Category Archives: New Evangelization

More Dominican answers

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-more Eastern Province Dominicans who reside at the House of Studies, Wash, DC, please click on image for greater detail.

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-by C.C. Pecknoldassociate professor of systematic theology at Catholic University of America.

“Recently I attended a seminar on religious liberty at Villanova School of Law. I wanted to learn how the law could help protect the Church as we advance into increasingly difficult cultural waters. Instead, the legal eagles offered a much more pessimistic prognosis: legal protections are eroding fast, and law follows culture, so don’t count on the law to protect the Church for long. While I did not walk away entirely hopeless about what the law can do to protect the Church, it did heighten my sense that we are rapidly running out of options. Christians can no longer rely on a cultural consensus and its legal expression in favor of religious belief, especially religious belief that insists on having a place in the public square. After meeting with the lawyers, I had to ask: Now what?

I thought about this question when reading Dale Coulter and Bianca Czaderna’s responses to my “The Dominican Option.” For a number of years I have followed Alasdair MacIntyre and his famous call for “a very different St. Benedict.” As a result, I have often heard MacIntyre’s vision described as “an ethic of withdrawal.” It’s an old canard. It’s not true. But there you have it. I’ve heard it over and over again, not only about the Catholic MacIntyre, but also about Lutherans like George Lindbeck, who embraced a “sociologically sectarian” view of Christian community, and most frequently about the Methodist Stanley Hauerwas. To get beyond these tired disputes about withdrawal and cultural engagement, I proposed the ancient Vita Mixta that St. Augustine recommended: evangelistic witness flowing from cloistered monastic formation. Perhaps the most controversial thing about this was that I suggested that the Dominicans offer us the most visible image of this mixed pattern today.

Dale Coulter responded that the “Options for Cultural Engagement” were much wider than the Benedictine or Dominican options allowed, and he rightly pointed to the diversity of the Body of Christ. Building on Coulter’s critique, Bianca Czaderna argued that there were “Lots of Options,” so many options that even to suggest one “paradigmatic example” was a useless and invidious enterprise. These critiques would have been spot-on if I had argued that the Dominicans provide the one way of being the Body of Christ in the world. But I did not make such a claim. My point in arguing for the Dominican Option was not to pit religious orders against one another, but to raise up a visible model to help us to think about how lay Christians (Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic) can meet the new challenges for Christian witness in America by committing ourselves to a more intensive formation ordered to the conversion of souls that make up American culture.

Christians do indeed have “lots of options” for living as the Body of Christ. But the culture is giving us a rather different set of options: accommodate or it’ll cost you. Our current legal-cultural regime is effectively saying: “Those are nice stained windows you have there; It’d be a shame if anything happened to them.” That threat is a prelude to a cultural concordat, and many Christians will be all too eager to be accommodating in order to be accepted.

Our families are going to need to live according to a rule if we are to endure—very much as religious orders do—with daily habits of prayer, confession, adoration, ingesting the Scriptures, emulating the great saints, learning to think with the doctors of the Church. We will need to find ourselves more habitually engaged in works of charity and mercy, corporal and spiritual. The words of St. Catherine of Siena OP come to mind: “If you are what you should be, you will set all of Italy (the world) ablaze.”

The Dominican Option is meant to challenge us to double down on communal formation, and double up on our missionary endeavor. It’s precisely this mixed pattern of life that must be wholly devoted to forming saints, and must also preach in the public square, in word and deed, about the charity and truth which lead souls to Christ. That’s really our only option.”

Love,
Matthew

Dominican answers

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Eastern Province Dominicans who reside at the House of Studies, Wash, DC, please click on image for greater detail.

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-by C. C. Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at Catholic University of America.

“There’s been a long conversation in America about the degree to which Catholic Christianity is compatible with liberalism. From the beginning of the American founding, bishops and theologians claimed that for all the flaws of liberal political philosophy, the American founders “built better than they knew.” And yet Pope Leo XIII could warn Cardinal Gibbons to avoid the errors of an “Americanism,” which would distort the teaching of the Church on the proper relationship between politics and the church.

First Things’s default position derives from this “built better” argument. Yet the incompatibility side has always been there as well, and now is coming to the fore. The cultural and political landscape has changed. If the “built-better” argument made sense for nearly two centuries, it has become clear that evidence in its favor is currently in short supply. Without necessarily saying that the “built-better” argument is always wrong, we need to face up to the growing discord between Catholic Christianity and the new world liberalism that is building in America.

What is to be done about this discord? I have always been drawn to Alasdair MacIntyre’s prediction that we need “a new, doubtless very different Saint Benedict” that enables the great Christian tradition to be passed on, preserving the seeds for a new civilization to emerge after the moral poverty of today’s liberalism leads us into dark, chaotic valleys. Rod Dreher has popularized MacIntyre by formulating this hope as the Benedict Option. It refers to our need for small communities of virtue, a new localist movement, and a return to the land or the place of one’s birth. The Benedict Option means cultivating a new counterculture that can resist the barbarian onslaught.

On one level, the Benedict Option is deeply attractive. Its greatest strength is that it sees that Christians need to attend to their communal formation as a whole. It is not enough to simply go to church on Sundays, for the religion of lifestyle liberalism is working on us the rest of the week. Rather, we need an all-embracing form of life coordinated and ordered to the love of God and neighbor. We can look to the very real Christian witness of cloistered, vowed religious life and say, “see, it can be done.” That should give all of us enormous hope.

On another level, however, “the Benedict Option” has a serious flaw. It can be summed up in one word withdrawal. Neither MacIntyre nor Dreher have intended anything like withdrawal from the common good, or even from a commitment to political institutions. But I must confess that the image of withdrawal is powerfully associated with the Benedictine monastery, and so appeals to the Benedict Option miss something.

