Deacon's Blog

The Lenten Journey

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him (Mark 1:12-13). These are the opening lines of the Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Advent. So, begins Jesus’ ministry. Over the next three years He journeys around Israel proclaiming: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel Mark 1:15).” It is no accident that these words are used when we receive ashes on Ash Wednesday marking the beginning of our Lenten Journey.

Lent ends with the Easter Vigil. We can say that during these forty days we are journeying with Jesus to Jerusalem to undergo His passion, death and resurrection. We say this because this period is supposed to help us prepare to the greatest of all Christian feasts. Just as Jesus experienced hardships and even rejection on His journey, we can, in some small way, share in that hardship and rejection through our fasting and abstinence.

Let’s examine Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem as depicted in Luke’s Gospel verse 51 and following. “In Bible times, a journey was a big deal and an ordeal. Overall, Luke’s gospel disproportionately focuses on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem — the journey takes up nine of 24 chapters. The “travel narrative” begins at Luke 9:51 and climaxes in 19:41 with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Abbot, n.d.).”

The New American Bible states that “he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” Some scholars have used the term “set his face like flint” recalling the words of the prophet Isaiah who said The Lord GOD is my help; therefore, I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame (Isaiah 50:70). For both Christ and Isaiah these words attempt to convey the firmness of their conviction to carry out the mission God had given each of them.
With these words “he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51)” there is a clear break in Luke’s gospel narrative. This dramatic statement signals a new direction in Luke’s gospel and the direction of Jesus’ final earthly journey (Abbot, n.d.).

We could say that with Ash Wednesday we too have a “clear break” in our normal lives. We begin a period of fast and abstinence. Just a Jesus “set His face” indicating a clear change in attitude and direction. We presented our face, specifically our foreheads to have a change, a visible mark, imposed on us with ashes. Many do this during the normal work day and spend the day showing to the world that something has changed for us today. We may even spend some time answering the question “What is that on your head?” Maybe it is our way of proclaiming “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Entering the Forty Days of Lent, we have begun our own journey with Jesus up to Jerusalem. Our journey may be filled with pitfalls, stumbles, getting off track, and other faux paus. Even Jesus’ journey was not exactly a straight line. For example, He went to visit Martha and Mary in Bethsaida .  He was rejected as he tried to enter Samaritan territory, so he had to go by a new route (Luke 9:52~56).  The route through Samaria to Jerusalem was shorter but, as the people would not receive him, he turned eastward and went through Perea, the “Judea beyond the Jordan (Phillips, 1962)”.

Even the Apostles were not always enthusiastic about the journey. Consider one such side trip on this last journey. Jesus went to the house of Martha and Mary after hearing of the death of Lazarus (John 11). Knowing that that the authorities were wanting to kill Jesus, they tried to dissuade Him (John 11:8). He went forward anyway. It is here Thomas, called Didymus, recognized the futility of arguing with the Master when he “said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go to die with him’ (John 11:16).”

At the outset of our journey we voluntarily impose some hardships or trials. We call these sacrifices. This may include things that we will give up during Lent, and/or extra things we will do during Lent, extra Masses, rosaries, etc. When we encounter obstacles, such as we forget to do something, do we resign ourselves to “shake off the dust” and journey on or do we say just forget about it? We know what Jesus did.

A word for contemporary readers of Luke. Life centered on following Jesus is a journey. On this journey we discover more about what a relationship with Jesus entails, and what life in his kingdom will involve (Abbot).

Where does Jesus want us to journey with him not just 2,000 years ago, but today and tomorrow? Are we ready to be Jesus’ followers, whatever it takes and wherever it leads us (Abbot)? Are we ready to be like Thomas and “go die with Him”, even if all that means is we die to our own selfish interests for a short forty-day period? So, in our imagination, let’s leave 21st-century transportation with planes and cars and put on sturdy, comfortable sandals as we begin this long walk with Jesus (Abbot). Here we go!!!!!
Works Cited
Abbot, M. (n.d.). Lectio:Guided Bible Reading. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from Seattle Pacific University: http://blog.spu.edu/lectio/beginning-the-journey-to-jerusalem/

Phillips, J. (1962). AN OUTLINE OF THE STORY OF JESUS USING MAPS. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL): https://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/CN160-TRAVELS.htm

A Reflection on Fasting

The following is from e-priest.com.  It is an electronic publication of the Legion of Christ.

