Archive for August, 2010


What”s the Big Deal About Same-Sex Marriage?

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

When my daughter Virginia was younger, she and I had a conversation concerning girls’ names, during which time she commented that Virginia is a very common name. I said, “No, it isn’t honey,” to which she replied, “Yes it is, I hear it all the time.”

Obviously our viewpoint, on matters of greater or lesser signifance, is shaped by our personal perspective and the information that is available to us. When it comes to homosexuality, we find ourselves frequently surrounded by propaganda, societal pressures, and misinformation. We”re being pushed to lighten up on a weighty matter, to tolerate the intolerable, to accept the unacceptable. We naturally want to push back, but how we do so matters greatly. [more]

Over a half-century ago Alfred Kinsey estimated that 10% of the population is homosexual. That percentage has long since been discredited. The actual percentage is closer to 2%, and maybe much less than that in our own experience if we’re not part of the “gay subculture.”

This presents a real challenge for us to avoid “us” and “them” stereotypes, as it”s easy to stereotype people who are far removed from our own experience. I remember discussing homosexuality on the Internet a couple months ago, and a gay activist kept saying “you people,” lumping me in with a wide range of people who opposed his viewpoint, including some people with whom I personally disagree. I found that expression very off-putting, and I can’t help but think that that expression–and even more the attitude that underlies the expression–is at least as off-putting when the shoe is on the other foot.

Truth and charity form opposite sides of the same coin, and so it’s crucial to be ever mindful of the individual person, even as we discuss homosexuality on a broad, societal level. Empathy skills tend to get us farther than biting rhetoric.

At the same time, we cannot afford to abandon the playing field out of a false compassion, indifference, or even fear.  Let’s be clear: Same-sex marriage poses a serious threat to the very fabric of our society. For example, writing for Out Magazine, a leading voice in the gay community, Michaelangelo Signorile comments:

“The trick is, gay leaders and pundits must stop watering the issue down–’this is simply about equality for gay couples’–and offer same-sex marriage for what it is: an opportunity to reconstruct a traditionally homophobic institution by bringing it to our more equitable queer value system, . . . a chance to wholly transform the definition of family in American culture. . . . Our gay leaders must acknowledge that gay marriage is just as radical and transformative as the religious Right contends it is.”

Similarly, Paul Ettelbrick, professor of law at NYU and Columbia, writes:

“Being queer is more than setting up house, sleeping with a person of the same gender, and seeking state approval for doing so. . . . Being queer means pushing the parameters of sex, sexuality, and family, and in the process transforming the very fabric of society.”

So same-sex marriage is a big deal. We need to bring our “A game”–intellectually, pastorally, and spiritually–if we’re serious about defending traditional marriage.

Protected: All in the Family

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

This post is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Church Authority Doesn”t “Peter” Out

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Let”s recap what we have discussed so far in this brief series on Peter”s confession of faith in Matthew 16.

Peter confessed his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus not only blessed him profusely, but also gave him a new name and a special mission as the “rock” on which He will build His Church. We then looked at the “keys” that were given to Peter, which established him as the “prime minister” of Christ”s kingdom, with the authority to “bind and loose.”
Clearly Peter had a preeminent role as the leader of Christ’s kingdom on earth. But where do Catholics get the idea of an ongoing papacy?

First, let”s look again at Isaiah 22 from the standpoint of the transfer of office from Shebna to Eliakim. The authority is tied to the office (whoever is given the “keys” and raiment of the prime minister), and not to the individual.

Sports fans call Lebron James “King James” because of his basketball prowess. Yet this title, or nickname, is attached to Lebron personally. There is no “office” that Lebron holds, and when he retires there will not be a “King James” on the court. That title will not pass to his children or teammates. [more]

That”s not how it works with an office, such as president, senator, judge, or school principal. When one person”s tenure is finished, another is chosen to take his or her place. We also see this principle at work in the Acts of the Apostles, where Matthias is chosen as an apostle explicitly to fill the office vacated by Judas (see Acts 1:15 and following, especially v. 20).

