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December 4, 2019 – Why Advent?

Austrian Advent Celebration

Our 2007 Austrian vacation during Advent included a visit to Hellbrunn Palace, summer residence of the Prince-Archbishop (I don’t like political-religious titles.) and a center of Christmas celebration with a Christmas Market and very large Advent Calendar posted in the palace windows. It appears we were there on their fifth day of Advent.

There are about 9 million people in Austria, 75% identifying as Catholic, so general acceptance of Advent as a public celebration is normal. I doubt we could get away with posting these numbers on The State House in Columbia, even with the Christmas Tree in front.

A Little History

That high concentration of Catholics is at least partly because between 1684 and 1731, Austria expelled their Lutherans, some of whom ended up in South Carolina and founded Wachovia Bank. Freedom of religion was not a popular concept at the time. Even though Lutheran at the time of our vacation, I still felt welcome as a spending tourist, and the information about past intolerance and persecution by Catholics did not discourage me from being received into the Catholic Church forty-two months later. Misbehavior was as common in the 16th century as now.

Why Advent?

Pardon my digression, and back to the point, the reason for and value of observing Advent.

For me, that question has to be answered in the context of Advent as a part of the Liturgical Year, a continuous reminder of the whole story, the big picture, salvation history, from the creation through the patriarchs, the law, the prophets, the promise of and waiting for a messiah, the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, the establishment of The Church, the Body of Christ, and the charges and instructions given to, and the early experiences of, that Church of which we are a part 2000 years later. Keeping that total picture in focus helps us avoid simplifying Christianity to a simple “me and Jesus” formula. Observance of the Liturgical Calendar forces us to pay some attention to all of Sacred Scripture, the whole story, the big picture, and our roles in it.

Threefold Coming of The Lord

Father Linsky mentioned the St. Bernard sermon about the threefold coming of Jesus, the Incarnation, His coming to us now, and the final coming in glory and majesty. Here it is, 12th century wisdom, copied from the Universalis App.

 We Are In It (The Church) Together

So, it is not just a simple “me and Jesus” formula, but our personal relationships with Jesus are essential and life changing. I don’t think of any simpler representation of what the results of that relationship, Mystical Union with the Triune God, can be than the Virtue chart posted here earlier, the virtues and gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit keeping us away from those dangerous sins beckoning us. If we are all in, corporal and spiritual acts of mercy, joyful living, and deep love of God and neighbor may come as naturally as breathing. And, if we all, or at least most of us, have that, we may need to add Masses at The Basilica of St. Peter to accommodate the masses drawn to see what in the world is going on.

Advent in the Catechism – Two Key Paragraphs

524 – When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

1095 – For this reason the Church, especially during Advent and Lent and above all at the Easter Vigil, re-reads and re-lives the great events of salvation history in the “today” of her liturgy. But this also demands that catechesis help the faithful to open themselves to this spiritual understanding of the economy of salvation as the Church’s liturgy reveals it and enables us to live it.

Bonus – Austrian Bad News – The Krampus

Here is one Christmas custom we don’t want to borrow from the Austrians. Krampus is to St. Nicholas as stick is to carrot. He was roaming freely around the Christmas Market looking for trouble and scaring the kids until finally confronted and defeated by “St. Nicholas” at the Cathedral.

November 13 – Healing of Ten Lepers – Luke 17:11-19

Listening to Father Linsky this morning I had the thought of seeing if there is a preserved homily on this story of the ten lepers by any of the Church Fathers. I came home and Googled “church fathers on healing of the ten lepers.” That didn’t bring up any Church Fathers but did bring up some interesting and inspiring published homilies. One used this painting by James Tissot as the graphic and was titled “A Hidden Mass in the Gospel of the Ten Lepers.”

The post references Leviticus 14:1-32 which shows what was supposed to happen to the nine Jewish guys when the presented themselves to the priest. It was not a simple process. Eight days of ritual except for those who could “afford the regular offerings for their cleansing.” I tried unsuccessfully to find out what those “regular offerings” were, but I guess they were less time-consuming and more expensive. Some things never change.

I think you will enjoy reading how Msgr. Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, a vibrant parish community in Washington, DC, sees The Mass hidden in this story of the ten lepers.

The search also showed up this post from Orthodox Christianity which proposes the interesting idea that the healed Samaritan was a thoughtful person who realized that he had just been healed by the Great High Priest and he should go back and present himself to that priest rather than the ones in Jerusalem who were certainly going to reject him. Or maybe he was first heading for Mt Gerizim where the Samaritan’s worshipped. This post refers to an explanation by St. Cyril of Jerusalem of the process described in Leviticus 14. I found the following which might be what was referenced at this LINK. For convenience, I copied and pasted it below even though I don’t find it too helpful. Of course some Jews became believers and were grateful and I guess many Samaritans did not and were not.

