I Will Make You Fishers of Men

March 29, 2008
The Feast of St. Mark – the Evangelist – is April 25 – “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature”

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas Fine Art Print
Thomas said [to the other Twelve] “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Both [Mark and Matthew] designate Jesus’ preaching with the Greek term evangelion– but what does this actually mean? The term has recently been translated as “good news.” That sounds attractive but it falls far short of the order of the magnitude of what is actually meant by the word evangelion. This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world. The messages issued by the emperor were called in Latin evangelium, regardless of whether or not their content was particularly cheerful and pleasant. The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a change of the world for the better. . .The evangelium, the Gospel, is not just informative speech but performative speech– not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform. Mark speaks of the “Gospel of God,” the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place. For here it is the real Lord of the world– the living God– who goes into action.

– from “Jesus of Nazareth” by Pope Benedict XVI
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Pope Benedict XVI’s “Apostolic Journey to the United States” begins in April! The theme of his visit is “Christ Our Hope.”
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Christ sent his apostles so that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations.” “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The mission to baptize, and so the sacramental mission, is implied in the mission to evangelize, because the sacrament is prepared for by the word of God and by the faith which is assent to this word:

The People of God is formed into one in the first place by the Word of the living God . . . . The preaching of the Word is required for the sacramental ministry itself, since the sacraments are sacraments of faith, drawing their origin and nourishment from the Word.

“The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the Body of Christ and, finally, to give worship to God. Because they are signs they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it. That is why they are called ‘sacraments of faith.'”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1122 – 1123

 

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“But in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence”

-1st Letter of St. Peter 3:15

Reasons for Apologetics

“The first reason, for the Christian, is out of obedience to God’s will, announced in his Word. Refusal to give a reason for faith is disobedience to God. There are also at least two practical reasons for doing apologetics; to convince unbelievers and to instruct and build up believers. Evan if there were no unbelievers to persuade, we should still give reasons for faith, for faith does not remain alone but produces reasons just as it produces good works. Faith educates reason and reason explores the treasure of the “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”

Furthermore, faith for a Christian is faith in a God who is himself love, our lover and beloved; and the more our hearts love someone, the more our minds want to know about our beloved. Faith naturally leads to reason through the agency of love. So faith leads to reason, and reason leads to faith…Thus reason and faith are friends, companions, wedded partners, allies.”

– from the Handbook of Christian Apologetics

 

First Holy Communion season is here!
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The Original Catholic Content Site

March 26, 2008

About fifteen years ago several Catholic websites were started by some of those pioneering people who saw the Internet as a way to provide Catholic information and community on-line. This was before Amazon was huge and when AOL was still king of Internet access while their ubiquitous disks were cursed by all.

Among those original pioneers (forgive me if I leave you off, it wasn’t intentional) were Paul at The Catholic Pages, Kevin at New Advent, the Catholic Information Network, Peter’s Net (now Catholic Culture), Catholic Online and, if I may be vain for a moment, The Catholic Liturgical Library.

These sites are still all online but some of us have not been able to devote the time that Kevin at New Advent has to constantly improving his site. I graduated from college, started a family and my own Catholic store which really cut into my ability to update the Liturgical Library. I’m sure others have faced similar challenges.

But Kevin has constantly been improving the original on-line Catholic Encyclopedia so that it is cross-linked everywhere and available on CD. He has also expanded his selection with the inclusion of the Summa, the Church Fathers, the Douay Bible and a selection of Catholic documents.

If you haven’t used his site or don’t have the entire document collection on CD, you might want to take a look.


Catholic Family Movies For April

March 26, 2008

My mom has posted the latest monthly movie guide for Catholic night at the movies. Watch something meaningful next month!


Nothing Is Too Cheap For God

March 23, 2008

A coworker of mine was recently reading through a discussion forum and came across a post that said “Since Vatican II, it seems that nothing is too cheap for God.”

I don’t think that Vatican II can be blamed for the mediocrity that passes for “art”, “architecture”, “music”, and “education” in the Church today, but the council can certainly be noted as the point when the decline, which had been noticeable in some areas, metastasized into the whole Church. But you would have to do some pretty incredible acrobatics to attribute the decline to something actually in the documents.

You can look back to the 19th century to find the beginnings of simpering Jesus holy cards and the feminization of male saints in art and holy cards. You can go back to the 1920’s through 50’s to find the decay of architecture which led to churches looking like bomb shelters. You can also find the roots of the rot in seminary education earlier in the century as evidenced by various decrees addressing the problems with education and theology training.

The point still holds that following Vatican II, what had been confined to small pockets of the Church not only spread but became the defacto law of the land without any law to back it up.

