Archive | March, 2013

Holy Week 2013

25 Mar

Holy WeekAs we begin our observance of Holy Week, I thought I would offer our readers a selection of seasonal archived articles and posts I have composed in recent years:

Holy Week Festivities

Merry Chrism Mass! This year’s Chrism Mass will be celebrated tomorrow (Tuesday) at 11:00 a.m. at Savior Pastoral Center.

Choosing the Twelve, Again

Sheep and Goats

To Whom Shall We Go?

Meditation for Good Friday

He Descended into Hell

He Is Alive!

In addition, the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops provides a helpful Q & A regarding the celebration of Holy Week liturgies. Be sure to consult your parish’s bulletin and/or website for the days and times of the special Holy Week and Easter services.

On behalf of everyone here at the chancery office of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, I want to wish and your loved ones a meaningful and blessed celebration of the mystery of God’s love for us as it unfolds in Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection!

Who’s Hiding in the Closet Now? What Catholics Must Do to Combat the Homosexual Agenda

21 Mar

closetThere was a time not too long ago that we would speak of a sexually active homosexual man or woman’s “coming out of the closet.” Now, as I watch the news, hear about recent court decisions, or even read the comics, it seems that homosexuality has not only come out of the closet, but has invaded my living space. In fact, those who uphold traditional Judeo-Christian values are the ones ending up in the closet.

Intolerable Accommodations

In his book Against the Grain (Crossroad, 2008), author George Weigel, drawing upon the social teaching of Blessed John Paul II, writes:

“Freedom must be tethered to moral truth and ordered to human goodness if freedom is not to become self-cannibalizing. If there is only ‘my’ truth and ‘your’ truth, but nothing that we both recognize as ‘the’ truth, then we have no basis on which to settle our differences other than pragmatic accommodation; then, when pragmatic accommodation fails (as it must when the issue is grave enough), either I will impose my power on you or you will impose your power on me.”

It occurred to me that while this paragraph speaks more generally of what Pope Benedict famously dubbed the “tyranny of relativism,” it also provides particular insight into the long-term strategy of the “gay rights” movement. When in a position of relative weakness, the movement seeks acceptance and “pragmatic accommodation.” When in a position of greater strength, as is increasingly the case today, mere accommodation gives way to the imposition of power. Every step of the way, the objective moral law is not “the” truth, but merely an opinion to be condemned as homophobic hate speech. The tyranny of relativism preaches, but does not practice, “tolerance.”

What, then, are some of the societal forces that have helped the “gay rights” movement attain its current position of greater strength? Continue reading

The Righteous Man

19 Mar

St. JosephToday we celebrate the solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While it’s not a holy day of obligation in the United States, it is nonetheless one of the most popular feast days in the Church.

While we honor St. Joseph as the model of husbands and fathers, we acknowledge that he considered the possibility of divorce:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit . . . ‘” (Mt. 1:18-20).

I find that many people, perhaps thinking as 21st-century American Catholics, believe that Joseph wants out because he naturally assumes that Mary has been unfaithful. Is there another way to look at it, though? Consider the following commentary from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible:

Two interpretations attempt to explain why Joseph decided to separate from Mary. They give opposite answers to the question: Who did Joseph think was the unworthy partner in the betrothal?

The Suspicion Theory

This view holds that Joseph suspected Mary of adultery when he discovered  she was pregnant. The troubling news led him to seek a divorce in accordance with Deut. 24:1-4, although he wished to do this secretly to avoid subjecting Mary to the rigorous law of Deut. 22:23-24, which mandates capital punishment for adulterers. Joseph was a just man inasmuch as he resolved to act (divorce) in accordance with the Mosaic Law. This common interpretation suffers from a serious weakness: Joseph’s desire to follow the law for divorce (Deuteronomy 24) does not square with his willingness to sidestep the law prescribed for adulterers (Deuteronomy 22). A truly righteous man would keep God’s Law completely, not selectively.

The Reverence Theory

This view holds that Joseph, already informed of the divine miracle within Mary (Mt. 1:18), considered himself unworthy to be part of God’s work in this unusual situation (cf. Lk. 5:8; 7:6). His resolve to separate quietly from Mary is thus viewed as a reverent and discretionary measure to keep secret the mystery within her. Notably, the expression “to put her to shame” is weaker in Greek than in the translation: it means that Joseph did not wish to “exhibit” Mary in a public way. The angelic announcement in Mt. 1:20, then, directs Joseph to set aside pious fears that would lead him away from his vocation to be the legal father of the Davidic Messiah. This view more aptly aligns Joseph’s righteousness with his intentions (Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The Gospel of Matthew, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, 18).

For further reflection on the role of St. Joseph in the mystery of our salvation, I recommend Bl. John Paul II’s 1989 apostolic exhortation Redemptoris Custos (“Guardian of the Redeemer”).

