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Postings by Alice L. Camille

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Have you, personally, been back to Mass yet? And if so, what was it like?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 26, July 2020 Categories: Liturgy

The first week my parish reopened, I attended the Saturday Vigil. Normally I sing in the Sunday choir—but alas, singing’s now discouraged. Our music director was at the organ, and he played some pieces that didn’t even tempt us to hum under our breath. Those aerosol droplets that travel up to fourteen feet when singing didn’t stand a chance under these conditions.

I saw the new guidelines in force even before I arrived at the church. An appropriately distanced line formed at the doors. An usher, holding a clipboard, asked each of us if we were feeling well three different ways. I resisted the urge to clear my throat in responding. 

Once inside, I was greeted by a friend stationed at a table. She invited me to purify my hands with the supplied sanitizer. She offered masks to those who hadn’t brought one. Then I was handed off to another usher, who noted I was a “party of one.” He led me to a pew into which I was inserted, like a puzzle piece, into the rightly distanced space.

Our pastor, recently recovered from COVID-19, popped out of the sacristy in a mask. As a chaplain at the local hospital and former patient, he’s sensitive to modeling the right behavior. Contradicting liturgical protocols, my pastor wore his mask throughout the Mass. I won’t tell if you won’t.

Mass began with no procession. No servers or lectors were in the sanctuary. Father handled all the readings. The credence table had been moved to the sanctuary with the offertory gifts—which should not be overly handled at this time. Subtract singing, lector movements, offertory procession, and the collection, and Mass gets slimmer. Fear not about the collection: I failed to mention the ushers received our envelopes in a secure tube before we were seated. 

The dismissal came quickly after the Eucharistic Prayer. Protocols encourage distributing communion after Mass is ended. Those who were not receiving departed with an usher escorting them out, one seating at a time. Those receiving were invited forward by seating, spaced apart. Communion was offered in cupcake papers pre-filled before Mass began, arranged on cookie sheets. A wastebasket ten feet away collected discarded papers.

Outside the church, many parishioners removed their masks and massed near the doors, greeting each other with enthusiasm after so long a separation. All the care that had gone into keeping us distanced and protected inside was undone in the parking lot.

Materials the USCCB recommends for preparing diocesan guidelines:

Road Map to Re-Opening Our Catholic Churches Safely – Ad Hoc Committee of Catholic Doctors (May 2020), 9 pp.

My sister’s parish has been completely reopened for a month now, but my pastor has yet to open ours for Mass. Why is he refusing to serve us?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 26, July 2020 Categories: Liturgy
Empty pews
Regional distinctions are a huge factor in determining when to reopen.

Reopening a parish isn’t as simple as it may seem from the perspective of the pews. It’s more than opening the doors and firing up the organ. Health guidelines were prepared at the request of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Liturgical values were established by theologians as well. But the USCCB declined to set a national policy for when and how to reopen, leaving those decisions to regional bishops. Most bishops, in turn, delegated when and how to their trusted pastors. Your question is: why not just create a blueprint for the country or, indeed, for the Catholic world?

Regional distinctions are a huge factor in determining when to reopen. Is the virus controlled in your town and surrounding areas? Mass-goers don’t hail from one place. When a church reopens, Catholics may drive a distance to be there. If numbers are out of control the next town over, opening your church presents a more significant risk.

In addition to infection rates, a pastor must consider his community. One pastor reports how, each month since the pandemic began, parishioners have stomped into the parish office refusing to wear masks or maintain appropriate distancing, demanding that Mass be resumed. The pastor concludes his parishioners aren’t ready to assume responsibility for each other’s safety. Even if most observe the protocols, it would be contrary to the spirit of the Eucharist to forbid or remove others who won’t. Whether he refuses them a seat, or permits them to remain unmasked, it divides and endangers his assembly. 

In addition, the very meaning of a sacrament weighs heavily for some pastors. After reflection and prayer, they conclude that the reopening guidelines compromise the sign value of the very sacraments they seek to make accessible. Taking reservations, discouraging the elderly to attend, or turning people away at the door perplexes them. One pastor noted: “Jesus didn’t say, ‘Take this, some of you, and eat of it.’”  Another decided: “Until we can all assemble, none of us will assemble.” Community is challenged by sitting apart, forbidding touch, and denying any gathering after the service. The spirit of celebration is dampened without singing. Unity is threatened by the specter of fighting over protocols. It diminishes the sacraments to offer an unworthy expression of them, they conclude.

Only when local conditions, parish attitudes, and sacramental viability come together will a pastor be likely to reopen for worship.

Materials the USCCB recommends for preparing diocesan guidelines:

Road Map to Re-Opening Our Catholic Churches Safely – Ad Hoc Committee of Catholic Doctors (May 2020), 9 pp.

COVID-19: Guidelines on Sacraments and Pastoral Care – Working Group on Infectious Diseases Protocols for Sacraments and Pastoral Care, Version 1.2 (May 7, 2020), 24 pp.

How will church re-openings be handled as restrictions due to COVID-19 are relaxed?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 29, June 2020 Categories: Liturgy
Church re-opening
These safeguards are recommended, not only for the safety of the individual congregants, but for those they encounter outside of church to help stem the tide of community spread of a highly contagious and deadly virus.

No absolute mandate will be issued from Rome to the universal Church, nor from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to U.S. Catholics. Distinctions between large parishes and small, between cities greatly affected and rural towns outside of major contagion zones, are too significant for a one-size-fits-all rubric. 

Nonetheless, the USCCB has wisely assembled working guidelines encompassing both medical expertise and liturgical norms for each bishop to consider as he issues directives to his pastors. In turn, each pastor will consider his local area’s infection rate, state and city guidelines, as well as his own personnel and physical facility, and what can reasonably be implemented to keep his community safe.

These safeguards are recommended, not only for the safety of the individual congregants, but for those they encounter outside of church to help stem the tide of community spread of a highly contagious and deadly virus. As Pope Francis said in an April 2020 interview in Vida Nueva as reported in America, “for better or worse all our actions affect others because everything is connected in our common home."

