Questions Catholics Ask

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More questions...and responses

Who or what is the Holy Spirit?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Wednesday 03, July 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Holy Spirit
The spirit of God is part of the story from the beginning.

We’re primed to think of the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, “preceding from the Father and the Son,” who debuts at Pentecost and inaugurates the church. This last idea overlooks that the spirit of God is part of the story from the beginning. God’s spirit is a divine wind or breath blowing over the waters of chaos at Creation. This same breath brings humanity to life. As such, spirit is hardly a latecomer to the party. (Don’t be alarmed by the lower case “s”: neither Hebrew nor ancient Greek employed case distinctions.)

Spirit suggests a subtle and immaterial being, in contrast to the tangible Jesus. But the original spirit in Scripture may not be a being at all: “a principle of action, not a subject,” as scholar John McKenzie describes it. Early references to the divine spirit involve a communication that variously clothes, pours out, leaps upon, or fills up the one who receives it. The spirit can be given or removed, at God’s desire. The spirit can possess a person, as it does to judges in the Book of Judges, who are suddenly snatched up for divine service. This possession isn’t experienced in the negating way of a demon who eliminates the will of the host. Spirit enhances the recipient’s abilities, enabling the person to do feats beyond his or her skill. Such a person is charismatically charged for divine action, literally “inspired”.

Examples of the spirit at work include: the ecstasies of prophets in Saul’s time; the spirit passing from King Saul to David after his anointing; Elisha acquiring a double portion of the spirit given to his predecessor Elijah; Ezekiel’s trances; the bestowal of divine gifts like wisdom and counsel; the divine spirit released on the servant of God in Isaiah’s poems; the promise of a new heart and spirit rejuvenating Israel after the exile. 

The Spirit shows up in the gospels as early as the Annunciation. Mary is told, “The holy Spirit will come upon you… therefore the child to be born will be called… the Son of God.” Christian writers perceive more than a communicating action here; rather, a manifestation that modern translators honor with uppercase distinction. John the Baptist foretells a baptism of Spirit. At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descends dovelike upon him. This Spirit drives Jesus into the desert to encounter temptation. Spirit drives the action in Luke and Acts, showing up fifty-six times as the principal actor. Jesus promises that the arrival of this Advocate ensures that we’ll not be orphans through the end of the age.

Scripture: Genesis 1:2; 2:7; Exodus 31:3; Numbers 11:17, 25; Judges 6:34; 14:6, 19; 1 Samuel 10:10; 19:20-24; 2 Kings 2:9; Psalm 51:13; Isaiah 11:2-3; 42:1; 61:1; Ezekiel 36:26-28; Mark 1:8, 12; Luke 1:35; 3:22; John 14:16-18, 26; Acts 2:1-18

Books: The Other Hand of God: The Holy Spirit as the Universal Touch and Goal, by Kilian McDonnell, O.S.B. (Liturgical Press, 2003)

The Holy Spirit: Setting the World on Fire, edited by Richard Lennan and Nancy Pineda-Madrid (Paulist Press, 2017)

Is Jesus the Messiah?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Wednesday 03, July 2019 Categories: Scripture
Jesus the Messiah
Isaiah upgrades salvation to universal dimensions: all nations have a stake in the coming Messiah.

The word MessiahHebrew for “anointed”—has a complex history. Between Messiah and Christ—Greek for “anointed”—lies a thousand years of evolving expectations. Best to review those before addressing the age-old Christian query: Why don’t Jews, reading the same ancient texts, accept Jesus as “Messiah”?

Scholar Raymond E. Brown cautions that messiahs aren’t the only saviors in Israel’s history. Moses, the judges, Nehemiah and Ezra, even young Queen Esther are identified as savior figures. Anyone divinely appointed for the work of rescue is a savior. Israel’s in need of frequent rescue, so the Bible contains a lot of saviors.

The gallery of saviors gains new candidates in the era of kings. Anointed to lead at God’s command, Judah’s kings are messiahs in a nationalistic sense. They don’t save the world; and they only keep the nation safe for their particular generation. Contrast them with the kings of northern Israel, who are viewed more skeptically. Then recall that southern Judah writes the Bible. 

Messianic kingship reaches its height with Judah’s second king, David. His line is endowed with an everlasting, rollover anointing. The salvation coming from David’s house, however, doesn’t extend to the afterlife. Nor is it universal. Davidic kings won’t “save the world”: they’ll keep Judah safe. The problem is, they don’t. Soon after David, Judah is ruled by a string of monarchs who disregard God’s guidance. Two centuries in, the prophet Isaiah views his king Ahaz as gone totally off the rails. 

Isaiah reboots messianic hope. While linked to David’s line, the Messiah will be loyal to God and establish justice and peace. Eden-like conditions will be restored. Isaiah upgrades salvation to universal dimensions: all nations have a stake in the coming Messiah. The prophecy adds a sober note: this Messiah will come in humility and go the way of suffering. Other prophets embrace Isaiah’s vision. 

Messianism undergoes a third overhaul after Babylonian exile and the monarchy’s extinction. Without kings, can there be a Messiah? Biblical history has a big hole in it between the 5th and 1st centuries B.C. By the time of the gospels, it’s clear that anyone still dreaming of a Messiah wants to see David’s kingdom restored and a better world for Israel ensured. Jesus reaches back into prophecy, embracing the image of a suffering servant who saves much more than a precarious political situation. That’s a Messiah few were waiting for, and perhaps few find attractive today.

Scripture: Genesis 49:9-12; 2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89:20-38; Isaiah 7:10-17; 9:1-6; 11:1-9; 52:13—53:12; Zechariah 9:9-10; Mark 8:27-30; Matthew 2:1-6; John 7:25-31, 40-52

Books: Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus, by Richard Horsely with John Hanson (Harper & Row, 1985)

The Death of the Messiah, From Gethsemane to the Grave, by Raymond E. Brown (Yale University Press, 1998)

What exactly is the Easter duty?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Saturday 15, June 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Sacraments

The Easter duty

The Easter duty is again viewed properly as a minimal requirement rather than a recommendation.

