Saturday, January 25, 2014

Pius IX vs John XXIII

The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council (Unitatis Redintegratio, 1)

Most people are unaware that 63 non-Catholics attended the second session of the Second Vatican Council, representatives from the Russian Orthodox, Egyptian Copts, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, the Orthodox Syrian Church of the East (India), the Apostolic Armenian Church, the Old Catholic Church, the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, the Anglican Communion, Lutheran World Federation, World Presbyterian Alliance, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany, World Methodist Council, the International Congregational Council, Friends World Committee, the World Convention of Churches of Christ (Disciples), the International Association for Liberal Christianity, Church of South India, the World Council of Churches, along with additional guests of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. Catholic critics of the Council are quick to accuse these non-Catholic groups of influencing the Council into being vague, liberal, and "modernist", however that doesn't seem to be true. Their presence at a Catholic council is an interesting milestone in ecumenical dialog that hasn't always been easy.

Leaving out the centuries of mistrust, anger, and fear that divided Christianity has caused itself, let's instead look back to the First Vatican Council's invitation to non-Catholics. The First Vatican Council was called in 1868 by Pope Pius IX. It opened in December 1869 and would be suspended in October 1870 when Italian troops invaded Rome and annexed the city (which was independent at the time). Pius IX issued a papal bull, suspending the Council indefinitely. Vatican I would never be concluded and would officially be considered closed in 1960 during the preparation of the Second Vatican Council.

Prior to Vatican I, the same desire for Christian unity was present; however, the manner in which it was expressed was a failure. In Pius IX's letter Iam vos omnes, addressed to "Protestants and other non-Catholics", Pius IX urged other Christians to "make use of the occasion of the Council" in order to "dissipate the haze of errors". In sincere hope, Pius IX urged separated Christians "to strive to free themselves from that state in which they cannot be certain about their own salvation." Needless to say, nobody showed up!

However, by the time the Second Vatican Council was announced, the Holy Spirit was drawing separated Christians closer together through common ecumenical interests, such as Scripture study and biblical archeology. Christians from around the world actively pursued the idea of unity, at least in action, through the creation of the World Council of Churches. The threats of neo-paganism via the Nazis and state-enforced atheism by the Communists found Christians from all backgrounds uniting with one another in defense of religious liberty. By the time John XXIII called for the Second Vatican Council, he announced, "a renewed invitation to the faithful of the separated churches to follow us in friendship in this search for unity and grace, desired by so many souls in all parts of the world." He shortly thereafter created the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity (which would one day be turned into a permanent pontifical council). Unlike in the uncharitable mindset that prevailed prior to the First Vatican Council, by this point in time there was a feeling of humility and charity toward separated Christians. Augustin Cardinal Bea, leading the Secretariat, was amazed by the attitude of the non-Catholic observers; he said it was a true miracle that so many non-Catholic Christian churches had asked their members to pray for the Council.

How much respect did the non-Catholics get during the Second Vatican Council? According to the testimony of a guest of the Secretariat, the non-Catholic observers had received all the Council texts, were able to attend all General Congregations, could make their views known at weekly meetings with the Secretariat, and they actually had personal contact with Council Fathers, the periti, and other leaders in Rome.

Despite how amazing this all is, there are many Catholics who disagree with - even despise - the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and they blame the non-Catholic presence for what they see as vague wording of Council documents so as not to offend others. However, most Catholics reject these detractors as irrational people having a bad reaction to reform. Sadly, many of them take on the attitude of Pius IX, an attitude that was natural for that day and age, but that will not work today. Browsing a "traditional Catholic" Facebook page, I saw that during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, they did so with wording straight out of the 19th Century in saying, "Lord, that the Anglicans will submit in obedience to the bishop of Rome, we pray for Christian unity." And each day they would replace the non-Catholic group with a new name. Smooth.

Over time the manner in which we dialog changes as attitudes change. In our day and age, charity and heartfelt discussion are what's needed in the ecumenical journey. Through dialog, we've been able to make some progress, such as the Lutherans, Catholics, and Methodists agreeing on justification or that the Reformed Christians in America now recognize the validity of Catholic baptism. There is a lot of ground to cover in order to fulfill the will of God by uniting as one Body, but if we drop the attitude and realize that it's not the 1860s anymore, we can go into this conversation knowing that there is indeed more that unites us than divides us.

For more about the workings of the Second Vatican Council, consider the book The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Christmas Season

Growing up, I always wished that Christmas lasted longer - we'd usually put up the decorations Thanksgiving weekend and then put them all away the first weekend after Christmas at the earliest, or by New Years. What always disappointed me as a kid was that prior to Christmas you got inundated with Christmas tv specials and music on the radio, but by December 26 all of that disappeared. When I converted, I found out that although the Christmas season didn't begin (liturgically) until the vigil Mass on December 24, it actually lasts longer than a day:

The Christmas cycle has a fixed character, and the feasts of the Nativity and Epiphany fall always on December 25 and January 6.

Currently, we are now in the season after Epiphany. This period, which begins the day after the Octave of Epiphany, is an extension of Chrstimastide.

Jesus asserts His Divinity - not by the appearance of angels or the star of the magi, but speaking Himself as God. He subjects our hearts to His teachings, explaining His divine doctrine with parables and manifesting the truth of His words and works by many miracles.

Usually Catholic parishes and Christian families take down their Christmas decorations after January 13, the Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord. Often, the manger scene is kept up until February 2nd, the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the Feast of Candlemas, which derives its origin from the local observance of Jerusalem, marks the end of the feasts included in the Christmas cycle of the Liturgy).

(copied from the blog Orbis Catholicus Secundus)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Wanting to be Left Behind

...Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark. (Gen 7:23)

When I was in high school I started to become interested in "the rapture", an event that I believed would happen at the end of this age when the believers of Jesus are to be brought out of this world prior to the Tribulation, which is when God would punish the unbelievers who were left behind. I even watched one of the Left Behind movies that portrays what this might look like, as believers are taken up and cars they were driving crash and unbelievers wander around the earth trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together before the eeeeeeeevil pope, who is obviously the antichrist, tries to establish a world church for Satan.

Yes, for a couple short years I was taken in by the theology of "the rapture" because a couple of my friends started to convince me about it. I hadn't heard the Catholic version of the end times, since I wasn't a Catholic until recently, but thankfully over the last few years some Catholic authors have started to refute the idea of a "rapture", an idea that didn't appear in Christianity for over 1,800 years; Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and some "Old World" Calvinists generally reject this supposed future event. The idea of a "rapture" didn't exist until the 1830s when it was expressed by Englishman John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren; it was then popularized in fundamentalist groups of the United States in the early 20th century by the Scofield Reference Bible (although some 18th and 19th century Calvinists in America were starting to develop similar theories to Darby's). I admit, when they quote Jesus talking about people being taken and others being left behind, it's quite convincing! And I cannot condemn these people who honestly believe these things - they've been taught error from the past and their love and fear of the Lord drives them to hope in their rescue from the unbelievable evil they see in this world; we all wish to be delivered from these things! However, the "left behind" errors need to be corrected if we're to truly get a sense of the "end times". I know many people - even family - who refuse to lift a finger to change the wrongs of society because "the end is coming" and the more chaotic and evil, the quicker "the rapture" can take place. So, this is a serious discussion that needs to take place in our ecumenical efforts. Let us begin by looking at the Bible quotes that have been misinterpreted - for ecumenical reasons, we'll read the Authorized Version (the King James Version) of the New Testament (I hope that in the future we'll be able to settle this by going over the subject in the original Greek).

The context here is that Jesus is telling his disciples about the end of the age as he is about to return to earth:

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe [Noah] were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe [Noah] entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. (Matthew 24:36-42)

Similar details can be found in the Gospel of St. Luke (17:34-36):

I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

St. Paul mentions being "taken up into the air" in his letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thess 4:15-18):

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

Pretty scary stuff, right? It definitely sounds like the "saved" will be brought up out of the earth so that God can rain justice upon the earth. However, let's look at the context here for a moment. What was being discussed when these quotes were made? In Matthew and Luke, Jesus was discussing the end of the age with his disciples and what was his warning? To be prepared. What is it that we all do? We put off the things of God to the end, don't we? I do it all the time! I sin and then I add evil to evil, all the while Jesus implores us to be prepared. We put off praying. We put off reading the Scriptures. We put off being holy. We procrastinate, always thinking that "there will be time for that later." But in Jesus' discussion with his disciples (especially in Matthew), he is explaining how the kingdom of heaven is a treasure and that those who discover it give up everything to pursue it (selling everything to buy the field, the pearl of great price, etc.). He puts all of these things - about how awesome heaven and salvation is - and then shows us through parables how we usually act instead: we ignore the treasure we have found. He explains to us how if the homeowner knew when the thief would come, he wouldn't have been caught off guard and would have remained awake to be prepared for when he came - he then compares himself to that thief, that Christ will come when we least expect it and so we should be prepared. He then tells us of the wise and foolish virgins, the wise being prepared for when the groom came, but the foolish having put off the important things so that they missed it when he appeared. You can see that Jesus was emphasizing preparedness throughout this discourse. So then, when he gets to the part about some being taken and others left behind, how does he start that discussion? But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe [Noah] were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. So, let's go back to Genesis and look at parts of the story about Noah: And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually...But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord...The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. (Genesis 6:5-8, 11-13)

Christ insists that "as the days of Noe [Noah] were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." And he rhetorically asks in Luke 18:8, "...when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" So, we can see that in both instances, "The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence" and that with man "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Look at our present-day world, especially Western culture and its protection of contraception, abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, pornography, homosexuality, fornication...while mankind is inherently good, the thoughts of our culture have indeed become evil. And what do we do? Just as Christ said: "...they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe [Noah] entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away..." The people killed in the flood acted the same way we act today when we ignore God; we go about living our lives, being the foolish virgin and the man who didn't realize the thief was on his way. So, Christ's discourse is about being prepared for when Christ comes, either personally (when we die) or as part of the Second Coming. He's telling us, "When the end of the world was about to happen in the days of Noah, the people of the world went about their normal lives - never repenting - never being prepared for that day when the end would come. Don't be like those people who weren't ready, or like a homeowner unprepared for the thief or a virgin unprepared to meet her groom. Be ready, because Christ could come calling at any minute."

But what about the whole "one will be taken and one will be left behind" thing? Let's once again go back to the story of Noah, since that is the context in which the Lord is speaking: ...Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark.

Noah and his family were left behind. This seems to agree with what Christ said in Matthew: For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe [Noah] entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.

As it turns out, we've been concentrating on the wrong person! In the days of Noah, the evil people on the earth were taken (the flood came and took them all away), and the righteous were left behind (...only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark). This makes a lot more sense since Revelation explains that Christ will renew Creation, where there will be a new Jerusalem on the earth and God shall dwell with man forever - not in some far off place surrounded by puffy clouds, but on earth with the people that are left. Psalm 37 even alludes to what happens to the people who delight in the ways of the Lord compared to those who adore evil: Wicked doers shall be rooted out and they that patiently abide the LORD, those shall inherit the land. Yet a little while, and the ungodly shall be clean gone: thou shalt look after his place, and he shall be away. But the meek-spirited shall possess the earth, and shall be refreshed in the multitude of peace. Even in St. Paul's first letter to the Thessolonians, he says: ...we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air...

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them...(Rev 20:13).

Which brings us to St. Paul's discussion about being taken up; he's speaking about the Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead. We can see in the Gospels and the Book of Acts that there was some debate in those days about whether or not there was a resurrection of the dead; there's a great story in Acts where St. Paul uses this debate to his advantage by causing an argument between the Pharisees and the Sadducees because they disagreed with one another about the subject. So Paul spends some effort in many of his epistles trying to explain to the early Church how we, as one people of God, can be saved from sin and death and be resurrected. In this particular passage, Paul is explaining that when Jesus comes again, even the dead shall rise to meet him. The part that is confusing for us is Paul's description of the living and the dead going up to meet Jesus in the clouds - it's very hard to understand the tradition of people going out to meet their king before he arrives back at his castle. However, this was a common sign of respect and honor due to a king or great military leader:

So the king returned, and came to Jordan. And Judah came to Gilgal, to go to meet the king, to [escort] the king over Jordan. (2 Sam 19:5)

...the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick. (1 Sam 18:6)

Then the king arose, and sat in the gate. And they told unto all the people, saying, Behold, the king doth sit in the gate. And all the people came before the king... (2 Sam 19:8)

And David came to the two hundred men, which were so faint that they could not follow David, whom they had made also to abide at the brook Besor: and they went forth to meet David, and to meet the people that were with him: and when David came near to the people, he saluted them. (1 Sam 30:21)

Even more examples can be found outside of Scripture when people went out to greet a king or general returning from battle. So, when Christ the King comes the second time in order to destroy evil and death once and for all, all the people of the world that remain - the quick and the dead will arise to meet him in the clouds, an honor truly deserving for such a great King! And then what happens? The king and his people return to the city together in triumphant celebration! We who remain shall return to earth with our King, "and so shall we ever be with the Lord."

For more information on the Catholic response to "the rapture" and the end times, I would highly recommend the following resources as a start: Bible Christian Society's Rapture and the Bible (mp3), St. Michael Media's The Rapture (mp3), Catholic Education's article Questioning the Left Behind Rapture, the various articles and tracts on the rapture from Catholic Answers, and the following books:

Will Catholics be Left Behind?
The Rapture Trap
Catholics & the Rapture
What Does the Bible Say About the End Times?
Rapture: The End Times Error That Leaves the Bible Behind
The End of the Present World & the Mysteries of the Future Life
Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament

Upon these reflections, perhaps it's best for us to hope to be left behind instead of taken.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Epiphany / Theophany of Our Lord

The Magi came from the East. How did they know about Christ? Probably from the prophecy of Daniel concerning the seventy weeks of the years; they counted the revolution of the stars. In any case, they knew, and they brought gold because he was a king, incense because he was a priest, but also myrrh. That’s the way he was buried, with a hundred pounds of spices and myrrh. What would our mothers have thought if the neighbors brought in embalming fluid when we were born?
--Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Epiphany is one of those solemnities that I am still getting used to. Growing up Protestant, we didn't have this holy day; now that I'm Catholic - and learned that there are 12 days of Christmas - I'm starting to appreciate what I have been learning about this day. There are many beautiful traditions from the East and West that occur in honor of this day. For instance, some Catholics might have chalk blessed and will write about the door frame of their home 20 + C + M + B + 14 and have their houses blessed. In Orthodox nations, many brave souls will plunge themselves into freezing cold water to retrieve a cross that's been tossed in by a priest.

The day is called the Theophany by our Eastern brethren and in their tradition, it focuses on the baptism of our Lord. In a homily of Hippolytus (died 235 AD), he used the word theophaneia for the day as he preached to people about to be baptized. Other observations started to "piggyback" on this day; OrthodoxWiki explains: Originally, there was just one Christian feast of the shining forth of God to the world in the human form of Jesus of Nazareth. It included the celebration of Christ's birth, the adoration of the wise men, and all of the childhood events of Christ such as his circumcision and presentation to the temple as well as his baptism by John in the Jordan. There seems to be little doubt that this feast, like Pascha and Pentecost, was understood as the fulfillment of a previous Jewish festival, in this case the Feast of Lights. The Armenian Apostolic Church still keeps January 6 as a feast of both Christ's Nativity and baptism. Both East and West used this time of the year to baptize new Christians; however a movement began in the West (originating in Spain) where baptisms were reserved for only Christmas and Easter. As the West continued to embrace the Theophany, it moved further away from Christ's baptism and focused more on his manifestation to the Gentiles (the visit from the Magi); this was heartily influenced by Pope St. Leo the Great's homilies on Theophania, which concentrated mainly on the visit from the Magi. This complicated history of the holy day was encapsulated by the Daily Office (prior to the reforms of the SVC):

The antiphon to the Benedictus runs: "Today the Church is joined to her celestial spouse, because in Jordan Christ doth wash her sins; the Magi hasten with gifts to the royal marriage-feast, and the guests exult in the water turned to wine." O Sola refers to the Magi only. The Magnificat antiphon of Second Vespers reads: "We keep our Holy Day adored with three miracles: today a star led the Magi to the crib, today wine was made from water at the marriage, today in Jordan Christ willed to be baptized by John to save us." (from the Catholic Encyclopedia) The 1928 Book of Common Prayer refers to January 6 as "The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles". Sadly, there is no longer an Octave for Epiphany, although the Ordinariate will continue to use Time After Epiphany to mark the weeks leading to Lent.

In the beautiful custom from the East, it is explained: The feast is called Theophany because at the baptism of Christ the Holy Trinity appeared clearly to mankind for the first time — the Father's voice is heard from Heaven, the Son of God is incarnate and standing physically in the Jordan, and the Holy Spirit descends on Him in the form of a dove. Benedict XVI wrote about the baptism of our Lord in his book Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordon to the Transfiguration. He writes:

The Eastern Church has further developed and deepened this understanding of Jesus' baptism in her liturgy and in her theology of icons. She sees a deep connection between the content of the feast of Epiphany...and Easter. She sees Jesus' remark to John that "it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Mt 3:15) as the anticipation of his prayer to the Father in Gethsemane: "My Father...not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Mt 26:39). The liturgical hymns for January 3 correspond to those for Wednesday in Holy Week; the hymns for January 4 to those for Holy Thursday; the hymns for January 5 to those for Good Friday and Holy Saturday. These correspondences are picked up by the iconographic tradition. The icon of Jesus' baptism depicts the water as a liquid tomb having the form of a dark cavern, which is in turn the iconographic sign of Hades, the underworld, or hell. Jesus' decent into this watery tomb, into this inferno that envelops him from every side, is thus an anticipation of his act of descending into the underworld: "When he went down into the waters, he bound the strong man" (cf Lk 11:22), says Cyril of Jerusalem...[As] Jesus came up from the water, heaven was "torn open" (Mk 1:10) or "was opened" (Mt 3:16, Lk 3:21); that the Spirit came down upon him "like a dove"; and that in the midst of all this a voice from heaven resounded...Heaven stands open above Jesus. His communion of the will with the Father, his fulfillment of "all righteousness", opens heaven, which is essentially the place where God's will is perfectly fulfilled. The next aspect is the proclamation of Jesus' mission by the Father. This proclamation interprets not what Jesus does, but who he is: He is the beloved Son on whom God's good pleasure rests. Finally, I would like to point out that in this scene, together with the Son, we encounter the Father and the Holy Spirit. The mystery of the Trinitarian God is beginning to emerge, even though its depths can be fully revealed only when Jesus' journey is complete. For this very reason, though, there is an arc joining this beginning of Jesus' journey and the words with which he sends his disciples into the world after his Resurrection: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). The baptism that Jesus' disciples have been administering since he spoke those words is an entrance into the Master's own baptism - into the reality that he anticipated by means of it. That is the way to become a Christian.

I'd like to take a brief moment to reflect on the tradition celebrated today in the West, the visit from the Magi. One of the things I have contemplated regarding this feast is that perhaps it's an image of science's relationship with faith. Ever since the Reformation and the "Enlightenment" which followed, there appeared for the first time in the Christian world a divorce between faith and reason, whereas up until this time faith and reason worked together for both had truth as their goal and both were used in order to learn more about God. So here we have the Magi, wise men, who studied the stars and understood their usefulness in navigation (and, I'm sure, in predicting seasons). We have no reason to believe that they were ignorant of the sciences of the day and were therefore learned men - and yet here they were, prostrate before the Creator of the stars of which they studied.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: Faith and science: "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth." "Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are." (CCC, 159)

So we get to see in this moment of adoration a proper relationship between faith and reason (see also Benedict XVI's 2006 Regensburg address). I think we can also find in the visit of the magi the proper relationship between church and state, as these kings fell at the feet of the newborn King of kings. Regardless of our position in life - even as the head of a family, corporation, or nation - we are all under the kingship of Christ; no exceptions. The humility and adoration of the Magi highlight that beautifully.

So, regardless of whether or not you're observing Christ's baptism or the visit from the Magi, may our encounter with Christ in the liturgy and traditions of the Church lead us ever further into the transforming mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Divine Mercy

From experts to beginners, this new booklet by author Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, is an engaging read that reveals hidden gems and highlights inspiring truths about the Divine Mercy Image. It covers the great grace and key elements of the Image with remarkable depth and clarity. Also includes instructions on how to enthrone the image in your home, an enthronement prayer, and two bonus appendices.