Saturday, April 28, 2007

Personal: College, the most recent eight years of my life

I entered RPI in 1999 as an Information Technology major. I had a co-op (like an internship, but I get paid) on Wall Street from January to July of 2001. That taste of what it was like to really work probably spoiled my interest in college. Eventually, things went sour (partly my fault, but also because my student ID number must be a particularly unlucky one). They changed the I.T. curriculum, and the "discipline" (the equivalent of a minor in the I.T. department) I chose as a freshman no longer existed. It was "software usability". Why that got canned, I'll never know.

In the late Spring of 2005 (after failing to meet graduation requirements for a second time) I changed my major to Computer Science, and suddenly, everything was within my grasp. I was a mere 13 credits short. I took a summer course, dropping the credit gap to 9. Then I moved down to the Princeton area and started working. In the Summer of 2006, I took a night course at Rutgers. 4 more credits completed, 5 to go!

I intended on taking a night course in the Fall. Unfortunately, Summer students don't have the same status as normally-enrolled students, so it turns out I would have had to apply for admission for a Fall course before I'd even registered for the Summer course. And when I did apply for admission in the Spring of 2007, I was told to fill out the wrong forms: I was accepted as a transfer student! That meant I still had 90 credits!

I got the problem worked out: I'm a visiting student, completing another night course... the final is in two weeks. However, that didn't stop RPI from trying to rain on my parade. On March 8th, they sent me a letter saying I'm ineligible for graduation candidacy because I'm missing 13 courses. What? 13 courses you say? A whole 52 credits? After two emails to the registrar's office (the first of which they never replied to) I was told I was only 5 credits short. Subtract from that the 4 I'm completing right now, and we're in business.

My petition to walk at commencement in May has been accepted, so my parents and my Kristin will be there to watch and take pictures. Kristin, who already has two degrees to her name and is starting her Doctorate this Fall. I won't say she hasn't been a goad nag inspiration to me.

I will be walking across the dais at RPI in less than a month, with a single solitary credit -- get this, a free elective -- to complete. So I'll be taking my first actual religion course, a study of the New Testament at Rutgers. Something to whet my appetite and fulfill my degree requirements. And then I can put all that behind me and get started with my married life to Kristin.

We're getting married June 23rd, a mere month after my "graduation" (since I'll still be a credit short). We've found an apartment big enough for all her stuff us, right near where the train station (for her benefit) and my office (for mine). That's going to be a whole other ordeal, though, since my current lease expires the day we get back from our honeymoon, and our new apartment isn't available until the middle of our honeymoon. But that's getting worked out. Thank God for that.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Scripture: Devotion to Mary (John 2:5)

In my email signature (as well as on the forum at I have a quote from the Gospel according to St. John, edited for context: [Mary said], "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5)

I suppose I could have edited it further: [Mary said], "Do whatever [Jesus] tells you." Or: [Mary said], "Do whatever [my son] tells you." However you look at it, though, I hope one thing is clear: Mary, the mother of Jesus, says to us what she said to the servants at the wedding in Cana: "Whatever Jesus, my son, tells you, do it." Quodcumque dixerit vobis, facite. And that lies behind the entirety of Marian devotion and intercession.

On Gretchen's blog, I wrote a comment to a post of hers which has inspired this post. Her post was about St. John's account of Mary and Jesus at the wedding in Cana. I wrote a brief comment saying I use John 2:5 in my signature; she asked how I chose it. I responded:
I used to have... trouble... with Marian devotion. I didn't understand it. It seemed at times that it sought to circumvent Jesus Christ and his saving work. It wasn't that I didn't respect Mary or understand her role in God's plan, I just didn't understand why she got so much attention in devotions.

It wasn't until I was reading the Gospel of John that I read that verse and paused. And all of the sudden, it was all made clear. I understood how Mariology connected with Christology, and how Marian devotion was really devotion to Jesus through Mary. How could I "visit Jesus's house" and not say hello to his mother?!

Understanding Marian devotion also made a lot of Mariology clearer to me. For example, by Hebrew tradition, the mother of the king was the queen; thus, Mary is the Queen of Heaven. In addition, subejcts of the king would ask the queen to intercede for them; thus, we can ask (or "pray to", although non-Catholics will shudder at the use of that term in that context) Mary to intercede for us.

The importance of Mary to all Christians is made clear when you understand what Scripture has to say about her -- not just the Gospels, but the types of Mary found in the Old Testament as well.
She asked for me to expound upon the subject, so here I will. Some of these conclusions I have arrived at personally, while others are ones I have found elsewhere. Each title or attribute of Mary is supplemented by a brief explanation of how devotion to that aspect leads to Jesus.

This is a rather lengthy post, so please bear with me.

Mary as the Mother of God
This is, perhaps, the simplest role of Mary to understand. If Jesus is eternally God -- eternally begotten of the Father: God from God, light from light, true God from true God -- that means Mary held not just an infant in her womb, but God Incarnate in her womb. That means Mary was not just the mother of Jesus the man, but Jesus the God.

Devotion to Mary as the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, the Bearer of God (Theotokos), shows great respect to the woman chosen by God to give birth to the Savior of the World. It points to Jesus because it recognizes and celebrates the beautiful bond between mother and son. The vocation of women to motherhood, with all its sacrifices and joys, is forever under Mary's care.

Mary, Ever-Virgin
Because Jesus was man and God, Catholics hold the conception and birth of Jesus as truly miraculous events. Luke 1:26-38 and Matthew 1:18-25 attest to the virginal conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic belief of Mary's virginity does not end at the birth of Jesus: we believe such a miraculous birth was effected without compromising Mary's virginity. Nor does the belief end after the birth of Jesus: we believe that Mary, the handmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:38), was ever-faithful to God both in spirit and in body, and that she never committed any act of sexual intercourse. A logical assumption to make about Mary is that, knowing what she knew about Jesus and about her relationship with God, she would not have "returned to a normal life" as it were.

