Tag Archives: top ten

The “Becket” List

29 Dec

St. Thomas BecketI’m sure many readers have heard of The Bucket List. It’s the movie in which characters played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman have terminal cancer. They decide to make the most of their remaining time by composing a “bucket list” of things they wanted to do before they die.

And then the adventures began!

A few years ago I started a similar tradition. During the last week of the year—when I can’t put it off any longer–I compose a “Becket list.” This list in named in honor of St. Thomas Becket, the 12th-century archbishop and martyr whose feast the Church celebrates each year on December 29th. The Becket list, part serious and part whimsical, contains things I would like to do before the end of the year.

Without further ado (after all, I gotta get busy!), here’s my end-of-2015 list:

(1) Recall all the blessings of 2015.

(2) Do all the things I put off till the Christmas holiday, when presumably I would “have more time.”

(3) Remember those who left us this year. This not only includes beloved celebrities like Cardinal Francis George, Leonard Nimoy, and Yogi Berra, but also friends and family members who passed away in 2015. I especially remember my sister Dottie. May they all rest in peace, as we put our trust in the Lord’s abundant mercy this year and always.

(4) Set goals and make resolutions for 2016. It’s good that we use the calendar as a motive to challenge ourselves to grow. High on the list is truly taking to heart the Archbishop’s invitation to participate more deeply in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy this coming year.

(5) Finally figure out how to operate the Wii and Xbox 360 before we’re forced to upgrade to Wii U and Xbox 1. I’ll probably always be an upgrade or two behind, to the chagrin of my sons.

(6) Lose ten pounds (five “old” pounds and the five put on over Christmas). I hope the treadmill still works.

(7) Perform intentional acts of kindness. After all, performing “random” acts of kindness leaves too much to chance.

(8) Clean my office! Both of them! If you’ve seen either one, no further explanation is needed.

(9) Tax stuff. Sure, the IRS gives us extra time for some things, but I like to have my “ducks” lined up. And surely this includes end-of-the-year donations to Catholic apostolates and charities!

(10) Playoffs? Playoffs! Of course I have to make plans to watch the playoff run of the Kansas City Chiefs! If I had gotten another puppy for Christmas, I would have named him Tamba, or possibly Dontari or Colquitt. Maybe next year.

What’s on your Becket list?

This article appeared in the December 25, 2015 edition of The Leaven.

St. Ignatius of Antioch

17 Oct

I’m especially partial to today’s saint, Ignatius of Antioch. I’m sure part of it is because it’s my 56th birthday, so I’ve always claimed him as one of “my” saints. But even more, St. Ignatius, who is recalled in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer 1), is a vitally important witness to the faith of the Apostles, which of course is the faith of the Church.

St. Ignatius (c. 50-107 A.D.) was the third Bishop of Antioch (St. Peter himself was the first, by the way). Antioch is the place where Our Lord’s followers were called Christians for the first time (Acts 11:26). St. Ignatius heard the preaching of St. John the Evangelist, and he also knew St. Polycarp, another significant apostolic Father who eventually became the Bishop of Smyrna in what is now Turkey.

What makes St. Ignatius such a significant figure in Church history is that when he was to be martyred in 107 A.D. during the reign of the Emperor Trajan, he was brought to Rome for his execution. During this journey he wrote seven letters to different Churches that are extant and indeed have been precious gems of the apostolic faith for Christians of every generation.

In honor of St. Ignatius, I will now give the following “top ten” list of some of my favorite quotes from this great bishop and martyr: Continue reading

Timothy and Titus Top Ten

26 Jan

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Timothy and Titus. Both were disciples of St. Paul and are mentioned in the New Testament. Timothy eventually became the Bishop of Ephesus and Titus became the Bishop of Crete, so they are important early witnesses to the structure of Church leadership.

St. Paul wrote two letters to Timothy and one letter to Titus that became part of the New Testament. These letters are commonly grouped together as the “Pastoral Epistles,” because they provide pastoral guidance to individual bishops rather than instruction for entire local Churches, such as in the case of the letters to the Corinthians or Romans.