Time of Fasting 16 February 2018
February 16, 2018 (readings)
Friday after Ash Wednesday
Matthew 9:14-15

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

Introductory Prayer: Lord, you know how much I need you and depend on you for everything. You know my weakness and my faults. I put all my confidence in your love and mercy. I wish to trust in your power, your promise, and your grace every day. Today I intend, with your help, to follow you along the way of the cross with love and generosity to draw close to you.

Petition: Lord, let me learn to embrace sacrifice as the way of reparation and purification.

1. These Are the Days: Jesus said the time would come when his disciples would fast. Now that the Lord has returned in glory to the Father, it is up to us to continue the work of salvation, “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24), as St. Paul says. We join our sacrifice to that of Jesus to imitate him and bring grace to ourselves and others. Every Christian life must incorporate a healthy spirit of sacrifice and self-denial.

2. Feel the Hunger: The hunger we experience when we fast is a symbol of the deeper spiritual hunger we should feel for God and heaven. This world often makes us all too comfortable, and we easily forget that this is not our true home. We are pilgrims traveling through a foreign land, far from our final resting place. Fasting reminds us of the longing a traveler has to reach his destination safely and finally to rejoice in being home for good. The true Christian looks forward with hope toward heaven, where he will rest with God forever in true happiness. He knows that all the good things this world offers are only shadows of the wonderful things God has planned for those who love him (cf. Romans 8:28).

3. Hunger for Souls: From the cross, Jesus said, “I thirst.” That thirst was for all people to be reconciled to the Father. It was a thirst for souls to return to the love of God and find their way to the heavenly Kingdom. Voluntary sacrifice and self-denial, if we offer it for the conversion of the hearts of others, bring the grace they need to change and turn back to God. No one can convert himself, and no one in serious sin can merit his way to the grace of God. We need to intercede using our prayer and sacrifice to gain others the supernatural grace they need to overcome their obstacles. The greatest act of charity we can perform and the greatest joy we can experience is to bring a soul back to the Lord. How many souls are waiting for our prayer and sacrifice?

Conversation with Christ: Lord, make me generous and joyful in sacrifice, knowing that sacrifice unites me closer to you and wins the grace of conversion for so many souls you love and for whom you died.
Resolution: I will choose one person I know who needs God’s grace and offer all my sacrifices today for them.

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© 1980-Present. The Legion of Christ, Incorporated. All rights reserved. Reproduced with Permission of Copyright Owner.

Lenten Reflection

People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed –
Dr Samuel Johnson

We enter the forty days of Lent, which does not include Sundays. Before He began his public ministry, Christ fasted and prayed for forty days in the desert (See Matt 4:1-2; Mark 1:12-13; and Luke 4:1-3). In imitation of Christ we enter a time, which is marked by fasting, praying and almsgiving, as well as reflection on how we live out our beliefs through our words and actions.

These practices are the building blocks of a sound Lenten spiritual experience. They help us in at least two ways: First they help us clear the clutter from our lives, clutter that distracts us from God. This helps us create more space in our lives for God. Second with the creation of space in our lives for God, God’s grace has more room to take root, grow, and enrich our lives.

Fasting is an ancient spiritual practice and it is not unique to Christianity. All major religions recognize the value of fasting. Fasting can mean more than simply eating less or not eating our favorite foods. It can mean taking more quiet time to pray and listen to God (fasting from conversation). It can mean reading scripture rather than watching our favorite T.V. show (fasting from entertainment). It can mean only shopping for necessities, food clothing and the like (fasting from spending on unnecessary things).

In prayer we turn to God, listen to his voice, and let him fill our hearts and guide us. We take time to deepen and broaden our prayer life by spending more time with Jesus and expanding our prayers to include others like our RCIA class, the ill, the homebound and maybe even that person we don’t like very much. We could make a commitment to pray regularly such as one minute when you first wake up and one minute before you go to sleep every day.
Almsgiving does not always mean money. We can donate time at a soup kitchen or help with our own food drive (feed the hungry). We can show hospitality to those in need (give drink to the thirsty). We can be welcoming to strangers or newcomers in our parish, city, or neighborhood (welcome the stranger). We can donate clothing to the Center of Concern, Salvation Army, or various shelters (clothe the naked). We can visit the homebound, the hospitalized, or those in a nursing home (visit the sick). We can join a Kairos team, jail ministry team, or sign up to pray for a jail retreat weekend (visit the prisoner). We can visit a cemetery, take time off work to attend a funeral, attend a vigil, pray for the dead and their families (pray for the dead). We can come out of ourselves and give part of ourselves to others.