The Easter duty has seen some flux in church tradition. The Eucharistic Precept, as it’s formally called in the list of Church Precepts, was conceived in the 6th century as a way to ensure that the Sacrament of Holy Communion wouldn’t be neglected by the faithful. Early church councils enforced regional versions of the precept, which in one form mandated receiving communion three times annually: at Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) reduced the mandate to once annually at Easter time, widening its application to the whole church. The Council of Trent and the Code of Canon Law restated this obligation. Ironically, the attempt to safeguard reception of the Eucharist by insisting on minimal participation had the opposite effect. Clergy preached on the evils of taking communion in a sinful state a little too effectively. Churchgoers developed a fear of receiving the Eucharist “unworthily.” Many were convinced they could never be in the proper state of grace to merit the privilege. Add to that the phenomenon of what we might call “mortal-sin creep”: in the hands of a number of confessors, venial sins got an automatic upgrade to fatal status.

It wasn’t until the 20th-century arrival of Pope Pius X, “the pope of frequent communion,” that Catholics returned to the sacrament more regularly. The Easter duty is again viewed properly as a minimal requirement rather than a recommendation.

What hasn’t always been clear in the Easter duty is the definition of Easter. Technically Easter is not a day on the church calendar so much as an Octave (eight-days-long feast) contained within a seven-week celebration. The latest Code of Canon Law (1983) defines the fulfillment of the Easter duty to the time from Palm Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. This period, from Holy Week through the Easter Season, offers an eight-week window to meet the obligation.

However, in the United States, the Eucharistic Precept can be fulfilled from the First Sunday of Lent until Trinity Sunday. Lent adds an additional five weeks; the time from Pentecost to Trinity Sunday, another week. Altogether, this opens 14 weeks of the church year to fulfillment of the Easter duty.

Many Catholics are under the impression that the Easter duty also requires going to Confession. While receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation annually is certainly a good idea, it’s not part of the requirement.

Scripture: Psalm 119 (In praise of precepts and instructions); Proverbs 1:2-7; 4:13; 8:33; 10:17; 23:23; Mark 14:22-24; Matthew 26:26-28; Luke 22:14-20; John 6:27, 34- 35, 48-59; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-27; 14:26; 1 Timothy 1:5

Books: 101 Questions & Answers on the Eucharist, by Giles Dimock, OP (Paulist Press, 2006)

The General Councils: A History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicaea to Vatican II, by Christopher Bellitto (Paulist Press, 2002)

What are beatitudes, and why are they so important?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Saturday 15, June 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Scripture
Beatitudes
Beatitudes are assurances that we’re on the right track.

The simplest understanding of beatitudes is that they’re a form of congratulations. If words were awards, beatitudes would be blue ribbons. Most people associate this term with THE Beatitudes, the famous blessing lines of Jesus—“blessed are the peacemakers,” etc.—delivered at the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew’s gospel) or on the Plain (in Luke’s account). But beatitudes are found in the Old Testament also, in psalms and wisdom writings. Apart from the sermons, other New Testament beatitudes appear in John’s gospel, letters of James and Peter, and even the Book of Revelation.

To appreciate how beatitudes operate, we might compare them with commandments. The well-known Commandments in the Decalogue tell us bluntly which actions to take or evils to avoid. Commandments speak in imperatives (“Honor your father and mother”) or issue orders (“You shall not kill”), and their sole justification is in the authority of the God who set them in stone. Only incidentally may commandments offer a rationale for keeping them. For example, we’re told to honor our parents so that we may have a long life in the land up ahead. This stick-and carrot approach is not to be misread: promised land or not, the mandate to respect elders still stands.

By contrast, beatitudes are assurances that we’re on the right track. They don’t instruct so much as highlight the reward of certain behaviors. As Sirach extols the happiness of a husband with a good wife, he reminds us why it’s great to choose the right mate: “A loyal wife brings joy to her husband, and he will finish his years in peace.” Before we frown at the lack of reciprocity, please note that Ben Sira, author of these instructions, ran a boys’ school and had no reason to describe the joy of wives who choose the right guy—not that many had the option. Beatitudes recall that keeping the Sabbath doesn’t just make God happy; who doesn’t want a day off?

The two most famous lists of beatitudes aren’t identical. Matthew includes nine attitudes that lead to happiness: things like poverty of spirit, a hunger for justice, meekness. In contrast, Luke speaks of real poverty, actual hunger, public humiliation in his list of four blessings, and balances that list with four corresponding woes, or old-world curses. They warn us that choosing vice over virtue leads to misery on the far side of that decision.

Scripture: Exodus 20:1-17; Pss 1:1; 41:1-4; 65:5; 84:5; 106:3; 112:1; Sirach 25:8-9; 26:1; Isaiah 56:2; Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-26; John 13:17; James 1:12; 1 Peter 3:14; Revelation 16:15

Books: Blessings for Leaders: Leadership Wisdom from the Beatitudes, by Dan Ebener (Liturgical Press, 2012)

What’s So Blessed About Being Poor? Seeking the Gospel in the Slums of Kenya, by L. Susan Slavin and Coralis Salvador (Orbis Books, 2012)


How does the church determine who’s “Great” and who’s a regular saint?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Friday 17, May 2019 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Anthony the Great
There’s no “master list” and no real standard by which one might be so declared.

Turns out the church doesn’t grant this title at all. Popular acclaim attaches “greatness” to individuals who wowed their generation. Any list of Catholic Greats always includes Father of Monasticism Anthony of the Desert, Bishop Basil, Pope Leo, Pope Gregory, Dominican scholar Albert, and Benedictine nun Gertrude. Some add Bishop Nicholas, beloved even by those who only know him as Santa; as well as King Alfred of Wessex; Carthusian founder Bruno; Hugh, Abbot of Cluny. The Orthodox honor many more by this title, including Bishop Athanasius. One apostle is called James the Greater, to distinguish him from another regrettably known as James the Lesser. Some Catholics declare recently canonized Pope John Paul II as Great. There’s no “master list” and no real standard by which one might be so declared.

Titles granted regularly to canonized saints include Martyr (one who witnesses to their faith by surrendering their lives) and Doctor of the Church (one whose writings contribute to church teaching).

What made such folks “great”? Anthony started monasticism by heading into the wilderness in the 3rd century. Others followed and Anthony became a one-man school of wisdom. He lived to be 105, legendary in his own time. Basil helped establish the Nicene Creed, wrote significantly against 4th-century heresies, contributed to the liturgy and to monastic practice—leading to his recognition as a Doctor of the Church. Fifth-century church doctor Pope Leo had vast political influence and impact on doctrines concerning the nature of Jesus. A contemporary of Attila the Hun, Leo met him personally, warding off an invasion of Rome.

