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.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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Saturday, July 15, 2006"Genocidal Islamism"
That's the phrase being used to describe accurately and honestly the Palestinian, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syrian, and Iranian coalition against Israel, a coalition aimed at wiping Israel off the map of the Middle East, as explicitly asserted by the Hitlerite leader of Iran. For today, please read Charles Krauthammer's article "Israel's Existence at Stake" at this RealClearPolitics.com link , courtesy of our Rhode Island reporter. The article will make the stakes of the current war clear. Lasting peace will come only from disarmament of both Hamas and Hezbollah and from regime change in both Syria and Iran. So lasting peace is very much a long term proposition. In the meantime, the U.S. must stand fast in full support of Israel. May Israel, the country of our elder brothers in the faith (in the words of John Paul the Great), be victorious in defending herself from her rabid enemies. May the enemies of Israel be put to shame and to flight. May the enemies of Israel be scattered. May the right hand of the Lord rescue his first chosen people who are still bound to the Lord's promises, as St. Paul wrote in Romans 11:29: "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (ESV). Many Catholics are unaware of this verse from Paul that still binds the first Israel to God (the new and second Israel is the Church). But there it is. So to pray for old Israel's safety and continued existence is very Catholic, very New Testament, and very Pauline: another teaching moment.
Update: See this link for comments by Cardinal Schönborn, editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, affirming God's gift of land to Israel. The Cardinal cites John Paul the Great as agreeing that the biblical promise of land to Israel is still valid. See also Catechism, section 839.
Friday, July 14, 2006Iran Starts Middle East War
That's the bottom line as Iranian funded terrorists groups have provoked Israel by kidnapping Israeli soldiers in blatant acts of war. The Iranian regime is the Islamic version of Hitler's Nazi regime, irrationally but resolutely determined to obliterate Israel and control the entire Middle East. Even the virulence of the anti-Semitism is the same. Appeasement won't work. I predict that diplomacy alone won't work either. After September 11th, President Bush identified the Axis of Evil consisting of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Saddam is gone from power, and a democratic Iraq on the doorstep of Iran is emerging. President Bush called it as it is: an Axis of Evil now dramatically confirmed by the North Korean launching of several rockets in the past few weeks, also dramatically confirmed by the Iranian initiation of a war with Israel. The entire template of the congressional Democrats' way of dealing with foreign challenges is the pollyannish assumption that the other side is rational. Neither Iran nor North Korea is rational (just as Saddam Hussein proved his own irrationality with his bizarre, taunting shell game over weapons of mass destruction with the U.N.). Thank God that we have a Republican administration that doesn't live in the fantasy world of congressional Democrats. Pray and brace yourselves for what is ahead. Here is a link from RealClearPolitics.com that gives you the detailed analysis. I agree with the article from RealClearPolitics.com that the Iranian start of the war is based on the calculation that the U.S. does not have the will to respond forcefully. The big foundation for that premise is the rhetoric of the defeatist congressional Democrats and their media sympathizers, rhetoric that is music and inducement to the ears of America's enemies. The Iranians started the war: the rhetoric of the congressional Democrats and the mainstream media encouraged it. Now, the liberals have to wake up and see that the world is not as they imagined it for the sake of their narrow, partisan political ambitions.
Thursday, July 13, 2006Today's Verses from 2 Timothy
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfull your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:3-5 (English Standard Version).
So many points can be made. This fruitfulness of insight is another manifestation of the divine inspiration of the New Testament and the rest of the Bible: the sacred writings still speak so clearly and so pointedly to the challenges faced today. First of all, Paul is writing to Timothy, bishop or, to be more precise, presbyter-bishop of a local church or group of churches. It seems that in the New Testament era, as the Church developed, the formal titles were not as distinct as they would shortly become. "Presbyter" means elder and is the origin of our English word "priest." The Greek word for bishop (episkopos, from which we get "episcopal") merely means "overseer." If you read the two letters to Timothy, it is abundantly clear that Timothy has supervisory authority over the local church or churches in the area: again and again, Paul is urging Timothy to command this or teach that, to assert his authority (see 1 Timothy 4:11). Many academics will say that Paul did not write this letter and the other Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy and Titus) precisely because we already see in these letters what is called "Early Catholicism." I am not convinced. In fact, what seems to be the case is that the evidence of Early Catholicism in these New Testament letters is so feared by so many academics that they are eager, with little justification, to deny Paul's authorship. The early Church was indeed Catholic: terrible news to many who are biased, great news for us and really for all.
