Friday, June 25, 2010

Nativity of St. John the Baptist

stJohnBaptist04June 24th is the feast of the Nativity or Birth of St John the Baptist. There are only three such “nativity” feasts in the Church’s calendar; Christmas, the Nativity of our Lady and the Nativity of John the Baptist.
Referring to John the Baptist, Jesus says that “among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11) and further that for those who can accept it “he is Elijah, the one who is to come” (Matthew 11:14). John the Baptist forms a transition in the history of God’s work of salvation. John brings to an end the old and heralds the new. Malachi had prophesied that God would send a “messenger to prepare the way” of the Lord and foretold the return of the prophet Elijah before the coming of God’s kingdom (Malachi 3:23). John the Baptist fulfills the role of the herald or final prophet pointing to the coming Messiah. While the former prophets foretold a future kingdom, John the Baptist pointed to the actual king, saying “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). While the former prophets where moved by the Spirit, John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit in the womb and greeted our Lord at the Visitation by leaping in the womb.
I would like to suggest that the graces received by John in the womb are a type or a foreshadowing of the graces we receive in Baptism. The grace John received gave him a very specific vocation. He was called to be a witness and a herald to the coming Messiah. For John this involved a call to live a life of prayer and holiness. This foundation of prayer led John to courageously live out his daily life in relation to his faith, and further gave him the authority to call others live a greater unity between their faith and their daily life.
The fathers of Second Vatican Council have pointed out that each of us has a specific vocation based on our Christian Baptism. In Baptism we have been joined to Christ and so every one of us is called to be a holy. Each and every baptized Christian is called to be a saint. This vocation requires that we be more deeply joined to Christ in prayer and that the foundation of our Christian life be a deep understanding of God as our Father. The inner transformation of our soul should result in an impact on our daily life.
During the Second Vatican Council the fathers noted that the “breach between faith and daily life among so many must be considered one of the more serious errors of our time” (GS 43). While this was certainly true at the time of the council it is even truer today. Many people today live their faith one way, but their marriage in another way. Others live their faith one way but their business practices another way. Others separate their faith and their politics, or their faith and their respect for human dignity. As remedy to this problem the council admonishes us to follow the example of Christ. Like Christ who worked as a carpenter, the faithful “must fuse all human effort, domestic, professional, scientific, and technical in a vital synthesis with religious values which coordinate everything in the highest way to the God’s glory” (GS 43). This vital synthesis might be called a livingjohnbaptist b a unity of life.
On this Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist let us courageously allow our faith to impact every area of our life.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The New English Translation of the Roman Missal: The Greeting


bishop2 Perhaps the most common dialogue in the Liturgy of the Roman Rite consists of the greeting :

Dominus vobiscum
et cum spiritu tuo

Since 1970, this has been translated as:

The Lord be with you.
And also with you

As a part of the revised translation of the Roman Missal, now taking place, the translation of this dialogue has been revised, to read:

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

chrysostom5St. John Chrysostom gives us a brief commentary on the greeting (Et cum spiritu tuo) And with your spirit.

"If the Holy Spirit were not in our Bishop [referring to Bishop Flavian of Antioch] when he gave the peace to all shortly before ascending to his holy sanctuary, you would not have replied to him all together, And with your spirit. This is why you reply with this expression….reminding yourselves by this reply that he who is here does nothing of his own power, nor are the offered gifts the work of human nature, but is it the grace of the Spirit present and hovering over all things which prepared that mystic sacrifice." (St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Holy Pentecost)

It seems that spiritu is a reference to the gift of the spirit the bishop/priest received at ordination.  In effect we are greeting the bishop/priest acting in the person of Christ through the powers of his priestly ordination.

On the Feast of the Sacred Heart of of Jesus



Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Immaculate Conception of Mary

birthof mary2 In the year 1854 Pope Pius XI proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.  He noted;

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.

This doctrine seeks to explain how Jesus could be born without original sin. Jesus was free from original sin because Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin from the moment of her conception.  Although this is a distinctively Catholic solution to the sinlessness of Jesus, Protestant theology also needs to provide an answer.  How was Jesus conceived without original sin? One might ask, is the doctrine of the immaculate conception scriptural?  Obviously the exact language of the immaculate conception isn’t found in Scripture but the same could easily be said for the doctrine of the Trinity.

The scriptural background to this doctrine is found in the words of the Angel Gabriel in Luke 1:28.  The Catholic edition of the RSV translates the greeting of the Angel Gabriel as;

Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!

