I. The Role of the Bishop in the Church
One of the primary reasons there are in excess of 35,000 religious denominations is the great lack of central leadership. It seems that everyone is caught up in doing their own thing. “The Bible is self-interpreting”, they say. “The Holy Spirit and me”. If the Holy Scriptures really did have the capacity to be self-interpreting then 100% of the people who read them would come to the same exact interpretation, 100% of the time. There would be no divisions: Assembly of God, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of God in Christ, Lutheran, Mennonite, Congregational, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseam. St. Paul reminds us in his First Letter to the Corinthians (14:33), God is “not a god of confusion but of peace” Paul also gives warning about the myriads of divisions: “Ibelong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” (1 Cor. 1:12)…today’s communities can fill in the blanks and point to their respective human founders: “I belong to Luther”, “I belong to Wesley”…“to Calvin” and countless others.
It was to the apostles and their successors, the holy order of bishops that Jesus gave the power to bind and loose – not just in the forgiveness of sins but in all things: “Whatever (emphasis mine) you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 18:18). Five chapters later (23:2-3), Jesus clearly exhorted his followers to adhere to those in high office: “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you. Nothing here about checking Scripture to see if whatever the Pharisees mandated was biblical. Note Jesus clearly says… “Do and observe all things whatsoever”. In today’s Church it is not the seat of Moses from whence comes our authority but from the See of Peter — “cathedra” — from the Greek word which means “chair” (and whose feast the Church celebrates is February 22).
I love the role of the bishops in today’s Church. My journey through life is greatly enhanced by them. I mean, I just don’t have to figure stuff out all by myself. My salvation, thankfully, does not rely on my own interpretation of Scripture and other things. Bishops are like fathers – they ARE fathers – and they, too, have a commission: “proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2).
But the role of the bishop is not just about mandates. Bishops enjoy the fullness of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. All priests have the power to consecrate the sacred elements at Mass whereby bread and wine become the Precious Body and Blood of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Bishops have this same power, of course, but they also have the power to ordain new priests for the sake of the Eucharist.
The mission of the bishop is, therefore, “To be with God through Christ’s mediation and, as Christ’s emissary, to bring God to men — this is the mission of the bishop. ‘He who does not gather with me scatters’ says Jesus (Mt. 12:30): the bishop’s raison d’être is to gather with Jesus” (Ratzinger*).
I find this statement to be powerful and profound. The author of Genesis tells how God…“walked about in the garden in the cool of the evening” (3:8). Later“in the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4) it was God become man who walked among his people in the person of Jesus. Today it is the bishops who walk/minister among us and they are to be “reverenced” according to one of the Church’s greatest bishops, Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Ephesians and “we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself”.
Ignatius further exhorts in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, “See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father… Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil”.
Bishops are guides on life’s journey – pilgrimage, really – they warn of unseen dangers lurking about; they tell which “foods” are safe and unsafe while helping to locate “shelter” and other needs for one’s personal safety. If I decided to climb Mount Everest, I’d better be willing to put down good money for a very professional Sherpa guide – someone who knows the way far better than me. I’d want a guide who tells me that the journey is tough but also assures me that the summit is exhilarating. I’d also want a guide who’s been in business for many years and not someone who’s just set up shop awhile ago.
The Holy Order of Bishops is, therefore, a great gift of God’s love in the Church. I pray for them daily and remind each and every bishop of St. Paul’s charge to them through the young bishop, Timothy: “O Timothy, guard well what has been entrusted to you” (1 Tim 6:20)…and thank-you, Sweet Bishops, for all you do!
*Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal/Benedict XVI: Called to Communion; Ignatius Press, Chicago; © 1996 p. 96-97
This article is Part 1 of a series. Check back for new articles every Tuesday.
II. Things to love about the mass
The Mass—from the Latin, Missa; in Greek, Leitourgos, meaning “the work of the people”. It is the most sacred and solemn action whereby heaven and earth meet. It is the place where Catholics find their weekly (even daily) sustenance before heading out anew to live and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in whichever milieu we find ourselves. It is the holiest of hours.
Based on—but not an exact replication of—Jewish liturgy, it is the communal and public act of worship par excellence to almighty God. It is he who calls us in Christ Jesus. It is he who gathers us in the Holy Spirit. In both the Jewish liturgy and the ritual Passover meal a “siddur” is followed—a word meaning “order”…hence the term Seder meal; it follows a strict order and no part may be omitted or altered. Unlike many independent non-denominational services, the Catholic Mass uses a specific order of worship (as do many of the mainline Protestant groups). What makes Mass different from Protestant worship is the belief in the True and Substantial Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
In an article I read a few years ago about an independent church that meets locally in a theatre (complete with cup-holders for coffee!), the pastor made the comment that “If people are really seeking the Lord, he’ll show up”. At Mass, Jesus IS always present in three ways; all three are confirmed in Sacred Scripture. The first is Jesus’ presence in the gathering of the faithful: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20). The second is in God’s Word which Paul asserts is “living and effective,” (Heb. 4:12). We know this to be true because of its power to change hearts toward our merciful Father because the Word is “sharper than any two-edged sword…able to discern…thoughts of the heart”. The third manner in which Jesus is present is in his own Flesh and Blood as he himself states in language that is rather straightforward: “Whoever eats (gnaws) my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink…whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:54-56).
But…”How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”. It is the Holy Spirit who consecrates the sacred elements through the hands of a validly ordained priest using the words and gestures as set forth in the New Roman Missal: “Lord, send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts and make them holy so that they may become for us the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Form is important. The priest extends his hands over the gifts — reminiscent of the Holy Spirit who hovered over the waters and of the same Holy Spirit who came upon the Virgin Mary so that the power of the Most High God overshadowed her and filled her with his presence.
For the Passover meal of the Jews in Egypt, a lamb was to be procured and slain with its blood outpoured. Not just any lamb — it had to be a male…unblemished. Its blood had to be sprinkled on the doorposts. Yet, that wasn’t enough…the Israelites had to actually eat the lamb as a family. It was what Jews call a Todah sacrifice — one offered in thanksgiving for having one’s life spared and eaten with one’s family. The word Todah in Hebrew mean thanksgiving; in Greek it is Eucharist. So, too, it is not enough for us today to offer bread and wine — one must partake of it. Symbolism is not at play here…it cannot. For no symbol on earth has the power to save one…or to give any power or strength for anything. We have only to look at the “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us — the holy martyrs who willingly shed their blood for the Eucharist. While one or two mainline Protestants may claim to have the “real presence” in their communion, the litmus test is to ask whether they would kneel or bow down and worship Jesus present in the sacred, consecrated host.
