Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas?

This has become a battleground the last few years, with most Christians on one side and secularists on the other. So just for the fun of it I’m going to jump into the fray.

First, let’s look at “Happy Holidays”. Is there anything wrong with this greeting? Well, first we need to find out just what the “holidays” part of the greeting is referring to.

Assuming the common understanding of popular culture the “holidays” referred to is Christmas and New Years with the “eves” of both days thrown in. However, from a true Catholic perspective the “holidays” or “holy-days” would really be Christmas (which includes Christmas Eve) through perhaps the Feast of the Epiphany or the traditional “Twelve Days of Christmas”.

Either way, I see nothing wrong with wishing folks a “happy” anything be they the secular idea of Christmas and New Year’s, or the special days on the liturgical calendar.

But of course, what the “Merry Christmas” advocates have in mind is that “Happy Holidays” is being used by secularists to keep Christ out of the deal. This may or may not be true. Bing Crosby was singing “Happy Holidays” in the 40’s along with “White Christmas”. But let’s assume that the Christians are right about the secular conspiracy to keep Christ out of Christmas.

The question then becomes at what point on the calendar do we begin wishing folks a “Merry Christmas”? I have a protestant friend who claims that the Christmas Season begins on December 1. Others say “after Thanksgiving”. What should be the Catholic answer? When should we begin saying “Merry Christmas”?

Well, if you’ve read any of my other related entries on this topic, you know that I’m a stickler for “Advent” and for the keeping of Advent in a sort of “opposition to the world” sort of way.

As you know Advent begins 4 Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. So should we as Catholics be saying Merry Christmas when it is not only NOT Christmas, but also because we are in fact in the middle of a penitential season?

I don’t think there is any papal bull on the topic so I believe we are free to fumble around for the answer for ourselves. And here’s what I’ve come up with:

To Catholics I say (during Advent) “Have a Blessed Advent”. To non-Catholics I don’t say anything other than “hello” and “good bye”. Or if it gets close to Christmas I say “Have a Merry Christmas if I don’t see you” – thus projecting the greeting correctly into the future where it belongs.

Now if someone wishes me “Happy Holidays” I DO NOT say “Merry Christmas” back to them as if in protest or with a corrective tone.. Obviously that is just bad form and uncharitable to boot. So I say “thank you” or “the same to you”.

Lastly, I begin saying “Merry Christmas” on Christmas Eve and on through to the Epiphany. While the liturgical calendar shows that the real Christmas Season goes from Christmas Eve to the Baptism of our Lord, and thus we could technically (and liturgically) greet our fellow believers with a “Merry Christmas” right on into February, I think that we should at least do it until the Feast of the Epiphany or right on through the Twelve Days of Christmas.

So rather than put so much energy into battling with the “Happy Holidays” crowd before Christmas (Day), let’s just say “Merry Christmas” when we’re supposed to and thus give true witness to the Church that decided when Christmas would be in the first place.

Well, “Have a Blessed Advent” and “Merry Christmas if I don’t see you”.

Tim Rohr

Global Warming & Making Babies

Columnist Pat Sajak posted an article entitled Man-Made Global Warming: 10 Questions which you can read here:

Basically he asks 10 perfectly common sense questions that should be answered before we start running around screaming “the sky is falling”.

I posted a comment that I’ll copy below. I’ve posted such comments before as regards this issue and have found no sympathizers with my position. I am also alarmed at how many Catholics are going “gah-gah” over Gore as our planet’s prophet.

We need to remember that Al Gore is VERY PRO-ABORTION. I don’t trust anyone who is “pro-abortion”. In my view they have sold their soul to the devil. But that’s just my view. Here’s my other one:

I'm on your side, but I think that even the skeptics will brush off my reason. I happen to believe that the global warming deal is just one more way to justify abortion. and by extension, birth control, which by more extension, is all about sex without consequences. The main thing is to convince people that there are too many people, that people and more people are the problem. We have to stop making people. Abortion can no longer be justified on its own. Too many people now know what a baby looks like in the womb, that its not just "matter". So now the pro-aborts need to come up with a good reason to kill babies. This is a good one. It works. Sadly even the "pro-life" folks are running around mouthing Gore-ian mantras. Sad. Fight back. Have more babies.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Every year at this time we begin to see the very familiar sight of Salvation Army volunteers ringing their bells alongside the little red buckets. And every year, or at least for the last few, I have sent out the following reminder.

There is no doubt that the Salvation Army does great good in our society. However, the Salvation Army openly encourages the use of contraception and also supports abortion, although less openly.

Obviously, these are two activities of the Salvation Army that Catholics cannot support either directly, or indirectly, as would be the case with any donations either of time or money.

While one may argue in favor of the good the Salvation Army does as justification for your donation, the fact that there are comparable Catholic organizationsthat do not compromise Catholic Teaching, would negate any such justification and perhaps expose you to some form of moral culpability for what we know to be sinful.

For your reference I am copying the Salvation Army statements on Birth Control and Abortion directly from their website. I am also providing the link to the actual posting.

Pay close attention to how both the statements on Birth Control and Abortion begin with lofty sounding moral platitudes and scripture references but end up allowing for practices Catholics cannot accept.

This is especially dangerous because it’s harder to spot. A blatant pro-abortion organization is much easier to identify. The Salvation Army is a supposed Christian organization that uses Christian language to hide, intended or not, immoral practices.

One more thing: Such a position is not unique to the Salvation Army. Almost all non-Catholic Christian religions have similar positions. This is the logical result of Protestantism where the sole authority ultimately relies on one’s personal interpretation of Scripture and not on the Teaching Authority that Jesus himself has left us: His Church.

Birth Control

The Salvation Army believes that sex and its proper use is a gift, created, ordained and blessed by God and intended to find expression only within the context of a loving marriage relationship. The Salvation Army believes that sexual expression within marriage has a number of divinely intended purposes including: procreation (Genesis 1:28, 9:1,7); companionship (Genesis 2:18); unity (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6) and pleasure (Song of Songs).

The Salvation Army supports the desire of many married couples to limit the number of children in their family and believes that there are morally acceptable, contraceptive solutions available to achieve this end. (emphases mine)

The Salvation Army encourages the use of birth control methods that are contraceptive (i.e. that prevent conception) versus the use of methods that are abortifacient (i.e. that prevent implantation after fertilization). The Salvation Army is opposed to abortion as a means of birth control. (emphases mine)

(Also, note how the SA tries to put a moral face on this by saying it supports those means which are “not abortifacient.” The bottom line is that we can’t always be sure, especially with chemical contraceptives, if in fact the baby is not actually killed.))

The Salvation Army does not oppose sterilization as a means of contraception. However, because it is generally irreversible in nature, such a procedure should be undertaken only after full consideration is given to spiritual, moral and practical ramifications. (emphases mine)

(The Catholic Church teaches that sterilization is “morally unacceptable” – CCC 2399)


Note: The support of abortion is very well veiled but is apparent in the 4th paragraph in the words “Such decisions”. In other words, despite all the preceding rhetoric, the SA ultimately allows that abortion is licit when it is the result of an informed decision. In contrast the Catechism of the Catholic Church which affirms the “moral evil of every procured abortion” (CCC – 2271).

The Salvation Army believes in the sanctity of all human life and considers each person to be of infinite value and each life a gift from God to be cherished, nurtured and redeemed. Human life is sacred because it is made in the image of God and has an eternal destiny. (Genesis 1:27) Sacredness is not conferred, nor can it be taken away by human agreement.

The Salvation Army deplores society's ready acceptance of abortion, which reflects insufficient concern for vulnerable persons, including the unborn. (Psalms 82:3-4)

The Salvation Army holds to the Christian ideals of chastity before marriage and fidelity within the marriage relationship and, consistent with these ideals, supports measures to prevent crisis pregnancies. It is opposed to abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection or for any reason of mere convenience to avoid the responsibility for conception. Therefore, when an unwanted pregnancy occurs, The Salvation Army advises that the situation be accepted and that the pregnancy be carried to term, and offers supportive help and assistance with planning.

The Salvation Army recognizes tragic and perplexing circumstances that require difficult decisions regarding a pregnancy. Such decisions should be made only after prayerful and thoughtful consideration, with appropriate involvement of the woman's family and pastoral, medical and other counsel. A woman in these circumstances needs acceptance, love and compassion. (emphases mine)

When an abortion has taken place, The Salvation Army will continue to show love and compassion and to offer its services and fellowship to those involved.

