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Lent and….the Pope’s Resigning?

Lent and………the Pope’s resigning?

This Wednesday we began the season of Lent by engaging in the ancient practice of placing ashes on ourselves as a sign of penance.  The city of Nineveh sat in ashes upon hearing Jonah’s prophecy (Jonah 3:6).

In the Early Church, ashes were also a sign of entrance into the Order of Penitence.  Ashes are a sign of mourning and penance.  We mourn because of the separation caused by our actions.  Sin divides us from ourselves, from each other, and from God.

Penance is the act of turning away from sin and toward God.  This act opens the way for God’s grace to heal our relationships with ourselves, with God, and with each other.

May this be a season of mourning and penance in preparation for the glory of Easter, when all things are made new!

So, Pope Benedict XVI is resigning as of February 28th.  How do we understand this, especially since it has been more than 600 years since a pope has resigned (Pope Gregory XII in 1415)?  Canon law (the law of the Catholic Church) 332 offers the following guidance:

If it should happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office (munus), it is required for validity that he make the resignation freely and that it be duly manifested, but not that it be accepted by anyone.

There you have it.  Our beloved pope is resigning due to his waning physical health.  He says he simply cannot uphold the duties as Holy Father.

We should be glad for his courage to do what is necessary both for his health and for the Universal Church.

It is also a good thing that the law of the Church explains the right of the Pope to resign.  Could you imagine a man being forced by Church law to continue to serve in this office?  Of course, such a law would be eminently impractical and unjust.

Let’s pray for him and for his health and for our Church.  May we be guided by the Holy Spirit to know the next steps to take.  May God bless our cardinals who must make a very serious decision once they assemble in conclave: who is God calling to be the next pope?

Why Faith?

Whenever we talk about spreading the news of Jesus Christ, we often begin with what he offers.  We say he offers happiness, Resurrection, eternal life, the truth, freedom, belonging, healing and other things.

Yet, one could respond to these by saying, “I’m already happy; a Resurrection into what exactly?; eternal life?  who wants to live forever?; what is truth?; I’m already free because I can pretty much do whatever I want; I already have a lot of friends; I’m not sick.”

This often leads to a struggle, especially among the leaders of the Christian communities to ask the question, how do we make Jesus relevant?  Sometimes this leads down a dangerous road of shaping Jesus to fit into a person’s life, rather than inviting the person to fit into his.

So where do we begin?

Reflections on Redemptor Hominis prompts me to say that we start with the beginning: salvation.

A person cannot possibly begin to know Jesus if they do not know of the need for salvation and from what one would be saved.

Blessed Pope John Paul II said the following:

Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it (10, RH).

Quite simply, we need to be saved from death…not merely a bodily death, but a worse death…a death of an existence without love.

Now I propose that everyone, no matter their state in life, no matter their marital status, no matter how many friends they have, can say that they still experience a loneliness, an existential emptiness as it were.

If they are truly honest with themselves and engage in any degree of self-awareness, an awareness not restrained by the insobriety offered by drugs, alcohol, and endless entertainment, they would acknowledge this emptiness at least to themselves.

Even in the life of most excellent virtue, there remains a part of us unknown and unloved, even by ourselves.  There remains a part of us we do not give to others in love.  This part of us is not an emptiness void of meaning.  It is what many call a “God-shaped hole.”

Jesus is the only one who can fill it.  This is salvation.

When the Church answers the question, “why faith?” we respond, “so that we may not die but live…so that we might be saved.”

We are not alone in this approach.  Peter was the first to preach the good news after the descent of the Holy Spirit.  What did he say?  “Repent and be baptized…save yourselves from this corrupt generation”  (Acts, 33).

The great challenge and the great gift of proposing the faith of Jesus Christ to the world is that the work has already begun in every human heart.  The pre-evanglization has already begun in the God-shaped hole, our craving for love and life that only Jesus can give.

Why faith?  Because we want it and need it.

Why “I Believe” and not “We Believe”?

Question:

Why do we want to change from “We believe” to “I believe?”

Does this not take away from the sense of community? -Sue R.

Response:

It seems that your question is prompted by the changes to the English translation of the Roman Missal that will begin implementation at the first Sunday of Advent this year (2011). There will be several changes to the words that the people will be praying during the Mass.

For example, our profession of the Nicene creed will no longer start by saying, “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…”

Instead, we will say, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty…”

Now, a few important facts to note: The Latin translation to the Nicene Creed says “Credo in unum Deum, Patream omnipotentem…”

In Spanish the translation reads, “Creo en un solo Dios, Padre Todopoderoso…”

“Credo” (and “Creo”) means “I believe…”

A major tenet of the changes to the English Roman Missal included a more faithful adherence to the Latin Roman Missal. There are many reasons for doing this, which I will not get into now.

