Monday, July 31, 2006

"Can prayer help?": Archbishop Martin on Prayer Bishop Rowell's recent "Credo" column, excerpted below, was meant to describe a "meaningful pattern of prayer" in response to the skeptic's question: "But is prayer only a matter of last resort, a cry of desperation or dereliction?" In this post, I would like to focus on those moments of desperation and dereliction, especially in light of the situation in the Middle East. In a July 22nd homily at a Mass for Peace in that region, Archbishop Diarmaid Martin of Dublin asked the inevitable question about prayer that arises when we face desperation: How does prayer really help? Here is an excerpt from his sermon: Can prayer help? Some may think that is just idealistic and of no effect in the “real world”. The believer, however, knows that God is the only one who has constantly remained faithful to his people. At every stage in human history, despite the infidelity of his people, God has remained faithful and has come to the aid of those who follow his path with fidelity. Prayer is above all a humble placing of ourselves in the presence of God who is totally other. He is truth, and goodness and love. By placing ourselves simply in his presence and recognising his total otherness we also change ourselves. When we see that God is totally other, we recognise that everything we have is gift. We cannot thus allow ourselves or others use the things of the world for any purpose that would betray God’s design. When we are men and women of prayer we can only be people of peace, who wish to see all humankind live in harmony together and live in harmony with the all of God’s creation. Placing ourselves in an attitude of prayer we witness to how humans should behave towards each other and towards all of creation. Prayer is not just a private conversation between you or me and God. Prayer is a placing myself into a new kind of relationship with God and with others. We place ourselves in the presence of Jesus Christ who came to reveal what God is like and to bring his peace, as we heard in the reading, to all whether they are far way or near at hand, since he is the one who has broken down all barriers. We pray that in that land which is holy to Christian, Jew and Muslim alike, religious leaders will become more effective witnesses to the unity of all humankind.
Bishop Rowell on Prayer Geoffrey Rowell, the Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar, writes this week's "Credo" column in the Times. As usual, it is very much worth reading. I'll provide a couple excerpts below: But is prayer only a matter of last resort, a cry of desperation or dereliction? It is surely more than this. Maurice Nédoncelle, in a book of almost half a century ago, pointed to prayer as embedded in our human reactions with each other. In our praying to God we are grounded in our prayer to each other. All languages are marked by the vocative in which we express in one way or another our requests to another person, requests which are petition not command. This human kind of praying always demands attention to another, and a longing for an answering and sympathetic response. There is no prayer without attentiveness, and the deepest prayer is the language of love, for love both seeks and knows that the other person will respond. ... Prayer is about coming before God as we are and as God is. Therefore at the heart of prayer is adoration. Almost all the words for worship in the Bible are about bowing down or prostration. “Come in, let us bow and bend low, and kneel before the Lord who made us.” Because prayer requires the abandonment of the pride in which we see ourselves as the centre of the universe, its condition is humility. We respond to God with the vocative as we respond to each other — “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!” If we come before God as He is, in his goodness, grace and compassion, then our adoration passes into penitence, our need of forgiveness and mercy, our longing for the pouring of His healing light upon our souls. It was a Broadmoor patient, who had done terrible things, who told his psychotherapist that prayer was “washing your face from the inside” — or perhaps God washing our face from the inside. But how do we pray, how do we “turn to prayer” both in the sense of attending to God, and of turning the whole business of our life, our work and our relationships into that which is prayerful — “praying without ceasing”? The reality is that there are only two choices — “You start from where you are, or you start from where you are not.” Starting from where we are means coming before God “just as I am”, without the usual “wardrobe of excuses”, and with all the rollercoaster of emotions. But were everything to be shaped by our subjective needs then they would be the measure and not God. Starting from where we are not means taking the words of the psalms and the Scriptures, the given daily patterns of morning and evening prayer, and so being led to praise when we do not feel like it, and being opened up to the mystery of the Divine Love which comes down to the very lowest part of our need.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Dei Verbum 22
This section opens out with the hallmark Vatican II statement on the Bible:
Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful. That is why the Church from the very beginning accepted as her own that very ancient Greek translation; of the Old Testament which is called the septuagint; and she has always given a place of honor to other Eastern translations and Latin ones especially the Latin translation known as the vulgate. But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated (believers) as well, all Christians will be able to use them. And concludes with a good ecumenical thought. Comments?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Dei Verbum 21
Now the council bishops turn to a final chapter, "Sacred Scripture In The Life Of The Church." Let's read it:

The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spirit resound in the words of the prophets and Apostles. Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her (children), the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to Sacred Scripture: "For the word of God is living and active" (Heb. 4:12) and "it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13).

Some things of note:

- The Scriptures are referred to as the "bread of life," in direct association with a reference to the Eucharist - The Scriptures communicate and facilitate the grace of the Holy Spirit. In other words, they are a "s"acrament. - A reinforcement of this sacramentality is given, especially that the preaching ministry of the Church is to arise from the Word of God.

This underscores the value of Scripture in liturgy, and is undoubtedly the basis for the primacy of post-conciliar Bible preaching at Mass and at other liturgical celebrations.

Starting Points

Well, Shawn and I have a few.

“If I read you correctly, to you, Church documents and decrees are mere ‘starting points.’ This says something. And yet you then try to claim that it is I whom is over-inflating his positions.’”

In the sense that the overall purpose of liturgy is twofold: the worship of God and the sanctification of the faithful, yes, even the texts of the liturgy itself are the starting point. As a liturgist, I also believe that the Church’s liturgy and rubrics are at least on a par with documents and decrees. “You mention going through the Vatican II documents, but thinking about it, I haven't seen you do as such, at least over at the NLM, I've only seen you criticize these things.”

I’m unsure about the problem here. First, as I stated above, I think the liturgical rites themselves are part of a set of foundational guidelines for worship and sanctification. To use a timely example, the current English translation of the Mass is heavily criticized, yet it went through an even more rigorous approval process than, say, Musicam Sacram. The notion that liturgical documents for implementation are above criticism, yet the liturgy itself is not—this seems to be off kilter. One example: I can criticize the English translation of the Gloria. Am I being a hypocrite for using it on Sunday? Or for enjoying the particular setting I use because the people sing it and the choir and musicians have fun with it? Sometimes we live with imperfection. Often, it’s an occasion for turning it over to God. Your point about, “and with your spirit” illustrates this I think.

“The question is, when we do make these arguments and critiques and propositions, do we do so earnestly trying to be formed by the mind of the Church as seen through the Magisterium, through her decrees, through the letter of this Council and those before it, and through her living tradition? Or on the other hand do we do it based solely upon what we happen to like, what we feel and so forth.”

I would add two important aspects to this list, with which I would agree in principle. First, would be the actual texts and rubrics of the liturgy. And second would be the baseline objectives of worship and sanctification. I cannot help but bring the pastoral element into the discernment. And given the near-universal tenor of liturgical criticism, we cannot help but consider the obstacles to sanctification, and address those issues, even if it means a criticism of particular points presented in particular documents.

