06February

It’s All Relative: Understanding Right vs. Wrong

Taken from The Catholic Parent
by Chris Stefanick

It’s All Relative: Understanding Right vs. Wrong

Right and wrong. True and false. Thanks to relativism, young people use these words when talking about things like math and science—but not faith and morals. You might be thinking, “Relatiwhatism?” If philosophical discussions aren’t your forte, stay with me! Relativism isn’t a philosophy you can afford to overlook, because it’s at the very heart of how virtually every teenager thinks about the most important things in life!

What is Relativism?

Relativism is the philosophy that there is no objective reality, but that truth is relative to what each person thinks. We’ve all encountered relativism in statements like, “Jesus is God for me, while Vishnu is God for someone else,” “You have your truth, and I have mine,” or, in regard to issues like the abortion debate, “You can’t impose your morality on another person.”

This “agree never to disagree” philosophy is considered necessary to guarantee peace, tolerance, and equality in a pluralistic world. Conversely, people who think we can know the truth in moral or religious issues are considered intolerant, bigoted, and sometimes even downright dangerous.

That caricature of us “absolutists” is reinforced at every level of society, not just among your teens’ peers. According to Justice Scalia, when it comes to the marriage debate, the Supreme Court has bypassed intelligent debate and labeled those who want to protect “traditional” marriage as “enemies of the human race.” Of course, we fail to live up to that label. In the 2,000-year history of the Church, you won’t find a single bishop on record calling for physical violence against gays.

Facts aside, perception is reality. And the reality is that people perceive those who believe in spiritual and moral absolutes as bigots. Perhaps that’s why, according to one study, 93% of teens said they do not believe in absolute truth. No one wants to be a jerk, right?!

Does believing in moral absolutes lead to hate?

If we want young people to receive the Faith as something more than “a belief system that works for me,” but rather “as something real that I’m called to conform my life to,” we need to show them that moral and spiritual absolutes don’t lead to hatred. In fact, history shows us that some of the most intolerant people in history were not real believers, but relativists!

Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, is one clear-cut example. Early in his political career, he wrote:

Everything I have said and done in these last years is relativism, by intuition. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology, and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable. If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and men who claim to be the bearers of an objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than fascism. —Mussolini’s “Diuturna”

Since Mussolini didn’t recognize any objective reality—moral or religious—to which he should conform, he invented his own moral code and enforced it on everyone he could. If truth is really relative, why not?!

And while it might seem that if we could just “imagine there’s no heaven … no hell below us … no religion, too,” then we could “live life in peace.” The 20th century proved John Lennon’s dream wrong time and again. People in the 20th century who imagined that there was no “objective immortal truth”—no heaven, hell, and no religion—made many of the crimes committed in the name of faith look like child’s play.

Continue reading at The Catholic Parent.
04February

Sheep Judging

Taken from Catholic Bible Student
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

Sheep Judging



Photo by Peter Dutton

I’ve been to the Estes Park Wool Market festival and to the National Western Stock Show, so I have seen some sheep judging (and sheering and bleating). Usually the judges are looking for well-bred animals that conform to the specifications for their category of sheep. Symmetry, good wool, proper bone structure are all rewarded with blue ribbons.

But what about sheep judging in the Bible? Normally, our minds would go straight to Jesus in Matt 25, saying that he will judge between sheep and goat:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. (Matt 25:31-33 ESV)

Continue reading at the Catholic Bible Student.
04February

Bl. Columba Marmion: A Spiritual Master for Our Time

Taken from Crisis Magazine
by Dr. R. Jared Staudt

Bl. Columba Marmion: A Spiritual Master for Our Time

We just welcomed into the world my son, Colum Patrick Staudt. Colum is short for Columba, the Latin word for dove, the name of two great Irish saints, St. Columba of Iona (d. 597) and St. Columban (d. 615). I first came across the shortened form of Columba through my friend Fr. Colum Power. He is the one that introduced me to a modern Columba, the great spiritual master, Blessed Columba Marmion. I’m proud to initiate my son into the tradition of this great line of Irish saints!

Bl. Marmion, in particular, is striking for a number of reasons. First, he became a widely admired spiritual director, retreat master, and writer, teaching a generation of Catholics, including popes! Second, he is among a small number of modern Benedictine Saints and at the heart of a revival of Benedictine spirituality. I credit Bl. Marmion, in part at least, with my own vocation as a Benedictine oblate. Third, like St. Columban he left his Irish homeland for the European mainland to help re-stimulate monasticism there. St. Columban was generally following in the footsteps of St. Columba the great Abbot and missionary of Scotland. Bl. Marmion draws these strains of renewal together: apostle of spiritual renewal, Benedictine abbot, and Celtic missionary pilgrim (in the line of peregrinatio pro Christo or ‘exile for Christ’).

