Sunday, July 31, 2005

It Has Begun...

Just returned from class weekend #1.


Friday night.... I took everything in stride.

Saturday (all day).... I kept on top of things.

Sunday.... The informational tsunami engulfed me and I felt its full force....

There is much to be learned.

More blog reflections to come. But of course, homework comes first!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Countercultural, indeed

The Minneapolis Star Tribune doesn't exactly have a reputation for being sympathetic to the culture of life.

So it was a delight to see this article, extolling the virtues of a large Catholic family, gracing their pages: Meet one big 'counterculture' family. I am confident you will enjoy it too.

[Note: The Star Tribune may require registration to see the article. Don't worry - it's free, and they will not give out your address to spammers.]

Pastoral Theology

With only 1 day to go before classes start (Yikes!!), I've been doing a little more reflecting upon the journey that awaits me, and in what way I hope to grow from it.

The program is entitled the "Institute for Pastoral Theology", which necessarily begs the question: "What exactly is Pastoral Theology?"

Merriam-Webster gives the following definition for the word "pastoral":
pas·to·ral: of or relating to spiritual care or guidance, especially of a congregation
So, applying this to theology, Pastoral Theology would be the study of theology with a particular eye to the application of that knowledge towards "spiritual care or guidance".

The Catholic Encyclopedia agrees: "Pastoral theology is the science of the care of souls." Traditionally taken up by priests, the discipline has also been emphasized among the laity since Vatican Council II.

So the IPT is, in effect, gearing its students up to better evangelize the uncatechized and bring those already evangelized closer to Christ. It's worth noting again that the basic assumption underlying the whole program is that there is a universal call to holiness (see Vatican II's Lumen Gentium, ch.5). Everyone you meet, whether it be the homeless man down the street, the CEO of your company, or your annoying neighbor who always leaves his garbage can in the way, is called to holiness. And the study of Pastoral Theology has as its aim individuals better equipped to promote holiness in everyone they encounter (especially themselves!).

It's important to note, also, that promoting holiness doesn't simply involve giving out warm fuzzies. In the packet handed to us on orientation day, among the "12 Fundamental Convictions" is this item: "Pastoral theology presupposes doctrine. Doctrine and pastoral solicitude cannot be placed in opposition." In other words, there has to be some meat there to chew on. With this in mind, the program is based upon the three Foundations of Formation (which I've mentioned before): Theological Education, Spiritual Formation, and Pastoral Orientation. A succinct way of putting this might be: We have to better learn our faith so we can grow in personal holiness and thus become more effective agents of evangelization.

I have no doubt that, by the time I finish this program, I will know my faith better. But, the key question is, will I have grown in holiness? The responsibility for progress in this regard rests squarely upon my shoulders (pray for me so that I may persevere!). And as for being a more effective evangelist? Here I take great comfort in Mother Theresa's fine words to the effect that "God is not so concerned whether we are successful. He only holds us accountable as to whether we are faithful."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Moral vaccines

Have you ever been complicit in an abortion?

If you've ever been vaccinated, you very well may have, without even knowing it.
(That's pretty much all of us, isn't it?)

Some vaccines to combat the following diseases:
Hepatitis A
Chicken Pox

have been derived from cell lines which came from the remains of an aborted child. (One in 1964 and another in 1970).

This fact has been known for some time, and many have wondered how morally licit it is for someone to use these vaccines. (The abortion, after all, took place some 40 years ago. The damage is already done, so to speak.) Clarity was rather elusive on this issue. Until now.

The Vatican has issued a very nice and clear document which lists the vaccines affected, and provides a concise argument outlining the moral issues involved.

Bottom line: using the vaccines is, in fact, a form of "remote material cooperation" in the evil of the abortions which were performed. (See the article for the other, more serious degrees of cooperation.) As such, it can be justified, if there is a serious reason for the vaccination (in most cases, there is), and if an alternative source is not possible or is very difficult to obtain.

But, the flip side of this is that every one of us has the moral obligation to try to do whatever we can to seek alternative vaccines not prepared from these lines or influence the appropriate pharmaceutical organizations (i.e. Merck, GlaxoSmithKline) to find alternative sources for the cell lines (in most cases this should not be a problem, it just requires a little effort on the company's part).