The manna in the desert was highly symbolic…the daily bread of the Israelites for their journey, yet still supernatural in origin. From there it is utterly impossible to go from something of supernatural origin in the OT to merely symbolic in the New Testament. Had Jesus meant for the Eucharist to be merely symbolic he would have called back those who left him and explained the hidden meaning of his words…but there were none for he was speaking quite literally.
The Jews themselves have a term that they use for their Passover Seder meals even today…it is Zikkaron which is the act of taking something from the past and making it present now. Jews who gather at the table speak with great joy and thanksgiving at our salvation…what God did for us — not just their ancestors.
But didn’t Jesus give his life for us only once? Yes, he did — in time. The Mass is an un-bloody participation in the one bloody sacrifice of Jesus — “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”. We offer ourselves (for better or for worse), our gratitude and sorrow and weird neighbors and annoying co-workers along with Jesus’ perfect offering. In fact, I “put” all my cares, concerns, loved ones and gratitudes into the ciborium as it passes by me in the offertory procession. My cares are not always taken away but rather are deeply transformed and given back to me and others in the form of Bread of all breads, Food of all foods. Again, no form of symbolism has that power.
Paul tells us in Hebrews that Jesus is our eternal high priest. If his one sacrifice of the cross in time sufficed for all time, why would he be our eternal high priest “where he lives to make intercession for us”? But didn’t it suffice? Yes…but we offer the Eucharist daily so that we ourselves might participate in it. It is indeed the very same meal of Jesus and the apostles at the Last Supper. If you go to a spaghetti supper at your church and they are serving from 4:00-7:00 p.m., you who eat at 5:45 are present at the very same meal as those who ate at 4:00 p.m. and those who will eat at 6:40. The Eucharist is also an anticipation of the “Supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9) because God stands outside of time. It is the reason why the Last Supper on a Thursday could be a sacrificial meal even though Jesus’ death on the cross was on Friday.
Paul also urges us (in cf. 1 Cor. 11:28-29) to “examine yourselves before (we) eat of the bread and drink from the cup”… and insisted that those who do so in an “unworthy manner…eats and drinks judgment on themselves”. Pretty strong words for just symbolism. In fact, Paul’s next words are rather shocking to those who do partake in an unworthy manner: “That is why many among you are weak and sick and some of you have fallen asleep (v. 30)!!! Further (as if that weren’t enough!), “you will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord (v. 27)”. It is why we do not receive of the Eucharist if we are in a state of mortal sin, also know as grave matter. For more on this see http://www.saintaquinas.com/mortal_sin.html.
Sinner that I am…thus it is that I need this Divine food daily…the Bread of Life…my Beloved Jesus who comes to me quite joyfully in the Eucharist…body, blood, soul and divinity to heal me and to conform me ever more into his image and likeness.
III. Why we love Mary
- “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” is what some could call the one who is so misunderstood in her various titles: Mother of God; the Immaculate Conception, Mary Ever-Virgin and others. Far from worshipping Mary the Church highly venerates Mary as the fairest among creatures. Let’s unpack these and see where it is that Mary fits in with Catholic teaching.
- Mary as Theotokos/Mother of God: Many non-Catholics want to know, “How could Mary have given birth to God – doesn’t that make her better than God?” “Mary only gave birth to Jesus’ humanity”.
- Well, let’s see. In the 5th century the patriarch of Constantinople named Nestorius made the claim that there were two persons – human and divine – in the one man Jesus Christ. His followers (Nestorians) rejected the title of Mary as Theotokos (mother of God) and insisted that Mary be call Christotokos (Christ-bearer) instead. Yet Jesus is not two persons in the one man, Jesus but rather possesses two natures – fully human and fully divine at one and the same time. One was not absorbed into the other (the heresy Arianism claims that Jesus was not divine and the heresy Monophysitism says that Jesus’ humanity was fully absorbed into his divinity – like sugar in a cup of coffee).
- Nestorius was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431. At the earlier Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 the Nicaean Creed had been promulgated. In it is the assertion is that Jesus Christ is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God”. Since this is so, then Mary must be considered the Mother of God for this declaration tells us who Jesus is. The Catholic Church does not make the claim that Mary is the Mother of God from all eternity – nor is she the mother of the Holy Spirit. She is, however, the Mother of God the Son – in time. To deny her the title of Mother of God is to deny Jesus his rightful title – true God and true man. Note: There was never a time when Jesus was not divine, but rather from the moment of his conception in Mary’s womb he took upon himself a human nature.
- Mary’s Immaculate Conception: Protestants ask the question, “didn’t Mary herself admit to her need of ‘God her savior?’ Doesn’t this mean that she sinned?” Let’s look at it. Here the Greek for Savior is Swthr…Soter — which means both “deliverer” (as in to deliver from after the fact) and “preserver” (as in one who preserves from before the fact). If you fall and I help you up, I have “saved” you – after the fact. If you trip and I catch you before you fall, I have still “saved” you – but, again, before you fall.
- Mary’s Immaculate Conception is not at all about her greatness as if she did anything to merit something; rather, the doctrine is about God’s immense, singular act of mercy. At the Annunciation to Mary, she was greeted by the angel as Kecharitomene (Κεχαριτομενε). The middle part, “charitoo” means “grace”; the “ke” part in front of it means something accomplished in the past but still ongoing now. An example is someone like Danielle Steele who is a noted author (past tense in noted) but is still currently active/on-going and popular. Now add the “mene” part of the term and it refers to something done to Mary – not done of her own accord. It is all God’s work in Mary – not any grand accomplishment of her own. The emphasis must be on God’s work…his mercy. Why bestow such a grace on Mary? It was God himself who desired to become one like us and thus chose to be born like us. Mary is often referred to as the new Ark of the Covenant for in her body was the Word become flesh. In the Old Testament the Word of God (meticulously hand-written on the scrolls) was to be placed in an ark made of acacia wood which God himself commanded to “overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out” (Ex. 25:11). How much more, then, should the Word made flesh reside in an ark (womb) made out of the gold of purity and virginity? Full of grace – it is what we shall all be in heaven for “nothing impure shall enter into it” (Rev. 21:27).
