Friday, September 7, 2012

Why October 11th?

By now most people are aware that Pope Benedict XVI has declared that Church will celebrate a Year of Faith from October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013 (Porta Fidei 4).  He notes that many in our world are experiencing a “profound crisis of faith” and are in need of a new encounter with Jesus Christ leading to conversion.  The opening of the Year of Faith on October 11th 2012 celebrates two great anniversaries.  Fifty years ago, October 11th, 1962 was the date of the opening of Second Vatican Council by Blessed Pope John XXIII.  This same date October 11th, was chosen by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1992, when he promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Although the Catechism still seems new to some Catholics, it is actually celebrating its 20th anniversary.  The Catechism was “requested by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985 as an instrument at the service of catechesis” (PF 4).  Pope Benedict XVI describes the Catechism as an “authentic fruit of the Second Vatican Council” (PF 4).     During the Year of Faith the faithful are encouraged to study both the documents of Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Celebrating two great anniversaries is important but one might still be curious why Blessed John XXIII and the Fathers of the Council chose the date October 11th in the first place?  One of the reforms of Second Vatican Council was to make changes to the Universal Calendar of the Saints.  The Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God was originally celebrated on Oct 11th in the old Calendar which was in effect in 1962 at the opening of the Council.   Clearly the Fathers of the Council wanted to place the work of the council under the patronage of Our Lady.  This is certainly the short answer to my question.

The title of “Mary the Mother of God,” or Theotokos, was defined at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 AD.  This council was called by the Emperor Theodosius II to settle a disagreement which had arisen regarding the teachings of Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, and the certain other bishops in Church regarding the appropriateness of the title Mary, Mother of God.  Modern historians dispute the extent to which Nestorius actually believed false notions or whether he simply misspoke in the heat of debate.  Clearly he was thought to have believed that there are two persons in the incarnate Jesus Christ.  According to Nestorius, Mary can only be thought of as the Mother of the human person Christ or the Christotokos and not of the person of God or the Theotokos.  The Church ultimately recognized that the proper understanding of the union of God and man in Jesus Christ was that of two natures in one person.  Since Mary gave birth to a person she is rightly called the Mother of God.  As the Catechism reminds us;

Called in the Gospels "the mother of Jesus", Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as "the mother of my Lord". In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father's eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly "Mother of God" (Theotokos). (CCC495).

Though the Council of Ephesus was filled with contention and ambitious plots by many characters, Nestorius was legitimately deposed by some 200 bishops and failed to recant.  He had previously been condemned and ordered to recant by Pope Celestine and a Roman Synod.  Perhaps Nestorius’ biggest fault was his lack of humility.  Ultimately his failure to recant made him a heretic.  The council was subjected to even more political intrigue when the principle council fathers, Cyril of Alexandria and Bishop Memnon of Ephesus were held under house arrest in Ephesus by the Emperor.  Eventually late in October in 431, the Emperor sided with Cyril and declared the council at an end and its judgments valid.  It seems that the date of October 11th celebrates the release of St. Cyril of Alexander from arrest and the close of this Ecumenical Council which declared Mary to be the Mother of God.

Nestorius’ preaching involved sophisticated and nuanced arguments about the meanings of certain words found in Sacred Scripture.  The local populace in both Constantinople and Ephesus held to Marian piety with great devotion and rejected Nestorius’ anti-Marian interpretations.   St. Cyril tells us that during the first session of the council in the city of Ephesus,

The entire populace of the city remained from dawn until evening awaiting the judgment of the holy council. As they heard that the wretched man was deposed everyone with one voice began to praise the holy council and to glorify God because the enemy of the faith had fallen. But as we came out of the church, they preceded us with torches as far as the inn, for the evening was near; and there was much joy and lighting of lights in the city, so that even women carrying censers led the way for us. (St. Cyril of Alexandria, Letter 24)

This popular celebration of Marian piety was reenacted at the opening of Second Vatican Council, when on the eve of October 11 St. Peter’s Square was filled with a torch light procession (See historic news photo).  Commenting in September of  1962 on plans for the October 11th opening of Vatican II Rome correspondent Desmond Fisher reported;

That night [October 11th] the faithful of Rome plan to hold a torchlight procession to honour the Council Fathers and the Pope and to express their joy at having the Council in their city. The demonstration recalls the Council of Ephesus in 431 when the faithful of the city demonstrated in a similar manner.” (Catholic Herald, 28th September, 1962)

The torch light procession was orcastrated by Catholic Action and ended in St. Peter’s square.  Blessed Pope John XXIII was greatly moved by the event and gave his famous impromptu speech (Discorso della Luna) in which he said said: Tornando a casa, troverete i bambini. Date una carezza ai vostri bambini e dite: questa è la carezza del Papa. It means, "When you go home, you’ll find your children. Give them a kiss, and tell them that this kiss comes from the pope."  See this three minute video of the event by LUCE television.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

Resource Links for the Year of Faith

Maryvale Institutes’ Year of Faith Resource page:

Official Vatican Year of Faith Web site:

USCCB Resources

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Role of the Virtues in the Life of Christ

sistineEven though the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is past its tenth birthday, many commentators have failed to notice that part three, “Life in Christ” is ordered around “virtues” and our “happiness” as human persons created male and female “in the image of God.” Although the Catechism interprets happiness in a Christian sense as divine beatitude, the idea of ordering the moral life according to our happiness begins with the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, particularly Aristotle’s Nichomachaean Ethics.

For Aristotle, the idea of happiness (eudaimonia) implies not simply a matter of feeling, but a fulfilled or worthwhile life. As a starting point Aristotle assumes that a worthwhile, or fulfilled life must be about something more important than simply pleasure, money or honors and power. (cf. CCC 1723) A person might use his or her freedom to over indulge in alcohol or food consumption and have a temporary feeling of a type of fulfillment, but very few would argue that a lifestyle oriented to such over-indulgence resulting in alcoholism or gluttony was true fulfillment. The life of eudaimonia implies that one is living according the proper or ultimate end of the human person.

Imagine for one moment that a small child begins typing randomly on a computer keyboard, is there even the slightest likelihood the result could be something like Catechism of the Catholic Church? The very existence of the Catechism implies an intrinsic purpose or design for such a work which far exceeds the random act of a child. On the other hand, a Catechism could be used for some ignoble purpose—a door stop, or perhaps fuel to light a fire, but this would be a distortion of its intended design, the excellent end for which the Catechism was created.

In the same way the very existence of human beings implies for Aristotle that human life is ordered to some end (telos) or purpose which is intrinsic to our nature. This intrinsic order which guides us toward fulfillment Aristotle called aretē or excellence. This can have two senses, first the stable dispositions of one’s moral character, and secondly one’s skill at living. In both cases the character or skill must be ordered towards excellence. The Greek term aretē was taken over by the Romans and given the Latin term virtus from which we derive the English word “virtue.” The Catechism defines virtues as:

A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions. (CCC 1803)

The happiness or fulfillment sought after is the most complete end and one which is sought after for its own sake. It involves the integral exercise of the intrinsic organizational end or purpose which, in the case of humans, is found in the rational soul. The natural desire for happiness found in the heart of man draws us to God’s own happiness or beatitude as an individual and personal vocation. For each and every person this becomes a unique vocation to holiness which allows us to become partakers of the divine nature.