Knowledge is the key. Next time you have to get vaccinated, make sure you are armed with the appropriate information.

Monday, July 25, 2005


Here's a good article from First Things entitled The Pattern of Christian Truth.

Interestingly enough, though the author, Timothy George, is a Southern Baptist, many of the ideas presented in the piece sound incredibly familiar to those that are found in the works of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the famous 19th century Anglican-turned-Roman-Catholic. In particular is the recognition given to the role heresy has played in historic Christendom, continually prompting the Church to defend, and more properly define, her doctrines. This article cites 3 famous examples, which I'll briefly summarize (for a quick lesson in Church history!) Want more? Check out the article.

1) In the 2nd century, Marcion taught that the God of the Old Testament was not the same as the God of the New Testament. He thus sought to sever all connections between Christianity and its Jewish past. He also saw the physical world, including the human body, as an indignity, and thus insisted that Jesus could never have actually assumed a physical body. In response, the Church insisted upon the unity of the Old and New Testaments, and also of the goodness physical creation and its role in salvation history (affirming that Jesus had a body).

2) In the 4th century, Arius could not see how God the Father could "share" his divinity with anyone else, and so denied the divinity of Christ. The church countered with the Council of Nicaea in 325, formulating a more precise trinitarian definition and promulgating the same Nicene creed which we say today. In particular, the phrase "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father" was born of this doctrinal scuffle.

3) Later that same century, Pelagius did not agree with the idea that our current sinful state was the natural consequence of Adam's sin: rather, he thought that we could attain perfection in this life (by following the rules given us by Christ), and entirely rid ourselves of sin, by our own merits. The response, first articulated by St. Augustine, but later ratified by the Council of Ephesus in 431, insisted upon the presence of Original Sin and its effects in all of humanity, and more importantly, the need for our redemption to come from the divine grace of Christ's self-sacrifice.

We certainly don't want to say that heresies are a good thing, yet with examples like these it's important to realize that, just as with other evils, God can always bring good out of them.

Friday, July 22, 2005

New Ave Maria Chapel

Just unveiled: the new design for the oratory to be built at Ave Maria University in Naples, FL.

It probably won't please everybody, but in my opinion it's much better than the first design (which, among other things, had lots of hurricane-prone glass).

The ironic thing is, even though I am pursuing a degree from AMU, I probably will never see this chapel - Naples being a bit of a drive from MN...

(Hat Tip to: Amy Welborn)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Common Cause

Mark Shea has some wise words to say about making common cause with our Evangelical brothers and sisters.

He begins with this observation:
This is not, of course, to say that educated Catholics and educated Evangelicals are now pretending to "really be saying the same thing." Often we are not. But far more often, we are. We really can recite virtually all the Apostles or Nicene Creed in common and — but for the meaning of the clause "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" — mean the same thing. Contrasted with the culture of death, our unanimity of witness to the Lord Jesus Christ is what is most impressive. It is a "mere Christian" unity that can still move among the walking dead of contemporary culture like an army of saints — if only we will do it.
The rest of the article has a lot of good points, including an observation on the differences between Catholic culture (more feminine and inward-focused) and Evangelical culture (more masculine and goal-oriented).

Authentic ecumenical activity does require that we recognize and not try to deny when doctrinal differences do exist. But it also constantly seeks out and strengthens bonds that are already there. Mr. Shea, who himself is a Catholic convert from an Evangelical background, makes a good case that sometimes we have more in common than what first meets the eye.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Speaking of the media...

WCCO aired a story on last night's news about a Minnesota woman who will be "ordained" a Deacon this month, and next year a Priest.

I was happy to see they included some airtime from some erudite young adults from the Cathedral Young Adults group to provide a counter-response. However, they did a grave disservice to their listeners by not actually pointing out that this woman won't really be a Deacon - at least not in the Roman Catholic Church - despite whatever she thinks she will be. Just as I can't become a lawyer without the blessing of the Bar Association, she can't be a Catholic Deacon without the blessing of the Catholic Church - which includes the entire chain of command right up to the Pope.