Lent can also be a time to remember and to reaffirm our belief in the presence of the risen Christ in the Eucharist.
One of the shocking facts is how many Catholics do not believe in the real presence, that Jesus Christ is really, truly, and substantially present in the most blessed sacrament, body, blood, soul and divinity. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) of Georgetown University Studies have affirmed that there are significant numbers of Catholics who either do not believe in the real presence. The numbers range from 9% for those who attend Mass weekly to as high as 60 per cent for those who attend Mass occasionally. Even if the number were only .00001 % that is too many.

One thing Lent can do is allow us to look at how we conduct ourselves in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Gandhi, who was a Hindu, is quoted as saying that if he truly believed that what was presented at the Mass was God, he “would be on his face.”

A lack of reverence can be expressed in many ways. Not genuflecting or bowing when you first come into the church and enter the pew. Not having a reverential attitude or respecting those praying before mass. Not paying attention during the Eucharistic prayer and during the consecration. Talking, looking around, instead of looking at the Body and Blood of Jesus at the elevation. Not making a sign of reverence when receiving the precious Body and Blood. A slight bow of the head is all that is called for. Also, when the Minister says the Body or Blood of Christ, the proper response is Amen, before you receive. This response needs to be spoken loud enough so the minister can hear you. Thank you is not the proper response.

Something I must constantly remind myself about is insuring I keep my voice down as I greet others before Mass. It helps if I confine my pre-mass conversations and greetings to the Narthex away from the doors into the nave.
How we dress communicates our attitudes as well. Now I’m not advocating suit and tie, even though that was the tradition when many of us grew up. However, beach wear or dressing like we are going to a night club presents a certain image as well. Do we come to church dressed in a manner that we would never consider wearing at our place of employment or going out to a nice dinner? Now there are times when dressing up is not possible, but, dressing modestly and appropriately is always possible.

Lent provides a very special time for some in-depth self-examination. To reflect on where we are with our faith and how we practice that faith. To reaffirm and refresh for ourselves what our Church teaches us. Reflect on how we deeply and reverently we live that teaching in or daily lives. Wearing a medal or crucifix is great, but we all must strive to live our faith in every facet of our lives every day.

I believe that outward actions reflect inward attitudes. Reverence begins in the heart. If we have reverence for this most precious gift the Lord left us, the gift of Himself, truly present in our midst, in our hearts, our reverence will manifest itself in our outward signs. We don’t have to speak a word because our actions will tell others how we feel and what we believe.

All of us who are adults can never forget that our actions communicate far more than our words ever will. The world around us often judges the Catholic faith by one person’s actions. Especially never forget young eyes and ears are watching our every move and listening to our every word.

Two Recurring Errors of “Liberal” Catholicism

Posted by Bishop Robert Barron on Word on Fire

Two Deadly Errors of Liberal Catholicism
by Bp. Robert Barron – June 13, 2015

 

Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, has written a book that has made it onto the bestseller list a few years ago. It is called Being Catholic Now: Prominent Americans Talk About Change in the Church and the Quest for Meaning.
It features brief reflections from thirty-seven men and women, largely though not exclusively, drawn from the left-side of the Catholic spectrum. Though it’s always difficult to generalize when dealing with such a variety of contributors, I would like to draw attention to two themes that come up with great, and I must say, disturbing regularity in this book.
Pitting Personal Faith vs. the Hierarchy
The first is the favoring of “the faith” or “spirituality” over the institutional church, and the second is the reduction of Catholicism to the works of social justice. In her preface to the text, Kennedy evokes, movingly enough, her intensely Catholic childhood, which involved frequent prayers, personal devotions, Bible reading, immersion in the lives of the saints, celebrations of the liturgical seasons, and regular attendance at Mass. But then she recounts the process by which she became gradually disillusioned with pompous bishops and out of touch priests.
She tells us how her mother, if offended by an insensitive or long-winded homily, would simply get up and lead her brood of children out of church. The conclusion she draws is starkly stated: “I learned from her to distinguish between my faith and the Institutional Church.”
Now, I know all about priests and bishops who sometimes say stupid things, and worse, sometimes do harmful things. I agree with Kennedy and many of her collaborators in the book that the clergy sex abuse scandal, in all of its ramifications, represented the prime example of this distortion of speech and abuse of power.
But this acknowledgment should never lead one to conclude that the faith is divorceable from the hierarchical structure of the church, as though the Catholic faith could float free of the pesky interference of priests and bishops. The church is neither a philosophical debating society nor a political party, but rather a mystical body, hierarchically ordered in such a way that authentic teaching and sacraments come through the ministrations of the ordained.
What I saw in the image of Ethel Kennedy walking out of church in response to an offensive sermon was the Donatism of the left. In the fourth century, St. Augustine battled the Donatist heresy which held that only morally praiseworthy priests could legitimately administer the sacraments and preach. The great saint insisted that the power of word and sacrament does not come (thank God) from the personal worthiness of the minister but from Christ who works through them. So even today, the “faith” cannot be severed from the “institution,” even when that institution is represented, as it always is, by deeply flawed people.
Catholic Social Teaching vs. the Gospel
The second theme that disturbed me could be found in almost every essay in the book. In reflection after reflection, we hear that Catholicism amounts to a passion for service to the poor and the marginalized.
Again and again, the contributors said that what they prized the most in their Catholic formation was the inculcation of the principles of inclusivity, equality, and social justice. The Church’s social teaching comes in for a great deal of praise throughout the book. But in the vast majority of the pieces, no mention is made of distinctively Catholic doctrines such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, redemption, original sin, creation, or grace. For the most part, it would be very difficult to distinguish the social commitments of the contributors from those of a dedicated humanist of any or no religious affiliation.
The problem here is that the social teaching of the church flows necessarily from and is subordinated to the doctrinal convictions of classical Christianity. We care for the poor precisely because we are all connected to one another through the acts of creation and redemption. More to it, we worry about the marginalized precisely because all of us are cells, molecules, and organs in a mystical body whose head is Christ risen from the dead. And our work on behalf of social justice is nourished by the eucharist which fully realizes and expresses the living dynamics of the mystical communion.
The great Catholic advocates of social justice in the twentieth century—Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, Romano Guardini, Reynold Hillenbrand, Thomas Merton—were all deeply immersed in the doctrinal and liturgical traditions. No one would have mistaken any of them for a blandly secular humanist. My fear is that a Catholicism reduced to social justice will, in short order, perhaps a generation or two, wither away.
Being Catholic, now as at any other time, must always involve a living relationship with both the hierarchical church, made up as it is of flawed individuals, and with the doctrines and sacramental practices that flow from and refer to Christ Jesus. Without these connections, it loses its soul.
Originally posted on Word on Fire

Prayer for Legal Protection of the Unborn

Brothers and Sisters,

If you happen to use the St Joseph’s Guide for Christian Prayer you will see that today is a Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of the Unborn. Since Roe V. Wade it is estimated that more than 60M children have been lost to abortion in the United States alone. It has been estimated by local pro-life leaders that the abortion clinic on Sparkman Dr in Huntsville, AL does approximately 1,300 a year. It is estimated that the abortion center in Tuscaloosa routinely performs the most abortions in the State on a yearly basis.

While overall, thanks be to God, it appears abortions are decreasing, we still must work, fight, and above all pray to end this scourge.

During an address to the Italian Movement for Life in April 2014 Pope Francis declared: “Human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right is based on the recognition of the first, fundamental right, the right to life, which is not subject to any condition, of a qualitative, economic and certainly not of an ideological nature.” https://cnsblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/top-13-quotable-quotes-by-pope-francis-on-sanctity-of-life/

The sacredness of life was affirmed in the Encyclical Letter EVANGELIUM VITAE a summary of which is available at http://priestsforlife.org/magisterium/evvatsummary.htm
From the summary document:
The first chapter of the papal document is devoted to an analysis of the lights and the shadows of the present-day situation with regard to human life.
First there is a denunciation of the proliferation and increased intensity of threats to life, especially when life is weak and defenseless at its very beginning and at its end: abortion, immoral experimentation on human embryos, euthanasia. There is a clear description of the unprecedented and specific features of these crimes against life: At the level of public opinion they are claimed to be rights based on individual freedom; there is a trend toward their recognition in law; they are carried out with the help of medical science. This involves a distortion of society’s nature and purpose and of the constitutional state itself: Democracy, if detached from its moral foundations and linked to an unlimited ethical relativism, risks becoming the pretext for a war of the stronger against the weaker; the roles of health care personnel tend to be subverted: Instead of respectful service of life, they lend themselves to actions which bring about death.

How to Explain Purgatory

From an article in Patheos On-line Magazine.

How to Explain Purgatory to Everyone
OCTOBER 17, 2017 BY K. ALBERT LITTLE

One of the most responding, human impulses that St. Paul describes in his letters to the early churches is the idea of wanting to do what he doesn’t do.
“For what I want to do, I do not do,” Paul writes in his letter to the Romans.
In this, Paul captures something so profound that scholars and poets alike have spent the last two millennia working to unpack it.

The want to do something other than what we do and, sometimes, the mere want to want.  Purgatory is like this.

