Friday, April 30, 2010

What's New About The New Commandment?

5th Sunday of Easter, John 13:31-33a,34-35

“I give you a new commandment: love one another.” –It may seem that this commandment to love is not new. Even under the Old Law, the Jews were commanded to love God above all (Deut. 6:5) and to love their neighbor as themselves (Lev. 19:18).

There are, in fact, three particular reasons why this commandment is said to be new:

First, because of the newness, the renewal, it produces. This newness is from charity, the charity to which Christ urges us.

Secondly, this commandment is said to be new because of the cause which produces this renewal; and this is a new spirit. There are two spirits: the old and the new. The old spirit is the spirit of slavery; the new is the spirit of love. The first produces slaves; the second, children by adoption. The spirit sets us on fire with love because "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Rom 5:5).

Thirdly, it is a new commandment because of the effect it established, that is, a New Covenant. The difference between the New and the Old Covenant is that between love and fear. Under the Old Covenant, this commandment was observed through fear; under the New Covenant it is observed through love. So this commandment was in the Old Law, not as characteristic of it, but as a preparation for the New Law.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Good Shepherd Must Be God

4th Sunday of Easter, John 10:27-30

In these verses our Savior concludes his Good Shepherd discourse in which he as so clearly expressed his immense love for us, and it is most striking that this discourse of love should conclude with our Lord’s strongest affirmation of his divinity: “The Father and I are one.” Reflecting on this passage we see that the Good Shepherd must not be a mere man, but must truly be the omnipotent God.

The parable of the Good Shepherd is meant to prove the great love which Christ Jesus has for us, his faithful ones. He tells us that he will protect us from the wolf, Satan and all evils; that he will call us to the verdant pastures of eternal life; and, what is more, he assures us that under his protection no one can do us any true harm.

“No one can take them out of my hand” In today’s Gospel he now proves what he had said above about the dignity of his sheep, namely, that no one can snatch them from his hand. His reason is this: “No one can snatch what is in the hand of my Father; but the Father's hand and mine are the same; therefore, no one can snatch what is in my hand.” Precisely because our Shepherd is one with God, because he is God himself and Lord of all, he is our Savior—he is able to save us because his love is all-powerful.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

St. Anselm and the Interior Life

A prayer of St. Anselm: “Up now, slight man! flee, for a little while, your occupations; hide yourself, for a time, from your disturbing thoughts. Cast aside, now, your burdensome cares, and put away your toilsome business. Yield room for some little time to God; and rest for a little time in him. Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all thoughts save that of God, and such as can aid you in seeking him; close your door and seek him.” (Proslogion, prologue)
Today, on the feast of St. Anselm, in the midst of a busy and distracting world, this exhortation calls us back to that which is most important: the interior life. The gateway to the interior life is prayer.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Legacy of Pope Benedict: Teaching

Pope Benedict is popularly known in Catholic journalistic circles as the “teaching pope.” Despite the redundancy (every pope must teach, on account of his prophetic office), this is indeed an apt moniker for Benedict, for it is primarily in the context of the word – spoken or written – that he has impacted most intensely the lives of people throughout the world. He is a pope who, both in his scholarly writing and his pastoral teaching, has much to say about God and man. What is more, he speaks the truth with a clarity and simplicity unmatched in contemporary discourse. Simply put, when Benedict speaks, people listen, because they know that his teaching is born of a profound intellectual and spiritual life. Joseph Ratzinger is a man who is at home in silence, where he can be obedient to the teaching of Reality, as it is known through faith and reason. From this fundamental docility, he teaches with great authority, both moral (as a theologian) and ecclesial (as a pope).

Ad extra: God is Logos

Perhaps the most famous “teaching moment” of the five years of Pope Benedict’s pontificate was his Regensburg Lecture, given on September 12, 2006 in the aula magna of the University of Regensburg, where he was professor from 1968 to 1977. Much ado was made in the international press about the speech’s seemingly approving (he later clarified that he did not intend to approve the polemic) reference to the brusque criticism of Islam made by the “erudite” Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologos in his 14th-century dialogue with a Persian scholar. However, the media firestorm (and ensuing violence in the Islamic world) over this historical reference of Benedict distracted from the main purpose of the lecture, which stands, along with his un-delivered (because disinvited) lecture at La Sapienza University in Rome, as the Pope’s signature “ad extra” reason-based appeal to the world. The Regensburg Lecture was addressed to “representatives of science” and was given in a classroom of a university. Here the Pope could speak honestly and with freedom to the rationality of his hearers.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why Jesus did not walk on water

3rd Sunday of Easter, John 21:1-19
John 21:4, “When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.” –The Lord had walked upon the water before his death upon the Cross, why does he now remain on the shore and not go out to meet the disciples in the boat?
If we consider this episode more closely, we will notice its similarity with another story: that of the call of St. Peter (Luke 5:1-11). At that time, as here after the Resurrection, the Lord stood on the shore and commanded that St. Peter should cast his net over the side. Then, as here, the disciples caught a great multitude of fish and realized that it was the Lord.
Comparing this gospel account of our Lord appearance to the disciples after his Resurrection with these two other accounts (the call of St. Peter and the walking on water) will serve to bring forth its mystical meaning.