Better, therefore, to speak of the Dominican Option. When I see them in the white habits at prayer, or giving lectures, or playing guitars and banjos on the subway, I have a plausible image of a “contrast society” that is very much engaged with the world—an evangelistic witness which is joyful, intellectually serious, expansive, and charitable.

St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers after a long contemplative season which, in the words of one biographer “burst into flame” when he encountered Albigensians (ancient Manichean dualists) on travels through southern France. Dominic stayed up all night arguing with one Albigensian, and by morning the man turned away from his heresy and turned towards the Catholic faith. Dominic’s missionary zeal flowed directly out of cloistered contemplation, but it convinced him of the need for a new evangelistic order.

Dominic told his men to go into the world without fear. They should study, they should pray, and they should preach. His Order harmonized the life of a contemplative with the activity of an evangelist. This meant intellectual training. One only needs to think of St. Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris to understand the impact this had. Dominicans studied other languages, and other religions, in order to preach more effectively. Aquinas himself wrote the Summa Contra Gentiles precisely to assist the brothers’ preaching to Muslims.

This is what we need today as well: the right pattern of formation and evangelistic witness. Not every Christian will be a Dominican, of course. But we all have something fundamental to learn from the Dominican pattern of life.”

Love,
Matthew

“We are saved by those we despise.” -Pope St Gregory the Great

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-by Dr. C. Colt Anderson, PhD

Saint Gregory the Great taught that God uses the people we despise to save us. This does not necessarily mean people that we hate, but people we think little of or that we see as impure. Those who we see as steeped in sin today often surpass us in holiness tomorrow. His example of such a person was St. Paul, who participated in the brutal murder of St. Stephen before becoming the Apostle to the Gentiles. In the Forty Gospel Homilies, Gregory preached that God places these people in the Church so that we are forced to recognize our own imperfection. They highlight the contrast between the richness of God’s mercy and the littleness of our own judgments.

Humble Christians, who have a sense of their imperfection, are able to be sympathetic to the struggles of sinners. Humility breaks through the walls of the self and allows the Christian to love others. For Gregory, love always involves an extension or gift of self to another, which is not really possible for people who feel self-satisfied and self-sufficient. This type of love, which he called the bond of charity, can only be learned in a community and can only be achieved through humility.

The bond of charity is central to Gregory’s spirituality and his understanding of the Church. He believed Christ’s perfect and solid uprightness (soliditas standi) is not given to His followers through the grace of redemption; instead, Christians are justified through the firmness of love (soliditas caritatis) found in the Church. Since God only accepts the humble and contrite heart, and since God rejects the proud, the effort to extend ourselves to those we despise is an integral part of the process of sanctification. In fact, the Church purifies us by demanding this extension of patience, love, and mercy to those we despise.

This dynamic is also why there are so many irritating people in the Church. We need people who are irritating, offensive, and even wicked, in order to exercise patience, mercy, and forgiveness. The Church brings us all together so that we can learn to be like God. It is a mixed community: good fish and bad fish, sheep and goats, wheat and tares. If I am irritating you, I might be serving as an opportunity to grow in holiness. You’re welcome.

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The fact that God frequently moves the people we may see as sinful to great holiness also inspires hope. It shows us that we should not ever give up on anyone. If your son or daughter, aunt or uncle, mother or father, friend or spouse has fallen away and seems steeped in sin, realize that they may yet excel in holiness.

Because we are saved by those we despise, we must welcome people to our communion and avoid attitudes and actions that discourage them from entering or returning to our community, which is what Pope Francis has been emphasizing. The challenge, of course, is to stop despising anyone, which I must confess I have not quite mastered.

If you are comfortable with despising people and wish to exclude the impure, you may have fallen into the sin of Donatism, a heresy that seeks a pure Church on Earth. The new Donatism is growing increasingly evident.

Lord, save & protect us, help us love one another, especially when that is most inconceivable. We shall receive mercy from You in proportion as we offer it to those we despise. Help us love one another, for our own sake. Be merciful to us, Lord, for we have done what is evil in Your sight.

Love,
Matthew

Unforgiving Christians cause scandal, damage the Faith

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-by Ann Schneible

Vatican City, Nov 10, 2014 / 11:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Christian who causes scandal destroys the faith and a Christian who does not forgive causes scandal – but it is only through the gift of faith that these challenges can be overcome, Pope Francis said.

These three themes – the causing of scandal, the need for forgiveness, and faith – were at the center of the Pope’s homily during morning Mass at the Santa Marta residence on Nov. 10.

“Scandal,” the Pope said, drawing his reflection from Luke’s Gospel and the Letter of Paul to Titus, “is to say and profess a way of life – ‘I am Christian’ – and then to live as a pagan, who believes in nothing.”

A Christian who goes to Church at his or her parish, without living as a Christian, is causing scandal, the Pope said. “How often have we heard: I don’t go to Church…because it is better to be honest at home and not go,” than to be as those “who go to Church and then do this, this, this.”

Scandal destroys, destroys the faith!” he said. This is why Jesus calls on Christians to remain attentive, “because we are all capable of scandalizing”.

Pope Francis also stressed the importance of forgiveness, for “a Christian who is not able to forgive scandalizes: he is not Christian.”

The concept of forgiving as we ourselves are forgiven, taught in the Our Father, is not one which can be understood by human logic, the Pope said. Rather than leading to forgiveness, the approach of “human logic” veers towards revenge, hate, and division.

Lamenting the many families divided by the lack of forgiveness, he stressed the importance if knowing that, “If I do not forgive,” he said, “I do not have the right – it seems – to be forgiven,” and do not understand what it means to have been forgiven by God.

The third theme of Pope Francis’ homily touched on the importance of faith. In order to not cause scandal, and to be “always forgiving,” the Pope said, faith is necessary.

