"A [preacher] who does not love art, poetry, music and nature can be dangerous. Blindness and deafness toward the beautiful are not incidental; they are necessarily reflected in his [preaching]." — BXVI
Questions in the Creed class led me to do a little research on the history of the reforms/renewals initiated by the Second Vatican Council. Keeping in mind the principle that "the winners write the histories of battles," there is a big battle going on to get the history of VC2 right. The "winner" for the last thirty years or so has been the work of Giuseppe Alberigo of the so-called "Bologna School." Alberigo and his followers argue that the Fathers of VC2 initiated a rupture with previous councils and started "something new." Recent work by historians and theologians challenge the dominance of the "hermeneutic of rupture" and argue, along with BXVI, that VC2 must be interpreted through a "hermeneutic of continuity."
In a 2003 First Things article, Avery Cardinal Dulles reviews a book written in 1950 by Fr. Yves Congar, OP. Cardinal Dulles gives us a handy summary of the principles of ecclesial reform.
Here are a few excerpts of the lengthy article:
More than a decade before Vatican II the French Dominican Yves Congar wrote a book with the title True and False Reform in the Church. The work was considered controversial in its day, but has, I think, been vindicated as thoroughly orthodox. It is still in my opinion the most searching theological treatise on our subject. Drawing to some degree on Congar’s fine exploratory work, I should like to suggest a number of principles by which reform proposals in our day might be assessed.
1) According to Congar, “the great law of a Catholic reformism will be to begin with a return to the principles of Catholicism.” Vatican II, echoing his words, taught that “every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling” (UR 6). . .
2) Any reform conducted in the Catholic spirit will respect the Church’s styles of worship and pastoral life. . .A truly Catholic reform will not fanatically insist on the sheer logic of an intellectual system but will take account of concrete possibilities of the situation, seeking to work within the framework of the given.
3) A genuinely Catholic reform will adhere to the fullness of Catholic doctrine, including not only the dogmatic definitions of popes and councils, but doctrines constantly and universally held as matters pertaining to the faith. In this connection cognizance will be taken of the distinction made by Vatican II between the deposit of faith and the formulations of doctrine. . .
4) True reform will respect the divinely given structures of the Church, including the differences of states of life and vocations. Not all are equipped by training and office to pronounce on the compatibility of new theories and opinions with the Church’s faith. This function is, in fact, reserved to the hierarchical magisterium, though the advice of theologians and others will normally be sought.
5) A reform that is Catholic in spirit will seek to maintain communion with the whole body of the Church, and will avoid anything savoring of schism or factionalism. St. Paul speaks of anger, dissension, and party spirit as contrary to the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:20). To be Catholic is precisely to see oneself as part of a larger whole, to be inserted in the Church universal.
6) Reformers will have to exercise the virtue of patience, often accepting delays. Congar finds Luther especially lacking in this virtue. . .As Newman reminded his readers, there is such a thing as a good idea whose time has not yet come. Depending on the circumstances, Church authorities may wisely delay its acceptance until people’s imaginations become accustomed to the innovation.
7) As a negative criterion, I would suggest that a valid reform must not yield to the tendencies of our fallen nature, but must rather resist them. Under color of reform, we are sometimes tempted to promote what flatters our pride and feeds our self-interest, even though the gospel counsels humility and renunciation. . .
8) For similar reasons we must be on guard against purported reforms that are aligned with the prevailing tendencies in secular society. . .In our day the prevailing climate of agnosticism, relativism, and subjectivism is frequently taken as having the kind of normative value that belongs by right to the word of God. We must energetically oppose reformers who contend that the Church must abandon her claims to absolute truth, must allow dissent from her own doctrines, and must be governed according to the principles of liberal democracy.
False reforms, I conclude, are those that fail to respect the imperatives of the gospel and the divinely given traditions and structures of the Church, or which impair ecclesial communion and tend rather toward schism. Would-be reformers often proclaim themselves to be prophets, but show their true colors by their lack of humility, their impatience, and their disregard for the Sacred Scripture and tradition.