Sixth-century Pope Gregory launched a major wave of missionaries from Rome. His writings earned him church doctor status, and he’s considered “the Father of Christian Worship”. He may not have invented Gregorian chant but it was standardized under his watch. Bishop Albert was a renowned philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages. He was also a scientist, ecumenist, and later church doctor. Gertrude, the only woman on the list, was a theologian and mystic devoted to the Sacred Heart. She wrote prolifically, her prayers and meditations gaining great influence. Most of her books were lost after her death, but her effect was weighty on saints like Philip Neri, Francis de Sales, and Teresa of Avila. Bottom line: want to be Great? Start a movement, write a vital book, save a city. As a last resort, imitate Nicholas: get the kids on your side.

Scriptures: Genesis 12:2; Psalm 18:36; Matthew 5:19; 11:11; 18:1-4; 23:11-12

Books: Saint Basil the Great, by Richard Travers Smith (Aeterna Press, 2015)

The Herald of Divine Love: Gertrude of Helfta, translator Margaret Winkworth (Paulist Press, 1992)

Gregory the Great: Perfection in Imperfection, by Carole Straw (University of California Press, 1991)

Whoever came up with a feast called “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe” to end the church year?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Friday 17, May 2019 Categories: Church History
Christ the King
As long as Christ reigns, princes of the world are assured no more than a season of power.

The short answer is Pope Pius XI in 1925. The long answer concerns why he did it. It helps to know the situation of his time. Before Italy became a sovereign nation in the late 1800s, popes had ruled over actual geographical territory for centuries. The papal states were erased permanently with the fall of Rome in 1870, leaving then-Pope Pius IX a prisoner of the Vatican. Four popes later, the so-called “Italian Question” was still unresolved. What tangible territory, if any, could the Roman Church claim?

At the time of Pius XI’s election, Mussolini was in power. The new pope surprised the world by emerging on the balcony of St. Peter’s to offer his first blessing urbi et orbi: “to the church and to the world.” No pope had done this since 1870. It signaled his papacy’s willingness to engage as a force in world affairs. Pius XI was convinced the church had to possess some clearly defined temporal power to operate effectively.

Negotiations with Mussolini’s government took place in back channels, resulting in the Lateran pacts of 1929. These defined the Holy See’s independence from Italy, creating the tiny state of Vatican City as a political entity. The pacts included a small financial concession from the Italian government for the loss of the papal states. It defined relations between Vatican City and Italy for the future.

Mussolini had imagined the agreements left him with the upper hand over a subordinated church to which he’d thrown a modest bone. When Pius later attacked fascism in a bold encyclical, Mussolini was caught off guard. That a librarian-cleric-turned-pope could be a public force to be reckoned with hadn’t figured in the dictator’s plans. He might have paid more attention to Pius’ urbi et orbi blessing. And to the institution of the Feast of Christ the King early in his papacy.

Proclaiming Christ as King was, to Pope Pius XI, a clarification of the relationship between the church and temporal affairs. Though men like Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler ascended to seats of worldly domination in Pius’ generation, the throne of Christ superseded their grasp. As long as Christ reigns, princes of the world are assured no more than a season of power. We as church continue to affirm this truth on the last Sunday of every church year.

Scripture: Pss. 93, 95-99; Isaiah 9:5-6; 43:15; Zephaniah 3:15; Matthew 2:1-6; 4:17; 27:37; Luke 23:42: John 18:33-37; Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 1:11; Revelation 1:5

Books: The Liturgical Year, Vol. 3: Sundays Two to Thirty-Four in Ordinary Time, Adrien Nocent (Liturgical Press, 2013)

The Popes: Histories and Secrets, by Claudio Rendina (Seven Locks Press, 2002)

What are small church communities? Are they the same as base communities?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: 
Small church
Smaller units of community and responsibility within a parish can be the answer to reuniting parishioners with the purpose of church life.

Once upon a time, Catholic parishes were local, intimate, and well staffed with clergy. These days, especially in urban environments, parishes may be large, impersonal, with members from far-flung neighborhoods, served by a single priest or lay administrator. Under these circumstances, one might feel lost in the pews, disconnected and spiritually stagnant. Smaller units of community and responsibility within a parish can be the answer to reuniting parishioners with the purpose of church life.

The idea for small church communities in the U.S. began in 1956 with basic ecclesial communities in Brazil, where the shortage of priests was acute. These groups were “basic” because they grew up from the grass roots of the church. “Ecclesial” meant the members recognized their connection to the institutional church and the local bishop. Fundamentally, these groups were “communities”: defying the modern emphasis on the individual in opposition and competition with the greater society.

In base communities, small groups of Catholics gather regularly for prayer, Bible study, and faith sharing on all aspects of their lives. These close units not only hold the worshipping community together in the absence of a priest and without the privilege of Sunday Mass. These lay-led groups are also a source of instruction and support that enables uneducated and oppressed populations to mobilize, improve their conditions, and work for justice.

The success of base communities quickly spread the model to developing countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Bishops’ conferences in Medellín, Columbia (1968) and Puebla, Mexico (1979) lent the movement official support and popularized the gospel ideal of “the preferential option for the poor.” The first Vatican recognition of the phenomenon came in 1975 from Pope Paul VI, who championed base communities as a way for the laity to be proactive in the church’s mission of evangelization.

Small church communities take their lead from basic ecclesial communities but are not identical to them. The most obvious difference is that in most U.S. parishes, such groups operate in the presence rather than the absence of a pastor. Often called faith-sharing groups, communities may gather to study Scripture or other religious materials. Though parishioners may reside in affluent communities, the aim of such groups usually moves toward tackling local justice issues or adopting a cause with farther-ranging impact. The focus remains on “opting for the poor” as the gospel demands.

Scripture: Isaiah 10:1-4; 32:1-8; Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 4:32-35; James 2:14-17

Books: Ecclesiogenesis: The Base Communities Reinvent the Church, by Leonardo Boff (Amazon Digital Services LLC: Kindle Edition, 2012)

God’s Quad: Small Faith Communities on Campus and Beyond, by Kevin Ahern and Christopher Derige Malano (Orbis Books, 2018)

I keep hearing we’re all supposed to be saints. Is that realistic?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Saints
Instead of fullness of life, most of us settle for just a sip.

Yes—if we have a good appreciation of what a saint is. A saint is a sinner who just keeps trying, as the saying goes. The essential interior difference between the average person and the saint is perseverance in the quest for fullness of life.

