Friday, March 30, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Christus Dominus

Bishops are the successors of the apostles. Having received the highest level of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, they share fully in the priesthood of Christ. In Christus Dominus, or the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, the Vatican II Fathers outlined the nature, role, and tasks of Catholic bishops and the relationships between bishops and other members of the Church and among the bishops themselves.

Here's a sampling of the topics and ideas you'll find in Christus Dominus.


* Catholic bishops are the successors of the apostles. They are leaders in glorifying God, sanctifying men, and building up the Body of Christ.

* The Roman Pontiff holds primacy in the universal Church, for he “has been granted by God supreme, full, immediate and universal power in the care of souls.”

* The Pope and bishops together carry out the work of Christ as teachers and pastors. In their unity, they form the episcopal college with the Pope as the head. Each bishop has the responsibility for his own particular Church, or diocese, but always remains in union with the Pope.

The Role of the Bishops in the Universal Church

* The Pope and bishops must remain closely united in the episcopal college, and together they exercise “supreme and full authority” over the Church. Bishops have the right to participate in ecumenical councils in union with the Pope.

* Bishops ought to be “solicitous” for the universal Church and for all the particular Churches, especially those in mission territories and those that are struggling. Bishops should help each other with brotherly care.

Bishops and the Apostolic See

* While bishops “enjoy as of right in the dioceses assigned to them all ordinary, special and immediate power which is necessary for the exercise of their pastoral office,” they always remain in submission to the Pope.

* The Roman Curia, which assists the Pope, “should be reorganized and modernized.” Its members should be chosen “on a more representative basis” to better express the universality of the Church.

Diocesan Bishops

* A diocese is “a section of the People of God entrusted to a bishop to be guided by him with the assistance of his clergy.” It is one particular Church and a “community in the Holy which the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and active.”

* Diocesan bishops are “witnesses of Christ to all men” as they teach, sanctify, and govern their particular Churches.

* In their teaching role, bishops proclaim the Gospel, call all to faith in Christ, strengthen the faith of their people, expound the mysteries, instruct in worship, show the faithful how to live the Christian life, and teach Christian values. They both present Christian doctrine in a way people can understand and protect that doctrine so it remains true and whole.

* Bishops should enter into dialogue with all men in charity, humility, truth, prudence, and sincerity.

* In the realm of catechesis, bishops must “develop in men a living, explicit and active faith, enlightened by doctrine” through preaching, doctrinal instruction, and public statements. Bishops should pay attention to both the content and method of catechesis.

* In their sanctifying role, bishops “are the principal dispensers of the mysteries of God.” They “control, promote and protect the entire liturgical life of the Church entrusted to them.” They serve as “spiritual guides” and examples to their people as they help the faithful better understand and live the sacraments.

* Although bishops exercise “divinely conferred authority” over their dioceses, they do so out of paternal love and service in order to form their people into one family.

* Bishops should always seek the welfare of their priests and laity and assist them to grow in the Christian faith and actively and lovingly perform their roles in the Church.

* Civil authorities cannot interfere with a bishop's apostolic functions. Bishops are appointed and installed by ecclesiastical authorities, not by civil authorities.

Diocesan Boundaries

* Diocesan boundaries should be revised so as to consider the “composition of the People of God” in a particular location; the size of each diocese; the number of priests, offices, institutions, and activities available; current and future resources; and the diversity of rites and languages.

Those Who Cooperate with the Diocesan Bishop in His Pastoral Task

* Auxiliary and coadjutor bishops assist diocesan bishops in their apostolic tasks. They must be united with diocesan bishops in fraternal charity. Coadjutor bishops hold the right of succession, but auxiliary bishops do not.

* The diocesan curia, vicar general, episcopal vicars, and priest councils also assist diocesan bishops.

* Diocesan clergy form one family with the bishop as father. All priests “share and exercise with the bishop the one priesthood of Christ.”

* Bishops and their clergy should meet regularly to promote unity and mutual support.

* Parish priests share in their bishop's tasks of teaching, sanctifying, and governing at the parish level. They preach God's word, instruct the faithful, celebrate the Eucharist and other sacraments, and encourage Christian growth in individuals, families, and the parish as a whole.

* In appointing parish priests, bishops must above all consider the good of souls.

