Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

If the sermon on the mount is a summary of all Christian doctrine, the beatitudes are a summary of the Sermon on the mount. In the Sunday Readings for Jan. 30, 2011 then, if anywhere, we have the essence of the Gospel. Our Discussion Questions will guide your Online Sunday Bible Study sessions with your family, friends and church groups.

We call it the Sermon on the Mount, a mount is just a sort of small hill or hummock; just high enough so that Jesus could be heard by the assembled company. But we immediately recognise that it is meant to be a parallel with Moses when he came down the mountain with the tablets of stone on which were engraved the ten commandments.

The Beatitudes & Ten Commandments

There was Moses the fierce old man trying to hold his people together as a cohesive group. Here is Jesus who respects the individuality of each human being and who builds up his followers with extraordinary gentleness and patience.There were the tablets of the law, full of do's and don'ts and with the fear of punishment behind them. Here are the Beatitudes which bring untold blessings on those who are embraced by them.

Fr. Orlando Sapuay, M.S. goes on to explain that the ten commandments are basic rules of morality. But the beatitudes are a measure of how far beyond this the gospel calls us. The morality of the ten commandments is a morality that can be measured. The morality of the Beatitudes is harder to quantify; How poor in the spirit are you? How meek, gentle, merciful…?

To be a Christian therefore is not to be a follower of a set of rules, Fr. Alex McAllister points out. It is to be born again, to live a new life. It is to turn around and see things from a totally different perspective. The Beatitudes are a privileged glimpse at the world through the eyes of God. And its spinal cord is love. This is our love of God as well as belief in His love for us. And, Fr. James Gilhooley adds, this love also includes love of neighbor.

It is this challenge that sets Jesus’ moral teaching apart from others and gives it its unique character—and its real teeth. Fr. Ron Rolheiser isolates it for us. If the Gospel of Matthew, or perhaps the New Testament as a whole, gives us a litmus test for discipleship, this might be its one-line formulation: Can you love and forgive an enemy?

As the Church continues her pilgrim journey throughout history, we need a vision to sustain us and give us hope in the midst of our shadows, ambiguities and sins, our joys and hopes and victories. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB says that biblical vision is found in the great Christian charter. And Father Cusick says Christ teaches us about holiness in the "Beatitudes" of Matthew.

Poverty and the Beatitudes

Jesus makes the daring statement that the downtrodden ones should in fact be declared blessed, i.e. fortunate. Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio's inquiring mind asks: Is Jesus endorsing indigence? What could possibly justify such a radical and apparently nonsensical conclusion?

Fr. Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B. explains that Jesus certainly does not intend to bless powerlessness as such. However, He does affirm the blessedness of those who, because they are powerless, are saved from the illusion that worldly power can in fact give them (and us) us the only truly important and lasting gifts, such as, love, happiness and life itself. And, Fr. John Foley, S. J. adds, it is also easy to see the blessedness of the types He mentions: peacemakers, mercy givers, and fairness seekers.

Fr. Joseph Pellegrino reminds us how Jesus wept over Jerusalem because he could see the destruction the actions of the people were bringing on themselves. We, in the Church today, also weep for our country over those areas that are leading the country to moral decay. And we Christians are required to speak out. Jesus came to keep justice and mercy, truth and peace together. He came to save us. And through the Beatitudes, Fr. Phil Bloom explains, we are able to see who Jesus is and how - in Him - we can have justice with mercy, truth that leads to peace.

Imagine Jesus at the Mount delivering his sermon. When he finished, do you think the people applauded? Now imagine yourself at church and your pastor just delivered a really moving sermon. Will you applaud after his homily? Share your thoughts with us.

Discovering the Faith

Does the Catholic Church demand that all her followers march along in lockstep formation in a form of unthinking blind obedience? Of course that is the charge, not only from non-Catholics but also from 'dissenting' Catholics. Fr Longenecker always found it curious when people say, "Oh, how nice for you! Now that you're a Catholic you won't have to think anymore." The good father stimulates discussion with a piece he calls "Dissent or Discovery?"

