Archive | June, 2012

More Than a Feeling

27 Jun

For some of us, our first encounter with conscience may have been the movie Pinocchio, where the wise Jiminy Cricket exhorts our hero to “let conscience be [his] guide.” For others, it may have been an elementary catechism class, where we learned that conscience is a “little voice” inside us helping us to sort out right from wrong. Whatever the source, animated by Disney or supernatural grace—or likely a combination of the two—we learned early on that it is a very good and even necessary thing to follow our conscience.

As we develop a more mature understanding of Christian morality, we still recognize our fundamental obligation to follow our conscience. The Church teaches that conscience is that privileged place within us where God speaks to us. Conscience gives us the framework for making good, loving choices and shunning evil impulses and temptations. Even on a natural level we encounter the workings of conscience, as pagans and Christians alike have experienced a sense “deep down” that something just is—or is not—the right thing to do.

For Christians, of course, conscience goes beyond those elements of the natural law that are accessible to every human heart (cf. Rom. 2:14-15): The more our conscience is formed by the teachings of Christ and his Church, the more our conscience becomes finely attuned to all that is true, good, and beautiful.

And conscience is not merely a window to the natural law, but a place where we actually encounter the living God. The Gospel warns us against professing belief in the Lord while failing to do what he says (Lk. 6:46). What good would it be, for example, for our conscience to tell us it is wrong to defraud our creditors if we have no intention to act upon such guidance? It would be like driving at night without using our headlights. Such a culpably reckless approach would inevitably lead to disaster.

Therefore, it is clear that we have a serious duty to do what we believe is right in God’s eyes, and this entails heeding our conscience. As the Church teaches, our dignity and even our eternal destiny lie in our obedience to God’s voice within us Continue reading

The Vocation of John the Baptist

25 Jun

Yesterday was the birthday of my son Samuel John. It was also the liturgical feast of the Birth (or “Nativity”) of St. John the Baptist. It’s one of the three birthdays set aside for special celebration in the Church, the others of course being the Birth of Jesus (Christmas) on December 25th, and the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8th.

Christ Himself was the eternal Son of God who came into the world as our Savior. The Blessed Virgin Mary was “saved” from the moment of her immaculate conception by a special grace of God, in anticipation of the merits of Christ. John the Baptist was conceived a fallen human being like the rest of us, but remarkably was filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb (cf. Lk. 1:41, 44). The rest of us come into the world in a state of alienation from God. That’s why saints’ feast days are usually the day of their death–the day they enter eternal life. (And note, the Church also celebrates the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist on August 29th.)

Anyway, I thought I would refer our readers to this 2007 article at Catholic Exchange on the birth of St. John the Baptist. I especially appreciate the author’s focus on St. John’s vocation as it unfolded throughout the life of the herald of the Messiah:

“John was given a mission, a vocation, while still a mere babe. It would be many years before he would carry it out. He still would have needed help preparing for it. John would have needed his mother and father to help him learn about the faith of his ancestors, in coming to know of the God of Abraham and his relationship with the people of Israel. He would have needed someone to help him learn his prayers and all that the Scriptures contained. In other words, I imagine Zechariah and Elizabeth had an important part to play in helping their son discern what God was calling him to do.”

This reflection reminds all of us who are Catholic parents of the immense dignity and responsibility we have as “vocation directors” in the home.

The Church and “Babble on”

21 Jun

In today’s Gospel, before giving us the “Our Father” as the model of Christian prayer, Our Lord says, “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them” (Mt. 6:7-8). Sometimes this passage is cited by Protestants to assert that Catholics engage in “vain repetition” in prayer, especially when it comes to the Rosary. Is there any validity to that assertion?

At the outset, we should note that the expression “vain repetition” refers to the translation of Our Lord’s words in Matthew 6:7 found in the King James Version (KJV) and other older Protestant Bibles: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetition, as the heathens do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (KJV).

Catholic translations (just as in today’s Gospel) as well as modern Protestant translations use expressions such as “babble” or “empty phrases” instead of “vain repetition.” The Greek word translated as “repetition” in the KJV more precisely means to prattle or chatter incessantly. So it’s fair to suggest that Christ never really instructed us to avoid “vain repetition” in prayer.

But even accepting this translation, the Rosary does not entail “vain repetition.” Our Lord is not condemning any and all “repetition” in prayer, but vain repetition–in other words, praying like the pagans or Gentiles (cf. Mt. 6:7), who “pray to gods that cannot save” (Is. 45:20). Pagans at that time would recite long prayers in order to be heard. Such practices indeed were empty and manifested a lack of faith.

