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Monday, November 28, 2005

Exploiting the Most Vulnerable?

Could this be true? According to HealthWorld Online, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is looking at allowing pesticide testing on orphans and mentally handicapped children. They're drafting legislation to permanently ban chemical testing on pregnant women and children, but the draft legislation proposal includes some serious loopholes that leave the most vulnerable unprotected. As the EPA is still accepting public comments, this is the perfect time to voice objection.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Endurance

The Gospel reading for Nov. 23 comes from Luke 21:12 - 19:

Jesus said: ‘Before all this happens, men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’

and the notion of endurance comes up again. When I was looking at Hab 2:4, Heb 10:38, Rom 1:17 and Gal 5:6 in an earlier post, the notion of endurance also seemed to be relevant. The original context in Hab 2:4 was when God was reassuring the prophet Habakkuk and his people of Israel to endure the suffering they were undergoing at the hands of foreign oppressors. 'He will not delay' and the prophet was referring to the Messiah who was coming to save his people. In the meantime, the upright, through faith, shall live.

I get uncomfortable when someone preaches a nice, no-suffering, no-hardship gospel. I agree that the tribulations we must endure for the gospel do not give glory to God simply because they are painful, and it is no cause for pride on our part. But I'd be very careful myself not to give the impression that following the Lord is burden-free. The Lord said "my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt 11:25-30).He did not say that there was no yoke, that there was no burden. I am reminded instead of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Pio of Petrelcina, and perhaps every martyr whose tribulations and martyrdom were endured with great hope, faith and above all, love. There is a burden involved in following Christ, but the one thing that makes that burden easy and light is love, and it is love which gives glory to God because it is exactly that which our God wishes us to learn and live in our lives. St. Francis found out the paradox of absolute freedom and joy when he embraced Sister Poverty as he called her, not because being absolutely without material possessions was pleasurable but because it was liberating to be in total abandonment to God's providence.

Endurance. Because love endures.

Pope St. Clement I of Rome

On Nov. 23, the Church celebrates the feast of Pope St. Clement I, fourth bishop of Rome. The Catholic Encyclopedia has a good entry about him. Most of the writings attributed to him are in dispute, but the epistle of St. Clement to the Corinthians is not only widely held to be authentic, it was being read in Corinth during the liturgy as late as AD 170. It was also proposed to include it in the canon of the New Testament when that was being decided in the 4th century. Not necessarily a strong candidate, but it was considered to be authentically written by Pope St. Clement and quite orthodox. Written late in the first century, it found favorable use in many churches outside of Corinth as well.

Here is an English translation of the epistle by Charles H. Hoole in 1885. Note that there are other translations as well. It's a good read because it shows signs of early developments in the doctrine of the Trinity, Apostolic succession and the structure of the Church. I found an amusing summary or abstract of the epistle someplace which said that the church in Corinth hadn't changed much since St. Paul's day. How so? Schisms, infidelity to orthodoxy, the sort of things that probably gave St. Paul and Pope St. Clement a "this-stiff-necked-people" sort of headache.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

By Faith the Righteous Shall Live

A friend asks about that and here I try my best to respond. May the Holy Spirit guide what follows and strengthen both my friend's faith and mine.

This is cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church thus:

1814 Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith "man freely commits his entire self to God." For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God's will. "The righteous shall live by faith." Living faith "work[s] through charity."

The theme of the original words of the prophet Habakkuk (Hab 2:1-4) is persevering by faith (or faithfulness). Romans 1:17 uses these words to explain why the gospel is so important for faithful living: because the gospels reveal God's righteousness which encourages us (Rom 1:11-12) to be faithful. The righteous by faith in God naturally seek to know God's will, and this, the gospel reveals. But the word used in Hab 2:4 also means faithfulness, which extends faith into a faith that is lived. This necessarily places the faithful among those to whom the promise extends. Hab 2:3 tells us: 'For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.' Hebrews 10:37 phrases this wondrously: 'For yet "in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay"' -- linking the enduring confidence or trust of the faithful to the promised reward of salvation through Jesus Christ. And this saving faith is summed up in Gal 5:6 when St. Paul addresses the Christians who are reverting to Judaism and is emphasis on the Law, e.g., circumcision: 'For in Christ Jesus neiher circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working (or made effective) through love.'

