Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
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Saturday, May 15, 2004Absurd Quote of the Week
The Washington Times has more coverage from the on-going unravelling of the "traditional" consensus of meekness among Catholic bishops about pro-abortion politicians. Sometimes, it is exhilarating to undo the "traditional." In its coverage, the conservative Washington Times correctly follows the significant change in course from the past resulting from more Catholic bishops being more outspoken against pro-abortion political celebrities. For the liberal spin, you can read this article from the National Catholic Reporter in which the reporter has obviously gone out of his way to interview two known "liberal" or "moderate" clerics in order to get on the record opinions in favor of coddling pro-abortion politicians. In this case, the liberal reporter searched out well-known liberal Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles and "moderate" Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati. (Of course, in liberal spin, moderates are "reasonable" and "open-minded" as opposed to "rigid" and "close-minded" conservatives.)
Yet, even the liberal spin can't cover up the liberal alarm over some Catholic bishops taking their charge to defend the truth seriously. Mahoney expresses alarm in the article:
"I am puzzled by people rattling sanctions at the moment. That has not been our tradition over the years," he said.
It looks like Cardinal Mahoney is a bit taken aback by a new generation of bishops who are bucking the spineless consensus.
In addition, the National Catholic Reporter (also known, for very good reasons, on these pages as the National Catholic Distorter) thinks the matter so alarming that is posts a hyperventilating editorial excoriating bishops who have rebelled against the past paralysis on this issue. The editorial argues that the faulty logic of the outspoken bishops was exposed when pro-life leader Senator Santorum recently endorsed pro-abortion Senator Specter in Pennsylvania. The editorial argues that, under the logic of bishops taking action against pro-abortion policians, Santorum should be denied communion. Let me say from the outset that I would support any bishop who would deny Santorum communion for his support of Specter. But the editorial's argument falls apart once you think clearly about it. Santorum is a strong pro-life leader who wants to keep Senate control in the hands of the only pro-life national party, the Republican Party. Unfortunately, Santorum made the judgment that pursuing that goal required supporting Arlen Specter. I, for one, think that judgment was mistaken. But it was a tactical judgment meant to advance the current strategic advantage the pro-life movement now holds in the Senate with Republican control--an important strategic advantage that the editorial writer is surely aware of but fails to mention. The bottom-line is that Santorum made a tactical decision to preserve a strategic pro-life advantage. That much is clear even if you think, as I do, that Santorum's tactical decision was mistaken.
That tactical scenario is very different from the pro-abortion politician who is acting solely to protect Roe v. Wade's regime of abortion on demand. If a bishop thinks that Santorum should be denied communion because of the tactical Specter endorsement, that is fine with me, although the fact is that any pro-life person can only dream that a Kerry, a Kennedy, a Clinton, or any other national Democrat for that matter would ever come close to matching the strong pro-life leadership demonstrated in the past by Senator Santorum.
More interestingly, the editorial ends with a plaintive plea:
"The circular-firing-squad mentality infecting too many conservative Catholics and a number of bishops should stop now. Before it is too late."Before it is too late for what? The editorial does not say. Maybe, the editorial writer is worried that his liberal Catholic subscriber base will begin to actually leave the Catholic Church. In my opinion, that outcome should be welcomed because it is merely a recognition of the truth that they have long since fallen out of full communion with the Catholic Church by pursuing religion as something we make up. Better the honest truth than a lifetime of self-deception and denial.
But the promised "Absurd Quote of the Week" goes to Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, D.C., as recorded in the Washington Times, defending his discomfort with refusing communion to anyone: "[A]s a priest and bishop, I do not favor a confrontation at the altar rail with the sacred body of the Lord Jesus in my hand."
