Sunday, March 27, 2016

Resurrection Poem for Easter

The following poem is from the compilation Garlands of Grace, selected and introduced by Dr. Regis Martin. It is especially pertinent on this wonderful Easter Sunday.

by Leonard Feeney

In crocus fashion, sunlight-wise,
The body of Our Lord
Slipped through the stone-bound sepulchre,
Streamed through the soldier's sword.

Though stripped and whipped and spat upon,
Sundered by nail and spear,
Thus did our dust in Him prevail
At the robin-time of the year.

Albeit our interval under earth
Must needs much longer last,
Let there be always ready the roll
Of drums and the trumpet blast.

With bones ablaze and flesh aflash
And hair set flying free,
So shall I come to you, loved ones,
So shall you come to me.

Quick Defense of the Resurrection of Jesus

Here is my Q&A for the Easter Sunday bulletin at my church. I thought it fitting on this day to answer a question about the resurrection of Jesus.

Please note that, with only the space of a column to work within, I had to cut out a lot of information (for example, why the New Testament is trustworthy as proof of the resurrection) and additional proofs. I would expand upon it here but honestly, I'm enjoying my time away from the computer. I think that, as it is, this post is at least a good start. For more information, I highly suggest Peter Kreeft's "Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ," a chapter from his Handbook of Christian Apologetics that you can read online.

That said, how would you answer this question?:

What proof is there in the resurrection of Jesus?

First, let's outline what happened. The Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish prophet who claimed to be the Messiah, was arrested, condemned by Pontius Pilate, and crucified. He was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, which was sealed with a large boulder and guarded by Roman soldiers. Three days later, some women who went to His tomb found the boulder removed and the body gone. In a span of 40 days, He appeared to over 500 people and then ascended into heaven. But, is it true?

With any historical event, you discover what happened by utilizing eyewitness accounts and the documents of those who collected such accounts. For the resurrection of Jesus, the New Testament is our primary source for such documentary evidence. There simply is not enough room here to defend the historical reliability of the New Testament, but trust me, we can be exceedingly confident in the purity of the New Testament as it has come down to us (despite the fact that we do not have the originals), and we can rest assured that it gives us an accurate reporting of what actually happened.

That said, we know that Jesus resurrected from the dead because: 1.) all of the reliable historical evidence tells us that He did, and 2.) There is no other explanation that better accounts for the facts of the matter. Of course, people have their theories, but they are easily refuted.

Some say that, in their great psychological distress, everyone who thought they saw the resurrected Lord was actually hallucinating. But, 500 people hallucinating the same thing? Not likely. You can’t touch a hallucination either (like Thomas did), and last time I checked, hallucinations don’t eat, nor do they last for 40 days.

Others say that once Jesus died, the apostles realized that He was actually a quack and so, to avoid embarrassment, they devised a grand conspiracy to fool everyone into believing that He was actually the Messiah. Also not likely. For one, these are simple people we’re talking about here. The apostles did not have the brains to conceive of such a perfect scheme. Secondly, the conspiracy theory requires them to do things that would have been nearly impossible, such as rolling away the boulder, separating Jesus’ body from the burial linens (which by then would have been securely glued to his skin), and then running away with the body all without the Roman guards seeing. There’s also the fact that no one travels to far distant lands and then suffers a martyr’s death for a lie — unless he is absolutely deranged!

The fact is that the tomb was empty, Jesus appeared to over 500 people during those 40 days, and the gospel message spread like wildfire because Jesus Christ had truly risen from the dead. Thanks be to God! Alleluia!!

Pax Christi,

Fulton Sheen and the Latin Mass for Easter

As is my custom every Easter, watch and enjoy the Solemn High Mass for Easter Sunday, 1941, with narration by Fulton J. Sheen. There is no better man to explain the mysteries of the Latin Mass ... and as they happen!


Pax Christi,

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why the Easter Vigil

Pope Benedict XVI holds a candle during the Easter Vigil Papal mass on Holy Saturday on April 23, 2011 at St Peter's basilica at The Vatican. Source: Getty Images

With Easter now fast upon us, I would like to take this opportunity to explain just very briefly why I think you should attend the Easter Vigil.