- And while it is indeed all about God’s generous gift of grace to Mary, it is not anything that he imposes on her. Rather, the angel Gabriel awaited Mary’s “yes” as did all of the heavenly hosts. What God found attractive about Mary to begin with was her openness to receive. In his book entitled Jesus: A Historical Portrait, (the late) Jesuit Father Daniel J. Harrington says that in the various episodes of Mary in the life of Jesus, she is described as “one who accepts the word of God and believes that it is being fulfilled in her…” (p. 54). It was Mary’s openness to God’s word and her willingness to receive it that led to her holiness and allowed her to grow in Grace. She was able to recognize that, because of God’s choice of her in her lowliness to bear His Son, she was able to proclaim, “from this day all generations will call me Blessed” (Lk 1:48) – but again…not because of any accomplishment on her part but because of God’s great mercy toward her.
- The steps to holiness that we should use in order to be like Mary are three-fold: Mary first received the word of God and welcomed it into her heart (“Be it done unto me according to your word” Lk. 1:38); she then believed that word after pondering it in her heart (“Blessed are you who believed” Lk. 1:45). From there the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and she conceived in her womb. Three steps – receive, believe and conceive. While we won’t conceive in our bodies in the way Mary did, we are all called – male and female – to bring forth Christ in our midst. It’s what each of the saints did.
- Mary’s Perpetual Virginity: What many Protestants do not realize is that the three great fathers of the Protestant Reformation were firm believers in Mary’s perpetual virginity….their own followers are the ones who drifted away from their teachings. From Martin Luther (the German Reformer and best known) to Hulrych Zwingli (the Swiss reformer who preceded Luther) and Jean Cauvin (John Calvin, the French reformer who sought to find middle ground between Zwingli and Luther for they were often at odds with each other) – each insisted on the perpetual virginity of Mary. From Luther: “It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin. … Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact.” From Calvin: “I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin”. Seehttp://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/maryc2.htm
- But didn’t Jesus have brothers and sisters according to the gospels? No. Here’s why. We know that 40 days after the birth of Jesus Mary and Joseph were required to go to the Temple to redeem Jesus according to the Law of Moses. The prayer Joseph was to recite during this rite starts with the line, “This is my firstborn son born of this woman” Since this ceremony was only for those firstborn males who opened the womb we know for certain that Mary had no other children – male or female – before Jesus. At the foot of the cross, Jesus deliberately places his mother into the care of his apostle John; if Jesus had younger siblings Jewish law would have demanded that he place his mother into their care. As far as the terms brothers and sisters, there are still plenty of cultures who live within extended families and call all cousins, nieces and nephews brothers and sisters. Luke himself used a term called circumlocution in describing Paul’s nephew as “the son of Paul’s sister” (Acts 23:16).
The Church does not worship Mary – rather, she highly esteems her…venerates. The term used for veneration of the saints is “dulia”… “hyper-dulia” for Mary while the term for worship is “latria” – a term never used to describe Mary – only God Most High. The Church invites us to be like Mary – to receive, believe, conceive and so to bearing forth Christ to a world who is thirsting for him and to ponder all these things in our hearts so that we, too, may sing our Magnificat of Praise to the thrice-holy God (Lk 1:46-55). Have you written yours yet?
IV. Why we love the saints?
Having the family background that I do (I am the only one in my family of origin that is still Catholic—everyone else now worships at the local Assembly of God) I have been asked, “Why do Catholics pray to and worship saints?” I have been told that it is idolatry and it takes away from Jesus’ role as the “one mediator between God and mankind” (1 Tim. 2:15). So, this let us look at saints and their powerful witness and intercession. I have also been asked, “Why don’t you just pray directly to God?”
Let’s look at the term “saints” in general. There are actually a few categories of them. In Scripture, St. Paul seems to apply the terms “holy ones” and “saints” inter-changeably….but restricted to those who were baptized into the Faith. Today we could also add the term “the faithful” to describe the baptized. It is also used to describe all those saints who have died but who have not been canonized—and those whose quiet holiness is known only to God. It is for this reason the Church celebrates them collectively on November 1st—All Saints’ Day. At first it was celebrated for those who were martyred for the faith; there were so many in the early centuries of the Church that separate feast days could not be held — especially when large groups were persecuted and martyred at the same time. The third “level” of saints in the Church is of those who have been canonized.
But why does the Church make saints to begin with? Actually, it doesn’t. It is God himself who—from age to age—has raised up certain people unto himself…people to show us the way to the “fullness of charity” (Eucharistic Prayer II) even while here on earth. They were (and are) all powerful instruments used by God for his purpose.
In the Old Testament God raised up Noah, Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon, Judith, Deborah, Esther and many others. All canonizations are within the context of the Sacred Liturgy which is the highest form of praise one can give to God. Eucharist means Thanksgiving and we give thanks for the great mercy and example he gives us through these powerful saints to inspire us and give us hope. The process of canonization is lengthy and nothing is done lightly or arbitrarily. Prudence and the test of time are necessary in order to avoid a rush to judgment about the saint’s entry into heaven. Not only bishops and medical doctors have a part in the determination process but psychotherapists who are well versed in the Catholic Faith as well.
What are the criteria of a person’s life to make them worthy of sainthood? While one might first tend to think about their holiness of life, prayer life, good deeds to others, writings and all the usual matters or perhaps think of their abilities to work miracles (St. Padre Pio), to levitate (St. Teresa of Avila), to have infused knowledge (St. Joseph of Cupertino), visions (St. Margaret Mary Alacoque), apparitions (Lourdes), bi-location (St. Anthony of Padua) or have survived for several years by consuming nothing but the Holy Eucharist (St. Catherine of Siena) or such other “mystical phenomena”, the absolute first and highest among all others are obedience to the Church and heroic virtue.
St. Ignatius of Antioch tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that it is not enough to simply honor the bishop — as important as that is. Rather, “we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord himself”. One of the great documents that came out of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, calls the bishop the “Vicar of Christ” (¶27). Why obedience? It was—as Jesus himself said—his “food”; that is, to do the Father’s will (Jn 4:34). When we live our lives in obedience to our holy bishops and/or religious superiors it is then that we resemble Jesus most perfectly. Heroic virtue often goes hand in hand with obedience to the Church for quite often the saints were greatly tested by Church leadership and other religious authority.
