Sunday, September 2, 2018

Big Love and Sacred Tradition

I don’t know about you, but I have always worked at a place that had a dishwasher. Even though this was the case, there was always that guy (and yes it usually was a guy) who thought he was doing us a favor when he swished his pate and fork in the sink with the proverbial three-week-old smelly kitchen sponge and tossed them into the drying rack.

I am not really a germaphobe, but I freely confess that I would immediately put those dishes straight into the dishwasher one second after my colleague left the room!

At first glance our Gospel seems to be about the poor hygiene habits of Jesus disciples. But that is not what our passage is about. In the ancient Jewish world in addition to venerating we now call the Old Testament the Jews also venerated the traditions of the elders who formed a succession of rabbis going back for centuries.

Initially this was a purely oral tradition passed on with great care. Around the year 200 AD these traditions were written down in a work called the Mishna.

The longest section of the Mishnah, is called Keilim (or "Vessels") and it contains 30 chapters of rules for the ceremonial washing of pots and pans. Jesus conflict with the Pharisees was not about hygienebut about ritual cleansing.

At first glance Jesus response appears to be rejecting the idea of Tradition. Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites and says, quoting Isaiah that they are “teachingas doctrines the precepts of men.” Jesus say to them, “Youleave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.” (7:8).

Many Protestants would use these words as a proof text for the idea that we should follow the Bible alone and reject all human traditions as the mere “precepts of men.” Jesus may have rejected these Jewish traditions, but his disciples regarded apostolic Tradition quite differently.

St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you” (1 Corinthians 11:2).

And to the Thessalonians, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter. (2 Thessalonians 2:15). In his later writings St. Paul says that apostolic tradition was to be kept (1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:7), clung to (Titus 1:9), guarded (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:12, 14), protected (1 Tim 6:1) and passed on faithfully from one generation to the next (2 Tim 2:2)."

The faith which was entrusted to the Apostles and passed down to the Church throughout all ages is revealed by God in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition which “make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God” (DV 10, CCC 97).

I think we all have an idea what the Sacred Scripture might be, but what might be a contemporary example of Sacred Tradition. Beginning in 2006 HBO ran a five session television series called Big Love which portrayed a fundamentalist Mormon who has three wives.

With all the civil changes to our modern definition of marriage, can those who claim to follow the Bible alone prove that polygamy is contrary to God’s plan?

The idea of Big Love, --polygamy (multiple wives) or polyandry (multiple husbands), is not likely to trigger anyone here. As yet no one in our culture has advocated to make Big Love a human right. Hollywood has not begun to insert token Big Love characters in every movie and TV series. And thankfully we don’t have a shameful Big Love lobby among Catholics. But what do we make of Big Love?

What does the Bible say? The reality is that the Old Testament assumes the possibility to polygamy, and the New Testament assumes that this is wrong, but it never explicitly says so.

The main reason that we know that Big Love is contrary to God’s intentions is that the unbroken tradition of Jesus passed down through the apostles has been to believe that marriage is a sacrament for the baptized exclusively between one man and one woman.

As important as this teaching is, it comes to us primarily from Sacred Tradition. Our understanding of marriage comes from the discipleship of Jesus to his Apostles which was then passed on by them to bishops.

Sacred Tradition is actually a safeguard that prevents us from reinterpreting Scripture to agree with our own personal ideas about what it means to be human. Jesus counters a false understanding of being human not with rules but with an authentic understanding of the human person. What he calls the human heart.

The human heart or the center of our being was created by God for happiness. I haven’t actually watched the HBO series Big Love but if it were portrayed truthfully the characters in this drama would experience a great deal of unhappiness living this way.

Often when we think about morality we think about just following the rules or “catholic guilt” as some call it. The moral section of the Catechism counters this idea by beginning with the topic of happiness.

In fact, the Catechism has 360 paragraphs before it even introduces the ten commandments. The moral life is about living in the Spirit, being authentically human and seeking God’s happiness. The Ten Commandments just help us when we are lost at sea and need a moral compass.

Unfortunately, left to our own devices it is very easy to rationalize. Someone might say, “I have a cousin and he is into Big Love and he appears happy.” Jesus is merciful, and a friend of sinners, and we are always only one confession away from returning to Jesus, but Jesus doesn’t let us make up our own definition of being human

In today’s gospel Jesus says, “evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” (Mk 7:21–23).

These are not mere rules, but an authentic God given assessment of what it means to be human and a call to a counter cultural way of life that leads to our happiness.

We should also point out that Jesus called the Jewish leaders who rationalize and lead people to contradict this way of life based on their own human traditions, hypocrites. Sadly, in the history of the Church hypocrisy in leadership is not a thing of the past.

I will let St. James in our second reading have the final word, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (Jas 1:27).

Jesus is calling each one of us today both to love the world and to live a life of holiness. Jesus is calling you today. Will you accept the call?

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Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Empty Row of Faith

This gospel passage made me think of planting vegetable gardens on a farm. We would turn the soil, pick all the weeds out, then rake the soil before planting rows of vegetables. I was always surprised though that sometimes nothing came up. The seed simply wouldn’t germinate and there would be an empty row. To be fair it was usually something a bit exotic like fennel or parsnip.

This Sunday’s Gospel is again about faith but instead of the positive examples of faith we saw last week, this week it is primarily about the failure of faith to take hold in our hearts. This week’s Gospel passage is an empty row with no germination of faith.

The passage ends with this amazing summary that Jesus “was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them” Think how strongly this is worded-- Jesus was not able to perform any mighty deed there.

Why would this be? The passage concludes. . . that Jesus “was amazed at their lack of faith.” The implication seems to be that Jesus allowed himself to be limited by their lack of faith. In this sense, he required their faith to perform the might deeds. Clearly our faith matters to Jesus.

Jesus desires more than anything else to see faith grow in our hearts. In light of this passage I would like to point out three things that are barriers to our faith that are revealed in this passage.

The first of the three barriers to our faith is not giving up our control. Remember a seed must actually die before it grows.

When Jesus returns for the first time in this Gospel to the village of Nazareth, the people aren’t willing to accept him in his new role as prophet. In this tiny village of a few hundred people they don’t want to allow things to change. If we are not careful, our petty human traditions can also become a serious barrier to our faith.

The second barrier to faith is the problem of thinking we know better. My mind is already made up, don’t confuse me with the evidence. The people in the tiny village of Nazareth, were unwilling to learn from Jesus. They thought they had it all figured out.

Are we completely self-reliant? Are we wise in our own eyes? As St Peter reminds us, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5). Is it possible that even very religious people are guilty of this kind of thinking?

I would like to use a modern example of this problem. In today’s Gospel the villagers reply concerning Jesus, “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”

The Catholic Church believes that The Virgin Mary remained perpetually a virgin, before, during and after the birth of Jesus. Jesus, therefore, has no biological brothers or sisters. This is a dogma of the faith at the highest level of belief.