Cardinal, what altar rail? The altar rails of the vast majority of our churches have been ignominiously torn out of church after church. And, what confrontation? Any political celebrity to be denied the Eucharist by the cardinal will have been duly informed, in accordance with canon law, well before he or she shows up at the communion line. All the ministering priest has to do is to kindly give a blessing and move on. I assure the cardinal that none of the political celebrities will try to forcibly take the Eucharist from him--that would not look good, even in the secular press. And if the political celebrity wants to exchange words, so be it. Is that too much for a priest of the crucified Christ to risk? Is that too much to risk to protect the Body of Christ from sacrilege? The cardinal is straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel. And so to him belongs the absurd quote of the week.
Friday, May 14, 2004N.Y. Times Aghast that Colorado Springs Bishop Proclaims Catholic Teaching
Another bishop has courageously stepped up to the plate and dared to repeat Catholic teaching in a pastoral letter, citing the Catechism of the Catholic, Church, the Pope's encyclical The Gospel of Life, and the recent document on politicians by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In his pastoral letter, Bishop Michael Sheridan of the Diocese of Colorado Springs begins with a welcome and needed discussion of the Catholic view of what conscience is and its role in our moral decisions. He then proceeds to state clearly that in the November election Catholic voters must ensure that pro-life candidates win. He states clearly the bottom-line on pro-abortion Catholic politicians and voters:
Bishop Michael Sheridan, Pastoral Letter "On the Duties of Catholic Politicans and Voters," (PDF document), May 1, 2004, Diocese of Colorado Springs.
Bishop Sheridan correctly applies this same conclusion to those advocating same-sex "marriage":
As in the matter of abortion, any Catholic politician who would promote so-called “same-sex marriage” and any Catholic who would vote for that political candidate place themselves outside the full communion of the Church and may not receive Holy Communion until they have recanted their positions and been
See link to Sheridan Pastoral Letter above.
The document is worth reading in its entirety. Bishop Sheridan also makes clear that he is in solidarity with and supporting his brother bishops who have dared to clearly state Catholic teaching on these issues. After you read the letter in its entirety, then consider what I will now say about the N.Y. Times coverage of the same letter.
The theme of the N.Y. Times headline and story is that Sheridan is now daring to advocate denying the Eucharist to any Catholic voter who votes for a pro-abortion politician ("Bishop Would Deny Rite for Defiant Catholic Voters," N.Y. Times Online, National section, 5/14/04). Of course, this sensationalistic approach is intended to panic the average Catholic parishioner who fears that now he or she will be denied the Eucharist just as some pro-abortion celebrities have been. Well, if a Catholic voter is a well-known activist for abortion or gay marriage who obstinately and knowingly persists in pushing these anti-Catholic positions then he or she can and should under canon law be denied the Eucharist. But it is obvious that no anonymous, average Catholic voter by definition fits into the category of a public activist. This pastoral letter is telling average, anonymous Catholic voters that if they have freely and knowingly voted for pro-abortion politicians and/or politicians supporting gay "marriage," fully aware, as is likely, that these positions are gravely immoral under Catholic moral teaching, they need to go to confession prior to receiving the Eucharist.
But obviously no one will be able to deny the Eucharist to such an average voter for the simple practical reason that his acts are not known to the public. Even the N.Y. Times article makes note of that, even while distorting the wording of the bishop's pastoral letter. In my view, the N.Y. Times is distorting the message of the pastoral letter--which at no point addresses the issue of denying anyone the Eucharist--in order to paint Sheridan as an extremist inquisitor who will now harass every Catholic communicant, however humble and anonymous. In my opinion, this distortion is part of the liberal strategy to save Kerry and other pro-abortion celebrities by linking their fate to that of non-celebrity, average Catholics.
The N.Y. Times is so alarmed and aghast that some Catholic bishops are showing chutzpah that it misrepresents Sheridan's written statement and thereby creates confusion among average Catholics. But the same liberal media won't be alarmed about someone like Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles who is indirectly quoted in the same story as asserting that Kerry is "welcome" to receive the Eucharist in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Mahoney's compromise of Catholic teaching is to be expected by anyone familiar with his liberal reputation. It is no surprise. I would not even be surprised to see Mahoney leading the invocation for Kerry at the Democratic convention in Boston. Kerry recently met privately with Mahoney on May 5th. It would not be out of the ordinary for Kerry to have already issued the invitation for Mahoney to appear at the Democratic convention. As I recall, Mahoney has done that before. But what is a newsworthy surprise is that an increasing number of Mahoney's brother bishops are showing that they are cut from a different cloth.
