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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Catholics, Catholicism, and Our Spiritual Pilgrimage

The fathers of the Catholic Church referred to our path to Christ as The Way. In choosing to walk in His footsteps we have set forth on a journey of salvation and charity. From the harrowing travels of the
Israelite's, chronicled in the Book of Exodus, to the long and treacherous roads taken by Paul and Timothy; the Bible, and therefore the whole of Christianity, is a story of passage. This passage is found, both literally and through analogy, various times in scripture and in the observed traditions of the Catholic Church.
As previously mentioned, the exodus of the Hebrews is a foundational theme of Catholic Spirituality” . The people of YHWH found themselves in the desert under the guidance of Moses, who himself was an agent of God. While in the desert, the Hebrews were tested time and time again. Many failed and many persevered. Even as Moses conversed with The Almighty Himself, the Hebrews grew restless and were reduced to idol worship:
The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (NRSV, Exodus 32:7-8).
In this passage alone, Moses must travel down the mountain, and God denounces the actions of those he has brought out of Egypt. In reading of the collective travels of the Hebrews into the Promised Land, one must understand that this travel is spiritual in addition to physical. The hardships and temptations they face in the desert can be seen as symbolic allusions for those we face in life, and Israel is a metaphor for the salvation and eternal life we strive to achieve in Jesus. The desert is seen as both a place of cleansing renewal, and as a place of solitude and temptation. This theme is evident again in the New Testament when Jesus retreats to the desert prior to His ministry. It is there that He is tempted by Satan, and it is there that He stands firm in His righteousness (NRSV, Matthew 4:1-11).

One often imagines traveling as a solitary undertaking. Whether or not one is in a group of people it is easy to internalize the experience. As members of the Church, however, our journey is all inclusive. Pope Paul VI had this to say in reference to The Church in a state of pilgrimage:
All the members ought to be molded in the likeness of Him, until Christ be formed in them. For this reason we, who have been made to conform with Him, who have died with Him and risen with Him, are taken up into the mysteries of His life, until we will reign together with Him. On earth, still as pilgrims in a strange land, tracing in trial and in oppression the paths He trod, we are made one with His sufferings like the body is one with the Head, suffering with Him, that with Him we may be glorified (Lumen Gentium 61-64).
From this passage we can see that Pope Paul VI intends for us, as Christians and members of the Holy Mother Church, to continue to follow and suffer with Him until we reach our final destination. The Second Vatican Council underscored this journey as a social undertaking that touches each and every one of us, regardless of socioeconomic standing, sex, or age. Together, as Children of Christ, we make our pilgrimage. Just as Christ struggled, so do we, and it is the knowledge that each person around us is suffering that we must exercise compassion and charity. We have been blessed with the opportunity to help others as Christ has helped us. As members of The Church community, we travel with Christ as both a spiritual companion and the arbiter of our heavenly destination. The Apostles made the same pilgrimage with Christ, even unto His crucifixion and, for many, their eventual martyrdom. In their travels, the Apostles' faith grew, as did the number of disciples to whom they witnessed. We experience the same spiritual maturity through our walk with Christ.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Questionable Authorship In The New Testament... and Why It's OK!

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work (NRSVC 2 Timothy 3:14-17).
In today’s world, if an author were to claim authorship of a text that he had not written the public outcry would be substantial. Society would consider the act fraudulent and unethical. While the usage
of pseudonyms and ghost writers are not completely unheard of, they are not considered a societal norm. Using contemporary standards of authorship, many find it difficult to understand or accept the fact that there is no real feasible way of verifying exactly who it is that wrote the Gospels. The very fact that there are names attached to the books in question only serves to confuse those who cannot comprehend this mystery. To further complicate the situation; the general consensus among scholars is that the Gospels were a collaborative effort. Despite these revelations, it is crucial that one understands that our inability to definitively know the names of the authors of the Gospels does not, in any way, subtract from the inerrant truth of salvation that the texts contain. Our belief that the Bible was divinely inspired by God, does not negate the humanity of the authors. Because of the disparity this creates, modern methods of Biblical interpretation have been formulated to aid one in interpreting the intent of biblical authors critically. Fortunately, many of the reasons we have for discerning the intent of the authors, are also proofs to the actuality of various authorship. Furthermore, insight into the world of those who composed the varying books of the New Testament, also serves to help us understand why it might be necessary for the Gospels to be attributed to others. Among the methods of Biblical interpretation are: source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, literary criticism, and contextual criticism.

