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Archive for January, 2011

What Christians Mean by "God"

Here is another sneak peak trailer from the very anticipated Catholicism series by Fr. Robert Barron of Word on Fire.  Using one of St. Thomas Aquinas’ proofs for the existence of God, Fr. Barron clearly and concisely explains how Christians understand God.  (Some nice footage of the cloister at Sta. Sabina.)

St. Thomas Aquinas – "Devoured" by the Holy Mysteries

Originally posted here.  The following homily was given by Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, O.P., Secretary of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on January 27, 2011.

Consumed by the Holy Mysteries of this Great Sacrament

A Homily by Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, O.P

In his premiere biography of St. Thomas, Gugliemo di Tocco wrote of the saint that “he celebrated Mass every day, his health permitting, and afterward attended a second Mass celebrated by one of the friars or some other priest, and very often served at the altar. Frequently during the Mass, he was literally overcome by an emotion so powerful that he was reduced to tears, for he was consumed by the holy mysteries of this great sacrament and strengthened by their offering.”

“Consumed by the holy mysteries of this great sacrament.” The Italian term here is divorato-devoured, eaten up, consumed-by the mysteries.

Surely Tocco’s vivid description of Aquinas’s devotion at Mass stops us dead in our tracks-we, whose celebration of or participation in the Holy Mass is frequently distracted or routinized or just bored. We’re tempted to excuse ourselves with observations like “well, of course, Aquinas was a saint, and this is typically saintly behavior,” or “as a very smart theologian, Aquinas had a more penetrating grasp of things than we do.” But instead of these evasions, what we should do is ask ourselves: what I am missing?

Rare indeed are the mysteries that consume or devour our jaded sensibilities. Perhaps a really good thriller might do so on occasion. But we assume that holy mysteries will be something very different from murder mysteries or natural mysteries.

But we shouldn’t exaggerate the contrast between holy mysteries and other sorts of mysteries. In ordinary usage, the word “mystery” refers to something that remains as yet unexplained or something that is basically inexplicable. We expect the mystery to be resolved in the final pages of a thriller, but at the same time scientists speak of the enduring mysteries of the universe. These kinds of mysteries are not unlike holy mysteries in that, in both cases, our capacity to understand or penetrate a particular reality is challenged in a significant way.

The crucial difference between the Catholic and common uses of the word “mystery” lies here. When the term is applied to divine realities, the mystery involved is by definition without end. This is not to say (as nominalists, in contrast to Aquinas, seemed to want to say) that the things of God are permanently or radically incomprehensible and ineffable, but that they are endlessly comprehensible and expressible. Not darkness, but too much light is what we encounter here. That irritating conversation stopper, “it’s a mystery,” doesn’t mean that we have nothing further to say but that we can’t say enough about the matter in hand. The mysteries of faith are so far-reaching in their meaning and so breathtaking in their beauty that they possess a limitless-that is to say, literally an unending and inexhaustible-power to attract and transform the minds and hearts, the individual and communal lives, in which they are pondered, digested, and, ultimately, loved and adored.

Not for nothing can we use the word in the singular and in the plural, mystery and mysteries. The all-encompassing mystery-in the singular-is nothing less than and nothing else but God himself, and the mysteries-plural-are its many facets as we come to know them.

St. Thomas insistently taught that the mystery of faith is radically singular because the triune God who is at its center is one in being and in activity, and comprehends in one act of omniscience the fullness of his truth and wisdom. Through the infused gift of faith-thus called a theological virtue-the believer is rendered capable of a participation in this divine vision, but always and only according to human ways of knowing. We truly know God, but not in the way that he knows himself. According to Aquinas, the human comprehension of the singular mystery of divine truth is necessarily plural in its structure.

In this sense, we can speak both of the mystery of faith-referring to the reality of the one triune God who is know through the act of faith-and of the mysteries of faith-referring to our way of knowing in the Church the various elements of the singular mystery of God. All the mysteries of our faith point us to the single mystery at their center, nothing else but God himself, one and three.

