Archive for the ‘Creed’ Category


Got Jesus?

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

     This Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or the Body and Blood of Christ.  It is the day in which the universal Church celebrates with great joy and thanksgiving the gift of Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, in which he is truly and really with us until the end of time.  We recall the words of Jesus himself in the Gospel of John:  “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”  (John 6:55-56)  This teaching was and has been a hard teaching for many.  The truth of these words is especially evident when many of Jesus’ followers abandoned him after he spoke them.  Jesus does not apologize or give a further explanation for his teaching but instead he turns to the twelve apostles and says, “Do you also want to leave?”  Simon Peter replies with the great his great words of faith, “Master, to whom shall we go, for you have the words of everlasting life.”  (Jn 6:68)

     One of the major stumbling blocks concerning the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist for some Catholics and non-Catholics alike is that it seems so impossible that Christ could be really and substantially present in the Eucharist when it looks, tastes, smells, and feels like bread and wine.  It is a mystery and it goes against what our senses are telling us.  Our senses perceive what appears to be bread and wine, when in fact, through the power and miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, the substance itself has been changed from bread and wine into Christ himself.  This doctrine of transubstantiation literally means “change of substance.”  This is relatively simple miracle for us to comprehend, much more so than the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation or the Resurrection of Christ.  Let’s look at how all this happens.

     To better understand this doctrine, we need to do just a little philosophy.   We need to delve into some metaphysics, or the study of being.  Now, everything that exists has what we call its substance and its accidents, or properties.  For example, if I have an apple, the substance put quite simply, is what it is objectively apart from it’s individual characteristics: an apple or its “appleness.”  Now, the accidents or properties of the apple are things like size, shape, taste, color, texture, etc.  So, if I am holding an apple, the substance is an apple and the accidents would be red, round, sweet, crunchy, smooth, etc.  Now, could it be possible to change the accidents of a substance, but the substance remains the same?  Sure.  Let’s say I put the apple in a blender.  What happens?  The accidents change, but the substance remains the same.  It is still an apple, but now it is liquid, yellow, etc.  Let’s take another example.  How about water?  Here is a substance that remains the same while the accidents change quite drastically.  It can be a liquid, solid or gas, but regardless it remains water. 

     Now that we have a better understanding of substance and accidents, we can better comprehend that what God does in the Eucharist through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Instead of the accidents changing in the bread, it is the substance which changes.  When the priest says the words of Jesus, “this is my body” over the bread, the Holy Spirit suspends, or keeps the same, the accidents and appearance of bread, but changes the substance from bread to Christ himself.  The very substance of the Eucharist is Jesus, though the accidents remain those of bread.  Therefore, though we see the accidents of bread and wine, the reality of the substance is truly the Son of God who chooses such a humble means to present himself to us and come in our hearts to dwell.  Not a hard miracle for God to perform, but it really throws our minds for a loop!

     Now we need to do some epistemology, or the study of knowledge.  How do we come to know things?  Our intellect or mind is part of our soul, but it interacts with the physical world through the information from our senses to come to know things.  Our mind relies on our senses of sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing to know and understand the physical world.  Our senses, however, only perceive the accidents of a substance.  When my mind perceives furry, small, four legs, and bark, it knows the object as “dog.”  Our minds completely rely on the accidents of a substance to know what it is.

     However, in the Eucharist, God has changed the substance of bread and wine into Jesus, but has kept all the accidents of bread and wine the same.  Thus, our senses are still telling our mind that the Eucharist is bread and wine, which is all that our senses can perceive.  This is where we must make that intellectual and spiritual “leap of faith.”  Christ has revealed, both through his own words and through the teaching of the Church, that He is truly present in the Eucharist.  So while our senses are screaming to our intellect that what we hold in our hands is ordinary bread, our faith tells us that God has changed the substance to Christ himself!  St. Thomas Aquinas writes a beautiful depiction of this mystery in a much loved traditional hymn of the Church, the Tantum Ergo:

Down in adoration falling,
This great sacrament we hail.
Over ancient forms of worship,
Newer rites of Grace prevail:
Faith will tell us Christ is present,
When our human senses fail.


Come Holy Spirit!

