Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Thoughts on the Weekend

Here are a couple thoughts on the most recent class weekend:

First off, it's amazing how much more meaningful it is to receive the Eucharist when you've just heard a lecture by Dr. Twellman about how the Eucharist itself is a present day foretaste of the unity we will experience with Christ in paradise. It also helps that Green Bay's St. Francis Xavier Cathedral has a large and beautiful depiction of Calvary above the altar. It really makes you feel like you are actually there, witnessing the crucifixion itself. The experience of walking up the aisle en route to communion is overpowering - Christ's gift of himself as the sacrificial lamb becomes more vividly apparent as you walk up, culminating with none other than the reception of that Eucharistic gift, which is His body, blood, soul, and divinity, and the source of our very life. It is the fulfillment of Christ's proclamation that "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51).

Second, we spent a lot of time in our Foundations of Catholic Spirituality course talking about conversion. Prior, we had talked about holiness, and how we were all to be seeking holiness, which, as all you blog-readers of course remember, is the "perfection of charity". Now, obviously none of us (especially myself!) has attained that perfection of charity yet - we're all sinners. So that's where conversion comes in. Conversion is the act of "turning away from" our sin. It's a conscious activity of purifying all attachment to sin from our lives. It's a tough job, I know, but all things are possible with Christ. There've been a lot of good nuggets of wisdom regarding conversion in the latest unit of our course, so I'll try to post a few of them as the month goes on.

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 31)

We all know well that the areas of misery and hunger on our globe could have been made fertile in a short time, if the gigantic investments for armaments at the service of war and destruction had been changed into investments for food at the service of life.

-Redemptor Hominis

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 30)

True ecumenical activity means openness, drawing closer, availability for dialogue, and a shared investigation of the truth in the full evangelical and Christian sense; but in no way does it or can it mean giving up or in any way diminishing the treasures of divine truth that the Church has constantly confessed and taught. To all who, for whatever motive, whoudl wish to dissuade the Church from seeking the universal unity of Christians the question must one again be put: Have we the right not to do it?

-Redemptor Hominis

Monday, August 29, 2005

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 29)

THE REDEEMER OF MAN, Jesus Christ, is the centre of the universe and of history.

-Redemptor Hominis


The director of the IPT, Dr. David Twellman, will be on EWTN's The Journey Home tonight, at 7:00 central. He has a great story. Don't miss it!
(And mom & dad, don't forget to tape it for me!!!)

In other news, I made it through another weekend. It was, as always, a phenomenal experience of growth and learning. A mini-retreat, really. I'll see if I can muster a few reflections later, when I have more time...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 26)

I know I'm posting this a day early, but tomorrow the ratrace begins again, with another trek to Green Bay for classes. As always, prayers are appreciated (especially for my Old Testament test on Sunday).
If the promotion of the self is understood in terms of absolute autonomy, people inevitably reach the point of rejecting one another. Everyone else is considered an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself.

-Evangelium Vitae

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 25)

We know that during her earthly pilgrimage the Church has suffered and will continue to suffer opposition and persecution. But the hope which sustains her is unshakable, just as the joy which flows from this hope is indestructible. In effect, the firm and enduring rock upon which she is founded is Jesus Christ, her Lord.

-Ut Unum Sint

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


With typical clarity and wit, Mark Shea has some good reflections on why we crazy Catholics seem to like relics of dead people so much.

I like his opening anecdote:
She then produced from her pocket a little round box the size of a watch. It had a glass lid and in it, cushioned on some sort of velvety stuff, was a little piece of white something or other.

I pondered it uncomprehendingly, trying to figure out if this was a microchip or something.

Finally, she announced triumphantly, "That's St. Elizabeth Ann Seton!"

I was, it dawned on me, a piece of bone.

I wish I could say my reaction was pious and reverent. But, proving my Northern European cultural roots, I found myself thinking "Ick!" and trying to find a way to hand St. Elizabeth back to my friend as quickly as possible. Relics, I thought to myself, are not my thing. Indeed, like most Americans, I was a bit creeped out by relics.
Intrigued? Get the rest of his article here.

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 24)

The unity of all divided humanity is the will of God. For this reason he sent his Son, so that by dying and rising for us he might bestow on us the Spirit of love.

-Ut Unum Sint

So, you want to become holy, huh?

If you're reading this right now, you've apparently read my first post on holiness, and decided, "Hey, that holiness stuff looks pretty neat! I want a piece of that action...!" - now what do you do?

Well, you've come to the right place. I'm paying big money right now to Ave Maria University, so that I can learn how to do just that. And if you're lucky, my feeble attempt today at regurgitating the weath of insight that's been thrown at me lately will be coherent enough for you to make some sense of it and use it for your edification.

The first principle to keep in mind is what we learn directly from Scripture. When asked which commandment was the greatest, Christ responded: "'you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30-31)

So that makes sense. If holiness is the "perfection of charity" (see the previous post), then it would make sense that the path to holiness would involve the practice of love. Yet these commands, while providing clear direction, are still somewhat vague in terms of giving tangible, practical advice.

