Saturday, February 22, 2014

For the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Apostle

It may seem odd to celebrate an inanimate object, but there is in fact a very good reason for today's feast day. The phrase ex cathedra, which we use in reference to the pope's infallible prerogative, means "from the chair." So, the chair of St. Peter represents the authority given to him and to his successors by Jesus Christ. It is also a symbol of unity and orthodoxy, since it is in communion with the pope that Christians are united in faith and practice.

Of course, the pope can always explain things much better than I can. Benedict XVI devoted his General Audience catechesis of February 22, 2006 to explaining the celebration. It is worth reading in full [translation by Whispers]:
  • Dear Brothers and Sisters!

    The Latin liturgy celebrates today the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. It comes from a very ancient tradition, chronicled at Rome from the end of the 4th century, which renders thanks to God for the mission entrusted to the Apostle Peter and to his successors. The "cathedra," literally, is the fixed seat of the Bishop, found in the mother church in a diocese, which for this reason is called "cathedral," and is the symbol of the authority of the Bishop and, in particular, of his "magisterium," the evangelical teaching which he, as a successor of the Apostles, is called to maintain and pass on to the Christian community. When the Bishop takes possession of the particular Church entrusted to him, he, wearing the mitre and carrying the pastoral staff, is seated in the cathedra. From that seat he will guide, as teacher and pastor, the path of the faithful in faith, in hope and in love.

    What was, then, the "cathedra" of St. Peter? He, chosen by Christ as the "rock" on which the Church was built, began his ministry in Jerusalem, after the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost. The first "see" of the Church was the Cenacle, and it's likely that in that room, where also Mary, the mother of Jesus, prayed together with the disciples, a special place was reserved for Simon Peter. Successively, the see of Peter became Antioch, a city situated on the Oronte River, in Syria, today in Turkey, in that time the third metropolis of the Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria in Egypt. From that city, evangalized by Barnabas and Paul, where "for the first time the disciples were called Christians" (Acts 11:26), where the name Christian was born for us, Peter was the first bishop, so that the Roman Martyrology, before the reform of the calendar, also provided for a specific celebration of the Chair of Peter at Antioch. From there, Providence brought Peter to Rome. Therefore we have the road from Jerusalem, the newborn Church, to Antioch, the first center of the Church recounted by the Pagans and still united with the Church which proceeded from the Jews. Then Peter came to Rome, center of the Empire, symbol of the "Orbis" -- the "Urbs" [city] which expresses the "Orbis" [world] of the earth -- where he concluded with his martyrdom his course in the service of the Gospel. For this, the see of Rome, which received the greatest honor, is also accorded the honors entrusted by Christ to Peter to be at the service of all the particular Churches for the building up and the unity of the entire People of God.

    The see of Rome, after this movement of St. Peter, became recognized as that of the successor of Peter, and the "cathedra" of its bishop represented that of the Apostle charged by Christ to feed his flock. This is attested to by the most ancient Fathers of the Church, for example St. Iraneus, bishop of Lyon, but living in Asia Minor, who in his treatise Against heresies described the Church of Rome as "the greatest and most ancient, known of all;... founded and built at Rome by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul"; and then: "With this Church, for its outstanding superiority, must be accorded to it the Church universal, the faithful in every place" (III, 3, 2-3). Tertullian, a little later, for his part, affirms: "How blessed is this Church of Rome! For it the apostles poured out, with their blood, the whole of doctrine." The chair of the Bishop of Rome represents, therefore, not only its service to the Roman community, but its mission of watching over the entire People of God.

    To celebrate the "Cathedra" of Peter, as we do today, means, then, to attribute to it a strong spiritual significance and to recognize it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the good and eternal Shepherd, who wishes to gather the entire Church and guide it along the way of salvation. Among the many testimonies of the Fathers, I'd like to report that of St. Jerome, who wrote in a letter of his to the Bishop of Rome, particularly interesting because it makes an explicit reference to the "chair" of Peter, presented it as the sure grounding of truth and of peace. As Jerome wrote: "I decided to consult the chair of Peter, where is found that faith which the mouth of an Apostle exalted; I come then to ask nourishment for my soul, where once was received the garment of Christ. I don't follow a primate other than Christ; for this reason, I place myself in communion with your blessedness, that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that on this rock is built the Church" (Letters I, 15, 1-2).

