Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Four Marks of the Church, Part II

In Part I we examined the Nicene Creed as an important resource for teaching the Christian faith. For the purpose of Christian unity the Creed is a valuable point of reference which compresses the essence of Christian belief into brief but precise statements about God and His work in history. The Nicene Creed ought to be a tremendous asset in building solidarity among various Christian denominations. To that end we will now examine what are called the “Four Marks” of the Church as listed in the Creed…the Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. If we can come to an understanding of how the Church embodies these four ideals, then we may discover how Christian unity can best be achieved.

“We believe in one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church…"

1) The Church is ONE

We must always remember that Christ established only one Church. In fact, Jesus always referred to His Church in the singular, never plural. Whenever “churches” (plural) are mentioned in the New Testament it is always in reference to a collection of specific communities which together comprise the one, whole Church. But these communities of Christians are not independent of each other. Rather they are united into one “Body of Christ” with Jesus Himself as its Head (Ephesians 4:15-16). Christ has but one Body, and so Christ has but one Church. As Paul tells us, “there are many members yet one body.” (1Corinthians 12:20) Obviously Jesus’ intention was to build one unified Church, not multiple denominations or churches.

As evidence of this, Jesus prayed to His Father for the unity of His Church: “Holy Father, protect them in your that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11) We might ask ourselves: Would the Father and the Son disagree on doctrinal matters such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or Baptismal Grace, or the authority of Bishops? No, They would not. Yet many Christians have a distorted notion of Christ’s “Church” which pits one denomination against another, each radically opposed to the other on core doctrines. Does this fulfill the unity of Father and Son as Jesus prayed? Yet some Christians considered these fragmented groups to be part of the same “Church.” This cannot be the Biblical meaning of “oneness,” and it cannot be the meaning intended in the Creed. The Church cannot teach contradictory doctrines and yet be called “one.”

So in our quest for Christian unity, we must look for a single Body as the true Church of Christ. It cannot be that all Christian denominations together form a single Church when their doctrines are so contradictory. Authentic Christian unity must mirror the unity of the Father and the Son just as Jesus described.

2) The Church is HOLY

God is active in the Church, which makes the Church a holy institution: When Christ ascended to the Father in heaven, He did not leave the Church alone in its earthly mission: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” (John 14:16) This Advocate was none other than God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit: “…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25-26)

The Spirit was sent to be with the Church “forever,” as Jesus promised. This abiding presence of the Holy Spirit ensures that the Church’s teaching will remain true: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:13) So, the Church received the Spirit from Jesus on that first Pentecost and was given the assurance that she would never be abandoned by the Spirit, and that this Spirit would guide her to all truth. It is this continuing presence of the Spirit of Truth which sanctifies (makes “holy”) the Church: “Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17-19)

So in our quest for Christian unity, we know that there is ONE Church established by Jesus; and that He established that Church as a HOLY institution. She is assured the protection of the Spirit so that she cannot err in matters of faith. We know from Christ’s own promise, that the Spirit will abide forever with the Church to sanctify her in truth. So where is this one, holy Church?

In Part III we will examine the other two Marks of the Church, to seek and answer to this question…

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Four Marks of the Church, Part I

A basic summary of Christian belief can be found in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (called simply the Nicene Creed). This formulation of the faith is generally accepted among most Christian denominations and used in many of their worship services. The Nicene Creed presents a series of concise theological statements about God, the Trinity, the Incarnation and virgin birth of Jesus, His suffering, death and Resurrection, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the formation of the Church and the Final Judgment. This Creed (from the Latin: credo“I believe”) was formulated in the Fourth Century primarily through the work of two Ecumenical Councils: the Council of Nicaea in the year 325 and the Council of Constantinople in 381. It is from these two Councils it receives its name.

The Nicene Creed is an invaluable tool for teaching the faith. Each phrase of the Creed could be elaborated upon to fill volumes of theological books explaining the Church’s teaching on essential doctrines. The words of the Creed are ripe with philosophical implications, which at the time of its composition were hotly debated. Indeed the Creed took its shape at a time of turmoil with Christendom, and was designed to answer challenges posed by heretics of the early centuries. The Nicene Creed thus establishes the truth of Christian doctrine, encapsulating the essence of Christian belief on certain key points, and laying down a standard by which we can judge correct teaching.

The overall structure of the Creed may have originated in the baptismal formulas of the ancient Church. Those to be baptized must first attest to their belief in one God, the Father Almighty, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, and so on. This pattern of baptismal commitment makes the Nicene Creed a rallying point for all Christians who share belief in these essential matters of faith and are baptized into one baptism. Our shared baptism is expressed verbally in our shared Creed.

Christians of many denominations repeat the words of the Creed when gathered for worship. But many do not give much thought to the meaning of the words they say. I wonder if more Christians paid closer attention to the words of this statement of faith, whether we might achieve better unity among Christians. So below I present the entire Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. And following this text I would like to focus on one line in particular, which I believe tells us where Christian unity can be found in a most concrete way…

Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed

I believe in one God, the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

I am using here the latest translation of the Latin which will be used at Catholic Masses beginning in Advent of 2011. As we recite the Creed, we might notice that the words “I believe” (Latin - credo) appear four times throughout: once at the beginning when referring to the Father, once again for His Son, Jesus Christ, and again for the Holy Spirit. This represents our belief in the Trinity of persons Who make up the Godhead. The fourth occurrence of “I believe” is in the following line:

“…I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church…”

This is where our faith takes shape in the physical world. This is where our belief in God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit becomes a lived experience for Christians. And it is here that I would focus our attention on Christian unity.

