Lowering the flag; confessions of an ex-confederate

Posted August 17th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in Year of Faith
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By Robert Fontana

I am an ex-Confederate raised in the Southern Confederacy.  True, the South did lose the war against “Northern Aggression” in 1865, but that just ended the political states that formed the Confederate States of America.  Confederate culture continued throughout the South, reinforced by Jim Crow laws and segregation until, in my judgment, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (though it continues culturally in many areas).  That’s 100 years of Confederate culture thriving in the 11 states that seceded from the Union including my own home state, Louisiana.

I say am an “Ex-Confederate” because I fully identified with this Confederate culture without any awareness of how it was held together by institutionalized racism and terror against Blacks.  I grew up, like many White Southerners, lamenting the “Lost Cause,” the Confederate defeat by those “no good, lying Yankees,” yet grateful to live in the United States, and very glad that slavery was ended.  It was not until about 15 years ago that I retired my confederate flag, folded it up, and stored it away.  I did this after years of spiritual direction and soul searching that helped me unravel an ugly truth about my upbringing that became undeniable: I was bred by my Southern culture to believe in White superiority.  My parents did not intend this, my church and the Catholic schools I attended did not intend this, but the culture in which I was raised did.

How did White supremacy make its way into my consciousness?  Here’s how:  I never heard my father tell a racial joke, but I did hear both his friends and mine tell them.  I have no memory of my parents ever using the word, “Nigger;” instead they said, “the Colored woman” or “the Colored man,” but my neighbors and friends used the “N” word.  If I was doing a job and was not doing it right, it would be common for my boss to say, “That’s a nigger-rig job; do it again.”  If there was a “Colored” who did things right, it was not uncommon for someone to say, “He’s Black on the outside, but White on the inside.”  If I called a White person who was an adult by his first name, my mother would have smacked me.  It was Mr. Mike or Miss Kay.  But I could call a Colored person who was an adult by his first name.  I later learned the reason for this was because as a White boy, I was thought to be the equal of a Colored adult, but not a White adult.

The annual fall festival weekend in our small town had two parades, the Colored parade on Friday night and the White parade on Saturday.  My dad was a band director, and his band always marched in the Saturday parade.  I remember going to the Colored parade as a child.  Even then I could see that their uniforms were poor, worn, and wrinkled, very different from what my father’s band members were wearing.  We had one movie theater in our town.  Colored people had to enter through the alley; Whites went through the front door.  There was a Black Catholic grade school in my hometown that was just 2-3 miles from my home.  I never saw it.  Our Catholic school had nothing to do with the Catholic school for Colored children.

As a child, I read stories about Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in the same way that I read stories about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  They were American heroes, not simply Southern heroes.  Our family visited the Vicksburg battlefield when I was a boy.  I have a vivid memory of being in awe of a Confederate soldier who came up to speak with us.  I thought he was real.  We brought home Confederate hats, money, and swords, and came home ready to fight the war again.  Mom and Dad gave us “the Blue and the Gray” toy set for Christmas, and the Civil War was fought from after midnight Mass until four in the morning.

While on a school trip to Washington D.C. and New York City, we passed through Tennessee. There, I bought my first Confederate battle flag, one similar to the flag removed from the South Carolina statehouse.  It was…well…big, about the size of a large picture window.  I “flew” it in my room at home, and later in my dorm room in the seminary.  I had no idea that for many people it meant racism, the KKK, and White supremacy.  I flew it with the same sort of pride that I did when waving an American flag on the 4th of July.  When I was a freshman in the seminary, a Black student from Alabama came walking into my room.  There was old Dixie hanging in all its glory.  He said, “What’s that?”  I said, “Cool, huh?”  I was clueless as to what it might mean for him.

Thankfully, he and another Black student could see that I was a benign racist.  They befriended me and began to teach me about their experience of being Black in our American society and in our Catholic Church.  I went to Catholic and Baptist churches serving the Black community.  I listened to stories of prejudice and abuse.  I read books such as Black Like Me by J.H. Griffin and Why We Can’t Wait by Dr. M.L. King, Jr.  And I sought help in spiritual direction.

It took me a long time to come to see that the problem was not about racism and White supremacy in the culture; the problem was about racism and White supremacy in me.  I was bred by Southern culture to believe that Whites were superior to all people of color but especially Blacks, and I carried some of that thinking in me.  I had to admit, though I did not want to, that the Confederate flag carried that meaning as well.  The flag did not simply mean pride in the “Lost Cause” to create a new nation 150 years ago, but also prejudice and mistreatment of Blacks today.

This was driven home to me one day when I bumped into an old friend of my parents while visiting family in south Louisiana.  My brother and I had just returned from touring the Civil War battlefield at Port Hudson, Louisiana.  A significant aspect of this battle was that it was the first time that Colored soldiers were sent into combat for the Union Army.  The battle was a disastrous baptism of fire for these ill-trained soldiers, and hundreds were slaughtered by Rebel gunners.  My brother mentioned to me that this older family friend was a “Confederate general” as part of a group of Civil War re-enactors.  When I saw him, I asked him about his re-enactor’s role and then told him about our trip to Port Hudson.  This was his startling response: “We kicked the niggers then, and we will kick them again.”

I was stunned.  I saw hate in this man’s eyes and heard it in his voice.  He was not re-enacting the past, but living in the now.  I took my flag down.  That was over 15 years ago.  I am still very interested in Civil War history and still enjoy reading about Stonewall Jackson and his Valley Campaign, General Taylor and his Louisiana Tigers.  I also admit, if anyone asks, that I am a “recovering racist.”  I am very well aware of how I was raised. This awareness helps me pay attention to treating all people who are different from me with dignity and respect.   But this is not enough. I must confront the institutions and customs that are carriers of bigotry and hate, and flying the Confederate flag is such a custom.  It is past time to take it down.


Please join us for our fall retreat day – “For Freedom Christ Set us Free”  Galatians 5:1

Sunday, October 11, St. Mary-on-the-Lake Bellevue, WA,

9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Christian faith is about more than just getting to heaven.  It is about knowing an interior liberation now, a freedom from not merely sin but excessive anxiety, stress, fear, and loneliness.  At this day of prayer and study we will look at the relationship between “sanctity” and “sanity.”  Through grace, Jesus works in us to lead us to“sanctity” or holiness. Our response to Jesus through grace leads us to “sanity” or mental health. Both are fruits of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22)

 Cost:  $30 (single); $50 (couple)  Presenter:  Dr. Robert Fontana and TBA

To Register:  Send the registration fee plus your name, address, phone, and email to CLM, 7317 Bainbridge Pl SW, Apt 1, Seattle, WA 98136. You can also register on-line by going to Catholiclifeministries.org.  Look to the column on the right, scroll down to “register for an event.”

What do you think of Pope Francis?

Posted September 25th, 2013 by CLMrf and filed in Year of Faith

Here are some select quotes from Pope Francis, as published in his recent interview.  (Prepared by Zoltan Abraham, Seattle, WA) Please read through them and consider anything else you may have read about him, and post your thoughts about Pope Francis.

On finding God:

If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.


The risk in seeking and finding God in all things, then, is the willingness to explain too much, to say with human certainty and arrogance: ‘God is here.’ We will find only a god that fits our measure. The correct attitude is that of St. Augustine: seek God to find him, and find God to keep searching for God forever.

On the role of tradition:

If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists­—they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies.

On the influence of his Jesuit formation:

The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking.

On homosexuality:

In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.

On the question of doctrinal emphasis:

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

On emphasis in preaching:

The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.

On Church leadership (discussing how his leadership style evolved from his 30’s to later years):

My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative. I lived a time of great interior crisis when I was in Cordova. To be sure, I have never been like Blessed Imelda [a goody-goody], but I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.

