Theology literally means the science, or study of God. "Theology Encountered" will study or explore the ways in which we encounter God and how God is revealed in the fabric of our daily lives in two ways.
First, and foremost, it will provide a forum at the Catholic Student Center for dialogue, study, and questions of faith. Second, "Theology Encountered" will provide short entries that encounter the world from a theological perspective.
This Forum started on June 7, 2007 the Feast of Corpus Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ) and is moderated by Troy Woytek.
John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) will be beatified on Sunday, Sept. 19th by Pope Benedict XVI in England where Newman was born, lived, and died. Newman grew up an Anglican and became an Anglican clergyman in 1825. He was already known for some of his writings and teachings on the early Church before he converted to the Catholic faith in 1845 and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1847. His loyalty to the early Church teachings brought him to the Catholic faith but it also brought him much criticism both as an Anglican and a Catholic.
As an Anglican he started the Oxford Movement which aimed to free the Church of England from its subservience to the State and restore its roots with the universal Catholic Church because as the early Church fathers taught it was the one true Church of Christ. As a Catholic he challenged the hierarchical Church in its "liberalism" to claim authoritative truth on areas of life outside morality and faith. His idea of "liberalism" was those who preferred their own mind to the mind of the Church, manipulating God's truth to suit our own judgment or will and many in authority in the Church were doing this at his time in the name of "orthodoxy". As a result, Newman felt conflicted for much of his Catholic career because he received great criticism by his former Anglican community, and the Catholic community was highly skeptical of his scholarship because of his Anglican background and the criticisms he had for the Church.
However, that all changed for him when he was made a Cardinal in 1879. His book Apologia pro vita sua (History of My Religious Opinions) was well received by Catholics and grew him in popularity with his teachings. Arguably this is what helped pave the path to his being made a cardinal. Cardinal Newman's writings covered a wide variety of topics but some of his most consistent and well known teachings were on the human conscience, the reality of objective truths, conversion of the heart, and the place of theology in the university. He had a deep love for community life in the university setting and once said while a fellow at Oriel College at Oxford that he would want nothing more than "to live and die a fellow at Oriel." He was known for his close mentorship of his students and his passion for serving the university in a campus minister like role. In addition, Newman was known for his passion to teach the faith to the laity and empower them to be leaders of the faith. His article On "Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine" demonstrated his own faith in the abilities of the laity to be leaders in the Church as the people of God.
As a result, the tradition of naming campus ministries on non-Catholic university campuses after Cardinal Newman developed in the late 19th century in the U.S. That tradition continues today with literally hundreds of Newman Centers around the country, including your very own Catholic Student Center at Washington University, which is known as a Newman Community.
To read more on Newman click on these links:
Thoughts? Questions? Epiphanies? Contact Troy at email@example.com.
The Assumption of Mary was celebrated this last Sunday and I wanted to briefly dive into this mystery of our faith that we believe about Mary. First, what is the Catholic belief about the Assumption of Mary? According to the Catechism:
"Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians."
Essentially it means that Mary was assumed into heaven without actually experiencing the bonds of death which is the corruption of the body. Therefore her body and soul were fully united with Christ. The basis for this belief is rooted in our belief of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. When Mary was greeted by the Angel with the statement "Hail, favored (or blessed) one" it demonstrated for us the special grace-filled disposition of Mary. Unlike all other human beings, Mary was born without original sin, which meant her union with God as her creator was never broken, just as the initial creative event of humanity was before sin entered the world. Chosen by God to be the be spotless tabernacle which would bear the savior of the world, Mary from her very beginnings was in a state of grace (union with God) capable of not only avoiding a life of sin but the most devastating effect of sin - bodily corruption in death. Was Mary some super human or maybe even an angel? No, she was definitely a human being and her essence and nature as a human being was no different than any other human being. The difference was that Mary responded to the special grace she was given by God to make her life as total servant to Christ by being in total union with him at all times. You might wonder how this is possible - all human beings sin. The power of love truly can conquer all things. If love is an analogous way of thinking of God (not limited to this analogy) then to be fully consumed by love is to be in union with God. Sin, prevents us from being in full union with God at all times. However, we do have our moments, those moments which in our tradition can be sometimes called sacramental, where we chose love in a way that does unite us with Christ in a way that we can even say we are experiencing a piece of heaven on earth. Mary's union with Christ was throughout her whole life because the love she carried throughout her whole life kept her in union. Without sin in her life or the effect of sin, the corruption of her body did not come upon her. The truth behind this belief is that this is what God intended for all of humanity, but our own choice to reject that love has interfered with our ability to be in union with God at all times. Christ is our savior in restoring our humanity to a place where we are capable of this union with God and Mary is the example of love, with Christ, that we can look to for the possibility of what love can do - ultimate union with God. Let us strive then to grow in our love each day so that we too may become more and more united with Christ and ultimately united, as Mary is, after we die in the resurrection.
Thoughts? Questions? Epiphanies? Contact Troy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Merciful and gracious is the Lord,
Slow to anger, abounding in kindness.
God does not always rebuke, nurses no lasting anger.
I've been noticing lately that our world is really angry, and in particular our country. As I take note of the violence, social and political polarization, and protests, all fueled by anger, I can't help but wonder what does our faith have to say about anger?
The Hebrew Scriptures provide many examples of God's anger, such as in Judges 2:14, "the anger of the Lord flared up against Israel, and he delivered them over to plunderers." The prophets are often depicted as angry in their challenges to authority and the nation of Israel such as in Jeremiah 7:20. The New Testament displays the anger of Jesus in many of his rebukes against the Pharisees and those he judged to be hypocrites such as in Luke 6:42, Matthew 7:5, and Luke 13:14. Who can forget the passage where Jesus turns over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple (Mt 21:12). So what does all this say about anger?
When we read these passages we can conclude that our God is passionate about his relationship with humanity that his servants, the prophets, are passionate about the salvation of their fellow countrymen, and that Jesus is passionate about the love that is required to restore the kingdom of God. The good news about anger that we can deduce from scripture is that anger is a sign of care, whether that be for ourselves or others. When I think about anger like that, it can actually make me hopeful that there is so much anger in the world. But it isn't passion that makes me worried about the anger I see in our world as of late. There is another aspect of anger that seems to be missing in much of the anger we see in our world.
If we really examine the anger we read about in scripture in most cases we will see that anger is companioned by compassion. As often as we read about an "angry God" we read about a merciful and loving God as in Psalm 103 cited above. Compassion tempers anger to a level that makes the anger productive. I'm not talking about eliminating the anger, but using the anger for good. An analogy used in Evelyn Eaton Whitehead and James D. Whitehead's book Transforming Our Painful Emotions explains this concept well.
"We can act temperately in the midst of anger - moderating our rage and focusing its energy effectively. In metallurgy, "to temper" means to refine metal until it is both strong and flexible. A well tempered piece of steel suits both a battle sword and a construction site. Our well tempered anger, too, both protects and builds up." (pg. 73-74)
Anger is a statement of relationship. God is angry at times with humanity in the Bible because he is in relationship with humanity. He cares dearly for humans and wants what is best for humanity. No matter how angry God gets it never takes him out of relationship with humanity. The same can be said of Jesus; his moments of anger never cut off relationship, but intend to build up relationship through a greater understanding of love. This type of anger allows Jesus to express his anger without ever taking away the dignity of the person he is expressing his anger to. Compassion makes us realize that other people are indeed human beings and they have dignity and are worthy of being treated with dignity. Anger does not give us an excuse to take someone's dignity away, even if we feel our dignity has been taken away. Anger that takes away someone's dignity is the type of anger that is considered a "deadly sin". That is the anger St. Paul instructs us to avoid in his Letter to the Ephesians, "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil." (Eph. 4:26-27) When we take someone's dignity away through our expression of anger we create disconnect in the relationship, which is antithetical to the purpose of anger. Instead of building up relationship and creating greater connection our anger un-tempered creates greater tension and even more anger.