Another homily on the story compares the ten to those baptized who then wander away from The Church and have no further need of Jesus. Once saved, always saved, I suppose. This one is worth reading also.

 

October 30 – Who Can Be Saved?

The BIG Question

Discussion was around the Gospel for the day, Luke 13:23-30 which begins with someone, presumably a Jew, asking Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Here is the passage with the preceding and following verses included just for some context.

Luke 13:22-31

He passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.

Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”

He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where (you) are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” 

At that time some Pharisees came to him and said, “Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you.”

Response of Jesus

In the Luke 13 passage, it is not clear whether the questioner was asking about being saved to eternal life or just about surviving possible military conflict with or persecution by the Romans or other enemies or persecutors of the Jews, but Jesus ignored that issue, and shifted immediately from how many to whether or not and from event (being saved) and from process (ate and drank in your presence, taught in the streets) to relationship (I don’t know you or where you come from.)

(NABRE is in a minority here in omitting the “I don’t know you” from the translations though “I don’t know where you are from” was apparently considered an equivalent repudiation in the culture of the time. If you want to investigate, all the English translations of the verse are HERE.)

Searching the Catechism

I searched the Catechism for a simple formula for being “saved.” I didn’t find one. I guess it must be all about the relationship we have with our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through our public Profession of Faith (Creeds), regular Celebration of the Christian Mystery (Sacraments), Life in Christ (Beatitudes, Virtues, Gifts, Commandments), and Christian Prayer (in the pattern of The Our Father). Hmm. Those bold print items are the four major divisions of the Catechism. The whole Catechism must be all about “being saved.”

The Hard Part – For Me

Assuming that is true, we can recite the creeds, show up faithfully for Mass and Holy Days of Obligation, and pray the Our Father out of habit, but, for me at least, It’s that Life in Christ, living the Beatitudes, practicing the Virtues and Gifts, obeying the Commandments, that seems impossible, at least outside the walls of The Church. Even if I stay busy doing those things, there is still the issue of motive, the secret motives of my heart. Are they selfish or unselfish, based on love or on self interest? Even St. Paul had that concern:

1 Corinthians 4:4-5 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (From Monday Oct 28 Office of Readings)

In Case of Despair

But, when we despair, we can remember the promise of Jesus when his disciples asked him the same question he was asked in Luke 13: “...for God all things are possible.

Matthew 19:24-26 – Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

It seems fair to say that only the love of God, both His love for us and our love for God, make possible and fruitful that “striving” mentioned in Luke 13. Striving for our own benefit, without that relationship with God, must be useless. There is evidence of that even in the Old Testament, when the big question was addressed.

Isaiah 64:5-7 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

So, we don’t have to deny that salvation is a free gift of God and that our “works” have nothing to do with our salvation except that they are fruits of it if we, by the Grace of God, are able to say someday with St. Paul that:

2 Timothy 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

St. Paul seems to have had more confidence here than in his letter to the Corinthians. I suspect he had grown spiritually in the dozen years or so of faithful and selfless service between writing a letter to a new church around 56 AD and being in prison in Rome awaiting his death maybe in 68 AD.

Well, at least we may be able to say that we have striven! And that is what Jesus recommended in Luke 13.

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Bonus question: At this link is a non-Catholic explanation of how to be saved.  Can it work? I believe so, but what is missing from it that is important to Catholic Christians?

Suggestion 1

Suggestion 2

Suggestion 3

Suggestion 4 (Relationship through and with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the Body of Christ)

I’m sure that any who have read this far will think of other answers. Share them with me and I will post them below this statement. I clearly got bogged down a bit in this issue, but it is one that is of prime importance to me and just thinking and writing about it is helpful. As always, please feel free to point out any place you think I have erred.

Oct 23 – Chaos to the Church – Bible Story from 50,000 ft

Discussion today about Jeff Cavens’s Bible Timeline made me think of this chart I developed over some period of time. It is designed to illustrate salvation history, Bible time-line, and God’s revelation of Himself. Well, maybe it is the 500,000 foot level because there is not much detail. Earlier this year, I did a blog post with more explanation HERE. Read the verses. Let me know of anything I need to revise to improve the theology. Thanks to Fred Belinga for the leadership today.

St. Augustine on The Our Father

This short essay is included in the Office of Readings this morning, October 22, 2019, and it just struck me as particularly meaningful, especially the first sentence on why we use words. Given our consistent praying of the Our Father at Mass and in the Morning Prayer I decided to share it with the MPG. This is a screen shot from the Universalis APP which I recommend highly.

Oct 2, 2019 – The Catechism on Angels

Angels in the Catholic Catechism

I fully understand Father Linsky’s comments about the time he spent studying about angels before our October 2 MPG meeting. After all, here it is eight days later before I post anything. It’s not an easy subject. I started out looking at all the approximately 500 uses of the Hebrew and Greek words often translated as Angel in English Bibles. That is a long list and is complicated by the fact that the words are sometimes translated as “messenger” instead of angel. Sometimes they are used in the phrase, “messenger of the Lord” and I’m wondering if that is synonymous with angel.  So I gave up on that approach and am going to focus on the Catechism to try to be sure I don’t stray too far from Catholic tradition.

If you aren’t using the Vatican online Catechism, you are missing a wonderful resource. I usually begin with this alphabetical word list index which is found at: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_FA.HTM

If you are interested in angels, just click on the A and get a list of all words found in the Catechism beginning with A. Scroll down till you find angel. Here is the section that includes angel and angels as well as other curiosities such as Anglicans and andmultiply. Oh well, I guess that proves the Vatican, or at least their programmers are not infallible. By the way, the word Anglicans shows up only in a footnote for some document by John Henry Cardinal Newman. From this list we also learn that the word and shows up 7,930 times in the Catechism. It would be 7,931 without the following concatenation error.

Since angels is found 60 times and angel only 24 times, I clicked on angel to get this list of the 24 instances, all with hot links.

Looking over the list, it is easy to see that there is a lot of information about angels in 329. Clicking on the first of those, we learn that 329 is in Paragraph 4 on the Creeds and references the creation of heaven and earth in the Apostles’ Creed and of all that is seen and unseen in the Nicene Creed. So, angels are part of the creation. Below is copied the section on the Angels, the teaching of the Catholic Church. Please enjoy it.

THE ANGELS

The existence of angels – a truth of faith

328 The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith. the witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition.

Who are they?

329 – St. Augustine says: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel.'”188 With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they “always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” they are the “mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word”.189

330 – As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendour of their glory bears witness.190

Christ “with all his angels”

331- Christ is the centre of the angelic world. They are his angels: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him. . “191 They belong to him because they were created through and for him: “for in him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.”192 They belong to him still more because he has made them messengers of his saving plan: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?”193

332 – Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the accomplishment of the divine plan: they closed the earthly paradise; protected Lot; saved Hagar and her child; stayed Abraham’s hand; communicated the law by their ministry; led the People of God; announced births and callings; and assisted the prophets, just to cite a few examples.194 Finally, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Precursor and that of Jesus himself.195

333 – From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels. When God “brings the firstborn into the world, he says: ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.'”196 Their song of praise at the birth of Christ has not ceased resounding in the Church’s praise: “Glory to God in the highest!”197 They protect Jesus in his infancy, serve him in the desert, strengthen him in his agony in the garden, when he could have been saved by them from the hands of his enemies as Israel had been.198 Again, it is the angels who “evangelize” by proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection.199 They will be present at Christ’s return, which they will announce, to serve at his judgement.200

The angels in the life of the Church

334 – In the meantime, the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels.201

335 – In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. She invokes their assistance (in the Roman Canon’s Supplices te rogamus. . .[“Almighty God, we pray that your angel…”]; in the funeral liturgy’s In Paradisum deducant te angeli. . .[“May the angels lead you into Paradise. . .”]). Moreover, in the “Cherubic Hymn” of the Byzantine Liturgy, she celebrates the memory of certain angels more particularly (St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael, and the guardian angels).

336 – From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.202 “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.”203 Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.

That is a lot of information, so I’m quitting for now, even though fallen angels show up in 391-395. I hope some of you will enjoy poking around in the Catechism looking for treasure. 

Extra Credit Reading Assignment

Given the discussion yesterday about Ezra and associates and the freeing of the Jews of Judah to return from captivity in Babylon to Jerusalem and rebuild the destroyed temple, and given the Office of Readings Ezekiel reading today about some future reunion of the divided kingdoms, Israel and Judah, I just started poking around on the internet and found two very interesting write-ups on Jewish history of that time.

One is a very secular description on Wikipedia, no mention of God at all, but the same basic history we read in the Old Testament. You can read the article HERE and below are a map and a teaser quip from it. This secular description can give us confidence in the accuracy of OT accounts.


The second is by a Church of God (Fundamentalist I suppose) pastor who views the whole story as we do, events happening and yet to happen in fulfillment of prophecy. I’m not suggesting all he says is fundamental truth but am suggesting that reading his essay sheds interesting light on some issues most of us never think about or are even aware of. You can find his very readable essay HERE.

Just for a little more context, here is a chart you have seen before, the Abraham to Jesus timeline. Note the division of the Kingdom about midway.

In the Catechism

If you haven’t ever searched the Catechism online, HERE is the place to do it. Just use the alphabetical listing to search for any word.

The word Israel shows up 101 times.

The word Jerusalem shows up 68 times.

The word Judah, the name of the Southern Kingdom, shows up zero times. That is interesting. Same as Babylon and Cyrus. Ezra shows up twice but only as names of the OT Book.