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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Feast of theThe Visitation

 

Luke 1:39 - 56, the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

And Mary said:
‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy
– according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.

There are many lessons to be had from this great feast of the Visitation: our Lady's humility, her spirit of rejoicing (and sharing her joy with St. Elizabeth), the annointing of St. John the baptist in his mother's womb, and this curious parallel with another event involving King David and the ark of the covenant. The ark contained the Law (etched in stone), the rod of Aaron, and mana. God's presence made that ark holy, and the touch of Uzzah, apparently at odds with God (and vice cersa) brought him death. How much holier is our Lady, within whom was knit in flesh our Lord, Jesus Christ, who is the new Law, the new covenant and the true bread of life? As St. Luke tells us, not only is she Christ's holy vessel, God chose to use her here to annoint St. John the Baptist, for the Holy Spirit to pour into this unborn from the voice of Mary's greeting. Everything we celebrate about our Lady, we celebrate for us, for we too are vessels of Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit, channels of God's grace for anyone whose lives we touch, by our witness in word and deed, and by the very holiness of our bodies (if we are in communion with the Lord). Because our Lord renews all of creation with holiness, our actions are sanctified by God. As St. Josemaria Escriva prays, "May your behavior and your conversation be such that each person who sees or hears you may say, 'This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.'", and prompt them to listen closely to the Holy Spirit who perpetually invites them into faith and sanctity.

May 29: anniversary of the fall of Constantinople

David Hartline (the Catholic Report) notes this sad anniversary and observes that radical Islam has not changed much over the centuries. It's referred to as the Black Tuesday, May 29, 1453, when the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople 656 years ago. With that invasion came the death of the last Byzantine emperor and the end of the Byzantine empire. Some eye-openers in that wiki link are the occasions prior to that when Rome and Constantinople were actually negotiation a reunification of the two lungs of the Catholic Church. I think that classic adage will always hold true: united we stand, divided we fall. The Lord did say that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand, and so it couldn't. But he did promise that the very gates of hell would never prevail against his Church, which stands to this day but is ailing from within. The Schism with the East has yet to end, but we hope will, very soon. The division with the Protestants remain, and is perhaps most poignant in the continuing feuds between Protestant and Catholic Ireland, where the divisions are deadly. But even that can be mended, not because we have the capacity to mend those divisions, but because the Holy Spirit does, and the need is greater than ever. How is the need greater than before, when Mehmed II was besieging Constantinople? I think it's because this time, the danger attacks from within the Church, from people inside who have started hating themselves and their own heritage. Now, more than ever, we need our brothers and sisters from the Orthodox Church to remind us and the world just what Catholic really means. It isn't coincidence that, while many of our own pastors have forgotten that, and have shunned orthodoxy, our greatest help can come from the Orthodox Church. It's easy to theorize that our Catholic heritage was born of innovations by the Roman Catholic Church. The only thing that spoils those theories is a good, hard look at the same heritage coming from the Orthodox Church -- which is not Roman at all.

While we mourn for Constantinople, as we must, I think there is enough room in our hearts, after 647 years, to also hope.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The living water of the Holy Spirit

From the Office of Readings (via Universalis), St. Cyril of Jerusalem explains to us the actions of the Holy Spirit. This is the one Spirit of God, the spirit of the Father and the Son, a spirit that brings all the aspects of the Father and the Son to all who become children of God through the Son: truth, faith, hope, love -- everything within the divine nature of God. Because this is the same spirit of Father and Son, guess what that makes of all of us: one people of God.

 

Reading from St Cyril of Jerusalem

The water I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life. This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each man as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of his action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvellous.

The Spirit makes one man a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one man’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.

The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.

As light strikes the eyes of a man who comes out of darkness into the sunshine and enables him to see clearly things he could not discern before, so light floods the soul of the man counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables him to see things beyond the range of human vision, thing hitherto undreamed of.

Christ and the world

St. John writes to us in today's Office of Readings (from Universalis) about Christ, the Anti-Christ, and the world. To me, "the world" as often used by the Lord and St. John is like a mob whose spirit is not God's Holy Spirit, and by refusing to order its will with that of God, is a spirit contrary to God. St. John calls that the Anti-Christ which denies Christ. It is particularly chilling to read St. John's words: "Well, now he is here, in the world." While it might have been the emperor Nero whom he had in mind, there is no doubt that the same spirit opposed to Christ is still in this world, long after Nero himself had turned to dust.

It is sadly the case that many among us prefer not to think about the existence of wrong, of evil. We must not cover our eyes, nor our children's eyes, in that way. To do so would be to abandon ourselves to perils that we would not see and cannot defend against. The anti-Christ is waging a war against us, and we must resist. Its spirit opposes us. It opposes life, and since life begins at conception, it opposes conception and attacks the unborn. This spirit opposes love, and since love is nurtured in the home from the love shared by husband and wife, this same spirit opposes marriage and the family they raise together. This spirit opposes Christ, who is our teacher and redeemer, so it opposes truth, which is the basis for all teaching. Thus it also exalts our egos, inciting us to deny that we need redemption. I think this spirit also opposes hope, because one cannot struggle mightily without any hope. So it screams at us that we are totally depraved, beyond redemption and beyond even the desire for redemption.