Joseph Marmion was born in Dublin in 1858 to an Irish father and French mother. He entered diocescan seminary in Dublin and completed his studies at the College for the Propagation for the Faith in Rome. It was in Rome that he first heard the missionary call and actively sought to be sent to Australia. The Cardinal Archbishop of Dublin had already set sights upon him for a prominent role back home and asked him to return to Ireland before a final decision was made. In the meantime, however, Marmion’s plans shifted during a visit in July of 1881 to the Benedictine Abbey of Maredsous in Belgium. During his stay, he heard a voice: “It is here I want you.” It would take some time for this come true, as Marmion began his priestly life outside of Dublin working in parish life, hospital ministry, as a chaplain to sisters, and as a seminary philosopher professor. Eventually, he did receive the necessary permission and entered Maredsous in November of 1886, taking the name Columba.

After a somewhat difficult adjustment in the novitiate, he was settled enough to become assistant novice master himself! This role was not to last for long as he was sent to help found a new monastery as prior of Mont-César Abbey in Louvain. His time there was significant: resuming his teaching duties as a professor of theology, beginning to give his famous retreats, and forming a lifelong friendship with Cardinal Mercier. It was not too long, however, until he was called home to Maredsous, for no less reason than become its next Abbot!

As Abbot, Marmion became one of the most sought after retreat masters in the English and French speaking world and continued writing many important letters of spiritual direction. He oversaw the life of the Abbey during the tumultuous days of the First the World War, founding a temporary refuge for his younger monks in Ireland, and then led the establishment of a new Belgian Congregation of Abbeys after the War. Before his death at Maredsous on January 30, 1923, he had become a world renowned author with his worked translated into 7 languages. When he was beatified in the year 2000 he became one of only a handful of Benedictines to be canonized or beatified since the martyrs of the English Reformation.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine.
01February

Forming First Ripples: Modeling Virtue in our Homes

Taken from The Catholic Parent
by Kumar Kibble

Forming First Ripples: Modeling Virtue in our Homes
“In this culture, which is selling a lot of stuff, I had a father on his knees who was showing me how to be a man of God.” —Dan Vander Woude

I vividly recall the weekend in September 2008 when I learned that a father and parishioner in a nearby parish in northern Virginia had been tragically killed. According to a Washington Post article I later read, Thomas Vander Woude’s son fell into a septic tank, and Vander Woude dove into the tank and held up his son just long enough for another to pull him out. As his son was lifted out, Vander Woude’s eyes closed and he collapsed into the tank. On that day a devoted father passed away, but his son and his saintly legacy live on. By all accounts from those who knew him, his final act crowned a lifetime of loving God and neighbor. This selfless witness by a daily communicant and loving father of seven boys has had a powerful impact on me over the years.

Striving for Holiness

As Catholic parents, few of us are called to lay down our lives in one such heroic moment for our kids. However, all of us are called to a daily, heroic struggle as we strive for holiness. As Vander Woude did throughout his life, are we cheerfully responding to that call in and through the particular circumstances of each day? Being a parent requires love, vigilance, and self-sacrifice as we seek to raise and form our kids in a secular culture that is increasingly hostile to Christian values. However, as the saying goes, more is caught than taught. Do we remember that our kids are constantly observing our response to the challenges of each day? We may tell them family is a priority, but do we demonstrate that in the way we actually spend our time? Or do we spend too much time in professional pursuits? We may say that faith is important, but do our kids see us living out an active, vibrant faith in our homes, workplaces, and communities?

Continue reading at The Catholic Parent.
31January

Two Messengers and Heavenly Bleach in Malachi

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

Two Messengers and Heavenly Bleach in Malachi
February 2, 2014, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4

On this Feast of the Presentation, the Lord comes to his Temple. But this time he comes not in a cloud of glory on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, but in the meekness and humility of a baby. Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to be circumcised on the eighth day of his little life to fulfill the Old Testament law (Lev 12:3). His coming to the Temple is anticipated by the prophet Malachi in the first reading for today.

Two Messengers

At the beginning of this passage, Malachi announces that the Lord is sending a messenger, “my messenger,” a forerunner who will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord himself (3:1). But immediately after this announcement, he tells us that “the messenger of the covenant” will come, who is identified as the Lord himself. The prophet explains the forerunner messenger more completely in 4:5-6. The forerunner will come as Elijah, to initiate a ministry of reconciliation, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and children to their fathers. After Elijah comes, the day of the Lord will arrive.

Profane vs. Pleasing Sacrifice

To get a full picture of what’s going on in this passage, a little context will help. Early in the prophecy of Malachi, the Lord accuses the priests and Levites (those responsible for the ministry of Temple worship) of profaning the Temple sacrifices, making a mockery of true worship. Instead of offering pure and unblemished animals to the Lord, they have been sacrificing blind and lame animals—a serious insult to the Lord (Malachi 1:8).These acts demonstrates where their hearts are—far from faithfulness to the Lord. The Lord invokes his special covenant with the Levites (2:5) to ground his response to their offensive behavior. The Levites were especially called by God and so ought to have been especially faithful.