The virtues in the Christian tradition are divided into the human virtues and the theological virtues. The Catechism describes human virtues as;

… firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good. (CCC 1804)

The four cardinal human virtues are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. James B. Stenson has suggested the following modern day common-sense alternatives to the traditional terms;

  • Prudence is sound judgment and conscience.
  • Justice is a sense of responsibility and fair play.
  • Fortitude is courage, persistence, “guts.”
  • Temperance is self-mastery, self-discipline, self-control.[1]

What philosophers and theologians call human virtues, those internal invisible qualities that represent the greatness of the human person, we might call character. Individual virtues represent tangible facets of an often complex matrix of qualities we call character.

The theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, on the other hand, are not learned but infused by God into the souls of the faithful. They are the foundation of Christian moral activity and inform, animate and give life to all the moral virtues. The existence of infused theological virtues in no way diminishes the responsibility for moral education.

The human virtues are rooted in the theological virtues and animated by them but the acquisition of human virtues still requires the effort of formation. The human virtues are “. . . acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace” (CCC 1810).

Education in the virtues involves three aspects. Example, guided practice and in the last place direct instruction of rules and theory. Learning the theory of music or the rules of soccer will not in itself produce a flutist or soccer forward, much less the rules of water safety a swimmer, or a textbook on the theory of flight a pilot! What is evident when we examine how moral development takes place is that it requires initiation into an embodied tradition with its own models and rules and structures. This embodied tradition takes the form of various structured communities or institutions with their own history, standards, and models. In the realm of moral development the first and most basic institution to influence all of us is the family, but a successive host of other institutions join in our initiation into the practice of moral reasoning. It is usually the role of various institutions in civil society and not the role of the state to educate us in this realm. One could perhaps even argue the state only has a temporary legitimate right to intervene when civil institutions fail in some aspect of moral formation relevant to the common good.[2] On the other hand, the state has an obvious duty to support civil institutions which provide communities supporting character development. This is a duty that many modern states have been reluctant to pursue. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has recently argued that we need to restore balance and validate the importance of families, communities and voluntary networks. Social goods are not merely an end—they are an end in themselves—intrinsically valuable. Society is the community of communities which belongs to the tradition of classical liberalism as opposed to libertarianism. “Classical liberalism saw the cultivation of virtue and the protection of the institutions in which it was sustained as on of the greatest responsibilities of the polis[3]

Returning to the family and parenting as an embodied community of moral education, it can be seen that merely teaching children the rules and creating a structure that keeps them out of trouble, will not succeed in fully initiating them into the life of moral reasoning. Such common moral failings such as laziness, intemperate consumption, or difficulty controlling the sexual appetite are not a failure to know the rules of the tradition but a failure to live the virtues of diligence, order, discipline, self-control and modesty. Furthermore the restlessness of the human heart which naturally seeks the fulfilled life in pursuit of the good turns to counterfeit goods when the virtues are absent. These counterfeit goods seek to compensate the heart for its true longing, but they can never satisfy. The dream of the false good never equals the reality of true beatitude.

The virtues are the matrix through which are heart finds its rest in God. Animated by the theological virtues, made alive by the Holy Spirit the human virtues are the foundation and ongoing path of holiness. They are the bond that holds our families together, and the very substance of what makes life rich and worth living. They are also the foundation of our civil society and the pathway to peace and justice in the political and international realms.

Scott McKellar is Director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute.


[1] James B. Stenson, Compass: A Handbook on Parent Leadership (New York: Scepter Publishers, 2003) p. 18. Stensen’s book is an excellent, common-sense guide for parents to learn how to instill character in their children and to form supportive parent communities concerned about their children’s moral development.

[2] Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2004) paragraphs 185-189 on subsidiarity.

[3] Jonathan Sacks, The Politics of Hope, 2nd ed. (London: Vintage, 2000) p. 232.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Paul’s Second and Third Missionary Journeys (Acts 16:6–19:20)

Scholars are generally agreed that Luke recounts three missionary journeys in Acts. Paul’s second and third missionary journeys (Acts 16-19) read like an ancient travel log. Paul, Silas and later Timothy, travel through the central part of what is now modern day Turkey. Initially they seek to visit the new Churches Paul founded in Syria, Cilicia and Galatia, travelling until they reach the coast at Troas. In the night Paul experiences a vision and he immediately sails across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia (Acts 16:9).

469px-St_luke_displaying_a_painting_of_the_virgin_guercinoThe narrative perspective becomes more vivid at this point as Luke begins to narrate as an eyewitness of this part of the journey. He notes, “we sought passage to Macedonia at once” (Acts 16:10). They soon arrive at Philippi which was a leading city of that region and a Roman colony (Acts 16:12).

On the Sabbath Paul and Silas begin ministering to the Jewish community. In this section Luke recounts two conversions, one of a prominent women and one of a man. It appears that Philippi did not have a quorum of men to found a Jewish synagogue. Paul visits “a place of prayer” by the river and preaches to a number of women. One of the women is a wealthy merchant named Lydia. Luke calls her a “worshiper of God” (16:14) and this may imply that she was a Gentile who was attached to Judaism but not yet a convert. Lydia “listened, and the Lord opened her heart” and she came to believe. As a result Lydia and household are baptized.

Later Paul and Silas cast out a demon from a slave girl who makes money for her owner through divination. The owner of the slave had Paul and Silas arrested, beaten and thrown in jail. Later Paul and Silas are miraculously freed from jail by God through an earthquake. The Philippian jailer, thinking he has failed his superiors and allowed the prisoners to escape, tries to fall on his sword. Paul stops him and the jailer and his entire household believe and are baptized. The authorities finally discover that Paul and Silas are Roman citizens and apologize for their illegal mistreatment but nevertheless ask them to immediately leave their town (16:40).

Paul and Silas then travelled to Thessalonica, the capital city of this province, where they preached for three weeks in a Jewish synagogue and persuaded many Jews and a great many devout Greeks and even a few of the leading women to become believers (17:4). Soon after this some of the others Jews became jealous and “set the city in an uproar.” Paul and Silas were forced to leave and to travel on to Borea. In this city they again began to preach in the synagogue and are very successful. Many Jews and Greeks believed. Luke tells us that the Jews in Beroea “were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all willingness and examined the scriptures daily to determine whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Soon the Jews in Thessalonica heard about Paul’s ministry in Beroea and they came “stirring up and inciting the crowds.” Paul leaves by sea but “Silas and Timothy remained there.”

AreopagusPaul arrives in Athens and preaches in the synagogues and market place each day. Eventually he meets some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who invite him to speak in the Areopagus. Paul attempts to connect the message of the gospel to an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God’ (17:23). Initially Paul intrigues them with his talk of the “God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands” (17:24) but when he mentioned the resurrection of the dead, some began to mock him but a few believed (17:32).

“After this he left Athens and went to Corinth.” (18:1). Here Paul met a Jew named Aquila and his wife Priscilla who were also tentmakers by trade, so Paul lived with them. Following his usual pattern Paul preached in the synagogues attempting to convince both Jews and Greeks. After the arrival of Timothy and Silas, the local Jews opposed and reviled him so he moved next door to the synagogue to “a house belonging to a man named Titus Justus.” Many Jews and Greeks were baptized including Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, “together with his entire household.” (18:8). Paul, having received a vision, “settled there for a year and a half and taught the word of God among them” (18:17). Again persecution broke out and Paul was brought before Gallio the proconsul of Achaia, but he dismissed the matter. After staying a while longer Paul sailed for Syria, together with Priscilla and Aquila. He stopped briefly to preach in the synagogue of Ephesus and then sailed to Caesarea and returned to Antioch (18:18-22).