Therefore, some distinctions are in order. Catholic theology has traditionally identified the means to sanctification as involving both precepts and counsels. Precepts are, in essence, the practical means of living out Christ's commandment to love, and are universally applicable to all. More on that later. The counsels are secondary in importance to the precepts, and involve ways in which we can strengthen our love for God and man by way of removing things from our lives which, while not inherently bad in and of themselves, could be distractions to our spiritual growth. The counsels are typically identified as: poverty, chastity, and obedience. While applicable to everybody, the practice of the counsels by their very nature will vary from person to person, based upon their vocation in life. Obviously one of Mother Theresa's Missionary Sisters of Charity will live out their lives in a different, and more stringent, way than a layman, who is married with children. Yet even that layman should live the counsels in his heart. For example, he may not be poor in the same way the nuns are, yet he should cultivate a detachment from the things he does own, and be generous with them. In that we he is still living out the counsel of poverty, albeit in a different way. For the Sister of Charity, her life which is lived devoid of any personal property (with the only exception being, I believe, her rosary), is a way for her to ensure that material things will not get in the way of her living out her vocation of service to the "poorest of the poor". The key factor in whether the counsels are efficacious is whether they are being lived according to one's vocation. It's not appropriate for a married man to try to live as simply as a nun - it will negatively affect his family, and his spiritual health. It's also not appropriate for a nun to live as a married man - it will likewise affect her work, and hurt her spiritual life.

Okay, now that we all are clear on how we can use the counsels to advance in our path towards holiness (and once we know our vocation in life, we then know which application of the counsels is appropriate for ourselves), we can focus on the means to holiness that are common to everyone: the precepts. There isn't a set list of the precepts in quite the same way as the counsels, in fact there are many. But they all have the same purpose: to increase our love of God, or of fellow man, or both. There are several main categories of the precepts, outlined here below.

The first precept is that of faith itself. As believers, when we give our assent of faith, we are ultimately responding in love to the dialogue which was begun by God himself. He gave us the revelation of his love for us, Jesus Christ, and our appropriate response to accept and reciprocate his love is to say "yes Lord". And even once we have pledged an initial manifesto of belief, it is still something that can continually be perfected, throughout a process lasting our whole lives. An appropriate prayer, no matter where one is in the spiritual life, is the same prayer issued in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9: "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!" The thing about faith is it is fundamentally an act of the will. While good "feelings" sometimes accompany our faith, they are not a constitutive element of it. Great saints (such as Mother Theresa) have given testimony to the fact that enormous dry spells often accompany us in our spiritual lives. Yet those very same saints attest to the redemptive power present when they muscle through those dry spells, and still faithfully assent to the Good News that is Jesus Christ, even when they don't necessarily "feel" that it is true. Now, the ways in which we increase our faith are many. Reading Scripture, meditating on Christ's life, and even the simple motion of making an act of the will to affirm our belief, all increase the faith that we do have. And by increasing our faith we are, in effect, assenting more to God's love for us, and therefore ever more loving him with all our "heart, soul, mind and strength".

Another precept is that of prayer. This one is pretty self-explanatory. By participating in various types of prayer (e.g. thanksgiving, petition, praise), we are uniquely entering into a dialogue with God himself, and, well, can only be expected to take on more of his own characteristics: i.e. the perfection of charity, or holiness. We can always remember that, when asked how to pray, our Lord gave the disciples the Lord's prayer. He wants us to use it!

Participation in the liturgy is another precept. Liturgy, which takes the form of the Mass, and the Liturgy of the Hours (or Divine Office) is, in essence, the prayer of the Church. While the prayers of all the individual members of the Church are efficacious, there is a special merit in the liturgy, which is how the Church "as a whole" prays, going above and beyond the simple sum of the prayers of all her believers. By participating in the liturgy, we grow in the love of God just as we do when we pray, though in a more unified manner with all believers.

The sacraments are another very important precept. The definition of a sacrament would be "a physical sign instituted by Christ through which God's grace is imparted to us." God's grace is, of course, his life that he shares with us (freely given, I might add - there was nothing we did to "earn" it, though it is up to us as to how fully we decide to "participate" in it). We recognize seven sacraments as being special conduits to confer God's grace upon us. As physical and spiritual beings, it is entirely appropriate that Christ would institute a physical sign to impart a spiritual reality. For example, Baptism uses the physical reality of the flowing water, and the words spoken: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" - to confer the grace upon us to wash away the Original Sin we inherited from Adam & Eve. By participating in the sacraments we thus participate in the transmission of God's grace, or life, into us, and since God is holy, it thus follows that the more we participate in his grace, we will also participate in holiness.

A final precept is that of the exercise of the virtues: Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Justice, Prudence, & Temperance. All of these derive from the Biblical teachings given by Christ showing us how to live our lives, especially the wisdom found in the Beatitudes. Living out, and perfecting, these attributes, is primarily how we go about living out "love for our neighbor". And as St. Paul taught us, "the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13). While a virtuous life occasionally involves giving of ourselves in a big way (such as giving our life for another), it typically manifests itself in little ways. By holding our tongue and being patient with our spouse, by muscling through a difficult task at work, by holding back on that extra piece of cake because that way everyone else will be able to have a piece, we steadily conform our temperament to what Christ desired of us, and we grow in love for God and for neighbor.