In Malachi 3, the Lord is announcing the “day of his coming,” the coming of the Lord to enforce the covenant agreements he has with the Levites. The Lord will come to judge and to purify, to mend his relationship with his priestly family. Repeatedly in the New Testament the concept of worshipping with a pure heart is emphasized. Jesus teaches us to be reconciled with one another before we worship (Matt 5:23-24). He describes how the Lord desires “mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt 9:13). St. Paul tells that real fidelity to the Lord is a matter of the heart, not just a matter of external practices (Rom 2:29). The Lord wants his people to offer pleasing sacrifices from a pure heart, not profane sacrifices coming from a duplicitous heart.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange.
30January

Creating Catholic Family Culture

Taken from The Catholic Parent
by Dr. R. Jared Staudt

Creating Catholic Family Culture

It is all too common to hear frustrated parents complain that although they sent their children to Catholic school, or had them faithfully attend religious education and youth ministry, they nonetheless fell away from the faith.Pope Paul VI may have said it best: “The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, §20). What does Paul mean? He means that there is a rupture between what we believe, what we’re taught, and how we live our lives. That may be the best explanation for why so many youth do not continue practicing the faith.
They had not lived the faith out fully before they were off on their own.

Living Out our Catholic Faith

What can families do to bridge the gap between faith and culture? The most important thing is for our children to see that the faith is not something that stays at Church but is lived out every single day in the context of family life. Is the faith just an opinion or something done on Sunday, or is it something that truly guides and impacts everything that we do? When the faith is lived out in this way, it will sink down and take roots and become something living in the lives our children, not just an idea or a bunch of rules.

Continue reading at The Catholic Parent.
29January

Evangelii Gaudium: Pope Francis on the Joy of the Gospel and the New Evangelization

Taken from The Catholic Servant, January 2014
By Professor Douglas Bushman

Evangelii Gaudium: Pope Francis on the Joy of the Gospel and the New Evangelization

Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii gaudium (EG), is conspicuous for its incorporation of themes from his three predecessors: Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. It mentions each of these popes five times, and references to them account for 94 of the 217, or 43%, of the endnotes. If we add 18 references to Vatican II and three to John XXIII, 53% of his references are from Vatican II and the post-Vatican II popes. There are 30 references to the final propositions from the Synod on the New Evangelization of October, 2012, to which this apostolic exhortation is the Holy Father’s response.

Encountering God’s Love in Christ

The fundamental message of EG is fourfold. First, the Church’s mission, and thus the New Evangelization, is the fruit of an encounter with God’s love in Christ that results in a new way of living. In perfect continuity with his predecessors, Pope Francis underscores that the essential content of the Gospel is that God is love. “The heart of its message will always be the same: the God Who revealed His immense love in the crucified and risen Christ.” (EG, n. 11)

“Jesus Christ loves you; He gave His life to save you; and now He is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you. This first proclamation is called ‘first’ not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.…” (EG, n. 165)

Our love for neighbor, which sums up the New Law, is a response to God’s love for us, which always comes first. (EG, nn. 12, 24, 162) Throughout the pilgrimage of faith, God’s love never ceases to transform us so that we can love others as Christ loved us. “Anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus.…” (EG, n. 120) “For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” (EG, n. 8)

This connection between evangelization and a life-changing encounter with God’s love in Christ makes it clear what the remedy is for an alarming evangelical and missionary apathy. Too many among the baptized simply are not having this transformational encounter with God’s love. The reason, as we shall see, is that they are not coming to grips with their own poverty in relation to God.

The Joy of the Gospel

The second theme of Pope Francis’ message is joy. Pope Francis is concerned that “there are too many Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” (EG, n. 6) Too many “end up being unhappy with who they are and what they do… They end up stifling the joy of mission with a kind of obsession about being like everyone else and possessing what everyone else possesses.” (EG, n. 79) Who would be attracted to a community of “sourpusses”? (EG, n. 85)

Joy is the fruit of the transformational encounter with God’s love in Christ. If this encounter is lacking or superficial, then there will be a corresponding lack of joy, or shallowness of joy, among the Church’s members. “The life of the Church should always reveal clearly that God takes the initiative, that ‘He has loved us first’ (I Jn. 4:19)…. This conviction enables us to maintain a spirit of joy in the midst of a task so demanding and challenging that it engages our entire life. God asks everything of us, yet at the same time He offers everything to us.” (EG, n. 12)

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Gal. 5:22) It is practically a name for the Holy Spirit, God’s definitive gift to us. It is “a sign that the Gospel has been proclaimed and is bearing fruit.” (EG, n. 21) Joy is inseparable from the faith that keeps alive the memory of God’s love definitively revealed in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ.