Update: If you would like to thank Bishop Sheridan of Colorado Springs for his strong apostolic witness, you can e-mail the Diocese of Colorado Springs at email@example.com. The media will try to paint these stalwart bishops as extremists or kooks. We know better, and should encourage bishops who stand up to the errors of the secular culture.
Thursday, May 13, 2004Proof That Prison Scandal is a Pornographic Scandal
In a graphic article, the New York Post (May 13, 2004) reports that the photos of prisoner abuse include pornographic photos that have nothing to do with Iraqi prisoners, but a lot to do with pornographic activity between and among U.S. soldiers, with one female soldier apparently being in effect the leading pornographic "actress" in the photos. This evidence supports the initial analysis written here that the crux of the current scandal is about pornography, not about any official military policy of prisoner abuse (see Catholic Analysis for May 8, 2004). These were crazed, rogue soldiers steeped and formed in the immoral pornographic culture that flourishes in our country.
Yet, as pointed out before, the liberals, who enthusiastically take the lead in dismantling traditional morality by pushing abortion, contraception, domestic partnerships for both unmarried heterosexuals and homosexuals, gay marriage, and exaggerated First Amendment protection for indecency in the media, are assiduously avoiding the central moral aspect of the prison scandal. The liberals would prefer to make it a matter of "torture" and official policy, even after the highly praised military officer, Army General Antonio Taguba, who authored the investigative report on this particular Iraqi prison, made clear in sworn congressional testimony that the abusive conduct was not the result of official orders or wider policy. With that statement, the liberals lost the scandal. It slipped right through their fingers. They know it.
But a scandal that liberals would rather not confront remains. And it is a pornographic scandal that reflects a corruption at the heart of our society. But you can bet that Senators Kennedy and Clinton won't be too concerned with that scandal because they don't find the culture of sexual chaos scandalous in the least. For them, it is not chaos, but a matter of liberation and empowerment. Yet, the real truth of this scandal is emerging. It will be interesting to see how the mainstream media reacts to the emergence of the type of scandal that contradicts its cultural bias against traditional sexual morality. It is likely that they will engage in blatant denial and ignore the obvious. Thus, you will likely see the scandal slowly recede from the headlines as its true parameters continue to emerge. Only in conservative media, especially on the internet, will you see the crux of the prison scandal described in unflinching terms.
All of which brings me to a point that many political observers fail to grasp when discussing the public's view of the state and direction of the nation. Many such observers point to polls showing that a majority of the public believes the nation is on the "wrong track" as a sign of trouble for Bush's re-election, in spite of the fact that the Kerry campaign remains stuck in the polls. I suggest that the Beltway pundits and their colleagues from the other major liberal media centers are missing a central point: a solid Bush supporter can be deeply pessimistic about the state of the nation but still turn out to vote for the President. In fact, the deeper the pessimism, the more likely the Bush supporter will turn out to vote for Bush. The reason is that the pessimism is based not on the daily political back and forth served up by the mainstream media or the latest mischaracterized scandal pounced upon by the media but rather on cultural pessimism. It is right to be culturally pessimistic about a society in which moral chaos is rampant in the push for current lifestyles of sexual insanity and in the craze for hedonism and materialism.
