Thursday, May 29, 2014

Glory of Love: The 7th Sunday of Easter

In the provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and Omaha, Ascension Day is observed on it's proper day, and this Sunday is observed as the Seventh Sunday of Easter.  It's a shame that so much of the country will not have a chance to meditate on these Scriptures, but perhaps even those of us living in areas where the Seventh Sunday is not celebrated can benefit by bringing these Readings to our prayer.

(If you're looking for the Ascension commentary, it's below.)

Holy Mother Church offers as an intriguing theme in these Readings: the paradoxical relationship between glory and suffering.  We find these two motifs expressed particularly in the Second Reading and Gospel.

1. Our First Reading is Acts 1:12-1:

After Jesus had been taken up to heaven the apostles

returned to Jerusalem

from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem,

a sabbath day’s journey away.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

God Mounts His Throne with Shouts of Joy: The Readings for Ascension Day

In most of the USA, Ascension Day is observed this Sunday, whereas in the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia, it is observed on its proper day, Thursday May 29, forty days after Easter.

1. Ascension Day is an unusual Feast, in which the “action” of the Feast Day actually takes place in the First Reading rather than the Gospel. We typically think of all the narratives of Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospels, overlooking that Acts records at least two important narratives about the activity of the Resurrected Lord (Acts 1:1-11; also 9:1-8).

In the first book, Theophilus,
I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught
until the day he was taken up,
after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Sending of the Spirit, "Another Advocate": Readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

We are about the celebrate the last Sunday before the Feast of Pentecost. The lectionary readings for this Sunday, therefore, are meant to lead us to reflect on different aspects of the Spirit's work.

This Sunday's readings are also important for understanding Catholic sacramental theology, in particular, the sacrament of confirmation. Indeed, confirmation (or chrismation) is closely linked to Pentecost. Quoting Pope Paul VI, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that, confirmation "in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church" (no. 1288; citing Paul VI, Divinae consortium naturae, 659).

I would suggest, then, that the readings this Sunday help us prepare for Pentecost Sunday by, in part, drawing upon passages that in Catholic tradition are closely related to the sacrament of confirmation. In this, as we approach the feast celebrating the outpouring of the Spirit upon the disciples, we are reminded that we share in that Pentecost experience in the sacramental life of the Church.

With that as background, let us briefly explore these readings.

FIRST READING: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Philip went down to the city of Samaria
and proclaimed the Christ to them.
With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip
when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.
For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice,
came out of many possessed people,
and many paralyzed or crippled people were cured.
There was great joy in that city. 
Now when the apostles in Jerusalem
heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God,
they sent them Peter and John,
who went down and prayed for them,
that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
for it had not yet fallen upon any of them;
they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Then they laid hands on them
and they received the Holy Spirit.
The Relationship of the Samaritans to the Jews. At the beginning of the reading we read that Philip, one of the seven deacons appointed in Acts 6:5 (not the apostle), "proclaimed the Christ" to the people of Samaria. Much could be said about this from a salvation history perspective. Specifically, it is important to know that backstory of the Samaritans to appreciate the significance of this story. Let us consider that briefly.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Romans 7 and Grading

Marc Cortez cites the VLT (Very Loose Translation) of Romans 7:9-14. It really speaks to me:
I was once alive apart from teaching, but when the end of the semester came, grading came alive and I died. 
The very job that promised life proved to be death to me. 
For grading, seizing an opportunity through the teaching, deceived me and through it killed me. 
So the teaching is holy, and the classroom is holy and righteous and good. 
Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was grading, producing death in me through what is good, in order that grading might be shown to be sin, and through the classroom might become sinful beyond measure. 
For we know that the teaching is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under grading.
h/t Jason at Dunelm Road

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Building the Temple of God: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Since the beginning of time, human beings have sought to construct buildings that would bridge the gap between the temporal and eternal, earthly and heavenly planes of existence.  These temples have taken widely differing forms in many cultures.  One of the greatest was the Jerusalem temple begun by Herod the Great (73–4 BC), an architectural marvel of the ancient world while it stood. 

The authors of the New Testament texts in this Sunday’s Readings were well familiar with Herod’s great temple, yet they were convinced that God had begun the construction new and greater dwelling place for himself in their own time, consisting not of gathered stones, but of a gathering (ekklesia) of human beings, first of whom was Jesus the Christ.  Thus, our Readings are filled with images of the building of the Church, the new sanctuary that would replace the old and continue to serve as God’s habitation on earth till the end of time.

1.  Our First Reading is Acts 6:1-7:

Monday, May 05, 2014

"The Good Shepherd": The Readings for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Image of Christ the Good Shepherd
from Catacombs of St. Pricilla in Rome
ca. 3rd cent.
This Sunday the lectionary turns our attention to John 10, where Christ describes himself as both the "door" of the sheepfold and (perhaps more famously) as the good shepherd. 

These two images are key to understanding the selection of the first and second readings, which focus on (1) Peter's speech, highlighting the way salvation is found in Christ and (2) a reading from 1 Peter which climaxes in a description of Christ's role as the Good Shepherd. 

Let us look at these readings more carefully. . .