Note: It is difficult to ignore the seeming moral superiority of this language of love and compassion. However, an innocent life has been taken. A murder has occurred. The SA allows for this and thus participates in grave moral evil. Make sure you’re not part of it.

Advent Thoughts

As you know, the true liturgical season of Christmas starts on Christmas, not ends with it. What most of society considers to be the Christmas Season, is in fact the Season of Advent.

So with all the “stuff” of Christmas surrounding us: the parties, the decorations, the music, the “happy holidays”, the shopping… what’s a Catholic to do? Do we ignore “the world” and ascetically hold out from the Christmas “busy-ness” that buzzes around us?

That’s not likely unless you live in a cloister. The world has co-opted the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas as its Christmas Season (the malls begin a little earlier), and let’s face it, most of us Catholics are shopping, partying, and decorating along with the rest of the world.

However, there’s nothing keeping us from keeping an “inner Advent”. The Advent Season is, liturgically, a time of preparation. The traditional means of preparation for the Church is prayer and fasting. And there’s nothing keeping us (most of us) from doing just that.

When I was kid (yes, in the “pre-Vatican II days”) I remember well that we were asked to give up something for Advent. One doesn’t hear much admonition to do that anymore. But whether we hear about it or not, it’s still a venerable and recommended practice.

In past years I tried to “fight back” against the world by refusing to put up a tree (or at least decorate it) until “the night before Christmas (that’s the traditional way). I tried to ignore the holiday buzz, avoided the malls, avoided saying “Merry Christmas”, and do whatever I could to at least keep some sort of an “exterior Advent”.

This year I gave up the fight. The tree was up in our house just after Thanksgiving. Christmas CD’s started playing. Lights were up all over the house. “Christmasy” movies were rented, etc.

However, this is probably my best personal Advent in a long time simply because I’ve decided to “return to my roots” and do exactly what the Church has said to do: fast and pray.

Now, I’m a wimp when it comes to real fasting, so I just decided to give up a few things (sweets – especially donuts, fried stuff, red meat, and beer). No real hunger, but just enough self-denial to remind me its Advent. And as you can see, it’s stuff I (and probably you, too) should do without anyway. (Well I’ll have to think about the beer.)

I’ve also put more emphasis on praying with the family (a nightly rosary or some other prayers and readings). Again, stuff we should be doing anyway.

The wisdom of the Church never ceases to amaze me. Even these terribly small acts of prayer and mortification (if I can even call it that!) have given me a certain something this Advent Season that I haven’t experienced in a long time, if ever.

I call it a “certain something” because I don’t have a name for it. It’s not joy or peace or any cliché sort of feeling. My real world troubles aren’t any lighter. The financial pressures of expecting an 11th child are more overwhelming than ever.

I also hurt my back a few weeks ago (just in time for Advent) and have been moving about in pain for awhile. The irony of the back injury is that it, of course, is coinciding with the busiest time of year for us at our store – where I am the primary employee as well as the owner.

I could go on, but I find my most frequent conversation with God is “Okay, Lord, what do you have in mind NOW?” I would call it a “broken record”, but I doubt there are very many folks out there in the Ipod generation who would even know what a “broken record” is.

So what is the “certain something”? Here I do the “prayer and fasting” thing and the troubles pile on. What’s up with that? I’ll just call it a certain peace that comes from knowing that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing regardless of the feelings that one may or may not have. (In my case it’s the “not have”.)

Also, I’ve noticed that there is an absence of despair or at least the temptation to it. I personally have many reasons to despair or at least descend into a chronic state of exacerbation. Perhaps it’s just a merciful numbness to the difficulties that swirl around me.

No matter. Thanks to the wisdom of the Church, my parents, and the Benedictine Sisters of yesteryear who imparted it to me, I know what is TRUE, and that is the greatest gift of all! Truth is the real source of peace and the original gift of Christmas.

I also have, for the first time in my life, an expanded understanding of Christmas. It’s the Church’s teaching, but I’m just getting it. (I’m 51, so it’s never too late for anyone to learn new stuff.) Here’s what I mean.

In the past I would read the readings and prayers and Advent admonitions that led up to Christmas with a certain attempt to be “thankful” for Christ’s coming. But to be honest I could never quite get “into it”. I kept trying to recreate the first Christmas in my mind and “get in the mood” as they say.

This year, I am beginning to understand Christmas the way the Church understands it: we celebrate the First Coming of Christ as a preparation and reminder of His Second. The real thing here is to “get ready”, to light the candles and turn the lights on not to just remember some stable scene that happened two millennia ago, but to get ready and be ready for Him who is coming again, and coming “like a thief in the night”.

We’re not just talking “end of the world” stuff or some sort of “Apocalypse Now”. We’re talking the end of “your world”, of “my world”. It’s called Death. Jesus is coming for us. It could be tonight, tomorrow, in the next 2 seconds for that matter. But He’s coming. Keep you lights on….and give up something while you’re waiting.

Mary Christmas

Tim Rohr
December 15, 2007

Tithing...and other stuff

A few days ago I was in conversation with a Protestant friend and the subject of tithing came up. He made the statement that “Catholics don’t tithe”.

Of course some Catholics do tithe (give 10% of their income to the Church). What he meant was, of course, that the Catholic Church doesn’t teach or at least emphasize a strict tithe as does his religious denomination.

I mentioned that the Catholic Church does not teach tithing because Jesus never did. There was a pause in the conversation. It’s difficult for folks who live by “sola scriptura”, who believe that the Bible is some sort of step by step manual for every move, to deal with glaring scriptural realities such as this one.

Jesus never negated giving and caring for the poor. Of course not, this was one of His primary messages. But He never used the word “tithe”.

Tithing wasn’t the main topic of conversation so I bounced over it and moved on.

A few days later, while researching a different topic altogether I came across some interesting stuff in the OT about tithing that one rarely hears about. The verses are so striking that I thought there must be some important commentary about this somewhere. However, neither the Jerome Biblical Commentary nor the Navarre Bible says much about it.

The scripture in question starts at Deuteronomy 14:22.

"Each year you shall tithe all the produce that grows in the field you have sown; then in the place which the LORD, your God, chooses as the dwelling place of his name you shall eat in his presence your tithe of the grain, wine and oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, that you may learn always to fear the LORD, your God.”

Now, if I was a protestant and took the whole teaching on tithing in the OT literally, I would see here that I am supposed to actually consume my tithe. But of course, people don’t bring grain and cattle to church these days, they bring money, so the consuming of the tithe wouldn’t literally apply, right? The following verses have something to say about that.

“If, however, the journey is too much for you and you are not able to bring your tithe, because the place which the LORD, your God, chooses for the abode of his name is too far for you, considering how the LORD has blessed you, you may exchange the tithe for money and, with the purse of money in hand, go to the place which the LORD, your God, chooses.”

Okay, so bringing cash instead of a cow is cool with the LORD. But now look what He says to do with the money!

“You may then exchange the money for whatever you desire, oxen or sheep, wine or strong drink, or anything else you would enjoy, and there before the LORD, your God, you shall partake of it and make merry with your family.”

Eh? What’s up with that? We’re supposed to party with it? Looks like either way, whether you bring the fixins’ or buy the fixin’s the main deal is to “eat, drink, and be merry” with your “first fruits”. The only stipulation is that the LORD is invited – that you “eat in His presence”.

Another shock to the fundamental literalist is the recommendation that we imbibe on “wine or strong drink”! As you know many of our non-Catholic brethren abstain from alcohol due to the admonitions in the scriptures against drunkenness. But looks to me like there’s a time to not only enjoy “strong drink” but to even get drunk! Consider the following form Proverbs 31:6-7:

"Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more".

Now that’s interesting! According to the inspired word of God there are times when it is God’s will that you just get drunk and forget about it. Hmmmmmmmm.

Latin Lesson for 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time

May I recommend getting your own copy of the Daily Roman Missal (ed. James Socias). It’s a wonderful resource: readings for all Masses, weekday and Sunday, all 3 cycles, Proper of the Saints, Common Masses, Ritual Masses, a summary catechism, and loads of Devotions and Prayers. The beautiful leather binding and gold gilt pages make you want to respect what’s in it…something the disposable Missalette lacks.