I have met modern Catholics, however, who have read about Jesus’ brothers and sisters in their English Bible and immediately assumed that they know better than the Church. I fact they assert that only a dummy would believe otherwise since it is clear and obvious in their Bibles. Let’s be fair at first glance this does seem to be a problem.

The words brother and sister are in the Bible of the ancient Church as well, but our forefathers didn’t think this was an obvious problem. In the ancient Church, no one even dared to suggest that Mary had other children until the 4th Century and that person, named Helvidius, was immediately condemned as a heretic.

If the New Testament so clearly highlights Jesus ‘brothers’ how did the Church interpret this?

In the Eastern church there is a tradition, in the Protoevangelium of James, that Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, married as young man to a woman that was not the Virgin Mary and he raised a family. Then after his first wife died he entered a second marriage, as an older man, to the young Virgin Mary of Scripture.

If this is the case no one who knew Joseph would assume that Joseph’s children were actual brothers of Jesus bythe Virgin Mary, but rather would realize they came from his previous wife.

In the Western Church we answered this question differently. We have always assumed the persons named as “brothers and sisters” were in fact cousins of Jesus. Semitic languages did not make a clear distinction between bothers and cousins.

I am reminded of a time when I was employed as an English as second language teacher in a public school. I was doing a language exercise with group of Punjabi boys and I asked each of them how many brothers and sisters they had.

Young Harpinder Singh* answered me with an absurdly high number like twenty and the other boys began to laugh.

The other boys said something to him in Punjabi and he immediately changed his answer and said “Oh, three brothers.” Punjabi apparently doesn’t distinguish clearly between cousin and brother.

Perhaps the writers of the New Testament were thinking in Aramaic but writing in Greek and mixed up the notion of cousin and brother as did Harpinder.

What seemed obvious at first is less clear after examination. Either one of these answers is a reasonable explanation.

A final barrier is simple prejudice. I mean this is a very general sense. In many cases we assume that our way is better, or more correct than everyone else. But we don’t stop there we also look down on anyone acts or who thinks differently than we do.

Perhaps we should say that acts differently than our friends or family do, because prejudice is a social vice which is shared with others. This is especially true if there is a click or a group of people who have built their identity around a certain view.

Today’s Gospel presents us with a challenge. We each need to examine ourselves and ask: Do I have these barriers to faith? Are we reluctant togive up our control and to allow God to have his way? Are we overly self-reliant and wise in our own eyes? Are we open to learn new things? Do we take time to study and learn about our faith? Finally, are we part of click or a group of people who have built their identity around a certain view? Do we look down on others? Could this be prejudice?

Once again, the antidote remains the same as last week. Have we spent time getting to know Jesus in the Scriptures and in prayer? Have we examined who our friends are and the influence they are having on our spiritual life? As I asked last week: Is Jesus in your boat? And Who is in the boat with you?

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*a realistic but fictitious name

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Are Sundays part of Lent?

I call this the great Easter debate. Every year people ask, “Are the Sunday’s in Lent part of the Lenten penance?” or more concretely, “If I gave up my daily ‘Lattes’ for Lent, can I have one on Sundays?” Should Catholics continue to fast and abstain from the things they voluntarily gave up for Lent, on the Sunday’s of Lent? Aren’t the “forty days” the week days only or do they include Sundays? And isn’t every Sunday like Easter?

The Latin word for what we call ‘Lent’ is ‘Quadragesima’ which literally means ‘forty.’ The term imitates many biblical images of fasting for forty days (e.g. Exodus 24:18; Matthew 4:2; Luke 4:2). While all of this is true, Lenten and Easter practices varied in the East and the West as both traditions developed over time. The various Lenten fasts which developed did not always last forty days.

In fourth century, the council of Nicaea refers to Lent as “the forty” before the Paschal feast.[i] Although it is not entirely clear, the grammar of this phrase could be read to imply that one should prepare for forty days for the coming of Easter. One thing that is clear from the council of Nicaea is the fact that whatever the length of this penance, it did not include Sundays, since this council forbade even kneeling on Sunday.

Sunday’s were clearly treated differently by the early Christians and penitential kneeling on Sundays was strictly forbidden. This early discipline later evolved in the Western Church as our understanding of various gestures in worship shifted. Eventually in the Western tradition kneeling became a sign of reverence not of penance.

In the history of the development of Lenten traditions in the western Church there were actually two different focuses. One was on the Baptismal liturgy of catechumens who were journeying towards the Easter Vigil to be baptized and received in to the Church. The second tradition involved a rite for reconciling adult penitents. Initially these penitents were those who were excommunicated and were in the process of being reconciled to the Church. In 1091 AD, Pope Urban II changed this and required all the faithful to receive ashes in what became Ash Wednesday. Over time the penitential aspect alone became the focus of Lent.

Second Vatican council wished to restore the original double focus on baptism and penance. The fathers note, “The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the liturgy and by liturgical catechesis.” (SC 109).

What are the implications for the Sundays in Lent? Can we solve this with Math? According to the modern General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar (2011), “The forty days of Lent run from Ash Wednesday up to but excluding the Mass of the Lord's Supper exclusive.” If you get a calendar out you would see that this year there are 20 days of Lent in February but only 24 days (23.5?) of Lent in March for a total of 44 days. There are 6 Sundays in Lent. Using these numbers you would not achieve the ‘biblical number’ forty by subtracting the six Sundays that occur within Lenten session. Does this prove that we should fast and abstain on Sunday’s? Or perhaps two of the Sundays?

Several points need to be noted. First the definition of Lent as excluding half of Holy Thursday, the whole of Good Friday and Holy Saturday only came about in 1969. These three days are now called the Triduum and are no longer considered part of the session of Lent. In other words, the numbers did actually work until this recent change. But now is the number ‘forty,’ merely figurative?

Notice that even in the current definition of Lent, Easter waits for us to complete the Triduum, and there are two more days of serious penance in the Triduum which still brings the total to forty days of penance excluding Sundays. The penitential disciple of Lent is still forty days even if the season of Lent is now shorten by the Triduum.

We must not confuse the season on Lent with the penitential disciple of Lent. The tradition of the Church did not require equal penances on each day of Lent, and no penance was required on Sunday.

Someone might say that the Sunday’s of Lent are part of the season of Lent and, therefore, must continue to have a penitential meaning. This is certainly partly true. We do worship in a more reserved and sober manner on the Sundays of Lent. But the fact remains that the penitential discipline of Lent always excluded these Sundays. We might also point out that the lectionary readings of the Sundays of Lent all focus on the catechumenal journey towards the Easter Vigil and not exclusively on penance.

St. Augustine and Sundays in Lent

I have already pointed out that the traditions of Lent have developed over time. One consistent feature has been that the penitential discipline of Lent excluded Sundays. To further emphasize this, I would like to invite St. Augustine to this discussion.

