an angel to your spiritual Rolodex. If you're a lawyer, you can call upon Thomas Moore. If you're a lawyer in San Quentin, you have the attention of Dismas, the "good thief" at Golgotha and patron of prisoners. Trouble with your eyes? Call on St. Lucy. Lose something? St. Anthony is your guy. Have a headache? Teresa of Avila can help. In desperate situations, keep St. Jude Thaddeus especially close. And if you ever get to go fishing again, Andrew the Apostle is at your service. Your baptismal name, or a variant of it, will tell you who your number one patron is.

Some of us have distinctly modern names that don't evoke our Christian ancestry. Families in recent times have unevenly considered the celestial partnership between the communion of saints in this world and the next. Yet in each generation, names tells us we belong somewhere: to this clan, that nationality or society. Some are named for no other purpose than fashion, or to engage a veneer of second-hand celebrity. If you don't seem to have a natural patron, by all means choose one. There are plenty standing by and at your service.

 

Scripture: significance of naming: Gen 2:19; 3:20; 17:5, 15-16; Exod 3:13-15; Matt 1:23; 16:17-18; Luke 1:59-66

Books: Dictionary of Patron Saints' Names - Thomas Sheehan (Huntingdon, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2001)

This Saint Will Change Your Life - Thomas Craughwell (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2011)

Why is there a church calendar?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 03, December 2013 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Liturgy,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs

Liturgical Calendar
Calendars are about time and the human need to harness it. Starting in the ancient world religions employed calendars, but you didn’t have to be a Mayan priest or a Stonehenge druid to care when the sun and moon were in this phase or that. You just needed to be a farmer—or to depend on one for your survival.

Ancient Israel’s calendar traced the turn of the seasons and celebrated their influence on the natural world. Sowing was an occasion for intercessory prayer and harvesting the time for praise and thanksgiving: “Those who sow in tears will reap with cries of joy” (Psalm 126:5). The feasts of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were all originally harvest festivals.

Calendars, however, do more than note predictable, cyclical events. They also commemorate significant past events, such as battles won or important goals achieved. So Passover became the ultimate commemoration, remembering the signature victory over Pharaoh’s armies and captivity itself. Hanukkah, a more minor feast, reminisces about another victory regarding religious liberty. It should be noted that none of these events were considered secular occasions, because God was understood to be the source of all movements in the created order.

Christianity, with its roots in Jewish thought and practice, adopted its sense of the sacred character of time from Israelite history. Jesus grounded the meaning of the first Eucharistic ritual in the liberation event of Passover; as a result the celebration of Easter is configured each year with the Jewish Passover, and the entire liturgical year conforms backwards and forwards from that date. The need to embrace the sacred character of all of life’s seasons, both tearful and joyful, remains evident in the longing of Advent, the penitential nature of Lent, and the alleluias of Easter.

The church continues to acknowledge divine victories won over sin and death in both the Incarnation and the Paschal mysteries celebrated at Christmas and Easter. It honors the harvest of the church reaped at Pentecost and the long season dedicated to growth—both seen and unseen—in Ordinary Time.

Today’s religious calendar commemorates mystical events and spiritual victories rather than agrarian events and military battles, but it still assists in harnessing time and organizing it for optimal use. Liturgical cycles help us remember our story and the identity we bear as heirs to this history. It acknowledges the sacred character of time in witnessing to the goodness and faithfulness of God. Most of all it reminds us of the many reasons we have to give thanks.

Scripture
Leviticus 23; Deuteronomy 16:1-17; Isaiah 9:2; Hosea 8:7; Matthew 13:37-43; John 4:35-38; 1 Corinthians 9:10-11; Revelation 14:15-20

Online
• The Roman Catholic calendar for A.D. 2014

Book
Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross (InterVarsity Press)

What is Baptism?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 08, January 2014 Categories: Sacraments,Doctrines & Beliefs
Christening


Let's start with a misconception about Baptism: that it's some sort of "blessed insurance" for the afterlife. For the record, the church doesn't teach that baptism gets you into heaven any more than it says it definitively slams the door on those who are not baptized. So, if it doesn't guarantee salvation, what does it do?