In the case of St. Peter, drawing upon the historical precedent of the prime minister in the kingdom of Israel, the very concept of keys implies an office that continues from generation to generation.

Second, let’s turn to the final verses of Matthew (Mt. 28:18-20). St. Matthew concludes his Gospel with Jesus handing over His own divine authority to the Church through the office of Peter and the apostles–the first Pope and bishops.

But, as a practical matter, how could they carry out the command to baptize and teach until the end of the age (at least 2,000 years)? They didn’2012-04-24 18:35:16′t have a written and universally accepted canon of Scripture until after we”ve had dozens of popes. The fact is that the apostles were to have successors–and early Church history clearly bears that out.

So when Jesus gave Peter the keys, He was entrusting His authority not only to Peter, but also to all his successors.The keys of the New Covenant kingdom are transferable–just as the keys were passed on from prime minister to prime minister in the Davidic kingdom of old.

This is why the Catholic Church has always taught that Peter’s successor–the pope–serves as the “Vicar of Christ” and as the preeminent shepherd of God’s people.

As the modern-day successor of Peter and bearer of “the keys,” Pope Benedict XVI stands as the current prime minister in Christ’s kingdom (266th!). It”s not a position of power so much as a position of service. As Pope St. Gregory the Great said around the year 600, the Pope is Servus Servorum Dei: The Servant of the Servants of God.

In Isaiah, the prime minister is a “father” to the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Is. 22:21). So too is Pope Benedict our Holy Father.

What Have You Got to “Loose”?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Let”s turn again to Matthew 16:19, where Our Lord says to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Part of giving Peter the “keys” involved the authority to “bind and loose.” As we see a couple chapters later in Matthew, this was an authority shared with the other apostles (Mt. 18:18).

This “binding and loosing” authority may sound strange to us, but this language had several familiar meanings in Jesus’ time, including: [more]

(a) the ability to make “binding” decisions or binding interpretations of the law;
(b) the authority to include or exclude members in a given community; and
(c) the forgiveness of sins (“loosing” in the sense of releasing or freeing from sins) (see Rev. 1:5; see generally Catechism, nos. 553, 881).

All these meanings come into play with Peter as Christ’s prime minister or vicar who has been entrusted with the keys of the kingdom and made head of the apostles and pastor of the universal Church.

The authority to “bind and loose” was confirmed and fulfilled on Easter Sunday, when Our risen Lord appeared to His disciples and breathed on them, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn. 20:22-23).   

I don”t know about you, but the consideration of the “binding and loosing” authority entrusted to Peter and the other apostles gives me a greater appreciation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Tomorrow we will conclude this series by considering papal succession. After all, one might argue, it”s one thing to concede that certain authority was given to Peter; it”s quite another thing to say that this authority has been passed in an unbroken succession up to Pope Benedict XVI. We will tackle that issue in the next post.

Keys to the Kingdom

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

After changing Simon’s name to Peter, Jesus did something else that made Peter’s important position in the kingdom even more obvious. Jesus gave Peter “the keys to the kingdom” and the power to “bind and loose” (Mt. 16:19).

To understand the rich symbolism of the keys, we need to see how they were used in the Davidic kingdom of the Old Testament.

The key of the house of David symbolized the administrative authority of the “master of the palace” who is “over the household.” This person would be the king’s highest ranking official in the royal court, known as the al bayyit or prime minister, who acts with the king”s authority.

Let’s look at this role in the Old Testament. [more]Check out Isaiah 22:15-23:

[15] Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him:
[16] What have you to do here and whom have you here, that you have hewn here a tomb for yourself, you who hew a tomb on the height, and carve a habitation for yourself in the rock?
[17] Behold, the LORD will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you,
[18] and whirl you round and round, and throw you like a ball into a wide land; there you shall die, and there shall be your splendid chariots, you shame of your master”s house.
[19] I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station.
[20] In that day I will call my servant Eli”akim the son of Hilki”ah,
[21] and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.
[22] And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
[23] And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father”s house.