In St. Augustine’s Letter 36, he refutes a rigorist who insists that Christians should fast on the Sabbath (Saturday). This might initially sound tangential but it leads Augustine to our question. Augustine, by the way, argues that we are free to fast or not fast on the Sabbath, and as Christians we are not bound by the Jewish Sabbath keeping regulations.

Augustine also tells us that in his time Christians regularly fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year and not just in Lent (36.30) and that some Churches fasted as well on the Sabbath. By comparison, fasting on the Lord’s Day (Sunday) “would be a cause of no small scandal to the Church” (36.2, cf. 36.10, 29). He notes, “For in these questions on which the divine scripture has determined nothing certain, the custom of the people of God or the practices of our ancestors are to be taken as law” (36.2). He makes it clear that not fasting on the Lord’s Day was the standard practice for the Church in Rome, in Africa and in Millan. He also points out that fasting or abstaining on the Lord’s Day was a practice of the followers of the heresy of the Manichees (36.27) and Priscillianist (36.28) which the Church universally rejected.

Fasting on the Lord’s Day is a ‘scandal’ and ‘abominable’ (36.27) though Augustine allows one exception, “unless perhaps someone might be able to extend a fast beyond a week without taking any meal in order to approximate a fast of forty days” (36.27). He does not seem to have in mind someone who is merely, for example, not eating meat for forty days, but an epic fast of biblical proportions. (e.g. “without taking any meal”).

Again the point is that the penitential discipline of Lent always excluded Sundays and further St. Augustine says that fasting on Sundays is a scandal and abominable.

Finally someone might add one more layer to this discussion. The person who is asking about drinking their latte on Sundays in Lent, is really taking about their own self-imposed private devotion. It is interesting to learn about the history of this practice of private devotion.

Prior to Second Vatican Council the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the Roman Pontifical and the approved regulations for the United States (Uniform Norms 1951, Modification 1956) required a rigorous scheme of fasting by all the faithful 21-59 years old. Abstinence could be complete or partial, and fasting allowed one full meal plus partial meals. All week days of Lent had either a fast or a fast and abstinence attached to them. It is very clear in these documents that we were discussing the weekdays of Lent, excluding Sundays.

During World War II special permission was given to local ordinaries to dispense the faithful from these rigorous daily requirements and this permission was extended again in 1949. In light of these dispensations the Uniform Norms 1951, and Modification 1956 for the US included a paragraph which exhorted the faithful to be generous in performing additional voluntary works of Christian perfection.

It seems the wide spread custom of taking on voluntary penance began in the 1950’s. Prior to this people were satisfied fulfilling the demanding norms of Lent. Since these new voluntary acts are not required I guess you can do whatever you want, but choosing to do penance on a Sunday is clearly not in the spirit of Catholic Tradition. One might ask, what would St. Augustine say?

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[i] Canon V, Greek text: τῆς τεσσεράκοντῆς, ἵνα πάσῆς, Latin: quadragesimam paschae. In the Greek the word “day’ is likely implied. The construction of ἵνα with a designation of time see Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 476). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. S. B-D-F §382, 1; 393. cf. Pl. Ti. 38c: ἐξ οὖν λόγου καὶ διανοίας θεοῦ τοιαύτης πρὸς χρόνου γένεσιν, ἵνα γεννηθῇ χρόνος, ἥλιος καὶ σελήνη καὶ πέντε ἄλλα ἄστρα, ἐπίκλην ἔχοντα πλανητά, εἰς διορισμὸν καὶ φυλακὴν ἀριθμῶν χρόνου γέγονεν .

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Liturgy must be Preceded by Evangellizaton and Conversion

I was struck recently by a note in the Catechism which reads, 

“The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church”: [SC 9] it must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion. It can then produce its fruits in the lives of the faithful: new life in the Spirit, involvement in the mission of the Church, and service to her unity.” (emphasis mine CCC 1072).

For many people the Sunday morning experience is all that ever happens in their faith life. Yet this liturgy was intended to be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion. 

But what does it mean to be evangelized and converted?

The National Directory of Catechesis defines conversion as, “the acceptance of a personal relationship with Christ, a sincere adherence to him, and a willingness to conform one's life to his. (NDC, p. 48). To put it more simply “Conversion to Christ involves making a genuine commitment to him and a personal decision to follow him as his disciple” (NDC, p. 48).

We might be surprised to hear the Church speak of evangelization and conversion in relation to those who come to Mass on Sunday morning. The National Directory of Catechesis describes a new intervention required by our modern world called the ‘New Evangelization.’

The New Evangelization is directed to the Church herself, to the baptized who were never effectively evangelized before, to those who have never made a personal commitment to Christ and the Gospel, to those formed by the values of the secular culture, to those who have lost a sense of faith, and to those who are alienated (NDC p. 47).

Notice that the intervention of the New Evangelization is directed towards the Church herself, to various groups of people who have failed to make a personal commitment to Christ in spite of being socialized in a parish environment. Although baptized as children, these people have allowed themselves to be transformed, not by Christ, but by the values of our secular culture. In many cases they have lost their faith and feel alienated from the Church.

What does all of this have to say about the ‘Sunday morning experience’?

Some have tried to put the focus exclusively on the Eucharistic liturgy itself. We can celebrate the Eucharist with great reverence, and with elaborate ritual and beauty in the belief that the mystery of the experience of Jesus in the liturgy will draw people to him. While these are very worthy goals, and the fruit of a deepen liturgical experience will greatly enrich the soul, this is not what it means to have the liturgy “be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion.” In fact it is clearly not the ancient practice of the Church to try to evangelize through the Eucharist.

The ancient Church practiced something called the disciplina arcani which meant that Mass had two parts. The first part, a liturgy of the Word, was open to anyone who wished to attend, but the second part of the Mass, or the liturgy of Eucharist, was closed and only those who had already experience baptism and conversion were permitted to attend.

The first part of the Mass featured an unabashed scriptural homily calling for the conversion of those present who had not yet been baptized. Then there was a general dismissal of all who were yet unbaptized before the beginning of the Eucharist proper.

In the fourth century, young St. Augustine was converted by the preaching of St. Ambrose of Milan during repeated visits to Ambrose’s homilies. We no longer practice the discipline of a general dismissal of the unbaptized, but surely the first part of the Mass should still be directed to helping those who attend to achieve a personal commitment to Christ.  In the spirit of the New Evangelization the homily must also gently challenge the values of our secular culture when they conflict with the Gospel but we must do so in a manner which does not alienate our listeners. This should be a gentle portrayal of both truth and human freedom and be aimed at the heart. Our goal is always conversion.

In one version of the dismissal in the concluding rites of the Mass the deacon admonishes the congregation with the words, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” We are sent out into the midst of the world to proclaim the good news. We are reminded of our common sacred calling to ensure that our liturgy must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion.