“Memory is a dimension of our faith which we might call ‘deuteronomic,’ not unlike the memory of Israel itself. Jesus leaves us the Eucharist as the Church’s daily remembrance of, and deeper sharing in, the event of His Passover (cf. Lk. 22:19). The joy of evangelizing always arises from grateful remembrance.” (EG, n. 13)

The joy of evangelizing derives from the Eucharist! Joy springs from being aware of having been loved by God, of having received the Gift of gifts, the Holy Spirit. This presence of God’s Gift, perceived in our joy, has the power to attract people to the Church, and thus to Christ, and thus to God. The Church grows, not so much as a result of our hard work and clever programs, but “by attraction.” (EG, n. 14)

Love for the Poor

Pope Francis’ third theme is that the Church should live a love of preference for the poor. Evangelii gaudium mentions the poor 76 times! Pope Francis laments that too many Christians are living and “acting as if God did not exist, making decisions as if the poor did not exist, setting goals as if others did not exist, working as if people who have not received the Gospel did not exist.” (EG, n. 80)

God Himself looks down on the poor, hears their cry, and shows them mercy. Just as the joy to which we are called is a participation in Christ’s own joy, so the poverty to which we are called is a participation in Christ’s own poverty. “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake He became poor although He was rich, so that by His poverty you might become rich.” (II Cor. 8:9)

“Today and always, ‘the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel’ … and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that ‘there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor.’” (EG, n. 48) To encounter God’s love in Christ is to encounter His mercy toward us in our own poverty. As a result of being loved in our own poverty, we are called to love others in their poverty. It is the message of the unforgiving debtor. (Mt. 18:23–35) Once Christ has loved us in our poverty, the only way to fulfill the commandment to love others as Christ has loved us (Jn. 13:34) is by loving the poor.

This is the meaning behind the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that “the Eucharist commits us to the poor.” (n. 1397) If there is a crisis of missionary zeal, it must be due to a crisis of Eucharistic faith and devotion, and this latter crisis is rooted in the failure of too many Christians to come to terms with their own poverty in relation to God. For humility, which is this poverty in relation to God, is the necessary condition for encountering God’s love in Christ. (CCC, n. 716)

For the Holy Father, our faith is put to the test every time we encounter someone who is poor. The following insight of Cardinal Ratzinger is an apt elucidation: “The deepest poverty is the inability of joy, the tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory. This poverty is widespread today, in very different forms in the materially rich as well as the poor countries. The inability of joy presupposes and produces the inability to love, produces jealousy, avarice—all defects that devastate the life of individuals and of the world. This is why we are in need of a new evangelization—if the art of living remains an unknown, nothing else works. But this art is not the object of a science—this art can only be communicated by [one] who has life—he who is the Gospel personified.” Structures Are not Ends but Means Regarding ecclesiastical institutions, Pope Francis writes of a necessary “missionary conversion” (EG, n. 30) for parishes, dioceses, and the Apostolic See. Like his predecessors, he is concerned about the Church closing in on herself, being preoccupied with bureaucratic realities at the expense of solicitude for people. He discerns that “if part of our baptized people lack a sense of belonging to the Church, this is also due to certain structures and the occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems…. In many places an administrative approach prevails over a pastoral approach.…” (EG, n. 63)

Ultimately, structures must be at the service of a personal encounter with Christ that true evangelists aim to bring about. We are “constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction.” (EG, n. 88) We are called to develop the “art of accompaniment” (EG, n. 169), which is to make a commitment to people who need to be loved. Structures and institutions do not love—people do.

Very importantly, the renewal of structures presupposes the renewal of hearts. Only hearts transformed by the encounter with God’s love can direct the renewal of structures and put them to the test of whether they are transparent to missionary charity and useful as its expression and in its exercise. “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way.’ I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style, and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.” (EG, n. 33)

In light of all of this, Pope Francis shares with us his vision for a genuinely evangelical Church:

“I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with Him. As Pope John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: ‘All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion.’” (EG, n. 27)

In what will likely be one of the most quoted passages of this exhortation, Pope Francis warns against a kind of sense of false security or safety that can come with an obsession to maintain structures: “Let us go forth … to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ…. I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light, and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: ‘Give them something to eat’ (Mk. 6:37).” (EG, n. 49)


[Editor’s Note: Many people have questions about Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation, Evangelii gaudium. “The Catholic Servant” asked Professor Douglas Bushman to respond to two of these questions.]

Question: What is the level of teaching for an apostolic exhortation? How must it be followed by Catholics? Can one disagree with all or parts of it?