The Church is described here as having four distinct attributes or “marks” – One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. We will therefore examine these Four Marks and determine what they mean for the Church today. If the ancient Christians determined that Jesus’ Church is best described using these characteristics, and they carefully selected these words to be enshrined in the Creed, then we ought to take a serious look at the meaning of these words. If we recite these words while at worship, then we ought to be certain that we are living out these beliefs in our Christian life.

In Part II we will begin to take up each of the Four Marks individually…

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The New Translation and Other Liturgical Matters...

If you are one of those Catholics who is still wondering why we need a new English translation for the Mass, read this post by Father Z at his blog, aptly named: "What Does the Prayer Really Say?" Check out the comparison he lays out between the new translation (which will be used starting in Advent of this year) and the current translation now in place. When put side-by-side against the literal meaning of the Latin it is easy to see why we needed a new translation. And it is horrible to think that we have put up with such an awful rendering of the Liturgical texts for as long as we have.

The upcoming liturgical changes have me thinking more about the Liturgy in general. In the near future I will be posting some thoughts on other aspects of the Liturgy that interest me, especially areas where I personally believe we might benefit from some prayerful reflection.

Friday, March 25, 2011

This Week's Headlines

As another week comes to an end, this is your chance to top off your glass with a final helping of news, current events, and just plain interesting stuff that may not have made into the mainstream media. A chance to linger for a few more moments before we close the door on the week. Below are some links to articles, blogs, and miscellaneous happenings that caught my eye over the past few days. Sample what you like - I'll serve up more next Friday...

What Confused Mary About the Annunciation? - "What can our Lady mean by this statement, because I know not man (i.e. I do not have relations with a man)? How is this a quasi-objection to the Angel’s message that Mary would conceive a son?" 

Tradition, Scripture, and Magisterium: The Fullness of Truth - "The Christian faith is not a 'religion of the book.' Christianity is the religion of the 'Word' of God, a word which is 'not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living.'" 

A Light to the Nations: The Meaning and Future of the Catholic Church - "It's not possible to be what some people call a 'cultural' Catholic. Catholic culture comes from an active Catholic faith. Unless we truly believe and practice that faith, 'Catholic culture' very quickly becomes a dead skin of nostalgia and comfortable habits." [lengthy (but very good) article by Archbishop Chaput]
Reading the New Testament with Pope Benedict XVI  - "...he does more than study the texts' historical and literary meaning. He reads in light of the Church's teachings and tradition. He employs the spiritual interpretation methods found in the New Testament, the writings of the Church Fathers, and in the Church's liturgy."

The Incredible Shrinking Kung - "After Vatican II, Ratzinger and Kung took very divergent roads. Ratzinger emerged as a formidable defender of Catholic orthodoxy and was eventually elected pope. Kung became a theological celebrity and antagonist of the papacy." 
Why Does God Allow Tsunamis and Massacres? - "The anomaly, Jesus implies, is not that they were judged, but that so far you have been spared.  Repent, while opportunity remains!"
Philosopher's new book appeals to reason alone to make pro-life case - "Instead of appealing to religious authority or an instinctive sense of outrage, Kaczor has sought to examine the arguments for abortion with painstaking care – in order to point out flawed premises, logical inconsistencies, or absurd results."

The Church and the Unions - "A union that does not defend its own is, of course, an absurdity. A union that defends only its own, with no concern for the common good, is something else altogether. That kind of unionized selfishness smacks of organized greed..."

Obamacare and carey's Heart - "The plain truth is that the American system is better at rewarding innovation and responding to consumer needs. But the history of government-led care is there for all to see. Are we doomed to repeat it?" [By Senator Ron Johnson]

How Political Correctness Makes Us Dumb - "The ability of the human mind to make true universal judgments is a power that distinguishes human beings from other things like baboons, snails, and rocks."
Pessimism, not Despair - "For the last many decades, the purveyors of nonsense have argued that what is needed is more and better contraceptives. What we need is self-control and responsibility — qualities hard to inculcate in the young when their parents are devoid of these very qualities."
Beware a Kinder, Gentler Social Leveling - "The state, empowered by the political action of the masses (or at least a group claiming to speak for the masses), works to gain control of the wealth and property of a society and then to redistribute it in such a way as to make people equal. It should be obvious that this type of action vastly increases the power of the state because it becomes the effective owner of all property."
Dino Deaths & Original Sin - "If death, disease, pain and suffering entered the world because of the first sin, then how would one best reconcile the deaths of all the Dinosaurs and other preceding animal throughout time up until the point that God first breathed life into Man and then Mankind committed the first sin?"
Do Beautiful Churches Produce Vocations? - "A building, whether we like it or not, is a statement of our values, our faith and our world view."
Why don’t we have more Novus Ordo Masses in Latin? - [Written from the perspective of a Catholic in England, but still could be asked of America as well.]
It's "Buy Your Priest a Beer" Week! - "Think about it:  these guys get shuttled around, never getting to put down roots.  They spend hours on the road trying to cover a whole cluster of churches; and they either live alone in a shabby rectory, or with a few other equally overworked, underpaid, under appreciated priests whose training and understanding of their vocation might be totally different from their own."