These are some general guidelines your pastor is being asked to take into account as he plans to reopen your parish:

  • Do everything that can be done with live-streaming or virtual media for the sake of the sick, elderly, those with underlying health conditions or in quarantine who should not congregate.
  • Hold services outdoors if possible.
  • Keep indoor services well ventilated.
  • Common objects (i.e. missalettes, holy water fonts, literature, offertory baskets) are to be removed from pews.
  • Aggressive cleaning of commonly touched surfaces must be practiced.
  • Hand sanitizer should be available at entrances.
  • Bathrooms must be rigorously cleaned, number of users limited, spacing marked.
  • Those in the assembly should wear masks. The presider and sanctuary ministers will not be masked or gloved but will maintain physical distancing.
  • Mark social distances with tape, signs, paint. Families/parties arriving together may sit together but apart from others by six feet.
  • Number of participants will be limited. Participants may call or text ahead for reservations. Last name initial rotations may be used. Ticket services may be employed.
  • Avoid singing by cantor or congregation, which spreads infectious droplets farther.
  • Collection baskets will not be passed. Offerings may be collected at a stationary site.
  • Processionals, recessionals, bringing up the gifts are discouraged. Receiving lines are to be eliminated. Entering and existing pews may be overseen by ushers. 
  • Doors should be held open and their handles not commonly touched.
  • Dismissal may be handled row by row. Parishioners are encouraged not to stand in groups on church grounds.

The distribution of Holy Communion is an issue sensitive and fraught with complications, with each diocese providing its own recommendations.

Materials the USCCB recommends for preparing diocesan guidelines:

Reopening: Guidance for Worship Services and Religious Gatherings – AIHA Guidance Document, Version 1 (May 15, 2020), 10 

Road Map to Re-Opening Our Catholic Churches Safely – Ad Hoc Committee of Catholic Doctors (May 2020), 9 pp.

COVID-19: Guidelines on Sacraments and Pastoral Care – Working Group on Infectious Diseases Protocols for Sacraments and Pastoral Care, Version 1.2 (May 7, 2020), 24 pp.

Will the church be different after a time of global crisis?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 13, May 2020 Categories: Liturgy,Prayer and Spirituality
Post-crisis church
The church has been growing, evolving, responding to each generation it embraces.

It better be! The church is a living organism, the Body of Christ, composed of you and me and multitudes of others. Some have “gone before us, marked with the sign of faith,” and some have yet to be born. Collectively, the church is 2,000 years old and counting. In all that time, the church has been growing, evolving, responding to each generation it embraces. So in that sense, we’re not your grandmother’s church, nor simply the church of Aquinas or Augustine, Paul or Mary Magdalene. At the same time, we’re absolutely “one faith, one Lord, one baptism” with all of the above. So yes: when you get back inside your local parish for liturgy again, the church will have been affected by what we’ve cumulatively experienced and bring with us into that space once more.

Religious leaders are considering possible implications of the COVID-19 era and what it might mean for the church going forward. Here’s a short list of potential ways the church may evolve, suggested by a nationally known liturgist:

* The laity may rely less on Father to make church happen for the rest of us. Father doesn’t “do the holy stuff for us.” We all do it, together. When assembling is impossible, we’ve practiced being church in the physical absence of our pastors.

* Let’s embrace our baptismal priesthood. Sacramentally speaking, we the baptized die to ourselves, to live for Christ. This makes us Christ’s ambassadors wherever we are, just as the priest represents Christ in the assembly.

Worship is more than going to Mass. Believers worship in many settings and formats. Worship is about lifting ourselves, mind and heart and soul, to God. It involves prayer, word, and ritual. Anyone with a Bible, candle, rosary, and a need in their heart can worship. In an emergency, the needy heart is enough!

We don’t need drive-thru Communion and Confession. Such activities actually diminish the richness of the sacraments. When Eucharist isn’t available, share an agape (love) meal. No blessed water? Bless each other. No confession? Tell your failings to one you’ve wronged and ask forgiveness. 

A word to priests: feed your people. Your leadership equips the community to be the church, not simply to come to church. Pastoring isn’t about making parishioners dependent on you; it should liberate them for service. When you’re not physically able to lead the assembly, continue to do what you uniquely do by your call: sanctify the world by your prayers, and fulfill your mission to preach and teach by whatever means available. 

Scripture: Exodus 19:5-6; Mark 11:22-25; John 17:1-26; Romans 12:4-7; 14:7-9; 1 Corinthians 12:4-31; Philippians 2:1-4; Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 10:11-18; James 5:13-18; 1 Peter 2:4-9; 5:1-6 

Books: A Prophetic, Public Church: Witness to Hope Amid the Global Crises of the Twenty-First Century, by Mary Doak (Liturgical Press, 2020); True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Consilium, by Massimo Faggioloi (Liturgical Press, 2012)

Why would a global pandemic happen? Is God doing this?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 13, May 2020 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Scripture
COVID mask
The crucifixion testifies that God isn’t “doing this”: God is suffering this with us.

This question was raised, sheepishly, by a friend who considers herself a progressive-thinking Catholic. She doesn’t imagine God as a big punishing dude on a throne, exacting vengeance for humanity’s crimes—which are considerable, when you think about it. She’s been thinking about it: counting ways that maybe we “deserve” a global reckoning. We destroy rainforests, fill oceans with floating continents of plastic, poison the soil, make the air unbreathable, contaminate freshwater with hazardous waste. We torture Creation to make a buck, while the gap between rich and poor widens. Honestly: why wouldn’t God “do this”?

It’s not a stupid question. It’s an ancient biblical question: is human suffering a measure of divine wrath? Is God “pleased to crush us with infirmity,” to restore balance to a celestial justice we’ve disregarded?

The biblical character of God does seem to exact justice by means of catastrophe: The expulsion of humanity from Eden. The great flood in Noah’s time. The ten plagues visited on Egypt. Israel’s trials in the desert due to relentless ingratitude. Babylonian exile. Sequential occupations by Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome. The death of Jesus “for the sins of the world” can be viewed as ringing evidence that God expects satisfaction for offenses against divine justice. From this perspective, human suffering is the currency in which God is to be paid.

Some routinely see God’s wrath expressed in famine, war, and disease, as when half of Europe’s population died in the Black Death, or the 1918-1920 Spanish flu infected one in three people worldwide. AIDS has claimed 35 million lives and counting, causing some to point to divine judgment. Yet at least once a century, flu season results in a million deaths. The odds of getting cancer across a lifetime are roughly one in two for men, one in three for women.

The biblical story of Job objects to drawing clean lines between human guilt and periods of devastation. Job is just; why would God punish him? The book argues that the why of suffering is a mystery best left to God. The more meaning-laden question may be: when suffering comes, what will we make of it? Jesus refused to blame a blind man or his parents for this misfortune. The crucifixion testifies that God isn’t “doing this”: God is suffering this with us. The cross invites us to take all our pain and to consecrate it to God’s benevolent purposes. God redeems human misery and, indeed, saves the world. That’s a promise.