Since the earliest generation of the church, baptism was regarded as the rite of membership in the Body of Christ. According to Saint Paul, it makes us one with Christ as surely as it provides us with the indwelling Holy Spirit. The third aspect, in Paul's theology, is that it makes us church. The deep respect the church holds for this sacrament is illustrated most profoundly in the fact that the Catholic Church doesn't re-baptize Protestants who later join in full communion. Once a Christian, you're already "in Christ.”

The sign of water as purifying and healing is older than the New Testament era. In bathing rituals of ancient times, lepers are cleansed (see General Naaman's story in the Book of Numbers) and impurities reversed (after touching the dead or being in contact with blood). Just before the gospel era, Gentile converts were received into Judaism through a process involving circumcision, baptism, and Temple sacrifice. The Jewish sect at Qumran, which we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls gang today, was already insisting that the interior disposition of a person had to change or the ritual was meaningless.

The baptism of John—which John himself admitted awaited a greater "baptism by fire" from "one who is to come"—explicitly added the dimension of repentance to the rite. John's baptism was available to Gentile soldiers as well as Jewish citizens and wasn't intended to make anyone Jewish, much less Christian.

Jesus accepts baptism from John, but not because he needs to repent. Jesus identifies himself with the sin of humanity which John is so anxious to wash away. Just as Jesus embraces human weakness by his baptism, we gain a share in divine strength through this same action. We repent sin and its ancient claim on us (“original sin”). Adults are instructed in the way of faith before receiving the sacrament (through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), just as children are instructed (catechized) after receiving infant baptism. In both instances the conversion of heart, mind, and life are imperative. Baptism inaugurates the journey. The close identification with Christ it anticipates remains the work of a lifetime.

Scripture
Leviticus 14:8-9; Numbers 19:17-21; Isaiah 1:16-18; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:4; Acts 1:5; 19:1-6; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27-29

Online
"Baptism in the New Testament: Origins, Formulas, and Metaphors" by Arland J. Hultgren in Word & World

Books
Baptism (Understanding the Sacraments series) by Lawrence E. Mick (Liturgical Press, 2007)
To Live in Christ—Baptism (Growing in Daily Spirituality series) by Richard Reichert (Paulist Press, 2006)

What is the Roman Catholic view of work?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 23, January 2014 Categories: Mission & Evangelization,Scripture,Doctrines & Beliefs

Consider what we’re doing right now. You want to learn something. I need to earn something. What you learn and I earn in this exchange is good for both of us and by extension for our families and communities and our employers. It honors the dignity of the human need to grow and produce, contribute and participate. In that sense, God, who spent the first six days of the world working and who made us in the divine image, gives us the vocation of work as our contribution to the ongoing creation of the world.

Work
CATHOLIC teaching supports the dignity and
well-being of workers, including their safety.
Credit: GRP Technique & Service, Dresden.

People often think of work as that dreaded something they have to do. The church teaches that work is a human right and also a duty. It’s good for individuals and good for society—that is, it serves the common good. Three conditions are imperative for the dignity of labor: that what is produced is not more important than the person producing it; that work contributes to the unity of society and doesn’t tear it down; and that workers have a say in what they’re doing and the conditions under which they do it.

If that sounds incompatible with certain present economic formulas, that's because it is, or can be. Here church social teaching meets and debates with the marketplace. Since the time of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical letter Rerum Novarum, Catholic social doctrine has emphasized that economies ruled strictly by supply-and-demand, exalting product-derived wealth over every other consideration, are not compatible with Christian principles. People have obligations to each other: to work hard and honestly and to make their best contribution to their employer, coworkers, and community.

At the same time, the employer has responsibilities, too: for workers’ safety and welfare, to pay a just wage which provides a fair living for employees and their families, and to permit the organization of unions. The state likewise owes the worker legal protections. Workers are not means to an end; rather, their dignity is the end, and that’s safeguarded only when their livelihood is.

Catholic social teaching rejects a pure market standard; insists on a living family wage; questions great compensation disparities between the highest and lowest salaries in an organization; challenges discrimination in hiring and wages; is concerned with workplace conditions; and addresses the right to nonsalary benefits like accessible health care. In Pope John Paul II’s 1981 encyclical On Human Work, written on the 90th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, he examines not only the dilemmas of the modern corporate world of work but also explores the spirituality of work as it enhances shared human life.