Professor Bushman: Contemporary Catholics are most familiar with the post-synodal apostolic exhortations, which elaborate on the themes considered by the Synod of Bishops. Interestingly, though Evangelii gaudium is about the New Evangelization and Pope Francis refers (30 times) to the final propositions of the Synod on the New Evangelization (October, 2012), it is not a post-synodal apostolic exhortation. The Pope writes an apostolic exhortation to encourage the entire Church, or a group within the Church, to fully embrace the demands of living the Gospel. The exhortative nature of these texts indicates that they presuppose what God has revealed and the doctrine that the Church authoritatively teaches. Thus, they are not intended to be authoritative affirmations or clarifications of doctrine, nor are they legislative in nature. Regarding the question of the authority of ecclesiastical texts, people should avoid assigning levels of engagement of teaching authority to an entire document, as, for example, we believe that all of Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit and asserts what God wanted asserted and is free of error. Rather, they should be alert to the fact that an apostolic exhortation contains many re-assertions of Scripture and dogmatic pronouncements, as well as statements that are in various ways related to Catholic teaching. Catholics must believe all that the Church authoritatively teaches, but they can certainly question and disagree with a pope’s reading of the signs of the times. They should also recognize that, even if he is inaccurate in one or another of his assessments of particular situations, this in no way attenuates his teaching authority with respect to faith and morals. Permit me to say that it would be lamentable if questions of this kind were to prevent well-educated Catholics from examining their own consciences regarding Pope Francis’ main preoccupation, namely, loving the poor.

Question: Some people are disagreeing with Pope Francis’ statements about economics in this document. They think the Pope doesn’t seem to understand the free market system as experienced in the United States. Can he be wrong, and how does a Catholic sort through such a document as to what is acceptable and what is not acceptable?

Professor Bushman: Some of Pope Francis’ phraseology has given rise to alarm and consternation. Yet, Pope Francis has said that there is nothing in Evangelii gaudium that is not in the prior social teaching of the Church. Upon close examination of his precise wording, my view is that this is true. The Church openly and repeatedly has said that she is not an expert in politics or economics. The Pope’s teaching authority does not assure us of any special expertise in making judgments of a technical nature about the relative efficacy of various political and economic systems. The Church does insist, however, that she is an expert in humanity. This means that her concern with political and economic questions is focused on the moral principles that bear upon human dignity and ultimately on the place of secular activity in Christian life. On my reading of Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis is consistent with the teaching of his predecessors when he asserts that a trickle-down market system cannot, by itself, assure that the poor are treated as they should be. His insistence is that the capacity of any economic system to measure well against the criterion of concern for the poor depends on the moral disposition of those who are engaged in economic activity, especially those with the greatest influence.

Douglas G. Bushman, S.T.L., is Professor of Theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado, where he holds the Blessed John Paul II the Great Chair of Theology for the New Evangelization.

24January

7 Points on Sunday’s Reading from Isaiah

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

7 Points on Sunday’s Reading from Isaiah

January 26, 2014

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 8:23–9:3

This Sunday’s Old Testament reading contains some real gems of biblical revelation, with important connections back to Israel’s history and forward to the New Testament fulfillments. Here are the seven key points:

1. Zebulun and Naphtali

Zebulun and Naphtali are two tribes of Israel, whose tribal lands were in the far north of Israel. They were “degraded” and “the people who dwelt in darkness,” because their land was the first to be permanently conquered by foreign powers. In 734-32 BC, Tiglath-Pilesar led a campaign against Syria and Israel, conquering Damascus and the northern reaches of Israel. From that time on, the two tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were under the darkness and gloom of foreign domination. Later, of course, all of Israel and Judah comes under the oppressive yokes of Assyria, then Babylon, then Persia.

2. The “Way of the Sea”

The “way of the sea” is a road. Scholars are divided over whether this term names a road that goes along the Mediterranean or the road that goes from Israel to Damascus. The more traditional view points to the road that leads to Damascus, which will be an important point for the New Testament fulfillment of this passage that I’ll discuss below.

3. God judges, but he also delivers

It is true that the Assyrians conquered Israel, but the prophet Isaiah explains that it was the Lord himself who “degraded” Zebulun and Naphtali. Just as it is explained in 2 Kings 17, here the Lord is the agent of judgment, merely using the foreign powers as tools for his purposes. The conquest of Israel came about “because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God” (2 Kings 17:7 NAB). The Lord punishes them for their unfaithfulness to his covenant with them (2 Kings 17:15), but he will also be the one to deliver them. Isaiah announces that no longer will Israel walk in darkness and gloom, but the light has dawned, bringing deliverance. In Isaiah 9:3, the last verse of our reading, Isaiah depicts the Lord as smashing the “rod of their taskmaster.” He will come to free his people from servitude.

4. The Day of Midian

The “day of Midian” is invoked in Isaiah 9:3 as an example of the Lord’s power to save. This “day” refers to Gideon’s battle with the Midianites in Judges 7–8, when the Lord helps Gideon and his 300 soldiers conquer a vast army. The victory came only by God’s power, not by human ingenuity. Isaiah forecasts that Israel’s ultimate deliverance will come about in the same way.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange.
23January

The Philosophical Basis for Religious Liberty

Taken from Crisis Magazine
by Dr. Michel Therrien

The Philosophical Basis for Religious Liberty

Religious Liberty has been on our minds a lot lately. The HHS mandate, same-sex marriage initiatives, and recently, the Duck Dynasty controversy with television network A&E, have put the issue squarely before us. In late December, CNA published an article about Camille Paglia, a 1960’s generation “feminist lesbian professor” who is reported to have “harshly criticized” A&E’s decision to suspend Phil Robertson because it violates the right of free speech.

