Archive | December, 2012

Why Football Fans Can Sing . . . And Catholics Still Can’t

28 Dec

liturgical musicI need to begin this post on liturgical music with the disclaimer that I’m neither a liturgist nor a musician. My perspective is that of someone who loves the Mass and who can usually carry a tune.

In addition, I want to focus on a very narrow aspect of liturgical music–namely, the selection of hymns for Sunday and Holy Day Masses. To understand my concern, bear with me as I draw a comparison with the music at a professional sports event.

Has anyone ever been to a game where to get the fans fired up they continually play songs that nobody knows (or likes)? Or where they played loud music or otherwise elicited noise while the home team had the ball? (For those of you who might not know, the idea is to be quiet when your team has the ball, so the other offensive players can hear the quarterback better.) Or has anyone been to a baseball game in which they substituted a new song for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the seventh inning stretch?

The answer to these and other such questions is “definitely not.” In other words, professional sports teams recognize the importance of playing the right music at the right time to help create the appropriate environment for cheering on the home team. It’s not rocket science, and any team organist not on board with that concept will soon be looking for other work.

For some reason, though, this concept is lost on many parishes that I’ve visited over the years. So many times I’ve gone to Mass absolutely ready to worship–and sing!–only to experience music selections that are so foreign to me (if not banal or repulsive) that it’s more of an annoyance or distraction than an aid to prayer. Does it have to be that way? Continue reading

The Quotable St. John

27 Dec

St. John the EvangelistIn honor of today’s feast of St. John the Evangelist, I thought I would devote a “top ten” list today to my favorite quotes from St. John’s Gospel.

I was going to open it up to all five books of the Bible written by St. John, so that I could include favorite quotes from his epistles (e.g., 1 John 3:1) and the Book of Revelation (e.g., Revelation 21:1, 4). However, the magnificent Gospel according to John provides more than enough material to work with! Here’s my list, not in any particular order:

(1) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:14) What a profound teaching on the Incarnation! And I’m pleased that in my children’s schools they pray the Angelus daily, which includes this beautiful verse.

(2) For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) This verse gives us the motive for the Incarnation, that in the words of the early Fathers of the Church, God became man so that man could participate in the very life of God. Wow!

(3) Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) The entire Bread of Life discourse in John 6 is fantastic. I chose this verse as it vividly teaches that the Eucharist sustains us in our journey to God. I could easily have chosen the response of St. Peter to Our Lord’s words: Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life . . .” (John 6:68).

(4) The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) This is part of Our Lord’s “Good Shepherd” discourse. What′s not to love about a God who is our good shepherd, who came to give us abundant life? Baaa!

(5) Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24) This may be my favorite verse in the entire Bible. Dostoevsky said that his classic, 1,000-page novel Brothers Karamazov is but an artistic reflection on this profound verse. And the next verse continues the paradox: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25)

(6) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:34) Not only is this a powerful verse in its own right, but I think this teaching of Our Lord is one that really resonated with John and sustained him for decades. Later in life, he is reputed to have told his disciples over and over again: ”Children, love one another.”

(7) I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5) I love this verse because it reminds me that apostolic fruitfulness is entirely dependent upon our connectedness to Christ through prayer and the sacraments.

(8) “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:20-21) The ecumenical imperative that we encounter today is rooted in these words of the Lord that are recorded only in St. John’s Gospel. God is one. The Church is one. Christians still have a little work to do!

(9) When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27) This one is especially dear to me, since today is the feast day of my son Samuel John. I gave him that name because I wanted him to be a “beloved disciple” who welcomes Mary into his heart and, one day, into his home (or rectory).

(10) When they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. (John 19:33-34) This one may leave some readers scratching their head. I marvel at the way in which all the prophecy comes together in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. And here in particular the Church has always interpreted the blood and water flowing from the side of Christ as symbolizing the life-giving sacraments, as indeed the Church in a sense was “born” when His side was pierced (see Catechism, no. 766).

