Archive | June, 2016

St. Cyril of Alexandria (370-444), Bishop and Doctor

June 24, 2016


St. Cyril of Alexandria

St. Cyril of Alexandria

St. Cyril was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 370 AD.  His family was of the noble class.  His uncle was Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria.  Cyril received a classical and theological education under his uncle, who eventually ordained him to the priesthood.  A number of years later, in 412 AD, he succeeded his uncle as the patriarch or bishop of Alexandria.

Cyril was a fierce advocate for orthodox teaching and he aggressively went on the offensive against those who taught otherwise.  He strenuously opposed three major heresies that had numerous adherents in the Fifth Century:  Novatianism, which argued that certain sins such as murder, adultery, and apostasy, could not be forgiven by the sacraments; Nestorianism, which held that Jesus has two separate persons, one human, the other divine, and that Mary was the mother only of the human person; and Pelagianism, which held that salvation is achieved only through human effort and not by grace.  With decisiveness and stern authority, he closed the churches of heretical sects and expelled the Jews from Alexandria.

While Cyril’s actions provoked intense anger and bitter opposition, he was supported by Pope Zosimus (417-418) and a large number of bishops.

Meanwhile, Nestorius became the patriarch of Constantinople in 428, and he held that Jesus was the greatest of human beings but not divine, and that Mary was not the mother of God.  Cyril vehemently opposed Nestorius and his teaching, and he brought the matter to the attention of the new pope, Celestine I (422-432), who convoked a synod in Rome that condemned Nestorianism.  A decree was issued that condemned the teachings of Nestorius and removed him as patriarch, but Nestorius rejected the synod’s decision.

With the church beset by controversy, the Roman Emperor, Theodosius I, called for a council to resolve the conflict for the sake of peace in the empire.  The Council of Ephesus was convened in 431, Cyril presided, and two hundred bishops attended.  In a tactical move, the sessions began before forty-three oriental bishops that supported Nestorius arrived.  Under the leadership of Cyril, the council upheld the two natures of Jesus, proclaimed Mary as the Mother of God, and condemned Nestorianism.

When Archbishop John of Antioch and the other bishops that supported Nestorius arrived, they were outraged, convened a counter council, denounced Cyril as a heretic, and deposed him.  Aggravated by the dispute, Emperor Theodosius arrested and imprisoned both Cyril and Nestorius.  Pope Celestine issued a proclamation in support of Cyril and the Council of Ephesus, and when papal legates arrived, Cyril was exonerated and released, while the charges against Nestorius were confirmed and awhile later was exiled.

After the Council of Ephesus, Cyril dedicated himself to writing a number of treatises to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, the mystery of the Incarnation, and the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of God.  He also wrote Scripture commentaries on the Pentateuch and the gospels of Luke and John, and he supported the Egyptian monasticism.  Cyril died in 444 in Alexandria, and he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1882.

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A six week series from the letter to the Galatians

June 17, 2016


StPaulStainedGlassThe second readings for the Sundays of Week Nine through Week Fourteen of Ordinary Time, Year C, are taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

The Location of Galatia.  Galatia is a large area in central Asia Minor or Turkey.  It is surrounded by Bithynia to the northwest, Pontus to the northeast, Cappadocia to the east, Cilicia to the southeast, Pamphylia to the south, and the Province of Asia to the west.  It was a Roman province in the First Century AD.  Some of its principal cities were Ancyra, Antioch of Pisidia, Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium.

Galatians.  Galatians is a collective term for the diverse peoples of the cities and regions of the Province of Galatia.  It was a predominantly Gentile area with a variety of pagan cults to the Greek gods, and there was a small minority of Jews and a synagogue in some of the cities.

Paul’s Time in Galatia.  Paul visited Galatia on all three of his missionary journeys.  Paul visited Galatia with Barnabas on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:14-14:25), sometime between 42 and 45 AD.  He went to Galatia again, this time with Silas, as part of his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6), during portions of 46 and 47 AD.  Paul returned to Galatia a final time with Timothy on his third missionary journey (Acts 18:23) in 52 AD.

Paul’s Missionary Activity in Galatia.  Paul initially would go to the local synagogue where he preached the gospel with great fervor, attracted large crowds, and made a number of converts.  This quickly led to bitter opposition from local Jewish leaders who were jealous of his dynamism and popularity, and were enraged that he was taking their members.  Paul, no longer welcome in the synagogue, would then extend his outreach to Gentiles where he also made new believers, but he was opposed by family members who did not convert.  Paul would found a new Christian church in the locality and then travel to another city.  At a later date Paul would circle back to the cities where he had established a community to revitalize and encourage the members.