Scripture
Genesis 1:27; 2:1-3; Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Psalm 62:11; Matthew 6:19-21, 24; 20:1-16; Luke 10:7; 12:16-21; 1 Timothy 5:18; 6:8-10, 17-19

Online
On Human Work (Laborem Exercens) by Pope John Paul II

Books
From the Heart of the Church: The Catholic Social Tradition by Sister Judith A. Merkle, S.S.N.deN. (Liturgical Press, 2004)
Spirituality@Work by Gregory F. Augustine Pierce (Loyola Press, 2005)

Is it OK for Christians to be rich?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 08, February 2014 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Doctrines & Beliefs
Stacks of Benjamins

Wealthy folks have told me they reject Christianity categorically because it's a religion for poor people. The gospel, however, is for "all the world," including every zip code. The task for rich Christians is to make sure that the distance between zip codes isn't so vast that the wealthy forget their commitments to the disadvantaged.

The suspicion that the well-to-do aren't welcome among the people of God doesn't come from the Old Testament. In biblical theology prosperity was a key way Israel's God was understood to demonstrate who the righteous were. Even within the ancient "prosperity gospel," however, was an admonition to care for the stranger, widow, and orphan—those most at risk in society. Practices like gleaning leftovers in the fields, community-wide festival days, and jubilee remittance of debts were ways Hebrew society provided for all its members and sought to restore the balance when the gap between haves and have-nots became too wide.

The writing prophets of the 9th through 5th centuries B.C. were very vocal about the plight of the poor and the responsibility of the rich precisely because this balance had not been maintained. The wider the chasm between a society's privileged and needy classes, the louder the prophetic call for justice became.

Jesus does come among us as a poor man without property or high station. Through him God chooses to identify with the vulnerable who also have no place to lay their heads at night. The Gospel of Luke is particularly strident in its reprimands to the wealthy class—an indication that "Theophilus," to whom this gospel is addressed, is a well-heeled Greek or representative of a community of Greeks for whom the urgent call to establish justice is especially appropriate. Stories like that of the rich man who came to Jesus and went away sad; of Zacchaeus who actively cheated his neighbors; or that of the rich man who ignored poor Lazarus to his peril, were alarms intended for Luke's target audience. None of these stories condemn the reality of wealth, but all compel the listener to make better choices.

It's the love of money, not proximity to it, that's defined as the root of all evil. In this sense the poor are just as likely to fall into the idolatry of money as the rich are. If "in God we trust" is really your motto, giving some coins away won't hurt.

Scripture
Proverbs 29:7, 14; 30:7-9; Sirach 4:1-10; 13:23; 27:1-3; 34:21-22; Amos 6:1-11; Luke 21:1-4; 1 Corinthians 11:18-29; 1 Timothy 6:6-10; James 2:1-13; 5:1-6

Online
Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium

Books
The Moral Measure of the Economy by Chuck Collins and Mary Wright (Orbis Books)
All They Want Is My Money? Tips for Stewardship
by Patricia Rice (Liguori Publications)

Does God get angry?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 01, April 2014 Categories: Scripture,Doctrines & Beliefs
God

Does God have emotions like ours? As God is the great Unseen, it's impossible to guess. What the Bible does reveal is that Jesus, the divine Son, enjoyed the full complement of human feelings while in our human midst. These included love and friendship, pain and fear, amusement and frustration, and certainly anger. The righteous anger of Jesus is demonstrated in several memorable events, like the cleansing of the Temple, the rebuke of Peter with the words "get behind me, Satan!", or the denunciation of the "whitewashed tombs" of the Pharisees and scribes whose religious example was largely hypocrisy.

The Bible does have a lot to say about what we popularly describe as the wrath of God. While it's easy to interpret that as divine outrage, it's properly understood as an expression of divine justice. Because we get even when we get mad, it's not instinctive for us to imagine that God is simply about the business of restoring justice by means of judgment. We're convinced God must be "punishing" us because he's really, really mad. In the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, God's wrath is directed sometimes at the enemies of God's people and sometimes at the people themselves—depending on who's in the wrong. Historical books like Joshua, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah hold plenty of examples of God's wrath, sometimes described as a future "day" when divine debts will be settled.

Job mentions God's wrath nine times; the psalms refer to it 25 times. The theme of divine wrath is developed most powerfully in the prophetic tradition, where it comes up 85 times. Even Isaiah, the prophet of soft themes like “Emmanuel” and the faithful servant, mentions God's wrath 17 times. Meanwhile Ezekiel, who never shrinks from wild expressions, brings up divine wrath 28 times.