I say these things from life experience and because I want to make clear what the dangers are. Over time I learned many things. The Lord has allowed this growth in knowledge of government through my faults and my sins. So as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, I had a meeting with the six auxiliary bishops every two weeks, and several times a year with the council of priests. They asked questions and we opened the floor for discussion. This greatly helped me to make the best decisions. But now I hear some people tell me: ‘Do not consult too much, and decide by yourself.’ Instead, I believe that consultation is very important.


The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.

On what it means to be a minister:

The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.

On reaching out to those outside the Church:

Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent.

On the role of the Vatican dicasteries, or departments:

They are instruments of help. In some cases, however, when they are not functioning well, they run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship. It is amazing to see the denunciations for lack of orthodoxy that come to Rome. I think the cases should be investigated by the local bishops’ conferences, which can get valuable assistance from Rome. These cases, in fact, are much better dealt with locally.

On Church structure and ecumenism:

We must walk together: the people, the bishops and the pope. Synodality should be lived at various levels. Maybe it is time to change the methods of the Synod of Bishops, because it seems to me that the current method is not dynamic. This will also have ecumenical value, especially with our Orthodox brethren. From them we can learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality. The joint effort of reflection, looking at how the church was governed in the early centuries, before the breakup between East and West, will bear fruit in due time. In ecumenical relations it is important not only to know each other better, but also to recognize what the Spirit has sown in the other as a gift for us. I want to continue the discussion that was begun in 2007 by the joint [Catholic–Orthodox] commission on how to exercise the Petrine primacy, which led to the signing of the Ravenna Document. We must continue on this path.

On the role of women in the Church:

We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.

On the Second Vatican Council:

Vatican II produced a renewal movement that simply comes from the same Gospel. Its fruits are enormous. Just recall the liturgy. The work of liturgical reform has been a service to the people as a re-reading of the Gospel from a concrete historical situation. Yes, there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity, but one thing is clear: the dynamic of reading the Gospel, actualizing its message for today—which was typical of Vatican II—is absolutely irreversible.

On the Tridentine Mass:

I think the decision of Pope Benedict [his decision of July 7, 2007, to allow a wider use of the Tridentine Mass] was prudent and motivated by the desire to help people who have this sensitivity. What is worrying, though, is the risk of the ideologization of the Vetus Ordo, its exploitation.

On our place in history:

God is certainly in the past because we can see the footprints. And God is also in the future as a promise. But the ‘concrete’ God, so to speak, is today. For this reason, complaining never helps us find God. The complaints of today about how ‘barbaric’ the world is—these complaints sometimes end up giving birth within the church to desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defense. No: God is to be encountered in the world of today

Prayer leads to love, or it is not prayer

Posted August 6th, 2013 by CLMrf and filed in Year of Faith

By Robert Fontana

I wrote in an earlier column—way back in December—that faith leads to prayer, or it is not faith.

Lots of people in America speak about believing in God, but that is not the same thing as a faith.  Faith is a decision to entrust my life to Jesus, to welcome Jesus in shaping my character, and to willingly seek to do Jesus’ will.

None of this can happen without prayer.

Each of us must find a meaningful way of praying, alone and with others, that matches our temperaments, personalities, and station in life, but we must pray, for it is the only way to intentionally build a relationship with Jesus.  But how do we know if our prayer is effective?  Just as faith must lead to prayer, prayer must lead to love.

Easier said than done, grant you, but remember the great commandment of Jesus:

One of the scribes…asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”   Jesus replied, “…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.”  Mark 12:28-31

And in John’s Gospel (13:34), “I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you.”

How is it possible that prayer would not lead to love?  The Scripture gives us insights:

There is a temptation to pray simply as a way of impressing others.  “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners…” (Mt 6:5)

There is a temptation to pray so as to affirm our own goodness. “ God, I thank you that I am not like other people…like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”  (Luke 18:11-12)

And there is a very real temptation to use prayer to conceal our sins.  “Not all who cry ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”

Keep in mind also that there are obstacles to love that become obstacles to prayer.  Scripture gives us insights here as well:

In the story of the rich young man who comes to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him, “Sell your possessions and give them to the poor, then come and follow me.”  But the young man cannot do it because “he had many possessions.”  (Mark 10:17-22)  Our attachments and misplaced desires get in the way of listening to God speak to us and lead us away from loving others.

In the story of the woman accused of adultery, the men who are demanding that Jesus decide if she is to be stoned have built up “hearts of stone.”  They so want to trip Jesus up, they are blind to the dignity of this woman.  A hardened heart, for whatever reason—envy, jealousy, anger—is an obstacle to love.

And lastly, of course, sin is an obstacle to love.  Before Judas leaves the upper room where Jesus with his disciples are celebrating what will be his last supper, he (Judas) cannot enter into the spirit of the evening because he has already decided to betray Jesus.

Prayer leads to love or it is not prayer.  Authentic prayer cuts through our hypocrisies, self-righteousness, and conceit.  It enables us to find freedom from our material attachments, our hardness of heart, and even our sins so that we are able to love God by seeking and doing God’s will for our lives.  And God’s will is not rocket science, something so complex and difficult that only a Ph.D. candidate from Harvard can understand it.

Oh no, it is simple enough for a child to grasp: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.   (Mt 7:12)







The Difference Jesus Makes (Part I of 3): Faith Leads to Prayer

Posted January 28th, 2013 by CLMrf and filed in Year of Faith

By Robert Fontana

 Introduction:  There is a saying popular among evangelicals, “Sitting in a church on Sunday will no more make you a Christian than sitting in a garage on Monday will make you car.”

It is a quip against mainline churches that place great importance on Baptism of infants and participation in Sacraments—assuming this means that one has had a personal and transforming encounter with Jesus.  The Evangelicals have a point; participation in Church ought to be more than just one more piece of busyness that good people do from week to week, without it really having an impact on our lives.  Participation in Church ought to mean a lively faith in Jesus, and:

 Faith in Jesus to leads to prayer;

prayer leads to love;

and love leads to service.

 Prayer, love, and service are the differences that Jesus makes in our lives and will be the focus of the next three essays, but first it is important that we have a correct understanding of “who Jesus is not,” and “who Jesus is.”

Jesus is not a metaphor for all the goodness that can and must be in the world.  Nor is He simply a warm feeling that exists at Christmastime when spiked eggnog is served, carols are sung, and the warm glow from the fireplace and the Christmas lights fill the room.  This is not to say that eggnog, carols, warm fireplaces and lighted Christmas trees are misplaced parts of Christmas; they do create an ambiance, but without faith, hope, and love, they are empty.

Jesus is not a Jedi Knight who taps into the positive side of the Force, the energy field that holds all of life together, to defeat the Evil Empire at the Last Judgement.

Jesus is not a Jewish version of Buddha.  Yes, he is a great teacher who shows us how to live authentically amidst the difficulties and tensions of daily life, as Ekhart Tolle and other New Age sages like to point out.  I think Jesus would have liked Buddha if they had met, but Jesus and Buddha are not equals.

And Jesus is not another prophet among prophets—along with Moses, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, and Gandhi—who spoke the word of God to the people in the past but has been superseded by other prophets since.

Jesus was a real historical person, born of Mary and raised in Nazareth. He worked as a carpenter for most of his life and then took to the roads to proclaim God’s Kingdom.  He had to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom just as you and I do.  He could be angry, sad, or surprised, and he loved telling a good story.  He was deeply religious, but enjoyed the company of the social outcasts and sinners of his date.  He broke the rules of his religion when they were in conflict with the Kingdom of God.  He confronted the religious hypocrites, was crucified, died, and was buried.

Jesus proclaimed the coming Kingdom of a personal God who acts in love for all humanity and, indeed, all of creation.  And this God can be intimately and profoundly known through a life of faith, hope, and love.