What has occasioned this brief note on religious liberty is Paglia’s denunciation that some gay activists in this country have fallen into “fanaticism.” She also states, “that this intolerance … toward the full spectrum of human beliefs is a sign of immaturity, juvenility.” Her reason for these indictments is striking: “in a democratic country, people have the right to be homophobic as well as they have the right to support homosexuality [emphasis mine].” In other words, a democracy should tolerate every moral conviction, even if it is wrong, as she evidently condemns homophobia to be. Such a claim goes well beyond the issue of free speech, touching more upon the rights of religiously informed moral beliefs within the public square, which is actually a question of religious liberty.

One may ask, however, why CNA reported on Paglia’s public outcry in the first place? Was it to demonstrate that even a self-acclaimed libertarian-styled feminist stands with us in protecting our right to believe as we do? It’s hard to say. What seems clear is that the CNA article could lead unwitting Catholics to conclude that the basis upon which the Church defends religious liberty (or freedom of speech for that matter) is the moral equivalency, within a democratic order, of every conviction. In today’s American context of “tolerance in the name of moral relativism,” it is easy to mistake the Catholic understanding of the right to religious liberty (i.e. freedom of conscience and speech in matters of faith) for Paglia’s position. This is a confusion many Catholics have today—as is evident by the widespread sympathy among self-described Catholics for the cause of same-sex marriage and the HHS mandate.

This confusion is easy to understand given the cultural climate in which we live. This is why a clarification is in order. Let’s begin with the HHS mandate. Against this the Church is defending her right on the grounds that the state has no authority to force anyone—individually or institutionally—to act against religious conviction (conscience) by cooperating in the morally illicit acts of sterilization, contraception, and abortion. With same sex-marriage, the Church does not recognize the authority of government to change the definition of marriage, even within a democracy. The Church has no official stance on the Duck Dynasty/A&E controversy, but presumably the Church would support Phil Robertson’s right to voice publicly the truth of Christian ethics, his awkward and crass articulation of this truth not withstanding. In all three situations, the right of religious liberty proceeds from the prior obligation to live according to the truth about the human good.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine.
20January

Life’s Paladin: Jérôme Lejeune

Taken from Crisis Magazine
by Dr. Christopher Blum

Life’s Paladin: Jérôme Lejeune
“Merci, mon professeur, for what you did for my father and my mother. Because of you, I am proud of myself.”

These words, spoken by a young man with Down’s syndrome, were most fitting praise for the scientist who had discovered the genetic cause of his condition. It had long been thought to be due to the misdeeds of the parents, and perhaps even a consequence of syphilis. In 1958, however, a zealous young researcher discovered the extra 21st chromosome in the genes of those who suffered from it. He could hardly have suspected it at the time, but his life, and the world, would be forever changed by the knowledge.

In his early thirties at the time of the discovery, and the happy father of a fast-growing young family, Jérôme Lejeune could hardly have imagined then what would be the greatest significance of his work. True physician that he was, Lejeune was eager to build on the new knowledge and to seek a cure for the condition. Others, alas, many others, would be quick to seek wicked profit from it, and to prey upon the fears of the weak. Today, only 1 in 10 children marked by that extra chromosome is allowed to be born.

Yet God, ever bountiful in his creativity, is able to bring good out of even the darkest evil. So many men and women in the tragic twentieth century made astonishing discoveries and then proved incapable of responding to the misuse of that knowledge. Not Jérôme Lejeune. With the purity of intention of a Galahad or a Gawain, he spent himself to protect the lives of those whose condition he had explained.

In Paris, he saw patients by the hundreds. “People were often surprised at how available Papa was,” says his daughter, the author of a lovely memoir about him. He was one of those who thrives on work, and from the experience of helping others. His daughter tells us that he loved to repeat the saying of St. Vincent de Paul, “What must one do for one’s neighbor? More.” And like all good physicians, he knew that in addition to knowledge of the art, he needed to be present to his patients, to listen to them, and to offer them timely and wise counsel. The testimony of one couple who were expecting a Down’s child speaks volumes: “He helped us to discover our love as parents.”

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine.
18January

Reverencing Women

Taken from Those Catholic Men
by Dr. R. Jared Staudt

Reverencing Women



















People laugh at medieval feudalism as hopelessly out of date and even at times barbaric. There is one aspect, though, that continues to intrigue—courtly romance. The codes of chivalry became normative at the time of the Crusades, with international armies finally fighting together instead of against one another. What stands out at this time is that in the face of Islam, Western knights saw their duty not only to protect women, but to honor and reverence them. Think that these knights laid the foundation for the greatest cultural exercise of Christian history: the construction of the great Gothic Cathedrals to honor their queen, Our Lady.