To get a better idea of how we might realign parish life for the New Evangelization I highly recommend the following video by the Office of New Evangelization from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

In the past week we witnessed a historic event. Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech at the March for Life. He is the highest ranking official to directly address the annual rally. During his speech, VP Pence said, “I believe a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable. The aged. The infirm. The disabled. And the unborn.”

For many years we have been standing up to the prevalent ‘culture of death’ in our society. VP Pence announced to the huge crowds at the rally that, “Life is winning in America because of all of you.” He then gave the following advice,

So I urge you to press on. But as it is written, ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all.’ Let this movement be known for love, not anger. Let this movement be known for compassion, not confrontation. When it comes to matters of the heart, there is nothing stronger than gentleness.

In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus addresses the tone and goals that should accompany the proclamation of the gospel. Jesus admonishes his followers using the metaphors of salt and light.

Earlier in Matthew Jesus admonished us to seek happiness through a deepening relationship with God. With this foundation in mind, the next step is to witness to the world around us. “You are the salt of the earth.” Jesus tells his followers, “But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matthew 5:13). The word ‘you’ in the original language is emphatic and points back to Jesus’ earlier teaching about happiness. With emphasis this means, “It is you who are the salt of the earth.” This calling is universal, but how do we bring Christ into the midst of our daily life?

Salt has several characteristics which are highlighted in Jesus metaphor. Salt seasons, preserves even purifies.

Anyone who has engaged in the art of cooking knows that the right amount of salt is necessary for food to taste good. Too little salt makes food bland while too much salt can make it unpleasant and even unhealthy. Those who meet us in our daily life should be able to taste the salt of Christ, but like our food this taste needs to be balanced and not overwhelming. Lay people living the midst of the world should learn to share their faith in a natural way and not to appear annoying or odd.

Picking up on this quality in the ancient world one could speak of salty, or purified speech which was witty or filled with wisdom. As St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one” (Colossians 4:6).

Salt also preserves food as well. By remaining filled with Christ, we persevere in him. The final idea of being purified is the least obvious usage to the modern mind. In the Old Testament salt was used to ritually purify things (cf. 2 Kings 2:21–22; and Ezekiel 16:4). Salt was also used in ritual sacrifice as a symbol of purity.

As a symbol of purity salt was used as a sacramental in the ancient Church. Catechumens were given blessed salt when they were enrolled in the catechumenate. In the old Baptismal rite, a few grains of blessed salt were placed in the month of the infant during the Baptism ritual with the words, “Receive the salt of wisdom, . . .”

Prior to the baptism, prayers of exorcism were prayed over the salt so that it would become “a healthful agent for putting the enemy to flight.” This salt was also used with further prayers to make holy water. Together with prayer, holy water can be used to bless people and objects and to protect against the power of the Evil One (CCC 1672-1673).

In a second parallel metaphor Jesus declares to his followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Jesus is echoing a series of poems from Isaiah which talk about Israel as the servant of Yahweh who will become a light to the nations. Our Old Testament reading was from this sequence. Isaiah notes, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, . . . your light shall rise in the darkness” (Isaiah 58:8, 10).

What begins as a reference to Israel collectively, becomes personified in the person of Jesus the Suffering Servant who testifies in John’s Gospel, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

What does it mean to shine with the Light of Christ? Jesus reminds us that we cannot hide this light but must let it shine. Our “light must shine before others” that they may see our good deeds and glorify our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16).

At times the world can seem very dark. We might be tempted, in our increasingly secular world, to pull back and isolate ourselves from worldly matters. Wouldn’t it be better to be safe and not risk being tainted by the darkness of the world? Perhaps it is a time to withdraw and pray?

Yet like the metaphor of salt, we must enter the world and become part of it in order that we might affect it by our presence. Without the presence of our salt or light the world and those we meet will remain in darkness.

Using the image of light, it would be completely unnatural to hide our light “under a bushel basket,” or to quietly go about our life without revealing Christ through it. In fact, we are called to be like a “city on a hill.” This type of city cannot go quietly unnoticed in some rustic country vale; it calls attention to itself.

Imagine the impact if each of us, in a natural way, began to reveal the light of Christ to those around us in every honest and upright profession, and in all aspects of our daily life. Together we can push back the darkness. Let your light shine before others and do not let your salt become tasteless.

Scott McKellar is associate director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute.

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St. Augustine On Penitents or Why Merely Giving up Chocolate Might Miss the Point

On the traditional calendar the three Sundays prior to Lent are termed, Septuagesima; Sexagesima and Quinquagesima (this year Feb. 12 Feb. 19 and Feb. 26).  This period of time was intended a preparation for more rigorous time of penance to follow during Lent.

On this theme I offer some quotes from several Sermons by St. Augustine on 'penitents' or why merely giving up chocolate might miss the point of the Lenten season.

Sermon 351

1. Penitents, penitents, penitents-if, that is, you really are penitents, really are sorry for your sins, and not just treating the whole thing as a joke! Change your mode of life, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20). I mean, you are just indulging yourselves, while still in chains. "What chains?" you ask.

“What you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Mt 18:18). You hear how you are bound, and you think you can take God in? You perform the penance, you kneel down-and you laugh, and snap your fingers at God's patience? If you're a penitent, repent; if you don't repent, you're not a penitent. So if you do repent, if you're really sorry, why go on doing the bad things you did? If you're sorry for having done them, don't go on doing them. If you still do go on doing them, you're certainly not a real penitent. (Sermon 351.1) (Trans Edmond Hill, WSA III/10)

Sermon 232

8. Yesterday I warned you, and I'm warning your graces again that the resurrection of Christ is only in us if we live good lives; if our old bad life dies, and the new one makes progress every day. There are a great many penitents here; when hands are laid on them, there is an extremely long line. "Pray, penitents-and the penitents go out to pray." I examine the penitents, and I find people living bad lives. How can you be sorry for what you go on doing? If you're sorry, don't do it. If you go on doing it, though, the name's wrong, the crime remains.' Some people have asked for a place among the penitents themselves; some have been excommunicated by me and reduced to the penitents' place. And those who asked for it themselves want to go on doing what they were doing, and those who have been excommunicated by me and reduced to the penitents' corner don't want to rise from there, as though penitents' corner were a really choice spot. It ought to be a place for humility, and it becomes a place for iniquity.