I Wanna Know What Hope Is

14 Mar

faith hope loveThere was a popular song by the rock band Foreigner some years ago entitled, “I Wanna Know What Love Is.” I think the song title is reflective of the thirst we all have to know and experience true love, which can be so elusive in light of all the counterfeits that surround us.

While there are no hit songs about it, I think we also want to know what hope is. So many people go through the day without realizing that there is hope for them. Others have given way to despair or presumption (cf. Catechism, nos. 2091-92).

For those of us who want to know what hope is, we have the following passage from St. Paul (Phil. 3:12-14) as part of the second reading at Mass this Sunday. For my money, it is the most profound reflection on Christian hope found in all of Scripture:

It is not that I have already taken hold of it
or have already attained perfect maturity,
but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it,
since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, I for my part
do not consider myself to have taken possession.
Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind
but straining forward to what lies ahead,
I continue my pursuit toward the goal,
the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.

St. Thomas teaches us that hope is oriented toward a future, difficult good. Let’s briefly look at that from the perspective of natural hope. Hope deals with the future, as it wouldn’t make sense to hope for something that has already happened. Hope deals with the difficult, or at least uncertain. I don’t hope that tomorrow is Friday, because there’s no reasonable chance (barring the Second Coming!) of tomorrow not being Friday. And hope pertains to the good, as we only hope for things that at least seem good to us.

Let’s take it up a notch, and see how this applies to the theological virtue of hope, which helps those of us who have not yet reached “the prize of God’s upward calling” (Phil. 3:14; cf. Catechism, nos. 1817-21). Our hope is ordered to the future. We have been reborn in Christ, but we still haven’t reached our eternal destination. Our hope pertains to the difficult, or uncertain (in fact, the humanly impossible–see Mt. 19:25-26). Now this one can be tricky, as we joyfully affirm that God is true to His promises. We can count on His gracious assistance. The difficulty or uncertainty comes into play because of human freedom. Even though God offers us heaven, we remain free to reject Him through unrepented mortal sin. We all must persevere through some spiritual battles before happily coming to the end of our earthly pilgrimage.

And finally our hope is ordered to our ultimate good, which eye has not seen and ear has not heard (1 Cor. 2:9).

So in these remaining days of Lent, as we embrace our new Holy Father Francis, let’s strain forward to what lies ahead, as we redouble our commitment to our beloved Savior.

Vatican II on the Word of God

11 Mar

Pope with Book of GospelsIn my last post, I offered some reflections on how Catholics approach Scripture, calling to mind Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum). This particular document is one of the four central “constitutions” promulgated at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Given its significance, I thought that before we move on to the next conciliar document I would offer this “top ten list” of key teachings found in Dei Verbum.

The entire document is rich (and it’s by far the shortest of the four constitutions!), but I have found these particular passages especially enlightening as the Church boldly proceeds with a “new evangelization.” The texts in bold italics are direct quotes, with footnotes omitted.

(1) God’s Self-Disclosure

Through divine revelation, God chose to show forth and communicate Himself and the eternal decisions of His will regarding the salvation of men. . . . He chose to share with them those divine treasures which totally transcend the understanding of the human mind (no. 6).

Dei Verbum affirms, with Vatican I, that we can know God’s existence and other religious truths through the use of reason. However, in addition to truths “which totally transcend” human understanding, divine Revelation conveys truths already accessible to human reason so that everyone can know the truth with ease, certitude, and the absence of error (cf. Catechism, nos. 37-38).

(2) Tradition!

[T]he apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3) (no. 8).

Apostolic tradition includes everything that contributes to the holiness of life and increase in faith of the People of God. The Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, and all that she believes.

(3) Deposit of Faith

Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church (no. 10).

The Church stresses the unity of the Word of God, as both Scripture and Tradition flow from the same divine wellspring (no. 9).

(4) Role of Magisterium

[T]he task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ (no. 10).

Further, this teaching office is not above the Word of God. The Magisterium serves the Word of God, teaching only what has been handed on. The Magisterium listens to the Word devoutly, guards it scrupulously, and explains it faithfully in accordance with her divine commission. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the Magisterium draws from this one deposit of faith everything which the Church presents for belief as divinely revealed.

(5) Inerrancy of Scripture

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation (no. 11).

This section has been a point of controversy, as the Church’s traditional understanding of the inerrancy of Scripture has come under attack in recent decades, and this particular passage can seem ambiguous on the point. Is Scripture without error (“inerrant”) generally (but properly understood, see no. 6), or is it without error only on matters concerning our salvation?

This controversy can’t be resolved here, but in favor of the former interpretation, DV 11 does footnote sources such as Leo XIII’s Providentissimus Deus that set forth the traditional teaching. In addition, in Latin, the “for the sake of salvation” (causa salutis) is a genitive of purpose. The grammatical construction conveys purpose or motive (why do we have Scripture?), not a limitation upon “that truth.”

(6) Literary and Historical Criticism

However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words (no. 12).

This passage illustrates the Church’s balanced approach that recognizes not only God’s authorship of Scripture, but also the contribution of the human authors, including their historical and cultural context. The use of human sciences only creates difficulties when scholars adopt unscientific presuppositions that contradict the faith (e.g., miracles are impossible) and treat Scripture as merely an ancient human writing.

(7) Incarnation of the Word

In Sacred Scripture, therefore, while the truth and holiness of God always remains intact, the marvelous “condescension” of eternal wisdom is clearly shown, “that we may learn the gentle kindness of God, which words cannot express, and how far He has gone in adapting His language with thoughtful concern for our weak human nature.” For the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men (no. 13, quoting St. John Chrysostom).

Our God has come looking for us, and He reaches out to us, using our mode of communication!  By “condescension” we mean that God reaches down to us as a Father gets down to be on the level of his child, so that he can embrace him and raise him up.

(8) Role of Old Testament

God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New (no. 16).

This beautifully summarizes our approach to reading the entire Bible, not just the New Testament.

(9) Centrality of the Four Gospels

Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1:1) (no. 19).

The Church unhesitatingly asserts the historicity of the Gospels. They are reliable accounts of the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We should frequently meditate on these four books.

(10) Ignorance of Scripture Is Ignorance of Christ

Therefore, all the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become “an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly” since they must share the abundant wealth of the divine word with the faithful committed to them, especially in the sacred liturgy (no. 25, quoting St. Augustine).

This is related to no. 22, which provides that “easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful.” Vatican II exhorted all the Christian faithful, especially religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8), taking to heart St. Jerome’s famous expression: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

Paragraph 25 urges us to immerse ourselves in Scripture, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine Word, or through devotional reading, or through classes and Bible studies, all with the approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church. We are reminded that prayer must accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together. For as St. Ambrose wrote, “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying.”

Looking for Answers

6 Mar

Word of GodThe following article originally appeared in the October 2000 issue of Lay Witness magazine. I reprint it here as illustrative of Vatican II’s teaching on the Word of God as found in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum). In my next post I will provide a “top ten list” of teachings from this important conciliar document.

My algebra textbook in ninth grade had an answer key in the back that enabled me to check my answers upon completing my homework assignment. Most of the time, the answer key simply served to verify that in fact I had arrived at the correct answer.

Sometimes, however, the answer given in the book was different from my answer. What would I do then?

I realized that 99.99 percent of the time the book was right. The book didn’t have to change–I did. I would rework the problem a little more carefully, and usually I would discover and correct my error.

There were still times that I didn’t get the right answer. In those cases I had to admit that maybe I didn’t quite understand the material well enough and needed to consult the teacher. I had a fundamental trust in the reliability of the answer key, as I was humble enough (barely) to recognize that the professional mathematicians who wrote the book were probably right, and I, a cocky adolescent, was probably wrong.

In a very real sense, God’s Word is our answer key, providing answers to our most basic, essential questions. Who made us? What is the purpose of our existence? What good must we do to attain eternal life?

I must admit that every so often there was a typo in the answer key of my algebra book, and I would proudly point it out to my teacher and classmates. But God’s Word is even more reliable. It is utterly free from error. God can neither deceive nor be deceived. His Word will not lead us astray. And that’s not all. We have the best of teachers, Mother Church, to ensure that the Word of God is faithfully communicated through all ages.

Do we take time each day to open the Bible, the written Word of God? Do we listen attentively to God’s Word proclaimed to us in the liturgy? Do we take the time to consider whether our actions are in accord with God’s plan for our lives? Do we accept the role of the Church to authentically interpret God’s Word?

Like the algebra student, there are various approaches we can take to the Word of God. There are, of course, students who are not motivated to learn algebra and don’t bother to do the assignment, let alone check their answers in the back of the book. Sadly, in the classroom of life, there are many who are indifferent to the Word of God. We need to fervently pray that they may have the grace of conversion, that the Lord will inspire them to discover “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).

Then there are those who do the assignment and maybe even check their answers in the back of the book on occasion. There’s no problem as long as the answer key agrees with their answers. However, when there’s a discrepancy, they too easily assume the book is wrong, or at least that their answer is equally valid.

This points to an analogous problem in the Church today. Many who consider themselves Catholics believe they are justified in rejecting those teachings with which they don’t agree. Often there is an inadequate understanding of the Church’s teaching, and unfortunately the Church’s teaching on issues such as contraception or homosexuality is caricatured in the media. Yet even the most honest and well-researched disagreement with the Church on an issue of faith or morals is problematic, because it involves replacing God’s laws with our own private judgment.