Jesus, unlike the Jedi Knights, taught “love of enemies,” and showed this love by giving his life not only for his friends but for his “enemies” as well.  He willingly accepted death on a cross because he understood that He was the suffering servant who would bear the sins of the world.  In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the “one mediation between God and men [and women], because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man and woman, the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery is offered to [all].” (Art 618)

 Jesus is the final and definitive prophet of God because he is the “Wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:25, John 1:1-14) and the “Beloved Son” of the Father (Mark 1:11) in the flesh.  “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.” (1 Colossians 1:15-16)

Jesus is risen from the dead (hard to believe, but this is the Christian conviction) and is immediately present to all who come to Him in faith, hope, and love.  Indeed, Jesus lives and works God’s will through them.  And even now, He does not do anything on his own, but only what He sees the Father doing. “For the Father loves his Son and shows him everything that he himself does.”  (John 5:19-20)

And through no other name, but Jesus, are forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (salvation) offered to sinful humanity. (Acts 2:38)

 The early followers of Jesus understood this, and their knowing of Jesus made a profound and fundamental difference in their lives.   Because of faith in Jesus, they prayed.  Prayer, alone and together, deepened love for Jesus and for one another.  And the love they experienced was offered to others in humble service.

 Faith in Jesus leads to prayer;

prayer with Jesus leads to love;

and love for Jesus leads to service.

The Difference Jesus Makes (Part I):   Faith leads us to prayer

Jesus is first and foremost a person whom we can know and love, and by whom we can be known and loved.  Prayer is the only way we have of intentionally drawing close to Jesus, and welcoming Him as He draws close to us.

Think about the people you love and who love you.  What would happen if you rarely spoke to one another and did not spend time together?  You would grow apart, and after enough time had passed you would no longer really know one another.  Life with Jesus is the same.

People are different, and each of us has our own unique relationship with Jesus.  What one person needs from prayer to sustain life with Jesus can be very different from another person’s need.  We all need to find our own way of praying and make the time we need to keep Jesus alive in our lives.

The Scriptures, obviously, and the great saints of the Church have much to say about prayer.  For all the varied ways there are for praying, the one constant is this: spending time with Jesus.  Few people can say that their “life is a prayer” if they do not take time to specifically pray.  This might mean daily, several times a week, or weekly at a holy hour, but making a consistent and regular time to pray is critical.

Jesus apparently liked to get up early in the morning before the busyness of the day made personal prayer impossible.  “At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place.” (Luke 4:42)  He also taught his disciples to pray by:

1) calling God Father;

2) praying for the Kingdom of Heaven to manifest itself on earth;

3) asking for one’s basic needs to be met;

4) forgiving others and asking for forgiveness; and

5) praying that one not be put to the test. (Matthew 6:9-15)

Saint Paul taught his churches to “Pray without ceasing.”  (1 Thes 5:17),  “Rejoice in the Lord always.”  (Phil 4:4), and pray in the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” (Rom 8:26)

We do not have to wait until our life with God is perfect before we begin to pray.  Saint Faustina wrote, “A soul arms itself by prayer for all kinds of combat. In whatever state the soul may be, it ought to pray. A soul which is pure and beautiful must pray, or else it will lose its beauty; a soul which is striving after this purity must pray, or else it will never attain it; a soul which is newly converted must pray, or else it will fall again; a sinful soul, plunged in sins, must pray so that it might rise again. There is no soul which is not bound to pray, for every single grace comes to the soul through prayer.”

Our prayer does not have to be sophisticated.  Saint Therese, the Little Flower, wrote that she grew tired of the long beautiful prayers that simply did not speak to her experience.  She explained, Prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.”

What do you think about prayer? How do you like to pray?  Take the prayer assessment below and find out!

PRAYER ASSESSMENT:What is your definition of prayer? Complete the following sentence.

Prayer is

The best time for me to pray is: a) early morning     b) late morning     c) noon time     d) late afternoon     f) at night

When I pray I prefer to (check all that apply):
       Read daily Mass readings

       Read Psalms

       Praise God

       Listen to music

       Sing prayer songs

       Pray the Rosary

       Pray the Divine Mercy

       Pray different devotionals

       Pray in Tongues

       Write in a journal

       Talk to God

       Read spiritual books

       Gaze at an icon

       Daily walk and talk with God

___ Pray at a prayer group

       Pray with a friend

       Attend Bible study

       Attend Eucharistic Adoration

       Meet with a spiritual director

       Attend Sunday Mass

       Set aside a daily prayer time

       Attend daily Mass

       Make a holy hour

       Make a “visit” to the Blessed Sacrament

       Be quiet in nature

       Attend a retreat

       Make a gratitude list at the end of the day

       Pray devotionals

       Read the Bible

       Make a morning offering

       Other _______________


Something that I will do to help me grow in my prayer life is (review the above list and select something that you could do to improve your prayer life)…


Why Catholics Hate Change, But Change – Vatican II (Part II)

Posted December 18th, 2012 by CLMrf and filed in Year of Faith

By Robert Fontana

 The Catholic Reformation begun by the Council of Trent (1643), and affirmed by Vatican Council I (1870), was carried through the Catholic world by an army of bishops, priests, sisters, brothers, monks, and nuns, and financed by the Catholic laity through the 19th and 20th centuries.  This Church Militant, united with the Suffering Church in Purgatory and the Victorious Church in Heaven, was triumphant:

Identity: the Kingdom of Christ on earth, the pope as Christ’s vicar

Mission:  to establish the Church in all nations, for salvation is in Christ through His Church

Organizing Model:  European Monarchy

Supreme Virtue:  Obedience to the Church

 The World changed, but the Church tried not to.  During the intervening years between Vatican I and Vatican II the world experienced dramatic changes that overthrew the old order of things in many countries, but the Catholic Church remained an unchanging rock. These are some of the major world events that turned life upside down between the two councils:

1881 – Birth of Angelo Roncalli

1914 – World War I and Pope Benedict XV, activist for peace

1917 – Overthrow of Christian Russia by Atheistic Communists

1922 – Mexican Revolution and oppression of the Catholic Church

1929 – World Economic Depression

1933 –  Fascism – Germany, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Japan

1939 –  World War II

1942 – Final Solution against Jews and imprisonment and murder of millions of Christians

1945 – Atom Bombs

1945 – Post-Colonial Wars in the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia

1946 – American Economic Dominance & Success of Catholicism in America

1948 – East/West Cold War

1948 – Jewish State & Arab Wars

1958 – Angelo Roncalli elected Pope, calls for an ecumenical Council

1960 – FDA approves “the Pill”

1961 –  Berlin Crisis & Building of the Berlin Wall

1962 – The Opening of the Second Vatican Council

Why should Catholicism in 1960 change?  No one expected good Pope John to call a council of Bishops to discuss renewing the Church, because by all accounts the Catholic Church was doing just find.  But, in fact, there was renewal in the air, and Pope John was aware of it.  He had served as a chaplain in WW I and experienced the atrocities of that war.  He worked as the Pope’s Ambassador to Turkey in WW II and had contact with Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Jews.  By some accounts Archbishop Roncalli was personally involved with the saving of over 24,000 Jews from Nazi death camps.  And after the war he served in France where he came into contact with many faith-filled Protestants like Frere Roger Schultz of Taize who was one of many working for reconciliation among Christians.

Pope John decided that it was time to gather the Catholic bishops, along with Protestant and Orthodox observers, to pray and discuss the nature of the Church and its mission in the world so as to, “throw open the windows of the church and let the fresh air of the spirit blow through.”  This was the first time in the history of Roman Catholicism that a council was called, not in response to a crisis of doctrine or practice, but to think deeply about the nature of the Church and its mission in the modern world.

Here are Robert’s top 10 Insights of the Bishops at the Vatican Council (keep in mind they are building on Trent and Vatican I, and not rejecting the decisions from these councils):

 1.  All the baptized make up the People of God, the Church, and all of the baptized are called to holiness.

2.  The liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is the prayer of the entire people of God, who are called to full, active, and conscious participation.  In fact, though Jesus is pre-eminently encountered in the Sacramental Eucharist, He is also encountered in the proclamation of the Word, through all the baptized gathered around the table of the Lord, and through the ministry of the priest.

3.   Divine Revelation happens through Tradition and Scripture, and the Scriptures are to be revered as is the Eucharist.