But the feature that I most enjoy about the missal is its inclusion of Latin. The missal employs Latin alongside the English in the canon and also inserts it at the Responsorial and Alleluia verses.

While some do not see any reason to pay attention to the Latin, I personally find it absolutely fascinating. As you may know, Latin is our Catholic ancestral language (one of them – Greek is the other). Latin is also the official language of the Church. So if you want to know what the Church really says about something, you need to “go to the Latin”.

This is the same reason Biblical scholars “go to the Greek” – since it’s the language in which most of the Bible was written, or at least has come down to us. No serious student of the Bible doubts the importance of “going to the Greek” in any genuine study of the Bible. Thus, we shouldn’t doubt the importance of “going to the Latin” when we are searching for the truth in matters as regards our Liturgy and official Church teaching.

I am not a Latin scholar, but Latin resources are easy enough to come by these days. One particular resource is Latin Grammar – Grammar Vocabularies, and Exercises in Preparation for the Reading of the Missal and Breviary. Since we are at present more concerned with the study of Latin as it regards our Faith and not the reading of Virgil or Cicero, this book (and its companion “Second Latin”) would be an excellent and focused resource. Other excellent resources are only a click or two away online. But back to the topic at hand.

The side by side translations of the Responsorial and Alleluia verses sometimes amaze, amuse, or at least interest me. Here is an example.

This past Sunday, (34th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C), the Responsorial Verse reads:
“The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice.”
The accompanying Latin text reads:
“Venit Dominus iudicare populos in aequitate”.

Let’s do a word by word translation:

Venit - Venit is a third person singular perfect indicative active verb, and is the main verb of the sentence. Thus, we get: “came” or perhaps “has come”.

Dominus – Lord

Iudicare – to judge

Populos – people

In – in
Aequitate – equity or justice

The words are quite easy and almost a transliteration, thus you almost don’t need a dictionary.

The actual translation is:
“The Lord has come to judge the people in equity (justice)”.
And again, the English translation in the missal is:
“The Lord has come to rule the earth with justice”.
Since the English translation of the Lectionary is authorized by the USCCB we cannot question its legitimacy so we won’t. We can and should however dig more deeply into texts to better understand and grow from them just as a student of the Bible would want to get at the words behind the words to get a better sense of the biblical message.

In this case, I see the Latin giving us a full sense of God as Judge, something we don’t hear much about anymore, along with such related topics as sin, hell, purgatory, judgment, etc. I don’t know about you, but I need constant reminding about my “End”. Sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps me good. I’d like to say that I choose “Good” because I want to please God. But I don’t. Perhaps I’m not spiritually mature enough, so the “fear of the Lord”, helps me in times of great temptation.

But let’s continue the Latin Lesson just a bit more. Again, I in no way want to slight or slander the English translation as we must accept it as valid and licit. But the word study here is valuable.

There are those who may say “well, it may not be an exact translation but it still gives the same sense or the same meaning”. Maybe it does, but the bottom line is what the Latin actually says and what it doesn’t say.

The English uses the word “rule” instead of “judge”. In Latin, “to rule” is “regere”. There is no relation here to “judge”. It’s a completely different word with a completely different sense. Obviously the Latin wanted to stress that God will judge us … and that there is something to judge!

The English translation uses the word “earth” instead of “people” (populos). “Terra” is the Latin word for “earth”. While it could be argued that “earth” implies its human inhabitants why not just use “people” since that is what it actually says? Also, only “people” can be judged since only people have free will and thus something to judge. God won’t be judging the rocks and dirt.

The above discussion reveals an obvious attempt to “soften” the message of the scripture, something that happens quite frequently in the current Lectionary and in more contemporary versions of Scripture. While we cannot contend with the translator’s right to make such modifications, I believe we should ask ourselves if a “kinder, gentler” message is what our culture needs just now. I personally think not. Yes, God is infinitely loving and merciful. But He is also infinitely JUST. I wonder if we understand the implications of that.

The "Brothers of Jesus" and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary is a DOGMA of the Catholic Church. A DOGMA is a teaching of the Church that is “binding” on the faithful. That means if you don’t accept it you’re outside the Church. Pretty serious stuff!

Non-Catholic Christians (NCC’s) generally do not accept this Teaching. They commonly reference Mt. 13:55: “And are not his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” as evidence that Jesus had “brothers” and therefore Mary must not have been a perpetual virgin. Lesser known are the “sisters of Jesus” found in the very next verse: “And are not all his sisters with us?” (NRSV-CE) Wow! If you take the word “all” as in “all his sisters”, it sounds like not only was Mary not a perpetual virgin but that she must have been perpetually pregnant!

However, there is a problem with this assumption regardless of the number of the supposed siblings of Jesus: It’s NOT in the Bible! It is our NCC friends who make the claim that in order to believe something it has to “be in the Bible”. However, NOWHERE in the Bible does it ever say that Mary had other children. NOWHERE! Thus, by the NCC logic of “the Bible Alone”, there is simply NO scriptural evidence that Mary was not a perpetual virgin.

The common Catholic “apologetic” or response on this issue is to point out that in the language which Jesus spoke (Aramaic) there is no word for “cousin” and thus the word “brother” or “sister” was used to indicate a cousin relationship. While the “cousin” apologetic is correct, it seems to be rather ineffective as evidenced by the fact that it rarely convinces an NCC to the Catholic side. Thus it is probably much better to use their own doctrine “the Bible Alone” to show that irregardless of their belief about Mary’s Perpetual Virginity, there is no evidence in the Bible to the contrary. NCC’s will have to agree with you on that point.

But what of the brothers and sisters of Jesus? Yes, they could have been cousins, but they could also have been blood brothers. Many early sources, most notably the Protoevangelium of James, make reference to the fact that Joseph may have in fact been a widower and thus could have had children by a previous wife. Thus the “brothers” (and “sisters”) of Jesus certainly could have been his half-brothers (and sisters).

There is also another problem with the NCC thinking on this. Most NCC’s accept that Joseph died while Jesus was an adolescent. (The last time we hear of Joseph is in Luke 2 when he and Mary find the 12 year old Jesus teaching in the Temple.) It is interesting to note that no mention of siblings is made at this time. So if we stay with the “Bible Alone” approach of our NCC friends, then we have to assume that no siblings had yet been born.

However, by the time we get to the initial accounts of Jesus’ public ministry when He is approximately 30 years old, we, if we take the NCC interpretation of Mt. 13:55, have to accept that Jesus had at least 7 siblings: the four brothers, as named in the passage, plus at least 3 sisters (“all his sisters” implies that there had to be at least 3 – “all” implies more than one, and if there were only 2, the word “both” would have been used).

Doing the math, Joseph and Mary would have had to have had 7 more children in 18 years. Not impossible, however, Mt. 13 implies that at least the males are adults. Also, in order for the “sisters” to have been “here with us”, the girls probably were not infants, and must have at least been in their teens. So subtract at least 10 years from the 18 and we get 8, meaning Mary had to have had at least 7 children in 8 years. Also not impossible, but then we’d have to believe that either Mary found another husband after Joseph died or Joseph must have lived a lot longer (and have been a lot healthier!) than what 2000 years of tradition (both Catholic and NCC) has left us.

It is hoped by now that you deem all this adding, subtracting, assuming, and implying to be a bit ridiculous. It is. And that’s why our Church has not cared to address it. It also demonstrates what happens to those outside our Church who do not have any authority other than their own private interpretation of Scripture.

The Catholic Church has the authority of Christ who did not leave us a Bible, but a Church, and a teaching authority for that Church, which He meant to continue and protect until the end of time (Mt. 16:13). And that same Church has proclaimed Mary as “Ever-Virgin”. There is simply no evidence, Biblical or otherwise, to the contrary.

A personal note to Catholics: While it is encouraging to see a great interest among Catholics in “Bible Study” it is proportionately discouraging to see a great lack of interest in “Doctrinal Study” or a study of what our Church teaches, particularly those teachings which come from the chair of Peter which Jesus himself established. The two studies certainly do not have to be opposed. In fact, they are not. They are part of one and the same teaching and good for those who understand and teach in this way.