But even that sounds like jargon. Fullness of life? It’s a Scripture term meaning everything human life is supposed to be but often isn’t. Genesis says we’re made in the divine image, so whatever divine life is, that’s what we have the inbred capacity and yearning for. We’re designed to be creative, wise, loving, compassionate, just, limitless, eternal. But too often, we turn out dulled and thwarted, pinning our hopes on foolish goals and pursuits, jaded and cynical, lonely, judgmental, and biased. Far from being expansive creatures, we hurl away our freedoms in favor of programmed entertainments and prepackaged consumer ambitions. Instead of fullness of life, most of us settle for just a sip.

The way to get it all, curiously, involves giving a lot of what we currently value away. The secular gurus of simplification are right: our modern lives are choking us with stuff, and we need to divest, downsize, and aim to own less, want less, do less. Thérèse of Lisieux counseled that Our Lord cherishes simplicity. We have to un-complicate our calendars and find silence in the cacophony demanding our attention. Once we create some blissful empty space, we can load up on virtues, which Anthony of the Desert considered a better source of nourishment than what’s usually on the table.

Being holy doesn’t involve cosmic revelations. Vincent de Paul offered a simple way: will what God wills, see as God sees. If that’s still too lofty a starting place, consider Dominic’s advice to master your passions or be mastered by them. Newly canonized Pope John XXIII believed ten minutes of spiritual reading a day would feed the soul. Camillus de Lellis had his own pithy formula: Think well. Speak well. Do well.

If this short listing convinces us of anything, it’s that many paths lead to holy living. What’s vital is to begin—somewhere. You can’t go wrong by embracing the spirit of humility, which is every saint’s favorite virtue. Paint the house of your soul with it, John Chrysostom recommended. Or how about capitalizing on love? Clare of Assisi observed that we become what we love. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love Christ, we become sons and daughters of God.

Scripture: Psalm 16:11; Matthew 5:3-12; John 10:10; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Ephesians 2:19-22; 3:14-19; Galatians 4:3-7; Colossians 2:6-10; 1 Timothy 1:16

Books: The Saints’ Little Book of Wisdom: The Essential Teachings, by Andrea Kirk Assaf, Kelly Anne Leahy, compilers (HarperCollins, 2016)

My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous Women Who Showed Me How to Live, by Maria Morera Johnson (Ave Maria Press, 2015)

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Has Pope Francis changed church teaching on birth control?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Church teaching on birth control
Current teaching permits natural family planning (a form of birth control) and affirms martial sex as a vital part of the marriage bond as well as a means of procreation.

You might revisit the QCA essays from October 2016, “How can I understand and explain the church’s position on contraception?” 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, garnering more attention on how/if the church’s position on birth control is evolving.

What’s lost in the debate is how church teaching is always evolving. Saint Augustine took the position that sexual activity was a negative expression only redeemed by procreation. Medieval theologians allowed that sex had other positive values, including health, pleasure, and the deepening of marital love. Pope Leo XIII chose to write a major encyclical on marriage (1880) that never addressed contraception at all. Pope Pius XI (1930) maintained that any sexual act not open to procreation was sinful. Yet Pope Pius XII (1951) sanctioned the rhythm method, suggesting that it wasn’t birth control but artificial contraception that was contrary to church teaching. Current teaching permits natural family planning (a form of birth control) and affirms martial sex as a vital part of the marriage bond as well as a means of procreation.

Pope Francis builds on what previous modern popes have written. When the Zika virus threatened unborn children in Latin America, Francis noted that “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil” and that mothers in affected areas might do so. “Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape,” Francis noted. Under threat of harm, procreative sex is not an absolute good.

In 2015, Pope Francis clarified that church teaching does not insist Christian parents “must make children in series." Paul VI had also recommended "responsible parenthood" in Humanae Vitae (1968), citing "physical, economic, psychological and social conditions" involved in creating a family. While still a Cardinal, the future Pope Benedict ventured that couples with several children must not be reproached for not having more. He declared family size a personal pastoral matter that "can't be projected into the abstract."

In preparation for the international Bishops’ Synod on “The Vocation and Mission of the Family” (2015), theologians considered “natural methods for responsible procreation” and also “the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods in regulating births.” They reflected: “The choice of adoption or foster parenting expresses a particular fruitfulness of married life, not simply in the case of sterility.” They also noted that conscience trains us to listen to God’s voice, to avoid both selfish choices and also insupportable burdens. These recommendations place responsible family planning in the hands of parents, where in fact such discernment ultimately resides.

Scripture: Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-24; Tobit 8:6-8

Books: The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World: Instrumentum LaborisSynod of Bishops, XIV Ordinary General Assembly (Vatican City, 2015)

Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis (Vatican City, 2016)

After we die, we “see God face to face.” Then what?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Afterlife
What unites us with God, ultimately, is love, which is the very nature of God, according to Christian theology.

You’re quoting Saint Paul. In his passage on the nature of love in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes our present sense of what’s going on as a dim reflection of the reality awaiting us. Even prophecy doesn’t tell all, and knowledge is imperfect. Death’s “big reveal” leads us “to know God fully,” as we are fully known. At present, God has the advantage in knowing us comprehensively. In eternity, God returns the favor.

If this sounds like a big claim, Paul goes further in Philippians stating that, in the life to come, we’ll share in the glorified nature of Christ. The First Letter of John confirms this, declaring that we’ll not only see God, but we’ll be like God in the upcoming realm. From Genesis, of course, we already knew we bear God’s likeness—but Paul and John’s assertions sound like it’s much more than a family resemblance.

In reflecting on such passages full of celestial hints, theologians arrive at what they call the Beatific Vision. Some prefer to emphasize the beatific part: the very sight of God will be a blessing to us. Others lean into the vision part: the direct encounter with God will open our eyes so that we finally truly see. The goal isn’t merely viewing God (“So that’s what Divinity looks like!”) or knowing God (“Pleased to make your acquaintance!”) The eternal goal is union with God, which is what both Paul and John are driving at.

What unites us with God, ultimately, is love, which is the very nature of God, according to Christian theology. In John’s words: “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God.” Paul agrees when he declares that only three things persist for eternity—faith, hope, and love—and that love outshines the other two as the greatest virtue. John and Paul reaffirm what Jesus says in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”

But your question is “Then what?” Beatific Vision unites us with God and allows us “full personal participation in the Trinitarian life of God,” in the words of Jesuit theologian Paul Crowley. Does that sound like enough to keep you everlastingly occupied? The Sister who taught art at my high school used to say: “If God bores you, who in the world will entertain you?” I suspect the Beatific Vision will satisfy.