I’m reading a book right now by Reformed philosopher and theologian James K.A. Smith called You Are What You Love. In it, Smith takes a decidedly Catholic approach to orienting our lives towards God. In the course of the book, he refers to a 1979 Russian film called The Stalker. It’s an admittedly obscure film depicting the journey of three men in a post-apocalyptic world, trying to reach something called The Room—a place in which their innermost desires will be fulfilled.

After a harrowing journey the three stand on the cusp of The Room in a place called The Zone and, suddenly, have what Smith describes as some serious reservations.  What if what we really desire in our hearts isn’t what we should desire?  What if what lies behind that door, in The Room, uncovers our secret, hidden wishes? The true call of our heart that we didn’t even realize was there?  Because The Room reveals to us—gives to us—what we desire most; what we love the most.  Even if we don’t know it.

This is a picture of purgatory.

In the teaching of the Catholic Church, we believe that God doesn’t simply wave a magic wand when we die and make us fit to live, with Him, in Heaven.  In Heaven no imperfection can exist—nothing but perfect love—and, with that, no remorse, no wishful thinking, no hesitation or changing our mind.

Our loves and desires are perfected and oriented towards God. The Ultimate Perfection. The Ultimate Love.

Enter purgatory.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, purgatory is described as this,
All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven (1030).
Purgatory is that which makes us fit for Heaven.

Like our characters’ hesitation to complete their journey and reveal the true loves of their heart in The Stalker, we too pause at the precipice of Heaven—we must—before we can charge the gates because when we die we’re not perfect, despite the very real sacrifice of Christ.

While we’re certainly saved, by Christ alone, we still have our hurts and hang-ups, don’t we? We still sin, and become frustrated, and like St. Paul, do things we do not want to do.  And we want to do better.  And, sometimes, we simply want to want to do better, and on those days when I’m a miserable, sorry mess, I’m absolutely unfit for Heaven even if my salvation—my faith in Christ—remains utterly unshaken.  I surely want to be perfect, but I’m not.
If I were to die on one of those days, or even on a good day, would God simply wave a magic wand and make all my insecurities and struggles vanish the second I kicked the bucket?  The Catholic Church says no.

This is purgatory: What St. Paul, and the Church, calls a kind of slow burning fire to purify us of whatever we’re still hanging on to.  To orient our desires fully to Christ—to ensure that what we really love is God and when we open the door to The Room it’s God on the inside.

Ultimately, how we explain purgatory is simple.  God can never bend our will. He refuses to wave a magic wand and change who we are because that would negate our ability to exercise free will. Instead, God designed a process to help slowly and surely transform us into images of Himself. This is life; this is the goal of our everyday existence on earth.
And this, too, is the purpose of purgatory.

A way to finish the job, on the precipice of Heaven, so once we enter into those lofty gates what we love is, ultimately, what we should love and we can enjoy eternity in the presence of God without hang-ups, hurts, or hesitation.

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/albertlittle/explain-purgatory-everyone/#yVdM9MrtRR62FhcW.99

Amoris Latetia

“Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.” ― Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed
I do not know how many people read the column in the January 5, 2018 One Voice about the position taken by the Bishops from Kazakhstan concerning the questions raised by the publication of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia and the subsequent publication of guidelines. Amoris Laetitia has passages of great wisdom and beauty on marriage and on family life. And it has other passages that have caused some obvious controversy regarding the readmission of Catholics who are divorced and remarried to the Eucharist (Chaput). The article in the One Voice addresses a lot of the questions raised. Now no one or two-page article is going to fully address all the issues, but my hope is to shed some light on the matter and provide some information which I hope you find useful.

Why does the Catholic Church teach that marriage is indissoluble when there are so many divorces today? To answer this question, we must first look at exactly what the Church teaches. This is summarized in paragraph 1061 of the Catechism of the Catholic which states: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” This has been carried over into Canon Law. Canon Law states: “The essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility, which in Christian marriage obtain a special firmness by reason of the sacrament.” (Code of Canon Law 1056) It is a relationship in which the two people, by mutual consent; give themselves freely and totally to the relationship in an “irrevocable covenant”. (Code of Canon Law 1057 §2)
There are a number of key words here: “covenant”, “partnership of the whole of life” and “sacrament.” So, let’s examine each of these.

Let’s examine the phrase “partnership for the whole of life.” What is a partnership? Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary has this definition: a relationship resembling a legal partnership and usually involving close cooperation between parties having specified and joint rights and responsibilities. Whole of life which means well, “until death do us part” to put it in the most common phrase we hear today.