"To put it in the words of Pope Benedict, are we acting in a spirit and hermeneutic of continuity, continuity with the 2000 year tenure and tradition of our Church, or are we acting within a spirit and hermeneutic of rupture?"

I think there are other choices, and I’ve blogged about them. There is also a hermeneutic of resistance at work in the Church: a distrust of change and reform, and a willingness to work against them whenever possible. "Second, your listing of this past few days posts is quite silly, as though I've suggested that every post pertains to Church decrees. Please Todd, let's not stoop to such pettiness and elementary level of ‘argument.’"

Not silly at all. There is room in all of those posts for a lively discussion under the umbrella of orthodoxy. “Finally, you act as though you've never been engaged. Indeed you have been. The problem is, we often cannot get beyond this first point. If you haven't figured it out yet, that is our topic, and until we get that one down, there cannot be any further points argued.”

Good enough. This particular exchange hasn’t been as focused on one topic as I would have liked, but it’s a good start. I think there's a possibility for a more focused format, but this hasn't worked out too badly.

Friday, July 28, 2006

I sort of called him out, so I'm glad Shawn responded on that thread below about my standing challenge to pick a topic, focus it, and have a two-sided chat about it on some kind of amicable level.
Shawn wrote, "As for a discussion and debate, until we have the Church and her organic tradition and official decrees as our common point of reference, it cannot happen." Yet I don't see a problem with taking an official decree as a starting point for discussion. Visitors to my web site are bored with -- I mean they notice I'm covering all the Vatican II documents. Been at it over a year now. I also don't have a problem with taking a historical point of reference and going from there. "I haven't lost any nerve, but I'm also not terribly keen on wasting my time and breath, when I already have posted positions quite publically and thoroughly elsewhere, and where you have the ability to respond, including in private email if you deem it necessary." I don't think your blog nor your responses are a waste of breath. However, if your expectation is to convert me to your opinions on prudential judgments or matters of taste, then I think you have your priorities out of kilter. I happen to think our discussions are helpful for the present and future state of worship in our mutual parishes and a little bit, in the Church as a whole. My blog traffic goes up when I post on liturgy. I'm sure my forays at NLM poke your hit counter a bit, too. "Ultimately, Todd, who you are going blow by blow with is the Church, her tradition, and her decrees not with me." This is where I would worry about myself if I were elevating personal opinions to the level of Tradition. Here's a list of Shawn's posts on NLM the past few days: - An interview with three persons about the upcoming CIEL conference - A criticism of a published commentary favorable to liturgical dance - The story behind the founding of a FSSP parish in the Netherlands - A reprint of an editorial by architect Duncan Stroik - A link to angry Anglo parishioners upset with their bishop for having a mostly Spanish Confirmation Mass and some commentary - The discovery of a Psalter manuscript from the first millennium Nice stuff, but nothing of the stature of the Church, tradition, or decrees. In fact, I'm probably in agreement with Shawn regarding dance as professional performance in liturgy. But there's nothing in the main topics of these posts that has anything directly to do with big-T Tradition. What there is room for interesting discussion on would be any of these topics: - the place of metrical psalmody anywhere in liturgy - how would one introduce congregational plainsong in non-Eucharistic services, especially baptism and weddings - which traditional chants are best suited for the catechumenate rites - Trappist architecture - the merits of particular music programs in any parish I'm sure our readers could think up a few more. Let me say the excuse that I'm not sufficiently orthodox is ... um, well, baloney. At least you can't say the progressive side was never willing to engage you.
Making Few Demands
Several days ago I blogged that Evangelical churches are successful not because people are attracted to their strong moral stands, but because they, in fact, make few demands on worshippers. Tony of Catholic Pillow Fight would like to talk about this:
So how do you make few demands on "casual Christians" who come to check things out? Do you not preach uncomfortable truth from the pulpit? Or are you talking about demands made by other members of the community?
I've worked in Catholic parishes near evangelical megachurches. Though I've never gone spying, I have had reports from people who have attended. And I've read a book or two about the philosophy of attracting seekers to bolster the numbers in the seats. Seeker worship makes no demands on newcomers. They are not asked to sing. Production values are often high: good sound systems with oratory and great music are the norm. Sit back and listen seems to be the way to go once you get there. Although there might be an opportunity to donate money, go up for an altar call, or get invited to a mid-week worship/catechetical event, none of that commitment is mandatory. There might even be a comfort in knowing that if one chose, one could go deeper. But right now, one doesn't have to. My sense of mass-market evangelical/conservative Christianity is that the message is generally positive. I think of the best-selling Prayer of Jabez as one example. Billy Graham, from what I remember of his televised crusades, seemed to be another. He spoke of moral values, but he appealed to people basically because God desires them and they were free to respond in love to God's call. That's not to say that evangelical preachers don't preach conservative values. Graham did. But I suspect they know their audience. I'm not sure there's much of a problem preaching against gay marriage. Most Americans are against it. I suspect (but I admit I don't know) that evangelical sermons on abortion are scarce. Again, I've heard liberal Catholics preach against it in liberal parishes. I suspect (but again I don't know) that evangelicals avoid sermons on contraception. I think evangelicals reel in newcomers slowly. That's what they say in their books, anyhow. If you went to a megachurch worship on Wednesday, you might hear sermons urging you to take more of a personal stand. However, at some point, such sermons become an exercise in preaching to the choir. A challenging sermon would look different in different communities. If you went to a liberal parish and preached a conservative value or to a conservative parish and preached a liberal one: stuff like that. The commonality for any challenging sermon or homily would be in addressing a shadow in a particular community: racism, alcoholism, a lack of generosity, a lack of welcome, or some aspect of prudential judgment that a preacher felt was getting a particular group of people into spiritual trouble. A sermon on contraception? Sure, some people might fidget. But it wouldn't be challenging at all to those who agreed. And the people who disagreed? They probably wouldn't stand up to challenge the preacher, so the words would remain as they were preached. An effective preacher might make a few converts. An ineffective one would accomplish little or nothing. In the long run, preachers are creatures of human desires. They would want to be effective in some way in their community. If a preacher felt he could maintain a level of confrontation in a community, I'd applaud his tenacity. If there were a group of people who always loved those homilies and another who felt consistently alienated, I'd wonder if the preacher was really doing his job. You'd have a group of folks who would feel very comfortable on the premises. And that would reinforce my point about preaching a message of comfort, "Thank God I'm not like that dirty sinner ..." And what would be set up would be one portion of the community very self-satisfied with their virtues reinforced and their sins ignored. And another who would be alienated to the point of boredom or departure. So I think conservative preachers often preach what their people want to hear: a message of comfort. The real difference is how much that soup is spiced by a message of challenge. And I suspect that liberal preachers are all over the map just like the conservatives. That's enough for now.
Conference Then Retreat
Blogging will be light over the next few days, then pretty much non-existent till the 10th. I'll be off on retreat here, and I'm looking forward to it. I'll be rubbing shoulders with Dick Vosko (among others) this coming week at the Form Reform Conference. Any nice things to say to him from St Blog's? No? I thought not.
Upgrades Coming Soon I Hope
A question, mostly directed at other bloggers out there: What would be your recommendation for software to upgrade a blog? These are the items I'm interested in doing: - Organizing archives by subject material - Designing my own blog look--something unique - Adding some rather common features on the sidebar: last comments, last ten post links I can't see anything offered in Blogger that does this. Am I missing something, or will I have to switch providers?
eBay Fame
Remember that kid--the basketball manager who was put in the game with four minutes to go and sunk six three-pointers? EArlier this month Jason's twenty point performance outpolled Kobe's 81 to win an ESPY for Best Moment In Sports. 3,000 people received free J-Mac bobbleheads earlier this week in Rochester at a AAA baseball game. Now a few have been put up for sale on eBay. I leave it for your comments.
I confess my apathy to commenting on this week's run-of-the-mill internet fodder on things Catholic, especially liturgy. Too much complaining, and frankly, I'm too busy to bother complaining these days. Except perhaps complaining about the complainers. Here's a sample: Conservatives wish liturgical dance would just shrivel up and go away, but they just can't resist giving it blog space. At times, I think criticism has become a security blanket for some Catholics. If they can't dredge up old hurts and wounds, there's nothing worth saying. George Weigel is another case in point. He's harboring hurts from over a decade ago, but Archbishop McCarrick's retirement has floated past him. Oh wait, let's take a pot shot and get my buddy Chaput to dunerwrite it. McCarrick's reply is scooped on dotCommonweal, so if you want to bother with the particulars (if you can follow Weigel, that is) check it out here. A more interesting exchange is when two fairly liberal Catholics go at it over the health of liberal Catholicism. Beliefnet has it. Let me lapse into a bit of complaint here. Three rounds? That's all it's worth? The Catholic blogosphere's St Commentariat has shown it's ability to maintain strength for over 300 rounds on the big blogs. But I do see their point. I've never been able to tempt any conservative into a substantive blow-by-blow discussion in over two years of trying. Shawn Tribe came the closest earlier this summer, but seems to have lost his nerve. So I repeat my challenge to anybody out there who thinks they have something to say on a sustained and focused level. You pick the topic you think I'm blowing hot air about: architecture, liturgical music, liturgical language, whatever. We focus it down to a manageable level: Where to put a tabernacle? or How to employ a liturgical guitar? or Is the Sign of Peace Optional? Then we go point for point in brief exchanges. They can be posted here, on your own web site, or at some neutral location, or any combination of the above. Maybe I'm just tired of parroting the good news/bad news out there. Let's try something more interesting.
This Week at Saturn
Lots of new posts at the Cassini web page. Scientists attempt to size stones and pebbles on Titan. Remember these things are made of water ice, mostly. Careful about using them for your drink, though. Outside of the midwest's latest heat wave, they'd chill your lemonade rock solid. Nice shot of the 16-mile wide moon Pan floating amongst the rings, over on the right. It seems the cause of the Encke Gap, that dark band near the outer edge of the ring system. Pan seems to be shedding dust; at least that's the proposed origin for the faint ringlet (not seen here) that shares the gap with the city-sized moon. Back in 1980, the big news was spokes on Saturn's rings--a totally unexpected sight. When Cassini arrived in 2004, nothing like spokes were to be seen on the rings. Scientists believe a combination of electrically charged dust and the right angle of sunlight are needed. Back in March, University of Colorado astronomers predicted a reappearance this month. They got it right, as this image was posted yesterday: See the ghostly cloud-like slash a shade down from the center of the picture? That's one spoke. The black band near the outer ring boundary is the Encke Gap, by the way, the home of Pan. The larger dark band was first seen from Earth by the astronomer Cassini in the 17th century, andlike the spacecraft, is named for him. Everybody was excited that radar seems to have picked up Titan's elusive lakes. The dark patches are returning no radar signal to the probe, meaning they are smooth as a liquid surface. The thinking is that methane or a methane-ethane mixture have settled in these small depressions. They range from a fraction of a mile to a few dozen miles in width. They'll probably remain a mystery until some enterprising effort lands a probe there. These lakes are near Titan's north pole, which is currently in the grip of winter. More northern flybys will resolve some of the puzzle, and pick up clues for a few questions: Are these lakes seasonal? How much do they contribute to the orance hydrocarbon smog enshrouding the moon? Are these lakes formed by liquid bubbling up from below or precipitating from above, or both? Could radar pick up waves and ripples from Titan wind?
Dei Verbum 20
Nothing surprising here:

Besides the four Gospels, the canon of the New Testament also contains the epistles of St. Paul and other apostolic writings, composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, by which, according to the wise plan of God, those matters which concern Christ the Lord are confirmed, His true teaching is more and more fully stated, the saving power of the divine work of Christ is preached, the story is told of the beginnings of the Church and its marvelous growth, and its glorious fulfillment is foretold.

For the Lord Jesus was with His apostles as He had promised (see Matt. 28:20) and sent them the advocate Spirit who would lead them into the fullness of truth (see John 16:13).

Any thoughts?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dei Verbum 19
Here the Church asserts that the gospel authors sifted through material, and used it not for the purpose of the most historical accounting possible, but for the greater good of developing the faith in the apostolic Church. The greatest truth is not to be found in a complete and historically accurate rendering, but in what best communicates the essentials of Jesus' message. Any problems with that? Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among (people), really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1:1). Indeed, after the Ascension of the Lord the Apostles handed on to their hearers what He had said and done. This they did with that clearer understanding which they enjoyed (John 2:22; 12:16; cf. 14:26; 16:12-13; 7:39.) after they had been instructed by the glorious events of Christ's life and taught by the light of the Spirit of truth. (cf. John 14:26; 16:13.) The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus.(cf. instruction "Holy Mother Church" edited by Pontifical Consilium for Promotion of Bible Studies; A.A.S. 56 (1964) p. 715.) For their intention in writing was that either from their own memory and recollections, or from the witness of those who "themselves from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word" we might know "the truth" concerning those matters about which we have been instructed (see Luke 1:2-4).

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"The Christians of the future will be either mystics ..." I'm off to another wedding in Wisconsin. But, before I leave, I would like to direct your attention to an article by Professor Lawrence Cunningham in the current Notre Dame Magazine. Here are a few excerpts: ... The Greek verb muein means to close the eyes, and, by extension, to see what is hidden. It is the root of the word musterion, which we translate as "mystery but not mystery" -- a deep puzzle that is not fully disclosed. Saint Paul uses this terminology in his letters. He most likely thought the revelation of Christ was the true musterion, as opposed to the then-popular mystery religions that also promised secret knowledge to its initiates. For Paul, mystery is the uncovering of what has hitherto been concealed.

