Tag Archives: Christian

Can Pope Francis bring Protestants and Catholics together?

October 5, 2015

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Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

book coverBy what he says, more so by what he does, and to a yet greater extent by who he is, Pope Francis is winning the admiration of both Catholics and Protestants, write Presbyterians Pastor Paul Rock and Bill Tammeus.

“Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar,” the attention-grabbing title of their little, 96-page paperback, includes the accurately written subtitle that captures the book’s essence: “Lessons for the Christian Church.”

“This is a pope,” they write, “who is reminding people that the primary work of the church is to be an instrument of Christ’s reconciling grace and love.”

Pastor Rock sees Francis as a leader who is bringing Christians back to basic principles, noting, “I believe that through this humble pope, Christ is nudging Catholic and Protestants to stop focusing on all that we’re against and instead celebrate and advance all that we are for.”

The Westminster John Knox Press book captures a seven-part series of sermons delivered by Pastor Rock and his colleagues at the Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Missouri. It includes questions for discussion at the end of each chapter to help readers explore Catholic-Protestant common ground, and, the publishers intend, the book invites ecumenical dialogue and improved interfaith and interpersonal relations.

Rather than the arrogant type of leadership style of those who capture a disproportionate percentage of the media spotlight through sensationalism, Francis is appreciated for his style, the choices he makes and the type of leader he has chosen to be. Both as citizens and leaders, Pastor Rock writes, “We are thirsty for an example of authority that speaks and lives out and models ideals we know are right even if they are hard to hear.”

Referring to the Gospel stories, the authors see similarities in the styles of Jesus and Pope Francis, being present to people, listening and then sharing helpful advice.

“The more we think about Francis and the things he stands for and the reasons people are talking about him,” Pastor Rock writes, “the more I begin to realize that the part of me that is drawn to Pope Francis is the part of me that is drawn to Jesus.

“Catholics and Protestants together, who are shaped by the gospel values of the kingdom, are reminded in Francis that they have much more in common than whatever differences might have been important years ago.”

The authors invite both Protestants and Catholic to widen the circle of those they invite to their communities with a list of “next steps,” practical ideas to inform ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. As the authors note, “Sincerity counts, but it’s not enough. It must be coupled with wisdom and an appreciation for how ideas might be received.”

For Catholic readers, there is one caveat: Pastor Rock acknowledges that he disagrees with “boundaries” found in Catholic teaching, first, that the Church Pope Francis leads is the one true Church; second, that the priesthood is reserved to men; and third, that homosexual tendencies are objectively disordered.

 

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So what does this gold U-like symbol mean?

July 24, 2014

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It’s taken over profile pics everywhere. What does it mean?

nunsymbolexp

In the tradition of stealing pejorative words and symbols from the opposition it is now being used in solidarity with the Christians in Iraq who are being forced out of their homes.

 

Mark Shea over at Patheos has a short explanation: It Stands for “Nazarene”

There is also a story at National Review Online: A Christian Genocide Symbolized by One Letter

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‘Brother Hugo and the Bear’: cute and informative

May 8, 2014

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brother hugo and the bearAuthor Katy Beebe has crafted a cute story from a sliver of what may or may not be a true anecdote from the 12th century. Did a bear really devour much of one monastery’s copy of St. Augustine’s letters to St. Jerome?

Beebe’s fictional Brother Hugo gets the task of replacing it, and a good chunk of the tale illustrates how manuscripts were created by the monks in those monasteries in the Middle Ages.

Illustrates is the perfect word, too, because artist S.D. Schindler’s superb use of the style of those medieval illuminators adds a whimsical period touch that puts the story into the proper historical timeframe.

This is not just a good tale for young readers but an educational one as well.

There’s church and human history embedded in the Eerdmans book, with salutes to those ancient monasteries, the Benedictine’s Cluny and the Cistercian’s La Grande Chartreuse, and even a glossary that includes both church and manuscript making vocabularies.

What a nice idea, and nicely done.