    Dear Brothers and Sisters, in the apse of St. Peter's Basilica, as you know, can be found the monument to the Chair of the Apostle, Bernini's eldest work, realized in the form of a great bronze throne, held up by statues of four Doctors of the Church, two of the west, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, two of the east, St. John Chrysostom and St. Athanasius. I invite you to stand in front of this suggested work, which today is probably decorated admirably by many candles, and pray in a particular way for the ministry which God has entrusted to me. Raising our gaze to the alabaster window which opens over the Chair, invoking the Holy Spirit, may he always sustain with his light and strength my daily service to all the Church. [Applause] For this, and for your devoted attention, I thank you from my heart.

For more on the Chair of St. Peter and papal authority, see the following links:For articles that I have written about Peter and the Papacy, see the Church Authority and the Papacy entry from the Topical Index.

St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles....pray for us.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Monday, February 17, 2014

Catholic Q&A: Part 36

This post continues my series of short answers to common (and not so common) questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

Why did Aaron give in so easily to the Israelites to make them a golden calf?

I don’t really know. Aaron's job was to be Moses' representative or spokesman. He was supposed to be utterly subservient to him. We see that as long as he did that, he was fine. But, as soon as Aaron exerted his own will, he got into trouble, as evidenced not only by the golden calf incident but also by the scolding he received from the Lord when he spoke against Moses' decision to marry a Cushite woman (Num 12). Aaron had a specific role to play in God's plan for the people during their slavery in Egypt and their Exodus. For whatever reason, he was never really good at acting outside of that role.

Why didn’t Ananias and Sapphira get a chance to repent before they died?

First some background information: Ananias and Sapphira were the ones who made the apostles think that they were donating all the proceeds of the land that they sold when they were really keeping some of it for themselves (cf. Acts 5:1-11).

Now, why weren’t they given a chance to repent? Because they just weren’t. People don't always get a chance to repent before they die. Death does not always come when we expect it. This is why it is so important to remain in a state of grace. That said, only God knows the heart. He knows how sorry we are for the sins we have committed, even if we do not have the chance to express that sorrow with some act of repentance. Perhaps Ananias and Sapphira were able to cry out to God, in the silence of their hearts, before they died. We will never know.

Is it lawful for someone to take the host from the Eucharistic minister, dip it in the chalice, and eat it?

No, it is not. Dipping the host into the chalice is called intinction. While this is a lawful way to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord, the communicant is not allowed to do this himself. Instead, the Eucharistic minister dips the host into the chalice and then places it on the communicant's tongue. For more on this, see the document from the US bishops: Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America, nos. 49-50.

Rom 16:22 says that Tertius wrote the Letter to the Romans. I thought Paul wrote it. Can you explain?

Paul is certainly the author of the Letter to the Romans. He began by declaring his authorship of it. “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ … To all God’s beloved in Rome” (Rom 1:1, 7). This means that Tertius was his secretary. In other words, Paul dictated the letter to Tertius, and Tertius wrote it down.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Catholic Q&A: Part 35

This post continues my series of short answers to common (and not so common) questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

Is it true that blasphemy is an unforgiveable sin?

No. The only unforgivable sin is the rejection of the Holy Spirit, or perhaps despair. That’s because these sins compel a person to avoid seeking the forgiveness of God. But, if you actually confess your sin to God (in prayer or in the Sacrament of Reconciliation) with a contrite heart and a firm intention to amend your life, He will forgive it no matter what it is.

Is it sinful to have evil thoughts, even if you don’t carry them out?

It's not sinful to be tempted to do something bad or to have the sudden impulse to do something bad. We are tempted all the time to do things that we shouldn’t do. It is also common for a thought or a feeling to rush into your head that you know is uncharitable. We have to banish such thoughts and carry on. The sin is in carrying it out, like you said. It is also sinful to dwell on the sinful act or to relish in it in your mind, or to foster evil thoughts so that they grow and take root in your soul

In the Old Testament, especially Leviticus and Deuteronomy, it says that it is forbidden to eat certain foods. Do these laws apply to Christians?

