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January 2018 Posts

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What is spirituality?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 31, January 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Prayer and Spirituality
Spirituality
Spirituality has to make a difference. Its purpose is to infuse meaning and direction into everything else.

My theology professor Francis Baur used to say: spirituality has something to do with the living of our lives; otherwise it’s not spirituality, just pious embroidery. The idea that spirituality is woven into our corporeality is key. It can’t be a vague cloak of values added on top of a lifestyle established and immutable. Spirituality has to make a difference. Its purpose is to infuse meaning and direction into everything else.

We’re tempted to think of it as some sort of technique we elect to practice: I do yoga, you do centering prayer, he does the rosary, and they join the Third Order Carmelites. Spirituality-as-technique deceives us into imagining it as a skill we can acquire with enough rehearsal, like making tolerably good birdcalls. It also lures us into magical thinking: if I tough out 30 days of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, I will ascend to a higher moral plane.

Rather than a method of praying, spirituality informs our perception of reality, then moves us toward the values and behaviors that further such a vision. The end of spirituality is not “the mastery of practices but the quality of our very existence,” says Baur. Which means it’s not as esoteric as “spiritual” people sometimes make it sound. Spirituality isn’t for the elite but for all, since we all have an existence, and its quality is largely in our hands.

The pursuit of spirituality will take us through the thickets of theology: What do I believe about who God is and what God wants from me? What is life for? What is the church for? Who is Jesus to me, and how does that affect my decisions? If for example I believe God is love and God wants a relationship of love with me, then the path is plain: the ways of love must inform my spiritual quest. The church’s assembly, teachings, and worship must aid in my learning how to be a more loving person. Following Jesus means becoming a disciple in his school of love.

A piecemeal approach to spirituality will never lead to wholeness or viability. Focusing on procedures for contacting the Divinity makes religion too much like Star Trek’s quest for contacting new life forms—and spirituality truly isn’t rocket science. Faith, in the end, is about faithfulness; not what you believe, but what you do about it. What are you willing to settle for, with your one life? That’s a question worthy of spirituality.

Scripture:

Matthew 5:1—7:29; 10:37-39; Luke 5:33-39; 9:23-27; 11:1-13; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Galatians 5:16-26; Colossians 3:5-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22; James 3:13-18; 1 Peter 1:13-25

Books:

Life in Abundance: A Contemporary Spirituality, by Francis Baur, O.F.M. (Paulist Press, 1983)

What Is the Point of Being a Christian? byTimothy Radcliff, O.P. (Burns & Oates, 2005)

What do Catholics believe about the Eucharist?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 31, January 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Sacraments
Eucharist
Our participation in this supper transforms us into the Body of Christ for the world right now.

The centrality of Eucharist to Catholic life can’t be overemphasized. It’s “the source and summit” of Christian life. (Lumen Gentium, no.11) This means our life as disciples begins at the Table of the Lord and always returns here.

Eucharist means thanksgiving. Eucharist refers to the ritual of the Mass as a whole, or is shorthand for the Body and Blood of Christ we share in communion. The term reminds us that what brings us together is gratitude. What are we grateful for? The mystery of Christ who has died, is risen, and will come again in glory. This past/present/future reality of Christ includes us in its magnificent unfolding. We’re not bystanders at a miracle, but participants in a never-ending feast.

Like many of our Protestant sisters and brothers, Catholics celebrate Eucharist as a memorial of the last supper Jesus shared with his friends. However, we also believe this sacrament renews the sacrifice Jesus makes of his life expressed in his words: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body… Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood….” What was, now is. Our participation in this supper transforms us into the Body of Christ for the world right now.

When the early church gathered for what they called “the breaking of the bread” or “the Supper of the Lord,” they did more than eat and drink. They also listened to instruction from local leaders, prayed, supported each other, shared financial resources with those in need, and received teachings from the apostles—whether in person, delivered by an eyewitness, or by means of a letter passed among the communities. The gathering also served in a variety of ministries as the Spirit inspired the members to do. We preserve these elements of Eucharist in the prayers, Scripture readings, homily, and collection, as well as opportunities for faith formation and service practiced in various ways by each parish community.

Recent Catholic theology also directs our attention to the “dangerous memory” contained in our Eucharist. Christ’s passion points to the reality of unjust suffering, the need for its redress, and the hope of transcendence from a world marred by sin and death. Our Eucharist reminds us that the call to justice sounds every time we “proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes.”

Scripture:

Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:26-29; Luke 22:14-20; John 6:34-59; Acts of the Apostles 2:42; 4:32-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Books:

The Eucharist: A Mystery of Faith, by Joseph M. Champlain (Paulist Press, 2005)

The Eucharist and Social Justice, by Margaret Scott (Paulist Press, 2009)

What does it take to be recognized by the church as a saint?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 09, January 2018 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Saints
Today’s potential saints face a ladder of steps to be entered into the canon.

Becoming part of the official register or canon of the church’s saints has been an evolving process. There used to be one sure way to get there: martyrdom—which, in centuries of persecution, was a serious possibility after baptism. After Christianity became an established religion of the Empire under Constantine in 325, martyrs were rare. “White” martyrdom—the sacrifice of one’s life to prayer and penance—led to the monastic movement. Gradually, a virtuous life became the popular standard for sanctity.