So there you have it. A sure-fire recipe for growth in holiness, or the perfection of charity. It's all about growing deeper in our love for God and for neighbor. And every one of us can go about that through abundant use of the precepts. The more the better. We can also utilize the right use of the counsels, based upon our state in life. All of these things can help us grow in holiness in this life, while placing us on the trajectory to the perfection of holiness that we will be able to experience in the next life, in paradise.

Well, that was a mouthful. You think I'm getting my tuition money's worth??

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Journey Home

In case you're interested...

One of my professors, Dr. David Twellman, will be on EWTN's program The Journey Home on Monday, August 29, at 7:00 pm Central.

What is holiness?

This rather loaded question was posed to us, with the requirement that we write an answer no more than one page in length. Yeah right - thousands of square miles of forest have already been cut down just for the books devoted to this very subject, and we're supposed to write an answer that is less than one page??? Geez - where do we even start?

Ah, the joys of graduate school.

Of course, now that my assignment's done, I can see why we were made to do it. It forced us to look at the question and boil it down to a succinct, logical answer, with precise definitions. And I learned a few things in the process.

I discovered the best definition of the term to come straight from John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation Christifidelis Laici, where he called holiness "the perfection of charity."

So there you have it. If someone on the street comes up to you and asks, "What is holiness?", you look them straight in the eye with a big smile on your face (because you actually know the correct answer!) and you say, "Why, I'm glad you asked! Holiness is the perfection of charity."

Of course, the likelihood that someone on the street would come up to you and say that is, well, better than the likelihood of, say, a walleye coming up to you on the street and saying that. But it's still not very likely.

So chances are pretty good you'll live the rest of your lives for the most part keeping this knowledge to yourself. Which is okay, too.

By now you're probably thinking, "Dan, I know you were supposed to write less than one page, but this one sentence answer business is a bit extreme. Can't you come up with a little more info on holiness than one teeny tiny sentence that involves a quote from the Pope?"

Why, I'm glad you asked! Holiness is the perfection of charity.
Oh, wait. I already told you that.

In truth, though, I did discover a few more things about holiness. Among them, that "perfection" and "holiness" are sometimes used interchangeably. Why is this? Well, calling something perfect is really saying that it has the fullness due to its nature. So in this sense of the term a cat is a "perfect" cat if it behaves most fully according to the way cats are supposed to behave (meowing, using the litter box instead of the sofa, etc.). And a car is a "perfect" car if it behaves most fully according to the way cars are supposed to behave (driving, not exploding in a blazing fireball, etc.).

We know from scripture that God is holy: "be holy for I am holy" (Leviticus 11:44). If God is holy, and perfection and holiness are interchangeable, then God can be said to be perfect as well.

"That's nice, Dan, but what does that mean?"

Hold on, I'm getting there.

If the perfection of something is due to its having the fullness of its nature, then the perfection of God is the fullness of His nature. And what is the fullness of His nature? Again we can look to scripture: "love one another, even as I have loved you" (John 13:34). God is LOVE. His love is so great that He, out of pure goodness, chose to create humankind. Furthermore, when we blew it in the Garden of Eden, He still chose to save us by sending His son to reveal that perfect love to us and to ransom us from our sin.

And there it is: God's essence is love, and so He can be said to be perfect, or holy, because He most fully embodies that love. Thus we're back to where we were with John Paul II: holiness is "the perfection of charity."

And now for my two cents: it's a good thing we've got a God who is holy. Can you imagine what life would be like if we had a deity that was less-than-perfect?

Now there is a little bit more to holiness than that. The fact is, as Vatican II taught, Holiness ain't just for God. Every single one of us, no matter what our occupation in life, is called to holiness. "Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity" (Lumen Gentium, 40) Remember, "the perfection of charity" = "holiness". Of course, all holiness comes from God, who is its source. But this sense of the term indicates that we humans, too, can participate in God's holiness. Ultimately that's what heaven is: perfectly loving, and being loved by, God. But even on this earth we can advance on the path to holiness.

If I have time tomorrow, I will offer a few thoughts on how exactly we do just that.

I did it!

Here they are: the 46 books of the Old Testament, by memory (honest!):
1 Samuel
2 Samuel
1 Kings
2 Kings
1 Chronicles
2 Chronicles
Song of Solomon
The Wisdom of Solomon
1 Maccabees
2 Maccabees

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 23)

The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness.

-Rosarium Virginis Mariae

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Gospel of John, Chapter 6

At my weekly holy hour, I've lately been reading Bishop Fulton Sheen's book, Life of Christ. The good Bishop's preaching skills are phenomenal.