There are three examples of this type of anger that I would like to use to demonstrate anger without compassion. August 6th marked the 65th anniversary of the U.S. dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing more than 192,000 people that day and in the aftermath from radiation exposure. The U.S. was attacked by Japan not long before that at Pearl Harbor; an injustice was done by Japan creating a nation of justifiably angry people. Out of that anger the worldâ€™s most lethal weapon ever to be invented was used to "ease" that anger. This was an expression of anger not tempered by compassion.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch published an editorial on Thursday, August 12th that I think highlighted another example of how people are expressing their anger in our country without compassion. The article talked about the Tea Party's movement to oppose everything the Obama administration does, whether it is for the good of the country or not. Without taking any political sides, I think this article (written by a Republican) touches on something that is very true about a growing polarization in our country. The point of the article is that anger has driven groups of people within our country to a point that no longer cares about relationship or growth, much less sees their opponent as anything more than enemy. Blake Ashby writes,
"The Tea Partiers are intent on undermining every act and effort of the Obama administration, arguing that it is their patriotic duty to do so. It didn't used to be this way. It used to be that when a president was elected you supported him and hoped he did a good job for our country. You respected the right of the majority to choose the president and afforded that president the opportunity to lead. I don't doubt that the Tea Partiers love our country. But I wish they would take a step back from their anger and realize it is not just the president of the United States they are undermining. It is the institution of democracy."
Ashby recognizes this anger that is so prevalent in our political discourse these days as more destructive than constructive. The Whiteheads comment on how this type of anger tears down the very systems that are designed to promote healthy discourse fueled by anger.
"Democratic societies have taught the world about the healthy role of loyal opposition. We debate and oppose one another, but then we go forward as colleagues, not enemies. Embedded in the notion of a loyal opposition is the virtue of civility: the strength of combining antagonism with respect, of disagreeing without degrading our opponent. Critics ranging from Cardinal Joseph Bernardin to President Barack Obama have noted the withering of civility in America. When antagonists employ bitter invective and accuse one another of the worst motives, they erode the line between anger and hatred, and vindication becomes vengeance. Then the ordinary conflicts and unavoidable agon of social life become deadly." (Whitehead, pg. 74-75)
Civility and respect are rooted in the ability to compassionately see the human dignity in each person, no matter if you disagree with them or not. If anyone doubts the pattern of anger that has torn away civility in our country maybe my third example will make it clearer. Several weeks ago the headlines across media outlets was focused on Shirley Sherrod, a director for rural development for the Department of Agriculture. Comments she made at a NAACP function were taken out of context and construed as racism in an effort to undermine the NAACP's criticism of racism in other groups around the country. This incident was anger without compassion because before anyone bothered to consider the actual facts of Shirley Sherrod's story and the context in which she shared the story, people were expressing their anger in demeaning and hurtful ways. So much so, that the Obama administration in fear of such anger, overreacted by also denying Sherrod her dignity and asked her to resign without knowing the full facts of the story. Because of un-tempered anger a woman, a human being, was caught in the middle of anger that was more destructive than constructive.
With these examples hopefully it is clear how anger can in fact be sinful. But my hope is to conclude this article with some ways to model our anger after the holy anger described in scripture. Evelyn and James Whitehead's answer to the question of how to befriend anger is to do three things: "we honor it, then we evaluate it, then we tap its energy to help us act positively for change (pg. 51)." The first step of honoring our anger is basically recognizing that we are in fact angry and that is ok. In all the examples I used above there is nothing wrong with the fact that the people involved were angry. Anger is an emotion given as a gift to us by God to create greater connection and to right the injustices in our world. Where the people went wrong in the examples I used about anger was in step two of the Whitehead's model. Evaluating our anger is a humbling process that makes us really look at why we are angry instead of just reacting.
"Anger carries a moral claim: a wrong has been done that should be set right. This claim is not always accurate. Our immediate feelings may mislead us, and conclusions we rush to in anger must be revised later, when a calmer mood prevails... Rather we must learn to read, review, to reevaluate the judgments our anger makes." (Whitehead, pg. 43)
In considering the reasons for why you are angry you are forced to analyze the situation in a way that makes you consider the intentions of the person who upset you, what other factors played into you being angry, and what injustice was done that needs to be fixed. Just by asking these questions and going through this process a person is already tempering their anger to a place of refinement that can actually be useful.
Finally, anger should always move us toward an action that makes change possible. That last part is crucial to transforming anger; making change possible. This is another part that each of the three examples I used above did not execute well. In all three situations an action was taken, however the action taken did not make positive change very possible. Anger that is expressed without compassion and thus therefore un-tempered is expressed in ways that demean others, employ violence, and create hostility. When you express anger in those ways it does not make change very possible. Instead it creates greater tension and even more anger. One final key to making change possible when acting on our anger is to allow room for forgiveness. Without forgiveness we "let the sun set on our anger" and in harboring anger we are more likely to act without compassion.
So the task of a Christian, when angry, is to ask, "How can my anger be used for good in either building relationships or helping fix injustices?"
-Evelyn Eaton Whitehead & James D. Whitehead, Transforming Our Painful Emotions, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2010.
-Blake Ashby, "An Outdated View of Patriotism", St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 12, 2010.
Thoughts? Questions? Epiphanies? Contact Troy at email@example.com.
The last week of July was National Natural Family Planning Awareness week for the United States Catholic Church. As a result, it seemed an appropriate time to write about NFP from the perspective of not only the Church's teaching on it, but as a husband who practices NFP with his wife.
The Bishop's intention for this NFP awareness week is education and I hope to do that in this article through four areas of discussion: Defining NFP, dispelling the myths, why use NFP, and finally a down to earth experience of NFP.
What is Natural Family Planning?
According to the USCCB website, "Natural Family Planning (NFP) is an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and avoid pregnancies. These methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman's menstrual cycle. Couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman's cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy."
As stated, NFP uses methods of reading natural biological signs or indicators of fertility in a woman's body. The most common methods used to monitor and read the signs of fertility are: Cervical Mucus methods, Sympto-thermal methods, and the Sympto-Hormonal methods. The Cervical Mucus methods (sometimes known as the Creighton Model) observe the changes in cervical fluids that take place naturally in a woman as a result of ovulation each month. The vagina is actually a poor environment for the survival of sperm. However, when a woman's body is getting ready to ovulate, estrogen is released and a fluid called cervical mucus is produced that essentially helps the sperm survive inside the vagina as the sperm makes it way through the cervix into the uterus and eventually toward an egg. Each day of a woman's cycle the mucus is observed for amount, consistency, and color, which are the major signs that signal changes.
