Archive | October, 2012

More Halloween Resources

31 Oct

In addition to my post earlier this week on ghosts, I would like to recommend the following resources on Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day:

Catechesis on the First Commandment

30 Oct

Jesus said to the rich young man, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Mt. 19:17). Even though Jesus came to give us a new law and a new covenant, He makes it clear that His followers must keep the commandments. He did not come to abolish the Ten Commandments but to fulfill them (cf. Mt. 5:17-20).

Our Lord invites us to discover the Ten Commandments anew. He lived them perfectly and revealed their full meaning. Even more, He now gives us His Holy Spirit so that we can keep the commandments, despite our fallen nature. He also has left us the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so that He can pour out His abundant mercy upon us whenever we fail to live according to the commandments.

He interpreted the Ten Commandments in light of the twofold commandment of love: Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22:36-40). Traditional catechesis divides the commandments accordingly, first covering those that pertain to the love of God (nos. 1-3), and then addressing the commandments that pertain to the love of neighbor (nos. 4-10).

Another word for the Ten Commandments is the Decalogue, which means “ten words” (Ex. 34:28). These “words” summarize the law given by God to Moses as the blueprint for living a good life free from slavery to sin.

These “words” are perennial valid. For that reason, Christians must keep the commandments. They express our fundamental duties owed in justice toward God and neighbor. Upon this foundation, the virtues of faith, hope, and especially charity are able to flourish in us.

Over the course of this recurring series of blog posts, I will try to provide a contemporary catechesis on the commandments, based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Let’s begin at the beginning, with the First Commandment:

I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me. (see Catechism, nos. 2084-2141)

The first part of this commandment exhorts us to praise and adore God, acknowledging Him as the Lord of everything that exists. Practically speaking, this commandment calls us to cultivate the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity:

Through faith we believe all that God has revealed through Christ as proclaimed by His Church, as we reject sins such as deliberate doubt, heresy, schism, and apostasy.

Through hope we place all our trust in God’s goodness and promises, and we reject the sins of despair and presumption.

Through charity we love God above all things, and we reject sins such as indifference, lukewarmness (cf. Rev. 3:14-16), and ingratitude.

The second part of this commandment instructs us not to worship other gods. What does that mean for us today? The Catechism identifies some sins that are violations of this commandment:

Superstition and Divination: Any deviation from the authentic worship of God. Some extreme forms would include calling upon Satan himself or conjuring up the dead. This also includes consulting horoscopes, astrology, tarot cards, and various “New Age” practices.

Idolatry: This involves more than mere pagan worship. Anytime we put money, power, or any creature in the place of “God,” we have committed idolatry.

Irreligion: The failure to give what is due to God. This includes the sins of putting God to the test, sacrilege, and simony.

Atheism and Agnosticism: The former is the outright rejection of God’s existence, the latter is a persistent uncertainty that can easily give rise to indifferentism and practical atheism.

The full biblical text of the First Commandment includes the command: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image . . .” (Exodus 20:4).

The Catholic Church is known for its promotion of sacred art, and many Catholic homes have crucifixes as well as statues, icons, and paintings of the Blessed Mother and other saints. Is that a violation of the First Commandment?

There’s a big difference between an image that reminds us of the one, true God and our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and an image that actually takes the place of God. Catholics understand, for example, that the crucifix is a reminder of God’s saving act on Calvary. We don’t worship the crucifix as though it were God.

It’s a good question, though. In fact, it’s such an important question that the Church formally addressed this very issue at the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, over 200 years before the Eastern Schism and over 700 years before the rise of Protestantism. The Council affirmed that the veneration of sacred images is rooted in the mystery of the Incarnation and is not contrary to the First Commandment.

Stay tuned next week for a look at the Second Commandment! 

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

29 Oct

The Bible actually points to evidence that ghosts do indeed exist. In the Old Testament, ghosts appeared to both Job and the Maccabees in their sleep to relay messages (2 Macc. 15:12-16; Job 4:15).

When Jesus appeared in the resurrected body, he was mistaken for a ghost and even said that ghosts don’t have flesh and bones (Lk. 24:39). The prophet Samuel prophesied from the grave (Sir. 46:20). Also, in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31), it’s implied that the dead can communicate with the living in verse 25. And even stranger is the possible separation of the spirit from the living body or bilocation in the story of Philip baptizing the Ethiopian in Acts 8:39: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again . . .”