Here's an extended passage I read today, where he gave the best explanation I've seen yet on the meaning of John chapter 6. To refresh your memory, this is where Christ multiplied the 5 loaves and 2 fishes to feed the crowd, and the next day the crowd had another encounter with Him. Here's Bishop Sheen's reflection on that second day.
They wanted some further proof that the Father had authorized Him; He gave bread, yes, but it was not stupendous enough. After all, had not Moses given bread from heaven? Their argument was: what proof had they that He was greater than Moses? Thus, they minimized the miracle of the day before, by comparing Him to Moses, and the bread He gave to the manna of the desert. Our Lord had fed the multitude only once, and Moses had fed them for forty years. In the desert the people always called bread "manna," meaning "What is it?" But on one occasion, when they despised the manna, they had called it "light bread." So they now made light of this gift. Our Lord took up the challenge; He said that the manna that they had received from Moses was not Heavenly Bread, nor had it come from heaven; furthermore, it nourished only one nation for a brief space of time. More important still, it was not Moses who gave the manna; it was His Father; finally, the Bread which He would give would nourish unto life everlasting. When He told them that the true Bread came down from heave, they asked:
Give us this bread now and always.

He answered:
I am the bread of life. John 6:35

This was the third time that Our Blessed Lord used an instance from the Old Testament to symbolize Himself. The first was when He likened Himself to the ladder that Jacob saw, thus revealing Himself as a Mediator between heaven and earth. In His discourse with Nicodemus, He compared Himself to the brazen serpent, a healer of the sin-stricken and poisoned world. Now He referred to the manna of the desert, and claimed that He was the true Bread of which the manna had been only the prefigurement. He Who would say:

I am the light of the world. John 8:12
I am the door of the sheepfold. John 10:7-9
I am the good shepherd. John 10:11-14
I am the resurrection and I am life. John 11:25
I am the real vine. John 11:25

now called himself three times:

I am the bread of life. John 6:35,41,48,51

Once again, He makes the shadow of the Cross appear. Bread must be broken; and He Who had come from God must be a sacrificial Victim that men might truly feed on Him. Hence, it would be a Bread that would result from the voluntary offering of His own flesh to rescue the world from the slavery of sin unto the newness of life.

How can this man give us his flesh to eat? they said. Jesus replied, In truth, in very truth I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you can have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood possesses eternal life. John 6:52-54

He not only pictured Himself as One Who had come down from heaven but as One Who had come down to give Himself, or to die. It would only be in the slain Christ that they would come to understand the glory of a Bread that nourishes unto eternity. He was here referring to His death; for the word "giving" expressed the sacrificial act. The Flesh and Blood of the Incarnate Son of God, which would be severed in death, would become the source of everlasting life. When He said, "My Flesh," He meant His human nature, as "The Word became Flesh" meant that God the Word or the Son assumed to Himself a human nature. But it was only because that human nature would be linked to a Divine Personality for all eternity that He could give eternal life to those who received it. And when He said that He would give that for the life of the world, the Greek word used meant "all mankind."

His words became more poignant because this was the season of the Passover. Though the Jews looked on blood in an awesome manner, they were leading their lambs at that time to Jerusalem, where blood would be sprinkled to the four directions of the earth. The strangeness of the utterance about giving His Body and Blood diminished against the background of the Passover; He meant that the shadow of the animal lamb was passing, and that its place was being taken by the true Lamb of God. As they had communion with the flesh and blood of the Paschal Lamb, so they would now have communion with the Flesh and Blood of the true Lamb of God. He, Who was born in Bethlehem, the "House of Bread" and was laid in a manger, a place of food for lower animals, would now be to men, so inferior to Him, their Break of Life. Everything in nature has to have communion in order to life; and through it what is lower is transformed into what is higher: chemical into plants, plants into animals, animals into man. And man? Should he not be elevated through communion with Him Who "came down" from heaven to make man a partaker of the Divine nature? As a Mediator between God and man, He said that, as He lived by the Father, so they would live by Him:

As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me shall live because of me. John 6:58

How carnal was the eating of the manna, and how spiritual was the eating of the flesh of Christ! It was a far more intimate living by Him than a baby's living by the nourishment supplied by the mother. Every mother to every child at her breast can say, "Eat, this is my body; this is my blood." But actually the comparison ends there; for in the mother-child relationship, both are on the same level. In the Christ-human relationship, the difference is that of God and man, heaven and earth. Furthermore, no mother ever has to die and take on a more glorious existence in her human nature before she can be the nourishment of her offspring. But Our Lord said that He would to "give" His life, before He would be the Bread of Life to believers. The plants which nourish animals do not live on another planet; the animals which nourish man do not live in another world. If Christ then was to be the "Life of the World," He must be tabernacled among men as Emmanuel or "God with us," supplying a life for the soul as earthly bread is the life of the body.

But the mind of His hearers rose no higher than the physical, as they asked:

How can this man give us his flesh to eat? John 6:52

It was madness for any man to offer his flesh to eat. But they were not left long in the dark as Our Lord corrected them, saying that not a mere man, but "the Son of Man" would give it. As usual, that title referred to the expiatory sacrifice He would offer. Not the dead Christ would believers feed upon, but the Glorified Christ in Heaven Who died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. The mere eating of the flesh and blood of a man would profit nothing; but the glorified Flesh and Blood of the Son of Man would profit unto life everlasting. As man died spiritually by physically eating in the Garden of Eden, so he would live again spiritually through eating the fruit of the Tree of Life.