It's you I'm talking to, you that are called penitents and are not so, it's you I'm talking to. What am I to say to you? Can I praise you? On this point I cannot praise you (1 Cor 11 :22), I can only groan and moan. And what am I to do, having become a cheap song? Change your ways, I beg you, change your ways. The end of life is totally uncertain. Every one of us is riding for a fall. 20 You are all putting off living good lives, thinking that life will be long. You're thinking of a long life, and not afraid of a sudden death? But all right, let it be a long one; and I look for one real penitent, and I can't find one. How much better a long, good life will be, than a long, bad one! Nobody wants to put up with a long, bad dinner, practically everybody wants to have a long, bad life. (Sermon 232.8) --(Trans Edmond Hill, WSA III/7)

Sermon 392

6. A word now to the penitents: what is it that you are doing? You know very well-you are doing nothing! What's the use of your humbling yourselves, [17] if you don't change your behavior? A word to the catechumens: be impatient and on fire in your determination to receive grace.[18] But choose for yourselves the right people in the Church of God to imitate. If you don't find any-woe is me, my God! What am I saying, "If you don't find any"? So is there not a single one among the faithful for you to find? So many years I have been baptizing so many people, and all for nothing, if there are none among them who keep what they have received, and take care of what they have heard. God forbid I should believe that! It would be better for me to stop being your bishop, if that's how it is. But I hope, I believe that there are such people.

All this, however, puts me in the wretched position of being compelled very often to know who the adulterers are, while I cannot know who the chaste people are. What I can rejoice over is hidden and private, what causes me torment is out in the open and public. So then, catechumens, be filled with desire for the grace of God, choose the right people to imitate, to associate with, and to join with in the delightful conversations of charity. Don't listen to malicious gossip. Malicious conversations corrupt good behavior (1 Cor 15:33). Live like ears of corn among the weeds; put up with the distresses of this world, like grain on the threshing-floor. The winnower is going to come. Nobody should set up as a thoroughgoing, all-round separator of the two during this age. [19] (Sermon 392.6)---[(Trans Edmond Hill, WAS III/10, p. 424-425.]
17. By taking their place publicly in the ranks of the paenitentes, in the "sin bin”
18. That is, to receive baptism, for which a common name among African Christians was "grace."
19. A parting shot at the Donatists, who were enthusiastic separators.
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Sunday, December 15, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran, Tools for Rebuilding