Scriptures: Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 8:5-10; Wisdom 2:23; Matthew 5:8; John 17:25-26; 1 Corinthians 13:8-13; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 5:7; Ephesians 1:5; Philippians 3:21; Hebrews 11:1; 1 John 3:1-3; 4:7-21

Books: Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition, by Hans Boersma (Eerdmans, 2018)

Toward a Theology of Beauty, by John Navonne, S.J. (Liturgical Press, 1996)

Is Pope Francis doing anything about the sexual abuse crisis and the bishops’ woeful response?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Clergy
St. Peter's Basilica
The crisis exposes an underlying sin: a self-referential church structure that promotes its own welfare over the community it’s meant to serve.

On January 1, 2019, the Pope released a strong letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The pope has addressed the worldwide crisis of clergy abusers and secretive bishops in speech and writing repeatedly. By his own admission, he’s made some painful mistakes, in misplacing his loyalty and emphasis. In his latest appeal, Pope Francis directed our U.S. bishops, on retreat in seclusion at that time, to pray and discern a gospel-inspired new way forward.

The pope uses terms that are helpful for future dialogue. He refers to the “culture of abuse”: not just thousands of incidents of pedophilia by church leaders but the whole landscape of secrecy, self-defense, and organizational entrenchment that multiplied the harm and deflected the damage. The pope doesn’t call for policies or protocols anymore. He wants a reconsideration of who a bishop is in relationship to his people. Francis demands a reassessment of power in the church that will seek to exhibit the “flavor of the Gospel”—not the boardroom.

The pope rightly names the “crisis of credibility” the U.S. church faces in this generation. He doesn’t name the twin crisis of relevance that naturally goes with it, but it’s there underneath. This present crisis has erupted over the pain and outrage we all feel for children betrayed and abandoned by our religious leaders. But it also exposes an underlying sin: a self-referential church structure that promotes its own welfare over the community it’s meant to serve.

Addressing this deeper failure requires a sea change in our present leadership model. A week of seclusion won’t effect this kind of transformation, but it can awaken sincere hearts to the need to pursue such conversion as aggressively as our leaders once sought to preserve the church’s reputation. The pope aptly notes how “spiritually abandoned” and “disheartened” faithful Catholics now feel, laity and clergy alike, in recognizing how our bishops chose to “defend spaces” over children and families.

The pope is summoning a different model of church to come into being. It’s an enormous undertaking that our bishops can’t undertake alone. We must do this together if it’s to be done, which will require a conversation we’ve never had and can scarcely imagine. It will require using a word Francis doesn’t use in his letter: shame. Our children were forced to carry shame in secret for so long. We all bear it in the open now.

Scripture: Mark 10:42-45; 11:15-18; Matthew 26:31; 1 Corinthians 12:26; 13:1

Books: Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church, by Donald Cozzens (Liturgical Press, 2004)

Clericalism and the Death of Priesthood, by George B. Wilson, S.J. (Liturgical Press, 2008)

How can I find God in my life?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality
Finding God
Finding God is like falling in love or starting a family: it won’t work unless you’re all in.

It’s one of the most profound questions a person can ask. A friend recently noted that the only time he hears the name of God invoked is when someone sneezes or runs a red light. To seek God less prosaically requires a personal investment. Finding God is like falling in love or starting a family: it won’t work unless you’re all in.

A lot of folks these days seek spirituality without an anchor in religion. They’d like to have the benefits of the God Quest—things like meaning, depth, values, direction, simplicity, security—without the inconvenient truths that go along with it. These include a dedication to justice and peace, moral responsibilities, and a fundamental humility about one’s role in the universe. The first step in the God Quest is to bow down, to incline our spirit in acknowledgment that there are things we don’t know, can’t see, can’t do from where we sit. Science rightfully explores what human beings can observe from our cheap seats in the universe—or multiverse. Religion is the sacred journey that explores what’s above, behind, around, and within that observable reality.

Bowing down, or cultivating the virtue of humility, is not merely the first task of the God Quest. Bernard of Clairvaux made it the all-permeating work when he taught his monks that there are four essential virtues: humility, humility, humility, and humility. The human ego is the source of all that ails our world, from greed, dominance, prejudice, and oppression to the everyday rotten fruit of envy, anger, gossip, and unforgiveness. If we practice removing ourselves from the center of existence and own that God alone belongs at the core of reality, we’ll be well on our way to lifelong spiritual growth.

The rest, we might say, is methodology. The Judeo-Christian tradition is a story of a people who took the God Quest and wrote down what they learned in cultivating that relationship in the Bible. Catholicism—the name meaning universal, comprehensive, or whole—is really a spiritual multiverse of ways to take the God Quest. Anchored in the Judeo-Christian story, it contains optional paths for seekers: solitary (hermits), communal (monastic and religious life), coupled (marriage and family life), as well as the priest or dedicated single person. All of these ways involve service to God and others in unique ways, as well as different forms of prayer, obligations, and commitments. Choose one, and begin.

Scripture: Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 3:1-6; 1 Kings 3:5-15; Job 38:1—42:6; Psalm 139; Isaiah 6:1-8; Tobit 5:4-22; Mark 1:16-20; Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 4:16-21

Books: Your One Wild and Precious Life: Thoughts on Vocation, by Mark-David Janus, C.S.P. (Paulist Press, 2018)

Visions and Vocations: The Catholic Women Speak Network (Paulist Press, 2018)


What is prayer?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality
Prayer
Prayer is a kind of creed in motion: we pray our faith.

I’ve always appreciated Edward Farrell’s observation that prayer is not a thing. It’s not a collection of words or a ritual activity. To begin by defining “what prayer is not” clears the air of our nonsense about prayer as a pious formula that needs to be gotten right. Prayer is a relationship that tells us, as all relationships inevitably do, who we are.

Think about the relationships in which you come to know yourself: as child or parent, sibling or friend, boss or servant, mentor or student. Who are we in relationship to God? Fragile, perhaps. Dependent, and certainly the weaker party. We are, after all, the ones repeatedly asking for stuff, whether it’s help for a sick family member, clarity for an exam, courage to apply for that new job, or peace on earth. We also try to remember to thank God for stuff, too. This is how we acknowledge that God is the source of every good, and our ultimate benefactor for the life we live.

