Thursday, October 26, 2006

Good Article on Eastern Catholicism

My friend and brother in His Vineyard, Fr Miguel of Augusta emailed a very nice article entitled The Rite Not to Be Roman by Carl Olsen from a recent issue of This Rock magazine. It does a very nice job of explaining some of the differences between the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Roman (Latin) Church.

It’s unfortunate that so many people have either no knowledge about the Eastern Catholic Churches or misconceptions about who we are and our contributions to the Church Catholic. Even usually well informed Roman (Western) Catholics typically don’t understand the relationship between the Eastern Churches and Rome. I recall trying to correct a friend who was absolutely convinced that my Patriarch was appointed by the Pope because “all bishops are appointed by Rome.”

Highlights of the article include the following:

“Ultimately, true Catholicism is not found in uniform worship or liturgy-the Catholic Church has not, since its earliest days in Jerusalem, been uniform in those areas. Rather, it has been united in its common faith, doctrine,and sacraments, concretely demonstrated by communion with the pope, the bishop of Rome. While there is a proper diversity in the realm of liturgical practice, devotions, and even disciplines, there is an essential unity in doctrine and dogma.”

Also noteworthy:

“…the Eastern Churches show forth the authentic unity and diversity that is truly Catholic. Eastern Catholics are concrete evidence that the Catholic Church is not a monolithic and homogenous Western institution but an ancient, catholic, and worldwide communion of the faithful united by dogma, doctrine, and the See of Peter.”

Don’t take my word for it, it’s worth reading. Check out the following link:

For those interested, in the future I might include a few references, reviews or summaries of resources (Books, article, weblinks, etc.) I've found informative or useful over the years.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Reflections on the Upcoming Elections

As Election Day draws near in the United States we are bombarded by political TV and radio ads, intrusive political telephone calls (from people and from pre-recorded messages), political junk mail (both mass mailing forms and even hand-addressed photocopies from local supporters) and the barrage of interviews and discussions in every media imaginable.

For the Christian, elections and participating in the political process requires prayer and consideration. At first blush this may seem both obvious and trivial, but in reality the very possibility of participating in the political process involves several important issues that the Christian will do well to contemplate.

The Church teaches us that in Christ we become children of God. “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.” (Gal 2.26) The magnitude of this fact cannot be underestimated. “God is Love,” as St John teaches us. (1 Jn 4.8b) But if God is Love and we are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1.27), then our lives must in some way reflect that divine nature. As St Paul notes, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2.20) In a very real way to be a Christian is to “have put on Christ.” (Gal 2.27)

We see then that the fact of our salvation in Christ implicitly has moral consequences. St John adjures us, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 Jn 4. 11) When I receive the love of God within my heart I am impelled to transform my understanding of the world around me, and I come to perceive that every human being is also equally worthy of love. I come to recognize that the likeness of God within me is a likeness shared by all of humanity. Thus, life in Christ is characterized by love, and decisions and actions naturally flow from that love.

This connection between love for God and love for others is fundamental to our integrity as Christians. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.” (1 Jn 4.20-21) The Love of God that refreshes the divine image within us prompts us to have a generous love for our brothers and sisters in this world. It is an axiom at once moral and political, personal and social.

St James allows no ambiguity concerning the moral responsibility that flows from being a Christian: “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (Jas 2.14-17) The reality of my being a child of God, of having His divine image inscribed on my heart, must manifest itself in my choices and in my actions.

This moral imperative lies at the heart of the Christian Faith and our understanding of humanity and has crucial significance for politics. In the ancient Church, as exemplified in the Byzantine Catholic Tradition, the Divine Liturgy makes this plain. The Anaphora (the Eucharistic Prayer) of St John Chrysostom includes a petition “for our public servants, for the government and for our armed forces” which concludes, “O Lord, grant them peaceful rule that we too in their tranquility may lead a calm and quiet life in all virtue and honor.”

In the United States, citizens have a civic right to participate in the political process of electing representatives and leaders. Citizens have the right to vote. With that right comes a responsibility that carries great weight, especially so for the Christian. The Christian vote can never be solely about personal preference nor which candidate or party will benefit me personally. The Christian must prayerfully cast his or her vote according to the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2.16)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, like all orthodox Christian treatises, sees the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes as the central pillars of Christian morality. By reference to these basic principles Christians can in good faith make moral choices and participate in the political process. Reflecting on the fact that all people are children of God, endowed by God with infinite human dignity, Christians measure the worth of political opinion held by the candidates and cast their vote accordingly.

