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Monday, December 31, 2007

One heck of a conspiracy theory

Except that it has been getting more and more obvious with each new low in the world today. Mark Shea doesn't doesn't have to spin a conspiracy yarn: he just tells things as they are and they fall into place. The war effort begins with prayer.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Revival

Christianity Today publishes this interesting article from Becky Tirabassi, "Young, Restless and Ready for Revival". The Evangelical term "revival" is not familiar to me as a Catholic, but the way it is described here, it seems akin to the notion of renewal. For Catholics, renewal is something we are challenged to do in different contexts. There is an annual call to renewal at Lent, there is a renewal at every retreat or recollection, and there is a regular call to renewal at every Mass, which means at least once a week. The call to revival/renewal is always a call to action. It is interesting that, even in the Evangelical world, confession (though not quite the Catholic or Orthodox sacrament) is crucial. As David Shutz told me over lunch, there is a great deal in common between Catholics and Evangelicals. So Evangelicals have got confession -- now they just need to make the connection with priestly absolution as Christ had instructed for some sins to be retained or forgiven at the discretion of his disciples.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Are you saved?

Christianity Today has an interesting article written by Erik Thoennes, "Hour of Decision". In it, he talks about the different ways in which salvation is understood amongst, I believe, Evangelicals and confessional Protestants:

  "The term saved is popularly used to refer to regeneration and justification. But when the Bible uses the word salvation in a spiritual sense, it describes the broad range of God's activity in rescuing people from sin and restoring them to a right relationship with himself. Salvation in the Bible thus has past, present, and future tenses. A believer has been saved from the guilt of sin (justification, see Eph. 2:8), is being saved from the power of sin (sanctification, see 1 Cor. 1:18), and will be saved from the judgment and presence of sin (glorification, see Acts 15:11)."
...
"Much of American Protestantism has been influenced by revivalism, which places great emphasis on "making a decision for Christ" in a public, definitive way. These "moments of decision" often become the crucial evidence that one is saved. Other Protestant traditions, less influenced by revivalism (including some Reformed and Lutheran churches), may be content to leave the conversion experience unclearly identified, putting the focus on identification with the church. Both of these traditions have benefits, as well as potential problems."

It is interesting reading. The terminology is not entirely familiar to me, e.g., "glorification", but I am happy to take the approach I learned from a few favorite converts: terms may change but the focus should be on what those terms translate to. I note, too, that at least one Lutheran I know will disagree with the article on a few points. I would point out at least one common point of contention: for an article on salvation, nothing was said about sacramental baptism. But then this is not a mystery, since the article is about that particular point of deciding for Christ and this, not baptism, is what seems to matter mostly in American Evangelicalism. It pays to clarify here that I am not pitting that decision against the sacrament of baptism. They are both necessary as much as possible. Of course, the Catholic view of the obedience of faith makes that decision a lifelong iteration of one decision after another, hopefully, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, a perpetually Christ-centered decision day in and day out. Which sounds a lot like being confronted by the Gospel everyday, according to Lutheranism, although there is more to it than that, I'll wager.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Following and preaching Christ

How does one who is not a professional preacher preach Christ? This blog is certainly not enough, for only a handful actually visit, among whom are people who need no preaching from me. But indeed, preaching in and out of season is for all of us. Societies who publicly revel in "diversity" are no less in need of preaching, as Papa Benedict challenges us:

  But does this desire for dialogue and collaboration at the same time mean, perhaps, that we can no longer transmit the message of Jesus Christ, no longer propose to men and to the world this call and the hope that is derived from it? Those who have recognized a great truth, those who have found a great joy must transmit it; they simply cannot keep it for themselves. Gifts so great are never intended for just one person.

In this postmodern world, what is one to do? Plan A for me was as I had been taught at St. Josemaria Escriva's school (so to speak): in my ordinary work, lived extraordinarily with Christ at its center. Plan B was presenting my couple friends with subscriptions to The Majellan. But said subscriptions have lapsed and, after two years, my friends are not interested in renewing them. Indeed, one told me they have moved away from religion to spirituality. Is the Christian faith not both? The idea that my friends consider me to be a backward, prudish and perhaps mindless fundamentalist has dawned upon me and it is not a pleasant thought. It is also an altogether tragic affair, I think, that my couple friends who are raising young children, are not quite interested in a magazine that has got "Champion of the Family" as its logo.

Ah well. Plan A may not be feasible since they cannot taste and see the joy and hope that I see in my Catholic faith, and my life is not visible to them (we meet infrequently). But.. there's always prayer, and that is never a last, inferior recourse. St. Gerard Majella, pray for us! O Holy Family of Nazareth, come to the assistance of all families today!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Celebrating Christmas

Merry Christmas to any and all who visit this blog. May God's blessings rain down upon you, perhaps in ways exceeding what you may have prayed for:

  Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 1,1-18.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth. John testified to him and cried out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'" From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him.

Readings from Dailygospel.org.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Looking for the Mother in the birth of the Son

Interesting article: "Looking for Mary in Christmas Carols" by Michael Linton. With so much stacked against honoring the Blessed Mother, one might suspect a bias leading away from the Incarnation. After all, isn't Mama Mary that link between the Son of God and the Son of Man? The former was from the beginning, whereas the latter may actually be traced to a particular event. I recently read about an Evangelical maintaining that the Lord was not formed from Mary's human material, apparently not even her ovum. Those who believe this is perhaps simply making sure that man makes no boast about his contribution to our salvation. But it is certainly a false notion, which also jettisons the Incarnation completely.

p>[Link found via Catholic Report.]

The unwritten word

From Catholic Exchange comes a must-read, "Our Jewish Roots: the Oral Law" by Cheryl Dickow.

[Link found via Catholic Report.]

PETA getting pathetic

Apparently, they go after monks now, driving them out of the egg business which is 60% of their income.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Rethinking Global Warming

This is off-topic for this blog, but I'd like to share some interesting developments.

  Working Group I (WG I) is assigned to report on the extent and possible causes of past climate change as well as future ‘projections’... The reports from working groups II and II .., since these are based on the results of WG I, it is crucially important that the WG I report stands up to close scrutiny. ...
  The numbers of scientist reviewers involved in WG I is actually less than a quarter of the whole, a little over 600 in total.
  A total of 308 reviewers commented on the SOR [Second Order Revision -- the final report assembly], but only 32 reviewers commented on more than three chapters and only five reviewers commented on all 11 chapters of the report. Only about half the reviewers commented [on] more than one chapter.
  An example of rampant misrepresentation of IPCC reports is the frequent assertion that ‘hundreds of IPCC scientists’ are known to support the following statement, arguably the most important of the WG I report, namely “Greenhouse gas forcing has very likely caused most of the observed global warming over the last 50 years.”
In total, only 62 scientists reviewed the chapter in which this statement appears, the critical chapter 9, “Understanding and Attributing Climate Change”. Of the comments received from the 62 reviewers of this critical chapter, almost 60% of them were rejected by IPCC editors. And of the 62 expert reviewers of this chapter, 55 had serious vested interest, leaving only seven expert reviewers who appear impartial.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Entire Episcopalian diocese rejects the Episcopal church

Shame it wasn't a wholesale jump to the Catholic Church instead, but it is definitely one for orthodoxy. The diocese of San Joaquin, California, is now within an Anglican province in Buenos Aires, and remains within the greater Anglican communion under Canterbury. I had to laugh at the New York Times' report that this diocese "has long been different from the rest of the Episcopal Church". That certainly sounds nicer than the truth: that the Episcopalian church in the US has been shifting away from orthodoxy in less than one century (probably less than half a century), and the San Joaquin diocese had simply resisted this shift.

May the Anglican communion go even farther seeking greater orthodoxy, always seeking Christ, the true object of our fidelity. During lunch, David of Sentire cum ecclesia explained a model of Christian unity I hadn't really thought of before. It is not so much that the non-Catholics should seek to become Roman Catholics, but that, in truly seeking the fullness of communion with Christ, we will inevitably end up being in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. That's how I understood him anyway, and that sounds about right.

