Photo: Megan Polosky
I recently was bragging about the unity that marks Roman Catholicism. I then turned to touch on problems and movements that have threatened that unity in the past and continue to do so until this day. I covered heresy the other day. Now let’s take a look at the two other problem areas that threaten the Church; namely, schism and apostasy.
Schism is defined as the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him. Remember, now, I am writing from a Roman Catholic perspective. The best examples of this in today’s world are the Orthodox churches in Greece, Russia and the Balkins as well as their members currently scattered all over the world. The Orthodox, of course, do not consider themselves to be in schism. They contend that it is the Roman Catholics who are guilty of this offense against unity!
The key point here is that it is a question of accepting authority and not doctrines of faith. After recognizing the authority of the Bishop of Rome for one thousand years, Orthodox leaders in Constantinople began to reject it. Rome was no longer an important city while Constantinople had become the most important city in the world. Many of the Orthodox teachers believed that the influence of Rome was because of its importance in the first century and that this world had now changed. When you look at the two theologies there is an overwhelmingly sameness in beliefs, whether it be about the Triune God, the divinity of Christ, the seven sacraments, the nature of the Church, etc., etc. When you take a look at that you get another insight into the fact that the Church’s disunity, while painful, is not as bad as some people first see. Remember, there are approximately one billion, three hundred million Roman Catholics in the world and another half billion or so (I don’t have hard statistics at my fingertips) Orthodox, so nearly two billion Christians in the world hold essentially the same doctrinal benefits. Add the hundreds of millions of our Protestant brothers and sisters who also share happily an extraordinary commonality in the message of Jesus, and you can see that the missionaries have done a moderately good job over the centuries! The task is far from being complete, but we need to encourage ourselves that we are on the way.
The third cause of disunity is apostasy and this is the saddest of the three. In both heresy and schism, one can presume good will but in general, we consider apostasy a failure of the will, a rejection of belief. Apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith, total rejection of God’s love for the human family and the salvific life and actions of Jesus of Nazareth. This is by someone or some people who once had the gift of faith. That is what makes it really sad.
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One of the things that I really love about Roman Catholic traditions is the way that we have divided the entire year into phases or chapters that center around Jesus of Nazareth. Part of the year prepares for his coming. That is Advent. Part of the year marks the time when Christ was present among us. That is from Christmas Day until fifty days after the Resurrection. The third chapter and the longest begins with Pentecost and continues until Advent begins again. It is really a wonderful system where throughout the year we are constantly reminded of the need to have our lives centered on Jesus of Nazareth, to know him better, to love him profoundly and to motivate ourselves to walk in his footsteps.
I love Pentecost because on this day the spotlight swings away from the life of Jesus of Nazareth and shines squarely on us. Jesus came to be our savior, to be our redeemer and he accomplished that, but He wanted to have the human family involved in its own salvation. He wanted us to be partners with him in preaching the good word of God’s love for the human family.
Regretfully, sometimes we don’t get as much out of the Scripture readings as we should when we are at Sunday Mass. I would suggest that you take three or four minutes and open up your bible to Acts of Apostles 2:1-11. The story related there is short but awesomely dramatic. It provides a jump start for this little band of battered, confused men who now have the responsibility of carrying forward the work of Jesus and, believe me, they do well. Next week we will see that Peter gave one of the most successful homilies in the history of the Church. Following the reception of the Holy Spirit, Peter and the apostles go out into the streets of Jerusalem and Peter preaches to the crowds and the text says that, “There were added that day three thousand souls.” That would certainly have been the shortest RCIA in Church history.
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During its very first chapter, the Church, the community of faith, was totally and completely Jewish. Jesus, the apostles, the disciples, all of the followers and all early members were of the Jewish blood and faith. However, very early on the total Jewishness of the Church begins to be altered, and men and women beyond the confines of Judaism begin to be received into the community of believers in Jesus.