References to the family members of Jesus are never declared in the Gospel as being through Mary; that is, they are never named as the sons and daughters of Mary, but as the brothers and sisters of Jesus (cf. Matthew 12:46-50; 13:54-56; Mark 3:31-35; 6:3; Luke 8:19-21; John 2:12; 7:3-5). Moreover, Jesus uses the word "brothers" elsewhere in Scripture to refer to people who are not physical brothers (cf. Matthew 23:8; 25:40; 28:10; Luke 22:32; John 20:17; 21:23). And again, are all the teachings of Jesus which refer to us taking care of our brothers to be understood as only our brothers related to us by birth?

Finally, when Mary is present at the crucifixion with the disciple whom Jesus loved, Jesus entrusts Mary to his care (cf. John 19:25-27). Why would this be if Mary had other sons? I'll come back to this Scripture later.

Devotion to Mary as Virgin recognizes her being set apart by God for God, and calls us to set our lives apart for Jesus, no matter what our vocation (but especially as virgins for the sake of the Church).

Mary, the Gate
Another part of Scripture seen to point to the constant virginity of Mary is found in Ezekiel 44:1-2: Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. And he said to me, "This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut." The gate, the type of Mary's womb, shall remain shut ... and no one shall enter by it, because God entered by it.

Devotion to Mary as the Gate recalls Jesus's majesty, his being God, and inspires us to regard what God has created with reverence.

Mary, the Immaculate New Ark
The Ark of the Covenant was associated with three relics of the Israelites: the tablets inscribed with the commandments, the jar of manna, and the rod of Aaron. The construction of the Ark was meticulous: it was made of Acacia (or Shittim) wood, plated inside and out with gold, with a molding of gold around its top, and fitted with rings so that two poles so it could be carried (cf. Exodus 25:10-15). Only the Levites could carry it, and no one was allowed to touch it (cf. Deut 10:8; 1 Chr 13:9-11; 1 Chr 15:2).

The three relics associated with the Ark are types of Jesus Christ: being God, he is the one who gave forth the Law (viz. the commandments); he is the true bread from heaven (John 6:32) (viz. the manna); he is the one high priest of the covenant (cf. Hebrews passim) (viz. the rod of Aaron the Levite, cf. Numbers 17).

If Jesus is the anti-type (the fulfillment of the type) of the contents of the Ark, that makes Mary the anti-type of the Ark itself. This is not just fanciful deduction; St. Luke attests to this theology by the very words the Spirit chose for him to use when writing the gospel. In Luke 1:35, Luke uses the Greek word episkiazo (επισκιασει), rendered in the RSV as overshadow, to describe the presence of the Holy Spirit, the power of the Most High, over Mary upon the conception of Jesus. He uses the same word in his description of the Transfiguration (cf. Luke 9:28-36), when the cloud from which the voice of God comes overshadows the Apostles (cf. Luke 9:34). This word is found in the Greek Old Testament (with which Luke would have been familiar) to describe the presence of God in the cloud overshadowing the Ark in Exodus 40:34-35. Mary is human, but clad inside and out with purity rather than gold:
"O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides." Athanasius, Homily of the Papyrus of Turin, 71:216 (before AD 373).
Being thus clad, destined by God for such a purpose, she is without the stain of sin, preserved perfectly pure. This was done by God the Son, the Eternal Word, for Mary herself declares "my spirit rejoices in God my savior" (Luke 1:47). She was saved by Jesus at the moment of her conception, kept by God for such a holy purpose. Arise, O LORD, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy might (Psalm 132:8) is thus interpreted in light of this association of Mary with the Ark of God, in support of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven.

Devotion to Mary the Immaculate reminds us of Jesus's saving work for all humanity, and should make us praise and worship him ever more for the redemption he has bought for us.

Devotion to Mary the Ark of the New Covenant recalls the former Ark, upon which the blood of the yearly sacrifice was sprinkled for the remission of the sins of the people of Israel. Jesus's blood (derived, as was his flesh, from Mary) now takes the place of that of lambs and goats. Thus Mary the Ark points us to Jesus the Eternal Sacrifice, the propitiation for our sin.

Mary, the Queen of Heaven
As Jesus is the King of Heaven, so Mary, his mother, becomes Heaven's Queen, in accord with Hebrew tradition. As such, we can turn to her to intercede on our behalf before the Lord, the King of Heaven (cf. 1 Kings 2:19-20, Abishag's ill motives notwithstanding). The queen of heaven referenced in Jeremiah 7:18; 44:17-25 is not Mary, nor do Catholics commit the pagan practices Jeremiah speaks of.

Devotion to Mary the Queen brings us into deeper communion with all the saints around the throne of God, praying and interceding for us, and claims us as subjects to the King, Jesus Christ; as subjects of Christ, let us be loyal to his commandments, showing ourselves to be his disciples by our love for God and one another.

Mary, the Help-meet of Christ, the New Eve
God could have ordained for His Son to become Incarnate by the Holy Spirit itself; if He fashioned man from the dust of the earth, why not the body for Jesus? Instead, following the model of Adam (a type of Christ, cf. 1 Cor 15:45-49), He deemed that "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." (Genesis 2:18) Thus, as Adam had Eve, so does Jesus have Mary, not as wife but as helper. As Jesus is the anti-type of Adam, so Mary is the anti-type of Eve.

Devotion to Mary as the Help-meet of Christ inspires us to be helpers of one another in the service of Jesus Christ, in whatever vocation God calls us to.

Devotion to Mary as the new Eve recalls our spiritual origin, unity, and destiny, the Paradise of Heaven with God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this way, we recognize ourselves as "offspring" of Jesus, as his descendants by means of our adoption into God's Church.

Mary, the Mother of Christians
As Eve is the mother of all the living (Genesis 3:20), Mary is the mother of all Christians. This is further supported by John 19:25-27, where Jesus entrusts his beloved disciple to Mary.

Devotion to Mary our Blessed Mother draws us closer to one another in Christian brotherhood and therefore to a more complete fulfillment of Jesus's command that we love one another as he loves us.