Accordingly, the Church believes that ghosts, or spirits, do exist. There are times when spirits appear to our benefit, but we are warned against attempting to contact spirits. We should be extremely cautious and guarded simply because Satan could be attempting to deceive us.

But what are they?

“Ghost” is another word for “spirit” (it comes from the German word Geist,  which means “spirit”). There are three kinds of spirits: (1) the human spirit which combined with a human body make up a human being; (2) a spirit that that has no body, such as that of an angel or devil; and (3) the infinite Spirit—God–of whom the Third Person is the Holy Spirit or “Holy Ghost.”

When someone asks whether ghosts exist, he usually has in mind the first kind, a human spirit, but apart from one’s body. Hence Servant of God John Hardon defined “ghost” as a disembodied spirit. Christianity believes that God may, and sometimes does, permit a departed soul to appear in some visible form to people on earth. Allowing for legend and illusion, there is enough authentic evidence, for example in the lives of the saints, to indicate that such apparitions occur. Their purpose may be to teach or warn, or request some favor of the living (Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980, p. 229).

The last sentence of Fr. Hardon’s definition implicitly gives the Church’s teaching on ghosts. Appearances of ghosts are understood with regard to our salvation. Ghosts can come to us for good, but we must not attempt to conjure or control spirits. The Church teaches that “spiritism”–seeking recourse or power from ghosts–is contrary to the virtue of religion (i.e., the Commandment “You shall have no other gods before Me”):

“All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future…

“All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others–even if this were for the sake of restoring their health–are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2116-17, original emphasis).

Peter Kreeft, in his interesting book Angels (and Demons) (San  Francisco: Ignatius, 1995, pp. 51-52) provides this interesting speculation regarding “haunting”:

“Ghosts are the spirits, or souls, of human beings whose bodies have died.  They may hover around the earth “haunting” material places, usually houses.  There seem to be four possible reasons for this:

1. They don’t yet realize they are dead.

2. They were so attached to their material places or possessions that they can’t detach themselves from them and leave.

3. They are working out some purification, penance, or purgatory, some remedial education or ‘reform school.’

4. They are consoling their loved ones who have been bereaved.

“Angels, in contrast, did not have human bodies in the first place and never will.  Ghosts once had human bodies and will receive new resurrection bodies in heaven if they go there.”

Apparently, according to Dr. Kreeft, C.S. Lewis once claimed to have seen a ghost of his wife.

The Parish Family

25 Oct

“Listen graciously to the prayers of this family, whom you have summoned before you.”

—Eucharistic Prayer III

What do we think of when our parish priest reads these words at Mass? Are we alert enough to hear and embrace this petition? Do we consider this reference to our being a “family” a merely poetic expression or pious exaggeration? Or do we embrace in faith the reality that all of us gathered for Sunday Mass are, in fact, members of the Family of God?

Catholic theology since Vatican II has emphasized the reality that the Church is truly the “Family of God.” Why? Because, through our Baptism, each one of us has been “born again” as a child of God. We participate–even now–in God’s own life. And this life is familial, not solitary. As Blessed John Paul II wrote in 1979, “God in His deepest mystery is not a solitude, but a family, since He has in Himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of the family, which is love.”

Further, according to Pope Benedict XVI in his 2005 encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est, our heavenly Father’s desire is to unite all people into one family in Christ:

“The Spirit is also the energy which transforms the heart of the ecclesial community, so that it becomes a witness before the world to the love of the Father, who wishes to make humanity a single family in his Son” (no. 19).

How refreshing it is to understand the Church as a family, rather than as merely an impersonal institution or even a congregation of isolated individuals who all happen to believe in Jesus. This understanding is especially challenging today, since we’ve largely lost our sense of “family” and many of us have been wounded by brokenness and division within our own families.

A family is where our home is. It is where we should always be welcome. This is especially true when it comes to God’s family, from which all other families derive their existence, as we hear in today’s reading at Mass(cf. Eph. 3:14-15). My favorite image in this regard is the parable of the prodigal son, which reveals how welcoming and merciful Our Heavenly Father truly is.

While God’s family in the Old Testament was built on the twelve sons of Israel, God’s New Testament family is built on the firm foundation of the twelve apostles (cf. Eph. 2:19-20). Bishops, who are the successors of the apostles, have been called by Christ to be our spiritual fathers. They are the visible source and foundation of family unity within their own diocese (cf. Catechism, no. 886). That is why St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch and a disciple of St. John the Apostle, would write in 110 A.D.: “Those, indeed, who belong to God and to Jesus Christ–they are with the bishop.”

