A Student's Essays on Catholic Theology

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spiritual Maturity as Children of God

Bible scripture is rife with analogical models that help us understand the magnitude of God. This is brings to mind the Analogy of Being. The actuality of God is so far beyond human comprehension, that we are inclined to substitute language familiar to us as a way of illuminating His being. We use words like “Father” to
help elucidate an iota of insight of who He is, what He has created, and the love that He has for us.  Just as God is our “Father” so are we his “children.” In a very literal way, He is our Father, and we are His children. He created us. However, He is also speaking of the role He plays in our daily lives, and ultimately eternity. Often, when speaking of man as Children of God, Galatians 4:4-7 is referenced:

God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God (NRSV, Galatians  4:4-7).

The “adoption” mentioned here is a spiritual one. As children of God we are expected to have a dependence on God that is evident in our servitude, trust, and dependency. Just as a child depends on his father for leadership, guidance, and strength; so do we, as children of God. However, God expects maturity as well. Children who lack maturity may not realize that all they enjoy in the way of food, shelter, and personal belongings are dependent upon their guardian. They take these things for granted, and foolishly attribute these belongings to themselves. The reality of the situation is that all they have had, all they have, and all they may potentially have is fully dependent on he or she who looks after them. This includes guidance, life lessons, and moral fortitude. As children age, and mature, they not only learn to appreciate the gifts bestowed upon them, they come to exemplify the lessons learned in years past. All of this directly relates to God. As we advance in our faith and spirituality we are expected to act out of our maturity in Christ. There are several references to maturity in the Bible:

Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 14:20).

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love (NRSV, Ephesians 4:14-16).

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 13:11).

 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness (NRSV, Hebrews 5:12-13).

It is evident from these passages that we are being called to maturity as Christians. In none of these scriptures is Paul suggesting that one should not enjoy themselves nor is he suggesting that we are no longer Children of God. He is calling for the maturity in Christ to follow Him. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How The Presence Of Christ Is Revealed At Mass

At times it can be difficult to understand the reality of Christ's presence in our lives.  The difficulty does not stem from a lack of faith as much as from a lack of recognition. Needless to say, this includes Mass. Christ is attendant at Mass in several different ways.  The Liturgy of the Word is all inclusive, in that each person
within the Church participates. It begins with the first reading, and concludes with the Prayer of the Faithful. During the Liturgy of the Word, members of the Church both speak the Word of God, as it is written in the Scriptures, and receive it as we listen to the Lector. In proclaiming God's Word through the Scriptures we become the mouthpiece of God's divine Revelation. Christ's presence in the Scriptures is evident:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God... And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth (NRSV, John 1:1-15).
The homily serves to better illuminate the message of the readings of the Liturgy of the Word. The homily is generally given by the parish priest. Throughout mass, the priest speaks in persona Christi, or, in the person of Christ: “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (NRSV, Luke 10:16). The Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the revelation of Christ's presence in it, is the sacramental center of Catholic worship, spirituality, and true discipleship. During the Eucharist Christ's presence is evident in both the congregation, as the Mystical Body of Christ, and  physically, through the bread (later known as the host) and wine, which after the consecration are transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ. Monsignor William Fay, General Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, describes both the establishment of the sacrament of the Eucharist as well as its necessity:

The Lord Jesus, on the night before he suffered on the cross, shared one last meal with his disciples. During this meal our Savior instituted the sacrament of his Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages and to entrust to the Church his Spouse a memorial of his death and resurrection (Fay,  The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist).