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A few good apps

June 27, 2013

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I’ve recently pruned my apps on my phone and after some thought this is what I consider essential in my Catholic folder:

Laudate
This has way too much to cover. I use it primarily to preview the readings before Mass.
iTunes
Play

Missio
The Pope actually launched this himself. That alone is reason to have this app.

Confession
This app provides a customized examination of conscience and step by step guide through the sacrament along with a place for reflections, etc. It does come at a cost of $1.99.

Rediscover: App
Rediscover your Catholic faith. “There is a path to meaning and purpose, a sense of belonging, inner strength, true freedom and deep peace. It’s a path you know.”

Geo-locate a parish for Mass times or adoration hours or times of confession in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

400+ short articles and videos on everything from God to culture

The Pope App
Homilies, general audiences. Follow the pope as closely as you would like.
iTunes
Play

Divine Mercy
Lots of info on the devotion and an easy-to-use set of virtual beads to pray with

iBreviary TS
The Liturgy of the Hours and more

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St. Joseph the Worker the virtue of work

April 29, 2013

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StJoseph&Jesus_vertMay 1 is the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker.  Joseph was a carpenter (Mt 13:55) and an exemplary worker.  God wants each of us to be good workers.

Work is a good thing.  God made it so when God worked for six days when God created the world.  On the seventh day, God rested from all of the work he had done (Gen 2:2).

It is part of God’s master plan for the human race that people would work and be partners with the Creator in the ongoing work of creation.  When God placed the man in the garden, God told him to “care for it” (Gen 2:15).  God also said, “By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat” (Gen 3:19).  Cain and Abel were workers, one a tiller of the soil, the other a keeper of the flocks (Gen 4:2).  Noah was a ship builder.

St. Joseph was a tremendous worker.  Modern Bible translations say that Joseph was a carpenter, but he most likely was a craftsman who worked in both wood and stone.  Joseph invested the talents and abilities that God gave to him (see Mt 25:14-17,19-23).  He delivered a valuable service to his customers and provided for his family.  Since he was a righteous man (Mt 1:19), it is presumed that he was industrious, that he gave an earnest and steady effort, and that he was diligent and conscientious, reliable and dependable, productive and efficient.  As we commemorate St. Joseph on May 1st, it is a time to take note of his positive attributes as a worker, and use these exceptional qualities as an inspiration and guide to help us be better workers ourselves.

Work provides resources to support one’s self and one’s family; contributes to the well-being of others and society; enables a person to share with others, particularly the needy; prevents unnecessary dependency; utilizes one’s unique skills and gifts; keeps a person constructively occupied; reduces gossiping and meddling in the affairs of others; and can be an avenue to personal holiness.

While work is a virtue, sloth is a vice and a capital sin.  The slothful person is lazy, has little ambition, gives little or no effort, is sluggish and apathetic, and avoids work.  Often laxity in work goes hand-in-hand with laxity in the spiritual life.  St. Paul has stern words for lazy Christians:  “If anyone [is] unwilling to work, neither should that one eat” (2 Thes 3:10).

Laziness is a sin against God’s love.  It is the failure to invest talents in a constructive way for the benefit of others and the glory of God.  St. Joseph honored God by being an industrious worker.  His memorial is a reminder that God wants each of us to be good workers.

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Two angels at the tomb of Jesus

March 28, 2013

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Resurrection at St. Andrew in Fairfax revised

Resurrection at St. Andrew in Fairfax revised

A Miraculous Encounter.  On Easter Sunday morning when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and a number of other women from Galilee went to the tomb of Jesus, they encountered “two men in dazzling garments” (Lk 24:4).

A Curious Discrepancy.  Each of the four evangelists mentions the presence of one or two mysterious figures at the tomb.  Matthew explained that “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.  His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow” (Mt 28:2,3).  Mark reported that the women, upon entering the tomb, “saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe” (Mk 16:5).  In the Fourth Gospel John the evangelist recounted how Mary Magdalene “saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been” (Jn 20:12).  In Matthew and Mark there is one figure, while in Luke and John there are two.  Who are they?  Why is the number different?