More on Mary
For more on Mary in Scripture, see ScriptureCatholic's page on her. They cover some of the same things I did, but probably in more depth, as well as things I didn't cover. I also did a post on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception last December, which involved a bit of dialogue on some Marian beliefs of the Catholic Church.

In Conclusion...
Devotion to Mary and her intercession for us, whatever her answer, is always based on what she said in Cana: "Do whatever he tells you!" Ad Deum per Iesum. Ad Iesum per Mariam.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Retreat: Aquinas Institute Retreat Recap

What follows is a recap of a retreat I went on towards the end of Lent. Exact quotes (as best I was able to write them) from the talk are denoted not just by quotes, but with blue text as well. This retreat took place over Palm Sunday weekend, March 30th through April 1st, 2007. The Aquinas Institute is the Princeton University's Catholic Chaplaincy. The retreat was held at a beach house in Ocean City, NJ.

Friday Night
We started with an ice-breaker called "Trainwreck". The number of chairs is one less than the number of participants; the person without a chair introduces himself and describes a particular attribute of his (e.g. "I am the youngest child in my family", "I have a pet", "I hate ice cream"), and the other participants who can claim this attribute for themselves have to get up and find a new chair. Someone will be left without a chair (hopefully not the person who was just up) and continues with an introduction and attribute, and the game goes on (and on).

Afterwards, Fr. Tom Mullelly (the Chaplain) gave an introduction to the weekend. First, he mentioned how even Jesus "took breaks" from his ministry to go up a mountain or into a garden to pray and reconnect with the Father. This weekend was such a break, for us. He spoke about a comment Mother Teresa had made: "Don't call my country a poor country. India is not a poor country. America is a poor country, a spiritually poor country." Fr. Tom made the distinction between the beatitude of being poor in spirit (Matt 5:3) and this "spiritual poverty" Mother Teresa lamented over. America is a country with spirit, ignorant of God.

Mother Teresa took a day off every week from her ministry to the impoverished and marginalized; she received criticism for this "selfish act" of hers. Nevertheless, everyone in her order took a day off every week for prayer, for reconnection with God, for silence and contemplation. We all need a day like that; we shouldn't feel ashamed for needing to drop everything else so that we can take time for fellowship, worship, communion, and adoration of Jesus Christ.

Later that evening (after the second group of students had arrived) we prayed the Stations of the Cross out on the beach in the moonlight (truly an amazing sight). We were invited to give our own meditations on each stations -- I gave meditations on stations 4 (Jesus meets his mother) and 14 (Jesus is buried).

The day ended with Night Prayer; we sang the Salve Regina afterwards.

Saturday Morning
Morning Prayer started at 8:30, but I was up and about, relaxing on a bench on the boardwalk, at 8:00, smelling the sea breeze and basking in the sun. It was getting chilly, though, unlike the day before. After Prayer, we had breakfast, followed by another ice-breaker of sorts at 9:30, a team-building exercise.

We split into two teams of five people, and the two leaders of the retreat (Jessica Montoya and Martin Valdez) each "coached" a team. (There were twelve of us altogether.) On each team, there was one person who couldn't move her arms or legs, two people who were blindfolded, and two people who were mute (of which I was one). It was up to the team to complete a series of six tasks:
  1. putting together a puzzle (only the blind people could touch the pieces)
  2. building a sand castle on the beach (only the blind people could build it)
  3. learning and reciting a few verses from Scripture (Luke 19:38-40) (one blind person and the incapacitated person)
  4. completing an obstacle course
  5. getting the signatures of everyone on the team
  6. stating the birth dates and hometowns of the mutes
I carried Amy Osterman (an RCIA catechumen and now an initiated Catholic), my team's "paraplegic", for the majority of the event. That made up for me not doing any running or exercising in the morning. After this, at around 11:00, Jessica gave a talk centered around the excerpt from Luke, the theme for the weekend: praising God when others are telling us to be silent.

Jessica talked about the importance of remembering our utter dependence on God, especially during the times when we're comfortable with our surroundings, our health, our finances, etc. It is very important to remain connected to God in prayer. When we forget who we are -- that is, children of God -- we forget who God is. But when we remember who God is, it becomes possible for us to recognize God in the people we encounter and the things we do. We broke into two groups after she was finished for small group discussion.

At noon, Fr. Tom offered Mass, and in his homily he talked about finding Jesus, receiving Jesus, and proclaiming Jesus. Mass concluded with the ciborium remaining on the altar to begin a 24-hour adoration.

Saturday Evening
Afterwards, there was free time until dinner. At around 8:00, we prayed the Rosary in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

At 9:00 there was a lengthy "Ask Fr. Tom" session. Questions were brought up on the following topics:
  • Can the Catholic Church say so-and-so is in Heaven or Hell?
    • No; we are not judges of one another. The Judgment of souls is up to the Lord.
  • Mariology, the Rosary
    • One of the students on the retreat is a Christian of another confession, and was curious why the Rosary contains many more "Hail Mary"s than "Our Father"s, among other things. This had a lengthy response, touching upon topics such as the Communion of Saints (cf. Heb 11:1-12:2) and the Catholic dogma and theology on Mary.
  • What is the difference between a canonized Saint and some other deceased holy person?
    • The general answer was that those Saints who have been canonized are those whom the Catholic Church has received some assurance of their Sainthood (through a long process overseen by the Holy See). It was brought up that there are Saints we don't know of, and that all Saints are remembered and honored during the Mass of All Saints.
  • What is annulment?
    • It's not divorce, it's the recognition that a valid marital bond was never formed in the first place. Children born during the invalid marriage, however, are not illicit.
  • What constitutes a valid and sacramental marriage?
    • Any two non-Catholic Christians who marry (whether in a church or in a court) are considered, by the Catholic Church, to have a vaild and sacramental marriage; a Catholic, however, must be married in a church. There was other discussion on the matter, but I'm sure Canon Law is more precise than I could hope to be here.
  • Why is there evil?
    • The age-old question...
After the discussion ended, we went upstairs at 11:00 for a guided meditation in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. After that, we were done for the evening.