This moral chaos results in an "integrity deficit" in our country. That integrity deficit is far more dangerous and alarming than any budget deficit could ever be. Those who lean to supporting President Bush know that. It is why Bush's strongest support comes from Americans who take religious practices, such as church attendance, most seriously. So the mainstream media has the equation backwards: cultural pessimism may very well propel the vote for Bush, not for the candidate steeped in extreme Massachusetts social liberalism. It all depends on what the voter is pessimistic about. The economy is obviously improving, and the Iraq situation is already slowly stabilizing. Yet, the source of legitimate cultural pessimism remains: the integrity deficit. That cultural pessimism favors the Bush campaign. But, alas, sometimes the deepest cultural currents are too deep to merit the notice of a superficial mainstream media that itself so closely reflects the integrity deficit.
Update: More proof of the above thesis at the N.Y. Post. One Slate.com commentator remarked sardonically that "right-wing cultural warriors" would spin the scandal into one of sexual immorality. Well, the "right-wing cultural warriors" are looking more on target every day.
Wednesday, May 12, 2004Respecting Conscience
A popular argument by some clerics who argue that they are not comfortable with denying the Eucharist to pro-abortion political celebrities is that the decision to receive is up to the conscience of the celebrity. In prior posts, I have indicated why this highly subjective view of conscience is contrary to Catholic teaching and even to relevant canon law. But today it is time to consider one of the most effective ways of exposing fallacy: reductio ad absurdum, that is, showing that a point of view is mistaken by showing that it leads to absurd results-- to "a reduction to absurdity."
Let us take a hypothetical bishop who goes to the media and says that he is not comfortable with denying the Eucharist to a pro-abortion celebrity--in reality, some have already actually done this. But now let us go to a local priest who has a correct grasp of Catholic teaching and canon law on this issue and as a result is firmly convinced in his conscience that for him to give the Eucharist to the local pro-abortion governor or legislator or to John Kerry would make him as a priest an accomplice to the profanation of the Eucharist. Our hypothetical priest has an informed and correct conscience. Moreover, he is certainly obligated to protect the Eucharist from profanation. How can our hypothetical bishop expect that priest (or for that matter a lay person who is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion) to act contrary to a well-formed conscience and give the Eucharist to a pro-abortion celebrity?
The hypothetical bishop can forbid the priest from denying the Eucharist, but, in that case, the bishop has contradicted his own public statement that the judgment of the individual conscience is supremely sovereign on the issue of who can receive the Eucharist. Or the bishop can let each priest make his own decision on giving or denying the Eucharist. That latter option would at least be consistent with the bishop's public statements on the supremacy of individual conscience. Yet, even this latter option is not desirable because it introduces chaos into the sacramental life of the Church within a particular diocese and between different dioceses.
In other words, the best our hypothetical bishop can do is to recognize that both theology and canon law require a consistent policy of refusing the Eucharist to pro-abortion celebrities. The Eucharist is protected, and Catholic sacramental life remains orderly and uniform within and between dioceses.
Some may object that a policy of denying the Eucharist to pro-abortion celebrities would itself be the source of chaos because there would have to be a complex laundry list of political positions that preclude one from receiving the Eucharist. The truth is that there would be no chaos. Any political celebrity openly and obstinately contradicting Catholic teaching on what is grave sin should be told not to approach the Eucharist and should be denied the Eucharist if he or she does approach. We are not talking about the death penalty issue--the Church has no absolute prohibition against the death penalty, contrary to the implications of some who speak publicly. We are not talking about the mechanics of economic policy about which Catholics can and do legitimately differ. We are not talking about the Iraq War because the Church recognizes that Catholics can legitimately differ on the application of just war criteria to a particular situation.
Any laundry list of obstacles to communion would involve grave and intrinsically evil matters about which the Church recognizes no right to diversity of opinion. In addition, the only practical and feasible targets would be celebrities who persist in denying such Church teaching and thus create scandal--not the average anonymous parishioner.
Catholic liberals are continuing to spout what can only be called "whoppers" in the news media that misrepresent Catholic teaching in their eagerness to defend pro-abortion Democrats. As noted before, one common misrepresentation is that the abortion issue and issues such as the death penalty or the Iraq War are on the same plane. The other great misrepresentation is that denying the Eucharist to a political celebrity is equivalent to denying the Eucharist to an anonymous parishioner where scandal is not a factor.