|BOOK REVIEW: Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran, Tools for Rebuilding: 75 Really, Really Practical Ways to Make Your Parish Better (Ave Maria Press, 2013).
In this follow up book to the extremely popular Rebuilt, Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran offer a series of 75 practical ideas for building a better Parish.  These ideas are given in 14 different categories and are geared towards evangelization and Church growth. Many of the topics do overlap with the previous book, but my overall impression is that it is a very helpful book.
In his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis notes that many of the baptized faithful “lack a sense of belonging to the Church” and that this may be due to “certain structures and the occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems” or “a concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of evangelization” (EG 63).
This new work by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran, should be approached from this perspective.  In my opinion the goal is not to ‘clone’ or duplicate the experience at Fr. White’s Nativity parish but to seek to live out, in our own unique parishes, a “missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (EG 27).
With this focus Tools for Rebuilding contains a wealth of ideas for reflecting on the life of our own parish in the light of Pope Francis’ call to evangelization.  In the first section on ‘strategic tools’ the authors talk about evaluating schedules and setting boundaries in ministry, establishing a mission, vision and strategies for ministry, clearly defining evangelization, working as a team, the importance of gratitude and enthusiasm, and pursuing excellence.  Under the heading “building tools” the authors discuss the need to set boundaries on the use of parish facilities, the need for the parish to be welcoming and accessible, the need to maintain a clean and inviting space, with a minimum of clutter. 
The authors also talk about the importance of minimizing distractions with such things as mobile phones, but even go further with aggressive announcements regarding the use of “crying rooms” for small children and even volunteers who “politely but firmly” ask parents of noisy or unruly children to relocate out of the main sanctuary!  In my opinion the attempt to justify this through an appeal to St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is unwarranted. 
The next section involves “office tools.” They authors point out that being busy is not the same as being relevant, they suggest that structuring the workspace to promote collaborative team work is best, and that we should hire those who are willing to humbly do small tasks themselves.
Under the heading “communication tools” they suggest that the parish becomes more focused in its advertising, and that it invests in a well thought out website that is relevant, updated weekly, a destination for visitors and parishioners.  The authors suggest that the parish name and “brand” all of its programs to make them more attractive and understandable.  They also suggest that the parish become known to the community and that the parish get to know your community, especially who is not at Church. Repeating a sentiment from their first work the authors suggest that “vestments are like golf clubs.”  If the focus is on bring in the lost, then the cost of beautiful and expensive “church stuff is a turn-off for many, if not most, unchurched people” (p. 93).  This opinion is far from a universal opinion in Catholic tradition and even seems difficult to reconcile with Proposition 20 “The New Evangelization and the Way of Beauty” from the recent Synod on the New Evangelization which notes that “Beauty should always be a special dimension of the New Evangelization” (Prop. 20).  Pope Francis notes, “Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the ‘way of beauty’ (via pulchritudinis)” (EG 167, quoting Prop.  20). In the final thoughts on this section they highlight making ministry accessible, easy and part of parish culture.  The goal is every member a minister.
The next major section is titled “Weekend Tools.”  The first piece of advice is to have a team of enthusiastic greeters welcome everyone who comes in the door.  The second very predicable piece of advice is the assertion that because you are in the communication business the “most important capital investment you can possibly make in your church is a sound system” (p.  102). Thirdly, the authors urge that parishes invest prayerfully, financially and thoughtfully in music.  The authors then ask, without compromising the proper reverence due to the Mass and observing the normal “good pacing, measured pauses, moments of silence and solemnity” of the Mass is there anything distracting or unusually slow taking place?  Linked to this is a reflection on the sometimes jarring effect of transitions and announcements.  Next the authors discuss the process of change which they are aiming for in the weekend liturgy.  They are seeking to invite people in, to transport them on a journey and then to help them reach a destination—deeper relationship with Christ.  The next piece of advice involves being aware of the secular seasons that the neighboring community is involved in and trying to link these sentiments to the liturgical seasons.
The next major section entitled “Preaching Tools.”  The first piece of advice is that the homily and the pulpit announcement must have a focused and consistent message.  Next they advise that the parish commit to having the same message all weekend long, and that the pastor make the homily a greater priority. They also suggest that a clear distinction be made between insiders and outsiders in the parish. Insiders should be challenged, outsiders should be comforted.  They also recommend that the pastor preach the important announcements giving them the added weight of the authority and power of the pulpit.
The next section involves “Sacramental Tools.”  The authors assert that “the opportunity give to us at Baptisms” . . . is “not for instruction and catechesis” . . . but for “celebration.”  They should have a warm welcoming experience.  They suggest not calling it a ‘class’ and developing a Baptism ministry team who help make the experience personal, beautiful and joyful.  In regard to the reception of First Holy Communion the authors suggest that we not create a barrier to the Sacrament by imposing all kinds of requirements on families.  Punishment and reward don’t lead to discipleship.  Likewise Confirmation should be an initiation not a graduation.  They recommend keeping youth ministry apart from Confirmation and not attaching difficult requirements to the Sacrament.  Some advice to increase the Sacrament of Reconciliation involves preaching on it, making it accessible, and encouraging children’s participation in it.  They also give advice on making the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick move accessible.  The next point warns about what they call “self-righteous super consumers” (SRSC).  This was a group of dissatisfied, grumpy, self-righteous people who contributed nothing but demanded everything.  The authors suggest setting proper boundaries and firmly opposing them.  There is also a lengthy point about pastoral problems related to Mass intentions.  In order to stop consumerism, Nativity Parish first stopped announcing Mass intentions and then stopped accepting personal intentions at all.  All Masses are offered “for the people.” With regard to funerals, the authors suggest recruiting volunteers to help families, and that the pastor set firm boundaries and beware of consumers while still being aware of special situations.
The next major section deals with children’s ministry. The authors recommend having a safe full service nursery on Sundays and a Liturgy of the Word for children.  They also recommend that the CCD/PSR program be set up so that it doesn’t look like a ‘school.’  The program should be content rich but fun. The authors propose a small group model where the leaders foster relationship with Jesus and with one another.  With teens they suggest that we treat students as adults by “acting as if they really desire to know God—even if they don’t” (p. 184).  They should be challenged to get into small groups which cultivate authentic conversations which challenge them to grow.  They should also be given opportunities to serve.
The next section deals with “Money Tools.”  They note that in parish setting “fundraisers always create sideways energy that casts parishioners in the role of consumers and puts the focus on raising cash rather than growing disciples” (p. 190).  They suggest gradually stopping all fundraisers and focusing only on the offertory.  You should stop doing what doesn’t get funded.  They also suggest that parishes “pass the basket as seldom as possible” (p. 193).  In this same manner they suggest giving generously to the poor out of the parish collection and sealing the “poor boxes.”  Rather than letters of appeal from the pastor or pledge campaigns, the authors suggest serious modeling and teaching on stewardship.  One small quibble with the authors is their appeal to an alleged biblical model of “tithing” which is not a New Covenant ideal or a part of Catholic Tradition. In their parish, appeals for money are done very well only once per year, but stewardship is part of the vision of the parish.  In keeping with our modern culture they authors suggest setting up accounts to allow regular envelope users to give by electronic fund transfer, and set up the parish website to receive gifts.  They even suggest a giving “kiosk” in the lobby that allows parishioners to swipe there card on their way out of Mass (p. 207). They also suggest that the parish be responsible and transparent with the use of the funds donated.
The next section is titled “Staffing Tools.”  The authors warn about over-using volunteers and about the danger of some heavily used volunteers gaining an unhealthy sense of entitlement.  They suggest constantly using new volunteers as often as possible. Following best practices in business they suggest that we “get the wrong person off the bus. “ When we recognize that someone is a bad fit for a ministry we need to gracefully get them off the bus.  We should also be patient when we are hiring.  They suggest looking for character, competency and chemistry (p. 218). Linked to this is the idea that we should be on the lookout for talented people and promote them.  They believe that as we promote talent to our team more talent will be attracted. They suggest scheduling the staff around the weekend, so that the weekend is the big event. They also emphasize that leaders must be learners who are constantly reading and reflecting on their task.
In the next section entitled, “Critical Tools.”  The authors warn that whatever you do you will experience comment, criticism and complaint.  Some tools for dealing with conflict include beginning with prayer, communicating with appropriate diocesan leadership (especially the bishop) and neighboring pastors about the transition and change you are planning and finally exercising the appropriate damage control.  On this point the authors warn that if you attempt to promote change you will inevitably receive very stereotyped letters of complaint by those who do not like change.  We can always learn from criticism but we shouldn’t let this criticism stifle our vision.  We should not be upset when the “wrong people”-- angry, hurtful, critical, dramatic people leave the parish because they won’t follow our vision.  Sadly sometimes even the “right” people will leave because their friends and family don’t like us. As leaders we also need to be willing to admit our mistakes.  The author note “beside what you actually get wrong you might have to apologize for what you get right” (p. 244).  We may have hurt people unintentionally, overlooked someone, or failed to provide what someone needed.  We also need to be humble and to exercise forgiveness and to move on.
The next section of the book is entitled, “Fun Tools.” We need to celebrate successes by first of all defining what success is in our ministry, then by sharing these successes and celebrating them with our staff.  We must emphasize that any success is a team effort.  Reward success by thanking people personally and publically.  Also thank your staff privately.  The authors also emphasize the importance of “fun.”  They suggest that we should laugh at ourselves, and create a fun environment.
In their final section the authors discuss, “Overall Tools.” The first point is that the pastor needs to be careful not to dominate and to delegate responsibility.  Pastors need to model submission to authority.  “Be an authority by submitting yourself to it.” (p. 275).Change takes time.  You need to be discerning about which new projects you take on and to be patient and positive about the pace of change.  There are no silver bullets.  The challenges we face require consistent approaches, focused intensity and time (p. 280).  We need to seek wise counsel in various ways to improve our leadership by choosing wise advisors and looking for specific skills and points of view.  The authors advocate doing something in a smaller way as a trial and then doing it in a bigger way.  Start somewhere, brainstorm and give yourself permission to fail (p. 290).  We need to focus on the hearts of individual people (p. 291) and stop trying to make people go to church, but instead make church matter (p. 294).