The adjective mystikos (or, roughly, "mystical"), coming from the same root muein, was used by the early Christian writers in reference to sacred scripture. It referred to both a plain sense of scripture and, for the believer, a hidden sense. All of the Old Testament has the hidden sense of pointing to Jesus Christ, even though the plain sense had to do with the sacred story of the Jews. Similarly, the Holy Eucharist is plainly bread and wine. Through the eyes of the believer, it has the hidden meaning of the real presence of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. Thus, we speak of the Eucharistic Liturgy as the celebration of Sacred Mysteries. Likewise, it was common to speak of baptism as a "mystical regeneration" in the name of the Trinity; it only seemed to be a ritual bathing but was, in fact, regeneration into the new person. Finally, the adjective described the Church: It is a visible reality, but it is also for the eyes of the believers a hidden reality -- hence we speak of the Mystical Body of Christ.

In other words, that which is mystical is that which is no longer concealed; its revelation comes from discovery and seeing through the eyes of faith.

Around 500 A.D. the Christian tradition received a newer meaning attached to the adjective "mystical." A monk claiming to be the Dionysius who was converted by Saint Paul in Athens (see Acts 17:34), wrote a series of books. Among them were The Divine Names of God and Mystical Theology. The former book was an attempt to account for all of the names by which we call on God. In the latter book (scarcely 10 pages long in English translation) he argues that the reality of God is beyond naming. Speech about God (theology) is hidden in the vast mystery of the divine reality; God is mystikos -- hidden.

We can, the books tell us, say many things about God while at the same time God is nameless because divine reality is more than we can grasp. In attempting to speak about how speechless we are when confronting the reality of God, we are indulging in mystical (hidden) discourse to and about God (theology).

... When a person has a deep experience of the reality of God in prayer that is beyond words, one touches upon the reality of the mystery of God. One forgets the self praying and is enveloped in the presence of God. That self-forgetting awareness of the presence of God is what we would today call a mystical experience. Those who have such an experience cannot fully describe it; they are compelled to use the language of analogy or poetry or paradox: God is todo y nada -- Everything and Nothing. ...

A couple of generations ago, the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner wrote an influential essay on the future of Christian faith. The essay began with a rather startling opening gambit: The Christians of the future will be either mystics or they will not be Christians at all. Rahner was convinced that the traditional culture of Catholicism, of the kind that he knew as a young person growing up, was eroding rapidly under the pressure of increased urbanization, the aftermath of the world wars, the shift from rural and village life to that of the metropolis, and other factors which encouraged the secularization of life. People might well not remain faithful to their Catholic faith simply because they were born into it. As a consequence, if people did not have a deep experience of God they would not commit themselves to a sustained life of Christianity. The sheer pressures of culture would act as a powerful reactive force against "folk" or "cultural" Catholicism.

By being a mystic, what Rahner had in mind was nothing more than this: People would remain actively Christian if they had been shaped by a profound encounter with God. That experience (or those experiences) would anchor a person in faith and allow that faith to spill over into an active Christian life.

Uncensored Prayer This excerpt from Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith, by Henri Nouwen (edited after Nouwen's death by Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca Laird), is from Beliefnet: Our inclination is to reveal to God only what we feel comfortable in sharing. Naturally, we want to love and be loved by God, but we also want to keep a little corner of our inner life for ourselves, where we can hide and think our own secret thoughts, dream our own dreams, and play with our own mental fabrications. We are often tempted to select carefully the thoughts that we bring into our conversation with God. What makes us so stingy? Maybe we wonder if God can take all that goes on in our minds and hearts. Can God accept our hateful thoughts, our cruel fantasies, and our bizarre dreams? Can God handle our primitive urges, our inflated illusions, and our exotic mental castles? This withholding from God of a large part of our thoughts leads us onto a road that we probably would never consciously want to take. It is the road of spiritual censorship—editing out all the fantasies, worries, resentments, and disturbing thoughts we do not wish to share with anyone, including God, who sees and knows all. When we hide our shameful thoughts and repress our negative emotions, we can easily spiral down the emotional staircase to hatred and despair. Far better it is to cry out to God like Job, pouring out to God our pain and anger and demanding to be answered. A number of years back, Pierre Wolff wrote a wonderful little book on uncensored prayer. It is called "May I Hate God?" and it touches on the very center of our spiritual struggle. Our many unexpressed fears, doubts, anxieties, and resentments, he says, prevent us from tasting and seeing the goodness of the Lord. Anger and hatred, which separate us from God and others, can also become the doorway to greater intimacy with God. Religious and secular taboos against expressing negative emotions evoke shame and guilt. Only by expressing our anger and resentment directly to God in prayer will we come to know the fullness of love and freedom. Only in pouring out our story of fear, rejection, hatred, and bitterness can we hope to be healed. The Psalms are filled with the raw and uncensored cries and agonies of God’s people, poured out to God and asking for deliverance. For example: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me…I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. (Psalm 22:1-2) I cried out to God for help: I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. (Psalm 77:1-2) Hear, 0 Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. (Psalm 86:1) The more we dare to show our whole trembling self to God, as did the ancients who prayed the Psalms, the more we will be able to sense that God’s love, which is perfect love, casts out our fears, purifies our thoughts, and heals our hatred.
Dei Verbum 18
In the days of Brown (Dan not Raymond), a reminder of the trustworthy origin of the four Gospels:

It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special preeminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our savior.

The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the Apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic (witnesses), under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.(cf. St. Irenaeus, "Against Heretics" III, 11; 8: PG 7,885, Sagnard Edition, p. 194.)

Again, nothing novel; just a reiteration of long-held belief.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Does God Punish Us? The Orthodox priest John Breck responds in his latest "Life in Christ" column: "No." Here are the concluding paragraphs: The Greek term metanoia, which we translate “repentance,” actually signifies a “turning,” a changing of direction or orientation. Once this radical reorientation begins, we enter on a pathway often marked by struggle and even suffering. But if we truly “seek first the Kingdom of God,” we quickly learn that the Hand that guides along that pathway never punishes us out of vengeance or vindictiveness. As the Risen Lord declared to Saul, what He seeks from His followers is a transferal of their loyalty and their liberation “from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). Suffering endured in this light is not punishment; it is not the bitter recompense for our sinfulness. It is, like any “penance” a spiritual father may impose, a call and an encouragement toward true metanoia, toward that reorientation that leads us through life’s struggles and temptations, and ushers us finally into the open arms of the God of infinite compassion and mercy. We can reply to our original question, then, with a simple “no.” No, God does not punish us. Rather, He guides, chastens, purifies and strengthens us through every event and every experience, with the single minded concern to embrace us forever in the fullness of His love . The final word belongs to St John, the Beloved Disciple, who knew Christ perhaps better than any of the other apostles. Before the fearful day of judgment, he declares, “we may have confidence,” not in our merits nor in punishing penances we may have endured, but in the love of the God whose very essence is Love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment….” The Way into the Kingdom of Heaven is not through punishment, through suffering imposed by a wrathful God whose justice outweighs His mercy. It is through love: the boundless, self-giving love God has for us, to which, in an attitude of ongoing repentance, we respond with love for Him and for one another (1 John 4:16-21).