Citations from Scripture:

`
Gal 3:11 It is plainly written that no one becomes righteous, in God's way, by the Law: by faith the righteous shall live.
  In the surrounding text (Gal 3:1-14), St. Paul is pointing out to Jewish converts, reverting to Judaism away from Christianity, that life is no longer to be had by observance of the Law, but through faith. Gal 3:12 says: 'Yet the Law gives no place to faith, for according to it: the one who fulfills the commandments shall have life through them.' Instead of trusting in what we do, we ought to have faith in God, and persevere in faithfulness.
Rom 1:17 This Good News shows us how God makes people upright through faith for the life of faith, as the Scripture says: The upright one shall live by faith.
  In he surrounding text (Rom 1:16-17), St. Paul points out how the gospel, received by those who have faith, reveals the righteousness of God. He cites the faith (or faithfulness) of the righteous, as spoken of in Hab 2:4, perhaps to support the context of what he is preaching the gospel for: to strengthen the faith (and/or faithfulness) of the righteous. In both Romans 1:1-17 and Hab 2:1-4, note that the theme is encouraging us (Rom 1:11-12) to trust, patience and hope (Hab 2:3). It certainly is logical to view the gospel, the power of God for salvation, as crucial in encouraging the righteous, for in revealing to us God's righteousness, the gospel strengthens our faith. The theme of God's righteousness is prominent in the whole epistle to the Romans.
Hab 2:4 "I don't look with favor on the one who gives way; the upright, on the other hand, will live by faithfulness."
  In the surrounding text (Hab 1:12-17, 2:1-5), the prophet Habakkuk complains to God about the oppression of his people. God replies that the oppression will end, with the upright persevering in a life of faithfulness.
Heb 10:38 Be patient in doing the will of God, and the promise will be yours. A little longer, a little longer -- says Scripture -- and he who is coming will come; he will not delay. My righteous one will live if he believes; but if he distrusts, I will no longer look kindly on him.
  In the surrounding text (Heb 10:19-39), the message is an encouragement to trust in God and to persevere. Distrust is not an option (Heb 10:38, Hab 2:4 "the one who gives way")!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Chirst, the King

Today we solemnly celebrate the universal kingship of Jesus Christ. Not only our savior, but our king. The Gospel reading from Matthew 25:31 - 46 brings to our attention the judgment of our king at the end of time, and it brings home a crucial point which I feel can be neglected: when our king makes his final judgments, 'he will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats.' That actually cuts both ways. Not only will his judgments pronnounce rewards, they will also pronnounce justice: '“Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.”'

We can lay this out gently, knowing how full of love and mercy our king is. The bottom line remains: those pronnounced guilty will reap eternal misery, and that is a tragedy we must avert for ourselves, our family and for those whose lives we may touch. Better still, there is a great surprise awaiting those who do sow in faith, hope and love: '“Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world...”'


Update: Suggested reading on this topic:

Our King and Shepherd from Heart, Mind and Strength blog.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"In his death, a model of courage"

The First Reading on the 15th of November (2 Mc 6:18-31) proudly tells the story of a martyr. Dying with dignity used to mean something else:

Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes, a man of advanced age and noble appearance, was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork. But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement, he spat out the meat, and went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture, as people ought to do who have the courage to reject the food which it is unlawful to taste even for love of life. Those in charge of that unlawful ritual meal took the man aside privately, because of their long acquaintance with him, and urged him to bring meat of his own providing, such as he could legitimately eat, and to pretend to be eating some of the meat of the sacrifice prescribed by the king; in this way he would escape the death penalty, and be treated kindly because of their old friendship with him. But Eleazar made up his mind in a noble manner, worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age, the merited distinction of his gray hair, and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood; and so he declared that above all he would be loyal to the holy laws given by God.

He told them to send him at once to the abode of the dead, explaining: “At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many young people would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion. Should I thus pretend for the sake of a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me, while I would bring shame and dishonor on my old age. Even if, for the time being, I avoid the punishment of men, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws.”

Eleazar spoke thus, and went immediately to the instrument of torture. Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed, now became hostile toward him because what he had said seemed to them utter madness. When he was about to die under the blows,

he groaned and said: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.” This is how he died, leaving in his death a model of courage and an unforgettable example of virtue not only for the young but for the whole nation.

Some mistakes we keep repeating...

The state of many post-Christian societies today came to mind when I came across 1 Maccabees 1:10-15, 41-43, 54-57, 62-63, which was read at the celebration of the Eucharist last 14th November:

[From the descendants of Alexander’s officers] there sprang a sinful offshoot, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus, once a hostage at Rome. He became king in the year one hundred and thirty.seven of the kingdom of the Greeks.

In those days there appeared in Israel men who were breakers of the law, and they seduced many people, saying: “Let us go and make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us.” The proposal was agreeable; some from among the people promptly went to the king, and he authorized them to introduce the way of living of the Gentiles. Thereupon they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem according to the Gentile custom. They covered over the mark of their circumcision and abandoned the holy covenant; they allied themselves with the Gentiles and sold themselves to wrongdoing.

Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, each abandoning his particular customs. All the Gentiles conformed to the command of the king, and many children of Israel were in favor of his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath.