It seems that part of the problem is the abandonment of classical education which had pointed to a world where there are absolute truths. Or even more radically, where beauty is NOT just in the eye of the beholder but is actually a tangible quality that can be objectively assessed. In fact, the entire modernist palette of the arts and education is a clear repudiation of both absolute truth and measurable beauty.

Take, for example, your average “Catholic” religious education programs. Most of them have made it on the bishops’ approved text list by being altered just enough that outright heresy is replaced by ambiguous theological statements. There is no goal to teach the Faith and teach it well. The only goal is to sell books, and the less work that is required to make them acceptable, the better.

Or, take your average parish choir. In ages past there was actually an attempt to offer what was best to God. Now, we are subjected to whoever will get up and “sing,” regardless of their actual skill. We are also subjected to the most trite music – I am sure that one of the songs sung at Mass last week was from Jesus Christ Superstar – because the choir director felt like singing it, not because it is a quality piece of music actually worthy of offering to God.

Or, take your average parish church. The churches built today are being built by the most affluent Catholic population in the history of our country and yet the result is usually an auditorium-like building with as little adornment as can possibly be had. In fact, most of these buildings could be converted into theaters with about an hour of work. Is this really worthy of God? How is it that the poor immigrants who came to this country in centuries past were able to build churches that would still be awe inspiring today if they weren’t being torn down to make way for clam shells and concrete boxes?

I believe that the restoration that Pope Benedict wants is starting in the right place – with the liturgy intertwined with sacred music. The liturgy is really the cornerstone of the Faith in visible form. If you have reverent, solemn liturgy it is very difficult to say that it belongs in a concrete box. It is also very difficult to say that the typical music found in a parish choir is worthy of well celebrated liturgy. They are really antithetical.

During the Triduum we attended services at three different parishes. The variations in music and the quality of the liturgy, at least for the weekend, matched each other perfectly.

On Holy Thursday we attended a Mass at a parish that you can always trust to be “okay.” No wacky stuff, bells regularly, decent homilies most of the time and servers who generally know what they are doing. The Mass was reverent but the music was pretty mediocre. Most of the songs were dramatic and sounded like the tunes had been borrowed from Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.

On Good Friday we attended services at a parish that recently did a renovation that included the addition of a ten-foot Christ in agony crucifix above the altar, the replacement of the “loaf of bread” tabernacle with something that actually is identifiable as a tabernacle and general architectural changes that emphasize the sanctuary and tabernacle as the central focuses in the church. The parish also regularly uses bells and patens and both priests there give excellent homilies that challenge your practice of the Faith in a good way. The music for the liturgy was almost perfect – solemn, well executed, with a mix of Latin and English hymns. The one thing I don’t understand is why, even during Lent, the piano is considered an essential part of liturgical music.

On Sunday morning we attended Easter Mass at Holy Ghost in Denver which has a long-standing reputation for excellent music and liturgy. The church is run by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary and they have shown their dedication to quality liturgical music by hiring a paid! choir that required auditions before its twelve members were chosen. The Latin Novus Ordo Mass was accompanied by a Mass setting, probably by Mozart, that included an orchestra. From where I was listening in the church basement with a sick child, the music still sounded incredible.

My hope is that with the recent restoration of the old rite to a “normalized” status in the Church, the bar for liturgy in general will be raised. From the many posts on the topic by Fr. Z, it appears that this is the Pope’s goal and one that may actually be achieved without a single new document on the subject being issued. As proof, I have heard of parishes in our city actually using a chant ordinary where the mere mention of Latin a couple of years ago would have caused either seizures or spontaneous combustion among the musicians and liturgists. There has also been a general move towards more reverent liturgy in our diocese which I think can be partially attributed to our new (of five years) bishop who seems to think that following the GIRM is actually a good idea and has been encouraging our priests to do the same. It has been several years since I have seen a glass or clay chalice in use and for the most part, liturgical texts are read as written.

I have also heard that one of the parishes in town is revamping its altar server training with the goal of having honest-to-goodness installed acolytes in a few years. I think that would put a parish in our diocese in the rarefied company of Lincoln, NE when it comes to liturgical correctness.

So, how can we assist with the renewal of Catholic culture? First, I believe that a return to a more classical approach to education where truth is actually treated as truth and where an emphasis is placed on understanding the Great Books of Western Civilization is essential. Pearson College at the University of Kansas used to have a classics program that become the root of the Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma. One of the founding members of the college, John Senior, wrote two visionary books on the topic of Christian culture that are just coming back into print.