The biggest misrepresentation was recently made by that reliably unreliable source of Catholic teaching, the Rev. Richard McBrien of Notre Dame University, who is quoted as saying that "Abortion is not a dogma." Here is an excerpt from the news article containing the McBrien quote:
"Communion Becomes a Test of Faith and Politics," by Daniel J. Wakin, N.Y. Times online, May 9, 2004 (free reg'n required).
Well, a "dogma" is a divinely revealed teaching. It may be defined solemnly as was done in the case of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption of Mary, or it can be defined "in an ordinary way, as with the constant teaching on the malice of taking innocent human life" (John A. Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary s.v. "Dogma"). As Hardon notes, a dogma is a "[d]octrine taught by the Church to be believed by all the faithful as part of divine revelation" (Ibid.). And it is clear that the grave immorality of the direct and voluntary taking of an innocent human life--which includes deliberate or procured abortion--is a divinely revealed teaching:
John Paul II, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), section 62.3 (i.e., 3rd paragraph in section 62).
Consistent with the Pope's declaration, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed that the grave immorality of the direct and voluntary taking of innocent human life is a divinely revealed teaching (see Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the 'Professio fidei,' June 29, 1998, section 11 (also refer to section 5), available at EWTN.com.)
So McBrien, not surprisingly, is again wrong. The only remedy for this mess is exposure of these wild misrepresentations and a constant reiteration of the truth. The power of the truth cannot be suppressed by sound bites.
Tuesday, May 11, 2004A Benedictine Abbot's View of the Eucharist: Highly Relevant for Today
Abbot Vonier (1875-1938) was a German-born Benedictine monk who for many years was abbot of a monastery in England. Among the many theological works he wrote, one that is especially relevant to today's controversies is a work from 1925: A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist, reprinted in 2003 by the new Zaccheus Press in Bethesda, Maryland. In an introduction to this book, theologian Aidan Nichols, O.P., describes Vonier as "the most gifted dogmatic theologian writing--and preaching-- in England during the inter-War years [the nineteen twenties and thirties]" (Vonier, p. xi). In a preface to the book, Catholic philosopher and apologist Peter Kreeft notes that he has "seldom read such a convincing, clear, and comprehensive study in Eucharistic theology" (Vonier, p. ix).
Vonier's writings on the Eucharist are especially relevant today when some priests and bishops seek to justify the scandal of pro-abortion political celebrities receiving the Eucharist with impunity. The thread of the reasoning of these clerical defenders of scandal is a highly individualistic and subjective view of the human conscience. If you consider their rhetoric, which at times appears to have an off-the-cuff, shoot-from-the hip quality to it, it reflects the American cultural worship of the individual subjective conscience, however ill-informed, as justifying a wide range of behaviors. Under this secular world view, "choice" is preeminent over the "good" because there is no authoritative, objective measure of the good. In this cultural view, the best we can do is agree on procedures by which to allow for the social co-existence of virtually every subjective desire or choice imaginable. That American cultural view has infected, whether consciously or unconsciously, the rhetoric of some churchmen.
In contrast, the authentic Catholic view is that conscience must be formed by authoritative objective truth, that conscience can and does frequently err, and that it is the obligation of the Church as the bearer of objective divine revelation to correct such errors for the sake of the truth, the good of the individual and wider humanity, and the glory of God.
As to the current controversy about "pro-choice" political celebrities receiving the Eucharist, Vonier's writing from 1925 is a necessary corrective to the current cultural mindset. Vonier emphasizes the social and ecclesial aspect of the Eucharist:
The Eucharistic sacrifice is fundamentally a corporate act, the act of the Church herself; we are never isolated worshipers in the great rite, even when we are but a few gathered around the altar in some remote church, for we are in communion with the whole Catholic Church. So the eating of the divine oblation is always invested with social significance. We all become members of one Body, eating one Bread: this is the classical, traditional concept of the Eucharistic assembly.