This is only through “the faith of a merciful Father, of a Son Who gave his life for us, of a Spirit who is within us and helps us to grow, faith in the Church, faith in God’s people, baptized, holy.”

Faith does not come from books or from attending conferences, Pope Francis said. Rather, “faith is a gift of God which comes to you.” This is why the apostles asked Jesus: “Increase our faith!”

Love & begging His forgiveness each and every day. Lord, have mercy on my soul & on the whole world!
Matthew

Angie Windnagle, aka yellowpelican.net is a faux Christian, a heretic & fellow enemies, merchants, money-changers of the New Evangelization.

As well:  @_Leila, @lifting_e, @HaleyCarrots, @ElizabethFoss, @thejulieview, AnneMarie Miller, Damien & Simcha Fisher, the Fishers are well known trolls in the Catholic blogosphere. All are internet bullies.

Love ye one another?  I follow Jesus Christ.  I shudder to imagine whom they follow? The Young and the Merciless!!! Young the Merciless!!!

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, or if I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, or if I have a faith that can move mountains, or if I give all I possess, or if I am God’s gift to blogging…about thirty pieces of silver should do it!

For all, and for Agellius and Deus Nobiscum, who are merciless, and Emma King, whom, at least, was gracious in her request, Prayers Against Scrupulosity by St John of Avila, Doctor of the Church:

“Trust in the Love of God
It is very plain, my dear, that you cannot bear being put to the test, nor have you yet emerged from spiritual childhood, for when your heavenly Bridegroom ceases to smile on you, you immediately imagine He is displeased with you. Where are the signal favours which you received from His blessed Hand as a pledge of His special love for you? Ought you so soon to forget how He has cherished you? Or to believe that God would lightly withdraw affection He bestowed so fully? Why did He grant so many proofs of it, if not to make you trust Him?

God Loves You Because He Is Good, Not Because You Are
As I have often repeated, God loves you as you are. Be content that His love should come from His goodness, and not from your merits. What does it matter to a bride if she is not beautiful, if the bridegroom’s affection for her makes her seem so in his eyes? If you look only on yourself, you will loathe yourself and your many defects will take away all your courage.

He Looks at You Through the Apertures of His Wounds
What more have you to wish for? In heaven there is One to Whom you appear all fair, for He looks at you through the apertures of the Wounds He received for you: by these He gives you grace, and supplies what is lacking in you, healing you and making you lovely. Be at peace : you are indeed the handmaid of the crucified Christ: forget your past misdoings as if they had never been. I tell you, in God’s name, as I have done before, that such is His holy will.

May God’s mercy shelter you beneath His everlasting love, as I desire, and pray, and trust that it may, and for this I bid you hope.”

Jesus distastes Catholic fascists, aka scribes & Pharisees.

Self-Righteous Catholics: Jesus prefers sinners to hypocrites & “fake saints”

Self-Righteous Catholics: Pope Francis says self-righteous doomed…

Mean, Greedy, Nasty, Lying, Merciless, Cruel, Neurotic, Pharisaical Catholics

Urgency

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-from an article by Bishop Robert Barron

“According to Catholic ecclesiology, the Church is not primarily an institution, but rather the prolongation of the Incarnation across space and time, the mystical body of Jesus through which people come to an encounter with the Lord. When this organic relationship between Jesus and his Church is forgotten or occluded, a stifling institutionalism can follow, and this is precisely why Francis insists, “we cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings; we need to move from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry.”

This evangelical urgency, which Pope Francis gets in his bones, is the leitmotif of this entire Apostolic Exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium). He knows that if Catholicism leads with its doctrines, it will devolve into an intellectual debating society and that if it leads with its moral teaching, it will appear, especially in our postmodern cultural context, fussy and puritanical. It should lead today as it led two thousand years ago, with the stunning news that Jesus Christ is the Lord, and the joy of that proclamation should be as evident now as it was then. The Pope helpfully draws our attention to some of the countless references to joy in the pages of the New Testament: “‘Rejoice!’ is the angel’s greeting to Mary;” in her Magnificat, the Mother of God exults, “My spirit rejoices in God my savior”; as a summation of his message and ministry, Jesus declares to his disciples, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete;” in the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that “wherever the disciples went there was great joy.”

The pope concludes with a wonderfully understated rhetorical question: “Why should we not also enter into this great stream of joy?” Why not indeed? Displaying his penchant for finding the memorable image, Pope Francis excoriates Christians who have turned “into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses,’” and whose lives “seem like Lent without Easter.” Such people might be smart and they might even be morally upright, but they will never be successful evangelists.

Once this basic truth is understood, the rest of the church’s life tends to fall more correctly into place. A church filled with the joy of the resurrection becomes a band of “missionary disciples,” going out to the world with the good news. Ecclesial structures, liturgical precision, theological clarity, bureaucratic meetings, etc. are accordingly relativized in the measure that they are placed in service of that more fundamental mission. The pope loves the liturgy, but if evangelical proclamation is the urgent need of the church, “an ostentatious preoccupation with the liturgy” becomes a problem; a Jesuit, the pope loves the life of the mind, but if evangelical proclamation is the central concern of the church, then a “narcissistic” and “authoritarian” doctrinal fussiness must be eliminated; a man of deep culture, Pope Francis loves the artistic heritage of the church, but if evangelical proclamation is the fundamental mission, then the church cannot become “a museum piece.” This last point calls vividly to mind something that Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli said on the eve of the conclave that would elect him Pope John XXIII: “We are not here to guard a museum but rather to cultivate a flourishing garden of life.”

