Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Heresy

There is a scene from A Man for All Seasons, the play and film about the life and death of St. Thomas More, that stands out in my mind. Roper, who has been courting More’s daughter, asks More for her hand in marriage, and More replies, “Roper, the answer is ‘no.’ And will be ‘no’ so long as you’re a heretic.” Roper says to More, “That’s a word I don’t like, Sir Thomas.” Now comes the line from More that really nails it for me, “It’s not a likeable word. It’s not a likeable thing.”

Heresy is not the same thing as apostasy or schism. Heresy is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “the obstinate denial after Baptism of a truth which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith.” Apostasy, on the other hand, is “the total repudiation of the Christian faith.” Schism is “refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff, or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” A heretic, therefore, is a Christian who refuses to believe an infallible doctrine taught by the Church, even after his error has been pointed out to him.

Recently, a friend of mine who is taking classes for the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program with the intention of continuing to the diaconate formation program came to our Saturday morning men’s group and announced that one of his instructors had called him a heretic. It wasn’t just him that she called a heretic, it was the whole class. I had had this instructor when I took the LPMP classes, and she had called all of us heretics as well. She calls every class heretical during this particular lesson.

The point of contention was the dual nature of Christ. It took the Church centuries and several councils to hammer out the doctrine. The heresies of Arianism (one person with one non-divine nature) and Nestorianism (two persons with two natures) arose and had to be corrected. Numerous creeds have been formulated and approved by ecumenical councils of the Church affirming that Jesus Christ was both god and man. In him is found one person with two natures. This instructor typically asks the class who believes that Jesus is God. When the hands go up, she declares that they are heretics. Then she asks who believes that Jesus is (or was) man. When the hands again go up, she again declares that the whole class is full of heretics. She then attempts to convince the class that the formula “god and man” is incorrect and the only acceptable way to formulate the nature of Christ is with the hyphenated “god-man.” She might have used “god-human,” I can’t remember for sure.

I never liked the hyphen. To me, it connotes some kind of hybridization, with the implication that in Jesus there are not two natures, but one nature that is a combination of the two. The god-man is like a demigod: more than human, but less than full god. That idea has been condemned by the Church and declared anathema. In other words, you can’t hold that belief and remain a member of the Church. My friend went on to relate that his entire class had decided that their instructor’s formulation was anathema.

We have been warned about heresy. I won’t go into the details here, but the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for heresy has a good roundup of statements from scripture and the fathers of the Church. I’ve been listening this week to The Great Heresies by Fr. Charles Connor. It’s a bit awe-inspiring to ponder all of the ways in which the Church could have gone astray and some tried to steer the Church astray. Indeed, in some cases, such as Arianism, it seemed that most of the church had gone astray before the madness was corrected.

Aside from the rare instance cited above, you don’t hear much about heresy these days. It is still not a likeable word or thing, and most of us want to be liked. The Second Vatican Council, I am told, was not a doctrinal council (nevertheless, the four constitutions produced by the council are doctrinal documents). There were no anathemas. It was not called to combat a persistent heresy so much as to complete the unfinished business of The First Vatican Council. During the course of the council, the culture of the world changed. The Church doesn’t corner well, so when the world zigged, the Church lost it’s footing as it tried desperately to zag, and some who weren’t wearing their seatbelts nearly flew out the window.

It’s been a long time since the last time the Church issued an anathema. Unless the eschaton is immanent (maybe especially if the eschaton is immanent), we might be able to use a few now, to protect the faithful from heresies that refuse to go away and the multiplying unidentified heresies that confuse those who want to be orthodox and provide cover to those who don’t care about orthodoxy, but just want to pick what they like from the buffet.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

You Cuss, Why Can't I?

Dear Daughter,

I was not happy that you took a quiz to discover your cuss word, then posted the result to your Facebook wall for all the world (or all your friends, they seem to be the same thing) to see. I noted my displeasure and, after a couple of days, you came back to me with a question: You cuss, so why can’t I? Since you ask, I will give you an answer, and I’m posting it to your wall for all the world to see.

  1. I try not to cuss. Sometimes I fail. That’s part of being human.

  2. When I do cuss (and by your own admission, it’s not often), it’s because my emotion overrides my reason. That’s not a good thing.