Rather than a business partnership in which there is a contract the Church says that it is a covenant, a solemn agreement between human beings or between God and a human being involving mutual commitments or guarantees (CCC Glossary). This covenant, this sacrament, this marriage covenant involves such an intimate binding of two beings that this is image that God Himself favored, through the Scriptures, as the one which most imitates or emulates the sign of His covenant with His people. A covenant is still binding even when one of the partners tries to sever the partnership. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence (CCC 1650).

Marriage is a sacramental sign of God’s love for His people as it is testified to in both the Old and New Testaments, the act itself must accurately reflect that love. It must be faithful, monogamous, indissoluble, and fruitful. This is the foundation of all traditional Christian sexual morality. This is the image presented to us by God when he created them male and female (Genesis 1:27). This is what Christ taught as recorded in the Gospels in Matthew 19: 1-9 and Mark 10:1-12 where Jesus himself declared marriage as indissoluble. The two become one and no “human being” must try to break them apart. It is in this proclamation that Christ raises marriage to the level of a Sacrament.
What has happened in our time is this idea of being married to the same person for life is not seen as the norm but rather as an “ideal.” Christian marriage is never simply an “ideal.” Describing it as an “ideal” tends to open the door to excusing and then normalizing failure. The current number of marriages that end in divorce, especially in today’s world of institutionalized selfishness, shows that many people do fail (Chaput). I would venture to say that all of us know someone or several someone’s who have had a marriage that ended in divorce.

There are many myths out there about what the Church holds and teaches about marriage such as you should stay together no matter what. Again, that is not true. When a situation arises, which makes living together a practical impossibility the Church permits the physical separation of the couple and their living apart. The spouses do not cease to be husband and wife before God and so are not free to contract a new union (CCC 1649).

But of course, all of us fail many times every day. Being divorced or separated does not mean you are barred from the sacraments. This occurs only when a person attempts remarriage by entering into a civil union or attempt marriage in another denomination. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Consequently, they are contravening God’s law and therefore cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists (CCC 1650).

Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. It is the duty of the Church to reach out in mercy to those who have separated themselves from God’s grace and try to lead them back to communion. It’s a living expression of God’s goodness. But mercy does not abolish God’s law or His justice any more than it can soften or adjust the demands of truth in order to be more congenial to our weaknesses, to our culture, or to our times (Chaput). This is the heart of the controversy centers around how the Church reaches out to those who are is such situations and how the Church goes about restoring them to communion with the Church and with God’s law? This debate is far from over.
References:
Chaput, Charles OFM, Cap. Archbishop. Amoris Latetia and the Nature of Mercy. 8 11 2017. Article. 2 12 2017. <http://archphila.org/archbishop-chaputs-address-at-the-national-assembly-of-filipino-priests-usa-amoris-laetitia-and-the-nature-of-mercy/>.

USCCB. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Second. Washington: United States Catholic Conference, 1994. Book.

A New Look at Paul

An article from our parishioner Eric Hawkes.

The New Perspective on Paul
By: Eric Hawkes

Unknown to most Catholics, even most Catholic theologians, recent Protestant research on Paul’s letters has led to a major break-through that has the potential to bridge the Catholic-Protestant divide.

The research began following World War II. After the world became aware of the terrible treatment of the Jews during the holocaust, Christian theologians sought to remove any anti-Semitic bias from their theology. The Catholic Church published Nostra Aetate, which condemned the view that God had rejected the Jews and chose Christians in their place. Protestants re-examined their assumptions regarding the Jewish religion. Some of these assumptions went from as far back as the Church Fathers, to include St. Augustine himself.

Augustine’s seminal work, The Confessions, was a spiritual masterpiece. However, theologically speaking, it understood Paul’s writings within the question of, “how can I appease my guilty conscience and be righteous before God?” This line of thinking resonated with both St. Augustine and Martin Luther as each of them struggled with personal sin and “earning God’s mercy as a sinner”. At the time that Augustine wrote Confessions, he was defending the faith against the heresy of Pelagianism, which taught that salvation could be earned through good moral works, apart from grace. By reading Paul in this light, Augustine could use Paul’s writings to defeat his contemporaries, the Pelagians.

But was answering the question, “how are we justified by God?” actually Paul’s purpose in writing his letters? The Protestant scholar Krister Stendahl didn’t think so. In his essay “Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West”, Stendahl argues that this reading misses Paul’s point. In fact, Stendahl goes so far as to state that Paul would not be interested in that question at all. Rather, Stendahl sees Paul’s letters centered on the question, “how are the promises of God to Israel fulfilled in both Jews and Gentiles?” Stendahl argues that since Augustine, the West had badly misinterpreted Paul, especially Romans and Galatians. He concludes that it was this wrong interpretation of Paul that led to the Reformation.