The Angel Gabriel’s greeting begins, with the Greek word chaire or “rejoice.” In Latin this would be  “ave” which we traditionally translated “hail.”  This greeting is filled with Old Testament connotations.  In many Old Testament passages Zion is invited to rejoice in the coming messianic joy of the Kingdom (Joel 2:21-23; Zeph 3:14; Zech 9:9). There is a clear connection here between Zephaniah 3:14-15 and Luke 1:28.  The Catholic Jerusalem Bible preserves the poetry of Zephaniah;

Shout for joy, daughter of Zion;

Israel shout aloud!

Rejoice, exult with all your heart,

daughter of Jerusalem!

Yahweh has repealed your sentence;

he has driven your enemies away.

Yahweh, the king of Israel, is in your midst;

you shall have no more evil to fear.

One is particularly struck by the words “the Lord, the king of Israel is in your midst” in connection with the incarnation.  The Angel Gabriel continues, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" (Luke 1:28, RSVCE).  The Greek word behind RSVCE translation “full of grace” is kecharitōmenē.  This is a highly inflected form of the word charitoō.  This word is quite rare in the Bible.  Fr. Ignace de la Potterie notes the following points about this word;

The verb charitoō is a member of the class of verbs ending –oō called instrumental, causative, or factitive verbs.  In a religious context causative verbs would express the transforming of the person acted upon--the effect that grace has on someone.  The verb kecharitōmenē in Luke 1:28 is a perfect passive participle.  Being acted upon is also the normal sense of the passive voice and antecedent action is the basic meaning of the perfect tense.

An awkward but extremely accurate translation would be, "Rejoice in the transforming grace you have received, for the Lord is with you!” A much more succinct translation would be “Hail, [Mary] full of grace”.  It is possible in translating the participle to emphasis either the verbal aspect as indicated in the above translation or to turn the action into a title “the-one-having-been-transformed-by-the-grace-you-have-received.” This explains the NAB translation which renders the verse, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  Yet following the NAB it is difficult to communicate the full impact of the Greek verb in the title “favored one.”  Mary is the “favored one” because God has chosen to transform her with his grace to prepare her for the incarnation.

While the Church has supplied the the exact moment that Mary received this transforming grace as the moment of conception, Luke 1:28 clearly points to this.  At some point prior to Mary receiving  the angel’s greeting she had already been transformed by grace in preparation for the incarnation.  The formal definition of the dogma simply clarifies the details of the nature and timing of this grace;

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.

Luke 1:28 is clearly a strong scriptural support for this doctrine.  Holy Mary, Our hope Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!

On the Feast of Corpus Christi


Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary (part II)

8jeromeIn part one of this post I discusses the famous “until” of Matthew 1:25.  Another type of evidence that is taken by modern Protestants as self-evident proof that Mary did not remain a virgin is the fact that the New Testament Scriptures frequently speak of the “brothers” and “sisters” of the Lord.   We can see that there was a group of persons closely connected with the Jesus in the New Testament who are called “his brothers or sisters” or “the brothers of the Lord” (Matt 12:46, 13:55; Mark 3:31-32, 6:3; Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12, 7:3-5; Acts 1:14; I Cor 9:5). 

The normal use of the word “brother” is for one who is the son of the same parents.  This would naturally seem to imply that  Mary and Joseph entered in to normal conjugal relations after Jesus was born.  What initially seems self-evident can sometimes dissolve in cloud of possibilities.  I personally have a brother but we were both adopted and, therefore, this fact does not say anything about our biological relations to our parents.
Three Views Since Antiquity:
In fact there have been three views on this subject since antiquity.  It seems that the tradition of the Church strongly remembers Mary’s perpetual virginity.  The consensus both East and West was that Mary had remained a virgin.  This consensus was challenged by Helvidius in the late forth century.  Helvidius maintained that the Scriptures, by naming the brothers and sisters of Jesus, demonstrate that Mary did not remain a virgin.  This view was condemned by the Church as a heresy.  It might be interesting for modern Protestants to realize that even Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, acknowledged Mary's perpetual virginity.  How then did the Church answer what seems today as self-evident in Scripture?