The Situation in Galatia.  Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians while in Ephesus in spring of 53 AD (see Paul:  A Critical Life, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, 180-182).  The letter was in response to the Judaizers, Christian converts from Judaism, who would sweep into an area after Paul had departed, and vehemently criticize and undermine him and his preaching.  While Paul preached salvation through Jesus and his redemptive death on the Cross, the Judaizers insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity must follow the Mosaic Law and that salvation comes not through Jesus and his grace but through legal observance.  Moreover, they claimed that Paul was not an authentic apostle because he had not been taught by Jesus as were the twelve apostles who accompanied him for three years, that there were discrepancies between the preaching of Paul and the other apostles, and that Paul had wrongly relaxed the requirements of the Law for Gentiles to make the Christian faith easier and more attractive.

The Letter to the Galatians.  The letter has three parts.  Paul begins with a defense of himself as a true apostle who preaches the gospel with full authority.  Next, he uses multiple arguments to explain the difference between faith in Jesus and the works of the Law, and how justification comes through faith.  He concludes with an appeal to new converts to recommit themselves to an active Christian life in accord with the ways of the Spirit.


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St. Barnabas, apostle and martyr

June 9, 2016


StBarnabasBarnabas was born on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.  He was a Jew of the tribe of Levi.  He was given the name Joses or Joseph, but the apostles changed his name to Barnabas, which means the “son of encouragement” or the “son of consolation” (Acts 4:36).

Barnabas is not one of the original twelve apostles, yet he is considered an apostle because of his close association with the Twelve, his advocacy for Paul as a trustworthy apostle, his leadership in Antioch, his companionship with Paul on his first missionary journey, his tenacity as an evangelizer, his prominent role in the Council of Jerusalem in support of the inclusion of the Gentiles, and his work as the founder of the church of Cyprus.

Barnabas first appears in Scripture in Acts 4:36-37.  It recounts how Barnabas “sold a piece of property that he owned, [and] then brought the money and put it at the feet of the apostles.”  Not only was this a powerful act of faith, it also was a demonstration of how to practice stewardship and a validation of the role of the apostles in the fair distribution of donations to the needy.

One of Barnabas’ greatest contributions was his willingness to vouch for Paul’s authenticity as an apostle.  Paul had persecuted Christians (Acts 8:3; 9:1-2; 22:4-5; 26:9-11; Gal 1:13), and his hostility was widely known.  While some had heard of his supposed conversion, they doubted that someone who had opposed them with such ferocity could now be on their side.  It was Barnabas who brought Paul to the apostles, and Barnabas who spoke on his behalf (Acts 9:27).

Barnabas made a number of significant contributions to the early Church.  He was commissioned by the apostles to be a missionary to Antioch of Syria (Acts 11:22).  Barnabas, along with Paul, who he asked to be his partner (Acts 11:25-26), made numerous converts in Antioch.  Barnabas was Paul’s companion on his first missionary journey, and he accompanied him to Cyprus, Perga, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (Acts 13 and 14), and he proclaimed the gospel with exceptional conviction.  Barnabas accompanied Paul to the Council of Jerusalem, and he, along with Paul, vigorously defended the inclusion of Gentiles, and he argued that Gentiles should not be subject to the stipulations of the Mosaic Law, a proposition that was accepted and the scope of the Church forever widened (Acts 15:1-21).  Barnabas was commissioned to return to Antioch of Syria to announce the good news that Gentiles are welcome (Acts 15:22-35).  Then, after a dispute with Paul, Barnabas sailed to Cyprus with John Mark to establish the Christian church in his native land (Acts 15:36-41).

Barnabas was bitterly opposed by Greco-Roman pagans on Cyprus, and they eventually killed him by stoning in Salamis, a seaport city, in 60 or 61 AD.

The symbols for Barnabas are a book, because he preached the gospel with Paul on his missionary journeys and to the people of Cyprus, and an olive branch because he was an effective peacemaker.  He is often depicted with St. Paul.

Barnabas is the patron saint of peacemakers because he quelled the antagonism of the apostles toward Paul and helped to resolve the conflict over Gentile admission.  He is also the patron saint of Cyprus, and invoked against quarreling and hailstorms.

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An Irish Catholic girl reflects on St. Peter’s Square in Rome

June 7, 2016


I came not expecting to be moved by this place.