However, the teaching and example of Jesus reflect the truth that repetition in prayer itself is not a problem, but rather such prayer can be fruitful and intimate. Just a few examples:

–Two verses later Jesus teaches His disciples to pray the Our Father (Mt. 6:9-13), which presumably would be repeated many times throughout the Christian’s life.

–During the account of the Agony in the Garden, we read that Jesus “went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words” (Mt. 26:44).

–In one of Jesus’ parables, the tax collector who humbly repeated the prayer “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner” went home justified (Lk. 18:13).

–Even the angels and saints pray the same words over and over again: “Holy, holy, holy . . .” (Rev. 4:8). Clearly the heavenly liturgy doesn’t involve “vain repetition”!

For more biblical teaching on the Rosary, I recommend Catholic for a Reason II: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mother of God, which I co-edited with Scott Hahn.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon

18 Jun

Samuel (number 12) today

I originally wrote the following article for Lay Witness magazine in 2002, shortly after the adoption of our son Samuel. Since today marks the tenth anniversary of his adoption, I thought I would reprint it here, with some minor updates.

Maureen and I were married on February 2, 1991, during the Gulf War. At that time, people were tying yellow ribbons everywhere as a reminder of our loved ones who were away at war. We all needed reassurance during this time of conflict and uncertainty.

The homilist at our wedding told us that our marriage needed to be a yellow ribbon, a witness to life and love amidst the hatred, despair, and death we saw around us. We were newlyweds when the Gulf War ended, and of course now nation is still at war in that region, as well as embroiled in the ongoing, complex war against international terrorism.

Meanwhile, Maureen and I have quietly lived our marriage vows for over two decades. We remember Pope John Paul II telling us over and over again that civilization passes by way of the family. We are far from perfect, but we have taken seriously the challenge we received at our wedding–a challenge issued to all Christian families–to be joyful witnesses to Christ in the midst of the world.

The Lord has abundantly blessed our marriage with children. We have six beautiful children (they take after their mother) and 14 godchildren. [And now one grandchild.] We’ve welcomed at different times many others into our home, including our elderly parents, siblings, and college students. I thank the Lord every day for the singular gift of our family, our little domestic Church.

Yet we’ve also endured times of sorrow. Maureen has had several pregnancies end in miscarriage. Many families have experienced miscarriages and know what a silent, difficult cross they can be. After all, here we are in a contraceptive society, in a “culture of death,” willing to accept new life, only to have the child taken from us before we can even hold him or her. We’ve entrusted these little ones to our merciful Father, trusting amidst the tears that these tragedies are part of a larger, more glorious plan.

Family life isn’t a contest in which the players with the most children at the end of the game win. Yet Maureen and I wanted to be as open as possible to the Lord’s blessing. We have always considered adoption at some point, and after some of the pain from the miscarriages subsided, we realized in 2001 that we had room in our hearts and our home for another child. So we took the next step . . .

We didn’t have the money to go through an expensive agency. Further, we weren’t looking for a “designer baby” with all the “right” qualities. We simply wanted to be open to accept whatever gift the Lord would want for us.

We decided in February 2001 to receive 36 hours of “training” through the county to become certified as foster/adoptive parents. We also obtained a home study, a comprehensive report prepared by a social worker concerning the suitability of an adoptive family. We figured that by going through these at times onerous steps, we would be ready to act quickly should a child become available.

We had our home study sent to various Catholic Charities offices in our region. We expressed a willingness to consider any age, race, gender, or special needs, but we hoped for a younger child so that there would be a better chance of forming good attachments. We made ourselves available, and then we had to wait.

One morning in September 2001, months after completing our home study and only a few days before 9/11, Maureen commented to me how nice it would be to have a son. I nodded as I left for the CUF office. Later that day, I had slipped out of the office to go to our parish’s adoration chapel to prepare for a talk I was going to give that weekend. While I was there Maureen and my three youngest daughters tracked me down. They told me that we just received a call from Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh. We were going to be able to adopt a baby boy!

The baby was only two months old. Interestingly, the foster parents were calling him Samuel. I would have been inclined to go along with a noble biblical name like Samuel anyway, but remarkably I happened to be studying the book of 2 Samuel when I received the happy news from Maureen. Only later did I learn that Samuel John’s birthday was June 24th, the feast of the birth of John the Baptist, the new Samuel. (I do assure Maureen that she’s considerably younger than St. Elizabeth!)

Baby Samuel quickly became an integral part of our family. I couldn’t imagine loving a biological child more than I love Samuel. He is also now a loving big brother to Raymond, whom we adopted at birth in 2004.

We have much to teach Samuel, but he has already taught us so much. For one thing, his (usually!) pleasant, outgoing disposition and his “I’m just happy to be here” smile continually calls us to gratitude for God’s gifts and to put our worldly concerns in perspective.