Jesus said, "Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man" (Mt 15:17-18). The parallel passage in Mark adds this explanation: "Thus he declared all foods clean" (Mk 7:18-19). In Acts, we read of a vision that Peter received where an angel showed him that just as food previously considered unclean is now considered clean, so should the Gentiles, who were previously considered unclean, now be considered as worthy of God (cf. Acts 10:9-16, 28). Finally, Paul wrote to the Romans, "Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for any one to make others fall by what he eats" (Rom 14:20).

It appears from all this that the laws against clean and unclean animals no longer apply to Christians. The only time we would refrain from eating or drinking something would be if it caused scandal to our neighbor.

Does the Bible forbid marriages between Christians and non-Christians?

No. Instead it actually presupposes that mixed marriages will take place and encourages such couples to stay married because the believer may end up saving the non-believer by his or her own witness to the faith (cf. 1 Cor 7:12-16). Of course, the ideal situation is one where the spouses are of the same faith.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Monday, January 27, 2014

Drink Your Wine with a Merry Heart: What the Bible Says about Alcoholic Beverages

I haven't engaged in a debate in a while, so this has been fun. I am currently discussing with a Protestant friend of mine what the Bible says about drinking wine. He is of the opinion that it is forbidden. I believe, as the Catholic Church teaches, that drinking wine with temperance is permissible.

Now, other people chimed in on this (it happened on Facebook, after all), but I'm only interested in presenting my exchange with him. That said, I will be providing his words to other people that also happened to bear upon the points I raised. I think this is the best way to present his side as faithfully as possible without belaboring this post with so many different voices. His words are indented and italicized.
This is a fantastic article. I'm not judging anyone who drinks...but if you're a believer and you drink, at least read this article. It's one of the most balanced I've read on the subject because it's not coming from a spirit of judgement. The last line says it best..."the question really isn’t CAN A CHRISTIAN DRINK? Rather, it is: SHOULD A CHRISTIAN DRINK?"
[. . .]
There was a time in my life when I drank. I'm not condemning anyone certainly. But the bible says to flee even the 'appearance' of evil. So that's a pretty high standard.
[. . .]
the Greek text bears out that the wine that was drunk in those days was non-alcoholic essentially. Never mind the fact that Jesus, Who is the Word of God made flesh (John 1) would never do something that violated that word...that would be sin and Jesus lived a sinless life.
[. . .]
Not to mention the fact that there are probably 50+ scriptures that instruct us that [the different types of wine found in the Bible] are harmful and we should abstain. I've studied this out out of curiosity (English, Greek and Hebrew) and to me it's pretty clear.
[. . .]
I would rather err on the side of caution for my sake and the sake of others. But again, I'm not going to judge you if you decided differently. In the end, it' s a decision that's between you and God...but it's something that most definitely can affect someone's decision to accept Christ or not.

If I could add my own 2 cents, Jesus and the Apostles all took wine to drink at the Last Supper (cf. Mt 26:27,29). The Son of man came “eating and drinking” (Lk 7:33-34). As for the OT evidence, the prophet Nehemiah commands the people to drink wine (cf. Neh 8:10). The sacrifices that God required often included wine as a drink offering (cf. Exo 29:40; Lev 23:13; Num 15:5,10; 28:7,14). The Psalmist says that God gives man plants so that he may make from them "wine to gladden the heart of man" (Psa 104: 14-15). In Proverbs we receive this counsel: “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress” (Prov 31:9). Wine is even used as a symbol of new life and of the fulfillment of God’s promises to mankind (cf. Isa 25:6; Amos 9:14; Zech 10:7).

You seem to believe that because the same Greek word (oinos) is used that every instance is the same drink. I think this is a mistaken exegetical view. Greek and English (as you all know) often do not align perfectly...hence the various translations of the Bible into English. For example we say love to mean everything from, "I love cheeseburgers" to "I love my wife". Those are obviously different meanings for the same word. In Greek, we see agape, phileo, and eros, all meaning love in its different forms. A good modern day look at this is how in the south some call every soft drink Coke. While Pepsi, Mt. Dew, etc are options, some use the word Coke as a euphemism for every type of soft drink. If we can go from one word (love) in English, to 3 words in Greek, doesn't it stand to reason that the process could work the other way as well? Isn't it possible that the Greek word (oinos) could be applied more broadly while in modern English we might parse words for different levels of fermentation (from plain grape juice to 100 year old wine)? I think that's a logical way to approach this. We have to see that Jesus would never violate God's word (and I've listed several places where the scriptures are clear about abstaining from alcoholic, highly fermented wine). Also, often times, especially in the OT, we see wine associated with the wine presses. Wine is not wine in the alcoholic sense when it is straight out of the presses. It's simply juice.