After staying some time in Antioch Paul begin a new missionary journey travelling again in orderly sequence through Galatia and Phrygia and arriving in Ephesus. Here Paul and his companions met a Hellenistic Jew from Alexandria, named Apollos, who had apparently been instructed about Jesus but was not baptized. Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos preach and “they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately.” At Ephesus, Apollos “vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.” (18:28)

While ministering at Ephesus, Paul met an unusual group of disciples who had only received John the Baptist’s ‘baptism of repentance’ rather than a Christian baptism. As a result they had not received the Holy Spirit. Paul preached to them and baptized them, laying his hands on them. They immediately received the gift of the Holy Spirit. At Ephesus Paul once again begins preaching in the synagogue until he faces rejection. Luke tells us that Paul preached daily for two years performing many miracles in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. As a result of these miracles and exorcisms many who practiced magic arts were won over to the faith. Luke reports, “And a number of those who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all” (19:19).

The history of the early church reminds us that the Christian faith is life transforming and that as Christians begin to live the holiness of their common Baptismal calling society and culture are transformed by this live giving encounter with Christ.

Scott McKellar is Director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute.

© Scott McKellar published in the Catholic Key newspaper May 11th, 2012.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Acts Of The Apostles: The Antioch Chronicles

After Stephen’s martyrdom a severe persecution broke out against the Church in Jerusalem. At this time King Herod had the Apostle James executed by the sword and the Apostle Peter thrown in prison. Peter was placed under heavy guard by four squadrons of Roman soldiers.  Each squadron would take a three hour watch during the night.  With the assistance of an angel, Peter made a spectacular jail break. The angel removed Peter’s chains and opened the iron gates allowing him to pass by all the guards without their notice.  The next morning “no small commotion” broke out among the guards and Herod discovered Peter’s escape and had the guards tried and executed for their apparent neglect of duties (Acts 12:19).  Later, Luke tells us that Herod was himself struck down by an angel and “eaten by worms” because he did not offer honor to God when a crowd ascribed divinity to him.  The Jewish historian Josephus recounts the same story, telling us that Herod developed severe stomach pains for five days before he passed away (Ant. 19.346-50).  Death by worms was often seen as the proper fate of tyrants.

We can see a series of reversals in Luke’s account.  King Herod began by seeking to harm the Church (Acts 12:1) but then ends up being eaten by worms (12:23).  We begin with Herod beheading the Apostle James (12:2) and imprisoning Peter (12:4) but end with Peter’s escape, Herod’s death and the growth and prosperity of the Church (12:24). The Jewish authorities were ‘stiff-necked’ and did not observe the law even though it was ‘transmitted by angels’ (Acts 7:53).  Now angels assist the leaders of the Church.  A young man named Saul guarded the cloaks of those stoning Stephen (7:58), but now he appears in the narrative as a prophet and teacher in the Church (13:1). This same man will soon be known as the Apostle Paul (13:9).

The whole narrative of Acts now shifts from a ministry centered on Jerusalem and the Jewish people, to the Church centered in Antioch and the Gentile mission.  Peter’s vision and ministry to Cornelius (Acts 10), the mission to certain Gentiles in Antioch (11:20) had already opened the door to this ministry but now the full missionary effort of the Church breaks forth under the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Luke tells us that there were certain prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch. As they were worshiping and fasting, the Holy Spirit said to them, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).  In the original Greek, the command, “set apart for me” is very emphatic and the verb “to which I have called them” emphasizes past completed action.  All Christians are called to bear witness through their daily lives, but the Holy Spirit was giving Barnabas and Saul a more specific missionary calling.  It is interesting to note the two parts of this calling.  We can see the implied interior prompting of the Spirit in the hearts of Barnabas and Saul, but also the validation of this calling by the Church.  This was not the first moment of their calling, for the Holy Spirit had already called them. This was an inspired recognition of their calling by the Church. Luke tells us that the leaders “laid hands on them and sent them off” (13:3).

In the next section, Luke recounts Paul’s first missionary journey to Cyprus and Galatia, with Barnabas (Acts 13:4-14:23). They took along Barnabas’ cousin John Mark as well. Paul’s first missionary journey began by travelling to the port city of Selucia sixteen miles from Antioch and then sixty miles by sea to the island of Cyprus.

When we think of Paul’s missionary journeys we should not think of him bouncing from place to place leaving newly catechized Christians behind in each city.  He seems to have moved slowly, staying for extended periods if possible, and not moving on until he had left a firm foundation.  Paul usually only moved on when circumstances forced him to do so.  He also seems to have targeted major cities, especially the capitols of Roman colonies. As general strategy he went first to the “the synagogues of the Jews” (Acts 13:5) and then, if rejected, to the Gentiles.

Salamis was the old capitol of the Island of Cyprus in the Greek period but the Romans had moved the capitol to Paphos.  In this city Barnabas and Paul are resisted by a false prophet and magician named Bar-Jesus who tried to prevent them from preaching to the Proconsul Sergius Paulus.  Paul rebukes the magician with a Spirit-inspired curse, calling him Bar-Satan and telling him “you will be blind” for a time.  Like Saul at his conversion the magician is blind for a time and needs to be “led by the hand.”  Seeing this, the Proconsul is ‘astonished’ and is led to believe (Acts 13:12).

When they prepared to set sail for Perga, their assistant John Mark , “left them and returned to Jerusalem” (13: 13).  The expression “left them” could be translated “deserted them” (cf. Acts 15:38).  While Paul was opposed to working with John Mark after this incident, we know that their relationship was later restored (Philemon 24; Colossians 4:10; and 2 Timothy 4:11).  This same Mark is traditionally thought to be the author of the Gospel of Mark.

Upon their arrival in Perga, Paul and Barnabas continue on an arduous journey over the Tarsus Mountains to Psidian Antioch. As was their pattern they begin preaching in the synagogue and “many Jews and devout converts to Judaism” followed them (13:43).

The next Sabbath “almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God” (13:44). This incited jealousy from some of the Jews and a persecution broke out which “drove them out of their district.” Paul and Barnabas “shook off the dust from their feet against them, and went to Iconium” (13:52).

Iconium is the easternmost city in Phrygia, and some ninety miles south east of Antioch.

Paul and Barnabas begin their ministry in Psidian Antioch by preaching in the synagogue with great success and then as usual they are persecuted.  Nonetheless “they remained for a long time, speaking boldly” (14:3). Eventually they learned of a plot to stone them so they fled to Lystra and Derbe (14:6).

At Lystria Paul healed a man lame from birth and the locals suppose that he and Barnabas were the Gods Zeus and Hermes (14:12). Paul and Barnabas “scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them” (14:18). Later some Jews from Psidian Antioch and Iconium arrived and again stir up the crowd. Paul was stoned and left for dead (14:19). When he recovered, Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe. The cities of Iconium and Lystra were on the paved main Roman road but to reach Derbe one had to travel an unpaved road about 60 miles. 

At Derbe they conduct a successful mission making many disciples and then they returned briefly to Antioch and Iconium appointing elders for them in every church.  Passing through Pamphylia, they now preached in Perga, before traveling to Attalia; and finally they sailed to back to Antioch in Syria (14:24-28) and gave a full report of their success.