4.   The People of God are a communion of disciples hierarchically gathered.  The Pope and bishops of the world form a college of pastors that succeed the apostles in governing the Church with the Pope as its head.

5.  The Church exists for the salvation of the world and serves as a sign and instrument for human unity.  Jesus is the one and only Savior of all people and nations and the Church is necessary for salvation.  The mission to proclaim Christ to the nations includes the works of justice, peace, and charity.  Indeed, the Church is the Good Samaritan to a broken world.

6.  Many “non-Catholics” are in a partial communion with the Church: catechumens are united to the Church through a desire for baptism; Protestants and Orthodox, no longer called heretics and schismatics, share in a partial communion with Catholics through baptism, the Scriptures, the Creed, some or all of the Sacraments and Christian virtue.  Jews are related to the Church through the covenant of Abraham and Moses.  Muslims and Catholics are connected through faith in One God, a commitment to holiness, and charity towards the poor.  Indeed, any person of good-will who, moved by grace, seeks God according to the dictates of his heart, is related to God’s people.

Brother Roger, Presbyterian and founder of Taize, and friend of John XXIII

7.   The Church sees in the great religions of the worlds and in the goodness of secular and unbelieving men and women a fertile ground to receive the message of the Gospel. Vatican II believes that these women and men still must hear faith in Jesus proclaimed unambiguously. Catholics are warned that, although they enjoy a privileged life of grace in the Church, those baptized who do not persevere in charity, will not be saved!

8.  The family forms a domestic Church; married couples form a communion of life and love, and the laity have the primary apostolate of transforming the secular world from within through the power of the Gospel.

9.  Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Conscience, the sacred sanctuary for every human being that tells one do right and avoid wrong, must be obeyed.

10.  Mary, though having a pre-eminent role in salvation, and the greatest of all of God’s creatures, is rightly venerated, but not worshiped.

So what is the identity, mission, organizing model, and primary virtue for the Catholic Church of the Second Vatican Council?  This is what I think:

Identity:  Hierarchical Communion of Disciples

MissionEvangelization that includes the works of justice and mercy.

Organizing Model:  Consultative Monarchy

Primary Virtue:  Full, active, and conscious participation as Catholics in the Church and in the World.

50 Years After the Council – It’s been 50 years since the great council called by “Good Pope John.  We are living in a world that the Bishops at the Council did not foresee.  It did not foresee, for example, the collapse of Communist Russia and the victory of market capitalism across the globe, including in communist China; the globalization of the world through the social media; the abandonment of Christianity by Western Europe; the revolution of Christianity in the countries of the southern hemispheres; the departure of thousands of men and women from the priesthood and religious life; the challenge of Islam in the Western countries; the inclusion of thousands of lay men and women in public ministry; women theologians and the demand for women to be fully included in Church leadership; and the dual international crisis of clergy sex abuse and financial corruption in the Church.

This is a good time for the entire People of God to take stock of the essential questions of identity, mission, organizing model, and primary virtue that are to guide the Church through the complexities of the new millennium.  Did Vatican II prepare us for this future?  Have the renewals of the council brought about the hoped-for changes in the Church and in society?  Do we need to pull-back a bit and “tighten up Catholic life a-la Trent” or is more change necessary?

What do you think?  Post your thoughts and comments.

Why Catholics Hate Change, but Change (The Church of Vatican II, Part I)

Posted November 19th, 2012 by CLMrf and filed in Year of Faith
Comments Off on Why Catholics Hate Change, but Change (The Church of Vatican II, Part I)

by Robert Fontana

Change is not easy for most people.  In fact, most of us would not change if it were not forced on us.  Imagine you as a baby in the womb.  It’s so nice, comfortable, and safe.  But soon the space is tightening up.  You’re feeling scrunched, and then, all of a sudden there’s this enormous force propelling you to get out!  Once outside the womb, once you have adjusted to the lights and sounds and have found your mother’s breast for nursing, you settle in.  The change, apparently, was necessary and good.  Most changes in life follow this pattern.

Reflection:  Consider a time when you made a major change in your life. What were the reasons for the change?  What were the reasons to resist change?  What happened?

 Reasons to Resist Change  Change is not easy for individuals and small groups, but it is especially tough for large organizations, especially those of a religious nature and global in size like the Catholic Church.  And Catholics especially seem to have an aversion to change.  You know the old joke, “How many Catholics does it take to change a light bulb?  CHANGE?!?”

 There are important positive reasons to resist change; a few I think of are:

1.  God led us to where we are and to what we are doing; we want to be sure that we are being faithful to God.

2.  We must be careful of “false prophets,” men and women dressed, according to Jesus, like lambs but in reality they are wolves eager to devour and destroy.

3.  And there is the reality of the “Evil One” whom Scriptures call a liar and deceiver.  He will quote Scripture, trying to dissuade a holy person from doing what God has called him or her to do (see Matt 4:5).

Sometimes, however, we resist change because of the seven deadly sins – anger, sloth, greed, envy, jealousy, pride, and lust – and variations thereof lurking just below our good behavior.  In fact, one of Jesus’ main criticisms against the religious leaders in the Bible was their blindness to what righteousness demands of them, a blindness that is brought on by their religious practices.  For example, when Jesus allowed the woman with a bad reputation in town to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair, his host Simon judged him (Jesus) to be a false prophet.  Simon’s practice as a religious Jew demanded that he separate himself from such sinners, but that very practice blinded him to the dignity of this woman.

Sin cloaked in religious practice is the most difficult to dismantle, because what is being challenged is a person’s faithfulness to God.

 A Very Oversimplified Review of Change in Church History  Jewish Christians, Gentile Christians, and eventually Catholic Christians have always been resistant to change, but have changed nonetheless.  Changing historical circumstances caused the followers of Jesus in every era to rethink the Church’s identity, mission, and organizational method to meet the challenges of the day in faithfulness to Jesus.  The Church struggles in these times to take the good from the past, edit out the bad, and add something new for the future.

I’m going to do the briefest of historical outlines to illustrate the sort of change that I believe has happened in the church from the time of Jesus through the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent.  It is important to see how we Catholics got to Trent, because the Church that changed at the Second Vatican Council was, for all practical matters, the Church of the Council of Trent.

I will name a historical period,  the Church’s mission, organizing model, a primary virtue, and who is being asked to change.                           

1.  Jesus  with his disciples; the mission is to proclaim the Kingdom of God; the organizing model is the Rabbi-disciple relationship; the primary virtue is faith in Jesus.  Who is being asked to change?  Faithful Jews.

2.  the Jerusalem Church following Jesus’ death and resurrection; the mission is to proclaim Jesus as Lord; the organizing model is the synagogue (elders  with a chief Rabbi); the primary virtue is docility to the Holy Spirit.  Who is being asked to change?  The disciples had to transition from an itinerant community with Jesus at the center, to a stable community led by the Spirit.

3.  The Pauline Churches of Gentile Christianity; the mission is to proclaim Christ Crucified; the organizing model is charismatic leadership (service according to gifts); the primary virtue is faith manifested in love.  Who is being challenged to change?  The Church in Jerusalem, to accept Gentile Christians without making them Jews.

4.  Churches in the Roman Empire (2nd Century); the mission is to be “the Light of the World;”   the organizing model is the Roman family life with the headship of the father;  the primary virtue is integrity of life (and if necessary, martyrdom).  Who is being challenged to change?  Individual Christians and Churches, to accommodate to pagan Roman .

5.  Constantine and the Arian Controversy (4th Century); the  mission is to find doctrinal unity against the Arians who were causing a civil war; the organizing model was imperial Rome;  the primary virtue was communion with the ancient tradition that Jesus was eternally God who became human, died, and rose to the Father.  Who was asked to change?  The Arians who insisted that Jesus was a man who became God.

6. Medieval  Period (6th-12th century); the mission is proclaiming salvation through the Church; the organizing models are the feudal monarchy and monasticism; the primary virtues are faithfulness to the Church and  poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Who is asked to change?  The feudal kings and lords of Europe, to bow to Church authority.