* All religious should “work zealously and diligently for the building up and growth of the whole Mystical Body of Christ and for the good of the particular churches.” They are part of their dioceses and must show respect, reverence, and obedience for their bishops. They must also cooperate in apostolic work as necessary.

Synods, Councils and Especially Episcopal Conferences

* Bishops should work together for the good of the universal Church and their particular Churches. They join together in synods, councils, and episcopal conferences to develop a “common program” to teach the faith and regulate ecclesiastical discipline.

* Episcopal conferences allow bishops from a particular country or region to come together to work for the good of all. Their decisions are subject to confirmation by the Holy See.

The Boundaries of Ecclesiastical Provinces and the Erection of Ecclesiastical Regions

* Boundaries of ecclesiastical provinces should be adjusted for the good of souls, and ecclesiastical regions must be established as necessary so that bishops may better work together.

Bishops Discharging an Inter-Diocesan Function

* Offices should be established to help groups of dioceses in a region or country.

* Special attention should be given to the “spiritual welfare of military personnel.”

General Directive

* General directories “concerning the care of souls” should be published to help bishops in their duties. Special directories dealing with special groups and with catechetical instructions must also be prepared.

The full text of Christus Dominus is available online at the Vatican website.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Fifth Sunday of Lent


Both today's First Reading from Jeremiah 31 and today's Psalm 51 focus on God's forgiveness.

In the First Reading, God promises His forgiveness as part of the New Covenant:

All, from least to greatest, shall know Me, says the LORD,
for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

In the psalm, the psalmist responds to God's offer of forgiveness, crying out for His mercy and compassion. The psalmist asks God to wipe away his guilt, to create a clean heart and a renewed spirit in him, to renew His presence in him, and to give him salvation. These words echo the cry of our hearts, which long for forgiveness and for intimate relationship with God.

How do we receive this forgiveness from God? As Catholics, we have access to God's wonderful gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

This Sacrament can sometimes seem intimidating and even scary, but we must remember, first and foremost, that there are no limits to God's mercy. He extends His hand and His love to sinners who turn to Him with repentant hearts, and He never turns people away from Him.

But we must also understand that we are sinners who often damage and sometimes even break our relationship with God. Catholic theology distinguishes venial sins (less serious sins that damage our relationship with God) and mortal sins (serious sins that actually break our relationship with God and deprive us of sanctifying grace).

God forgives venial sins in many different ways. Holy Communion burns away our venial sins in the fire of God's love. Our prayers of repentance obtain forgiveness for venial sin as do sacramentals like holy water, and of course, we are always invited to confess our venial sins in sacramental confession to receive that special outpouring of grace that God gives through the sacrament. Our Lord is always waiting for us to come to Him for forgiveness so that our relationship with Him may be mended and strengthened.

For mortal sins, which break our relationship with God, the process of reconciliation typically requires sacramental confession. Catholics are required to confess all of their mortal sins in kind and in number during sacramental confession. When we receive absolution during the sacrament, we can be certain that, if we are repentant and have completely confessed our mortal sins, God has indeed forgiven us, wrapped us in His loving arms, and poured His grace and Himself into our souls.

God is waiting for us. He longs for us to come to Him with repentant hearts and confess our sins. He is not waiting to punish us but to forgive us. Lent is the perfect time to run into God's loving arms. God is waiting to pour out His grace upon us through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Be sure to schedule a time to meet Him there with an open and contrite heart to receive His forgiveness, His grace, and His great love.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Unitatis Redintegratio

Modern Catholics often hear the word “ecumenism,” and most understand that it refers to efforts to unite the various Christian denominations. In Unitatis Redintegratio or Decree on Ecumenism, the Vatican II Fathers lay out the principles, limits, methods, and goal of ecumenism.

Here are some of the topics and ideas you'll find in Unitatis Redintegratio.


* Christ founded only one Church. The division that exists in Christianity is a scandal that damages the spread of the Gospel and stands in opposition to the will of Christ.

* The ecumenical movement, which is guided by the Holy Spirit, seeks the “restoration of unity among all Christians” that all may be fully in communion with the visible and universal Church of Christ.

Catholic Principles on Ecumenism

* Jesus prayed for the unity of His Church. He also instituted the Eucharist, which both signifies that unity and brings it about.

* The Holy Spirit is the “principle of the Church's unity,” for He brings about communion between Christ and the faithful and among the faithful themselves.

* Apostolic succession assures the unity of the Church in faith, worship, and governance.