St. Paul’s missionary journeys became the model for the Church’s missionary efforts around the world.

Scott McKellar is Director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute.

© Scott McKellar published in the Catholic Key newspaper April 20, 2012.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Acts Of The Apostles: Peter’s Early Ministry

Peter tabitha

As a general theme, the first half of Acts is the story of Peter’s ministry. Luke reminds his reader that the Gospel has now spread throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria (Acts 9:31) and that for a time the Church was experiencing peace. Peter is featured in two miracle stories which parallel the miracles of Jesus found in Luke (Luke 5:17-26 and Luke 7:11-16). Peter is the true disciple who imitates and authentically carries on the ministry of Jesus. These miracles also echo the lives of Elijah and Elisha in the Old Testament (1 Kings 17:17-24 and 2 Kings 4:32-37) which suggest that Peter is acting as a prophet. Peter is filled with the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:4) and again in Acts 4:8 and this infilling resulted in many “signs and wonders” (Acts 5:12) which serve to evangelize more and more people. These miracles also authenticate Peter’s leadership.

Commentators have noted that Luke enjoys sharing narratives in pairs. There are two miracle stories in this section of Acts. The first story is the healing of a paralyzed man named Aeneas (Acts 9:32-35) who was paralyzed for 8 years. The fact that Luke shares the personal name of each individual is unusual. In this case the man is named after the Trojan hero in Virgil’s epic the Aeneid. One can presume that he is either a Gentile or a Hellenistic Jew. Luke gives only the simplest account of the healing. The result is that all the inhabitants of Lydda and Sharon “turned to the Lord.”

Much more attention in the narrative is given to the account of the healing of the woman named Tabitha. The details about her “good deeds and almsgiving,” about her body being washed and prepared for burial and laid out in the “upper room,” and finally the presence of the ‘widows’ have suggested to commentators that Tabitha was a wealthy woman in whose house a Church met and that she had a ministry among the widows. Tabitha’s importance to the community in Joppa caused them to send two men to Peter requesting that he come immediately to see them.

After greeting the community, Peter kneels down and prays by Tabitha’s body and she comes back to life. In the next chapter Peter affirms that “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). The pairing of these two narratives by Luke suggests that God heals both men and women and highlights the culturally unexpected elevation of the role of women in the early Church. This new healing by Peter is even greater than the last and people all over Joppa came to “believe in the Lord” (Acts 9:42).

The next chapter introduces a Gentile centurion named Cornelius. He is a ‘God fearer’ who has been generous to the Jewish people and ‘prays to God constantly.’ An angel appears to Cornelius and encourages him to summon Peter and even gives Cornelius supernatural instructions on how to locate Peter. At the same time Peter has a vision which encourages him to disregard certain ceremonial restrictions regarding common table fellowship with the Gentiles. The Spirit tells Peter “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane” (10:15). Cornelius sends messengers to summon Peter to his house, which normally would be unlawful for a Jew. Peter accompanies the messengers because he has learned that he “should not call any person profane or unclean” (10:28).

At Cornelius’ house Peter gives a sermon which highlights the universal scope of the Gospel for all peoples. “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). Every nation is called to embrace the good news about “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power [and how Jesus] went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38) and that “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). While Peter is saying these things the Holy Spirit “fell upon all who were listening to the word” and they began to speak in tongues and glorify God just as the apostles had at Pentecost. This evidence prompts Peter to have the entire household of Cornelius baptized. While the experience of Cornelius’ household is a special sign that God wants to include the Gentiles in the Church, this should not lead us to dismiss the experience as not applying to us today. Tangible experiences of the Spirit seem to be the norm in the New Testament.

In modern times commentators have tended to intellectualize this as a mental assent to the Spirit’s presence instead of a perceptible experience of a ‘manifestation the Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 12:7). This experience does not, of course, need to be tongues as we see here. In Acts 10:46 it included Spirit led praise and elsewhere many other gifts (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4:11-12). Paul appeals directly to the experience of the Spirit in his argument in Galatians 3:1-5. The Galatians “began in the Spirit” at their conversion (Galatians 3:3) but later the Spirit “works mighty deeds” among them (Galatians 3:5).

When Peter returns to the other apostles and believers in Judea they initially confront him for his apparent violation of the Jewish law (Acts 11:2). Peter recounts the whole story of his vision and experience with Cornelius. He relates how the Holy Spirit fell on the household of Cornelius as it had upon Peter and the other apostles at Pentecost. Peter says, “If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?” (Acts 11:17). Peter persuades the others that God is behind this new work. As a result some of the disciples began to speak to the Greeks in Antioch and a great number turn to the Lord. The Jerusalem Church sends Barnabas to encourage them and he travels to Tarsus to invite Saul to join them. The disciples are first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26).

Recently Pope Benedict XVI has called for a renewed emphasis on evangelization. We can see from the life of the early Church that this is the common apostolate of all Christians under the leadership of Peter. Holy Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us.

Scott McKellar is the Director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.

© Scott McKellar published in the Catholic Key newspaper April 7th , 2012.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Acts of the Apostles: The Universal Mission of the Church

Rembrandt_169 (1)Following the martyrdom of Stephen a severe persecution of the Church broke out in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). Far from slowing down the growth of the Church, this persecution sends Philip and others to preach in the outer regions of Judea and even Samaria.

As Tertullian famously wrote, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Apologeticus, 50). We see in these events the fulfillment of outline suggested by Acts 1:8, “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” A special work of the Spirit is needed to convince the Apostles Peter and John that the Holy Spirit had been received by the Samaritans as well (Acts 8:17). After this an angel prompts Phillip to preach to an Ethiopian court official who joyfully receives the proclamation about Jesus and is immediately baptized by Philip (8:39). Philip continues preaching until he reaches Caesarea. The mission of taking the Gospel to the “ends of the earth” is fulfilled by the conversion of Saul which occurs next in the narrative. The Jewish Rabbi Saul becomes Paul an apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-8).

Paul’s journey begins on the road to Damascus which Luke narrates in Acts 9. Prior to his conversion, Saul is a pious Pharisee. He was probably from the School of Shammai which believed that Israel must be free of the Gentile yoke. Later in Acts Paul recounts; “I am a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as you all are this day” (Acts 22:3). As a zealous Pharisee, he had gone “to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2).

The Rabbi Saul most likely felt very righteous as he traveled to Damascus, so when he experienced “a light from heaven [that] flashed about him” (Acts 9:3) he probably expected to hear a heavenly cheer. He expected to hear something like, “well done my good and faithful servant.” Saul may have been thinking of the stories from other rabbinic mystics who had experienced visions of the Merkabah or throne of God descending from heaven just as the prophet Ezekiel seen in the Old Testament. Instead what he heard shocked him. He fell to the ground and began to dialogue with a heavenly voice. The voice cried out, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul replied with some confusion, “Who are you, Lord?” The heavenly voice replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:5-6).

We need to think about this, the heavenly voice said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…” We need to ask, did the Rabbi Saul ever literally persecute Jesus? Had he even met Jesus? As far as we can tell the answer is “No.” He had persecuted Christians or the followers of the Way as they are called in this passage. Here for the first time he learns the central truth about communion in Christ. To persecute the Church is to persecute Jesus. Jesus and the Church are one. After this life changing encounter, Saul the Rabbi becomes Paul the Apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God (1 Corinthians 1:1).