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

     This Sunday, we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, when the fullness of the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and they burst out of the upper room and began to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This feast is one of the most important events in salvation history for two reasons.  First, Pentecost fully reveals the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.  The strong driving wind and the tongues of fire that fell upon the apostles are the visible signs of the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and the Son poured forth transforming the apostles and empowering them to be the witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth thus fulfilling the words of Christ:  “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

     The coming of the Holy Spirit also institutes the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  Pentecost is the birthday of the Church and all four of these marks of the Church are present at Pentecost.  When you carefully read the Pentecost account in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke makes it very clear that this is not just an individual experience of the coming of the Holy Spirit by the apostles and other disciples, but is in fact above all an ecclesial event.

     First, St. Luke makes it clear that all the nations of the ancient world are present in Jerusalem, and, in fact, if you had a map of the ancient world at the time, Luke mentions almost all of the major regions and cities that encompassed the entire world at this time.  And yet, each person by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is able to hear the Gospel of Christ preached in his own language.   What is happening here?  St. Luke is making strikingly clear that the same humanity that was scattered in the Book of Genesis at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) is now being intimately united in the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church.  A humanity that was once scattered and divided in sin is now, by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, newly created as the Body of Christ, the Church.  Thus, we see that this gathering of the human family at Pentecost is the Church that is both one and Catholic, or universal.  In other words, the Holy Spirit brings about the Church that is intimately united in the Spirit and also knows no boundaries, for the Church is open to every person of every race, language and culture. 

    Secondly, we also see that this Church is holy, first and foremost because it is filled with the Holy Spirit.  We also see that those who are joined to the Church are joined to her by virtue of the Sacrament of Baptism through which they die to their old sinful selves and become a new creation in Christ.  The Holy Spirit sent by Christ not only inaugurates the presence and mission of the Church, but that same Spirit makes the Church holy.

     Thirdly, we also see in the Pentecost event that the Church is Apostolic in that it is Peter and the other eleven apostles that are charged with handing on the Deposit of Faith that has been entrusted to them by Christ.  This is the profound beauty of the Church, that Christ instituted the Church upon the Rock of Peter and the other apostles, and then filled them with a unique charism of the Holy Spirit to hand on, protect, and interpret the Deposit of Faith to each generation.  This handing on of the faith beginning at Pentecost and continuing to this present day in the successors of the apostles, the Pope and the Bishops, is guided, protected, and guaranteed by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

     Two years ago, I had the awesome privilege of visiting Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica where we celebrated Mass at the Altar of St. Peter.  Above the altar at the very front of St. Peter’s is the famous stained glass window of the Holy Spirit pouring down from heaven over the Chair of St. Peter.  This was one of the most moving experiences as I truly sensed the power of the Holy Spirit as he guides and protects the Church throughout the centuries.  It is this presence of the Holy Spirit first given at Pentecost that inaugurated the mission of the Church that has also protected and kept the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church alive and well as the instrument of salvation in the world for over 2,000 years. 

     As we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, let us not only give thanks to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, but for the great gift of the Catholic Church that is truly the “church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)

Protected: Why Catechism?

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

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Catechetically Speaking . . .

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

I think the word “catechesis” can be part of the problem when it comes to embracing the Church’s catechetical efforts. It is the ugly step-sister of “evangelization.”

Think about it. Evangelization is hip. According to Pope John Paul II, it’s “new” and exciting and capable of energizing the youth. After all, evangelization is about proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Everybody, Catholic and Protestant, is into that.

Catechesis, on the other hand, sounds foreign to many people. For all most people know, it’s an unpleasant procedure done at a doctor’s office. And even for those who might have an inkling as to what catechesis is, it certainly doesn’t conjure up the dynamic images of World Youth Day. Rather, to many it connotes the decidedly negative experience of mandatory CCD classes that bored them out of their minds–and often enough, out of the Church. 

Let’s look, then, at a more positive, biblically based understanding of catechesis, which nonetheless closely parallels the formal definition found in the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Shortly before ascending to His Father, Our Lord commanded the eleven apostles to go “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . .”  (Mt. 28:19-20).

That is what catechesis is all about: forming disciples who sit at the feet of Jesus, leading them to the sacramental life of the Church, and instructing them in the body of teaching that Christ entrusted to His apostles (what we Catholics often call the “deposit of faith,” drawing upon imagery found in St. Paul’s letters to St. Timothy).