Second, I believe that an actual love of God must be cultivated among all the Faithful. Most people would be aghast if it was suggested that they give the music or the art in their parishes to someone they love as a gift. They would probably choose something of higher quality as a gift. And yet, this lack of quality is what is offered to God each day at Mass. To achieve the goal of love of God will require a lot of patient education. This education may offend people who have come to believe that liturgy is all about community instead of worship and that mediocrity (though they wouldn’t put it in that term) is the best that can be expected. A true love of anything will always naturally bring about an improvement in the quality of attention given to the beloved. We need to abandon the idea that nothing is too cheap for God and return to the notion that nothing is too good for God.

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The Life of Christ – An Invitation for you.

March 22, 2008

 This Paschal season, and beyond, we might do well to ask ourselves “how can we come to know Our Lord in a deeper and more meaningful way?” In our life-long journey to Christ, who we know is the Light and the Life, what could be more important?

The Church teaches us that we can deepen our experience of the Lord in many ways – through the Sacraments, the Liturgy, Sacred Scripture, through our prayer and devotional life, by studying the teachings of the Church, and through instruction by other faithful and learned members of the Church.

It seems as if we are busier than ever in today’s society, and that we are living in an increasingly visual age. Time is precious but we know that we must make time for the truly important things. Although we are reading books less and less, while spending more time watching television and surfing the internet, the idea of spiritual reading and of “lectio divina” is a tradition of the Church that goes back to the earliest times. This practice was popularized by religious communities who acknowledged the profound value and benefit of it. In our increasingly secular and materialistic age, an age of so many distractions from our true path, why not make a return to a venerable tradition – one proven to help us grow in Christ? What have you read lately that has deepened your faith experience?

Returning to the original question of how we can come to know Christ in a deeper and more meaningful way, and considering the idea of making a practice of meaningful spiritual reading a part of our lives, there are many excellent books, after the Sacred Scriptures, which help us to understand and to appreciate more, the Life and Teachings of Our Lord.

In his recent book, Jesus of Nazareth which he distinguishes as being “a pastoral work and not a Magisterial teaching”, Pope Benedict writes about Our Lord in a profound yet completely accessible way. Regarding the Paschal Sacrifice and Christ’s mission, something we meditate on especially during this holy and reflective time of year, Pope Benedict writes:

“The Apostle’s creed speaks of Jesus’ descent “into hell.” This descent not only took place in and after His death, but accompanies him along his entire journey. He must recapitulate the whole of history from it’s beginnings — from Adam on; He must go through, suffer through, the whole of it, in order to transform it. The letter to the Hebrews is particularly eloquent in stressing that Jesus’ mission, the solidarity with all of us he manifested beforehand in His baptism, includes exposure to the risks and perils of human existence: “Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Heb 2:17-18). “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15). The story of the temptations is thus intimately connected with the story of the baptism, for it is there that Jesus enters into solidarity with sinners. . .In his short account of the temptations, Mark brings into relief the parallels between Adam and Jesus, stressing how Jesus “suffers through” the quintessential human drama. Jesus, we read, “was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.” The desert — the opposite image of the garden — becomes the place of reconciliation and healing.”

A few years ago, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Austria, who was the senior editor of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church commissioned by Pope John Paul II, wrote a superb book called My Jesus – Thoughts on the Gospel. In this book Cardinal Schoenborn begins by asking the question “Who is Jesus Christ?” He takes the reader through the Gospel of Matthew, explaining along the way that the search for the answer to this all-important question begins in the Gospels themselves. Cardinal Schoenborn offers a wonderful background on and explanation of the Gospel to help the reader enjoy a greater understanding of the Gospel and the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Fr. Benedict Groeschel says of this book “Cardinal Schoenborn convincingly brings home the truth and power of the Gospel image of Jesus. If you have lost touch with Christ, you will find him again. Disciples of Christ will discover new strength, conviction, and joy in this fresh expression of the reality of your Jesus and mine.”

One of the greatest books about Our Lord written in modern times, indeed this book has become a spiritual classic, is the Life of Christ by the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen. If you are of a certain age and recall seeing Archbishop Sheen on television or hearing his talks on the radio, you know he was one of the most gifted and inspiring preachers of the 20th century. The Life Of Christ is considered by many to be the most eloquent of Fulton Sheen’s writings, the fruit of many years of dedication and research. His magnum opus. Filled with compassion and brilliant scholarship, his recounting of the birth, life, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ is as dramatic and moving as the subject Himself. Here is a passionate portrait of the God-Man, the teacher, the healer, and most of all the Savior whose promise has sustained humanity for nearly two thousand years.