From this experience the Apostle Paul gains one of his most characteristic ways of describing all of the faithful as “in Christ Jesus.” The expression “in Christ” or “in Christ Jesus” occurs 164 times in Paul’s writings. Furthermore, if you investigate this theme, to be “in Christ” is to be “in the Spirit” and this is frequently connected to baptism. For example in Galatians Paul, notes,

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27).

There is a parallelism between verse 26 “you are all sons of God” and verse 27 “as many of you as were baptized.” It is through baptism that we are brought into communion with Christ. The Greek word translated “put on” can also mean “clothe.” Richard Longnecker notes that when used figuratively this term means “to take on the characteristics, virtues and/or intensions of the one referred to, and so to become like that person.”[i] The communion or oneness pictured here involves becoming like Christ and perhaps in a deeper sense to actually become Christ. At a basic level this clearly implies being a disciple of Jesus, trying to faithfully imitate his teachings and way of life.

Tolle1St. Augustine comments on the deeper significance of our oneness or communion with Christ in his commentary on Psalm 26. He notes that the practice of anointing in the Old Testament was normally reserved for either the king or the priest. But Christ now holds both offices as both Priest and King in virtue of his anointing or literally being the Messiah or Anointed one. Speaking of Christ, St. Augustine observes, “But not only was our Head anointed; but his body was too, we ourselves. . . . From this it is obvious that we are the body of Christ, being all anointed. In him all of us belong to Christ, but we are Christ too, because in some sense the whole Christ is Head and body” (Exposition 2 of Psalm 26). St. Augustine has perfectly captured the emphasis St. Paul is leading us to. We not only become like Christ in Baptism but we actually become a New Creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) which is joined to the New Adam—Christ Jesus (Romans 5:14).

The fathers of Second Vatican council highlight the central feature of our common baptismal vocation in the chapter on the universal call to holiness (LG 39-42). Each and every Christian by virtue of their baptism is called to be Christ and so to be a saint.

© Scott McKellar published in the Catholic Key newspaper March 30, 2012.

[i] Richard Longnecker, Galatians: Word Biblical Commentary 41 (Dallas: Thomas Nelson, 1990) p. 156

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Acts of the Apostles: The Martyrdom of Stephen

Stoning of Stephen detail

Acts chapter 7 contains the longest speech in Acts followed by Stephen’s martyrdom as the first or proto-martyr of the Church. Stephen is falsely accused of blasphemy by some fellow Jews (Acts 6:8-15) and this prompts a speech before the Sanhedrin. In the beginning of his narrative Stephen highlights God’s own actions and initiative (7:3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.) leading up to his appearance to Abraham and founding of the covenant of circumcision. Abraham is the father of Isaac, who is the father of Jacob. The twelve sons of Jacob (with some adjustments) become the Twelve Tribes of Israel who are aided by Joseph and later delivered from the Egyptians by Moses in the Exodus. Both Joseph and Moses become a ‘type’ of Christ who was yet to come. The Israelites worshiped God in the desert in the ‘tent of testimony’ and under the rule of King Solomon built a Temple. In Christ we will worship in Spirit and truth tasting the heavenly reality. Stephen concludes his speech noting that in spite of God’s many blessings, many of his fellow Jews had become stiff-necked and are constantly opposing the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51). Then filled with the Holy Spirit Stephen sees a vision of Jesus “standing at the right hand of God” in Heaven (7:56). As Stephen is martyred he imitates Christ saying “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (7:60).

The importance of this retelling of the history of God’s saving work among his people is seen by the amount of space Luke gives it in the Book of Acts. Stephen proclaims God’s words and deeds and then himself becomes a spirit-filled imitation of Christ.

Stephen’s speech shows us something about God’s own method of teaching. As the writer of Hebrew’s tells us,

“In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

God has desired to slowly reveal himself to us by interacting with first a person, then a family, a tribe and nation and so to ultimately reveal himself fully to all peoples through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. St John Chrysostom calls this a wonderful “condescension” of the Eternal Wisdom.[i] God has condescended, or “stooped-down” and adapted his speech to our needs so that we can come to know Him. The Catechism notes;

The divine plan of Revelation is realized simultaneously "by deeds and words which are intrinsically bound up with each other" and shed light on each another. It involves a specific divine pedagogy: God communicates himself to man gradually. He prepares him to welcome by stages the supernatural Revelation that is to culminate in the person and mission of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. (CCC 53)

This “divine pedagogy” which the Catechism mentions is a central theme of Church’s General Directory for Catechesis. The Greek word ‘paidagogos,’ which we translate as ‘pedagogue’ originally did not refer to the teacher but the guardian who lead the child to and from class[ii] In this context, ‘pedagogy’ is not simply ‘the method and practice of teaching.’ God’s own Divine pedagogy is both the source and model of our communication of both knowledge and wisdom about Him but also most importantly a work of grace which transforms us into his likeness. Dr. Petroc Willey has noted that the fathers of the church described this process using a Christian understanding of the Greek word ‘paideia’ which encompasses (all at the same time) such English terms as ‘civilization, culture, tradition, literature and education.’[iii] In a Christian understanding it involves the education of the whole person and involves the transformation of the “the whole of culture and a complete way of life.”[iv]

The General Directory of Catechesis speaks first of the “pedagogy of God” (GDC 159) which leads to the “pedagogy of Christ” (GDC 140) and then to the “pedagogy of the Church” (GDC 141) before finally the “Divine pedagogy, action of the Holy Spirit in every Person” (GDC 142). As the fathers of Second Vatican Council said, the Church is the “sacrament” of Christ or the “sign and instrument” of the saving presence of Christ in the world (Lumen Gentium 1). The Church through the gifts and activity of the Holy Spirit becomes the continuation of the redeeming work of Christ through her individual members.

One important implication which flows from this teaching is that the entire Catechism is an integrated reality which relates to the ‘Divine pedagogy’ in four parts. The Church continues to pass on the tradition of Christ in the Creed (Part I) and to be the minister of the saving realities of God’s grace in the Sacraments (Part II), to help lead individuals to live an authentic and faithful life in the Spirit (Part III) and to deepen in personal intimacy with God in prayer (Part IV). The Church is a school of faith which leads to ever deeper union with Christ. We evangelize by educating, we educate by evangelizing (GDC 147). Holy Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us.

© Scott McKellar published in the Catholic Key newspaper March 23, 2012.



[i] St John Chrysostom, In Gen, 3,8 (Hom. 17:1): PG 53:134, ‘Attemperatio’; Gr. synkatábasis.

[ii] Paul Watson, “Introduction” in The Pedagogy of God: It’s Centrality in Catechesis and Catechist Formation, ed. Caroline Farey, Waltraud Linning, Sr. M. Johannan Paruch, FSGM. (Steubenville: Emmaus Road, 2011), p. 6.

[iii] Petroc Willey, “An Original Pedagogy for Catechesis” in Ibid., 17 following Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideas of Greek Culture.

[iv] Ibid., p 18.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why I Believe the Bible is True

Recently we heard the news that a new manuscript of the Gospel of Mark has been discovered that may well be dated in the first century!  One of my former professors, Dr. Craig A. Evans notes;

If authenticity and early date are confirmed, this fragment of the Gospel of Mark could be very significant and show how well preserved the text of the New Testament really is. We all await its publication.

Based on the evidence we already have, can we trust the text of the New Testament?  Are the documents reliable?