Consider St. John of the Cross, the Carmelite monk who was the reformer of the Discalced Carmelite order of men. Although lead by God (and invited/urged by Teresa of Avila) to undertake this great reform, he was thrown into the monastery prison for some nine months, allowed a change of clothes after three months and received little food. Rather than rebel, it was during this time in the dark, damp, rat-infested prison that John wrote one of his greatest poems—A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ; it is still considered even today as a spiritual masterpiece and one of the greatest works ever in Spanish literature. That’s heroic virtue.
Heroic virtue is refusing to defend oneself in the face of false accusations by religious superiors and being expelled from one’s community (as in the case of St. Gerard Majella) and relying on God to eventually give defense and bring forth the truth. Gerard was ultimately exonerated and allowed to return to his community. The parents of Thérèse Martin (St. Thérèse of Lisieux) are candidates for sainthood for their heroic virtue of giving all five of their daughters to religious monastic life—four to Carmel with Leonie the middle child going to the Visitation Nuns in Paray-le-Monial. Back then when a woman entered into a monastery, the parents were no longer allowed to see their daughters or, at best, only once or twice a year and only through a grille. Often the parents would suffer hardship in not having anyone to tend to them in their old age. Why suffer all of this? Love of their Beloved Jesus and love of his holy and glorious Church and a strong, passionate desire to imitate him unto death.
“Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their judgment they shall shine
and dart about as sparks through stubble” (Wis. 3:5-7).
Let us now return to our question at hand—about praying to saints. Every Protestant who may read this will admit that they have been asked at one time or other to intercede for someone in prayer. Yet no Protestant would ever reply, “Don’t ask me…go directly to God with your request”. If you and I could ask another human (even in our sinfulness) to make intercession for us or the needs of someone else, we can certainly ask the saints who are surely alive in Christ. Part of the process of canonization is that once a candidate has been declared “Venerable” a miracle must be attributed to his/her intercession before he/she can be beatified. From there another miracle must occur prior to the canonization. Miracles that occur through the intercession of the saints and “hold” (a person must be cured for five years before it is accepted…it must also be instantaneous, complete, inexplicable) is the acceptable proof that they are indeed in Heaven.
But—”Jesus is the sole mediator”. According to Merriam-Webster, a mediator is a legal term—one who “mediates between parties who are at variance”—such as we were before the great Atonement of Jesus on the Cross—we who had gone “astray like sheep” (1 Pet. 2:25). Jesus then is the sole mediator of our salvation. The term “mediator” is not the same as “intercessor”. The Greek for “mediator” in this passage is “mesites” (μεσίτης) while the Greek for “intercession” is “enteuxis” (ἔντευξις). In the same part of Paul’s First Letter to Timothy quoted above he “urges…first of all that prayers, petitions, intercessions “enteuxis” (ἔντευξις) and thanksgivings be made for all people” (2:1) …nothing here about going to God direct. If Jesus is truly the sole mediator of our prayers it is because of both his mercy and generosity that allows us to pray in Christ throughthe Holy Spirit—our prayer is not outside of that of Jesus.
Even in the Book of Revelation the “prayers of God’s people went up before God from the angel’s hand,” (8:4)…not the hand of Jesus. If this is in a vision to John from Jesus himself, it must be God’s design that it happen this way. Rev. 5:8 calls the incense itself the “prayers of God’s people”. Therefore when a priest and especially a bishop (because within him lies the fullness of the priesthood and he is Vicar of Christ) uses incense at Mass it is richly symbolic of him sending our prayers and the Eucharistic Sacrifice to God in Heaven—a breath-taking thought! The same thing is said about praying to the Virgin Mary…she keeps nothing for herself and simply directs us, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). John does not tell us that the embarrassed couple even approached Mary about their dilemma. Ever-watchful mother that she is, she saw a need and acted on it. Her faith in Jesus’ ability brought about his first of many miracles.
Let us never shy away from asking Mary and the holy saints of God in Heaven to pray for and to intercede for us.
V. The great gift of sacraments
even sacraments—seven great gifts of love from God to his Holy Church. Anyone aged 50 and over can easily recall from their Baltimore Catechism: “A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to impart grace”.
Within the Christian family of believers only Roman Catholics and the various Eastern Orthodox churches have seven sacraments. Most Protestant communities have two — baptism and communion; a few observe only baptism or only communion. While the Latin word for sacrament (Sacramentum) is not in Scripture, its Greek translation is: “Mysterion” (mysteries). They have been entrusted by God to the Church by way of the holy apostles and their successors, the bishops as Paul states in 2 Cor. 4:1 — “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God”. From there, bishops can appoint presbyters (priests) to administer most but not all of the sacraments.
The church groups the seven sacraments into three groups: the Sacraments of Initiation, the Sacraments of Healing and the Sacraments for Ministry. But first, let’s look at the definition of sacraments.
An “outward sign”— physical rites within the Church. Most are imparted by way of the sacred Liturgy. The Sign of the Cross, anointings, blessings and other actions performed by a priest with particular words/prayers.
“Instituted by Christ” — we make the invisible visible by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“To impart grace” — because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in each of the sacraments they do give life-giving grace to those who partake of them.
Here we should carefully note that all sacraments are considered as “Ex Opere Operato” which means that they are efficacious (effective) simply by manner of their being performed and not because of any level of holiness/righteousness by either the priest or by the recipient. A priest who may be only luke-warm hearted in his ministry still administers the sacraments validly because it is God himself who effects the sacraments by means of the priest and does not originate from the priest himself.
The Sacraments of Initiation
Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation. In Baptism water is poured three times over the head of the candidate. He/she is then anointed with sacred oil and is rendered a member of the “priesthood of all believers” and is thus able to assist in offering the sacred Liturgy with the episcopos/bishop and/or presbyter/priest. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and many Protestant denominations baptize according to Jesus’ mandate: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19). Some baptize in Jesus’ name only, even while using this same citation of Matthew as well as Acts 19:5.