When he spoke at the General Congregations, the meetings of Cardinals in advance of the conclave of 2013, Cardinal Bergoglio reportedly brought to his brothers’ attention with great passion the need for the Church to look beyond herself. This preoccupation is echoed in paragraph 27 of Evangelii Gaudium: “I dream of a ‘missionary option’; that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” And this in turn echoes a word that John Paul II spoke to the bishops of Oceania in 2001: “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion.” And the mission, once again, is none other than drawing the entire human race into a relationship with the living Christ. There is much here, I would suggest, with which evangelicals can resonate.

Pope Francis realizes that in our postmodern framework, appeals to the true and the good often fall on deaf ears. Indeed, if the dictatorship of relativism obtains, then who are you to tell me what I ought to think or how I ought to behave? This is why the pope calls for an active exploration of the via pulchritudinis (the way of beauty). It is best for the evangelizer to show the splendor and radiance of the Christian form of life, before he or she would get to explicit doctrine and moral commands. This involves the use of classical artistic expressions of the Christian faith as well as contemporary cultural forms. Indeed, says the pope, any beautiful thing can be a route of access to Christ.  (Ed.  Amen!  Amen!  That is the point!  It is beautiful, not in and of itself, rather as reflection of the Divine beauty Who created it!!!  God is not being coy.  Rather, we are being obstinate, refusing to behold!  He reveals Himself, His Truth, all around us, every day!!  Or do you REALLY believe the beauty of the Heavens is pure, mere accident?  Tell me, please, of the most beautiful accident you have ever witnessed?  Do tell?  Even God’s “accidents” are breathtaking for us to behold!  They are.)

Love, and in earnest to do His will!!!
Matthew

“Confessions” -St Augustine

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Sinner, never despair.  Saint, never despair of the sinner.  His mercy is AWESOME!!!!  Is 55:8.  Just ask Augustine.

I am in my third course towards my Masters in Unitive (Spiritual) Theology through the Avila Institute.  Beyond the general phylum of Theology, the discipline bifurcates into Speculative and Unitive.  Speculative covers the WWJD? type of questions, the “what-ifs” of theology.  Unitive covers the more intimate, mystical aspects of theology of the soul aspiring and coming into union with the Divine.  Unitive has the reputation of being, by far, the more interesting of the couple, if you’re into that kind of thing.  I am.  Studying the great souls of the Catholic tradition and their writings, the written word abides, rocks.  Nobody ever said it would be easy, though.

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“Confessions” written by St Augustine in the very late 4th century (397-400 AD) is a classic of Catholic spiritual writing.  It is a slog, though.  Depending on the translation you choose, Thees and Thous abound!  My most tedious and time consuming reading assignment, so far.  Augustine was a professional in and teacher of rhetoric, a big deal in the ancient world.  So, to say he was long-winded would be kind.  His complex sentence structure and detailed recounting tax the reader, they do.  Not all truth is contained in easy reads.  The majority of texts from the ancient world still in existence remain untranslated.  Deo gratias for audio books, particularly in one’s “mature” years, when the powers of concentration, thought, comprehension and eyesight wane, especially for amateur catechists and hagiographers, like me.  🙂

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Augustine recounts his life and the progression of thinking and grace therein.  I won’t boor you with the narrative.  There are plenty of resources for that.  However, his maturation in sexual matters is especially poignant and terribly, terribly, tragically relevant, I believe, for younger people, burning in the freshness and vitality of life with desire, AND camera phones, the work of the devil, if there ever was any!!!  I thank God every day there was no such thing in the eighties, and for photo processing, and photo technicians who would/do call the cops, sure deterrents.  Not so today.   Not so.  Mara, listen to daddy!!!!  Dear God, please!!!!  Custodia occulorum!!!!

“Oh! how many are lost by indulging their sight!St. Alphonsus de Liguori

Mk 9:47-48, Lk 11:34-36

Also a student of JPII’s theology of the body, which is beautiful, I have struggled in how to translate this non-sound bite wisdom into 21st century sound bites.  Here is my best attempt.  It makes sense.  It is logical, and beautiful, if we would have ears to hear, hearts to listen. The poison of sin fights violently against us and this thinking.  On the internet, everything is forever, eternal virtual life or living hell, depending on content of our choosing.

  • We did not create ourselves.
  • We were created.
  • We owe our Creator the debt of our being.
  • Part of the debt of our being is proper use of creation, including our bodies.
  • The proper use of our bodies is love for one other who truly loves us in return. A union which is faithful, fruitful, and free, i.e. marriage.
  • The Natural Law in philosophy indicates that by nature, by inspection, by reason, our love must be devoted to our complement, i.e. male & female.
  • To ignore the Natural Law is to ignore God and Him communicating through His creation.  It is sin, and an offense against God Who created us, to Whom we owe our debt of gratitude.  To Whom we must account for our use of His gift of life, and will.
  • The lover always wills the good of the beloved. This can never be manifested in the abuse of self or use/abuse of others.  This is the definition of love.  Use is the exact opposite, the negative, of love.  We use things.  We love people.  We must never turn people into things, even with their ignorant, willful permission.  We are all children of God; everyone, everyone.  Especially when that is most difficult to see in each of us.

Rapidly we prepare this year for Ash Wednesday, and to be told once more, “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.  Repent, and believe in the Gospel!”

“Christian, remember your dignity, and the price which was paid to purchase your salvation!” -cf Pope St Leo the GreatSermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.

“Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember Who is your head and of Whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.” -CCC 1691, St. Leo the Great, Sermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.