Stations of the Cross - MP3 Downloads from Fr. Z's Blog

Feast of the Annunciaition

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, when we celebrate the Angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will conceive a child and name Him Jesus. This holy day would be a great opportunity to renew the ancient practice of the praying of the Angelus, which commemorates the events of the Incarnation with the repetition of three Hail Mary's and accompanying prayers. This prayer was once a common practice among Catholics, but has fallen into disuse in recent decades. Below I have posted the text of the Angelus in honor of the Feast of the Annunciation. The prayer consists of two parts: for a "Leader" and then a "Response." Obviously when prayed by one person, he or she would take both parts.  However, in a group setting one person would be chosen as the leader and all would join in the response. Below I have clearly marked the leader's parts and printed them in plain text. The responses are in Italics.

The Angelus

Leader: The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary:
Response: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death.

Leader: Behold the handmaid of the Lord:
Response: Be it done unto me according to Thy word.
Hail Mary, full of grace...etc.

Leader: And the Word was made Flesh:
Response: And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary, full of grace...etc.

Leader: Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God,
Response: that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Leader: Let us pray.
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.
Response: Amen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The 'Hail Mary' and Catholic Prayer

This Lenten season, I have been focusing much of my attention on prayer. Among other things, I have committed myself to praying the rosary every day in Latin (as I mentioned here). This Latin rosary has gone surprisingly well. It has yielded a number of spiritual benefits. As the weeks of Lent progress I may write more on this topic. But for now I will point out that this Latin exercise has caused me to think more deeply about the words of each prayer, particularly the words of the Hail Mary which is repeated more than fifty times during the course of one rosary. While pondering each phrase of this prayer I have come to appreciate how deeply “Catholic” it truly is. And by that I do not only mean that it is a prayer focused on Mary (a figure so closely identified with Catholicism), but there is also something very “Catholic” in the Hail Mary’s structure.

The prayer opens with these words:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou, amongst women,
       and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

These two lines refer to Scripture. The first is from the greeting given by the Angel Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation: “Hail, full of grace…” (Luke 1:28) And then the words of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, as she receives a visit from her cousin Mary: “Blessed are you among women…” (Luke 1:42)

These lines of the prayer emphasize the importance of Scripture for Catholics. We certainly make use of the Bible in our prayer lives. But I also find that these two quotes tell us something more profound about the Catholic understanding of Scripture. The first words are from an Angel, a messenger from Heaven, speaking on behalf of God. The Angel delivers God’s Word to Mary (verbally and incarnate). The second quote is from a human uttering a response when encountered by the presence of God’s Word in Mary’s womb. So we have a kind of snap-shot of the dynamic found in the pages of the Bible. On the one hand we have God’s Word coming down to us (represented by the Angel’s remark), and on the other hand we see humanity responding to the Word and reacting to it (represented by Elizabeth). Catholics see the Bible as a product of this give-and-take of the God-human relationship. Scripture is a lived-out experience. We pray it, we live it, and we respond to it, just as it was prayed, lived and responded to at the time of the actual events recorded there. God comes down to us and we then make our reply.

That human response to God’s Word leads us to the second half of the Hail Mary:

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

These words do not come directly from Scripture. But they are an authentic response to Scripture as lived out in a Catholic spirituality. And I think they too have something profound to teach us.

The first line here addresses Mary by the title “Mother of God.” This expression commonly refers to the Greek theotokos or God-bearer. This is an ancient title for Mary which was officially approved by the Church at the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in the year 431. It was used in previous centuries by many of the Church Fathers as a theologically sound defense of Christ’s humanity. This formal naming of Mary in our prayer certainly bears witness to the importance of Ecumenical Councils and the teaching authority of the Church which shapes our Catholic spirituality. We see here that our Catholic faith is molded by doctrine and theology.

In contrast, the last line is almost shocking in its simplicity: “Pray for us…” It is a simple request made countless times by each of us to our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers. And so too we ask Mary the Theotokos, Mother of God, and full of grace, to pray for us. It is a very Catholic notion expressed here: Heaven and earth are so intimately united that we who trudge through life’s mediocrity can call upon the saints of Heaven to aide us in our plight. “Pray for us” is such a common and ordinary request and yet it draws us up to the heights of Heaven. So obviously it is not only theology and doctrine that shape our spiritual life (though these things are essential), but also the simple plight of every man and woman, clergy or laity, lived out every day in ordinary experiences. The simple “pray for us” points us to the Theotokos.

Altogether, we might say that this second half of the Hail Mary reflects Sacred Tradition. By this we mean the lived-out experience of God’s Word in the Church. When it comes to Sacred Tradition the hierarchy has a special role to play in formulating dogmas and officially defining Truths. But it is the whole Church, including the laity, who guards these Truths and lives out these dogmas no matter how simple or lowly our station in life. Sacred Tradition is expressed sometimes in theology and doctrine, but it is also found in the living Church.