So, would you say that it was customary to drink grape juice during the Passover Meal and not fermented wine? That seems very highly unlikely to me. Also, look at Lk 7:33-34 again:
33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, 'He has a demon.' 34 The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, 'Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'
It seems to me from this that the drink in question is the type that intoxicates a person, that has the potential to make him a drunkard.

Regarding the passages I provided from the OT, how does grape juice "gladden the heart of man" (Psa 104:14-15; Zech 10:7)? It is "strong drink" not grape juice that Prov 31:9 instructs us to give. The Mosaic Law allowed the people to purchase strong drink and even consume it "before the LORD your God and rejoice" (Deut 14:23-26). This seems strange if it was actually forbidden.

We must also remember that the whole reason why wine (as in, the fermented beverage) is a symbol of eschatological hope is because the merriment and festivity it provides is a foretaste (pun intended) of the joy that the Messiah will bring. Grape juice cannot carry the weight of this symbolic value.

One of the passages I provided in this regard was Isa 25:6 "On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined." According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, the "lees" is:
Solid matter that settles out of wine during the fermentation process. In ancient Palestine, wine was allowed to remain on the lees to increase its strength and flavor. Such wine "on the lees" was much preferred to the newly fermented product. At Isaiah 25:6, a banquet of wine on the well-refined lees symbolizes God's people enjoying the best God can offer.
Consequently, this is also why the absence of this kind of wine is used as a symbol of God's judgment (cf. Isa 24:7-9; Joel 1:5-13), because it will mean for sinners the end of merriment and festivity.

I also mentioned that wine was used as a drink offering. Num 28:7 specifically says that the drink offering should be "of strong drink" to the Lord.

I think you make valid points. I can't say it changes my mind though. I still feel the preponderance of scriptural evidence points to the abstaining from (or at the very least a strong, strong caution against) alcohol. When you consider just the common sense side of how many rapes, murders, DUI's, etc. have alcohol use/abuse as an underlying cause, you can see the case against it, even if you set the scriptures aside. Also, I think it can be a deterrent to people accepting the Gospel if they see a believer drinking (this is especially in the south where we're taught from a social standpoint that alcohol should be avoided). I believe there should be a difference between the world and the church. If we act like the world, there is no separation to warrant someone looking for a better way. We're to be in the world, but not of the world. In other words, we can't act like everyone else and expect someone to be drawn to Jesus. Just my two cents.

I understand what you're saying. But, I also think there is a way to drink that allows one to still be firmly in the world but not of the world. Between the two extremes of drinking too much and none at all is the third way, what I would call the real Catholic way to drink: with temperance. For a non-believer, this third way is much more appealing b/c it reveals that, in accepting Christ, one does not have to forsake everything that brings him joy. Like you said, the Christian is still IN the world, he is just not OF the world, and the good Catholic takes this seriously. He does not drink as the world drinks, which is to excess. By drinking with temperance he still shows that he is a man set apart, and I can tell you from my own experience drinking in this way that people genuinely respect it when I say, "No thank you, I think I've had quite enough." This third way of drinking is one of discipline, but it is also one of thanking God for His many gifts.

For more on the "third way", see this article written by Sean P. Dailey, "The Lost Art of Catholic Drinking".

That said, I am curious as to what the rebuttal would be to the various passages I provided, and quite perplexed that they are not sufficient enough to change your mind. The provision from the Mosaic Law in particular seems quite unavoidable (cf. Deut 14:23-26). Oh, and if I could add another:
"Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already approved what you do." (Eccl 9:7)
This whole Catholic-quoting-Scripture thing is quite bothersome, isn't it!

- - - - - - - - - -

It's been four days since my last comment, which on Facebook is, like, forever, so I imagine this is the end of it. But, if he does respond then I will update this post. For more on what the bible says about drinking wine, see the following articles:
Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service

The week of Jan 26 – Feb 1 is Catholic Schools Week. The theme for this year is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service.” There is a passage from one of Paul’s letters that gives us some insight into these three qualities of our Catholic school communities:
1 Cor 12:4-13 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
In this reading, we discover that all three are special gifts that God gives to the Church, the “body” that is made up of many members (vs. 12). Furthermore, these gifts of faith, knowledge, and service are given to each of us not just for our own benefit, but so that we may use them to build each other up and strengthen the Church. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (vs. 7).