Vonier, p. 169 (emphasis added).
Receiving the Eucharist is a social act. It announces that one is in full communion with the Catholic Church. It is, as Vonier writes, "the act of the Church herself." Eucharistic theology determines the meaning of the Eucharist, not secular culture's obsession with "choice." In contrast,the current defense of people like Kerry receiving the Eucharist focuses on the Eucharist as a highly individualistic exercise with no social significance. This type of defense of pro-abortion leaders receiving the Eucharist implies that the Eucharist belongs primarily to individuals, not to the Church. That is how the false and absurd charge can be made that, in defending the Sacrament, the Church is somehow interfering in politics.
Vonier writes prophetically when he observes as follows:
Vonier, p. 169.
Vonier clearly saw, way back in 1925, what is now at stake in having obstinate pro-abortion leaders partake of the Eucharist. What is at stake is an exaggerated neo-Protestant view of the Eucharist as an individual transaction between one worshipper and God, with the Church merely providing the physical setting for the act. This neo-Protestant view does away with the Church herself as the custodian of the sacraments. This view has now become the thoroughly secular caricature of religion as mere "spirituality" for individual consumption in the market for spiritual and psychological solace. This psychological view of the sacraments is why our society inevitably views as puzzling the Church's efforts to defend the Eucharist and limit participation by those who reject fundamental Church teaching. Much of American culture cannot comprehend the classic social significance of the Eucharist and thus invests it with an individualism that, while indigenous to our American culture, is alien to Catholicism.
Vonier notes, with an amazing relevance to our current controversies, that the "ideal world of which the saint dreams is a human society where there is practical knowledge of the meaning of the Eucharistic sacrifice, where men and women have a clear comprehension of the divine mysteries, and where purity and justice are cherished, because without them men would be unfit for the Communion of the Body of God" (Vonier, pp. 169-70). Without a commitment to the justice of defending human life in all its forms, we are unfit for Holy Communion. The clear articulation of the theological basis of this truth makes the reprinting of Vonier's book on the Eucharist a timely, welcome, and providential event for these troubled days.
Monday, May 10, 2004Clerical Malpractice
When an educated professional with qualified staff and other available resources gives a superficial and erroneous analysis of an issue within his area of responsibility with harmful results, our culture calls it malpractice. Recent statements by clerics, such as Cardinal McCarrick in Washington, D.C., respond to the issue of pro-abortion politicians receiving the Eucharist by saying that you cannot deny them the Eucharist because we cannot see into their hearts and minds and know what lurks therein (see Catholic News Service story, 4/27/04). Here is what Cardinal McCarrick is quoted as saying in the Catholic News Service story:
"I would be very uncomfortable to have a confrontation at the altar, because it implies that I know precisely what's in a man's heart or in a woman's heart, and I'm not always sure," he said.
That is the analysis presented to the public and to fellow Catholics. It is devastatingly wrong. It is clerical malpractice.
In a recent Zenit interview, priest-theologian Thomas Williams, the dean of the School of Theology of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum in Rome, gave a professional analysis of the issue based on canon law. You can and should read the entire interview at this link. But let's get to the "heart" of the issue: to deny the Eucharist to these politicians, does a bishop have to know what lurks in the hearts of men? Canon law clearly says no. Here are the words of Fr. Williams:
Four essential elements come into play, all of which are necessary to fulfill the conditions laid out in Canon 915.
"Why Communion Could Be Denied to Anti-Life Legislators," April 26, 2004, Zenit.org (emphasis added).