Coming to the center of this mystery, we affirm with astonished delight the divine desire to share the communion of Trinitarian life with human beings, with us. No one has ever desired anything more. God himself has revealed to us (how else could we have known it?) that this divine desire-properly speaking, intention and plan-is at the basis of everything else: creation itself, the incarnation of the Word, our redemption through the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, our sanctification and glory through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus St. Paul speaks to us today of the grace he received precisely “to bring to light for all what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church.”

Amazingly, then, it turns out that the divine mystery is the key to all other mysteries. Far from being opaque, it throws light on everything else. To see everything with the eyes of faith-to adopt, as it were, a “God’s eye view”-is to see and to understand everything in the light of this divine plan, “to bring to light for all what is the plan of the mystery.”

Glory, bliss, beatitude-these wonderful terms refer to the consummation of our participation in the communion of Trinitarian life already begun in Baptism, nothing less than seeing God face to face. At the heart of the mystery and the mysteries, finally, is the mystery of divine love. The Catholic tradition has not hesitated to call this participation in the divine life a true friendship with God.

Given all this, was it not fitting that God should be moved to send his own Son into the world and, in the exquisite divine condescension of the Incarnation, to take on a human nature so that he could be known and loved by us as Jesus of Nazareth, Christ and Lord? Was it not fitting that the Son of Man should offer his life to the Father on the Cross in a sacrifice of love for our reconciliation? Was it not fitting that Christ should remain with us in the Eucharist?

Aquinas teaches us to regard these mysteries in the light of the overarching mystery of the divine love. This is very clear in what he wrote about the final question: “It is a law of friendship that friends should want to be together….Christ does not leave us without his physical presence on our pilgrimage, but he unites us to himself in the sacrament in the reality of his body and his blood” (STh 3a, 75, 1).
At the start we asked ourselves: what are we missing? what does it mean to be “consumed by the holy mysteries of this great sacrament”? The answer is really very simple. It means: to be consumed by the love they embody and reveal. Is it any wonder that Aquinas wept in the contemplation of these holy mysteries?

May this great saint, who experienced such rapture whenever he celebrated the Eucharist, help us not to miss being consumed by the love of our divine friends who give themselves to us in this great sacrament, to their eternal glory and to our unending benefit, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bishop Tobin on Pres. Obama’s "Shameful Record on Abortion"

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence hits the nail on the head with his latest Without a Doubt column in the diocesan newspaper, the Rhode Island Catholic. Bishop Tobin comments on President Obama’s speech in Tucson and though it was a good speech, “President Obama’s shameful record on abortion leaves his touching tribute and appeal to goodness in Tucson – and other expressions of compassion – sterile and meaningless. As he stood on the stage in Tucson, he was a prophet without credentials; his speech, a song without a soul.”

The President’s Speech; Why I Wasn’t Impressed


Since that deadly day nearly two weeks ago, the story has dominated the news; we’ve learned many details about the deranged shooter and his innocent victims; we’ve debated the causes and consequences of the event; and we’ve prayed for all those who have suffered so much from the violence.

President Obama traveled to Tucson and did his level best to offer his sympathy and support, to encourage a city and a nation, and to invite us all to a better future marked especially by more civility in public discourse. In asking us to learn from and move beyond the terrible moment, the president appealed to Holy Scripture and to the better instincts of the human family. Noble sentiments all. As some have said, and I agree, it was his best moment as president.

As I watched Mr. Obama, though, and later reflected on his speech, I sensed there was something missing; there was something that left me cold, unimpressed and unmoved.

And suddenly it became clear. The problem, at least for me, is that President Obama’s persistent and willful promotion of abortion renders his compassionate gestures and soaring rhetoric completely disingenuous. “O come on, Bishop Tobin,” I hear you say. “Abortion’s not the only moral issue in the world.” Correct, I respond. Abortion’s not the only moral issue in the world but it is the most important. And, I confess, abortion policy is the prism through which I view everything this president says and does.