In verse 15, the steward is “over the household.” This is not merely descriptive, but actually points to the role of the prime minister. For example, in Genesis 41:41, Joseph is put over the house of Egypt. In Numbers 12:7, Moses has been entrusted the “house” of God as his “prime minister.” In 2 Kings 15:5, Jotham is “over the household” of the King who has leprosy and is forced to leave.

Similarly, Peter is put “over the house” of the Church that Christ the King is building. This calls to mind Luke 12:42 and following, where Our Lord asks, “Who is the wise steward that the master puts ”over the household?’2012-04-24 18:35:20′”

In verse 19, we clearly see that this authority goes with the office, as Eliakim replaces Shebna.

In verse 21, we read that the prime minister is to be a father to the people; a Papa or Pope in Italian. That”s why we call his successor the Holy Father. The Papa will have the key of the House of David.

In verse 22, the words “open and shut” may sound a bit odd until we realize the connection with binding and loosing in Matthew 16:19. We will look more closely at that particular issue in the next installment.

Finally, in Isaiah 22:23, we read that the prime minister is like a “peg in a sure place,” which holds up the entire dwelling. That”s why the Church considers the Pope to be the visible source and sign of unity in the Church (see Catechism, no. 882).

Like a Rock

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

In our last installment (sorry about the delay, btw, had a virus and was also traveling), we saw that in Matthew 16, Our Lord gave Simon the name Peter. Today, we”re going to take a closer look at that name and what it says about his mission in the context of the Church Jesus is building.

The name Jesus–Petros in Greek and Kepha in Jesus’ language–means Rock.
There is no evidence that Kepha was ever used as a proper name before this incident. Peter is a common name now, but not then. It”s like being named Boulder. It was a very unusual name. What did Jesus mean when He called Simon by this non-name, “Rock”?
And what did He mean when He told him He would build His Church on him and the gates of death would not prevail against it? [more]

A number of images come to mind: We could say that Peter was called to be rock-like: dependable, durable, etc. After all such adjectives were used in reference to Abraham in the Old Testament, not to be mention truck commercials. “Like a Rock” connotes a strong, manly image.

But there is another significant image Jesus probably was thinking of when He gave Simon the name “Rock.” And it is this image which has the most potential for bringing to light the Catholic understanding of the papacy.

The most important rock in all of Judaism was the “foundation stone” in the Jerusalem Temple. According to Jewish tradition, this rock served not only as the base of the altar for sacrifice in the Temple, but also was associated with significant moments of salvation history:

This rock was believed by Jews to be

–the site of creation and the foundation on which God built the world.
–the place where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac to Yahweh.

Get this: According to Jewish tradition (I think I got this from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible), this foundation stone of the Jewish temple capped off and sealed a long shaft leading down to the netherworld. The Temple was thus in the middle of things, the junction between heaven and the underworld.

Now we see that Peter is the rock upon which He would build His Church, and the gates of death would not prevail against it.

In other words, Peter is the new Temple foundation stone for the new Temple.

Just as God used the Temple rock to build the Temple and protect it from the powers of the underworld, so too God will use Peter to build the Church and protect her.
The Church Christ is building in Matthew 16 will not only play defense–she not only will protect the People of God from the powers of death–but go on the offensive. The gates of death cannot prevail against the new, resurrected life offered by Christ that is brought to the world through His Church.

In the next installment, we”ll talk about the significance of the “keys.”

You Are Peter

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

If you go into St. Peter’s basilica and look up, at the base of the dome, there are big, distinctive black letters on gold that say (in Latin) “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church . . . and I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”

These were crucially important words 2,000 years ago, and they’re also an important foundation for the role of the pope in Christ’s kingdom today.
Imagine what it would have been like to have been there during that pivotal conversation between Jesus and Peter. Let’s time travel back to Caesarea Philippi and hear these words as the apostles and others at that time would have heard them. [more]

In our last post we heard Peter”s confession of faith in Matthew 16, which Jesus praised. Today, let”s look at the statement in Matthew 16:18, quoted on the ceiling of St. Peter”s, where Our Lord says “You are Peter.”
The first thing which would have captured the apostles’ attention is the fact that Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter. This was not a mere nickname like Bubba or Sparky or Jim-Bob. Nor was this simply a publicity ploy, like the football player Ochocinco or pop star Madonna.

