Thursday, August 25, 2011

Last Supper Mysteries

On the way into work I was meditating on the Fifth Luminous Mystery, Jesus' institution of the Eucharist.  I found myself thinking about the worthiness of the Apostles to receive Communion.  Jesus gave Himself to them and ordained them as priests knowing that they would abandon and pretend not to know Him only hours later.  Its a sobering realization for you and me:  Jesus does not withhold Himself from anyone.  He does not look into the future, see the poor use we will make of His grace, and then decide we're not worth the effort.  His "default disposition" is to give Himself away (that's Trinitarian through and through).  On one hand that gives us great confidence in His mercy toward us.  On the other hand, it keeps us from being overconfident; the fact that we have experienced moments of intense intimacy with the Lord does not mean we are immune from a serious future fall.

When I finally drove home tonight, I had the urge to stop at the nearby Eucharistic Adoration chapel.  Because it is perpetual adoration (24/7), I knew there would be another believer there praying.  What really thrilled me was to enter the chapel at 9:20 on a Thursday night and find four other people there!  We all came, knowing we would find Jesus there - the real Jesus, the whole Jesus.  How mind-boggling is that?!

Monday, August 22, 2011

God's Gag Reflex

Yesterday's readings at Mass inspired me to recycle a past post.  Hope you enjoy:

Papal infallibility = God's Gag Reflex. Irreverent of me? Don't cry "blasphemy" just yet; all will be explained.

That picture is awesome though. begin writing. Alright, lets establish what the Church means by papal infallibility. Bottom line - the pope is protected from teaching something that is false, WHEN a very specific set of criteria is met:
  1. He speaks as the Successor of Peter, Head of the Apostles
  2. upon a matter of faith or morals,
  3. with the intention of instructing the entire Church
So the Catholic Church is NOT claiming that the Pope:
  • is infallible when he reflects on the readings during a Sunday homily
  • speaks infallibly on matters of science, mathematics, economic policy, politics, etc.
  • will speak out when he should (cowardice could keep him from speaking at all)
  • will enunciate the truth as clearly as is possible
  • doesn't sin (that would be impeccability, not infalliblity; and the Church has NEVER claimed impeccability for the Pope.)
The Church's ONLY claim regarding papal infallibility is that when three criteria are met, God will RESTRAIN the Pope from saying something FALSE. (Yeah, when I called it the "Divine Gag Reflex," I was talking about a different kind of "gag" - the kind you stuff in a mouth. I know, I'm horrible. Got you reading though, didn't I?) Infallibility is a completely negative gift; God will not allow the Pope to insert something false into the official body of Truth entrusted by Jesus to the Church. God would "reflexively" act to stop such an attempt.

Where do we Catholics come up with this belief? Like everything else, we trace it back to Jesus. He made some pretty startling promises to those Apostles:
“He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me” (Luke 10:16)
"[The Holy Spirit] will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. . .He will guide you into all the truth” (John 14:26; 16:13)
Paul the Apostle, knowing Jesus' teaching, and himself moved by the Holy Spirit, wrote of "the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). WOW - Jesus' intent was for the Church to be the place that the world could turn to hear the Truth, to get a reality check. And what measures did He, does He, take to guarantee this?

He called a fisherman named Simon, and after changing his name to Peter (Rock), Jesus told him, “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” (Matthew 16:19). The Jewish mind of the first century, hearing those words, would have immediately shot back to the Israelite monarchy. Jesus was adopting the terminology used to refer to the Master of the Palace, or vizier - what we today would call the "Prime Minister." He was second in command after the king (2 Kings 18:18; 15:5), and as such held "the keys of the kingdom." Flip to Isaiah 22:21-23 and examine how Jesus made use of the same vocabulary in speaking to Simon-Peter.

Jesus, in announcing the Kingdom of God, was announcing that all of the promises God had made to King David about an everlasting kingdom, were about to be fulfilled. Jesus, the descendant of David, was the long-awaited Messiah; and He was renewing Israel. Israel had begun with the 12 sons of Jacob - its renewal with the 12 Apostles of King (Christ) Jesus. And Peter was to be the Prime Minister, using the power of the keys to bind God's people to Truth and the way of Love. It would be meaningless to speak of the authority of other ministers to bind and loose apart from their unity with Peter. Jesus' purpose wasn't to make Peter some type of dictator in regard to the other Apostles; in Christ’s Kingdom the greatest is meant to serve the rest. Part of Peter's service, and that of the Popes who have succeeded him in office, is to speak the final word when matters are in dispute, thus maintaining the unity of the Church/Kingdom. This service is especially important when the ones arguing are fellow shepherds.

And so we have Jesus' words to Peter, "You are Rock, and on this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell 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" (Matt.16:17-19). What is the power of hell? Deception. The devil deceives; that's always been his M.O. And to combat this Jesus gave Peter the keys - authority to speak out, definitively binding the Church to Truth and loosing it from deception.