Reason #1: You’ve never seen anything like it

The Mass for the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night is the liturgy of all liturgies. All of the symbolism that makes the typical liturgy so rich and meaningful is multiplied by 100 for the Easter Vigil. What this means is that you’re going to see and experience something truly unique.

For one, the Mass begins with the lights out. The only illumination comes from a massive bonfire burning outside. Once the Paschal candle is lit by the fire, its flame is used to light small candles held by those in the congregation. To see the church ultimately alive not by the force of electricity but by a holy fire is truly a sight to behold.

The Liturgy of the Word during the Vigil Mass is also much more substantial. It is essentially a grand tour through salvation history, as reader after reader tells the story of God’s interventions into human history. It is awe-inspiring to see the plan of God unfolding and to reconsider the often arduous path that lead to the moment when God finally gave us His Son and raised Him from the dead for our salvation.

Thirdly, the Vigil happens much later in the evening then we are used to celebrating Mass. This may be off-putting at first, but the late hour is instructive and meaningful for us. The dark sky reminds us that we live in darkness without the light of Christ in our lives. It also reminds us that those who celebrate the Vigil are in waiting, are truly taking vigil, anticipating the moment when our Savior will rise from the dead and share His new life with us.

Reason #2: Welcome to the party!

Since the revival of the RCIA process after the Second Vatican Council, the Easter Vigil has taken on new significance as the liturgy that welcomes new members into the Church. This year we have one catechumen who will be baptized and three candidates who will receive with her the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Communion.

This is cause for great celebration! These four people each bring their own gifts, and talents, and aspirations to the Church, for the benefit of all Her members. This can only work to build up and renew us here at Blessed Mother. But, beyond the benefit for us, we should also celebrate this occasion for the simple fact that four more souls are entering into the fullness of grace and truth. Praise God!

Considering all this, what message would it send if the church was only half full, or if no one attended the reception afterwards? We should show these new Catholics that we are thankful for their presence and for the hard work that brought them here. I hope that you will come to welcome them and to experience the awesome beauty that only the Easter Vigil can bring. Christ is coming soon. Are you ready?

Pax Christi,

Why Is the Wednesday of Holy Week Called "Spy Wednesday"?

Today is called "Spy Wednesday" because the Gospel reading for today (cf. Mt 26:14-25) is about how Judas agreed to act as a spy for the Sanhedrin and hand Jesus over to them for 30 pieces of silver.
  • 14 Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, "What will you give me if I deliver him to you?" And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

    17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the passover?" 18 He said, "Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples.'" 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the passover. 20 When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; 21 and as they were eating, he said, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me." 22 And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, "Is it I, Lord?" 23 He answered, "He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me. 24 The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Is it I, Master?" He said to him, "You have said so."

A spy is someone who acts like he is trustworthy when all the while he is plotting to betray you. Judas did that when he said "Hail, Master!" and gave Jesus a kiss -- which is the greeting of a friend -- when really he was giving the chief priests the sign to arrest Jesus. He says, "Is it I, Lord?" as if he is innocent, but there is no one more guilty.

May we all be more like the beloved apostle, who stayed ever at the side of Christ throughout His Passion, and less like Judas, who betrayed the Lord for the price of a slave.

UPDATE (3-31-10): "Suburban banshee" (interesting s/n) left the following comment that I think is very helpful:
  • It's not a new term; it's the English translation, which goes back to at least the 19th century, of an Irish term that goes back at least to the early 15th century.

    The translation is a bit shaky. "Ceadaoin in/an Bhraith" meant "Betrayal Wednesday". But "braith" also meant someone who observes or spies. (Two different verb rootwords, spelled and pronounced the same.) So Betrayal Wednesday was translated as Spy Wednesday.

Pax Christi,

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Resources for Palm Sunday

I don't have time to post a great deal today, but I wanted to at least point you in the direction of some resources that you could use to learn something new about Jesus' amazing entrance into Jerusalem and the great mysteries of His Passion. I also threw in a few activities for children (why not, right?).