I came expecting crowds and gimcracks and jabbering people with fanny packs and cameras. I am surprised. I was wrong. I cannot help but be moved by this place. St. Peter’s Square is, first of all, big. It is breathtaking and majestic. It is grand. I am surrounded by immense, imposing statues who hover over me, standing guard — the saints, the martyrs, the twelve apostles. All around me as I sit in the Square I hear voices, a multitude of languages, some I don’t even recognize. All around me I see nuns, bishops, women in their wedding gowns. I have landed smack dab in the middle of the “catholic” Catholic Church. From the very lively babies babbling in their strollers, to the nuns laughing together about something, to the teenagers posing for pictures with their “selfie sticks,” to the seminarians quietly doing their morning prayer, to the Chinese family saying a rosary together — in Chinese — everywhere I see a Church that has somehow survived every attempt to obliterate it. It is a Church which has survived even the grievous sins and moral failings of its own members.

Jesus Christ made two promises when he founded his Church: first, that when the Church speaks as Church, it will not teach error, and second, that the Church would not disappear from the face of the earth before he returned. Sitting here, I see everywhere the fulfillment of those two promises.  How, given its “colorful” history, the strings of “interesting” popes and cardinals, the concerted and skillful attacks of its many enemies — how has this Church survived? Money alone could not have sustained it for two thousand years. Power alone could not have sustained it for two thousand years. Only love — transcendent love — can account for this place, here, today — because only transcendent love could have created and sustained it.

Not our love for God, although that love is visible everywhere here. Every statue of Peter reminds me of his enthusiastic love for his Lord. Every statue of Paul reminds me of the inexhaustible energy with which he proclaimed the kingdom of God. They were martyred on the same day: Paul beheaded because he was a Roman citizen, Peter crucified because he was a Jew, and upside down because he asked for that, declaring himself unworthy to be murdered exactly as Jesus had been. Were they afraid? Of course they were. En route to his own beheading, Paul asked a woman if he could have her scarf, so that he could prevent himself from seeing the blade come at him. Peter convinced himself at one point that he ought not be martyred at all, that he should leave Rome alive and continue to evangelize. Only a vision of Jesus himself as Peter was on his way out of town prevented him from running.

They were both terrified. They were human. What can account for them, and for so many other flawed and frightened human beings, to allow themselves to be flayed, grilled, torn to pieces, pressed to death, crucified, beheaded? What can account for a Church that has survived its own popes sometimes: Borgia Popes, de Medicis, the popes who bought their office and used it for their own personal gain, Pope Julian III, who dug up his predecessor, Pope Formosus, and put him on trial, dressed in his papal regalia and dead as a doornail, this pope who found his dead predecessor guilty of all crimes and then tossed him in the Tiber? What can account for a Church that embraces both Peter and Julian III, while often disapproving heartily of both of them? What can account for me, standing here a few miles from the place where Paul was killed, standing on top of the place where Peter was crucified, looking at the obelisk he almost certainly was looking at as he died? It has to be God’s love — for the Twelve, for the Jews, for the martyrs, for every single one of us—for our corrupt, striving, beautiful, flawed, sorry human selves — only God’s perfect love could have created and sustained this place.

Peter’s bones are buried beneath the ground on which I sit. Beneath me, scratched into the wall of a crypt containing the bones of many martyrs, are the words, “Peter is Here.” Next to those words, in the wall, are a collection of bones, but there are no foot bones. When someone is crucified upside-down, they cut the dead body off the cross, leaving the feet behind. As I sit in the Square, Pope Francis enters and mounts the stage for his Wednesday audience. And here am I, an Irish Catholic Girl from Chicago, three days into a semester in Rome — cold, homesick, tired, confused — and yet, I am filled with joy and peace in this place. Surrounding me and grounding me and soaring over my head is evidence of the faith in which my Irish Catholic father from Chicago, Jack Maloney — my papa — raised me. And here I sit, atop Papa Peter, listening to Papa Francesco. And I am home.

Anne Maloney is department chair and an associate professor of philosophy at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

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St. Norbert, Bishop

June 3, 2016



Norbert was born in 1080 in Xanten, a town in western Germany.   His father was Count Heribert of Gennep, his mother Hedwig of Guise.  His family was both nobility and Christian.  As a young man he was ordained a subdeacon, not because of his faith, but to gain the advantage of clerical position and a financial subsidy from the church.  He became a spiritual advisor to Emperor Henry V in Cologne, and he reveled in a life of political influence, luxury, and wealth.

Norbert accompanied Henry V to Rome in 1114 for a contentious meeting with Pope Paschal II over lay investiture, the appointment of bishops by secular rulers.  Norbert was moved by the Pope’s firm adherence to spiritual principles, and it proved to be the beginning of his conversion.  A year later Norbert was riding his horse, caught in a thunderstorm, struck by lightning, and thrown from his mount.  Spared, he experienced a conversion like St. Paul.

Norbert resigned his position with the Emperor and withdrew to the Benedictine Abbey of Siegberg outside of Cologne for a period of penance, fasting, and prayer.  At the end of his seclusion, he was ordained a priest in 1115, and to prove the genuineness of his vocation, he sold all of his land and material possessions and gave the proceeds to the poor.