* The goal of ecumenism is full communion of all Christians in the Catholic Church, for the Church of Christ subsists [i.e., stands firm] in the Catholic Church.

* Those born into Christian communities that are separated from the Catholic Church are not guilty of the sin of separation. In fact, if they are baptized, they are in “some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church” and are brothers and sisters of Catholic Christians.

* Elements of Catholicism “can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church.” These elements belong to the Church by right and necessarily lead back to the Church.

* The means of salvation pour from Christ through the Catholic Church to other Christian communities, but the Catholic Church with its apostolic succession contains the fullness of the Christian faith and “all the blessings of the New Covenant.”

* The Catholic faithful should take an active role in ecumenism.

* The following five “initiatives and activities” are essential to the ecumenical movement: 1. avoiding unfair and untrue judgments about separated communities; 2. dialogue between the Catholic Church and separated communities; 3. cooperation in service for the “good of humanity”; 4. common prayer; and 5. self-renewal.

* While it is very important to reach out to other Christians, Catholics must first and primarily focus on self-renewal and living the fullness of faith and love so that they may show forth the “radiance of the Church's face.”

* Catholics should recognize and appreciate the gifts that God has given to separated Christian communities but also strive for true unity in Christianity.

The Practice of Ecumenism

* The practice of ecumenism must begin with a renewal of the Church and “an increase of fidelity to her own calling.”

* Interior conversion is a key element of ecumenism. Catholics must grow in love, holiness, prayer, repentance, humility, service, and generosity under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This interior conversion is the “soul of the whole ecumenical movement” and is called “spiritual ecumenism.”

* Ecumenical prayer services are “a very effective means of petitioning for the grace of unity.” Common worship [i.e., sharing in the Eucharist], however, is generally forbidden except in certain cases.

* Catholics with a firm understanding of the Catholic faith ought to study the doctrines and practices of the separated Christian communities that they may better engage in dialogue with them.

* The Catholic faith must always be presented clearly and entirely and explained profoundly and precisely that others may understand. The fullness of the faith must never be watered down even as members of various Christian communities strive together for “a deeper realization and a clearer expression of the unfathomable riches of Christ.”

* One of the best means of ecumenism is “cooperation in social matters”; this allows all Christians to work together for the common good and better understand each other through their love in action.

The Special Position of the Eastern Churches

* The Eastern Churches, even those separated from Apostolic See, maintain a valid priesthood, the true Eucharist, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a rich treasury of liturgical and spiritual traditions.

* Catholics should study the history and spiritual riches of the Eastern Churches as they seek full unity with those that are separated.

* The diversity of the Eastern Churches is beautiful and must be preserved. These Churches should “have the power to govern themselves according to their own disciplines.”

* Theological variations in the Eastern Churches are complementary rather than contradictory and contribute to a deeper, richer understanding of Divine Revelation.

* The Catholic Church must work diligently to achieve unity with the separated Eastern Churches and ought to “impose no burden beyond what is indispensable” upon those entering into full communion with the Catholic Church.

The Separated Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the West

* There is a close relationship between the Catholic Church and the separated Christian communities of the West. These communities, however, “differ considerably” from Catholic Church and among themselves.

* The “very weighty differences” between the Catholic Church and other Christian communities include “historical, social, psychological, and cultural” differences as well as significant differences in the interpretation of Divine Revelation, liturgy, and doctrine.

* The Catholic Church recognizes the positive characters of the separated communities, especially their Christocentric nature, love of Holy Scripture, and Baptism.

* Baptism is the first step toward fullness of unity. The separated communities are strengthened by Baptism, by the Word of God, by prayer, by their active faith, and by their strong moral sense. They do not, however, have the true Eucharist or a valid priesthood.

* The Catholic Church must enter into an “ecumenical dialogue” with the separated Christian communities, but it must remain “fully and sincerely Catholic” and loyal to the truth and the fullness of the faith.

* The goal of the ecumenical movement, namely, the “reconciliation of all Christians into the unity of the one and only Church of Christ,” is ultimately God's work. We cooperate through our prayer, hope, and ecumenical activities.

The full text of Unitatis Redintegratio is available at the Vatican website.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Fourth Sunday of Lent

Grace, Faith, and Works

Catholics and Protestants often debate about how God saves human beings. Are they saved by faith and works, as Catholics argue? Or are they saved by faith alone, as Protestants insist?