And btw, honorable mention goes to:

John 3:31–He must increase, but I must decrease.

John 16:33–I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

John 20:22-23–And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Preparing for Mary’s Visit

21 Dec

VisitationToday’s Gospel, the first part of the event commonly known as the “Visitation” (Lk. 1:39-45), is very familiar to most Catholics. It’s read a few times during the year at Mass, and of course it’s one of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

Sometimes we hear a passage over and over again, and it can be a challenge to open our minds and hearts to allow the Holy Spirit to give us new insights.

In hearing this Gospel anew today, I was struck by how much we should be devoted to our Blessed Mother, especially on Christmas.

When Elizabeth greets Mary, John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice (vv. 41, 44). After all, Mary has brought Jesus to him! (The best baby shower gift of all time!) But there’s more.

All Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Even more, Scripture says that Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when she cried out: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb . . .” (vv. 41-42). When we turn to Our Lady, when we pray the “Hail Mary,” we are simply making our own the doubly inspired words of Elizabeth.

Okay, but enough already, right? Perhaps we’re still a little hesitant or unsure about turning to Mary. But what were the next words out of Elizabeth’s mouth? She said, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Instead of obsessing over whether she should make such a fuss about Mary, she does pretty much the opposite: She marvels at the great honor bestowed upon her that the Blessed Virgin Mary would actually come to her.

Mary wants to come to each one of us this Christmas, as the definitive bearer of our long-awaited Savior. Let us run to greet her, and leap for joy in the presence of the Gift she has brought to the world–the Gift that, as the saying goes, is the “reason for the season.”

Catholics Look East!

20 Dec

Eastern Catholic hierarchyToday we continue our series on the sixteen documents of Vatican II with a consideration of the 1964 decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum, on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite.

When we think of the Catholic Church, we tend to think exclusively of the Latin rite. There’s some justification for this, as in the United States there are tens of millions of Latin rite Catholics, and just a few hundred thousand combined in the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches (sometimes called “Uniate” Churches) with ancient liturgies and traditions tracing back to places like Antioch, Alexandria, and Byzantium.

Further, some Latin rite Catholics hear “Eastern Church” and instantly think of the Eastern Orthodox Churches that broke away from the Church in Rome in 1054 and still are not in full communion today, despite ongoing ecumenical efforts.

Make no mistake, Eastern Catholic Churches are in full communion with the Holy Father. They were founded by the apostles and have their own their own rightful existence. They show forth the catholicity of the Church.

As  presently defined, there are 24 Catholic Churches that can be grouped into eight  different rites. A rite is a liturgical, theological, spiritual, and disciplinary  patrimony of a distinct people manifested in a Church. While each Catholic Church  may have its own rite or customs, in general, there are only eight major rites.  History, language, misunderstandings, nationalism, and basic human weakness have  resulted in the current communion of 24 Churches, counting the Latin rite.

With only a few exceptions,  the Eastern Catholic Churches result from incomplete reunions with the Orthodox  Churches. In those instances, large numbers of bishops and faithful of the Orthodox  mother Churches either held back or later rejected union with Rome. One could see how this could create tensions with the Orthodox, who  are fearful of losing their distinct traditions in a world dominated  by the Latin Church.

So in this context, I chose for our consideration the following paragraph from Orientalium Ecclesiarum, which sets forth the equal dignity and legitimacy of the Eastern Churches:

“These individual Churches, whether of the East or the West, although they differ somewhat among themselves in rite (to use the current phrase), that is, in liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, and spiritual heritage, are, nevertheless, each as much as the others, entrusted to the pastoral government of the Roman Pontiff, the divinely appointed successor of St. Peter in primacy over the universal Church. They are consequently of equal dignity, so that none of them is superior to the others as regards rite and they enjoy the same rights and are under the same obligations, also in respect of preaching the Gospel to the whole world (cf. Mark 16:15) under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff” (no. 3).