Review © Scott McKellar 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013


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Francis wave2Fr. Longenecker has posted an interesting blog in which he compliments a piece by Ross Douthat at the New York Times which I agree seems insightful.  The trouble is that some of those who are accusing Pope Francis of being ‘naïve and simplistic’ about the economy are actually ‘naïve and simplistic’ about the Church’s social doctrine and doctrine of the Church’s magisterium.  Just to clarify I am not talking about Fr. Longenecker, who for me has been a great stimulus for thought.
One small historical example would be the fact that when Leo XIII condemned ‘socialism’ he mostly meant what we today call ‘communism’ though he may have had in mind what later developed as National Socialism in Germany.  My point is that modern western democratic governments which happen to be frankly mildly ‘socialist’ when compared to the US are probably not what Pope Leo had in mind with his condemnation of ‘socialism’.
Nor has the developing social doctrine of the Church taken sides and condemned all attempts at modern democratic socialism (as defined above).  A recent work by Maciej Zięba, OP (Papal Economics, ISI Books 2013) has a section highlighting the change and ambivalence in the use of these terms through various modern Popes in the Church’s Papal teachings (p. 57-60).
I think Fr. Longenecker is on to something when he says;
The stereotyped economic debate still seems to be centered around certain naive assumptions: that capitalists are always money grubbing, greedy villains and that collectivists are always high minded, idealistic brothers and sisters of the poor.
What if the Pope isn’t trying to ‘take sides’ economically, but rather asking for new dialogue in which the Church’s venerable ethical traditions are allowed to question our current economic theories?  Are we right as Catholics if we say that the Pope has no authority to say anything in this area?  I want to be careful here.  It is the broad principles of social doctrine which are timeless and binding, but what reaction is called for by the Catholic faithful to the ordinary magisterium of the Church when it suggests certain critiques or application of these principles to real situations?
Tim Worstall, a Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London, contributes an otherwise interesting opinion piece to Forbes about Evangelii Gaudium in which he fasley concludes,
Fortunately the idea of Papal Infallibility only applies to occasions when the Pope himself declares that he is speaking infallibly. Which, from memory, has only been done once to assert the possibility of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. So it is still OK to disagree on this point about the nature of a desired economy.
While Worstall  is partly right, (it is OK to disagree about the nature of a desired economy) yet his comment displays a common misunderstanding of authority and infallibility.  This opinion falsely believes that if something is not formally pronounced in an infallible statement we are free to ignore it as mere opinion.  Recently Avery Cardinal Dulles published a work on Magisterium (Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith, (Naples, FL: Sapientia Press, 2007) which outlined some of the nuances of this doctrine including various levels of infallibility attached to Church documents. Dr Martin Rhonheimer points out that it is important in the case of the Church’s social doctrine to observe a “distinction between two levels: on the one hand, the level of the principles of the doctrine of the Catholic faith; on the other hand, that of their concrete historical application.  (Nova et Vetera, English Edition, Vol. 9, No. 4 (2011): 1029–54).   Dr Rhonheimer notes;
In the magisterial declarations—in particular in those touching on political, economic, and social issues—many elements are found that depend upon historical circumstances. The magisterium of the Church in the field of social teaching also contains, together with immutable principles founded on the doctrine of the faith, a mass of implementations that are often, in hindsight, rather dubious. What is involved here is not a type of “teaching” similar to Catholic teaching in matters of faith and morals, where the Church interprets the natural law in an obligatory manner—as in the cases of questions concerning contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and other moral norms in the field of bioethics. (p. 1046).
Fr.  Anthony Figueiredo has pointed out that “the classical conception of the magisterium emphasizes four basic characteristics regarding the teaching function of bishops”.[1]  First the Pope is seen as the head of the college of bishops.  Since all authentic teaching authority is concentrated in the episcopal order, and since the pope is the head of the College of Bishops, then the pope is the supreme and universal teacher of the Church.[2]  Secondly the pope and bishops alone are the authentic teachers of the Church because they have received their office or powers through Holy Orders.  Those who have received these orders are given the special assistance of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:25) which is rooted in the gift conferred on the Apostles enabling them “to know the mind of God, and to interpret Scripture as God willed”[3]  This assistance of the Holy Spirit allows the magisterium of the Church to be infallible in two ways: in an extraordinary way in the infallible definitions of a Council or in the infallible pronouncements of a Pope when he speaks ex cathedra, and secondly in the “ordinary  and universal teaching of the pope and the bishops in union with him.”[4] This does not imply that other acts of the magisterium which are in the form of solemn definitions, are necessarily subject to error and a matter for open debate.[5]
While paying attention the distinction made by Fr. Rhonheimer above, what sort of response from the faithful is called for in relation to papal teachings which are not given at the highest level of infallible pronouncements? The fathers of the Second Vatican Council specifically outlined the degree of ascent various types of teachings.
In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent (religioso animi obsequio adhaerere debent). This religious submission (religiosum obsequeium) of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to (sincere adhaereatur), according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking. (Lumen Gentium, 25)
The Catechism quotes this point explicitly noting;
Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” (religioso animi obsequio adhaerere debent )422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. CCC 892
Again returning to Fr. Rhonheimr’s distinction, in the Church’s social doctrine we must be in complete submission to the general principles of social doctrine but the concrete historical situations are subject to change and debate.  While Lumen Gentium 25 might not have as great a force for the specific historical applications of social doctrine, should not the principle be that we are at least willing to listen to the Pope and to allow our hearts to be challenged by what he says in these areas?  Rather than dismissing the Pope as ‘naïve and simplistic’ are we not rather called to offer him docility and respect?  I was particularly moved by a post on First Things by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in this regard. Once again I do acknowledge that their can be respectful disagreement on the specific applications of social doctrines.  I should point out that this respectful dissagreement requires that one knows the principles of the social doctrine and that one is applying them rightly, and not that in an unprincipled manner we can do what ever we want.  Yet as a further challenge to those of us who are catechists, what example are we giving to to other Catholics if we publically disrespect the Holy Father’s official teachings?

[1] Figueiredo, Anthony J. The Magisterium-theology relationship: Contemporary theological conceptions in the light of universal church teaching since 1835 and the pronouncements of the bishops of the United States  Tesi Gregoriana: Serie Teologia 75. (Rome: Pontificia Universita Gregoriana, 2001), p. 30.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., p. 32.
[4] Ibid., p. 33.
[5] Germain Grisez, “Infallibility and Specific Moral Norms: A Review Discussion,” The Thomist 49 (1985): 248-87 and his “The Ordinary Magisterium’s Infallibility: A Reply to Some New Arguments,”Theological Studies 55 (1994) 720-32.
© Scott McKellar 2013