To summarize what has been said here: The Hail Mary is structured with two distinct components. The first half of the prayer points us to Holy Scripture, where we see the relationship between God and humanity which produces God’s Word. The second half shows us Sacred Tradition, where we find a relationship between dogma and the lived experience of the faith working together to point us Heavenward. Together, these two halves form the basis of the Catholic faith. And so the Hail Mary shows itself to be a deeply Catholic prayer.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Review: Clement and the Early Church of Rome

A Fresh Look at an Ancient Text

The writings of the early Christians provide invaluable insights into the beliefs and practices of the Church in the first few centuries A. D. Here we can read the first theological reflections on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; we can examine early formulations of doctrines, and follow along as Christians attempt to articulate, for the first time in history, the foundational beliefs of Christianity; and we can consider the difficult task of organizing the hierarchy of Church leadership. There are many documents preserved from this early stage of Christianity, but the oldest of these texts are the rarest and often the most valuable for providing information closest to the source of Christian faith. These texts were written by men who knew and were taught by the Apostles themselves. They give us a glimpse of Apostolic Teaching in its earliest form (besides Scripture itself). To read a letter written in the First Century by a man who learned the faith from Peter or Paul or John, is to read an account of the faith from men who heard the Gospel proclaimed from the Apostles’ own lips.

One of the chief examples of First Century Christian writing is the First Letter of Clement to the Corinthians (or 1 Clement). Though the letter itself does not identify the author by name, it is nearly universally acknowledged (by both ancient sources and by modern scholars) that this text was written by the same Clement of Rome who is listed as a successor to Peter as bishop of that city, and thus an early “pope.” Until recently it was believed that 1 Clement was written around the year A. D. 96, which would correspond to the reign of Clement as Bishop of Rome. However, recent scholarship has tested that conjecture and proposes to push the date of authorship back to the year 70 or even earlier. If this is true, then the implications could affect greatly our understanding of ancient Christianity. In his book, Clement and the Early Church of Rome, the late Fr. Thomas J. Herron puts forward a strong argument for just such an early dating of 1 Clement.

1 Clement was written from the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth insisting that the Corinthian Christians reinstate their presbyters who had been forcibly removed from their office of authority. Insisting on proper order within the Church and referencing the Old Testament as well as Apostolic teaching, the author makes his case that the Corinthians had wrongly removed the presbyters and that they should follow Rome’s directive to restore the rightful men to their place.

The main reason for the traditional 96 dating of 1 Clement stems from the historic evidence purporting that Clement held the office of Bishop of Rome at the end of the First Century, and that this letter then represents an early exercise of papal authority. The year 96 certainly corresponds to Clement’s episcopate, and so it is thought that he must have written it when he was bishop. However, as Herron points out, the letter itself does not claim an episcopal authorship. In other words, the letter does not specifically state that a single man (a bishop) is addressing the Church of Corinth. Rather 1 Clement states that it is from “the Church of God which sojourns in Rome.” That is to say, it is a letter from the “Church of Rome” not necessarily from Clement as “Bishop of Rome.”

This does not mean that we must question Clement himself as the legitimate author. There is ample documentation of Clement as a real, historic person, a presbyter in Rome around the year 70 who then became bishop later in the First Century. It is plausible to assume then that as presbyter, Clement was assigned the task of writing this letter to Corinth in order to correct their abuses. And he did so with the authority of the Roman Church (if not as Bishop of Rome then at least with some force of authority that Rome held in early Christianity). Fr. Herron presents the details of such a theory, providing historic references to Clement (including a possible biblical reference in Philippians 4 as a companion of Paul), and ancient sources which seem to agree with such a scenario.

One of the most compelling arguments in favor of an early dating for 1 Clement is found in the letter’s references to Old Testament style Jewish Temple Worship. Historians know that the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed around the year 70 A.D. Clement seems to be unaware of this fact in his writing. He even uses the Temple sacrifice to bolster his argument with the Corinthians. He views favorably the sacrifices of the Temple as commanded by God, and he writes as though these ceremonies are being carried out in his own time. He points to them as a proper ordering of divine things, and he uses the Temple worship as a point of reference to show that the Corinthians should not tamper with divinely instituted structures. None of this would make sense if the Temple had been destroyed. Clements argument would be nullified. So he must have written prior to the Temple’s destruction.

An early dating for 1 Clement makes sense when coupled with what we know of First Century Christianity. Before the destruction of the Temple many Christians (mostly Jewish converts) participated at least to some degree in Temple and synagogue services. If Clement wrote at this time (at or prior to 70 A.D.) then it would make perfect sense that he would link Temple worship with Christianity. But a 96 A.D. dating would seem odd, since Jewish-Christian ties had been largely severed and the Temple was no longer a point of reference that could be maintained as an example of God’s divine ordering of things.

This Temple example is not in itself enough to solidify a 70 A.D. dating. But Fr. Herron gives many other crucial bits of evidence to make his case. In all eleven specific details within the text of 1 Clement are cited as corroborating an early dating hypothesis. Fr. Herron also examines external historic documents as well as Scriptural references that provide data for further study and tend toward a circa A.D. 70 date of authorship. As Fr. Herron points out, no single bit of evidence itself prove the point, but taken together they provide an abundance of proof that point to an early date.