In honor of the feast, I now humbly offer my “top ten” list of favorite verses from the Pastoral Epistles. Here it is:

(10) 1 Timothy 3:15: “The church of the living God [is] the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

I’m probably underrating this one, perhaps because it is so frequently trotted out in the context of “winning” apologetics debates. While there is an unmistakable apologetics dimension, as St. Paul is clearly referring to the Church–and not the Bible alone–as the “pillar and bulwark of the truth,” what really moves me is the fact that I can turn to the Church, in season and out of season, for the truth.

(9) Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.”

This is a really beautiful description of the Sacrament of Baptism, which is truly the doorway to the Christian life. I love the image of “regeneration,” as through the sacrament we become “new creations”–sons and daughters of God by adoption. Our Lord makes all things new!

(8) 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, . . .”

This popular verse connects the concept of “inspiration,” which means “God-breathed,” with Scripture’s value for the believer. And the next verse, sometimes overlooked, completes this beautiful insight:  ”. . . that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

(7) 1 Timothy 2:1-2: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”

This passage provides a biblical basis for remembering civil and Church leaders in the General Intercessions at Mass. For me, it’s a challenging reminder, especially after the disastrous 2008 election, to pray for our leaders despite their entrenched opposition on the issues that matter most. (The only thing that President Obama and I agree on is that there should be a playoff system in college football, but I digress.) And I have to say that “a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way” is a goal that really resonates with me.

(6) 2 Timothy 4:3: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings.”

That time has come. Many people today do not endure sound teaching, and sadly they can find New Age gurus, heterodox theologians, start-up “churches,” and even some Catholic clergy and religious who will tickle their ears. Instead of saying “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” they say “You’re okay as you are, believe what you want.” This verse challenges me to have the humility to listen to the truth, and also the courage robed in charity to resist the temptation, born of a false compassion, to scratch ears rather than speak the truth. (See also 1 Timothy 1:19 about how going against what we know is right makes a shipwreck of our faith.)

(5) 1 Timothy 4:16: “Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

What a wonderful verse for those of us who are parents or teachers, as it challenges us to walk the talk–not only for the good of our “hearers,” but also for our own salvation. This verse also touches on the need to persevere in the faith if we want to attain the “crown of righteousness” (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8).

(4) 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

St. Paul’s use of military and athletic images to describe the Christian life summons men to step up and live generous, heroic lives for Christ. This verse also points to the necessity of persevering in the faith, lest we run aimlessly or otherwise become “disqualified” through mortal sin (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  We’re not in heaven yet; we need to put on the armor of God and fearlessly run toward the prize.

(3) 1 Timothy 6:20: “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.”

What an amazing verse. St. Paul is instructing Timothy to guard the deposit of faith. Yes, the deposit of faith, summed up in the person and teachings of Christ, needs to be proclaimed, but it also needs to be safeguarded lest mere human wisdom or even outright error intermingle with the Word of God. So the Magisterium, or teaching office, of the Church not only plays offense (teaching the faith), but also defense (protecting the faith). Praise God that the Church proclaims the true faith in every generation, through the ministry of the apostles and their successors, by means of a special gift of the Holy Spirit.

(2) Titus 2:11-14: “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”

I know, it’s a hefty four verses, but it’s such an inspiring passage that I didn’t want to chop it up. I especially appreciate how Christian hope impels us to live virtuous lives.

(1) 1 Timothy 1:15: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

What can I possibly add to this verse? Here St. Paul, a la the late Howard Cosell, is simply “telling like it is.”

Well, those are my favorites. What are yours?

Luke’s Top Ten

17 Oct

LukeIn anticipation of the feast of St. Luke tomorrow, I thought I would offer a top ten list of favorite passages from St. Luke’s Gospel, but with a twist: All selected passages must be substantially unique to St. Luke’s Gospel. In other words, the mere fact that St. Luke includes an interesting detail, such as the sweating of blood during Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden, isn’t good enough. The following list, then, contains favorite Gospel passages that likely would have been lost if they were not recorded by St. Luke the Evangelist.

The list is in order of appearance in St. Luke’s Gospel:

(1) Luke 1:26-38 Annunciation

The announcement that the Son of God is coming into the world, and Mary’s breathtaking response. It doesn’t get any better than that!

(2) Luke 1:39-56 Visitation

Another “Joyful Mystery”; I’m particularly fond of Mary’s hymn of praise, known as the “Magnificat.” There’s also a fascinating connection with the Old Testament, as Mary is revealed as the New Ark of the Covenant.

(3) Luke 2:1-20 Nativity

One might protest that St. Matthew includes some mention of Jesus’ birth and infancy, but the details provided here are mostly unique to Luke’s Gospel—everything from their being no room at the inn and being laid in a manger to the adoration of the shepherds and the glorious praise of the angels.

(4) Luke 5:1-11 Call of Simon the Fisherman

I love the invitation to Simon Peter to “put out into the deep” and Simon’s subsequent response to the miraculous catch of fish: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Despite his weakness and failings, he would become a “fisher of men.”

(5) Luke 10:29-37 Parable of the Good Samaritan

A good reminder to make “real” our commitment to love our neighbor as ourselves.

(6) Luke 10:38-42 Martha and Mary

This passage is really short, but the Church is so much richer for knowing that, despite the wonderful hospitality offered by St. Martha, Mary chose the greater part.

(7) Luke 15:11-32 Parable of the Prodigal Son

This is arguably the most famous—and most profound–of all of Jesus’ parables. I love the image it gives of God the Father, and what it teaches me as a human father.

(8) Luke 18:9-14 Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

I love this parable, as humility before God is the key to authentic prayer.

(9) Luke 23:39-43 Good Thief “Steals” Heaven

While other Gospels mention that Jesus was crucified between two thieves, only St. Luke gives us the final exchange between the two thieves. Who can forget Jesus’ words to the good thief: “Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

(10) Luke 24:13-35 Road to Emmaus

This is perhaps my favorite post-Resurrection story concerning Jesus, in which the two disciples’ hearts “burned” as Jesus opened the Scriptures to them, and then they definitively recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. This episode is probably the story alluded to in Mark 16:12-13, but of course only St. Luke gives us details.

I hope you concur that this is a pretty amazing list of great Gospel passages recorded only in Luke. Perhaps even more amazing is that I could probably come up with a second top ten list of beautiful passages unique to Luke (e.g., Canticle of Zechariah; Presentation in the Temple; Finding in the Temple; Jesus declares a Jubilee; Raising the Widow of Nain’s son; Parable of the Lost Coin; Parable of the Unjust Steward; Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus; Cleansing of the Ten Lepers; Zacchaeus). But the ten listed above are my favorites in this category.

What is your favorite passage from Luke?

By the way, I included an image of St. Luke with an ox. St. Luke’s Gospel is often represented by an ox, which is symbolic of Old Testament sacrifices and priesthood. St. Luke’s Gospel opens with Zechariah’s priestly service in the Temple.

The Truth Will Set Us Free

28 May

Murray on TIME coverAfter a brief hiatus, we now continue our series on the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) during this Year of Faith with the Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae). While the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy may be considered the most controversial document of Vatican II in terms of its implementation, Dignitatis Humanae is probably the most controversial in terms of what it actually teaches, and it is a “front-burner” issue for the Church today.

The reason Dignitatis Humanae is so controversial are that it (a) reflects new and diverse responses to changing social conditions (notably the contribution of American theologian John Courtney Murray, S.J.) and (b) strikes a very different tone from a series of papal documents from Gregory XVI to Pius XI on the social kingship of Christ and the desirability of a “confessional state” (i.e., what we would call a “Catholic country”).

Let me try to simplify the issue for us: “Religious liberty” looks one way when the Catholic faith is in power and most people are Catholic or at least Christian, and the issue is how to apply religious truth in a manner that is both robust and yet respectful of the rights of non-believers. It looks another way when, as is more typical in our experience, the Catholic faith is a minority position and the issue is to protect the fundamental rights of individuals and religious entities. As the first section Dignitatis Humanae teaches, “Religious freedom, . . . which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society.”

Further complicating the situation is American jurisprudence, which today, in my judgment, improperly treats the “Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment as meaning that there must be an impenetrable wall between Church and State—and really between religion and public life. This distorted emphasis on the Establishment Clause to the detriment of the “Free Exercise” clause has led secularists to narrow the scope of “religious liberty” to what happens in the church building as they bully believers and churches out of the public square.

Exhibit “A” is the HHS mandate.

Another complicating aspect of religious liberty is the widespread misunderstanding of conscience, especially in dissident Catholic circles. I’ve addressed that issue here. The Catechism (no. 1792) acknowledges that “a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience” is a “source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.” Even more to the point, Catechism, no. 2039 teaches that “personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church.”

We should not be forced to act against our conscience. By the same token, we are obliged to form our consciences well. Acting according to the dictates of conscience is about doing what is truly good, not whatever I feel like doing at the moment.

Let’s now briefly look at a “top ten” list of principles of religious liberty taken from the opening sections of Dignitatis Humanae. This is not an exhaustive list, but it contains principles that always apply even as cultural conditions change:

(1) We ordinarily cannot be forced to act contrary to our religious beliefs.

“All men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” (no. 2)

(2) Religious liberty is an innate right known to us through both faith and reason.

“The right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.” (no. 2)

(3) Governments have the duty to respect religious liberty.

“This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.” (no. 2)

(4) We must seek the truth.

“It is in accordance with their dignity as persons–that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility–that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth.” (no. 2)

(5) We must strive to live the truth.

“They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth.” (no. 2)

(6) God’s law is written on the human heart.

“The highest norm of human life is the divine law–eternal, objective and universal–whereby God orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community by a plan conceived in wisdom and love. Man has been made by God to participate in this law, with the result that, under the gentle disposition of divine Providence, he can come to perceive ever more fully the truth that is unchanging. Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means.” (no. 3)

(7) The truth must be sought freely.

“Truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth.” (no. 3)

(8) We must adhere to the truth.

“As the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that men are to adhere to it.” (no. 3)

(9) Personal and societal harm comes from suppressing the free exercise of religion.

“On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious. The reason is that the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God. No merely human power can either command or prohibit acts of this kind. The social nature of man, however, itself requires that he should give external expression to his internal acts of religion: that he should share with others in matters religious; that he should profess his religion in community. Injury therefore is done to the human person and to the very order established by God for human life, if the free exercise of religion is denied in society, provided just public order is observed.” (no. 3)

(10) Religious freedom applies to religious communities and groups (i.e., the Church), and not just individual believers.

“The freedom or immunity from coercion in matters religious which is the endowment of persons as individuals is also to be recognized as their right when they act in community. Religious communities are a requirement of the social nature both of man and of religion itself.” (no. 4)

Jumping Through Hoops

14 May

Jason CollinsLast week journeyman NBA player Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete to play on a major men’s U.S. sports team. His “coming out” became the lead story on ESPN and other sports media, and it was generally celebrated as a historic event for the advancement of our culture, much like Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color barrier in baseball over a half-century ago.

One expects diverse, uninformed opinions on talk radio and in the blogosphere. Still, it seems that even much of the more dignified commentary is off the mark. For that reason, I thought I would offer a “top ten” list of my initial reactions to Collins’ announcement, realizing that all these points barely scratch the surface of this momentous societal issue.

(1) Play Ball Let’s start by saying that nobody, including the Catholic Church, is claiming that Jason Collins or other publicly “gay” athletes should not be allowed to compete on professional sports teams. Public acceptance of homosexual liaisons does have negative repercussions, but surely those with same-sex attractions must be treated with love and compassion. It would be unjust discrimination to bar them from pursuing their livelihood (cf. Catechism, no. 2358).

So let’s be clear—Collins’ announcement has nothing to do with his ability to earn his living, but everything to do with the advancement of a social agenda that is at loggerheads with Christianity.

(2) Is He a Hero? There are well over 60 million Catholics in this country whose professed faith–rooted both in Scripture and the natural law (cf. Catechism, nos. 1954-60, 2036, 2357)—teaches that homosexual acts are serious sins. This view of homosexuality is shared by tens of millions of other Christians, as well as many who have arrived at their conclusion based on their perception of reality (cf. Rom. 1:18-32).

One can appreciate a certain level of honesty and even courage in Collins’ announcement, but Christians justifiably recoil at the suggestion that Collins is now some sort of hero or pioneer in a positive sense.  The true heroes are those who quietly struggle perhaps a lifetime to control their disordered passions.

(3) National Conversation? Many news outlets talk a good game about the “national conversation” that Jason Collins’ announcement has produced, as if now we can finally have a free exchange of ideas and viewpoints on this subject. So, in the midst of such a discussion on ESPN, pro basketball commentator Chris Broussard said, “I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is.”

A Catholic would do well to express his or her position so succinctly and articulately. Yet Broussard’s comments were unwanted (Google “Chris Broussard Jason Collins” for a sampling of the reaction). ESPN offered its regrets that his personal viewpoint was a “distraction,” and reiterated that “ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement.”

In other words, ESPN is fully on board with the gay agenda, and does not welcome other points of view. Beyond the chilling effect of ESPN’s reaction to one of its own, we see the network’s duplicity in purporting to be open to an exchange of ideas on the subject.

(4) Is It Right? The larger problem here is that our culture has relegated the moral law to the level of private opinion. (And especially in the area of sexuality, please keep your opinions to yourself.)

Therefore, anything that isn’t a crime in the government’s eyes must be tolerated in the name of “diversity” or a distorted understanding of “liberty.”  And in the name of tolerance the media will not tolerate any discussion as to whether it’s “good” to act upon one’s same-sex attraction, whether it’s “good” to identify oneself by one’s sexual preference, and whether it’s “good” to seek (and give!) public approval to behavior that the vast majority of peoples and cultures throughout human history has considered unacceptable.

(5) We’re Compromised The Collins announcement is just one more case-in-point that our sex-obsessed culture is compromised when it comes to sexual morality. If we as a people are willing to turn a blind eye to our nation’s pornography addiction, not to mention our society’s acceptance of the widest range of “heterosexual sins,” then it’s not surprising that many people do not feel as though they can do anything but go along with the gay agenda.

After all, if we were to acknowledge moral standards, we’d be obliged to do our best with God’s grace to live by them. I suspect many people are not ready to do that.

(6) What About Tebow? Ironically perhaps, about the same time Jason Collins made his announcement the New York Jets cut quarterback Tim Tebow. Neither Collins nor Tebow are elite players in their sport (though Tebow was elite during his collegiate career), but both find themselves immersed in media attention. Yet the coverage of Tebow, by all accounts a virtuous, openly Christian man, is mostly negative—and not just in terms of his deficiencies as an NFL quarterback. There is frequent mention of teams not wanting him because of the “media circus” caused in large part by his commitment to Jesus Christ.  Players and teams are free in their comments about not wanting someone like him in the locker room.

When it comes to Collins, however, the focus is simply on his being a good teammate. Players are not allowed to express any discomfort with having Collins on their team. We saw the same phenomenon at work before the Super Bowl, when 49er Chris Culliver was raked over the coals for saying that he would rather not have a “gay” teammate.

(7)  Private Lives We frequently hear that the Church and the State should stay out of the bedroom and not meddle in the “private lives” of consenting adults. Yet, Collins’ “private” sexual preference was all we heard about on the news last week. Those of us who like to watch sports with our children should be able to enjoy scores and highlights without the R-rated social commentary.

And yet, with due regard for the innocence of our children, marriage and sexuality indeed is a public matter, as marriages create families, which are the building blocks of a healthy society. That is why marriages are a matter of public and ecclesial record, with witnesses and lavish celebrations. And that is why the State and especially the Church exercise appropriate authority in this area.

(8) Not Born That Way The popular assumption, not corroborated by science or the leaders of the gay rights movement itself, is that homosexual men and women are irremediably “born that way.”

Same-sex attractions, like all disordered sexual attractions, can be strong and deep-seated. However, like all strong sexual desires, there’s an element of choice when it comes to working against or even healing this inclination versus embracing the “gay lifestyle.”

It’s interesting that when it comes to homosexuality at least, the secularists do not uphold the ability to “choose.” Yet following one’s sexual feelings no matter where they lead is a recipe for personal misery. Conversely, there are many Christians who have overcome same-sex attractions and have gone on to live joyful, chaste lives.

Further, as Archbishop Naumann masterfully described in a recent column in The Leaven, many young people in their formative years experience some confusion regarding their sexual identity and orientation. The public support and approval of homosexuality witnessed in Collins’ announcement could surely encourage young people at a pivotal time in their lives to enter a homosexual lifestyle that would threaten their physical, spiritual, and moral health.

(9) Uncivil Rights The Collins story vividly demonstrates that the media will portray those of us who stand up for sexual morality and the good of families and children in a negative light. We simply are on the wrong side of a civil rights issue. By (erroneously) presenting sexual preference as something that is genetically established at birth and unchangeable, gay activists have effectively duped much of the public into thinking that full acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle is an “equality” issue.

Deep down we know, as a matter of faith but also of reason and common sense, that God created us as “male and female,” not “gay and straight” (leaving aside, for a moment, the bisexual and transsexual communities). The biological complementarity of man and woman is unmistakably stamped on our bodies, but we’ve been guzzling the Kool-Aid for so long that we’re simply blinded to this reality.

(10) Absence of Moral Leadership Rather than offer any sort of moral leadership, our President and First Lady were among the first to applaud Jason Collins’ announcement and tell him “We’ve got your back.”

Now we see that Jason Collins and Michelle Obama will headline a May 29 Democratic fundraiser at the party’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership Council gala event. Sadly, our government leaders are part of the problem, not part of the solution here.

Much more can and should be said about this, but those are some of the thoughts I’ve had recently. What was your reaction to Jason Collins’ announcement?

Food for Thought

11 Apr

april showersI don’t know about you, but I have found the daily Mass readings for the second week of the Easter season to be overflowing with food for meditative prayer and daily Christian living. I thought I would share this “top ten” list of verses that have been especially meaningful to me this week, realizing of course that I’m only scratching the surface of these rich passages.

And by the way, we all know that April showers bring May flowers. But what do May flowers bring? The answer is found at the end of this list of verses.

(1) “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe’” (Jn. 20:27, Sunday).

This episode in which Our Lord confronts “doubting” Thomas is perhaps the most compelling post-Resurrection appearance of Christ, which provides solid encouragement for those of us who have not seen, yet have believed.

(2) “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me” (Heb. 10:5, Monday).

This passage, which explicitly applies Psalm 40 to Our Lord, fittingly speaks of the Lord’s Incarnation, which we celebrated on Monday with the transferred feast of the Annunciation. But even more, we see that His becoming flesh, His taking a body, is connected to sacrifice. Our bodies too are instruments of sacrifice: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1; see also Col. 1:24).

(3) “Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word’” (Lk. 1:38, Monday).

The Annunciation is ordinarily celebrated on March 25th, exactly nine months before Christmas, but was moved this year out of deference to Easter, which is an eight-day feast in the Church. So we had a temporary break from St. John’s Gospel as we heard anew Our Lady’s remarkable “fiat,” as she consents to becoming a living tabernacle of the eternal Son of God. We too become living tabernacles whenever we worthily receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.

(4) “The community of believers was of one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32, Tuesday).

The Catechism (no. 2790) links this verse to the Lord’s Prayer: When we pray “our Father,” we acknowledge our communion with all our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

(5) Jesus said to Nicodemus: “‘You must be born from above’” (Jn. 3:7, Tuesday).

This famous episode points to the regenerative waters of Baptism, which truly enable us to become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) and heirs of heaven as God’s beloved children.

(6) “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. . . . whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God” (Jn. 3:16, 21, Wednesday).

Okay, this is a bit of a “two-fer.” Despite its familiarity, John 3:16 should never lose its freshness in our hearts. And God’s love calls forth not only a notional assent, but even more it demands a committed love, such that we not only profess the truth, but live it–even when nobody is watching.

(7) “But Peter and the Apostles said in reply, ‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29, Thursday).

Even though this passage gets misused at times, the premise here is a crucial one. Often we can live the ambiguity, in a sense obeying both God and man. But when push comes to shove, when our faith calls us to a higher standard, do we have the integrity of St. Thomas More to obey God, not men?

(8) “He does not ration his gift of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:34, Thursday).

God is more generous, more powerful, and even more present than we often give Him credit for, at least in practice. The Christian life, when all is said and done, is life in the Spirit. If our faith isn’t all-encompassing, it’s because we’re rationing God, and not that God is rationing His Spirit.

(9) “If this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39, Friday).

These remarkably wise words of Gamaliel have proven to be prophetic, haven’t they? In addition, wisdom has a timeless quality, and so Gamaliel’s words provide sound guidance whenever we encounter purported private revelations, new spiritual movements, or other religious enterprises of questionable origin.

(10) “Jesus said, ‘Let the people recline’” (Jn. 6:10, Friday).

Okay, this one is a little tongue-in-cheek. My daughter Brenda likes to cite this verse whenever I ask her to get off the sofa and do something. But even this lighthearted anecdote shows how Scripture verses can be manipulated and taken out of context when removed from their natural habitat (i.e., the liturgy) and interpreted apart from the authority of the Church.

And by the way, the answer to my question at the beginning of this post is . . . pilgrims!

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.”

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

Musings of an Accidental Conservative

29 Jan

liberal and conservativeI have long disliked the label “conservative.” I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it per se, but I’m not a political ideologue. I am a Catholic who believes what the Church teaches, and for that reason alone I’m often called a “conservative” these days.

After reading Bishop Finn’s recent post in which he courageously affirms that the National Catholic Reporter, long considered a leading voice of “liberal Catholicism,” should not be considered a “Catholic publication,” I figured the time was ripe to give my top ten list of reasons why “liberal” and “conservative” are not useful terms when it comes to Catholic beliefs. These are in no particular order:

(1) Term Limits

“Conservative” and “liberal” are already entrenched as political terms with their own specific meaning. The terms are necessarily adversarial and divisive when used in the context of the Church, since they imply a struggle for supremacy between two more/less equally legitimate camps. With St. Paul we might ask, “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13). When we try to use two emotionally charged terms from one context and apply them in a completely different context, of course there will be misunderstanding exacerbated by strong emotional responses.

(2) Not in Catholic Lexicon

Okay, when we hear the terms “conservative” and “liberal” we think of political terms. But let’s go further: they are not Catholic terms in a strict sense. I’ve been though all 2,865 paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church many times, and I don’t recall ever seeing those terms used. Instead, the Catholic Church has its own vocabulary to describe one′s relationship to the Church. Shouldn’t we use that instead? The problem of course is that many consider themselves Americans first, and Christians or Catholics second, so they let American culture define the rules of engagement even within the Church. Perhaps during this Year of Faith we can strive to recover a more fully Catholic worldview.

(3) Radio, Radio (second Elvis Costello allusion this month, but accidents happen)

We tend to think of “liberal” and conservative” as two extremes on a continuum, sort of like a radio dial. The stations at the left side of the AM dial (in the 500s or 600s, say) would be “liberal” and the stations at the far right (1500s and 1600s) would be “conservative.” Both have a place on the radio dial, though people might gravitate toward the numbers in the middle away from the two extremes, where most of the more popular stations tend to be located.

Similarly, we often hear of Catholics who are 100% with the Church described as “conservative” or even “ultraconservative,” while those who dissent from the Church on hot-button moral issues are called “moderate.” Maybe a Catholic who is truly a Catholic is considered a “conservative” by political pundits, but all Catholics must be “conservative” when it comes to upholding Christian moral teaching in the public square. What are we saying, that being “too Catholic” or “too religious” is one extreme, and being hostile to God, religion, and all public morals is the other extreme, such that the desirable middle ground is to be “sorta Catholic” or “mildly dissident”? Yet I’ve personally run into that sort of thinking many times in the Church.