Scriptures: Genesis 3:1-24; 6:5-13; Exodus 7:14-11:10; Deuteronomy 11:26-32; Jeremiah 15:1-4; Isaiah 53:4-12; Book of Job; John 1:1-14; 9:1-40

Books: Job - Study Set, by Kathleen O’Connor, (Liturgical Press, 2012); Through the Dark Field: The Incarnation Through an Aesthetics of Vulnerability, by Susie Paulik Babka (Liturgical Press, 2017)

What should we do if we can't go to Mass?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 21, March 2020 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Doctrines & Beliefs,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Consider it an invitation to choose a devotion and Act of Spiritual Communion that enables you to stay connected  to the universal Body of Christ.

If Mass is suspended in your diocese due to COVID-19 or for other public safety concerns, there are other ways to observe the Fourth Commandment: Keep holy the Lord’s Day. Consider it an invitation to choose a devotion and Act of Spiritual Communion that enables you to stay connected to the universal Body of Christ. You might:

“Virtually” attend Sunday Mass on TV or online. Most dioceses have a Mass for shut-ins, a term that now applies to many of us under "stay at home” orders. The Paulist Fathers in Rome also have a user-friendly sing-along Mass in English uploaded weekly at YouTube. See for the current offerings on their home page.

Read and reflect on the Scriptures for Sunday available from the U.S. Bishops’ site:

Make use of the church’s traditional Liturgy of the Hours by downloading the popular breviary app at

During this season of Lent, meditate on the Stations of the Cross or other spiritual practices.

Or, pray five decades of the rosary, or make this the year you finally read your Bible—neither of which requires any technology.

Below are recommended prayers for an Act of Spiritual Communion when unable to participate in the Mass. Feel free to adapt them for personal or family needs!


My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love you above all things, and I desire to receive you into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you.
Never permit me to be separated from you.



Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, embolden me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within thy wounds hide me.
Never permit me to be parted from you.
From the evil Enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come to thee,
that with your saints I may praise thee
for age upon age.



O Mary, you always shine on our path as a sign of salvation and of hope. We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick, who at the cross took part in Jesus’ pain, keeping your faith firm.

You, Salvation of Your People, know what we need, and we are sure you will provide so that, as in Cana of Galilee, we may return to joy and to feasting after this time of trial.

Help us, Mother of Divine Love, to conform to the will of the Father and to do as we are told by Jesus, who has taken upon himself our sufferings and carried our sorrows to lead us, through the cross, to the joy of the resurrection. Amen.

Under your protection, we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God. Do not disdain the entreaties of we who are in trial, but deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.

Shouldn’t churches stay open in times of crisis?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 21, March 2020 Categories: Church History
Church door
The church building as place of refuge and safety is contradicted in times of contagious disease.

In periods of social upheaval, the church has always been there for those who seek her. The idea of sanctuary is rooted in the idea that sacred spaces are universal safe houses for those in trouble. They’re also havens for sinners, the poor, and seekers of divine Presence. For these reasons, a Catholic church is consecrated territory, generally open to all comers and a welcome refuge in difficult times especially.

The church building as place of refuge and safety is contradicted in times of contagious disease, however. Where contagion is present, gathering is a dangerous thing to do. Not just for the individual, but for society altogether. This wasn’t understood in the Middle Ages during the era of plague, nor even in more recent centuries when waves of yellow fever or leprosy spread through port cities. While germ theory was proposed as early as the 11th century, and reintroduced periodically, it was largely dismissed until 1850 when Louis Pasteur did his research. Viruses were discovered in the 1890s. This better understanding of how disease spreads gives us many new tools with which to contain and defeat it.

The church isn’t exempt from the science of a pandemic. We exercise charity in acknowledging that, while Catholics are spiritually hardwired to seek the sacraments, especially in anxious times, what serves the common good is to consider the welfare of the whole community. Yes, I want access to sacraments; and I want the support of the community in faith. But there are other ways to do this besides gathering in a church building in these weeks when special caution benefits the world that God so loves.

Charity recommends we do what the saints did: enjoy “spiritual communion” until we have the privilege of the real thing. Mother Francis Cabrini took 37 sea voyages back and forth across the Atlantic during her missionary years. During those voyages, she and her sisters were without Mass or the sacraments for weeks or even months. She wrote often about this deprivation: “We believed we would arrive in time to celebrate the Feast of the Patronage of Saint Joseph; instead we have to spend it at sea, without Mass, without Communion…. Meanwhile, the view continually before our eyes, the work of the One whom we so much desire to receive into the small sanctuary of our souls, serves as preparation for a worthy Communion.”

Perhaps this time of austere fasting from even the consolation of the sacraments will prepare us for a more worthy communion soon.

Scripture: Matthew 10:27-32; 12:1-8; John 14:1-6; 15:1-5; 17:1-19

Books: To the Ends of the Earth: The Missionary Travels, by Francis X. Cabrini (Center for Migration Studies, 2001)

The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World, by Monika Hellwig (Sheed & Ward, 1992)

What is temperance and do we still need it?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 19, January 2020 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Temperance is one of four cardinal (“hinge”) virtues, along with prudence, justice, and fortitude. It refers to the development of self-control, which is the hallmark of the mature person.

The virtue temperance is often conflated with the Temperance Movement, a social phenomenon of the 19th-20th centuries. The movement decried consuming alcohol to the point of intoxication. Its adherents promoted moderation or, in some expressions, teetotalism: complete abstinence from liquor. The movement was fueled by some effects of drinking in the industrial age, including injury, crime, disease, death, and suicide. Churches took up the cause, as alcohol often had an adverse affect on families. Emerging religious groups, like the Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons, promoted teetotaling as a pillar of their teaching. Other groups sought to close saloons early, restrict sales, or increase taxes.

In 1920, the movement led to the legal measure of Prohibition in the United States. The Eighteenth Amendment banned the manufacture, sale, and distribution of alcohol across the nation. Other countries like Russia preceded the U.S. in prohibition, while Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Canada attempted selective restraints. By 1933, the U.S. was ready to repeal nationwide Prohibition with the Twenty-First Amendment. It was determined that making drinking essentially illegal had proved cumbersome to enforce, encouraged unhealthy drinking habits, fostered organized crime, and hurt the nation’s economy.

This history clouds the issue of what the virtue of temperance offers to those who practice it. Temperance is one of four cardinal (“hinge”) virtues, along with prudence, justice, and fortitude. It refers to the development of self-control, which is the hallmark of the mature person. Temperance is gained by educating one’s passions to orient habitually toward the good. Resisting temptations to indulge in over-eating, excessive drinking, casual sex, fits of rage, money lust, monopolizing conversations, aggressive displays of ego, or other unbridled exercises of desire isn’t enough to qualify one as a temperate person. Genuine temperance must lead a person to organize each choice toward a greater good.