Compare these numbers with the gospels, where God's wrath is mentioned exactly four times over four accounts—a dramatic reduction. While Pauline letters return to the wrath theme 15 times, many of those refer to judgment rendered to those who trust in the law, which they cannot hope to fulfill, rather than Christ, who bears the burden for us. Revelation, the big book of judgment, mentions divine wrath a relatively slender 13 times and restoration at least as often. The Wisdom tradition (Proverbs, Sirach, Wisdom) and later writings contain references to wrath, but it's often that of kings, criminals, and family members as much as of God. The biblical bottom line seems to be that God's anger is nothing to worry about. God's justice, however, is a much greater concern.

Scripture
Exodus 32:10-12; 34:6-7; Joshua 22:20; 1 Samuel 28:18; Isaiah 63:3-6; Matthew 3:7; 16:21-23; 23:13-36; Luke 21:23; John 2:13-25; 3:36

Books
A Faith That Frees: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century by Richard Malloy (Orbis Books)
A Worker Justice Reader, edited by Kim Bobo (Orbis Books)

What’s the purpose of fasting?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 07, March 2014 Categories: Scripture,Doctrines & Beliefs

Religious Fasting
Survival requires us to eat and drink. When we refrain from these most basic activities, it reminds us that "we do not live by bread alone." Fasting provides you with an opportunity to affirm your faith in God's providential care. It's the most direct act of faith you can make.

Fasting as a spiritual practice falls into the category of sacrifice, which has a long biblical tradition. Ancient peoples gave over the first fruits of their harvests and the choicest animals of each herd in seasonal, ritual sacrifices to God. These were sometimes burned, sometimes consumed by the priests (who were landless and had no other source of income), and sometimes shared with the entire community in celebration of the abundance God provides. As in other acts of religious sacrifice, fasting takes something away: in this case, the prerogative to sustain yourself at will. Surrendering this freedom for a predetermined period of time fortifies humility and reminds you of your vulnerability and weakness.

Fasting stirs you to contemplate justice. Many in this world go without food routinely. How might you respond to their need with charity, in service, or by changing systems and choices?

Fasting motivates you to pray in a deeper, richer way. The spirit of humility and the call to almsgiving that self-denial initiates in you enhances your prayer. It removes the barriers of false pride and possessiveness that can diminish prayer or make it superficial. Fasting makes you ready to get real with God.

Nobody enjoys giving up the freedom to eat, even when it's a short-lived preparation for a medical procedure or a voluntary "cleanse" of the body. Because you don't want to do it, it's regarded as a penitential practice. It enables you to enter into solidarity with the sinner as well as your hungry sisters and brothers. Just as you're tempted to break the fast and eat, others are tempted to actions that are personally or communally destructive. Resistance is a symbolic resistance for the sake of those who are led into temptation.

Scripture
Deuteronomy 8:3; 1 Samuel 7:6; 2 Samuel 1:12; Ezra 8:21; Joel 1:14; Jonah 3:5-10; Luke 4:3-4; Acts 9:9

Books
Fasting by Carol Garibaldi Rogers (Sorin Books)
The Spirituality of Fasting: Rediscovering a Christian Practice
by Charles M Murphy (Ave Maria Press)

Why do we have a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 24, March 2014 Categories: Sacraments,Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy
 RCIA symbols
To those who recall a time before 1988—the year when the church mandated the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults for every parish—the RCIA feels like a new thing Catholics are doing. Actually it's a very old thing the church ceased to do long ago and decided to revive for good reasons.

These days we number seven discreet sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick. This list was codified at the 16th-century Council of Trent, when many church practices were enshrined to define Catholicism against its rivals during the Protestant Reformation. Inadvertently that led to a loss of the interconnectedness of all sacramental actions: the relationship between the “healing sacraments,” for example, or the mutual dignity of the “vocation sacraments.” Above all, parsing distinct sacramental theologies broke the integrity of the “initiating sacraments”: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. These were originally inseparable events which the RCIA process seeks to restore in the Catholic consciousness.

From the time of the early church it was understood that Baptism confers the Holy Spirit on the recipient, as the New Testament frequently attests. The activity of the Spirit is the "confirmation" the initiate now shares with the whole church. To withhold that sign for years, as we routinely do with children who receive Confirmation a decade or more after Baptism, creates a chasm in understanding this sacramental pairing. It's why some theologians call Confirmation "a sacrament in search of a meaning."