Friday, November 02, 2007

All Saints Day - a meditation

“The only tragedy is not to be Saint” – G.K. Chesterton

To have been a Christian during the Roman persecutions and to have witnessed the heroic deaths of fellow Christians had to have been a soul wrenching experience beyond compare. The Romans had been perfecting the art of human torture for centuries by the time the Christians provided more bodies to be tormented as entertainment.

It is all but impossible for the well-fed and reasonably safe American Christian to even begin to imagine the sufferings of those whose blood ran in rivers from the floor of the Roman Coliseum. It is not hard to imagine however how those who watched their fellow Christians suffer and die would have wanted to honor and remember them in some way.

For those who witnessed the Roman horrors perpetrated with the exacting scientific cruelty on the followers of Christ, the honoring of martyrs was more than just a service in their memory; it was an occasion to draw courage and grace from their heroic death, a death that they who were still alive were almost certain themselves to face.

Thus, from the earliest times, we can find many references honoring those who gave their life for Him who first gave His life for them. Initially, the martyr was honored annually on the day of his or her death. As the persecutions increased in fury, the number of calendar days that could be individually devoted to the memory of a particular martyr quickly ran out. This led to the eventual assigning by the Church of a common day to commemorate all the martyrs lest any be overlooked.

November 1 was first officially dedicated to the memory of All Martyrs (as it was originally called) by Pope Gregory III (731-741) and was officially extended to the whole Church by Pope Gregory IV (827-844) and our Church has kept this solemnity ever since.

Because, here in Guam, All Saints Day is not a Holy Day of obligation as it is in much of the rest of the Catholic world, one may lack the motivation to attend Mass and pay the Saints any special honor. Perhaps if we knew we were going to get hacked to death tomorrow or impaled on a spike and doused with pitch and set aflame to light up Nero’s garden we’d think a bit differently.

It’s hard for us to imagine such horrors sitting in our air-conditioned churches. But we may be yet called upon to suffer such things. May I suggest as preparation a reading of the following two books:

The Martyrs of The Coliseum - Historical Records of the Great Amphitheater of Ancient RomeBy: Rev. A. J. O'Reilly
Here is told both the fascinating history of the Roman Coliseum and the lives and deaths of many famous Roman martyrs, such as St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Prisca, Pope St. Stephen, St. Vitus and companions, St. Marinus, St. Martina, etc. Tells the heroism of the martyrs, the cruelty of the Roman mob, and the incredible miracles God worked on behalf of His saints. Exciting and vivid even today. Impr. 441 pgs, PB

The Age Of Martyrs - Christianity from Diocletian (284) to Constantine (337) By: Abbott Giuseppe Ricciotti
In The Age of Martyrs, the famous Catholic historian Abbot Giuseppe Ricciotti records the epochal events of Roman history from the rise of Diocletian (284) to the death of Constantine the Great (337), a period which witnessed the last and greatest of the 10 persecutions of the Christians by the Roman government. Impr. 305 pgs, PB

Never stop praying for me

“Never stop praying for me."
- Elmer P. Rohr (to his 11 children)

Here on Guam, All Souls Day is probably celebrated with more activity and official recognition than any other place in the world except maybe the Philippines. The customs are quite beautiful: cemeteries are cleaned up, tombs are repainted, special Masses are said, flowers and bouquets are arranged about the plots, and candles light up the cemeteries for the next several nights.

The local government (and some private firms) even grants a holiday so that appropriate honor can be paid to each family’s dead. However, we should continue to remind ourselves that the purpose of All Souls Day is not to just honor the dead but to of course to pray for them.

And, why do we need to pray for them?

It has been said by more than one saint who was gifted with the vision of Purgatory that one moment of pain in its purifying flames is so great that it is unimaginably more painful than all the sufferings combined of a whole lifetime on this earth.

While the Church does not solemnly define the nature of the suffering a soul experiences in purgatory, the Church does declare 1) that souls do suffer in purgatory (The Church Suffering is the official title), and 2) they can do nothing to help themselves.

Because these souls are suffering and because they can do nothing of themselves to lessen their pains or shorten their time of purgation we are bound by charity to pray and even suffer for those souls.

In the past, the general Catholic consciousness of the helpless state of these souls was much more pronounced. My mother and teachers (Catholic school) never missed an opportunity to remind us to “offer it up for the poor souls in purgatory” whenever we kids experienced some sort of pain or discomfort.

It was also quite common to see or hear a death announcement accompanied by the words “please pray for the repose of the soul of…”. Funeral masses and masses for the dead (Requiems) complete with black vestments had a very sober and solemn tone to them, by which we were reminded that our loved one(s) may not yet be in heaven and that we should never cease praying for them.

Today, one not only rarely hears the admonition to offer up the pain from the splinter in your finger for the poor souls, but we quite often hear, even from practicing Catholics, some doubt or question as to the existence of purgatory (“Didn’t Vatican II do away with Purgatory?”).

It is my opinion that most Catholics can be forgiven for thinking such things. While there is usually a long list of “animas” (mass intentions for the souls of the dead) before each Mass, the level of catechetical understanding of the connection between those intentions and the suffering state of Purgatory is questionable.

Death announcements no longer read “please pray for the repose of the soul…” but happily proclaim: “in celebration of his new life”. Eulogies and homilies tend to “beatify” the person. Funeral and memorial masses are celebrated in white vestments and with a positive air.

While white vestments are legitimate and we should certainly celebrate our hope in the eternal happiness of heaven, the odds are that the person who just died, unless he or she was martyred, is probably not there yet, and may in fact be delayed in arriving there by our “he’s in a better place now” attitude..

Minus the sobering reminders of the probable state of the soul of our dearly departed and further confused by the “popular canonizations” (“In celebration of his new life…”) we may in fact neglect to pray for the person’s soul and thus leave him or her to the pains of purgatory longer than may have been the case if we were to have beseeched God with prayers and sufferings as indeed we are commanded to do.

My paternal grandfather, who celebrated the body and blood of Jesus at church in the morning with the same intensity as he celebrated homemade sausage and cider in the cellar at night, admonished his 11 children, long before death was upon him, to “never stop praying” for him after he died.

I continue to be amazed at the “awareness” of former generations as to the reality and sufferings of purgatory as contrasted with what seems to be a complete loss of this sense today.

Of course the Church has not changed its teachings. What it did do was change its practices. And therein lies another testament to the maxim that “what you do speaks so loudly that what you say I cannot hear”. Regardless of what the Catechism and the most orthodox of teachers continue to say, we simply do not “hear” because what we “see” speaks louder. How else to count for the seeming overwhelming belief that purgatory no longer exists and the preponderance of announcements celebrating “his new life” versus “please pray for the repose of the soul…” ?

As a graduate of a rather “liberal” institution in the early 80’s I got sidetracked from my childhood faith and fell in under the popular teaching that if there was a purgatory, it was just a place to stop and get “cleaned up”, and even if there was a Hell there was probably nobody in it.

But that’s not what the Church teaches. There is in fact a hell, a “lake of fire” and there is in fact a Purgatory. As to what actually happens there (in Purgatory) we know nothing other than it is a place of final cleansing.

I suppose we are welcome to believe that it is some sort of cosmic Motel 6 where we can stop and get a shower along the way. But I would much rather trust the accounts of the saints who saw it for themselves even if the Church gives no official credence to those accounts.

For those who don't accept the existence of Purgatory or don't understand it see my other post on Purgatory here. If nothing else it has a good joke about it.

For more information on these accounts see:

Purgatory Explained By: Fr. F. X. Schouppe S.J. You would never dream so much is known about Purgatory. Not only is the basic teaching of the Church given here, but also countless true stories of apparitions and revelations on Purgatory from the lives of St. Margaret Mary, St. Gertrude, St. Bridget of Sweden, the Cure of Ars, St. Lidwina of Schiedam, etc.