As the final hours wind down to Election Day, Christians should spend time in prayer and reflection on basic Christian principles and candidly review the positions and beliefs of the various candidates. Following the example of our Lord, Christians will vote based on Faith, not blindly following this or that party. Indeed, let us pray that all citizens will reflect on their own faith traditions and following their moral compasses will cast their votes in humility and prayerful dignity so that our nation may benefit from a government seeking the best for all of God’s children.

Short Reflections on the Feast of the Cross

(Originally written in August 2005)

On 14 September the Church marks the Triumph of the Cross. In the Byzantine Churches the Feast is also called the "Exaltation of the Cross." A clue to the antiquity of the Feast is that both the Byzantine and Roman Churches celebrate the Feast on the same date. For many, the Feast may simply pass by without significance. Yet the history of this commemoration shows it to have significance even today.

St Constantine the Great legalized Christianity in 313 a.d. and showed great generosity to the Church. Indeed, many of our ideas about the very structure of a classical European church building are derived from the fact that Constantine donated imperial Roman government buildings to the Pope and Bishops for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy (Holy Mass). Such is the origin of the old Roman Basilica.

In 326, the mother of Constantine, St Helena, went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. While there, she collected relics to distribute among the churches now springing up through the Empire. The inhabitants of Jerusalem told her that the site where Christ had been buried was a traditional local gathering place for prayer and worship. Going to the site, St Helena had workers begin digging, and ultimately three crosses were found. Legends provide two alternative explanations about how she chose the True Cross: 1) a dying woman was laid on each of the three crosses, and the True Cross healed her of her infirmity; 2) a corpse was brought forth and laid on each cross, the True Cross resurrecting him. However it was chosen, both St Helena and St Constantine were convinced that they had found the True Cross and a Church was built over the site, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Cross itself was initially taken to Constantinople for the veneration of the faithful, and later divided up between the Church of Roman and several other important Christian Centers.

The importance of the Feast of the Cross lays not so much in the historic details of the finding of the True Cross. Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christians observe the Feast of the Cross with a fast in honor of our Lord’s great mercy in dying for us and as firm reminder that our salvation is rooted in history. Christianity is not a religion of myths but a Faith in the One God who reveals Himself through historic circumstances. The hard reality of the Crucifixion confronts us with the undying Love of God and the suffering our Lord Jesus was willing to endure for our sakes. The unfolding of our salvation in history assures us that we are not just His creatures but His children, created in His Image and Likeness.

Take some time off this September 14th and go to Mass. Offer thanks to our Lord for the gift of salvation lifted up through the Cross unto Eternal Life.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ship Without a Rudder

America has evolved to the point where decisions are determined based on public opinion. This method has not been debated but is assumed as the obvious consequence of the democratic ideal that is America. The American way is to decide an issue based on majority vote; the very system and heritage of the 'land of liberty' promotes this approach. In itself, this is not a bad thing. To the concern that a majority vote could lead to an immoral or dangerous result, we take comfort in the various checks and balances of the Federal system the center of our republic and our republican democratic ideal.

Yet when a culture is removed from the moral underpinnings of Faith, it is too easy for the 'safeguards' of the system to fail. Against the argument that Faith is restrictive and binds its followers to a narrow vision of life, we need only examine the opposite. Without Faith as a compass progress becomes directionless with every choice risking extinction.

However, it is sometimes charged Faith often does not provide the definitive answers society seeks. Instead of being the monolithic oracle that can answer every question, it is argued that Faith often fails to provide the compass-like guidance it proclaims, leaving society to grapple in a dark wilderness in search of answers.

Yet, it is not necessary that Faith should provide clear answers at the outset of a public debate; it is that Faith should guide the dialogue in discerning solutions in the public debate. If this obtains, the decisions of a society, guided by the moral reasoning of Faith, always result in a reality that is not only acceptable to the religious mind, but that is also revealed as ultimately inevitable and the product of firm of theological reasoning. The consistency and inner coherence of Faith guides without reducing human freedom. A society guided by Faith is a society guarded by reason, freedom and peace.

But what of a society that has cut itself off from Faith? Consider that "in the day" (as it is commonly phrased these days) it would have been unthinkable for abortion, divorce, gay culture, etc. to be considered normative, common and natural to the average person. It would be unthinkable to be confronted by ballot initiatives promoting this or that practice; practices formerly recognized as vices but today understood as liberties. In this reality Faith is not the temple of virtue and driving force of moral good producing guidance and security, Faith is the object of comfort and confirmation of utilitarian pursuits, driving personal gain and the elimination of true moral boundaries.