So, while severe dieting may seem temperate, if it harms the health, it isn’t. Sexual abstinence to prove one’s personal righteousness would also not qualify. Withholding your anger and giving someone the silent treatment doesn’t resolve the argument. When the good choice also becomes the natural one, the virtue of temperance is on display. And yes: we still need it.

Scripture: Genesis 3:6; 9:20-21; Leviticus 10:8-11; Deuteronomy 21:20; Psalm 68:31; Proverbs 20:1, 3, 13, 21; 23:2-8, 19-35; 31:1-7; Sirach 18:30-33; 19:2; 23:6; 31:12-31; 37:27-31; Isaiah 5:8-16; 28:1-3, 7-9; 56:9-13; Daniel ch. 13; Matthew 11:18-19; Luke 12:16-21; Galatians 5:16-23

Books: Public Dimensions of a Believer’s Life: Rediscovering the Cardinal Virtues, by Monika Hellwig, (Sheed & Ward: 2005)

The Virtue Driven Life, by Benedict Groeschel, CFR (Our Sunday Visitor, 2006)

When we give a blessing, what do we actually do?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 19, January 2020 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Prayer and Spirituality
Jesus at the Emmaus supper
Jesus demonstrates blessing activity in the miracle of loaves and fishes, at the Last Supper and the Emmaus supper, and at the moment of his Ascension.

Since blessings are delivered during solemn liturgies but also after the most mundane sneeze, one might wonder what a blessing involves. Biblically, a blessing communicates divine life to the recipient. Which implies that God alone can supply a blessing. God blesses us with strength, peace, success, children, and every good thing. When a representative of God performs the blessing act, it’s God’s blessing and not a personal bounty that s/he invokes.

Creatures are first blessed as they’re launched in Genesis. The seventh day, on which God rests, becomes a source of blessing itself. Patriarchs are each blessed and bestow blessings in turn. The tribe of Abraham becomes a fulcrum of blessing on earth, and Israel a vehicle of blessing for all the nations.

Blessings may literally flow from one person to another with the imposition of hands between fathers and sons. (There are no biblical stories of mothers blessing daughters, but I know plenty of women who do.) Once a blessing is spoken, it can’t be undone—which is what makes the story of Jacob cheating his brother Esau of his paternal blessing so tragic and impactful. These examples convey the seriousness of the blessing act: it’s not magic, but it is real and vital.

While it’s clear the power to bless originates with God, in the psalms we’re urged to “bless the Lord” frequently. In what capacity might we bless God? The intent is to offer thanks or to recognize God’s glory. In “blessing the Lord” we don’t add to God in the same way that God adds to our welfare in the act of blessing. 

Jesus demonstrates blessing activity in the miracle of loaves and fishes, at the Last Supper and the Emmaus supper, and at the moment of his Ascension. Jesus also taught that we should answer each curse pronounced on us with a blessing: crossing the streams of bad intent with benevolence, we might say. Paul compares the church’s Eucharist with the blessing cup of Jewish rituals. Finally, it helps to remember that Mary of Nazareth was called “blessed among women” by Elizabeth, and claimed that blessing in her Magnificat.

All of which may give us pause the next time we casually “bless ourselves” with the Sign of the Cross. What aspect of divine blessing do we need, and what do we hope to receive?

Scripture: Genesis 1:22, 28; 2:3; 12:2-3; 27:18-40; 32:27-29; 39:5; Numbers 6:22-27; chs. 22-23; Isaiah 19:24; Matthew 14:19; Mark 14:22; Luke 1:42, 48; 6:28; 24:30, 50-51; 1 Corinthians 10:16

Books: The Priestly Blessing: Rediscovering the Gift, by Stephen Rossetti (Ave Maria Press, 2018)

Blessed Beautiful, and Bodacious: The Gift of Catholic Womanhood, by Pat Gohn (Ave Maria Press, 2013)

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Does the church teach pacifism?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 26, December 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Pope Francis
In 2018, a tweet by Pope Francis exploded in cyberspace: “Do we really want peace? Then let’s ban all weapons so we don’t have to live in fear of war.” The Pope was derided for “hippie eco-pacifism” and his naïve “ark of fraternity.” The world’s a cruel place, naysayers asserted. Weapons keep what little peace is left intact. 

Historically, Christians held two main traditions regarding conflict: pacifism and just war theory. Originally, Christians refused to fight for the empire. They stood down if they converted to Christianity while soldiers. Saint Martin of Tours was the poster child for all who chose to follow Christ and no earthly commander. Mennonites, Quakers, and Brethren persist in this stance, while insisting that pacifism is not passivity. Rejecting the logic of war, Christian pacifism actively pursues non-violent solutions to social and international conflicts. Even the ark of fraternity recognizes that abstainers are sitting ducks without strong creative engagement.

Under Constantine, Christianity became a state religion, creating confusion. Not following a pagan king into battle made sense; how about a Christian monarch? A church-state partnership meant rulers now expected a blessing on their wars. Saint Augustine posited that Christians might fight in a just war. He left the defining of terms to Thomas Aquinas. 

Aquinas sought to restrict war. First, violence can be waged only by the proper authority. Also, the purpose must be just: national interest is insufficient. Thirdly, peace must be the goal of every soldier. Students of Aquinas added that violence must be the last resort. War was permissible in self-defense. The means must be proportionate. A just fight loses legitimacy if civilians or hostages are harmed. 

The position of “just peace” was ventured by Pope John XXIII (Pacem in Terris, 1963). Peace is more than the absence of war, he argued; it’s grounded in the justice that sustains peace. Recent popes have questioned if proportionality is possible in a world with doomsday weapons. Pope Paul VI, in his 1965 speech at the U.N., declared: “Never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that has to guide the destiny of the nations!” Pope John Paul II hoped the world would learn to “fight for justice without violence.”

On the 50th World Day of Peace, Pope Francis described humanity as “engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal”—through war, terrorism, crime, violence against women and children, abuse of migrants, human trafficking, and environmental devastation. The pope recommended: abolishing nuclear weapons, an ethic of fraternity, the will to resolve conflict diplomatically, and a commitment to active peace-building at every level.