Unique Identity.  There are multiple details that reveal the identity of the figures present in the tomb.  Both Matthew and John state explicitly that they were angels.  All four gospels say that the figures were clothed in white or dazzling garments, a sign they came from heaven, the abode of the angels.  Each delivered an announcement from God that Jesus was risen from the dead, and it is the duty of angels to serve as divine messengers.

One or Two Angels.  Modern rationalistic philosophy and the scientific method strive for factual accuracy and precision, while the evangelists use details to convey a symbolic message.  There are several plausible reasons why Luke prefers two angels to one.  Luke uses pairs throughout his gospel:  Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, the cure of a leper and the cure of a paralytic, Martha and Mary, and many others.  When it comes to the angels, it is preferable for them to work together in tandem rather than by themselves, alone.  Furthermore, when it comes to the strength of testimony, in the Mosaic Law a statement given by an individual is considered insufficient or unreliable, while the word of two gives necessary corroboration and verification (see Dt 19:15).

The Two-Figure Symbolism.  There is a strong likelihood that Luke wants the reader to make a connection between the Transfiguration and the Resurrection.  When Jesus was transfigured, two men in glory appeared with him (Lk 9:30,31), and when Jesus was raised two men in dazzling garments appeared (Lk 24:4).  Moses and Elijah came from heaven and the two figures in the tomb also came from heaven.  Moses and Elijah spoke of Jesus’ exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem (Lk 9:31), and men in dazzling garments spoke about the completion of Jesus’ exodus on earth in anticipation of his future and final exodus, his Ascension to heaven.

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In defense of Christian music

March 5, 2013

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Photo/hoyasmeg. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Is Christian music really Christian? Is it even any good?  Photo/hoyasmeg. Licensed under Creative Commons.

I had a discussion with a music student once about whether there was such a thing as an “African sound” — popular music with an identifiable sound produced in a number of African countries. This person had studied different forms of indigenous African music and argued that it would be impossible to pick out one “sound” for the continent.

A visit to the iTunes Store reveals how many “sounds” or musical genres are out there—African pop music falls under “World.” Christian music also has its own category along with hip-hop, classical and heavy metal.

Do we need a Christian category?

Does Christian music have its own “sound”? Isn’t all music somehow inspired? Don’t we serve God by writing about life without having to say Jesus’s name all the time? Do we risk ghetto-izing Christian music by creating this category? Isn’t the Christian category just a place for musicians who aren’t good enough for the real musical world?

The blogger at Bad Catholic Read or Die raised these questions in their recent post, Five Reasons to Kill Christian Music. While I think they’re right to say that some Christian music isn’t that great, I’d like to argue in favor of keeping the Christian category.

First of all, I assume the criticism was directed at contemporary Christian music and not the work of masters such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Mozart, Palestrina or King David of the Old Testament, all of whom wrote overtly God-centered music.

The biggest defense I would give for any self-identified Christian music is that it points us toward God and helps us become better Christians.

What we listen to matters

St. Paul gives us an idea of what music is best for our souls: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

This doesn’t mean we should only listen to songs eligible for a Dove award but it does seem to exclude music that focuses on hook ups, break ups or anything else that draws us away from God. Of course there are quality artists writing morally meaningful songs on secular radio but often you have to sit through a lot of junk before you find something beneficial.

Music is a reflection of what’s in the heart of the musician. It can be beautiful but sometimes it’s not so good morally. In his 1999 Letter to Artists, Bl. John Paul II draws a distinction between an artist’s moral and artistic self:

“It is one thing for human beings to be the authors of their own acts, with responsibility for their moral value; it is another to be an artist, able, that is, to respond to the demands of art and faithfully to accept art’s specific dictates. This is what makes the artist capable of producing objects, but it says nothing as yet of his moral character.”

Can’t  get regular air time?

Why is there a separate category for Christian music? Not because all the Christian musicians decided to go off into a corner to sing only to the “saved.” It’s because the secular world doesn’t have much tolerance for messages about God unless they’re critical or derogatory.