The angst of Christmas shopping

It started well enough. There was a great big sign on the wall that said 'hope' and 'joy' right outside. And then I went inside, greeted by a mammoth crowd. It only got worse going into the usual mega-stores with the biggest range of toys. I hate crowds to begin with. I also hate shopping when I actually have to buy something. In this season, it only gets worse. Everything screams "buy me!" and the displays fairly reek of material gratification. It wasn't long before I worked myself up to a startling realization: having been unwittingly drawn into the present trap in years past, there is now a bit of pressure to outdo previous presents. The kids are growing up, after all, and they do see the commercials and the catalogs. They know what's out there, and what else is a child to think when they see all those wondrous toys, but that they are meant to have all these things?

And an endless trap it is. There will always be something flashier, with more features, more umph, edgier, etc. What have I gotten my children into?

Persecution, anyone?

A Muslim group who apparently has government support in Jakarta is not so tolerant of Christianity as one might like. But don't think that non-Muslim countries are that much better. All things being equal, if it isn't one group discriminating against Christianity, it's another -- even that which is often claimed to be harmless neutrality to religion.

But this should not surprise Christians, after all. We've been warned 2000 years ago that this is to be expected. But praying for our brethren at the front lines would not hurt.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Great foccacia, even greater company

Earlier today, I made the acquaintance of the best foccacia with chicken, avocado, cheese and veggies I've had in years, down Albert street across from the archdiocese office. Even better, though, was the company: I've finally met David Shutz face to face, who runs the blog Sentire Cum Ecclesia. More importantly, and the reason for our meeting, is his role in the archdiocese in ecumenical and interfaith initiatives. There are some great things going on here, and I am most interested in getting involved, particularly in the ecumenical front (hence, my blog's name).

Anyway, back to David, it was a fruitful lunch and discussion after, I think. Someone (I hope the Holy Spirit) lit me up years ago about the unity of the body of Christ, and this is a step in the direction of doing something concrete about it. I do believe in doing theology on one's knees, though, although I haven't done enough of that, but I pray that I'll get the hang of it as time goes by. And now, perhaps opportunities to serve the Lord in his will for Christian unity.

And on my way back home, I managed to pick up my son's pencil case, which he had left at the train station early last week. A rather fruitful day.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mark Shea's masterpiece on the Immaculate Conception

Few contemporary writers I know can lay it down as clearly for modern readers as can Mark Shea. Here is his latest, presented not only as a clear explanation, but one that addresses Evangelical misunderstandings.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

St. Nicholas

Today is the feast of St. Nicholas, 4th century bishop of Myra (in modern day Turkey) and whose person was the basis for modern-day Santa Claus: from the dutch "Sinter Klaus" to the American Santa Claus. While children adore the latter, there is nothing like the real deal. Far from being a mere giver of presents, he is a saint who now favors us with prayers on our behalf. He remains a patron of children, and is still known as he was (not as modern culture has turned him into) in some countries in Europe. CatholicCulture.org and Domestic-Church.Com have some good references about him, which I invite you to read.

Building on rock

From Dailygospel.org, today's gospel commentary comes from St. Augustine:

  Saint Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo (North Africa) and Doctor of the Church
Sermon 7 on St John’s Gospel

Is it surprising that the Lord changed Simon’s name, altering it to Peter? (Jn 1,42). “Peter” means “rock”; so Peter’s name is thus symbolic of the Church. Who is safe if not he who builds on rock? And what does the Lord himself say? “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock..."

Of what use is it to anyone to enter the Church who builds on sand? He hears the word of God but fails to practise it; he builds, but on sand. If he had not been listening, he would not have been building; he hears and so he builds. But on what sort of foundation? If he hears the word of God and puts it into practice, then it will be on rock; but if he hears and does not put it into practice, then it is on sand. And so someone can build in two, very different ways… If you are satisfied by listening without practising, you build a ruin… But if, on the other hand, you fail to listen, you will remain without shelter and be carried away by the torrent of tribulations…

Be well assured, my brethren: whoever hears the word without acting accordingly is not building on rock. He has no connection with that great name of Peter to which the Lord attached such importance.

If Protestants were today asked as to who was the greatest among the Apostles in that age, most of them might proclaim St. Paul as the clear favorite. And indeed, St. Paul was our greatest missionary, and certainly our most prolific New Testament epistle writer. St. Peter is almost obscured by the sheer depth and breadth of St. Paul's preaching. But it was not St. Paul to whom God first revealed the identity of the messiah. It was not St. Paul who was moved to proclaim the Christ, the son of the living God. It was not St. Paul whose name was changed to 'Kepha' ('Petros' in Greek), nor was it St. Paul who was given the keys of the kingdom. That all pertains to Simon Peter, simple fisherman, unlearned, slightly uncouth, impetuous and downright simple. How can this man be the rock upon which the Lord decided to build his Church?

Because the glory belongs to the Lord, who is the builder. So down the ages, we had very human popes, as human as Simon Peter was. Some were much worse sinners, others were more saintly. When St. Augustine had a difference with the pope of his time, you can bet that he was understandably upset. But he recognized in the pope the authority that the Lord anointed the Petrine See with. It is not the pope he obeys, but the Lord, who proclaimed for all the Apostles to hear: "you are Rock, and on this rock I will build my Church... I will give you the keys of the kingdom.."

We build on this rock because the eternal Rock built his Church on this rock. We build on sand at our peril.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The never ending fallacies of AIDS and condoms

People are still wrongheaded about what they think condoms can do, despite the facts that contradict what they're saying. I came across this tragic case of lies and misconceptions almost 3 years ago. Two years ago, there were the same lies and more statistics that contradict those lies, yet the saga continues. Some people, notably foreigners, are still selling the idea that condoms prevent AIDS. But look at these statistics that come from ongoing research:

  "Between 1993 and 2001 in Botswana, as condom sales rose from 1 million to 3 million, HIV prevalence among urban pregnant women shot up from 27% to 45%. During the same period in Cameroon, as condom sales increased from 6 million to 15 million, HIV prevalence rose from 3% to 9%."
  "In the late 1980s, before Western AIDS experts arrived to tell Africans they had it all wrong, Ugandans designed their own homegrown AIDS-prevention health message. It was called ABC (for Abstain, Be Faithful, or if you cannot or will not do either, use Condoms). The ABC message was everywhere: on billboards, in churches, in government offices, in schools. As a result, rates of 13- to 16-year-olds having sex in one district plunged from nearly 60% in 1994 to less than 5% in 2001. Fewer than 10% of unmarried Ugandan women reported multiple partners (compared with 20% to 65% of women in other African countries, such as Kenya and Malawi). Meanwhile, national HIV infection rates in Uganda dropped from 21% to 6%."

And there's still the contradictory accusation about the Catholic Church causing AIDS to spread by forcing people to avoid condoms. If only the accusers could explain how the same people who faithfully follow Church condemnation of condoms fail to uphold Church teaching on abstinence and sex exclusively with one's own spouse.

Teachers, priests and mainstream media bias

Now here's a story: some mainstream media organizations would print 21,000 reports covering the 4,400 Catholic priests who were accused of sexual abuse over a 52-year period, but may not even print reports about 2,500 cases over 5 years perpetrated by American school teachers. Is that a story or what?

Oh wait. No, no, there's no story there after all.

[Link found via Catholic Report.]

Bishop of Rome has primacy, but...

This is supposed to be taken as a sign of hope, that the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople accepts papal primacy to an extent. But it remains a bit frustrating when it stops short of what, in my opinion, the reason for papal primacy is. What was the Lord thinking when he indeed named one of the twelve apostles, perhaps the most impetuous among them, their leader? Why proclaim that he would build his Church on him, Simon Peter, as the rock? Why declare that he now holds the keys of the kingdom, and that he has the authority from Heaven to bind and to loose? Why charge him, who ran away at the Lord's arrest and denied him three times hours later, to strengthen his brothers? How could he trust him, of all apostles, to feed the Lord's sheep?