The Integrity of the New Testament Text

8jeromeThe Scriptures were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). God’s act of inspiration guarantees that Sacred Scripture faithfully and without error communicates God’s truth to us (DV 11). The Sacred Scriptures are written by dual authorship, both human and divine, with God as the primary author. The human authors do indeed write as true authors. “For the composition of these books God chose and made use of men who employed in their task their natural capabilities and powers, in order that through his action on them and by means of them they should write, as true authors, all that he willed and only what he willed” (DV 11). Yet God as the primary author of Scripture guarantees that the final result is the inspired and inerrant word of God written to contain “only what he willed” (DV 11).

Having affirmed these truths, we move on to a secondary question. God’s inspiration of Scripture applies to the original manuscripts[3] or “autographs.” For example, the letters written by the Apostle Paul in his own hand or that of his scribe would be the original autographs. Although we have many early copies, we do not have any original autographs of the New Testament. If God inspired the original autographs of Sacred Scripture and these have been lost can we trust the copies of these manuscripts?

A Wealth of Evidence

Though we believe through the eyes of faith that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, do we need to fear that this faith is undermined by the hard facts of reason? No, all truth is God’s Truth. In fact, the New Testament is the best-attested writing of antiquity. As of 1990 there were 5,488 manuscripts of the New Testament catalogued.[4] We have three types of NT manuscripts (abbreviated mss.): papyrus mss (a paper made from reeds), uncials (leather mss written in all caps), and miniscule mss (cursive writing developed in Byzantium approx. 9th Century). Finally we have church lectionaries which contain portions of manuscripts.

Type of Manuscript:


Papyri mss. Catalogued


Uncial mss. Catalogued


Minuscule mss. Catalogued

2, 812

Lectionaries catalogued

2, 281


5, 488

It can easily be seen that the manuscripts of the New Testament are better attested than any other ancient writing of the period. The dating of the manuscripts is also much earlier. If we compare textual material from ancient historical works outside the New Testament we find the following:[5]

Ancient Historical Work


Caesar’s Gallic War (58-50 BC)

Several extant mss. But only 9-10 are good and the oldest is c. 850 A.D.

Livy’s Roman History (59BC- 17 AD)

35 books out of 142 survive

< 20 mss. only one fragment of Books iii-iv. 4th century.

Tacitus Histories (c. 100 AD)

4.5 mss. (see date below)

Tacitus Annals (c. 100 AD)

10 of 16 survive

2 mss. (9th century and 11th century)

Tacitus Dialogus de Oratoribus, Agricola, Germania (c. 100 AD)

1 codex 10th century

History of Thucydides (c. 488-428 AD)

8 mss. earliest c. 900 AD + papyrus fragments 1st century A.D.

The following chart illustrates some of the early codex (or book manuscripts) and fragments of papyri.



Portion of NT

Codex Sinaiticus

Mid- fourth century A.D


Codex Vaticanus

Mid- fourth century A.D


Charles L. Freer Codex

late fourth or early 5th century

Four Gospels

A. Chester Beatty, papyri

3rd century

portions of most of the books of the New Testament

Bodmer papyri

200 AD……………………….

3rd century ………………….

text of the Gospel according to John

large portions of both Luke and John.

Papyrus 52

John Rylands University Library of Manchester

prob. oldest surviving fragment of the Greek New Tes­tament = beginning 2nd century

John 18:31-33, 37-38.

This is obviously only a small sample of the 5448 manuscripts. There are full manuscripts of the entire New Testament surviving from the third and fourth centuries and many fragments of the New Testament from the 2nd century. If we remember that the New Testament writers lived in the mid-to-late first century, this is astoundingly early.

A further question might be the level of agreement between these manuscripts. New Testament textual specialist Bruce Metzger notes, “Though there are thousands of divergencies of wording among the manuscripts of the Bible (more in the New Testament than in the Old), the overwhelming majority of such variant readings involve inconsequential details, such as alternative spellings, order of words, and interchange of synonyms.”[6] These are often equivalent to the mistake of spelling “grate” as “great” in an era when spelling was more fluid and dictionaries were yet to be invented.[7]

Brief Time Lapse

As mentioned above, some papyrus fragments are dated within one generation of the original manuscripts (“autographs”).[8] One recent study by Carsten P. Theide caused a stir by dating a fragment of Matthew’s Gospel ca. 60 AD. [9] Although Theide has not convinced most scholars of this fragment’s attribution and dating, it is possible that some of the fragments of the New Testament are from the first century AD.[10] Remember that by comparison most classical works are preserved by only one or two manuscripts which are copies made 700-1000 years after the original.

Other Witnesses

It is worth noting that the works of the NT were quickly translated to other vernacular languages such as Latin (over 8,000 mss), Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian and distributed over a wide geographical area. These manuscripts agree with the early Greek manuscripts mentioned above. In addition, we also have quotes from the NT found in the Early Fathers of the Church: Clement of Rome (AD 95), Justin Martyr (AD 150), Irenaeus (AD 170), and Origen (AD 250).

Can I trust the Bible is true?  You bet!  The New Testament is the best-attested writing of antiquity.   There are more manuscripts of the New Testament and they are earlier that any comparable literature.  Recent discoveries on the text of the Koran show a completely different situation.  Although the evidence has not yet been fully released there is a credible report of an even earlier manuscript of Marks Gospel.  The manuscript is reported to be first-century fragment of Mark’s Gospel.


[3] From the Latin manu (hand) and scriptum (written). All Bibles prior to the first printed Gutenberg Bible of 1456 were hand copied.

[4] Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth and Content, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1990), 283.

[5] Adapted from F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapid: Eerdmans, 1987), 16-17.

[6] Metzger, The New Testament, 281.

[7] Apparently the first English dictionary appeared in 1604—Robert Cawdry's Table Alphabeticall: A table alphabeticall of hard usual English words.

[8] E.g., c. 125-150 AD, John Rylands’ Papyrus, p 52.

[9] See the Review of Carsten Peter Thiede, The Earliest Gospel Manuscript? The Qumran Fragment 7Q5 and its Significance for New Testament Studies (London: Paternoster, 1992)

[10] The newly published Oxyrhynchus Papyri 77 [new portion], 103, 104 are early second century.

© Scott McKellar 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012

Angels (and Demons) Part 4

angel maynooth 3Angels We Know by Name

There are only three Holy Angels in Scripture who are known by name: St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. Although the Church highly encourages popular devotion to the Holy Angels the Directory of Popular Piety and the Liturgy warns; “The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture” (218).

St. Michael is “one of the chief princes” of the angels (Daniel 10:12-14; 12:1-3) and is called an archangel (Jude1:9) and is the one who successfully battles Satan with his army and casts him out of Heaven (Rev 12:7). He is known as the Heavenly Defender.

St. Gabriel is messenger appearing to tell the good news. St. Gabriel first appears in Daniel 8 to bring understanding of the vision given to Daniel. In the New Testament it is Gabriel who announces the coming of John the Baptist to Zechariah;

“I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news” (Luke 1:19).

He is also the one privileged to deliver the message of the annunciation to the Virgin Mary in Luke 1:26-38.

St. Raphael appears as an “undercover” angel in the book of Tobit. He appears as friend and healer.

The writer of Tobit tells us;

So Raphael was sent to heal them both: to remove the white scales from Tobit’s eyes, so that he might again see with his own eyes God’s light; and to give Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, as a wife to Tobiah, the son of Tobit, and to rid her of the wicked demon Asmodeus. (Tobit 3:17)

Later in the story after accomplishing these deeds Raphael declares; “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand and serve before the Glory of the Lord.” (Tobit 12:15).