7.  Renaissance (1300-1600); the mission continues to be to proclaim salvation through  the Church because the Church is the Kingdom of Christ on earth and the pope is the Vicar for Christ (rules in the place of Christ); the organizing model is the European monarchy; the primary virtue is obedience to the Church.  Who is asked to change?  Indigenous people’s throughout the world, to join the Church through Baptism and avoid eternal damnation, and monarchs, professors at universities, and humanists, to bow to Church authority.

Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation  In each era, there was resistance to change for reasons of wanting to be faithful to the Lord, suspicion of false prophets, testing the spirit, and sin in the church.  These same obstacles to change were present when a devout Catholic and Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, posted his 95 theses on the doors of the Wittenburg Cathedral, challenging the Vatican’s practice of selling indulgences to the German people.  Because of the political situation between the German princes and the Vatican exacerbated by corruption on all sides, this one complaint on indulgences morphed into a civil war in Christendom.

Rome had a well-established pattern of  teaching that the Church is the Kingdom of Christ on earth with the pope serving as the Vicar of Christ.  The mission of the Church was to proclaim salvation in Christ through the Church.  It organized itself as a monarchy to assert its spiritual power over the temporal powers of Europe.  And its primary virtue was obedience to the Church.  Luther demanded change back to a more biblical notion of mission and church organization.   Luther insisted that salvation comes through faith alone; that the church is a community of disciples gathered around the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper; and the primary virtue was obedience to Scripture.  Rome wanted Luther to change, and Luther wanted Rome to change.  Neither gave an inch.

The Catholic Counter-Reformation   The Pope rejected the Lutheran challenge completely, and called bishops together in what would be known as the Council of Trent to clarify Catholic teaching, condemn the heretics, centralize church governance, and reform Catholic practices.  These reforms are summarized in the Roman Creed of Trent printed below.  This creed answered the specific theological challenges from the Protestants.  (Yes, I know it’s a lot to read, but keep in mind that TRENT WAS THE BASIS FOR CATHOLIC LIFE UNTIL THE RENEWAL OF THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL IN 1962, 500 YEARS LATER).

 Roman Creed from the Council of Trent

I, ——, with a firm faith, believe and profess all and every one of the things contained in the symbol of faith, which the holy Roman Church makes use of, viz.: I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible…(apostle’s creed continues…)

I most steadfastly admit and embrace the apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions, and all other observances and constitutions of the same Church.

I also admit the holy Scriptures according to that sense which our holy Mother Church has held, and does hold, to which it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures; neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

I also profess that there are truly and properly seven sacraments of the new law, instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord, and necessary for the salvation of mankind, though not all for every one, to wit: baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, penance and extreme unction, holy orders, and matrimony; and that they confer grace; and that of these, baptism, confirmation, and ordination can not be reiterated without sacrilege. I also receive and admit the received and approved ceremonies of the Catholic Church used in the solemn administration of the aforesaid sacraments.

I embrace and receive all and every one of the things which have been defined and declared in the holy Council of Trent concerning original sin and justification.

I profess likewise that in the mass there is offered to God a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead (verum, proprium, et propitiatorium sacrificium pro vivis et defunctis); and that in the most holy sacrament of the eucharist there is truly, really, and substantially (vere, realiter, et substantialiter) the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that there is made a change of the whole essence (conversionem totius substantiæ) of the bread into the body, and of the whole essence of the wine into the blood; which change the Catholic Church calls transubstantiation.

I also confess that under either kind alone Christ is received whole and entire, and a true sacrament.

I firmly hold that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein detained are helped by the suffrages of the faithful.

Likewise, that the saints reigning with Christ are to be honored and invoked (venerandos atque invocandos esse), and that they offer up prayers to God for us; and that their relics are to be held in veneration (esse venerandas).

I most firmly assert that the images of Christ and of the perpetual Virgin, the Mother of God, and also of other saints, ought to be had and retained, and that due honor and veneration are to be given them.

I also affirm that the power of indulgences was left by Christ in the Church, and that the use of them is most wholesome to Christian people.

Trent corrected abuses such as Bishops not living in their dioceses (but still collecting a diocesan income), inadequate education and training of the clergy, and even dealt with a few social issues like dueling, condemning this practice.  Trent also excommunicated the Heretics, and demanded that Catholic kings, princes, etc., support the dictates of the council through civil law.

Trent and Vatican I (1869-1870)   An awful lot of history passed in the years between the Council of Trent which ended in 1563 and Vatican I which began in 1869.  And even though the Church did not change its structure or doctrine within this time frame, societies did change, with the advances of secular sciences and philosophies that rejected any notion like divine revelation, miracles, resurrection from the dead and papal authority over secular states.

The American colonists broke from England and formed a new country without a state religion and, worst of all, the most Catholic of all countries, France, was overthrown by liberal secularists who torched churches, and imprisoned and murdered priests, nuns, and monks.  Liberal revolutions united the various monarchies of Italy into a one-state government, and the Papal States were taken from the Pope (1861) who exiled himself in the Vatican, a monarch without a country.

It was Pope Pius IX who rejected the liberal philosophies and politics of the developing democracies and printed a syllabus of errors in 1863, condemning various aspects of modern life including:

  •  “human reason, without any reference whatsoever to God, is the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood, and of good and evil” (No. 3)
  • “in the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.” (No. 77)
  • “Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion, in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic Church” (No. 18).
  • “the Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.” (No. 55)
  • “every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.” (No. 15)
  • “the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization.” (No. 80)

Reflection:  With which of the above condemnations would you agree?  With which do you disagree?  (To see the entire list of the “Errors” that were condemned go to:  http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius09/p9syll.htm

 Vatican I and Papal Supremacy  Pius IX called the bishops of the world to gather in Rome for the 1st Vatican Council (1869-1870) to reaffirm his authority over Christendom and condemn the errors of the heretics (Protestants), the modern states, and secular sciences as well as correct abuses in the Church.  .The Council Fathers reaffirmed everything that Trent taught: the reality of God, Divine Revelation through the Church, and the efficacy of the Sacraments, the proper relationship between faith and reason, and papal primacy.

To this last item it added papal jurisdiction, which gave the pope immediate and full authority in every diocese in the world (essentially making bishops his branch managers), and papal infallibility, acknowledging the pope’s authority to proclaim the truths of the Church in matters of faith and morals without error.

And in the tradition of Trent, the bishops at Vatican I added 21 Anathemas or condemnations and excommunications of anyone who disagreed with its conclusions.

A schism followed the close of the council caused by German and Austrian Catholics who could not accept papal infallibility.   They formed what is popularly known as the Old Catholic Church.  However, the majority of bishops in the world affirmed the decisions of Vatican I.  They proclaimed the church as the Kingdom of Christ on Earth with the Pope as the Vicar for Christ.  The Church’s mission was to proclaim salvation through the church, and the primary virtue that could be practiced by its members was obedience to church teaching.

Conclusion:  Catholic Christianity has tried to remain faithful to its identity and mission in every historical era.  Yet the Church’s self-understanding and mission have evolved depending on the demands history.  There have always been those who resisted any change, some who wanted just a little change, and still others who demanded radical change.  It is important to keep in mind that in every era, including the years of Trent through Vatican I, the church produced generations of saintly men and women who loved God with all their heart, mind, and strength, and loved their fellow human beings, especially the poor and abandoned.

Reflection:  Review the above article.  What stands out for you?  With what do you agree?  With what do you disagree?

 Next Article:  Why Catholics Hate Change, but Change (The Church of Vatican II, Part II).  We’ll look at the historical events leading up to the 2nd Vatican Council, the changes in church life that were already underway, the general decisions of the Council, and the Catholic Church of Vatican II in 2012-13.


Why Catholics Enjoy a Glass of Wine

Posted November 5th, 2012 by CLMrf and filed in Year of Faith

By Robert Fontana

Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God: but only he who sees takes off his shoes.”

–Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Consider for a moment how you enjoy life through your senses: 

What are some of your favorite foods to eat and beverages to drink?

 What aromas do you find most enticing?

 What sounds are music to your ears?

 What are the things of nature and art that you find captivating to gaze upon?

 What items give you a sense of warmth, love, and security when you touch them?

Where would we be without our senses?  We would be deprived of so much beauty and goodness in our lives.

It is a fact that in Louisiana the state is divided between the “Dry North” and the “Wet South.”  The Dry North contains the parishes (called “counties” in every other state in the union) dominated by Bible-belt-Baptists, and are “dry.”  Alcohol is not permitted, or at least discouraged (and I suppose dancing, card playing, and rock music are also frowned upon).  The Wet South includes parishes dominated by Catholics (and Cajuns), where alcohol is readily available and there are street dances called Fais Do Do (pronounced Fay Doe Doe).

Those Baptist churches are…well…bare.   Catholic Churches are…well…extravagant, with color, art, images and symbols.  And we fill our churches with incense, light, song, standing and kneeling, processions, sips of sacred wine and morsels of consecrated bread.

We Catholics are a sensual people in our approach to life and to God.  And why not?  Jesus was a sensual person.

Jesus, the Sensual Jew.  It is quite clear that Jesus enjoyed touching and being touched by people—ALL SORTS OF PEOPLE.  In fact, this got him in trouble, because the Jews had rules about refraining from touching certain people so that you would remain pure before God.  But Jesus broke those rules.  For example, he was touched by the woman suffering from a hemorrhage (Mar 5:21), and the woman with a bad reputation in town (Luke 7:36), and by those public sinners Levi and Zaccaheaus, two tax collectors who welcomed Jesus in their homes for dinner.  He especially enjoyed being hugged by children and demanding that his disciples let them come to him (Mark 10:13-16).

Jesus loved praying in the outdoors.  Whenever he had half a chance, he went to a quiet place where he could be alone with God (Mark 1:35).  But don’t think his prayer was simply taken up with communion with God; he must have been watching and enjoying creation, for so many of his teachings come from the wisdom drawn from his observations of nature and life:

“I tell you, do not worry about your life…look at the birds of the air…learn from the way the wild flowers grow…” Matthew 5:25-33

“Jesus said to Simon , ‘Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch…Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.” Luke 5:1-11

‘But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.’   Matthew 5:44-45

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.” Matthew 7:24-25

“A sower went out to sow.”  Mark 4:1-9

“Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.” Mark 10:13-16

Sad to say, this seems to be part of the reason that Jesus was a scandal to his family, the synagogue community at Nazareth, and the religious leaders.

When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”(Mark 3:21)

“He is possessed by Beelzebul,”and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” (Mark 3:22)

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custominto the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read… When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. (Luke 4:16-29).

Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  (Luke 5:30) and “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees do the same; but yours eat and drink.” (Luke 5:33)

Jesus was irritated with his critics, who rejected both John the Baptist’s manner of being a prophet and Jesus’ as well:

‘Then to what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like?They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance.  We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.’  For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’  (Luke 7:31-34).

Why did Jesus act so differently from all Jewish expectations of the Messiah, including those of his relatives and friends from Nazareth? It seems to me that his faith life was fed not merely by his participation in the local synagogue, Jewish holy days, and the study of the Torah, but also by his immersion in the beauty, goodness, and mystery of God’s presence in creation.  How did Jesus gain the wisdom to teach as he did? “Look at the birds in the sky…learn from the way the wildflowers grow…I tell you not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them” (Matthew 6:25-34). He must have spent hours gazing at the loveliness of birds and flowers and marveling at their beauty.

Creation as Sacrament. It is clear from the Jewish Scriptures that the first and most fundamental source of divine revelation is creation itself.  Creation is the original Sacrament, to use a Catholic terminology: an outward sign instituted by God that gives grace.  Creation does not only bring forth wonderful and beautiful life; it reveals the reality of God.  Thus the Psalmist can write “O LORD, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth! …When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place— *What is man that you are mindful of him?”  (Psalm 8:1-5)

Jesus clearly had this view.  St. Paul, also a Jew, shared this view: “Since the creation of the world, invisible realities, God’s eternal power and divinity, have become visible, recognized through the things he has made”  Romans 1:20.   He was drawing on the rich history of the Hebrews, who encountered God in a meal with three visitors (Gen 18:1-15), in a wrestling match near a river (Gen 32:23-31), at a burning bush (Exodus 3:4-19), escaping from slavery (Ex 14-15), and in a quiet whisper of wind in the mountains (1 Kings 19:1-13), to name a few.

Creation is a Sacrament.  And because creation is a sacrament, Jesus can be a sacrament.  Because we can encounter God in the things that God has made, we can encounter God in Jesus, who is a creature like us in all things but sin.   We Christians believe that the fullness of God has been revealed through the life, death, and resurrection of the divine-creature Jesus.  And because creation is a Sacrament, we who are Jesus’ followers in the Church can offer seven specific Sacraments to encounter Jesus using very earthy and sensual stuff: water, wine and bread, oil, words of forgiveness, and the human body.  How about that for sensuality and sacramentality! For Catholics, sexual intimacy between spouses is an outward, physical sign, the sacramental sign, of the self-giving and sacrificial love of Jesus for his Church.  Wow!

Catholics are a sensual people because, well, our God is a sensual God.  God’s presence abounds in the things that God has created, and we encounter this presence through what we see, touch, smell, hear, and taste.  Of course, unlike Jesus, we can and do misuse the gift of our sensuality through sin, as St. Paul was well aware.  The passage that I quoted above, about God’s invisible attributes being clearly visible in the things that God has made, in its entirety is about the Gentiles’ failure to act upon natural revelation and live moral lives:

The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickednessof those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them.  Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts* for the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (Romans 1:18-24).

I must confess that some of those Catholic Cajuns from Louisiana that I grew up with have been guilty of exchanging the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of a bird or four-legged creature or even a fish, especially during hunting and fishing season.  (Wasn’t it old Fr. Broussard who, when vested for Mass at his first assignment in Cow Island, showed up with a shotgun?  He just wanted the good people of the parish to know that he was one of them.) Knowing of this temptation, my home parish in the late 50’s and early 60’s accommodated the faithful with a “Fisherman’s Mass” at 5 a.m.   I think it only lasted 20 minutes – no homily, no Creed, and only one prayer of the faithful: for good fishing or hunting.

Yes, the risk of allowing our human nature, wounded by sin, to twist our sensual life is very real and must not be underestimated.  However, when grace and virtue direct our sensual life, we discover that beauty, warmth, and goodness abound.

Here’s a question for youwhat are the implications of the “sacramental character” of nature?  How should we live our lives of faith, hope, and love, knowing that all of creation is “holy?” 

This is what I think:

1.  Enjoy a glass of wine, and all things sensual, but in moderation, tempered by grace and virtue.

2.  Care for the earth.

3.  Respect all human beings as children of God, but be alert for “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

4.  Be attentive to God working in all human cultures, but be alert for “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

5.  Other?  What would you add to this?

Why Catholics Are Not Fundamentalists (Biblically or Doctrinally)

Posted October 23rd, 2012 by CLMrf and filed in Year of Faith

Why Catholics Aren’t Fundamentalists (Either Biblically or Dogmatically)Catholics (and Orthodox, Anglicans, Episcopalians, and many Lutherans) and Christian fundamentalists have a lot in common: we love Jesus and believe that Jesus is the way to God.  We also believe that baptism is the path to discipleship in Jesus, that fellowship and Christian community are essential for discipleship, and that the Scriptures are absolutely indispensible for knowing Jesus and receiving the gift of the Spirit.

That being said, we have a lot that separates us: infant Baptism, the Communion of Saints, the Eucharist and other Sacraments, etc.  But all of these differences stem from a single point: what constitutes the Word of God, and who has the authority to interpret it.