  3. Cussing diminishes me as a person and tarnishes my character. I don’t want that for you. I want you to be better than I am. I want you to aspire to be better than you are.

  4. Overuse of cuss words diminishes their impact. Since I don’t use them often, you know that when I do use them, my top has been blown.

  5. Frequent use of vulgarities reveals a fundamental character flaw.

  6. You’ll stand out more by finding creative ways to express your emotions than by falling back upon the basest words in the human vocabulary.

Whether you think it’s fair or not, people will judge you by the words you use. We all have negative traits to our characters. Even me. I hope that those aren’t the ones that you admire and choose to emulate.

You’ve called me to account on this one, and I promise that I’ll try to do better.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Maccabees!

Protestants don't know what they're missing! Eleazar is my hero.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blog On, Dude!

It’s been a year and a day since I published (that doesn’t seem like the right word) my first blog post.

I’ll pause here while the sound of the one clapping hand slowly fades.

My reasons for blogging were laid out in that first post. I wanted to improve my writing. Frankly, I don’t think that I’ve accomplished that goal. I remain intellectually lazy, with disjointed thoughts that I have trouble organizing into a coherent thread of words.

On the other hand, committing my stray thoughts to text has forced me to focus those thoughts at least a little, even if not in as disciplined a way as I would like. Most of my posts are original reflections or items that I come across tat are of particular interest to me. I don’t have the time or the energy to be a portal site for Catholic news. I try not to be negative, but sometimes I just have to get something off of my chest.

Because Catholicism is such a huge part of who I am, I openly identify myself as a Catholic blogger. I have since discovered that there is a large and diverse on-line community of self-identified Catholic bloggers. It’s an unregulated field, and those who dip their ladle into the well of the Catholic blogosphere (or any part of the broader blogosphere) need to be aware of that. Not all blogs are equal. Some are operated by recognized experts with well-known organizations or publications. Other, like me, are flying by the seat of their parts. (Writing that clich├ęd phrase makes me wonder just what it means, exactly – but since I’m unregulated and unedited, I’ll just plow right ahead, hoping that I’m not headed toward a cliff.)

We apparently have not gone unnoticed by the Holy See. At the end of October, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications met for four days, and the Catholic blogosphere was a topic of conversation. There is come concern that bloggers claiming to represent the Catholic Church could present error as truth or opinion as doctrine. (The linked article doesn’t say that, but that would be one of my concerns.) Even when factually correct, the information provided by individual bloggers might be presented without charity. The anger and lack of respect that is in evidence on some blogs can be counterproductive in evangelizing the world through electronic media.

I try, on my blog, to be as charitable and positive as I can be, but I do occasionally level criticism when I think it is deserved. Even then, I hope that I do so in a respectful manner. When I do start to get a little negative, my dear wife kindly points it out to me.

Some bloggers choose to assume a pseudonym for their on-line presence. I decided early on to blog under my own name. These are my opinions. I don’t want to post anything that I am not willing to own. If I do post something stupid or wrong, then I want somebody to correct me. I don’t get many comments, but I know from bloggers who do get comments that criticism is much better received if it is not anonymous. Further, by identifying myself and my background to any readers who might stumble onto this site, I fulfill my duty to inform them that I have no authority whatsoever.

Last month, Catholic Answers Live featured an hour to The Rise of the Catholic Blogosphere. Jeff Miller, who blogs at The Curt Jester, was the guest for a discussion of Catholic blogs. The upshot of the program is that the number of Catholic bloggers is exploding – there seem to be more and more every year.

Please join me in raising a bottle of beer (I prefer Amber Bock) to my first year of blogging. May the second year bear a higher quality of fruit than the first.

Protecting Children

The evil that men do often has consequences that nobody could have predicted. All too often, these consequences are not the direct result of the evil deed itself, but of the reaction to that deed. In an effort to make sure that it doesn’t happen again, we institute policies that create a whole new set of problems.