Almost from the moment that John the Baptist starting preaching the imminent arrival of the long-promised Messiah in the person of the Jesus, those with the most to lose by his appearance, namely, the Pharisees and scribes, started throwing bombs at Jesus' ministry. The Pharisees and scribes know the scripture; they know the prophecies concerning the Anointed One and his role in Jewish history; and they know that the Messiah will inaugurate the “destruction of the temple,” that is, the dissolution of the burdensome and tedious religious laws that form the foundation of their political power among God's people. From a purely human perspective, we can sympathize with Jesus' opponents b/c his arrival among them marks the beginning of the end of their world. Not only does Jesus' preaching and teaching constantly challenge their authority as religious leaders, his ministry threatens as well the very delicate civil peace that the Pharisees and scribes have established with the Roman occupiers of Judea. Jesus rides a very dangerous tide that sweeps him onto the scene as both heretic and insurgent, an enemy of the Temple and the Empire. Despite the danger he poses to the status quo, some among the Pharisees (e.g. Nicodemus) listen to Jesus and hear the Spirit speaking through him. Even the temple guards fail to arrest him, reporting to their bosses, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.” The power of Jesus' public ministry lies in the fact that he establishes his authority on the prophetic tradition of the Old Covenant and brings that tradition to its fulfillment in his words and deeds. Truly, he is the Christ!
In the reading from John's gospel, we hear the Pharisees rejecting that the notion that Jesus is a prophet based on their belief that he is from Galilee, “The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he? Does not Scripture say that the Christ will be of David’s family and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” Because some believed Jesus to be the Christ and others do not “a division occurred in the crowd because of him.” The Pharisees make the division worse by calling those in the crowd who support Jesus of being “accursed” b/c they do not “know the law.” Even in first century Judea, the experts allow their alleged knowledge to deceive them! And when Nicodemus, a Pharisee himself, questions his colleagues on their hasty judgment and their violation of the law of evidence, the Pharisees dismiss his objections by questioning his motivations rather than his arguments, “You are not from Galilee also, are you?” Obviously, dirty tricks in politics and religion are not a modern invention. Of course, the Pharisees reject Jesus b/c they mistakenly believe he is from Galilee. Or, they claim he is from Galilee so that he fails to meet the scriptural requirement that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem. Regardless, they are wrong and they are wrong b/c they place knowledge above faith, what they think they know above what they ought to trust.
What's the point of this gospel story? With what we think we know, we can either accept or reject that Jesus is the long-promised Messiah. Knowledge is always true by definition, but it is also always incomplete. Coming to accept Jesus as the Christ is not only a matter of assessing the facts and drawing the proper conclusion. What's required for faith is the wonder of the temple guards who confess to their bosses, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.” What's required is the surrender of our mistrust, our anxiety, and our sin. Knowledge secures belief but only trusting in the Lord brings us to salvation. The Psalmist does not cry out, “O Facts, my gods, b/c of you I assent to the evidence!” He cries out, “O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.”
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If you watch police procedurals on TV—like Law & Order or The Practice—then you know that the frustration of watching the competing lawyers dance around the legal niceties of what counts as “telling the truth” can maddening, and you want to scream at the judge, “He's guilty of rape! I saw him do it in the second scene of the show!” Thus are the perils of being a hidden observer of secret crimes: you know he's a rapist or that she's a child abuser only b/c you were given the privileged vantage point of being a witness to their televised crimes. You have to remind yourself constantly that the neither the judge nor the jury in that TV courtroom saw the crime committed. You are a mute witness with a God's eye view. Accused of all sorts of crimes against the Jewish Law, Jesus must defend himself in the court of public opinion with the only testimony he has available: his word that he is the Son of God and the physical evidence of the works he's performed in God's name. Unfortunately, for Jesus, Jewish law does not put much stock in the testimony of the accused. So, Jesus does the only thing he can: he turns the table on his accusers and puts them on trial as untrustworthy witnesses to his alleged crimes. How are they untrustworthy? Jesus says, “How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?”
Sometimes the writers of those police shows will mix things up and leave you hanging 'til the end. You don't see the crime committed. You know only what the cops know, what the judge and jurors know. You have to look at the same evidence; follow the same rules; and decide if the witnesses against the accused are trustworthy. This is no big job for Christians b/c we do it all the time. A large part of our faith is based on the apostolic witness of our ancestors. None of us here saw Jesus walk on water. None of us actually heard him preach. None of us walked into his empty tomb on Easter morning. The disciples and apostles did. They tell us what they saw and heard, and we have to decide if they are trustworthy witnesses or not. But even before we weigh their testimony about what happened back then, we have to decide, in Jesus' terms, whose praise we seek after. Who are we looking to please: one another or God? Only if we are seeking after God's praise will the testimony of our mothers and fathers in the faith prove worthy of our trust. Jesus puts it this way, “. . .if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
This is a particularly damning accusation against Jesus' Jewish accusers b/c Jesus is directly challenging their most basic beliefs. He's claiming Moses himself as his key defense witness! Believe Moses, believe in me. Failure to believe in me means rejecting Moses' testimony about me. To rub salt in this wound, Jesus tells his accusers that they have never seen nor heard God nor do God's words remain in them. Why? “Because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.” His point here is that if you don't believe in the Spirit of Moses' Law, then you cannot believe in the Letter of the Law. His accusers do not hear God's word now and they never have nor will they ever if they fail to come to the one whom the Father sent. If the testimony of Moses and all the prophets cannot convince them, and all the works Jesus did in God's name are unconvincing, then they are truly lost and their charges against Jesus are not worthy of anyone's trust. Essentially, they are false witnesses.