I did my adoration hours at 11:00 and then 6:00 the next morning. I spent most of the time meditating on Scripture (Exodus 3; 1 Samuel 3; 1 Kings 19; Matthew 17) and chanting Pange lingua and Verbum supernam prodiens (which contains O Salutaris Hostia).

Sunday Morning
I dunno. I had to leave early, after my second hour of adoration, to head back to Plainsboro for RCIA.

Liturgy: Latin shmatin?

If all roads lead to Rome, it seems pretty clear that these roads have signs written in Latin. Pope Benedict XVI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, spoke very highly of the Latin language, and called for its return to (at leasts parts of) the Roman Rite... as did his predecessors, and (gasp!) Vatican II documents. If you want citations, please wait another month or two, as I'm working my way through three more documents on the liturgy and the Eucharist. Once I'm done, I'll start posting excerpts, summaries, and my opinions (worthless as they may be).

But all that aside, Latin! Awesome. Pater noster, qui es in caelis! Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus! Agnus dei! And more! I would love to start singing -- or even chanting -- the common prayers of the Mass in Latin. My parish is quite a melting pot of nationalities; every Pentecost, the Prayers of the Faithful are said in many different languages, symbolic of the gift of tongues received by the Apostles and those with them, as well as a recognition of the diversity of God's children. If we can do that, why can't we unite under a common tongue? Not English, but the official language of the Church.

I might be learning Latin under the tutelage of a Vincentian priest nearby. Otherwise, I'll try learning it on my own. (Can anyone suggest a good Latin 101 do-it-yourself textbook or web site?)

I think the best reason for returning to Latin for many of the prayers and dialogues of the Mass (and in other places) is because the Latin captures the meaning of what the authors of the Rite meant to say. Consider the greeting and response, Dominus vobiscum / Et cum spiritu tuo. In the U.S., this is translated as "The Lord be with you" / "And also with you" rather than ... "And with your spirit". Consider the end of the Glory Be (the Gloria Patri), which in Latin is ... et in saecula saeculorum. I've heard this translated as "world without end", "and to ages of ages", and when I said it in English, it gets lumped together with the previous statement, et semper, to become simply "for ever". Now, it's one thing to say it one way in a private devotion, but when you have a group of people praying it out loud together, it's really best (and it better represents Christian unity) to say the same thing.

That's all for this morning. Pax vobiscum! Benedicite!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Fr. Francis Mary Stone at "Men of Faith" Retreat: Recap

What follows is a recap of a talk given by Fr. Francis Mary Stone at the Men of Faith retreat I attended at the Most Blessed Sacrament Friary in Newark, NJ, on March 24th. Exact quotes (as best I was able to write them) from the talk are denoted not just by quotes, but with blue text as well.

Background on Fr. Stone
Fr. Francis Mary Stone, MFVA (Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word (Verbum Aeternum)), is the host of "Life on the Rock", a weekly program on EWTN. The MFVA order was founded by Mother Angelica.

Blessed Miguel Pro
Fr. Stone started by talking about Bl. Miguel Pro, the man of inspiration behind the day of prayer. "¡Viva Cristo Rey!" (Long live Christ the King) were the last words Pro spoke before being executed by firing squad in Mexico. He was truly a martyr for Christ, a Jesuit priest who met the spiritual needs of Mexicans during a period of intense religious persecution. He was arrested and convicted (without a trial) for a crime he did not commit. Before being executed, he thanked and forgave the firing squad. Fr. Stone said that such a man is a great model for us today, and that we should all have a saint (of our gender) to look up to in such a way.

Walking by Faith
Paul wrote in his Second Letter to the Corinthians (5:7) that we walk by faith, not by sight. Humans, even Christians, often transpose the two, preferring sight to faith when possible. But the light of faith is insurpassable: we see farther and more clearly by faith than with our own sight, our own understanding. Furthermore, the light of faith that shines for us does not shine only from God to you, but must shine through and off of you, affecting those you meet.

Accountability partners
"Friars travel two-by-two to save ourselves from pay-per-view", said Fr. Stone, explaining the need for all men -- even Franciscans -- to have someone they can lean on, depend on, and be held accountable to... and for safety. Jesus sent his Apostles out in pairs, certainly with these things in mind (cf. Mark 6:7). Fr. Stone talked about a few Catholic professional baseball players: Mike Sweeney, Jeff Suppan, and Mike Piazza. He mentioned the bench-clearing brawl Sweeney started when he went after pitcher Jeff Weaver of the Detroit Tigers... and the phone call Sweeney made to Weaver several years later to ask forgiveness which led to hours of conversation about Christ. He talked about Suppan's visit to the Vatican -- a vacation that became a pilgrimage -- where he attended a conference with Pope Benedict XVI about Church and sports. He talked about Piazza's intense devotion to his Catholic faith, attending Mass whether playing at home or away.

Standing Firm in Faith
Finally, Fr. Stone talked about the importance of being resolute and firm in your faith, especially when fulfilling your role as a father and husband. He talked about the latest encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), by Pope Benedict XVI, and how it talks about the different kinds of "love", and how the love of (and from) God, agape, is the goal we should strive for in our relationships. It is a radical love, a risk-taking love, one that gives of itself freely for the betterment of its recipient.

He also said that there is no room for equivocation: you have to know where you stand and act accordingly. He brought up the example of Mother Angelica who, when faced with having to give airtime on EWTN to bishops with un-orthodox (or better put, un-Catholic) viewpoints on doctrines of the faith, said "I'll blow the damn thing [the network] up before you get your hands on it!" That kind of political incorrectness -- supporting the truth, instead of watering it down -- is necessary in this day and age. Orthodoxy -- right thinking in the faith -- is essential. Fr. Stone recalled the words of Paul: Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2).