I volunteer as an adult mentor in an apostolate for boys. All such volunteers and all parish staff members are required to undergo training. In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, we have to read a policy book and view a video that, together, are called the Decree on Child Protection. The Decree outlines what we can and cannot (mostly cannot) do with youth. It is designed to protect young people from predatory adults, and most of the proscriptions are common-sense. However, at least twice, we have had to undergo an additional round of training after the Decree was revised. Most recently, the revisions consisted of the addition of explicit language to the lists of forbidden behaviors. We were told that some defense attorneys were actually arguing that the prohibitions in the Decree were too vague – their clients couldn’t possibly have known that they couldn’t touch certain areas of a child’s body unless those specific body parts were specifically named in the Decree. So now it does. Does anyone still wonder why lawyers are among the most despised professionals in the country?

In addition to the Decree training, I had to be finger-printed and subjected to a background investigation. On top of what the Archdiocese requires, all volunteers in this particular apostolate also undergo a separate background check every year and are required to complete an on-line child protection training module.

The effect of all this training should be some very safe kids; however, this is where the unintended consequences start creeping in. Any apostolate (or ministry, if you prefer the term) to children is going to require a large pool of volunteers. The new volunteer requirements guarantee that eligible volunteers will be harder to get, and those who complete the training will be paranoid about violating the smallest requirement of the Decree. Evangelical outreach to children will suffer in that programs unable to cajole enough people into volunteering will never even get of the ground, and those who find the Decree to be too burdensome might choose to take their programs underground, neither of which is in the best interest of the youth.

Perhaps an example from my own experience can better illustrate the point that I’m trying to make.

In our apostolate, we segregate the boys into three different groups based on age. Each meeting has two distinct parts – a sports phase (typically dodge-ball or similar games) and a spiritual formation phase (in which the boys might hear a story about a saint, prepare and act out skits illustrating virtuous behavior, answer catechism questions, etc. – boys in the oldest group also reflect upon and discuss a gospel passage). Experience has shown that the younger boys do better if the sports phase is first. The older boys enjoy doing sports last. So, for half of each meeting, we have the younger boys in the gym and the older boys in the Parish Center, and then they switch.

Several weeks ago, our younger boys were engaged in a competitive game of dodge-ball when three boys not in our program wondered into the gym and watched from the stands. When the time came for the younger groups to head over to the Parish Center, four of the five dads/volunteers accompanied the boys, because the Decree requires at least two adults per group. I remained behind to hold down the gym until the group of older boys returned (along with their two adult volunteers).

That left me alone in the gym with the three young strangers, and my over-riding concern was getting them out of the gym, because the Decree forbids me from being alone with them. They had questions about our program. It would have been a great opportunity to share with them what we were all about and to invite them to join us. But I missed the chance to share the love of Christ with them because my first concern was to never, ever, be alone with children to whom I am not related. Instead of engaging them in conversation, I shooed them away. I might have complied with the Decree, but those boys certainly are not better off because of it. I failed.

I hate the Decree. I hate that the Decree is necessary. I hate that unscrupulous lawyers looking for loopholes require the Archdiocese to include specific, vulgar, and profane language in a document designed to protect the innocence of children. I hate that when I see a priest dining with a boy in a restaurant, my first thought is “Oh my gosh! He’s violating the Decree!” I hate that some children, even with the Decree, will still fall victim to sexual predators while other children, because of the Decree, will miss the chance to enter into a life-giving relationship with Christ.

The evil that men do sends ripples outward, often with secondary effects that no one would have predicted.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Running to Win

The road race season wrapped up several weeks ago. The last race in the 5K tour was October 18 with a run through Tawawa Park in Sidney on a very cold Sunday morning. As last year, my time suffered significantly between the next-to-last race in the tour and the last race. It’s hard to maintain the motivation to train when the days get shorter and cooler.

I won my age group on tour points not because I was the fastest, but because I ran in more races. Thus, receiving the first place medal having never beaten the recipient of the second place medal was a pyrrhic victory at best.

Meanwhile, the Oktoberfest 10K was also run on the first Sunday of October. My time was slower than last year, and I was amazed that it wasn’t until we made the turn to head out of town that I was able to finally break into my stride. Nonetheless, I did well enough to win my weight class. The nice thing about the Oktoberfest 10K is that they have weight classes for heavier runners in addition to the usual age categories. Thus, I was the fastest runner that day in the over 220 lb class. I was about a third of the way down in my age group, with 21 other runners my age crossing the line ahead of me.