Today's second reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians helps us understand the relationship between faith, works, salvation, and most importantly, God's grace. St. Paul first reminds us about what God has done for us and why He has done it.

God, who is rich in mercy,
because of the great love He had for us,
even when we were dead in our transgressions,
brought us to life with Christ -by grace you have been saved-,
raised us up with Him,
and seated us with Him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,
that in the ages to come
He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace
in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 

God saves us because He loves us. We were dead in sin. He brings us to life with Christ Jesus and raises us up to share in His own divine life that He might pour out His grace and love upon us.

Notice one line in particular: by grace you have been saved. This is key. We are not saved by our own efforts but by God's free gift of grace. At Baptism, God freely gives us a share in His divine life. He pours His saving, sanctifying grace into our souls, wipes away sin, makes us His children, and comes to dwell within us. We do nothing at all to merit this grace. Christ has merited it for us by His Passion, death, and Resurrection. 

So where do faith and works come in? Listen to what Paul says next.

For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;
it is not from works, so no one may boast.
For we are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works
that God has prepared in advance,
that we should live in them.


He begins by repeating that we have been saved by grace, but this time he adds through faith. Faith is our response to God's grace. We respond to God's free gift of salvation by believing in Him and not just with an intellectual belief but with a faith that is self-giving. God gives Himself to us when He comes to dwell in our souls. Through faith, we give ourselves back to Him fully. Notice that Paul reminds us that even this faith doesn't arise from us. God gives it to us as a gift.

Paul further warns us that we must not boast because our salvation is not earned by our works. He goes on to say, however, that we have been created to do the good works that God has prepared for us. We need to live in these good works, these works of love, these works that spring from our loving, self-giving faith in God that spills over into love for our neighbor. Our works, like our faith, are our response to God's gift of salvation.

To sum up, we are saved by grace, by God's free gift to us. But we have to accept this grace, and there's where both faith and works come in. We need to reach out and grasp God's gift of salvation, and we do that by believing in God with a deep, self-giving faith and by living out that faith in works of love for God and neighbor.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Orientalium Ecclesiarum

Many Catholics in the United States are not even aware that there are several distinct “rites” within the Catholic Church. The Roman or Western rite is what most people think of when they consider Catholicism, but there are also Eastern rites, which are in full communion with the Church of Rome but have their own traditions and liturgical practices. The Vatican II Fathers addressed Eastern rite Catholics in Orientalium Ecclesiarum or Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, assuring them of their equality in the Church and of the value and richness of their traditions.

Here's a sampling of the ideas and topics you'll find in Orientalium Ecclesiarum.


* The Eastern rite churches possess valuable liturgical rites, Christian disciplines, and ecclesiastical traditions that are part of the “divinely revealed, undivided heritage of the Universal Church.”

The Particular Churches or Rites

* A rich variety exists in the unity of the Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. The various rites within the Church exist in communion and are united in the Holy Spirit.

* The Eastern and Western rites are equal in rank, share the “same rights and obligations,” and are “under the direction of the Roman Pontiff.”

* Leaders in all rites must work together in unity with the Apostolic See to spread the Gospel.

Preservation of the Spiritual Heritage of the Eastern Churches

* The heritage of the Eastern Churches belongs to the whole Church of Christ and must be appreciated for its ancient depth and richness.

* The Eastern Churches “have the right and duty to govern themselves according to their own special disciplines.”

* Eastern liturgies and traditions must be preserved and fostered. Eastern rite Catholics should grow in knowledge of and love for their traditions. Other Catholics should learn about those Eastern traditions.

The Eastern Patriarchs

* Patriarchs are Eastern rite bishops who have jurisdiction over the clergy and faithful in a particular territory. They are subject to the pope but equal to each other.

* The honors, privileges, and rights of patriarchs must be protected and fostered in the Eastern Church.

Sacramental Discipline

* The council “confirms and approves” the sacramental rituals of the Eastern Church.

* Eastern rite priests may confer the sacrament of Confirmation.

* The faithful of all rites are obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days. Saturday night Mass also fulfills the Sunday obligation. The faithful are encouraged to receive Holy Communion frequently.

* Priests of any rite may hear the confessions of the faithful of any rite in the territories in which they have such faculties.

Divine Worship

* Universal feast days are set by the Apostolic See, but individual churches may set their own feast days.