The Sypmto-thermal methods combine the cervical mucus observations with basal body temperature readings and cervical changes (primary signs of fertility). This method also observes secondary signs of fertility such as breast tenderness, back pain, etc. Basal body temperature is the reading of the core temperature of a person. During the pre-ovulatory phase the temperature typically stays at a lower level, but as the ovulation phase begins and estrogen is released the temperature rises at ovulation or shortly after. This typically confirms the cervical mucus readings for a couple. In addition to the cervical mucus changing during the ovulation phase, the cervix actually loosens and opens up in anticipation of ovulation so that sperm can make it ways through to the uterus. This change in the cervix can be observed by the woman.
Finally, the Sympto-Hormonal methods (sometimes known as the Marquette method) combine all of the above while using a fertility monitor. The fertility monitor is a hand held computer device that can detect two reproductive hormones through the woman's urine. Typically the cervical mucus and basal body temperature readings are used as a way of confirming or double checking the readings of the monitor. Each day during the pre-ovulatory phase the woman uses a urine test to determine her fertility.
For all of these methods a charting system is used, usually maintained by the husband, to record the fertility of the woman and the patterns of the woman's cycle each month. The charting is essential to the process, especially for woman who have irregular cycles because it helps the couple keep track of changes better.
Myths of NFP
NFP is the Rhythm method
Although the rhythm method is a natural way of avoiding or achieving pregnancy with the development of better reproductive knowledge and inaccuracy of the method the Catholic Church no longer endorses the Rhythm Method as part of Natural Family Planning. Which leads to the next myth...
NFP is not scientific and it is developed by Catholic bishops who aren't doctors to control our fertility.
Modern NFP methods have in fact been developed and tested by real doctors, nurses, and researchers in the medical field. The methods (hopefully demonstrated in the above section) are rooted in our medical science knowledge of the woman's reproductive system. NFP uses this knowledge to work with our reproductive system rather than work against it by suppressing it with foreign substances. Effectiveness of the methods has been documented and confirmed by scientific research and published in a variety of articles and books.
NFP just leads to large families and is ineffective compared to other ways of avoiding pregnancy.
Scientific research has shown that the Sympto-hormonal method when practiced correctly is 99% effective (93% is the typical success rate with incorrect use factored in). The Sympto-thermal method is 98% effective when practiced correctly (89% for typical use factoring in incorrect use). Compare this with an IUD, which is 99.9% effective (perfect use) and 99.4% effective (typical use), the pill, which is 99.7% effective (perfect use) and 92% effective (typical use), and condoms, which are 98% effective (perfect use) and 85% effective (typical use). Essentially what this means is that NFP practiced correctly is just about as effective as the pill or an IUD and is as effective as using a condom to avoid pregnancy.
You only get to have sex a couple times a month with NFP.
Actually it is more like 15-20 days. The typical menstrual cycle of a woman is about 28-32 days long. The first 4-5 days are menstruation (non-fertile), then typically there are some days before fertility starts to rise (usually 3-7 days). Once the fertility phase (no sex) begins there are usually 4-5 days before ovulation. Once ovulation happens there are typically 4 days of abstaining. After ovulation every woman has 12-16 days before they menstruate again. If you take away the 3-4 days of abstaining after ovulation, you are left with 8-9 days of non-fertility. Totaled up, with an average length cycle, a married couple can have sex at the very least 10 days a month (short cycle), but more likely 17-20 days a month or 19-22 days a month if you include menstruation days in a normal cycle. That is considerably way more than the average married couple has sex in a given month.
NFP only works for women who have regular cycles.
Because the methods used in NFP are based on natural signals that a woman's body goes through every month, as long as those signals are being interpreted properly it shouldn't matter whether a woman's cycle is regular or irregular for it to work. The signs are monitored day to day and so fertility is known day to day. At the very least the constant for every woman is that once they ovulate their cycle will end in 12-16 days. NFP can be used during breastfeeding, just before menopause, and in other special circumstances.
When rare and special circumstances to arise for a woman with her cycle there are NFP specialists who can help the married couple interpret the signs of fertility. I know several women who have certain conditions that complicate their monthly cycle, but they are still able to use NFP through the guidance of NFP specialists.
NFP is too complicated and is too hard to follow.
If you are taught by an NFP teacher it is rather simple to practice and it is even being successfully taught around the world in developing countries with less educated people than the U.S. Although NFP might be more complicated than putting on a condom or popping a pill, it teaches you about the complex and natural processes of a woman's body. Contraception doesn't teach you anything about your body and it doesn't encourage learning the reproductive system of a woman. NFP also involves both people in the marriage so it encourages communication within the marriage and doesn't leave reproduction up to one person in the marriage. Finally, I would add that even though NFP involves more sacrifice than forms of contraception, our faith teaches that sacrificial love is the greatest form of love. No marriage is successful without sacrifice and so I wonder if it should be any different for our sex lives.
NFP is just a way for the Catholic Church to suppress our sexuality.
Although NFP is taught by the Catholic Church and contraception is taught to be morally wrong, NFP is not exclusively used by people for religious reasons. NFP has actually become more popular, even among non-religious people, because of its natural ways of monitoring fertility. More and more people are becoming cautious about putting foreign substances in their bodies to control their fertility because of the possible short and long term side effects. I know there are lots of conflicting studies out there about linking contraception to different types of cancer and other health problems, so I will not affirm or deny those studies. However, I will simply say that there is nothing potentially harmful in practicing NFP to your body, your spouses' body, or the body of your baby if you should conceive. In addition, the Catholic Church wants us to have the most fulfilling sexuality possible and that also means to have the best sex possible. This leads to the next myth.
NFP doesn't allow spontaneity in your sex life.
It is true that during certain periods of the month you have to abstain from sex and so if you or your spouse has the urge to have sex you must abstain if you want to avoid pregnancy. However, in my own experience and having talked to other couples who use NFP, two things happen as a result of temporary abstaining each month. First, you learn as a couple to be romantic and intimate in ways that don't involve sexual intercourse, which encourages the overall health of your marriage in the long run. Second, because you know approximately when you get to have sex, there is a lot of build up to it, which makes it really exciting and creates anticipation. Finally, the Catholic Church knows that sex is the most intimate union between human beings and in order for someone to have the best sex possible it means holding nothing back and having the best intentions possible. Obviously that is an ideal and as a married person (others would confirm this) the ideal doesn't always happen because as humans we don't always have the best intentions or something may hold us back emotionally. But, it becomes even more difficult to achieve the ideal (best union possible) if we use contraception because each person is saying "I want to give my whole self except for the part that may produce life."
Stay tuned for part two of this article next week
Thoughts? Questions? Epiphanies? Contact Troy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part One: The short answer is YES (and fully divine too).
Recently I was talking with a friend about the topic of salvation. In discussing the controversial question of "Who is saved?" I pointed out two different ways of approaching salvation (both of which existed in the early Church and exist still to this day). Now before you start thinking Troy is a total theology nerd (true) and he has some really obscure conversations, this topic of salvation is actually pretty common for a campus minister. Quite often I find that college students are challenged with the question of "who is saved?" But you might wonder what does this have to do with the humanity of Jesus?
Well in the midst of this conversation with my friend I remembered the controversy the early Christian community faced about the humanity of Jesus in the first couple centuries after the death and resurrection of Christ.