I won't go on, as I just noticed that Veritatis Splendor has a good wrapup of the whole situation, if you desire further reading.

Also by Fr. James V. Schall, S.V.

The headline of this article, On Being Neither Liberal Nor Conservative really grabbed my attention.

He opens with this salvo: "The division of the world into 'liberal' and 'conservative' on every topic from politics to our taste in cuisine, clothes, or automobiles is one of the really restricting developments that has ever happened to us." Amen, brother!

And then offers this reflection:
Such a view makes things very simple, I suppose. But it also reduces our minds to utter fuzziness. We are required to define everything as either liberal or conservative even when the two allowable terms of definition are not adequate to explain the reality that they are intended to describe.
And the rest of the article is a refreshing look at this terminology and its semantics.

I hope I don't start to turn into a broken record, but it really is one of my big pet peeves how constrictive the typical liberal/conservative framework really is. I fully realize that I generally find common cause with those who admit plainly to being the right hand side of the spectrum. Yet it seems to be such an injustice to simply be reduced to this - as if one's outlook can't encompass more than a particular spot on an imaginary gradient. As the article notes, terms mean different things to different people in different ages (and even in the same age!). And what really matters for Christians is the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether it's "liberal", "conservative", "traditional", "progressive", "orthodox", or you name your favorite term, all that really matters is whether it conforms to the Gospel. That's one of the reasons why figures like John Paul II are so mystifying for many people (especially the press). He would say one thing that seemed to place him squarely on one side of the spectrum, and another that placed him squarely on the other. Was he schizophrenic? Clearly he wasn't - he just had a greater vision, focused on Christ, which transcended any categorization that we could place upon it in human political terms.

Clearly, the human condition is that we must communicate using words. And though language is always fraught with difficulty, as different words mean different things to different people, it is a necessary medium, without which we would get nowhere. So, categories such as these do serve a legitimate purpose when communicating ideas. Yet due to their volatile nature in the current culture, they require a great degree of restraint with their use. In order that they not be misunderstood, when used they also require an accompanying clear definition of the speaker's intent. Unfortunately these days, this isn't often found to be the case...

The Complexity of Catholicism

Here's an interesting article on the topic of whether Catholicism is too complex.
Thus, Catholicism cannot be and does not announce itself to be a religion that seeks simplicity and easy intelligibility at any cost. To be overly simple is to be neglectful of the distinctions that are actually used by the mind to understand things, in the fullness of what they are and mean. Nonetheless, Catholicism does not disdain simplicity. The famous Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are designed to state the essence of what is held in the most spare and succinct ways. Yet, every word of this creedal simplicity was hammered out in controversy and contains within itself a whole historical and intellectual reflection that is not to be forgotten or ignored.
It is a valid point. Sometimes it does seem like the faith is too complicated. (True story: once, while at a Mass in Colorado, the priest's homily consisted of him pulling out from behind the podium one item after another, from a letter from his Archbishop to the Catechism to the Code of Canon Law to various encyclicals, until he had a stack of books about 2 1/2 feet high on the altar, after which he proceeded to complain about how it was all too complicated, and how he was more than satisfied knowing that his parishoners were "just trying their best". Needless to say, Joy & I were not very impressed.) Yet by the same token, one of the faith's attractive features is its very depth. It can be understood on a simple level, yet as one digs deeper, one is always rewarded. This is a process which is never exhausted. As the article states, even something as simple as the Apostles Creed is the result of a long process, and so parsing out the deeper meaning in its precise formulas can be a rewarding experience.

Benedict's meditation on vacation

I posted this in the comment box below, but I thought I'd also post it here. Pope Benedict's reflection on vacation (courtesy Zenit):

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

I have been here for a few days, in the marvelous mountains of Val d'Aosta, where the memory is still alive of my beloved predecessor John Paul II, who for several years spent brief relaxing and invigorating stays here.

This summer pause is a truly providential gift of God, after the first months of the demanding pastoral service that Divine Providence has entrusted to me. My heartfelt gratitude goes to the bishop of Aosta, esteemed Monsignor Giuseppe Anfossi, and to all those who made it possible, as well as to those who with discretion and generous abnegation see to it that everything runs smoothly. Moreover, I am also grateful to the local population and to the tourists, for their cordial welcome.