Friday, April 13, 2007

Theology: Eternal Life: When and How?

I usually don't just copy-and-paste like this, but I want these thoughts all in one place before I write a blog post about it; since it's here, it might as well be public. I said I wasn't going to blog during Lent, but that didn't stop me from taking part in numerous threads at Catholic Answer Forums, including a lengthy one on the Catholic understanding of Eternal Life. The final post I made was an on-the-spot interpretation of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

I'll follow this up with a regularly-formatted blog post in the near future. For now, feel free to comment on the posts I've copied and pasted.

Eternal life -- that is, as opposed to eternal death (as contradictory as it sounds) -- is given to those who endure to the end (cf. Matt 10:22). Eternal life is a direct result of perseverance in a temporal life being lived in Christ. Contrast that with the temporal life lived in Christ until the times get tough (Matt 13:18-23):
"Hear then the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path.
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
Not all who hear the Word understand it. Not all who understand it believe it. Not all who believe it let it take hold in them. It is not for us to say "so-and-so has eternal life". Even Paul wasn't sure of his own salvation: Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor 9:25-27) Paul admits he constantly fights against his body (that is, his fleshly impulses).

The letter to the Hebrews stresses that we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it (Heb 2:1).

Peter's second letter refers to the possibility of being led astray by false teachers who contort Scripture: And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability. (2 Pet 3:15-17) If we are to beware lest we lose our stability, surely that stability must be related to our salvation.

The love of God is unconditional; we can only love because He first loved us. However, salvation is conditional. Jesus, Paul, and Peter make that abundantly clear.

Originally Posted by Socrates4Jesus View Post
"If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."
-- Jesus Christ (John 14:15-17)
You left out something VERY important in your citation. Allow me to include it for you:
-- Jesus Christ to his Apostles (John 14:15-17)
Jesus is talking specifically to the Apostles at the Last Supper. He's not staring off into space, dreamy-eyed, he's talking to the first 12 members of his Church. He's speaking to the Church. Throughout this chapter, certain Apostles ask questions, and Jesus answers them. Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father, and Jesus responds (John 14:9-21):
"Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.

"I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."
The Spirit is in the Church; it will be in the Church for ever (cf. John 14:16). The world cannot accept the Spirit, because it does not know him. The Church knows and accepts the Spirit, but a single member of the Church who returns to the worldly way of life will not be with the Spirit.

If we assume that Jesus is speaking to every future Christian individually, you will run into the problem of the Spirit being with a person who stops loving Jesus. Let's look at a timeline:
  1. I love Jesus, therefore I keep his commandments. (cf. John 14:15)
  2. Jesus prays to the Father and the Father sends the Counselor to be with me forever. (cf. John 14:16)
  3. I stop loving Jesus and disobey his commandments.
  4. The Spirit remains with me. (See #2)
So if I go to Hell, is the Spirit of God, the Counselor, with me in Hell? What purpose is that serving?

So the typical response is to say either a) "you won't stop loving Jesus" or b) "if you stopped loving him, you never really loved him in the first place, so you never got the Spirit". That's what happens when you don't understand that the Spirit resides in the Church and therefore in all members of the Church.

Originally Posted by Socrates4Jesus View Post
Can anyone else think of another passage of the Bible that explains John 5:24?
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."
There are two ways of understanding this statement of Jesus; one follows from a belief in universal predestination (God has destined some of us to salvation and some of us to condemnation), the other follows from a belief in the active participation of each person in the life of grace and faith offered to us by God.

Consider: "Whoever crosses the finish line first has the gold medal." Does one have the gold medal before finishing the race? No, the gold medal is the result for completing the race first.

Consider: "Whoever crosses the finish line first has great speed." Does one have great speed before finishing the race? Yes, winning the race is the result of being tall.

So which is Jesus saying? Which is the cause, the belief or the eternal life? Catholics believe the former, that eternal life is the result of belief in Jesus Christ; many Protestant denominations believe the latter, that only those who have eternal life can (and will) believe in Jesus. They see "eternal life" as a line (that is, stretching infinitely in both directions) rather than as a ray (that is, an infinite length with a definite starting point).

As for passages of Scripture that support the Catholic doctrine in this regard, I find Peter's shaky history an excellent example. Let's go through a series of pericopes and try to determine the status of Peter's "eternal life":
So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 10:32-33, cf. Luke 12:8-9)
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." (Matt 16:15-17)
Jesus said to him, "Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you." And so said all the disciples. (Matt 26:34-35)
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a maid came up to him, and said, "You also were with Jesus the Galilean." But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you mean."
And when he went out to the porch, another maid saw him, and she said to the bystanders, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth." And again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man."
After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you." Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, "I do not know the man."
And immediately the cock crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, "Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matt 26:69-75)
if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us. (2 Tim 2:12)
So, did Peter have eternal life when he professed, by the grace of God, that Jesus was the Christ? How could Peter have professed that Jesus was Christ in the midst of the Apostles (either gaining eternal life, or as a sign he has eternal life) and denied Jesus in front of many witnesses (clearly an act for which he would be denied by Jesus)?

Originally Posted by petra View Post
Respectfully, Japhy, the scriptures disagree with you. While eternal life is also something we hope for (Hebrews 10:3), it is also something that we can presently have.
I think the Scriptures point to eternal life as an inheritance that we must come in to, in order to actually "have" or "receive" it. Here's a look through Scripture; this isn't exhaustive, but contains passages which I believe point to the "inheritance" idea, as well as some which are less certain:

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Dan 12:2) At the resurrection is the realization of everlasting life in our entire bodies (as opposed to just our souls).

"And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life." (Matt 19:29) An inheritance is a promise of a future receipt.
In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:13-14) Note Paul does not say "sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit". He says we are sealed with the Holy Spirit (which we had been promised), and that is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Col 1:11-12) It's like the best "junk" mail ever: "You are already qualified to inherit Eternal Life!"

Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ. (Col 3:23-24) We will receive our inheritance.

