Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Be doers of the word and not hearers only"

After our series of reflections on the 6th Chapter of John’s gospel, this Sunday, Sep. 2, 2012, we now go back to the gospel of Mark. Jesus rightly castigates the Pharisees for concentrating on trivial elements of the law because by doing this they miss the bigger picture. Our Discussion Questions will guide your Sunday Bible Study with family, friends and church groups.

The Pharisees and Role of Law

The traditions of the Pharisees were quite a different matter. Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio explains that they were not of themselves evil. They were pious customs of human origin passed down to support the living out of the law. Unfortunately, however, the Pharisees used these pious customs as loopholes to help them get around the difficult demands of the Torah.

Jesus tells the scribes and pharisees that they are hypocrites when they are more concerned about the law than the reason for the law. The letter of the law without compassion is dehumanizing. He did not belittle the “tradition of the elders” nor indicate that it has no value. He does not dismiss the law but condemns its misuse.

Rather, Fr. Alex McAllister, SDS explains, our Lord rejects the Pharisees' and the scribes' notion of sin. For according to Jesus, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB points out, sin is the human spirit gone wrong, not a failure to distinguish between types of food. And so no matter how much we do in God’s service, regardless of how active we are in our churches, Fr. Orly Sapuay, MS rightly reminds us that God will not overlook a sinful heart. Thus the invitation of this Sunday, Fr. Phil Bloom explains, is to follow Jesus, to learn His teaching, to follow His moral law and to receive His sacraments.

Conversion of the Heart

Father Cusick notes that today more Americans go to church services each week than go to sports events in an entire year. But he also notes that such reverence is empty while mere human precepts are taught as dogmas and the eternal laws of God are spurned and ignored.

Jesus does not condemn ritual observance, which today would mean frequenting the sacraments and devotion to prayer. What He does condemn, Fr. Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B. points out, is religious observance that does not include conversion of one's heart from pride and self-centeredness. Granted, Jesus does warn about staying within the bounds of proper belief (monotheism and all that this implies) and proper morals (the commandments, love of our enemies, forgiveness). But, Fr. Ron Rolheiser adds, our Lord stresses too that we can miss the real demands of discipleship by not going far enough in letting ourselves be stretched by His teachings.

True Religion

So who’s a real Christian and who’s not? Who’s faithful to the teaching of Christ and who’s selective in following him? Fr. Ron Rolheiser asks, did Jesus have a litmus test? What is Jesus telling us then? Fr. John Foley, S. J. says Jesus is telling us to have the right heart within and law will be your friend. True religion is this, Fr. Joseph Pellegrino explains. It is looking after widows and orphans in their distress and keeping oneself unspotted from the world.

And here is where we have the beauty of our Catholic faith life, our Catholic morality. Our Catholic faith is profoundly realistic. Fr. Joseph Pellegrino says it recognizes that we are human beings tempted to make bad as well as good choices. When we call out, Fr. Phil Bloom reminds us, the Holy Spirit gives us help. We are in continual need of having our course to the Lord refined and even restored. He's not through with any of us and will not be through until the time for our making free choices is over.

Social Issues, Politics & Catholics

Lori Hadorn Disselkamp reports that today only 22% of American Catholics attend Church once a week. Where are the other 78%? Why have they fallen away from Church attendance yet they are still proud to call themselves Catholic? But there is hope, according to Jennifer Fulwiler. She believes the Internet offers specific characteristics that make it particularly powerful for the Church. And she honestly believes this instrument of truth will lead to mass conversions to Christianity.

And the Truth is the Truth; there is no compromise, says Benedict XVI. The Pope made this observation thsi week as he reflected on the feast of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. John "did not keep silent about the truth, and thus he died for Christ who is the Truth. For love of the truth, he did not give in to compromises with those who were powerful, nor was he afraid to address strong words to the one who lost his way to God," he said.

George Weigel discusses the Church and Unions. He says the right of workers to organize is a settled matter in Catholic social doctrine. No one will begrudge a union the right to defend its own; that’s why it exists. But when unions defend only their own, to the detriment of the rest of society (and, in a prime American case, the detriment of poor, inner-city children), something is wrong.

That is why these elections are so important. Rachell Zoll says forget the Mormon moment. The religious group that seems to be figuring most prominently in the presidential election right now is the Roman Catholic Church. With Mitt Romney's recent choice of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as running mate, this campaign is the first in which Catholics are on both major party tickets. Vice President Joe Biden and Ryan are lifelong Catholics who attend Mass regularly and credit the church with shaping their views.

And what is characteristic of the United States, explains Sandro Magister, is that this lively debate is taking place in the light of the sun, with public statements of position on the content of the issues. Politically, bishops and faithful are divided. No one is asking that Catholics make a united front, much less form a party. No one is calling for the organized involvement of Catholics in politics. In the political field, Catholics in the United States are simply present as far as they are able. The public sphere belongs to them also, as it does to all. Their power is that of persuading, not of imposing.

Divorce, Rape & Prayer

Recently an otherwise good politician incompetently waded into the politically explosive area and lit a match. A rape is often the most physically and emotionally devastating event in a victim’s life. And this is why the case against the rape exception is among the hardest for pro-lifers to articulate and for others to understand. It happens to be the position of most mainstream pro-life groups and, indeed, the teaching of the Catholic Church that killing an innocent child can never be justified, even if that life began as a result of rape.

Meanwhile, Matthew AIchbold talks about an old friend he met in the parking lot after Mass. The friend said that he'd just rented an apartment nearby because he was getting a divorce. Their conversation prompted Matthew to talk about divorce and the myth of quality time. From New York City, Cardinal Dolan talks about one of those rare-but-dramatic moments of divine illumination. The experience happened after he had just celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation for about two-dozen of our special needs children. And it revolves around one of the confirmandis, a young man with Down Syndrome the cardinal calls "God’s Work of Art."

Last year, while attending the diaconate convocation for the Archdiocese of Detroit, Kathy Schiffer wrote about how she and her husband were privileged to pray before a first-class relic of St. Teresa of Avila. But what,exactly, is a relic? First, let’s clear up what it’s not. Catholics do not, under any circumstances, “worship” relics. She explains more. While Martha Fernández-Sardina talks about the keynote address she gave at the "Proclaim" conference held earlier this month in Sydney, Australia's first national conference on the new evangelization. She talked about "Personal Conversion: An Indispensable Key in Personal and Parish Evangelization."

Does God really speak to us? Anthony Lilles says there are many who believe that God does not speak to us and that prayer is nothing more than an imaginary conversation with ourselves that makes us feel better about things. But such explanations of prayer, as sophisticated as they appear, do not adequately account for what both great saints and repentant sinners discover in the silence of their hearts.

This may be the very same experience gained by then Mormon professor Richard Sherlock when while attending mass as a non-Catholic, Archbishop Raymond Burke placed his hand on his head in a blessing at the Communion line. And the extraordinary presence of Jesus Christ moved his soul to tears. He has since converted to Catholicism.

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

Keep the Faith. Peace.

Wally Arida
Publisher & Editor in chief

BURNING QUESTION: "What is the Worst Sin?"
FEATURED BLOG: The Church and the unions
PASTORAL HISPANA: Los mandamientos y actitudes religiosas

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