For the past three weeks, I've been receiving friendly weekly visits from a trio of well-intentioned door-to-door missionaries from the Jehovah's Witnesses. They come to talk about their faith and - without fail - we always end up talking about my Catholic faith. I admit I have come to enjoy these visits and I actually look forward to them because with each visit I see a flame of curiosity flicker inside each of them.

This past Wednesday, me and my new JW friends talked about Jesus as the Son of God. And not knowing anything about their faith, I learned they do not believe Jesus is God. Nor do they believe in the Holy Trinity. I explained that our creed tells us that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.” But let me bring in Mark Shea who explains how the very same question nearly tore the fourth century Church apart.

The other topic me and my Jehovah's Winesses friends are still chewing on is the Mystery of Transubstantiation. The Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is a real stumbling block Protestants who are seriously considering Catholicism. Francis J. Beckwith explains that it was for him too, until he explored the subject, historically and scripturally. He presents a summary of his deliberations that moved his belief in the Holy Eucharist from a Stumbling Block to Cornerstone. I promise to have more stories for you next week about my newly-found JW friends - if they come around again as they promised.

Now here's one of the most common question that the leaders in your parish have frequently asked, "How can we get young people more involved in the church?" This question doesn't have a one-size-fits-all answer. But Tony Rossi features two guests he recently and talks about the suggestions they've seen work.

Plus here's some really surprising news! After a 60-year lull, New York City is experiencing a revival of religious fervor. This is being reported in a recent study released by the Manhattan-based Values Research Institute. And that's all good.

St. Paul, Social Networking and More

On the 25th of January, the church celebrated the great feast of the conversion of St. Paul. Fr. Robert Barron talks to us and explains that this celebration provides the occasion for thinking about who we are as followers of Jesus Christ.

This week from the Vatican, Pope Benedict talked about Ecumenism. He said that although Christians are still far from the unity that Jesus prayed for at the Last Supper, resignation and pessimism are signs of a lack of trust in the Holy Spirit's power. Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit, he urges.

And in keeping with the Vatican's longtime custom on the feast this week of the patron of journalists, St Francis de Sales, we saw the release of the papal message for the 45th World Communications Day, this year's focusing on "Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age." Rocco Palmo lovingly refers to it as "The Social Network," B16 Edition. In this message, the pope said the popularity of facebookers and social networking Internet sites reflects the human desire for relationships and meaning, which is a desire that is fully met with the truth of Christ.

March for Life Monday

On January 24, the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion (Roe v. Wade), hundreds of thousands - clerics and young people - celebrated Mass before participating in the annual anti-abortion march known as the March for Life. In Washington DC, and in scenes duplicated in cities across the US, arenas were packed with thousands of swaying, praying teenagers, many wearing sweat shirts from the Catholic schools they attend or knit hats that said "We believe" or "March for Life."

This comes on the heels of a report from the pro-abortion rights Alan Guttmacher Institute reports that there have been nearly 50 million abortions performed since 1973, the year the Supreme Court issued the Roe v. Wade decision ushering in legal abortion nationwide. According to Guttmacher, 35 percent of all U.S. women will have had an abortion by age 45.

Thus rightly, The U.S. bishops informed Congress this week that they are backing three bills before the House of Representatives that seek to prevent tax dollars from being used to fund abortions, and to protect the consciences of health care providers.

Purpose, The Rite & Mysteries of Parenting

From her newest post in her blog Mysteries of parenting, Judith Costello talks about the pending beatification of John Paul II and reflects on how it fills a glaring void today in our young people's MTV-filled lives for models of virtue and sacrifice. It is with great joy , she says, that we should celebrate the news that Pope John Paul II will be beatified in May! He is a true modern hero.

And here's a very very short one from Bo Sanchez. He announces that four days ago he lost his cell phone. So what, you might ask? It seems that from this seemingly insignificant accident, a valuable lesson came upon Bo: Everything Has A Purpose. Read on.

Finally, I assume you've seen its movie trailers during the past weeks on TV. This weekend marks the opening of director Mikael Hafstrom’s “The Rite”, based on journalist Matt Baglio’s 2009 book “The Rite: the Making of a Modern Exorcist.” Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP offers her movie review from a Catholic Communicator's point of view: The devil is back and he’s still mad.