Baptism leaves an indelible mark upon a person’s soul and can never be undone or repeated. It also forgives sins, according to Acts 2:38, but many Protestant communities reject this even though it is clearly biblical. It also “now saves you” according to the chief apostle himself in 1 Pet. 3:21. In the Catholic Church, in all Eastern Orthodox churches and in most mainline Protestant communities (Anglican, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, some Presbyterians and Congregationalists) infant baptism is insisted upon unless an adult elects to become a member of that community. Even at that, the various churches accept each other’s baptism if it was according to the Trinitarian formula.
The idea of being baptized as adults (Believers’ Baptism) only came about in the 16th century with the Anabaptists — a term meaning to re-baptize. Amish, Mennonites, the Assembly of God and many others reject infant baptism and thus require adult baptism for all of its members. For their children they use a ceremony called “baby dedication” in imitation of Joseph and Mary bringing Jesus to the temple to dedicate him. Yet, that act was only for first-born sons who opened the womb…not for females or even second, third, fourth-born, etc. sons because the father had to declare “This is my first-born son of this wife” (see Ex. 13:13-16 and Num 3:45-47).
In the Old Testament it was God himself who decreed that all male children be circumcised at the age of eight days old even though clearly they are incapable of choosing it for themselves; it was important, though, for circumcision made one a member of the sacred covenant with God (Note: circumcision does not make a person Jewish…they are born Jewish or convert into the faith). It was unheard of in the days of Jesus and the early Church (and for 1500+ years) for a person to choose his/her own faith because women and children were seen as mere possessions and incapable of deciding when they wanted to be baptized. It is the primary reason entire households were baptized together. Even though Jesus himself was baptized as an adult, he was not baptized into anything. Nor did he need baptism — his holy presence in the water blessed the action of baptism and fulfilled the baptism of John by bringing it to a new level.
This sacrament completes baptism and it is the occasion when the baptized are able to definitively choose the Church for themselves. Like Baptism it also leaves an indelible mark on one’s soul that cannot be undone. The seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit are given at Confirmation: fear of the Lord, piety, knowledge, understanding, counsel, wisdom and fortitude. The Bishop confirms each candidate individually with the same nine words “Be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit”. Why is a Bishop the one who confirms? In the early Church the Bishop administered all the sacraments as well as offered the weekly Mass. However, the Church grew very quickly both in size and geographically making it impossible for him to cover everything.
The saying of Mass and administering baptism was given over to the priests who served within the priesthood of each individual Bishop but because Confirmation is the sacrament that completes the initiation of a candidate into the Church it is still reserved to the Bishop. Local pastors may Confirm at the Easter Vigil (again, for sheer numbers) but pastors who receive people into the church outside of the vigil must have the Bishop’s expressed permission.
The Holy Eucharist
Food of all foods, Bread of all breads. I have covered this Holy Sacrament in my second essay of this series here.
The Sacraments of Healing
The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) and the Anointing of the Sick. About Confession the question is often asked, “Why confess your sins to a priest…why not just go to God?” One reason is for humility and not an act of presumption that God has forgiven the sin(s). Many Protestants who go direct to God oftentimes admit to being unsure as to whether God has truly forgiven their sins…or even heard their request for forgiveness. While Jesus did say to the apostles that “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (Jn 20:23) many Protestants seem to be unaware that Jesus also said “whose sins you retain are retained”.
In order for them to be forgiven or retained they must be heard. Thus three things are necessary before the priest can give absolution: true repentance of sin(s), a firm intention to “avoid the near occasion of sin” (Act of Contrition) and a form of penance. The other thing about confessing through a priest is that St. Paul makes clear in 1 Cor. 12:25-26 that “if one part of the body hurts, every other part hurts and is involved in the healing”. This is also true spiritually. Therefore sin not only affects our relationship with God but with others as well.
When Jesus appeared to his apostles and spoke to them about forgiving and retaining sin he first breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. Outside of placing the breath of life into mankind (Gen. 2:7), it is the only time that Jesus breathed on the apostles.
And isn’t there really only one kind of sin rather than the idea of mortal sin? Why differentiate? We do so because the apostle John said so: “If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray.All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly” (1 Jn 5:16-17). Stealing twenty dollars from someone’s purse cannot be elevated to the level of murder…nor can murder be equated to the level of stealing twenty dollars.
The Sacrament of the Sick
“Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord,and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:13-15). How good it is that this great sacrament exists. Formerly called Extreme Unction because it was the last of four sacraments that use the oil of anointing (Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders are the other three), it is now administered to those who are seriously ill or facing surgery and no longer reserved for a person who is very close to death. Therefore it is possible for a person to receive this anointing more than once in life. Incorporated in this sacrament is the sacrament of reconciliation — therefore it is one of sacraments reserved to the priest. The others are Confirmation (unless it is the Easter Vigil or the priest has special permission from the Bishop), the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and Holy Orders.
VI. Our life in the sacraments
Holy Orders are the second level of the three ordained functions within the ministry of Jesus Christ. The first level is ordination to the Diaconate (from Diakonos/Diakonoz), meaning one who serves. Deacons may not hear Confessions nor confect the Holy Eucharist. During the sacred Liturgy his function is as minister of the cup (chalice). Permanent deacons may be married—but the marriage must come first. If his wife dies, he may ask to enter into the priesthood but he must begin anew his seminary training.
The third level of sacred ministry is that of Bishop (from Episkopos/Episkopoz), which loosely means overseer. I say “loosely” because his role is so much more. His is the fullness of the priesthood…he is truly Vicar of Christ according toLumen Gentium #27. All priests must be ordained by a bishop; all bishops must be ordained by three bishops. For an eye-opening experience on the continuity of the Church in terms of Episcopal lineage/apostolic succession, go to this site, and find your bishop’s name. Read who consecrated him and then follow the line backwards…all the way to the 1500’s—likely when formal records were first kept. Even today 95% of priests and bishops (even Pope Francis) trace their apostolic heritage through Cardinal Rebiba. His was a time of great battles amongst the various Italian states so it is no surprise that records prior to him are scant, if any.
The second level of sacred ministry is the priesthood (from Presbyteros/Presbutepoz), meaning elder or priest. Priests are “ordained for sacrifice”—a term all Protestants took out of their ordination rites many years ago because they do not believe that the Eucharist is a sacrifice…they believe it to be symbolic only.
Sacred ordination is one of the three sacraments that leaves an indelible mark on the priest’s soul (the other two are Baptism and Confirmation). He is, according to the rite of ordination a “priest forever”.
