Tag Archives: humility

The Book of God

30 Sep
St. Jerome

St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church

One of the central documents of the Second Vatican Council was its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. This pivotal conciliar document has called Catholics to draw more effectively upon the life-changing power of Sacred Scripture.

And yet, Dei Verbum is not simply about the Bible. The title of this document itself is instructive. The Council Fathers did not call it Dei Liber (“Book of God”) but Dei Verbum (“Word of God”). The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us why this distinction is important:

“The Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book.’ Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God, not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, open our minds to understand the Scriptures” (no. 108, footnotes omitted).

For All the Saints

One of the principal themes of the Second Vatican Council was the universal call to holiness. The renewal of the Church hinges on the ongoing sanctification of all her members. This is the work of God, but all the faithful must be personally engaged in the process.

Dei Verbum takes us to the point of entry into this new life in Christ Jesus. It comes down to the “obedience of faith” that we give to God as He reveals Himself to us (DV, no. 5). As our Lord Himself says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28).

It is the great mission of the Holy Spirit, the “soul of the Church,” to reveal Christ to us and bring us into communion with Him and all His holy ones. As St. Paul says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 12:3). The gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and to the entire Church surely includes the singular blessing of Sacred Scripture, but encompasses the totality of what Christ bequeathed to His Church, including the sacred liturgy. In this regard the Holy Spirit “is the Church’s living memory” (Catechism, no. 1099), making present and effective in our lives the saving works of Christ. Dei Verbum, no. 9 therefore affirms that Sacred Tradition and Scripture are bound closely together and flow from the same divine wellspring, which is none other than the Holy Spirit.

Bible Christians

While Catholics do not limit God’s self-revelation to the Bible alone (“sola scriptura”), we must affirm with St. Jerome, whose feast we celebrate today, that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

The fact of the matter is that Catholics have not been well “versed” in Sacred Scripture. Surely, Catholics know much more of the Bible than we think we do–to the extent we’ve stayed awake at Mass and catechism class. Still, we experience something of an “inferiority complex” when it comes to the Bible. When challenged on the more controversial aspects of our faith with the dreaded “Where in the Bible…?” questions, we are needlessly bewildered and intimidated. Continue reading

Star of the New Evangelization

31 Mar

Pope and BVMWe now come to the final installment of our series on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”).

As is typical of many papal documents in recent memory, the Holy Father concludes with some reflections on the Blessed Virgin Mary and a prayer seeking her maternal intercession for the “new evangelization” (EG 284-88).

The Pope describes Mary as being singularly present in the midst of God’s people. As at Pentecost, her prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit gives birth to “the Church which evangelizes” (EG 284). We look to her to understand the spirit of the new evangelization, for which we fervently desire a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Father continually stresses the close connection between Mary, the Church, and each individual believer. At the foot of the Cross, at the moment of the new creation, Jesus entrusted the Blessed Virgin Mary to John—and to us! The Church would never have to journey in this world without a mother (EG 285).

I found some of the titles for Mary at the conclusion of EG to be quite interesting and revealing. She is called the “Mother of the Living Gospel” and “Star of the New Evangelization.” She is the model of both contemplation (cf. Luke 2:19, 51) and pastoral concern for others (cf. John 2:5). She teaches us about a different sort of strength, one rooted in love, humility, and tenderness. The Pope calls upon the Church to embrace this Marian “style” of evangelization (EG 288), so that the joy of the Gospel may truly reach to the end of the earth, especially to God’s little ones.

A Lesson in Humility

10 Oct

pharisee and tax collectorI sometimes find it helpful to my spiritual life to put myself in the place of the characters in Our Lord’s parables. Of course, sometimes I put my wife in them as well. She’s 100% Irish, so I’ve lightheartedly renamed the Parable of the Persistent Widow, who nags the judge until she gets what she wants, the Parable of the Irish Woman.

One parable that I think teaches an important lesson to long-time Christians is the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector found in Luke 18. The Pharisee’s prayer is a laundry list of things the Pharisee is doing for God, while the Tax Collector humbly prays, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” The latter prayer was acceptable to God, the former wasn’t.

After a while, we might think we’re in control of our own destiny. At least we’re on cruise control. We’ve accepted Jesus as the Lord of our lives. We’ve become part of His family through the waters of Baptism. We recognize that acceptance of Jesus means the acceptance of His one, true Church and all that entails. We know that we are called to lead lives worthy of our calling. The Lord summons us to obey the Ten Commandments and, even more, to live lives of charity, often expressed in terms of spiritual (e.g., teaching others the faith, praying for others) and corporal (e.g., feeding the hungry, caring for the sick) works of mercy.