Some of my favorites, though…

“…but I was intent on material things, but there found I no resting-place, nor did they so receive me, that I could say, “It is enough,” “it is well”:…”1

“…through my own swelling was I separated from Thee; yea, my pride-swollen face closed up mine eyes…by inward goads didst Thou rouse me, that I should be ill at ease, until Thou wert manifested to my inward sight. Thus, by the secret hand of Thy medicining was my swelling abated, and the troubled and bedimmed eyesight of my mind, by the smarting annointings of healthful sorrows, was from day to day healed.”2

“…as if I heard this Thy voice from on high: “I am the food of grown men and women…”,3

Love, His joy and mercy,
Matthew

1 Augustine, Saint (2014-09-20). Confessions (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 1732-1733). . Kindle Edition.

2 Augustine, Saint (2014-09-20). Confessions (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 1739, 1742-1744). . Kindle Edition.

3 Augustine, Saint (2014-09-20). Confessions (Illustrated) (Kindle Location 1788). . Kindle Edition.

“His Mercy anticipates us.” -St Augustine

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an excerpt from an article by Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, (Daughters of St Paul) a former atheist who, thanks to the grace of God, has returned to the faith she was raised in and now tries to help others bring their loved ones back to the faith. A few years after returning to the Church, she heard God calling her, so she left her job in Silicon Valley to join the Daughters of St. Paul. She now lives in Miami, where she prays, evangelizes, bakes bread, and blogs.

“Mercy is dependent on justice and the concept of sin because when God shows us mercy, it is so He can forgive our sins.

So what meaning does mercy have in a world that does not believe in sin?

I used to not believe in sin. I was an atheist who had a moment of instantaneous conversion back to belief in God. However, my journey back to the Church was not so immediate. It was a slow and gradual process (Ed. gradualism, anyone?). It was a process in which God and other Christians showed me love, patience and acceptance as I stumbled along. Finally, I began to intellectually assent to the teaching authority of the Church, including sin as defined by the Church.

But in the early months of my conversion, my repentance and my sins were not God’s focus. The focus was how much God loved me. I’ll never forget the feeling of those first months. I walked around as if cradled in the hand of the Creator, simply basking in His loving gaze.

And I continued sinning. Seriously.

But I now knew a God Who loved me. And His merciful love anticipated my repentance. He did not draw back in disgust at seeing my lack of repentance. He did not smite me as I stood for continuing in my former way of life. He entered my soul and embraced me precisely where it was darkest. In the areas where I was dead, Jesus died with me.

Eventually, through my relationship with God, I felt an invitation to return to the Church. I was baffled and disgusted. I loved God, but I was not interested in returning to the Church. I wanted to love God on my own terms. But I knew God would only lead me to a place where he could love me more fully.

So, in obedience to the God I loved, I began to attend Mass more regularly.

One day I will never forget, I was getting ready for work and felt a sudden illumination of my conscience. It was as if I could finally see all my sins as God sees them, all I had done, all I was doing and all I would continue to do as a sinful human being. I collapsed, sobbing on the floor (Ed. the gift of tears).

This was a moment of mercy.

But God’s mercy did not begin in that moment. God began showing me mercy much earlier on; his mercy anticipated my repentance. It was the anticipatory, non-contingent nature of this mercy that led me to repent. God loved me in the midst of my darkness because he knew that it was only his blazing love that could save me.

This is how God loves us. He extends his mercy to us throughout our lives, up until the last breath we take. His mercy anticipates our cooperation. His mercy anticipates our repentance. His mercy anticipates our return to Him.

God is outside of time so His mercy on human beings with free will is not contingent on what we do. He pours it out on us always because it is part of His nature to be merciful.

Every day. Every hour. Every minute.

If our hearts are unrepentant, we cannot receive the fullness of God’s salvific graces, but that does not mean His merciful love goes to waste. Rather, if we are even slightly cooperative, it can slowly soften our hearts and help us see truth.

God bears with our sins in order that we may repent: “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance” (Wisdom 11: 23).

What does this reality mean in this Year of Mercy?

It means we are called to show others God’s mercy in this same way. We are called to show others a mercy that does not begin with pointing out another person’s sin. (This is particularly true if another person does not even believe in the concept of sin.)

Mercy begins with the person, where he or she is, and leads that person back to God. Mercy puts the other person’s spiritual well-being first and creates space for the gradual nature of conversion. Mercy respects that slamming the Ten Commandments or the Catechism in someone’s face is often going to be useless if the other person does not first accept God’s love, or the basic fact of His existence.

Mercy anticipates judgment and pointing out sin with love.

A merciful anticipatory love does not dismiss sin as unimportant. Mercy does not skip over sin and pretend that all is well.

As St. Augustine wrote: “His mercy anticipates us. He anticipates us, however, that we may be healed.”

But mercy does not prioritize sin.

Mercy prioritizes God’s healing love, so that we may come to understand our sin, repent of it and be healed.

Thomas Aquinas refers to God’s mercy as that which “dispels misery.” We are called to accompany others on this journey in which God wants to dispel misery. It is a journey that sometimes requires our patience as we walk with others who do not even recognize their sin as misery.

But this is the same journey we walk with our patient, merciful God who surrounds us with his mercy now, before we are perfect, so that we can be perfected in his merciful love.”

Love, and rejoicing His mercy anticipates me!!!
Matthew

The Mystical Body of Christ – Why the Catholic Church?

sheen_mystical

The “cause” for the canonization of Archbishop Sheen (1895-1979) was opened in 2002. The enthusiasm for the cause of a deceased holy person of heroic virtue is called its “cultus”, or cult, in the most positive sense of the word. The enthusiasm by those who hold a special devotion to the Virgin Mary is her “cult”. Get it?

I attended an informal informational meeting in Chicago a while ago on the status of the good archbishop’s cause. Very interesting, to say the least. His beloved memory now bears the title Venerable. The Vatican is very interested in his cause, as he would be the ONLY beati to have won an Emmy!!! Take THAT modern media!!! A SAINT amongst ye!!!