But we have conquered this spirit before, because Christ conquered it before, but it is hard to see that, when one closes one's eyes to our heritage of martyrdom and centuries of triumph. This is the one sad loss of those among us who reject the memory of the people of God, the Church, and the treasures of their experience in having dealt with the age-old temptations and attacks against God and his flock, which are old tricks used anew in this day and age. We forget them at our own peril, for, knowing in our heart that something is amiss, we seek the answers in the wrong places. But The Church remembers, and she offers up the lessons of the past to anyone who is willing to listen.

 

Reading from 1 John 4:1 - 10

It is not every spirit, my dear people, that you can trust; test them, to see if they come from God, there are many false prophets, now, in the world. You can tell the spirits that come from God by this: every spirit which acknowledges that Jesus the Christ has come in the flesh is from God; but any spirit which will not say this of Jesus is not from God, but is the spirit of Antichrist, whose coming you were warned about. Well, now he is here, in the world.

Children, you have already overcome these false prophets, because you are from God and you have in you one who is greater than anyone in this world; as for them, they are of the world, and so they speak the language of the world and the world listens to them. But we are children of God, and those who know God listen to us; those who are not of God refuse to listen to us. This is how we can tell the spirit of truth from the spirit of falsehood.

My dear people, let us love one another since love comes from God and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love. God’s love for us was revealed when God sent into the world his only Son so that we could have life through him; this is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.

Monday, May 29, 2006

What's Next?

When this sort of thing doesn't surprise you anymore, it's time to worry. Next they'll make it a crime to have given names like "Christopher", "Jesus" (or "Hesus"), or maybe even surnames like "St. Vincent", "San Sebastian", "Santiago", "de la Cruz", "de Dios", "del Rosario" and other Christian names. Lobbyists have already succeeded in getting courts to rule that outward signs of Christianity must be eliminated from public view, e.g., ten commandments (one of the first one to go), nativity scenes (already happened), crosses (that too), etc. Oh, and why not go the distance and forcibly move all Christians to ghettos where they won't offend anyone?

Sigh.

"What Makes The Da Vinci Code Anti-Catholic" by Deal W. Hudson

A reader of the Window wrote asking me to explain why I found The Da Vinci Code anti-Catholic. That's a fair question, since as she pointed out, I didn't supply any examples.

Anyone doubting my word can consult the film's co-producer, John Calley. He told The New York Times (9/7/2005) that the movie was "conservatively anti-Catholic" but not "destructively so."

I wonder if Mr. Calley sought any expert opinions on what would be destructive to the Church, or if he considered himself qualified to make that call. Why did he reject the request for a disclaimer at the beginning of the film, if he was concerned about its possibly being destructive? It's widely known that many of Dan Brown's readers believe his claim that the book is based upon "historical evidence."

Since Calley is a former chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, it's safe to assume that other Sony executives are fully aware of the film's assault on the reputation of the Catholic Church. Peter Boyer has written a fascinating account in The New Yorker (5/22/06) of how Sony's marketing department tried to head off conservative Christian criticism of the film. "(Hollywood Heresy: Marketing 'The Da Vinci Code' to Christians").

Boyer chronicles Sony's attempt to inoculate itself against a Christian backlash by creating a web site for Christians to debate whether Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene; whether they begat children; and whether the Church has hidden this secret ever since.

It's a sad day when Christian scholars get sucked into a scam like this just to be associated with Hollywood.

Sony has not been deterred by the worldwide protest against the film. Why should it? Since The Da Vinci Code is already a financial, though not critical success, Sony has announced its intention of filming more of Dan Brown's novels. Angels and Demons, his 2000 anti-Catholic rant on the subject of science, is already under development.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Human Rights, told me, "What would have happened if Calley had said his movie was 'conservatively' anti-Semitic or African-American? Do you think the film would have ever seen the light of day?"

Donohue has been the most visible Catholic leader making the case against The Da Vinci Code. I asked him to describe the difference between a film that is critical of the Church and one that is anti-Catholic.

"Disagreement with the Church is fine, but when it becomes disdain or disparagement, you have crossed the line."

Donohue used the example of the 1994 movie Priest. "In that film all five priests are dysfunctional, and their dysfunction is directly connected to their ministry, meaning the Church has created their dysfunction. You never meet a normal priest!"

He also said, "There is nothing anti-Catholic about good humor that is not designed to insult but to make people laugh. Mel Brooks, for example, puts forth good old American humor, no one is singled out, and there is no meanness. We all need to laugh at ourselves."

The key to recognizing how anti-Catholicism works in this country is seeing the "sweeping generalizations that would never be used with any other group."

The Da Vinci Code fulfills all of Donohue's main criteria: It represents the institution of the Church as corrupt from the top down. From Bishop Aringarosa (Alfred Molina) to the self-flagellating Opus Dei "monk" Silas (Paul Bettany), there are no admirable representatives of the Church. (There are no "monks" in Opus Dei as Peter Boyer points out.)

The effort to bring the film industry to some recognition of anti-Catholicism is not about censorship, but awareness. Many of those producers and artists making films are either blind to the bias that pervades their community or don't feel obliged to constrain themselves.

As Terry Teachout, drama critic of The Wall Street Journal, informed me, "It's been my experience that any mention of Catholicism in a contemporary work of art, given the current climate of elite opinion, is more than likely to be anti-Catholic."