I was registered as a member of our corporate team this year. I ran fifth for our team, contributing to a second place ranking. It was the first time in many years that the corporate team beat the team from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. We had little get-together for lunch a week or so ago. As the conversation tilted toward marathons and training and repeat miles, I realized that these guys were in a different class than I. When they talked about struggling to run through the wall after twenty miles, I thought about my own sorry experience of struggling to keep running after a mere two miles.

And so for me, once again, as it has so often, running became a metaphor for the spiritual life. I know what holds me back physically, it’s just that I’m reluctant to make the changes necessary. At 230 lbs, with an atrocious diet and mercurial training habits, I’ll never improve much, and I’ll be lucky to avoid injury. I like my 44 ounce Mt. Dew, my Skittles, my coffee, and my bacon. I like being able to compete at Oktoberfest in the heaviest weight category, because I doubt that I’ll ever be competitive in my age category. If I want to run faster, though, I’ll have to reduce my weight, improve my diet, and train with more consistency.

Spiritually, my selfishness, diet of pop culture, and immersion in noise and distraction are weighing me down. But I like indulging my appetites, watching television, and surfing the blogs for the latest political gossip, even though I know that it’s not good for me, hindering my growth, and keeping me from fully embracing my Christian vocation.

In both cases, what I need is a good dose of self-discipline and sacrifice. The things that I need to do physically and spiritually are not extreme. They consist, in essence, of say “no” to things that might not be bad in order to way “yes” to things that are better. The good can be bad when it gets in the way of the best. Unfortunately, recognizing the highest good is not the same thing as choosing the highest good. Even desiring the highest good is not sufficient; action is required.

Another 5K tour has ended. The next one will begin in April. Whether I run with the pack or ahead of the pack is largely up to me.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Old House

With a seventh child on the way, my wife and I are feeling just a little cramped in our home. The natural question that arises is whether we move to a new house or add on to the one we have. Moving would require selling our current house, and in this market, that seems doubtful, so we’ve solicited bids to add an upstairs dormer to the back side of the house.

It really makes no economic sense, however. Home ownership has turned out to be a bum deal – I don’t ever expect to recoup the money that we’ve sunk into our house by replacing the windows, renovating the bathroom, upgrading the front porch, or replacing the roof.

Our dwelling is not an investment vehicle, and so I can’t bear to think about it in those terms. Rather than asking whether the two new rooms that we hope to gain will add as much to the value of the house as they will cost us, we have to ask instead how much we are willing to pay for the additional living space. If we consider what we are getting to be fair for what we are paying, then we don’t need to be overly concerned about the market value. Being underwater on our mortgage should only be a problem if we want to sell – which we don’t. We love our current location.

Unfortunately, the bank might not have the same attitude. Our finances have taken a serious hit this year. We hope that we will be able to reorganize our debt in a way that allows us to expand and still keep our heads above water, even if the resulting mortgage isn’t.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Argument from Reference

In today’s gospel (Luke 17: 26-37), Jesus makes reference to the figures of Noah and Lot from the book of Genesis. Some apologists for a literalist reading of scripture jump upon such references to endorse their view that everything recounted in the Bible is a historical fact. I think it’s a weak argument. It’s not uncommon for people making rhetorical speeches to make reference to fictional literary characters or fictionalized events in the life of historical figures. Why should we assume that Jesus would not use common cultural references is his discourse?

I can imagine myself importing fictional characters to make a point. For self-sacrifice, I might cite Gandalf’s confrontation with the Balrog in Moria. For determination, I might refer to John Henry’s contest against the hammering machine. For pride and failure, what better illustration could there be than mighty Casey’s famous strike-out. No lengthy explanation of the back-story or literary origins of the characters would be necessary. I would assume that everyone knows who Gandalf, John Henry, and Casey are.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that Job was a fictional character, that the flood never occurred, or that Jonah was not swallowed by a fish. All that I’m saying is that the argument for historicity from reference by Christ is a rather weak argument.