So what does all of this mean? It certainly weighs heavily on the Catholic-Protestant debate over Roman authority. While Clement was not a “bishop” of Rome at the time he authored 1 Clement, the letter does suggest a certain Roman primacy at a much earlier date that previously thought. Rather than the year 96, it was perhaps 65-70 when Rome intervened in the Corinthian Church’s dispute. This was less than a decade after the deaths of Peter and Paul, and less than forty years after Jesus’ death.

As for Church hierarchy, we see an insistence on the part of Clement (at a very early date) that presbyters should be inline with Apostolic appointment (Apostolic Succession). And while the role of “bishop” is not mentioned nor is it clear whether such an office had fully emerged, (this should be expected from a document that comes from such an earlier time in Christian history) it certainly fits within the Catholic understanding of the development of the Holy Orders.

But this only scratches the surface. Fr. Thomas Herron assembles some essential data for further research, while admitting that his own work simply lays the groundwork for others to build on. He suggests that with further reflection his theory may eventually change our understanding not only of ancient Christianity, but of the New Testament itself. Fr. Herron nicely sums up the implications of his early dating hypothesis:

“With the earlier dating, 1 Clement could be studied now, not as the product of the New Testament period, but as a rare, even unique, example of one who made a contribution to the writing of the New Testament itself.” (page 81)

+        +       +

(Note that this book, Clement and the Early Church of Rome, On the Dating of Clement’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, is a rigorous and serious scholarly work. Throughout the book, texts in Greek, Latin, French, and German are cited without translation. While Fr. Herron’s book is still very informative and readable by those who are unfamiliar with these languages – present author included – some of the finer points of his analysis would be better understood by laymen with English translations.) 

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Clement and the Early Church of Rome . They are also a great source for serenity prayer and baptism gifts.

Friday, March 18, 2011

This Week's Headlines

As another week comes to an end, this is your chance to top off your glass with a final helping of news, current events, and just plain interesting stuff that may not have made into the mainstream media. A chance to linger for a few more moments before we close the door on the week. Below are some links to articles, blogs, and miscellaneous happenings that caught my eye over the past few days. Sample what you like - I'll serve up more next Friday...
Pray the Psalms for Japan - "Perhaps nothing calls forth more fervent prayers than great disasters such as the one just experienced by the people of Japan in the apocalyptic destruction wrought by Friday’s earthquake and tsunami. Watching the events, I thought of the lessons that I was finding afresh in the daily exposure to the Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours."
Reviews of Pope's New Book : Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two: Holy Week—From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection 
Supernatural Normalcy - "God made everything and everything he made is good. Evil is therefore nothing positive in itself, but the perversion and destruction and distortion of all that is good. It follow therefore that Satan loves everything that is perverted, twisted, destroyed and diseased."
The Law of God is Personal - "God’s law is not the equivalent of a no-parking sign hung by some nameless, faceless city government. Rather it is a personal exhortation, instruction and command given by someone we know and who knows and loves us.
Just Discrimination 'Reflects Wisdom and Prudence' - "Discrimination used to be 'considered a natural process to make decisions, judgements and distinctions on the basis of distinguishing between objective good and evil, between right and wrong'...[but] there has been a 'complete turn around' in how we view the notion of discrimination, turning it into a vice that affronts the prevailing 'attitude of tolerance.'"

Deus Ex Machina: How to Think About Technology - "...the stakes in all this, from the Catholic point of view, remain pretty simple: human souls. The Church has the task to preach the Gospel and teach the faith, and in the process, to lead women and men home to eternal life."
Liturgical Looseness and the Gay 'Marriage' Movement - "...the stakes in all this, from the Catholic point of view, remain pretty simple: human souls. The Church has the task to preach the Gospel and teach the faith, and in the process, to lead women and men home to eternal life."

Pope Urges Priests to Preach on Uncomfortable Topics - "The Apostle does not preach Christianity 'a la carte,' according to his own tastes, he does not preach a Gospel according to his own preferred theological ideas; he does not take away from the commitment to announce the entire will of God, even when uncomfortable, nor the themes he may least like personally"
We Must Be Willing to Suffer the Consequences of Being Pro-Life - "If we want to protect the unborn, then let’s be willing to give our lives for them. Let’s stop counting the cost for ourselves if we speak up and start counting the cost for them if we are silent."

Catholic Marriage Is No One's Right - "...for the Catholic Church, there exists only one kind of marriage—sacramental—and the right of Catholic couples to celebrate the sacrament can be exercised only if they fully understand what they are doing."

Future Prospects of Marriage, Democracy Go Hand-in-hand - "Many people describe our country as currently being engaged in a 'culture war.' A century-and-a-half ago, we were engaged in a civil war. Now, as then, the conflict puts the future prospects of our democracy at stake."