“By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work”: The Joint Declaration

As you know, in what Cardinal Kasper termed “a historic day,” delegates to the World Methodist Council voted unanimously to accept the previously Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Regarding the Methodists' resolution, a Catholic News Service story tells us, “In the Methodist understanding, it said, human beings cannot cure the effects of original sin and corruption. It said the fact ‘that people are able to respond to God's call is due only to God's prior work’ of grace that helps people accept salvation in Jesus.”

I know that I don’t really have the time or abilities to be anything like an effective blogger. But this would seem to be a very good time to at least share part of a lecture delivered earlier this year by the Capuchin priest and theologian William Henn of the Pontifical Gregorian University about the significance of the Joint Declaration for ecumenism (and, thus, for all of us):

What is so heartening about the declaration is that it illustrates how two communities can come to a new awareness about the degree of their unity in faith, when they examine a once-divisive doctrine within a broad context of study and dialogue. The declaration states:

By appropriating insights of recent biblical studies and drawing on modern investigations of the history of theology and dogma, the post-Vatican II ecumenical dialogue has led to a notable convergence concerning justification, with the result that this Joint Declaration is able to formulate a consensus on basic truths concerning the doctrine of justification. In light of this consensus, the corresponding doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century do not apply to today’s partner.

The agreement provides a short statement of consensus in the basic truths relative to the doctrine of justification, whose heart is the following words: “Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works” (paragraph 15). Seven related topics are then briefly explored, such as how each community explicates the assurance of salvation or the good works of the justified. In each of these related topics, traditional Lutheran and Catholic teaching, catechesis and theology is formulated in different and even contrasting ways. But these different formulations and their underlying sensibilities neither contradict the fundamental consensus nor need be seen as in strict opposition to one another. Thus, on the question of good works, both communities agree “good works – a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love – follow justification and are its fruits” (paragraph 37). However, it would seem that Catholics and Lutherans have contradicted one another in the past about whether such good works may be called “meritorious.” The declaration then presents these historical oppositions in a new light:

When Catholics affirm the ‘meritorious’ character of good works, they wish to say that, according to the biblical witness, a reward in heaven is promised to these works. Their intention is to emphasize the responsibility of persons for their actions, not to contest the character of those works as gifts or far less to deny that justification remains the unmerited gifts of grace […] When [Lutherans] view the good works of Christians as the fruts and signs of justification and not as one’s own ‘merits,’ [they] nevertheless also understand eternal life in accord with the New Testament as unmerited ‘reward’ in the sense of the fulfillment of God’s promise to the believer (paragraphs 38-39).

The point is that different sensibilities concerning the word “merit” have led to quite different affirmations about it. Upon closer examination, however, these affirmations turn out not to be contradictory. Catholics speaking about merit in no way intend to deny the utterly gratuitous nature of justification in Jesus Christ; Lutherans denying that good deeds are meritorious in no way intend to reject what the New Testament teaches about God’s reward and about the responsibility of believers to produce fruits worthy of salvation. Pope John Paul II, in Ut Unum Sint, par. 38, wrote that one of the benefits of dialogue is the discovery that formulations once considered in opposition are sometimes instead merely “the result of two different ways of looking at the same reality.” When the Catholic Church officially approved the joint declaration on justification, it was stating that such an unmasking has occurred with regard to that particular doctrine.

The joint declaration is a fine example of two principles which gained new clarity at Vatican II, the principle of the hierarchy of truths and the principle that a plurality of formulations is possible in expressing revealed truth. First of all, the Joint Declaration nicely illustrates the hierarchy of truths by going to the very heart of the doctrine of justification, as expressed in the short statement quoted above, and then addressing subsidiary questions like those concerning the “assurance of salvation” or “merit” in light of that more central doctrine. Not only this, but the declaration seeks to situate the doctrine of justification in relation to the whole range of biblical teachings about salvation in Christ as well as in relation to the whole range of Christian doctrine. When the doctrine of the hierarchy of truths first appeared in Vatican II’s decree on ecumenism in 1964, many thought it might allow for doctrinal unity based upon a reduced number of truths. What one sees in the Joint Declaration, in contrast, is a promising and unexpected use of this principle in a way that denies no doctrine but allows for a more accurate reading of what once seemed to be contradictory positions but which now can be acknowledged as compatible.

The other principle is that enunciated by John XXIII at the opening of the council and reiterated by the constitution Unitatis redintegratio which distinguishes between the real content of a doctrine and its time-conditioned formulation (UUS 18, 38). Of course, there is a lasting truth expressed in any solemn teaching of the Church and a perennial normativity to the formulation in which it is expressed. At the same time, the teaching of Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure and many other scholastic theologians that the actus credentis terminatur non ad enuntiabile sed ad rem – that the act of the believer is not directed to the proposition but to the reality – confirms that Pope John was not creating ex nihilo some new and outrageous principle. Indeed, one of the first texts produced by the newly formed International Theological Commission was on the theme of Unity in Faith and Theological Pluralism. Its very first thesis states that the ultimate cause of plurality in the expression of the faith is to be found in the mystery of Jesus Christ himself, who is the one and only savior of all peoples. Since no human expression is exhaustively adequate to the mystery of salvation in Christ, a variety of formulations and approaches is not only possible but may be desirable. The joint declaration seems to reflect quite directly this insight. It means also that the principle motive for the divisions at the time of the 16th century reformation has been overcome.

Dei Verbum 17
On to the New Testament, Chapter V, and a recounting of the significance of the "reality" of Jesus:

The word of God, which is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe (see Rom. 1:16), is set forth and shows its power in a most excellent way in the writings of the New Testament. For when the fullness of time arrived (see Gal. 4:4), the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us in His fullness of graces and truth (see John 1:14). Christ established the kingdom of God on earth, manifested His Father and Himself by deeds and words, and completed His work by His death, resurrection and glorious Ascension and by the sending of the Holy Spirit. Having been lifted up from the earth, He draws all (people) to Himself (see John 12:32, Greek text), He who alone has the words of eternal life (see John 6:68). This mystery had not been manifested to other generations as it was now revealed to His holy Apostles and prophets in the Holy Spirit (see Eph. 3:4-6, Greek text), so that they might preach the Gospel, stir up faith in Jesus, Christ and Lord, and gather together the Church. Now the writings of the New Testament stand as a perpetual and divine witness to these realities.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Summer Listening
Aside from some great music sites on the net, I'm listening to more of my cd's this summer. I used to buy fairly frequently, and many of them have since languished on my shelves. Last night, I had Rautavaara in the cd player. I really like his most famous work, Cantus Arcticus. So did Count. His ears and eyes perked up at the sounds of northern European birds. Silly cat. The disc over on the left is reviewed here. Early music is high on the list, and I've enjoyed a classic recording of Tallis which includes the massive Spem in Alium. A Josquin Desrez disc of motets (which had also been on the neglected shelf) has been getting a lot of play this past week, too. Any good listening for you?
Candidates in Pittsburgh
It's probably one of the few ecclesiological aspects in which I trend toward traditionalism. Wouldn't you know the St Blog's con-commentariat trend modernist? Ann Rodgers vets her list of possible new bishops in the Steel City, and Amy picks up the link. My comment there:

Only problem with the list is that they're all bishops elsewhere. Careerism in the episcopacy is a problem worth addressing. It should be the rare bishop to get two dioceses and some today even have four. That's ridiculous.