Another eventful week in our Catholic World. Have a great and blessed new week.

Keep the Faith. Peace.

Wally Arida
Publisher & Editor in chief

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Behold, the Lamb of God"

The poinsettias are gone, the lights are down, the Christmas season is over. Now we move on with the very beginning of Jesus’ public life, usually referred to as his ministry. We come upon John the Baptist seeing Jesus and pointing to him, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Our Discussion Questions for January 16, 2011, the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, will guide your Online Sunday Bible Study sessions with your family, friends and church groups.

These verses are the climactic conclusion of the prologue to the gospel according to John (1: 1-34). In the prologue John establishes the basic themes that will unfold in the ensuing drama of his gospel: Jesus, the Word from the beginning lives with God, is God. The Word became human and made his dwelling in our world of sin; those who accept Jesus become children of God and are at home in God.

Behold the Lamb of God

“Lamb of God.” We use that term so often, that it is easy for us to overlook the deep theology and the tremendous love of our God contained in his sending his Son to be the Lamb.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB explains that lambs suffer violence; they do not inflict it. Christ, as the victim who reveals God's love for us, is often symbolized by a lamb. When Peter is entrusted with the flock of the Lord, Peter, he is told to "feed" his sheep and lambs. Jesus sends his followers out into the world with no weapons, no money, no power - "like sheep among wolves."

If you want to go further, consider this: a scholar named Joachim Jeremias held that the original word for “lamb” in Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) was “talyã’,” which meant not only “lamb” but also “slave” or “servant.” The Baptist may have intended both meanings, “Behold the Lamb of God,” but also, “Behold the servant of God.” If so, his words would be a direct quote of words from the First Reading for Sunday.

In this short Gospel of five verses, Fr. James Gilhooley says John e-mails us the message that Jesus is in this struggle for the long haul. He is going to stay around to hold us up and, if necessary, pick up the pieces.If we deny sin, we have no place for Jesus. But if we honestly recognize sin, Fr. Phil Bloom reminds us, we open ourselves to Jesus.

John the Baptist looked to Jesus and said, “There is the Lamb of God.” Fr. Joseph Pellegrino tells us that we have been called to do the same. This message is not addressed to Priests and Levites or even to disciples. Fr. Alex McAllister SDS says it is addressed to the whole of humanity because Christ’s coming into the world is of the greatest possible significance for the entire human race.

When the Holy Spirit Comes Down

What does it mean to see the Spirit come down on someone and remain?
Abbot Philip Lawrence, OSB tells us that there are lots of ways in which the Spirit can come down on a person. And we must keep our eyes and our, hearts open. Each of us, like Jesus, needs to have enough personal intimacy with God to recognize, more precisely, that to which we are called. Fr. Ron Rolheiser explains this in detail.

Our belief that the same Spirit who guided Jesus also guides us has profound implications for defining the meaning of human existence. Fr. Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B. explains that if we are transparent to the divine life, our words and actions become signs of God's loving presence in the world. And as this joy settles, college student Amy Winkler hears the Readings for Sunday as a call to service, to a way of life in which we let the light of Christ shine in our lives.

Ans so today, on this second Sunday in Ordinary Time, may our own hearts be open to see the glory of God at work in one another and to testify to God's loving presence.

Agnus Dei - Christ Truly Present in the Eucharist

As John hailed the Son of God made man in verse 29 of today’s Gospel , so we too - in the Mass after the consecration - worship the "Lamb of God." "Behold the Lamb of God! Behold him who takes away the sin of the world; blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb." As we behold Christ truly present in the Eucharist, Father Cusick reminds us, we proclaim Him the Messiah with the same awe and love with which St. John uttered his proclamation as recorded in our Gospel today.

But quite often, just before communion when we recite the “Lamb of God” instead of singing it, the sad result frequently is “LammaGod-youtakeawaythesinsoftheworld--havemercyonus” One word, often void of meaning. Fr. John Foley says once you have imaged the meaning, you will crave slowing it down!

When we say or sing, “Lamb of God” we are remembering what Jesus did for us and what he has empowered us to do for others. We are remembering his sacrifice to make God’s love real on earth. We are reminding ourselves that joining Jesus in sacrificial love is the only way we can be his followers.

