We will not be having our regular Christian unity meeting in October. Instead we are inviting interested participants to attend Harbor Springs Book Fair being held on October 1st at 7:00 PM at our local High School’s fine arts center. The featured speaker will be the forty year Religion editor of Newsweek magazine, Ken Woodward who will be discussing his book Getting Religion.
I am nearly half way finished with the Book and am impressed with the insights I have gotten from it as to how and why secularism has made such a big impact on our American culture. Woodward looks at all the significant events from the last half of the Twentieth Century to the present and describes the impact they have had on Religion. Most of those events lead to an undermining of religiosity for many individuals.
Within the Catholic Church he cited the Second Vatican Council and Poe Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” as straining, disrupting, and diminishing religious faith perspectives in the hearts of Catholics. The changes that resulted were dramatic as a consequence and reshaped the image and vision of Catholicism.
The Racial divide in our Nation that emerges during the 1960’s had a similar earth quacking of Social environment. Churches were in conflict within each other as they sought to grapple with the issues. Needless to say those wrestling’s also contributed to the fracturing of Religion’s influence on the American consciousness. Out of it emerged a new vision of American’s Social and political doctrine that was longed overdue and continues to be worked out.
Personal moral and ethical issues continue to erupt causing more social earthquakes that push and pull religious consciousness in many directions. All of these and those I have yet to read about in Woodward’s book have been the foundation for secularism that is becoming more a dominant consciousness for Americans. The media are our new prophets and our electronic devices have become our new Bibles. These are my understandings of Ken Woodward’s Book on Getting Religion which is more of a history and an analysis of religious consciousness that makes us aware of how and why secularism is replacing religion and in the process of becoming a replacement for religion.
Hope you can make it to Woodward’s lecture on October 1st. We’ll talk about it at our next meeting on November 6th…
Living Pentecost: the Body and Blood of Christ
Pentecost has a very important influence on today’s feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. In fact, if we could unravel the ball of string of our Sacred History we would be astounded at the many ‘Spirit’-led connections to Jesus’ offer of Himself to us in the food of His Body. The earliest is related to the mysterious priest Melchizedek, who offered Abraham a blessing of bread and wine. That event prefigured the Messiah who would establishment God’s kingdom. Abraham’s son Isaac continues that connection in prefiguring of Christ’s sacrifice.
Humanity is genetically designed to seek to appease the Divine for the mess we make of our world and lives. Passover sacrifices were at the heart of Jewish expression of that desire. In the year 70 A.D. Josephus, a Jewish historian recorded that 256,500 lambs were offered in sacrifice in the Temple. Lambs are the most vulnerable of all the animals. The High Priests who offered the Passover sacrifice could enter the Holy of Holies only once a year for a brief time due to their sinfulness. Jesus came among us as a Lamb, identifying with all the bloody sacrifices of those slaughtered lambs by replacing their sacrifice with His own. He was not only victim but also priest. Jesus became the sacrifice through offering Himself once and as priest entered God’s Holy of Holies on our behalf!
The Holy Spirit left us many clues about God’s plans for us. Without the Holy Spirit we would not be able to experience that one act of sacrifice Jesus offered to the Father. It is only through the action of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is made present to us in the form of bread and wine. Our faith in the Eucharist finds support in the prayer the priest says at Mass. “We entreat You (God); sanctify these gifts by the outpouring of your Spirit, that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son…” The Holy Spirit is the instrumental cause of the real presence of Christ among us. And the Holy Spirit has continued to renew the life of the Church through the theological mysteries revealed to the Church through saints who have become our teachers in helping us understand the fullness of what the Eucharist means for us.
They include: Paul the Apostle, St. Juliana, a Belgian mystic of the 12th Century, the then Pope who invited St. Thomas Aquinas to promote the Eucharist. The Church through the Holy Spirit continues to enrich us with other Eucharistic meanings: as a feast, memorial, sign of unity, bond of charity, paschal banquet and the pledge of eternal glory.
Living the Resurrection # 5
Today we are celebrating Pentecost, a feast that is integral to the Resurrection for those of us on earth. I have often wondered and jokingly said that I am going to write the Pope and suggest that we call Ordinary Time, the Time of Pentecost. In reality, that is what ordinary time is, time after Pentecost. Time in which we can access the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Who continues to energize and sustain the Church! So, in talking about living the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit completes our capacity to live it.