The early Church had a lot to sort out in those first couple centuries about their experience of Jesus and their understanding of who Jesus was/is. One of the earliest issues was whether Jesus was really human. There was a group called the Docetists (many of the Gnostics fell into this group as well) who in examining this question believed that Jesus wasn't really human. Their approach was rooted in their understanding of humanity. They believed that the divine (God) was perfect in goodness, incorruptible, and immortal, which is true. However, they also believed that anything less than the divine, namely creation (all material beings at least), was mortal and corruptible and therefore not good and was created by some inferior evil God. As a result, they held that the divine could not enter into the material world and their believe was that if Jesus was the Son of God, divine in status, then he could not be a part of the temporal and spatial order. The experience of Jesus that humans witnessed was some sort of phantasmal being that didn't have true flesh. The implication of this belief was that redemption for humans meant our spiritual being shedding itself of the fleshy material that held it captive in this evil existence (Norris, pg. 8). Furthermore, this group called into question the goodness of the Old Testament God and essentially rejected that the true God revealed himself to the Jewish people before the advent of Christ.
The humanity of Jesus for modern Christians is rarely a debated topic and so most people have no knowledge of Docetism and if they did would generally reject it. However, in the conversation with my friend about salvation I began to realize that maybe there are remnants of Docetism still prevelant in society, Christianity, and even you and me still today.
One of the early debates in the Church, as noted above was the relevance of the Hebrew Scriptures and God's salvific work in the Jewish people. This issue still exists today among Christians. Many Christians wonder if the Jewish faithful are capable of salvation and some do believe that the answer is no because of their lack of faith in Christ as the Son of God. At the root of this issue is the Docetism that the early Church rejected. If God's salvific work began only with Christ because all things previous to Christ were evil then how could the Jewish people who follow the old covenant (which is invalid for Docetists) have access to Christ's saving grace? For those who doubt the significance of the Jewish people in salvation history we can turn to an early Christian preacher, Melito of Sardis. In his Homily on the Passover, Melito describes the Jewish people as those who "prefigured the Lord's salvation and truth and the principles of the Gospel are proclaimed beforehand by the Law (Hom. 39)." Melito weaves the Exodus narrative, the prophets, and the Patriarchs of Israel into the saving work of Jesus Christ. In doing this Melito, keeping the tradition of the New Testament and his contemporaries such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyon, refutes Docetism and the notion that humans and creation play no part in revealing the plan of God. Throughout history anti-Semitism has been present at some point throughout most cultures and most religions; Catholicism has been guilty of this at times as well. At the root of the rejection of the people of the Old Covenant is a denial of Christ's humanity and his ability to raise up our fleshly being into the divine no matter our race or religion.
During the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's, the document Nostra Aetate reaffirmed many of the teachings of the early Church fathers on issues of salvation and the importance of God's salvific work through the people of the Old Covenant, our Jewish brothers and sisters. In the document, Paul is quoted to make the point about God's salvific plan that includes the Jewish people by saying, "theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:4-5).
Furthermore, despite a rejection of the Gospel message by many of the Jewish people at the time of Jesus and continuing today, the Church professes God's commitment to the goodness that is revealed in the humanity of the Jewish faithful: "Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues — such is the witness of the Apostle. (11) In company with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and 'serve him shoulder to shoulder' (Soph. 3:9)" (ll-12).
Another way in which I have seen Docetism surfacing in the modern world and in modern Christianity as well is the rejection of the goodness of humanity. If your understanding of humanity and creation is that it is essentially flawed and evil than your view of salvation is limited to Christians only (because only those who believe in Christ will be whisked by Christ out of their fleshly evil to attain salvation). This is fundamentally the teaching of Martin Luther and many of the theologies that came out of the Protestant reformation (I don't have room in this article to address the intricacies of the reformation, but this one aspect of the theology that came out of the reformation is particularly related to the humanity of Christ and our modern view of salvation). It may be the case that you don't actually think of humans as essentially flawed and evil, as the Docetists did, but this view point is foundationally connected to the belief that salvation is inaccessible to anyone who is not a professed Christian, something more widely believed in Christianity. Simply put, if you find yourself limiting the goodness of Christ's saving work to Christians only (and for some this may even be limited to a particular denomination or "brand" of Christianity) then you too may have remnants of Docetism in you.
Let us explore how the viewpoint of an evil humanity is connected to a limited view of salvation. In Genesis 1:26-31 it says that humans are made in the image and likeness of God and that we are good — the essence of our humanity is goodness and we, with the rest of creation, are a revelation of God's own nature. Despite the presence of sin in our world, Christ restored for all of humanity the goodness we were created for. This goodness that Christ restored for us is not limited to professed Christians only (see Matt. 25:31-46 for Jesus' own explanation of who is fit for the kingdom), which is another way of saying God's revelation of truth and saving grace is not limited to only those who believe in Christ. Many of the early Church writings affirm this, including the New Testament in various passages, and it was reaffirmed by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Redemptoris missio. He writes:
"The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all [by Christ], it must be made concretely available to all.... For such people [those of other religions] salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation."
A person's cooperation in the universal salvation of Christ (even if they don't recognize Christ as their savior) would be his or her sincere practice of what is truly good in his or her own religious traditions and by following the dictates of his or her moral conscience. The reason why the Church can teach this is because it takes seriously the truth of the Genesis passage that God's goodness is revealed in all of humanity, not simply those who believe in Christ. This is a principle that was rejected by the Docetists because of their belief that all created material is evil, which is why they also rejected the humanity of Christ.
This brings us full circle in that all who rejects the goodness in any human being, whether it is for their religion, race, or gender, or simply as a human being, essentially reject the belief that Christ himself was a human being and in his humanness restored the goodness of humanity which reveals the goodness of God. At a more personal level each time we (I am guilty as well) fail to treat others or ourselves without love we fail to see our own goodness or the goodness of others. Therefore, in a little way, we reject the goodness of Christâ€™s saving work which is to restore the goodness of humanity so that we may be fit to meet God face to face. So at least in a little way we all may carry some Docetism in us, especially when we sin. In these moments though when we fail to see God in others and ourselves let us reflect on the words of Irenaeus of Lyon:
"Therefore, as I have said, he caused humanity to cleave to God — he united humanity with God. It was necessary that "the mediator between God and human beings" [1 Tim. 2:5], through his sharing in the life of both, bring the two together in friendship and harmony and bring it about both that humanity is made over to God and that God is made known to human beings." Against Heresies, Book 3, Chap.18:7 in The Christological Controversy
Norris, Richard A., Jr., The Christological Controversy, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1980.
Nostra Aetate & Redemptoris missio and they can be accessed via the Vatican website.
One of the early debates in the Church, as noted above was the relevance of the Hebrew Scriptures and God's salvific work in the Jewish people. This issue still exists today among Christians. Many Christians wonder if the Jewish faithful are capable of salvation and some do believe that the answer is no because of their lack of faith in Christ as the Son of God. At the root of this issue is the Docetism that the early Church rejected. If God's salvific work began only with Christ because all things previous to Christ were evil then how could the Jewish people who follow the old covenant (which is invalid for Docetists) have access to Christ's saving grace?
For those who doubt the significance of the Jewish people in salvation history we can turn to an early Christian preacher Melito of Sardis. In his Homily on the Passover, Melito describes the Jewish people as those who "prefigured the Lord's salvation and truth and the principles of the Gospel are proclaimed beforehand by the Law (Hom. 39)." Melito weaves the Exodus narrative, the prophets, and the Patriarchs of Israel into the saving work of Jesus Christ. In doing this Melito, keeping the tradition of the New Testament and his contemporaries such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyon, refutes Docetism and the notion that humans and creation play no part in revealing the plan of God.