Similarly, once a person is baptized and confirmed, he or she is eligible for full participation in the life of the church–including a place at the Table of the Lord. The early church rightly understood the three initiating rites as a single event to be celebrated together after the proper season of preparation. What the modern RCIA process does is restore the period of preparation and the natural integrity of these sacramental actions. It gives us all a richer understanding of what these sacraments mean, even if we didn't receive them in a threefold way ourselves.

The modern church has yet to figure out how all this should work in light of infant baptism, practiced with urgency since the 4th-century development of the doctrine of original sin. Right now children receive slivers of membership until maturity, as the church "supplies" their faith by proxy until they're fully catechized.

Scripture
Acts 2:41-47; 19:1-6; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27-29

Online
Explanation of the RCIA from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Books
The Heart of Faith: A Field Guide for Catechumens and Candidates by Nick Wagner (Twenty-Third Publications, 2010)
Invitation to Catholicism by Alice Camille (ACTA Publications)

What is virtue?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 14, April 2014 Categories: Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
Virtues
VIRTUES trampling vices from Strasbourg Cathedral.

The 4th-century bishop Gregory of Nyssa described the aim of the virtuous life as "to become like God." That may sound intimidating as a life goal, but it's certainly moving in the best possible direction. Virtue comes from the Latin word for "force" and you can think of it as the driving force of good behavior. The more we exercise a particular virtue, the more habit-forming it becomes. Because the same is true of vice, choosing to create easy habits of virtue is a better match for the Christian life.

The church speaks of four cardinal ("hinge") virtues upon which a moral lifestyle depends. These are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Prudence is the pilot virtue: It guides you in discerning what the right course of action is. It relies on habits of prayer, reflection, and spiritual counsel. Justice is pro-active in seeing that relationships between individuals, or between society and individuals, are correctly enacted. Justice is especially concerned with the common good—that what emerges from a course of action brings about the best for all concerned.

Fortitude is the strength that enables you to persevere in right actions despite opposition, suffering, and temptation. Temperance is the virtue Saint Paul often calls self-control or modesty. It is the mastery of the self that releases you from slavery to the senses or passions so that you can choose your way with the freedom of the children of God.

Along with the cardinal virtues, the church has identified three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. Saint Paul defines them as the three things that last when the whole world passes away. As the term theological suggests, these three pertain to God because they begin with divine instigation, are motivated by the Spirit, and seek God as their ultimate end. Faith means trusting in God with every life decision—not simply believing doctrinal statements about God. Hope enables you to look beyond your present circumstances, no matter how troubling or limiting, into future "Kingdom" realities confidently. Love, the "greatest" virtue according to Paul, is also the one that binds the rest together. The best definition for the practice of love remains Paul's wonderful passage in 1 Corinthians: "Love is patient, love is kind."

Scripture
Wisdom 8:7; Romans 5:1-2; 8:18-25; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13; Colossians 3:15; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 10:23

Online
The virtues in the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Books
The Good Life: Where Morality & Spirituality Converge by Father Richard Gula, S.S. (Paulist Press)
Everyday Virtues
by John W. Crossin (Paulist Press)

How do can you deal with sinful thoughts?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 22, April 2014 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

Temptation
I'd like to introduce the word temptation into the discussion. Say, for example, you see something desirable in a store and are seized with the impulse to take it. While having the thought cross your mind isn't sinful in itself, the contents of the thought are unethical and could lead to actions that are properly the realm of sin. Because thoughts are the starting point of action, Jesus said the contents of your heart are a matter for concern. When you hate, you are already on the road to murder. When you lust, you are already on the path of sexual impropriety. When you think about stealing, you have awakened the spirit of greed.

So when confronted with the so-called sinful thought, the goal is not to entertain it. Deliberately choosing to mull over the idea and spending time on developing the outcome gives temptation a chance to root down and develop into tangible action. A fleeting thought becomes an occasion of sin when you cultivate and enjoy the fantasy of stealing, causing injury to an enemy, or ravishing the stranger or coworker. Therefore it's appropriate to identify a thought as sinful at once and by its proper name: Hello, Greed! Here's that old serpent Lust again! Why, Envy, long time no see! Anger, my old friend, sorry you can't stay long. Most of the thoughts you term sinful have a root in one or more of the seven “capital” sins: pride, greed, anger, envy, lust, sloth, and gluttony.

