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What is meant by "just war"?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Wednesday 22, November 2023 Categories: Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
Just War Theory
Just war theory offers eight criteria for engagement.

Begin with the Christian premise that obliges us toward peace and against war. Just war theory is the body of moral reasoning developed to discern when the primary bias against war may shift toward an obligation to protect and defend. History proves there are times when violence can't be avoided and must be engaged. Just war theory insists that war can never serve a political or economic purpose. Military action must serve a fundamentally moral purpose. Both societies and individuals are accountable for the decision to fight and must soberly consider why they do.

The first principle of just war tradition, then, defines war as a moral issue. The second holds that even a just war can't be engaged without limits or restraints. Theologian Paul Wadell notes that even a legitimate war is an occasion to be mourned, not celebrated. The duty not to harm or injure another is "intrinsically binding" for Christians. Acts of violence even during wartime are to be avoided when possible and limited when necessary, to protect the innocent and to restore justice.

In the early church, pacifism preceded just war tradition. Until Constantine's reign in the fourth century, soldiers who became Christians laid down their arms. Pacifism was necessary for two reasons: because military service involved idolatry toward the emperor, and because killing was a direct violation of the command of Jesus to love your enemy. The alliance of church with state under Constantine ensured that church policy leaned toward supporting the interests of the empire. Christianity's original pacifism wavered. Fourth-century theologians Ambrose and Augustine developed arguments that could, under limited conditions, make war not only permissible but obligatory in the service of a victimized neighbor. Augustine particularly emphasized that a sinful world often presents no perfect solutions to unjust situations.

Just war theory offers eight criteria for engagement. Seven determine whether a conflict is justified, including: just cause, competent authority, last resort, comparative justice, proportionality, right intention, and probability of success. The eighth consideration is reserved for an inevitable engagement and involves right conduct in wartime. In his 2020 encyclical Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis urged us to consider that “it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war.’ Never again war!” Clearly, it's never enough simply to declare a cause righteous in one's own mind and issue a call to arms.
 

References

Isaiah 9:5-6; 11:1-9; 57:19; Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11; Matthew 5:9, 21-26, 38-48; Luke 6:27-36

The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response by USCCB, 1983

What Does the Church Teach About Just War? by Paul Wadell (Liguori, 2005)


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What does it mean to repent?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Monday 20, November 2023 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Sacraments,Scripture,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs

(Photo: Pickpik)Love is willing to share the journey toward reunion and reconciliation. (Photo: Pickpik)

We’re not served well in our appreciation of the word repent by the many films featuring some be-frocked priest or Puritan shaking a cross in people’s faces and demanding, “Sinner, repent!” Repentance doesn’t necessarily require falling on our knees and beating our breasts, though sometimes that may be the appropriate response—as it was for skeptical Thomas, when the resurrected Lord whom he'd doubted stood before him. Basically, to repent means to change course. That can mean movement if we’ve been standing still, or stopping if we’ve been in frantic motion. It can mean changing our minds or our hearts, our direction or our behavior.

The word has several important root meanings. The earliest is the Hebrew word t’shuvah, meaning "return." It’s a crucial concept to prophets like Amos, Hosea, and Jeremiah. Their fellow citizens have wandered far from God's ways, and it’s time for them to return home. The rabbis tell a story of a young man who falls in with a bad crowd and winds up far from home, destitute and ashamed. His father sends word for the son to return. “I cannot,” the young man replies, “It is too far.” Too far in distance, surely, but also in moral stature. His father responds: “Come as far as you can, and I will come the rest of the way.”

This story reminds us how our failures put us at a distance from those whom we love, from the community of faith to which we belong. Yet love is willing to share the journey toward reunion and reconciliation. We return to God, and God returns to us.

If t’shuvah is the Old Testament word for repentance, metanoia is the New Testament Greek term that carries a similar meaning. John the Baptist first issues the call to change direction, signaled by baptism in the Jordan. Jesus uses this term when he invites his listeners to change their dispositions—to turn their hearts and lives around—in response to his teaching. Our word repentance carries the additional meaning of expressing regret for past actions and attitudes—along with the expectation that real change is forthcoming. In addition, the word conversion means turning around, implying a reorientation of intentions and actions. In the sacrament of reconciliation, we include the stipulation of “making reparation” for what we’ve done or failed to do that has caused harm.