Throughout history anti-Semitism has been present at some point throughout most cultures and most religions; Catholicism has been guilty of this at times as well. At the root of the rejection of the people of the Old Covenant is a denial of Christ's humanity and his ability to raise up our fleshly being into the divine no matter our race or religion.
Thoughts? Questions? Epiphanies? Contact Troy at email@example.com.
Part 1 - What we say at Mass
You may have heard or read (article in Post-Dispatch earlier this week) something about the changes in Mass that are happening as a result of the new translation for the Roman Missal that will be coming out soon and its implementation in 2011. I would like to present those changes to you and explain them over a series of articles that will be spread out over many months (not with consecutive articles, but spread out to ease the transition into its implementation).
As with any change transition is difficult, and these changes are no exception to that. When changes are made to the way we have been worshipping for the last 35 years, inevitably there will be growing pains. However, I hope these series of articles will give a greater understanding that will help make the transition smoother for you; in that when the changes are finally implemented your prayer will be spared from being encumbered by moments of puzzlement and perplexity.
A few words about what the Roman Missal is. The Roman Missal is the ritual text for the celebration of the Mass and was promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as the definitive text of the reformed liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. In laymen's terms, it contains all the prayers we say at Mass (clergy & laity). As with all texts in the Catholic Church it was written in Latin and was translated into various languages for use around the world. The English edition was published in the United States in 1973. The Holy See issued a revised text (second edition) in 1975. Pope John Paul II promulgated the third edition during the Jubilee Year in 2000 and it was published in 2002. Ever since an English translation has been in the works and finally it was approved by the Holy See in 2008. The Roman Missal is the most current form of our liturgical worship, bringing together what the Church considers to be the most accurate rendition of our history of worship. And as with any publication, translation, teaching, or practice, it needs to be updated or revised from time to time as we grow in our understanding of God, Holy Scriptures, and our history as a people of faith. The aim of this newest edition of the Roman Missal is to provide a more accurate translation of the prayers that have been passed down to us through the many centuries and even millennia of worship in our Catholic faith.
The changes that will effect what we say at Mass can be viewed in this link at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website:
Thoughts? Questions? Epiphanies? Contact Troy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thoughts on the "Arizona Senate Bill 1070" / "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act" of 2010:
Arizona recently passed a state law (SB 1070) that has re-surfaced the issue of immigration in the United States. Arizona is not the first state though to take action into their own hands because of the lack of Federal comprehensive immigration reform. There isn't time or room in this article today to cover all the issues of immigration in the United States and what our faith has to say about it, but I wanted to at least catch people up to speed about what the Catholic Church is saying about the current law that was passed in Arizona and about immigration reform in general.
The basis for the Catholic Church's stance on migration issues is rooted in two major principles of our faith: 1) all humans are created in the image and likeness of God and are therefore good and have dignity that can never be taken away. 2) All of creation is a gift from God and we have been charged to be good stewards of creation, including the resources of Earth. All of creation is for all humanity and every human being has a fundamental right to have their basic human needs met by the resources of the world.
So in regards to the most recent law passed in Arizona on immigration the Catholic Church has opposed it and encouraged congress to pass federal comprehensive immigration reform that upholds the dignity of all human beings (both American citizens and people emigrating from other countries). The main reasons the Catholic Church has opposed the law in Arizona in brief are: 1) Possibility of racial profiling based on a very low legal standard. 2) Further division of immigrant families. 3) Discouraging reporting of crimes in communities due to the fear of those reporting the crimes having their status checked by law enforcement in the process.
In addition, the United States Catholic Bishops recently issued a statement on the occasion of the State Visit of Mexican President Felipe Calderon to the United States. In that statement the Bishops reiterated their encouragement for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that focuses on 1)safety and security without detriment to human dignity and rights of migrants, 2)increasing visas and legal status for immigrants to work in jobs important to the U.S. economy (hopefully reducing the amount of exploitation of immigrants by human smugglers), 3)providing more fair wage jobs in Mexico and other Latin American countries so that immigrants are less likely to leave their native countries, and finally 4)putting more emphasis on solutions to the movement of labor between countries versus total emphasis on illegal immigrant enforcement measures.
I encourage you to read more about this issue by clicking on the following links, especially since the above article is a very brief summary of the issues at hand.
- Migration Chairs of Mexican and U.S. Bishops' Conferences Issue Join Statement on President Calderon's Visit to the United States
- USCCB Migration Chairman Joins Arizona Bishops in Decrying Anti-Immigrant Measure, Calls for Comprehensive Reform
- Arizona Bishops' response to SB 1070 (PDF)
- United States Bishops' Pastoral Letter on Migration called "Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope"
Thoughts? Questions? Epiphanies? Contact Troy at email@example.com.
On Monday, July 7, 2008, the Catholic Student Center hosted a Dessert & Discussion on "Questions of Faith". Many questions were submitted on paper and although several were discussed that evening there were many that did not get addressed that evening due to the lack of time and quantity of questions submitted. As a result I will address these questions for many weeks to come in Theology Encountered.
"If God isn't in a particular place, then why do Catholic Weddings have to take place inside a church?"
It is true that God transcends all time and place and it is also true that God is the creator of everything that exists and as it says in Genesis after God created the world it was "good". In Catholic theology we therefore hold that all of creation is not only good, but the actual revelation of God, which leads us to faith in God and a greater understanding of God. So it would seem then that no matter where we are on earth it would be considered sacred ground, and therefore worthy of the celebration of the sacrament of marriage.
All of creation is sacred ground, but to claim that everything is sacred and honor it no where in particular is to almost ignore the sanctity of it. The same is true for God, to know that God is everywhere but not acknowledge the presence of God anywhere, is to believe in a god that is not active in our lives. Churches are like national parks or forests; they are places set aside where we acknowledge the presence of something beautiful and sacred that exists everywhere but is made known and worshiped in a particular place so that it can never be forgotten or lost. A national park is a place where the natural beauty of our world will forever be protected and held sacred, and it is where many go to acknowledge and be reminded of the beauty in nature. Do people have to go to national parks to experience the beauty of our planet, or does that beauty only exist within those parks? Absolutely not, however, at some point in human history we recognized that if we did not set aside places where natural beauty would always be preserved and protected then sooner or later humanity would lose sight of that beauty and destroy it leaving nothing but a forgotten memory of what was once always and everywhere.
Churches keep sacred what we know is everywhere and always, namely God. Most everything about a church indicates that it is a sacred place, a place set apart that reminds us of God's presence. Churches are spaces that consistently symbolize the source of God's love and this is why communities gather in and around them weekly and even daily. Churches remind us of a love that exists always and everywhere, but is sometimes forgotten in the places of the world that we don't actively acknowledge that love. As humans we associate churches with the sacred, just as we associate restaurants with meals, schools with education, and hotels with hospitality. Just like churches though all those things can be experienced outside the confines of a restaurant, the halls of a school, or the rooms of a hotel, but when we encounter a church space there is no mistaking the feeling of something sacred in our world.
Churches are also a symbol of the Body of Christ, the community that is the mystery of God's love among us and within us. As Catholics we are sacramental people, which is to say that symbols have meaning for us; they help communicate to us the presence of God in this world. Marriage is rooted in love and community. The church (outside of the couple themselves) is one of the most important symbols that communicate this most effectively in a sacramental manner, because it gathers the community who will support and love the married couple. Churches are where we acknowledge the love of God so it seems fitting that a marriage would start in such a place. This is why the Catholic Church emphasizes that it is so important to get married in a Church, so that the couple getting married and those gathered around them may truly be opened to the experience of God's presence in this sacrament.