Catholic Schools Week reminds us that, when we are good stewards of the gifts that God has given us, then our schools become a place where this work of building up the Church can occur. What can you do to help the people you encounter each day to have faith in God, to grow in their knowledge of Him, and to live a life of service to God and neighbor? We must each ask ourselves this question as we celebrate Catholic Schools Week. The Holy Spirit will provide the answer.

Also notice that these varieties of gifts, and service, and working come from the Spirit (vs. 4), the Lord (vs. 5), and God the Father (vs. 6). Although our God is one God, there exists within Him a diversity of personhood. Since the Church comes from this one and diverse God, it likewise possesses unity (in being one body) and diversity (in the multitude of gifts that the members receive).

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Holy Innocents, the Necessity of Baptism, and the Nature of Martyrdom

Someone recently sent me a very interesting question regarding today's feast day, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs. It reads:

How should we understand the necessity of baptism in light of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, by which it is celebrated the entrance of many children into heaven without this sacrament?

At first, the answer seems simple: the Church considers these children to be martyrs and so their "baptism of blood" is what merited their entrance into heaven. "Morning Prayer" from the Liturgy of the Hours on Dec. 28 provides ample evidence of this:
  • Invitatory antiphon: "Come, let us worship the newborn Christ who crowns with joy these children who died for him."
  • antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah: "At the king's command these innocent babies and little children were put to death; they died for Christ, and now in the glory of heaven as they follow him, the sinless Lamb, they sing for ever: Glory to you, O Lord."
  • from the Intercessions: "You rewarded the child martyrs with the first share in your kingdom ... do not let us be cast out from the unending heavenly banquet"
  • from the concluding Prayer: "Father, the Holy Innocents offered you praise by the death they suffered for Christ. May our lives bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips."

Where this becomes more difficult is in determining how it is that these children could be considered "martyrs" seeing as they had no explicit faith in Christ, nor did they die because of this faith. Brian A. Graebe, in an article for Homiletic and Pastoral Review, provides helpful clarification: "The Innocents are true martyrs not because of any decision on their part, but rather because of the conscious choice made by Herod to deny the Kingship of Christ." In other words, they may not have had any real faith in Christ, nor the willingness to die for Him, but since they died because of Him, they are considered martyrs by the Church.

But, is this an appropriate definition of martyrdom? Can anyone without an explicit faith in Christ truly be considered a martyr?

To this question, perhaps an implicit "Yes" is given by the Catechism, in its references to various righteous men who came before Christ. The seven sons from 2 Macc 7 (no. 297, 992) and the prophets of the Old Testament (no. 558, 2642) are all referred to as "martyrs" or their death as a "martyrdom" in the Catechism. This tells me that an explicit faith in Christ is not always necessary in order for one to be considered a martyr.

The A to Z Guide to the Catholic Faith (an abridged version of The Catholic Encyclopedia, published by Robert C. Broderick, Ed. in 1987) provides a further caveat. In the "Martyr" entry, we read:
"The term has also been applied in the Church to those who died natural deaths, but whose lives were living testaments of the faith. In this latter sense, it is no longer recognized as a title; but it is in this sense, and because of her 'living' sufferings that the Blessed Mother can be called the 'Queen of Martyrs' as well as being their Queen in heaven." (p. 411)
This is often referred to as "white martyrdom." Such a martyrdom is not a formal category recognized by the Church, but is a designation that springs from popular piety, as the faithful have considered the ways in which particular saints have "died to self" and even endured great suffering in order to unite themselves more fully to Christ.

Of course, the Holy Innocents did not die natural deaths, nor did they have the intention of uniting themselves to Christ through suffering. But, it can be seen from these examples that such rigid definitions as "a person who chooses death rather than to forsake his faith in Christ" or "a person who dies because of his faith in Christ" is not always strictly necessary in order for one to be considered a martyr. And at any rate, to understand martyrdom more broadly as "anyone who dies because of Christ" is really the only way to make sense of the Church's clear affirmation that the Holy Innocents are martyrs.