The Church celebrates its devotion to the Archangels Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and St. Raphael on their feast day September 29th.

© Scott McKellar 2012

(this is an edited version of a talk given at the Granfalloon, Kansas City, MO 02/15/2012 in the presence of 70 or so guardian angels Smile)

Angels (and Demons) Part 3

Angels in the Liturgy

bridge angelIf Angels accompany us in worship how do we see them highlighted in the Mass? During the Penitential Act we recite the Confiteor which asks “Mary ever-Virgin all the Angels and Saints” to pray for us. In the Mass we sing two great hymns given to us by the Angels. The Gloria is taken from the first Christmas in Luke 2:14;

Glory to God in the highest

and on earth peace to people of good will.

Later in the Mass the Sanctus or Holy, Holy, Holy is taken from the vision of the Seraphim of Isaiah 6:1-4;

In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple.

Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they hovered.

One cried out to the other:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!

All the earth is filled with his glory!”

At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke.

The suggestion in Isaiah 6:3 that the Seraphim “cried out to the other” is similar to custom of singing responsively. The Fifth century historian Socrates Scholasticus, reported that the first-century bishop, Saint Ignatius of Antioch began the custom of responsive singing. He records;

Ignatius [was the] third bishop of Antioch in Syria after the apostle Peter, and he conversed with the apostles themselves. Once he saw a vision of angels hymning in alternate chants the Holy Trinity. Accordingly he introduced the mode of singing he had observed in the vision into the Antiochian church; whence it was transmitted by tradition to all the other churches.[i]

During the ancient Roman Canon the priest prays;

In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God:

command that these gifts be borne

by the hands of your holy Angel

to your altar on high

in the sight of your divine majesty,

so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar

receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son,

may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.

A change in the new translation can be seen in the Preface which precedes the Sanctus. The role of the Angels is highlighted as the priest invokes the “presence of countless hosts of Angels” and as the people recite “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.” During Advent and Lent these newly translated Prefaces greatly amplify this theme;

And so, with Angels and Archangels,

With Thrones and Dominions,

and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven,

we sing the hymn of your glory,

and without end we acclaim: (Preface I of Advent)

In Preface IV of Lent an even more elaborate prayer occurs;

Through him the Angels praise your majesty,

Dominions adore and Powers tremble before you.

Heaven and the Virtues of heaven and the blessed Seraphim

Worship together with exultation.

May our voices, we pray, join with their

In humble praise, as we acclaim:

These prayers remind us as we hear them in Lenten season, that we are accompanying the angels in our worship.

[i] NPNF 2, p. 144. Cf. Aquilina, Angels of God , p. 57.

© Scott McKellar 2012

(this is an edited version of a talk given at the Granfalloon, Kansas City, MO 02/15/2012 in the presence of 70 or so guardian angels Smile)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Happy Feast of Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and Holy Martyr

Sister MarieThe Feast of St. Polycarp is the day Bishop Finn accepted Archbishop Frnaceschini's plea to bring cause of Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey, DC, Servant of God, Foundress of Mary's House, Ephesus, Turkey to our diocese. 

St Polycarp is one of the more famous individuals from the close of the apostolic era was the man tradition remembers as "Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and Holy Martyr.” Polycarp was born around 69-70 A.D. According to St. Irenaeus, Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Apostle and was personally appointed by Apostles as the bishop of the church in Smyrna (modern day Turkey). St. Polycarp was the leading figure among the churches in Asia in the mid second century. The Martyrdom of Polycarp records that Bishop Polycarp served faithfully for eighty-six years (Mart Pol 9.3) before being heroically martyred on February 23, 155.

Because of his long life and direct connection to the Apostles he was an important defender of orthodoxy against such heretics as Marcion and Valentinus. St. Irenaeus recounts that he knew Polycarp from his childhood, and he revered him as a holy saint. Irenaeus notes, “I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse-his going out, too, and his coming in-his general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he delivered to the people; also how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord.” He recalls the story of Marcion coming to Polycarp and asking if Polycarp would recognize him. Polycarp replies, “Of course I recognize you, the first born of Satan!” (Adv Haer 3,3,4).

St. Irenaeus relates how St. Polycarp journeyed Rome around 150-155 A.D. A dispute had arisen over the date of Easter between the church in Asia and the Church in the West. Polycarp met with Pope Anicetus. Each bishop felt obliged to follow the traditions they had been handed down. Polycarp felt Easter should be celebrated on the 14th day of the Jewish lunar month of Nisan, while Anicetus on the Sunday after the 14th of Nisan. Polycarp appealed to the practice of St. John and the Apostles, while Anicetus to the custom of his predecessors and to dominical usage. Although the Pope and bishop Polycarp could not achieve common ground in their practice they remained in communion and parted on the best of terms. While there could be no tolerance of the heretical views of Marcion or the early Gnostics, the Church could embrace different liturgical traditions.

St Irenaeus tells us that Bishop Polycarp wrote a number of letters “to neighboring Churches to confirm them, or to certain of the brethren, admonishing and exhorting them.” Unfortunately only St. Polycarp’s letter addressed to the Philippians remains. The theme of the letter is summed up in Polycarp’s exhortation, “‘Therefore prepare for action and serve God in fear’(1 Pet. 1:13; cf. Ps. 2:11) and truth, leaving behind the empty and meaningless talk and the error of the crowd” (Pol Phil 2.1). The letter is a rousing call to live the Christian life fully and consistently in the midst of the confusion and temptations of the world. The letter is filled with quotations from the New Testament and St. Clement’s letter to the Corinthians. One can clearly see the “interwovenness” of Sacred Tradition in his letter. The living interpretive presence of Christ is expressed in the Church through his apostolic ministry. Polycarp notes, “For I am convinced that you are all well trained in the sacred Scriptures” (Pol Phil 12.1). Scripture is the center of the Church’s Tradition and it is made manifest in the preaching, teaching, doctrine and liturgy of the Church.

The Church in Philippi is again battling the heresy of docetism which denies that Jesus came in the flesh. Polycarp complains that these heretics twist “the sayings of the Lord to suit their own sinful desires” (Pol Phil 7.1). Sacred Scripture requires the interpretive presence of the Church. Knowing our faith well also helps us to live our faith in the midst of our daily life. One difficult distraction that Polycarp mentions is greed and the love of money (Pol Phil 2.1; 4.1; 5.2; 6.1; and 11.1). This was apparently the difficulty of a fallen away presbyter of the Church in Philippi named Valens (Pol Phil 11.1-4). Polycarp councils the Philippians to treat Valens kindly in hopes of winning him back from his waywardness.

The ultimate test of a disciple’s faithfulness is martyrdom. Polycarp’s martyrdom is recounted in detail in the Martyrdom of Polycarp (AD 156). This document is a combination of a letter and an act of martyrdom or eyewitness account of martyrdom (Cf. Acts 7, Revelation 6:9-11). The account of Polycarp’s death is the first full account of this type. Suffering death by Martyrdom was considered the ultimate imitation of Christ. The ‘baptism of blood’ of the martyr was considered the equivalent of normal Baptism. Since at least the second century the anniversary of the martyr’s death was celebrated with a feast at the tomb of the martyr and later churches were built over these tombs. The martyrs were venerated as powerful intercessors and their relics were sought after.