We only need to observe the powerful effects produced by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles at Pentecost to appreciate the significance of the Spirit’s presence among us: How thousands came to the knowledge and saving influence of Jesus’ death and resurrection! How the Apostles were transformed by the Pentecost event and courageously and fearlessly preached the name of Jesus. It only seems natural that as we come to the conclusion of the Easter Season the dynamic of the Holy Spirit’s effect on us personally and on the Church generally is something we need to integrate into the consciousness of our faith life. The Holy Spirit gave birth to the Church! Pushed us out of the nest to enable us to become transformers to the world in which we live. The question is how well are we flying under the Spirit’s presence?
Like the consciousness of living the Resurrection, unless we intentionalize what we believe we lose the ability to enter into the reality of its meaning. We give more of our consciousness to the immediate, multiple, and material demands that absorb our attentions. In spite of that, we do live in a unique existence that allows us to experience Jesus through His Words recorded by the Church, to receive the physical presence of His body and blood, and now on Pentecost have the ability to be aware of His Spirit nurturing, nudging, and inviting us to a greater intimacy with him. The great accomplishments throughout the Church’s History came through those who lived the Resurrection and maximized its potential! They continue to inspire us and model the Person of Jesus for us by their love for God and their selfless service to others. The Transforming Spirit of Pentecost is responsible for all those good and healing activities to humanity.
We only need ask ourselves how we have allowed the Holy Spirit to speak to our hearts. Often, we don’t trust the impulses, thoughts, and graces given to us by the Holy Spirit and like a little child want to wrestle out of the grasp of the Holy Spirit’s loving embrace!
In a few minutes we will be reenacting something Jesus modeled for us – by washing feet. Much of its meaning is lost to us moderns who find Jesus’ action foreign. So, the challenge for us is to translate that message for our time.
The shock of Jesus’ action was that only slaves or servants washed feet. Yet, Jesus their master and Lord not only abandoned his social status with his disciples but He also endured the repulsive aspects of this action because, besides dirt, animal dung had a way of sticking to the feet of people. So practically speaking, washing feet created a much more pleasant environment for a meal.
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as a model of service and love. In doing so, He lowered Himself to the status of a slave showing us what love means. This love was not a feeling but an active and costly self-giving, a lesson He repeated by pouring out His cleansing blood for us. If that's what love meant for Jesus, then as his followers that is what it means for us. He told us, "I have given you a model to follow."
So, for our experience today we need to ask, what are our unpleasant tasks or dirt we need to deal with before our Paschal Meal? Our penitential rite serves to remove the sinful dung of our lives, but there are many other challenging issues to contend with as we relate to one another.
Peter’s response to Jesus raised one of them. He was not going to submit to Jesus’ activity. In his eyes, this humiliating gesture seemed to him to be an inversion of his values that regulated his relationship to Jesus. Peter disapproved of the equality that Jesus wanted to create. In other words, Peter was not ready to share Jesus’ dynamic of love, which is demonstrated in reciprocal service. In doing so he ran the risk of losing his relationship to Jesus.
We all can relate to Peter on that score. We have strong convictions and make them a priority whether they be about ‘Religion and politics’ or ‘marital morality’ or ‘any other issue’ that we challenge the Church on. Jesus told Peter, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet….” Jesus is promoting a value that says love toward others demands acceptance and hospitality in ongoing service.
I see implications to Peter’s response being maintained in us through another perspective, that of domination. And I wonder if those same dynamics have kept people from serving because of the controlling domination of those who serve, like Peter attempted to do. International speaker and sales trainer Grant Cardone says, “If you can’t dominate don’t compete.” If we put that in the context of ‘serving’ it can give us some evidence of why people may be reluctant to serve.
Service is an act of mercy, not a means for self-aggrandizement or for acquiring power - like Obamacare imposes on the Sister of the Poor. Why doesn’t our Supreme Court know we need more foot washers?
The great people of Jesus’ Kingdom are those who serve others and consider themselves the least entitled. They don’t lord their authority over others or want a prestigious title to draw attention to themselves. To acknowledge Jesus as Lord does not lead to domination through service but to a selfless freedom to serve.
A British Medical Journal researched why people desired euthanasia and came to this conclusion: "Participants in their study desired euthanasia or assisted suicide because of disintegration and a loss of community, which combined to create a perception of a loss of self." They saw that their feet were filthy, but no one came by to wash them, and so they conclude that they were not worth washing, and they lost hope and death looked like an attractive solution to their perceived worthlessness. They need someone to wash their feet, to remind them that they still matter. The antidote ‘to our culture of death’ is Christ-like love and Jesus invites us to dispense it, by washing the feet of others.
“As I have done, so you also must do.” Jesus stoops down from the height of his divinity to serve us. He elevates us into divine communion, so that we too can descend and reach out to others. We are to go out to those in chronic poverty, reach out to battered women, the handicapped, the dying, the unborn, and those many nobodies in the eyes of the world. Our society treats them as nothing. So we must become like them, and live for others. Jesus ordered his whole life towards the service of others. So must we.