Today’s first reading describes a dramatic scene where a Roman officer has a vision that he should send for Peter and find out more about the message that Peter has been preaching, that Jesus had risen from the death and ascended into heaven. It is a beautiful excerpt. Peter receives Cornelius and his entire household into the Church, but then, guided by the Holy Spirit, makes a decision of tremendous importance for how the Church will be developed on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 13th
He asks rhetorically, “What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have from being baptized with water?” The answer, of course, is NOTHING and so this whole Pagan household was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. From then on, the missionary Church was on its way.
Helping to build the Church was the responsibility of the apostles and their early followers, but that responsibility continues even to this day. There are so many ways that we can be missionaries in our day-to-day lives. The best, of course, is to give an example in all of our dealing with people to be Christ-like – gentle and kind, honest and generous. Throughout its history, the examples of its holiest members has always been the greatest single cause for receiving converts into the Church. The example of the Christian life has always been much more influential in helping the Church to grow than theological discussions, as important as those may be. Throughout its history, the Church has always needed saints, extraordinary men and women whose lives really mirrored the life of Jesus of Nazareth. We have always needed them and never more than we do today.
On a separate note, tomorrow is MOTHER’s DAY- may God BLESS all the MOTHERs, and those who take on a motherly role here on earth!
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Happy Easter and May God Bless You!
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Today is the day that most of the world has been looking back to for 2,000 years. Today is the day to which the ancient world looked towards, not with clear knowledge but with undying hope. Today is the day that makes up for everything else that is sad and disappointing in the human story.
Today is the birthday of Jesus of Nazareth.
The fact that medieval historians were about four years off regarding the date of the birth of our Lord is of no consequence. What does matter is that HE CAME; that God stepped into the human story and joined us in our lives, in our travails, in our journey and, ultimately, in our triumph.
I would like to say something very profound about Christmas but I can’t. The day speaks for itself. All that I can say is that HE CAME and by that fact, we are all eternally blessed.
Have a happy Christmas.
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Happy holidays! Happy holidays? Happy holidays, indeed!
Several years ago, a number of department stores started directing their employees to stop wishing people a Merry Christmas and indeed to merely say happy holidays. It is a free country and there is nothing wrong with that but it doesn’t do to people what a joyful expression from the heart that says Merry Christmas or, in other words, I wish you joy as we celebrate Christ’s Mass!
For the past 2,000 years, there has been so much pain, so much crime, so much disappointment that it is hard to see how people maintain some type of basic optimism and hope. I think one of the things we do maintain is Christmas Day. We celebrate and we remember that God’s love for the human family, so infinitely strong and beyond the ability of any one of us to comprehend it, is so wonderful, so complete that he himself stepped into our story, dealt with us in a nature identical with our own, except in all things of sin, lived with us, walked with us, taught us and ultimately offered his life in an agonizing act of obedience to his Heavenly Father.
Christ’s Mass has no meaning apart from Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Jesus has come to us, Jesus will redeem us so it would not be improper to say Merry Christmas and Happy Easter, Merry Christmas and Happy Easter. They go together, so yes, in that respect, I’ll say: Happy Holidays!
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Sunday, November 20th
Today is a glorious day in the life of the Church. It also brings to a close another liturgical year. The first and third readings are so inspiring that it is hard for me to choose one or the other today. I will try to touch on both even though the smallness of the space here can’t possibly do justice to the concepts that are unveiled before us today.
The Gospel excerpt is one of the most popular in the Christian community. It is that wonderful scene in Matthew’s 25th Gospel in which Jesus himself describes Judgment Day when He himself judges the nations, judges humanity, judges each and every one of us. What is His criteria for reward or failure? Simply, our commitment to our brothers and sisters, our willingness to help them, our willingness to sacrifice on their behalf. This text provides a great motivation to be both just and generous. We will all be there one day and we certainly do want to hear Jesus say to us, “Come you have my Father’s blessing!”
But let’s at least take a moment to look at the first reading from the book of Ezekiel, where the image is sheep, an enormous flock of sheep with Jesus as the shepherd. This text is written centuries before the birth of Jesus but the Church has applied it to Jesus himself as the shepherd of his flock, and that flock is the great community of faith also called the Church
In the final day of Judgment, the relationship between Jesus and his people is decided and the criteria is love and generosity. Let’s make the cut!
