I’ve posted my reflection on this Sunday’s readings, in which I compare Christ’s temptation in the desert with Adam’s temptation in the Garden.
Archive for February, 2009
Lent is a great time to read a book to help recharge your spiritual life. I remember 6 years ago picking up a book about St. Francis during Lent and it was transforming for me. Here are a few books I’ve read in previous Lents that I would highly recommend:
- Perfect Joy of St. Francis – Felix Timmermans
- Journey To Easter – Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)
- Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer – Thomas Dubay
- Happy Are You Poor – Thomas Dubay
- Way of Perfection – St. Teresa of Avila
This year I’m returning to the St. Francis theme and reading Brother Francis of Assisi by Ignacio Larranaga.
In 1999, 850,000 children were homeschooled. In 2007, the number rose to 1.5 million (which, given the number of children per homeschool family, works out to about 1,000 families). (Source)
According to that same study, 83% of parents who homeschool do so for religious or moral reasons. My wife and I, on the other hand, do it to be like this family:
When I was in college in the early 90s I was part of a pro-life group that staged a “pray-in” at the administrative offices at Notre Dame University. The purpose was to push the university to become more pro-life. It was pretty mild (no arrests) and I can’t remember if the university even responded to our request.
Nevertheless, I think I’ll take this as an answer to our prayers:
A new fund for pro-life activities has been established at the University of Notre Dame under the auspices of the Center for Ethics and Culture. The Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life aims to support pro-life activities at both student and university levels.
God took thousands of years to fulfill the promise He made in Genesis 3:15 to send a savior, so I figure less than 20 years is nothing to Him.
A long-standing complaint of mine is the divorce that occurred between Scripture and Theology in the 19th century (they had been separated for a while before that, but the divorce became final in the 1800′s). The study of the Bible became the sole province of “Scripture scholars” and theologians were no longer allowed to write commentaries or interpret the Bible directly.
This is the opposite of the situation in the early Church, when being a theologian meant that you were a Scripture scholar. Most of the theological works of the Church Fathers are not systematic theology tracts, but instead commentaries on the Word of God. In modern times such a combination became unthinkable, as discussions of the Bible now centered around source and form criticism, not the Trinity or Redemption.
R.R. Reno, editor of the wonderful Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, has an article decrying this divorce on the First Things website. The Brazos Commentary, an ecumenical endeavor including Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox theologians, is striking in that it attempts to return to the marriage between Scripture and Theology. I have read two of the volumes – the one on Matthew and the one on Acts – and found them to be quite insightful and full of Biblical scholarship in the classical sense of the term.
But what struck me about Reno’s article was the following paragraph:
[In] a popular nineteenth-century Catholic theological textbook for seminarians…doctrine is described as “materially complete,” “formally perfect,” and capable of universal application. In contrast, the historical nature of the biblical material means that its truths are “expressed in the metaphorical language of the East.” This makes Scripture “unfit for the general use of people.” Better, then, to base theology on succinct and authoritative Church doctrine.
From this, it appears that the divorce did not just occur in liberal Protestant circles, but also existed in orthodox Catholic ones as well. However, the contention that the language of tradition is superior to the language of Scripture is a false one. The Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1984 wrote:
The “auxiliary” languages employed in the Church in the course of centuries do not enjoy the same authority, as far as faith is concerned, as the “referential language” of the inspired authors, especially (that) of the New Testament with its mode of expression rooted in the Prior (Testament).
Instruction on Scripture and Christology
This is a profound statement. What it means is that Scripture, not Tradition or the Magisterium, is the primary language of theology. Concepts like grace/nature, faith/reason, theotokos or homoosis, while important and necessary, are ultimately subordinate to the language of Scripture. Any true Catholic theology must be anchored in an interpretation of the Bible, not the other way around.
So my sister calls me yesterday and here is our conversation:
Sister: Do Catholics eat meat on Ash Wednesday?
Me: No. We abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent.
Sister: I knew about the Friday thing, but I didn’t know about Ash Wednesday. Are you sure?
Me: Yes, I’m sure. Why do you ask? Do you have Catholics coming over for dinner tomorrow?
Sister: No, the local rib restaurant is having a great deal on ribs through Thursday, and I figure if we go tomorrow it will be less crowded.
Always willing to do my part to educate non-Catholics about Catholic beliefs and practices…
Today of course is Ash Wednesday, but it is a particularly special day for me. On this day 17 years ago I made the decision to become Catholic. Each year on this day I contact my college roommate, Nathan Schlueter (now a professor at Hillsdale College), who was so instrumental in my conversion, to thank him. God uses human instruments to affect His Will, and fortunately for me, Nate was open to following God’s Will in leading me to His Church.
Catholic Destination has posted my conversion story on their web site: From Ignorance to Bliss – One Man’s Journey to the Catholic Church. It is relatively short, and my main focus is the impact of the pro-life movement in giving me exposure to Catholicism and the role of the Rosary in my actual conversion.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. I have to admit, Lent is probably my favorite liturgical season. My first year as a Catholic, I was so enthusiastic about the whole “giving up” something that I decided to give up food for Lent. That’s right, food. Youthful exuberance is not to be overcome by such minor issues as subsistence. Needless to say, I was a cranky jerk for two weeks before I gave up the practice (which was more of a sacrifice for my friends than for me).
My enthusiasm for such practices was due to my upbringing. Growing up in a Methodist church in the Midwest, we never celebrated any liturgical seasons. Advent, Lent, even Easter beyond Easter Sunday were unknown to me. When I started being introduced to Catholicism while in college, I quickly began to appreciate the beauty of the liturgical calendar.
Over the past few years, I have begun to notice that many non-liturgical traditions have begun to observe Advent and Lent. It looks like this is becoming a trend:
Long the province of the Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches, Lent — a period of penitence, fasting and almsgiving — has always been regarded by many Protestants, particularly Evangelicals, as ritualistic or extra-Biblical.
Yet increasingly, Protestant church communities are embracing Lent as a period of reflection and spiritual growth.
Hladek said Crossroads began observing Lent a couple years ago after reading Rick Warren, the pastor-author of The Purpose Driven Life , describe the significance of 40-day periods in the Bible.
Church members, Hladek said, embraced Lent.
While Hladek does not impose ashes on the foreheads of worshippers, as do most mainline priests and pastors, he does ask church members to focus deeply during the 40-day period on a particular theme. Last year, the theme was the many names for Jesus and God. This year, it is hope.
I find this trend very encouraging and I’ll be praying for our non-Catholic brothers and sisters this Lent to enter into the mystery of Christ’s Passion more fully through traditional liturgical practices.
Growing up in the 80′s, I definitely was a TV child. My brother and I had a TV in our room and I remember many nights of pushing a towel under the door to prevent my parents from seeing the glow of the TV being watched past our bedtime. I can still tell you the Thursday night comedy lineup on NBC in the late 80′s: The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, and Night Court (my personal favorite was Night Court). Watching TV came as natural to me as eating or sleeping.
So why do I consider my decision last year to chuck my TV out the window one of the best I’ve ever made? A few reasons:
1) Poor Quality. Let’s be honest: the vast, vast majority of stuff put on the airwaves is junk. It seems like the more channels are created, the less quality work is produced. I mean, really, is “How I Met Your Mother” the best our creative elite can produce?
2) Immorality as the norm. We all know that Hollywood has a different moral standard than the Church. For years this standard was largely suppressed from public display, but now immorality is considered the norm. How many new shows are put out that do NOT have the requisite homosexual character?
3) Materialism run amok. It was the commercials that finally put me over the edge. Because of reasons (1) and (2) I had been reduced to watching only sporting events, but even those became unbearable due to the incessant marketing of crap as “necessary” to improve my life. We have spent ourselves into bankruptcy, both on the national and individual level, yet no one seems to realize that this is exactly what we’ve been told to do every 7 minutes on the boob tube.
4) Better sources of information. It used to be that watching the news on both NBC and CBS was considered “diverse sources of information”. Those days are long gone, and thank God for that. Now one can stay abreast of current events without even knowing who the network anchors are (who are they, anyway?). And the sources of information are so much more diverse that one can be more assured of accurate reporting.
5) TV is not a book. ‘Nuff said.
What has been amazing is that now that I am not consuming so much entertainment, I find I can produce much more in my own life – work, writing, time with my family, etc. Man was not created to simply devour images from an electronic box, but to actively engage the world he was created in.
This lent, consider giving up TV – it will be the best “sacrifice” you’ll ever make!
The secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, recently gave great advice on how the Scriptures should be read properly:
Eterovic said recently that the reading of the Word of God should be done without falling into “subjectivism, arbitrariness or fundamentalism.”
After noting that “the faithful’s personal encounter with the Word of God takes place in the sphere of the ecclesial community,” the archbishop recalled that Pope Benedict referred to “the need for a Catholic exegesis that takes into account the human and divine dimension of the revealed word.”
The Archbishop’s statement is in keeping with an article I wrote a few years back entitled “Catholic Scripture Interpretation: Resting on Fundamentals, Resisting Fundamentalism” (note: I think it unlikely that the Archbishop consulted my article before making his comments ).
The beauty of the proper Catholic interpretive method is that we are careful to emphasize both the human and divine elements of the sacred text, realizing that overemphasizing either will lead to misinterpretations. Too often folks will want to either exclude the human (fundamentalism) or the divine (extreme historical-criticism). Like most things, the Church is “both-and” on this issue: the Bible, like Christ, is both human and divine.
Here is something to contemplate today:
Without the Cross, the Eucharist would remain mere ritual; without the Eucharist, the Cross would be merely a horrible profane event.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, p. 98
Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington DC – my ordinary – is initiating a great evangelization campaign throughout the diocese this Lent. Cards have been made up with a personal invitation from the Archbishop to Catholics who are no longer practicing the faith. These are handed out to parishioners who are asked to give them to a friend, family member, co-worker or anyone they might know who has left the Church.
So often many people who return to the Faith do so simply because someone invited them. With this initiative Archbishop Wuerl has made it extremely easy for us to do the inviting.
The Archdiocese has a specific website for this effort as well as a video:
If you live in the Archdiocese of Washington, or even if you don’t, consider inviting someone home to the Church this Lent!
Today is the feast of St. Polycarp, a bishop-martyr from the 2nd century who was a disciple of St. John the Apostle. He was told to offer incense to the gods in order to avoid martyrdom and he responded: “Eighty-six years I have been his servant, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
If you have time today, try to read the entire Martyrdom of Polycarp – it is a beautiful example of martyrdom in the early Church. While you are reading it, try to notice the Eucharistic themes throughout – how Polycarp himself becomes a Eucharist in his sacrifice.
St. Polycarp, pray for us!
I just reached a major milestone in writing Who Do You Say That I Am? By completing the chapter on “Son of David,” I finished the last chapter I had left in my manuscript! I still have about 2-3 months of editing until I hand it over to OSV for their editing, but still, I’m pretty excited.
This calls for a celebration – perhaps I’ll place an Amazon order! (Yes, that’s how I celebrate).
I was writing the chapter “Son of David” for my book recently, and I was studying an interesting passage from Matthew:
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
`The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet’?
If David thus calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did any one dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-45)
What I found so interesting is that this is a rare example of Jesus himself interpreting the Scriptures. However, if you examine his methodology, you cannot help but think that his method of interpretation would be ridiculed and scorned by most Biblical scholars today:
- First, he assumes that David himself wrote Psalm 110. Everyone today knows that any traditional attribution of authorship was an attempt to project authority on a text.
- Second, he states plainly that the Psalm was “inspired by the Spirit.” Really? An “objective” interpreter would never make such a claim.
- Finally, he views the Psalm as a clearly predictive one, rejecting the view of most modern scholars that this was simply a grandiose song of praise to a king by a court scribe, not a prediction of a coming Messiah.
All in all, Jesus would have flunked most Old Testament 101 classes offered today if he tried to push this shoddy interpretation on his professor. Clearly he needs to return to remedial Scripture class.