And they brought the colt to Jesus, and threw their garments on it; and he sat upon it. And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed cried out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!"
-- Mark 11:7-10

Pax Christi,

Saturday, March 19, 2016

In the Hands of St. Joseph

Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I have always looked to St. Joseph for the strength to be a good and chaste man. He is, after all, Mary's "most chaste spouse," and as the father of Jesus and the protector of Mary he is an ideal model of what it means to be a responsible husband and father. I hope to live as he lived: chaste, responsible, strong, courageous, skilled, loving, manly. I am so thankful that, in giving me my middle name, my parents made him my patron. I have done the same with my own son (Dominic Joseph), so that he will always have the intercessory power of St. Joseph to guide him and protect him.

Here are some articles on St. Joseph. Learn what it means to be devoted to him and to live the sort of life that he lived:
Pax Christi,

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Short Biography of "The Apostle of Ireland" for St. Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick was born in Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland, in the year 387 AD. When he was 16, he was captured by pirates from Ireland and sold into slavery there. For six years, he tended the flocks of his master. While a slave, he prayed 100 times a day and the same every night. Regardless of the weather or the time, in the woods or on a mountain, he was always praying.

Providentially, his time in captivity became a preparation for his later work as bishop and evangelist. He learned to speak the Celtic language, and, because his master practiced Druidism, he became very familiar with the religion that he would almost single-handedly replace with Catholicism among the people of Ireland.

A vision of an angel compelled him to leave his master and flee to England, where he studied at a few monasteries and eventually became a priest. With St. Germain he preached against the Pelagian heresy. Together they performed many miracles and converted a great number.

The Pope, so impressed by Patrick, sent him to Ireland to convert the Irish people to Christianity. Before Patrick set out on his mission, he was made a bishop. When he arrived in Ireland, one of his first acts was to visit his former master, pay the ransom owed him, and give him a blessing and forgiveness for his cruelty as a master.

On several occasions, Patrick met with violent opposition by the Druid chieftains. When one of them tried to kill Patrick with a sword, Patrick make his attacker’s arm immovable and did not relieve it until the attacker pledged obedience to Patrick. He eventually converted his attacker and every Druid chieftain and king who sought to kill him.

Everywhere Patrick went, he converted people by powerful preaching and miracles. He also formed several parishes and dioceses throughout Ireland. He ordained priests, healed the sick, expelled demons, and brought the dead back to life. Through boundless prayer and severe penances he sought the salvation of Ireland. He continued until his death to visit and watch over the churches he had founded throughout all the land.

Patrick is the one who first used the shamrock as a tool for teaching the Trinity. “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”, a prayer he composed on the morning of a great victory over paganism, remains to this day a popular Catholic prayer. He is called “The Apostle of Ireland” because of his tireless evangelism in that land, and is one of the Church’s greatest saints.

For more about St. Patrick and the conversion of Ireland, see the following resources:

Pax Christi,

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Night My Beard Evangelized

Yes, you read that right. Last Saturday, while my wife Amy and I were celebrating the death of a martyr the only way we know how -- by going out to eat at a nice restaurant -- my beard did some evangelizing. But, before I elaborate, some notes about my beard:
  1. I hardly ever post pictures of myself on here, so you probably don't know that I have a beard. It's not quite "Jimmy Akin" long, but it's getting there. It recently grew past my collar bone, a sort of milestone in the beard-growing community.
  2. It's red, even though the hair on my head is dark brown. I'm not a geneticist, I don't know how in the world these things happen, but they do.
  3. It's very curly. If I don't comb it daily than I look like a drunk, ginger Santa. *shudder*
All of this means that I get comments on it rather frequently. The beard abides ... but it hadn't yet decided to evangelize until the other night. My discussion with the waiter went something like this:
  • Waiter: I have always wanted to grow a beard like that.
  • Me: Make it happen!
  • Waiter: I can't! I tried once and it grew all patchy and misshapen, made me look like a creeper.
  • Me: I'm sorry to hear that.
  • Waiter: Yours makes you look so ... (he's waving his hand in the air now, trying to come up with the right word)
  • Me: ... professorial?
  • Waiter: Yes, exactly! Nice word! What do you do for a living?
  • Me: I'm the Director of Religious Education at my parish.