Would you believe genocide against homosexuals? - "[M]any Western governments fret over the "plight" of gays, even as Christians around the globe are losing their right to witness to the healing and redeeming power of God through Jesus Christ."
Is Less Government the Best Government? - [The answer is: Yes] "The Founders of this country clearly understood this, which is why they went to lengths to make the federal government very small, yet very complicated, creating a formula in which the national government would do very little, while the economy and society would accomplish a great deal."
Obamacare: Platform for Single Payer in USA - "A wise wag once defined a political gaff as telling the truth. If that is so, Rep. John Conyer made a whopper yesterday when he admitted that Obamacare is flawed, but that’s okay because it is a necessary platform to impose single payer on the USA. " See also this piece by the same author.

Another Santorum Scandal? - "Is it somehow out of bounds to say that the hideous oppression of women in many Muslim countries is evil? In fact shouldn’t the feminists be cheering Santorum for saying this?"

Rick Santorum Is a Man of Courage in an Age of Cowardice - "Santorum...knows that the reason we should care about expanding economic opportunity is because we respect the dignity of every human person and want to expand participation. His advocacy of smaller government is not anti-government. He calls for the proper application of the principle of subsidiarity out of respect for the primacy of the family as the first society, the first government, the first church, first school, first economy and first mediating institution."
Rand Paul Takes On "Pro-Choice" Busybodies - [Great video...I'm not a huge fan of Rand Paul, but he absolutely nails this one.]

Japanese Quake's Epicenter Located Near Marian Apparition Site - "The purported appearances of the Virgin Mary in Japan were reviewed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1988. [H]e let stand the local bishop’s judgment that the apparitions and the messages were acceptable for the faithful."

The Rising of the Roses: A Reflection on How the Lord Is Restoring His Church - "Little by little the Lord is raising up men and women in the Church who, by his grace, are ushering in reform and purification. "

No Brother Believer, Catholics Do Not Worship Cookies - "Until the Protestant Reformation, no one denied that the bread and wine consecrated in the Mass become Jesus Christ — body and blood, soul and divinity. No one, that is, except heretics, apostates and non-Christians.
The Catholic's Guide to Atheists - "One of the most common question I get through my blog is: 'How can I talk to my atheist friend / family member / coworker about the Faith?'"
Why We Abstain From Meat But Not From Fish or Wine - "There are three reasons why we fast: to prevent future sin, to atone for past sin, and to direct our minds to the spiritual realities. To put the matter quite simply – fasting is about curbing the concupiscence of the flesh, so that the soul will be more open to heaven."
'Beer has Something to Teach Christians' - "J Wilson has vowed to fast on beer this Lent. The 38-year-old Iowan is following the example of 17th-century Bavarian friars who did not allow solid food to pass their lips during the penitential season but kept going on strong, dark specially brewed beer called doppelbock."
Episcopal priest gives up "church" for Lent - [Yep, you read that right.]


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

As everyone surely knows, Patrick is the patron saint of the Irish. Saint Patrick and Ireland are nearly inseparable - who can think of one without the other? However, this Fifth Century bishop and missionary to Ireland was actually Scottish!

Patrick was born near Dumbarton in Scotland around the year 387. He was captured by Irish plunderers when he was sixteen and sold as a slave to an Irish chieftain. He spent six years as a captive in Ireland, tending his master’s sheep.(Ironically, he would later become a bishop and tend spiritual sheep.)

Patrick escaped slavery and fled back to his homeland. But his heart remained with the people of Ireland and he wished to return there to convert them from their pagan religion. After ordination to the priesthood under the tutelage of Saint Germain, and after several years battling heresy alongside that great saint, Patrick received his assignment from Pope Celestine I to preach to the Irish people and bring them the Gospel message. And the rest is history …

What makes this story so utterly “catholic” to me, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word (“catholic” means “universal”), is that, while Saint Patrick is claimed by the Irish as one of their own, he was not a native-born Irishman. He was Scottish. Now without a doubt, Saint Patrick has been so thoroughly adopted by Ireland that one would be hard pressed to convince any Irishman today that he is anything but Irish. The reason I call this “catholic” is the simple fact that we are all “adopted” into the Catholic faith and so become something we were once not. Just as Saint Patrick can truly be called an Irishman (and we all become Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day), so too we all become son’s and daughters of Christ through baptism and reception into the Catholic Church. This call is “universal” – it is meant for all peoples of all times and places.

I’m sure the great Scotsman, Saint Patrick, would agree.

So Happy Saint Patrick’s Day…

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rains fall soft upon your fields,
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.
(Traditional Irish Blessing – attributed by some to Saint Patrick)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Social Justice and Subsidiarity

It seems that Catholics who are concerned about Social Justice (things like feeding the hungry, assisting the poor, reaching out to those whom society has neglected) always take the default position that more government programs, more bureaucracy, more State power is necessary to achieve this goal. These "Social Justice" Catholics push for increased welfare assistance, more government services, and an expansion of services already provided. Whenever we hear the words "Social Justice" uttered by Catholic political activists, it is a sure bet that they advocate for a big government and a Statist approach to solving societies ills.