“It was not so much that His birth cast a shadow on His life, and led to His death,” writes Archbishop Sheen. “It was rather that the Cross was there from the beginning, and it cast its shadow backward to his birth.” With his customary insight and reverence, he interprets Sacred Scripture and describes Christ not only in historical perspective but in exciting and contemporary terms; he sees in Christ’s life modern parallels and timeless lessons. Archbishop Sheen probes the hearts of many prominent New Testament figures – Joseph and Mary, Peter and the disciples, Herod, Pilate, and others – shedding new light on age-old events. The whole adds up to a masterful study: a faithful blending of philosophy, history, and biblical exegesis. This book has truly been a revelation to countless readers, as well as a source of inspiration and guidance. Every Catholic should read and own this vivid retelling of the greatest life ever lived.

The long history and tradition of spiritual reading in the Church has always been accompanied by prayer, for prayer must be at the very heart of our Christian experience. St Bridget of Sweden composed a beautiful prayer which is also a short meditation of the life of Christ:

“O Jesus! Who art the beginning and end of all things, life and virtue, remember that for our sakes Thou wast plunged into an abyss of suffering, from the soles of They feet to the crown of Thy head. In consideration of the enormity of Thy wounds, teach me to keep, through pure love, Thy commandments, which are a wide and easy path for those who love Thee. Amen.”

 

This beautiful prayer, and many others related to the life of Our Lord composed by St. Bridget, can be found in the book the Magnificent Prayers of St. Bridget of Sweden.

 

May your Paschal season, the season of Our Lord’s Death and Glorious Resurrection, the season of our Salvation, be an especially blessed one as you grown closer to Him.

 


Taking Part in the Triduum

March 22, 2008

For various reasons we haven’t been involved in Triduum services for a few years but decided this year to get to both Holy Thursday and Good  Friday liturgies. By the time the weekend is over we will have been to a different church for each service.

Holy Thursday was a reverent Mass that ended with a Eucharistic procession and the chanting of Pange Lingua and Tantum Ergo. Unfortunately, the Mass was interspersed with music that would have been much more at home in West Side Story or some other such performance.

Good Friday at St. Patrick’s was simply stunning. The service featured four altar servers, two seminarians, two deacons and both parish priests. I had forgotten about the prostration at the beginning of the service.

Father Brad has always given good homilies and tonight was no exception. He talked about being a true witness and having the courage to speak the Truth of Christ even when it means people will leave. He also praised Catholics United for the Faith for its efforts in the diocese (his parish sponsors our chapter). He also talked about his trip to the Holy Land and visiting the Church of St. Peter and the Rooster. This church was built over the house of Caiaphas, the high priest and it is in the caves beneath this house that tradition holds was the place where Jesus was held overnight. Father talked about how cold it was and that he had a lot of spiritual growing to do because he was ready to leave after twenty minutes but Jesus had been left there overnight.

Following the homily and the petitions (I wish they had been chanted), Father carried a seven foot tall cross to the front of the sanctuary for adoration. For some reason, this was a lot more moving than the standard hand-held crucifixes usually presented on Good Friday.

After Communion, Father told everyone that even though the parishioners are usually very outgoing and  like to talk after Mass, to hold off out of respect for the day and just go quietly back to their cars. As everyone a single bell tolled.

On Sunday we will be going to Holy Ghost for Easter Mass. I have no doubt that the contrast between the somber Good Friday service and the joyful extravagance of Easter will be striking.


It Isn’t Just Catholic Stores Having a Hard Time

March 20, 2008

Borders, the nation’s second-largest bookseller, said Thursday it may put itself up for sale and has lined up $42.5 million in financing to help the chain continue operations.

Shares tumbled more than 17 percent, or $1.23, to $5.87 at the open of trade.

Borders has lost market share both to online companies and to discounters like Wal-Mart Stores  Inc.

Source

As Catholic retailers we have to always keep in mind that running a business like a business is not an option in our market, any more than it is an option in the “real” world of business outside the religious sphere.

It is especially important to note that the reasons for the problems at Borders are not confined to that chain. Online competition will take a heavy toll on any store that doesn’t have a web presence. Our niche is both a curse and a blessing. As a group we run our businesses so poorly that there isn’t enough of a market for places like Walmart to get interested in selling Catholic stuff. On the other hand, our niche is run so poorly that there are very few healthy players in the industry.

I was reading a Christian Retailing trade journal a few months ago and there was an article about large, long-standing stores closing and they cited the same reasons as Borders for the closures.

As a business owner you have got to adapt to the changing retail environment around you or you WILL close. Adaptation doesn’t just give you a competitive edge,  it keeps you alive.