Now, I realize that, for some, this solution is unsatisfying. If you are among the more scrupulous who may be troubled by the fact that the meaning of martyrdom has been seemingly redefined, Dr. Jeff Mirus has written a supremely helpful article just for you, entitled "Hope from the Holy Innocents". I highly encourage you, scrupulous or not, to read it. Mirus makes the case that the Holy Innocents should be a source of hope for us. They represent all those persons who lacked an explicit faith in Christ and yet, in ways known to God alone, were granted entrance into heavenly paradise.

For more on the Holy Innocents, see the following articles:

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pray Like a Widow: On Perseverence in Prayer

What is the connection between the First Reading (cf. Exo 17:8-13) and the Gospel reading (cf. Lk 18:1-8) for this Sunday? They don’t seem very related to me.

Oh, but they are! In the Mass, the First Reading and the Gospel reading will always share a common theme of some kind. It is not always readily apparent what that theme is, but it is there, and I think it is a worthwhile exercise to try and discover what the connection might be.

In the First Reading, we have an account of a battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites. When Moses held his hands in the air, God’s people prevailed. When he lowered his hands, the enemy prevailed.

In the Gospel reading, we have the parable of the widow and the dishonest judge. The widow persisted in her cries to the judge for vindication against her adversary until the judge finally relented and gave her justice.

I think both readings teach us something about being persistent in prayer, about praying continually.

Regarding the First Reading, raising ones hands in the air was a common posture of prayer in biblical times. Earlier in the Book of Exodus, Moses “stretched out his hands to the Lord” to entreat Him to end the 7th plague of thunder and hail (9:33). Solomon “spread forth his hands toward heaven” in his prayer of dedication of the Temple (1 Ki 8:22). Moses had to keep doing this — to keep praying — in order for God’s people to achieve victory. The moment he became weary in praying, the enemy began to win.

In the Gospel reading, Luke himself tells us that the parable is about “the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary” (Lk 18:1). Like the Israelites in the First Reading, the widow too has an adversary, and it was only through her continual petitions to the judge that she was granted justice.

The judge of course is a mere shadow of our great and merciful God. If a judge with no regard for God or man will vindicate a persevering widow, how much more will our Father in heaven come to the aid of his prayerful children? “The Lord is the judge … he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged … the widow when she pours out her story” (Sirach 35:12-14).

To be unceasing in prayer is a common theme in scripture. This isn’t even Jesus’ only parable on the topic. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel we also have the story of the man who knocked on his friend’s door and did not stop until he received three loaves of bread (cf. 11:5-8). Paul is much more to the point: “Be constant in prayer” (Rom 12:12). “Pray constantly” (1 Thes 5:17).

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Catholic Q&A: Part 34

This post continues my series of short answers to common (and not so common) questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

Before my conversion to Catholicism, I read that God said, "If you love me, keep my precepts." Do you know where in the Bible I can find this? Is "commandments" another word for "precepts"?

You are referring to Jn 14:15, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments". Now, "commandments" and "precepts" are two possible translations for the Gk (ἐντολή, entole), but in Jn 14:15, it's almost always "commandments" or "commands". In fact, there isn't a single English translation I'm aware of that uses "precepts" in this verse.

When did folding or joining your hands together become the norm during prayer?

Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI gives us this explanation in his book Spirit of the Liturgy:
A later development was the gesture of praying with hands joined. This comes from the world of feudalism. The recipient of a feudal estate, on taking tenure, placed his joined hands in those of his lord -- a wonderful symbolic act. I lay my hands in yours, allow yours to enclose mine. This is an expression of trust as well as fidelity.
[. . .]
What within feudalism may be questionable -- for all human lordship is questionable and can only be justified if it represents and is faithful to the real Lord -- finds its true meaning in the relationship of the believer to Christ the Lord. This, then, is what is meant when we join our hands to pray: we are placing our hands in his, and with our hands we place in his hands our personal destiny. Trusting in his fidelity, we pledge our fidelity to him. (pg. 204-205)

Theoretically could the church open the canon of the bible and add books if it wanted since she determined the canon in the first place?

No. The canon of the bible constitutes public revelation, which is closed. From the Catechism we read:
66 "The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ." Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.

Did the devil and Michael really fight for Moses's body or was it a metaphor for something else?