Christ's words were too literal, and He cleared up too many false interpretations, for any of His hearers to claim that the Eucharist (or Body and Blood He would give) was a mere type or symbol, or that its effects depended upon the subjective dispositions of the receiver. It was Our Lord's method whenever anyone misunderstood what He said to correct the misunderstanding, as He did when Nicodemus thought "born again" meant re-ntering his mother's womb. But, whenever anyone correctly understood what He said, but found fault with it, He repeated what He said. And in this discourse, Our Lord repeated five times what He had said about His Body and Blood. The full meaning of these words did not become evident until the night before He died. In His last will and testament, He left that which on dying no other man has ever been able to leave, namely, His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, for the life of the world.

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 22)

The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium.

-Rosarium Virginis Mariae

More Words of Wisdom

Just noticed another great tidbit from Pope Benedict's homily:
It is good that today, in many cultures, Sunday is a free day, and is often combined with Saturday so as to constitute a “week-end” of free time. Yet this free time is empty if God is not present. Dear friends! Sometimes, our initial impression is that having to include time for Mass on a Sunday is rather inconvenient. But if you make the effort, you will realize that this is what gives a proper focus to your free time.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

1.1 million...

...was apparently the final tally for the # of attendees at the concluding Mass for World Youth Day. By all accounts it was a very successful event (albeit with some logistical snafus). We can give thanks that many youth found it to be a very edifying time - lines were long for the sacrament of reconciliation as well as for entry into the Eucharistic adoration chapels.

Pope Benedict had some excellent reflections in his homily. An excerpt:
Let us return once more to the Last Supper. The new element to emerge here was the deeper meaning given to Israel’s ancient prayer of blessing, which from that point on became the word of transformation, enabling us to participate in the “hour” of Christ. Jesus did not instruct us to repeat the Passover meal, which in any event, given that it is an anniversary, is not repeatable at will. He instructed us to enter into his “hour”. We enter into it through the sacred power of the words of consecration – a transformation brought about through the prayer of praise which places us in continuity with Israel and the whole of salvation history, and at the same time ushers in the new, to which the older prayer at its deepest level was pointing. The new prayer – which the Church calls the “Eucharistic Prayer” – brings the Eucharist into being.
And Tim Drake has been doing a wonderful job of reporting from the ground. Check out his site if you haven't already!

Friday, August 19, 2005

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 19)

Guarding the deposit of faith is the mission which the Lord has entrusted to his Church and which she fulfils in every age.

-Fidei Depositum

Thursday, August 18, 2005

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 18)

God is love and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in His own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.

-Familiaris Consortio

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 17)

And how can we fail to consider the violence against life done to millions of human beings, especially children, who are forced into poverty, malnutrition and hunger because of an unjust distribution of resources between peoples and between social classes? And what of the violence inherent not only in wars as such but in the scandalous arms trade, which spawns the many armed conflicts which stain our world with blood? What of the spreading of death caused by reckless tampering with the world's ecological balance, by the criminal spread of drugs, or by the promotion of certain kinds of sexual activity which, besides being morally unacceptable, also involve grave risks to life? It is impossible to catalogue completely the vast array of threats to human life, so many are the forms, whether explicit or hidden, in which they appear today!

-Evangelium Vitae

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 16)

It is frequently asserted that contraception, if made safe and available to all, is the most effective remedy against abortion. The Catholic Church is then accused of actually promoting abortion, because she obstinately continues to teach the moral unlawfulness of contraception. When looked at carefully, this objection is clearly unfounded. It may be that many people use contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation of abortion. But the negative values inherent in the "contraceptive mentality"-which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act-are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived.

-Evangelium Vitae

Monday, August 15, 2005

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 15 - Feast of the Assumption)

Mary is present in the Church as the Mother of Christ, and at the same time as that Mother whom Christ, in the mystery of the Redemption, gave to humanity in the person of the Apostle John. Thus, in her new motherhood in the Spirit, Mary embraces each and every one in the Church, and embraces each and every one through the Church.

-Redemptoris Mater

Sunday, August 14, 2005

WYD Logo

Via Amy Welborn's site, I found a link which explains the symbolism behind the World Youth Day Logo.
For starters:
The most important moment in the World Youth Day is the encounter with Christ, represented by the cross that dominates the Logo at its very centre. It is Christ's presence that characterises this event. The colour red symbolises the love, the passion and the pain. It indicates God's love and Jesus' death on the Cross, but reminds one of the pain present in our lives and all over the world. The cross is the main symbol of Christian hope and of redemption in Jesus Christ, which is greater than any pain.
For the rest of the explanation, go here.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Speaking of WYD

It's going to be the big news this week. I'm sure that plenty of MSM (mainstream media) outlets will have their reporters on site.

But for better coverage, I highly recommend:

And for an "insider's" view, here are a couple options from bloggers who will be there:

  • Young and Catholic (by National Catholic Register writer Tim Drake)
  • Roamin' Roman, a UST Catholic Studies student who is spending a year abroad in Rome, and will be attending WYD.

Getting Ready for World Youth Day

Cologne, Germany is getting ready for an influx of visitors this week to World Youth Day. Preparations are nearly finished - even the porta-potties have arrived...

Friday, August 12, 2005

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Looks good! Although I'm a little nervous with the name "Disney" attached to it - I hope they stay true to the books, and don't take any artistic license...
(Warning: don't go to the website unless you have a high-speed 'net connection...)