In our relationship called prayer, we also praise God, which may be the most defining aspect of our exchange. Praise is a free celebration of the recipient’s greatness. God doesn’t need a reward or statuette from us acknowledging the exalted nature of divinity. Our praise is a way to “be still and know” which of us is Creator, and which creature.

Prayer is a kind of creed in motion: we pray our faith. The fact that we pray is a form of admitting that God exists—even if we don’t have all the details of that existence down pat. It also establishes that we trust in God. We’re not indifferent objects of divine invention but beloved and significant.

The deeper any relationship goes, the more we carry the other person around within us. We become what we love, in the way family members come to share traits and habits and character. As we deepen our relationship to God in prayer, we finally become what we believe. Receiving Eucharist—another form of prayer—is an incarnate way of expressing the same idea.

St. Jerome, a brilliant and rather cranky Scripture scholar of the 4th century, said prayer is a groan. Lamentation is another variety of prayer that is basically holy complaining. We complain by lifting up everything that’s wrong with the world, our society, and our lives. What makes lamentation a holy form of complaining is that we’re not just venting to a friend. We expect God to do something about this—and we believe that God can.

Scripture: Matthew 6:5-13; 7:7-11; John 15:7; 16:26; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Philippians 4:4-9; Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 3:12-17; 4:2

Books: The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer, by Joan Chittister, O.S.B. (Twenty-Third Publications, 2009)

Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales (Dover Publications, 2009)

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If I attend a wedding with a full Mass on Saturday at 1 p.m., does that Mass count for Sunday?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Liturgy
Wedding Mass
As members of Christ’s Body, we’re privileged to participate in this celebration of Mass.

No. But let’s explore why that’s true. It’s not just liturgy police making arbitrary rules. It’s about why we attend Mass on Sunday. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, the first precept of the church states: “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.”

Canon law further explores this precept: “Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal church.” Reflect on that for a minute: Sunday is the biggest holy day of the church! The church fathers called every Sunday a “little Easter.” Participation in the Sunday gathering goes back to the apostles, and is the celebration defining us as part of Christ’s Body. “Obligation” is a poor word to express this. Consider “privileged.”

As members of Christ’s Body, we’re privileged to participate in this celebration. Sunday observance doesn’t merely establish a time window for Mass attendance. Each Sunday liturgy is a specific Mass with its own gospel and readings and corresponding prayers. Together we celebrate a particular event in the life of the church, whether it’s the Second Sunday of Lent or the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Over the course of a church year, we absorb a complete gospel and recall specific moments of our Christian history together.

Now, consider the nature of a Nuptial (wedding) Mass. It’s also a liturgy of the church with readings, prayers, and rituals appropriate to its occasion. Unlike the public gathering of the community for the Sunday observance, Nuptial Masses normally involve families and friends of the couple receiving the sacrament. Even if the priest performed a Nuptial Mass at 7 p.m. Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning, participants would still not be observing the liturgy for that weekend. It would be like saying: I had supper with a few friends tonight: does that count for dinner with the extended family tomorrow?

Now for the exception. Rarely, couples celebrate the Sacrament of Matrimony WITHIN the confines of the Sunday liturgy. That is, they choose not to have a private Mass with friends and family, but prefer to share their commitment with the entire community of faith. Since the marriage rite is inserted into the Sunday Mass, it utilizes the readings and prayers for that Sunday of the church year. In that case, yes, the Mass "counts" for both occasions.

Books: 101 Questions & Answers on Catholic Marriage Preparation, by Rebecca Nappi and Daniel Kendall, S.J. (Paulist Press, 2004)

Inseparable Love: A Commentary on the Order of Celebrating Marriage in the Catholic Church, by Paul Turner (Liturgical Press, 2016)

What’s the difference between a psalm and a canticle?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Saturday 08, December 2018 Categories: Scripture
Book of Psalms
King David, traditionally considered the author of the whole book of psalms, is internally attributed with at least 73 of them.

Our term psalm comes from a Greek word literally meaning the twanging of a harp or plucking of a stringed instrument. Canticle derives from the Latin word for a little song. As both definitions suggest, we’re talking about sung material, particularly sacred songs. The main difference between the two is not style, but placement. Psalms are found entirely within the Book of Psalms. Canticles are songs located anywhere else in Scripture.

The psalm collection, known as psalmody or the Psalter, contains musical directions that indicate at least a third of the 150 poems within the book were intended for stringed, flute, or harp accompaniment. Some were apparently set to music everyone knew: read notations like “the hind of the dawn” the way our hymns might recommend “Finlandia” or “Pange Lingua”. The word selah appears 71 times in the collection. We don’t know what it means, but the choir certainly would have. Internally, some psalms also carry subtitles that distinguish them as songs, hymns, or prayers. This doesn’t imply the others are not songs or prayers. It’s just that these entered the collection with these titles, the way “The Lord’s Prayer” is obviously not the only prayer of Jesus included in the gospels. In the Jewish Bible, the entire collection we call psalms is known by the Hebrew word for hymns. The bottom line is there’s no indication any of these poems were intended merely for recitation, as we often do.

King David, traditionally considered the author of the whole book of psalms, is internally attributed with at least 73 of them. (Other manuscripts ascribe 84 to David). The others bear the names of other composers. Biblical evidence suggests David was a poet, composer, and musician, not to mention the organizer of the liturgical cult of the Temple. If he didn’t actually compose half of the Psalmody, he was its primary original sponsor.

Canticles have a broad authorship. Song of Songs, AKA Canticle of Canticles, was traditionally ascribed to King Solomon. The subject matter is a series of love songs, which suited Solomon’s reputation as a renowned lover. However, most scholars see multiple and later author involvement. Important Old Testament canticles include those attributed to Miriam, Moses, Deborah, Hannah, and Judith. New Testament canticles include the Benedictus of Zechariah, the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon, and of course the Magnificat of Mary. More recent canticles include those of Francis of Assisi and John of the Cross.

Scripture: Exodus 15:1-21; Deuteronomy 32:1-44; Judges 5:1-31; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Judith 16:1-17; Song of Songs; Luke 1:46-55, 67-79; 2:29-32

Books: Psalms: Songs From a Pierced Heart, by Patricia Stevenson, RSJ (Sisters of St. Joseph, 2012)

Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness, by Nan Merrill (Continuum, 2008)

Is it appropriate to speak of “lay ministries”?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Saturday 08, December 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Clergy,Vocation and Discernment
Lay ministry
Can a layperson be said to “preach”; or should we call what they do—if they do it at all—by some other term?