Source criticism is the search for evidence that the authors of the Bible may have been influenced by, or directly copied, text from another source. This works in conjunction with form criticism, which is the attempt by scholars to try to identify the oral tradition that the text is based on. Together with redaction criticism, a form of criticism deals more directly with the author's particular influence on the text, these three historical-critical methods serve to inform different aspects of the historical development of the Gospels. Using these methods affords us the ability to examine what we know and what can be deduced to try to answer questions about the authors of the Gospels. For example, it is more than plausible that Jesus' exploits had already been established as oral tradition prior to their being written down. Because of this sharing of information, through various orators, and the traditions that rose up around these stories, there would occasionally be what could be seen as discrepancies among the authors of scripture (source criticism). Also, if the oral history being maintained is attributed to a specific person or that person's school of thought, when that oral tradition is finally set in writing (form criticism) it would often be attributed to the person to whom the oral history is credited. This is why the authors of the Gospel would attribute them to somebody else. Redaction Criticism comes into play when trying to ascertain how each of the authors influenced the collected knowledge they set to paper. How does the author's intentions and interpretation color his writings. Redaction critics must try to understand whether or not the author took it upon himself to add or subtract from the writings or oral traditions that came before. This is why books that are attributed to the same author may vary in tone and message. Literary criticism can also help us identify differing authorship. Literary criticism is an effort to identify the literary form the author was utilizing when writing. Was the text in question meant to be literal, parable, or symbolic? Are the writings a poem, narrative, letter, or otherwise? A good example of this is how form and literary criticism together shape many of the arguments that scholars have that the Johannine works were written by different authors. Contextual Criticism involves the necessity to take the authors environment, time period, and cultural factors into account when studying the bible. When, where, and why did the authors wrote is perhaps the most telling part of why the Gospels may be credited to authors who did not write them. Simply put, the social, academic, religious, and literary norms of the Hebrews living in the Levant, and authoring these books support the claims that several various authors wrote the Gospels of the New Testament.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Spirituality vs Christian Spirituality vs Catholic Spirituality. What's the difference?

The progression from “spirituality,” to the more precise “Christian spirituality,” and the even more definitive, “Catholic spirituality” is an exercise in precision. These terms become increasingly more easily defined by specificity.
 
“Spirituality,” in the broad sense of the word, has become a generalization. The word alone, without context, is not definitive at all. Just as the word “hat” in no way serves to illustrate the type of hat in question, neither
does the term spirituality. However, just as “hat” serves to describe an item of clothing that one wears on their head, for either fashion or utility, so does “spirituality” serve to describe the facet of our being that illuminates all other aspects of our life through a perceived sense of existential truth. Often times, this also involves a person feeling as if they have discovered some formerly unknown greater purpose to their life. As with most things, spirituality, as an idea, has become increasingly secular. The search for direction, without the perceived restrictions that accompany religion, has resulted in spiritualities that are strangely vague and agnostic.
“Christian spirituality” is much more easily defined, in that it refers to a select group of people with largely similar views of life, death, and the deity that resides at the heart of the fold. Like other religions of the Abrahamic tradition, such as Islam and Judaism, Christianity is monotheistic. What separates Christians from the likes of these other religions is our belief in the Holy Trinity. Christians believe that God, through His son Jesus, has bestowed upon humanity the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit informs our knowledge of Jesus, and therefore God. Christians agree that through the Holy Spirit we are able to become disciples of Jesus, and follow in His footsteps. This allows us to come closer to God spiritually by way of our faith, our acts, and our lives in general.
Christianity, as an institution, has splintered throughout the last 2,000 years, The result has been a collection of religions that are derivative denominations of Catholicism. While this does not mean that the spirituality adhered to is not Christ centered, it does mean that it is different in many key areas. The tenets of Catholicism serve to communicate an even more direct definition of spirituality to it's adherents. In studying a uniquely Catholic spirituality, the operative word is catholic. The best translation of the Greek “Katholikos” is “through the whole.” The “through the whole” translation has been applied two different ways; “quantitative catholicity,” and “qualitative catholicity.” In defining quantitative catholicity St. Cyril said it best:
The Church is called Catholic because she is diffused throughout the whole world from one end of the earth to the other, and because she teaches universally and without curtailment all the truths of faith which ought to be known to men whether they concern visible or invisible things, heavenly things or the things of earth; further because she brings under the yoke of God's true service all races of men, the mighty and the lowly, the learned and the simple; and finally because she tends and heals every kind of sin committed by body or soul and because there is no form of virtue, whether in word or deed or in spiritual gifts of any kind whatever, which she does not possess as her own (Thurston, “Catholic”).
The undiscerning number of people that the Church will evangelize to, and the great breadth of what shall be taught is what makes this quantitative. The Catechism of the Catholic Church does an excellent job of explaining “qualitative catholicity”:
The human person participates in the light and power of the divine Spirit. By his reason, he is capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator. By free will, he is capable of directing himself toward his true good. He finds his perfection "in seeking and loving what is true and good.”
By virtue of his soul and his spiritual powers of intellect and will, man is endowed with freedom, an "outstanding manifestation of the divine image" (Catholic Church 1704, 1705).
The CCC is illuminating what makes Catholic Spirituality qualitatively catholic. The presence of the Holy Spirit in this process is what qualifies our spirituality as Catholic. By the virtue of the Holy Spirit and the Church we become disciples of Christ.