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 12)

Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15) the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree.

-Evangelium Vitae

Thursday, August 11, 2005

John Paul II's humanism

In some of my class readings, I came across this very apt synopsis of the outlook prior to Vatican Council II, and the view that Bishop Karol Wojtyla (whom we all know and love as John Paul II) had in regard to the questions the council should address:
In June 1959, the Ante-Preparatory Commission established by John XXIII had written to all the world's Catholic bishops, superiors of men's religious orders, and theological faculties, asking their suggestions for the Council's agenda. Many bishops submitted outlines of internal Church matters they wanted to discuss. Bishop Karol Wojtyla sent the commissioners an essay - the work of a thinker, not a canon lawyer. Rather than beginning with what the Church needed to do to reform its own house, he adopted a quite different starting point. What, he asked, is the human condition today? What do the men and women of this age expect to hear from the Church?

The crucial issue of the times, he suggested, was the human person: a unique being, who lived in a material world but had intense spiritual longings, a mystery to himself and to others, a creature whose dignity emerged from an interior life imprinted with the image and likeness of God. The world wanted to hear what the Church had to say about the human person and the human condition, particularly in light of other proposals - "scientific, positivist, dialectical" - that imagined themselves humanistic and presented themselves as roads to liberation. At the end of 2,000 years of Christian history, the world had a question to put to the Church: What was Christian humanism and how was it different from the sundry other humanisms on offer in late modernity? What was the Church's answer to modernity's widespread "despair [about] any and all human existence"?

The crisis of humanism at the midpoint of a century that prided itself on its humanism should be the organizing framework for the Council's deliberations, Bishop Wojtyla proposed. The Church did not exist for itself. The Church existed for the salvation of a world in which the promise of the world's humanization through material means had led, time and again, to dehumanization and degradation.
What was singular and, to use an abused term in its proper sense, prophetic about Wojtyla's proposal was its insistence that the question of a humanism adequate to the aspirations of the men and women of the age had to be the epicenter of the Council's concerns. There would be much talk before, during, and after the Council about "reading the signs of the times." Here was a thirty-nine-year-old bishop who, having done precisely that, had put his finger on the deepest wound of his century so that it could be healed by a more compelling proclamation of the Gospel.

-George Weigel, Witness to Hope. The Biography of Pope John Paul II (New York: Cliff Street Books, HarperCollins, 1999), 158-160
While reading the above passage, something clicked in my mind: John Paul II's absolute favorite passage (which he quoted all the time) from Vatican II is in bold below:
For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.
-Gaudium et Spes, 22

There's a lot that can be reflected upon here. This is exactly the humanism that Karol Wojtyla was hoping would be the fruit of the council, and which ultimately was. He was prophetic, for sure.

Once he became Pope, he kept referring back to this point, so as to drive it further home. It is by meditating upon our Savior, Jesus Christ, that we not only learn about God, but we truly learn more about ourselves, and what it means to be human. We learn that God loves us, so much so that He sent His only Son to reveal His love for us and to die for us. And that the ultimate destiny to which God calls us is heaven, where we will be in communion with God forever. This is the source of the innate human dignity which we all have, and which is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

If that isn't a beautiful insight, I don't know what is.
John Paul the Great, indeed!

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 11)

Those who share in Christ's sufferings have before their eyes the Paschal Mystery of the Cross and Resurrection, in which Christ descends, in a first phase, to the ultimate limits of human weakness and impotence: indeed, he dies nailed to the Cross. But if at the same time in this weakness there is accomplished his lifting up, confirmed by the power of the Resurrection, then this means that the weaknesses of all human sufferings are capable of being infused with the same power of God manifested in Christ's Cross.

-Salvifici Doloris

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

What is an Ecumenical Council?

In the history of the Church there have been 21 Ecumenical Councils. Starting with the Council of Nicea in 325, and with the most recent being Vatican Council II in 1965, Ecumenical Councils have been occasions for bishops from around the world to come together to discuss important issues relating to the faith. Typically, councils have been convoked as a response to a doctrinal crisis or other matter needing attention (the exception being Vatican II, which, as a "pastoral" council, was intended to be a reflection on how the Church could better preach the Gospel). Many councils have definitively settled issues by setting forth precise doctrinal definitions (see this post for examples). The key elements in such a council are: 1) a calling of the council, 2) the deliberation by gathered bishops, and 3) a definition of some subject and promulgation of that definition.

The authority behind the teachings of an Ecumenical Council stems directly from the authority of the Pope himself, and the bishops gathered with him. (While the Pope has not been present at every council, he has always assented to the decrees promulgated by them.) In a particular way as well, the bishops participate in the decisions of the council and in exercising unity with each other and with him. Here is what Vatican II's Lumen Gentium had to say regarding this:
Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter's successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith.
But the key element at work in an Ecumenical Council is none other than that of the Holy Spirit. Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would be with the Church until the end of time. John Paul II teaches us the following in Dominum et Vivificantem:
The era of the Church began with the "coming," that is to say with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, together with Mary, the Lord's Mother. The time of the Church began at the moment when the promises and predictions that so explicitly referred to the Counselor, the Spirit of truth, began to be fulfilled in complete power and clarity upon the Apostles, thus determining the birth of the Church. The Acts of the Apostles speak of this at length and in many passages, which state that in the mind of the first community, whose convictions Luke expresses, the Holy Spirit assumed the invisible-but in a certain way "perceptible"-guidance of those who after the departure of the Lord Jesus felt profoundly that they had been left orphans. With the coming of the Spirit they felt capable of fulfilling the mission entrusted to them. They felt full of strength. It is precisely this that the Holy Spirit worked in them and this is continually at work in the Church, through their successors. For the grace of the Holy Spirit which the Apostles gave to their collaborators through the imposition of hands continues to be transmitted in Episcopal Ordination. The bishops in turn by the Sacrament of Orders render the sacred ministers sharers in this spiritual gift and, through the Sacrament of Confirmation, ensure that all who are reborn of water and the Holy Spirit are strengthened by this gift. And thus, in a certain way, the grace of Pentecost is perpetuated in the Church.
We can learn much about the action of the Holy Spirit in a council by studying the Acts of the Apostles chapter 15 - sometimes referred to as the "Council of Jerusalem". Although this was a "local" council (being presided over by James, a local bishop, rather than Peter, the first Pope) there is a great deal of similarity between this action and the action of a typical Ecumenical Council.

First, there is the calling. In Acts 15, the new community of Christians experiences its first controversy since Jesus' ascension into heaven. The dispute is over the necessity for baptized Gentiles to also undergo Jewish ceremonial initiation as well, specifically circumcision. Since there was "no small dissension and debate,... Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question" (Acts 15:2). The apostles were thus called together.

Second, there is the deliberation by gathered bishops. The book of Acts records: "The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them..." (Acts 15:6-7).

Finally, there is a definition and promulgation. After the deliberations, James is recorded as saying "Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood." (Acts 15:19-20). He is expressing his judgment that Gentiles do not need to be circumcised. Everyone present having agreed with this judgment, the decree is then promulgated: "They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, with the following letter:" (Acts 15:22-23)

Now, the key to the early Church's understanding of this event is found in the letter that Barsabbas and Silas carried. The formula used in the letter is "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (Acts 15:28). The apostles clearly saw that the Holy Spirit, whom Christ promised would always be with them, was guiding them along, and was with them in their deliberations. What, to the outside, may have appeared as just a group of men gathering for a synod, was, on another level, the Divine speaking through His chosen human agents, the apostles, to whom Christ had given teaching authority.

In the same way, the Holy Spirit can be seen at work, even today, in the Church when the bishops gather together with the Bishop of Rome to discuss matters of faith. In particular, the decrees of each one of the 21 Ecumenical Councils have been set forth under the (implicit, if not explicit) understanding "It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us". Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would always be with the Church, and so we can accept with full confidence the promulgations of the Ecumenical Councils as being reflections and teachings which are inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is the reality that John Paul II aptly captured in his summary from the above quote from Dominum et Vivificantem: "the grace of Pentecost is perpetuated in the Church."

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 10)

Worship Christ: He is the Rock on which to build your future and a world of greater justice and solidarity. Jesus is the Prince of peace: the source of forgiveness and reconciliation, who can make brothers and sisters of all the members of the human family.

-Message composed to the Youth of the World on the occasion of World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany. (This message was composed prior to his death; and will undoubtedly be read next week at WYD.)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 9)

We come to a full sense of the dignity of the lay faithful if we consider the prime and fundamental vocation that the Father assigns to each of them in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit: the vocation to holiness, that is, the perfection of charity. Holiness is the greatest testimony of the dignity conferred on a disciple of Christ.

-Christifidelis Laici

Monday, August 08, 2005

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 8)

Justice will never be attained unless people see in the poor person who is asking for help in order to survive not an annoyance or a burden but an opportunity for showing kindness and a chance for greater enrichment.
-Centissimus Annus

Friday, August 05, 2005

More reasons why I love Pope Benedict

Courtesy Amy Welborn is this snippet which shows his ability to inspire people towards further conversion and holiness.

My favorite quote, about the courses he taught while at the University of Munster: "After every lecture one wanted to go into a church and pray."

John Paul II Quote of the Day (Aug. 5)

God of our fathers,
you chose Abraham and his descendants
to bring your Name to the Nations:
we are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those
who in the course of history
have caused these children of yours to suffer,
and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves
to genuine brotherhood
with the people of the Covenant.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

-Prayer of the Holy Father at the Western Wall, Sunday, March 26, 2000

The Old Testament Canon

Open your bible to the Index page. (Or if you're Jewish, look at your copy of the Tanakh.)

How many books does the Old Testament (Tanakh) have?

Chances are, if you're Catholic, the bible in your hand has 46.
If you're Protestant or Jewish, you're looking at 39.

Hmmm. Ever wonder why the difference?

We just learned a little of the history behind this. Here's the scoop:

At the time of Christ, there were two versions of the Jewish scriptures: one was in Hebrew (with small portions in Aramaic), and the other was in Greek. The Hebrew version was used by those living in and around Jerusalem. The Greek version (called the Septuagint) was more common among Jews who were scattered throughout the Mediterranean, where Greek was the prevailing language. The Septuagint was a translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek (and was so named because of a legend about 70 scribes who independently translated the scriptures under God's command, and all arrived at the exact same translation). The Septuagint, however, also had 7 more books (Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Baruch, 1 & 2 Maccabees) as well as a few more passages in Daniel and Esther. Some of these extra books are known to have first been available in Hebrew; some not. In either case, they were all well-established with Greek-speaking Jews.