FIRST READING: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven,
raised his voice, and proclaimed:
“Let the whole house of Israel know for certain
that God has made both Lord and Christ,
this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart,
and they asked Peter and the other apostles,
“What are we to do, my brothers?”
Peter said to them,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is made to you and to your children
and to all those far off,
whomever the Lord our God will call.”
He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them,
“Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
Those who accepted his message were baptized,
and about three thousand persons were added that day.
The context of the first reading in the book of Acts is Pentecost. Peter is here giving the inaugural sermon of the ministry of the post-Easter apostolic mission. Here are a few things worth noting about this reading.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Vatican II on the Bible in Seminary Formation

The canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II last weekend underscored the significance of the Second Vatican Council in the history of the Catholic Church.

This, therefore, is a good time to remind ourselves of the importance of the council and its message.

Of course, this blog takes its cue from the council's efforts to renew Catholic biblical studies and its direction that "the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology" (Dei Verbum, 24).

Along those lines, I thought I'd offer here a selection from a different document, namely, the Decree on Priestly Formation, entitled, Optatum Totius. Here once again the council calls for a better integration of biblical and theological studies.

At John Paul the Great Catholic University, we have a number of seminarians studying for the priesthood who--as part of their formation--are enrolled in our M.A. in Biblical Theology program.

We also have a number of priests and deacons who have enrolled in our program to supplement the formation they have received. Still also, we have catechists who have enrolled in our "catechetical track", looking to deepen their knowledge of Scripture and their abilities to teach it to others.

The document is quite precise in what should constitute priestly formation. I hope we are doing a good job fulfilling this description of the proper pedagogy for seminarians, but, as the above paragraph indicates, I think the basic pedagogy mapped out here is a model for those not only studying for priesthood but those studying Catholic theology in general.

I'd love to get your comments on this passage.

The students are to be formed with particular care in the study of the Bible, which ought to be, as it were, the soul of all theology. After a suitable introduction they are to be initiated carefully into the method of exegesis; and they are to see the great themes of divine revelation and to receive from their daily reading of and meditating on the sacred books inspiration and nourishment.

Dogmatic theology should be so arranged that these biblical themes are proposed first of all. Next there should be opened up to the students what the Fathers of the Eastern and Western Church have contributed to the faithful transmission and development of the individual truths of revelation. The further history of dogma should also be presented, account being taken of its relation to the general history of the Church. Next, in order that they may illumine the mysteries of salvation as completely as possible, the students should learn to penetrate them more deeply with the help of speculation, under the guidance of St. Thomas, and to perceive their interconnections. They should be taught to recognize these same mysteries as present and working in liturgical actions and in the entire life of the Church. They should learn to seek the solutions to human problems under the light of revelation, to apply the eternal truths of revelation to the changeable conditions of human affairs and to communicate them in a way suited to men of our day.

Likewise let the other theological disciplines be renewed through a more living contact with the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation. Special care must be given to the perfecting of moral theology. Its scientific exposition, nourished more on the teaching of the Bible, should shed light on the loftiness of the calling of the faithful in Christ and the obligation that is theirs of bearing fruit in charity for the life of the world. (Optatum Totius, no. 16)

The silly spin of the MSM on John XXIII and John Paul II

Br. Henry Stephan, O.P., has a fantastic piece on the Domincan House of Studies blog, Dominicana. 
Has there ever been a cause for more unreflective editorializing than the recent papal canonizations? If you clicked on nearly any commentary about the new saints in the past few days, you’ve likely been subjected to these kinds of insights:  
"The joint canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II was a blatantly political balancing act by Pope Francis as he tried to appease warring conservative and liberal factions in the Church. Each faction holds its own sainted pontiff in unanimous and wholehearted esteem, while harboring deep suspicions about whether that other pope ever did anything worthwhile."  
The New York Times has said it; therefore, it must be so.  
Versions of this analysis have gushed from the commentariat like some sort of bilious fountain. With certain honorable exceptions, these pieces all make some of the same assumptions:
  • The Church is divided between conservatives and liberals, who roughly align with their American political equivalents. 
  • Popes like John XXIII and John Paul II can best be understood as factional leaders of these warring ideological camps within the Church. 
  • Canonizing saints is essentially a political endorsement of one party over another—a corollary to the foundational assumption that every action by the Church is basically about power. 
This understanding leaves little room for inconvenient facts, such as John XXIII’s traditional Italian piety or his endorsement of Latin as the universal language of the Roman Catholic Church. Neither does it take into account John Paul II’s innovative contributions to the Second Vatican Council, or his enthusiasm for inculturation and diversity. 
I loved this line:
Now, mocking the secular media for authoring uninformed pieces about the Catholic Church is like plucking the low-hanging fruit—an easy pleasure that yields immediate rewards. What should give Catholics pause is that many of us have—consciously or unconsciously—adopted this politicized, polemical vision of the Church.
Read the whole thing here.

Lutheran pastor on why Protestants need the papacy

This is interesting. Here's a snippet:

We do. We really, really do. We Protestants need the papacy. We need it for our theology. We need it for our politics. We need it more than we want to admit.
And this is a good thing. (Yeah, I said it Rev. Hess, the papacy is a good thing!) For those Lutherans and other Protestants who think Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, and Saints John Paul II and John XXIII are the antichrist, you should probably stop reading this post right now, because I am a Lutheran pastor who is utterly captivated by the papacy.