When priests are ordained, they marry their cherished spouse the Church in imitation of Jesus Christ who laid down his life for her. Through that marriage they infuse life into the Church which the faithful lovingly receive, nurture within and bring forth to new life among God’s holy people and for the salvation of all the world. It is the reason he remains celibate—his bride is the Holy Catholic Church. In union with Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit he makes Jesus truly present—Body, Blood, soul and divinity—at each and every Mass that he says. Jesus himself affirmed celibacy after Peter complained about giving up everything to follow Jesus. Jesus’ reply to Peter was that there was “no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God” (Lk 18:29) who would go unrewarded. Although Peter clearly was married at the time Jesus called him to follow him, (Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law)…Peter’s mother-in-law would not cease to be his mother-in-law because he did not divorce her—but only set his sights and heart on the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus further affirms celibacy when he tells his apostles that “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:12) while also stating that “not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given”. Therefore celibacy is a gift.
Not so long ago my family’s Assembly of God community had five pastors which meant salaries to take care of five wives, many children, five mortgages, cars, college tuitions, etc. When the time came for them to search for a new head pastor it was determined that his family would always come first, so in times of family crisis the pastor would need to break church engagements to take care of a spouse, child, or in-law. His “interests are divided” (1 Cor. 7:32). On the other hand, when a priest in any diocese dies, the bishop is free to quickly send another priest to take his place without it being a cause of concern or hardship for any wife, child(ren) or mortgage.
Some Protestants make the claim that priesthood is no longer necessary but it was never done away with. Paul speaks of his “priestly service of the gospel” in his Letter to the Romans in 15:16. All priests serve in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ and not something outside of it. Valid words as said by Jesus and valid matter—”wheat alone” (Canon Law #924, ¶2) for the hosts and “natural wine”—must be used. Most Protestants use grape juice and one or two faith communities use water. For a priest to use hosts made of rice or other grain/seed is to make communion invalid; indeed nothing at all happens…no transubstantiation. It simply remains as rice and does not become the Precious Body of Jesus.
Holy Matrimony is the sacred act by which one man and one woman enter into a sacred covenant in order to become co-creators with God. They, too, bring forth new life for that is what the relationship is all about. In imitation of God who infuses life into all things and a priest who mystically infuses life into the Church, so it is the male—the father—who implants life into the body of the woman who receives that life, nurtures it within and brings it forth. This is why we address God as “Father” for from him all things have their origin. In human reproduction, too, it is through the male that all of life has its origin. He then is also called “Father”.
The roles of male and female, of course, are different…but complimentary. Two males cannot give life one to another and two women cannot receive life one from another. For there to be new life which springs forth from that deep and intimate union there must be one of each. Jesus himself stated that the two—male and female—become “one flesh”.
Marriage is meant to be for “the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children” (Canon Law #1055). Marriage is so important that “It is strongly recommended that those to be married approach the sacraments of penance and the Most Holy Eucharist so that they may fruitfully receive the sacrament of marriage” (Canon Law 1065, ¶2). It is only the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches that see marriage as a sacrament. No Protestant community does.
All dioceses have forms they use as part of the interview process/journey with the couple. Two of the most important questions that it asks are these:
“The Catholic church teaches that marriage is a permanent union to be entered without reservation or intention of divorce. Do you intend the marriage to be such a marriage?”
“The Catholic Church teaches that persons entering marriage must mutually exchange the right to have children of this union (italics mine). Do you intend to give your spouse this right?”
Indeed, that second question comes straight from Sacred Scripture: “The husband should fulfill his conjugal duty toward his wife, and likewise the wife toward her husband. A wife does not have authority over her own body, but rather her husband, and similarly a husband does not have authority over his own body, but rather his wife. Do not deprive each other…” (1 Cor. 7:3-4).
All men and women are made in the “image and likeness” (Gen. 1:26) of God; therefore all people are holy. This is why the Church in her great wisdom insists that the sacred covenant of marriage takes place before the procreation of children. It is the same with a priest. He must be validly ordained by a bishop before he is able to say Mass and to make Jesus present in the Eucharist. A couple must be validly married with a solemn blessing by the priest before a sacred act—the pro-creation of children.
Because all sacraments are for the people of God and not just for the ones receiving them (the marriage will be lived out in the community and in the Church and not just in the home) then the wedding must take place in a church and not in Aunt Martha’s rose garden or onboard ship.
In the original Greek, the term for “gift” that Paul uses in speaking of marriage is Charisma/Carisma—making it a spiritual gift of the Holy Spirit, just as priesthood is (see 1 Cor. 7:7) . Therefore both Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony give powerful testimony to our loving God who gives such gifts.
VI. The bible is catholic
All teachings of the Church, however, are in harmony with Sacred Scripture. This essay will look at the trifecta of the Church’s authority: The Bible, Tradition and the Magisterium.
The Holy Trinity is one of the teachings of almost every Fundamentalist community (but not all of them) that is not specifically in the Bible. Nowhere is the doctrine of the One Godhead as Father, Son and Holy Spirit — co-eternal and co-equal — found in the Bible; but they are “words in harmony with Scripture”, according to the second of the 16 Fundamental Truths of the Assembly of God. This is important because it is my Assembly of God family and relatives who always love to insist on “chapter and verse”. It seems that they will allow doctrines “not (explicitly) found in the Scriptures” but for Catholics to do this it is perceived as “adding to what is written”. Most of our understanding of the Holy Trinity comes from the extensive writings of the Early Church Fathers such as St. Augustine, St. Athanasius and many others.
The Written Word
Let’s look at where the Bible itself came from. None of the gospels were written as historical texts or as directives on how to start a church. Rather, they were written to attest to who Jesus was — “so that you may believe” (Jn. 20:31). The Acts of the Apostles are a continuation of Luke’s gospel—he tells of the early Church and of Paul’s conversion and missionary travels. It’s kind of like a journal. Paul’s letters are to those communities where there were issues that needed to be addressed. He wrote personal letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Hebrews is a masterful treatise on the eternal sacrifice of Jesus. James wrote one letter; Peter wrote two letters, John wrote three—plus the Book of Revelation —and Jude wrote one. Other gospels and letters were written but did not make it into the canon of the New Testament.