Scripture: Isaiah 2:2-5; Micah 4:1-4; Proverbs 8:15-16; Psalm 118:8-9; 146:3-4; Matthew 5:9; 38-48; Romans 13:1-4; Ephesians 4:23; 6:10-17; 1 Peter 2:13-17

Books: I’d Rather Teach Peace, by Colman McCarthy (Orbis Books, 2008); Jesus Christ, Peacemaker: A New Theology of Peace, by Terrence J. Rynne (Orbis Books, 2014)

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If Jesus is God, isn’t his humanity a form of play-acting?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 26, December 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Sooner or later, religious seekers ask this question. Being divine does seem to give Jesus a celestial advantage that puts him in a whole different category from the rest of us. In fact, our creed confirms his distinctness. Jesus is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father.” These statements are variant ways of saying Jesus shares the essence of the one he calls Father, who is the source of life and all that is.

Does this mean the sinless life and brutal death of Jesus is, in reality, a mirage? It seems contradictory to claim, as Christians do, that Jesus is truly God and truly human. One cancels out the other, since God is eternal, while mortals suffer and die. Divinity enjoys special super-natural powers over creation, whereas humans are subject to the laws of space and time and endure significant limitations.

One way to reconcile these opposing natures is through the concept of kenosis, or self-emptying. Saint Paul is the first to take this approach in the Hymn to Christ quoted in the letter to the Philippians. It’s unclear if Paul wrote this hymn or simply refers to it. But it describes how Jesus, who’s in the form of God, chooses not to cling to his privilege. Instead, Jesus empties himself of favored status and commits to the human condition. He doesn’t cease to be divine, but he elects to embrace mortal existence.

Consider a missionary from the U.S. who chooses to go live in the developing world. She may spend the rest of her life, privileged education, and talent in bringing her advantages to a community that can’t even dream of them. While the missionary never ceases to be a person of privilege who could easily make a phone call and be swooped away from human misery, she elects not to make that call. Such a person may well be martyred in her chosen land, subject to the same dangerous forces that claim the lives of those with whom she has cast her lot.

Is the missionary’s sacrificial life a mirage? Is her violent death mere play-acting? When Jesus chooses to be incarnate in our humanity, the stakes are real. Kenosis is the kind of self-emptying we can all make, of whatever privileged status we enjoy, for the sake of others.

Scripture: Genesis 1:26-27; 3:5-6; Isaiah 52:13—53:12; Matthew 26:39; John 1:1-5, 14; 10:17-18; 17:5; Romans 8:3-13; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 4:4-7; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:16-18; 5:8-10; 12:2

Books: Jesus Our Brother: The Humanity of the Lord, by Wilfred Harrington, O.P. (Paulist Press, 2010); The Disciples’ Jesus by Terrence Tilley (Orbis Books, 2008)

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Who are the Fourteen Holy Helpers?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 13, October 2019 Categories: Church History,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
The Holy Helpers became an established set during the Black Plague epidemic of Europe.

You see them in art, though you may not know their names. The Helpers were a collection of saints from antiquity popularly invoked in 14th century Germany. These individuals weren’t linked by history or geography; like, say, Saint Charles Lwanga and companions, martyred together in Uganda. The Holy Helpers became an established set during the Black Plague epidemic of Europe—since, presumably, the more intercessors you have against plague, the better.

Alphabetically, the Fourteen Holy Helpers are: Achatius, Barbara, Blaise, Catherine of Alexandria, Christopher, Cyriacus, Denis, Erasmus, Eustachius, George, Giles, Margaret of Antioch, Pantaleone, and Vitus. Only half the saints on this list are passably familiar today.

The symptoms of plague influenced the selections for this club. A plague victim could expect the following: blackened tongue, parched throat, violent headache, fever, and boils on the abdomen. Victims became delusional and died within hours. The furious onset of plague made it unlikely the afflicted would have final sacraments. Just another reason to have the Holy Helpers in your corner.

The chaos that plague evoked was comprehensive. Animals died, whole towns perished, the social order collapsed. So why not invoke Saint Blaise, still acclaimed for his work on ills of the throat; or Saints Achatius and Denis, both patrons of headache sufferers? Saint George protected domestic animals, and Saint Erasmus guarded abdominal health. Saint Eustachius was good for family trouble, and Saint Giles the go-to guy for plague and a good confession. Saints Barbara, Catherine, and Christopher were patrons in instances of sudden death. In addition Christopher, the traveler’s saint, also warded off plague. 

Just for good measure, Saint Pantaleone protected physicians, and Saint Margaret promised safe childbirth. Since Saint Vitus is the patron of epileptics, it appears plague victims’ eventual irrationality was lumped in with the symptoms of another disorder poorly understood. The most curious name on the Helpers list is Cyriacus, invoked against temptation. In times of epidemic, looting was rampant and desertion by family members common. One might well be tempted under such conditions.

While the Fourteen Holy Helpers still have a following in Europe, only one parish in the United States is named for their contribution today. We might wonder: if we were to choose a pack of saints as guardians for our times, who would those helpers be?

Scriptures: Psalm 27; Romans 8:18-27; Hebrews 5:7; 7:25; Ephesians 6:18; James 5:13-18

Books: The Fourteen Holy Helpers, by Bonaventure Hammer, OFM (TAN Books, 2009)

Fearless: Stories of the American Saints, by Paul Boudreau and Alice Camille (Franciscan Media, 2014)

Are parishes necessary?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 13, October 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History
While the gathering was essential to becoming the Body of Christ, registering for membership and weekly envelopes wasn’t the point.

Christianity existed well before the present parish system. Before there was a church building on the corner—with its Mass schedule, programs, pastor, and support staff—the followers of Jesus still managed to preach the gospel and share Eucharist. So technically, the answer is no: the parish structure as we know it is not essential. But if by parish you mean a defined and stable community that assembles for worship and embraces a certain responsibility for one another, the answer is yes: such a community is vital to the fabric of Christian life. 

It’s helpful to distinguish Christian faith from an individual spiritual practice. The goal of Christianity isn’t personal enlightenment, getting your act together, or building a satisfying moral ethos. From the beginning, Jesus chose to gather a community of disciples to live with him, share resources in common, and learn his teachings. There was never a time when Christian life was envisioned as a set of principles to live by that could be adopted and practiced on your own terms. From the first generation of the church, believers met in each other’s homes, prayed together, and shared what they had with those in need.

The gospel teaches how to live responsively with others. Loving our neighbors and enemies too, forgiving offenses, welcoming strangers, caring for the unfortunate—we engage these actions in service of others. Our faith is proven out by how we treat others. “Faith without works is dead,” says the Letter of James. Onlookers of the early community could rightfully say: “See how these Christians love one another.” No one was ever quoted as saying: “See how these Christians go to church.” While the gathering was essential to becoming the Body of Christ, registering for membership and weekly envelopes wasn’t the point.