At least to some extent, some of us can say that we’re doing all this. So, when we come before the Lord, it can be very easy–at least for me–to relate more to the Pharisee than to the Publican in the above parable: “Yeah, Lord, I know I’m not perfect, but gee, look at all this stuff I’ve done and am doing to help spread Your kingdom. I’m one of the good guys. In fact, I work for the Archdiocese and am in formation for the permanent diaconate. You can’t get much more Catholic than that. Amen.”

Doing good things out of a living faith, hope, and charity are good and necessary. But the more fundamental truth is that we’re all sinners and, without God’s grace, we’re lost. Recognizing and living this truth is humility. Deep down, we all know this truth, but sometimes our thought processes and actions say otherwise. Jesus calls to Himself the “little ones,” but part of us wants to be “big shots.”

I had a friend named Larry who in jest would pray, “Lord, help me find a parking spot . . . never mind, I just found one.” It’s good for me recall this joke from time to time as a reality check. The fact of the matter is that it’s not about me. I get in the way far more often than I help the cause, and when I’m able to help a little, it’s because I was open to God’s grace working in my life, at least imperfectly.

Pride leads us to take the credit for our successes and blessings and brings about an ungodly discouragement in times of failure. The truth is that none of us is quite ready for canonization. Sanctification is God’s work–not ours–accomplished throughout the course of our lives. Speaking for myself, He still has a ton of work to do.

Regardless of what might happen during the course of the day, we do well to conclude our day with the prayer of the tax collector: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

The Book of God

1 Apr

Sisters win!In our series on the documents of Vatican II during this “Year of Faith,” we have spent some time examining Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. This pivotal conciliar document has called Catholics to draw more effectively upon the life-changing power of Sacred Scripture.

The success of my daughter Sr. Evangeline and her team of sisters on The American Bible Challenge has given our culture a wonderful witness of how Catholics—and all people!—should come to know and venerate Scripture as God’s love letters to us.

And yet, Dei Verbum is not simply about the Bible. The title of this document itself is instructive. The Council Fathers did not call it Dei Librum (“Book of God”) but Dei Verbum (“Word of God”). The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us why this distinction is important:

“The Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book.’ Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God, not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, open our minds to understand the Scriptures” (no. 108, footnotes omitted).

For All the Saints

One of the principal themes of the Second Vatican Council was the universal call to holiness. The renewal of the Church hinges on the ongoing sanctification of all her members. This is the work of God, but all the faithful must be personally engaged in the process.

Dei Verbum takes us to the point of entry into this new life in Christ Jesus. It comes down to the “obedience of faith” that we give to God as He reveals Himself to us (DV, no. 5). As our Lord Himself says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28).

It is the great mission of the Holy Spirit, the “soul of the Church,” to reveal Christ to us and bring us into communion with Him and all His holy ones. As St. Paul says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 12:3). The gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and to the entire Church surely includes the singular blessing of Sacred Scripture, but encompasses the totality of what Christ bequeathed to His Church, including the sacred liturgy. In this regard the Holy Spirit “is the Church’s living memory” (Catechism, no. 1099), making present and effective in our lives the saving work of Christ. Dei Verbum therefore affirms that Sacred Tradition and Scripture are bound closely together and flow from the same divine wellspring, which is none other than the Holy Spirit (no. 9).

Bible Christians

While Catholics do not limit God’s self-revelation to the Bible alone (“sola scriptura”), we must affirm with St. Jerome that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

The fact of the matter is that Catholics have not been well “versed” in Sacred Scripture. Surely, Catholics know much more of the Bible than we think we do–to the extent we’ve stayed awake at Mass and catechism class. Still, we experience something of an “inferiority complex” when it comes to the Bible. When challenged on the more controversial aspects of our faith with the dreaded “Where in the Bible . . . ?” questions, we are needlessly bewildered and intimidated.

Tragically, there are millions of Catholics raised since the mid-20th century in this country who have left the Church. Many, for one reason or another, have simply abandoned all religious practice, as the poor formation many Catholics have received has proven to be no match for the relentless secularism of our society. Some, however, have met “Bible Christians” who have found in these biblically hapless Catholics easy targets for their proselytism.

In my own life–despite 12 years of Catholic school–I found myself as a young adult woefully ignorant of Christ. Scripture was not a priority in our home and was not convincingly proclaimed at school or at Sunday Mass. Our beautiful, large, family Bible was used mostly to keep important documents and newspaper clippings flat (because of its size), and safe (because no one would ever think of opening it).