There was a time when the Church condemned films and tried to keep them from public viewing. The Catholic Legion of Decency, established by the U.S. bishops in 1933, was established for "the purification of the cinema." Its list of condemned films includes one of the most powerful evocations of the Christian faith made in Hollywood, Strange Cargo (1940) starring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford and directed by Frank Borzage, a Catholic. (For a list see the Wikipedia entry).

The pendulum has swung the other way with a vengeance. The film community effectively seeks to censor the Church with a steady barrage of distortion and falsity. Perhaps they will learn that their caricatures of the Church, such as Priest and The Da Vinci Code, simply create bad art, and that will give them pause.


The Window is published by the Morley Institute for Church & Culture.

The Ascension of our Lord

From the Office of Readings today comes these two readings which details what this second Glorious mystery of the Rosary often asks me: what now? You see, while the Lord goes up to prepare rooms in the Father's mansion for us, he does not leave us to be an idle Church. In his three years of ministry, the Lord set about his work of redeeming mankind through his words and his actions. Today, having been glorified in his death and resurrection, the Lord continues his work through his eternal words and the actions of what is now his mystical human body: the Church. The Lord has not therefore gone into the background while the Holy Spirit, sent down to us, takes the foreground. As the Lord went about his three years of public ministry in his human body, quickened by his Holy Spirit, so too does his public ministry continue in the Church, his body, quickened by the same Holy Spirit. The Church, being his body, must work as his will directs, as always geared towards the redemption of mankind. The head of the Church ascends up to heaven, and just as the human mind sits elevated above the body, so too does our head, Christ our Lord, sit elevated above his mystical body, working towards the same goal.

 

Ephesians 4:1 - 24:

I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.
Each one of us, however, has been given his own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. It was said that he would:

When he ascended to the height, he captured prisoners,
he gave gifts to men.


When it says, ‘he ascended’, what can it mean if not that he descended right down to the lower regions of the earth? The one who rose higher than all the heavens to fill all things is none other than the one who descended. And to some, his gift was that they should be apostles; to some, prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; so that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ. In this way we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.
Then we shall not be children any longer, or tossed one way and another and carried along by every wind of doctrine, at the mercy of all the tricks men play and their cleverness in practising deceit. If we live by the truth and in love, we shall grow in all ways into Christ, who is the head by whom the whole body is fitted and joined together, every joint adding its own strength, for each separate part to work according to its function. So the body grows until it has built itself up, in love. In particular, I want to urge you in the name of the Lord, not to go on living the aimless kind of life that pagans live. Intellectually they are in the dark, and they are estranged from the life of God, without knowledge because they have shut their hearts to it. Their sense of right and wrong once dulled, they have abandoned themselves to sexuality and eagerly pursue a career of indecency of every kind. Now that is hardly the way you have learnt from Christ, unless you failed to hear him properly when you were taught what the truth is in Jesus. You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth.
 

From a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop

No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.
Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? and when he said: I was hungry and you gave me food.
Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him? While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love.
He did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven. The fact that he was in heaven even while he was on earth is borne out by his own statement: No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.
These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for he is our head and we are his body. No one ascended into heaven except Christ because we also are Christ: he is the Son of Man by his union with us, and we by our union with him are the sons of God. So the Apostle says: Just as the human body, which has many members, is a unity, because all the different members make one body, so is it also with Christ. He too has many members, but one body.
Out of compassion for us he descended from heaven, and although he ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are in him by grace. Thus, no one but Christ descended and no one but Christ ascended; not because there is no distinction between the head and the body, but because the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.

Obedience to God, obedience to man

There are many who rightly claim that authority is at the core of issues concerning Christian (dis)unity. Protestants, in particular, will not accept that there is any person on earth who holds universal (e.g., catholic) authority, in the form of the papacy. I can imagine Protestants being somewhat incredulous that Catholics would dare to take seriously such lines as "do whatsoever they tell you but practice not what they do" or "he who hears you, hears me" and of course, "he who rejects you, rejects me". I hardly fault them for their sense of right and wrong, however. To some extent, everyone can smell corrupt teaching or leadership. But it is not necessarily true that there exists some God-given authority for the sheep to pull down their pastors -- nor the institution of pastoring.

Anti-papacy is at its heart a form of despair. It is sadly born from true concerns about corrupt leaders who failed to uphold the truth, but for the sheep to take matters into their own hands is, to me, a resignation in despair. One has to have failed to see that the Lord promised perpetuity to the Church, and authority to her leaders, while starkly leaving no stipulations on what to do with corrupt leaders. That does not mean that he would tolerate them, of course, but look at the bigger picture: the Lord gives remarkably absolute authority to the leaders of his household, insists upon one of them a particular task to watch and feed his flock, but leaves no word as to how the flock may pull him down along with the other pastors when they misbehave. Why the omission?

Because the Lord reserves for himself the task of pulling them down when necessary. The Lord raises up and tears down. As David maintains of then incumbent King Saul, it is not up to anyone to "lay a hand on the Lord's anointed." David's heart was not deceived by complacency nor was he shirking responsibility. On the contrary, while he could have taken action, with King Saul falling within his power, he saw that he should not have to. Hounded by Saul, still did David's trust in God win out against fear and anxiety. Had Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and other Protestant reformers kept to such trust and hope, what a Church we would have had, reformed and still whole. The same can be said about present day protestants inside the Catholic Church whose anxieties have overturned their trust in God's sure hand, resulting in a sad mix of zeal, bitterness and, in believing that their own hands alone will bring about reform, arrogance. And since the Lord never gave instructions about where to bring grievances against the Church itself, it has been far too easy to believe that the Church was not built on Peter after all.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Is this a Mass?

Sadly, that thought came to me today as I was witnessing the Mass unfold today where a friend's daughter was celebrating her first communion with maybe two dozen other kids. I say "witnessing" because, as my wife said so insightfully, participation was oddly missing. Everyone remains seated. To a Catholic, celebrating the Mass is odd when standing, kneeling and sitting at the right times is not there. The stark feeling of irreverence was driving me nuts, especially when the Word of God was being read (we should stand) and when the bread and wine were being consecrated (we should kneel!). I suppose it was only logical that the soloist sang in many parts of the Mass but no one sang the Hosanna. Or, as another friend at that same "Mass" said, he didn't even see the Host elevated when he announced that "this" (hidden within the circle of first communicants standing around the altar) was the Lamb of God.

Staying seated like that, it was like nothing more than being spectators of some show or movie. Yes, we sang, or spoke our replies, but each one of us is more than just a talking head. The entirety of each of us was created by the Father, redeemed by the Son and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. That includes our bodies. We are called to love our God with all our minds, hearts, soul and with all our strength. The entirety of our strength is not exclusively in any aspect of ours but in every aspect, and that includes our bodies.

There's this interesting relationship between smiling and happiness which applies, I think. When we are happy, we smile. It also turns out that smiling "tickles" our brain into feeling happier. Our bodily actions relate in the same way with our faith. St. James tells us that faith without works is dead precisely because it isn't a complete, living faith if it does not involve our complete, living selves. If our bodies do not work in accordance with what we believe, then we risk that same influence travelling down from a bodily laziness to worship to a rational laziness. Is it any wonder that many among us who stop worshipping in Church have also stopped believing the faith of their fathers? It's not just that the lack of works reveals a lack of faith, as the Evangelicals usually emphasize that works are fruits of our faith. St. James hits it on the head when he says that faith without works is dead, because one without the other is incomplete. One of my favorite authors/teachers relates that to either a body without a soul, which is a corpse, or a soul without a body, which is a ghost.

The Holy Spirit rightly calls that sort of worship "lip service".

Saturday, May 27, 2006

From Rock to The Rock

Pardon the lame title, but this is a shocker: Alice Cooper found Christ at last. I'm not a big fan of Alice Cooper, but he's a talented musician and I particularly loved his ballad "I Never Cry" which, given that I'm as sentimental as the next Filipino, fits right in. God bless the man, and how awesome is this, eh?

Living in Hope, Holiness and Rejoicing

Sometimes I wish everyone would have the time for the Liturgy of the Hours. I get my daily dose from this fantastic prayer book Sister Roma gave me last year, which contains the morning, daytime, evening and night prayers, and from Universalis Online, which I have on my PDA. While Universalis does not currently include hymns and other parts of the complete devotion, it does have the Office of Readings which I don't have in my prayer book. Apart from the Psalms, it also includes some very ancient hymns and prayers accumulated by the Church since ancient times. There are also readings from Church Fathers and saints who have gone before us. Here's a sample of the New Testament reading and from the Church Fathers, from today's Office of Readings via Universalis, from St. John (the Apostle) and St. Augustine (bishop of Hippo):

 

1 John 3:1 - 10

Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us,
by letting us be called God’s children;
and that is what we are.
Because the world refused to acknowledge him,
therefore it does not acknowledge us.
My dear people, we are already the children of God
but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed;
all we know is, that when it is revealed
we shall be like him
because we shall see him as he really is.

Surely everyone who entertains this hope
must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ.
Anyone who sins at all
breaks the law,
because to sin is to break the law.
Now you know that he appeared in order to abolish sin,
and that in him there is no sin;
anyone who lives in God does not sin,
and anyone who sins
has never seen him or known him.
My children, do not let anyone lead you astray:
to live a holy life
is to be holy just as he is holy;
to lead a sinful life is to belong to the devil,
since the devil was a sinner from the beginning.
It was to undo all that the devil has done
that the Son of God appeared.
No one who has been begotten by God sins;
because God’s seed remains inside him,
he cannot sin when he has been begotten by God.

In this way we distinguish the children of God
from the children of the devil:
anybody not living a holy life
and not loving his brother
is no child of God’s.
 

Reading from a sermon of St. Augustine: "Always rejoice in the Lord!"

The Apostle commands us to rejoice, but in the Lord, not in the world. For, you see, as Scripture says, whoever wishes to be a friend of this world will be counted as God’s enemy. Just as a man cannot serve two masters, so too no-one can rejoice both in the world and in the Lord. Let joy in the Lord win and go on winning, until people take no more joy in the world. Let joy in the Lord always go on growing, and joy in the world always go on shrinking until it is reduced to nothing. I do not mean that we should not rejoice as long as we are in this world, but that even while we do find ourselves in this world, we should already be rejoicing in the Lord. Someone may argue, “I am in the world; so obviously, if I rejoice, I rejoice where I am”. What of it? Because you are in the world, does it mean that you are not in the Lord? Listen to the same Apostle in the Acts of the Apostles, speaking to the Athenians, and saying about God and about the Lord, our Creator, In him we live, and move, and are. Since he is everywhere, there is nowhere that he is not. Is it not precisely this that he is emphasising to encourage us? The Lord is very near; do not be anxious about anything. This is something tremendous, that he ascended above all the heavens but is still very near to those who dwell on earth, wherever they may be. Who can this be that is both far away and close at hand, except the one who became our near neighbour out of mercy? The whole of the human race, you see, is that man who was lying in the road, left there by robbers, half dead, who was ignored by the passing priest and Levite, while the passing Samaritan stopped by him to take care of him and help him; and when the Immortal, the Just, was far away from us mortals and sinners, he came down to us to become – that far distant being – our near neighbour. He has not treated us according to our sins. For we are his children. How do we prove this? The only Son died for us so that he would not remain the only child. He did not want to be alone, who died alone. The only Son of God made many children for God. He bought himself brothers and sisters with his blood; rejected, he accepted us; sold, he bought us back; dishonoured, he honoured us; killed, he brought us life. So then, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord, not in the world; that is, rejoice in faithfulness and not in iniquity; rejoice in the hope of eternity and not the brief flower of vanity. Rejoice thus, and wherever you are here, as long as you are here, the Lord is very near: do not be anxious about anything.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Brief History of the Gospel

Nice and concise, by Fr. William Saunders. And for those days when I need more details, there's always "Where We Got the Bible" by Henry G. Graham. A bit more barbs and heat than I'd have otherwise preferred, but the data is very good, well-researched and firmly grounded on facts.

Unlike this bestselling novel I know.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dangerous Prayer of Blessing

The Anchoress writes this excellent post about what it truly means to let go and let God. She asks the truly confronting question: what does it really mean to be able to say “not my will, but thine be done…”?

While the Anchoress and the Happy Catholic are dealing with this question as it concerns, for example, homosexuality, the idea tickled something else at the back of my mind. Protestants and Orthodox alike have gripes about the Catholic Church. Lots of gripes. Limited to specific settings and incidents, or specific actions done by specific people, I'd have to say that many of those gripes are valid gripes. But I've thought about this a lot, and rather than defend the Church in those instances, it dawned on me that it wasn't a question of the Church being right all the time. No, I don't mean that papal infallibility doesn't exist, because it does. But those valid gripes were not about Church doctrines going all wrong, but members and leaders of the Church doing wrong. I will, however, defend the Church the way Christ and the Apostles built it up, with one truly crucial foundation holding up the household of the living God: obedience. It's about obedience to the Apostles (he who hears you..). By transitivity, this is about obedience to Christ (.. hears me). This goes further, however. For as Christ sent the Apostles, the Apostles sent out their successors, the bishops, e.g., St. Timothy, St. Matthias. If the Apostles are to be obeyed by Christ's authority, what are we to do about those that the Apostles command us to obey? Obey them, of course. But what if they go wrong? The sex abuse scandals of the American Catholic Church makes it clear that bishops do err. But Christ never promised that error was impossible. What he promised was that the authority of the Apostles was unquestionable (he who rejects you, rejects me). So how does this dilemma play out, when nobody suggests that the Apostles themselves were impeccable? The answer is fairly simple, and the Lord himself told us:

 "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice." (Matthew 23:2-3).

The Lord minces no words about authorized teachers and their erroneous ways, but nowhere does he tell his disciples to supplant them. How can this be tolerated by Christ? Simple: it isn't for us to supplant corrupt leaders; God himself will take them down and raise up new leaders. The history of the people of Israel includes many accounts of corrupt leaders, notably among her kings, but nowhere does God abolish the royal line, and certainly not the tradition of kingship. The same goes for prophets, but God does not anywhere say "let there be no more prophets!" It is most notable that the most celebrated bishop in Catholic history, whom we call the prince of the Apostles, actually inherits an office that runs along the same rules. Our Lord installs Simon Peter as his prime minister, embodied in the giving of the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16:18-19), which harkens back to the office of master of the palace, attached to the Davidic kingship, as related about a newly appointed Eliakim. The latter is chosen by God to replace the previous holder of that office, Shebna (Isaiah 22:20-22). So should we come under shabby leadership of the same ilk as Shebna, we are not to lose hope, for God will pull Shebna down, and replace him with Eliakim, whom he appoints decisively:

 Thus says the Lord, the GOD of hosts: Up, go to that official, Shebna, master of the palace,
Who has hewn for himself a sepulcher on a height and carved his tomb in the rock: "What are you doing here, and what people have you here, that here you have hewn for yourself a tomb?"
The LORD shall hurl you down headlong, mortal man! He shall grip you firmly
And roll you up and toss you like a ball into an open land To perish there, you and the chariots you glory in, you disgrace to your master's house!
I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station.
On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah;
I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.
I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.
I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family;

So how should our attitude be towards the leadership of the Church? It should be of calm and hopeful obedience. We are not naive enough to think that they never err. We are not presumptious enough, however, to think that it is up to us to take their offices forcibly in schism. Sure we should complain, to rave against lack of fidelity to their office. We are obliged, in fact, to speak out in truth and justice. However, we are not to stage an uprising. We are not without hope, to believe that God would abandon us indefinitely among wolves dressed in shepherd's clothings. It is God who grants the charism of leadership, it is God who calls new pastors of his flock, and it is God who takes them down when necessary. To claim otherwise is to belittle God's promises.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Rewarding Injustice

When I think about friends of mine gushing about what "a great movie" the Da Vinci Code was, there's this one stark reaction deep within me: it hurts. Some enterprising people have just made money through fiction that explores, in the public arena, whether or not my family, from generation to generation, has been deceptive and murderous.

My friends have basically rewarded Dan Brown and Ron Howard for their efforts. Never mind what their objectives were -- for example, people like Tom Hanks have claimed such noble aims as "to get people talking" about their faith. However, the end does not justify the means. To make a movie that villifies an entire community of believers, in this and generations before it, is a very grave venture. To do so using lies and embellishments, even assuming noble ends, cannot be justified. The means used by Brown and Howard are gravely wrong: slander, insult, deception. To insinuate that a non-fictional group of people are guilty of murder is usually considered an offense. Except when the victim is the Catholic Church, of course.

It dawned on me yesterday that the DVC phenomenon is not exclusively an attack on the initiates to the faith, whom the book might deceive into relinquishing their explorations. The attack is particularly subtle against self-professed "open-minded" Christians themselves who laud the book and the movie. They are being desensitized to attacks against Christians and Christ. Without knowing it, these Christians who support the movie are giving up their sense of justice and truth. Instead of being concerned about the insults and deception, they are more concerned about being seen as over-reacting. They do not realize that, by supporting Brown and Howard, they are encouraging similar pursuits in the future. They do so without saying "you should make more such movies." It is enough that they are saying "we don't mind that you make such movies -- we'll watch them." Without realizing it, the people who say so are eschewing valid forms of dialogue for other forms that set a tone hostile to the Gospel. This CE article relates that, according to "interviews given by the screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and the producer Brian Grazer, “no outside research” was conducted in production of the movie; “the ‘truth’ in books was never of any interest” to the makers of the film (L.A. Times 5-16-2006)." Read that again: “the ‘truth’ in books was never of any interest”. Where is the intelligence in that?

The Church has faced attacks before, and the attacks will never stop until the Lord comes again. The casualty in these attacks is never the Church, for she will never fall because Christ himself sustains her. I'm pointing out that the casualties include those in the Church who, rather than dennounce the attacks, watch them unfold as spectators. As it so happens, the recent attack was through a movie, therefore making the spectators not simply silent witnesses but the satisfied patrons of an entertaining bloodsport. As the author of same CE article relates, a friend who is a movie critic, "who sees an average of 300 films a year, looking back over his repertoire of film history, confirmed that Stigmata, Priest, and Dogma were child’s play compared to this film."

To those who believe themselves "above the pettiness" of the furor over DVC the movie, I have to ask: by considering the DVC as a valid venue for dialogue with our Christian faith, does one not justify dialogue without any basis of truth? How can you dialogue with someone who does not care enough to bring true research into the discussions?

Finally, I wonder if the makers of the movie are basically saying this:

 "Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God's son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance." (Wisdom 2:17-19; suggested commentary by Mark Shea)

Perhaps they say this of the Church. It is noteworthy that, while this something that prophets expected of those who reject Christ, it is perplexing that such an attitude can come from Christians themselves. Sure, this passage refers to Christ himself, but Christians, of all people, should know that to persecute the body of Christ is to persecute Christ himself. So I ask in all sincerity: what are Christians doing, approving the persecution of Christ and his Church?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Brief but Fascinating Story about Randall Terry

.. founder of Operation Rescue and courageous champion of the unborn, recently a Catholic convert, and always a dragon slayer.

The Sacred Feminine (no, really)

I'd forgotten about Flores de Mayo, a celebration of the Blessed Mother during the month of May that may still be popular back home in the Philippines and elsewhere. I remember the flowers, the processions and the festive mood, which I'd witnessed a few times in my childhood. Imagine that, we celebrate the truly sacred feminine: the Blessed Mother. So sacred and so divine that we call her the Holy Mother, Holy Mary, Queen of angels, Queen of Patriarchs -- the litany of praises is quite long. The Church has the audacity to claim that this woman, out of all of humanity, may rightfully claim the highest honorific that a mere mortal may ever be given: Mother of God -- the theotokos or "God-bearer". Can you believe it? A woman!

And Dan Brown fans parrot the claim that the Church despises women! What makes it even more ironic is that one of the things you can count on with Opus Dei is their deep devotion to Our Lady.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The powerful message of Love

Benjamin D. Walker of Crisis Magazine assures us that, far from being a mushy encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" (God is Love) is ..

 " .. a declaration of war, and it is loaded with ammunition—much of it stealth in design, and of such power that the Church under Benedict XVI will certainly be the Church Militant."

Mr. Walker's analysis is worth a thoughtful reading. The Vatican website has Deus Caritas Est online.

Just a fiction, huh?

How's this for starters?

 

Two thirds of Britons who have read Dan Brown's thriller believe that Jesus fathered a child with Mary Magdalene, a claim rejected as baseless by historians and Bible scholars.

Those who have read it are also four times as likely to think that the conservative Roman Catholic organisation Opus Dei, whose members include the Cabinet minister Ruth Kelly, is a murderous sect.

Seventeen per cent of readers are convinced that the lay group, whose founder was canonised by the late Pope John Paul II, has ordered or carried out a murder, compared with four per cent of those who have not read the book.

Yes, some people are in serious need of education, but it really isn't enough to say "tut-tut" and that's their problem. If you see someone walking around with her shoulder bag unzipped, contents showing, you don't just say "she's asking for it" do you?

(Stumbled into this via Cafeteria is Closed, who found this through Open Book.)

Hey, it's just fiction

Good point, Mark:
  I proposed a fictional film in which all the homosexuals in the world were engaged in a vast conspiracy to destroy Western Civilization.

[And the response was,] "That would be offensive."

No duh.

Saintly intercessions from Pope John Paul II?

At least this nun believes so, but what I find most educational about this is the essence of intercessory prayers that we offer up for one another in the communion of saints. It is expressed very well in the nun's own words:

"What the Lord has granted me to live through the intercession of John Paul II is a great mystery, difficult to explain with words ... but nothing is impossible for God."

It always comes back to our loving God. Catholics never claim that we have power of our own that makes prayers for one another effective. The power and the glory are God's, but like a loving Father, he chooses to share the work with his children, allowing them to also share in the pleasure of loving all his children. I would think that giving saints a share in the work of divine healing is no more astounding than giving them a share in the work of divine teaching. As for praying to "dead" saints, objecting to that is to forget that the Lord is the God of the living, not the dead. If the cloud of witnesses are of saints who share in the life of Christ, then is it even possible to believe that Christ withheld his promise that they would never die?

Incidentally, some nasty bug has been doing the rounds at my household lately, two of my kids having had fever last night. I'll be sure to ask for the intercession of our favorite saints tonight.

And you? What about it? Care to pray for my kids, too? That would be much appreciated.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

More Da Vinci Code antidotes

Very well presented facts and logic, from Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco. (Found via Open Book.)

Musings of a Chinese Catholic Convert

A Taiwanese ambassador, no less. Very interesting reflections here.

Condoning murder

This is too bizarre for words. Those who collude with abortion may argue about which trimester or week of the nine months the embryo or fetus becomes a human being with basic human rights. In the mind of Tammy Skinner, and others like her, it's crystal clear. It is either the unborn has no rights until born, or those rights exist from the very first moment.

Let's make it simple: the only difference between the unborn and those already born is whether they are in the womb or outside it. At the very moment of conception, it is not a fertilized egg: it is a conceptus, something conceived. An egg cell has 23 chromosomes, like the sperm cell, but the conceptus has 46. It has 46, just like any human being. Nor is it a lump of the mother's tissue, since their DNA are distinct from one another. Furthermore, the DNA of the conceptus will be the DNA of the fetus, infant, toddler and adult that the conceptus will one day be.

If allowed to live.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Hope for East and West

Here is a hopeful sign from Greece, hopefully another blessing is coming soon through the grace. Reminds me of this excerpt from the third eucharistic prayer from the Roman Missal:

"From age to age you gather a people to yourself,
so that from east to west
a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name.”

Amen! In the apostolic letter Orientale Lumen, Pope John Paul the Great refers to this prayer as a "call to our unity" which we must not neglect. According to this resource, that eucharistic prayer itself comes from the East.

Here is where we need the Holy Spirit today, when the world needs to hear the gospel more than ever. Let the Church in the East and West clean house and end the scandalous schism that betrays the will of Christ: "ut unum sint" -- they may be one. Our Lord himself tells us why this is important: "that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me." (John 17:23).

Papa Bene on Apostolic Tadition

Very interesting thoughts from the Holy Father, particularly on apostolic succession:

 "Christ's mandate, the Pope continued, involves not only the apostles' duty to pass along the teaching of the Church, but also their work of pastoral, liturgical, and prophetic leadership." 

Further reading: full text of general audience, May 3.

Lawsuits?

Lawsuits against Dan Brown or the film makers? I'm not too sure about that, but speaking out the truth, definitely. Brown's prank in DVC was to invent a code in Da Vinci's art and a conspiracy in the history of Christianity. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to decode the fiction.

The Da Vinci Confusion

A friend relates how, during a First Communion information session for kids and parents, a child asked the facilitator, "is it true that St. Mary Magdalene married Jesus?"

It's not enough to worry for the uninitiated. If they didn't pluck up the courage to ask such questions, they would risk being in a state of utter confusion. I guess this goes beyond the DVC fabrications. It's the reason why the gospel has to be PREACHED everywhere.

Friday, May 05, 2006

I've finished reading the Da Vinci Code

Yep, just last night. I'm not ready to write it off as a waste of time. A few surprising insights came up and I'm still turning them over in my head. This much I can say: I got this impression of Mr. Brown getting a kick out of his pranks in the book, picking some controversial topics (at least in his mind, or in that of his target audience) and making up solutions for them. He's quite clever, in that sense, but I also get the feeling that he is simply amoral about it. He doesn't know what he's doing he doesn't know what he's talking about, and he doesn't really care. He just wants to have some fun and make heaps of money. Unforunately, the world is perfectly alright with that, because Truth is no longer held reverently. The world has become cynical and Truth is now thought to be irrelevant.

I"m glad I'm not a high school teacher..

.. at least in this day and age, given that this sort of thing happens. But that doesn't mean I'm not dreading such things anyway. Three little kids and all that. Hats off to Credo for handling this so well, and prayers should go out for that mother and her daughter, and anyone else with the same passion in that direction. One can only dread what sort of tragedy might have brought that on.

Quo vadis?

In this thread, Lito extends a charitable hand to many modern Evangelicals who have turned their backs to the Eucharist. He assures me:

 We are saved by what Christ has done and not on whatever is going on inside us. We are indeed not saved by proper understanding of every doctrine. If the evangelical is repeating the very words of Jesus on the elements - then the evangelical is receiving the body/blood of Jesus even if he believes it is just symbolic. Why? Because the Supper belongs to God not to us - it is he who makes it effective in our lives. It's validity is not dependent on the recipient or the administrator.

Two concerns I have: where does this misunderstanding come from and where will it lead them?

I suspect that this comes from the encroachment of the Enlightenment and rationalism into the Christian faith. Why? Because the usual objection I read or hear about the real presence of Christ's body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist is that it is mere superstition. Sadly, that's exactly what atheists say about the existence of God. That is also what Evangelicals object to about the necessity of water baptism, blessing with oil, and, in general, the Christian notion of sacraments: physical acts or objects which are signs as well as channels of God's grace. Never mind that the Bible is filled with examples of sacraments used precisely as sacraments.

The second concern is just as important: where is this going? Sacraments have been taking a beating since the Enlightenment and it just keeps getting worse. We already see how the sacraments of the Eucharist and baptism have been discarded one after another. I have to wonder if this will get worse. Yet this is precisely why a proper understanding of the Eucharist is crucial, because the Lord himself is our greatest sacrament, and the Lord's Supper is precisely the greatest expression of the mystery of his Incarnation: the Son of Man who is also the Son of God. So I wouldn't be so relaxed about Catholics or Protestants who have abandoned a right understanding of the Eucharist where the Incarnation is extended to the bread and wine.

It is true that the power of God does not require our understanding or even awareness of his action. Whether or not the priest properly understands it, the consecration is valid as long as the words used are as prescribed by Christ and repeated by St. Paul. Whether or not the recipient believes in the real presence of Christ, the host he receives is the real deal. But this too is a good reason to strive for a correct understanding. Not discerning the mystery of the body of Christ present in the Eucharist trivializes it and causes the recipient to partake of it unworthily. This is entirely to his own ruin, something which we would want to avoid for anyone.

Sacramentality and Salvation

I found this interesting post, "Sacramentality and Salvation", from another blog. (Found via Pontifications).

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

New Blog: Crossed the Tiber

Welcome home!

Readings for 2 May, 2006

First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 7,51-60.8,1.

Psalms 31,3-4.6-8.17.21.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 6,30-35.

So they said to him, "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" So Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." So they said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.

Copyright © Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, USCCB

Commentary of the day: Saint Justin (around 100 – 160) Philosopher, Martyr
First Apology, 67.66 (~ AD 150)

“The true bread come down from heaven”: one of the first descriptions of the Eucharist outside of the New Testament, from the second century

On the day that is called the day of the sun [Sunday], all the inhabitants of the cities and in the country gather together in one place. The apostles’ memoirs are read as well as the writings of the prophets for as long as time allows. When the reading is finished, the person presiding is given the word to draw attention to these beautiful teachings and to exhort the people to follow them. Then all of us rise and we give prayer intentions. Afterwards, bread, wine and water are brought. With all his heart, the person presiding raises prayers and thanksgiving to heaven, and the people answer with the acclamation “Amen!”, a Hebrew word meaning: “So be it!”

We call this food the Eucharist, and no one can participate in it if he does not believe in the truth of our teaching and if he has not received the bath of baptism for the forgiveness of sins and regeneration. For we do not take this food like ordinary bread or like a common drink. Just as by the Word of God, Jes us Christ our Savior became incarnate by becoming flesh and blood for our salvation, so the food that is consecrated by the very word of his prayer and that is destined to nourish our flesh and our blood so as to transform us, is the flesh and blood of Jesus incarnate. That is our teaching. In the memoirs they left us, which we call gospels, the apostles passed on to us the recommendation Jesus gave them in this way: He took bread, he gave thanks, and he said: “Do this in memory of me; this is my body.” He also took the cup, he gave thanks, and he said: “This is my blood.” And he gave them solely to them (Mt 26:2f.; 1 Cor 11:23f.)… We all unite on the day of the sun because it is the first day, the day on which God freed matter from darkness in order to make the world, and it is the day when Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead.

Monday, May 01, 2006

I say Da Vinci Code and you say dirty Church?

Very odd association there, but perhaps some factors come into play. For one, my friend is Evangelical, and two, I'm Catholic with a short history with Opus Dei. I'd have thought, however, that the major problem with DVC was how the fiction says "rubbish" about our Christ. Everything said about the Opus Dei and the Priory of Sion, false as they come, are insignificant in comparison.

I dug a bit deeper and her reaction appears to be based on some unnamed (she didn't say) source on the Internet. That's the way information works on the Internet: truth is assumed to be in the voice of the loudest (with the most number of hits, perhaps the best format, the most clever prose).

Eh, no. Quid est veritas? What is truth? Truth is objective and verifiable. It is supported by facts and is the basis for fact. Truth is a reference as well as a foundation. it stands regardless of popularity or age.