Scripture: 

Amos 4:6-11; Hosea 5:15—6:3; Jeremiah 3:12-22; Mark 1:4, 14-15; Matthew 3:1-2; 4:17; Luke 3:3; 13:1-5; Acts 2:37-39; 3:19; 26:17-20; 2 Peter 3:9

Books:

The Forgiveness Book – Alice Camille and Paul Boudreau (Chicago, IL: ACTA Publications, 2008)

Radical Forgiveness – Antoinette Bosco (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009)


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Is Epiphany about giving gifts or getting them?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Monday 20, November 2023 Categories: Liturgy,Scripture,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs

Gold symbolizes wealth and power. Frankincense, used in prayer, represents the divine Presence. Myrrh prepares bodies for burial.

“We three kings of Orient are/ bearing gifts we traverse afar.” Nowhere in Matthew does it claim there are three. And Matthew never calls them kings. They are magi, hereditary priests of the ancient Medes and PersiansFrom this talented crew we get the word magic. But you can’t make a decent song out of “we unnumbered magi.” At least the carol gets one thing right: This group of wise fellows does bear gifts.

So how did kings get into the picture? Lay this at Isaiah’s door. He prophesies that kings will walk by the light of the Lord to Jerusalem. Their caravans will indeed bring gifts of gold and frankincense—but alas, no myrrh in Isaiah's vision of this scene. Gold symbolizes wealth and power. Frankincense, used in prayer, represents the divine Presence. Myrrh prepares bodies for burial. It's an ominous sign that would make a startling gift.

Matthew’s gift-bearers are wise men for sure. There is something "magical" about their foresight. Power, divinity, and death are three sober elements that will accompany Jesus from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. These were strange birthday presents to be sure. But they were appropriate honors for the King of the Universe, the Divine Son, and the crucified Lord.

Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh. These were the gifts Jesus received long, long ago. But we also bear him gifts at every Eucharist: Bread. Wine. Our financial sacrifice. These are all "made by human hands" one way and another. And, as Jesuit Roc O'Connor suggests, these are gifts transformed and returned to us as Body and Blood of Christ, and redistributed resources for those in need.

More gifts come to us by way of this shared Table. Grace pours out on the assembly. But grace can seem like one of those white elephant gifts: Now that we have it, what do we do with it? Church teaching describes grace as internal sanctification. We're made holy, fit “temples of the Holy Spirit,” as Paul assures us. This isn’t about spiritually fumigating your chest cavity. It’s about becoming, like Mary, God-bearers: those who carry the divine presence wherever we go.

Grace moves at God’s initiative. We can’t muster it up by sheer force of moral living. Paul says we can try to save ourselves by obedience—but we will surely fail. Grace forgives sin, and rescues us from every evil. This is one gift you don’t want to put at the bottom of a closet.

 

Scripture

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-6; Matthew 2:1-12; 1 Corinthians 6:19

Books

At the Supper of the Lamb: A Pastoral and Theological Commentary on the Mass - Paul Turner (Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publication, 2011)

In the Midst of Our Storms: Opening Ourselves to Christ in the Liturgy - Roc O'Connor, SJ (Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publication, 2015)


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What's an evangelist? How many are there?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 26, September 2023 Categories: Scripture,Church History
By the time of the third-century church fathers, the list of evangelists seems reduced down to four: the gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Evangelist translates from the Greek as "messenger of good tidings." All baptized persons are called to be such messengers. From the professional preacher to the person who exemplifies a life of Christian virtue, all might validly claim to be evangelists.

As early as Isaiah's prophecies, heralds of good news are cited in the Bible. In the Letter to the Ephesians, apostles, prophets, and evangelists play vital roles within the church. The deacon Philip in Acts is called an evangelist, as is Paul's protege Timothy. So it's clear that in biblical terms, evangelist is not an exclusive term.

However, by the time of the third-century church fathers, the list of evangelists seems reduced down to four: the gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These four concretized the Good News which the whole church going forward would proclaim. In early church art, the four evangelists were simply depicted as men holding books, or symbolically as four scrolls situated at the corners of a cross. They were also imagined as the four rivers of Paradise mentioned in Genesis: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates, meant to water the earth and give it life.

By the fourth century, the symbology of the gospel evangelists became a standardized tetramorph ("four shapes"): man, lion, ox, and eagle. These were not arbitrarily chosen. In the initial vision of the prophet Ezekiel, he perceives "a great stormwind" blowing in from the North. Riding this gale are four living creatures. They appear in human form with faces, legs, and hands. But they also have wings and polished hooves. Facing outwardly in the four directions, their faces resemble a human, lion, ox, and eagle respectively. "Wherever the spirit would go, they went; they did not change direction when they moved." These extraordinary creatures are four and yet unified in their movement. They also burn like coals of fire.