The dispute between Michael and the devil over the body of Moses (cf. Jude 1:9) derives from a Jewish apocryphal work called The Assumption of Moses. Since it is difficult to determine what from an apocryphal work is truth and what is "pious legend", it's difficult to say if this really happened or not.

The historicity of the event is really beside the point. Jude referred to a work that his audience was familiar with in order to prick their conscience. The archangel's prudence in not even cursing the devil serves to highlight the arrogance of the people, who cursed the angels.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Catholic Q&A: Part 33

This post continues my series of short answers to common questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

Did Jesus eat His own Flesh and Blood at the Last Supper?

Since Scripture is not explicit on the matter, and the Church has not defined as doctrine whether Jesus consumed His own Body and Blood, Catholics are free to mull it over and come to their own conclusion. However, that being said, it appears to me from various indications in the Bible that Jesus did consume His own Body and Blood.

He desired to "keep" (cf. Mt 26:18) or "eat" (cf. Mt 26:17, 20; Mk 14:12-14, 17-18; Lk 22:7-11) the Passover meal with his apostles, and this would have included the bread and wine transformed into His Body and Blood. Also, note that St. Thomas Aquinas answered in the affirmative in the Summa (Third Part, Question 81, Article 1), and his arguments, as always, are quite convincing.

Let me step back and say that I can see how this would all seem rather odd at first. But, if you think about it, Jesus consuming Himself is no more abhorrent than us consuming Him. Augustine once said, "Jesus held Himself in His hands", and Jerome, "The Lord Jesus Christ, Himself the guest and banquet, is both the partaker and what is eaten." If Jesus participated fully in the Passover meal, and this included the institution of the Eucharist, then it appears to me to be a logical deduction that Jesus consumed His own Flesh and Blood in a sacramental manner.

I am Catholic, but no matter how much reading I do, I can never seem to end this cycle of doubt that I feel over the truth of the Catholic faith. What do you suggest?

The "endless cycle of doubt" was closed for me once I was convinced that the Catholic Church was the Church founded by Christ, and that He gave Her the authority to distinguish truth from error. Once you believe that, then everything else falls into place.

All you have to do to find the Church of Christ is look at what Christians believed in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th centuries and see which Church present today still holds to those beliefs. The Church's teachings cannot change. If they do, then the Church has contradicted Herself and She loses any claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church with the unchanging faith is the one you want. That Church is the Catholic Church and no other.

Only the Catholic Church has maintained a continuity of faith with the Christians of every age. The Reformers broke away from this continuity. They changed the faith. They are revolutionaries. They contradicted what came before. This is obvious proof that Reformation teaching (and the denominations that sprang from this teaching) is not of the Spirit, for the Spirit does not contradict Himself. There are elements of grace and truth in these denominations, but they have not maintained the fullness of truth that is found in the Catholic Church.

Look at the early Church and you'll see how very Catholic it is. They talk about praying to the saints, the authority of the pope and the bishops, the Marian dogmas, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, statues and icons, going to Confession, mortal and venial sin -- everything that separates Catholics from Protestants.

Speaking of the Real Presence, do you believe that the Eucharist is truly Christ? If you do, how could you possibly leave that for something else? That is a gift and a grace that you can't find anywhere else. The Eucharist means unparalleled intimacy with the Savior of the world. Unparalleled. There is nothing like it. Personally, there is no way I could turn my back on that.

My friend told me that Pope Callistus was a "oneness" and not a Catholic and he based this on the statements made by Hippolytus. How can I answer him?

First of all, we have to keep in mind that Hippolytus is a hostile source for the allegations that Callistus was a modalist. The two are practically arch-enemies. When Callistus became the pope, Hippolytus was so outraged he made himself pope of his own church! In light of this, it is difficult to trust Hippolytus as a reliable source. At any rate, even if Callistus was a modalist, it appears he maintained the orthodox faith once becoming pope. He even excommunicated Sabellius, the intellectual leader of the modalists.

Random "oneness" theologians can be found throughout the history of the Church. It doesn't really prove anything. Modalism was always considered a heresy by the vast majority of Christians, and by every pope and ecumenical council that addressed it. Of course, since Protestants have no connection with this tradition of hammering out the Apostolic faith, it's no surprise that a denomination would spring up in the 20th century and begin spouting the heresies of old. There is nothing new under the sun.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic
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