In last Sunday’s gospel, the events of a sick man who lived in Bethany ignited Jewish leaders to kill Jesus. Bethany means “house of the afflicted.” John’s intent in writing this account is not just about Lazarus but about us all afflicted ones. Lazarus means, "God helps." John saw this story as summarizing all gospel stories.
It begins in need. Lazarus is seriously ill and dies. "God remembers" and Jesus is a concrete sign that God does not forget us humans by coming to our tombs. We suffer many afflictions in our "houses of the affliction." We are Lazarus in our tombs and God has not forgotten us.
Lazarus isn’t the only one suffering dire circumstances. His loving sisters and concerned friends had come to comfort them. But all their support didn’t keep Lazarus from death. This universal "man" needed help in a world where death takes total control over us. We are on board with St. John as we join him to discover whether "God helps."
His sisters were frustrated with Jesus. Why did he delay and let Lazarus die! Yet, Jesus said, "This illness is not to end in death...." Jesus has power over death and will reveal the "glory of God." God is not a God of death but a God of life. That’s our hope when we live in "a house of the afflicted!" where those we love diminish. Faith in Jesus does not guarantee an easy solution, a cessation of all problems. In fact, things may even get worse. And like the sisters of Lazarus we might ask, "Where is Jesus when you need him!?" Because of Jesus we have the life of God in us, helping us through the losses that afflict us. Death and sin do not have the last word even though it holds us in a seemingly unbreakable grip! Jesus comes to our tombs revealing that God has the word of life! In that word we discover the "glory of God” Who calls us each by name, "come out!"
That call comes to us in our community’s needs, “the house of the afflicted.” The human situation is not beyond the hope of Jesus’ healing words to "Come out." Then He tells those nearby, "Untie him and let him go." At our Eucharist his word helps us, forgives our sins, and then sends us on mission to take His words and deeds to raise others to life. We now are given a new life to live and become Christ’s instruments for the life of our world. Jesus continues to come among us to raise up disciples to develop the potential of all human beings.
Those were the words of Fr. Miguel Pro a thirty-six year old Jesuit who was accused of plotting against the Mexican government as he was shot to death in 1927. Fr. Miguel had a great theology of Christ the King, a feast that was instituted by the Catholic Church two years before his execution. Today we know this feast as “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” What took the Church so long to acknowledge Jesus under this title? For one thing, Kings didn’t have good reputations in human history; in the early 20th Century they were virtually extinct and world conflicts began to focus and polarize more on ideologies, like Fascism, Nazism, and Socialism. Pius XI felt a need to present a Church response to these movements and presenting Christ the King to the world as a model presented just the challenge he needed against those ideologies.
John’s Gospel, where Jesus is presented before Pilate is a model to the dynamic mentioned above. Pilate, the product of the Roman Empire had little regard for this individual who was accused before him by the petty concerns of others. His own reputation, power, authority and control needed to be protected and eliminating Jesus was certainly the best way to guarantee his status. That is the way of all empires and that is why none of them continue to exist except for the Kingdom of God that is Eternal, Universal and Personal. It is eternal in view of its foundation in God. It is universal in the sense that it is God’s invitation to everyone, not just Jews or Catholics. And it is personal in the sense that what becomes of God’s kingdom on earth depends on the power and depth of our own individual response to it in our own hearts and minds.
C.S. Lewis wrote this interesting insight in Mere Christianity: "If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this." Little did he know how far our world would drive out the reality of God’s Kingdom by ideologies that were planted in our hearts by those who saw no need for God! Besides, who needs a weakened and victimized image of God who was mocked and crucified? Ah but isn’t that the very point and source of Jesus’ power in establishing God’s Kingdom! It is not of this world; it has a different set of values. It is not preoccupied with making itself God!
Leo XIII died in 1903 and became Pope in 1878. Rome was in turmoil at the time and violence surrounded his predecessor Pix IX’s funeral and his election to the Papacy. A schism was going on in Germany in the establishment of the Old Catholic Church. Pope Leo was a strong conservative and admirer of the Medieval Church and had a great respect for Pope Innocent III. Also slavery was condemned during the middle ages but when the plague of the fourteenth century occurred it was reintroduced. Leo also had a deep regard for the guild system and acknowledged St. Thomas Aquinas as the preferred Philosopher and Theologian of the Church requiring all seminarians to study him.