The early popes and luminaries such as Augustine and John Chrysostom would be scandalized. Is it too much to expect that a few good priests in the diocese of Pittsburgh would be on the list?

Many of the following comments on that thread are instructive in that many of them betray more of an American corporate sensibility in looking at the office of bishop. You can read how a person is supposed to move up the "ladder," earn "qualifications" to return once he's been "seasoned" elsewhere. Talk like that. I'm sure Ann Rodgers, who has the rep for being a great religion reporter, isn't intentionally promoting modernism or American corporate training, so I hope her list isn't the real one being circulated where it counts. A few things to remember: Pittsburgh, though a fine, cultured, historic, and large city, with a good reputation in ecclesial circles, is not an archdiocesan see. The sitter in its cathedra does not pick popes. Considering the new bishops we've seen in Nashville and Upper Michigan, I'd be dismayed if Pittsburgh clergy (or even clergy in other dioceses) aren't on some lists to replace Wuerl. That's not to say some clergy wouldn't or don't benefit from experiences in management training, as it were. My own bishop was never the pastor of a parish. That's often quoted as being his most serious deficiency--a lack of pastoral experience. It would be easy enough for bishops to trade remarkable pastors if someone thought that out-of-area seasoning were a value. Clergy today serve as vicars general or chancellors--what other training ground is needed for the cathedra? Any why should small dioceses suffer a parade of long-serving mediocre bishops, interrupted by an occasional five-year squatting by an up-and-comer? Naturally, we should have outstanding bishops in every one of the world's dioceses. And if that were so, it shouldn't matter about moving guys around so much. That the current archbishop of Boston is on diocese number four. Two should be the max, and even that by way of exception, rather than the rule. I shouldn't need to point out that the current troubles in the episcopacy have been aggravated in part because bishops are less concerned with particular flocks they serve and more attentive to a system that reinforces loyalty to the clerical culture above adherence to Christ. Isn't it a time for the Barque to consider a course correction? Tradition and the modern approach: funny how the hats switch when a system gets comfy.
Dei Verbum 16

The great doctors of Christian antiquity are quoted, and the Vatican II bishops add yet more weight to the value of lectionary reform: God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New. (St. Augustine, "Quest. in Hept." 2,73: PL 34,623.) For, though Christ established the new covenant in His blood (see Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25), still the books of the Old Testament with all their parts, caught up into the proclamation of the Gospel, (St. Irenaeus, "Against Heretics" III, 21,3: PG 7,950; (Same as 25,1: Harvey 2, p. 115). St. Cyril of Jerusalem, "Catech." 4,35; PG 33,497. Theodore of Mopsuestia, "In Soph." 1,4-6: PG 66, 452D-453A.) acquire and show forth their full meaning in the New Testament (see Matt. 5:17; Luke 24:27; Rom. 16:25-26; 2 Cor. 14:16) and in turn shed light on it and explain it.

It's not a hard principle, actually, given that the whole of God's activity in the human sphere has been and is directed at our salvation.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Dei Verbum 15

It's a busy day at the church, but not too busy to post more on Vatican II's take on the Old Testament:

The principal purpose to which the plan of the old covenant was directed was to prepare for the coming of Christ, the redeemer of all and of the messianic kingdom, to announce this coming by prophecy (see Luke 24:44; John 5:39; 1 Peter 1:10), and to indicate its meaning through various types (see 1 Cor. 10:12). Now the books of the Old Testament, in accordance with the state of (hu)mankind before the time of salvation established by Christ, reveal to all ... the knowledge of God and of (people) and the ways in which God, just and merciful, deals with (human beings). These books, though they also contain some things which are incomplete and temporary, nevertheless show us true divine pedagogy. (Pius XI, encyclical 'Mit Brennender Sorge," March 14, 1937: A.A.S. 29 (1937) p. 51.) These same books, then, give expression to a lively sense of God, contain a store of sublime teachings about God, sound wisdom about human life, and a wonderful treasury of prayers, and in them the mystery of our salvation is present in a hidden way. Christians should receive them with reverence.

I like that "lively sense of God," the notion that we have been graced with a God revealing himself to us through history, through the Jewish people, through an opening up of that plan of salvation, through Christ and the Gospel mission. Naturally, anything of this world is incomplete and temporary when compared to the eternity of God.


Methodists sign the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification From the Christian Post: Reconciliation, which the quinquennial conference is centered on this year, largely characterizes the Wesley movement. While a Protestant, Wesley was able to understand the Roman Catholic Church. “He was definitely a Protestant but he was able to bring both traditions (Protestantism and Catholicism) together,” noted the Rev. Lyle Pointer, a member of the Church of the Nazarene from the United States. “His theology is in many ways an amalgamation, though unique in itself, gathering together two separate traditions and helping us to embrace justification by faith from a Protestant standpoint but also have an understanding of sanctification … from the Catholic point of view.” With a reconciliatory approach, Methodists/Wesleyan family members will be adding their signature to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, what Dr. George H. Freeman, general secretary of the World Methodist Council, called “historic.” On Sunday, they will become the “third partner” to the milestone declaration signed by the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church in 1999. “This means that this makes it possible for other partners to join in those kinds of [ecumenical] conversations and help bring people closer together,” commented Freeman. ... From John Allen's All Things Catholic column: Sometimes professional ecumenists, whose life’s work is reconciliation among the divided branches of the Christian family, are jokingly referred to as “ecu-maniacs.” The quip is usually one part satire, and one part grudging respect.

In fact, given the experience of recent years -- including ongoing tensions with the Orthodox over Ukraine and accusations of proselytism, and with the Anglicans and other Western churches over women’s ordination and homosexuality -- perhaps one does have to be just slightly dreamy to cling to the vision of full, structural unity among all Christians as anything other than an end-time objective.

Yet the ecumenists continue to plug away, exhibiting a rather remarkable confidence that everything will sort itself out in God’s time.

This week, the ecumenists scored an impressive victory in Seoul, South Korea, where the World Methodist Conference, representing 76 denominations with roots in the Methodist movement, voted on July 18 to join an agreement on the doctrine of justification first signed by the Catholic church and the Lutheran World Federation in 1998.

A signing ceremony will take place on Monday.