Rather, Jesus was truly giving Simon a new name. This of course is reminiscent of our significant name changes in the Bible, such as Abram (Abraham), Jacob (Israel), and Saul (Paul). In all these cases, the change of name signaled a new vocation and a new mission.
When God set certain people apart for special roles, He often gave them new names to signify their new purpose in the divine plan. For example, Abraham was to be the father of many nations. Israel would be the patriarch of God”s chosen people. Paul was to become the Apostle to the Gentiles.
When Jesus gave Simon a new name, He was setting him apart from the other twelve apostles and bestowing on him a special function. This simple name change alone would have signaled to those apostles and first-century Jews that Jesus was giving Peter an important role to play in His kingdom.

But what was that special role? We”ll find out on Monday!

In the meantime, if you”d like to delve deeper into the Gospel of Matthew, I highly recommend Mystery of the Kingdom, by Dr. Edward (“Ted”) Sri.

Peter”s Confession of Faith

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Today”s Gospel is taken from Matthew 16. It”s the famous account of Peter”s confession of faith and Jesus” response. Over the next few posts, we will gradually unpack this rich passage.

Today, let”s consider this: Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” People seem to be saying different things. But then He makes it very personal. He says, “But you, Peter, who do YOU say that I am?” That question goes out to all of us.

Peter”s response comes in verse 16: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This concise answer recognizes (a) Jesus’ divinity, as well as (b) His status as the Messiah-King of Israel.

This answer gets an A plus. (I have to admit that saying this conjures up thoughts of Ralphie’2012-04-24 18:35:27′s bb gun essay in The Christmas Story, but I digress.)
In this scene, Peter became the first person in Matthew’s Gospel to explicitly recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Then Jesus gives Him the beautiful blessing of verses 17-19:

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

But what does this blessing mean? At first blush, this doesn’t seem to be about putting Peter and his successors in charge. We need to go a little deeper.

In our next installment, we will examine the significance of Peter”s new name.

Protected: Christ”s Sacrifice, Once and for All

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

This post is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Dare to Rejoice

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

This past weekend I was considering my own mortality. You see, yesterday was the 32nd anniversary of the death of my second-oldest brother, Ray. Also, a couple days ago was the birthday of my oldest brother, Bob, who passed away just a few weeks ago.  It really struck me that the 32-year gap between their deaths really isn”t that big, even though during that time I”ve gone from being a teenager to a middle-aged grandfather. How, in practical terms, do I understand God”s involvement in the relentless progression of time?

So, I really connected with the familiar readings at Mass yesterday. One was from Ecclesiastes (“For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun”), Colossians (“seek what is above”), and Luke (“You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you . . .”)

There were so many things in these readings that really spoke to me. I guess I can sum up my thoughts this way: Life can really beat us up if we lose track of our heavenly prize (cf. Phil. 3:12-15; Mt. 6:25-34; 1 Cor. 9:24-27).  Without Christ, life is a cross without resurrection. And further, I”d say that part of life that beats us up is time itself. I may not have understood that when Ray died 32 years ago, but I understand it now.

And the answer? Well, yes, the daily crosses in our lives are real. Suffering is a given. Are we going allow our suffering to be an absurdity, a waste, or “vanity”?  Or are we going to truly abandon ourselves to Christ and unite everything in our lives to Him–not just in theory but in the way we live from day to day, even moment to moment?

I think that part of the “renewal of the mind” (Rom. 12:2) that St. Paul is talking about is exactly that–we need to change our way of looking at things that bring us down. Why live as slaves, when Christ came to set us free? When we commit ourselves to daily meditative prayer and frequent recourse to the sacraments, when we seek what is above, then our perspective down here is changed for the better. 

Joy comes with the experience of attaining that which we hope for. As Christians, our daily struggles can be a cause of great joy for us. After all, they bring us a foretaste of the fullness of life for which we”re striving.

So join with me this day and every day: Dare to rejoice!