We'll all be sure to ask when we finally meet the Lord face to face. Somehow I don't think it has that much to do with the impeccable character of Simon, son of John In the meantime, I tend to wonder how St. Peter would feel today if he is now told, "Oh, yes, you do have primacy over all bishops, but only in honor. You have no mandate of discipline over us. We don't have to listen to you, old boy. Collegiality and all that. After all, who needs you to arbitrate for us, when we all have the charism of truth and teaching? I mean, what function do you have, given that we always agree on all important matters of faith and morals anyway?

Uh huh.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Keep the commandments

The following readings are from the Liturgy of the Hours today (from Universalis.com). It speaks once again about free will and resolve. There is no contradiction with the gospel when one considers that this speaks to those who already received the circumcision which consecrates us to the Lord: baptism. Having been baptized, we are already partakers of the Lord's Spirit which enables us to do these things. But like any other father, our Heavenly Father watches us eagerly, urging us on, beaming at our resolve and efforts, confident because we are growing by his training.

  Mid-morning reading (Terce) Deuteronomy 8:5 - 6
  The Lord your God was training you as a man trains his child. Keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and so follow his ways and reverence him.
  Noon reading (Sext) 1 Kings 2:2 - 3
  Be strong and show yourself a man. Observe the injunctions of the Lord your God, following his ways and keeping his laws, his commandments, his customs and his decrees, so that you may be successful in all you do and undertake.
  Afternoon reading (None) Jeremiah 6:16
  Put yourselves on the ways of long ago and enquire about the ancient paths: which was the good way? Take it then, and you shall find rest.

The Golden Compass: masking a menace

The problem with the movie "The Golden Compass" is that it serves intentionally as an attraction to draw in potential readers for Philip Pullman's trilogy, "His Dark Materials." Why is this a problem? Because that trilogy is a deliberate and rather serious attack on Christianity. But so was the Da Vinci Code, so what's the problem here? The problem is that both the movie and the books are aimed at children at around 12 years of age. This is insidious enough that even the USCCB (bishop's conference in the US) has been deceived to the extent that their film review of this movie does not much mention the dangers of the books.

I think that this excellent post by the American Papist must be read in order to understand the implications.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

One body, One Spirit

This comes from today's readings in the Liturgy of the Hours (via Universalis):

  Mid-morning reading (Terce) 1 Corinthians 12:4 - 6
  There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them.
  Noon reading (Sext) 1 Corinthians 12:12 - 13
  Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.
  Afternoon reading (None) 1 Corinthians 12:24 - 26
  God has arranged the body and that there may not be disagreements inside the body, but that each part may be equally concerned for all the others. If one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it. If one part is given special honour, all parts enjoy it.

Meanwhile, there are hopeful signs of Anglicans/Episcopalians heading to Rome -- hopefully towards Rome and not simply running away from liberal heterodoxy. Quite a few Anglicans/Episcopalians have been doing this individually. In this link, Aimee Milburn presents many excellent points. She also links to signs that entire dioceses are of a similar collective disposition, which is not as simple as it may sound. There are also signs of hope for unity with the Orthodox Church, with the Ravenna document (posted online by an Orthodox on his blog) providing an amazingly positive point of further dialog. Note the interesting but mixed opinions below the posted document. The curious reader may also wish to visit this forum with its own interesting opinions offered from both lungs of the Church, as it were.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Free will in Scriptures

A Baptist I encountered online from years ago had once challenged me on his allegation that the notion of free will has no basis in Scripture. Here are a few verses from Scripture which are in today's Liturgy of the Hours that I think presuppose it:

  Mid-morning reading (Terce) 1 Peter 1:13 - 14
 Free your minds, then, of encumbrances; control them, and put your trust in nothing but the grace that will be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Do not behave in the way that you liked to before you learnt the truth, but make a habit of obedience.
 Noon reading (Sext) 1 Peter 1:15 - 16
 Be holy in all you do, since it is the Holy One who has called you, and scripture says: Be holy, for I am holy.
 Afternoon reading (None) James 4:7 - 10
 Give in to God: resist the devil, and he will run away from you. The nearer you go to God, the nearer he will come to you. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.

I think that Calvinist hearts are well-meaning when they seem to devalue human will while raising up the supreme majesty of God's will, but it backfires in the end since devaluating humanity ultimately devaluates its creator, which is God himself. There is nothing wrong in acknowledging the incredible creation of God, including humanity. What goes wrong is when we end up treating it as a substitute or something better than God himself. Otherwise, putting things in perspective, we cannot but wonder and echo the Psalmist who exclaims, "you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor!" Among the wondrous works that the Creator wrought unto man is choice, which unfortunately cuts both ways: in our ability to choose life, we also have the ability to choose death. But God does not abandon us. As he invites us to begin with, he offers us his own Spirit, and by grace, he raises us up as a Father raises up his child: teaching, correcting, nurturing. As his child, he has the same aspirations for us as any father would: that we would truly grow up unto the fullness of our being. As he had planned from the very beginning.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Works and rewards

Here's a one-liner from today's Liturgy of the Hours (via Universalis) that should give a Catholic something to think of should he/she be getting caught up by fundamentalist sentiments over "works righteousness" among Catholics:

  We must never get tired of doing good, and then we shall get our harvest at the proper time. While we have the chance, we must do good to all, and especially to our brothers in the faith. (Galatians 6:9-10)

Another one-liner from the end of today's Gospel reading:

 Your endurance will win you your lives. (from today's Gospel reading, Luke 21:5 - 19)

Good deeds and works have taken a beating in ages past, and this continues to happen today. For Catholics, being ecumenical in the wrong way can be dangerous particularly when one tries to hide such verses and the sentiments behind them. Yet there they are, in Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Ignore them at your own peril.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Evangelical warns other Evangelicals of being "over-committed to the Bible"

Ted Olsen at the Christianity Today blog posts about J. P. Moreland warning against "Bibliolatry".

  The problem, he said, is “the idea that the Bible is the sole source of knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items. Accordingly, the Bible is taken to be the sole authority for faith and practice.”

Being a Catholic doesn't mean that I would entertain triumphalism here, for Catholics are often guilty of a different sort of extreme: ritualism. Whereas Mr. Moreland warns against over-commitment to the Bible as restricting revelation and growth, the same could be said against over-commitment to rituals.

Both extremes are obviously limiting, whereas our Father wants nothing less than fruitfulness. For this reason, he also gracefully grants us the fullness of faith, in the complete deposit of faith which is both oral and written. But some entrenchments are hard to overcome. Sola Scriptura is still the premise for most Evangelical/Protestant minds. To them, there is no possibility of revelation outside of Scripture, and so many would shun anything else, particularly Sacred Tradition and the Church Fathers.

This movement, which I pray goes beyond a handful of individuals, is critically important. I've often been at a loss as to how an Evangelical might imagine conversing with a committed atheist or religionist of another faith, when there is no common regard for the Bible. St. Paul was not shy to start his conversation with the Greeks based on reason and perception of the natural universe. Neither should we. Our conversations today are not with Greeks who have no religion, but with secularists who are increasingly rejecting religion. Two things, of course, are invaluable here: the witness of our Christian lives and, if necessary, our preaching the gospel to them. It just doesn't strike me as realistic to begin our dialogue with them by citing chapter and verse to anti-Christian secularists.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fraying and unravelling

I can't exactly remember why retired bishop Geoffrey Robinson came to my attention today. In any case, it has been an occasion of sadness. He certainly seems to be an up and coming hero of some dissenting Catholics. It looks like he has not gone as far as some of his new fans seem to have gone, but I am not surprised that they would project their own aspirations on him.

I haven't read his book, of course, but this interview is enough to raise alarms for me.