Filled with zeal, Norbert returned to Xanten, but the local clergy were lax, not enamored with his call to holiness, and ostracized him.  Norbert departed for France, barefoot over snowy roads, to meet with Pope Gelasius II who had fled from Rome.   The Pope commissioned Norbert to be a missionary preacher, and for the next several years he traveled throughout northern France preaching Jesus, the gospel, and repentance, and he performed a number of miracles.

In 1120 the new Pope, Callistus II, sent Norbert to Laon to lead a spiritual renewal of the Canons of St. Martin.  Again, he encountered bitter resistance, and unable to lead a reform, he was given permission to found his own community, which he did on Christmas Day, 1120, with thirteen members, at Premontre in northern France.  The new community was called the Canons Regular of Premontre, or simply, the Premonstratensians, today called the Norbertines.  Norbert adopted the Rule of St. Augustine, and implemented some of the practices of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercians regarding simplicity of life.  He combined the contemplative spirituality of monastic living with the active spirituality of outside ministry.

Norbert was appointed the Archbishop of Magdeburg, Germany, in 1126.  He instituted a clergy reform that enforced celibacy, eliminated corruption, and ended absenteeism.  Opposition was so intense that several assassination attempts were made on his life, and he fled Magdeburg briefly.

Pope Honorius II died in 1130, and two cardinals were elected separately, one legitimately, Innocent II, and one falsely, Anacletus II, the antipope, which caused a schism.  Norbert went to Rome in an attempt to support Innocent II and resolve the conflict.  Unsuccessful, he returned to Magdeburg, fell ill, and died on June 6, 1134.

Norbert was canonized by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.  He is the patron saint of Magdeburg, Bohemia, and the Premonstratensian Order.  His symbol is a monstrance because he vigorously upheld the doctrine of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in his preaching.

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Transubstantiation: A fundamental Catholic belief about the Eucharist

June 3, 2016



Transubstantiation is a theological term derived from two Latin roots, trans (prefix), a preposition that means “over” or “across,” and substantia (root), a noun that means “substance.”  To transubstantiate is to change one substance into another.  The initial substance is bread and wine, and it changes into a new and different substance, the Body and Blood of Christ.  It is no longer bread, but the Body of Christ under the appearance of bread; and no longer wine, but the Blood of Christ under the appearance of wine.  The physical appearance and chemical composition remain unchanged, but the substance is entirely changed.

This belief is firmly grounded in Sacred Scripture, particularly the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.  “Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’  Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood’” (Mt 26:26-28; see also Mk 14:22-24 and Lk 22:19-20).  During the Bread of Life Discourse (Jn 6:22-59), Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven … and the bread that I will give is my flesh” (Jn 6:51).

St. Paul further reflected on the words of Jesus.  He asked, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16).   He also provided the earliest written account of the Institution of the Eucharist (1 Cor 11:23-26), written around 56 AD, well before the gospels written sometime between 68 and 100 AD.

This transformation happens by the power of God to whom the Eucharistic Prayer is addressed and through the action of the Holy Spirit who is called down over the offerings at the Epiclesis before the Words of Institution.  The Consecration is the moment when this takes place, yet the entire Eucharistic Prayer is consecratory.

EucharistWheatTransubstantiation only occurs within the context of a valid Mass with a properly ordained priest who is serving in persona Christi, in the person of Christ.  The priest must be in union with the Church and in line with Apostolic Succession.  The priest pronounces the words, but their power and grace are God’s (St. John Chrysostom).

Historically, transubstantiation was first taught by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, and reaffirmed, clarified, and strengthened at the Council of Constance in 1415 and the Council of Trent in 1551.  Trent was the Catholic Counterreformation in response to Protestant reformers such as Calvin and Zwingli who denied transubstantiation entirely and Luther who proposed consubstantiation.  Trent declared that in the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist, “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” (Trent, 1551; Catechism, No. 1374).

There are several things that transubstantiation is expressly not.  It is not consubstantiation, the Reformation teaching that the bread and wine are simultaneously both bread and wine and the Body and Blood of Christ.  Transubstantiation is also not “transsymbolization,” that the bread and wine are symbols or reminders of the Body and Blood of Christ, or “transignification,” that the consecrated bread and wine come to have new significance or meaning.

The fullness of the true presence of Christ is in each form of the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament alone, the Precious Blood alone, or both together.

There are many other forms of the presence of Christ, particularly in the Word, the people, and the priest, all which are “real,” “but because it is presence in the fullest sense:  that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present” (Pope Paul VI, Mysterium fidei, No. 39).

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