One of the Second Vatican Council’s shortest documents was the "Declaration on the Relations of the Church to non-Christian Religions." (October, 1965) However, some theologians believe that in the long run this document might become one of the council’s most significant achievements. Almost immediately it opened up a new, positive dialogue between the Catholic Church and Jewish communities. Since then there have also been developing dialogues with Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic groups. Previous to Vatican II none of those dialogues and positive interactions would even have been imagined. Some of those early pre-council Catholic viewpoints even judged non-Christian religions to be the work of the devil. The general mood between religions was confrontational and adversarial. Vatican II opened up a whole new world of cooperative interactions....which was one of Pope John XXIII’s explicit intentions for the council. Our scripture readings today contain several passages which have played a big role in those inter-faith discussions. In the first reading from Acts of the Apostles it states, referring to Jesus, "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved." That might seem to be a real roadblock. But, as with just about every passage in scripture, there are several ways of understanding this passage. A tight reading would require an explicit acknowledgment of faith in Christ to be saved. However, taken in a purely objective sense, this text does not require that a person has to openly acknowledge Jesus for this salvation to occur, only that all salvation in fact happens through him whether a person realizes it or not. The same holds true for that section in the gospel which says: "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold." Is this referring to other Christian communities besides the one the evangelist is writing to? Or does it possibly refer to some people beyond the Christian communities altogether? At the very least these passages show us that discussion over inter-faith issues was already underway in the 1st century. Most of us here don’t deal with inter-faith issues or have regular contacts with people of non-Christian faiths, but some of us do. Still it’s important for all of us to know that the Catholic Church has a very positive outlook on all World religions. As Catholics we believe that—in ways unknown to us—our God works through them. The Vatican II Declaration said it very clearly: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all people. ... The Church urges her sons and daughters to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions." (Nostra Aetate, #2) Recent popes have provided leadership and example in this endeavor by their joining in common prayer services with members of many other religions. The historic meetings of Pope John Paul II at Assisi with leaders of various world religions to pray for peace comes immediately to mind. I mentioned these things because it is important for all of us to know the Church’s positive outlook on World Religions. Because there still are a lot of Catholics who don’t know that and we can help them understand it. That’s part of modern evangelizing and it falls upon all of us.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Last night the 8th Graders received the Sacrament of Confirmation. I asked the students to write one or two sentences about what being confirmed means to them. Enjoy!
Confirmation was an outstanding experience for me. I was a bit nervous at first, especially since I was the first to get confirmed, but it was a really great and exciting night.
Confirmation to me was like finishing my Baptism. It makes me feel like my life was completed from Baptism to Confirmation. Confirmation has made me more holy.
Confirmation was a really cool experience, the oil smelled a little funny, but over all it was a really awesome experience.
In my opinion, Confirmation means I am receiving graces to become closer to God in heart, and in spirit. I was anointed with the beautiful smelling Chrism by the Bishop. To me it represents how much God loves me, and I need to act more like God. I should adore, and praise Him.
Confirmation meant taking a huge step in my life, and it made me realize how important God is in my life.
Confirmation meant taking a step further in my faith; it means that I am willing to bear the name of Christ in all I do.
What does being confirmed mean to me?
I loved the smell of the Chrism
It was cool having my name read aloud and being called forth
Bishop Coyne gave a wonderful homily
I liked dressing up
What I liked most about Confirmation was personally and publicly proclaiming myself to be Catholic
Confirmation means taking up my faith. I took up my faith because I want to be close to God. Right now I feel closer to God because of Confirmation. It has greatly increased my faith and will help me preach the Word of God.
Confirmation was a blessing to receive. Confirmation means to me that I am filled with the Holy Spirit. It was an honored to be confirmed by Bishop Coyne.
Being confirmed made me feel a lot closer to God. When I got home I didn't want to take the Chrism off, so I took the cross of the Rosary Sr. Nicolette made me and rubbed the Chrism on it.
Confirmation means a lot to me...so much happens! I got a new name and I know the Holy Spirit joins me on my Catholic journey.
Confirmation means to me that I am really saying myself I believe in Jesus!
Confirmation was a really significant time. It made me feel closer to God. It was cool to get confirmed...I will never forget it!