At the same time, another Protestant scholar, E.P Sanders, published Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Based on newly available Dead Sea Scrolls, the 5th century B.C. Judaism was not at all like how Augustine and later theologians had envisioned it. They saw Judaism as a works-righteouness religion where good works and living according to the law was rewarded with salvation.

Sander’s study of the Dead Sea Scrolls convinced him that in the 5th century B.C, Judaism did not, in fact, teach a form of “proto-Pelagianism”. His work showed that Jews believed membership in God’s covenant was a grace and not something earned. The law was to be kept as a sign of those in the covenant. Sanders called this theology “covenant nomism” as opposed to the “works-righteousness” that more modern readers thought Paul was opposing.

Sander’s historical research into ancient Judaism along with Stendahl’s fresh take on Augustine motivated James Dunn, another Protestant scholar, to coin this new way of thinking about Paul, “the New Perspective of Paul” (NPP), as opposed the old, Augustinian view of Paul. This new view contends that Paul was not arguing how we are saved, (i.e. is it by faith or by works?), but rather, Romans and Galatians were intended to explain how Jews and Gentiles could be in the same Church. Paul’s answer is that it is through faith that we are justified in Christ (or as Catholics would say “in the Church”), not by circumcision, avoiding meat, or any other specifics of the law.

Proponents of NPP ask the question, “what is the mystery kept secret for all of history that is suddenly revealed by Jesus Christ?” Paul’s answer, his ‘gospel’ if you will, is that the secret kept hidden from mankind and revealed by Jesus is that the promises that God made with Israel are now available to Jews and Gentiles. Reading from Ephesians, “the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, partakers of the promise in Jesus Christ through the gospel (Eph 3:5-6).” Paul, as a former Jew, must have been very excited about this revelation from God. It was a reason for great joy and Paul knew that this message must be spread to the whole world at any and all cost. This was the good news that the world desperately needs to hear; Jews and Gentiles are now united in Christ, a first in the history of the world. Could God be so generous as to put Gentiles on the same footing as His own chosen people, Israel?

This is also why Paul spends a great deal of time in his letters trying to resolve disputes within the Church. Reconciliation is not simply about being reconciled to God (Rom 11:12; 2 Cor 5:21) but being reconciled to one another in the body of Christ (Eph 2:16; Col 1:21-22). 1st and 2nd Corinthians were largely meant to reconcile disparate factions of the Church in Corinth, just as Galatians and Romans were meant to restore unity between Jewish and Gentile parties. Paul’s gospel was about God, through Christ, uniting the human race as His ultimate divine plan. All are invited to His divine Sonship. That was the mission of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Church had to be a showcase of this reconciliation for the gospel to have any practical meaning. Truly, the Church had to ‘catholic’, which is Greek for universal.

This is why Paul tells us, for instance in Galatians, that he had earlier gone to Jerusalem to present the gospel he preached, bringing Barnabas and Titus with him (Gal 2:1-2). Barnabas and Titus were not randomly chosen companions; the fellowship between Barnabas, the Jew, and Titus, the Gentile, in Paul’s mind, was the gospel.

Although many Protestant theologians have trumpeted the NPP, other Protestant scholars are more cautious. They recognize that if Stendahl, Sanders, and Dunn are right, the historical basis for the Reformation, Sola Fide, can be resolved. Paul was never trying to tell us how we are saved (Faith vs. works), but that Paul was trying to explain how we are united as sons and daughters of God, Jews and Gentiles alike. In that context, the schism between Catholics and Protestants is the ultimate slap in the face to Paul, who was writing to unite everyone in Christ, not to divide us.

The New Perspective on Paul is a major step forward in healing the Protestant-Catholic divide. It is also an excellent starting point for future progress with Protestants as well recognizing our common “covenant nomism” found in ancient Judaism. Unlike past attempts, it is not a Catholic attempt to “win a debate” with Protestants, but Protestants reading the bible in a new light and finding a biblical interpretation that just happens to resolve old difficulties.

St Augustine on the First Letter of John

One of the most overlooked parts of scripture are some of the shortest writings in the Canon of the New Testament. These are the Pastoral Letters, specifically the Letters of John and Peter. In these short writings are contained some of the most profound words on what it means to be a Christian and how to live as a Christian. When I am struggling with my faith I find in these letters both hope and help.

Also one of the neat things is you can read the entire letter in just a few minutes.
With that in mind I thought I would share a commentary on the First Letter of John by one of the Doctors of the Church, Saint Augustine.