This tetramorph makes a reappearance in the Book of Revelation, and it's likely that the writer, John of Patmos, consciously intends the gospel writers with this usage. Matthew emphasizes the humanity of Jesus: he's represented as the man. Mark highlights the divinity and kingship of Jesus, and is identified as the lion. Luke holds up the sacrificial character of Jesus and so becomes the ox. John is the eagle. His gospel soars above the others with its transcendent perspective on the meaning of Jesus as the eternal Christ.

Scriptures: Genesis 2:10-14; Isaiah 52:7; Ezekiel 1:4-25; Luke 4:18-21; Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11-16; 2 Timothy 4:5; Revelation 4:6-8, 5:14

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

Preaching to a Multi-generational Assembly, by Andrew Carl Wisdom, O.P. (Liturgical Press, 2004)


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How should we prepare for holy communion? Is fasting still necessary?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 26, September 2023 Categories: Sacraments,Liturgy
In Canon Law, seven regulations apply to proper reception of communion.

Liturgical practices have changed in the last generation. It's fair to wonder what's going on with communion these days. In parishes around the country, I see everything from the reconstruction of altar railings to people falling on their knees at the front of the communion line. Folks cup their hands in the throne-like gesture taught in communion prep classes these days, or perform casual host grabs that seem almost unconsidered.

So here's the present teaching. Yes, the communion fast is still in force. Details are important here: 1) Water never breaks the fast, so don't dehydrate to prove your devotion. 2) The fast from food and drink besides water is one hour before reception of the Eucharist. 3) Sick and elderly people only need fast for fifteen minutes before communion. Caregivers accompanying such people may follow the same guidelines. 4) Sick persons may take medicine and non-alcoholic liquids unrestrictedly.

In Canon Law, seven regulations apply to proper reception of communion. The fast as outlined above is one. Anyone who's received First Eucharist is obliged to receive at least once annually, preferably during the Easter Season—the so-called "Easter duty." Receiving in the context of Mass is "most strongly recommended"—again, with exceptions for the sick and homebound, or communities with no access to a priest. 

A fourth regulation concerns those conscious of having committed grave sin. Such a person should seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving communion. If this isn't possible, making an act of perfect contrition suffices so long as the person resolves to go to confession as soon as it is possible.

Frequency of reception is a concern for many older Catholics. Current rules are that as long as you receive during Mass, you can go to communion more than once daily. The only exception is in the instance of viaticum (literally, "on the way with you"). Someone in danger of death should receive communion outside the context of Mass even if they've already gone to Mass and received earlier that day.

The seventh regulation is the least well known. A Catholic may receive Eucharist from a non-Catholic minister in whose congregation Eucharist is valid when it's "physically or morally impossible" to do otherwise. Such occasions include danger of death or other "serious need"; persons who are "unable to approach their own minister"; "persons in prison or under persecution"; "persons who live at some distance from their own communion." The canon ends with the significant words: "this is not an exhaustive indication of such cases."

Scriptures: Mark 14:22-24; Matthew 5:23-24; 26:26-28; Luke 22:14-20; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:17-29; Revelation 19:9 // See also Canon Law 844, 912-923

Books: The Spirituality of Fasting: Rediscovering a Christian Practice, by Charles Murphy (Ave Maria Press, 2010)

101 Questions and Answers on the Eucharist, by Giles Dimock, O.P. (Paulist Press, 2006)



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Why are Catholics so focused on the Eucharist?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 26, September 2023 Categories: Sacraments,Liturgy,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
The Second Vatican Council sought to restore "full, conscious, and active" participation in the Eucharist so that the people of God might again remember that the "why" of Eucharist is more vital than the "how."

A Eucharistic spirituality is ground-level for life as a Catholic. It's built on the three gospel accounts of the Last Supper, in which Jesus urges his friends to "do this in memory of me." While John's gospel doesn't recount the Last Supper meal narrative, John does have an extended teaching on Jesus as the bread of life in chapter six. Saint Paul also reiterates the Last Supper instruction in his First Letter to the Corinthians: "For I received from the Lord what I also handed onto you."

Jesus employed one or perhaps two well-known forms of Jewish prayer from lifelong ritual practice. One is the berakah or prayer of thanksgiving to God commonly prayed over the bread and the cup. Another is the todah or sacrifice of praise in which leavened bread was used along with prayers of praise. Christians use the word Eucharistthanksgivingfor our communion liturgy as a whole.

How Eucharist was celebrated developed over time and was distinctive geographically from Jerusalem to Rome to Carthage, and from East to West. But early teachers like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Cyril, Ambrose, and Augustine agreed that Eucharist had several significant meanings. One was the impact of the Passion of Christ for human history. Another was the unity in which all Christians shared as the Body of Christ. A third meaning was that engaging this sacrament had profound moral implications for those who did.