Leo believed in universal Papal authority and sought reconciliation with Germany and France without success. He was successful with Italy either. He envisioned the Church as being involved in the world and used the term ‘Catholic Democracy’ to give expression to that vision for it. He attacked secret societies like the free masons.
With the economic growth of industrial revolution Leo addressed its negative ramifications in society. Laborers saw the Church as identifying with the wealthy Industrialists. Leo’s response was that the Church should be shaping the world. And in 1891 wrote Rerum Novarum in an attempt to address the problems of laborers. His encyclical dealt with the modern social problems. He challenged socialism and communism and stating that class hostility was not natural and that civil governments should not interfere with the family. He directed the Church to deal with all aspects of human life. He argued that laborers should have time to pray and worship. He proclaimed that the rich and poor were equal and entitled to equal treatment. He called for labor to be regulated- time worked, breaks, child labor, and woman laborers. He wrote that laborers deserved just compensation for the work in sanitary condition and favored labor unions like the guilds of the middle Ages. Of all the modern Popes he took the most social initiatives.
Pope Pius X died in 1914 and became Pope in 1903. He was not on the fast track to Church leadership. He came from a poor family and lacked diplomatic skills that were particularly annoying to the French. He emphasized that lay people should frequent the Eucharist often, gave young children the opportunity to receive communion. He promoted a policy to keep theology in the language of the time even though he too preferred St. Thomas Aquinas. He didn’t care for modernist theologians who were more interested in being relevant than truthful. He saw the need for a new code of Canon Law since the last revision of it was in the 12th Century. He was deeply loved for who he was, pious and holy. Pius XII canonized him a saint, the first Pope made a Saint since the 17th Century.
Benedict XV died in 1922 and became Pope in 1914. Benedict was a Pope with diplomatic skills in the unique position as a religious emissary but who was ignored by the belligerent nations of the First World War. Due to the 1915 Treaty of London that ignored papal peace moves Benedict's proposed seven-point Peace Note of August 1917 was ignored by all parties except Austria-Hungary.
Pius XI died in 1939 and became Pope in 1922. His most important role was to conclude the conflict with Italy over the Papal States in 1929. They were turned over to Italy and the Church maintained what we know today as Vatican City. He attempted a concordat with European States and opposed Nazism and communism. In 1931 he celebrated the 40th anniversary of Rerum Novarum with a decree and proclaimed it to be the Magna Charta of Catholic Social teaching. He advocated social responsibility of the wealthy and directed the Church away from wealth, power and status. He rejected class warfare and addressed secular and moral issues. He suggested a need to rethink socialism and said that evangelization was the work of laborers. He supported families and wanted to insure that businesses would be sustainable. He had a concern for the poor.
Pius XII died in 1958 and became Pope in 1939. He travelled widely and was a good diplomat. He visited the U.S. and led the Church into modernity; he encouraged biblical scholarship and encouraged the laity to read the Bible. He proclaimed the Assumption as a dogma of the Church in 1950. The most controversial aspect of his Papacy were charges that he was anti-Jewish which is absurd in view of all his efforts to keep them from being executed by Nazi Germany.
It was a period of darkness in the Church. Some historians describe it as a time in which the least went on in the Church and attacks upon it were greater than the Reformation. Ironically, this Age of Reason has its roots in Catholic thinkers who modern secularists have canonized; Descartes, Rousseau, Voltaire and other French Catholic thinkers. They were instrumental in moving Europe away from its Christian roots. They were preoccupied with knowledge of math and science, moving us from a God centered world to a man centered world.
The Jesuits, powerful defenders of the Faith were suppressed from 1773- 1814. They were outlawed in France and then throughout the world. This further weakened the Church defense against the rationalists.
The French Revolution 1789-96 was the culmination of the enlightenment to eliminate religion. Only six French Bishops of 134 took an oath to abolish the Church unlike the English Church under Henry VIII where only 2 Bishops refused to support Henry. 45% of French priests took the oath and those who did not were martyred. By 992 only 50% of the clergy were left and there were no ordinations.
Napoleon came on the scene in 1796, reinstated the Church but wanted to control it. The concordat of 1801 required the Church to take an oath of allegiance to the State. The Pope excommunicated Napoleon.
This period is considered to be the rise of modernism which attacked the meaning and value of Faith. It was atheistic to the core. Society lost control of itself, lost self-restraint, lost rhetoric and logic and became centered on the emotion not truth. It led to moral relativism. Violence in Rome lead to the Pope fleeing the city for two years and the government took over the Papal States. On his return the Pope became a prisoner of the Vatican.
Later in nineteenth century the 20 Church Council took place, Vatican I from 1869-70. It was the first ecumenical Council. Communism was condemned.