Is there any longer any doubt that Barack Obama is the most pro-abortion president we’ve ever had?

President Obama has enthusiastically supported the Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade that has allowed virtually unrestricted access to abortion in our nation and has resulted in approximately 50 million deaths since 1973.

President Obama has consistently surrounded himself with pro-abortion advisors, and has appointed pro-abortion politicians to key positions in the federal government, including his two nominees for the Supreme Court.

President Obama has promulgated policies, including the overturn of the Mexico City Policy (within the first few hours of his presidency) that requires taxpayer monies to provide abortions around the world. Similarly he signed an executive order that forces taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research; he signed a bill that overturned the 13-year-long ban of abortion funding in the nation’s capital; and he directed the passage of health care legislation that opens the door to federal funding of abortions and could eventually limit the freedom of religion for individuals and institutions who find abortion morally repugnant.

President Obama has made abortion a key foreign policy issue, pressuring nations to accept abortion policies; he’s supported several pro-abortion initiatives of the United Nations; and he’s appointed Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State. Secretary Clinton has had a consistent pro-abortion record and in her international travels has promoted abortion as a human right.

The full accounting of President Obama’s track record on abortion goes on for eight typed pages, a very sad and discouraging litany. The net effect, though, is that President Obama’s shameful record on abortion leaves his touching tribute and appeal to goodness in Tucson – and other expressions of compassion – sterile and meaningless. As he stood on the stage in Tucson, he was a prophet without credentials; his speech, a song without a soul.

Perhaps the president’s most moving rhetoric was that about Christina Taylor Green, the precious nine-year-old slain in the barrage of bullets. As a father of two beautiful daughters himself, the president’s words were surely personal and sincere. Of this child he said: “In Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic . . . So deserving of our love.”

But I can’t help but ask, respectfully, “Mr. President, why can’t you see our other children – so curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic, and so deserving of our love – in all of the unborn children who didn’t live because of our nation’s embrace of the abortion option?”

And in one of the most dramatic moments of his speech, Mr. Obama announced that the wounded congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, opened her eyes for the first time just after he’d completed his visit to her. “A miracle” some proclaimed, and certainly a welcome sign of recovery at which we all rejoice.

But I can’t help but wonder how many tiny eyes will never open, will never see the light of day, because of this president’s shortsighted and zealous promotion of abortion.

It’s truly tragic that our president – for whose safety and well-being we pray all the time and who has demonstrated an impressive ability to inspire other people – is unable to see the deadly consequences of his abortion agenda. Perhaps we need another miracle, to open his eyes, that he might see and understand how wrong abortion is, how sinful it is, how violent it is, and how it’s destroying the life of our nation.

Venerable John Paul II: The Record Breaking Pope

Church Closed for Holiday – I Just Don’t Get It!

I just don’t get it!  I don’t understand!  Stuff like this makes me shake my head in bewilderment.  I intended to write a brief commentary this past solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on January 1st.  I was reminded and prompted once again this past weekend.  I was struck by an announcement at Mass the Sunday after Christmas which said, “This coming Saturday is not a holy day of obligation, therefore we will follow the usual Saturday Mass schedule” (or pretty close to that effect).  Period.

In 1992 the USCCB issued a decree that whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated.  Basically if the holy day of obligation falls on a Saturday or a Monday, it is not a holy day of obligation.  Ironically this decree by the USCCB was approved by the Vatican on July 4th.  The US was once again declaring independence–but this time is was from the oppressive dictatorship of obligatory worship!  Evidently the US Catholic bishops thought [think] it is too burdensome for Catholics to attend Mass 2 days in a row!