In the world in which we live, it is almost a necessity to be able to regain one's strength of body and spirit, especially for those who live in the city, where the conditions of life, often feverish, leave little room for silence, reflection and relaxed contact with nature.

Holidays are, moreover, days in which more time can be dedicated to prayer, reading and meditation on the profound meaning of life, in the peaceful context of one's family and loved ones.

Vacation time offers the unique opportunity to pause before the thought-provoking spectacles of nature, a wonderful "book" within reach of everyone, adults and children. In contact with nature, a person rediscovers his correct dimension, rediscovers himself as a creature, small but at the same time unique, with a "capacity for God" because interiorly he is open to the Infinite. Driven by his heartfelt urgent search for meaning, he perceives in the surrounding world the mark of goodness and Divine Providence and opens almost naturally to praise and prayer.

Reciting the Angelus together in this pleasant Alpine locality, let us ask the Virgin Mary to teach us the secret of the silence that becomes praise, of recollection that disposes to meditation, of love of nature that blossoms in thanksgiving to God. We will thus be able to receive more easily in our hearts the light of Truth and practice it in freedom and love.

[After reciting the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I greet the English-speaking visitors who join us for this Angelus. May the summer holidays be a time of rest and an opportunity to draw closer to the Lord in gratitude and prayer. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The problem of evil

Here is an excellent Q&A regarding the age-old question of how evil can exist if there is a good God. The response includes this accurate definition of evil:
Evil is not a thing in and of itself. It is the absence of a thing, namely good. Good is a thing which does exist in and of itself. It exists first and foremost in God who is His own supreme, eternal, and infinite Goodness. It is impossible that evil could exist in God. Evil is really a nonentity or a privation like darkness. Darkness is not a thing either but is really just the result when light is taken away. So good and evil do not have equal standing. Good exists in itself. Evil is a kind of parasite which exists only in some relation to things that are good.
For Lord of the Rings fans, this very point is one of the main ways that, although as a work of science fiction it doesn't directly reference Christianity, the underlying worldview in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth is fundamentally Christian. Looking at the characters, many of the "bad" ones are simply evil derivations of other "good" characters. Orcs came about from an original corruption of elves; Gollum, due to his self-obsessed hording of the Ring, is a shadow of his former person as the happy-go-lucky Smeagol. And the list goes on.

Back to real life, we can rest assured that only God has the power to create and that what He created is good; Satan has merely been given the power to corrupt what is already there. And that is another reason why we can be confident that, though evil may sometimes seem to have its way here on earth, in the end the ultimate victory will be reserved for God alone.

Friday, July 15, 2005

JPII vs. Benedict XVI

A thoroughly interesting article listing some of the differences in style between JPII and Benedict XVI can be found here.

Among the fascinating tidbits:
The same masses of the faithful that applauded the gestures or striking phrases of pope Karol Wojtyla, while almost completely missing what it was that he was talking about, are doing the opposite with the new pope. They follow Ratzinger's homilies word for word, from beginning to end, with an attentiveness that astonishes the experts. Verifying this takes nothing more than mingling among the crowds in attendance at a Mass celebrated by the pope.
Don't know that I'd agree that everybody was missing what JPII was talking about, but it's good to hear folks are paying close attention to Benedict.
He even spends his vacations in his own way. He doesn't go for the mountain peaks and the ski lodges like his athletic predecessor. On July 12, when he went to the mountains in Les Combes, in Valle d'Aosta, he brought a piano and three suitcases full of books.

Three suitcases full of books, huh? Now there's my kind of guy...

Another item: his secretaries are affiliated with the Shoenstatt movement, which is dear to me, since their summer camps in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota held a formative influence on my young life.

It's a great look at Benedict, his personality, his pontificate so far, and how his influence is playing out in the Vatican. Check it out!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

How old do you want to live to be?

I'm apparently on target for 84. I'd better not take up smoking...
Longevity Game

Now it's official...