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant. (Heb 9:15) The eternal inheritance has been promised, but only those who are called will receive it.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. (1 Pet 1:3-4) Our promise of eternal life is realized in a heaven.
And a ruler asked him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18) More inheritance.

And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life." (Luke 18:29-30) We receive sustinence from God in "this time", and eternal life "in the age to come" (which I interpret as meaning at the end of time).

"And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matt 25:46) The righteous go into eternal life at the Judgment.

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:14-16) The juxtaposition of "eternal life" and "perishing" speaks to the ultimate destiny of our bodies.

"But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14) The "water" of Jesus produces a spring, which wells up to eternal life, as if filling a well which measures the completeness of our sanctification, the result being eternal life.

"Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal. ... He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:27, 54) If this is not to contradict with the rest of Scriptures, I think Jesus is speaking of an inheritance acquired by eating his flesh and drinking his blood.


"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:27-28) Jesus is again juxtaposing the giving of eternal life (salvation) with perishing (being condemned).

"And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." (John 17:3) I guess this is the definition of eternal life, eh? Knowing God is something we accomplish when we are face to face with Him; we know the Father through the Son, but we will know God in His Completeness when we see Him.

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48) To "ordain" means "to dictate, to decree; to pre-arrange; to establish". I think this fits in with the "inheritance" economy.

But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. (Rom 2:5-8) On the day of judgment, God gives eternal life to the righteous.

But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. (Rom 6:21-22) Upon submitting ourselves to the will of God, we begin the process of sanctification, the end of which is eternal life.

For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Gal 6:8) Eternal life is the "crop", a life in the Spirit is the "seed".

Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Tim 6:12) I think Paul is challenging them to live their lives as though they have already received what was promised to them, or else he's using emphasis to say "wake up and live like a Christian!"

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who never lies, promised ages ago. (Tit 1:2) We are in the hope of eternal life, which is a promise from God.

So that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. (Tit 3:7) We are heirs to eternal life (our inheritance).

And this is what he has promised us, eternal life. (1 John 2:25) It is a promise to be realized.

Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15) This is tricky. I think it means that eternal life is a part of us, so long as we are in Christ. That is, eternal life is due to the dwelling of the Spirit of God in us, and so no one without the Spirit of God dwelling in him (such as an unrepentant murderer) has eternal life within him.

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life. I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 3:11-13) This (which you quoted) is also kind of tricky to reconcile with the previous Scriptures. I think the key is that John says "this life is in his Son", so eternal life isn't "had" as a possession is had, it's "had" in the sense that we abide in it (as it abides in us) when we are in Christ. I'm open to other interpretations, so long as they don't end up contradicting the previous passages.

But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. (Jude 20-21) I think this speaks towards the inheritance of eternal life as the "final act of mercy", if you will, of Jesus Christ to us who remain in him.

In another, simpler approach to John 17:3, if eternal life is God, then if one "has" eternal life, one "has" God, or one is in God. As petra stated, it's not your possession of the life which is eternal, but rather, eternity is a quality of that life, and as long as you are a partaker in that life, you are a partaker in eternity. You can lose (or deny) that knowledge of God, and thus be apart from it, but that doesn't change the fact that the eternal life is God.

Originally Posted by petra View Post
However, they do not preclude that a specific quality of eternal life can be experienced now. Scriptures and the Catechism support this.

It is both. We can have eternal life now, and it is also our future inheritance if we remain in Christ.
Ah, we find agreement. Yes, I agree with you now. The bolded part of your response clears things up for me, especially in light of 1 Tim 6:12 (Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.)

2 Peter 1:10-11... choose your translation. Preface (2 Peter 1:3-9) is from the RSV:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.

For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
(RSV) Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

(NAB) Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to make your call and election firm, for, in doing so, you will never stumble. For, in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

(KJV) Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

It sounds like Peter is saying it is our duty to make certain (or sure, or firm) our calling and election. We must make sure of it, so that we will not fall. How do we do that? By manifesting the qualities found in the first verses of the letter: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. But not only must we have these, they must abound! The person in whom they are not present, or are shown grudgingly (that is, not aboundingly) has forgotten that he was cleansed of his sin; it doesn't say he was never "elect" or never forgiven in the first place, it says he forgot that he was forgiven (and therefore, what was expected of him in return).

Originally Posted by guanophore View Post
Peter lied to save his own skin. that is not the same as denying his belief in Christ. He never stopped believing that Jesus was/is the messiah. He just got scared.
I disagree that it was that simple.

"So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven." (Matt 10:32-33)

"Hear then the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty." (Matt 13:18-23)

Jesus is talking about people being ashamed of him when the situation for a faithful witness to Christ comes about, a situation that may be a tribulation or persecution. When Peter had to follow through on his promise to Jesus (not to deny him but rather to die with him)... he couldn't. Whether or not he lost his faith in Jesus is not the issue -- if he lost it, certainly he regained it -- but that he was afraid for himself because of Jesus and denied having anything to do with Jesus, lest harm come to him.

Originally Posted by Socrates4Jesus View Post
I agree that there is no doubt these are things all Christians should do. After all Jesus suffered to bring us to the Father, how can we do anything else?
Well, specifically, we are called to share in his suffering, which for us is manifested not only by dealing with the temptation of sin, but with persecution. Paul litters his epistles with the theme of suffering with Christ so as to share in Christ's rejoicing; Peter's letters contain the theme as well. Here are a few passages:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:15-18)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Cor 1:3-5)

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. (Phil 1:29)

[T]hat I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Phil 3:10-12)

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. (Col 1:24) Yes, Paul said it! Our sufferings are a necessary part of the ongoing sanctification of the Church! Of course, he does not say that Jesus's sacrifice was lacking, and the Catholic Church wholeheartedly agrees.

Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God. (2 Tim 1:8)

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. (2 Tim 2:3)

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)

Originally Posted by Socrates4Jesus View Post
The doubt with which i am struggling is whether eternal life (and heaven itself) is one of the rewards or is a gift for which i can do nothing to merit or earn.
Eternal life is our inheritence from God our Father, if we are truly His children by being truly brothers and sisters of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. An inheritence is not "earned" or "merited" except through sonship; but to denounce sonship is to denounce the inheritence. Does this make sense to you?

Let me put it to you the way Jesus did, in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The rash youth decides he wants to go his own way, and his father accepts his son's decision and gives the boy his share of the property at that time. The son squanders away his property and wealth and eventually realizes he must return to his father, if only so that he can survive (cf. 15:17)! He decides he will say, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants." (15:18-19). Notice the son doesn't even ask to be forgiven -- just that he be treated as a servant. He does not consider himself worthy of an inheritence, just a laborer's wage!

Does he get to say it all? No, his father cuts him off after "I am no longer worthy to be called your son" (cf. 15:21-22). What the son has just said is an admission of guilt ("I have sinned"), and an act of contrition and humility ("I am not worthy"). The boy's father -- who has already embraced and kissed him before the boy even spoke -- knows the penitence of the boy and celebrates his return. His return from what? The father says "my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found" (15:24). Was the lost son, the dead son going to receive an inheritence if he remained dead and lost to his father? All the hoping in the world, on the father's part, would not have brought his son back if the son had not actually returned.

And what does the son receive upon his return? Is it something the father would have given to a hired servant? No, the son receives a fine robe, a ring, shoes for his feet, a fatted calf, and a feast and celebration (cf. 15:22-23). This is part of the inheritence, part of the joys of sonship. Truly he did not "merit" or "earn" such gifts -- this is attested to by the faithful son who feels cheated, because he did not receive such things. The father tells the faithful son "all that is mine is yours" (15:31), and so it is revealed that the gifts of the father are bestowed on his children as he wishes and not by any merit of their own.

What the son took with him when he left was not his proper inheritence. He returned to his inheritence only when he returned to the father. His real inheritence never disappeared, he was only disqualified from it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Fr. Cantalamessa at Seton Hall: Recap

What follows is a recap of the talk given by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa at the Evening of Spiritual Renewal at Seton Hall University on February 21, 2007. Exact quotes (as best I was able to write them) from the talk are denoted not just by quotes, but with blue text as well.

Come, Creator Spirit!
Fr. Cantalamessa began by reminding us of the words of the prayer Veni, Creator Spiritus (Come, Creator Spirit). Creation, he said, renews us. Creation is an ongoing process, not something God completed eons ago, but something we see happening even today. Creation is recognized by the transformation of chaos into order: at the beginning of time, it was the creation of the whole cosmos. Today, some of the most profound creation is taking place in ourselves, in our hearts. Our hearts are chaotic, but the Holy Spirit is continually working within us to transform our hearts. The "cosmos of our hearts", so to speak, is Christian harmony.

Ash Wednesday
Marking the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday reminds us of the call to repentance. The first reading at the Ash Wednedsay Mass this year, Joel 2:12-18, begins thus: Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. When we receive the ashes on our forehead, we hear one of two verses from Scripture; Fr. Cantalamessa focused on that of Mark 1:15: "Repent, and believe in the gospel." This call to repentance shows up at three key places in New Testament Scripture: at the beginning of the ministry of Christ, immediately after the Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles at Pentecost, and in the book of Revelation.

To repent means, broadly, to "make a U-turn". When we sin, we break the covenant -- the everlasting covenant -- God has made with us through the blood of Jesus Christ. In order to re-enter the covenant, we must choose the opposite of sin: the way of life. The Greek word used in Mark 1:15 is metanoia (μετανοῖεν), which means "a change of mind" and is translated most often in Scripture as "repent". To repent, in the context of Jesus Christ, does not mean "to go back", but rather, it means "to go forward and enter the kingdom".

Repent #1: Believe in the Gospel!
Christianity is the religion of grace. In the end, it is not about what we must do, but what God has already done for us, without which there would be no hope of salvation! Faith comes first (Mark 1:15); Jesus says that those who wish to enter the kingdom must "turn and become like children" (Matthew 18:3), referring to the total dependence of a child upon his parents: in the same way, we must have that same kind of dependence on our heavenly Father. Fr. Cantalamessa said that children ask for things, not as if they deserved them, but with the notion that they would receive them. In the same way, knowing we do not deserve anything from God, we must rely totally on His love and mercy, becoming "beggars in faith".

We are made by God in such a way that we can make an act of faith, one in which we open our hearts to Jesus and let him enter into our lives. For this reason, Fr. Cantalamessa focused our attention on Romans 10:9: if we confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved! Penance, endurance in faith, doing God's will, yes, these things are important too, but they come later.

Before moving on to Repent #2, he likened Jesus to an unexpected visitor who drops by a house. The owner quickly closes the doors to the messy rooms and directs the visitor's attention to the neat and tidy living room, where the owner feels more comfortable (and less embarrassed). It cannot be so with Jesus: he "did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Matthew 9:13). We must be willing to lead Jesus into the messy rooms of our lives, the ones in disarray and disorder. We must not be so ashamed of our brokenness that we deny it and refuse to fix it. This is what repentence means.

Repent #2: Pentecost
Fr. Cantalamessa said (eliciting applause from the crowd) that Peter promulgated a dogmatic and infallible statement on that Pentecost: "But God raised [Jesus] up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it." (Acts 2:24) The result of Peter's preaching was that 3000 people were convinced of sin by the Holy Spirit, and so they asked, "Brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37) In response, Peter says, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38)

Fr. Cantalamessa said that God is "powerless before a repentant heart", meaning (as I understand it) that God, as He is, has no other recourse than to forgive a repentant person of their sin. This repentance is not just substituting one mindset for another, of choosing A instead of B, it is taking on and accepting the mentality, exacting and absolute, of God. It is recognizing that God is Innocent, and that the evil and sin we see in this world depends on us.