From the tractates on the first letter of John by Saint Augustine, Bishop
Life itself was revealed in the flesh

Our message is the Word of life. We announce what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have touched with our own hands. Who could touch the Word with his hands unless the Word was made flesh and lived among us?

Now this Word, whose flesh was so real that he could be touched by human hands, began to be flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb; but he did not begin to exist at that moment. We know this from what John says: What existed from the beginning. Notice how John’s letter bears witness to his Gospel, which you just heard a moment ago: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.

Someone might interpret the phrase the Word of life to mean a word about Christ, rather than Christ’s body itself which was touched by human hands. But consider what comes next: and life itself was revealed. Christ therefore is himself the Word of Life.

And how was this life revealed? It existed from the beginning, but was not revealed to men, only to angels, who looked upon it and feasted upon it as their own spiritual bread. But what does Scripture say? Mankind ate the bread of angels.

Life itself was therefore revealed in the flesh. In this way what was visible to the heart alone could become visible also to the eye, and so heal men’s hearts. For the Word is visible to the heart alone, while flesh is visible to bodily eyes as well. We already possessed the means to see the flesh, but we had no means of seeing the Word. The Word was made flesh so that we could see it, to heal the part of us by which we could see the Word.

John continues: And we are witnesses and we proclaim to you that eternal life which was with the Father and has been revealed among us – one might say more simply “revealed to us.”

We proclaim to you what we have heard and seen. Make sure that you grasp the meaning of these words. The disciples saw our Lord in the flesh, face to face; they heard the words he spoke, and in turn they proclaimed the message to us. So we also have heard, although we have not seen.

Are we then less favored than those who both saw and heard? If that were so, why should John add: so that you too may have fellowship with us? They saw, and we have not seen; yet we have fellowship with them, because we and they share the same faith.

And our fellowship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son. And we write this to you to make your joy complete – complete in that fellowship, in that love and in that unity.
source: https://divineoffice.org/1227-or/?date=20171227

Without the Ressurrection the Nativity Would Be Just Another Birthday

‘Without the Resurrection, the Nativity Would Be Just Another Birthday’
The two sacred mysteries of Christmas and Easter are inseparable for all Christians across the globe
by Fr. George Rutler | Updated 23 Dec 2017 at 9:00 PM

Saint Paul was converted by the risen Christ, who appeared as a blinding light. Later, he would meet Peter and James, who had seen the actual risen body, which had changed from the way it appeared during Christ’s three years with them.
The body of the resurrected Christ had four characteristics. First, it could no longer feel pain. This “impassibility” was a triumph over the horrors of the Passion. Second, by “subtlety” the body was no longer subject to the laws of physics. During his earthly life, Christ had to knock on doors to enter, but in the Resurrection, he could appear in a room though the doors were locked. Third, the “agility” of Christ’s body had a strength that freed Him from the constraints of motion and enabled him to bi-locate. Fourth, the “clarity” of the risen body radiated a brilliance that emanated from the divine intelligence: “light from light.”

This was glimpsed in the Transfiguration — and was what blinded Paul on the Damascus road.
These lines would seem to be an Easter meditation, but they are a Christmas meditation as well, for the two mysteries are inseparable. Without the Resurrection, the Nativity would be just another birthday, for even extraordinary people like Alexander the Great or Mozart had ordinary births. Because Christ is the Divine Word who created all things, the restrictions of His human nature are no less wonderful than the glory of His divine nature.
Related: ‘My Very Own Christmas Miracle’
The infant in Bethlehem was not impassable: He hungered and cried like any other baby. Without subtlety, He was confined to the stable. While in the Resurrection His agility could cast aside the shroud, in the manger He was bound by swaddling clothes. And as for clarity, His infant body could be glimpsed in the darkness only by frail lamplight.
As He has no beginning and no end, His divine glory was not something He attained as He grew up: rather, it was what He allowed to dim when He came into time and space. He “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).
Related: Why Baby Jesus Is So Crucial to Our Faith

So Christmas is about two caves, and the birth in a stone stable would be only a sentimental reverie without the fact of the burial cave burst open. The Holy Infant in the manger is a kind of graphic hint for our limited intelligence, of the indescribable Ruler and Judge of the Universe.
And the qualities of His risen body intimated what He would let us become in eternity.
That youngest of the apostles wrote in his old age: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when he appears, we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Fr. George William Rutler is a Catholic priest and the pastor of the Church of St. Michael in Manhattan. This article from his parish church bulletin is used by permission.