If we will be true witnesses to the Gospel, we must first seek the praise of God and not one another. If our testimony on Christ's behalf is to survive the brutal cross-examination of the Prosecutor, then we must be motivated to testify by nothing other than our desire to hear the Father's praise. No one will believe your testimony if you seek the praise of men.
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Politicians make promises. It's what they do. And they usually fail to keep their promises. That's also what they do. We expect politicians to tell us what we want to hear and then do whatever they think will benefit themselves. . .until election time rolls around again and the promises start falling like snow during a Chicago winter. Smart voters listen, filter out the rhetoric, review the facts, and weigh the promising politicians' worth against their own enlightened self-interests. More often than not, we end up voting for the one we believe to be the lesser of two evils. Promises, charisma, and ideology aside, politicians are fallible human beings just like the rest of us. We might hope that they will do what's best for us all, but we aren't likely to bet the farm on them doing so. Contrast the promising politician with the Lord Who abides with us through His covenant. The Lord says to Isaiah, “In a time of favor I answer you, on the day of salvation I help you. . .Saying to the prisoners: Come out! To those in darkness: Show yourselves!. . .I will never forget you.” To seal the promise of His covenant, the Lord does more than print up artsy posters and produce creepy Youtube videos. The Lord gives His promise flesh and bone; He sent His promise among us, in the form of a slave, to live and die as one of us. That promise, Christ Jesus, is not a breakable pledge; he is not a promise that goes unfulfilled.
In one of his most daring lectures to the Jews, Jesus says outright that he is God, equal to the Father, and sent as His instrument for our judgment, “. . .the Father [does not] judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” The Jews who heard him say this must have thought he was possessed or suicidal. Here's some guy born to two nobodies from some podunk town out in the sticks actually proclaiming for all to hear that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! Not only is he claiming to be the same God who spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai, he's claiming divine authority to pass judgment on sin, to raise the dead, and grant eternal life! The Jews—who know the Law and the Prophets and who know that the Lord will send His Anointed One—they aren't shocked by the idea of a Messiah. What must've shocked them is the idea that God Himself is the Messiah, and that He would choose to fulfill the promises of His covenant in person, in a person. That person, Jesus of Nazareth, both God and man, is the covenant made flesh, the promise of eternal life given a body, a mind, a soul, everything we have except sin.
None of us—I hope—is shocked when a politician breaks his/her campaign promises. We expect it. Fallible human beings lie, cheat, steal, and look out for themselves. It's what we do. God's promises are an entirely different story, different not b/c we're sure that He wouldn't lie to us but different b/c His promises are already fulfilled. We aren't waiting to see if God keeps His word; He has already given us His Word. He gives it to us everyday, all day long: in the gift of continuing life; the gift of drawing us closer to Him through His love; the gift of His body and blood in the Eucharist; the gift of His relentless mercy in the face of our nearly equally relentless sin. Jesus says that he seeks to do the will of the One Who sent him. And the will of the One Who sent him is that we return to Him freely in love. Christ has accomplished, is accomplishing, and will accomplish his Father's will for us. . .if we choose to believe on His promise, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.
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Professor arrested for closing a student's laptop. In the past, I've allowed students to use their laptops in my classes so long as they used them to take notes. Didn't take long for me to realize that Facebook, IM'ing, etc. distracted students from the discussion.
By day a pillar of smoke led Moses' people through the desert; by night they were led by fire. Jesus transforms water into wine. He cures blindness, leprosy, and expels demons. When our martyrs died on the orders of Rome's emperors, angels appeared to take them on to God. During the Protestant Revolution in Europe—when Catholics were pulled away from the Church by reformers preaching against the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist—hosts all over the continent bled at the fraction rite. Even now, our Blessed Mother appears to the faithful, encouraging us to pray more fervently. Signs of divine intervention and the wonders of God have been a constant element in the life of the Church since Gabriel appeared to Mary. But as constant as these signs and wonder are, they are not essential to the faith; or, they shouldn't be. When Jesus is asked by the royal official to heal his son, Jesus says, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” Is he frustrated? Angry? Impatient? It's hard to tell but probably not. More than anything he sounds disappointed. Disappointed that those who should be most familiar with the words of his Father's prophets seem determined to test his claim that he is the Messiah. We need don't signs and wonders in order to believe; in fact, waiting to believe until we have the evidence allegedly provided by signs and wonders is itself a sign of disbelief. We either trust God, or we don't.