He brought up Ezekiel 9 and spoke about how the "mark" on the foreheads of those who mourned for the abominations committed in Jerusalem (cf. Ezekiel 9:4). The Hebrew word for "mark" comes from the Hebrew letter taw (ת). It is understood that the shape of this letter has changed since antiquity and once was drawn similar in appearance to the tau of Greek (τ), a cross similar to a "T". Pope Innocent III, in opening the Fourth Lateran Council (in 1215), said "We are called to reform our lives, to stand into the presence of God as righteous people. God will know us by the sign of the tau, T, marked on our foreheads." The tradition of receiving ashes on our foreheads in the sign of the Cross is an application of this vision given to Ezekiel.

Repent #3: Churches in need of Revival
In Revelation 2-3, John records "letters" to seven churches. These letters contain praise... and reproach. "Wake up and repent!" is the message to the church in Sardis (cf. Revelation 3:2-3). This is a call for "revival" and "awakening".

Fr. Cantalamessa then went into his personal story of recognition of what is known as the "Charismatic Renewal" in the Catholic Church, which he says started in and with Vatican II. Some 30 years ago, he was at Convent Station (near Morristown, NJ), attending a retreat focusing on the Trinity. While there, he had an encounter with Jesus. He saw a vision of himself on a chariot, holding the reins: this indicated him, Fr. Cantalamessa, in control of his life. Then Jesus appeared next to him and asked, "Do you want to hand me the reins?" He was overwhelmed at first, but then assented to Jesus's simple request: to let Jesus have control of his life.

He then had a new-found respect and appreciation for the Charismatic Renewal, something of which, prior to his visit to Convent Station, he had been a critic and skeptic, even considering himself an "adversary". Upon his return to Italy, his change of heart was so noticed and well-received that his friends and family said they had sent Saul to the United States, and Paul returned to them!

Later, had had another vision: Jesus, coming from the Jordan, passed by him and said to him: "If you want to help me, leave everything and follow me." To Fr. Cantalamessa, this was confusing at first: here he was, a Capuchin Franciscan friar, who had taken a vow of poverty, and Jesus was asking him to "leave everything"? We all chuckled with him. Then he realized that he was still attached. He decided to resign his professorship at a university, and became an itinerant preacher, just as St. Francis of Assisi had been. This continued until 1980 when he accepted Pope John Paul II's invitation to him to be the Preacher to the Papal Household, a position he still holds today.

Fr. Cantalamessa concluded by asking a few questions. "Who shall wake us up? Who shall renew this renewal? The very newness must be renewed!" he said. We must pray to the Holy Spirit for the same zeal we had when first we were touched by God's amazing gift of grace in Jesus Christ. Drawing from Psalm 104:30, he closed with "Send out your Spirit, renew the face of the earth!"

He received a lot of applause, which became a standing ovation, which he, in his wisdom and humility, directed to God, turning toward the Crucifix on the wall behind him and joining in the standing ovation.

For more information on the evening, you can read article in the National Catholic Reporter.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What's wrong with the liturgy?

So I'm reading the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM) at the Catholic Center at Rutgers today, in between the C. S. Lewis discussion group and my class. Someone asks what I'm reading, I show them, and when I'm asked why I'm reading it in particular, I say I'm a "liturgist". I use this term to mean I appreciate and respect the liturgy of the Roman Rite and want to understand it to the best of my ability and be aware of the norms, if only so that I can (to whatever extent) make sure it is performed properly and reverently at my parish.

This person then says something like, "A liturgist? We make jokes about you guys." I responded with, "I'm a liturgist, not a liturgeist," to which he says, "Oh, so you have a soul."

I'm not entirely sure if he was just making a joke about geist meaning "ghost" (therefore, since I'm not a liturgeist, I've got a body and a soul?). What I should have said (although I suppose caritas intervened) was "It's better to make a joke of me than of the liturgy."

What's wrong with the liturgy? I don't mean, "what needs to be fixed", I mean, "why are people so bent on changing it". And I don't mean, "why are people pressing for more faithful (that is, accurate) translations of the Latin text of the Rite", I mean, "why should every Catholic and his brother have their 'own' liturgy"?

There are reasons we have documents like the GIRM, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and other texts on the proper conduct and form of the Mass. There's a reason we have norms and why we're supposed to follow them. There's a reason communion is a communal thing: we're worshiping God in the same way, together, as a family, not as pew 1, pew 2, pew 3a and 3b, pew 4, etc. We don't need separate liturgies and Rites of the Mass for separate age-groups or genders or occupations or political affiliations, we need to respect the liturgy we have and conduct ourselves accordingly.

Bring back Gregorian chant (and scholas)! Bring back Latin! Combine the two: let's return to praying the Sanctus and the Pater Noster and the Agnus Dei. I've recently started saying Night Prayer in Latin to the extent I can.

Let's regain some reverence for Jesus! Bow your head at his name, at the name of Mary, at the names of the three Divine Persons. Bow your head before receiving the Most Blessed Sacrament. I'm not making these up, these are norms, these are standards of Catholic behavior. Check paragraphs 160, 161, and 275 in the GIRM (see the link on the left side of my blog). Maybe we could work on our posture too. And not chew gum during Mass. Maybe?

It's not as hard as it sounds. Or maybe it is. And maybe it should be.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Lessons learned from Lent

  1. Daily Mass is great, especially since I was awake anyway.
  2. Eucharistic fasting every day is a discipline that takes a lot of concentration.
  3. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours is an easy way to revive my personal prayer life.
  4. Retreats help me focus on the Lenten journey of Christ.
  5. Receiving Communion on the tongue is... something. A good something. I can't think of the noun or adjective to use.
  6. I love being a Lector.
  7. The Triduum never ceases to move me; the Easter Vigil is phenomenal.
  8. I missed Alleluia.
  9. There's a lot of literature from the Vatican; two down, a billion to go.
  10. It was a crazy idea to be silent on my blog during Lent -- I'm going to be incredibly busy writing posts the whole Easter season.
  11. Latin is a beautiful language.
  12. The Son also rises.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. Amen!