For Christian Fundamentalists from the Evangelical Churches, the Bible is the Word of God, and carries with it the authority for knowing who God is and what God’s plan and purpose are for the human race.  It is to be interpreted literally as it is read.  However, with this view of Scripture, it is essentially the reader of the text who has the authority to interpret it.  For most biblical fundamentalists, this usually means the pastor who is preaching the Word at Sunday worship, but it certainly can be any person reading a passage.

But Catholics, who do take the Scriptures very seriously, do not take them literally, and we do not see the written text as the Word of God, however inspired we believe these words of Scripture are.  The reasons for this are twofold:

1)  The Risen Jesus, fully present in the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit, is The Word of God.  We need the written words of Scripture to fully inform and shape the parameters of our understanding of the Risen Jesus, but it is He and not the written text that is the Word of God.

2)  The Church gave birth to the Scriptures, and not the other way around.  Therefore it is the community of faith, through our elders the Bishops, that has the authority to interpret what the Risen Jesus, the Word of God, is saying to God’s people through the encounter between the written word, the community of faith, and life.

But this presents us with another form of fundamentalism, the Catholic variety of “Dogmatic Fundamentalism.”  These people over-state the role of Tradition in revealing God’s Word in history and misunderstand the dynamic nature of a living Church whose understanding of God can and does evolve.  Dogmatic fundamentalists are not very different in their literalism than biblical fundamentalists in that they ignore the role of the living Church of today to discern the relevance and meaning of past Traditions for today (more on that later).

Divine Revelation.  Here’s the problem.  How is God revealed in the world, and who has the authority to interpret God’s self-revelation?

One thing is absolutely clear.  God, who is so mysteriously Other from any person, place or thing that has been created, would be unknowable unless God made the effort to reveal God’s self.   And God does this fundamentally in two ways: 1) through Creation and 2) through a chosen people.

God’s Revelation through Creation.  St. Paul writes in Romans, “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” (1:19)

Reflection:  Think for a moment of your favorite place in nature.  What are words that describe this place?  What are feelings that are evoked when you are there?  What does this experience of nature tell you about God?

 Consider this: scientists believe the universe is about 15 billion years old, with Earth being close to five billion years old.  Scientists also believe that there are about 50 billion galaxies in this universe similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy.  What do these estimations about creation from scientists say to you about God?

 From our own experience and from evidence gathered by scientists we can know some things about God.  God is powerful, far more powerful than anything we can imagine!  God is smart—in fact, we say God is “all-knowing”.  God is certainly creative and has tremendous imagination to bring into life such diversity of living creatures and over such a vast stretch of time.  And, we can surmise, God was not created, because otherwise God would not be God.

But what we know about God from observing what God has created is limited.  We do not know, for example, what is in God’s heart and mind: why does God create, and what is God’s long-time purpose in creating?  In a similar way, I can study Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel and learn some things about the great artist by his works, but if I really want to get into his mind and heart I’m going to have to have him tell me about himself.  God has to do the same thing.

A Chosen Person and a Chosen People God was not content to be known through Creation.  God wanted to reveal what was in the divine heart and mind to human beings. God began the slow work of self-revelation not through a book, but through a relationship, first with Abraham and Sarah, and then their descendents, especially Moses and the Prophets.  Divine revelation was entrusted to the Jews who eventually, through a very complex process of oral traditions, eventually wrote their story in what we today call the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament.

Consider this; scholars believe that Abraham, because of a mystical encounter with God who commanded him to go, left the land of Ur for the “Promised Land” sometime near 1,800 B.C.  Moses appears on the scene about 1,200 B.C. and leads the twelve tribes of Judah into Canaan where they eventually become a nation with a king like any other nation.  By the time of Saul in the 10th century B.C., the Jewish people have existed for 800 years without a written “word of God.”  Scholars date the earliest written stories of the Jewish Scriptures to the 10th century at the time of King David.  (These are the stories of Adam and Eve in the garden with the serpent that eventually lead into the stories of Abraham and Sarah).  However, the Jewish Scriptures were not compiled into the form that we have today until some time after Jesus’ death. The Torah, the first five books of the Jewish Scriptures, seems to have reached its final form by the 6th century BC (perhaps during the exile), and the collection of writings known as “the Prophets” appears to have been organized in its final form by the 2nd century before Christ.  When the New Testament writers make any reference to Scripture, they are referring to these writings.  But the final form of the Jewish Scriptures was not set until the late first or early second century A.D.

Look at Exodus 19 and 20.  You need not read this, but note that Moses and the Hebrew people have arrived at Sinai and Moses receives the 10 commandments.  This follows the dramatic narrative of Moses’ birth, adoption by Pharaoh’s daughter, his encounter with God at the burning bush, the confrontation with Pharaoh to free the Hebrews, and the flight to freedom.  Now notice that from chapter 20 through 31 we get lists of laws that could hardly be attributed to a nomadic people who have only recently been set free from slavery.  They look like laws that a settled nation would have developed. Scholars think that they were written into the story of Moses to place his authority behind them, but that they were developed hundreds of years after the Exodus, when Jewish life had been stabilized into a nation-state.

This means that without a written Scripture, or perhaps with just a partial one, the Jewish people were observing the Sabbath, offering ritual sacrifices, celebrating Passover, observing various holy days, and following the 10 commandments and hundreds of other purity laws for over a thousand years.  “The Word of God” for them was not contained in a book, scroll or parchment, but was handed down orally through a living community of faith.  God’s self-revelation was not primarily entrusted to a written word, but to a people who eventually created the written word to help them remember all that was said to them and had happened to them as God’s people.  This same dynamic is true for Christians.

Jesus and the Expansion of the People of God.  We Christians believe that God’s self-revelation and purpose for humanity and all of creation reached its crescendo in Jesus, who epitomizes this pattern of God’s self-revelation being entrusted to a person and not a book.  Jesus added to the revelation of God entrusted to the Jewish people by revealing that He is God’s beloved Son sent by the Father to reconcile all sinful humanity to God, and not just Jews.  Jesus also revealed that all people who follow Jesus through faith, hope, and love constitute the new People of God in history, a people the New Testament refers to as the “Church,” which literally means “assembly of God.”

Jesus gathered together disciples some time in the year 27 A.D. and formed them into a New Israel that was commissioned to proclaim the Kingdom of God and heal the sick.  Jesus was executed by religious leaders as a common criminal around 30 A.D. Immediately after his death and resurrection his followers, without the aid of one written word in what would become the New Testament, gathered in His name to:

  • baptize and confess sins;
  • celebrate Eucharist on the Lord’s day;
  • read from the Hebrew Scriptures and interpret them through their experience of Jesus as the risen Lord;
  • observe the Jewish feast days as Messianic Jews;
  • bury their dead with hope in the resurrection;
  • preach about the crucified and risen Lord;
  • designate overseers, deacons, prophets, and teachers as leaders in mission churches;
  • compose Christian hymns for worship and catechesis;
  • develop creeds, summaries of what the community believes about their Lord;
  • meet in council to settle disputes, e.g. decided that Gentiles need not be circumcised to be members of the Church (Acts 15, Galatians 2).

The rituals, teachings, and structures given to us by the early Church that reveal the Risen Christ, The Word of God, are called “TRADITIONS.”  The Church expanded from Jerusalem throughout the Roman Empire without a written New Testament.

Read ACTS 2:42-47 for a description of life in the early Church before there was any written New Testament.  Question:  Where did they meet for daily worship?  Where did they meet for “breaking of the bread?”

Read Philippians 2:6-11 for a sample of an early Christian hymn that Paul uses to make a point.  Yes, it is in the New Testament, but it was most probably used as a hymn way before Paul ever came along.  Compare this hymn with the one placed on Mary’s lips in Luke 1:46-55.  Question:  How are they similar?  How are they different?