The second point: people will "not endure sound teaching" and "will wander off into myths." That's the Da Vinci Code today. You can find many so-called "theologians" and "scholars" doing a big business in the production of myths: feminist rereadings of the Bible, the Jesus Seminar which rewrites the Gospels much as the non-Christian Thomas Jefferson did long ago, liberal Catholics rewriting Church history (even the history of Vatican II), etc. The myth-making goes on and on. Many are fooled because the myths appear in print, prominently in bookstores, with credentialed authors associated with universities. Others are fooled because, as Paul says, they have "itching ears" searching for ways to justify their anti-Christian lifestyles, searching for excuses to persist in self-destruction. In contrast to myths, Paul commands Timothy to be an evangelist, to preach the historical facts of the Gospel. Paul tells Timothy to "preach the word," the word that is the Gospel of salvation in Jesus, the power that no myth can match in changing lives then and today. Again, notice, how the term "word" here refers to the spoken proclamation of the Gospel, not to written Scripture; this usage is another testimony to oral tradition as also being the word of God. (In another famous passage, 2 Timothy 3:10-17, Paul does indeed refer to the Scriptures, which, in Paul's apostolic setting, is a reference to the Old Testament, specifically the Septuagint. Of course, the preaching of the oral " word" also included the oral Gospel's fulfillment of the written word of the Septuagint. Both oral and written work together to save.)
Wednesday, July 12, 2006Today's Verse from 1 Timothy
"If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of good doctrine that you have followed."
1 Timothy 4:6 (ESV).
My commentary here basically repeats what was said in yesterday's post on tradition. Here Paul refers to "the words of the faith and of good doctrine" followed by Timothy. That phrase refers to tradition. In fact, another word for "tradition" is simply "the faith." The faith existed before any part of the New Testament was written. The New Testament is a very special and authoritative expression of the faith; but the faith, tradition, came first and continues.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006Today's Verse from 2 Thessalonians
"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter."
2 Thessalonians 2:15 (RSV).
This verse is a big problem for those Protestants who want to live by the relatively late and modern fiction of "Scripture alone." Paul the apostle taught traditions by word of mouth and in writing. Those traditions were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Those traditions were and are divinely revealed. When Paul wrote these words, there was no collection of books called the "New Testament." The only formally recognized Scriptures around was the Old Testament used by the early Christians in the Greek translation called the Septuagint which includes the same books that today form part of the Roman Catholic canon of the Old Testament. (At the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Protestants deleted some of the books from this ancient Old Testament canon used by Paul's listeners.) So, in Paul's time, you had the formally recognized Scriptures of the Septuagint, the oral teaching of the apostles, and the writings of the apostles or of those associated with apostles that would later form the canon of the New Testament. Who would formally collect that canon? The Church guided by the same Holy Spirit that inspired the writings in the first place. I recall one Protestant apologetic work going out of its way to make "clear" to its readers that the Church did not determine which writings were Scripture but merely recognized the writings that were already divinely inspired. That contention fails to derogate in any way from the fact that it was the Church that collected the canon. To have faith in the New Testament canon is to trust that the Church was guided by the Holy Spirit in collecting the books of the New Testament. The Holy Spirit does not work through the Scriptures only but also through the Church. So a better motto, a more biblical and more Pauline motto is this: "Hold to the traditions." It's also the more Catholic motto. It's also the best way to perserve Christian truth. The simplistic and late invention of "Sola Scriptura" is merely a form of "Sola Amnesia."
Monday, July 10, 2006"Holy Spirit Power" for All Catholics
Let me begin with biography. Most of us are fascinated by biographies because, well, all of us are living one. Bob Williams is an eighty-six-year old Catholic from the Detroit suburbs. He came from a typical Catholic middle-class family in New York state. His father was a physician, his mother a registered nurse. He was raised on the Baltimore Catechism. He served in the Navy during World War II, got married thereafter, and raised two kids. He earned his keep as an accountant and as a business manager. He moved to the Detroit area in 1958. He was a practicing, cradle Catholic very active in Catholic activities in and out of his parish.
But at age 67, something happened, something that should-- somehow, somewhere, at some time, sooner or later--happen to all Catholics. It happened to him in this particular way in 1988 at a Catholic conference in Pontiac, Michigan:
[During the conference] Father John Hampsch, C.M.F., conducted a mini Life In The Spirit Seminar. In 2 hours he gave what usually takes 14 hours; it was effective. For the first time I heard, or at least understood, how much God loved me by sending his Son for me and how much Jesus wanted to have a personal relationship with me. Father explained about the charisms, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and how the Father and the Son wanted us to have these gifts so we would have the power to live the life They had planned for us. My reaction was, "this is great!" Why was I, 67, before learning about and understanding all these great things about the Catholic Faith! I vowed I would do something so this would not happen to others.
Bob Williams, Holy Spirit Power Can Change the World (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Holy Spirit Power Press, 2003), p. 4.