The early forth century bishop St. Epiphanius recorded the Eastern tradition that the “brother and sisters” of Scripture were in fact children of Joseph by a previous marriage.  According to this tradition Joseph as a young man married a woman who was not Mary and had a family.  Later his wife died and as older man he marries the virgin Mary who intends from the start not to have relations with him.
This view affirms that the perpetual virginity of Mary since the brothers would merely be "half-brothers" of Jesus, at least in the eyes of the public (Jesus has no earthly father).  It would be natural in a blended family to refer to each other as brother and sister without more careful qualifications. 
In the West St. Jerome proposed  that the “brothers and sisters” were not the children of Joseph or Mary but were cousins of Jesus. 
During my teaching career in public school I taught English as a Second Language for a few years and I recall one instance where I was teaching a group of South Asia students from the Punjab province of India.  I asked one of the young students how many brothers and sisters he had and he answered with a surprisingly large number that I now cannot recall, but I think it was something like 16 or 21.  The other boys then laughed and spoke to him in Punjabi and he said, “Oh, I mean three.”  The boy was speaking English which clearly distinguishes between “brother” and “cousin” but because this boy was thinking in Punjabi he made a mistake in English.
Jerome proposes a similar problem in the Biblical text. He argues that the confusion which exists between “cousin” and “brother” in Aramaic affected the use of this term in the Greek New Testament.  Jerome proposes that the “brethren” are actually the sons of Joseph’s brother Clopas who is also married to a women named Mary. 
One could take the possibilities further and ask what might have happened if Clopas had died and Joseph had taken over the care of both families.  Clearly the mere fact that Scripture mentions individuals call “the brothers of the Lord” does not conclusively prove anything.  One must reconcile the data of Scripture with the strongly held memory of the Church both East and West that Mary remained a virgin.  As I also pointed out above this memory was not even abandoned by the Protestant reformers! Apparently what is self-evident depends on whether you are wearing ancient or modern glasses.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

mary as teacher One of the key defined Marian doctrines for Catholics is the Perpetual virginity of Mary, or the belief that Mary was a virgin before, during and after he birth of Jesus.  When we dialogue with Christians from outside the Catholic Church this belief does not strike them as intuitive.  Many times they will bring up the verse from Matthew’s Gospel which reads;

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until (= Greek: heôs hou) she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus(Matthew 1:25).

Following the normal understanding of the word “until” in English the verse seems to imply that Joseph and Mary began to have normal conjugal relations after Jesus was born.  The Greek words heôs hou in Matthew 1:25 can be can be translated either: “until” referring to a past fact or “while” referring to a contemporaneous event.  The grammar is also complicated by the preceding negative.

It is interesting to observe other passages of Scripture which employ the same construction in Greek.  In Matthew 5:25 we read “Settle with your opponent quickly while (heôs hou) on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,. . .”   Similarly in Matthew  14:22 we read “Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while (heôs hou) he dismissed the crowds.”  In this last example if the words were translated “until” is would mean that Jesus continued to dismiss the crowd for the entire length of time it took the disciples to sail across the sea of Galilee!

The leading  three volume critical commentary on Matthew notes on Matt 1:25:

“This retrospective observation does not necessarily imply that there were marital relations later on, for heôs following a negative need not contain the idea of a limit which terminates the preceding action or state (cf. Gen 49.10 LXX; Mt 10:23; Mk 9.1)” [W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Matthew (International Critical Commentary) Vol 1, p. 219].

What seems intuitively true in English is not so clear in the Greek. The over-riding truth is that the Church remembered the life of Joseph and Mary and proclaimed that Mary remained Ever-virgin.

Will There be Sex in Heaven?

adam When teaching college students I have frequently been asked this question. Jesus gives us the answer in today’s reading.  In Mark 12,  Jesus has a encounter with the Sadducees who do not believe in the resurrection from the dead.   In response to a absurd fictional scenario, Jesus replies,

Are you not misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven. (Mark 12:24-25)

In his second encyclical, Pope Benedict XVI proposes a similar distortion;

But then the question arises: do we really want this—to live eternally? Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment. (Spe Salvi 10).

Many people today have a very distorted picture of Heaven.  They are afraid that Heaven might be boring or that heavenly existence might leave out some important earthly pleasure or attachment they personally value here on earth.  We must remember that the God who created the earth and all that is in it and declared it to be “very good”  (Genesis 1:31) is the same God who created Heaven.  Simply being in the presence of God will be the fulfillment of every desire.  We will not be missing any earthly thing. St. John tells us in the new heaven and the new earth God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” (Revelation 21:4).


Having said this, must we view Heaven as an other worldly experience with no continuity to our present life? Is heaven a kind of eternal choir practice among the clouds?  First it must be recalled that we will have bodily existence in Heaven and that if we take hints from Jesus resurrected appearance we may still eat and have a social existence (Luke 24:42).  There is another interesting note in the book of Revelation Chapter 21 were we are told about the New Jerusalem.  We are told that the kings of the earth will bring in their treasure into the heavenly city and that “the treasure and wealth of the nations will be brought there” (Revelation 21:26).  Rather than suggesting that God will make all things new, I think this suggests that he will make new all things.  Rather than beginning creation over with a blank slate, God will remake creation with a continuity to what is holy in the previous creation.  Obviously there won’t be complete continuity, but I don’t think we need to think of eternity as having no correspondence to our current earthly realty.  As St. Therese of Avila is reputed to have jokingly said, “God and chocolate is better than just God.”  Of one think I am certain, Heaven will not be boring!