 Read 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 for a sample of a short creedal statement of faith about Jesus.  Compare it to Acts 2:22-24, 32-33 and consider how the simple creed the Paul received (around 36 A.D.) has been enlarged upon by the time Luke wrote his Gospel 50 years later. Now compare this to the Apostle’s creed below, which scholars believe was developed by the Church in Rome around 150 A.D.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

 The New Testament.  Nobody set out to write a New Testament.  There was no apostle, bishop, prophet or teacher or group of these who thought “Gee, wouldn’t it be a good idea if we had a Christian bible like the Jews have a Hebrew bible.”  The Christian community began in earnest some time around the year 30-31 A.D.  Paul encounters the risen Jesus four or five years later and immediately begins his missionary work.  His letters are generally agreed to be the oldest written documents of the New Testament and cover the years 49 – 64 A.D.  These were eventually collected by the late 1st century or early 2nd century, depending on when scholars date 2 Peter (3:15), who makes the earliest reference to a “Pauline Corpus:” “And consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, speaking of these as he does in all his letters.  In them are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures.”

 There is scholarly agreement that Mark is the first Gospel to have been written, some time in the late 60’s – 70 A.D.  Some say his Gospel was written in Rome or at least for the Roman church, though this is speculation.  Matthew and Luke followed around the year 85 A.D.  They too were written in different parts of the Roman Empire, with scholars suggesting Antioch of Syria for Matthew and somewhere outside of Palestine for Luke.  Most scholars agree that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source when writing their Gospels.  This means that by 85 A.D. Mark was being passed around from church to church (as were the letters of Paul).  John’s Gospel does not get penned until some time in the 90’s.

During these years from 60 A.D. to the early 2nd century the other “books” of the New Testament, including James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1- 3 John, Titus, 1 Timothy, and Revelations, are written, but only Paul’s letters are collected into any sort of “book.”  It is not until 150 A.D. that a Christian named Marcion proposes a list of writings of the apostles that ought to be normative for all believers. In his list he proposes only the Gospel of Luke, Acts, and Paul’s letters, but excludes Matthew, Mark, and John, and the entire Old Testament. (Apparently Marcion did not like having four Gospels that did not always agree on the details of Jesus’ life and message).  His list was rejected by various church leaders, but his attempt represents a serious effort at organizing writings about Jesus that would be considered normative for the entire Christian community.  The effort continues with different lists showing up in the writings of the Church Fathers and synods of bishops, but the list does not get finalized in the form that we have today until the late 4th century, at a Synod of Bishops in Hippo in 393 A.D.

Between the times of the first letters of Paul in 50 A.D. to the final agreement on what would be in the collection of normative writings for the Church to be called the New Testament in 393 A.D., the Christian community developed the following:

  •  Bishops
  • Four Gospels
  • Presbyters became priests (c. 315 A.D.)
  • Groups of bishops met in councils
  • Newcomers were initiated!
  • Creeds were written
  • People prayed to Mary and the Saints
  • The bones of the martyrs were honored
  • Christians were called Catholics
  • The Trinity was defined
  • The Gospels and Paul’s letters were read at public prayer
  •  The Bishop of Rome (where Peter and Paul died) was honored as the first among equals

The Word of God, the Risen Jesus, speaks through the Church in two ways: Tradition and Scripture.  Scripture is the recorded Traditions of the earliest followers of Jesus.

Through “Tradition,” God’s self-revelation in Jesus and the Holy Spirit continues in history through…

  • The lives and writings of the saints
  • Councils of the Church
  • Writings of the Popes
  • Customs of Each Generation (e.g. Private Confession – Before the 6th century the sacrament of penance did not exist.  Forgiveness of sins happened in Baptism or public confessions of grave sins, usually at the Sunday liturgy.  It was the Irish monks who developed the habit of offering elders in the community as confessors for the other monks who admitted their sins against God and the community in private.  This practiced spread to the entire Church and is now the universal norm, but it does not exist in the New Testament.)

But note, there is a challenge to discerning Tradition with a “Big T” that applies to the whole Church and continues from one generation to the next, and tradition with a little “little t” that was meant for a particular time and place.  For example, deacons; are they a “Big T” or a “little t.”  They are obviously a “Big T” because deacons are active in the Church of the West and East, there is a history of deacons that goes back to the New Testament, and the diaconate is one of the stages towards becoming a priest.  But what about women serving as deacons, is that a “Big T” or “little t?”  There appears to have been some form of diaconate for women in Scripture and there is a sporadic history of women deacons in the Churches of the East and West, but none exist today.  However, both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches are seriously considering permitting women to become deacons.  Apparently, women as deacons is part of the “Big T” of the Church.

What about devotion to Mary?  It is obviously a “Big T” since it is found in the Church of the East and the West and is fully integrated in the Mass and the liturgical year with special days set aside to honor Mary.  But what about praying the rosary: is that a “Big T” or a “little t?”  What do you think?

We do a similar discernment with Scripture.  Some Scripture we decide is normative for the universal Church, for example the four Gospels have special priority over the other New Testament writings.  We proclaim them at Sunday liturgy with special solemnity beginning with a sung Alleluia, the reading of the text, and a closing acclamation: “Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.”  But we no longer accept slavery as a social institution as early Christians obviously did (see Colossians 3:22), and, how about this, we also do not accept that husbands are the “heads” of their wives with full authority from God to rule over the family (Ephesians 5:23).  Catholics teach the in marriage there is a mutual submission between spouses with each sharing in the authority over the household.  This is represented in the marriage rite has been changed to read “husband and wife,” not “man and wife.”  But it is made clear as a doctrinal principle by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter On the Dignity and Vocation of Women:

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians sees no contradiction between an exhortation formulated in this way are the words: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife.” (5:22-23) The author knows that this way of speaking, so profoundly rooted in the customs and religious tradition of the time, is to be understood and carried out in a new way: as a “mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ.” (Cf. Ephesians 5:21) This is especially true because the husband is called the “head” of the wife as Christ is head of the church; he is so in order to give “himself up for her,” (Ephesians 5:25) and giving himself up for her means giving up even his own life. However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the church the subjection is only on the part of the church, in the relationship between husband and wife the “subjection” is not one-sided but mutual.

 Interpretation of the Word of God.  “Tradition and Scripture make up a single deposit of the word of God, which is entrusted to the Church” (Documents of Vatican II, Divine Revelation, Art. 10).  Catholics believe that the authority to interpret the “Word of God” present in Scripture and Tradition is reserved for the Bishops of the Church alone (the Magisterium).  However, this needs to be understood in light of the nature of the Church also taught definitively at Vatican II, that all the baptized constitute the Church of Christ, and Bishops who are interpreting God’s word do so in communion with the faithful, the vast majority of them being non-clerical lay people.  How the baptized embrace the Gospel within the circumstances and tensions of modern life must inform the Bishops as they discern what God is saying through the Risen Lord to the Church.

As I wrote earlier, there is a risk of “Dogmatic Fundamentalism” among Catholics who give too much weight to the teachings of councils, saints, and popes over the centuries and do not hold these in a healthy balance with the Scriptures and the Living Church.  An example of this is the Pius X Society of French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.  This group rejected the Church’s renewal efforts at the Second Vatican Council and has broken communion with Rome.  However, it has many sympathetic allies among Catholics, including high ranking members of the hierarchy who would like to roll back some of the developments in Catholic life that sprang from Vatican II, like the translation of the Mass from Latin into our spoken languages.

Conclusion:  The “Word of God” was not entrusted to a book, but to a people, first to the Jews and then, through Jesus, to the community of believers that make up that Church.  The Christian Scriptures are an essential record of how this community of faith’s earliest encounter with Jesus, the Word of God, and Tradition is the record of that on-going encounter through history.  The great challenge today is to hold Scripture, Tradition, and the Living Church in a creative tension, with each informing the other as the community of faith discerns the presence and voice of the Risen Jesus.  This is a dynamic process that unfolds slowly over time as the Church continues to renew itself from one generation to the next, and that is why Catholics are not biblical or dogmatic fundamentalists.