He nodded his head in approval and then proceeded to take our order. I thought that was the end of the conversation, but when he brought us our ticket after the meal, he mentioned it again:
  • Waiter: What church did you say you worked for?
  • Me: Blessed Mother.
  • Waiter: Is that a church around here?
  • Me: Yes, it's a Catholic Church here in Owensboro.
  • Waiter: Oh, Catholic! I've always thought that if I ever joined a church it would be a Catholic one. Everything there just seems so much more ... serious.
  • Me: Well, I'm the man to talk to!

I introduced myself, shook his hand, and gave him my contact information. It was all a very pleasant surprise, and I walked away thinking, "All of that started because he liked my beard. My beard just evangelized!" It made me glad to have something that can be a conversation starter, that gets people to open up and share a bit of themselves.

A lot of times, Catholics have trouble extending the invitation to consider the Catholic faith because they don't know how to get past that initial barrier that people put up when they are in a public setting. The organization St Paul Street Evangelization teaches their evangelists to overcome that barrier by simply asking people if they would like a rosary or a Miraculous Medal. My encounter at the restaurant made me realize I had another tool that I could use:

I'm just gonna keep rockin' this beard.

My son Thomas, resting under the bearded mantle of his father.

Pax Christi,

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Resources for St. Valentine's Day

Love and St. Valentine's Day
St. Valentine's Day Activities
The Sacred Heart of Jesus
The Immaculate Heart of Mary
The "Mother of All Peoples" website has more articles on the Immaculate Heart of Mary than I could possibly list here without losing a week of my life, so I suggest browsing that website for more information on this topic.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Pax Christi,

Thursday, February 11, 2016

When YouTubers Misrepresent the Catholic Church

Mike Winger scratching his head
I'm not sure how popular he is (I've never heard of him before), but there's a guy on YouTube named Mike Winger who has a 4-part video series with which he attempts to refute the teachings of the Catholic Church. I don't even remember now how I found the guy, but somehow I ended up on Part 4 and started watching it (I haven't seen the other parts yet).

He does seem to have some familiarity with Catholicism, almost like someone who used to be Catholic but then fell away. But, he also misrepresents the teaching of the Church a great deal. People were pointing this out in the comments, but no one was giving any actual examples so I thought I would provide that worthwhile service.

Note that I am not even bothering to respond to his theological errors or his misinterpretations of Scripture (maybe that's a post for another day). I am simply pointing out the times when he misrepresented what the Church teaches or why She does what She does. But, I think that even this exercise can be instructive for people. I hope you find it helpful.

Let us begin:

1:25 - Yes, a sacrament is a means of grace. Your mistake was when you put it in your own words. We do not believe that the sacraments are "a way that you can earn grace." You will not find that anywhere in the Catechism. The only one working in the sacraments is God.

2:12 - It was not "certain forms of indulgences" that were frowned upon, but instead the abuse of a legitimate practice.

2:40 - While indulgences are a part of the spiritual life of the Catholic, and they are not something that a Catholic could say were false, I would not go so far as to say that they are "essential to Catholicism." I think you're giving indulgences more prominence then they deserve.

3:58 - Our reason for believing that the sacraments are necessary is not because "there isn't enough with just Jesus." We have the sacraments and find them necessary because the grace of Jesus -- which is MORE than enough -- is given to us through them.

4:08 - Yes, Catholics have to baptize their children into the Catholic Church. But, you seemed to imply that Catholics don't recognize the baptisms of other Christian denominations, which would not be true. Any person baptized with the Trinitarian formula is validly baptized.

4:30 - Catholics believe that baptism washes away ALL sin, not just original sin. When baptized as an infant, baptism only washes away original sin because infants haven't committed their own sins yet. But, adults who receive baptism have ALL of their sins washed away.