It would be great if the word “catechesis” were rehabilitated, but even more we need to foster a renewal of the substance to which the word refers. In other words, now is the time for us to recommit ourselves to the Church’s catechetical mission–a mission in which all of us share as members of Christ’s mystical body.

Protected: The Catholic Church: A Gated Community?

Monday, July 26th, 2010

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Truth We Can Bank On

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you” (1 Tim. 6:20).

This sort of language is a recurring theme of St. Paul as he instructs his successor Timothy. In fact, St. Paul tells Timothy that “what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2; see also 2 Tim. 1:14).

But what exactly was entrusted to Timothy? [more]

The Church has always understood these passages as referring to the “deposit of faith” (cf. Catechism, no. 84). This sacred deposit is the entirety of the body of teaching Christ entrusted to His Apostles and, through them, to the Church. It is the full revelation of Jesus Christ–the Word of God–through Scripture and Tradition, ordered to uniting all mankind into the family of God: the Catholic Church.

If the Word of God is to be understood as a sacred “deposit,” I think it’s fair to understand the Church as the “bank.” Why do we entrust our money or other valuables to a bank? The answer is we want to protect our assets, and we want them to bear interest.

The fact of the matter is that Christ wants His Word to be zealously preserved in its fullness, and He also wants it to bear interest, to bear much fruit. He didn’t carelessly scatter His Word like someone throwing $100 bills into the wind, leaving it to chance where they might land.

Rather, Christ very intentionally entrusted the Word of God–His very self–to the Church as if entrusting it to a bank, so that it may be safeguarded and proclaimed from generation to generation until His glorious return. We catch a glimpse of this “intentionality” in Isaiah 55:10-11:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

One role of the Apostles and their successors is that of “security guards” for the bank, making sure that the deposit of faith is kept secure. Of course there has to be successors. If one by one all the security guards at a bank retire or die, who is left to watch the premises?

And even with armed, well-trained guards, banks do get robbed on occasion. But when it comes to the Church, the Apostles and their successors–that is, the teaching office of the Church, or “Magisterium”–have the special gift of the Holy Spirit to help them flawlessly safeguard the Word of God. 

But just as Our Lord severely criticized the tenant who buried his talent rather than return it with interest, He fully expects His Word to bear interest–in the Church and in each one of us who are baptized into His Church. The Church safeguards the deposit of faith precisely so that all men and women can draw upon the vast riches Our Lord has bestowed upon us. With joy we can then echo the words of the psalmist: “a day within thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Ps. 84:10).

In conclusion, I guess we can say that the priceless assets known as the “deposit of faith,” under the prudent, Spirit-guided management of the Magisterium, generate a healthy “economy” of salvation!

Sure, all analogies if pushed too far will collapse. And of course what the Church received as a gift she is to give freely as a gift, and not merely to those with ample collateral and a good credit history (the Pharisees?). In fact, Our Lord came especially for those who need a physician, who are most broken down by life’s burdens.

Catholicism “Lite”: Less Fulfilling?

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Fifteen years ago, while editing Lay Witness magazine, we were creating an ad for the (then) new Catechism of the Catholic Church, opposing it to a fictitious “Catechism ”Lite.”” You know what I”m talking about: only half the commandments of the regular Catechism, and one-third the doctrines.

Over the past couple decades we”ve seen countless variations of this humorous (and, to our sorrow, often accurate) description of an approach to Catholic faith and life that is watered down, minimalistic, and largely uninspiring. In fact, we might say “Catechism lite” or “Catholicism lite” and not have to complete the thought. [more]

At the same time, I”ve found that while most practicing Catholics would take the “Catechism” over “Catechism lite” in theory, the real-life situation is often quite different. Those who want to believe, celebrate, and live the Catholic faith in its fullness are labelled, sometimes pejoratively, as “conservatives.”

I realize this is a game played largely by dissident Catholics who are trying to legitimize their own brand of Catholicism or political agenda. Yet not only do political terms like “conservative” and ”liberal” not fit in Church discussions (really they”re only alienating stereotypes), but there’2012-04-24 18:35:51′s something else: Calling the full embrace of the Catholic faith “conservative” makes it seem as though it”s only one of a spectrum of equally acceptable ways of being Catholic.