Liturgical Church or Bible Church?

The Protestant Church is all about the Bible; the Catholic Church is all about the Sacraments. Right? Not exactly. When it comes to personal Bible reading, Protestants often put Catholics to shame. But as far as Sunday worship goes, it is hard to find a more biblical service than the Mass. Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio points out that the Readings are awesome enough, but even the prayers of the Mass are chock full of Scripture.

The past 20 years or so have seen an explosion of conversions from Protestantism to Catholicism. During that time, a certain common narrative seems to be associated with these conversions. On the other hand, there has also been an even greater exodus out of the Catholic Church over the past 40 years. Some of that is people leaving Christianity altogether, but much of it is Catholics becoming Evangelical. Eric Sammons - a convert to Catholicism himself - looks at the the narrative for that type of conversion and explains the differences.

In last week's Burning Question, we had put up a question to the community about why it is imperative for parents to have their children baptized as infants. And an interesting exchange about Infant Baptism and the Sacraments materialized between a Protestant reader named Gary and our Theology editor Paul Dion, STL. Follow the lively discussion here.

And two weeks ago at the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas, the big buzz was for tablet computers. What we found fascinating was comparing the sales pitch for these new tablets with the one given by Apple CEO Steve Jobs last year when he announced the iPad. Here's what every Catholic can learn from Steve Jobs.

New US Lectionary & More

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced it has canonically approved the publication of New American Bible Revised Edition. The forthcoming fourth edition, according to the USCCB, aims at making use of the best manuscript traditions available, translating as accurately as possible, and rendering the result in good contemporary English. Check it out here.

From the Vatican, the Pope last week baptized 21 Infants and noted the challenges facing parents. Benedict XVI highlighted that the social context that Christian families face today demands collaboration from the Christian community and increasing support from parishes. He also said that there is "urgent need" for Christians to "proclaim the Gospel with their life." And noting how holiness helps in understanding the mysteries of the faith, the Pope explained Purgatory using as an example the insights gleaned by St. Catherine of Genoa.

A Brutal Weekend - the AZ Shooting & More

Every now and then the Lord just has you look at something in depth and experience it to the top. It was that sort of weekend for Msgr. Charles Pope and the Lord was clear that he wanted him to meditate deeply and experience personally the tragedy of the taking of human life. His lesson came in three stages, bannered by the senseless shooting in Tucson, AZ last Sunday.

From Denver, CA, Archbishop Charles Chaput expressed anguish over the recent Arizona shooting that left 6 dead and over a dozen wounded, noting particularly the life and deep Catholic faith of victim Judge John Roll.

Paul Dion, STL, on the other hand, offers a reflection on the immorality that can come with the reckless exercise of our right to free speech. In his opinion piece "Scandal of the Weak," He opines that no one is free to inundate the weak with speech that can influence them and cause them to act in a nefarious way. Those who persist in using speech with violent pictures cannot exculpate themselves from the effects of what they have put out into the community atmosphere under the guise of freedom of speech.

YouTube Celeb "Golden Voice" Ted Williams

His YouTube video has reportedly received more hits than Susan Boyle's initial viral video. Ted Williams was a homeless Ohio man with a golden radio voice. He had lived a seemingly hopeless life of homelessness, drugs and alcohol. And then his YouTube video went viral-crazy. Now he faces new opportunities to become a sports announcer, maybe with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Through it all, the homeless man credits God for for his new-found YouTube fame and his golden voice.

But the real hero of this story is the woman he left behind. Patricia Kirtley raised four daughters alone after Williams split 23 years ago and dove down the rabbit hole of drugs. Not only that, Kirtley took in the baby boy the radioman had with another woman and raised him as her own. Oh, and by the way, she's partially blind.

Lastly, Judith Costello gives us the latest installment to her blog "Mysteries of Parenting." In "Elevating teh Ordinary," she reflectas on simple words and ordinary gestures. Yet, these four moments in time were transformative. They reminded her that God can take the smallest offering we might make and turn it into something miraculous.

Another eventful week in our Catholic World. Have a blessed new week.

Keep the Faith. Peace.

Wally Arida
Publisher & Editor in chief

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