The antidotes to this problem are faith and humility. We all need to pray or an increase in faith. Faith means that we accept God’s Word not necessarily because we naturally agree with it, but because we accept the authority of God as the source of all truth. The virtue of humility, on the other hand, inclines us to recognize not only our God-given dignity and talents, but also our personal limitations and our need for divine wisdom and grace.

At the other extreme, there are those who short-circuit the educational process by looking up the answers and copying them down without learning and understanding the material. I had classmates who would take this a step further. They would look up the answer and then work backwards so that it would look like they actually solved the problem when they hadn’t. While the problems with these approaches are rather obvious, at least these classmates correctly identified the source of the right answers.

When it comes to God’s Word, we can be tempted to take similar approaches. These approaches are rightly criticized as being fundamentalist (inadequately taking into account the complexities of the human condition and the fact that revealed truths are at the same time “mysteries” of faith) and proof-texting (taking God’s Word out of context and improperly using a passage as a shortcut to defending our understanding of the Church’s teaching).

In a secular age characterized by what is sometimes called a “crisis of faith,” the affirmation of trust in the authority of God’s Word manifested by these approaches can be refreshing and praiseworthy. Yet in the end faith is not about knowing the right answers, but about growing in our relationship with the living God. He wants us to ponder the mysteries of faith in imitation of our Blessed Mother (cf. Luke 2:19, 51), using our intellect and will in cooperation with divine grace to wrestle with real-life difficulties.

Those who simply look up the answers in the back of the book not only cheat themselves, but also aren’t much help when it comes to teaching others. And so for us to participate most fully in the “new evangelization,” we must make our own the truths of the faith, and in word and action bear effective witness to the hope that is within us.

In approaching Scripture, we must avoid the pervasive skepticism and doubt that poison many biblical materials today. This theological skepticism has its roots in 19th-century biblical scholarship, but also draws upon contemporary secularizing tendencies. The answer is not fundamentalism, or a rejection of the various scientific tools that give us important new insights and which have the full blessing of the Church.

Rather, the appropriate response is a fundamental trust in our Lord Jesus Christ and in His Church, especially when we are tempted to doubt. St. Augustine, one of the most brilliant theologians in the history of the Church, aptly summarizes the humility and reverence we should have before the Word of God:

“On my own part I confess to your charity that it is only to those books of Scripture which are now called canonical that I have learned to pay such honor and reverence as to believe most firmly that none of their writers has fallen into any error. And if in these books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude either that the text is faulty [a defective copy of the Bible], or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand.”

May God’s Word be a light for our paths (cf. Psalm 119:105) and draw us all more deeply into the heart of His family, the Church.

Top Ten Lessons from 1 Corinthians 5

4 Mar

1 CorinthiansNot too long ago I participated in a Bible study on 1 Corinthians at my parish. I’d have to say that of the 16 chapters of this epistle, I probably was least familiar with chapter 5. I’m not sure why, but I’ve rarely had the occasion to look that chapter up.

In studying that chapter, I was amazed by the applicability of this short chapter to many controversial issues facing individual Catholics and the Church as a whole today. And so, without scholarly exegesis or extensive commentary, I want to offer a top ten list of practical insights I derived from a careful read of 1 Corinthians 5.

(1) Calling sin a sin

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife” (verse 1).

St. Paul does not dance around the issues. He goes straight to the point of identifying incest as immoral behavior, no matter who (Christian or pagan) commits it (see Leviticus 18; Catechism, no. 2356). He takes his responsibility for the Church in Corinth very seriously, as we’ll see in the succeeding verses.

(2) The error of misplaced “tolerance”

“And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (verse 2).

In the world and even in the Church today many extreme forms of immoral behavior are tolerated, if not protected. The one universally recognized “sin” is “intolerance,” meaning that the one thing that isn’t permitted is to condemn someone else’s action as morally wrong (unless the other person’s action was an act of intolerance!). I’m certainly not espousing a harsh, judgmental condemnation of persons. However, if I understand St. Paul correctly, I think we tend to be arrogant–and cowardly–in our acceptance of conduct that is unacceptable. We should instead mourn, because those who commit serious sins are on the road to perdition. This should inspire in us to authentic, compassionate outreach, not a weak indifference. We must be evangelizers, not enablers.

We’ll touch upon the second half of this verse shortly.

(3) Recourse to the Church

“For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing” (verses 3-4).

St. Paul seems to be following the protocol for fraternal correction in Matthew 18:15-17. Apparently after private attempts to reconcile the sinner (perhaps by Chloe’s people, see 1 Corinthians 1:11), the matter was referred “to the church” (Mt. 18:17), represented by the Apostle Paul. Further, we see the authority St. Paul, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, is able to wield over the local Church, for the good of all. Compare that to the opposition and resentment we find toward the “Vatican,” whose intervention is often not welcome (because of the aforementioned arrogance).

For a recent case study, recall attempts in recent years to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Continue reading