Your God, My God, It's All Good

Catholic Exchange today features an interview with a film-maker who has produced a film that chronicles his search for God. Peter Rodger travelled around the world, asking people “What is God?” Those he spoke to included people from across the spectrum of religious belief, including Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, and indigenous cultures (i.e., what we would be inclined to call pagans). The results could be interesting from a sociological perspective. They could also be very dangerous.

For those who believe, as I do, that every man is created by God with a desire for God stamped on his heart, it could be interesting to see how this desire is manifested across cultures and across individual persons within any given culture. This is the natural law argument that man is inherently religious, and it is alluded to by St. Paul’s speech at the Areopagus (see Acts 17:16-34) concerning the unknown god. The Catholic Church has a history of inculturation, taking these manifestations of inherent belief and Christianizing those that are not inconsistent with Christian belief. They can be built upon to show the universality of the mission entrusted to her by Christ.

The danger, as I see it, is that some Director of Religious Education is going to think the film is wonderful and needs to be seen by all of the kids in the Parish School of Religion. These indiscriminating children will then be bombarded with a wide diversity of opinion about what God is without any context regarding what the Church teaches and why some of the ideas expressed in the film are erroneous. There is, unfortunately, a lot of muddled thinking and outright error out there concerning the nature of God and the moral implications that derive from that.

After viewing the film, some kids (and some adults) might reach the conclusion that everybody has his or her own ideas about God and either they’re all correct, or it doesn’t really matter. I fear that the film will contribute to the “spiritual, but not religious” mass of confused humanity.

Cultural Marinade

It’s unavoidable. We live our life immersed in the culture that surrounds us. We marinade in it. We can try to limit the negative influences, but once they’ve infiltrated our subconscious, we’re stuck with them. Our past, it sometimes seems, resists redemption.

I was reminded of this on Sunday evening. I was scheduled to meet with a priest for spiritual direction. Since the weather was pleasant, I decided to walk. As I neared our meeting place, the church bells tolled, announcing the hour. Of all the thoughts that could have entered my mind at that moment, what broke through to my consciousness was the opening strains of an AC/DC song: Hells Bells.

We are reborn in Christ through baptism. We have died to sin. The spirit that dwells within us is stronger than the body of death into which we are born. And yet, the cultural effects of the past and the present remain. Lord, save us from ourselves.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Do Not Run In Pursuit

I have a little book at home titled Hidden Treasure: The Riches of the Eucharist. In it is found a story about St. Louis (that would be King Louis IX of France) and an appearance by Christ.

In the person of St. Louis IX were the qualities which form a great king, a hero of romance, and a saint! With his death, the century of knights ended. One day a messenger, breathless with haste, burst in upon the king with surprising and exciting news. “Your majesty,” he cried, “hasten to the Church! A great miracle is occurring there. A priest is saying holy Mass, and after the consecration, instead of the host there is visible on the altar Jesus Himself in His human figure. Everybody is marveling at it. Hurry before it disappears.”

To the astonishment of the messenger, the saintly monarch calmly replied:

Let them go to see the miracle who have any doubt regarding the Real Presence of our Lord in the Holy Sacrament. As for me, even if I saw Jesus on the altar in His visible form, and touched Him with my hand, and heard His voice, I should not be more convinced than I now am, that He is present in the consecrated Host. The word of Christ is sufficient for me. I need no miracle.


I never quite understood the indifference of the king. Today’s gospel, though, gives an important clue:

Then he said to his disciples,
“The days will come when you will long to see
one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.
There will be those who will say to you,
‘Look, there he is,’ or ‘Look, here he is.’
Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.
For just as lightning flashes
and lights up the sky from one side to the other,
so will the Son of Man be in his day.
But first he must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.”

Luke 17:22-25


When Jesus returns, it will be in glory, impossible to miss. Yes, it is also true that he returns in a real and substantial way with every consecration at mass. Let us look forward with anticipation to his glorious coming, and let us appreciate as well the way in which he comes to us in a more mundane way through the Blessed Sacrament.

Psionic Clairvoyance

I’ve always been a fan of science fiction. As a youth, I was introduced to the world of role playing games through a game called Traveller. One of the components of Traveller which seems to be common across the genre is the concept of psionic ability. The idea has been popularized in television shows like Bablyon 5 with its Psi Corp and the movies like Push.