But this is the wrong position for Catholics to take; it is a distortion of true Social Justice. In this age of secular governments, we cannot expect a non-religious entity (our national government) to do what is a religious imperative (love thy neighbor). Dr. Jeff Mirus, of, has authored an insightful piece concerning just this fact:
"The history of the 20th century, particularly in light of Nazism and Communism, ought to have alerted everyone to the dangerous and totalitarian tendencies of States that operate in either a religious vacuum or a vacuum of strong intermediary institutions capable of standing between the individual and state power. The more recent trajectories of federal power in the United States and elsewhere, especially in the European Union, only corroborate a lesson that should have been long since learned. The point is simply this: Speaking broadly, the greatest threat to both the common good and to the Catholic Church in the decadent and declining West is the concentration of power at the highest levels of government.

"For this reason, the default public posture of bishops ought not to be support of increased responsibility of national and international governments to solve problems, but support for increasing decentralization, intermediary institutions and subsidiarity."
Subsidiarity is defined as follows: "1. (in the Roman Catholic Church) a principle of social doctrine that all social bodies exist for the sake of the individual so that what individuals are able to do, society should not take over, and what small societies can do, larger societies should not take over 2. (in political systems) the principle of devolving decisions to the lowest practical level" []

Simply put, subsidiarity says that we should not entrust the highest level of government with tasks that can be done by lower levels of government or by intermediary organizations such as churches, civic groups, non-profit or for-profit agencies. This is especially true when the government is secular and the task at hand has a religious or spiritual dimension.

When the balance is thrown off, when we delegate too many responsibilities to the State and ignore our own responsibility to care for our neighbor, we risk totalitarianism and oppression. Indeed John Paul II warns us of this:
“In recent years the range of such intervention has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of State, the so-called ‘Welfare State’. This has happened in some countries in order to respond better to many needs and demands, by remedying forms of poverty and deprivation unworthy of the human person. However, excesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the ‘Social Assistance State’. Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.

“By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbors to those in need. It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need.” (Centesimus Annus, 48)
As John Paul II says, the State cannot respond to the "deeper human needs" (spiritual and emotional) that always accompany poverty and oppression. The State cannot address the whole person. Only an act of LOVE can reach the human person at this level. This is why the State is inadequate and de-humanizing when relied upon as the primary vehicle for Social Justice.

Those Catholics (especially bishops, who greatly influence the Social Justice debate) who are truly concerned for the cause of Social Justice should heed the words of Dr. Mirus in the article I cited above:
"...[T]he default public position of bishops ought to be that national and international control seldom works well as the primary means of addressing social problems, and that local governments, churches and other intermediary organizations ought instead to be strengthened to address social needs—and not by receiving national grants, which simply lets the highest level of government call the tune. Then the bishops should ensure that their local churches roll up their sleeves and do what they can to interact with and assist real people with real problems, and to help put in place and strengthen the local organizations necessary to get each job done.

"Local initiative and intermediary institutions are key components of a vibrant culture and essential to the common good. They also protect and enhance the role of churches, and therefore of religion and Catholicism itself. To forge an effective public strategy, the default position of bishops must be to favor subsidiarity.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Latin Rosary

For Lent this year I have decided, among other things, to recite a daily rosary in Latin. For more than a year I have been slowly learning some of the basic Catholic prayers in the language of the Church. Thus far I have memorized, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, and the Fatima Prayer (O My Jesus), which together comprises the majority of the rosary. (I have also memorized the standard meal prayer and use it quite frequently.) The only prayer I lack for the rosary is the Apostles Creed. This one will be the longest and therefore most difficult prayer to master. I doubt I will have it fully memorized by Easter, but Lent is all about challenging ourselves, right?

I thought I would use this opportunity to present on this blog the full text of each of the prayers of the rosary as well as links to audio clips for each prayer. Just click on the Latin title of the prayer below to listen to a recording of the Latin, or right-click and select “Save link as” to save an MP3 file of the prayer for later playback. Listening to an actual audio recording of the Latin helped me immensely in learning correct pronunciation.

Lent is a perfect time to take up Latin in our personal prayer life. For one thing, using a foreign language challenges us (which demands a sacrifice of our time and effort – and certainly Lent is a time for sacrifice), but the use of Latin also adds a layer of mystery. It forces us to ponder the meaning of our faith from a new angle, to explore the richness of our Catholic heritage in a new light. Lent is a time of reflection and searching for deeper meaning to our faith. Praying in Latin gives a spiritual voice to that Lenten journey.

Apostles Creed - Symbolum Apostolorum
Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem;
Creatorem caeli et terrae.
Et in Jesum Christum,
Filium eius unicum, Dominum nostrum;
qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto,
natus ex Maria Virgine;
passus sub Pontio Pilato,
crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus;
descendit ad inferos;
tertia die resurrexit a mortuis;
ascendit ad caelos;
sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis;
inde venturus est
judicare vivos et mortuos.
Credo in Spiritum Sanctum;
sanctam ecclesiam catholicam;
sanctorum communionem;
remissionem peccatorum;
carnis resurrectionem;
vitam aeternam.
Our FatherPater Noster
Pater Noster, qui es in caelis,
sanctificetur nomen tuum.
Adveniat regnum tuum.
Fiat voluntas tua,
sicut in caelo et in terra.
Panem nostrum quotidianum
da nobis hodie,
et dimitte nobis debita nostra
sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
Et ne nos inducas in tentationem,
sed libera nos a malo.
Hail Mary - Ave Maria
Ave Maria, gratia plena,
Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus
ventris tui, Iesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae.