In a society where Faith has become a mere marketable product subject to the whims of fashion and devoid its power to transform superstition and irrational focus on the self becomes the sole motivating cause of change and ‘progress.’ In a culture where Faith itself is assailed and commanded to change and be changed by the shifting sands of public opinion that nation is set adrift, like a once mighty ship without a rudder.

In such a rudderless vessel, an argument founded in Faith seems unnatural, close-minded, and even blindly prejudicial. Without the "firm foundation" of Faith, society no longer voyages along the sea-lane of perfection but wanders the waters of wantonness. Without the moral absolutes of Commandments, the journey to justice is passed over for the meandering of immoral mediocrity. Without the Beatitudes there is only bareness, base utilitarian squandering of resources and the objectification of human personhood as prurient fodder for personal gratification. Ultimately, such a vessel must surely run aground. Its once might hull and mast crushed on the rock of a cold and angry shore. Without Faith society does not advance, it regresses.

Faith is essential for the true advancement of human society. Without Faith there is only wilderness, icy desolation and the isolated murmuring of existential nothingness. Instead of wholeness and transfiguration, we find only the empty desire for fulfillment and satisfaction. The emptiness of human existence, that unfulfilled life that finds no completeness or satisfaction in any experience, plods on seeking that which it can never have without the Divine.

That life which aches in the emptiness of the human life reduced to the meager existence of the animal;

That being created in a nobler image and hungering for Angelic Food which alone can nourish, while yet wasting away on the swill of debased debauchery;

That thirst which craves the Chalice of Immortality which only the One who shed His blood can give, while parched on the dregs of a cup fit only for the decaying decadence of degradation;

Lo, it cries out for a Savior.

Like the prostitute it clings to the feet of the One who alone can save while demanding to "go and sin no more."

Like the dead it awaits the One who alone can defy the conventions of modern imagination and issue the challenge, "Lazarus, come forth!"

Like the prodigal, it awaits the moment when it will come to itself and cry out "How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger!"

In that moment, there is repentance.
And in repentance there is hope.

In that turning, there is forgiveness.
And in forgiveness there is commitment.

In that renewed society there is salvation.
And in salvation there is love.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Respect for Life and the Dignity of the Human Body

From the beginning, when God created the universe and “saw that it was good”, He created humans “in the image and likeness of God.” (Gen. 1.25; 1.27) This ‘image’ is the source of our innate ability to love and be loved; it is essential to our humanity. It permeates our very existence allowing us to appreciate the beauty of a foggy morning sunrise, the grandeur of a thunder storm, the cadence of a melody, and the smile of a loved one. It is at the heart of the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life.

Life is a gift from God. Each human being is a unique creation of God, and so we not only respect life we cherish it. From conception to natural death, the human person has infinite worth precisely because he or she is created in the image and likeness of God. This is why we reject abortion, euthanasia and murder as contrary to the will of God – it kills a creature that has infinite dignity. To kill a human being, created in the image of God, is to reject God Himself.

In the Theology of the Body, the Great Pope John Paul II contrasts the spiritual beauty of intimacy in the love of husband and wife with the spiritual emptiness of wanton sexual license in the decadent pursuit of selfish physical indulgence. The one leads to life; the other to death.

Recognizing the dignity of the human person necessarily includes respect for the integrity of the human body. A sexual act devoid of this respect reduces a human being to a thing for one’s own sexual gratification and violates his or her dignity. It ignores personhood and idolizes the flesh for sexual pleasure.

Therefore, the Church denies the notion that sexual immorality is a ‘victimless’ crime. We particularly condemn acts that harm the young and vulnerable, and recoil against the abuse of children for debased sexual pleasure. We work to safeguard them from predators who would degenerately use them, and construct safe environments where the innocence and dignity of their bodies will be respected and protected.

Our Lord said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mat. 18.6) Respect for life and for the dignity of the human body is not a matter of politics or orientation. It’s not about personal choice or point of view. It’s not about liability or public relations. It’s about accountability; it’s about being created in the image and likeness of God.

The Holy Nativity versus Merry Xmas – The True Joy of Christmas Season

(Orignially written in December 2005)

As December twenty-fifth approaches, the world around us prepares to take down the trees and put away the “holiday” banners. At the same time, therapists are already gearing up for the time when depression seems to strike more people than any other time of year. And no wonder! After all, don’t the Twelve Days of Christmas end on December twenty-fifth? The party’s over. All that’s left is the drunken bacchanal of New Year’s Eve.