One related point:

In her official documents, the Church usually avoids the expression “Roman Catholic.” “Catholic,” yes. “Roman or Latin rite,” yes. “Church of Rome,” as meaning either the Diocese of Rome or that body which submits to the Bishop of Rome, yes. But not “Roman Catholic.” Why? Because the term was coined by 19th-century Anglicans as a term of opprobrium, to assert that those who accepted the authority of the Bishop of Rome were, in fact, not true Englishmen. Further, the Anglo-Catholic party endeavored to advance its “branch theory” of the Church, which erroneously asserts that the Catholic Church exists in three forms: Roman, Orthodox, and Anglican.

Even more, we’ve seen that the Catholic Church is composed of a variety of rites and particular Churches, only one of which is—strictly speaking—Roman—although all acknowledge the Bishop of Rome as their visible head. The indiscriminate, ambiguous use of the term “Roman Catholic” can have the (unwitting) twofold effect of (a) marginalizing all the non-Roman ritual Churches; and (b) making Catholicism much more particular—and thus idiosyncratic—than it truly is.

For more on Eastern Christianity, check out Orientale Lumen (“Light of the East”) by Blessed John Paul II. For what is likely the most authoritative treatment of the fascinating history of Eastern Churches–both Orthodox and Catholic–from the Catholic perspective, check out the books by my friend and former colleague, James Likoudis on the subject, especially Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism and The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church

Catechesis on the Eighth Commandment

19 Dec

In the final post in our series on the commandments we turn to the Eighth Commandment:

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

All people, despite our fallen nature, are naturally drawn to the truth. We were made to seek the truth with sincerity and to live it. We admire honesty, but we are disgusted by hypocrisy, which is nothing other than the disconnect between knowing the truth and a failure to live it.

Christ is the fulfillment of our human yearning for truth. In fact, He identified Himself as “the truth” (Jn. 14:6). His words are the truth that set us free (Jn. 8:31-32).

The Eighth Commandment, then, exhorts us to speak and live the truth.  It calls us to live honest, upright lives as “children of the light” (1 Thess. 5:5), as authentic witnesses of the truth that is Christ.

As Christ came into the world to “bear witness to the truth” (Jn. 18:37), so too as His followers we must bear witness to the truth of the Gospel in every aspect of our lives even, if necessary, to the point of death. The Church has always considered martyrdom as the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith. Indeed, as the ancient saying goes, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

Some of the principal sins against the Eighth Commandment include:

Lying: Speaking or acting against the truth in order to lead someone into error.

False Witness: Making a public statement contrary to the truth, thus compromising the proper exercise of judgment. When done under oath, it’s the sin of perjury, which is also a sin against the Second Commandment.

Rash judgment: Assuming as true, without sufficient information, the moral fault of another.

Detraction: Unnecessarily disclosing another’s faults to someone who doesn’t already know them.

Calumny: Also known as slander or defamation, making statements contrary to the truth in order to harm another’s reputation.

Any sin committed against the Eighth Commandment demands reparation if it has caused harm to others. Often this might entail not only issuing a private apology, but also setting the record straight.

The Eighth Commandment requires respect for the truth, but it also calls forth the exercise of prudence and charity when it comes to imparting information to others. The commandment requires us to respect the privacy of others, and to exercise the utmost discretion in respecting confidences and secrets that have been confided to us.

The Eighth Commandment applies in a particular way to the use of modern means of social communication. The media serves the common good by providing information that is truthful and presented fairly, in keeping with the moral law and the legitimate rights and dignity of the person.

The truth is beautiful. Therefore, artistic works can be expressions of truth. Sacred art that is true and beautiful brings alive the mystery of God made visible in Christ. It leads to the adoration of God, the Creator and Savior who is the surpassing, invisible Beauty of Truth and Love (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 526). Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI has identified sacred art as being a more compelling witness to the truth of the Catholic faith than verbal arguments and explanations (Ratzinger Report, pp. 129-30).