Only Catholics could create the current situation though, sadly. Catholics!!!!!!!! Grrrrrrr!!!!! 🙁 . The cause is currently in stasis. 🙁 Miracles are good to go, except the good archbishop was buried in New York, where he did much of his work and ministry. His home diocese, where any cause must begin, is in Peoria, IL.

Wait!!!! It gets better!!! Part of the official process of canonization is there must be a formal, very formal, examination of the remains of the candidate of heroic virtue in the home diocese, called the “elevation” of the remains, to a place of honor and respect, and the removal, get your Catholic dictionaries out!, of the “first class” relics, i.e. actual parts of the remains!

You guessed it!!!! There is a kerfuffle!!! It seems New York, typical, after many, many promises to release the remains and remove them to Peoria, has reneged. Internal Church politics stands in the way of sainthood!!! There is no current Church process around this!!!! So, we’re and the good archbishop’s cause is stuck!!! Do you see why the typical expression in the Vatican is “Come and see me on Wednesday, and I’ll get back to you in 300 years!!!!! Catholics!!!! My greatest frustrations in the life of faith are Catholics!!!!! I pray for that same Spirit who comforted the Lord with His Keystone Cops Apostles!!!! 🙁 Who knows WHAT generation of our children may yet enjoy this great celebration. 🙁

http://www.archbishopsheencause.org/

CaseyChalk
-by Casey Chalk, a “revert” to the Catholic Church, who was raised Catholic, left the Church with his parents for Evangelicalism & Presbyterianism, spent time in Thailand, and has now returned to the Church of his birth.

“A good friend and elder at my former Presbyterian (PCA) church once invited me over for beers and conversation several months after my decision to become a Catholic. In that exchange, he expressed what he termed as his predominant concern with my entrance into the Catholic Church: that the decision embraced a form of sacerdotalism, effectively putting certain individuals – be they priests, bishops, cardinals, or the pope – or even the institutional church, between the individual and God. This mediated reality, my friend believed, was in some sense an affront to Biblical Christianity, presumably because it obscured or obstructed the primary mediatory role of Jesus Christ, the God-man. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, one of the most iconic American Catholic figures of the 20th century, would respectfully disagree.

Fulton Sheen died on this day 36 years ago: December 9th, 1979, before I was even born. Yet his influence is felt far beyond the end of his earthly life and reaches far beyond the millions of American radio listeners and television viewers he reached. Even the Redemptorist parish I attend in Bangkok, Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, bears Sheen’s mark. The architectural design of the parish, built to model the traditional Thai Buddhist wat, was an idea suggested by Sheen himself during a visit to Thailand.

Sheen’s writings and teachings likewise continue to influence Christians and non-Christians the world over, largely because Sheen so accurately recognized philosophical and religious trends that increasingly were dominating our culture. Take for example the individualist tendencies of our current age, asserting that no institution or denomination is needed between man and God. Many people, even those with robust prayer lives or strong convictions in historical doctrines regarding Christ or Holy Scripture, hold such a “low church” position. Indeed, some form the limits of their Christian experience around the reading of the Bible or other spiritual literature, listening to podcasts or sermons in the privacy of their homes or cars, and maybe the occasional Bible study or prayer group.1 To this popular, commonly Protestant trend, Sheen’s The Mystical Body of Christ offers a surprisingly Scriptural critique. Indeed, Sheen’s presentation of the Church as Christ intended and directs it stands in contrast even to those Protestants – be they Reformed, Evangelical, or Mainline – who affirm some conception of the visible Church, since, Sheen argues, even these efforts lack a fully Biblical account of the Church as Christ’s very own mystical body.

Biblical Foundations for the Mystical Body of Christ

Sheen begins by citing Fr. Emil Mersch – who observed that the New Testament’s use of “kingdom,” “mystery,” and “life” all appeal to different aspects of the same reality: the mystical body of Christ2. Sheen argues that the Mystical Body is not an abstraction, but “something visible and invisible, something tangible and intangible, something human and something Divine; it refers to a reality which is the subject of attribution, of properties and rights, to an organism with a supernatural soul, to a prolonged Incarnation, to the extension of Bethlehem and Jerusalem to our own days, to the contemporary Christ: the Church.3 We share a bond with Jesus quite different than what we might share with any other religious teacher or philosopher: a life of which we are partakers, in His earthly life, His glorified life, and His mystical life.4 The third of these, the mystical life, He continues to live through us by means of His Holy Spirit, which was given quite publicly to the visible Church at Pentecost.5

In this reality, Christ is the Head, His people are His body: “Christ is our contemporary.”6 With exacting exegetical detail of the Biblical texts, Sheen demonstrates that one cannot separate Christ from His mystical body, and that the “spiritual, not religious” Christian ideal is untenable. Christ identified Himself too intimately with His followers to believe otherwise: Sheen notes that our Lord taught that He and His body would be one, referring to such Gospel passages as the vine and the branches (John 15:5), or “He that heareth you, heareth me” (Luke 10:16).7

Also central to this argument is Sheen’s analysis that St. Paul’s language of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians must be properly understood not as a post-facto Pauline analogy, but as a reality that preceded the Apostles in the very life of Christ.8 Indeed, it was Christ Himself who said he would assume another body in John 20:17.9 The Church would be this body, not physically or morally, but mystically and intimately united to the risen and ascended Christ. Sheen helpfully articulates:

‘He said that whatever happened to Him as Head would happen to His Body; if He was persecuted His Body would be persecuted; if He was hated His Body would be hated; if the world did not receive Him it would not receive His Body, for the servant is not above the master…. The relation would be so close between the members of that Body and Himself, that anyone [who performed a work of mercy for one His members] would be doing the service unto Him. It would seem that He had exhausted all analogies to mark the unity between Him and His new body; but the night before He died, He said that He and His flock were not to be one merely as shepherd and sheep, they were to be one as He and the Father are one.10’