Finally, the church represents a connection to something larger than each of us individually and something even larger than the small community gathered for the wedding. The church represents God who is active and alive in our world and works through each of us individually and through a universal community who helps make us aware of God's presence. The church is a physical reminder of a community of faith with a two thousand year tradition of forming and supporting marriages. This community of faith brings with it great wisdom and thousands of years of experience. By getting married in a church the couple acknowledges their commitment to each other in the context of a community who will support them and also challenge them to grow in their marriage.
The issue of Immigration has not gone away over the past year and it has become increasingly important, especially in a presidential election year. In the Theology Encountered article published last July, using the U.S. Bishop's letter Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, Issued by USCCB, January 22, 2003, I outlined the principles of Catholic teaching on migration and suggestions for handling the immigration issue in the United States.
Over the past year U.S. Bishops have spoken out against anti-immigrant laws in various states and federal procedures that treat immigrants unjustly. At the root of the Bishop's resistance to many of the immigrant laws that are being enacted is the call to create social change, a call to social justice. The Catholic Church bases its teaching on social justice in Genesis that God made all people equal in dignity and rights; that the earth and everything in it belongs equally to everyone; and that all human beings, equally, are co-responsible with God in helping to protect the dignity of everybody and everything. In addition, Jesus affirms that our standing with God depends upon how we stand in relationship to the weakest members of our society (see Mt 25:31-46). It seems in the United States that we have most difficulty with the second affirmation listed above, which is deduced not only from Genesis in scripture, but from a long tradition of Christian social justice. It is hard for any capitalist society to swallow that the riches of this world are for everyone and are to flow as equally and fairly as possible to all people, not simply to those who have most access to those riches or have somehow "earned" those riches the most. Capitalist nations have a tendency to see the world's riches and resources as an unlimited pursuit to building private capital for personal gain and hoarding; this is the great evil of capitalism. There is a higher moral code though that calls us to supercede even the right to private property if human beings, our brothers and sisters, are not receiving at the very least their basic needs for living, much less an equal portion of the riches of the world. It is this very principle that the Catholic Bishops (and many of the faithful) are appealing to in this immigration issue. The reality is that the United States as a whole has a massive surplus of goods and wealth, while other nations and groups of people lack the basic necessities to live. Now it is true that there are Americans who lack those same basic necessities, which is unacceptable in itself, but that is for another Theology Encountered.
There are some recent examples of how the U.S. Bishops are responding to the immigration issue. If you have followed the news at all over the past year, you would have noticed that some states, such as Oklahoma and Georgia, and cities or counties within states, have enacted a variety of laws that make it illegal to aid, transport, employ, provide housing (either through charity or property rental), educate, and even provide medical care to illegal immigrants. In some places it has gotten so extreme that law enforcement has targeted churches and parishes as safehavens for illegal immigrants. In Sallisaw, OK on November 17th, 2007 law enforcement showed up at St. Francis Xavier Church before Mass on Saturday evening to round up illegal immigrants. Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa stated that these actions will force the church to go underground so that Catholics may continue to be offered Mass and the Sacraments. In response to the new laws being passed, Bishop Slattery published a pastoral letter called "The Suffering Faces of the Poor are the Suffering Face of Christ." In the letter Bishop Slattery reminds the faithful that "the question of immigration is not simple a social, political or an economic issue, it is also a moral issue because it impacts on the well-being of millions of our neighbors. And because it is a moral issue it must be examined in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ, who clearly commands us to 'welcome the stranger.'" And in Georgia, Archbishop Wilton Gregory and Bishop Kevin Boland issued a pastoral letter that stated churchgoers need to stand up for immigrants "not because they are Catholics, but because we are Catholics." The Bishops realize that the immigration issue in the U.S. does not have a simple solution, but they also stand firm in holding up the dignity of all human beings, no matter their nationality, race, or religion. And if doing that means giving access to basic needs to illegal immigrants then they will call all Catholics to defy the law in service of the poor....
"To love at all is to be vulnerable... If you want to make sure of keeping [your heart] intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket of your selfishness. But in that casket, it will not be broken, it will become unbreakable ... The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from the danger of love is Hell."
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves.
As I started meeting with some of the graduates of the class of 2008, this was the quote that in one way or another ran through my head. The goodbyes were beginning again, and I couldn't help but think how careless I was with my heart starting four years ago (my first year as a campus minister) with this class, as they came in as freshmen or new graduate students. I was setting myself up to get hurt; for a broken heart. But I had something in common with every student I met with; they too were suffering from broken hearts. That was the risk we took, or at least I hope we all took that risk, to give our hearts to each other in relationship and community, knowing that one day we would all say goodbye to each other. That really is the pattern of life, giving our hearts away and then saying goodbye. As Henri Nouwen puts it in Turn My Mourning Into Dancing,
"Life is a school in which we are trained to depart."
Every goodbye we say is not only training for the last goodbye, which is death, but it is also the potential for new life within us. And that is why I don't regret for a moment the risk I took in making my heart vulnerable. Saying goodbye to the class of 2008, or to any class that came before or will follow, to any relationship I've ever had, to places once lived, experiences of the past, and dreams once dreamt, has always taught me at least one thing: every goodbye can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads to new life, to resurrection, to a greater connection with God.
Of course that doesn't make saying goodbye any easier. Avoiding goodbye and all the pain that comes with it would be the safe choice, just as not giving your heart away would be. But this is the work of evil, to avoid mourning and grief, to create distractions in times of transition so as to be unavailable to the present, to put off our goodbyes and refuse to move on. Oh, it is true that goodbyes are painful, but whether you say goodbye and let go or not, the reality of leaving will still take place. However, the difference will be that if we hold onto the past as unfinished business, without truly saying goodbye to it, then we cannot fully embrace the new life that exists in giving our hearts away again. We will be holding something back from others and from God.
By saying goodbye well, we open ourselves up to the possibility for new growth, a gateway to learning about the ways in which we failed or succeeded, a passageway to gratitude, and an entrance into healing. We allow the spirit to convert our hearts into someone who is aware of the past, does not fear the future, and is fully present to the present. Goodbye of course doesn't mean forgetting. Henri Nouwen states, again from the book cited above,
"We first look backward to see how our lives seemingly unrelated events have brought us to where we are. Like the people of Israel who repeatedly reflected on their history and discovered God's guiding hand in the many painful events that led them to Jerusalem, so we pause to discern God's presence in the events that have made us or unmade us. For by not remembering we allow forgotten memories to become independent forces that have a crippling effect on our functioning and relating and praying. Forgetting the past is like turning our most intimate teacher against us."
Every relationship we have been a part of, every experience we have had, is carried with us into the next relationship or experience, we can either use them to create space for new love and life within us and around us or let them dominate our consciousness by never letting go of the past, by never saying goodbye well.
So what do goodbyes teach us?
They teach us that love is worth it. The pain we feel when we say goodbye is a testimony to the love that exists between friends, family, and communities. Goodbyes show us that love is real. They show us that the feeling within us that wells up with warmth and joy in the midst of great conversation, wonderful meals, vulnerable moments, late nights in the dorms, tears, laughter, smiles, hugs, shared prayers and more - was real love.
And what do goodbyes challenge us to do?