Once you name a fleeting impulse properly, you can do what Jesus did when confronted by a tempting idea: banish it with authority. We see how this works in a gospel scene where Saint Peter suggests that Jesus doesn't have to suffer in order to fulfill his mission. Not willing to escape the reality of his redeeming role even for a moment, Jesus cries: "Get behind me, Satan!" If the spirit of evil has a long history in you and won't retreat easily, you can do what the apostles did: invoke the authority of Jesus: "In the name of Jesus Christ, get lost!" Jesus also notes that some forms of evil have great staying power and can only be driven out by prayer. When dealing with addictive forms of temptation, communal support as found in recovery programs may also be useful.

Scripture
Genesis 3; Matthew 6:13; 16:21-23; Mark 14:38; Luke 4:1-13

Online
Support for the obsessively scrupulous person at Scrupulous Anonymous

Books
Freedom from Sinful Thoughts by J. Heinrich Arnold (Ploughshare Publishing)
Understanding Scrupulosity: Questions, Helps, and Encouragement by Thomas M. Santa, C.Ss.R. (Liguori Publications
)

Is there truth in other religions?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 23, September 2014 Categories: Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs,Ecumenism

World Religiions1
"In this age of ours, when men (sic) are drawing more closely together and the bonds of friendship between different peoples are being strengthened, the Church examines with greater care the relation which she has to non-Christian religions." So begins a breakthrough document from Vatican II, Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions). This statement released a theological revolution in 1965. Catholicism went on record calling the human family one community sharing a common destiny in God.

All religions seek answers to the great human questions about life, meaning, happiness, death, and mystery. To the extent they arrive at a revelation of the true God, they participate in truth known to the Christian faith. Nostra Aetate notes that Hinduism deeply respects meditation and divine mystery, expressed in stories and philosophies that support the ways of love. Buddhism critiques the present world's inadequacies and proposes disciplines to liberate the human spirit through compassion and mindfulness. Other religions of the world present a "program of life" inclusive of doctrines, moral precepts, and sacred rites. All of these assist human beings in the quest for God and truth and are therefore honorable.

 "The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions." (no. 2) This is a strong proclamation that deserves to be more widely known. It doesn't absolve the Church of its obligation to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, which it regards as the fullness of truth.

 Muslims have a great affinity with biblical religion as heirs to the faith of Abraham. Islam acknowledges one Creator God, almighty and merciful, who chooses to be revealed to humanity. Muslims honor Jesus as a prophet and Mary as a holy woman, and anticipate final judgment and the resurrection of the dead. They practice prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, all mutually esteemed by the Church.

Judaism is mentioned in Nostra Aetate and a second Council document, "Guidelines on Religious Relations with the Jews." Both affirm the intimate place of the Jewish people in the designs of God, never forsaken by the covenant which binds them for all time. Linked to Christians by biblical tradition; the Jewish leadership of the early church; liturgy, feasts, and ritual formulas—there is no room for discrimination or prejudice against the Jewish community. New global realities make dialogue and understanding between all who seek God a mandate for the future.

Scripture: Acts 16:26-27; Rom 2:6-8; Gal 3:7; Eph 2:14-18; 1 Tim 2:3-4

Books: No Religion Is an Island: The Nostra Aetate Dialogues - Edward Bristow (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998)

Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue (Rediscovering Vatican II) - Edward Idris Cassidy (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2005)

What do Catholics believe about war and peace?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 15, September 2014 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Mission & Evangelization,Church History

Pacem In Terris
Church teaching on international order was first comprehensively presented in 1963, with Pope John XXIII's encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). It declares that peace can only be realized on earth if God's will regarding social obligations are established first. This document treats the imperative for observing human rights to food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care and other necessary services, linking these rights to duties. Pacem in Terris also obliges governments to serve the common good of their people, and asserts that nations have rights and duties that must be respected by other nations. Relationships among nations must operate in the spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and liberty.

Recognizing that problems between nations can surpass the ability of the nations in question to resolve them, Pacem in Terris calls for a collaborative worldwide authority to assist in finding effective solutions. The outline for peace on earth is therefore four-fold: between individuals, within nations, between nations, and across the planet altogether. Each has both rights and responsibilities to observe.