The Disciples Caught 153 Fish

The 3rd Sunday of Easter, John 21:1-19

John 21:11, “So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.” --Many saints and exegetes have wondered; Why does St. John specify that exactly 153 fish were caught? What is the significance of this number?
Indeed, there is great diversity of opinion in this matter, but one thing that all agree on is this: the great catch of fish signifies that salvation is open to all and that the Church will encompass men from every nation, place, class, and time. The Fathers of the Church (and especially St. Augustine) were very interested in numbers, particularly in the various combinations of numbers which make up other numbers. In our consideration of the number 153 there are 5 core numbers to keep in mind: 100, 50, 10, 7, and 3. These numbers were used by the Fathers of the Church to explain the mystical meaning of this text.

The Legacy of Pope Benedict: Sanctifying

On this Third Sunday of Easter, on which we proclaim St. John's account of the Petrine Primacy, and the eve of Pope Benedict XVI's fifth anniversary as Bishop of Rome, it seems fitting to reflect at this time on the legacy (thus far) of the 265th Successor of Peter.

It must be said at the outset that the "performance" of the Roman Pontiff ought to be judged and analyzed primarily according to supernatural criteria, apart from which the papacy is unintelligible anyway. These supernatural criteria can be summarized by one proposition: The Pope is on Earth to help all men get to Heaven. He has no other task than that. Everything he does - from the most sublime dogmatic declaration to the most mundane diplomatic encounter - is ordered finally to the "feeding of the sheep." This is the response of the Universal Pastor to the Lord's question: "Do you love me?" It is his task in obedience to the direct command of the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls, Jesus Christ.

With this in mind, we will consider, in the following reflections on Pope Benedict's first five years, the Pope's legacy in relation to the three munera of his pastoral office: the sanctifying office of priest, the teaching office of prophet, and the governing office of king. Jesus Christ, in His sacred humanity, was Priest, Prophet, and King, and in these fundamental characteristics of His identity and mission the Church participates: his Vicar on Earth, in the first place, and all the baptized, each according to the nature and demands of his state in life. The activities associated with these munera, then, will serve as our primary ways of understanding and interpreting the pastoral work of Pope Benedict XVI over the past five years. In this way, we will be able to understand Pope Benedict according to the properly supernatural terms without which he cannot be understood in a Catholic way.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Book Worth Reading: Cardinal Antonelli on the Liturgical Reform

When he first announced to the Congregation for the Clergy that 2009 would be a Year for Priests, Pope Benedict XVI invited all priests and seminarians to re-read the documents of the Second Vatican Council, seeking to interpret them correctly in light of the entire Christian Tradition. The Development of the Liturgical Reform: As Seen by Cardinal Ferdinando Antonelli from 1948 to 1970, newly published in English and available through Roman Catholic Books, is a most helpful tool in trying to understand better the Liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council and to implement them in light of what has come before. The book recounts the personal notes of Cardinal Ferdinando Antonelli, who was involved with the reforms to more or less degrees from 1948 to 1970, and includes some commentary by its author, Nicola Giampietro. While Giampietro is somewhat tacit in his remarks, he allows the reader to draw his own conclusions. What quickly becomes apparent, however, is a strong contrast between the two major Liturgical reforms of the twentieth century.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The faith of doubting Thomas

We often call him “doubting Thomas,” but if we look more closely at the Gospel account, we might learn something new about the great faith of this holy apostle.
John 20:26-29
Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
St. Thomas the apostle was nick-named Didymus, which means “the twin” and St. Thomas Aquinas offers an interesting explanation of this: the name “twin” could be taking from the apostle’s doubting. Indeed, one who doubts is mid-way between two opinions: while holding to one, he fears that the other might perhaps be true. Thus, the apostle’s mind was as a twin, struggling between two competing ideas—Had Christ risen, or was he dead? (Commentary on John 20.5)

How Jesus came forth from the tomb

St. Matthew alone tells us that the stone was still blocking the entrance of the tomb when Christ came forth. He says: “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.” The angel does not roll back the stone in order that Christ may come forth, but in order to show the women the Christ had already risen and come forth from the tomb.

You may notice that, in most artistic depictions of the Resurrection, the tomb is already open when Christ rises. But this is not really quite accurate: he came forth from the tomb when it was still completely closed!

Why is it important to note that the stone was rolled back after Christ had already risen and come forth? St. Matthew tells us this detail, so that there can be no doubt about whether Christ’s body was stolen during the night. If the stone was sealed and the women saw it opened, they would be able to testify that the body could not have been taken during the night, but that Christ had miraculously risen and come forth from the tomb, when it was still sealed shut!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Why there is no Mass on Good Friday

Many people are wondering today: Why is there no Mass on Good Friday? Of course, there is the Liturgy of the Presanctified, or the Commemoration of Our Lord’s Passion; but it is true that, although communion is distributed, Mass is not celebrated.

So, why no Mass today (or Holy Saturday, before the Vigil)? This question is especially relevant on the day when we commemorate the reality of which the Mass is a sacramental figure: The suffering and death of Christ.

This, like many other questions, was asked and answered a long time ago by a holy Dominican Friar named Thomas Aquinas. In the Summa Theologica, part III, question 83, article 2, reply to objection 2, St. Thomas tells us:

“The figure ceases on the advent of the reality. But this sacrament is a figure and a representation of our Lord's Passion, as stated above. And therefore on the day on which our Lord's Passion is recalled as it was really accomplished, this sacrament is not consecrated. Nevertheless, lest the Church be deprived on that day of the fruit of the Passion offered to us by this sacrament, the body of Christ consecrated the day before is reserved to be consumed on that day; but the blood is not reserved, on account of danger, and because the blood is more specially the image of our Lord's Passion.”