While many Protestants claim that we “added books” to the Old Testament (The Catholic version has 46 books while the Protestant has 39), all Protestants do agree that we Catholics got it right with the NT because they have the same one we do. The first canon of the NT was promulgated in A.D. 397 at the Council of Orange in Africa. Many Protestants claim that the canon was only put forth at the Council of Trent (held from 1545 -1563); however, this is incorrect. It was not promulgated then but re-iterated for all time after Martin Luther had decided to take out the Letter to the Hebrews, the Letter of James, the Book of Revelation and the Letter of Jude. Jude, by the way, makes reference in his letter to the Assumption of Moses and the Book of Enoch—two writings that did not make it into the canon of the New Testament. The New Testament does not come with its own list as to which writings would go into it.
The difference with the Protestant Old Testament and the Catholic one is about which version was used in the time of Jesus. In his day, Hebrew had fallen out of use as an everyday language; Aramaic had taken its place. However, with the conquest of Alexander the Great, Greek became the biblical language due to the Hellenistic influence. The Greek Old Testament (called the Septuagint) contained 46 books but the older Hebrew one (Masoretic text) contained only 39. After the new Christian sect fell out of favor with mainstream Judaism (around A.D. 90) and were driven away, the Jews took the Hebrew version of the Old Testament as their text because the Christians were adept at using the seven “other” books to convert people.
Those seven books, by the way are: Judith, Tobit, Baruch, Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus), the Wisdom of Solomon, First and Second Maccabees, the two Books of Esdras, additions to the Book of Esther, additions to the Book of Daniel, and the Prayer of Manasseh. Here we have the attestation of the Jews in their own online encyclopedia as to why, ultimately, the Septuagint was rendered “unwelcome”: “it had been adopted as Sacred Scripture by the new faith. A revision in the sense of the canonical Jewish text was necessary”. Further, “The quotations from the Old Testament found in the New are in the main taken from the Septuagint; and even where the citation is indirect the influence of this version is clearly seen”. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3269-bible-translations). This tells us clearly that Jesus and his apostles used the Greek Septuagint Old Testament and not the Hebrew Masoretic. I am uncertain as to why Protestants kept to the Hebrew version of the OT and rejected the version clearly used by Jesus.
Oral Transmission of the Word
As for Sacred Tradition (not tradition w/small “t”), it is another way of handing on the faith—the Latin, “Traditio” means “to hand on”. Almost all of Paul’s letters were composed before any of the gospels were written. Paul tells us in Acts 20:35 when he addresses the people in Aramaic, he states that he was educated “at the feet of Gamaliel” which is quite significant because Gamaliel was a master of the oral law/tradition.
There was no such thing, of course of anyone having his/her own copy of the bible to look things up. Protestants will cite the passage that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Tim 3:16) but it does not say only scripture. In fact, the Scripture Paul was referring to was the Old Testament for the new had not even been formed. In 2 Thes. 2:15 Paul exhorts his readers to “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (italics mine) — again, no mention of checking facts in the Bible. In 1 Cor. 11:2 Paul praises the church “because you…hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you”.
We know that according to Paul’s own testimony, everything he learned about Jesus and the Church was from Jesus himself —see 1 Cor. 11:23. It is the only way he could quote Jesus as saying “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) because this quote is nowhere to be found in any of the gospels. In fact, Paul’s instruction on the celebration of the Eucharist itself (1 Cor. 11:23-26) pre-dates any of the gospels. Paul then goes still further and tells the young bishop Timothy to entrust to faithful people that which he (Timothy) heard from Paul even by way of “many witnesses” (2 Tim. 2:2).
For a good article explaining still more about Tradition, go to this site:http://www.catholic.com/tracts/scripture-and-tradition
The Right to Interpret
As for the Magisterium, it is the teaching office of the Church. Even though the Church came first, it still serves Sacred Scripture and tradition. The Magisterium is guided by the Holy Spirit. All bishops by their ordination have this special gift of the Holy Spirit so long as they are in communion with the Holy Father. For a better understanding of the Magisterium read my article here. The Magisterium is the interpreter of both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition just as the U.S. Supreme Court is the guardian and interpreter of the Constitution. If there were no-one to interpret this great document of ours we would demand that there be an official interpreter of it.
As I stated in my first article on the holy order of bishops, I am glad that my salvation does not rely on my own interpretation of Scripture. If self-interpretation really were of the Holy Spirit, then 100% of the people would necessarily arrive at the same interpretation 100% of the time for “God is not a god of confusion” (1 Cor. 14:33). But God is one…Truth is one. And as I said then…Thank-you, sweet bishops, for all you do!
VIII. Women have a role in the church
One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is that she is a loving mother, always nurturing her children. I am quite active in the Church, working on my Master’s in Ministry for the Laity. What will this allow me to do? Many things: pastoral associate/minister, college/high school chaplain, hospital/prison chaplain (with additional studies); I can work (again with more studies) as a Canon lawyer in a diocesan tribunal or even as a judge; I could be employed as a college president or parish DRE or in other areas as well. Even though the Church does not have ordained ministry for women I am very happy. You see, the Church is very correct when she claims that she cannot allow for women’s ordination. It is not because she does not want to but simply because she can’t. There is no war on women in the Church.
According to one of my favorite authors, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, there is no such thing as women priests: “a religion with priestesses would be a differentreligion (italics his) and would implicitly signify a different God…It is…a fact that Jews alone of ancient peoples had no priestesses. For priestesses represent goddesses and priests represent gods” (Catholic Christianity p. 367). It is true that Jesus did elevate the status of women in terms of dignity, but he did not ordain them as priests. Women were allowed in his company and they did provide for him and his apostles from their means — among them Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Chuza, Suzanna (see Lk. 8:1-3) but this does not make them priests, either.
But what of women priests in other denominations? First, only the Roman Catholic Church and the various Eastern Orthodox churches have a valid priesthood. Priests are ordained for sacrifice but Protestants took this part out of their ordination rites some time ago. Additionally they are not in communion with the Pope. Neither are the Orthodox, but because of their valid apostolic succession the Catholic Church recognizes all seven of the Mysteries/Sacraments of their churches, including priesthood. Women “priests” in other denominations do not serve at the altar. They are actually ministers—roughly equivalent to that of the Church’s order of permanent deacons.