It is one thing to honor and even reverence women, but Dante, perhaps the greatest of Christian poets, took things a step further. Dante’s life was changed by beholding a very young woman, whose beauty and grace shook him to the very core. His “conversion of love” at the feet of Beatrice became the means of his pilgrimage to even greater heights. Dante never did embrace and unite himself to Beatrice (she was married to another), not uncommon in chivalrous love, but his love for her became the means of his advance through the depths of darkness and the purifying fires in order to grasp a glimpse at the fullness of grace and truth Himself in paradise. It is Beatrice precisely who leads Dante through heaven, until she fades out of view at the most crucial moment, his vision of the Trinity.

I would say that the basis for Dante’s attachment to Beatrice, and its effects, is something that I would call “natural grace”. This is not, by any means, an attempt to make God’s supernatural gift of his divine life something transmitted naturally to all people. Rather, natural grace is the gratuity of goodness and beauty that we find in the natural world. It is the radiation that comes forth from Creation manifesting its Creator in a way that strikes the heart and soul in an intuitive way. In my opinion, by far the greatest source of natural grace is the climax of God’s creation: woman.

Continue reading at Those Catholic Men.
18January

The Glory of Serving the Servant

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

The Glory of Serving the Servant

I sometimes wonder whether God recycles. That might sound weird, but people treat recycling like it’s a religious activity—as if you could earn brownie points from God by making sure your plastic bottle ends up in the blue trash can instead of the black one. Now I know that God doesn’t drink from plastic bottles or use newspapers, but he does have a partiality for recycling, or at least reusing.

January 19, 2014, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. First Reading: Isaiah 49:3, 5-6

Restoration

In this Sunday’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah 49:3, 5-6, we find the Lord at it again. He is not inaugurating a brand new plan of salvation. Rather, he is sending out his servant on a mission of restoration. He wants to raise up and restore his people, to save them from their own disobedience, rather than to discard anyone. In fact, he wants the restoration of his people just to be the first phase in his salvation going to the ends of the earth.

Israel the Servant

This passage falls in the second “servant song” in Isaiah. Last week had an excerpt from the first of the servant songs, which are Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13–53:12. The identity of the suffering servant in Isaiah is a little confusing. Here in 49:3, for example, the servant is called “Israel” but he is being sent by God to restore “Israel.” What’s going on? Well, it seems that the servant is being identified as a kind of “ideal Israel,” one who is really living out God’s covenantal calling on his people. The Lord is calling this servant, who embodies Israel in an ideal fashion, to restore his people to the land, to set up a new covenant (v. 8) and to call them back to covenant fidelity. In v. 6, this servant is supposed to bring back the people of Israel (or Jacob—remember that the nation’s namesake patriarch has two names), but where from? Well, the people have been exiled from the Holy Land for infidelity and the prophet is forecasting what their redemption will look like. Part of the redemption they long for is a restoration of the Land.

An Exchange of Glory

Before we get to the New Testament fulfillment of this passage, I want to point to three important themes in this passage. First, the Lord is glorified in his servant (v. 3) and makes his servant glorious (v. 5). This back-and-forth relationship of glory is an awesome way of depicting our relationship with God. He calls us to himself and is glorified in our service to him and to the least of the brethren. But on the other hand, he glorifies us and endows us with his strength to perform that service in the first place. It is a beautiful relationship of mutual love, service, and significance. Glory, after all, has to do with the “weight” or importance of a person. When we serve Him, the Lord increases the “weight” of glory upon us and we recognize the awesome “weight” of his glorious existence. The further we come into the light, the more deeply we are enlightened.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange.
17January

Come and See Weekend: February 7-9

Discover our Catholic faith through the Augustine Institute community by attending our Come and See Weekend!


Hear what our students have to say!
  • Discuss Evangelii Gaudium with Augustine Institute faculty.
  • Spend time with current students learning about Augustine Institute culture, courses, and community.
  • Attend a guest lecture on Catholic Environmental Ethics by Scott Powell.

Scott Powell is the Director of Scriptural Theology at the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought, an outreach to CU-Boulder, and a co-founder of Camp Wojtyla. He is a graduate of the Augustine Institute.

Schedule of Events

Friday, February 7

  • Frassati Friday: An evening of prayer and socializing with the young adults of the Denver Catholic community.