St. Polycarp’s death is extremely heroic. The witnesses record, “Then the materials prepared for the pyre were placed around him; and as they were also about to nail him, he said: ‘Leave me as I am; for he who enables me to endure the fire will also enable me to remain on the pyre without moving, even without the sense of security which you get from the nails.’” (Mart Pol 12.3). The fire was miraculously unable to kill Polycarp, so his executioner had to stab him with a dagger. His body was later cremated by the soldiers and his friends gather up his bones and began to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom.

Holy Mary, Queen of Martyrs, pray for us. Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey pray for us.

Angels (and Demons) Part 2

Angels as Guardians

Angel maynooth2In Matthew 18:10 Jesus says; “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Based on this verse, the Fathers of the Church affirmed that each person has a Guardian Angel. There was some early debate among the Fathers concerning such details as: Are guardian angels only for children? (No.) When do you receive an angel? (At birth or at baptism?) Can an angel be driven away by evil conduct? (Origen and Jerome thought, yes.) The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas agrees with Jerome noting that ““. . . from the very moment of his birth” (ST 1.113.5) “each man has an angel guardian appointed to him.” (ST 1.113.2). Since we believe each of us has an Angel, if we assume that Guardian Angels are not recycled after our death, then we get an idea of the sheer number of angles that must exist. Billions of angels!

Because of their spiritual nature Angels are able to simultaneously “look on the face of God” (Matthew 18:10) and be present to us and interact with us. This is kind of puzzling to think about. Is it like a mystic who contemplates God’s presence in a vision but is still aware of his or her surroundings? Are we to think of angels ascending and descending to God but perhaps time and space are meaningless to spiritual beings?

Although angels purely spirit, they can assume bodies whether merely in appearance as in a dream or vision or in reality. At times in Sacred Scripture angles appear bodily to more than one person at a time. St. Thomas took this fact as evidence that at least in some situations angels must assume something like real bodies, because he reasoned, a vision would not be shared by a group of people.

In the Old Testament the cherubim were depicted as the guardians of Eden (Genesis 3:22-24) and of the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle (Exodus 25-26) and in Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 6:23-27). Angels are also depicted in Scripture as guardians of Churches (Rev 1:20) and even of nations (Deuteronomy 32:8).

O God, who in your unfathomable providence

are pleased to send your Holy Angels to guard us, 

hear our supplication as we cry to you,

that we may always be defended by their protection

and rejoice eternally in their company.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Sprit,

one God, for ever and ever.

(Collect for the Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels)

The Testing of Angels

One way that angels are the same as humans is the fact that they have a free will. After being created they were given the ability to either follow God or to rebel and choose not to serve him. After making this choice their will was fixed by their own decision.

Based on a few hints in Scripture, we believe that Satan gave in to the sins of envy and pride and freely chose to separate himself from God. The book of Wisdom notes, “But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are allied with him experience it” (Wisdom 2:24). Satan’s deception took a third of the other angles with him. In the book of Revelation Satan is depicted as the huge red dragon that “swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth” (Revelation 12:4). Michael and his angels battled against the dragon (Rev. 12:7) and won. St. John tells us;

The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it.

Fallen angels are called devils. Their will is twisted forever against God and all that is good. It is well to remember that they are outnumbered by the righteous angels two to one and that although powerful spirit beings, they are creatures under God’s dominion.

The Catechism reminds us,

Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church's Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called "Satan" or the "devil". The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: "The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing (CCC 391).

When we think of devils we are accustom to think of demon possession. Our thought jump to the Hollywood version of these experiences. We need to put that vision out of our mind without denying the reality of demons.

Demons are real and demon possession is possible. In the New Testament Jesus and the Apostles cast out many demons. The Bible actually describes this phenomenon simply as the person “having an unclean spirit.” There are two facets to consider here, like two axis on a graph. One is the frequency of visitation by the evil spirit and the other is the degree of control. What we think of a dramatic possession is a constant visitation with a high degree of control. The catechism reminds us;

When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing. In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called "a major exorcism," can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. (CCC 1673)

I don’t want to give much time to this subject, but I believe that the influence of the demonic in our life occurs not randomly or by chance but through our invitation by habitual involvement in mortal sin. Sinful attachments and especially dabbling in occult practices can open the door to demonic influence.

We live in a world where we have literally invented new ways of sinning. A number of new trends in culture such as internet pornography, and wide spread immorality, a return to pagan worship and the occult though the New Age movement have led to increased calls for priests to perform the Rite of Exorcism. Recently several conferences have been held to train new priests as exorcists.

A reported by the Catholic News Service the signs of demonic possession might include:[i]

  • Speaking in a language the individual does not know.
  • Scratching, cutting, biting of the skin.
  • Profound display of strength.
  • Sleeplessness.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Aversion to anything holy, such as mentioning the name of Jesus or Mary, or the act of praying.
  • Strong or violent reaction to holy water.

Thinking about this topic can be unnerving so we need to be reminded again of the protection the Church offers us through frequenting the Sacraments and the life of prayer.

St. Josémaria Escrivá (The Way 307) gives us good advice on his subject;

That supernatural mode of conduct is a truly military tactic.

You carry on the war — the daily struggles of your interior — far from the main walls of your fortress.

And the enemy meets you there: in your small mortifications, your customary prayer, your methodical work, your plan of life: and with difficulty will he come close to the easily-scaled battlements of your castle. And if he does come, he comes exhausted.

As the Curé d'Ars said;

The devil is a great chained dog which puts people to flight, and which makes a great noise, but which only bites those who come too close. (Curé d'Ars, Sermon on Temptations).

Angels in the Church

Saint John Chrysostom in a homily on the Feast of Ascension notes, “The angels are present here. The angels and the martyrs gather here today. If you want to see the angels and martyrs, open the eyes of faith and look upon this scene. For if the air itself is filled with angels, so much more the Church!"[ii]

During the Mass, St. Chrysostom notes that at such a time angels stand by the Priest; and the whole sanctuary, and the space round about the altar, is filled with the powers of heaven, in honor of him who lies on the altar....“ He confesses, “I myself heard someone once tell of a certain old, venerable man, who was accustomed to see revelations .... At such a time, he suddenly saw, as far as was possible for him, a multitude of angels, clothed in shining robes, encircling the altar, and bending down, as soldiers might in the presence of their king. And for my part I believe it.”[iii]

"The angels surround the priest," writes St. John Chrysostom. “The whole sanctuary and the space before the altar is filled with the heavenly Powers come to honor Him who is present upon the altar." [De sac., 6, 4]. And elsewhere: "Think now of what kind of choir you are going to enter. Although vested with a body you have been judged worthy to join the Powers of heaven in singing the praises of Him who is Lord of all." [Adv. Anom., 4][iv]

We are reminded that angels accompany us to worship, that they are also guardians of Churches.

angel maynooth 3


[ii] As quoted in Mike Aquilina, Angels of God , p. 55.

[iii] NPNF 9, p. 76 with slight revisions by Aquilina above.

[iv] Jean-Guenolé-Marie Daniélou, Les Anges et Leur Mission, (Chevetogne, Belgium, 1953), Trans. David Heimann The Angels and Their Mission (Maryland : Newman Press , 1957), p. 62.

© Scott McKellar 2012

(this is an edited version of a talk given at the Granfalloon, Kansas City, MO 02/15/2012 in the presence of 70 or so guardian angels Smile)