Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why Am I Called A Catholic?

At a home gathering in New York City hosted by my sister and attended by her friends from a denominational Christian community, a guest asked me politely why I identified myself as a Catholic and not as a Christian.

Just as politely I assured her that I felt just as honored and blessed to be called a Christian as the early Church faithful whose Christian identity was first confirmed publicly in Antioch (cf. Acts 11:26).

Then I drew her attention to the “mystery of Christ” that God revealed to St. Paul and the holy apostles:

When you read this you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which… has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel…To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ… (Eph. 3:4-8).

The same realization of the universality or catholicity of the Christian faith hit St. Peter like a rock when he received a mysterious vision in which he was asked to eat things that were considered profane under the Mosaic law (cf. Acts 10:9-16). When everything finally sank in, he confided his newfound understanding to the uncircumcised Gentiles whom he subsequently baptised:

In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. You know the word (that) he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all… (Acts 10:34-36).

Catholicity was the reason for the decision of the Council of Jerusalem to avoid “placing on the shoulders of the [Gentiles] a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear,” namely the burden of observing the Mosaic law, particularly the requirement of circumcision (Acts 16:10).

It was for the fulfillment of the catholicity of his Church that Jesus on his Ascension into glory mandated his disciples to “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19) – a mission faithfully and successfully carried out by the Church in her history of over 2,000 years; a mission so prominent to her identity and intrinsic to the core of her being that the Church Fathers had made a point of including it as one of the four marks of the Church in the Creeds: I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

The term “Catholic Church” was already in use as early as St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 108 A.D.), one of the five Apostolic Fathers (the earliest authoritative group of the Church Fathers): “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8).

Without catholicity, without the firm belief in the unicity (as in Christ being the only Savior and his Church the only house of God that brings salvation) and salvific universality of the mystery of Christ, the Christian Church would have been just a sect of Judaism, restricted in many ways by local customs and one nation’s history and traditions.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Rhythm of Life

Fall has its way of creeping up on you....

The temperatures are still warm, but you wake up to the morning chill that taps you gently on the shoulder to remind you that summer is on its way out.

The breezes are still balmy, but the green foliage of the Toogood Pond has clearly lost some of its summery lustre, spotting small patches of crimson, yellow, and maroon here and there.

Sneaky as a cat, fall has shown up at your doorsteps, unannounced, unnoticed, and probably somewhat unwelcome.

Should there be any doubt that fall is coming, just check out the usual suspects heralding its arrival: the completion of the U.S. Open, my son returning to university to begin another school year, RCIA inquirers reporting to class, another year of Catechism Revisited Program, a new commencement of the Bible Study Program, the resumption of the Living in the Holy Tradition Program, the church getting more crowded with the return of the vacationing parishioners….

Repetition and routines are often seen by many in a bad light: boring, annoying, same-old-same-old, no choice…Five years into early retirement and having done more or less the same church programs and routines for more than a decade, I’ve actually learnt to enjoy the magic of the repetitive rhythm of life.

For me, the repetition of the various activities and programs is actually a blessing. The person repeating it is able to do so only when his health does not get in the way, when the required resources are available, and when the demand for the repeated activity or program remains strong. The rhythm of life - whether it is the daily routines of getting up and beating traffic to go to work; or the everyday chores of shopping, cooking and cleaning; or the repetition of church activities and programs; or the seasons changing guards as summer turns into fall and fall ushers in winter - is a beautiful thing. It is a blessing! If you put your heart into it, if you follow through with the rhythm patiently day after day and year after year, if you listen to it intently and learn to enjoy the art of repetition, you will realize that the rhythm is not the monotone that so many people hear. It is, rather, a magnificent and resounding symphony that gives you peace and makes your life heavenly! Praise the Lord for helping me to enjoy the repetition and simplicity of the rhythm of life!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Pope Francis' Happy Theology on the Church as the Holy Temple of God

As Catholic faithful who have been spoiled by several decades of strong and orthodox Catholic teachings since Vatican II, are you concerned that Pope Francis, while pleasant and outreaching, could be just an empty shell when it comes to scriptural knowledge and theology? Worse still, given his infamous comment of "Who am I to judge?" on the issue of homosexuality (see my post of July 31, 2013 Is Pope Francis Backing Down From the Church's Teaching Against Homosexuality?), could this Pope be a loose cannon - a crowd-pleaser - who is all too eager to compromise on the Church's teaching in order to conform to popular secular demands?

Just in case this is something that's bothering you, let me refer you to his General Audience of June 26, 2013 - an eloquent theological discussion on the Church as the Holy Temple of God. His immediate predecessors JPII and BXVI will be very pleased with this insightful and layer-by-layer exegetical discourse, in which the Holy Father explains how the ancient Temple of Jerusalem is a pre-figuration of the Church - the place of God's presence, the Temple that the Holy Spirit dwells; how the Incarnated Christ, Son of David, builds the Church as a visible sign of his presence among his people, thus fulfilling God's promise to King David in 2 Sam 7:1-29 that his heir would build a house for God’s name and his royal throne would be firm forever; how the House of God - the Church - is built using not material stones but living stones, which we are, on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ himself being the cornerstone (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-5, Eph 2:20-22); and how, with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, granted us through baptism, each one of us, the living stones of the Holy Temple, is a useful brick of this beautiful Temple, a priest in our own right whose sacrifices are not animals but, following the footsteps of the Crucified Christ, our own bodies (cf. Romans 12:1).

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this beautiful theological discourse! But that's not all. The Holy Father concludes his Wednesday Audience with an in-your-face exhortation for those Catholic faithful who are weary, bored, and indifferent; demanding that they COME ALIVE AND REJOICE as Christians. They need to remember who they are - the living stones and building blocks of the Church of Christ - and what they've been called to do - the important mission of building up the House of God!