To me confirmation means that I have a chance to grow closer to God, and to walk in His footsteps.
To me, Confirmation means continuing my journey in the Catholic faith. I am now a step closer to God.
Confirmation was a really nice way for me to grow closer to God. It will help me in my spiritual life.
I can't really put into words what receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation means to me. I know I will bear the words of Christ.
Confirmation deepens my relationship with Jesus. I took personal responsibility to continue my life as a Catholic.
Confirmation makes me feel like a better and holy person.
Confirmation brought me closer to God. What a great experience for me. At first I was really scared...however, when the time came for me to receive Confirmation I felt at peace.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Readings: Acts 3:13-19; 1 Jn 2:1-5; Lk 24:35-48
Christian literature and lore through the centuries have come up with many imagined descriptions of what the resurrected life will be like, what heaven will be like. My mother provided one recently. Her eyesight has taken a significant downturn lately. When we talk, she says that my head is just a blur for her; she can’t see any of my features. Anyway, she was lamenting her declining vision, when she said: "I hope I don’t go blind before I die. When Jesus comes to wake me up, I want to be able to see what heaven looks like." I agreed with her totally. Christians have always been wondering what the resurrected life would be like. There’s no sign that they are going to be stopping any time soon.
In fact, that discussion was already going on way back in the first century. Today’s gospel passage from Luke lies right in the middle of this discussion. We know from other documents of the same time period that some people were claiming that only Jesus’ spirit or soul survived, and his body didn’t. This was called Gnostic Christianity; the Gnostic Christians claimed that Jesus is now only a Spirit! In contrast to this Luke’s gospel strongly affirmed a resurrected body of Jesus. Jesus tells his disciples to touch him; he even asks for something to eat. The evangelist Luke is making a strong statement that Jesus’ resurrection includes a transformed bodiliness. That has been the Catholic Christian conviction of faith ever since, even if we haven’t always acted on it.
The challenge of imagining the resurrected life and heaven continues on in our own day. Last week’s issue of TIME magazine had as its lead article, "Rethinking Heaven." The article summarized some of the many books recently written on the topic. It’s interesting to note that the issue of bodiliness is still one of the key toopics. However, the bodiliness at issue is not that of Jesus, but of the whole cosmos. To some writers today heaven is ultimately this whole cosmos transformed by the power of God. Well, the French Jesuit theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, already had that idea over seventy-five years ago. Teilhard had a vision of what he called Christogenesis, that is, the whole of the cosmos evolving and developing to the point where it becomes one with God. This happens through the mediation of the resurrected Christ, who is present and active within all creation. (I remember reading Teilhard’s books back when I was in the seminary. It was heady stuff.)
The TIME article makes one point that is well worth reflecting on. That is this: the way in which people image heaven has a great deal to do with the way they live their lives here and now. Those people who believe that heaven is a completely and totally different place opposed to this sinful world—those people generally have little commitment to improving the social condition of this world. They don’t see any need to alleviate problems of hunger, poverty and so on. They also don’t think that environmental conditions are any great concern. On the other hand, those people who image heaven as a fulfillment of this present, existing world are generally more likely to be strongly involved in social issues and improving the poor situations of this world. They believe that whatever improvements they can make are part of the ongoing resurrection of Jesus.
So, today’s gospel presents us with a question: what role does the resurrected bodiliness of Jesus play in my spirituality?
Sunday, April 15, 2012
2nd Sunday of Easter, Apr. 15, 2012 (OLG)
Readings: Acts 4:32-35; 1 Jn 5:1-6; Jn 20:19-31
Today’s gospel passage narrates the well-known story of the "doubting" Thomas. It’s a very moving story and one often depicted by artists. But unfortunately it can give some muddled ideas about faith. Well, actually the story doesn’t. I should say that people often deduce some rather muddled notions of faith from the story. If they have any doubts about any aspect of the Christian faith, then they immediately cast themselves into the role of unbelievers or doubters—like Thomas. Then they think the only way out is an absolute and total confession of faith. However, the Thomas story, as written by the evangelist, really has two primary purposes: 1) it provides the opportunity for a dramatic portrayal of the culmination of John’s Christology in Thomas’ confession: "My Lord and My God." And 2) it affirms that those believers who have not personally witnessed any of Jesus’ earthly ministry or his Resurrection are just as much true Christian believers as that generation that lived and walked with Jesus.