5:09 - Catholics do not believe that being born again amounts to a mere declaration. Baptism makes us a new creation, we are regenerated by it, an indelible mark is placed on our soul so that we are forever changed. An infusion of grace takes place in baptism. By it we put away the old man and put on Christ. It is in every way more than a mere declaration of a new status.

7:29 - The "whole doctrine" on infant baptism is not built on the phrase from Acts that "his whole household" was baptized. It stands on much more evidence, and stronger evidence, than that ... although I will admit that this verse is a piece.

10:03 - The fact that the only minister of the sacrament of Confession is a priest does not mean that we can't go to Christ to have our sins forgiven. We can pray to Jesus with a contrite heart and He will forgive our venial sins. Only mortal sins are reserved to the sacrament. And at any rate, when we go to Confession we believe that we ARE going to Christ because it is Christ who forgives through the person of the priest.

10:47 - The treasury of the Church contains not just the good works of the canonized saints, but of all the saints in heaven and those on earth as well.

10:59 - They are not ONLY received through the keys, but I will say that the ministry of the Church is the primary or normative means.

11:47 - We don't follow the instructions of the priest (or, to put it another way, we do not perform our penance) in order to stay out of Purgatory. That is a result, but it is not the primary motive, which is to heal the negative effects that our sin has upon our neighbor and the Body of Christ.

12:25 - The stole is only purple in the administration of the sacrament, and then more because purple is representative of penance than because it is an expression of the authority of his office. In the administration of the other sacraments, the stole is the color of the liturgical season. The stole does represent the office of the priest, but it also represents the yoke of Christ, since it is worn over the shoulders of the priest.

16:27 - We do not believe that the purpose of the Mass is to "appease the wrath of God." That is nowhere present in the Catechism. The purpose of the Mass, specifically the sacrifice of the Mass, is to make Christ's work of redemption present to us and to apply its benefits.

18:33 - Mass is celebrated daily not because "grace is handed out piecemeal" but because Christ instructed his disciples to pray for their "daily bread", because it was the practice of the apostolic church to meet daily for the "breaking of the bread" (Acts 2:42, 46), because worship is not something that you just offer God on Sunday, and for many more reasons besides.

24:57 - You said it was "considered, at least for a long time, a mortal sin" to miss Mass, but that has never changed. It is still considered a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday. It flows from the requirement of the Third Commandment to keep the Lord's Day holy. But, a Catholic is not required to go to Mass on the other days of the week.

27:46 - The reason that the sacrifice of Christ is re-presented in the Mass every day is not because, as you put it, Jesus only paid for the sins one committed since the last time he went to Mass. Jesus paid the price once, we know that. But, the grace has to be applied to us. This happens every day in the Mass because sinners are always in need of the grace of God.

28:00 - The Church does not teach that we need this grace because we are constantly condemned. If you have committed sins, you will be forgiven, which is good and necessary. But grace does more than sanctify. It also enlightens the mind, strengthens the will against sin and temptation, helps us to be faithful to God and rids us of attachments to sin. Grace helps us to grow in holiness. All of this is certainly something that every person could stand to have more of. The Catholic faith is not about doing what you need to do every day in order to stay out of hell. It's about growth and maturity and persevering to the end (as Paul encouraged us to do) and strengthening our relationship with Christ.

30:06 - The Mass is not a continual reminder that one's sins are not fully paid for. No Catholic believes that, and that is not what the Church teaches. You quoted Hebrews where it says that Jesus paid it once and ... FOR EVER. Did you miss that part? Jesus "continues a priest for ever" (Heb 7:2) and "He always lives to make intercession for us" (Heb 7:25). The Mass simply makes that perpetual offering present to us.

31:46 - We are not "paying for sins again, and again, and again", as I have already explained.

32:01 - The primary purpose of going to Mass is not "to get freshly cleansed." It is to offer to God the worship He deserves. It is only secondarily about what we might get from it.

32:40 - Confirmation does not signify that the young Catholic has now "come of age." That is a widespread misconception, not the teaching of the Church.