From the earliest times, there have been presbyters (“priests”) who have been given the mission of assisting the bishop in spiritually fathering God’s family in local communities that have come to be known as parishes. These communities–my parish and your parish–are local manifestations of God’s family, a family that brings together people of every race and nation, that encompasses not only the pilgrim Church on earth, but all those who have died in God’s friendship. What a magnificent family we have–what great love the Father has bestowed on us in making us His children (1 Jn. 3:1)!

Yet we all know that our own experience of Church–in our own parishes and throughout our country–sometimes makes it difficult to view the Church as family. All too often we encounter polarization and dissent instead of family unity. Therefore, I’d like to propose some practical things we can do as lay people to build up the Family of God in our own backyard. Continue reading

Biblical Teaching on the Bible

23 Oct

Today I thought I would provide readers a “top ten list” (not meant to be exhaustive) of biblical teachings about the Bible. I looked not only for inspiring passages, but also passages that help us understand the Scriptures in their proper context.

(1) Scripture is life-changing, as God’s Word is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12). When we hear God’s Word, whether at Mass or in private reading, we should “devour” God’s words to us and allow them to become the joy and happiness of our heart (Jer. 15:16)

(2) The first Christians “were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles” (Acts 2:42; cf. 2 Tim. 1:14) long before the New Testament was written–and centuries before the New Testament canon was settled.

(3) The Bible affirms that Christian teaching is “preached” (1 Pet. 1:25), that the Apostles’ successors were to teach what they have “heard” (2 Tim. 2:2), and that Christian teaching is passed on both “by word of mouth [and] by letter” (2 Thess. 2:15; cf. 1 Cor. 11:2).

(4) Not everything Christ did is recorded in sacred Scripture (Jn. 21:25).

(5) New Testament authors availed themselves of sacred Tradition. For example, Acts 20:35 quotes a saying of Jesus that is not recorded in the Gospels.

(6) Scripture needs an authoritative interpreter (Acts 8:30-31; 2 Pet. 1:20-21, 3:15-16).

(7) Christ left a Church with divine authority to teach in His name (Mt. 16:13-20, 18:18; Lk. 10:16). The Church will last until the end of time, and the Holy Spirit protects the Church’s teaching from corruption (Mt. 16:18, 28:19-20; Jn. 14:16).

(8) The Church–and not the Bible alone–is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

(9) All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16), so that we may be equipped to perform good works (2 Tim. 3:17; cf. Jas. 2:14-17).

(10) The Bible does not refer to Scripture as the exclusive source of the Word of God. Jesus Himself is the Word (Jn. 1:1, 14), and in 1 Thess. 2:13, St. Paul’s first epistle, he refers to “the Word of God which you heard from us.” There St. Paul is clearly referring to oral apostolic teaching: Tradition.

For more on how to approach the reading of Scripture, see Catechism, nos. 101 and following, as well as my previous post, “Looking for Answers.”

Where’s the Blood?

19 Oct

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

This ancient Christian maxim hits home in a particular way today as we celebrate the feast of Sts. Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf, and companions, commonly known as the “North American Martyrs.” I remember what an awesome and humbling experience it was to stand in the very spot in Auriesville, New York, where Rene Goupil, the first of the group to be martyred, shed his blood for Christ.

Yet the northeastern United States and Canada, where the North American Martyrs labored so courageously for Christ in the 17th century, are hardly hotbeds of Christian faith today. What do we make of this? Continue reading

According to Luke

18 Oct

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of St. Luke, author of the third Gospel and companion of St. Paul.

I don’t know about our readers, but I grow weary of study Bibles and Bible studies that go to great lengths to explain to us that so and so didn’t actually write the book of the Bible that bears his name, and that the events described in the book didn’t really happen. I want biblical materials that trust God’s inspired Word and our rich Catholic Tradition, not agnostic pseudo-scholarship.

That’s why I find the opening paragraphs of the introduction to the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible on The Gospel of Luke such a breath of fresh air: Continue reading

Going to Confession?

15 Oct

Have you been to Confession (aka the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation) lately? Would you like to go, or perhaps even feel that the Lord is asking you to go, but it’s been awhile? Well then, let’s review the basics so that you are fully equipped to respond to this godly inspiration.