I received a letter in the mail today that begins, "With this letter I am happy to congratulate you on your acceptance as a regular student..." so now there's no turning back. I'm definitely in!

Classes start July 29, so it's T-minus 15 days and counting...

First semester courses will be:
-Writings of John Paul II
-Documents of Vatican Council II
-Old Testament I
-Foundations of Catholic Spirituality

As time goes on, expect some posts relating to those topics, and how I am internalizing the concepts. I'm thinking, seeing as I'll be studying JPII, and seeing as he has reams upon reams of writings (pre-pope and while pope) it might be fun to post a "JPII Quote of the Day" for the duration of the semester.

Just to whet your appetite, here's one for starters, which seems timely now that his peaceful passing is still fresh on our minds:
When the moment of our definitive passage comes, grant that we may face it with serenity, without regret for what we shall leave behind. For in meeting You, after having sought You for so long, we shall find once more every authentic good which we have known hear on earth, in the company of all who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and hope.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Today's Gospel

At that time Jesus exclaimed:
"I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him." (Mt 11:25-27)

Reflecting upon this passage, I was reminded of a time a couple weeks ago, while perusing items in a bookstore, just out of curiosity I cracked open a copy of (retired Episcopalian) Bishop John Shelby Spong's book The Sins of Scripture : Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love. Shocking title, I know. For those who might not be familiar with his personality, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Although he is a high ranking prelate in the Episcopalian church, his views are, well, a divergence from what can normally be considered Christian. (Can one really be a Christian without believing that Christ's resurrection actually took place?)

I wanted to get a quick snapshot of some of his thoughts, and, through my 2-minute foray into his work, that effort wasn't a failure. I happened to open to a page in his chapter on the environment. Without having the book available, I'll briefly paraphrase what I recall as his argument:
For too long Christians have behaved like children, simply believing what the Bible said without question. Now that we know better, it's time for Christians to get an adult faith - that is to say, recognize that the Scriptures are merely mythical devices which developed over human history, without any divine mandate. By doing this, people will free themselves from a false and constricted view of the world and will be open to the insights that the modern world has to offer.
Bishop Spong then goes on in the rest of the chapter to talk about the "ethics of overbreeding" and extol the virtues of using birth control to limit the number of offspring we humans create. Reading this, I was deeply saddened. Immediately I thought of Jesus' own words, such as "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18:3) and "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs" (Mt 19:14). There is clearly a discrepancy between the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the gospel of Bishop Spong.

Christ's words in today's Gospel, "you have revealed them to the childlike", reminded me of this incident. But it also illuminated another truth regarding the mystery of faith: "no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him." Faith is a gift. Like the sower's seed, some of which takes root and some of which doesn't, the Gospel finds a home in some hearts and not in others. When confronted with the views of someone like Bishop Spong, those of us who do believe in the authentic revelation of Scripture must keep this mystery in the forefront of our minds and be careful not to give ourselves over to the temptation to an attitude of condescention (a most certain path to an un-childlike heart). Rather, the proper response is humble gratitude that in His goodness God saw fit to include us in the company of those gifted with faith. And most definitely, heartfelt prayer that He might also see fit to more fully reveal Himself to our brother in humanity, Bishop Spong.

With God, all things are possible.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Speaking of Benedict...

Even the Pope gets to go on vacation!

Although, it's what you might call a working holiday...

Are you a Pope Benedict XVI fan? Are you travelling to Germany?

If so, you'll definitely want to get the book mentioned here:

Tourist guide to 'Pope's Bavaria' hits bookstores

Tourists can discover the small church in Regensburg where Ratzinger said Mass every morning as a "volunteer" because it didn't have a priest before he headed to work at the nearby university where he taught theology.
They'll find the house with peaked eves in Aschau am Inn where his family lived after his father spoke out against the Nazi regime in 1932 and was forced to move.
Pilgrims are also told where they can buy "Pope beer" bearing portraits of a white-robed Benedict and munch on "Ratzinger cake" made of chocolate and marzipan.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Fifteen new priests!