So at the time, there was no settled "canon", or list, of the "official" scriptures. By the end of the first century, however, sometime after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Jewish community started moving in the direction of adopting only the Hebrew scriptures as the "official" version. That is why, to this day, the Tanakh only contains the 39 Hebrew writings.

In Christendom, the matter wasn't settled so soon. As Christianity spread throughout the Greek-speaking world, it was only natural that most Christians accepted the Septuagint. Yet the matter was never settled universally, and did vary among localities and bishops. In the beginning of the 4th century, St. Athanasius did not include the seven books in his list of inspired scripture. Later that same century, when St. Jerome translated the scriptures into Latin, he included them, but cautioned against developing doctrine from them. St. Augustine, however, saw the matter differently, and put them on equal footing. At any rate, by the end of the 4th century, the matter was beginning to be settled, as all 46 books of the Septuagint were listed among the inspired scriptures at the Council of Hippo in 393, and the Councils of Carthage which occasioned in 397 and 417.

While those African councils were only "local" councils, and not binding upon the universal church, they do seem to have in practice settled the matter, as further challenges to the Septuagint ceased, and Jerome's latin translation became the common book of scripture.

Fast forward to the Protestant Reformation, when Christendom was splintering. Doctrinal controversy abounded. The reformers, disagreeing with some doctrines taught by Rome, also disagreed with the content of the biblical canon. They desired to return to what they viewed as the more "pure" version of scripture. To support their position, they noted (correctly) that there had been voices of dissent in the early church over which scriptures were authentic. Further reason for their position (although in fairness we shouldn't place too much emphasis on this speculative point) may have been the fact that some of the disputed books in the Septuagint lent more sympathetic support to Catholic doctrines with which the reformers disagreed. (e.g.: A portion in Maccabees illustrating the efficacy of prayer for the dead was, and is, often cited by the Catholic church as evidence supporting the doctrine of Purgatory.)

In an effort to halt the developing schism, the Catholic church convened the Council of Trent in 1545. Although it clearly did not succeed in preventing the schism, it was enormously successful in reigning in various corruptions of the day and in boldly reaffirming Catholic doctrine, ultimately ushering in a spiritual rennaissance in the Catholic church. It also weighed in on the subject of the scriptural canon. Noting that, with only a few exceptions, the Septuagint had been the predominantly accepted canon by Christians throughout the 1500+ years of Christianity (including the writers of the New Testament), and had even been affirmed by the African local councils, all 46 books could thus be considered to be authentically inspired. The Council then established St. Jerome's 4th century latin translation (known as the Vulgate), which included the Septuagint, as the official canon of Scripture. As this was an Ecumenical council (as opposed to a "local" council), this thus settled the matter once and for all throughout the entire Catholic church.

So that is why, today, Protestant bibles (and Jewish scriptures) do not include 7 Old Testament books that are found in the Catholic bible. For Protestants, these books are labeled "Apocryphal" ("Hidden") writings (which amounts to saying "non-inspired"), whereas for Catholics, they are labeled "Deuterocanonical" ("Second Canon"), to be considered on par with the rest of the books of the Old Testament.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 4)

Why should we have no fear? Because man has been redeemed by God. When pronouncing these words in St. Peter's Square, I already knew that my first encyclical and my entire papacy would be tied to the truth of the Redemption. In the Redemption we find the most profound basis for the words "Be not afraid!": "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3:16).

-Crossing the Threshold of Hope

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 3)

For man, the right to life is the fundamental right. And yet, a part of contemporary culture has wanted to deny that right, turning it into an "uncomfortable" right, one that has to be defended. But there is no other right that so closely affects the very existence of the person! The right to life means the right to be born and then continue to live until one's natural end: "As long as I live, I have the right to live."

-Crossing the Threshold of Hope

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 2)

Gospel means "good news," and the Good News is always an invitation to joy. What is the Gospel? It is a grand affirmation of the world and of man, because it is the revelation of the truth about God. God is the primary source of joy and hope for man. This is the God whom Christ revealed: God who is Creator and Father; God who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life"(Jn 3:16).

-Crossing the Threshold of Hope

Monday, August 01, 2005

John Paul II quote of the day (Aug. 1)

What is prayer? It is commonly held to be a conversation. In a conversation there are always an "I" and a "thou" or "you." In this case the "Thou" is with a capital T. If at first the "I" seems to be the most important element in prayer, prayer teaches that the situation is actually different. The "Thou" is more important, because our prayer begins with God.

-Crossing the Threshold of Hope

The O.T.

Can you list, from memory, all 46 books of the Old Testament?


Neither can I.

In a month, however, I had better be able to do so. The first question on the upcoming Old Testament quiz will require us to list all of the books.

In order.

Spelled correctly.

(Any show-offs out there are welcome to try this exercise in the comment box. But no cheating!)