Friday, March 7, 2014

Catholic Social Doctrine: Love Thy Neighbor

In St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians he preaches to them the importance of charity:  “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the Law of Christ (NRVC, Galatians 6:2). 
Two thousand years later,Catholic social doctrine still uses the Law of Christ as the model upon which we build our teachings in regards to: the  indigent, economic need, social structure, and the role of government. Through our love for God we are able to conversely love those around us. In loving our neighbors,  we strive to provide for those in need, and create a social structure that supports both our love for God and the programs and endeavors that are enacted as a result of that love.
Several facets of Catholic social teaching are relative to Christ and His relationship to us and the sacrifice He made on behalf of His neighbors. As Christians, the very fact that we set Jesus as the cornerstone of our faith dictates the necessity for us to live by His example. As His disciples we must be willing to make the same sacrifices, and show the same mercies, that He did. Humanity as a whole was created in God's image. Jesus, being the penultimate exemplification of this, aids us in seeing that each person bears the imprint of God. Our recognition of God in others is the source of our desire to help them. “The fact that persons are essentially relational beings has its supreme exemplification in the fact that God is not a Monad but a Trinitarian communion of 'subsistent relations.' To the extant that a being is personal, it will be a being-in-relation-to-other-persons” (Dwyer & Elizabeth, 194). 
More than just neighbors, the people who live along side us are gifts from God. Our urge to facilitate their happiness is both a showing of gratitude for their existence and an even deeper appreciation for their redemption through Christ. In line with our twofold gratitude for our neighbor, is a double dose of hope. In serving the Church socially, we also strive to instill hope in those less fortunate. Through our actions, in the name of Christ, the beleaguered will be  given reason to hope for better living conditions, physically and spiritually, and hope for eternal salvation. 
What sets Catholic social doctrine apart from other humanitarian efforts is that Christian love is a radical and profound self-giving in a radical solidarity with the other. The belief is not simply that God comes first (He does). It is that we must put all of humanity before ourselves. Catholic social doctrine dictates that we must put ourselves in the role of Christ and embrace our own crosses. We must take up the ills of those around us, even those who “trespass against us.” The Gospel According to Matthew tells us explicitly that: “The last will be first, and the first will be last” (NRSV, Matthew 20:16). It is not a suggestion.

Dwyer, Judith A., and Elizabeth L. Montgomery. "Socialization." The New Dictionary of Catholic Social Thought. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1994. 194. Print.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Praying Catholic

The study of prayer, praying, and the numerous ways to go about doing so can be extensive. Great tomes have been dedicated to the subject. Over the years, great theologians and secular minds alike have made profound realizations concerning the necessity for prayer. The importance of prayer can be found numerous times through out the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments:
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (NRSV, 2 Chronicles 7:14).
Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God (NRSV, Luke 6:12).

It is because of the considerable role of prayer in the life of a Christian disciple that we must understand the various methods to do so.

Reading the Bible is not always recognized as the prayer that it is. However, approaching scripture in a spiritual manner is very much praying. Ninth century Carthusian monk, Guigo II, called it lectio divina, the divine reading. According to Guigo's concept of lectio divina, reading the Bible “should trigger meditation (“thinking” about what the text means), which in turn should lead to the response of prayer (speaking in our own words in response to meditative reading), and finally prayer should lead us to a kind of contemplation in which we rest silently in the presence of God.

Another form of prayer is to let one's actions reflect a cognizance of God's omnipresence and omniscience. This consciousness of God's presence will lead to making ordinary life a prayer. Our unwavering knowledge and remembrance of God will lead us to both thank Him for His blessings, and beg forgiveness on the occasion of our sin. This mindfulness serves to inform every facet of our lives.

With the insurgence of New Age spirituality it is easy to forget that meditation has played a large role in Christian prayer. Prior to the inception of Christianity the ancient Hebrews meditated: “I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit (NRSV, Psalm 77:6), “I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds” (NRSV, Psalm 77:12). It must be noted that Christian meditation is not an occasion for deliberate thoughtlessness in search of one's self; it is, instead, an opportunity to reflect on some deep sense of self in relation to God. Through meditation we hope to be in the presence of God, and allow that closeness to then come to a greater appreciation for Him, His gifts, and the whole of His creation.
As a disciples of Christ it is important that our actions reflect our fidelity to Him and His teachings. What we do in our daily lives is seen by those around us, and is therefore a testimony to our faith. This too is a form of prayer. These actions are the direct result of God's presence in our lives, and corollary to other forms of prayer. Every time we offer prayers for others, express thanks and gratitude, or ask forgiveness of our trespasses, we are living prayer in action.