The pre-parish house churches were more intimate, and perhaps more attractive, than today’s sprawling parishes which can feel alienating especially to newcomers. Meeting in homes was also necessary for a community that was vaguely suspect—and that dove into the catacombs when later judged to be outright criminal. Public worship, in buildings established for this purpose, was the gift (and in some ways the curse) of Christianity’s legality under Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. As the nature of community in our media age is transformed, how we are church tomorrow will doubtless evolve too.

Scriptures: Matthew 4:18-22; 25:31-45; 26:26-28; Luke 24:13-35; John 15:11-17; 18:20-26; Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35; 1 Corinthians 12:1—13:13; Ephesians 3:14-22; 4:1-16; James 2:14-18; 1 Peter 2:4-5

Books: We Are All One: Unity, Community and Commitment to Each Other, by Joan Chittister, O.S.B. (Twenty-Third Publications, 2018)

A New Way to Be Church: Parish Renewal from the Outside In, by Jack Jezreel (Orbis Books, 2018)

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Isn’t it a sin to vow something for life to God and then break it? Don’t fully professed sisters sin if they leave their order?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 10, September 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Vocation and Discernment
Religious persons released to the lay state remain baptized Catholics in good standing.

“A vow is a deliberate and free promise made to God concerning a possible and better good which must be fulfilled by reason of the virtue of religion.” So says The Code of Canon Law (CCC 1191). Another section outlines rules for taking public religious vows (CCC 654-658). Yet just as God is merciful, the church must also be merciful. Which is why Canon Law includes a process known as dispensation to relieve a person from such vows (see CCC 85-93). Dispensation is “the relaxation of a merely ecclesiastical law in a particular case” (CCC 85).

Church law is flexible when applied to individuals and specific cases. The law recognizes that human circumstances aren’t static; therefore, some changes receive the favor of the law’s flexibility. For a just cause, a religious sister or brother may request and receive dispensation from solemn or perpetual vows. “Just cause” may be a grave or debilitating difficulty fulfilling the requirements of religious life. No penalty is exacted for being released from perpetual vows. In no way does it remove the person's right of access to the sacraments. Religious persons released to the lay state remain baptized Catholics in good standing.

No shadow of sin is attached to the request for dispensation from solemn vows. Dispensation is offered under the grace and peace of Jesus—who gave Peter the keys of the Kingdom as a symbol of the church’s authority “to bind and to loose.” If a religious person is released from vows on earth, s/he is also assured such release in the sight of God.

To remain in good standing with the Church, a person seeking dispensation must follow the procedure of release from religious life. The dispensation must be sought from the “competent authority”: the major religious superior or bishop in some cases, the pope in others. Once a sister or brother has prayerfully discerned to leave religious life, the order or congregation is obliged to do everything possible to assist in requesting the dispensation. The order or congregation is also required to help the person financially in the transition to lay life.

Scripture has lots to say about taking vows—and breaking them. People are weak and prone to err. Therefore Jesus considers that vows and oaths should be made only sparingly. Thank God that mercy is given to those who show mercy!

Scripture: Genesis 28:20 (first vow); Leviticus 22:20-25 (unfulfilled with imperfect sacrifice); 27:2, 8 (require adjustment); Numbers 6:1-21 (binding for a time); Numbers 31 (women’s vows: inferior?); Deuteronomy 23:22-24; Judges 11:29-39 (keeping an illicit vow); Ecclesiastes 5:1-6; Matthew 5:33-37

Books: Religious Life at the Crossroads, by Amy Herford, CSJ (Orbis Books, 2014)

A Different Touch: A Study of Vows in Religious Life, by Judith Merkle, SNDdeN (Liturgical Press, 1998)

How can I prove the existence of God to atheists?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 10, September 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Faith isn’t an argument. It’s a fundamental commitment we each make for ourselves.

Proofs for God’s existence have been regularly proposed by the learned. Christian apologetics—which doesn’t manufacture apologies, but rather justifications, for believing—has also been busy offering defenses for the faith since the second century. None of this is guaranteed to make your spiritually skeptical buddy fall on his knees and profess the Creed. Faith isn’t an argument. It’s a fundamental commitment we each make for ourselves.

Justin Martyr (100-167) was among the first apologists to present Christianity in a way his Greco-Roman culture might find both reasonable and appealing. Thomas Merton (1915-1968), with his autobiographical Seven-Storey Mountain, attempted to do the same for 20th-century skeptics. Folks as diverse as missionaries, scholars, fiction writers, and filmmakers have tried to make faith reasonable and attractive to those outside the church. See a recent attempt in the 2018 film “An Interview with God,” starring David Strathairn in the title role.

The watchmaker analogy is often invoked to demonstrate the plausibility of belief. Say you find a watch on the beach. Even though you don’t see a watchmaker, you know there must be one. A watch is too perfect a mechanism to have evolved on its own. So too, one might say, the world itself.

Saint Anselm (1033-1109) claimed God must exist since we can imagine the most perfect Being. What would make this Being even more perfect is to actually exist. Other scholars like Baruch Spinoza (1232-1677), Rene Descartes (1596-1650), and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) also formulated intellectual proofs. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) offered five possible proofs: there must be an Unmoved Mover at the back of all movement, an Uncaused Cause at the start of all being—and ditto for contingency, gradation, and design.

Blaise Paschal (1623-1662) offered a wager rather than a proof. We have the option to believe or not. If we believe and are wrong, we live a good life with the respect of friends, enjoy the consolations of religion, and are none the wiser after death. No harm done! If we don’t believe and are wrong, we have lots of explaining to do, and possibly face eternal damnation. If however, we believe and are correct, we receive eternal reward. Belief is a better wager than unbelief.

Perhaps the best choice of all is not to argue, prove, or bet. Just offer the example of a life of genuine discipleship, and see who’s attracted!

Scripture: John 20:24-29; 1 Corinthians 13:8-13; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 11:1; James 2:14-18; 1 John 1:1-4 

Books: Chasing Mystery, by Carey Walsh (Liturgical Press, 2012)
Holy Clues: The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmes (Vintage Books, 1999)

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When will there be saints of color the U.S. can claim as their own?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 13, August 2019 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Saints of color
There already are—and we’re poised for more.

There already are—and we’re poised for more. Mohawk Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), from what became upstate New York, was known for her healing abilities. Filipino Saint Pedro Calungsod was a teen missionary martyred in Guam in 1672. Since Guam is now U.S. territory, we share this saint with the Philippines. In Puerto Rico, Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodrigues Santiago (1918-1963) brought a historically disaffected laity to the liturgy and sacraments. He translated works into Spanish to instruct the faithful. Blessed Charlie, as he’s called, awaits one more miracle for canonization.