Source: Thurston, Herbert. "Catholic." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton  Company, 1908. 25 Jul. 2013 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03449a.htm>.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why the Lord’s Prayer is “the fundamental Christian prayer.”

I am a first year catechist for my local church. In teaching, I am learning that my catechumens often already know The Lord's Prayer. More than any other prayer, ritual, or scripture, they know these words.
The anticipation of teaching my first class had me feeling anxious. What would they know? How would I explain the grand concepts and mysteries of faith to six year old children? My first class, and therefore my first lesson, was “Who is God?”. On that first day, when I asked the children “Who is God?” I had a resounding “Our Father!” returned to me. I was impressed. Their knowledge of the Lord's Prayer did not give them deep theological insight, but it certainly gave them a very real and truthful spiritual understanding of God's place in their lives and the love they both expressed and received.

Jesus's acknowledgment of God as “our” Father is a two fold blessing. He is revealing His position as the true Son of God, while also including His Church and disciples as children of God. As we age, we should be cognizant not to suffer the pitfall of dismissing the word “Father” as simple metaphor. Children understand God “our Father” as a truism, and we should do the same. The Lord's Prayer is both a declaration of love and obedience, as well as a plea for fatherly provisions and protection.

The first series of petitions carries us toward him, for his own sake: thy name, thy kingdom, thy will! It is characteristic of love to think first of the one whom we love. In none of the three petitions do we mention ourselves; the burning desire, even anguish, of the beloved Son for his Father's glory seizes us: "hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done. . . . " These three supplications were already answered in the saving sacrifice of Christ, but they are henceforth directed in hope toward their final fulfillment, for God is not yet all in all. The second series of petitions unfolds with the same movement as certain Eucharistic epicleses: as an offering up of our expectations, that draws down upon itself the eyes of the Father of mercies. They go up from us and concern us from this very moment, in our present world: "give us . . . forgive us . . . lead us not . . . deliver us. . . . " The fourth and fifth petitions concern our life as such - to be fed and to be healed of sin; the last two concern our battle for the victory of life - that battle of prayer (CCC 2804-2805).
Just as I am able to depend my our earthly father for care, I am able to petition the Lord with prayer.
Children are taught The Lord's Prayer at such a tender age because it is fundamental to the Christian state of life. As we grow older, and are better able to contemplate the spiritual implications and tremendous depth of this prayer, we can honestly appreciate Jesus' gift for what it is. Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas recognized the scope of this concept. St. Augustine said: “Run through all the words of the holy prayers [in Scripture], and I do not think that you will find anything in them that is not contained and included in the Lord's Prayer” (CCC 2762). St. Thomas put forth that: “The Lord's Prayer is the most perfect of prayers... In it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them” (CCC 2763).