There’s a tendency among people living in a large, ages-old tradition to look back at the beginnings of that tradition with rose-colored glasses. We have that tendency, for example, in considering the beginnings of our own country. How highly George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, or Thomas Jefferson are revered as larger-than-life heroes. We simply overlook their failings (there were many) and magnify their good points. We do the same with the beginnings of our Christian faith. We can so easily imagine: "Oh, if only I would have lived in the time of Jesus and seen him. Then faith would be so easy." Well, when the evangelist John was writing his gospel some 70-75 years after Jesus, he was already dealing with that same tendency. He wanted his readers to consider that their Christian faith is just as real and solid as that of the apostles, even though their faith is not nourished by the memory of having seen. He also wants them to know that the apostles didn’t have an easy time believing in the Resurrection either.
Sometimes we can overlook how many negative emotions—fear, doubt, disbelief—are written into the Resurrection stories in the gospels. The Evangelists want us to know that faith in Jesus’ Resurrection didn’t come easy for Jesus’ own disciples. Their faith had doubts riddled all through it. In Matthew’s gospel the women who see the angel at the tomb are filled with "fear and joy." (28:8) The disciples who meet Jesus on the mountain in Galilee "worshiped Him, but some doubted." (28:17) In Mark’s gospel when Jesus appears to the eleven disciples, he upbraided them "for their lack of faith and stubbornness." (16:14) Thomas was not the only one of the disciples who was doubting; he had lots of company. Faith in Jesus’ Resurrection never came to them in a crystal-clear fashion.
We fit right in there with them. Mixed in with our faith in Jesus’ Resurrection will be some doubt, some fear, some disbelief, some stubbornness. And we move forward in life with that mixture in our hearts. Because that’s what faith is in an imperfect world. St. Paul tells us that as long as we live in this world, we "see through a glass dimly." (1 Cor. 13:12) (1st century glass was not clear; it was like frosted glass; you can’t make anything out clearly.) So in this Easter season let’s celebrate faith in Jesus’ Resurrection; but we should also remember that it might have some mixture of doubt and disbelief thrown in. It was true back in the disciples’ day; it’s still true in ours. In this Easter season celebration and praise take first place.
Sunday, April 8, 2012
Readings: Acts 10:34-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9
Many things have changed in the Catholic Church over the last fifty years. Most of them were initiated by the Second Vatican Council, whose fiftieth anniversary of opening will be celebrated later this year. One of those changed items concerns the feast of Easter. When I was growing up, Easter Sunday was primarily known as the end of Lent and the time when we could begin to eat candy again. It was also the occasion for Easter egg hunts and the chance to wear one’s new spring clothes. If pressed to provide a religious meaning for Easter Sunday, we would likely retreat to the Baltimore Catechism explanation (provided we remembered it) and say that Easter proved definitively that Jesus was God. If you hadn’t come to that conclusion already by the many miracles in his life, then the Resurrection was certainly the clincher. Jesus most surely had to be God.
However, in the 1950s and 60s the forces were already underway that would effect an extensive broadening and deepening of the understanding of Easter. For almost a century before Catholic scholars had been recovering aspects and dimensions of early Christian belief and practice that had been forgotten in intervening centuries. No book was more significant than Fr. F.X. Durrwell’s The Resurrection, published in 1960. Fr. Durrwell showed very clearly from scriptural and patristic evidence that the Resurrection of Jesus was part of a complex of acts—passion, death and resurrection—that together were called the Paschal Mystery. And that Paschal Mystery constitutes the very heart of our redemption and salvation. That understanding swirled in the air when the Second Vatican Council opened in 1962. The Council Fathers would eventually write that meaning into the "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy." That document clearly affirms that the Paschal Mystery forms the very center of the Christian faith. The Paschal Mystery is what is celebrated in every Eucharist. The most solemn celebration of the Paschal Mystery occurs in the feast of Easter, which is the highest of all feasts and the center of the Liturgical Year.