I realize this is old news for some, but others may not have heard:

Priests forever: 15 men make history at archdiocese’s largest ordination in decades
In an ancient ritual, each ordinand knelt before Archbishop Flynn, who laid his hands on their heads as he silently prayed for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. For more than 30 minutes, hundreds of priests also streamed past the kneeling ordinands, stopping briefly to place their hands on each one as a sign of unity.
Did you catch that? Hundreds of priests. A little imprecise perhaps, but it sure conjures up an image. It must have been a sight!

For great photos of the event, go here. (Photo page courtesy Veritatis Splendor)

This is the lucky fella of those 15 who was assigned to my parish, Nativity of Our Lord: Fr. James Liekhus.
At 25, he's now the youngest priest in the state of MN.

Fun anecdote:

A special memory Liekhus has is when he met Pope John Paul II after a private Mass with him. As he stood in line waiting for the Holy Father to greet him, Liekhus reviewed in his mind what he was going to say.
“I was going to say something like, ‘Pray for us, Holy Father’ or ‘God bless you, Holy Father,’” Liekhus said.
But when the pope stood before him, Liekhus couldn’t speak. “I just genuflected and kissed his ring like everybody else, and I had a huge smile on my face,” he said with a chuckle.
See the article here.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Eucharistic Congress

Thought I would let everybody (who doesn't already) know about the upcoming Eucharistic Congress in St. Paul to close out the Year of the Eucharist. Looks to be an incredible event - Fr. Joseph Johnson, a rock-solid priest who has had an enormous impact in my life, is its spiritual director. The more people the merrier! And register early, if possible. The RiverCenter holds 12,000, but if more people sign up (early, that is), there is overflow space (possibly the Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild NHL team...) that could be re-assigned to the event...

See link below for more info:

"I am recommending you for the program"

Those were the comforting last words I heard from Professor Timothy Herrman as I completed my IPT application interview, while he scribbled something down on my interview sheet.

I'm in!

Earlier in the day (yesterday), I attended the orientation session, where we met our professors and fellow students. There's a whole lotta cheeseheads. And then me: the lonely Minnesota Vikings fan. Should be fun come NFL season...

We learned more about the program, and what we will be expected to do (simply put: a lot of work).

A couple highlights:
  • Among the "Fundamental Convictions" underlying the design of the program is this gem: Pastoral theology takes the universal call to holiness as its foundational principle.
  • Another "Conviction": Truth transcends the politicization of liberal and conservative. Amen to that! (Somebody, quick call the Democratic and Republican Party offices...)

One final anecdote which I believe illustrates what I can look forward to: During lunch, while out with 6 other students (still for all practical purposes strangers to me), I was the last to arrive with my food to the table. Instead of all chowing down right away, as a group they had waited for me to come, so that we could all say grace together. In public. What a great witness to the Faith!

Yes, these next three years will be edifying...

Friday, July 08, 2005


This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the ordination Mass of Fr. Craig Timmerman (and Fr. Mark Steffl, who I did not know) at Holy Trinity Cathedral in New Ulm, MN, and Fr. Craig's first Mass in our home parish of St. Clotilde in Green Valley, MN. Both services were beautiful, and left me acutely grateful for the gift God has given us in his faithful servant.

One particular item that had an impact upon me came from one of the musical pieces that was a part of both services: the Latin hymn “Tu es Sacerdos” (“You are a Priest”). The words to the hymn are concise and come straight from Psalm 110 (Psalm 109 in some Bible translations): “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’”

I was only slightly familiar with the name Melchizedek, but was really moved with this hymn, and pondered its significance. What was so important about this guy that we would be singing about him at a priestly ordination Mass? And what did this signify about the priesthood into which Fr. Craig was initiated?

After a little research and reflection things started coming together a bit.

Melchizedek, if you recall, is a figure who makes but a brief appearance in the book of Genesis. Blink and you’ll miss him, it’s that quick. In Genesis chapter 14, the encounter reads thus: "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!' And Abram gave him a tenth of everything." (Gen 14:18-20)

That's it. No flowery monologue. Just straight to the point, he shows up, a couple things happen, and then he's gone. But we do learn some interesting things about him: he was king of Salem (fun fact: "Salem" means peace; Salem will eventually become the city we know of as Jerusalem.), he brought out bread and wine, and he was a priest.