(4) Conversion

Nobody should go around calling people heretics or apostates. Yet we go way too far in the other direction. We’re not willing to speak hard truths with charity. We’re not willing to say that any position that conflicts with established Catholic teaching on faith and morals is heresy. Instead, we call it “liberal,” which is then taken as a legitimate, perhaps even chic, way of being in the Church. While most people don’t want to consider themselves heretics, many consider the “liberal” tag a badge of honor. My point here is that those who part ways with the Church should be called back into full communion. We’re less inclined to do so when we regularly use euphemisms to conceal the need for repentance and conversion. Let’s face it: When we tolerate dissent and heresy rather than call to conversion, we are not truly loving our brothers and sisters in Christ.

(5) Good Liberal vs. Bad Liberal

Of course part of the problem is that the terms themselves are vague and ambiguous, especially given the frequent blending of their political and ecclesial ramifications. “Liberalism” in the sense of favoring the social legitimization of evils such as abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage is an abomination for Catholics. “Liberalism” in the sense of favoring big government programs may be problematic for Catholics at times, such as when the principle of subsidiarity is violated, but it’s not quite as cut and dried (but close). And then there’s “liberalism” in the sense of the Church’s staunch defense of human dignity and social justice, which generally speaking is a very good thing (when the concept isn’t hijacked). But in the Church, “liberal” typically equates with “dissident” or ”heterodox,” which is clearly not a good thing, yet is given cover because of its legitimacy in some political contexts.

(6) Good Conservative vs. Bad Conservative

The Church has been entrusted the “deposit of faith” (cf. 1 Tim. 6:20), which she protects and “conserves.” She holds fast to Tradition (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15), and she’ll prevail against the ”powers of death” (cf. Mt. 16:18). So while the Church is a living organism that grows and adapts to new situations, there is no doubt a pervasive “conservative” dimension to her essential constitution. Since being a faithful, practicing, “normative” Catholic is also considered being “conservative” in a political sense, we must resist the temptation to “default” our way into uncritically accepting all aspects of political conservativism, even as we generally embrace the conservatives’ approach to many issues, especially what are generally called “social issues.”

(7) This Ain’t a Democracy

It should go without saying that the Church is not a democracy. Yet the more we politicize the Church, the more weight we give to the assumption on the part of many that, in the words of the dissident “Voice of the Faithful” organization from a decade ago, we can “keep the faith, change the Church.” If we get enough people to show up at a town hall meeting or to sign some petition, would the Church change her fundamental structure or reverse her moral teachings? Of course not! So why use political terms that suggest with proper maneuvering we might be able to elect a new Pope or push through an agenda that’s fundamentally at odds with the Catholic faith?

(8) Divine Element

Because of the political, democratic connotations of “liberal” and “conservative,” we tend to downplay the fact that Christianity is about following Christ. It’s His Church, and it’s one (and holy, Catholic, and apostolic). In politics, we’re trying to get others to side with us, or at least to vote for our candidate or issue. In the Church, it’s the other way around. It’s about God’s grace changing us, persuading us to follow Him more completely and unreservedly.

(9) Stop Thinking

Obviously in the political realm we sometimes have to speak on a macro level, and so blocs of people who tend to vote a particular way are labeled as such. Yet I think we should resist labeling and resist being labeled as much as possible in the Church. It’s an excuse to stop thinking, or even to write off somebody without really knowing them. When someone is identified as a “liberal” Catholic by a “conservative” Catholic, or vice versa, then we’re institutionalizing division and dissent within the Church, and wounding her witness to the world.

(10) Communion, not Class Struggle

The key term in understanding the Catholic Church is “communion,” as through God’s grace centuries of strife and division are overcome in the person of Christ, in whom we truly become brothers and sisters. In our largely secular society, many people consider themselves “Catholic” but really don’t fully identify with or participate in the life of the Church. Then there are others who stay in the Church to reform her in their own image. Rather than see in all this chaos some sort of class struggle between the so-called “liberals” and “conservatives,” we should perceive a call to foster both the visible and invisible bonds of unity within the Church (see Catechism, no. 815; there is also a wonderful discussion in Pope John Paul II”s encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, nos. 35 and following).

In other words, we must be better Catholics and build better Catholics. Without the conviction of faith, then it’s only about tactics.