When I counsel young men who think that they may have a vocation to the priesthood, I often run into the Signs and Wonders Phenomenon. Rightly so, these men ask for help with their discernment and wonder at their worthiness to serve the Church as priests. But more often than is healthy for their faith, they yearn for God to send them an indisputable sign that He wants them to be priests. I asked one young man, “Do you think God is going to send a giant angel to you one night and smack you on the head with sword and say, 'Johnny, I order you to become a priest'?” Johnny's eyes lit up and he said, “That would be awesome!” And it would be awesome, but it would also ultimately fail to strengthen Johnny's faith. Faith is our fundamental trust that God does not fail nor does He lie. Belief based on evidence—like the evidence of signs and wonders—is called knowledge. And knowledge isn't faith. For us and our relationship with God, faith comes before knowledge. We trust and then we know. Yearning after signs and wonders, longing for miraculous proofs of God's honesty and trustworthiness is a sign of faithlessness. This is why Jesus says to the official, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
So, does God show us signs and wonders? I don't doubt that He can and does. He is prone to be kind to our weaknesses. The Church has recognized many miracles through the centuries, and she still recognizes them during the process of naming her saints. Though he clearly wanted his followers to trust in God b/c the Spirit moved them to trust, Jesus performed miracles—sometimes quite reluctantly—in order to prove his Sonship. Despite his disappointment in the official, he heals the man's son and the man and his household came to believe. Whether or not signs and wonders occur isn't the question. The question for us is: do we trust that God never fails, that He never lies; and do we trust in Him even when there are no signs and wonders? Our faith is tried most severely when there appears to be no reason at all to believe.
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The Anchoress--as usual--points us toward a universal truth: during Lent, the Devil is working overtime to keep us pre-occupied with any and everything but Christ. The focus of this particular post is the controversy surrounding the popular preacher, Fr. John Corapi. She reminds us of the recent attempts by the Devil and his media minions to distract us:
"Every Lent the devil tries to disrupt Christians with scandal (in 2002, the scandal was tragically all too-true) or with the 'discovery” of some ancient artifact (here’s this year’s) that is going to “bring Christian narratives into question' or 'destroy the church' or both. Remember a couple years ago when James Cameron said he found Jesus’ sarcophagus, or whatever it was? A few years before that the 'Gospel of Judas' was going to take a wrecking ball to Christianity! Remember last year, when at Holy Week, the NY Times declared a 'smoking gun' about Pope Benedict that was so off-base that the instant Easter passed we never heard about it, again, and even non-Catholics called it 'a witchhunt'? I think what the devil discovered, in all of those cases — and particularly last year’s — was that he was going about his destructor business all wrong. His ploys were actually serving to unite us, to get us rallied around our pope, our church, our faith and each other."
How perfectly demonic that Christians find themselves during Lent fighting among themselves over unproven accusations of sexual misconduct leveled against a priest. The Devil tempted Jesus in the desert with the sins of pride, wealth, and power. He's tempting the Church--right now--with the sin of division.
It's a fight. And we ain't winning.
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Jesus passes by and sees him. Everyone in town has seen him. But Jesus sees him for who he is and not as his sin makes him appear. Jesus sees a shining soul bound by sin, a man born blind and in desperate need of sight. Spitting on a handful of dirt, Jesus makes a paste and smears it on the beggar’s darkened eyes. He sends the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam. The beggar comes back wet and smiling. He can see! His eyes are open, and he is blind no more. How is he healed? Magical dirt? Holy spit? Blessed water in the pool? None of these. Jesus says, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam. . .So he went and washed. . .” He is healed by the grace of obedience; he listens to Jesus and does as he is commanded to do, making his work righteous and fruitful. The Pharisees—always out to catch Jesus doing something illegal—question the man about his healing miracle. The man describes what Jesus did, and some of them say, “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath.” Other among them anxiously disagree, “How can a sinful man do such signs?” Confused, worried, looking for an explanation, the conflicted Pharisees ask the man, “What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?” We can imagine the man grinning, knowing that the men will not like his answer. He says with solemn assurance, speaking the truth despite the consequences, “He is a prophet.” When we live as children of the light, we produce “every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”
The miracle of the man born blind is a story about a man regaining his sight. It is also a story of ignorant man finding enlightenment through faith. He is both physically blind and spiritually blind. His eyes do not function as they should and his soul is cast in the darkness of sin. Jesus heals his eyes so that the man can see, and Jesus heals his soul so that the man can proclaim the truth free of sin. He freely admits to the Pharisees that he believes Jesus to be a prophet sent from God. The Pharisees reject this claim b/c the miracle is performed on the sabbath. How can he be of God if he violates God's law? But what they are really worried about is the possibility that Jesus may really be who he says he is. But why would God allow a blasphemer to perform miracles? Rather than seek the truth, rather than see the truth right in front of them, the Pharisees ridicule the poor man and throw him out. Darkness—whether it is physical or spiritual—cannot tolerate the light. When we flip on a light switch, darkness flees. When we expose those who live in darkness to the light of truth, they often become angry, intolerant, and violent. The truth hurts. It also heals.