His heart is most certainly in the right place when he raises grave concerns about the sexual abuse crisis, but he seems to get a few things wrong (in my opinion) and he seems to be bordering on heterodoxy. :-( I get a feeling that, in worrying the edges of the tapestry, he will end up unravelling more than he meant to at first. It's odd when he notes the weakness of synods in that the bishops are not professional theologians, but on the other hand, there he is contesting some rather serious dogma. I may have gotten that out of context, however, but my point seems to be relevant anyway.

It was probably Mark Shea in his book, "By What Authority?", who impressed upon me the slippery slope of unravelling the lines of authority in the Church. Or, more importantly, I learned to appreciate the lines of authority that, naturally, come from Christ himself. When one starts doubting the authority on earth of the pope and bishops, one has got to wonder where it all ends. No authority, no councils, no creed, no canon of Scripture -- gasp! What bedrock of authority do we have left to stand on??

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The news is even better

At least for one Evangelical and one Baptist I have corresponded with, the notion of ascribing any value to our own effort is unthinkable. Even born-again humans are so depraved that any good we do is purely a fruit of the Holy Spirit and does not involve human effort. That puzzles me, and my understanding is more in line with this noon reading from today's Liturgy of the Hours:

  [Deuteronomy 30:11 - 14]
This Law that I enjoin on you today is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach. No, the Word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance.

This comes from a long discourse from Moses, encouraging Israel in the covenant they find themselves in. The following words are particularly heartening:

  [6] The LORD, your God, will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, that you may love the LORD, your God, with all your heart and all your soul, and so may live.
..
[8] You, however, must again heed the LORD'S voice and carry out all his commandments which I now enjoin on you.
..
[11] "For this command which I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you.
..
[14] No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.
..
[16] If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.

There is a certain dread (perhaps Occamite in influence) in the notion of man's total depravity, which, I think, compromises the fullness of God's love for his children. The bleak view of man's fallen nature actually compromises the Christian hope in God's salvation, not only in the promise of Heaven, but also here and now in the promise of sanctification. I've always wondered why Evangelicals settle for Luther's snow-covered dunghill, when the promises of God are nothing less than to purify us, whiter than snow, and to pour upon us his own Holy Spirit. A baptist once scoffed at my allusion to free will, which he maintains is not supported by Scripture. Well it is, and the good news is better than what the notion of total depravity allows: the Lord's precepts are "not too mysterious and remote." A life of holiness is within reach, because it is he who circumcised our hearts, and it is his life, his holiness, which we partake in. Even better, in his graciousness, our Father entrusts the doing to us: "it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out." And we grow with the doing: "If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy."

The afternoon reading goes:

  [Isaiah 55:10 - 11]
As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.

His Word does not return empty, and the Word made flesh gives life, and in him, we are born again, sons and daughters of the most high, circumcised in our hearts by the waters of baptism. And as he declares, so it is true, for his Word is never uttered in vain. He declares us justified, and so we are. He calls us temples of the Holy Spirit, and so we are. He refers to us as holy ones, saints, and so we are, "loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him."

Monday, November 12, 2007

The persecution that mainstream media ignores

You can't do it to any other gorup, but Christians can be safely ignored in their continued persecution in various societies. Chuck Colson reports, in Burma:

  .. people might be surprised to learn that Burma not only has a substantial Christian population, but that these Christians have long been the junta’s preferred target. ..
.. the U.K. Telegraph reported about a Burmese government document describing a plan for eradicating Christianity in that country. The document began with the words “there shall be no home where the Christian religion is practiced.”
What followed were “point by point instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state.” While the junta denied authorship of this specific document, it “made no public attempt to refute or repudiate its contents.”
.. persecution of Burma’s Christian minority is well-documented. Christian churches have been torn down and replaced by Buddhist pagodas; and Christians have been forced to financially support Buddhist projects and festivals.

and in India:

  .. millions of Dalits have sought to escape that hierarchy by converting to Christianity. According to the Wall Street Journal, the “overwhelming majority” of India’s Christians are Dalits.
.. if a Dalit converts to Christianity, he risks losing whatever little anti-discrimination protection and benefits are offered to Dalits—benefits that, however, can mean a decent chance at life.

Please pray for Christians in Burma, India, Iraq, and in many other places around the world.

Yes, abortion is a religious issue after all

Gregory Popcak's article demolishes Gary Wills' thesis. A must-read.

[Link found via "Against the Grain".]

Catching Catholics

Over at the blog "Ad Altara Dei" is a post about a tact used by non-Catholic groups in attracting Catholics. The blogger provides a rather balanced discussion of religiosity in general, and this is something close to my heart. In my discussion with some Evangelicals, especially those who used to be Catholics, religiosity and superstition are often ammunitions used to charge the Catholic faith as being a ritualistic, faithless religion. I think the post linked above gives a fairly good distinction between ritual and faith. This is not either/or. Just because you observe rituals, it does not mean that you have no faith. Take that woman with a bleeding problem, who touched the edge of the Lord's clothes and was healed. On the outside, that appears to be superstition, but the Lord goes and speaks of her faith, instead. They are not antithetical: faith and ritual do have a place together, with faith being the foundation of any ritual, which may not be superstitious after all.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

On Scriptural discrepancies and mighty efforts to unbelieve

Mark Shea explains it as it is:

  Here’s the thing: eyewitnesses of extraordinary events tend to give varying accounts of those events. .. Did the Titanic pop its rivets or tear a hole in her side? Did she split in two at the surface as some witnesses said or did it happen just as she sank? ... The list of curiosities and "discrepancies" in the record surrounding the Titanic is a much-loved pastime for disaster buffs.

But only a fool would conclude from this, even after 2000 years, that there was no Titanic and that she did not strike an iceberg and sink on April 15, 1912.

But I do say that there is more to this foolishness than meets the eye. People exert effort when something is at stake. Perhaps the effort put into nullifying the existence of Jesus -- the Jesus of the Gospels -- is that there is a grave desire to thereby negate its implications.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Charism of Blessed Mother Theresa

Reacting to analogies between dark nights of the souls for Dr. Martin Luther and Bl. Mother Theresa, someone objected in this way:

  "Martin Luther's despair and feelings of abandonment from God, are as different from that experienced by Mother Theresa, as darkness is from light. Why? Luther's dryness did not last for 50 years like Theresa. Theresa was a devout Catholic, consecrated her life to the 'Immaculate' heart of Mary, prayed to Mary, instead of through the 'Sole' Omnipotent Mediator, The Lord Jesus Christ. She was known to have held dying 'Hindu's' and 'Muslims' in her arms, and said to them, '...believe in your god...' I ask, is this what a 'true' Christian, who knows JESUS as personal Saviour and Lord, DOES? Certainly not! No wonder she did not feel the presence of God in her life for 50 years! When you give this kind of credence to Roman Catholicism, you do a terrible disservice to the Lord Jesus Christ, and His Word, which are all vitiated and invalidated by the utterly unchristian doctrine and dogmas of Catholicism. This is just not right!"

This was my response:

  "1 Corinthians 13:8 - 13 tells us: "Love does not come to an end... In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love." Blessed Mother Theresa's preaching has effectively been through action, not words. Hers was the charism to care for the sick, the dying, and the neglected. Perhaps she shuns arguments over religion, but preaches love and the Gospel by caring for those who need it. Perhaps she felt that it would be ineffective to hold a dying person, preaching the Gospel to them insistently and expect them, at that moment, to come to faith with their dying breath. Perhaps she is the neighbor who, finding someone close to death on the road, comes to the victim's aid, regardless of his religon."

I'm not saying that all religions are equal. I don't think Bl. Mother Theresa does either, who was indeed a faithful Catholic. I might baptize them (if they haven't been), but I probably wouldn't go preaching into a dying person's ears either. A terminally ill man, yes, definitely, but someone at the point of death? Show them faith, give them hope, and lavish them with love: I think Bl. Mother Theresa does them all throughout her life in Calcutta. These readings from today's Liturgy of the Hours (via Universalis.com) are probably apt:

  Mid-morning reading (Terce) 1 Corinthians 13:4 - 7
  Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.
  Noon reading (Sext) 1 Corinthians 13:8 - 13
  Love does not come to an end. But if there are gifts of prophecy, the time will come when they must fail; or the gift of languages, it will not continue for ever; and knowledge – for this, too, the time will come when it must fail. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophesying is imperfect. In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.
  Afternoon reading (None) Colossians 3:14 - 15
  Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

If today you hear his voice..

From today's Gospel reading from St. Luke 14:25-24:

"A man gave a great dinner to which he invited many. When the time for the dinner came, he dispatched his servant to say to those invited, 'Come, everything is now ready.' But one by one, they all began to excuse themselves. The first said to him, 'I have purchased a field and must go to examine it; I ask you, consider me excused.' And another said, 'I have purchased five yoke of oxen and am on my way to evaluate them; I ask you, consider me excused.' And another said, 'I have just married a woman, and therefore I cannot come.' The servant went and reported this to his master. Then the master of the house in a rage commanded his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame.' The servant reported, 'Sir, your orders have been carried out and still there is room.' The master then ordered the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedgerows and make people come in that my home may be filled. For, I tell you, none of those men who were invited will taste my dinner."

It is disquieting to think that such excuses as were given by the originally invited guests are not objectively bad things: one's business, one's properties, one's marriage. It is equally disquieting that I could easily come up with such excuses for all sorts of occasions in which it may well be the Lord inviting me to come. How does a Christian husband and father juggle his family's needs as well as his God's will? What did those countless martyrs think when confronted with a threat of execution (and therefore depriving their young families of themselves) unless they renounced Christ?

One of the debates I had with myself from the beginning is this very dilemma. Is it right for me to take my family out of our third world and needy country and raise them instead in an opulent country such as Australia? Did I come here to be salt and leaven, or am I here simply to enjoy the privileges of a first world country? Am I not getting lost in those seemingly reasonable pursuits, using them as an excuse to decline the call of the gospel?

Of course, I am probably just taking myself too seriously. I guess if I do things right, in small ways, we and our children can all be leaven and salt in this society -- provided that we don't lose the plot.

For the Lord is just in all his ways

And we who call ourselves sons and daughters of the most high must also be just. The following are from today's readings in the Liturgy of the Hours (via Universalis.com):

 Mid-morning reading (Terce) Jeremiah 22:3
 Practise honesty and integrity; rescue the man who has been wronged from the hands of his oppressor; do not exploit the stranger, the orphan, the widow; do no violence; shed no innocent blood in this place.
 Noon reading (Sext) Deuteronomy 15:7 - 8
 Is there a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any town of yours in the land that the Lord your God is giving you? Do not harden your heart or close your hand against that poor brother of yours, but be open-handed with him and lend him enough for his needs.
 Afternoon reading (None) Proverbs 22:22 - 23
 Because a man is poor, do not therefore cheat him, nor, at the city gate, oppress anybody in affliction; for the Lord takes up their cause, and extorts the life of their extortioners.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Hear their cries, O Lord!

Sadly, kidnap, rape and forced conversions like these (similar stories at the bottom of that page) are not rare enough, and seem to be ignored by mainstream media. But the Lord hears the cries of the oppressed. God have mercy on these savages.

Please pray for the victims and their families, and for our sisters living in perilous places. And may the oppressors see the light.

Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours

There is this common concept among Protestants, from Luther's famous snow-covered dunghill analogy, of the sinner before the throne of mercy, receiving mercy because Christ stands in front of us, shielding us from our just punishment by his righteousness and the ransom he already paid for us. The truth is even better than that (let me borrow from Prof. Scott Hahn here).

I think readings like these from the Liturgy of the Hours tell us just how much better:

Mid-morning reading (Terce) 2 Corinthians 13:11

Brethren, be joyful. Try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Noon reading (Sext) Romans 6:22

Now you have been set free from sin, you have been made slaves of God, and you get a reward leading to your sanctification and ending in eternal life.

Afternoon reading (None) Colossians 1:21 - 22

Not long ago, you were foreigners and enemies, in the way that you used to think and the evil things that you did; but now he has reconciled you, by his death and in that mortal body. Now you are able to appear before him holy, pure and blameless.

Healing to the contrite

It struck me today as the priest said it during Mass: "Lord, you grant healing to the contrite of heart. Lord have mercy." How wonderful indeed is our God, whose mercy goes beyond acknowledging our contribution. Rather than simply canceling our debts, he extends credit to us. Not only does he bind our wounds, he feeds us and brings us good health. And it all begins with the love of God, responded to (it is hoped) by our contrition, and reaches its climax in forgiveness and the giving to us of sanctifying grace. Praise God!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Pondering the Tiber

This is an interesting forum discussion where they tackle one particularly curious question: "What would you say to an Evangelical tempted to become Catholic or Orthodox?" You'll have to scroll to about 60% down to see the answers, but the whole piece is interesting to read.

[Link found via The Catholic Report.]

Sophia Institute Press asks for help

Sophia Institute Press is a great resource for good books, but the publisher is asking for assistance in this hour of financial need for their organization:

You know, this past quarter-century I've published hundreds of books like The Church on Earth, which, in just a paragraph, can make the difference between faith lost and faith regained.

Indeed, I've brought forth into the world over two million copies of books by the very best Catholic authors, living and dead -- authors whose holiness and wisdom continually draw souls to the Church (the perfect Church) that Christ founded 2,000 years ago.

Now, however, all this is threatened. Slow sales this past summer have left us with an empty checkbook and overdue bills approaching $50,000.

Please visit Sophia to buy a book or donate if you can.

All Saints at my parish

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of All Saints with Mass in the morning. In attendance was probably the entire primary school. Our parish priest gave a homily about the saints, past and present, not so much specific personalities, but the need to be saints. He pointed out martyrdom as something we all should be prepared for, and gave Saint Ignatius of Antioch as an example. He cited how, in his final letters, the dear bishop showed no fear from the lions he was soon to meet, but rather excitement at the prospect of finally coming home to God in Heaven.

Now there were children in that Mass, and here was our parish priest talking about martyrdom for Christ. What's wrong with this picture?

Absolutely nothing! What a good homily that was, and what blessedness to have saints and martyrs of Christ to look to for inspiration!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Mennonites visit the Vatican for dialogue -- a first!

As the title says, this is a historic event. May the Holy Spirit continue His work of peace among all Christians so that we may be one, as the Lord prayed and as the Father wills.

[News found via The Catholic Report.]

My thanks to Michael Trolly for pointing out that I had used "it" for the Holy Spirit, and so I corrected that to read "His work". And the emphasis works out, too. This is His work, for which we should be grateful and optimistic. We're hopeless with healing old wounds when left alone to ourselves.

Traditional Anglican Communion: Romeward bound?

The title says it all: "Traditional Anglical Communion Petitions Rome for Union" -- "full, corporate, sacramental union." Bless the Lord, for his love endures forever! What a wonderful gift of love to the Lord! It won't be easy for anyone concerned, but the Holy Spirit is a mighty healer.

[News found via The Catholic Report.]

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Barbarians murdering innocents in the Philippines

I can never understand how anyone could consider such acts justified in the name of some revolution: murdering non-combatants in a non-combat zone, if terrorist bombing it was (and the findings suggest that it was). Please pray for the Philippines!

Update: Appears to have been an accidental gas explosion. That'll teach me.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

In hope we have been saved

Over at the Curt Jester's blog, Jeff Miller posts on the Holy Father's recently completed encyclical, Spe Salvi -- Saved by Hope. I made the following comment, which I would now like to share with anyone who might visit:

I love the strategy that Papa Benedict is apparently taking. From the perspective of dialogue with Protestants, rather than clashing head-on concerning Sola Fide, his first encyclical is about love. And who can argue with that, being the chief virtue? Now he goes on to write about hope, and again, that was never the issue with the Protestants. So, from a perspective of dialogue, he appears to be truly emphasizing what unites us first and foremost. :-)

Also, I would hazard a proposition that, armed with a right understanding of love and hope to begin with, perhaps we can disarm the unwarranted vitriol among some Protestants on the principle of Sola Fide?