This change to the translation of the Creed is meant to lead us closer to the original intent of professing our faith liturgically. The Nicene Creed clarifies the dogmatic structure of Christian belief.

However, the act of professing the Creed liturgically (that is, within Baptism, the Mass, Viaticum, etc.) was not primarily for this purpose in its inception.

In its earliest form the credal profession took place within the context of baptismal dialogue. It was just as we hear it sometimes during the Easter season before everyone is sprinkled with holy water:

“Do you believe in one God the Father Almighty…?”

“I do.”

The earliest form of profession was in the form of a personal dialogue, a conversation. The person responded “I do” because they were making a personal choice of conversion, of turning away from the visible enticement of sin toward the invisible glory of God the Father and of his Son Jesus Christ.

Going back to Pope Benedict XVI in his work, Introduction to Christianity, we hear him say the following:

This form is also more suited to its purpose than the We-type of creed, which (unlike our I-creed) was developed in Christian Africa and then at the big Eastern Councils.

The latter kind represents a new type of creed, no longer rooted in the sacramental context of the ecclesiastical ceremony of conversion, in the execution of the about-turn, and thus in the real birthplace of faith, but proceeding from the striving of the bishops assembled at the Council for the right doctrine and thus clearly becoming the first step toward the future form of dogma” (89).

The future form of dogma to which Pope Benedict XVI refers is the kind used for greater clarity and understanding for the world and the Christian community, in addition to personal conversion.

To summarize this response, by using the translation “I believe” instead of “We believe” we actually maintain the communal integrity of the creed.

Now the communal structure is more in the form of a personal dialogue rather than a collective declaration. It returns to the conversation between one who asks and one who answers, even if it is not professed in the interrogatory form: “Do you?…I do.”

This form also seems to emphasize that I believe and not just what I believe.

Every time you and I say “I believe” you and I are in dialogue with each other. I am saying to you and you are saying to me, “I have made this personal choice to lay down my entire life on this foundation of truth.”

We are also proclaiming this in dialogue with the world, which continues to ask you and me in verbal and non-verbal ways, “do you really believe all that stuff…?” – Fr. Christopher Plant

Confession and Eucharist – Voodoo?

Question:

I was trying to explain to one of my non Catholic friends about Confession/Communion and the priests role in these two things.

I was telling him that during Confession and in the changing of the bread and wine to the body and blood, that the priest is working impersona cristae (not quite sure if that is the right terminology or spelling).

I felt that it came across to my friend as sounding kinda like voodoo and I feel like he thought we were crazy. Is there a better way you can tell me to explain this without us Catholics sounding crazy?

Response:

The short answer to your question is “no.”  We really cannot tell someone who has yet to enter into the faith about the Eucharist, Confession, and the reality of the Ordained Priesthood without sounding crazy.  After all, don’t we also believe that a carpenter executed on trumped-up criminal charges came back from the dead and he’s the one who is going to save us from otherwise certain self-destruction?

The longer answer begins with a question.  Where is your friend as regards to Christian belief?  Does he believe in Jesus Christ as God, as the Son of God, as risen from the dead, and as “seated at the right hand of the Father?”

For that matter, does he believe in God the Father – the God of Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob – the God who opened up the sea to free an insignificant segment of the human population?

These are pretty important questions that must come first. In particular, the question about Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father. This belief understands the risen Lord as one seated in the office of a king, who is active and involved in our daily lives.

But there is more to it. What is his understanding of the Holy Spirit? By the Holy Spirit dwelling within us Jesus continues his activity in bringing us to resurrection and everlasting life. By the power of the Holy Spirit the following happens:

The Scriptures are inspired, written, and understood in the Church community.

People come to believe in God’s self-revelation as individuals and as a community.

People are taken from the community of believers and made permanent ministers within and for the community for the dispensation of the many gifts of Jesus Christ.

The forgiveness of sins and reconciliation through the sacrament of Confession.

The consecration (setting-aside) of the bread and wine and the subsequent transformation of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of Jesus Christ Himself.

As you can see, it’s all about what your friend has accepted as true. If he were to think you were crazy, ask him respectfully about what he accepts as true already. If he believes any of the above, then he believes in something that others, particularly atheists, find crazy.

Ultimately, according to the broken standards of the world, what we believe is quite crazy.

It may be appropriate to reflect on the following from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 1):

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our
proclamation, to save those who believe.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…

In other words, our basic foundation is a foolish and crazy proclamation. So a believer in Jesus Christ cannot reject the reality of the Eucharist, Confession and the Ordained Priesthood simply on the grounds that it sounds crazy. Or he might have to reject everything else.

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