On the fifteenth day of the month Chislev, in the year one hundred and forty-five, the king erected the horrible abomination upon the altar of burnt offerings and in the surrounding cities of Judah they built pagan altars. They also burned incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. Any scrolls of the law which they found they tore up and burnt. Whoever was found with a scroll of the covenant, and whoever observed the law, was condemned to death by royal decree. But many in Israel were determined and resolved in their hearts not to eat anything unclean; they preferred to die rather than to be defiled with unclean food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. Terrible affliction was upon Israel.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Gerry Matatics, Sedevacantism and Stumbling on Peter

Somewhere below, Lito from extranos has been asking me to give my two cents on his two cents on Gerry Matatics' sedevacantism, i.e., he declares that the seat of Peter has actually been vacant for a while on the grounds that a string of popes including the present one are heretical and therefore are not valid popes.

I'm not sure what to say. Perhaps Lito should had given me some specific questions to answer. I've never come across Gerry Matatics before, but this is not the first I've heard of sedevacantists and I've come across cases where people go further and declare themselves (or have a small group of "Catholics" declare them) as the valid bishop of Rome holding office in.. the porch of some house in some town in the United States, for example.

Dave Armstrong's comment boxes as well as Mark Shea's provide great clues as to why I won't be changing my Sunday plans anytime in this lifetime or the next. Moreover, Gerry's views are not as simple as they can be made out to be. Compare what Gerry says about his own beliefs in the institution of the papacy:

'By invoking the Old Testament testimony of Isaias, by borrowing his language and concept of the chief steward, or prime minister, Jesus, in effect, is saying to Peter: "The Church I will build is the Kingdom of God. I, the Son of David the King, will be its King. But I must have My officers, My ministers, My stewards. You are going to be My chief steward. So, I'm going to give you the keys the chief steward carries." And, since the chief steward's office is one of dynastic succession, Our Lord intended Peter's office and authority to be transmitted to successors.

And so we come to the final consideration: historically, who, in fact, inherited Peter's office and authority? There's only one candidate -the Bishop of Rome! I saw from early Church history that all Church Fathers who talked about where Peter went, talked about his going to Rome. It's as historically documented as any fact we know about the early Church - that Peter went to Rome, that he died in Rome, and that the next bishop of Rome acted confidently as the possessor of his authority, which the early Church sought and accepted.'

with this statement from extranos:

'There are some things that Mr. Matatics agree with the Protestants, the papacy is the seat of the anti-Christ so says their confessions of faith.'

It appears that Gerry will disagree that the papacy is the seat of the anti-Christ.

So what is Gerry's problem? I am still trying to discover that. From what I can tell thus far, he has a falling out with the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) and the popes who held the See of Peter from then until now. I agree with him that liturgical abuses are deplorable. However, I don't see that as somethng that was dogmatically perpetrated by Vatican II, nor by the popes of the last 40 years or so. If anything, it is due to laxity on the part of the Church Magisterium to enforce faithful adherence to the Catholic faith, in both liturgy and in catechism.

I sympathize with Gerry, but off-hand I think he's made a similar mistake that many have made when they went up against past or present popes: he is, in effect, arrogating for himself, good intentions and all, an authority higher than that of the Church Magisterium. When he wrote these words,

'This would include, not only the manifest heretics John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, and John Paul II, but also the manifest heretic and present illicit and invalid occupant of the See of Peter, Benedict XVI'

I was prompted to ask myself "manifest to whom?" I am also obliged now to consider a few key questions: What is heresy, and how have the popes mentioned promulgated heresy? Were they considered heretics before or after being elected as popes? Were they even confronted about their alleged heresy? Was their election invalid due to procedural lapses in the election process? And perhaps ultimately, how does a sedevacantist foresee an end to the vacancy of the seat of Peter?

I am reminded of the paradox that was the choice of Peter. He truly is blessed, because nothing of what was to be the papacy belongs nor originates from the man who is chosen. It is not flesh and blood that reveals truths to him, nor is he the builder of the Church. He is of practical use, a rock upon which to build. He is to hold the keys that are not of his kingdom but of Christ's. He is given the authority to bind and to loose on earth as in Heaven, but since the latter is the greater, it is the former that bends to the source of his authority: Christ. Sedevacantists and Protestants alike dash their teeth against this or that pope without realizing that they have probably fallen into a cynicism that does nto admit the possibility that Christ shepherds His Church exactly as he said he would, through Peter and in spite of Peter's falls. (Matt 16:17-19, John 21:15-17, Luke 22:31)

I also got to thinking that perhaps there is no small amount of pessimism among people who wish to use Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus without any qualifications. Perhaps it is the vehemence of a man who wakes up to a new day convinced that his past life was horrible to the utmost. Unfortunately, that can often be carried too far.


UPDATE: Robert Sungenis makes some good points about this.