In Jesus’ time there were four “sects” within Judaism: Pharisees and Sadducees (see Mt. 3:7) as well as Essenes (a branch of Pharisees, see here) and the Zealots (Mt. 10:4). None of these allowed for women to be members of their groups. When the new sect of Christianity (initially it was another sect within Judaism) formed and allowed for women to join as part of the new Church the Greek philosophical societies of the time were astounded at this idea. It was totally breath-taking! Women could join! The Christian leaders saw Baptism into Jesus as the great equalizer: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is neither male and female…” (Gal. 3:8).
When Paul traveled to the city of Thyatira and was preaching they came upon a woman named Lydia who was a very rich businesswoman (those who worked with purple dyes were wealthy because the color came from a particular kind of seashell that was hard to extract) who, along with her household was baptized and invited Paul and his retinue to stay with her. It was herbusiness, her household, her home…and Paul agreed to stay with her. In the Gospel of John the apostles were “astonished that Jesus was speaking with a woman”—and a Samaritan woman at that—(4:27) but Jesus never entered into the house of a woman. He did, however, allow for a woman (Mary Magdalene) to be the first to see him after his resurrection (Jn 20:11-16) and he sent her to bring the good news of his resurrection to the apostles (v. 17)….the “apostle to the apostles”; the Greek term apostoloz/apostolos means one who is sent.
Yet even Hollywood would like you to believe that Mary called Magdalene was somehow one of The Twelve in its depiction of her in Roma Downey’s movie, The Son of God. She was just always there in nearly every scene. I got annoyed with that.
No pope, or priest or holy saint ranks as highly as does the Virgin Mary. All of the great men of the Church look to her as the very model of openness and humility. All of the great men view the Holy Catholic Church as the splendid and spotless bride of Christ.
Mary’s “Yes” to the Father
When Mary pronounced her Fiat to the Father through the angel Gabriel—”Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” she fulfilled herself to the highest degree. She submitted herself to the word of God and accepted her role as mother of the Word incarnate. In his book Jesus: A Historical Portrait the (late) Jesuit author Daniel J. Harrington said of Mary that in the various prophecies in the gospels she is “described as one who accepts the word of God”…and “believes that it is being fulfilled in her” (p. 54). Following this great event of the Annunciation in her life, Mary continued to adhere to the words of the angel—even when they now came to her through Joseph. There was no self-righteous indignation in Mary. No talk about “rights”. Imagine if she had scolded Joseph and asked “Why does this angel now come to you?” Or if she had refused to go to the temple in Jerusalem to be ritually purified on the 40th day after giving birth to a male child (See Lev. 12:1-4)? In all things Mary submitted herself graciously to the Law and the Word. She never held to her own agenda or used her status as mother of the redeemer to exempt herself from anything.
Great Women Saints
Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Therese of Lisieux, Claire of Assisi, Hidegard of Bingen, Jane Frances de Chantal, Mother Theresa of Calcutta and countless other women saints submitted themselves to the authority of the Church and her teachings. It was Teresa of Avila who persuaded the monk, John of the Cross to undertake the reform of the male Carmelite order, while she reformed the women’s. Though John was much younger she went to him as her spiritual director. Catherine of Siena was an advisor to bishops and Popes and at times scolded them in her countless letters to them. It was she who convinced Pope Gregory XI to bring the papacy from Avignon, France back to Rome after the papacy had been in exile there from 1309-1378. Yet none of them fought for their “rights” to be priests. It should be noted here that even men do not have any “right” to priesthood—priesthood is a gift and must be discerned in the Church.
The Role of Language in the Church
Having learned French as my first language, I do not get caught up in inclusive language in the Church. Most of the time when the Church uses the word “man” it means “human being” from the Latin, “homo”. The male of the human species is “vir”. In Greek the word for “human being” is anthropos/anqropoz while aner/aner is for the male of the human species. Nothing irks me more at Mass when a priest changes the words of the Creed from “became man” to “became one like us”. Jesus became homo/anthropos AND vir/aner. As far as God creating woman (Gen. 2:18) as a help-mate (“ezer kenegdo”, in Hebrew) she is not in an inferior role. She is different but complimentary. She is a compatible helper…one who can call him out (firmly but charitably) in his faults and build him up in his strengths. The idea of inclusive language is strictly American and Western European and wrought about by radical feminists.
Moral Life in the Modern World
What role (if any) do Catholic bishops have in hot-button topics such as contraception, abortion, in-vitro fertilization, gay marriage and other issues? What parent would not speak out against such dangers as playing in the street, or playing with matches or inhaling helium for the quick high or the myriads of other lurking dangers? Bishops are spiritual fathers and as such they must constantly speak out against dangers of the flesh. No-one has ever done more—or even as much—to protect, defend and safe-guard the dignity of women in the Church and in society as the Catholic Church. Obviously they’re not in it for popularity’s sake but as loving fathers they must put their foot down and say no to today’s fads, whims, fancies, and hullabaloo—even when as sulking, petulant children we say, “Everyone else is doing it!”
Children have a right to be born of an intimate loving union. Contraception and other means of artificial birth control allow for women to become as chattel—as objects. It allows men and women to close themselves off and to say “no” to God’s gift/initiative of children to them. It also allows for illegitimate sex outside of marriage which is procreating children who are made “in the image and likeness of God” without the sacred covenant of marriage that allows for this to happen. Read my previous essay on Marriage here for more on this. In-vitro fertilization has nothing to do with God’s will but that of the couple who insists that it has the “right” to have a child; however, the child is not conceived in love but in a petri dish in a well-lit sterile back room.
Gay “marriage” does not allow for the transmission of any new life and is only for one’s immediate pleasure — sexual relations between a man and a woman is life-giving…literally. It is other oriented. Abortion is the legitimate killing of one’s own child in the womb. Unlike the Holocaust of the 1940’s whereby the systematic killing of millions of Jews was ordered by the government, abortion rights advocates take this “new holocaust” to a demoralizing height by encouraging women to offer up/kill their own unborn child for the sake of a more “convenient” lifestyle. Women deserve better than abortion. It is not about their mantra of “It’s my body” because the life they take is not their own. The cunning serpent is once again at play…convincing today’s women to partake of the “fruit” of disobedience. Yet the fruit — while pleasing and desirous — is poisonous and can only lead to spiritual death. The true antidote for these grave actions is a contrite spirit, reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist and time spent in Adoration.
Here Holy Mother Church and her Bishops are very rich in mercy. And that truth will set them free.