The heart of the agreement is this key sentence: “By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works.” In one stroke, it seems to place Catholics and Protestants on the same page in terms of resolving the old “faith versus works” debate.

The Vatican official in charge of ecumenism at the time, Australian Cardinal Edward Cassidy, said the agreement “virtually resolves a long-disputed question at the close of the twentieth century.”


Please read the Joint Declaration.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Dei Verbum 14
The document begins a chapter on the Old Testament. It reads like a minute (or minute) version of Biblical history:

In carefully planning and preparing the salvation of the whole human race the God of infinite love, by a special dispensation, chose for Himself a people to whom He would entrust His promises. First He entered into a covenant with Abraham (see Gen. 15:18) and, through Moses, with the people of Israel (see Ex. 24:8). To this people which He had acquired for Himself, He so manifested Himself through words and deeds as the one true and living God that Israel came to know by experience the ways of God with (people). Then too, when God Himself spoke to them through the mouth of the prophets, Israel daily gained a deeper and clearer understanding of His ways and made them more widely known among the nations (see Ps. 21:29; 95:1-3; Is. 2:1-5; Jer. 3:17). The plan of salvation foretold by the sacred authors, recounted and explained by them, is found as the true word of God in the books of the Old Testament: these books, therefore, written under divine inspiration, remain permanently valuable. "For all that was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4).

God's plan of salvation began centuries before Christianity, and the witness of the early part of this plan is termed "permanently valuable." Why? For the simple reason is that it can cultivate hope in today's believers.

To His Wife
When I found this passage during my graduate studies, I wanted to use it if I were ever to marry. I lost the reference and pretty much forgot about it until a few months ago. On the occasion of Neil's wedding, it popped back into my head that I should look for it again. I wasn't even sure Tertullian was the author--and he was. The Latin original has a great quality of poetry about it. I wonder if it has ever been set to music. English translation follows.
Ad Uxorem II, 8:7-8 [7] Quale jugum fidelium duorum unius spei, unius voti, unius disciplinae, eiusdem servitutis. Ambo fratres, ambo conservi; nulla spiritus carnisue discretio, atquin vere duo in carne una. Ubi caro una, unus et spiritus: simul orant, simul volutantur, simul ieiunia transigunt, alterutro docentes, alterutro exhortantes, alterutro sustinentes. [8] In ecclesia Dei pariter utrique, pariter in convivio Dei, pariter in angustiis, in persecutionibus, in refrigeriis. Neuter alterum celat, neuter alterum vitat, neuter alteri gravis est. Libere aeger visitatur, indigens sustentatur. Elemosinae sine tormento, sacrificia sine scrupulo, quotidiana diligentia sine impedimento; non furtiva signatio, non trepida gratulatio, non muta benedictio. Sonant inter duos psalmi et hymni, et mutuo provocant, quis melius Domino suo cantet. Talia Christus videns et audiens gaudet. His pacem suam mittit. Ubi duo, ibi et ipse; ubi et ipse, ibi et malus non est. To His Wife, book II, 8:7-8 [7] What kind of yoke is that of two believers, one hope, one vow, one formation, one and the same servitude? Brother and sister, both companions in service, no difference of spirit or of flesh; yet truly "two in one flesh." Where the flesh is one, one is the spirit. Together praying, together reverencing, together fasting; mutually teaching, mutually exhorting, mutually sustaining. [8] In the Church of God; together they are found, together at the banquet of God, together in difficulties, in persecutions, in refreshments. Neither conceals from the other; neither avoids the other; neither is a burden to the other. Freely the sick are visited, the needy relieved. Alms given without consternation, sacrifices made without question, daily cares without hindrance: no secret affection, no trembling greeting, no mute benediction. Psalms and hymns resound between the two, and they call forth who shall better sing to their Lord. Christ sees and hears such things and rejoices. He sends his peace to them. Where these two are, he himself is; And where he is, evil is not.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Dei Verbum 13

A short conclusion to chapter III:

In Sacred Scripture, therefore, while the truth and holiness of God always remains intact, the marvelous "condescension" of eternal wisdom is clearly shown, "that we may learn the gentle kindness of God, which words cannot express, and how far He has gone in adapting His language with thoughtful concern for our weak human nature." (St. John Chrysostom "In Genesis" 3, 8 (Homily l7, 1): PG 53, 134; "Attemperatio" [in English "Suitable adjustment"] in Greek "synkatabasis.") For the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like (a human being).

The "Golden Tongue" tells us God has adapted divine communication to fit human needs. The implication is that the Word of God is only part of the bridge reaching out to us, and that in some ways, it will be an incomplete rendering of God's wisdom. That said, it is also true that God's grace transcends any attempts at communication: that of holy authors, that of our prayers. Somehow God makes the connection. The essential aspect of our relationship with God is that we make the effort--an honest and committed one--and God provides the rest, though sometimes that aspect of our relationship is totally beyond human understanding or description.

Missionaries and World Christianity To continue with themes found in my "southern moment" post, I would like to look at a recent sermon delivered at Great St Mary's Church in Cambridge by the distinguished historian of Christian missions, Brian Stanley. Dr Stanley asks an important question - "Why does our culture, along with many others today, react with such hostility to the idea of Christian mission, and is such hostility justified?" He offers two answers, both of which are based on perceptions of the history of missions. First, there is the conviction that mission has inevitably been tied to domination, specifically the domination of the West. To this, Dr Stanley, preaching on Pentecost, responds in a way that should now be familiar to us: The significance of the gift of tongues at Pentecost is that each of these cultural and ethnic groups who heard the apostles' message about God's mighty deeds in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus heard that message simultaneously in their own language. From the very beginning, therefore, Christian mission has been about the simultaneous translation of the one word about Jesus Christ into the plural accents, cadences, and intellectual categories of indigenous cultures. Even if we believe that the Gospels are an authentic record of the words of Jesus, they are, of course, a translation into Greek from the Aramaic which he spoke. In Christianity, in contrast to Islam, there is no holy language: the eternal word of God can take flesh in every language, and hence in principle in every culture, in every world-view.

That is why the charge of the inseparability of Christian mission and domination ultimately fails. It is not accidental that historians of the encounters between indigenous peoples and Christian missionaries have in recent years become fascinated with the cultural implications of the vernacularization of the Christian message. As Old and New Testaments were translated into the indigenous languages of the non-European world, those languages acquired new cultural and even political significance. Frequently missionaries were the first to render them in written form, and to compile grammars and dictionaries. Local indigenous terms and religious concepts had to be employed to convey universal Christian truth. Hearers and readers of the biblical narratives began to interpret their own communal stories in the light of the biblical stories, particularly the Old Testament story of God's election of a small and despised people and their redemption by his grace from captivity in Egypt or Babylon. The Bible has far more often been a vehicle of liberation than one of domination.