When war becomes a reality nonetheless, how are Catholics to respond? Until the time of Constantine in the 4th century, Christians did not take part in war. Origin took a dim few of soldiering and a brighter view of the contribution Christians made to society through prayer. Augustine introduced just war theory: that the use of force could be a legitimate response to evil if other means failed. In the Middle Ages, Franciscans and Protestant Waldenses started movements of nonparticipation in war craft. Later "peace churches" like Anabaptists, Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren emerged from these roots. When Pope Paul VI became the first pope to speak to the United Nations, his declaration—"No more war! War never again!"—reflected his experiences in the two devastating wars of Europe. It also reflected a growing emphasis in church teaching that the morality of war in the modern military age often nullifies the old criteria for just war, since the waging of such war creates as much evil as it seeks to curtail.

Church teaching since Vatican II doesn't forbid Catholics military involvement. It does praise all who renounce violent means. It recommends thoughtful consideration of just war principles in the decision to take up arms. Catholic organizations like Pax Christi are dedicated to the peaceful resolution of world conflicts. But the discernment of the individual remains an open question.

Scriptures: Hos 2:14-23Ps 85:10-11Isa 9:6; Lk 1:79; Matt 2:13-145:5-9Jn 14:27Eph 2:13-22

Books: After the Smoke Clears: The Just War Tradition and Post War Justice - Mark Allman and Tobias Winright (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2010)

Christian Peace and Non-Violence: A Documentary History - Michael Long, ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000)

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How do you figure Transfiguration?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 11, August 2014 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Scripture

Transfiguration
This question engages Scripture scholars and casual gospel readers alike. The Transfiguration is easy enough to describe: Jesus the teacher and miracle worker is suddenly and visibly changed on a mountaintop. He is revealed to his three closest disciples as a heavenly-connected personality claimed by a celestial voice as the Beloved Son. Jewish scholars also note that the other two heavenly beings appearing with Jesus—Moses and Elijah—shared with Jesus special roles in the age to come because of their unique end-of-life celestial "translations". This event seems more like the metamorphoses of gods familiar to Greco-Roman mythology than the Jewish tradition, however. So what's it doing in the New Testament?

First thing to note: Gospel Greek deliberately avoids the term metamorphosis in this account, an attempt to sever any "pagan"
comparison. The brilliance of Jesus' face recalls the radiance of Moses after his mountaintop communication with the Divine. The enveloping cloud also echoes the Sinai experience, and Peter's suggestion of booths or tents evokes the Tent of Meeting where Moses later encountered the Holy Presence. The simultaneous appearance of Moses and Elijah, representatives of Law and Prophecy, serve as firm anchors to the Hebrew story. No reference outside the tradition is intended or necessary.

But what are we to take away from this event? Scholars offer three possibilities. One is that this event, first noted in Mark and later retold in Matthew and Luke, is Mark's misplaced resurrection story. Early versions of Mark did not include the resurrection narrative, so this story might have been intended to foreshadow the hope of Easter. The second idea is that this story is a theological reflection of the first-generation church: a symbolic way of reconstructing what Jesus meant to them—and to us. He is the New Moses, the ultimate Prophet, the Teacher-Messiah anticipated by both Moses and the prophets.

The third theory is that the Transfiguration is a private vision Peter had—perhaps on the feast of Tabernacles or Booths while reading the appropriate Scriptures—in which the truth about Jesus "came together" for him, before or even well after Easter. Both the gospels and the Second Letter of Peter suggest that Peter had a special understanding of this event that carried with him into anticipation of the Second Coming of Jesus. Saint Paul goes further to declare that we will ALL be transfigured if we keep our sights trained on Christ.

 

Scripture: Mk 9:1-13; Matt 17:1-13; Lk 9:28-36;Deut. 18:15; Exod. 24:15-16; 34: 29, 35; Lev. 23:42; 2 Kgs 2:11; 2 Cor 3:18; 2 Pet. 1:16-18; see also Jn 12:28-30

Books: Rooted in Detachment: Living the Transfiguration - Kenneth Stevenson (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007)

Seeing the Word: The Transfiguration (The Saint John's Bible series) - (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010)

Is it possible to prove the existence of God?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 06, May 2014 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
Thomas Aquinas
SAINT THOMAS Aquinas
by Fra Bartolomeo

This modern question has a medieval backwater through which we must wade to consider a coherent response. Ancient peoples rarely questioned the existence of a divine being (or beings), although they often wondered whether the Deity was rooting for or against humanity in any given circumstance. Even as late as the Middle Ages, the theologians who posited arguments for God's existence didn't personally question the matter: They were merely tying up loose philosophical ends. Eleventh-century Saint Anselm was first, offering an ontological proof—that is, a proof based on the meaning of the term "God": If we can imagine the greatest reality which is God, and a real thing is greater than an imaginary thing, then God must be that real and not only imaginary greatness.