In Traveller, psionic abilities were categorized. Telepaths could communicate without speaking or could read others’ thoughts. Telekinetics could move things with their mind. Clairvoyants had visions – either of different places or times, past or future. It all made for wonderful make-believe entertainment.

It was a little jarring to read in the World Briefs section of The Catholic Telegraph about recent alleged apparitions at Knock, Ireland, where the local bishop has expressed skepticism. The brief quotes a “Dublin-based clairvoyant.” It’s the first time that I’ve ever seen a Church-based publication adopt the language of science fiction psionics. I’m accustomed, in church terms, to reading about visionaries or locutionists. I’ve never heard them called clairvoyants until now.

I suppose you could argue that it all reduces to semantics. Still, referring to mystical gives using psionic words tends to strip away the mystical and the supernatural. It seems to be conceding the verbal playing field to secularism. Unless, of course, that guy from Dublin was registered with Psi Corp as a level 5 clairvoyant.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Garage Sale Goodies

Every July, the ladies (to the best of my knowledge, there are no male members) of our parish Mission Commission host a garage sale at the local Knights of Columbus hall. The sale lasts several days. By the last day, purchases can be made by the bagful. Anything that’s left is packaged up and sent to the nearest St. Vincent de Paul facility.

My daughters went to the sale with some of their friends this past summer, and they returned home with their treasures, which included a pair of gaudy plastic bunny cups (the ears hang down the sides like handles – one cup is pink and the other is blue) and a collection of shot glasses, from which they enjoy drinking Pepsi and Dr. Pepper. I wasn’t sure how to feel about them bringing shot glasses home from the church sale, and I hoped that it wasn’t training them for a future life of debauchery.

But they also thought of me while they were shopping. For me, they brought home a paperback Bible for military families. I separated from the military years ago, but I was touched by their consideration. The Bible is the size of a typical paperback novel, and I keep it at my desk at work. I do have one minor quibble, though. The translation is the New International Version (NIV). I prefer the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Plus, it’s a Protestant Bible and does not include the deutero-canonical books. That means no Wisdom and no Maccabees (among others).

Still, it’s nice to have, and even nicer to know that my daughters thought of me.

Thank You Veterans

To all those who put on the uniform or have in the past, I thank you.



Link

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

God, Family, Country

Commentators are making much of the declarations by Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, that he is a Muslim first and an American second. He’s also claimed to be Palestinian, so maybe he’s American third (if not lower).

We might want to pause for a moment while we consider where we place our own priorities. I have often heard that we should place God first, then family, then country. As followers of Christ, we are called to be in the world but not of the world. We should have a certain degree of detachment from the nationalist passions of our neighbors, regardless of where we live. Our true home is heaven, and no matter where we are on earth, we are in exile from our true home.

Do I consider myself a Catholic before I consider myself an American? You bet! Fortunately, there’s no conflict between the two. History is marked, however, by the blood of martyrs for whom there was a conflict. Consider the first centuries of the Church, during the Roman persecutions. Consider figures like St. Thomas More, who declared, “I am the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

If, at some point in the (distant, if ever, I pray) future, Catholics are deemed enemies of the American state, it is never too early to ask yourself where your loyalty will lie.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lectionary Wisdom

One of the joys that I’ve discovered over the past year has been the practice of reading the Bible along with the Lectionary. Throughout Ordinary Time, the Lectionary marches through different books and the gospels. Sometimes, the Lectionary lingers, such as in the meaty parts of Paul’s letter to the Romans. At other times, the Lectionary skips through books so quickly, choosing only select passages, that it’s hard to keep up if you’re trying to read and understand everything in between.

If we were taking all of our readings this week from the 32nd Week of Ordinary Time, we’d skip right through the entire book of Wisdom in six days. As it is, though, Monday is a feast day (the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome) and Tuesday through Friday are obligatory memorials (Saint Leo the Great, Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Josaphat, and Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini), all but the last of which have their own assigned readings.

I think that I’ll try to pace myself through Wisdom anyway, regardless of which readings are actually used at mass.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mammon

Several years ago, when I first saw the parody below, I thought it was hilarious. So much so, that I just had to share it with my friends. I showed it to several people whom I knew to be serious Catholics, including some that were taking classes with me in the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program.