The Mystical Body of Christ is His Church

Building upon this identification of Christ with His Church, St. Paul and St. John extend these analogies of mystical union to include a building (1 Corinthians 3) and marriage (Ephesians 5, 2 Corinthians 11, Revelation 19, 21).11 The Church effectively extends Christ “beyond the space of Palestine and the space of thirty-three years to prolong His influence unto all times and to all men.” “Without the Church,” Sheen asserts, “Christ would be incomplete,” for the Church continues the Incarnation.12 The “actions of the Mystical body are the actions of Christ.”13 Through Christ, the ultimate prophet, priest and king, the Church would extend “His posthumous Self, His prolonged Personality… Very simply they were to do the same three things as He had done in His earthly life: they were to teach, to govern, and to sanctify.”14 These include the Church’s mission to baptize, to perform the Eucharist, and to forgive sins (Matthew 28, Luke 22, 1 Corinthians 11, John 20).15 Sheen’s analysis strikes at the heart of much contemporary Christian spirituality and Protestant religiosity:

‘How far removed is this doctrine of the Church from the false conception of those who would accuse the Church of standing between Christ and us? How often we hear it said: “I do not want an organization between Christ and me,” or “True religion consists in union with Jesus of Nazareth without priest, or prelate, or sacrament.” Anyone who understands the Scriptures will see that the Church does not stand between Christ and me. The Church is Christ16’

The Church, if she is truly Christ’s mystical body, cannot then be some voluntary organization, as if the Apostles heard Christ’s message and on the “basis of their common faith” agreed to form a religious society. No, Sheen declares, the Church began “the very moment” the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.17 Anyone then who claims the visible, institutional Church and its sacramental system is an “obstacle” to a relationship with Christ has misunderstood “the meaning and beauty of the Incarnation of our Lord.”18 Through the Church, Bethlehem is revived in every baptism, “the Cenacle in every Mass, the instruction of the doctors of the Temple in every definition, the pardon of Peter in every absolution, and the Crucifixion in every persecution.”19 Rather than an obstacle to relationship with Christ, the Church is the very means by which that relationship is fostered.

The Catholic Church as Christ’s Mystical Body, Preserved by the Holy Spirit

Christ is of course the head of this mystical body – per St. Paul’s teaching in Colossians 1:18. Yet if Christ is the head, one might reasonably ask, which conflicting group or sect within Christianity is the “one Body of Christ”?20 According to Sheen, the “obvious way” for Christ to identify His post-ascension body would be “through a visible head or a primate.”21 This is appropriate, he contends, because the “democratic form of government” visible in many forms of Protestantism is problematically individualistic:

‘…each individual [is] his own supreme authority, allowing him either to interpret the Scriptures privately or else interpret his own religious experiences without any dictation from without. Religion on this theory is a purely individual affair: each one casts his own vote as to what he will believe, rejects all creeds, beliefs, and dogmas which run counter to his moods and prejudices, determines for himself the kind of a God he will adore, the kind of an altar before which he will kneel – in a word, he worships at the shrines his own hands have made.22’

Rather than this subjective, individualist model, Christ gave us what Sheen calls the “monarchical” model, citing Matthew 16, where He rejects both what “men say” about who He is, and even what the Apostles together say about who He is (the “aristocratic model”), but ultimately affirming St. Peter’s declaration that He is the son of the living God.23 Peter had divine assistance, the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16), and the commission to feed Christ’s lambs (John 21). This is not to say that St. Peter is “a Head apart from Christ.” Rather, he is “one authority with Him,” the “visible representation, the concrete symbol, the vicar of the Sender among the Sent.”24

Sheen further argues that it was the Holy Spirit who conceived the Church in the incarnation, guided St. Peter’s declaration of Christ’s divinity, and who remains its very soul, and speaks first not through inspired writings, but a “voice,” carried by the Apostles and their successors.25 This is to contrast the Catholic conception of Holy Tradition, Holy Scripture, and magisterial teaching, as cooperating spheres of authority, against the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. Indeed, it was the Holy Spirit, acting as the soul of the Church, who inspired the writings of Holy Scripture and guided their collection and inclusion into a canon. The Bible stands not on its own but “within the life of the Church.” It is the Church that “makes its meaning clear.”26 And if the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, “there can be no contradiction, no variety of opinions, no divided loyalties, no half-truths, no schisms, no heresy where God is.”27

Moreover, the Holy Spirit vivifies the Church to maintain its four marks so that neither sin nor scandal within the ranks can nullify her intrinsic holiness.28 Sheen observes, “the world has yet to point out a single age in which the Church has not produced her heroes whom she calls saints.”29 The last mark, the Church’s apostolic character, is best understood within the Catholic paradigm as requiring a discernible “origin or source.” Sheen elaborates: “it would be too late for her to begin sixteen hundred years after the life or our Lord; it would be too late for her to begin even twenty years after the life of Christ. She must be in intimate contact with Him from the beginning.” He cites several pieces of evidence of this from Scripture and history. These include the choosing of Matthias (a witness to the resurrection) to replace Judas in Acts 2 and the centrality of the appeal to Apostolic origin by the immediate successors of the Apostles: “Everywhere in the early Church the test was: ‘What is the source of your authority and truth?’ It if did not come from Christ and the apostles, it was false.”30 What a remarkable testament it is that the Catholic Church, longer than any nation, empire, or heretical movement has withstood the test of time: “Who today venerates Eutyches? Where are his disciples? Who today knows of Novatian?”31 Because it is the Holy Spirit alive within the Church, she cannot be killed.32