One could .. um.. hope. :-)

Friday, October 12, 2007

On war and tears

My wife and I recently watched the anime Graveyard of the Fireflies on DVD, a 1988 war anime movie, which, as one comment in IMDB says, is "the best movie you will never want to see again." I have to agree with what I think is a fierce assertion as to this movie's power. Days after, the thought of what the lead characters underwent still breaks my heart. And I must remind myself, moreover, that millions all over the world have gone through and continue to experience much of the same devestation.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

In today's Gospel reading (Luke 10:38-42), the Lord points out to Martha that her sister Mary had chosen the better part: total abandonment to adoring and contemplating the face of God, who is Jesus Christ. The sermon below, which comes from DailyGospel.org, comes straight to the point about this: "The one, necessary thing is that you recognise your weakness and frailty. You can claim nothing of yourself; of yourself you are nothing." In some other text that I cannot now recall, Golgotha was where the Lord showed us how he emptied himself completely, absolutely abandoned to his death on the cross, so that he may then be filled with absolute glory at his rising. This, too, we are called to do, to renounce ourselves and the world and allow ourselves to be emptied out, so that the Father may then fill us up completely, if in stages.

And then.. then we may return to the business of ourselves and the world with a new heart, a new spirit, clean hands, ready to do the work that the Lord set out for us: to love, to serve, and to proclaim the good news to all.

John Tauler (c.1300-1361), Dominican at Strasbourg
Sermon 51

“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly…, be killed and, on the third day, be raised” (Mt 16,21)

Our Lord said that his disciples were blessed because of what they saw (Lk 10,23). Looking at the matter closely, we ought to be just as blessed as they were since we see Our Lord Jesus Christ more perfectly than disciples such as Saint Peter or Saint John. They only had before their eyes a poor, weak, suffering and mortal man. Whereas, thanks to our holy and precious faith, we have knowledge of a God who is great, worshipful, powerful, Lord of heaven and earth and who made creation out of nothing. In contemplating this our eyes, yes, and our souls find eternal blessedness.

Dear children, great theologians and university doctors debate the question of knowing which is of greater importance and esteem: knowledge or love? We, on the other hand, speak more readily of what the masters of life have to say, since when we reach heaven then shall we see well the truth about everything. Hasn’t Our Lord said: “Only one thing is necessary?” What is this one, necessary thing that is so necessary? The one, necessary thing is that you recognise your weakness and frailty. You can claim nothing of yourself; of yourself you are nothing. And it was on account of this one necessary thing that Our Lord underwent an anguish so great that he sweated blood. It was because we did not want to acknowledge this one thing that the Lord cried out on the cross: “O God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mt 27,46). Yes indeed, it was necessary that the saviour, our one, necessary thing, should be completely forsaken by all men.

Dear child, let go of everything that I myself and any master could teach: the active life, contemplation, lofty reflections, and study only that one thing necessary in such a way that it will be granted you. Then you will have worked well. This is the reason why Our Lord said: “Mary has chosen the better part,” yes, better than all. Truly, if you could gain it you would have gained everything: not just a part of the good, but all of it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Faith in the invisible

Yesterday's Gospel reading touched upon the subject of faith, when the disciples ask the Lord to increase their faith. The priest in yesterday's Mass gave us a beautiful story about a man who carried on a conversation every day, sometimes twice each day, with an empty chair in front of him. This chair is reserved for the Lord whom he invites to come around each day just so they can talk. This practice was suggested to him by a friend, and the man, who had previously confessed not knowing how to pray, took to it to his deathbed. One day, he calls his daughter to him, kisses her and hugs her, she goes off and comes back an hour later to find him dead, with his head leaning over to rest on the empty chair.

Our priest ended his story with the assertion that "faith is belief in a God whom one cannot see."

I often find myself amazed at the blindness of militant atheists, those who actively preach against the existence of God. On one hand, in their inability to perceive God, they therefore conclude, with full confidence in their rational analysis, that this proves the non-existence of God. Or base it, perhaps, on the inconsistency among different faiths and religions. To them, they cannot believe in a God that they cannot perceive. On the other hand, they have no trouble believing in phenomena in the physical universe -- even when they cannot perceive them either. Who has ever perceived or grasped in their minds the immensity of matter and energy, dark matter, or their origins? Who has ever perceived or grasped in their minds the electro-chemical inner workings of the human brain and the nervous system? There is much in the physical universe that we know to be true despite our inability to either perceive them or truly understand them. Some atheists have had no problem using the term "mystery" for things that they acknowledge to be unknowable at present. And these same people have blasted religious or secular authorities of past centuries who were oh so wrong about the universe and nature after all.

Science is a lot of good things. It is rigorous, it is based on fact, observation, careful analysis, experiments and logical reasoning. But when science is abused, then we have a problem. Science tells us what and, to some extent, the how of certain phenomena, i.e., the sequence of events that culminate in the observed phenomenon. But Science would not be scientific when it steps out of bounds. It cannot answer why because purpose belongs to an entity, and such an entity -- Jesus Christ who claims to be God, thus the only candidate with physical dimensions and interfaces that can be observed and gathered data from -- they reject. The Church -- who claims to be the body of Christ and thus sharing the same opportunity to gather data from -- they also reject.

So they grasp at straws and step out of bounds. They know enough to use the right instruments and observe the right environments and use the appropriate criteria when it comes to their scientific disciplines. But when they talk about faith, and attempt to use inappropriate instruments, environments and criteria -- that's bad science. They start out with misconceptions and the wrong equipment -- is it any wonder that they find it hard to believe?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Lord is glorious in his saints; come let us adore him!

Today the Church celebrates St. Francis of Assisi, whom some consider to be the most Christ-like of the saints in his humility and childlike nature. That invitatory above is from the common for saints, and it struck me as truly most apt for il Poverello, who was a great sinner before he became a great saint. A hedonist who became an ascetic, pretty much. Once worldly who became heavenly. The glory of God shows in this great work of salvation -- which is precisely why the lives of the saints are wonderful spiritual reading for us.

I too am a great sinner, but the Lord's mercy is greater than the greatest sin, and the Lord is glorious in his saints. Come let us adore him! Adeste adoremus!"

Friday, September 28, 2007

Speaking plainly

One of the many gifts that comes with parenthood is the opportunity to learn so much. Trying to explain something to a seven year old often encourages deep thinking -- because you usually need to be precise and perfectly honest. The latter can be tricky. It is perhaps still part of this generation of parents to focus on our children's self-esteem almost to the exclusion of every other consideration. It is not a well thought out strategy. My son can be very fixated on a perceived injustice, even as he understands, when you ask him to reconsider, that the status quo is fair, and what he is asking for is completely unfair. How am I to respect his strong feelings in the matter?

I found myself unable to do anything more than to speak plainly. 'No, son. That is completely wrong.'

Even as I must make allowances for what he feels, I realized five minutes into our second conversation on the matter that there was no further explanation possible. I also realized that kids can stubbornly put their foot down for the wrong things, and all I can do is tell him that we can't let things lie like that. My Father in Heaven tells me such things everyday, too. And I can only lift my hands up in prayer and beg for the grace to simply do as I ought to. Even if my heart is still set on something I know is wrong.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Passion and Sins of Omission

In meditating upon the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, I stumbled upon this thought today: the Lord was the victim of neglect by his closest friends in that darkest of hours. It is commonly true that Catholics are taught to see in the crucifix the fruit of our own sinfulness. Our sins were the nails, the crown of thorn, the whips, and the weight of the cross. Our sins were the spits and the blows upon the Lord. But I usually don't think about sins of omission. But in that darkest of hours, the Lord was abandoned by his friends, who could not even stay awake for one hour even as he was sorrowful unto death.