For more on this commandment, check out Catechism, nos. 2464-2513.

U.S. Bishops Announce Five-Point Plan

17 Dec

usccb-logoEarlier this month, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced a campaign of prayer and fasting in 2013 for the “rebuilding of a culture favorable to life and marriage and for increased protections of religious liberty.”

The campaign, which will begin the Sunday after Christmas, “is essentially a call and encouragement to prayer and sacrifice--it’s meant to be simple," said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. “It’s not meant to be another program but rather part of a movement for life, marriage, and religious liberty, which engages the New Evangelization and can be incorporated into the Year of Faith.”

In addition, as a culture that tends to make “New Year’s resolutions,” we do well as individuals, families, and parishes to incorporate this plan--especially the call to abstain from meat and fast on all Fridays--into our own lives. In doing so, we would be following the edifying example of Archbishop Naumann.

The campaign, which will begin the Sunday after Christmas, has five parts: Continue reading

The Infancy Narratives

14 Dec

birth of JesusIn light of some of the controversy surrounding recent media coverage of the Pope’s new book on the infancy narratives (Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2), I thought it would be good to offer our readers (at least those who don’t have the time to read the Pope’s book!) a good summary of the Church’s teaching as we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Jesus in the coming days. To that end, check out this tract, published by Catholics United for the Faith.

In short, some secular commentators have taken statements from the book out of context, suggesting that the Pope does not assert the historicity of the biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth. That surely is not the Holy Father’s view.  In fact, Pope Benedict XVI concludes his reflections as follows: “The two chapters of  Matthew’s Gospel devoted to the infancy narratives are not a meditation  presented under the guise of stories, but the converse: Matthew is  recounting real history, theologically thought through and interpreted,  and thus he helps us to understand the mystery of Jesus more deeply” (p. 119).

Catechesis on the Seventh and Tenth Commandments

13 Dec

stealToday in our catechetical series on the commandments, we turn to the Seventh Commandment:

You shall not steal.

But just as the Sixth and Ninth Commandments work together to shape our approach to human sexuality, the Seventh and Tenth Commandments work together to shape our approach to the goods of this world, recognizing that we “cannot love God and money” (Mt. 6:24). The Church isn’t satisfied with our simply not taking what doesn’t belong to us (though that’s a good start!), but wants us to approach worldly goods in a spirit of stewardship and detachment. So we also include here the Tenth Commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

The Seventh Commandment forbids theft, which is the unjust taking or using of another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner. This can be done also by paying unjust wages, speculating on the value of goods in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others, or by forging checks or invoices. Other acts forbidden by this commandment include tax evasion, business fraud, willful destruction of private or public property, usury, corruption, the private abuse of common goods, work deliberately done poorly, and waste.

Early in its treatment of the Seventh Commandment, the Catechism talks about the “universal destination of goods,” a principle which acknowledges that God entrusted the earth’s resources to all people. This speaks not only to our sharing resources with others who are less fortunate than we are, but also being good stewards of creation and the earth’s resources for future generations.

At the same time, the Church affirms the right to private property, so long as it’s justly obtained and used. The purpose of private property is to guarantee the freedom and dignity of individual persons by helping them to meet the basic needs of those in their charge and also of others who are in need.

As Vatican II, citing numerous saints and social encyclicals, teaches:

“[M]an should regard the external things that he legitimately possesses not only as his own but also as common in the sense that they should be able to benefit not only him but also others. On the other hand, the right of having a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one’s family belongs to everyone. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church held this opinion, teaching that men are obliged to come to the relief of the poor and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 69).

One can readily see that the Church finds in this commandment the basis for her rich social teaching, which guides our approach to economic, social, and political life, the right and the duty of human labor, justice and solidarity among nations, and love for the poor. Over the course of 2013, we will survey the various dimensions of the Church’s social teaching in more detail.