Believe it or not, this was a matter of heated debate two decades ago. The concern was whether the word “ministry” could be applied to anything done by non-clergy. This same proprietary use of nomenclature affects the realm of preaching and proclamation. Can a layperson be said to “preach”; or should we call what they do—if they do it at all—by some other term?

As a laywoman and catechist of the church, I’m invited to do a lot of things that were once the official domain of priests or religious. Fundamentally I teach; but rarely in a classroom. I give religious instruction as a writer of books, magazine columns, and Scripture commentary. I also make presentations at retreat centers, give diocesan workshops, speak at Catholic conferences, and offer parish missions. It’s when I appear in person that the business gets murky. When I do in person the same things I do in print, what am I doing?

When asked to give a parish mission, for example, it’s expected that the mission leader (traditionally a priest) would preach at the weekend Masses to introduce himself and the themes of the mission to the assembly. When I give missions, some parishes invite me to do this—but are careful to call it something else: a reflection, talk, pious exhortation, or catechetical teaching. I’ve written homiletic reflections that priests use in their preaching for 20 years. But when I deliver these words myself, it isn’t preaching.

Nomenclature first showed its sticky side when I attended the Franciscan School of Theology. Enrolled in the Master of Divinity program, I spent four years surrounded by men studying for the priesthood. They spoke of their context as “being in seminary.” However, when I talked of being in seminary, I learned it was appropriate to say I was in theology school. We sat in the same classrooms, attended the same lectures, and took the same exams. We earned the same degree. But our experience was “ontologically” distinct. That’s a big word meaning the very being or essence of our pursuit was different. In the end, they would be ordained. I would look for work.

It’s in this context that I’m happy to say that, yes, these days, we do have a name for what lay people who work professionally in the church do: lay ecclesial ministry (LEM). It’s a nuanced and delicately controlled term. But it’s a start.

Scripture on ministry (as service): Luke 10:40; John 2:5, 9: Acts 6:1-6; 2 Corinthians 3:5-6; 4:5-18; 11:23; Romans 12:6-8; 1 Timothy 3:8-13

Books: Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry (USCCB, 2005)

Lay Ecclesial Ministry: Pathways Toward the Futureedited by Zeni Fox (Sheed & Ward Books, 2010)


I’m a Eucharistic minister, and was corrected for saying cup instead of chalice. Why does it matter what you call it?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Monday 05, November 2018 Categories: Liturgy
Communion chalice
Once the hosts and wine are consecrated during the Eucharistic Prayer, believers recognize them as the Body and Blood of Christ.

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I’m not going to pick a fight with Shakespeare. But Romeo was incorrect in imagining that being a Montague was irrelevant in his quest to wed a Capulet. Names do matter. Precision in language matters. Not everything is a “thing.” To learn the proper names implies we’re invested, in the way professionals know the terms of their employment. Would you hire a doctor who couldn’t be bothered to distinguish one bone from another? Or a plumber who couldn’t name his tools?

So it’s both useful and a matter of personal investment to know that the “bowl” you dip your hand in at the entrance to the church is a holy water font. It reminds us of the baptismal font—which these days may be a walk-in pool. Where the priest sits during Mass is the presider’s chair. The table at which he stands is the altar, also known as the Table of the Lord. The readings at Mass are proclaimed from a special stand called the ambo. (Most Catholics call it a lectern, because the book the lector reads from is the lectionary.) The priest proclaims the gospel from the Book of Gospels. Then he gives a reflection on the Scriptures called the homily. The book the priest reads the rest of the prayers of the Mass from is the Roman Missal.

A plate called a paten holds the big host which the priest raises during the elevation at Mass. The elevation is part of the second part of the Mass known as the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which we celebrate our communion with God and each other. The first part of the Mass is called the Liturgy of the Word, which celebrates the stories of our faith. The vessel holding the wine is called the chalice: however, cup is not incorrect. The bowl from which consecrated hosts are served is the ciborium (you get three points for knowing the plural is ciboria.) Once the hosts and wine are consecrated during the Eucharistic Prayer, believers recognize them as the Body and Blood of Christ.

The little room where the priest and servers dress (or vest) is the sacristy. This is not to be confused with the sanctuary—once descriptive of the priest’s side of the altar rail back when churches had railings. With the removal of the rail, we came to understand that we all stand in the sanctuary, that is, in the Holy Presence. The body of the church is more commonly distinguished as the nave, which is where the benches known as pews are. That’s where we, the assembly, sit. If I had more room, we could do this all day. Suffice it to say, thoughtful Catholics know these terms and many more.

Scripture: The significance of naming persons, places, and things reflects the biblical belief that names participate in meaning in the most intimate way.

Books: A Glossary of Liturgical Terms, by Dennis C. Smolarski (Liturgy Training Publications, 2017)

Praise the Name of the Lord: Meditations on the Names of God, by Michael Louis Fitzgerald (Liturgical Press, 2017)

What is the Catholic teaching regarding marriage? Does it say a marriage must be between a baptized man and a baptized woman?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Monday 05, November 2018 Categories: Sacraments
Catholic marriage
The unbaptized person must be made aware of the Catholic person’s obligation to practice his or her faith, as well as to raise any children under the same obligation.

Not quite. The church teaches that a marriage between a baptized man and a baptized woman is a SACRAMENT. When a person who’s baptized marries another who is not, the Church recognizes the marriage. But it doesn’t consider the marriage a sacramental union.

Please understand this teaching doesn’t pronounce judgment on the quality of a relationship. It simply defines what a sacramental marriage is. If you inhabit a realm outside the sacramental orbit, the marriage doesn’t fit the criteria.

Because sacramental living is central to Catholic identity, official church teaching prohibits the marriage of a baptized Catholic to an unbaptized (non-Christian) person. (Canon 1086) Obviously, in our modern interconnected world, many such marriages take place. This impediment to marriage can be—and generally is—dispensed by the local bishop who issues a “dispensation from the impediment of disparity of worship.” In order to receive this dispensation, the unbaptized person must be made aware of the Catholic person’s obligation to practice the faith, as well as to raise any children under the same obligation. The unbaptized person must agree not to object to the Catholic spouse’s obligations, nor to impede the fulfillment of them. The marriage may then be celebrated in a Catholic ceremony—however, not in the context of a Mass (Eucharist being a sacrament). In fulfilling these stipulations, the couple is considered married by the Catholic Church. But not sacramentally.