In this appropriate time of Pentecost (where we remember how the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and called them to spread the love of Christ to all the ends of the world) goodbyes call us to always choose to give our hearts away. Goodbyes challenge us to go out to the next stage of our lives and make room for new love, new life, new growth, new relationships, all aided by the memory of a love that has been let go. Goodbyes call us to form relationships that are worthy of future goodbyes.
It has been tough to say goodbye to so many relationships, so many wonderful people, so many experiences of faith, conversation, sadness, joy, laughter, smiles. I can deny this reality and resist saying goodbye, but my hope is to love like Jesus, for he too had to say goodbye, "It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy." Jn 16:7, 20.
The goodbye of Jesus is an invitation to understand that our life is a constant departure from what we enjoy temporarily (even over many years) to what we will enjoy one day forever.
The war in Iraq and occupation of coalition forces has been a major issue for the world since the invasion in March, 2003. The international impact of this war will forever influence how we look at the beginning of the 21st century, and the longer the war continues, the more it will affect the state of affairs between the United States, other major world powers, and the Middle East.
While the political and military consequences of the war are already evident, the economic and social consequences continue to grow. It is becoming more and more apparent that a bipartisan solution/strategy for transition in Iraq is necessary. As we inform ourselves as responsible voters during the upcoming election year, we are called as Catholic Christians to examine pressing issues such as the war in Iraq. One resource for assessing candidates on their plans for a transition out of Iraq is a recent letter from the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called: A Call for Bipartisan Cooperation on Responsible Transition in Iraq. The link to the article is below.
Continuing the Dialogue - question submitted on CSC website
My question, then, is what does the Catholic Church say about even more distant religions? If catholic means universal and some believers of other faiths, say Buddhism, live lifestyles congruent with the teaching of Jesus, basically live like Christians but do not share in the Eucharist, wouldn't the church want to find common ground there too? I guess what I'm asking is, where does the universality of Catholicism fit in with non-Christian churches?
The foundational teaching for the Catholic Church in the modern world comes from Nostra Aetate (On the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions) written at Vatican II in 1965. However, a couple documents have come out since then that elaborate on more current conditions for inter-religious dialogue and approach to non-Christian religions. I will try to summarize the teachings of those documents in response to the question above.
In order to understand the Catholic Church's teaching on Non-Christian Religions it is important to first grasp the context of the Church's understanding of the universality of salvation. As stated in Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Redemptoris missio, "The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all [by Christ], it must be made concretely available to all.... For such people [those of other religions] salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation." A person's cooperation in the universal salvation of Christ (even if they don't recognize Christ as their savior) would be his or her sincere practice of what is truly good in his or her own religious traditions and by following the dictates of his or her moral conscience.
Essentially, the Church holds that, whether someone believes in Christ or not, the mystery of salvation is available to all peoples, in a way known to God, through the invisible action of the Spirit of Christ. God's plan is to unite everything in Christ, in heaven and on earth.
That being said, as Pope John Paul II stated, "the Church's mission & function in every age is to direct man's gaze and point the awareness and experience of all humanity toward the mystery of Christ." The Church gladly acknowledges whatever is true and holy in non-Christian religions as a reflection of that truth from God which enlightens all people. However, this does not lessen the Church's duty and resolve to proclaim without fail Jesus Christ who is 'the way, and the truth and the life.'
The fact that followers of non-Christian religions can receive God's grace (self-gift of God) and be saved by Christ (apart from the ordinary means which he established) does not thereby cancel the call to faith which God wills for all people. Christ himself confirmed the need for the Church at the same time that he expressed the need for faith, and the Church was therefore instituted by Christ to reveal and communicate the love of God to all people and nations. It is our baptismal calling to preach and live the love of Christ that brings salvation to all mankind.
So, how does the Catholic Church approach inter-religious dialogue? The Church recognizes two factors that are present in dialogue with non-Christian religions. First, even though other religions include elements of grace and revealed truth it does not mean that everything within them is true and the result of grace (God's self-gift). Therefore, it is necessary to proclaim the fullness of God's revelation in Christ. Second, even though there may be incompatible elements between other religious traditions and Christianity, non-Christian religions can stimulate the Church to discover how the reality of the Kingdom of Christ can be found beyond the confines of the Church through the working of the Spirit.
Accordingly, the Church maintains the importance of dialogue for greater understanding between differing religions so that a greater unity can be achieved in forming the Kingdom of Christ, which will only be fully realized in the world to come.
The documents in reference were Nostra Aetate & Redemptoris missio and they can be accessed via the Vatican website at http://www.vatican.va/.
An explanation of the recent document out of Rome —
"Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church"
As you may have heard recently in the media outlets the Vatican has released a document that addresses the debate over the one true Church of Christ. In what follows I'd like to summarize the document, explain the document in laymen's terms, and dispel some false claims that have been made in the various media outlets around the world.
First, some facts about the document recently released. The document that stirred this media frenzy is called "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church" and it was written and released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on June 29, 2007 and it was approved by Pope Benedict XVI.
The document is structured by five questions and five responses that concern the interpretation of some documents that were written at Vatican II and after Vatican II. The questions and responses concern the Catholic Church's teaching on ecclesiology (study of the Church), the definition of the Church of Christ and where it subsists, and the meaning of the theological designation of Church in the history of Christianity.
The five questions are as follows: 1) Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church? 2) What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church? 3) Why was the expression "subsists in" adopted instead of the simple word "is"? 4) Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term "Church" in reference to the oriental Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church? 5) Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of "Church" with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?
The response to the first question is simply that what the Church taught at Vatican II is a continuation of what the Church taught before and Vatican II merely developed, deepened, and more fully explained the doctrines of the Church.
The next two questions deal with topic of Christ establishing here on earth one Church instituted as a visible and spiritual community. The Church's teaching on this matter is that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church because it has maintained historical continuity through apostolic succession and the permanence of all the elements, such as the sacraments, instituted by Christ that can be concretely found in our world. It is possible however, "according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them." In addition, these separated churches and Communities, although not the full expression of what Christ established as the Church, "are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church."
The final two questions deal with the proper theological designation of Church to Christian ecclesial communities. The document first addresses why the Catholic Church teaches that it is fitting to call the oriental communities (e.g. Orthodox Christians) Churches. "Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all — because of the apostolic succession — the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds, they merit the title of 'particular or local Churches', and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches." The document does note however, that since these churches do not recognize the seat of Peter as the head of the Church, as Christ established, they are not in full communion with the Catholic Church and therefore there is room for fuller unity. Regarding the Christian Communities that came out of the reformation in the 16th century the Catholic Church does not find it fitting to designate them as Churches in the proper sense, because they do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church that was established by Christ.
In conclusion, this short document affirms the teaching of the Catholic Church on these subjects for hundreds of years through a summarized version of several documents that have addressed these topics over the past forty years. The Catholic Church does consider itself to be the one true Church of Christ, but does not in anyway exclude other Christian Communities from the Church of Christ being present and operative in their communities nor does it exclude them from being instruments of truth and salvation in our world. Ultimately, the Catholic Church strives for unity with these Christian Communities so that the Church of Christ can be more fully realized as Christ intended.
For a full reading of the document you may access it here.
One week after the United States Senate failed to advance an immigration reform bill, our country is left with potentially another year of failing to come up with comprehensive immigration reform. Ultimately, that means a failure to address the issues of exploitation of millions of human beings immigrating into this country and an unjust immigration system. As a result of this most recent immigration reform failure it seems appropriate to present in brief the Catholic Church's teaching on the issue of immigration in the United States.