Stories about Purgatory & What They Reveal By: An Ursiline of Sligo. This book was written to impress upon its readers many truths about Purgatory -- first, that it exists; second, that the souls detained there suffer long and excruciating pains, and that they desperately need our prayers and sacrifices; and that we ourselves should strive mightily to avoid Purgatory. Confirms in the reader's heart a healthy and holy respect for the sufferings endured by the Holy Souls, such that he will always remember them in his prayers. Impr. 169 pgs, PB

Purgatory By: Fr. Frederick Faber. Is Purgatory almost like Hell? Or is it a place of peace and even joy? The famous Fr. Faber explains both of these classic Catholic views of Purgatory, basing his discussion on Catholic teaching and the revelations of saintly souls, especially St. Catherine of Genoa, in her Treatise on Purgatory. Impr. 85 pgs, PB

Saints Who Raised the DeadTrue Stories of 400 Resurrection Miracles By: Rev. Albert J. Hebert. Stories from the lives of St. Francis Xavier, St. Patrick, St. John Bosco, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Rose of Lima, Bl. Margaret of Castello, etc. Includes the raising of persons who had died, descriptions of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory by temporarily dead persons and an analysis of contemporary "after death" experiences. Many pictures of the saints and their miracles. Fascinating. Formerly published by TAN under the title "Raised from the Dead".

The Life of St. Gemma Galgani By: Venerable Fr. Germanus C.P. St. Gemma Galgani (1878-1903) was a mystic, stigmatist, visionary, ecstatic, victim soul, discerner of spirits, seer of hidden things, prophetess, spouse of Christ, zealot for souls and devotee of the Poor Souls in Purgatory. She died at only 25. Her mother was also saintly, and it is beautiful to see how she helped cultivate this lily of purity. See how Gemma made great sacrifices painful to human nature from her tenderest years. Inspiring and edifying! Impr. 349 pgs

Also see the Diary of St. Faustina. Here's a link to her entries on Purgatory.

Tim Rohr
Feast of All Souls, 2009

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Christmas Season vs Shopping Season - Is there really a problem?

It is true that the "Christmas Shopping Season" seems to start earlier and earlier each year. By some accounts Christmas merchandise has appeared on retail shelves as early as late August. Such early sightings of tinsel and mistletoe have raised a predictable lament among some who are rightly concerned about the "reason for the season"

While I certainly empathize, I would like to suggest that there is no necessary correlation between the "shopping season" and the "Christmas season." In other words, we are not forced to celebrate Christmas early because retailers do.

Whether we admit it or not, all of us (who celebrate Christmas) feel the pressure to shop for Christmas gifts, and all of us will. And though year after year our churches warn us about the commercialization of Christmas, etc., we still find ourselves "making a list and checking it twice" while the pastor is yet speaking and then rushing from the church to the mall to get it all done!

I believe my mom had the right idea. She would do her Christmas shopping in July. By August all the presents were wrapped and "hidden" away until Christmas. With the "shopping" part of Christmas done months ahead of time, our family had the leisure to pay more attention to the "reason for the season," as was our wont.

As Christmas approached we still shopped for Christmas items, but more for fun stuff -- decorations and such.

So rather than curse the retailers perhaps we should be thanking them, so that when Christmas comes we can spend more time thanking Him.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Holy Cards, Coffee, and the Temple - to those who have a problem with church gift shops

A short thought. Even before my wife, Leone, took over the operation of the Café at the Ave Maria Gift Shop at the Cathedral Basilica, I heard many negative comments about the operation of both the gift shop and the café within the Cathedral building.

Critics most often cite the scripture story where Jesus drives out the buyers and the sellers from the temple as evidence that there should be no business undertakings in a church.

My first thought would be if Monsignor Benavente and Archbishop Apuron have no problem with it then perhaps we should reconsider our negative positions in the light of proper Church authority. Perhaps a polite inquiry would be the Christian thing to do.

However, I find it a bit funny how quickly Catholics can become scripture scholars when we need to back up a personal opinion. Never mind that we have no idea where to find it in the Bible…or perhaps even where to find a Bible!

For your reference the passage can be found at Matthew 21:12-13:

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and
buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of
those who were selling doves. And he said to them, "It is written: 'My house
shall be a house of prayer,' but you are making it a den of thieves."

The real issue is whether or not the gift shop and café is included in the “temple” proper – the “house of prayer”.

The answer is NO. The gift shop and the café are not “in” the “temple”. They are attached to it in the same way that the bathrooms, the radio station, the Catholic Cemeteries office, the parish office, and the soon to be completed museum, are attached to it. But the temple, the place of prayer, is not intruded upon by any of these other offices or places of activity.

Rather than fret over the “buying and selling” I would be more concerned over Jesus’ desire that His Father’s house be a “house of prayer”. Given the amount of conversation and visiting that goes on before and after our Masses within “the temple”, and even as we go to and from Holy Communion, I would say that we have much more to be concerned about in offending the Father in that regard than the folks selling coffee and holy cards next door.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

How I Would Have Answered the Question - and what Fr. Pacwa didn't hear

A lady called into Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s EWTN radio program and related her quandary as to where she should spend more of her time: with her ailing mother and brother or with her husband who neglects her.

Apparently the woman’s mother, who she said was 87, was bedridden and staying at her sister’s house. And her brother had suffered a stroke and was confined to a convalescent home.

She mentioned that her husband was resentful of her spending time with her mother and her brother but that she preferred to spend time with them rather than her husband because of the neglect she felt at home. The woman described her husband in terms that brought to mind a picture of a sloppy couch potato who offered her neither attention or affection.

Because of this she said she felt “more comfortable” with her immediate family than at home where “there is nothing” and was calling to get Fr. Mitch’s advice.

One other thing that she said is of some importance. She mentioned that she had wanted to give some of their personal possessions away (presumably to help the poor) but that her husband was angrily opposed. Why that statement is important I shall get to in a minute.

I was a bit surprised and not a little disappointed in Fr. Mitch’s reply to the woman who I thought had given him all kinds of unintentional clues as to the real problem.

Fr. Mitch first chastised the husband’s behavior and advised the woman to, in effect, tell her husband to straighten up or go to hell. He next advised her to make a list of pros and cons about her quandary and to pray about it (in the fashion of the Ignatian process of discernment) and to choose (as Ignatius instructed) whatever she felt would give greater glory to God.

As per the woman’s relation of the details, this appeared to be not just a decision about “how much time” to spend with her ailing relatives versus time with her husband, but actually leaving her husband to tend to her relatives.

Granted, it’s not easy for a radio talk show host to properly direct someone in the context of a call where in fact the issue calls for a more in depth discussion and discernment of a deeply personal dilemma. And actually that’s what Fr. Mitch should have done anyway: refer her to her parish priest, confessor, or counselor.

However, given his on air answer, I must protest as follows:

“A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home”. The first responsibility is to her marital vow. This is the time when she is actually being called to live through the “for better or for worse” that she vowed when she knelt before Christ (in the person of the Priest) and said so.

Yes, the scripture also says “Honor thy Father and Mother”. BUT! By her own words she had related that neither her mother nor brother was uncared for. The mother was staying at her sister’s house and the brother was in a convalescent home.

She kept recalling how comfortable she was being with her mother and how much the mother appreciated her being there, and how she and her sister were getting along so great, and how peaceful things were at her sister’s house versus her own home where “there was nothing”.

The husband wasn’t forbidding the wife to spend time with her relatives. He was complaining because she spent so much time doing so.

Without knowing all the details I feel rather confident in assuming that the woman, quite naturally, is finding personal fulfillment in being “needed”, being important, being “somebody”.

She probably has lived through many years of unhappiness in her marriage (she said they had been married for 37 years) and is feeling unappreciated and unfulfilled.

What she doesn’t know is that her husband on the other hand is exhibiting all the signs of being just as unappreciated and unfulfilled and neglected as she is. If the man didn’t care about his wife he wouldn’t care where she spent her time. But he wants her home. Yes, to a selfish and even seemingly controlling degree, but its quite natural for a man in despair to act that way.

He is neglecting himself and ignoring her as a way of fighting back, of revenging the neglect that he himself has probably felt for just as many years as his wife. He sees his wife’s “do-good-ism” (the visits to the sick, the giving away of possessions) for what it probably really is which is her way of filling in her need to be wanted, a substitute for him.

Male pride being what it is keeps him from sharing this with her, though it’s probably more a result of a lack of understanding on his part as to what he’s really going through than just meanness.

My advice to the woman would have been to put first things first. I would have said:Now’s the chance to live your vows. To love the unlovable. To Kiss the “leper”, so to speak. To say “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

That’s what marriage is for! This is where the perfection of the spouses happens – when we must face the “worse” part of the “for better or worse”. Up to that point you have only had eros and never agape. Christ is waiting there in the “agape”. It is He who loves the unlovable through you. He is waiting to act but needs your body and your will.