If you love someone, you want to talk about them. That’s why people write songs about God. Expressing their faith is real life for Christian artists. If we did away with the Christian category, musicians would have to write codes into their songs to express their faith. Maybe some are already doing that. Living under persecution, the early Christians communicated with codes; I hope it doesn’t come to that again.

It seems to me, the biggest reason the blogger thinks Christian music should be scrapped is that they think it’s bad. They apparently believe Christian musicians copy their “successful” secular counterparts to create insipid, formulaic songs about angelic praise, clouds and how “Jesus saves.” Some of it is like that but I would challenge anyone who thinks this to listen to Christian radio for more than five minutes and check out artists such as Matt Maher and For King and Country.

According to Bl. John Paul II, the Church does need music that explicitly expresses the faith:

“How many sacred works have been composed through the centuries by people deeply imbued with the sense of the mystery! The faith of countless believers has been nourished by melodies flowing from the hearts of other believers, either introduced into the liturgy or used as an aid to dignified worship. In song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love, and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God.”

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St. Scholastica, Virgin and Religious

February 8, 2013

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St. Benedict speaking to St. Scholastica detail at Seven Dolors in Albany

St. Benedict speaking to St. Scholastica detail at Seven Dolors in Albany

St. Scholastica (480-547) was born in Nursia, Italy, in 480 AD.  She is the twin sister of St. Benedict.  As a young woman she consecrated herself to God, and she remained at home to assist her father while her brother Benedict went to Rome to study.

St. Benedict is the founder of Western monasticism, the one who developed the concept of men living together in a religious community in a monastery for a spiritual purpose under a rule of life.  Upon his return from Rome he founded a monastery at Monte Casino.

In parallel fashion, St. Scholastica founded a house for women religious or a convent at Plombariola only five miles south of Monte Casino.  Previously women who wished to live a more intense spiritual life did so on their own in seclusion and occasionally a few women would live together.  St. Scholastica expanded the communal life dimension.  She gathered women who wished to focus more exclusively on God into larger groups, usually younger virgins and older widows.  In the convent they were able to separate themselves from the concerns and temptations of the world to concentrate on a life of prayer, mutual support, and good works.

St. Benedict was the abbot or superior of the monastery, and St. Scholastica was the abbess or superior of the convent.  Even though they lived separately they stayed in close communication and shared a strong spiritual bond.  Once each year they met for a single day to pray and discuss spiritual matters, and because Scholastica was not permitted to enter the monastery, their meeting took place at a home between the two.

They had a remarkable final meeting.  Scholastica was advanced in age and had a premonition that her time was short, so after dinner she asked her brother to stay longer.  The Benedictine Rule requires a monk to be in the monastery every night, so Benedict declined.  Scholastica said a quick prayer and almost instantly a violent thunderstorm broke out which forced Benedict to remain indoors.  Benedict exclaimed, “Sister, what have you done?”  She answered, “I asked a favor of you and you refused it.  I asked it of God and he has granted it.”

Three days later St. Scholastica died and St. Benedict, who was praying at that moment, looked up and saw her soul ascending to heaven in the form of a dove.

St. Scholastica is considered the founder of the Benedictine sisters; her symbols are a dove, the book of the Benedictine Rule, and a pastoral staff; she is the patron saint of women religious; and she is a special intercessor against storms and lightening, and for children suffering convulsions.

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New saint on October 21, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

October 20, 2012

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Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha will be raised to sainthood by Pope Benedict VXI on October 21.  She is affectionately known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” the first Native American to be canonized a saint.  While this is a great moment for the Church across North America, it is particularly significant for Native American Catholics who number approximately 600,000 from 300 tribes in the United States and Canada.

Kateri’s path to sainthood has gone through a number of steps and a lengthy process.  She died in 1680.  Over the next two and a half centuries devotion to her has steadily increased and many miracles have been attributed to her intercession.  Her cause for canonization was opened in 1932; she was declared venerable by Pope Pius XII in 1943; beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 22, 1980; approved for canonization by Pope Benedict XVI in December, 2011; and 332 years after her death, she will be formally canonized a saint on October 21, 2012.