Glory Be - Gloria Patri
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio,
et nunc, et semper,
et in saecula saeculorum.
O My Jesus (Fatima Prayer) - O Mi Jesu
O mi Jesu, remitte nobis peccata nostra,
libera nos ab igne inferni,
conduc in caelum omnes animas,
praesertim illas quae maxime indigent
misericordia tua.

+        +        +

For a general introduction to the Rosary visit these sites:
How to Pray the Rosary
The Rosary Confraternity 
How to Recite the Rosary (a printable guide in PDF format)
The Holy Rosary
The Most Holy Rosary (in English and Latin)

Friday, March 11, 2011

This Week's Headlines

As another week comes to an end, this is your chance to top off your glass with a final helping of news, current events, and just plain interesting stuff that may not have made into the mainstream media. A chance to linger for a few more moments before we close the door on the week. Below are some links to articles, blogs, and miscellaneous happenings that caught my eye over the past few days. Sample what you like - I'll serve up more next Friday...

Scholars Praise Pope's New Book - "This is a book that all Christians should read, be they Protestant or Catholic. Any Jewish person who is interested in the Christian story and who Jesus was, I think, will profit."
Great Lent (by Thomas Howard) - "The ancient Church, in its observance of Lent, once more asks us to move through the gospel with Christ Himself"

Young Children Receiving Ashes This Wednesday - "I have a three year old girl. She loves the material aspects of Catholicism (holy cards, holy water, lighting candles, relics etc) and has a pretty good understanding of them for her age. Can she receive ashes on Ash Wednesday?"
What Ever Happened to Sacrifice? - "Take up that lost practice of fasting - serious fasting.  Let the pangs of hunger serve to remind you of the cross and that your life is not your own."
So What Are You Giving Up For Lent? - "Of course we did not know it as children, but the concept of giving up has ancient roots in the Old Testament and beyond. Those roots are found in the concept of sacrifice."

Why We Must Fast - "...the practices of Lent are three: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It will not do simply to practice one of the three, leaving the others aside."

Dumb Liberal Idea #3464: Removing Holy Water During Lent - "You are a soldier and pilgrim in a dangerous world. What is Lent for? Spiritual discipline and war, right? So why… why… why would these dopey liturgists and priests REMOVE a tool of spiritual warfare precisely during the season of LENT when we need it the most??"

An Inoffensive, Vanilla Christianity - "[T]he modern state [is] one of the strongest forms of idolatry that exists; it has become the most absolute substitute for God that men have been able to give themselves… and it is a tyrant god, feeding itself on its victims."

A Public Strategy for Bishops - "[I]n today’s rapidly secularizing culture, almost nothing could be more inimical to the Catholic interest—or indeed to the entire common good—than a default position in favor of solving problems by increasing the responsibility and power of the highest levels of government." 
Budgets, the Church, and the Welfare State - "I highlight the following quote from Abraham Kuyper: 'Never forget that all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your Savior.'"

Why I'm Fighting in Wisconsin - [Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin, explains why his policies are necessary...From a Catholic perspective it is obvious that Unions are not always on the side of Justice.] 
Reform of the Reform - "...while I do not claim to be an expert, what I say will be based on sound principles as set forth in The Spirit of the Liturgy, and from the bit of experience I have had so far." [A great series to watch for from Fr. Longenecker on his blog Standing On My Head ]
The Armchair Pro-Life - "In a two-party system, legislative advances require activists to sometimes pick sides. Given that the Democrat party sold its soul years ago and is now a wholly owned subsidiary of big abortion, we are left with the Republicans."

Haggling Over the Cost of Humanity - "You talk about culture wars. The divide in Western civilization isn't between rich and poor, red vs. blue, or the uneducated vs. the educated. It's God. God is the dividing line. You either believe God loves each of us and grants us inalienable rights or you believe that everything is negotiable including life."
‘Gay’ atheist warns of ‘tyrannous new … liberal morality’ oppressing Christians - "Starkey described growing up being homosexual with what he believes was harassment from police.  He said however that, 'I am very, very concerned that a new sort of liberal morality is coming in, which as I said, is as intolerant, is as oppressive, is as intrusive into family life.'"

U.S. Anglican Ordinariate Update - "At this point the ad hoc committee is waiting for the Vatican’s formal decision on establishing an Anglican Ordinariate.  A definitive decision by the Vatican is expected to occur."

Hundreds of Anglicans Moving to Catholic Church - "Hundreds of disaffected Anglicans left the Church of England to become Roman Catholics on Ash Wednesday, the Christian day of penance." See also: The Daunting Journey from Faith to Faith
Anglicans Mull Communion For All - "Canadian Anglicans will hold discussions this spring about whether baptism is necessary for taking part in communion -questioning a requirement of Christianity that has existed for 2,000 years."
Instruction on Summorum Pontificum will reinforce Pope's directive: Vatican analyst - Although some traditionalist groups have expressed fears that the Instruction might water down the provisions of the motu proprio, Tornielli reports that the new document will actually strengthen the force of the Pope’s directive to expand use of the extraordinary form." 
Top Ten Religious Catchphrases of Liberalism - [Funny]