There is no discernment at this point. There is sheer act and response to the command to love “until death do you part”. This is not the time to make a list of pros and cons. You give yourself to your husband in this way as your sacramental vows require and God will take care of your mother and your brother. He will make the time for you to visit and care for them if that be His will. But first, He is waiting for you to do the thing that you don’t want to do but that you indeed had VOWED to do.

Oh, but what about that nasty slob of a husband? I can hear some of the women who may read this getting angry. Here’s what the Church says: As long as you are not being physically abused you are required to stay in the game. The fact that he is a couch potato and doesn’t brush his teeth does not justify your neglect of him no matter how repulsive. “Kiss the leper”. God will provide. Either you and I believe that or we believe nothing and our good works will pile up like bricks on our backs till they crush us. This is where Faith becomes real, this is the opportunity of the Cross, this is where the word becomes flesh: His word, your flesh. Now go home and love him.

(By the way, of course the Church commands the same for husbands.)

Monday, August 20, 2007

"Tacking On"? - The Last Gospel and the Prayer to St. Michael

In a recent e-letter, Karl Keating of Catholic Answers attempts to explain some of the differences between the "new" Mass and the "old" Mass - the Novus Ordo and the "Tridentine" Mass.

Keating does a fair job of it but in expressing his preference for the new (1970) and much expanded Lectionary and his non-preference for the "Last Gospel" and Prayer to St. Michael, found at the end of the "old" Mass, I am moved to reflect and respond.

I would certainly not fault Mr. Keating for desiring more readings. However, I'm curious as to why we don't seem to ask the question as to why for approximately 1970 years or at least for the last 500 or so years since the Council of Trent, a more expansive use of Scripture in the Lectionary was not employed.

To simply insert more Scripture readings because it seems like a good idea begs the question about the wherewithal of our forefathers who had given us what we had up to and including the 1962 Missal of Blessed John XXIII.

I choose to believe that the Mass we had prior to the Novus Ordo was not a hodge-podge of centuries of "tack-ons" as we are sometimes led to believe, but a ritual, finely tuned and rightly ordered by centuries of use, the devotion of billions, and an organic development that could have only proceeded via the Holy Spirit directly from John's vision of Heavenly Worship in Revelation. The lack of a more extensive lectionary was not a 2000 year oversight.

I do not question the authority of the Church to expand the Lectionary, but I do not believe that the more limited Lectionary of the old Mass was a result of apathy or neglect. There was a reason for it.

Sadly, I don't know the reason or where to find it. But I can speculate. Here would be my points:

1. The change in the Lectionary flowed from the change of emphasis in the Mass. We may continue to say that the focus of the Mass is Christ, but in practice we know that the emphasis is on the community, more particularly on the "full, conscious, and active participation" of that community which "is to be desired above all else". As we all know those words - unqualified and generic - have led us down a path that the present Pope feels impelled to correct.

2. There is no mistaking the emphasis in the Old Mass. It is in word, practice, position, and posture, Christocentric in every way. The Old Mass does not attempt to encompass a Bible Study. It is not the forum for a great exposition of Scripture. The readings chosen for the Old Mass and the readings used for so many centuries were those readings that best served the theology and the action of the re-presentation of the Paschal Mystery.

3. It is also assumed with the Old Mass that the Mass itself was just one part of a larger Liturgical Day - a day punctuated and accented by many readings from Scripture known as the Divine Office. In times past this consciousness of the liturgical day was so preponderant that folks didn't refer to the hours of the day by numbers but by their liturgical names: matins, none, vespers, etc. Even the days were known by their feast names and not the pagan names we now use to refer to them.

4. The New Mass, in its attempt to meet the challenge of the modern age, in a way admits defeat in the world and says okay since you're not going to read the Scriptures for yourselves we'll read it for you at Mass. The Mass is then made to serve another new master: Bible study (the first new one being community building).

Note: I used to say that I didn't believe this (the scattered emphases of the new Mass) to be the intention of its designers, but I'm not so sure anymore. At any rate, intended or not, the effect is the same.

It is quite obvious by my above "personal opinions" that I am not all that cracked up about the expansion of the Lectionary. I have nothing against it but I would rather we relearn to incorporate the Scripture into our days as was once done.

"Tacking On"
Keating's other concern is the supposed "tacking on" of the Last Gospel and the Prayer to St. Michael which seem to be added to the Old Mass.

For those who don't know, in the Old Mass, after the final blessing, the priest would go to the left side of the Altar and read the "Last Gospel" which consisted of John 1:1-14:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
The prayer to St. Michael was said at the foot of the article at the end of an extra series of prayers which included 3 Hail Mary's and the Hail Holy Queen.

Again, I would ask those who consider this to be "tacking on" to "rely not on their own understanding" but to investigate the mind of the Church that included and preserved these practices.

I would also point out that the Mass is, in effect, at least up until the Novus Ordo, a result of two millennia of "tacking on". Prayers and actions came to be added to the Mass as the Christian community entered more deeply into its mystery. Truly, anything other than what Jesus actually said at the Last Supper in the Gospels can be considered a "tacking on".

For the modern Mass-goer who, by the time of the final blessing, already has one foot in the parking lot, the "addition" of another reading after everything seems to be over, and then followed by even more prayers, would, of course, be a jolt and an annoyance. But even for a more sincere person I would suspect that there would arise some question as to this seemingly out of place adding of not only a Gospel at the end of Mass, but the same Gospel at the end of every Mass.

It shouldn't take a liturgical expert to deduce that if this same Gospel was repeated at the end of every Mass for the last 800 or more years that perhaps our Church had deemed it important to do so and we should at least know the reason why.

The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that the Last Gospel was a "pious devotion" added to the liturgy about the 12th century. (By the way the final blessing was also a "pious devotion" added to the liturgy…and we still have that.) However, the question still intrigues me as to why it was added and why THAT particular Gospel passage.

Since I can't find anything to answer my question I will feel free to speculate.

The first heresy against Christianity was the refusal to accept Christ for who He said He was. We find the first instance of this in the Gospels (the Sanhedrin, etc.). This "first heresy" persisted throughout the centuries and persists today. (And in the case of Islam may well bode horrific repercussions that we can't even begin to imagine.)

One can imagine that innumerable disputes over the person and nature of Christ continued to proliferate after his death, resurrection, and ascension. But in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, it exploded into what came to be called "Arianism", which temporally and spiritually shook the young Church to its core. Arianism taught that Jesus was not God.

Because of the damage done by this heresy and the damage it continued to do, I believe that our wise fathers incorporated (not tacked on) John 1 to the end of every Mass in order to combat Arianism and its derivative heresies and to drill into Christians the truth of who Christ was and is.

(Also, we have to remember that the word Mass comes from the Latin "missa" which means "the sending". Since the beginning of Christianity this "sending" included the definite possibility of death. (It still does of course in so many parts of the world.). It was essential that the faithful be reminded again and again why and for who they were dying. We are still sent out to die, if only perhaps to die to sin.)

Today more than ever we have need of the Last Gospel. The success of the novel "The Da Vinci Code" which employs this same heresy, and the harm it caused many Catholics is a dire indicator of the state of Catholic knowledge and understanding of the true person of Christ.

Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons are two of the fastest growing sects in the world with the majority of their recruits coming from the ranks of Catholics. Both JW's and Mormons are descendants of Arius. But the threat from these two sects is insignificant when given the much greater threat of Islam.

Islam also rejects Jesus as God, but rather than walk to the next door and knock to find a more sympathetic ear, Islam teaches that you should lose your ear and your head with it.

The thought of what we are into (war with Islam - though we still call it a "war on terror") is not only beyond my understanding (for now) but cataclysmic to a frightening degree. (My friend Robert Morgan is writing a book on it which I hope will come out soon.) Meanwhile, let us read John 1 ourselves at the end of each Mass and at our breakfast and dinner tables so that we and our children will know the answer to the question: "Who do you say that I am?" when we are finally asked.

And as per the "tacking on" of the Prayer to St. Michael at the end of the Old Mass… Well God himself employs the help of this Archangel in casting out Satan (Rev 12)… maybe… well, you figure it out.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

God's Entrails (or how to reach young men)

Every morning, if you pray the Liturgy of the Hours, we say the "Benedictus", Zachary's exclaim and prophecy at the birth of his son John (the Baptist).It's a very beautiful and powerful canticle and its one of the few biblical texts of any length that I have committed completely to memory.