Also keep your eye on five Venerables. Born a slave in what’s now Haiti, Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853) relocated to New York with the household. There he studied hairdressing, as elaborate hairstyles were in vogue. Even before acquiring his freedom, Toussaint was a powerhouse of charity with the wealth he accrued, buying the freedom of other slaves and assisting the needy regardless of color. Rafael Cordero Molina (1790-1868) was denied an education as part of the African community in Puerto Rico. Under his parents’ instruction, he became a teacher dedicated to the literacy and faith formation of black children, while working as a cigar maker and shoemaker.

Henriette DeLille (1813-1862) of New Orleans was a free person of mixed race. Such women customarily were “kept” by a white man, marriage being unlawful. Attracted by the ministry of French sisters, Henriette desired admittance to religious life instead. Barred from white orders, she formed the Sisters of the Holy Family, teaching Creole children, and caring for the sick and orphans. Augustus Tolton (1854-1897), first acknowledged black priest in the United States, was born to slave parents in Missouri. (Mixed-race brothers James, Patrick, and Alexander Healy were ordained earlier, but their light skin invited less scrutiny.) After a long struggle for the right to be ordained, Tolton’s ostracization by an all-white clergy made his ministry a lonely vigil of courage. 

In addition, three black Servants of God are in the pipelines. From Cuba of Haitian parents, Mary Elizabeth Lange (1794-1882) founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore to provide education for black children. Her sisters also treated the sick, opened a night school for black women, and took in orphans during the Civil War. Julia Greeley (ca. 1833?48?-1918) was born a slave in Missouri. She moved with various families until arriving in Denver. After becoming Catholic, Julia promoted devotional literature she herself couldn’t read. Begging on behalf of others, she became known as Denver’s Angel of Charity. Thea Bowman (1937-1990) of the Franciscan Nuns of Perpetual Adoration, was a tireless instigator for racial justice in the church. The edict promoting her cause defines her as “Educator, Evangelizer, Missionary Disciple, Advocate for Cultural Awareness and Racial Harmony.” Through song and inspired evangelization, Sister Thea moved the hearts of bishops and laity alike. 

Book: Saints of North America, by Vincent O’Malley, C.M. (Our Sunday Visitor, 2004). Not inclusive of all biographies above.

Check out the online Hagiography Circle for updates on causes presently in motion:

How many times has Mary appeared in history and where?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 13, August 2019 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
The church considers Marian apparitions open for selective acceptance and devotion.

This is a loaded question. The Vatican supplies no exact number of Marian apparitions. The current spokesperson for the Marianum Pontifical Institute in Rome, Father Salvatore Perrella, reports that nine apparitions have been declared worthy of belief in the last century. This doesn’t imply they occurred in the past century, only that they were examined in that period. The lists of bona fide Mary sightings are generally confined to less than a dozen, including: Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico, 1531), Laus (France, 1664), Rue du Bac/Miraculous Medal (France, 1830), La Salette (France, 1846), Lourdes (France, 1858), Pontmain (France, 1871), Knock (Ireland, 1879), Fatima (Portugal, 1917), Beauraing (Belgium, 1932), and Banneux (Belgium, 1933). Recently, Green Bay, Wisconsin’s own Our Lady of Good Help (1859) was granted local devotional approval.

No doubt some will be concerned that Medjugorje isn’t on that list, but the inquiry into these apparitions hasn’t been concluded. In fact, about 300 Marian sightings from the 20th century alone have been or are being considered in Syria, Japan, Korea, and Rwanda, as well as across Latin America and Europe. How frequently have such claims have been made in the past? Estimates careen widely between 1,500 and 21,000 apparitions, including eight sightings in the United States and six in Canada. Whichever number is more credible, the vast majority of these claims received only limited or local interest.

When did Mary start showing up? According to tradition, the apostle James first encountered Our Lady in Zaragoza, Spain in the year 40. Saint Gregory of Nyssa avowed a personal experience of Mary, and the construction of St. Mary Major Basilica was prompted by an apparition—both in the 4th century. Marian apparitions remained rare until the second millennium. Since then, sightings have multiplied. Still, the messages received have been fairly uniform. Our Lady encourages conversion, prayer, penance, and reconciliation. She offers rosaries, medals, scapulars, and healings. She prevents invasions and ends wars. The recipients of these apparitions are most often poor children or humble adults.

What are we to make of all this? The church considers Marian apparitions open for selective acceptance and devotion. These private revelations “do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith” and “it is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation.” (CCC 67) This is church-speak for: belief in apparitions isn’t required, and must not contradict the faith of Christians.


Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations, by Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1978

Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, by Hilda Graef (Ave Maria Press, 2009)

Who or what is the Holy Spirit?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 03, July 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Holy Spirit
The spirit of God is part of the story from the beginning.

We’re primed to think of the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, “preceding from the Father and the Son,” who debuts at Pentecost and inaugurates the church. This last idea overlooks that the spirit of God is part of the story from the beginning. God’s spirit is a divine wind or breath blowing over the waters of chaos at Creation. This same breath brings humanity to life. As such, spirit is hardly a latecomer to the party. (Don’t be alarmed by the lower case “s”: neither Hebrew nor ancient Greek employed case distinctions.)

Spirit suggests a subtle and immaterial being, in contrast to the tangible Jesus. But the original spirit in Scripture may not be a being at all: “a principle of action, not a subject,” as scholar John McKenzie describes it. Early references to the divine spirit involve a communication that variously clothes, pours out, leaps upon, or fills up the one who receives it. The spirit can be given or removed, at God’s desire. The spirit can possess a person, as it does to judges in the Book of Judges, who are suddenly snatched up for divine service. This possession isn’t experienced in the negating way of a demon who eliminates the will of the host. Spirit enhances the recipient’s abilities, enabling the person to do feats beyond his or her skill. Such a person is charismatically charged for divine action, literally “inspired”.

Examples of the spirit at work include: the ecstasies of prophets in Saul’s time; the spirit passing from King Saul to David after his anointing; Elisha acquiring a double portion of the spirit given to his predecessor Elijah; Ezekiel’s trances; the bestowal of divine gifts like wisdom and counsel; the divine spirit released on the servant of God in Isaiah’s poems; the promise of a new heart and spirit rejuvenating Israel after the exile. 