St. Josemaria Escriva challenged the reader in his little book on the Rosary, asking the reader to consider carrying the cross for Jesus, if only partially. This is about gratitude, not works-righteousness. The founder of Opus Dei said

 "If anyone would follow me...Little friend: we are sad, living the Passion of Our Lord Jesus. –See how lovingly He embraces the Cross. –Learn from Him. –Jesus carries the Cross for you: you...carry it for Jesus."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Take care how you hear

Today's commentary on the Gospel reading (from Dailygospel.org), attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo, focuses on Christ's words of caution, to "take care how you hear". I'm not sure that the commentary addresses the entirety of the reading from Luke 8:16-18, but it's apt nonetheless. There are periods when I blog nothing for days because I indulge myself and enjoy being in the audience. My favorite blogs and sites are linked in the side menus, and they do say more than I could, and in better quality, too. Perhaps Christ's warning works both ways indeed: we should take care how we hear, so that we do not become stagnant, reading and hearing and.. producing nothing. That which rings true cannot lay hidden while there is one who might find the grain of truth in what we might witness to, to their advantage. And so we should indulge in more listening, which is prerequisite to whatever we might produce.

So the question is this: what do we read and/or listen to?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Living faith, living love

From today's Liturgy of the Hours via Universalis.com:

Mid-morning reading (Terce)1 John 4:16 ©
We ourselves have known and put our faith in God’s love towards ourselves. God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him.

Noon reading (Sext)Galatians 6:7 - 8 ©
What a man sows, he reaps. If he sows in the field of self-indulgence he will get a harvest of corruption out of it; if he sows in the field of the Spirit he will get from it a harvest of eternal life.

Afternoon reading (None)(Galatians 6:9-10) ©
We must never get tired of doing good, and then we shall get our harvest at the proper time. While we have the chance, we must do good to all, and especially to our brothers in the faith.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

WIth eyes too shut to see

There's a Filipino joke I once read about a drunk who couldn't find a toilet but really had to go -- in a public place. His friend told him to relieve himself right there and then. The man refused, being rightly embarassed, since the streets were still busy with people walking by. His friend calmly told him "just close your eyes and they won't be there anymore."

It's supposed to be funny, but when perfectly sober people take the same advice, it isn't funny anymore -- especially when the act they should be ashamed of is to end somebody's life. Fr. Frank Pavone writes about a group of children who were reported to the police for dumping things off a bridge, things that should make you cringe to even behold, much less handle as if they were of no consequence. But people do so, and worse, they cause them to be dumped like that -- with their eyes wide shut, it seems.

[CE Editor's Warning: "This article contains some graphic passages describing aborted babies and may not be suitable for all readers."]

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Remember 9/11

The Happy Catholic is remembering, and so is Christopher Blosser and many others. I think Christopher's post, covering specific persons in that tragedy is very apt. We easily forget the individuals from the sheerness of the event, but we must never forget. These are sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives -- all of whom are individually precious in the eyes of the God who made them.

Love, love, love

It hasn't been a good day. Three of us sent off a paper to a tier one conference and .. mine was rejected. Not enough analysis. Didn't consider this or that. It's a bad idea. Sigh. And then I read the following from the Liturgy of the Hours (courtesy of Universalis), and then things aren't as bad as they seem, because they're not as important as they seem.

 

Mid-morning reading (Terce) 1 Corinthians 13:4 - 7

Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.

Noon reading (Sext) 1 Corinthians 13:8 - 13

Love does not come to an end. But if there are gifts of prophecy, the time will come when they must fail; or the gift of languages, it will not continue for ever; and knowledge – for this, too, the time will come when it must fail. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophesying is imperfect. In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.

Afternoon reading (None) Colossians 3:14 - 15

Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.

There were recent waves made about Blessed Mother Theresa having prolonged periods of doubt. Apart from the fact that some people simply do not understand sanctity, the journey of faith and dark nights of the soul -- which lifted towards the end -- they also conveniently ignore one unassailable truth about this mighty figure of our times: she was a bastion of love for the least loved. That can never be taken away from her, and by all accounts, that will never be overlooked by the God whom she served so well.

[Link to First Things article by Fr. Groeschel found via Intentional Disciples.]

Monday, September 10, 2007

The journey

I am still astounded that some Christians might not believe in the free will of man. I was told by a Calvinist once that there is no Scriptural proof for free will. Readings like those below, however, cannot be ignored. The first reading, is particularly apt here. St. Paul enjoins Christians to make the effort, presupposing that Christians are free to do so or.. not.

  Mid-morning reading (Terce) 2 Corinthians 13:11 ©
  Brethren, be joyful. Try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.
  Noon reading (Sext) Romans 6:22 ©
  Now you have been set free from sin, you have been made slaves of God, and you get a reward leading to your sanctification and ending in eternal life.
  Afternoon reading (None) Colossians 1:21 - 22 ©
  Not long ago, you were foreigners and enemies, in the way that you used to think and the evil things that you did; but now he has reconciled you, by his death and in that mortal body. Now you are able to appear before him holy, pure and blameless.

[Liturgy of the Hours Readings from Universalis.]

Sunday, September 09, 2007

To be his disciple..

Commentary on today's Gospel reading (Luke 14:25 - 33), courtesy of DailyGospel.org, by Philoxenes of Mabbug (? c.523), bishop in Syria, Homilies, no.9 (cf SC 44):

Listen to God’s voice prompting you to leave yourself behind to follow Christ and you will be a perfect disciple: “Whoever does not forsake all he has cannot be my disciple.” What have you to say? What answer could you give to that? All your uncertainties and questions fall flat before that single word; the word of truth is the exalted path by which you will make progress. Again, Jesus said: “Whoever does not renounce all his goods and take up his cross to walk after me, cannot be my disciple.” And to teach us to renounce not only our goods - to give him glory - and the world - to confess him before men - but our life too, he added: “If anyone does not renounce himself, he cannot be my disciple.”… In another place he said: “Whoever hates his life in this world keeps it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him,” (Jn 12,26). And he then said to his own: “Get up, let us go,” (Jn 14,31). By this word he showed that his place is no more to be found here below than that of his disciples.

Lord, where then shall we go? “Where I am, there also let my servant be,” (Jn 12,26). If Jesus cries out to us: “Get up, let us go!” who will still be so foolish as to consent to remain with the dead in their tombs, dwelling among captives? So every time the world tries to detain you, remember Christ’s word: “Get up, let us go!” So long as you are living, this voice will be enough to stir you. Every time you feel like sitting down, settling, being content to stay where you are, call to mind that voice saying to you insistently : “Get up, let us go!”

We shall have to go, anyway. But go as Jesus went; go because he has told you to and not because death has carried you away in spite of yourself. Whether you like it or not you are walking the road of the departing. But leave at the word of your Master and not simply because you have to. “Get up, let us go!”… Why delay? Christ also walks with you.

I found myself uncomfortably confronted by today's Gospel reading, not because I thought it too demanding, for what demands can be too high for everlasting life in the presence of God, forever possessing peace and joy beyond words to describe? What confronts me is not the Lord but my own inadequacy to his just challenge. I have been both unable to renounce myself completely and have several times started building and stopped mid-way. If no one else finds this laughable, I know at least that I do. Lord, lend me your Spirit that I may get up and go with you!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

One body

These readings come from today's Liturgy of the Hours:

Mid-morning reading (Terce)1 Corinthians 12:4 - 6

There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them.

Noon reading (Sext) 1 Corinthians 12:12 - 13

Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.

Afternoon reading (None) 1 Corinthians 12:24 - 26

God has arranged the body and that there may not be disagreements inside the body, but that each part may be equally concerned for all the others. If one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it. If one part is given special honour, all parts enjoy it.