The Seventh Commandment requires respect for the goods of others through the practice of justice and charity, temperance and solidarity. In particular it requires respect for promises made and contracts agreed to, reparation for injustice committed and restitution of stolen goods, and respect for the integrity of creation by the prudent and moderate use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe with special attention to those species that are in danger of extinction (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 506).

The Lord truly does hear the cry of the poor and identifies with them. The spiritual and corporal works of mercy and the many charitable institutions formed throughout the centuries are a concrete witness to the preferential love for the poor which characterizes Christian disciples (Compendium, no. 520). We need look no farther than Blessed Teresa of Calcutta for evidence that we are called to love the hidden Jesus in the poorest of the poor (cf. Mt. 25:31-46).

As we interiorize the Seventh Commandment, we come to see Our Lord as our treasure, and we hear the call to abandon ourselves to His providential care.  The Tenth Commandment continues this work upon our heart, as it calls us in particular to work against the vices of avarice and envy.

Avarice involves an excessive, disordered desire for riches and power.  In other words, we “covet” our neighbor’s good and may go to the extreme of unjustly taking these goods for ourselves.

Envy, meanwhile, involves sadness at another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for ourselves by whatever means we can.

We combat these vices of avarice and envy–and thus observe the Tenth Commandment–by fostering in ourselves a spirit of goodwill and humility, and by rejoicing in other’s blessings.

For more on these commandments, check out Catechism, nos. 2401-63 (Seventh Commandment) and nos. 2534-57 (Tenth Commandment).

Mary, Our Model for the Year of Faith

11 Dec

crowning of maryAt the conclusion of his 2011 apostolic letter Porta Fidei (“Door of Faith”), in which he called for a “Year of Faith,” Pope Benedict XVI writes: “Let us entrust this time of grace to the Mother of God, proclaimed ‘blessed because she believed’ (Lk 1:45).”

In his 1986 encyclical Redemptoris Mater (“Mother of the Redeemer”), written approximately 2,000 years after the birth of Mary, Blessed John Paul II provided us with a profound meditation on Mary in the mystery of Christ and His Church, holding her up as a model of faith for all Christians. He noted that the faithful not only venerate and invoke Mary, “but also seek in her faith support for their own” (Redemptoris Mater, no. 27).

Taking to heart these words from our last two Popes, let’s use St. Luke’s Gospel as our guide for tapping into the richness of Mary’s faith. Continue reading

Catechesis on the Sixth and Ninth Commandments

5 Dec

Stone tabletsThis week we will treat the Sixth and Ninth Commandments together. First, we have the Sixth Commandment (Catechism, nos. 2331-2400):

You shall not commit adultery.

It is generally understood that this commandment applies not merely to adultery itself, but all misuses of one’s sexuality. Amidst a culture that is largely addicted to sex (see this amazing article by Dr. Peter Kreeft), this commandment calls us to reexamine how we understand the incredible gift of human sexuality.

The Ninth Commandment (Catechism, nos. 2514-33) provides:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

As we shall see, this commandment forbids cultivating thoughts and desires that are connected to actions forbidden by the Sixth Commandment.

It’s easy to look at the Sixth Commandment simply from the standpoint of prohibited activities. But if we look just a little deeper, we will quickly see it’s all about fostering the virtue of chastity. It is a moral virtue requiring much effort, but at the same time it’s a gift of God and a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is expressed in our friendship with others.

Chastity is related to the cardinal virtue of temperance, in that it helps us to moderate our sexual passions according to reason and Christian morality. All men and women are called to chastity according to our state in life. Chastity is not the same as continence or celibacy, which entails refraining from sexual activity. Even married people with active, healthy sex lives are called to live chastely. Sex is not evil. In fact it’s more than good. It’s holy.

The “theology of the body” taught by Blessed John Paul II has helped us to understand the gift of human sexuality in a healthy, more holistic way that recognizes the complementarity (see Catechism, no. 372) of man and woman. Theology of the body helps us to understand our sexuality as a way of seeking the good of others rather than using them as objects. Continue reading