The Paschal Mystery is the origin, core and exemplar of what it means to be a Christian. What makes us "Christians" is that ultimately we believe that God raised Jesus from death to life and in that action began a new religious vision. The Resurrection of Jesus is believed to be a new act of God; this raising of Jesus means that he now lives in an entirely new mode of existence. This is a passing into (passover) a new and glorified existence, an existence beyond our world at the very right hand of God. This act of God has resulted in the beginning of a new spiritual age. For those who believe in Jesus will also be transformed by the same power that changed Jesus, by God the Father. The feast of Easter celebrates the very heart of our Catholic Christian faith.
In the 50 years since Vatican II the Catholic Church has been re-learning the great significance of Easter and the Resurrection. We can see this in a variety of ways. One of the most powerful has been the reception of the RCIA participants into full communion in the Church at the Easter Vigil. Another has been the development of new devotions like the Via Lucis, which is dedicated to the Resurrection appearances of Jesus and which now appears in all Vatican prayer books. Similarly, Pope John Paul II made the Sunday after Easter into Divine Mercy Sunday. This was to show the tremendous implications of the Resurrection for our lives; the Resurrection changed Jesus and all of us. Our Catholic Christian faith is a faith of God’s love and mercy. Let’s celebrate that today and always!
Sunday, April 1, 2012
Readings: Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47
Holy Week plays out symbolically the last week of Jesus’ life. Each day in Holy Week is connected to some event that prepared for Jesus’ passion, death and burial. As the week moves along we will want to focus on those events as part of our common liturgical lectio. That’s what Holy Week is for a monastic community—a common liturgical lectio. We together are reading not a book, but a series of liturgical actions—the washing of the feet, the sharing of a supper, the reading of the Passion account. With each event we reflect on that event for its significance for our own spiritual lives. This is the story of our faith, indeed of our salvation, acted out. In addition to the events the various people in the story have a role in our lectio. Part of our lectio should be our imaginatively identifying with the people in the Holy Week stories. In what way are we like them? What do they have to teach us?
For example, consider ourselves as one of the crowd walking along with Jesus as he enters into the city of Jerusalem. Are we there because we are entertaining wild, enthusiastic hopes about the coming of the Messiah? How often do we give ourselves over to wild, unrealistic hopes? Or maybe we are there because we just go with the crowd? How often do we do that?
Or, consider the woman with the alabaster jar who anoints Jesus’ head. We really don’t know anything of her motives. But anointing Jesus, the guest, is a good thing to do and so she does it. She probably has a pretty good idea of the kinds of criticism she will receive; she knows the people sitting around Jesus. But that doesn’t bother her; she does what needs to be done. How often do we let "fear of others’ criticism" hinder or stop us altogether from doing something that is good? That’s surely a Lenten Lectio.
Let’s turn the last scene around and become one of the criticizers. How often do we see someone doing an action (which in itself may be quite good and worthwhile), but it doesn’t fit in with our views and our preferred ways of doing things. So we criticize that individual....sometimes harshly. We completely forget that it is a good action that’s being done.
This is the kind of liturgical lectio which is our fare for the week. Let’s make good use of it in the days ahead.
Dear apostles, I urge you to spend time with Me. The companionship you choose affects you and affects your outlook and behavior. Perhaps you believe that you can spend time with worldly pursuits and with worldly companionship and still maintain your interior life. Perhaps this is true. And perhaps it is not true. Please look at your life honestly and determine whether or not you are spending enough time with Me. If you are spending time resting in concepts that are eternal, your mind and heart will be in harmony. You will become less influenced by events and you will become less distracted. You will trust more and understand that heaven is advancing its interests through many means. You will, if you are spending time with Me, develop a keen interest in the Spirit that is moving the Church forward into a new time of fidelity and purity. Yes, renewal will become a reality in your heart and you will watch all change with hope and confidence. Dearest apostles, I am your reality. I am your King. If you will give Me time and attention, I will transform your life into a source of light for others. This is My plan for you. Be assured that whatever your suffering, whatever your condition today, I can renew you. I want to give you courage and strength. I want you to understand the Spirit moving through the Church and into the world. I want this very much. Allow Me, please, to have a companion in you and you will become one who rejoices in God every day, even if you are suffering. I am with you, dear apostles. I am watching closely as you move through your life. Be close to Me and all will be well.