Though it was brief, he evidently made enough of a splash that he is mentioned later in the Old Testament. In Psalm 110 (where our song lyrics came from) David says
The LORD says to my lord: "Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool." The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day you lead your host upon the holy mountains. From the womb of the morning like dew your youth will come to you. The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." (Ps 110:1-4)
Who is he talking about here? The coming Messiah. ("The LORD says to my lord" indicates that God - "uppercase" LORD - is speaking to the Messiah - "lowercase" lord.) The Messiah will be a priest "after the order of Melchizedek".
Because this was the commonly understood Jewish exegesis of this scripture, Paul references Jesus in this context, indicating his role as the promised Messiah: "where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." (Heb 6:20)

Now, a note about the priesthood in the Old Testament. The priesthood was reserved to the tribe of Levi, and a special role was reserved to the descendants of Aaron. They stood as a mediator between the Lord and the people, kept watch over the Ark of the Covenant (later in the temple in Jerusalem), and offered sacrifices for sins. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) indicates, this priesthood is a foreshadowing of the ministerial priesthood initiated by Jesus Christ:
The liturgy of the Church, however, sees in the priesthood of Aaron and the service of the Levites, as in the institution of the seventy elders, a prefiguring of the ordained ministry of the New Covenant. (CCC 1541)

The interesting thing to note is that Paul, in Hebrews 7, vigorously stresses that Christ's priesthood in the order of Melchizedek far surpasses the Levitical priesthood:
Those who formerly became priests took their office without an oath, but this one was addressed with an oath, "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, 'Thou art a priest for ever.'" This makes Jesus the surety of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself. Indeed, the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect for ever. (Heb 7:21-28)
Is Paul here diminishing the role of the Old Testament priests? No. But he is showing, that while still necessary for their time and place, their priesthood was merely a temporary surrogate for the everlasting Priesthood of Jesus Christ. While their sacrifice offerings needed to be repeated, his ultimate self-gift was only necessary once.

So, back to Fr. Craig's ordination. If his ordained ministry was prefigured by the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament (as opposed to the priesthood of Melchizedek, which uniquely pointed to Christ's), then why were we singing "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" at his ordination? The CCC beautifully ties this together (emphasis mine):
It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius Christi).
Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ. (CCC 1548)
So in offering sacrifices for sins, the Levitical priesthood's function was to foreshadow Christ's eventual self-sacrifice. Now that this redemptive act is complete, the priesthood's role has changed for the New Covenant - instead of offering new sacrifices, he instead "makes present" Christ's definitive sacrifice for all of us. And when does he do this? When he celebrates Mass.

Thus, the purpose of our song at Fr. Craig's ordination was to affirm Christ's singular role as High Priest, whose offering of himself purchased redemption from our sins. But it was also to give glory and thanks to the Lord that we were being given the gift of another priest who, through his ministerial consecration, was authorized to make that sacrifice present to all of us, wherever and whenever we receive the Eucharist.

God is good indeed!

Saint Christopher

For all your Saint Christopher trivia needs....

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Eight Apostles

Australian landmark collapses into the sea
One of Australia's best known natural landmarks, the Twelve Apostles rock formation off the coast of Victoria, has been changed for ever after one of the giant limestone pillars collapsed into the sea.
The 145ft-tall rock stack, the subject of millions of postcards and tourists' snapshots, crumbled into the icy waters of the Southern Ocean in front of a crowd of stunned sightseers, leaving a forlorn pile of rubble lapped by the surf.

Now, why it was ever called the Twelve Apostles is a mystery to me. There were in fact only nine of them. But whatever. It was an effective gimmick to get tourists (including myself a few years back) there to see them.

My favorite part of the article:
The stack is not the first such landmark to disappear along this stretch of coast.

In January 1990 a rock arch called London Bridge fell into the sea, leaving two startled tourists standing on the towering outcrop which remained. They had to be rescued by helicopter.

"Startled" tourists? I think that'd be an understatement....

Get the story (& see the before & after pics!) here.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Why punish myself?