As children of the light, even as we struggle and often fail, our ministry to the world is to bear the truth. Paul urges the Ephesians, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. . .Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them. . .” Like the man healed of his physical and spiritual blindness, we are sent to the Pharisees of our generation to speak a simple yet powerful truth, “Jesus is Lord.” And like the man Jesus heals, we are ridiculed and thrown out by our own Pharisees. We are thrown out of the public square and told that our faith has no place in a secular society. God's truth, we are told, is narrow-minded; it's sexist, racist, homophobic, cold-hearted, thick-headed, and probably violent. Faith is an intensely private and highly subjective matter that should be practiced only at home, if at all. Keep your religion out of our schools, our universities, our courts, our legislatures, and keep it out of the White House. Keep your morality out of our bedrooms, our hospitals, and our boardrooms. In fact, your “truth” is so dangerous to the liberty of our civil society that we think it's best for you to just shut up altogether and pretend that you actually live in the 21st century with the rest of us! How odd that such a simple-minded faith steeped as it is in so much medieval superstition can evoke such a heated overreaction, so much hatred and venom. Truly, the truth hurts. But it also heals.
Paul challenges the Ephesians (and us) to expose the works of darkness to the light of Christ b/c “everything exposed by the light becomes visible.” And everything made visible becomes light. In other words, when we expose the works of darkness to the light of truth, these dark works are transformed into tools useful to the work of telling the truth. So long as they remain in darkness, they do their work in secret. Once exposed to the light, we see them for what they really are: corruption. And not only do we see them for they are, we see the extent of their corrupting influence, all the ways in which they have secretly labored to destroy the goodness, truth, and beauty of God's creatures. With God's help and their faithful cooperation, workers in darkness can and will come to the light of Christ. This is our fervent hope. And not b/c we want higher numbers for the church rolls, or more voters “on our side” at election time, or more money in the collection plate. But b/c we are vowed to spread the light of the gospel, and we rejoice to welcome anyone healed of their blindness.
Lest we start to take sinful pride in the work of shining Christ's light into the darkness, we must remember that we are ministering to a sinful world out of a deep conviction of our own capacity for sin. It is not our job to pass judgment the world. It is not our job to hand down a verdict on the sins of others. Leave that to God to do in His own time. Our job is to tell the truth, the whole truth; to spread the news of God's merciful goodness; and constantly to point to the sacred beauty of all life His creation. Our job is live lives that clearly, without compromise or hesitation, proclaim to anyone who will listen, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” Our credibility as witnesses to God's merciful love is directly tied to our ability, our willingness to be merciful. . .even when all we want is cold justice, especially when all we want is cold justice. Notice what Jesus does not do when he hears that the man he healed has been ridiculed and rejected by the Pharisees. He doesn't rail against the Pharisees. He doesn't sue them, or start a petition drive to get them fired. He doesn't take a special interest lobbying group to get laws passed against bullying those healed of blindness. Instead, he goes to the man and asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man answers, “I do believe, Lord.” Jesus asks the man the one question that matters most, giving him the chance to offer the worship due to the King of Kings.
When we live as children of the light, exposing the works of darkness to the light of Christ, we produce “every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” Are we producing goodness, righteousness, and truth? More specifically, are you producing goodness, righteousness, and truth? Is the life you are living proclaim for all to see and hear, “Awake! Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light”?
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New Showtime series about Pope Alexander VI, "The Borgias," premieres just in time for Easter. I watched the first episode. The timing of the show's appearance can be chalked up to ratings and anti-Catholic bias. . .but the portrayal of the Borgias and the Church at the time is probably accurate.