The Spirit shows up in the gospels as early as the Annunciation. Mary is told, “The holy Spirit will come upon you… therefore the child to be born will be called… the Son of God.” Christian writers perceive more than a communicating action here; rather, a manifestation that modern translators honor with uppercase distinction. John the Baptist foretells a baptism of Spirit. At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descends dovelike upon him. This Spirit drives Jesus into the desert to encounter temptation. Spirit drives the action in Luke and Acts, showing up fifty-six times as the principal actor. Jesus promises that the arrival of this Advocate ensures that we’ll not be orphans through the end of the age.

Scripture: Genesis 1:2; 2:7; Exodus 31:3; Numbers 11:17, 25; Judges 6:34; 14:6, 19; 1 Samuel 10:10; 19:20-24; 2 Kings 2:9; Psalm 51:13; Isaiah 11:2-3; 42:1; 61:1; Ezekiel 36:26-28; Mark 1:8, 12; Luke 1:35; 3:22; John 14:16-18, 26; Acts 2:1-18

Books: The Other Hand of God: The Holy Spirit as the Universal Touch and Goal, by Kilian McDonnell, O.S.B. (Liturgical Press, 2003)

The Holy Spirit: Setting the World on Fire, edited by Richard Lennan and Nancy Pineda-Madrid (Paulist Press, 2017)

Is Jesus the Messiah?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 03, July 2019 Categories: Scripture
Jesus the Messiah
Isaiah upgrades salvation to universal dimensions: all nations have a stake in the coming Messiah.

The word MessiahHebrew for “anointed”—has a complex history. Between Messiah and Christ—Greek for “anointed”—lies a thousand years of evolving expectations. Best to review those before addressing the age-old Christian query: Why don’t Jews, reading the same ancient texts, accept Jesus as “Messiah”?

Scholar Raymond E. Brown cautions that messiahs aren’t the only saviors in Israel’s history. Moses, the judges, Nehemiah and Ezra, even young Queen Esther are identified as savior figures. Anyone divinely appointed for the work of rescue is a savior. Israel’s in need of frequent rescue, so the Bible contains a lot of saviors.

The gallery of saviors gains new candidates in the era of kings. Anointed to lead at God’s command, Judah’s kings are messiahs in a nationalistic sense. They don’t save the world; and they only keep the nation safe for their particular generation. Contrast them with the kings of northern Israel, who are viewed more skeptically. Then recall that southern Judah writes the Bible. 

Messianic kingship reaches its height with Judah’s second king, David. His line is endowed with an everlasting, rollover anointing. The salvation coming from David’s house, however, doesn’t extend to the afterlife. Nor is it universal. Davidic kings won’t “save the world”: they’ll keep Judah safe. The problem is, they don’t. Soon after David, Judah is ruled by a string of monarchs who disregard God’s guidance. Two centuries in, the prophet Isaiah views his king Ahaz as gone totally off the rails. 

Isaiah reboots messianic hope. While linked to David’s line, the Messiah will be loyal to God and establish justice and peace. Eden-like conditions will be restored. Isaiah upgrades salvation to universal dimensions: all nations have a stake in the coming Messiah. The prophecy adds a sober note: this Messiah will come in humility and go the way of suffering. Other prophets embrace Isaiah’s vision. 

Messianism undergoes a third overhaul after Babylonian exile and the monarchy’s extinction. Without kings, can there be a Messiah? Biblical history has a big hole in it between the 5th and 1st centuries B.C. By the time of the gospels, it’s clear that anyone still dreaming of a Messiah wants to see David’s kingdom restored and a better world for Israel ensured. Jesus reaches back into prophecy, embracing the image of a suffering servant who saves much more than a precarious political situation. That’s a Messiah few were waiting for, and perhaps few find attractive today.

Scripture: Genesis 49:9-12; 2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89:20-38; Isaiah 7:10-17; 9:1-6; 11:1-9; 52:13—53:12; Zechariah 9:9-10; Mark 8:27-30; Matthew 2:1-6; John 7:25-31, 40-52

Books: Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus, by Richard Horsely with John Hanson (Harper & Row, 1985)

The Death of the Messiah, From Gethsemane to the Grave, by Raymond E. Brown (Yale University Press, 1998)

What exactly is the Easter duty?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 15, June 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Sacraments

The Easter duty

The Easter duty is again viewed properly as a minimal requirement rather than a recommendation.

The Easter duty has seen some flux in church tradition. The Eucharistic Precept, as it’s formally called in the list of Church Precepts, was conceived in the 6th century as a way to ensure that the Sacrament of Holy Communion wouldn’t be neglected by the faithful. Early church councils enforced regional versions of the precept, which in one form mandated receiving communion three times annually: at Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) reduced the mandate to once annually at Easter time, widening its application to the whole church. The Council of Trent and the Code of Canon Law restated this obligation. Ironically, the attempt to safeguard reception of the Eucharist by insisting on minimal participation had the opposite effect. Clergy preached on the evils of taking communion in a sinful state a little too effectively. Churchgoers developed a fear of receiving the Eucharist “unworthily.” Many were convinced they could never be in the proper state of grace to merit the privilege. Add to that the phenomenon of what we might call “mortal-sin creep”: in the hands of a number of confessors, venial sins got an automatic upgrade to fatal status.

It wasn’t until the 20th-century arrival of Pope Pius X, “the pope of frequent communion,” that Catholics returned to the sacrament more regularly. The Easter duty is again viewed properly as a minimal requirement rather than a recommendation.

What hasn’t always been clear in the Easter duty is the definition of Easter. Technically Easter is not a day on the church calendar so much as an Octave (eight-days-long feast) contained within a seven-week celebration. The latest Code of Canon Law (1983) defines the fulfillment of the Easter duty to the time from Palm Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. This period, from Holy Week through the Easter Season, offers an eight-week window to meet the obligation.

However, in the United States, the Eucharistic Precept can be fulfilled from the First Sunday of Lent until Trinity Sunday. Lent adds an additional five weeks; the time from Pentecost to Trinity Sunday, another week. Altogether, this opens 14 weeks of the church year to fulfillment of the Easter duty.

Many Catholics are under the impression that the Easter duty also requires going to Confession. While receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation annually is certainly a good idea, it’s not part of the requirement.

Scripture: Psalm 119 (In praise of precepts and instructions); Proverbs 1:2-7; 4:13; 8:33; 10:17; 23:23; Mark 14:22-24; Matthew 26:26-28; Luke 22:14-20; John 6:27, 34- 35, 48-59; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-27; 14:26; 1 Timothy 1:5

Books: 101 Questions & Answers on the Eucharist, by Giles Dimock, OP (Paulist Press, 2006)

The General Councils: A History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicaea to Vatican II, by Christopher Bellitto (Paulist Press, 2002)



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