Two centuries later Saint Thomas Aquinas raised five proofs for God's existence— motion, causality, possibility and necessity, gradations, and governance—each of which follows a similar argument. Take motion, for example: When something moves, there is a mover that causes the motion. God is the First Mover that set everything in motion. Or consider causation: Actions have consequences, but somewhere there is a Cause which originally caused everything else. Or gradation: A good thing points to a better, which presumes a best. God is that which is Best.
Arguments like these are philosophically neat, but they didn't withstand the keen rational edge of the 18th-century Enlightenment gang. In Philosophy 101 courses every student learns how David Hume and Immanuel Kant discovered flaws in the medieval proofs. Kant, at least, saw the idea of God as necessary for morality to be possible. In the same period William Paley argued for God's existence from the intricate design of the world, which presumes a grand Designer the way a watch found on a beach presumes that someone left it there because it didn't just spring from the sand. This proof isn't really much distinct from the Aquinas approach.

The Bible offers no proofs for God's existence. As a product of revelation, it seeks to tell us about God's nature, not to prove that God is real. Revelation is abundantly useful for people of faith and quite problematic to people without it. So when the church says that the Creator can be known from creation, that is a statement of how God can be understood by those who seeking understanding. It doesn't suggest how God can be rationally proven to those who are skeptical of the religious enterprise altogether.

Scripture
Mark 10:51-52; 11:22-24; Luke 11:9-13; 2 Corinthians 5:7

Online
Thomas Aquinas, "Reasons in Proof of the Existence of God" from the Summa Theologia

Books
An Introduction to Catholic Theology by Richard Lennan (Paulist Press)
Spirituality Seeking Theology by Roger Haight (Orbis Books, 2014)

What is humility?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 16, May 2014 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints,Doctrines & Beliefs
HumilityHumility is just about the exact opposite of everything you see in the world nowadays! Our 21st-century moxie is entirely egocentric. As the T-shirt says, "It's all about me." So to discover the essentials of humility, you have to experiment with self-emptying and change the channel from us to the Ultimate Other.

Here's a channel-changer. In describing the virtue of humility, the Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes Saint Augustine's saying: "Man is a beggar before God." Pride leads you to exalt yourself, rely on your own resources, and claim your own achievements. By contrast humility recognizes that everything comes from God and belongs to God. Therefore to God alone go all praise, honor, and glory.

When you begin with God and not with yourself, your perspective on reality does a dramatic shift. God's will comes first. "Not my will, but yours be done," as Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. The radical humility of the Son of God is echoed in the submission of his mother to that same divine will in the story of the Annunciation: "Let it be done to me according to your word."

Love also begins from God and is not initiated from your personal well of goodness. "God is love," John's first letter declares. Therefore: "We love because God first loved us."

Life itself has its genesis in God—hence the name of the Bible's first book. When you choose the perspective of a humble heart, you become aware that your proper orientation as creatures should be one of obedience—that is, attentive listening—to God's call rather than egoistic self-determination. It's precisely the attitude of obedience that led to the salvation of the world, as Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the community at Philippi: "[Jesus] humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross." Paul explains that humility means putting other people ahead of yourself, thinking of their needs rather than monologuing about yours. That is so countercultural, jaws will drop whenever you attempt it.

Yet humility was the avenue of the saints that got them where they were going. Abbot Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was so convinced of its necessity that he urged his monks to adopt the four most important virtues: "Humility, humility, humility, and humility." Take it from Jesus, Mary, the the gospel evangelists, and the saints: If you're not coming from humility, you're not going anywhere in the spiritual life.

Scripture
Mark 14:35-36; Luke 1:38; 18:9-14; Philippians 2:3-11.

Books
The Way of Humility by André Louf, O.S.C.O. (Cistercian Publications)
The Way of Humility by Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio (Pope Francis) (Ignatius Press)
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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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