Saturday, February 8

  • 9:30- Optional tour of Augustine Institute campus
  • 10:00- Mass at St. Augustine Chapel
  • 10:30- Welcome Remarks from Dr. Christopher Blum, Academic Dean
  • 11:00- Discussion on selections from Evangelii Gaudium with Prof. Douglas Bushman
  • 1:00- Lunch at Tolle Lege, Augustine Institute cafe
  • 2:00- Presentation on YDisciple and Symbolon
  • 2:30- Question and Answer with Student Panel
  • 3:30- "Ask a Professor/ Admissions Member"
  • 4:00- "Jesus and the New Creation: A Catholic Environmental Ethic" by Scott Powell

Sunday, February 9

  • Mass at Immaculate Conception, Archdiocese of Denver's Cathedral Brunch to follow (optional)

RSVP: Maggie Smith: (303) 937-4420 x.110, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

12January

Jesus the Servant: Appointed and Approved

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

Jesus the Servant: Appointed and Approved

It is easy for us to take justice for granted in our society with courts, appellate courts, judges, lawyers, prisons, laws, and constitutions. We rarely personally feel the sting of injustice. I like to look back on an earlier time, the Old West, when, at least in all of the fictional presentations, a strong sheriff with integrity in town is necessary for the enactment of justice. Without the sheriff, bandits and outlaws can rob banks, steal cattle and wreak havoc. Sin is the same way—it makes a moral mess of our lives and imprisons us by addiction. We need a powerful and righteous deliverer to free us from its chains.

January 12, 2014, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, First Reading: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7

The Suffering Servant

This Sunday’s reading from Isaiah 42 portrays the Lord’s “Suffering Servant,” who will bring justice not only to the people of Israel, but to the Gentiles as well. Isaiah contains four so-called “servant songs” (42:1-7; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13–53:12) which describe this heroic figure. This first song explains the calling of the Suffering Servant: He serves the Lord. He is upheld by the Lord. He delights the Lord. And the spirit of the Lord is upon him—just like the spirit of the Lord came upon the judges and kings of old. The Lord has appointed the Suffering Servant to fulfill a mission—bringing justice to the Gentiles (nations).

A Rescue Mission

This mission is like the mission of a just sheriff, but in the ancient world the chief law-enforcer or justice-bringer would be the king. Part of his job was to make sure that people were dealt with fairly at all levels of society, that cases were adjudicated correctly and that the poor were not oppressed. The Suffering Servant appears as a kind of Messianic king—one who will come to free people from oppression and establish the reign of justice. The Hebrew word here for justice is mishpat, which comes from the same root as “judge”—as in Gideon, Samson, etc.—in the Old Testament. So this appointed representative of God will bring justice, but he will also act with mercy. The text says “a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench” (Isa 42:3). These images show him acting with clemency, not severity. He does not come to crush, but to rescue those who are oppressed and broken.

Continue at Catholic Exchange.
07January

Mother Seton: Servant of the Good Teacher

Taken from Crisis Magazine
by Derek Rotty

Mother Seton: Servant of the Good Teacher

Elizabeth Ann Seton’s deep love for Christ directly shaped our culture to an extent that few Americans have ever have approached. Her extraordinary combination of charity and effectiveness led Pope Paul VI in 1975 to make her the first native-born American to be canonized. She deserves recognition as the first flower of an American Church that was burgeoning with life as hers came to an end in 1821.

Seton bore the standard of Christ heroically throughout her life. As a daughter, and then as a wife and mother, she dutifully served her family. Later, she erected the first pillars of the parochial school system in America and founded a community of religious sisters to serve it. Her achievements as an educator and foundress suffice to make her at home among a list of most-influential American Catholics. Yet, Seton should be remembered as much for her devotion to Christ and His Church as for her eminence in American history and society.

Elizabeth Bayley, born in New York City, was married to William Magee Seton, also from New York, before her twentieth birthday in 1794. Her early twenties were years of trial and anxiety caused by deaths in the family and grave financial struggles in business. Still, Elizabeth Seton’s keen mind and the virtue of prudence allowed her to assist her husband in the business affairs until his own illness necessitated a trans-Atlantic voyage for recovery. He passed away in 1803, just nine short years into their marriage.

Seton entered the Catholic Church in 1805, after her husband died, thanks to the witness provided by family friends. Her conversion was met with great ire from her Protestant relatives and friends, who shared the suspicion of the Catholic faith that was then common in the United States. Many of her familial relations became estranged, and she even faced an accusation of proselytizing. In 1806, as a young convert, she was nearly expelled from the state of New York by its legislature. Nevertheless, she knew that full communion with Christ’s Mystical Body allowed her to encounter her Lord more deeply, and it gave greater impetus to the works of mercy that she undertook even as a non-Catholic.

Her career in teaching, which she came to understand as an integral expression of her answer to Christ’s call to holiness, garnered an invitation from the Sulpician Fathers to relocate to Baltimore, Maryland just as she was discerning whether she could continue to live in hostile New York. In a journal entry penned during the time of transition between New York and Baltimore, this saint-in-progress intimated the clarity and consolation that God had granted to her:

When hope has ventured to step forward she has never been separate from fears, apprehension, sighs, and the tremblings of nature—today she exalting exclaims, ‘Thou has drawn me from the mire and clay and set me upon a rock. Thou hast put a new song in my mouth, the song of salvation to my God.’ (Ps. 40) O order my goings in Thy way that my footsteps slip not.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine.
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