33:05 - Again, we are not trying to "appease the wrath of God." We're not Puritans ;)

35:00 - There was no "upgrade". The teaching of the Church has always been the same regarding salvation in the Church. What Vatican II did was to clarify what it means to be "outside of the Church." You can find similar statements throughout the history of the Church.

37:52 - Catholic ecumenism does not "ignore differences" and that is not what Pope Francis is doing. Ecumenism is about using what we have in common as a bridge with which to bring Catholics and Protestants together so that we can experience unity in what we have in common, and so that the charity engendered by that unity will permeate our discussions of the things that we differ on and help us to come to a greater mutual understanding. This is the desire of not only Pope Francis, but of his recent predecessors as well.

41:23 - I have never seen Eph 5:26 used to defend Purgatory. I'm sure someone probably used it before, but it's not the go-to passage I would use. In fact, I'm not sure I would use it at all, since it only really applies to Purgatory in an analogous sort of way. I think you're tearing down a strawman here by using that passage as the representative text in defense of Purgatory.

53:36 - There is no belief entrenched in the heart of Catholics that Mary loves us more than Jesus. I'm sorry, there's just not. I've also never heard of the prayer that you recited. I'm sure you can find it somewhere on the internet, but it's not a part of the common prayers that Catholics pray every day (the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, etc.). I could explain the meaning of the prayer, but this is not the place for that.

54:58 - We don't pray to images. Instead, we pray to the saint who is depicted in the image.

55:38 - We are also not taking something identical to worship and giving it a new name. Whether or not something is worship depends on the intention of the person performing the action more than it does on the action itself, and no Catholic intends to grant to the saints the adoration that is reserved to God alone. We know all the passages against idolatry. We do not worship anyone or anything other than God.

59:02 - The Catholic rebuttal is not that the word "brother" means "cousin", or at least that's not all that we say the word means. We acknowledge, as every Greek dictionary will tell you, that the word for "brother" (adelphos) encompasses a host of relations: sibling, cousin, nephew, close friend, tribesman, someone of the same nation, someone you share a spiritual kinship with, etc.

1:00:58 - We don't emphasize Mary more than Jesus. In fact, central to each of the Marian dogmas is a truth about Jesus that we are simultaneously affirming. Mary can't help but point to Jesus, and our Marian doctrines can't help but affirm Him. Our Marian doctrines redound to the glory of Christ.

I think that's everything. Notice how I couldn't go more than 2 minutes or so without stumbling over something that was not presented accurately. It's shocking but I'm afraid that is the reality with many Protestant apologists. They simply do not know what they are attempting to refute. I don't think that Mike is intentionally trying to deceive anyone. I just think that there is still more that he could stand to learn about the Catholic faith.

Pax Christi,

Saturday, February 06, 2016

For the Memorial of St. Paul Miki and Companions

To your average American, the 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki are probably not very well known. But, their story deserves to be told, especially on this their feast day.
When doing research for this post, I came across an animated short called 26 Martyrs, which I then discovered will serve as a companion piece to a feature film called All That Remains. I was very impressed by both. Their respective trailers are below:

Pax Christi,

Friday, January 22, 2016

On the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade: Some Resources to Help You Fight the Good Fight

Unfortunately, I only have a short amount of time to post today about an issue that grieves me perhaps more than any other. Below you'll find links to information about abortion and my few meager offerings (seriously) on this subject.

I'm sure there are many, many other pro-life websites one could visit besides the ones I have listed (leave your favorite in the combox!). What I have done here is to assemble the ones I know are from a Catholic perspective.

This chart is also very helpful: Quick Responses to Common Pro-Choice Arguments.

Blog Posts
Good luck to you in your fight against the culture of death, and if you are on the front-lines in Washington, DC today, don't forget your mittens!

Our Lady of the Unborn ... pray for us.