Canon Law offers requirements for a Catholic sacramental marriage as follows:

- The couple must be a male and a female.
- The proposed marriage must be legal in the state where it is celebrated.
- The couple must produce a valid marriage license issued by the local civic authority.
- The couple must produce proofs of baptism by certificate or affidavit.
- Neither party can be bound to a previous marriage.
- Both parties must be capable of natural intercourse.
- The couple must be aware, or be made aware, of Church teaching regarding marriage as a bond broken only by death, and open to welcoming children. The couple must agree to these teachings.
- Neither party can be ordained or under the vow of religious profession.
- The couple must complete the preparation requirements of the parish or the diocese.

As with any teaching, church law regarding marriage continues to evolve. A fair amount of local discretion can be exercised pastorally for the good of the couple.

Scripture: Genesis 2:18-24; Tobit 8:5-7; Matthew 19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12; 1 Corinthians 6:16; 7:1-16; Ephesians 5:21-33

Books: 101 Questions and Answers on Catholic Marriage Preparation, by Rebecca Nappi et.al. (Paulist Press, 2004); A Christian Theology of Marriage and Family, by Julie Hanlon Rubio (Paulist Press, 2003)

What are the “four last things”?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 02, October 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

Last four things
The Last Judgment, deserving of its capital letters, is defined as the event after Jesus returns in glory to pronounce the last word on human history and all of its participants. 

Older Catholics may view this as a simple question. Traditionally, the four last things were: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. The concern was for the ultimate destination of the individual soul. It was understood that, at death, a particular judgment determines a person’s immediate fate: Ready for heaven? Need more purification time? A lost cause? The Last Judgment, deserving of its capital letters, is defined as the event after Jesus returns in glory to pronounce the last word on human history and all of its participants. Heaven, or total unity with the God of love, is the logical result of lives that can be summed up by love. Hell, the complete absence of God, is the final result of lives that prefer an existence of indifference to divine love and its ways.

What happens at the end of life and time is technically known as eschatology—Greek for “furthest”. The four things were compiled in the Middle Ages by Hugh of St. Victor, and affirmed by the Councils of Florence (1439) and Trent (1563). The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes them in sections 1020-1050. Twentieth-century theologian Karl Rahner regarded the last things as a way of underscoring the “fundamental option” free beings have to determine their fate. What we become, here and always, is in our hands and nowhere else.

Bible scholars widen the conversation. They trace how biblical faith assumes a “future consciousness.” History can’t be seen as a random series of events; it’s going somewhere. For believers, history seeks its fulfillment in God’s original intentions for it. The Bible is clear on what those intentions are: unity, justice, peace, reconciliation, life in abundance. Biblical eschatology isn’t focused on individual redemptions, yours or mine, but rather the rescue of the world altogether. There’s a kingdom, a mansion, a banquet, a new creation out there!

In the writings of Vatican II, eschatology has shifted away from a preoccupation with personal survival in an otherworldly realm. The church’s mission in the here and now is the proper focus of the believer. As the Council affirms, Jesus sums up the meaning of history: God and humanity are to be united in goal and will. The coming kingdom is not something we can build with our own hands and bring into being, as some contemporary prayers seem to suggest. But a collaboration of faithful human effort and radical divine transformation will bring us to last things that will certainly surprise us all.

Scripture: Isaiah 2:2-4; 19:18-25; 56:6-8; 60:1-22; 65:17-25; Zephaniah 3:8-13; Zechariah 9:1-10; Wisdom 2:1—3:12; Daniel 12:1-3; 2 Maccabees 6:12-17; 7:1-42; 12:38-46; Matthew 5:1-12; 6:19-21; 7:13-14; 13:24-30, 44-50; 21:28-32; 22:1-14, 23-33; 25:1-46; Revelation 20:11—22:21

Books: 101 Questions & Answers on the Last Four Things, by Joseph Kelley (Paulist Press, 2006)


What is canon law and why do we have it?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 02, October 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Canon law
What territory is governed by canon law? Norms for the sacraments, worship, preaching, clerical and religious life, Catholic education, the use of church property, how to resolve internal conflicts, when to administer penalties, and both the rights and obligations of the faithful.

I didn’t do well in canon law class, so here’s a chance to redeem myself. Canon comes from the Greek word for rule; the church applies it to its own unique law. The early church began to develop codes and standards as early as the household codes recommended by St. Paul. Church fathers in the first several centuries added their recommendations. Church Councils throughout history augmented these. Different regional bishops assembled their own regulations, and for a long time, the church had competing laws in different places.

Then came Gratian, an Italian canonist of the twelfth century. He organized and reconciled some 4000 rulings in a compilation that remained in wide usage until 1917. In that year, the first codified universal canon law was put into effect. While intended for periodic updating, such evolution was neglected until the present code of 1983.

The use of the word canon in regard to church law can be confusing. The canon of Scripture, for example, doesn’t change, and canonized saints are presumed to be in place for good (but remember what happened to poor St. Christopher!) Canon law, by contrast, is obviously not permanent. Much of canon law concerns church discipline, which certainly does evolve over time. Even laws presently in force can be dispensed for “due cause”. Some laws, however, are considered representative of “natural law”: reasoned according to the created order. Some follow “divine positive law”: revealed by God, as in Scripture. These latter two kinds of law within canon law are considered unchangeable.

What territory is governed by canon law? Norms for the sacraments, worship, preaching, clerical and religious life, Catholic education, the use of church property, how to resolve internal conflicts, when to administer penalties, and both the rights and obligations of the faithful. It’s a big book, and if you’re intent on viewing it, my recommendation is to go to a library, and get a volume that includes the very helpful commentary.

Pope John XXIII called for the revision that emerged by 1983. Pope Paul VI oversaw ten guiding principles for that new version. Three are especially helpful for our understanding: Law is necessary so long as it’s employed pastorally. Law is subsidiary; that is, rulings are not created equal and some are clearly more urgent. And finally, protecting the rights of the faithful is paramount.

Scripture: Exodus 20:22—24:18; 34:17-27; Deuteronomy 5:6-21; Matthew 5:17—6:8; 15:1-9; Luke 10:25-28; Galatians 2:21; Romans 2:12-24; James 2:8-13

Books: The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary, by Canon Law Society of America, edited by James Coriden, et. al. (Paulist Press, 1985)

A Concise Guide to Canon Law: A Practical Handbook for Pastoral Ministers, by Kevin McKenna (Ave Maria Press, 2000)
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