Further Implications of the Mystical Body of Christ

Having presented His biblical argument for the Mystical body of Christ — and that it be identified with the Catholic Church — Sheen devotes the remainder of his book to exploring many other realities that flow from this initial truth: the infallibility and unique authority of the Church, the role of the priesthood and individual Christians in this mystical body, the communion of the saints, the value of reparation, and the expansion of the body throughout the entire world. 33 Of particular interest to Protestants investigating Catholicism, Sheen devotes a chapter to the role of Mary, the mother of God, as mother also of His mystical body. The bishop explains that this is a natural logical progress: “if the fullness of Christ embraces not only His historical Life in Galilee but also His Mystical Life in the Church, then should not Mary be not only the Mother of the physical Christ, but also the Mother of the fullness of Christ or the Mother of the Church?”34 Also of potential interest to Protestants are chapters on how the sacrifice of the cross is translated to the sacrifice of the Mass, Sheen arguing that the sacrifice of the Cross is “complete and perfect in it itself,” yet “not complete as regards us; the merits of that great redemptive act have to flow unto us.”35 The Eucharist then serves to project Christ’s sacrifice into the present: “the Mass is the one thing in the world which makes it possible for us who live in the [present age] to share in the sacrifice of Calvary…. The Mass is Calvary realized, made present, contemporized, lifted out of the limit of space and time living in the members of the Mystical Body….36

The Mystical Body of Christ is a helpful – nay, essential – concept for how Christians should understand their role individually and corporately to Christ their Lord and Savior. This is the way Christ wanted it: for His Church to be the extension of His earthly ministry projected through time and space to our present era. To respond to the legitimate concern of my Presbyterian elder friend: Christianity at its core is sacerdotal — the Incarnation, the beginning of the Church on earth, exemplifies God’s extension of grace to Christians through matter. Christ then, fully God and fully man, is Himself a sacerdotal figure, mediating between man and God in His very flesh. It is entirely fitting then that Christ would appoint members of His own mystical body to do exactly what He had done: bear God’s authority and mediate between members of His body and the eternal God. In Sheen’s analysis, this does not detract from Christ’s mediatory role; it preserves and perfects it.37

Venerable Fulton Sheen, one of America’s great defenders and explicators of the Catholic faith, pray for us!

  1. Sheen’s own critique of Protestantism is quite prescient. In his 1935 introduction to the book, he notes that Protestant churches “no longer claim to be Divine or to be Deposits of Revelation.” He asserts that Protestantism has been reduced to “the individualistic type of religion in which each man’s subjective religious experience determines the God he will worship and the altar he will serve,” or a “purely social form of religion.” See Fulton J. Sheen, The Mystical Body of Christ (Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN, 2015), p. 2.
  2. The reader should take note that in addition to the extensive Biblical exegesis Sheen offers in the main body of his work, the footnotes of the text supply a wealth of additional Biblical references and analysis that should not be overlooked.
  3. Sheen, p. 5.
  4. Sheen, p. 7.
  5. Sheen, p. 15.
  6. Sheen, p. 18.
  7. Sheen, p. 20.
  8. Sheen, p. 56.
  9. Sheen, p. 37.
  10. Sheen, p. 27.
  11. Sheen, p. 29.
  12. Sheen, p. 41.
  13. Sheen, pp. 42-43.
  14. Sheen, p. 45.
  15. Sheen, p. 32.
  16. Sheen, p. 33.
  17. Sheen, p. 48.
  18. Sheen, p. 49.
  19. Sheen, p. 50.
  20. Sheen, p. 51.
  21. Sheen elsewhere explains that baptism is the mechanism for incorporation into the Mystical Body of Christ. See Sheen, p. 298.
  22. Sheen, p. 57.
  23. Sheen, p. 58.
  24. Sheen, p. 59.
  25. Sheen, pp. 61-63.
  26. Sheen, p. 66.
  27. Sheen, p. 304. Sheen extensively highlights the evidence for the historicity of the primacy of St. Peter and Rome in his footnotes for Chapter Three. See Sheen, pp. 305-308.
  28. Sheen, p. 75.
  29. Sheen, p. 79.
  30. Sheen, p. 81.
  31. Sheen devotes an entire chapter to explaining how scandals in the Church can be reconciled with her role as Christ’s mystical body. In rhetorical flourish typical of the bishop, Sheen exhorts the Church’s detractors to “reveal the worst, for it will only help to make clear her true nature.” See Sheen, p. 99.
  32. Sheen, p. 85.
  33. Sheen, pp. 86-88.
  34. Sheen, p. 91.
  35. Sheen, p. 96.
  36. Sheen argues that “the Infallibility of the Church is nothing more than the Infallibility of Christ,” and asks rhetorically whether the Holy Spirit died after Pentecost or the early councils of the Church. See Sheen, p. 117, 121. On the unique authority of the Church, Sheen observes, “a book could not preserve [Christ’s] authority, for the book needs interpretation, and who would interpret it?” See Sheen, p. 134.
  37. Sheen, p. 225.
  38. Sheen, p. 242.
  39. Sheen, p. 247, 249.
  40. It is in this book that one of Sheen’s most famous aphorisms can be found: They do “not really hate the Church; they hate only that which they mistakenly believe to be the Church.” See Sheen, p. 140.

Prayer for the Canonization of Venerable Fulton Sheen

Heavenly Father, source of all holiness, You raise up within the Church in every age men and women who serve with heroic love and dedication. You have blessed Your Church through the life and ministry of Your faithful servant, Archbishop Fulton J Sheen. He has written and spoken well of Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and was a true instrument of the Holy Spirit in touching the hearts of countless people.

If it be according to Your Will, for the honor and glory of the Most Holy Trinity and for the salvation of souls, we ask You to move the Church to proclaim him a saint. We ask this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Imprimatur:
+Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C., Bishop of Peoria

Love,
Matthew