I think this attempt at pastoral sensitivity fails and sends a contradictory message.  Either a day is holy and our worship sanctifies our time and conforms and orientates us toward the Holy, or it does not.  What does it matter where the day falls.  The announcement I heard at my parish basically told people to stay home, you don’t have to come.  The decree of the USCCB aside, perhaps a better announcement may have sounded like this:  “This Saturday is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  Though the Solemnity falls on a Saturday and is not a holy day of obligation this year [this even sounds absurd while I’m typing this], we invite and encourage you to sanctify the first day of the year…”[you get the picture].

Now on to the egregious.  Following are bulletin announcements from a few parishes (not mine):

The Rectory Office will be closed on Monday, January 17th in observance of the Martin  Luther King, Jr. Holiday.  There also will be no Eucharistic Adoration on Monday, January 17th.

Holiday Schedule… Monday is a holiday, Martin Luther King Day.  The Parish Offices are closed and there is no daily Mass

The Church, Chapel and Rectory Office will not be open on Monday, January 17th in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

What on earth does any secular holiday have to do with the sacramental life of the Church?  It is perfectly understandable that the parish office would be closed, but why the church, why no Mass?  The priest can’t unlock the church on a day the sexton is off?  Isn’t the priest going to celebrate Mass?  Perhaps there would be more people inclined to attend a weekday Mass if they were not obligated to got to work.  Or if someone had the day off perhaps they would spend some time in adoration…but not if the church is locked.  I can’t think of any good reason.  “The Holy Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life…but not tomorrow…we’re closed”.

A Day in the Life of Pope Benedict

Rocco had a link to this video from CatholicTV.  I remember seeing this raw footage a few years ago filmed by a German documentary crew (but I have yet to find the source).  CatholicTV did a great editing job and it is a rare glimpse at a day in the life of Pope Benedict.
Click here to see the video.

Pope John Paul II to be Beatified May 1

Vatican Information Service announced this morning that Pope Benedict will indeed beatify his predecessor, Karol Wojtyla, on May 1, 2011.  George Weigel writes in the NRO:

Re: John Paul II
By George Weigel
January 14, 2011 10:00 A.M.The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints has certified a miraculous cure through the intercession of Pope John Paul II, thus clearing the way for the late pontiff’s beatification on May 1. Using the word “miracle” in a broad sense, however, the greatest miracle of John Paul II was to restore a sense of Christian possibility in a world that had consigned Christian conviction to the margins of history.

In 1978, no one expected that the leading figure of the last quarter of the 20th century would be a priest from Poland. Christianity was finished as a world-shaping force, according to the opinion-leaders of the time; it might endure as a vehicle for personal piety, but would play no role in shaping the world of the 21st century. Yet within six months of his election, John Paul II had demonstrated the dramatic capacity of Christianity to create a revolution of conscience that, in turn, created a new and powerful form of politics — the politics that eventually led to the Revolution of 1989 and the liberation of central and eastern Europe.

Beyond that, John Paul II made Christianity compelling and interesting in a world that imagined that humanity had outgrown its “need” for God, Christ, and faith. In virtually every part of the world, John Paul II’s courageous preaching of Jesus Christ as the answer to the question that is every human life drew a positive response, and millions of lives were changed as a result. This was simply not supposed to happen — but it did, through the miracle of conviction wedded to courage.

Then there was John Paul’s social doctrine which, against all expectations, put the Catholic Church at the center of the world’s conversation about the post-Communist future. In 1978, did anyone really expect that papal encyclicals would be debated on the pages of the Wall Street Journal, or that a pope would rivet the world’s attention in two dramatic defenses of the universality of human rights before the United Nations? No one expected that. But it happened.

To make Christianity plausible, compelling, and attractive by preaching the fullness of Christian truth and demonstrating its importance to the human future — that was perhaps the greatest miracle of John Paul II, and his greatest gift to the Church and the world.

— George Weigel is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and biographer of John Paul II. His second volume on the life of the pontiff, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II — The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy, was released this fall.