Especially at this time of year, the most common form of the Sacrament of Penance is the Rite for the Reconciliation of Individual Penitents.

Many localities also offer communal penance services, typically before Christmas and Easter. These services streamline the process so as to accommodate a larger number of penitents, but they still involve individual confession of sins and individual absolution. And at any rate, Christmas is still more than two months away, so there is no reason to wait for the next round of communal services.

So what are the steps to going to Confession? Continue reading

Maryvale Team at the Synod

12 Oct

We just received this update on the Synod on the New Evangelization in Rome regarding the work assigned to the contingent from the Maryvale Institute:

“First thing this morning members of Maryvale’s catechetical team attended Mass in the grottos of St Peter’s amidst the tombs of the Popes on the feast of Blessed John Henry Newman.  This was taken as a great blessing on the work of Maryvale at the Synod and into the future. The big news we have from the Synod is that the experts were allocated their areas of responsibility, in particular which paragraphs of the Synod’s documents for which they are responsible.

Dr. Caroline Farey is responsible for para. 111, Catechesis on the Family, the transmission of the faith in the family.  Dr. Petroc Willey is responsible for the paragraph dealing with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its use.

“In practice, this means that Drs. Petroc and Farey have to listen to the 45 or so interventions made by the Bishops each day and note any reference, comment, or suggestion that relates to their paragraphs.  At the end of each day, they have to write a one page summary of the most important points made about catechizing the family and on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

For more information on Maryvale courses available here in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, click here.

Vatican II turns 50

11 Oct

Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II have called the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) the interpretive key to understanding their respective pontificates and a “sure compass” for the Church in the new millennium.

For many of us, particularly my generation, Vatican II  is also the key for understanding our own pilgrimage of faith. Pope John XXIII called the 21st ecumenical council only months before I was born, and the council ended the year I entered first grade at St. Elizabeth’s school.

As we mark today the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, Pope Benedict has asked us to look at the council with fresh eyes, to consider where we’ve been and where we’re heading as a Church and as individual Catholics striving to be faithful to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ during this “Year of Faith.”

My first encounter with Vatican II was an unforgettable lesson in first grade, when the teacher insisted over and over again that Vatican II (whatever that was) taught that the “Church” is not the building next door, but the “people.” While there’s an important and valid theological point there, at the time I still thought the building next door looked more like a “church” than my classmates did.

In third grade, as religious garb changed “because of Vatican II,” I was mesmerized by the fact that I could now see Sr. Ellen’s legs. Later that year, my mom explained to me that “because of Vatican II” many priests and religious were leaving their communities, including my beloved piano teacher.

Then in fifth grade, I gave up six months’ worth of recess–a real sacrifice; I lived for kickball–to be trained as an altar boy. Just as my confreres and I were considered prepared for this august service, we were told that the Mass was changing “because of Vatican II,” and so we needed to be retrained. Meanwhile, our church’s sanctuary was a construction zone the next several months, as the altar was moved forward and burnt orange carpeting was installed. I didn’t know what to think of this, though the carpet, irrespective of its aesthetic merit, was decidedly easier to kneel on.

In the eighth grade, I remember the teacher writing the word “ecumenism” on the blackboard. In fairness to her, I can’t recall whether she said anything that was contrary to the faith. However, I do know that the effect of the class on my classmates and me was that “because of Vatican II” it didn’t really matter whether one was Catholic. After all, “they will know we are Christians by our love.” I blithely continued to hone my collage skills and routinely brought home A’s in religion.

During my high school and college years, virtually all my peers left the Church, as did I. I remember well my ninth grade religion class in which we studied the Bible. We repeatedly were told about what we don’t believe anymore “because of Vatican II.” One got the impression that Vatican II painstakingly went through the Bible and identified for us all the myths, fables, and inaccuracies found in God’s inspired Word. In subsequent years, as I feebly groped for some spiritual guidance, I’d pick up a Catholic Bible or a Catholic biblical commentary and, rather than be nourished and buoyed in my faith, I was confronted with agnostic doublespeak.

The 80s Show

By the singular, undeserved grace of God, I accepted Jesus Christ back into my life as I completed law school in 1984. For me, this necessarily entailed walking back into the Church that so confused me “because of Vatican II.” Here’s what I found. Continue reading