Maybe "self-mortification" is a better word. Or "reparation", as a wonderful group of nuns would be wont to say.

Either way, entering graduate school is going to involve sacrifice. For myself, as well as my wife (who will no doubt pine over every minute of my absence while at class!). But as the saying goes, "no pain, no gain".

There was a time in my life (actually two times, to be exact) when my faith endured a severe trial. How was I, a regular schmuck from the 20th century, to know whether in fact this story about some guy named Jesus 2000 years ago was really true??? I mean, it's a really nice story and all, but that alone doesn't make it true, even if most of my acquaintances happen to believe it. Plus, some of the claims are really quite extraordinary. But if it didn't happen, well then what?? As St. Paul himself says:
If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. (1 Cor 15:14)
Frankly, even if belief in Christ was useful in helping me to be a better person, I didn't want to base my life on a fairy tale. Either it happened, or it didn't, and I wanted to find out. Once I found out, then I would have to respond accordingly.

Long story short, after some historical investigation, I became convinced of the reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life. With this in place, then I could really trust what they had to say. Of course with it came the responsibility to try to follow Christ's teachings. But the good news was that I had the rest of my life to immerse myself in 2000 years of Christian reflection and try to ever more conform my life to Christ.

Participating in the Catholic Studies program at the University of St. Thomas thus only served to whet my appetite. It seems the more I learn about my faith and its rich tradition, the more I want to learn. St. Augustine is famous for teaching "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." For me, learning more helps me, first of all, to grow closer to Christ, and second, to better share the faith with others.

My wife Joy graduated from the Institute for Pastoral Theology in 2003. Throughout our entire courtship she was attending the program. It was ample time for me to become exposed to the curriculum, and to see the wonderful effect that the program had in her personal life, and how she is now a wonderful evangelist for Christ.

That is my motivation for embarking upon this journey. St. Thomas Aquinas (patron saint of students) pray for me!

The Institute for Pastoral Theology

A little background on the program:

(For the full monty, go straight to the source: Institute for Pastoral Theology)

The program is a 3 year graduate program in Theology. The emphasis is on three "Foundations of Formation":

  • Theological Education

  • Spiritual Formation

  • Pastoral Orientation

The format is one weekend per month (5 months per semester), and classes meet from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. As there are several class sites in the country, the instructors are flown on-site for each class weekend. It is the responsibility of the student to pace their homework progress accordingly throughout each month. Procrastination is a temptation, but not an option!

From my past experience with the program and with the faculty, the underlying philosophy is self-consciously faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, immersing the students into the rich tradition of the faith, from the early Church Fathers through current popes. Shunning all political ideologies ("liberal" vs. "conservative") as well as relativistic philosophies, the program aims to allow the students to immerse themselves in the reality of God's revelation to mankind in Jesus Christ.


Welcome to my humble blog!

I'm not yet a full-time student yet at AMU, as I haven't attended the orientation session (July 9) in Green Bay, or participated in the pre-entry interview (scheduled for the same day). I have, however taken one class (Catechism of the Catholic Church) at the Minneapolis site in the Spring of 2003, so I'm officially on record as being a student there. So I figured that was good enough to kick-start this blog a little early.

Have a great day!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Quotes to Live by...

In essential things, unity.
In doubtful things, liberty.
In all things, charity.
-Thomas à Kempis, Imitation of Christ
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
-1 Cor 13:1
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
-Serenity Prayer

Links of Interest

This link page will be updated periodically.
The following links are worthy of a visit:

The Holy See

Catholic Resources/Magazines:
Catholic Exchange
Eternal Word Television Network
Ignatius Insight

Blogs of Distinction:
St. Blog's Parish Hall
Open Book, by Amy Welborn
Church of the Masses
Catholic and Enjoying It, by Mark Shea

Catholic Blogs with a Minnesota Connection:
Adoro Te Devote
Our Word and Welcome to it
Roamin' Roman
The Seventh Age
Stella Borealis
Veritatis Splendor
Viam Pacis
Weight of Glory
Young and Catholic

Other Useful Sites:
Decent Films

Sisters of Reparation to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus