I recently created a short video describing my new book, “Who is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew.” To be honest, dealing with actors can be such a pain – they complain about their working conditions, they constantly claim that “union rules” don’t allow them to work more than a few minutes at a time, and they don’t follow the director’s vision. I think it ended up okay, but see for yourself:
Archive for August, 2010
When Pope Benedict issued his motu proprio liberalizing the use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, he hoped that much of the richness of the old Mass would influence how the new Mass was celebrated. I don’t think this is what he had in mind, though
Most of us non-Orthodox here in the West do not realize the precarious situation the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is currently in. Due to persecution by the Turkish government, there is a good chance that the current occupant of the patriarchal chair, Bartholomew I, will be the last Ecumenical Patriarch to reside in Constantinople:
Istanbul, Turkey (CNN) — Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is the living embodiment of an ancient tradition. From his historic base in Istanbul, Turkey, the 270th Patriarch of Constantinople claims to be the direct successor of the Apostle Andrew.
Today he’s considered “first among equals” in the leadership of the Greek Orthodox church, and is the spiritual leader of 250 million Orthodox Christians around the world. But few of them are in his own home country.
“We are a small Christian minority,” Bartholomew laments.
“We have suffered because of Greek-Turkish confrontation, struggle, and a lack of mutual trust and confidence. And that is why we lost most of our faithful.”
Turkey’s once-flourishing Greek community is fading away. The country is predominantly Muslim and led by a secular government that’s had a complicated relationship with the patriarchate.
If Turkish laws, demographics and attitudes aren’t changed, Bartholomew could ultimately be the last Patriarch of Constantinople.
“We are not all in despair for the future of our church,” Bartholomew said. “It is not easy, but it is not impossible.”
The Turkish government can veto any candidate put forward for the position of patriarch. And it requires the patriarch be a Turkish citizen. Bartholomew is, but most of those best qualified to succeed him are not.
So the government has proposed offering Turkish citizenship to Orthodox archbishops overseas. Several have applied; so far, none has been approved.
The Turkish government also refuses to recognize the title Ecumenical Patriarch, or Bartholomew’s role as an international religious leader.
Officially, he is viewed as a local bishop who leads a shrinking community of a few thousand Greek Orthodox citizens. Yorgo Stefanopulos is one of them. “I am a curiosity now in Turkey,” he said. “We used to be a minority; now we are a curiosity.”
Stefanopulos is an outspoken leader of Istanbul’s Greek community. About 50 years ago, that community numbered more than 100,000. Today, it’s probably less than 3,000.
He insists that decline was not accidental. Instead, he blames the Turkish government. Decades ago, he said, they targeted ethnic Greeks with nationalist policies, like wealth taxes, property seizures, and campaigns to speak only Turkish in the streets.
Then there was the pogrom in 1955: riots directed against Greeks and Greek-owned property. The violence was later found to have been orchestrated by Turkish authorities.
As a result, Greeks left Istanbul in droves. “The Turkish government somehow managed to do a bloodless ethnic cleansing,” Stefanopulos said. Today’s Turkish government says those events are from the distant past, and they’re now looking ahead to reconciliation.
“Turkey is going through a period of transition,” said Egemen Bagis, the country’s Minister for European Union Affairs. “Turkey’s becoming a much more democratic, much more prosperous, much more transparent society.”
Yet, the government has resisted calls to reopen the patriarchate’s main school of theology.
For more than a century, the Halki seminary educated future Greek Orthodox bishops, theologians and patriarchs, until Turkey’s highest court ordered it closed in 1971. Since then, it’s remained empty, worrying former students like theologian Satirios Varnalidis.
“We want to reopen this school so that we can provide new priests to the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” Varnalidis said. “Otherwise, in a little while our community just won’t have any more priests.”
Pray that this small Christian community can stand strong in the face of such persecution.
Well, considering the name “Peter” means “rock,” I’m thinkin’ he is.
But Michael Barber, professor of theology at John Paul the Great Catholic University has decided to spend some time – and blog-posts – studying the issue in a little more depth. Here is Part I.
Check it out!
If you follow Catholic news at all, you probably know that the Vatican has approved a new English translation of the Roman Missal. It will be implemented throughout the States starting Advent 2011. This new translation is not without controversy, however, so I thought I would address five of the most common objections to the new Missal:
1) The new translation is not needed
Many complain, “where is the need for this translation? who is calling for it?” I think the fact that we have seen a tremendous drop in regular Mass attendance over the past forty years should be reason enough. Of course the existing translation is not the only – or even main – reason Mass attendance has plummeted, but it surely doesn’t help. And the new translation is more catechetical: it teaches more deeply the truths of the faith, and we should not underestimate how much impact hearing the same words every week of our lives can have on a person.
2) There will be too much confusion with the new translation
I have heard numerous people complain that the changes will cause much confusion in the pews, as some people respond “and with you” (the current response) and others respond “and with your spirit” (the new – actually old – response). I have to admit – I have a hard time taking this seriously, considering the fact that forty years ago the Mass was radically changed overnight, from Latin to English. If the Church survived that change, I’m sure it will survive this relatively minor one. There are sure to be some hiccups along the road, but I’m willing to bet that by Lent of 2012, just about every parish will no longer have any problems with implementation.
3) The new translation is too literal
Many don’t realize that the translation currently in use at the Mass isn’t exactly a translation; it is more of a paraphrase. When a Mass is promulgated, there is one “official” text: the Latin. Then it is translated into all the languages of the world. When the English translation we use was made forty years ago, the translators actually paraphrased the text in many places, and thus replaced the official words with what they felt was more appropriate. Advocates of such a process believe that this allows the language of the Mass to more fully reflect the culture of each particular people. The problem with this is that we no longer had a truly unified worship across the Latin rite, as our “translation” did not always reflect the same realities as other translations, or as the Latin. By sticking more closely to the Latin, we are more in tune with the mind of the universal Church, not the mind of some group of 1970′s liturgical gurus.
4) This is a “step backwards”
Some (notably Fr. Thomas Reese) have argued that this new translation is actually a “step backwards.” By this they feel that by having a more faithful translation we are moving back to a pre-Vatican II day. Frankly, this is their argument about any change that incorporates more traditional elements of the Church. What they do not understand is that very few Catholics want to go back to the 1950′s, but we do want to incorporate the whole of our tradition. One of the great annoyances I had as a Protestant was that we didn’t appreciate history at all; to us, Church history was the first century, the early 16th century and the last 20 years. But as Catholics we incorporate all of our tradition into our practices, and this new translation is taking us out of the 1970′s time capsule we have been in and better incorporating all of our tradition.
5) The new translation will be too hard to understand
Another argument against the new translation is that it uses words that are too difficult to understand, like “ineffable.” On its face, this is a very demeaning attitude. America is the most educated nation in the history of the world, and some people don’t think we will understand a word like “ineffable?” And even if someone does not, they can just look it up that week and for the rest of their Mass-attending life they will know what it means. Furthermore, “dumbing down” the liturgical language can have many negative side-effects. The Mass is not something we experience once and then never again; we celebrate it every week (even every day). If we use dumbed-down language, we are likely to be easily bored with it (as has in fact happened), and we are going to see the Mass not as something that lifts us up to heaven, but that keeps us here on earth. Language that is more lofty than everyday language can remind us of the solemnity of the mysteries we are celebrating.
Pray for our bishops and pastors that they might be able to properly implement this new Missal and that it might help the faithful to more fully worship our Lord in spirit and truth.
It is the most secure unwritten rule in American life: you don’t talk about religion in “polite” conversation. Whether it be at work, at home or out in public, we are allowed to talk about just about any topic from sports to the weather to the kids, as long as it doesn’t touch religion. This avoidance of religion extends to popular culture as well. For example, look at this list of TIME magazine’s “50 Best Websites“, grouped by category. Can you see what category is missing? That’s right: religion. “Shopping and Travel” gets its own category (after all, consumerism does consume us these days), but religion has no place at the table.
You can also see this in popular TV and movies. I remember a scene from a popular TV show a few years back when a main character was about to die in a plane wreck. He knew he was to die in just a few minutes, but in the show he made no religious statements nor took any religious actions. Contrast that with reality: when 9/11 occurred, there was story after story of people praying in the face of death, asking God to be with them and their families.
Man is fundamentally a religious species: we are homo religiosus. Every culture that has ever existed has been religious and people naturally are pulled towards religion of some sort. So making religion the one topic that is not to be discussed is absurd; it is like banning discussions of the weather, for religion surrounds us as surely as the seasons do.
And by refusing to talk about religion, we are handing the devil a great victory. One of the greatest challenges for evangelization today is our reticence to talk about religion. Good-natured people who want to share their faith hesitate because they know they are breaking the great unwritten rule of our society and so they fear ridicule and ostracization. Yet Christ himself commanded his followers to evangelize all corners of the earth, and as I have mentioned before, evangelization is not just our actions, but requires words as well. The American reticence to speak of religion is a major barrier to that work, but as Catholics we need to learn to speak up about our Faith, even at the risk of breaking social conventions.
This coming year I will have one child receive her confirmation and another receive his first confession and first communion. As a parent of five young children, one of the greatest responsibilities I have is to prepare my children for their reception of the sacraments. It is a maxim of the Catholic Faith that a saintly life is a sacramental life – one simply cannot become a saint without the help of grace, and the sacraments are the best way to receive that grace. So I take very seriously the need to have my children ready when it comes time for them to receive a sacrament for the first time.
One of the best ways to do this is to give them books which explain the sacraments in such a way that they can understand better the reality of what is happening when they go to confession or receive communion or are confirmed. I have not found a lot of good books out there, but one great book is offered by Precious Life Ministries, called “The Little Butterfly Who Loved Jesus.” Precious Life also offers other books on the Faith, and they have been aggressive in getting their books into the hands of missionaries around the world to help Catholics everywhere to instruct their children in the Faith.
Precious Life Ministries is run by three sisters who each have large families and have been very active in pro-life work through the years. Their purpose in running this apostolate is not to make money, but to bring children everywhere closer to Christ in his sacraments. I highly recommend them and I encourage you to buy some of their books or just give them a donation to help their worthy cause.
Take a look at these two amazing catches, made by two different players on the same team (whose hats look eerily familiar to this Cincinnati Reds fan):
In the typical Catholic parish, it is likely that more energy is spent on youth ministry than any other ministry. But is it energy well-spent? In a 2005 article (but one I just found), Mike Aquila gives us a model from the early Church in which we can compare to modern attempts at youth ministry:
Scouring the Patrologia Latina and Patrologia Graeca, I found nothing to suggest that Ambrose had ever led teens on ski trips to the nearby Alps. Digging through the Eastern Fathers, I came up even drier — no junior-high dances — not even a pizza party in either Antioch or Alexandria. In fact, in all the documentary evidence from all the ancient patriarchates of the East and the West, there’s not a single bulletin announcement for a single parish youth group.
Yet the Fathers had enormous success in youth and young-adult ministry. Many of the early martyrs were teens, as were many of the Christians who took to the desert for the solitary life. There’s ample evidence that a disproportionate number of conversions, too, came from the young and youngish age groups.
How did the Fathers do it? They made wild promises.
They promised young people great things, like persecution, lower social status, public ridicule, severely limited employment opportunities, frequent fasting, a high risk of jail and torture, and maybe, just maybe, an early, violent death at the hands of their pagan rulers.
The Fathers looked young people in the eye and called them to live purely in the midst of a pornographic culture. They looked at some young men and women and boldly told them they had a calling to virginity. And it worked. Even the pagans noticed how well it worked.
Let us also make “wild promises” to our youth today: if you follow Christ, you will be completely counter-cultural and your life will never be the same…
Quick question: have you ever met anyone who likes The New American Bible? Me neither.
The NAB, which is the official translation used during Mass in the United States, first entered this world, like me, in 1970. Also like me, it is starting to show its age. Unlike the King James or the Douay-Rheims, the NAB is unable to escape from its origins and reading it is like opening a time capsule and entering 1970 all over again. Because of this, Cistercian monk Br. Stephen makes a great suggestion: let’s retire the NAB:
The NAB, with its self-consciously contemporary prose of 1970, lacks the necessary timelessness to succeed as religious prose, possessing neither consciously sacral language that takes the reader out of the present moment nor the sort of unobtrusive good writing that allows the word of God to speak across time. With age, the idiom of the NAB has become a period piece, carrying us back two full generations to the blunt ugliness of the aesthetics of socialist realism and other ideas about language and literature that failed to win a lasting cultural berth. Today, its awkward phrasing may remind the reader not so much of the small, still voice of God as of the staccato earnestness of James T. Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise. In attempting to be current, the translators left us with something that was already becoming dated by the time their work was in print.
And lest anyone think that the NAB is somehow the only English version approved for liturgical use, note that in many English-speaking countries the translation used for the liturgy is the Jerusalem Bible (my personal favorite), and the Douay-Rheims is still used for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, even in this country. So we already have approved English translations to choose from.
Along with Br. Stephen, it is my prayer that the NAB is retired before I am.
Whenever there is a debate between Christians today about some theological point, one question is sure to be fired off: “Where in the Bible is that?” Whether the topic is infant baptism, purgatory, justification by faith alone or the assumption of Mary, Scriptural support is demanded for one’s views. And for good reason; after all, the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and therefore, if a belief is found in the Bible, then surely it is true.
However, there is a false presupposition lurking behind this question, one that is commonly held by Christians today. It is the presupposition that the Bible is the source of Christian doctrine, that the Bible contains all the teachings of the Christian Faith and its purpose is to be a catechism of sorts for our teachings and beliefs. Although many Catholics have this presupposition, it is foundational to Protestantism. If you read just about any book from your local Family Bookstore (a chain of Protestant Christian bookstores), the language used in them is soaked with this presupposition: “The Bible teaches…”, “The Bible says…”, “we see from the Bible that…”.
However, this presupposition is not only false, it is illogical and contrary to history. Let us look at Salvation History for a minute and see how our Faith was passed on to us:
- After the Fall, God raised up a nation (Israel) to be His people. He sent them prophets, kings and priests to teach them about the ways of God.
- At the fullness of time, God sent His Son. This Son – Jesus Christ – preached, did mighty works, and suffered, died and rose again for our salvation.
- The followers of Christ, especially the apostles, went around preaching the Gospel – which consisted of the teachings, works and passion of Christ – to the known world.
- Some of these followers wrote down this Gospel in letters, histories and “gospels.”
- The successors to the apostles – the bishops – continued to preach the Gospel handed on to them, guarding and protecting it from error.
We can see from this short recounting that the content of our Faith – the “Gospel” – was passed on to future generations by two methods: (oral) preaching (a.k.a. Tradition) and writings (a.k.a. Scripture). Then the college of bishops – the “Magisterium”, or teaching office of the Church – continued to preach that Gospel through time, making sure that it was not deformed or altered. But it is important to know the order of priority: the Gospel is the content of the Faith, and oral preaching and writings are the methods in which they are passed on.
(An aside: an objection might be raised that the way we know about Salvation History is through the Bible, so the Bible is “before” the Gospel. However, at this point, we are looking at the Bible as strictly a history book, not an inspired text. One would not think that a book about Socrates is the source of his life and teachings; instead, it simply recounts what we know about him.)
So if we want to know the source of the content of our Faith, we must look to the Gospel, which includes the life of ancient Israel and is fulfilled completely in the person of Jesus Christ and his life, teachings, works and passion.
This idea that there is one pre-existing Gospel and then two methods in which we receive that Gospel has been the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church since its earliest days. In the second century, St. Irenaeus, bishop of Gaul, wrote Against Heresies, which defended the Catholic Faith against the various false teachings of his day. It is a somewhat difficult work, but if you have a moment, take some time to read Book III from the Preface through Chapter 3. In that famous section, Irenaeus lays out his defense of how he knows the heretics are wrong and he is right. His logic is as follows:
- The Gospel was given to the Church through the apostles (Preface-Chapter 1).
- The Gospel was passed on to us through Scripture and Tradition, and the heretics contradict both of these pillars (Chapter 2).
- The Gospel, passed on to us through Scripture and Tradition, is defended and protected by the successors to the apostles, the bishops (Chapter 3).
- Therefore, if we follow the bishops, especially the bishop of Rome, then we can be assured that we are orthodox (Chapter 3).
And the Church today follows this same divine logic. In Dei Verbum, Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, the Church beautifully and clearly articulates the relationship between the Gospel (also called “Revelation”), Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. Sections 1-6 discuss Revelation being given from God, and then section 7-9 note the two ways in which that Revelation is handed on to us, and finally section 10 notes the role of the Magisterium in guarding and teaching that deposit of faith.
None of this means, of course, that any part of the Gospel will contradict Scripture, Tradition or the teaching of the Magisterium. The “glue,” so to speak, which holds all these parts together in one unified whole is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the originator of the content of the Gospel, the inspiration of the Scriptures, the guide of Tradition, and the protector from error of the Magisterium. Man would not be able to keep a consistent teaching for even a few decades under his own power, but with the Holy Spirit involved, the Church is able to pass on the authentic and saving Gospel to all generations.
So when someone asks, “where in the Bible does it say…”, you can know that if the Catholic Church teaches it, it is part of the saving Gospel, which precedes the Bible and is the source of its content.
This past weekend I attended the most important event in the life of any person: a baptism. A friend’s child was being baptized and it was wonderful to be there when this young soul was washed clean of Original Sin and transformed into a child of God.
During the actual pouring of water, I was struck with a wild thought: what if God decided not to pour His grace on this child when the water was poured over him? And of course I realized that this was impossible, because God promised us new life in baptism and He cannot break His promises. It made me realize that, in a way, God is at our beck and call: whenever a baptism is performed, no matter what the circumstances, God must cleanse the person of Original Sin and transform him into a child of God . How amazing is that?
The Catechism says that we are bound to the sacraments for our salvation, but God is not bound to them. This means that God in his mercy may save someone who has not received the sacraments. But if someone does receive the sacraments validly, then God is bound to pour grace on them because He promised He would. God the Almighty humbles Himself so much that He becomes a servant of our actions. And this is the case with every sacrament. If a priest validly says a Mass, the bread and wine must transform into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. When a priest says absolution after a worthy confession, God must forgive the penitent of his sins. If He were to not respond to the sacramental actions, He would be breaking His word, which is impossible for the One who is Truth.
This humbling of God reminds me of Philippians 2:5-11, which is set as a model for our own attitude as Christians:
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
If God is willing to humble Himself to be at our beck and call, should we not also be willing to humble ourselves for others? If we do humble ourselves, though, God one day will exalt us as well.
It is a common myth that Protestants are better at Bible studies than Catholics. I say “myth” because that view only takes into account the past twenty or so years. The truth is that the Catholic Church has been studying the Bible for almost 2,000 years now and has developed many great ways for its members to swim deeply in the Sacred Page. Marcel LeJeune over at Aggie Catholics has a great post which reviews some of those methods:
Check it out!
Give me that ol’ fashioned paper book any day.