The medieval church made a swing away from this "symbolic" thinking about the Eucharist to an "instrumental" focus. That is, we went from reflecting on WHY Jesus makes this self-offering to HOW it's accomplished ritually and theologically. This impoverished the church's communion in many ways. The complicated rhetoric was harder to teach to the uneducated, and so fewer understood what was being celebrated. As a result, reception of the sacrament declined. Passive piety and miraculous stories about the Host replaced an active embrace of a moral life formed by an incorporation into Christ's Body. Believers sought to adore the Host than to live a life of thanksgiving and praise.

In the early 20th century, Pope Pius X advocated frequent reception of the Eucharist and to younger-aged children. Pius XII added to those reforms. The Second Vatican Council sought to restore "full, conscious, and active" participation in the Eucharist so that the people of God might again remember that the "why" of Eucharist is more vital than the "how."

Scriptures: Exodus 24:5-8; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:26-29; Luke 22:14-20; John 6:1-15, 22-65; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; (see also Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Vatican II documents, 1963)

Books: Pope Francis on Eucharist: 100 Daily Meditations for Adoration, Prayer, and Reflection, by Pope Francis, with foreward by Cardinal Blase Cupich (Liturgical Press, 2023)

Communion Ecclesiology: Vision and Versions, by Dennis M. Doyle (Orbis Books, 2000)



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What difference does it make that the current Pope is a Jesuit?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 26, September 2023 Categories: Consecrated Life,Church History
Just as Jesuits take seriously the living Christ, they also passionately hold that God is engaged with the world and it's our responsibility to be coworkers and not obstacles to divine movement.

Of 266 popes so far, about 34 have belonged to religious orders. The exact count varies, but the most frequent pope-supplying order are the Benedictines (17), followed by Augustinians (six), and Dominicans and Franciscans (four each). The Cistercians supplied two. Pope Francis is the first Jesuit, and the first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years. That latter fact is at least as influential on the direction of his papacy as his Jesuit-ness.

But certainly being a Jesuit affects how Francis thinks and prioritizes for the Church. According to Jesuit writer Frank Houdek, Jesuit spirituality—as presented in the Constitutions of their Society and particularly in the Spiritual Exercises of their founder Saint Ignatius—is based on six essential elements. The first is that their identity is in Christ—which you can probably guess from their official name, the Society of Jesus. This Christocentrism isn't merely dogmatic but involves fostering a personal bond with the living Christ. The second component of Jesuit life is recognizing oneself as a collaborator with the activity of God. Just as Jesuits take seriously the living Christ, they also passionately hold that God is engaged with the world and it's our responsibility to be coworkers and not obstacles to divine movement.

The third Jesuit conviction is a keen emphasis on spiritual discernment rather than pragmatic decision-making. Divine patterns and rhythms are discernible in our personal and communal life and we can develop a sense of where God is leading if we are attentive. Magnanimity of spirit is next, and it's a word we non-Jesuits may not use often. The magnanimous heart is generous, courageous, and heroic in its efforts. The good Jesuit envisions himself as a superhero for God's intentions, and maybe that's why we read so many hagiographies of Jesuit martyrs. Perhaps Pope Francis felt that tug of heroism when he accepted his election to the papacy.

The fifth element of Jesuit life is fraternity, but that sounds like what any religious community is about, doesn't it? Yes, but Jesuits imagine themselves as "friends in the Lord" and friends OF the Lord: that is, in the company of Jesus together. Perhaps the best-known Jesuit theme is the last: "finding God in all things." Prayer and service, affect and intellect, all are integrated into the Jesuit mission. Listen to the Pope's teachings, and see how many of these ideas you hear echoed in his words.

Scriptures: 1 Samuel 3:1-19; Psalms 19; 61; 71; 90; 121; 130; 139; Song of Songs 8:6-7: Isaiah 45:4; Jeremiah 29:11-14; Mark 1:16-20; Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 4:14-21; 18:18-30; 24:13-35; John 15:11-17; 21:1-18; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Galatians 2:19-20; Ephesians 2:10; 5:1-2 

Books: Guided By the Spirit: A Jesuit Perspective on Spiritual Direction, by Frank J. Houdek, S.J. (Loyola Press, 1996)

Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits, edited by Michael Harter, S.J. (Loyola Press, 2005)


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What is grace?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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What is a kiss of peace?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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What's the vocation of a religious brother about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Are Hebrews the same as Jews?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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What does it mean to be saved?

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

God's desire to save includes everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Who invented the sacraments?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Sunday 19, March 2023 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Scripture,Sacraments
Sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace."
(photo: Pixabay)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Do Catholics believe in fate?

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

The key word for Catholics is providence, not fate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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