Pax Christi,

Monday, January 18, 2016

On Martin Luther King Day: Black Catholics in the Church

Since today is Martin Luther King Day, I thought it might be worthwhile to point out the diversity that exists among the saints of the Catholic Church. Most of the time I think when a person hears the words "Catholic saint" the image of a white European guy comes to mind. But, Africans and African-Americans have also made a significant contribution to the life of the Church. This statement seems so obvious to me that it feels trite to even point it out. But, in the US there is a stereotype that Catholicism is only "for white people", and I want to put that to rest.

According to the National Black Catholic Congress, "270 million Catholics of African descent represent almost 25% of the one billion Roman Catholics throughout the world in more than 59 countries" (source). Almost 3 million of these live in the United States (source).

There are also many African and African-American saints. Here are just a few:

You may be surprised to find that at least three popes were of African descent:

For a list of current and deceased African-American and Black bishops, go here. Wikipedia's List of African-American Firsts is a great tribute as well. For more on Blacks in the Catholic Church, see The National Black Catholic Congress and the USCCB Subcommittee on African American Affairs.

Pax Christi,

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

In commemoration of today's Solemnity, it is worthwhile to ask ourselves: Why did Jesus consent to be baptized? I would like to offer three possible explanations.

First of all, he did it as an example for us.

Jesus’ entire life is an example for us of how to be human and how to follow God. His will was that people would repent of their sin and be baptized by John as a sign of their commitment to follow God. As a result, Jesus decided to be baptized, to show us how important it is to convert our hearts and make a public act of faith.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, gives us another reason. He says that Jesus’ baptism anticipates what He did for all mankind on the cross:
  • The act of descending into the waters of this Baptism implies a confession of guilt and a plea for forgiveness in order to make a new beginning. In a world marked by sin, then, this Yes to the entire will of God also expresses solidarity with men, who have incurred guilt but yearn for righteousness. The significance of this event could not fully emerge until it was seen in light of the Cross and Resurrection. Descending into the water, the candidates for Baptism confess their sin and seek to be rid of their burden of guilt. What did Jesus do in the same situation? Luke, who throughout his Gospel is keenly attentive to Jesus' prayer, and portrays him again and again at prayer -- in conversation with the Father -- tells us that Jesus was praying while he received Baptism (cf. Lk 3:21). Looking at the events in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind's guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross. He is, as it were, the true Jonah who said to the crew of the ship, "Take me and throw me into the sea" (Jon 1:12). The whole significance of Jesus' Baptism, the fact that he bears, "all righteousness," first comes to light on the Cross: The Baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out "This is my beloved Son" over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection. This also explains why, in his own discourses, Jesus uses the word baptism to refer to his death (cf. Mk 10:38; Lk 12:50). (p. 17-18)

By descending into the waters of the Jordan, Jesus takes the place of all sinners, who were being called by John to do what Jesus was doing. He does the same thing on the Cross, where He pays the price for all man’s sin.

His going under the water is symbolic of burial and the destruction of sin that will take place on the cross. We see this purpose for water in the flood of Noah’s day, which buried and destroyed all the sin in the world.

His rising out of the water is symbolic of His resurrection. The dove that rests above Him and the voice that cries out from the heavens point to the glory that will be His once His work is finished.

St. Thomas Aquinas gives us yet a third reason. He says that the baptism of the Lord points to our Christian sacrament of baptism. The baptism of St. John the Baptist was merely symbolic. It was a way to publicly profess one’s commitment to conversion and repentance. It did not actually forgive sin or make one a member of the family of God like our sacrament of baptism does. But, when Jesus received the baptism of John, He “consecrated it” so to speak, just as His presence at the wedding feast of Cana is seen as God’s blessing over matrimony.

In other words, when the baptism of John is imbued with the presence of Christ, it becomes what we celebrate today, and in the baptism of Jesus we see glimpses of our sacrament. The water signifies the cleansing that takes place. The descent of the dove signifies the reception of grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The divine voice -- which cries out, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” -- signifies our adoption as beloved sons (or daughters) of God.

For more on the sacrament of baptism, see my previous blog posts:

Happy Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, which concludes the Christmas season.

Pax Christi,
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