Further, his addition to our family has been a concrete lesson on the gift of adoption that all of us received at Baptism. We are not second-class citizens but truly children of God. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn. 3:1). As we rejoice in the expansion of our little family, even more does our Heavenly Father take delight in sharing His glory with the creatures He has fashioned in His image and likeness.

Samuel’s story would not be possible without a whole network of people who were committed to the Gospel of life. I’m thinking of the various social workers and Catholic Charities personnel, Samuel’s loving foster parents, and our many family members and friends who have stormed heaven with their prayers and who have materially helped us in myriad ways. Above all, my heart goes out to Samuel’s birth mother. She read our anonymous “birth parent letter” and chose our family for her child. I pray with utmost confidence that our Lord will bless her heroic generosity and draw her closer to Himself.

I think we need to proclaim these little pro-life “success stories” to our contemporaries. In a world in desperate need of “yellow ribbons,” we must be ambassadors of a supernatural hope rooted in the goodness and promises of the Lord of Life. We know that Jesus Christ through His Church is the world’s salvation and hope, and in the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to tell one another and the world, “Do not be afraid.”

Numbering the Psalms

14 Jun

As I’ve been reading through the Douay-Rheims Bible, I’ve noticed that the Psalms have a slightly different numbering as compared to other versions of the Bible. Why is that?

A little background is in order here. While the individual psalms themselves may be very early in origin, the final organization of the Psalter into 150 psalms took place sometime in the late post-exilic period. In fact, the earliest evidence we have of the canonical form of the Psalter is the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Septuagint dates back to the second or third century B.C.

The Masoretic Psalter (MT), in its final form, cannot be dated until much later. Elements of the eschatological hopes found in the Greek Psalter were omitted from the Masoteric text, reflecting the impact of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

However, despite minor variations, it is clear that the MT and the LXX contain the same psalms, placed in the same order, though their numbering is slightly different. The LXX combines MT Psalms 9-10 and 114-15, while it separates MT Psalms 116 and 147 into two.

The Catholic Church has always accepted the LXX as canonical, including a handful of books that are not found in the MT. Protestants generally use the MT and refer to the “extra” books in the LXX as “apocryphal,” while Catholics convincingly point to the historical and theological basis for accepting the LXX in its entirety. For more on that issue, click here.

Since both forms of the OT contain all the same Psalms in the same order, with only a difference in the numbering, most modern Catholic Bibles, in a spirit of ecumenism and good will, have adopted the numbering of the MT even though otherwise they preserve the LXX. An exception is the Douay-Rheims Bible, which retains the LXX numbering.

An example of this at work: There is the Miserere, the Psalm that begins “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness; in your mercy blot out my offense . . .” That Psalm is generally referred to as Psalm 51, but in the Douay-Rheims (LXX), it is Psalm 50. For that reason, you will sometimes see this Psalm cited as Psalm 51 (50).

Names of the First Five Books of the Bible

12 Jun

I received the following question via email: The Rabbi in my Hebrew class said that the Hebrew names of the books of the Torah have an entirely different meaning than in the English, with the exception of Genesis. WHO and more importantly WHY would the original Hebrew names of these books be changed to titles that have totally different meaning than the original form? I don’t understand. Please help me to shed some light on this . . .

Regarding titles given to the five books of the Torah, there is not a strictly uniform tradition in Judaism, at least not historically speaking. Rabbinic Judaism, which preserved the patrimony of the Hebrew language, named the books of Moses after a word or expression that appears in the first verse of each book. Thus, Genesis is titled bere’shit (“In the beginning”), Exodus is ve’elleh shemot (“And these are the names”), Leviticus is vayyiqra’ (“And he [the LORD] spoke”), Numbers is bemidbar (“in the wilderness of”), and Deuteronomy is ‘elleh ha-debarim (“These are the words”).

Other titles are attested in ancient times as well, designating Genesis, for example, as sefer ha-Beriah (“The Book of Creation”), among other titles, and Leviticus as torat ha-kohanim (“The Law of the Priests”).

We are generally more familiar with the tradition of Diaspora Judaism as expressed in the Greek titles that appear in the LXX/Septuagint, where Genesis is genesis (“origin”), Exodus is exodos (“departure”), Leviticus is leuitikon (“pertaining to the Levites”), Numbers is arithmoi (“numbers”), and Deuteronomy is deuteronomion (“second lawgiving”).

The popularity of these latter titles was guaranteed when the early Christian Church adopted the Greek headings of the LXX in transliterated form. The bottom line is that Judaism had more than one tradition from which to choose headings for the books of the Torah when the torch was passed to the new and universal (“catholic”) Israel, the Church.

