Thursday, February 16, 2017

Liturgy must be Preceded by Evangellizaton and Conversion

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

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

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

But what does it mean to be evangelized and converted?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott McKellar is associate director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute.

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

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

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

Sermon 351

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

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

Sermon 232

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

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

Sermon 392

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

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