The second answer is epistemological - "it derives from the bare-faced Christian claim to be in receipt of revealed truth about God," which seems to many to lead to intolerance and repression. Dr Stanley acknowledge this this sometimes has been the case. But he responds that Christians do believe in truth, but this truth relates to the Cross, and it can be then said that Christian truth claims "derive from a condition of divine powerlessness." This means that Christians should be concerned about truth enough to proclaim their beliefs and speak against injustice and seriously listen to the wisdom of others, but without believing that the truth will emerge from the exercise of power. And, so, Dr Stanley continues, we actually have the grounds for a principled global civil society that might still respect diversity:

Walter Mead, an historian of American foreign policy, has said this about the role of Christian missions in shaping the ideas of internationalism that became influential after the First World War: 'The very concept of a global civil society comes to us out of the missionary movement; apart from a handful of isolated intellectuals, no one before the missionaries ever thought that the world's cultures and societies had or could have enough in common to make a common global society feasible or desirable. Certainly before the missionaries no large group of people set out to build such a world.'

The Christian internationalism that was rooted in the missionary enterprise and came to full flower in the ecumenical movement was not exempt from starry-eyed unrealism. But at its best it was fuelled by a conviction that the Church is called to be a sign of God's redemptive purpose for a divided humanity. Today's world exhibits the ugly paradox of growing interconnectedness through processes of economic and technological globalization, yet at the same time dangerously sharpening polarizations between rich and poor, liberal and fundamentalist. Christians believe that the hope of a humanity at peace with itself does not lie simply in the endless repetition of calls for greater tolerance and mutual respect, important though these attitudes are. The multicultural assembly that responded to the preaching of the apostles on the Day of Pentecost is seen by the New Testament as the first fruits of a new and richly variegated humanity united in common submission to the gracious lordship of Christ. It is a microcosm of what God created all humankind to be, and a foreshadowing of the perfect justice and harmony that will characterize the new cosmic order which he will inaugurate at the end of time. The task of bearing humble witness to this ultimate of all realities is entrusted to all who have received the Spirit given at Pentecost. It is a commission, not to dominate the world, but to serve it, not to divide the world, but to unite it, not to extinguish human freedom but to invite all women and men to find in Christ that fullness of life for which they were created.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Not a Space Snowman
It's Enceladus passing in front of its larger sister Rhea. In reality they're thousands of miles apart. The bright crescents are sunlight. The glow is planetshine from Saturn. Note the geysers pumping from the south pole of Enceladus. Too bad Star Trek: Voyager was saddled with such a silly premise to get the show off the ground. In the real universe, it's water, water, everywhere. Well, once you find some small moons at about 200 degrees below zero, that is. They seem to outnumber earthlike planets about ninety to one in our neighborhood.
"In the Center, There is the Church"
As it should be. Zenit's art correspondent Elizabeth Lev with a success story from a Roman church not quite empty. From an interview with her pastor:
Don Carmelo told me that the spirit of renewal during Vatican II shaped his life as a diocesan priest. "I see the role of the priest as among the people," he explained. "From when I first began parish work, I visit the families at their homes, I go to the parks where the kids hang out and to the snack bars where workmen eat their lunches. I try to be in touch with as many people as possible." As anyone living in the area can attest, Don Carmelo practices what he preaches. He is a familiar figure on the local scene. Don Carmelo has done everything in his power to put the church at the heart of community life. The church sits at the end of Via Innocenzo XI, dominating the road. "On the right we have our social services center and on the left there is the playground and the sports fields," says the parish priest, "but in the center, there is the church."

The Armchair Liturgist: Ten Commandments
I bring for your thoughtful minds this offer from a parishioner: to fully fund this 64" by 40" by 24" monument for our church grounds. Project Moses does a business in these marble monuments. Cost: up to $5,000. You're in the purple chair and the offer comes to you: yea or nay?
Rock on Newman
Or would it be, "Rock on Newmans?" In a post that must surely have the right end of the loggiaheads spinning in their soup, Rock gives it up for Catholic campus ministry in its incarnation as Newman Centers. Much of the post is devoted to the booming campus ministry at Arizona State, so read the link for the happy story. I spent two years as a campus minister at Michigan State University in the 90's, so I grok what Rock says:
It's a symptom that speaks to the truth of a moment in which you'll find two prevalent schools of ad intra thought when it comes to Catholic outreach on college campuses: 1. cut their funding, or 2. rejigger their priorities and disproportionately upping the emphasis on priestly/religious vocations, whilst cutting their funding. This is an unwritten scandal of the current state of the church in this country.
Amen, brother. Without criticizing over much the effort to have altar server fun fests and dinner parties with the Serra Club, let me second Rock's criticism of diocesan funding priorities. The Golden Age (cue angel songs) of Catholicism was a time in which people made their life commitment in their teens. They prepared to take over the family farm or business. They met a nice Catholic girl or boy while dancing a heavyweight nun's width apart at the high school hop. Age twenty, kids popping out, and set for life. It made sense in those days to target adolescents or younger because those kids were coming to the sunset of their time to choose up sides in the race of life. Needless to say, we've all grown more immature with the passing decades. Some young folks don't leave parental pastures till thirtysomething or more. The great dating market is now in college, if not e-harmony. Even people with college degrees don't feel like they're locked in to a particular career. They might be downsized. Or they might find something more suitable. And I don't have to tell you that marriage stability is supposedly taking a beating, too. The point is that today's college is yesterday's junior high, vocationally speaking. If the bishops were smart, they'd devote more resources for college-age Catholics at non-Catholic schools. It only makes sense. That they don't leaves me to believe they're not yet totally full-press serious enough about repopulating the younger flanks of the priesthood and religious life. Lacking funding for college campus ministry, this is probably more about regenerating a past generation than actively engaging the times in which we live and casting into the true deep. Put it another way: my Jewish grandmother could drum up vocations at Catholic colleges today. It takes real talent and drive to reach out to the unchurched masses deep in the heart of secular universitania.
Dei Verbum 12

A favorable review of modern Biblical scholarship follows:

However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through (authors) in human fashion, (St. Augustine, "City of God," XVII, 6, 2: PL 41, 537: CSEL. XL, 2, 228.) the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.

To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to "literary forms." For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of (the author's) own time and culture. (St. Augustine, "On Christian Doctrine" III, 18, 26; PL 34, 75-76.) For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns (people) normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another. (Pius XII, loc. cit. Denziger 2294 (3829-3830); EB 557-562.)

But, since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, (cf. Benedict XV, encyclical "Spiritus Paraclitus" Sept. 15, 1920:EB 469. St. Jerome, "In Galatians' 5, 19-20: PL 26, 417 A.) no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith. It is the task of exegetes to work according to these rules toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature. For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God. (cf. First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chapter 2, "On Revelation:" Denziger 1788 (3007).)

It seems to me that balance is called for: taking note of various (not a single!) type of exegesis. That the overall picture not be lost in examining aspects such as word studies, sociology, history, and so forth. Also note the expectation that the Church's judgment is to mature as scholars delve more deeply into the Word of God.


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