Divorce and hardness of heart

The Curt Jester offers a very sober commentary on divorce, and a close look at which side of the debate hardness of heart may be found.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Challenge of Christ

In today's Gospel readings (Luke 4:16-30), Jesus appears to have deliberately provoked the angry response from his audience in the synagogue of Nazareth:

  And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?" He said to them, "Surely you will quote me this proverb, 'Physician, cure yourself,' and say, 'Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'" And he said, "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.
So it seems that the audience was largely approving at first, and then, one might object to the Lord's provoking words. A cross-reference to Mark 6:1-6, however, clarifies that they were already provoked to begin with:
  When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, 3 the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.
Perhaps it isn't presumptuous to consider the way Jesus reads the hearts of the people in his audience. Here he reads skepticism and perhaps a little contempt, that comes from familiarity. Not that any of us are exempt from such human reactions.

So, yes, the Lord seems to provoke the fury deliberately, but this is the challenging side of the gospel. The double-edged Word is presented as a dividing line between an open heart and one that is closed. Despite the works of Christ, he is greeted with skepticism. What then is left to say, except that the good news will now be given to more open hearts?

Lord! That today I may listen to your voice and harden not my heart!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The last will be first

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio writes an excellent piece about the God of the most destitute, whose kingdom is Catholic but whose gate -- Jesus of Nazareth -- is narrow (Lk 13:22-30). Unfortunately for many, pride is precisely what will keep them from appreciating what this means. It is ironic but not incorrect to say that even my miserable sinfulness can be made into the opposite by the Lord, whom alone I can boast about.

Monday, August 27, 2007

St. Monica and hope for our children

Or perhaps I should say "St. Monica and hope for us parents". I seethe at times when the kids seem impossibly distracted when we pray at bedtime. Earlier, Patrick (6) was giggling and laughing himself silly even before we finished.

Sigh. St. Monica, please lend just an ounce of your patience. Actually I was doing fine up to that time. On my way home, I was making up a song that went sort of like this:

Dearest Lord, teach me to be patient. For you are so patient with me. Lord, why do you love me so? How can you love me, wretched as I am?

And from the moment I stepped into the house and up until bedtime prayers, I was patient. We had a laughter-filled dinner. And then I read Francis his story. And I read Patrick his story after he read his reader (homework). And then I fell asleep while Trix read Justin his story. I guess my temper is at its worst when sleepy. And the boys goofed off some. So I was grumpy during bedtime prayers. Silly, silly me!

Eucharist and conversion

Aimee Millburn posts a conversion story. I love conversion stories. :-)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Abuse of Authority

From today's Gospel reading from Matthew 23:1-12,

  Then addressing the people and his disciples Jesus said, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi. ‘You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one master, and you are all brothers. You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will exalted.

My Bible's commentary points out that there is a delicate balance on the point of authority.

  This .. suggests that the ambitious appropriate to themselves the authority over the people of God and that to a certain point God tolerates it. Matthew, in recording these words of Jesus, wants to preserve in the Church fundamental equality. It is the whole Church which enjoys the Holy Spirit, and the heads or doctors will have no authority unless they are deeply rooted in the community's life.
.. The bad example of the authorities does not discredit the word of God. Nor does it lessen the principle of authority. .. They cannot renounce their authority on the pretext of humble service and then carry out what the majority has decided.

There is no problem with people having teaching authority in God's household. The Apostles were explicitly given this authority, and even among them, Peter is singled out with primacy (see Matthew 16:13-19, John 21:15-19, Luke 22:31-32). Nor is it a problem of calling someone a father, or a rabbi, or a leader, for St. Paul does not hesitate telling the Corinthians that he became their father (1 Cor. 4:15), nor in telling the Christians in Rome that Abraham is the father of us all (Romans 4:16-17). St. John likewise does not balk at addressing his words to fathers (1 John 2:13).

And it is true that God may tolerate the sins of people in authority, as he had the many sins of kings, judges and Apostles in the Bible, as he tolerates ours -- for some periods of time. And for people ordained, God does not abolish their offices, as he retained the kingship despite Saul and/or David, the office of judges despite Samson, and in the above, the Lord allows the teachers of the Law to retain their teaching authority, despite, in the same breath, pointing out their sins and hypocrisy. For if it were a principle that an office is only as good as the office-holder, then the office of being a Christian witness is in trouble, for all can fall into sin and caused scandal.

Perhaps this is again a good occasion to point out the wise choice of the Father in choosing to building the Church upon Simon the Rock, for he is perhaps the perfect example of an office-holder who does not quite elicit complete trust. This man, so impetuous, occasionally given to thoughtless action and reaction, was not given the honor of becoming that Rock because he was personally fit for it. But then neither are any of us fit for the honor of being sons or daughters of the Most High. And yet we are. By grace. All by grace.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The wedding feast of Heaven

Today's readings also include the parable of the wedding feast from Matthew 22:1-14. As our university chaplain explained today with a chuckle, there's nothing wrong in itself with tending your farm or business. But such harmless activities must not become more important than the kingdom of Heaven -- in which case they do become idols. Something else that caught my attention was a man not wearing the festal garment. Two questions come up for me: why was this man punished for this, and why did the Lord see fit to include this man in his parable? My Bible commentary goes thus:

You, Christians, who are already inside the Church, do you wear the new garment — a life of justice, honesty and trustworthiness? Let us not believe that the surprised guest who was not properly dressed for the occasion was some kind of poor person. No, for it was customary during those times to supply all guests with the robe they should wear at the banquet. This one could ahve put on the robe but did not, so he had nothing to answer.
I think St. Paul's words in Romans 12:1-2, I think from today's morning prayer (from the common of women saints religious: St. Rose of Lima) are appropriate here:
I beg you, by the mercy of God, to offer yourselves as a living and holy sacrifice, pleasing to God; this is the worship of a rational being. Don't let yourselves be shaped by the world where you live, but rather be transformed through the renewal of your mind. You must discern the will of God: what is good, what pleases, what is perfect.
It is not lost on me that St. Paul's imperative (if that is the term for it) words are confronting: our choice is before us — and he begs that we choose wisely. We have been brought into the banquet, the festal garment is ours to wear, but we must put it on — keep it on.

We have come into the banquet. Though we will never ourselves be worthy, we have been gathered and brought into the hall — purely by grace. The robe of the feast is ours to wear. Let us not be so foolish as to take it off.

Jephthath's Daughter

The reading from Judges 11:29-40, from today's readings, was naturally shocking. I have three children myself and my first impression was that I would rather break that vow than commit murder and sacrifice my children. In the first place, both murder and human sacrifice are shunned by God, so what gives? The Spirit of Yahweh came upon Jephthah that day, but it immediately follows: He went through Gilead .. and then entered the territory of the Ammonites. Then the foolish judge made the vow, should God enable his victory in battle, to sacrifice .. whoever first comes out of my house .. and I shall offer him up through the fire. Of course, it is his own daughter who greets him as he comes home victorious. Horrified as he was, Jephthah nevertheless fulfilled the vow he had made and sacrificed his daughter.

There are some rabbinic traditions that speak of this sacrifice as simply that of the daughter as becoming a consecrated virgin for all her life, but the more ancient tradition seems ot be that the foolish judge truly did offer his daughter as a holocaust. My Bible (Christian Community Bible: Catholic Pastoral Edition), says simply:

  The Bible relates Jephthah's vow without commentary. It is considered as the lamentable error of a hero.
I think this is the best explanation. It is quite possible that the holocaust was indeed carried out on the poor girl, simply because her father was foolish enough, not only in making the vow, but in carrying out what should have been known to be an invalid vow, for the notion of human sacrifice is repugnant to the Lord who commands "thou shall not kill" (murder). On the other hand, it appears that human sacrifice was practiced in the other kingdoms around Israel.

While the Spirit of Yahweh may indeed have come upon this valiant warrior-judge, it was in inspiring him to battle. Actually, even had the Spirit inspired the vow (unlikely), it is by no means an endorsement to carry out such a foolish vow. It should have been enough of a lesson that unjust, thoughtless vows should not be carried out, and should not be made at all. The vow sounds a lot like putting the Lord to the test, for some reason that I cannot now explain. May I be spared from making such foolish vows, given that I can be very foolish, too!