No judgment of subjective culpability is required. What canon law requires is "objectively evil conduct of a serious nature." This objectively evil conduct creates scandal. Canon law contemplates denial of the Eucharist to squelch the scandal. So for McCarrick and other bishops, such as Bishop Mengeling of Lansing, Michigan, for example (see Lansing State Journal story), to speak of not being able to judge the hearts of communicants is to miss the boat. Here are Mengeling's remarks as reported in the Lansing newspaper:
Mengeling said denying Communion to Granholm [the pro-abortion Michigan governor] and other politicians who support abortion rights would force the church to judge every Catholic, a task he said is up to God.No one is making the straw man argument of reading anyone's heart or conscience. In the same Zenit interview, Fr. Williams points to the absurd situation of effectively open communion created by irrelevant talk of reading someone's heart: "If publicly supporting abortion doesn't constitute a sufficient pastoral reason to justify the denial of Holy Communion, it is hard to imagine when recourse to this measure would be appropriate."
Canon law is not speaking here about reading anyone's heart. Canon law does not contemplate impossibilities. The issue of reading someone's heart is a red herring that is, from all indications, a convenient way to dodge the issue and avoid confrontation. Avoiding confrontation over the truth is episcopal malpractice. The People of God deserve better. And, thanks to Zenit, the People of God now know better.
Sunday, May 09, 2004Fifth Sunday of Easter: Acts 14:21-27; Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a, 34-35
A striking common theme of all three readings is the transformation of the world. In the reading from Acts, Paul and Barnabas are traveling evangelist-bishops going from city to city. I term them "bishops" because they oversee the various churches they set up in different cities. As they travel, they strengthen and exhort the disciples undergoing hardships for the kingdom of God, just as Jesus in the Gospel of Luke had said that Peter, another traveling evangelist-bishop, would strengthen the brethren (Luke 22:31). Interestingly, Luke is also the author of the book of Acts in which the work of Paul and Barnabas, as just noted, is described as strengthening the disciples (Acts 14:22) . In these two passages (Lk 22:31 and Acts 14:22), Luke uses two slightly different forms of the same Greek verb for "strengthening" or "confirming." Peter, Barnabas, and Paul are engaged in the same type of work, although Peter is singled out in the Gospel of Luke as preeminent in strengthening the brethren in a broader sense.
It is also worth noting that earlier in Acts 13:2-3, we have an account of the ordination of Barnabas and Paul through the laying on of hands at the direct command of the Holy Spirit. Here we see the Sacrament of Holy Orders with its distinctive laying on of hands functioning at the direct command of God. Thus, in Acts, we see those who have been ordained taking the lead in transforming the world by evangelization. As part of this evangelization, Paul and Barnabas, the traveling evangelist-bishops, appoint elders or presbyters in each church (Acts 14:23). In the New Testament, the terms "presbyter" and "bishop" tend to be used interchangeably. But we can already see a distinction between Paul and Barnabas who supervise and appoint presbyters for different communities and the resident presbyters they leave behind. These presbyters are the new priests of the New Testament who assist the traveling evangelist-bishops by leading the newly converted. In time, as the Church developed, the chief resident presbyter or elder in each community would become the exclusive holder of the title of bishop in each community. It is clear from Acts that the specially ordained are taking the lead in transforming the world through evangelization and through the founding of churches.
In Revelation, John sees a new heaven and a new earth. The New Jerusalem is the bride adorned for her husband, Jesus, the Lamb. Jesus is the bridegroom. Later, in Revelation 21:14, we are told that the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are inscribed on the foundations of the New Jerusalem. So we see that the ultimate transformation of this world is based on the evangelistic work, described in Acts, of the apostles of the Lamb. They have done the work of the Bridegroom on earth. Although Paul is, so to speak, the "13th Apostle," his apostolic ministry was confirmed by the original apostles (see Acts 15).
Finally, in the Gospel of John, Christ gives the new commandment: love one another. This love (agape) is the distinctive mark of Christ's disciples on earth. It is how they will transform the earth. A timeless expression of that transforming love is found in the Latin chant Ubi caritas, which can be translated into English as follows:
In sum, today's readings tell us in the book of Acts the identity of the ones taking the lead in transforming the earth (the apostles and their assistants), describe the final transformation in Revelation based on the work of the twelve apostles, and remind us in the Gospel that love is the distinctive means of that transformation.