Today’s potential saints face a ladder of steps to be entered into the canon. You live a heroically virtuous life. That’s the easy part. You die or are killed. (It’s necessary to be dead. Canonically, there’s no such thing as a living saint.) Five years pass; though for both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II, even this brief waiting period was waived. Next a petitioner—a parish, diocese, religious community, lay association, or civil body—must adopt (promote and finance) your cause. Then a postulator or official agent is named from the diocese in which you died. (If you die outside the place your virtue was best known, another diocese can petition to have your case returned to them.) At this point, everyone is calling you a Servant of God.

A formal inquest begins in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS). The local bishop collects any information about you, including all your published and unpublished works. (In the future, this will hang up the process indefinitely unless prospective saints routinely delete their e-mail.) Two theologians read everything in search of red flags. If there are none, they recommend you for the nihil obstat (no apparent obstacles).

Eyewitnesses are now interviewed extensively and transcripts made. If all goes well, a decree of validity is added to your cause by the CCS. The most crucial step follows: composing the positio, an enormous document including a comprehensive biography and the written testimonies. Three bodies of experts at the CCS comb through the positio: historians, theologians, and prelates. If your cause survives their scrutiny, you’ll either be fast-tracked to beatification as a martyr, or attain the title Venerable for your heroic virtues.

Once you’re venerable, you only need one exceptional miracle attributed to your intercession (vetted by the CCS) to become beatified and earn the title Blessed. From beatification to sainthood takes one more proven exceptional miracle. After your canonization, don’t expect to retire. People will be asking for your help forever.

Scriptures:

Leviticus 20:7; Deuteronomy 7:6; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 3:17; 6:11; Ephesians 2:21-22; Colossians 3:12-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 5:23; 1 Peter 1:14-16; 2:9

Website:

Divinus Perfectionis Magister (Divine Teacher, Model of Perfection) – Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Constitutions, Vatican City, 1983. See: newsaints.faithweb.com/divinus.htm

Books:

Canonization: Theology, History, Process, by William H. Woestman (Faculty of Canon Law, St. Paul University, 2014)

Two Americans were beatified by Pope Francis. What do I need to know about them?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 09, January 2018 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Father Stanley Rother
Father Stanley Rother, a diocesan priest from Oklahoma martyred in Guatemala, was beatified in 2017.

The U.S. saints roster is exploding lately. Growing up with statues of Teresas, Francis, Anthony, and Patrick, we may have imagined sainthood as a European phenomenon. Today’s young Catholics learn about 12 canonized U.S. saints and eight beatified ones. In addition, an astonishing 18 Venerables have been named by the last three popes, all candidates for canonization. Their stories challenge us to consider that holiness is achievable—and expected—in the U.S. church.

The “Blesseds” who share in the American story (with beatification dates in parentheses) are: Mary Frances Schervier, who resided only briefly in this country (1974); Diego Luis de San Vitores, martyred in Guam (1985); Francis Xavier Seelos, who died ministering to yellow fever victims in New Orleans (2000); Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Santiago, catechist of Puerto Rico (2001); Eduardo Farré and Lucas Tristany, pastors in Tucson, Arizona, recalled to Spain and martyred during the Spanish Civil War (2007); and the latest two, Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, mystic from New Jersey (2014) and Stanley Rother, diocesan priest from Oklahoma martyred in Guatemala (2017).

Even saying “mystic from New Jersey” sounds new. Holy living isn’t confined to the long ago and far away anymore. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich (1901-1927) was born in Bayonne, New Jersey. Her parents were immigrants from Slovakia. As a teenager, Teresa felt a vocation to the convent. The early death of her mother, however, led her to remain home with her father until he died in 1926. While at home, she took classes at a college run by Sisters of Charity. After her father’s death, she entered their order. Teresa’s deep spirituality was so apparent she was asked as a novice to write anonymous instructions for the other sisters. Her book, Greater Perfection, passed from her community to the public, and has inspired millions globally. Sister Teresa herself died a year after her entry to the community.

Stanley Rother (1935-1981) was born on a farm in Okarche, Oklahoma. Feeling called to priesthood, he was sent to seminary in San Antonio but performed poorly in the required Latin and was dismissed. He was able to complete his studies at Mount Saint Mary’s in Maryland in 1963. After serving five years in an Oklahoma parish, Father Rother went to the diocesan mission in Guatemala, where he learned both Spanish and Tz’utujil skillfully. Thirteen years later, his life was threatened during the civil war that claimed hundreds of thousands of Catholics. Recalled to Oklahoma, he insisted on returning to his adopted people: “The shepherd cannot run.” Back in Guatemala, he was murdered in his home a month after his return.

Scriptures:

Leviticus 20:7; Deuteronomy 7:6; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 3:17; 6:11; Ephesians 2:21-22; Colossians 3:12-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 5:23; 1 Peter 1:14-16; 2:9

Books:

The Shepherd Who Didn't Run: Fr. Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma, by Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda (Our Sunday Visitor, 2015)

Sister Miriam Teresa: A Biography, by Sister Mary Zita Geis, S.C. (Sister Miriam Teresa League of Prayer, 2013)

Love in a Fearful Land: A Guatemalan Story, by Henri J.M. Nouwen (Orbis Books, 2006)

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