Viva Cristo Rey and Viva Christ the King!
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26th Sunday (September 25th)
The Church year is beginning to wind down. For many weeks, the Scripture texts presented for our consideration each Sunday morning have provided us with material for thought, self evaluation and, hopefully, self improvement. Occasionally, some of them jump out at us with really startling concepts. Today, is such a day.
The theme of today’s Mass is obedience and the Gospel narrative gives an excellent example of that, but the most important for me personally, is the second reading from the second chapter of St. Paul in which he talks about the obedience and humility of Jesus Christ. St. Paul is writing from prison to his friends and converts in the city of Philippi. The apostle urges them to be united in faith, not to quarrel or fight and pointing out that they can avoid conflict by being humble and generous to each other. Then he referred to Christ’s attitude in those areas.
Christ, “though he was by nature God, did not deem the equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather he emptied himself, took the form of a slave and born in the likeness of men.”
In his preaching, Paul frequently urges us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ – “For me to live as Christ.” He never asserted that it was going to be easy and in today’s world, such a path is truly challenging.
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If you spend any time at all around high school or college kids, you will hear that expression often enough – that sounds like a program. That means what the speaker wants it to mean but for me it is one kid telling another that the idea that has just been expressed is a good one and they should get with it.
I think that is exactly what Jesus did in the fifth chapter of St. Matthew when he sat down on the mountain and began to teach his followers how they were to live if they were to walk in his footsteps. The first thing that comes out of his mouth is the BEATITUDES. I have had many people tell me that it is their favorite text in the New Testament. It is a text that accomplishes many things. First of all, the beatitudes are at the heart of Jesus’ preaching. They pick up on the promises made to God’s people since Abraham and reflect in a very real way the face of Jesus Christ and give us an insight into his love. They express the vocation of the faithful associated with the glory of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection and proclaim the blessings and rewards promised for Christ’s disciples.
The beatitudes are a call to faithfulness and courage. They summon us to generosity, concern for others, especially the weak and the vulnerable. They are the underpinnings of the moral theology of the Catholic Church and they are the parameters in which the modern social theology of Catholicism is based.
A suggestion: I think that when we first awaken in the morning and we become conscious that we have another 15 or 16 hours to be awake, and should endeavor to live our lives guided and molded by our holy faith, that it would be good to have a copy of the beatitudes at our bedside. Blessed are all those people – blessed are the poor, the mourners, the hungry, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, etc., etc. But are we those people? If we ourselves are those people, then the program preached from the mountainside by our Lord himself is working within us and we should rejoice.
Now that sounds like a program.
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Catholics are famous for using “holy” water. When you enter one of their churches there are fountains at the door and the parishioners dip their fingers into that water and make a sign of the cross as they proceed into a place in the pews. When someone gets a special sacred object, such as a rosary or prayer book or missal, blessed, if it is convenient, the priest or deacon will sprinkle the object with water that was blessed back in Holy Week. The Catholics are all used to that but for those outside the Church it certainly seems strange. They ask the intelligent question, can water be holy?
The answer is yes and no. Yes, water is holy because everything that God has created is holy. Holiness merely means to be in some sense in union with God. For human beings, it is using the gift of free will correctly. In nature, it is just living according to a being’s nature. In that sense, every sunrise, sunset and flood is holy. Is water that is blessed by the Church holy in the sense of being better than other water? Not at all. Its substance, its physical makeup is in no way changed. It is just that it has been set aside for a special…holy…purpose.
The essential aspect of holy water is that we use it with the sign of the cross to remind us of our baptism, that day years ago when, either by the decision of our parents and sponsors or by we ourselves, we turned and committed ourselves to Jesus Christ, to faith in him, to walk in his footsteps and to live by his teachings. I am willing to admit that many Catholics don’t think about that as they come tripping into Church a little bit late, dip that hand, splash that water, make a fast sign of the cross, genuflect and get on their knees. All of those gestures reflect at least an explicit desire for holiness. It is just that the Church would like us to do them a little more slowly, a little more thoughtfully and with a little greater appreciation of what they stand for and symbolize.
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