I was disappointed in the response. I was disappointed because I had to explain the parody and its source. Once a joke has to be explained, it ceases to be funny.




The basis for the joke was today's (Saturday, November 7) Gospel. "No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Unity

Something written by one of the Blog Fathers three weeks ago has been slowly percolating in my consciousness, gnawing at the edges of my conscience.

The occasion for the blog post by Fr. Kyle Schnippel was the gospel for Friday, October 9 (Luke 11:14-20), in which Jesus was accused of driving out demons by the power of Beelzebul. Jesus responded with his “House Divided” speech. Fr. Schnippel used the occasion of this gospel passage to promote unity at three levels. First, we should be united to the Church (one, holy, catholic, and apostolic) and her visible head on earth, the Pope. Second, we should be united to our local church (typically the diocese in which we reside) and to her head, the bishop. The good padre concluded by noting that we should also be united with our particular church, our parish, and to her head, the pastor.

I’m fully on board with respect to being united with the universal Church and the pope. After all, he is the one who enjoys the charism of infallibility. That charism, however, is so nuanced that its application actually becomes rather narrow. He has to be speaking or writing, in his capacity as pope, on doctrinal matters of faith and morals. Some theologians say that he has to explicitly say that he’s making an infallible definition. Then there’s the distinction between when the pope is making doctrinal statements versus offering his opinion on matters of prudential judgment. Nevertheless, you can point to the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium 25) to see that the “religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will.” Does that mean that I have to agree with every word and action of the Holy See? I don’t think so, but obviously a lot of discernment is required before I can say, for instance, that the statements of the Holy Father on economics are prudential and not dogmatic. If I disagree on prudential matters, is that a violation of the principle of unity and of the submission of mind and will called for by the Council?

The farther you move away from the head, the more difficult it becomes to maintain unity above all else. The same dogmatic constitution noted that “Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent.” There’s an important qualifying phrase in that statement. It would seem that we are to be united and obedient to our bishop to the degree in which he is “teaching in communion with” the pope. How are we to know? Any bishop who identifies himself as not being in communion with Rome is, by definition, schismatic. We certainly are not supposed to follow our bishop into schism! If I had lived in a diocese in which the bishop publicly disagreed with Humanae Vitae in 1968, should I have tried to preserve unity with my bishop or with the pope? The Second Vatican Council seemed to say that if your bishop disagrees with the pope, you should follow the pope, which takes us back to the preceding paragraph.

If there are limits to the degree of unity that we owe to our bishops, who are the heirs to the apostles, then what does that say about our pastors? The Code of Canon Law places authority within the parish in the hands of the pastor. In some dioceses, parish membership is strictly defined by whether one resides within the boundaries of the parish. In other dioceses, parishes enjoy a kind of “open enrollment.” Thus, even though I might live within the boundaries of Parish X, I can choose to belong to Parish Y. In our diocese, pastors are typically assigned to a parish for a period of ten to twelve years. If I move into an area and join a parish after determining that I can enjoy a degree of unity with that parish, but then the pastor rotates out, and the new pastor has a distinctly different spirituality (even if his doctrine is not questionable), what am I to do? Should I change my spirituality to more closely match my new pastor? Should I change my residence to a new parish that better fits my spiritual needs? Do I remain within the parish, but go elsewhere to worship? That hardly serves to promote unity. In fact, that is exactly what I’ve been doing, and it has led to feelings of estrangement. I no longer feel like a full member of my own parish, and I don’t feel like anything more than a visitor at the parish where I’ve been going for liturgical worship. That estrangement, that feeling of separation, is why my conscience has been troubled.

Unity within the Church, of course, extends beyond the visible. As we start the month of November, we are reminded that we are united with the entire Church – the Church militant here on earth, the Church suffering in purgatory, and the Church triumphant in heaven – and with her head, Christ Jesus. Our unity there is profound, by virtue of our baptism. We have been incorporated into the body. That is the unity that really matters and that we should strive, with all our might, to perfect. If we get that unity right, then the rest will work itself out.

The Saint Song