For more on the Church’s use of the LXX, click here.

Giving What We Got

7 Jun

Sr. Evangeline with her family

Last month my family drove to Ann Arbor, Michigan to visit our daughter, Sr. Evangeline. This was our first opportunity to visit her since she received a new name and religious habit as a novice with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist last summer. We were all so excited to see her!

With this upcoming visit in mind, I was recently pondering a light-hearted comment that one of the Dominican sisters once made at a gathering of Catholic leaders. She said, “We need your prayers. We need your money. We need your daughters.” On all three counts, I can’t think of a better recipient than this thriving, faithful religious community.

Yet, our society and especially our government are competing for the same things!

The money, of course, is a no-brainer. The government wants as much of it as it can get away with taking, and our consumerist society is ready to pounce on whatever is left.

But what about the others? What does our secular society, let alone our government, care about our prayers? It would seem that if anything they don’t want us to pray or acknowledge God at all, especially in public.

Maybe instead of prayer we could say our “hearts.” They want our “buy in.” They want our allegiance, our adherence to their agenda. They want us to be Americans who happen to be (nominal) Catholics, not Catholics who happen to be Americans.

As sincere Catholics, we pray to God, trusting that our heavenly Father knows what”s best for us (cf. Mt. 6:31-32; 7:11; Lk, 12:7; Phil. 4:19). We want to grow in union with Him.

Society and the government want us to trust them instead (never mind what it says on our money!), because they think they know what’s best for us. They don’t want us to be counter-cultural witnesses to Christ. Instead, they want us to “go with the flow” and follow the fashions and political correctness of an increasingly “godless” society in the West.

And, like the good sisters, they want our kids. That makes sense economically, not only when it comes to selling them (with us picking up the tab!) things they don’t need, but even more in ensuring a labor force as the effects of reproductive “choices” affect us on a macro level. Immigrants as well as large Catholic families are prime sources of the next generation of children, which is America’s greatest resource.

But it’s not enough for them to wait for a pay off on this resource (when our kids become laborers/consumers/taxpayers). They want to “program” them now, which makes things a lot easier on the back end. That explains much of the indoctrination that goes on in public schools (and before that, in daycare), as well as some of the institutional hostility to private Catholic schools and especially homeschooling families.

More on all that later. The question I’d like us to consider today is who gets our hearts, who gets our money, and who gets our kids? As much as we’d like to think so, we can’t have it both ways (cf. Mt. 6:24). May Our Lord Jesus Christ truly be the center of our lives, and may we truly give Him our best in all that we do.

“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” –Matthew 6:33

And You Call Yourself a Catholic!

5 Jun

A student once asked me: When did the term “Catholic” come into play? How did we become “Catholic” from our Jewish roots? I thought these were very good questions, so I thought I would share my brief response with the readers of No Place Like Home.

The first recorded use of the word “catholic” (from the Greek word for “universal”) in reference to the Church is found in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop and disciple of St. John who was martyred by the Emperor Trajan in 107. Shortly before his martyrdom, he wrote several letters to various Church communities. These letters have been preserved by the Church ever since. One such letter was the Letter to the Smyrneans, where he wrote in chapter 8:

“See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

Interestingly, Antioch is also the place where the followers of Christ were called “Christians” for the first time (Acts 11:26).

As for the second question, really the goal of all of salvation history, from the time of the fall and surely from the scattering of the nations at Babel, has been to reunite the divided, sinful family of man into the Family of God, the Church. The Church indeed is universal, as it’s the means of salvation for the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike. Surely the Jewish people played a unique role as God’s chosen people, from whom would come Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. In a real sense the Church became “Catholic” at Pentecost, when God reversed the scattering of peoples at Babel (see Catechism, no. 830).

The covenants made to the patriarchs, to Moses, and to King David all find their fulfillment in the salvation Christ brings to the world. As was promised way back in Genesis, through Abraham and his descendants all the families of the earth will find blessing (Gen. 12:3). This blessing is universal. This blessing is Catholic.

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Pope’s Intentions

1 Jun

Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI for the month of June, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Christ, Present in the Eucharist.  That believers may recognize in the Eucharist the living presence of the Risen One who accompanies them in daily life.
  • European Christians.  That Christians in Europe may rediscover their true identity and participate with greater enthusiasm in the proclamation of the Gospel.

The Church traditionally dedicates the month of June to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This year the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart falls on June 15th, the Friday following the second Sunday after Pentecost. In addition to the liturgical celebration, many devotional exercises are connected with the Sacred Heart of Jesus and, in recent years, the Divine Mercy. The devotion to the Sacred Heart remains one of the most widespread and popular devotions in the Church.