And so Bob did something about it. He wrote and published the book I just quoted from about the power of the Holy Spirit. Bob wants to persuade Catholics to discover the charismatic dimension of the Church. He knows his target audience because he has always been Catholic. So he doesn't just write a book--he makes sure his book has the imprimatur of the Cardinal of Detroit to allay the fears and suspicions of veteran Catholics that all this talk about charisms is somehow not Catholic or unnecessary. The book also has an introduction by his Catholic pastor, a monsignor.
Bob also knows that Catholics will naturally ask: where has all this charismatic stuff been for centuries? If it's so important, why did it disappear or go underground? Can something that has been missing for so long really be so crucial for a practicing Catholic to discover? Bob knows the natural questions and puzzlement, and so he talks history, Catholic history. He lists some of the early Church Fathers of the first eight centuries who affirm the charismatic dimension of the Church: the charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit were indeed there in the heart of the Catholic Church. Bob also refers you to the books that will give you the full historical detail.
Yes, the charisms mentioned (or better said, almost taken for granted) in the New Testament, most prominently in 1 Corinthians 12-14, began to fade in the Church. In the greater prevalence of infant baptism, in the face of abuses by heretics, in the greater formalization of liturgy and, possibly, in the diminishing of the use of vernacular in the liturgy, in the attack on the sacramental system by Protestants, the charismatic dimension focused on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, a dimension taken for granted in the early Church, indeed faded (Williams, pp. 45-46). But great saints still kept the flame going, among them: St. Dominic, St. Catherine of Siena, Saint Teresa of Avila, and very close to home, Venerable Solanus Casey of Detroit who died in 1957 (Williams, p. 47). Of course, there are more.
Then came Vatican II, and the Ecumenical Council said this, after apparently much debate, with the approval and confirmation of the Pope:
It is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the People, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts according as he wills (cf. Cor. 12:11), he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church, as it is written, "the manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit" (1 Cor. 12:7). Whether these charisms be very remarkable or more simple and widely diffused, they are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation since they are fitting and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be rashly desired, nor is it from them that the fruits of apostolic labors are to be presumptuously expected. Those who have charge over the Church should judge the genuineness and proper use of these gifts, through their office not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good (cf. 1 Th. 5:12 and 19-21).
Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, para. 12 in part (Austin Flannery translation; added emphasis).
The Popes (Paul VI, John Paul the Great, and now Benedict XVI) that have implemented Vatican II have all embraced the Catholic Charismatic Renewal whose magna carta is found in the Vatican II passage just quoted. There are indeed extraordinary gifts today. They are open to all Catholics, not just clerics or people in religious orders. Such gifts are not to be rashly desired in a fit of immaturity and thrill-seeking. Such gifts are not to be seen as some sort of easy "magic" that can be manipulated by the irresponsible and immature to get quick results that puff people up in pride and megalomania. But the gifts are there, and St. Paul commands us in Holy Scripture to seek them: "Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy" (1 Cor. 14:1; compare 1 Cor. 12:31) (RSV translation; added emphasis).
In his book, Bob Williams goes into a clear, concise, reliable discussion of the spiritual gifts or charisms. The notorious gift of praying in tongues is not center stage, although it is indeed real and appropriate for many. What is center stage is seeking the gifts that the Holy Spirit wants you to have. What is center stage is releasing what all Catholics receive in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation and in the other sacraments. It's a matter of releasing and renewing, not of replacing the sacraments in some sort of neo-Protestant fashion.
I have read many great Catholic theologians, such as Aquinas, von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, John Paul the Great, Joseph Ratzinger, Guardini, Garrigou-Lagrange, Aidan Nichols, and others; and I can say, without exaggeration, that you are not wasting your time reading the 112 page book published by a retired Catholic accountant from the Detroit suburbs. He discovered something that made his life-long Catholicism vibrantly alive in a radical way. To read his small book is to read his testimony and witness. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Here is the ordering information to get your own copy of Bob's book:
Price Shipped: 1-5 copies $10.00, 6-10 copies $8.00, 11 or more e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, July 09, 2006Pope in Spain Today
(AP Photo, July 9, 2006, at this link.)
The Spanish king, Juan Carlos I, kisses the ring of the Successor of St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI, today in Spain. The Pope received a warm welcome from a crowd estimated at over one million at the Sunday Mass in Valencia, Spain. The Pope reaffirmed that marriage is between a man and a woman in the face of the socialist prime minister's pro-gay policies. The Pope is on the offensive. The warm welcome by the Spanish monarch, who is the head of state, more than made up for the hostility of the socialist prime minister. All Spain saw clearly on which side of the divide the socialist prime minister places himself--a good clarification for the next time Spaniards go to the polls. I predict that the current socialist government's hostility to Catholicism will strengthen the Church in Spain. Persecution has a way of renewing the old. Update: Great article on papal trip to Spain in N.Y. Times.