Now, Jesus can't mean that Peter gets to flip a coin, decide what is true, and God will magically rearrange spiritual and temporal realities to make it so. God isn't manipulated! No, Peter is simply a minister in Another's Kingdom. Peter speaks to the Church and world on behalf of the King (Who has ascended into Heaven). To use the power of the keys demands a reflexive action on God's part - "gagging" Peter, preventing him in some way, if he ever attempted to teach something that was false. At the same time, when God allows Peter to teach the Church, He expects it to be adhered to. Ignoring Peter? Well, remember what Jesus had said, "“He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me” (Luke 10:16). Whenever the pope speaks in his official capacity (remember those 3 criteria I started with?) as Successor to Peter, Prime Minister of the Kingdom, the same is true.

Oh hey, I do recall Jesus talking about having a gag reflex - yes, a true, biological gag reflex. After His resurrection He told the Apostle John to write a letter to the church in Laodicea, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16).

Before I wrap up I need to give a shout-out to Duran Duran for their song The Reflex. I think we can all agree that that's a gift that keeps on giving.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mama Said

My children's mother would have a heart attack if I ever said this to them, but St. Louis' (King of France and patron of my hometown) mother, Blanche of Castille, use to tell him, "Never forget that sin is the only great evil in the world. No mother could love her son more than I love you. But I would rather see you lying dead at my feet than know that you had offended God by one mortal sin."  That's harsh by modern standards, but I can't help but feel that Blanche knew the score . . . her boy grew up to not just lead a country and engage in international politics but to do so as a SAINT.  And as we know from watching the evening news, that's nothing short of miraculous!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Policies - Why Won't the Church Just Change Them?

New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan ( a St. Louis native), offered a great explanation on why the Church doesn't change its policy on matters that the majority of western Catholics disagree with - the indissolubility of marriage, same-sex marriage, ordaining only men, etc., etc.:

At times it – “the Vatican,” “Rome,” “the Pope,” “the Holy See,” “the Magisterium” — might even wish it could change certain teachings.  For instance, I would wager most bishops, priests, deacons, pastoral leaders, and maybe even the Holy Father himself has, at one time or another wished the Church could alter the teaching of Jesus that marriage is forever, and that one cannot break that sacred bond asunder.
But it can’t, because it didn’t make up the teaching to begin with.
So, plug in whatever word you want in the boilerplate headline: “Group Challenges Vatican on its Policy of __________________” — abortion, marriage, euthanasia, lying, stealing, artificial contraception, sexual acts outside of marriage, ordination of women — fill in the “flavor of the day,” but the headline is still inaccurate: these are not “policies” decided by some person in the Vatican; these are not “bans” put out by some committee.  These are doctrines, timeless teachings not ours to alter.

It sometimes seems as if many view the Church as a political institution, with a new pope or new bishop able to set out his own positions and priorities the way an incoming president or governor would.  Back in 2009, for instance, when I was appointed Archbishop of New York, I was asked by a reporter how my “policy” on gay “marriage” would differ from the “policy” of Cardinal Egan.  I tried to explain, as gently as I could, that the responsibility of any bishop is to clearly and charitably articulate the teaching of the Church, not to establish “policy” on which teaching he will follow and which teaching he will change.


I have an article on the Transfiguration running over at Catholic Lane today.  My comments cannot compete with St. John's below though.  Thanks again to the Daily Gospel for this great commentary:

Saint John Damascene (c.675-749), monk, theologian, Doctor of the Church
Homily on the Transfiguration ; PG 96, 545

Today we see the depths of inaccessible light. Today the unending outpouring of the divine radiance shines out before the apostles. Today Jesus Christ reveals himself as Lord of both Old and New Covenants... On Mount Tabor today, Moses, God's lawgiver, leader of the Old Covenant, giver of the Law, stands beside Christ his master as a servant. He recognises the destiny into which he was initiated in times past by its foreshadowings – which is what, in my opinion, the words «to see God from behind» mean (Ex 33,23). Now he sees in all clarity the glory of the godhead «hidden in the shadow of the rock» (Ex 33,22) but «this rock was Christ» (1Cor 10,4), as Paul expressly teaches: God incarnate, the Word and Lord...

Today the leader of the New Covenant, who had proclaimed... Christ to be the Son of God when he said: «You are the Christ, the Son of the living God» (Mt 16,16), sees the head of the Old Covenant standing beside the giver of both the one and the other and saying to him: «Behold He who Is. Behold him of whom I said there would arise a prophet like myself (Ex 3,14; Dt 18,15; Acts 3,22) – like myself in that he is man and leader of the new people but above both me and every other creature in that the two Covenants, both the Old and the New, are disposed by him for my sake and for yours»...

Come, then, let us obey the prophet David! Let us sing praise to our God, to our king; let us sing! «He is king over all the earth» (Ps 47[46],7-8). Let us sing with wisdom, with joy... Sing also the Spirit «who scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God» (1Cor 2,10), seeing in that light of the Father who is the Spirit who enlightens all things, the inaccessible light of the Son of God. Today is manifested what our fleshly eyes cannot see: an earthly body shining with the divine splendor, the glory of the godhead overflowing from a body that is mortal... What is human becomes God's and the divine becomes human.