Kateri was born in 1656 in Auriesville (Osserneon), New York, on the south bank of the Mohawk River.  Her mother was a Christian Algonquin.  She was orphaned at the age of four when her mother, father, and baby brother all died in a smallpox epidemic.  Kateri also contracted smallpox, survived, but was severely weakened, partially blinded, and face disfigured.

Kateri was then raised by her uncle who hosted three Jesuit missionaries.  They instructed her in the faith and she was baptized on Easter, 1676, at the age of 20.  The Mohawks bitterly opposed her conversion.  They tried to force her to marry, but she refused.  She would not work on Sunday and was branded as lazy.  She prayed the rosary and was taunted as crazy.  She was mocked mercilessly and ostracized by family and neighbors.  When her life was threatened, she fled to Caughnawaga, a small town near Montreal, Canada.

Kateri lived in a cabin where she could practice her faith freely.  She prayed long hours, attended daily Mass, taught children their prayers, visited the sick and elderly, made crosses that she placed throughout the woods, and made a perpetual vow of virginity in1679 at the age of 23.  She suffered recurrent headaches, fevers, stomach aches, and weight loss, much due to her severe self-inflicted penitential practices.  She died on April 17, 1680.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha is the patron saint of Native Americans, the environment, those who are persecuted for their faith, orphans, and World Youth Day.  Her feast day is July 14.

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St. Clare of Assisi, Virgin and Religious

September 8, 2012

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St. Clare was born in Assisi, Italy, the same hometown as St. Francis, in 1193, twelve years after Francis was born.  Both came from upper class, wealthy families.

When Clare was 18 she listened to a Lenten sermon preached by St. Francis, and she was so moved that on Palm Sunday evening, 1212, she left family and friends to be a religious sister.  Her hair was cut.  She gave up her possessions for a sackcloth robe and a life of simplicity.  At first she went to a Benedictine convent where she received her formation in religious life.

Francis invited Clare to return to Assisi to live in a small house near the San Damiano church, and joined by a number of other women from local families, she took up residence in 1213.  Two years later Francis appointed Clare as the abbess or the religious superior of the new community, a role that she reluctantly accepted, and she lived inside the convent for forty years.  Her sister Agnes entered at the age of 15, and her mother Hortulana, widowed, and her sister Beatrice followed sometime later.

Clare embraced a rigorous, austere life.  The nuns were supported by the work they did inside the convent and donations brought from the outside.  They observed a strict fast every day except Sundays and Christmas.  They abstained from meat entirely.  At night they slept on the ground, while during the day they wore no shoes, socks, or sandals, and observed major silence, forgoing conversation for hours at a time.  As a penitential practice, Clare wore a hair shirt, a coarse, bristly, abrasive undergarment, an aggravating irritant to her skin, and during Lent she lived on bread and water alone.

Both Francis and the bishop viewed these practices as too harsh and asked Clare to soften them.  Not only did Clare comply, but she asked the other sisters to moderate also.

Clare was deeply saddened by the death of Francis in 1226.  She lived another 27 years, most of them in poor health, often confined to bed.  When she was able to work, she sewed altar linens and vestments in her room.  She spent much time in prayer, and she had a special devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist.

Two great miracles are credited to Clare.  The city of Assisi was attacked twice.  Because of her reputation for sanctity, the townsfolk carried her on a mat to the city walls along with a pyx that contained the Blessed Sacrament.  In each case the hostile forces retreated, both attributed to her intercession and the miraculous power of Christ.

Clare founded the Order of the Poor Ladies, now known as the Poor Clares.  She was the first woman to write a Rule of Life that was formally approved by the Church.  Their special charisms are intense prayer, both private and communal; radical poverty and simplicity; as well as cloistered living in a residence secluded from the public.

Clare died in 1253 and was canonized two years later by Pope Alexander IV.  She is the patron saint of embroiderers, and in 1958 Pope Pius XII named her the patron saint of television.

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