Many think “Xmas” is over. How wrong they are.

It’s not Christmas, but Advent, that ends on December twenty-fourth. In the Catholic Church, Advent (the season leading up to Christmas) is a somber time of prayer, contemplation and fasting. We don’t celebrate the Lord’s birth, we await it. It is a time of reflection and anticipation.

Christmas Season really begins on December twenty-fifth and ends on January sixth (the Feast of the Epiphany) – the true Twelve Days of Christmas. The solemn mood of Advent gives way to a joyous melody of our Lord’s birth. Consider the tonal differences of hymns like “O Come Emmanuel” versus “Angels We Have Heard on High”.

The Church rightly proclaims Christmas as a season of joy, a time of gratefulness in which our Lord shows us the importance of family. It reveals the great Mystery that God’s love for us is so profound He came down to be born in a manger in Bethlehem (literally, “the House of Bread”). Through our Baptism and the Holy Mass we are all one family, and the Holy Family of Nazareth becomes our model for family life, “a model of what the family should be,” “a place of love and sharing,” in the words of Pope Paul VI; a school where we “learn to realize who Christ really is.”

Christmas is a time for cherished customs and traditions reflecting God’s love. Such happy customs abound in the Catholic Church. For example, the much-maligned Christmas tree, representing the Tree of Life in Paradise, is traditionally not lit until after the Vigil Mass of Christmas and remains in the home at least until after Epiphany. Some still bring wine to be blessed and drunk on the Feast of St John the Beloved Disciple on December twenty-seventh. In the Eastern Church, the family gathers to share St Basil’s Bread (Vasilopita) on January first. In many Italian homes, Epiphany is the day for gift giving, and in the Byzantine Church holy water is blessed for house blessings. In fact, the joy of Christmas typically continues to the Feast of the Presentation on February second. And these all draw us back to the Holy Mass and to our Lord.

Therefore, let us celebrate this holy season of Christmas with the joy and thanksgiving it rightly deserves. And let us never forget that this is the Season of God’s Light coming into the world making us all members of God’s Family! Let us proclaim, “Christ is born! Glorify Him!”

Holy Lent, Holy Repentance – A Season of Joy

(Originially written in late February 2006)

Roman Rite Catholics begin their annual Lenten Journey to Easter with Ash Wednesday. For Byzantine Rite Catholics, Lent begins two days earlier on “Clean Monday.” In both traditions, Lent is a season marked by penitence and special devotions. Significant spiritual acts indicate its great importance in Christian life.

The theme of Lent is repentance, and various practices and devotions emphasize this theme. In the West, the weekly Stations of the Cross features prominently, while in the East, the great Akathist Hymn is chanted every Friday. Throughout Lent, the Church calls us again and again to repentance.

Yet some hesitate. In our sophisticated world, many have mistakenly come to believe that repentance is little more than a superstitious relic of the past. To them, the Sacrament of Reconciliation seems repressive. The very idea of penance seems an alien masochistic practice to our modern ‘feel good’ culture.

How short sighted they are! Lent is not a maudlin time of sorrow and despair. Of course, there is contrition for sins, but Lenten repentance is also an act of joyous renewal. God’s Great Mercy beckons to us, and through repentance we turn back to receive His generous forgiveness. We come to recognize that even as we are in complete need of God’s mercy, in His Great Love for us He is always ready to accept our repentance and lead us to holiness. Every practice and custom of Lent becomes an occasion to inspire us to that repentance that is both joyful and life-giving.

The Church teaches that the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Holy Confession) must be received at least once a year, and that during Lent. From what has been said above, it is easy to see why. The seasonal practices and devotions associated with Great Lent are especially suited to assist us as we approach the Sacrament of forgiveness.

In a world overwrought with anxiety and neuroses, self-doubt, self-pity, and self-righteousness, Reconciliation has the spiritual power to heal us from sin. It reopens the doors to life filled with Divine Love. More and more, people are coming to see this important Sacrament as a vital part of their spiritual life. Like the psalmist, those who frequent this Mystery of forgiveness find themselves thanking God: “Too heavy for us, our offenses, but You wipe them away.” Oprah can’t do it, but our Lord can!

Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say: “There are two ways of knowing how good God is: one is never to lose Him through the preservation of innocence; the other is to find Him again after He has been lost.” During this Lenten season, make time to receive this wonderful Sacrament of Reconciliation and experience for yourself the great Love of God it reveals.