The topic of interest concerns the last few verses which read thus:

And you my child shall be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way to give His people peace and knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us and shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 76-79)

(Just in case you're wondering which translation of the Bible this comes from, it doesn't. It's a product of the International Committee on the Use of English Texts)

Out of curiosity I often will look up biblical passages that I am reading in other versions of the Bible. As good students of our Faith we should have a variety of translations and good Catholic commentaries that aid us in deepening our study of Sacred Scripture.

One particular translation I like to refer to is the Douay Rheims. Few folks have heard of it but it has been around since the 16th century and for many years was the only Catholic translation in English. I like it because it is a close literal translation of our Church's official version of Scripture which is the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome.Thus, when I read the DR translation, though some of its passages may seem a little archaic, I know I'm getting a pretty close translation of what the Church holds to be true and authentic.

This does not negate the authenticity of other Church approved translations, but until the Church changes its official translation to something else, I'll stick with Jerome when I want to look deeper into Sacred Texts.Well, pardon all that background, but it's important to have that information for the sake of our "word for the day".

And that word is "tender", as in the "tender compassion of our God". The NAB, which we use in the Liturgy, translates it "tender mercy", but "tender" is still there.

The Latin Vulgate uses this phrase: "per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri". Let's do a word for word translation minus "viscera" (which is the word of interest")

  • per = through
  • misericordiae = mercy, or really mercy from the heart, or pity, or compassion
  • Dei = God
  • nostri = our

So we have "through the compassion (mercy) or our God"But what of "viscera"? As we have seen, our modern versions translate it as "tender".

Viscera is also a word in English. Whenever we come across a word in our own language that is the same word in an antecedent language, it means that the word is so strong and specific in its meaning that it defies translation, and should attract our interest and inspection, especially when we find such words in Scripture.

A case in point is the word "Hallelujah". Ever wonder what that really means or what language that is? It comes from two Hebrew words: "hallel" "to praise" and "yah", which is the shortened form of Yahweh, the name of God.

Now we certainly can say, "Praise God" and we do, but when we really want to praise God, we say "Alleluia" or "Hallelujah" when we want the extra "umph"! Anyway, point is that some words just lose something in translation so we end up keeping the original word though we might anglicize it a bit.

Now, back to "viscera". The English definition is: "The soft internal organs of the body, especially those contained within the abdominal and thoracic cavities." In other words, your "guts", your "entrails".

So God's mercy and compassion is from His "guts", from His "viscera", from his "entrails", or "intestines" even! Wow! That's powerful!

Guys, ever get kicked in the ________(tender parts)? Well that's just the beginning of how much God "hurts" for us. The Douay Rhiems actually translates "viscera" as "bowels". Here's what it says: "Through the bowels of the mercy of our God". Wow!!

I probably won't change the way I say the "Benedictus" since I have it memorized, and at my age (over 50), if you change a word in something you've memorized you'll forget the whole thing! But I will say that after this short discovery and investigation, I will have a renewed and deepened appreciation for how much God loves me.

But perhaps this is once again instructive on how important translations are to our Faith formation. We complain how people today, especially kids, don't pay attention to God the way they should. And we wonder what has happened to our present generation, why we don't practice the Faith the way our parents and ancestors did.

We blame television and all the other products of technology that keep us busy, but perhaps it has something to do with how the Faith is presented. We hear no end of "God loves you", but, if we're honest, those words are increasingly irrelevant to our self-obsessed society.

We are not allowed to write off the wayward and go back to our little self-absorbed devotional enclave. "Go and teach!" said He as His last instruction. But what to do? Well, perhaps it's time we start looking at the official version of Catholic scripture and see what it has been saying for over 1600 years.

As a man (and once a boy) I am highly moved by the image of a God who loves me with his guts, from his bowels! Yes, my innermost parts are certainly "tender", but I believe the use of the word has the effect of making God soft, at least in the eyes (and hearing) of young men whose hormones are just beginning to scream for manly expression.

Perhaps that's why we see young men turning to fights, to sexual impurity, to foul language, to whatever they think makes them more of a man. Why turn to a God who is typified as "tender" (though He is that too of course) when everything about you (a young man) is rough and tough, and guess what, centered (at least in adolescence) around the bowels.

Perhaps it's time to re-present the God of the Bible who loves us from his bowels - since that is what it ACTUALLY says.

By the way, I have no formal education in this field. I just have an excellent book called the PRACTICAL COMMENTARY OF HOLY SCRIPTURE which was used as a tool for catechesis in Germany and in England for many years. Its original intended audience was grade school but when you read it you'll have an appreciation for how much more well-informed and literate people were 100 years ago.

I am going to write a separate article on this but the thing I love about it is that the formula for instruction follows the pattern of Jesus who, when instructing the masses, would often first tell a story (parable), then elicit the lesson, and then instruct those who heard Him to apply that which they had just learned.

This book does exactly that and uses the stories from Scripture as the beginning point of catechesis. If it was good enough for Jesus then it's good enough for me.

God Bless You (from His bowels)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

"Church" - etymology of

For some reason I have always been interested in words, particularly words that are related to our Faith, their origin, and how they are used. So I thought I'd share some of these words with you from time to time. If nothing else, it may help you win a Catholic trivia contest someday!

Today's word is "church". Where does that word come from? Why do we use it It's a word that is used alot but it's sort of a strange word and doesn't seem to be related to any other English word.

Our word "church" is the english version of the German word "kirche". An older spelling is "kirika" which descends from two Greek words: "kyrios" and "oika" Kyrios means master or lord and "oika" means house. Together the ancient Greek word is "kyriake" or the lord's house or the master's house. Thus our word "church" and the way we use it means the "Lord's house".

We are familiar of course with "Kyrios"as we still pray "Kyrie eleision" or "Lord, have mercy".

No, I'm not a Greek scholar, I just have a good dictionary on my pda that shows the etymology of words.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

God or the Girl...? - A different look at religious vocations

A&E recently put out a program called “God or the Girl” which follows four guys who are in the process of discerning a vocation to the Catholic Priesthood.

The program may be helpful for some who may also be in the same state of discernment, but the program, in my opinion, falls short in two areas.

First, because it’s “television”, it’s framed as a type of reality show or a kind of “Discovery Channel” episode. There is little emphasis on the sacred and, as can be expected from a television approach to the topic, there is more emphasis on giving up sex; thus, the title: God (no sex) or the girl (sex).

It would be easy to criticize the makers of the flick for the “soaping” (as in soap opera) of what should be a deeply personal sacramental process of discernment. But I believe that “where there’s smoke there’s fire” and I think it always instructive to first look in the mirror to see “whither comes the error?”

At the risk of gross generalization and naïve simplification for the sake of brevity I will state here two problems:

1. The trite and adolescent approach of the program’s approach to sacramental discernment is not just a result of a quest for “good TV” but a direct embodiment of a parallel trivialization and minimization of the sacred Priesthood especially in the American Church.

2. Vocations to the religious life will suffer wherever the decision is framed as a choice between God and anything else, be it a girl, a boy, or a telephone book for that matter. As a matter of fact I believe that vocations to the religious life will suffer wherever the choice is framed as a “decision” at all.

The main point of this small treatise is point 2, but as for point 1, no less than John Paul II and our current Pontiff, Benedict, have weighed in heavily and often on the necessity of delineating between the “ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of all believers” and the danger inherent in the blurring of that delineation.

Part of that danger is the inevitable difficulty in attracting vocations to a life role that appears to differ little in form and function from what the average lay person can do anyway. Lay people get to be on the altar, wear robes, handle the sacred species, sport the title of minister, and in some cases even preach.

Combine this with the decades long “sidelining” of the “Sacred Presence”, the emphasis on the “communal meal” aspect of the Mass versus the “Holy Sacrifice”, the negation of the word “Priest” in preference for more neutral terms such as “presbyter” or “Presider” (the natural result of ridding the Mass of the word “sacrifice” – ‘sacrifice” necessitates the presence of a “Priest), and the fact that nearly 2/3 of American Catholics no longer believe in the “Real Presence” (surprise, surprise), then what’s the point? Might as well get “God AND the Girl!”