In fact, it suggests that the goal would be somewhere between the extremes of “conservative” and “liberal.” Let”s split the difference and go with eight of the ten commandments (I think many would suggest the 6th and 9th for exclusion!) and three-fourths of the doctrines. For them, that may not be “Catholic lite,” but surely Catholic “enough.”  

Obviously this is a big challenge that I can”t fully address in one brief blog post. But I do want us to think about other ways we can express the progression from a nominal or dissident form of dabbling in the Catholic faith to a full commitment to all that the Church proposes for belief.

The models I”ve thought of most recently don”t quite “fit” for one reason or another–I guess that”s true of most analogies–but I thought I would offer them for your consideration.

When it comes to coffee, perhaps the proverbial “Catechism lite” would be decaf, and those who don”t want to be too ”extreme” might go for the caff-lite. Perhaps the “fullness” would be a triple-shot of espresso from the Mystic Monks!

Or, when it comes to milk, we have different watered down versions that we gradually get used to (skim, 1%, 2%, etc.), or perhaps we”ll add chocolate or even ice cream to make it all more palatable. While whole, unadulterated milk may not be goal when it comes to dairy-based beverages, we do want the whole, unadulterated faith if Christ is truly the Lord of our lives. 

With apologies to the milk intolerant, we might then say that soy milk would represent the false forms of faith and spirituality that pass themselves off as Catholic, but really aren”t, just as soy milk isn”t really “milk.” While there are good reasons for people to choose alternatives to dairy, there is no good reason to choose alternatives to Christ and the fullness of the Catholic faith proclaimed by the Church.

To take it a step further, we might say that the saints are the “cream” of the crop!

What images can you think of? Whatever they may be, the fullness of the faith, what St. Paul called the “full stature” of Christ (see Ephesians 4:13 and surrounding verses), must always be the goal for all.  

Dissent Matters

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Not long ago I was asked, “Is there anywhere a list of the definitive moral teachings of the Church? Would it be correct to call anyone a dissenter who dissents from a teaching in the Catechism even if it not on a list of definitive teachings?”

Probably the closest thing to a comprehensive list of definitive moral teachings, in the context of offenses against human life and dignity, would be [more]this passage from Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), no. 27:

“Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.”

The problem is that “dissent” or “dissenter” is not really a technical term as much as it’s a popular term used to describe someone who doesn’t accept one or more significant Church teachings.

Fr. Peter Stravinskas gives a good definition of dissent in the Catholic dictionary he wrote several years ago for OSV. Therein he writes: “In theological language, dissent refers to the rejection of authentic Church teaching in matters of faith and morals. Such dissent cannot be justified according to Catholic teaching, whether the position in question has been proposed by the extraordinary Magisterium (a solemn definition by a Pope or ecumenical council) or by the ordinary Magisterium (i.e., the constant teaching of Popes and bishops). Persistent and radical theological dissent places one outside the bonds of communion with the Catholic Church.”

Looking to the Catechism to ascertain what Catholics believe in the moral realm is a legitimate approach. In his apostolic constitution approving its publication, Pope John Paul II called the Catechism a “sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.” So placing ourselves outside of what the Church teaches in the Catechism on matters of faith and morals would mean that we would be lacking in one of the visible bonds of unity in the Church (see CCC 815).

And while we don’t like to use the h-word (heresy) today, there is some overlap. Often we use the word “dissent” as a relatively palatable alternative for heresy, just as it’s more acceptable to refer to someone as a dissident or dissenter than as a heretic. Yet the meanings are similar. The Code of Canon Law does define heresy as “the obstinate denial or doubt, after baptism, of a truth which must be believed by divine and catholic faith” (canon 751).

Since dissent is essentially a synonym for heresy when used in the context of the Catholic faith, of course we have to be duly “pastoral” in our use of the word, especially when assigning it to others. And surely, like heresy, “dissent” can be material or formal, and we can’t judge the state of a dissenter’s soul. Even beyond that, if we don”t speak the truth with complete charity, then our use of words like “dissenter” is not an act of mercy, but rather a harsh label or insult. 

Yet the point remains that a Catholic who rejects the Church’s teaching in matters such as abortion, contraception, euthanasia, homosexuality, and the like is a “dissenter” who needs to be patiently brought to the fullness of the truth.

For more on this subject, see my 2002 article “The Grammar of Dissent,” published by This Rock magazine.