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Pope Francis featuredIn the previous section of his exhortation Pope Francis emphasized a need for a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ and for a transformation of the Church in light of a new missionary impulse.  In the next section, Pope Francis outlines some of the challenges of today’s world such as our “throw away” culture which treats human beings as “consumer goods to be used and then discarded” (EG 53). Economics and financial reform need to be open to an ethical approach which favors integral human fulfillment (EG 58).
Culture itself needs to be evangelized by confronting such challenges as; attacks on religious freedom, widespread indifference, relativism, the negative aspects of the media and entertainment industries which threaten traditional values, and the proliferation of new religious movements (EG 62-63).
He also notes that many of the baptized faithful “lack a sense of belonging to the Church” and that this may be due to “certain structures and the occasion­ally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems” or “a concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of evangelization” (EG 63).
The process of secularization has reduced faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal through (EG 64). “Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will” (EG 66).
There are many temptations faced by pastoral workers in our current globalized culture (EG 76-77). We need to develop a new missionary spirituality which resists relativism and the exaggerations of personal freedom in our culture (EG 78-80). Pope Francis also notes the danger of negativity and pessimism, so that we do not appear to be “sourpusses” (EG 85).
The greater possibilities for communication in our modern world must turn into “greater possibilities for encounter and solidarity” (EG 87) allowing us to overcome suspicion (EG 88) and the isolation of unhealthy individualism (EG 89).
Pope Francis warns of two extremes of ‘spiritual worldliness’, one which is a purely subjective faith based on experience and the other a faith which ultimately trusts only in its own powers and feels superior to others because it observes certain rules or remains intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. (EG 93-94).
Pope Francis also discusses the challenges of lay people in the Church (EG 100-101).  The laity can be hindered by lack of formation or by limitations to their actions caused by “an excessive clericalism which keeps them away from decision-making” (EG 102).  Even when the lay faithful are involved in lay ministry they are often not involved in their essential role of a “greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors” in the midst of the world (EG 102).
The need to uphold the dignity of women and to create still broader opportunities for women in the Church is highlighted. At the same time Pope Francis still affirms the reservation of the priesthood to males, “as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist” (EG 103-104).
In the light of these challenges Pope Francis discusses the proclamation of the Gospel.  He warns that, “there can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord” (EG 110). The task of proclaiming the gospel belongs to the entire people of God (EG 111). Every member of the Church is a missionary disciple.  The sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work in all the baptize impelling them to evangelize. All members of the People of God are agents of evangelization (EG 119-120).
The Gospel is frequently communicated in person to person conversation which forms a type of “informal preaching” (EG 127) “which is always respectful and gentle” and “the first step in personal dialogue” (EG 128).  Only then does the opportunity arise to humbly share the biblical message about Jesus’ offer of salvation and friendship (EG 128).  This message can take a variety of forms since the Holy Spirit enriches the entire evangelizing Church with different charisms (EG 130). The duty of proclaiming the Gospel message to different cultures also involves proclaiming it to professional, scientific and academic circles (EG 132) and requires “an encounter between faith, reason and the sciences with a view to developing new approaches and arguments” and creative apologetics (EG 132).  While stressing the importance of the scholarly work of theologians he notes that theologians must always remember that “the Church and theology exist to evangelize, and not be content with a desk-bound theology” (EG 133).
The task of proclaiming the gospel is especially linked to the homily (EG 135).  Pope Francis urges pastors to renew their efforts at effective Biblical preaching (EG 136) which “is not so much a time for meditation and catechesis as a dialogue between God and his people” (EG 137).
Pope Francis warns that, “the homily cannot be a form of entertainment like those presented by the media . . . it should be brief and avoid taking on the semblance of a speech or a lecture” and that “. . . preaching should guide the assembly, and the preacher, to a life-changing communion with Christ in the Eucharist” (EG 138). The Church is a mother that speaks to her child (EG 139).
The homily should be a dialogue of heart to heart communication.  Pope Francis notes that an “inculturated preaching consists in proclaiming a synthesis, not ideas or detached values” (EG 143). Pope Francis gives pastors an extended set of advice on how to prepare and deliver a homily (EG 145-159). The preacher should prayerfully study the sacred text and prepare a message which will touch the heart of his hearers.
In this section of his exhortation Francis moves on to discuss evangelization and the deeper understanding of the kerygma or the initial preaching of the gospel. He points out that education and catechesis are at the service of the gospel (EG 165).
In the next extended section he discusses what he calls the importance of the “art of accompaniment” (EG 168-173), which “teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5)” (EG 168). This allows men and women on the basis of their experience of accompanying others to become “familiar with processes which call for prudence, understanding, patience and docility to the Spirit, so that they can protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock” (EG 171).
The proclamation of the gospel should be centered on the Word of God. All evangelization is based on the word of God, “listened to, meditated upon, lived, celebrated and witnessed to” (EG 174).  The study of the sacred Scriptures is essential in all our efforts to pass on the faith. “Evangelization demands familiarity with God’s word, which calls for dioceses, parishes and Catholic associations to provide for a serious, ongoing study of the Bible” (EG 175).
© Scott McKellar 12/13/2013


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This is the first installment of a three part review and summary of Pope Francis’ latest Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.
Pope Francis’ Apostolic ExhortationEvangelii Gaudium(The Joy of the Gospel) is truly an inspiring manifesto for the missionary reform in the Church. Pope Francis wishes firstly to “to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization” marked by joy of the Gospel and secondly to point out “new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come” in relation to this evangelical mission (EG 1). Pope Francis issues a challenge; “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” (EG 3).  It is principally through our personal encounter with Christ that we gain the love and joy which is “the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization” (EG 8).
Living a fulfilled life involves reaching out to others and seeking their good.  By its very nature the Gospel causes us to experience delightful and comforting joy as we reach out to others.  The recent Synod on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith (EG 14) highlights three principal settings for evangelization.  The first setting is the work of evangelization in ordinary pastoral ministry of the Church which seeks to help believers to grow spiritually.  The second is the ministry to the baptized faithful whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism and who lack a meaningful relationship to the Church. Finally, evangelization has always been first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ (EG 15).
The proclamation of the Gospel should always flow from our joy.  Pope Francis notes “it is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’” (EG 15). Giving some practical guidelines the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach he notes that we must go forth “from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (EG 20).
Calling for a renewal of pastoral life, Pope Francis says pointedly that the status quo or ‘mere administration’ is no longer enough. The Church needs to examine itself and to seek to renew itself. He warns that “there are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization” (EG 26).  Pope Francis calls for a pastoral conversion and renewal of the Church‘s structures in light of our mission.
“I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation (EG 27).
Because of its flexibility, the local parish is precisely the place where this can most easily take place. He notes that this is true only if the parish is truly in contact with the wider community and not just ministering to a chosen few (EG 28).  Other types of small communities, and movements, and apostolates can also bring a new evangelizing fervor to renew the Church. But, he notes, “it will prove beneficial for them not to lose contact with the rich reality of the local parish and to participate readily in the overall pastoral activity of the particular Church” (EG 29).
Each particular Church, under its bishop “is likewise called to missionary conversion” (EG 30).  The particular Church is the “primary subject of evangelization” and “the concrete manifestation of the one Church in one specific place” (EG 30).  Missions should especially be focused on those of greater need and on the “the outskirts of its own territory or towards new sociocultural settings.”
Pope Francis notes that “the papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion” because “excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach (EG 32). He warns that we must “abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way’” and challenges us to “invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization” (EG 33).
We must seek to convey the heart of Christ’s message and not to confuse this with even important secondary aspects of the faith (EG 34).  We also need to be “realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying” (EG 34).  He notes that, “Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed, instead the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary” (EG 35). While it is true that “all revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel” (EG 36).  The ‘pastoral consequence’ of this is that in preaching the Gospel “a fitting sense of proportion” has to be maintained “in the frequency with which certain themes are brought up and in the emphasis given to them in preaching” (EG 38). Because of the organic unity of the faith we need to avoid portraying Christian morality as “a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults” (EG 39).  The Church’s doctrinal and moral teaching need to be presented in the context of the Gospel message which “invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us” (EG 39).
He notes the importance of culture observing that, “today’s vast and rapid cultural changes demand that we constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness” (EG 41).  Quoting the famous words of Blessed Pope John XXIII, he notes, “The deposit of the faith is one thing… the way it is expressed is another” (EG 41). He also points out that, “all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness” (EG 42). Without abandoning the evangelical ideal, pastors and teachers need to accompany others with mercy and patience through the “eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur” (EG 44).
(c) Scott McKellar