With the backdrop of an emasculated Sacred Priesthood the “decision” naturally devolves down to “God OR the Girl” for the only thing unique at this point about the priesthood is “celibacy”.

I’ll leave the solution to the problem to finer minds than my own. Not being a Priest I have little authority to speak to the matter. However, being a married man of 20 years and the father of 10 children I believe I can speak to the "other" vocation.

First, the choice between the Priesthood and Marriage is never a choice between God or the girl, or the boy! The choice between these two sacramental vocations, both properly preceded by the appropriate adjectival syntax “Holy” – as in “Holy Orders” and “Holy Matrimony” is first, foremost, and fully a choice for God, PERIOD!

It is my opinion, that until we can again frame these life roles in their full sacred sense there will continue to be more harm done to each. Perhaps you have noticed that as vocations to the Priesthood have declined so have vocations to Marriage (as in the Sacrament of Marriage as understood and taught by the Church).

Both Marriage and the Priesthood were ordained by God to serve His purposes. There’s never a case of “either/or”. It’s always, as we Catholics love to congratulate ourselves on being: “both/and”. Thus a great Priest is one who would make a great husband and father. And a great husband and father is one who would make a great Priest. Either way, it’s a complete “choice” for God who infuses the grace needed to live completely and fully the sacramental life to which He has called us and formed us for.

The Crisis of Religious Illiteracy - and how Hildrebrand can help!

One need not read the recent book by Boston University professor Stephen Prothero “Religious Literacy” to see the problem. Just visit a parish CCD program or Catholic school near you and ask the Confirmation class to name the first commandment. According to a recent survey (see 2007-04-23 “Religious Illiteracy”) only 5% will be able to answer correctly. (1)

In 1997, the US Council of Catholic Bishops established a Protocol for Assessing the Conformity of Catechetical Materials with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It should be noted that this assessment tool was designed not to search for the best in catechetical resources, but to detect those resources that did not meet the lowest requirements. (But even so, the USCCB does not restrict their use.)

The fact that only one catechetical series passed the initial review (Faith and Life published by Ignatius Press) says much about the magnitude of the problem. But lack of proper educational resources is only part of the dilemma.

One could argue that the instructors need more education. But a review of the Religious Education departments of most dioceses will reveal more people with more letters after their names than ever before. Today, there are more resources, more instructors, more funds, more programs, and more advice from more advisors than ever. And yet the result is inarguable; the evidence: absolutely damning. It’s getting worse. As a matter of fact, the decline in religious literacy is almost proportionate to the increase in the resources dedicated to reverse it.

So how can Hildebrand help? Hildebrand, better known as Gregory VII, reigned as Pope from 1073 to 1085. That’s quite a while ago. So why should we look to him?

Gregory VII is famous for what came to be called the “Gregorian Reform” which is probably best known for its support of clerical celibacy as a way of improving the moral level of the clergy. But Gregory also tackled simony, to which many of the woes of the 11th century Church could be traced. Simony, which is the buying and selling of church offices, was part of a larger problem of lay domination within the Church.

In How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, the author, Thomas E. Woods, Jr., Ph.d., recounts that:

“Pope Gregory had little chance of reversing the decadence within the Church if
he lacked the power to name the Church’s bishops - a power than in the eleventh
century was being exercised by the various European monarchs instead. Likewise,
as long as laymen could name parish priests and abbots of monasteries, the
multiplication of spiritually unfit candidates for these offices would only
continue.” (2)

Today we don’t have a problem with monarchs appointing bishops, but we do have a problem with “lay domination”. However, in contrast to the problem of the 11th century, the “lay domination” of today is not, for the most part, a power move by the laity but, at least in the case of religious instruction, the inevitable result of the pastor’s abdication of his teaching chair.

The fact that 99.99% of the materials used in parish religious instruction were found to be defective by the time the USCCB got around to reviewing them is pretty profound evidence that the real problem is not the publishers (who for the most part only print what sells) but the pastors.

The pastor, regardless of who he appoints, is the “father” of his parish family and ultimately its guardian. It is he (not the DRE) who stands guard at the gate of the parish garden with the flaming sword of truth and bars the way against any “unclean thing”.

The pastor can no more delegate his role as primary teacher than he can delegate his sacred orders. It doesn’t matter if a lay person has more letters after his or her name. In the Catholic Church there is no authority to teach in the name of the Church other than that which is given from above through the line of Sacred Orders.

The laity must and will serve the Church. But in the absence of authentic authority as embodied by a visible (and audible) pastor, the well-meaning but leaderless laity will dissipate into personal theologies, politics, and private agendas.

The Catholic Church is built on a particular vertical (and visible) alignment of authority (Pope-Bishops- Priests-Laity). It’s the “spine” you might say. Absent any of the “vertebrae” and we have a broken back and a paralyzed body. A paralyzed body will atrophy. Thus the visible evidence from the above mentioned studies.

I want to emphasize the “visible” part of this because it’s what makes the Catholic Church Catholic. The “invisible church” is the stuff of Protestantism. The true Church of Christ is a VISIBLE Church, a city set on a hill (Mt 5:14) The Church is visible through all its members but particularly through those upon whom the sacred orders have been conferred (which is why our late Pope - and probably our current one - have so laboriously insisted upon the wearing of the appropriate and distinguishing religious or clerical garb).

A quick memory for the sake of example: Our parish pastor visited our class weekly. I can still see him dressed in meticulous clerics and entering the classroom in a particularly regal way. The effect was immediate respect and we all would stand and say in unison: “Good morning Father Smith”(not his real name, and no, we did not address him by his first name). Yes, we had been trained to do so, but he had been trained to act and dress in a way that elicited that type of respect, not just for him, but for all that his collar represented. Though we didn’t know it consciously, his presence and how he presented himself helped us intuit the Church that we were a part of. By the way, Father “Smith” never taught a class. His presence and THE WAY he presented himself did that for him.

There’s a saying: “What you do speaks so loudly that what you say I cannot hear” - another way of saying “Actions speak louder than words”. Today we have no end of words. What we lack are examples, models, action. I don’t mean just charitable works and the like, but folks whose very bearing proclaims the dignity, authority, and truth of the Church. Can anyone doubt that such a message exudes from the present occupant of Peter’s chair despite his small and mild stature? (By the way, I don’t think he owns a polo shirt.)

Just one more side note: We didn’t have any special program for adult catechesis. Father took care of that in his sermons which were full of instruction, history, and the examples of the saints. He also celebrated Mass in an extremely solemn and reverent way so we didn’t need a separate class to teach us about the Real Presence. He didn’t need a choir either. I can still hear his voice filling up the huge sanctuary with the strains of “Holy God We Praise Thy Name".

It’s interesting to note that most of the studies and efforts as per the improvement of religious literacy seem to focus mostly on the instructional materials, the “program” (the words). This emphasis is symptomatic of the actual problem. Religious instruction, historically and catechetically, has never been the domain of the “program”, but the province of pastor and parent: the pastor as teacher to his flock, and parent, especially the father, in the mold of the pastor, as teacher to his.

The fact that so few parents are involved in the religious education of their children, let alone fathers, is perhaps the best evidence of the need for “Father” to be once again be seen as “Teacher”. Perhaps we will begin to see fathers “father” when Father “fathers’. (Please remember that I am only dealing with a priest’s pastoral duty to teach and not his other duties.)

I cannot end this little analysis without addressing the main objection that most pastors will have had by the second paragraph: overwork, too busy, no time, this or that person is more qualified, burn out…whatever you want to call it.

I cannot answer for them, but as the father of ten children, living and working in a place where the nearest relative is 7000 miles away, I can answer that Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Sacraments of His Church, has provided all that is necessary for me (and my spouse) to fulfill our God given primary duties to our children.

The challenge is the constant effort to continually identify WHAT those “primary duties” are, for in doing them I will find the channels of grace “filled to overflowing”. It’s only when I lose sight of those priorities that I become “weary in well-doing”.

I would submit that there can be no greater command than the last one:: “go and TEACH”. In obeying that command, pastor and parent will find all the grace they need to fulfill it.

(1) Though the Zenit article documents a study done in Ireland, the results are indicative of the level of Religious literacy throughout the western Church as evinced by Prothero’s book which the article also mentions.
(2) See How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods, Jr., Ph. D., Regnery Publishing, Inc. 2005, pg. 189
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