Even as the Holy Spirit was gently leading me home in the 1980s, it was difficult to find sound Catholic materials on Scripture. The first book I picked up discussed how St. Paul didn’t write many of the Epistles the Church attributes to him. The second book said we had to focus on the human Jesus and proceeded to explain away the miraculous occurrences in the Gospels. The third book went so far as to deny the Resurrection, saying that it wasn’t a historical event, but basically, “It’s the Church’s story and we’re sticking to it.” These were all considered mainstream “Catholic” books that I later encountered, among others, in seminary. No wonder we’re confused!

While there’s much more work to be done today, the climate is already subtly but unmistakably changing. My kids (not just Sr. Evangeline!) and their friends not only know the Catechism, but are quite at home–where they should be–in the Bible, and in fact have more of it memorized than I do. The Liturgy of the Word–not just at Mass, but also in other sacramental celebrations and the Liturgy of the Hours–now receives greater attention. The faithful are exposed to more of the Bible than before, and in its natural habitat to boot: the sacred liturgy. Catholics in unprecedented numbers are engaged in life-changing Bible studies. Catholic apologetics, thanks to Karl Keating, Pat Madrid, and so many others, has undergone a remarkable renaissance, such that Catholics are increasingly able to explain the biblical basis of our beliefs. Continue reading

Guardian-Variety Angels

14 Aug

Today’s Gospel contains some beautiful teaching on God’s special love for His children and how as a Good Shepherd He will go looking for His little ones when they wander astray.

It also contains the verse that most typically is cited in support of the Church’s teaching on guardian angels–namely, Our Lord’s words in Matthew 18:10: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” The context is that He loves His little ones so much, that He even has angels looking out for each one of us!

Several Church Fathers taught that God assigns everyone an angel to watch over him or her throughout one’s life. In fact, the guardian angels are commemorated in the Church’s liturgy on October 2nd each year.

Guardian angels are also discussed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 336:

“From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life’ (quoting St. Basil). Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.”

Other biblical passages in support of this beautiful teaching include Luke 16:22; Psalm 34:7, 91:10-13; Job 33:23-24; Zech. 1:12; and Tobit 12:12.

As for the Church’s teaching on angels in general, paragraphs 328-54 of the Catechism provide an excellent overview. If you don’t have a copy of the Catechism, it would be a good investment. Click here for more information.

Whoever becomes humble like a child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. Perhaps one aspect of that humility is not becoming too “grown up” and self-sufficient to turn to one’s guardian angel for assistance.

God’s Rescue Mission

4 Apr

As the final stage of God’s “rescue mission” to save sinful humanity, He entered into our suffering and misery. Rather than remain at arm’s length, He stepped right into our dysfunction. He rolled up His sleeves, and got His hands dirty—even to the point of enduring a most degrading form of death.

In his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul not only emphasized Christ’s humility, but also His obedience (Phil. 2:8). Christ was ever faithful to His Father’s rescue mission. He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that God’s servant would bear our iniquities so as to restore us to right relation with our heavenly Father (cf. Is. 53:10-11; Catechism, no. 623).

Because of Christ’s humility and obedience, His Father raised Him from the dead and “highly exalted him” (Phil. 2:9). As Our Lord Himself foretold, “Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 14:11). We who have died with Christ in Baptism have firm hope that we will be exalted with Him (cf. Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12). This entails our own embrace of the Cross each day, in whatever form it may take, such as sickness, suffering, or setbacks of any kind (cf. Lk. 9:23).

St. Paul also stresses the “name” of Jesus, a name which is above every other name (Phil. 2:9). For the Jews, the name above every other name is none other than the name of God, YHWH (often rendered “Yahweh, ” or Kyrios in Greek).  This name is generally translated as “Lord” in the Old Testament. Kyrios is the same word that St. Paul uses when he says that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11). Therefore, St. Paul is saying that in raising Jesus from the dead and exalting Him in heaven, the Father is showing forth the sovereignty of He who is the “Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8; see generally Catechism, nos. 446-51).

St. Paul’s expression that at the name of Jesus “every knee should bow” (Phil. 2:10) is a direct allusion to Isaiah 45:23, and it reflects his conviction that the Lordship of Christ must extend over all creation (cf. Eph. 1:15-23). This point is solidified by the reference to the three levels of the universe according to ancient thought: “in heaven,” “on earth,” and “under the earth” (cf. Ex. 20:4).

And so we add our voice to that of all creation when we proclaim the good news that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11).