At the heart of this issue are the right to migrate and the resulting effects of migration from one country to another.
"Based on the life and teachings of Jesus, the Church's teaching has provided the basis for the development of basic principles regarding the right to migrate for those attempting to exercise their God-given human rights. Catholic teaching also states that the root causes of migration — poverty, injustice, religious intolerance, armed conflicts — must be addressed so that migrants can remain in their homeland and support their families." Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, Issued by USCCB, January 22, 2003.
The Catholic Church recognizes the right to migrate while also recognizing the right of the sovereign state to control its borders, but this right is not absolute, the Church teaches that the needs of immigrants must be measured against the needs of the receiving countries. Therefore, according to the United States Catholic Bishops, there are five principles that guide the Church's teaching on migration issues.
- Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland.
In this context, work that provides a just, living wage is a basic human need.
- Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.
The Church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.
- Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.
The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for the purpose of acquiring additional wealth. More powerful economic nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.
- Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.
- The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.
Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected.
The Catholic Church knows that this is a complicated issue and does not claim to have all the answers, but the bishops have made recommendations that consider the moral and political issues that are present in this problem such as:
- Addressing the Root Causes of Migration
- Family-Based Immigration
Current immigration laws prevent the unity of many families, which is unacceptable.
- Legalization of the Undocumented
- Employment-Based Immigration
- Humane Enforcement Policies in Mexico and the United States Enforcement Tactics
- Protecting Human Rights in Regional Migration Policies
In conclusion these are the words of Pope John Paul II in 1995 on World Migration Day:
In the Church no one is a stranger, and the Church is not foreign to anyone, anywhere. As a sacrament of unity and thus a sign and a binding force for the whole human race, the Church is the place where illegal immigrants are also recognized and accepted as brothers and sisters. It is the task of the various Dioceses actively to ensure that these people, who are obliged to live outside the safety net of civil society, may find a sense of brotherhood in the Christian community. Solidarity means taking responsibility for those in trouble.
For a more on the Church and migration, go to: http://www.usccb.org/mrs/stranger.shtml.
"If the Eucharist is Christ sacrificing himself for us, what does it mean then when the priest asks God to "accept this sacrifice we offer" or something like that? Is the sacrifice supposed to go in two directions, like we are sacrificing something to God while Christ is giving himself to us? And what are we sacrificing?"
Great question! Your question is at the very center of Martin Luther's reforms of the Eucharistic Liturgy which was one of the major catalysts of the Protestant Reformation. The debate centered on whether the Mass was a sacrificium (a sacrifice which we offer to God) or a beneficium (a grace or blessing that we receive from God). For Luther it was either one or the other and he was firm in believing the Mass was and could only be a beneficium. However, the Catholic Church has taught that the Mass is both Christ's sacrifice and the Church's sacrifice through our commemoration and participation in Christ's sacrifice.
So who offers the sacrifice? The Eucharistic Sacrifice is always the sacrifice of Christ, who is the mediator of our salvation, which is accomplished through the great mystery of his dying and rising. What God does is offer us reconciliation with Him through the expiation of our sins which Christ accomplished once and for all. In addition, the Church teaches that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is, first and foremost, the action of Christ himself and in the Mass the sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated.
However, the celebration of the Eucharist, the commemoration of Christ's dying and rising, is the Church's act of sacrifice, insomuch that the Church is the mystical body of Christ. What this means is that when we celebrate the Eucharist we participate in the sacrifice of the Paschal Mystery (the dying and rising of Christ), offering ourselves up to this banquet of redemption. So what do we sacrifice? We offer sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God for Christ's redemptive act. We offer our lives to Christ when we accept what it means to obey Christ's command to do this in memory of him. We offer our lives by committing to imitate Christ's example of self-surrender and self-sacrifice. We offer our gifts as well through the bread and wine that have been made by human hands and through our commitment to providing for the poor.
In conclusion, Christ's sacrifice is what reveals the love of God in its truest form and we commemorate this grace from God through the celebration of the Eucharist. Christ is truly the mediator of our salvation and our participation in commemorating the Paschal Mystery unites us with Christ's act of salvation.
Last week we covered briefly the symbols of meal in the Eucharist. The second type of symbols present in the Eucharist are the symbols of sacrifice. The word sacrifice from the Latin (sacrum facere) literally means "to make holy". The symbols of sacrifice in the Eucharist engage us in ways that highlight the sacrifice of Christ so that we actually take part in Christ's act of redemption through the Eucharist.
For the Jewish people in the Old Testament, bread and wine were offered in sacrifice to God as the first fruits of the earth in gratitude for God's creation. Wine additionally symbolized blood in the Old Testament. The Jewish people of the Old Testament would offer bloody animal sacrifices routinely as an offering for their sins; it was a sign of their repentance. Moreover, the blood of the innocent lamb became the sign of their salvation as it was smeared above the doorways of the Jewish people in Egypt during the first Passover. The lamb's blood was a sign of God's covenant with his people that they were to be rescued from Egypt and that they were in fact God's people. The blood of the lamb represents two things then: 1) atonement for sin and 2) the sign of the old covenant.
In God's plan of salvation, a new covenant is made with humanity that promises the forgiveness of sin once and for all in Christ's single act of dying on the cross. The sign of the new covenant is the blood of Christ, which is why the priest recites Christ's words in the Eucharistic Prayer, "Take this cup and drink from it, it is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven."
When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of Christ's Passover is commemorated and our participation in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God carries out the work of our redemption. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "at the Last Supper [Christ wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands)." By the eating and drinking of his body and blood, Christ's sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering.
From his book Models of the Eucharist Kevin Irwin describes sacramentality as recognizing things in this world that reveal the presence of God among us. This means that God is revealed to us throughout all of creation. Keeping that in mind we may begin to see the importance of the symbols we experience in the Eucharist.
There are two main types of symbols in the Eucharist, which was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper when he said, "do this in remembrance of me": symbols of meal and symbols of sacrifice. The daily and common symbols of bread and wine are easily associated with meal. This act of blessing food in the context of preparing a meal on a table surrounded by community with table settings such as sacred cloths, napkins, cups and bowls is a way of recognizing God as present and active within our world. Bread and wine symbolize the act of communion in preparing a meal and dining together. These symbols connect us to other meal experiences: experiences of sharing, celebrating, community, forgiveness, and nourishment. Finally, bread and wine also connect us to our ancestors. We read in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) of the Exodus event during the Passover in which the Jewish people were starving that God blessed the unleavened bread which nourished them as the "bread of life" in their journey across the desert. We can also connect wine (a common drink in the Biblical world) to the wine that is blessed by God in each Jewish Passover feast.
In the Last Supper Jesus transforms these familiar symbols into an eternal meal of spiritual nourishment that brings about the presence of Christ in the most real way in the Eucharist. This meal we experience is not about something but about encountering someone, Christ; and not only on the table through transformed bread and wine into his holy body and blood but he is also at the table surrounded by the community of believers dining together in a real way at the beginning of each week.
Part II will address the symbols of sacrifice that we encounter in the Eucharist in next weeks issue. Questions of Faith, responses to entries, and feedback may be submitted directly to the moderator — Troy Woytek at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through the CSC website at www.washucsc.org by clicking on the "Theology Encountered" link.