* Easter should be celebrated by all Catholics on the same day.

* The faithful have the right to follow their own rite.

* Each rite should follow its own discipline for the Divine Office, and the faithful are encouraged to participate as much as possible.

* Eastern patriarchs and synods may regulate liturgical languages in their own territories.

Relations with the Brethren of the Separated Churches

* All Catholics must pray for the unity of all Christians.

* Christians of non-Catholic Eastern Churches may enter Eastern rite Catholic Churches through a “simple profession of the Catholic faith.”

* In some circumstances, Catholic and non-Catholic Eastern Churches may share in the sacraments, especially when the “need of salvation and the spiritual good of souls” are “prime considerations.”


* All Catholics, both Eastern and Western, must value the unity they possess and pray for the unity of all Christians.

The full text of Orientalium Ecclesiarum is available on the Vatican website.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Third Sunday of Lent

The Sabbath

In today's First Reading, we listen again to the Ten Commandments, the heart of the Jewish Law and of Christian morality. The third commandment (and second longest) instructs us to “Remember to keep holy the sabbath.”

During the sabbath, which lasted from sundown on Friday until three stars appeared in the sky on Saturday night, the Israelites and aliens living in the community were to abstain from work, for the Sabbath commemorated God's day of rest after the six days of creation. The sabbath, however, was more than just a day of rest; it was a sign of the covenant God had made with Adam and Eve at creation, a sign of the family bond of self-giving love that had been established between God and His human children.

As Dr. Scott Hahn points out in A Father Who Keeps His Promises,“[God] made the sabbath to be the sign of covenant...As such, the seventh day doesn't signify God's exhaustion but rather His exuberance – in calling His children to the end for which He made us: to rest in our Father's blessing and holiness, now and for all eternity” (49).

The sabbath, as Dr. Hahn explains, allowed the Israelites to rest from their constant work and to take time for God, time to rest in Him, to worship Him, to focus on Him, and to accept His blessings and relish them. God knew His people very well. He knew that they would get distracted and turn their attention and love to things other than Him. He wanted to remind them frequently of the covenant they had made with Him and to help them to keep it. That's why He commanded, “Remember to keep holy the sabbath.”

How does this commandment apply to us today when we celebrate Sunday instead of the Jewish sabbath?

The Catechism explains that Sunday, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead, “symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ's Resurrection” and “fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces man's eternal rest in God” (#2174, 2175).

Sunday is still a day to focus on God and on the New Covenant He established with us through Jesus Christ. Therefore, Catholics are obliged to attend Mass on Sundays (or Saturday evening). The Catechism makes this requirement very clear: “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (#2181).

Why is Mass attendance so important? The Catechism answers: “Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. Together they testify to God's holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” (#2182).

Further, although we are no longer required to abstain from all work on Sundays, we must take care to make Sunday a day of rest and leisure as much as possible

Again, the Catechism explains, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health” (#2185).

In other words, although we must strive to focus on God throughout the week and to make Him the center of our lives every day, on Sundays (the Christian sabbath) God gives us the opportunity to set aside some special time to grow closer to Him in intimate prayer and self-giving love.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Lumen Gentium - Part 3

Lumen Gentium ends with a loving tribute to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The final chapter, which is split into five sections, explains Mary's role in salvation history and in the Church. In rich and beautiful language, the Vatican II Fathers introduce us to the Mother of Christ, the Mother who is our mother also, the Mother who loves us with a love second only to Christ's love, the Mother who helps her Son save us and who prays for us that we may one day join her in Heaven.

Here's a sampling of the topics and ideas you'll find in Chapter VIII of Lumen Gentium.

I. Introduction

* The faithful must honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is truly the Mother of God.

* Mary was redeemed by Jesus and shares a “close and indissoluble” bond with Him. She is also the daughter of God the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit.

* The Blessed Virgin is closely united with the members of the Church; she is, indeed, their mother as well as a “wholly unique member of the Church.” Her children honor her with love and devotion and look to her as their “model in faith and charity.”

* Mary “occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ and also closest to us.”

II. The Function of the Blessed Virgin in the Plan of Salvation

* The Blessed Virgin was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. She appears in the Protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 as the woman who would participate in the ultimate victory over the serpent. She is prophesied in Isaiah 7:14 as the virgin who will conceive and bear a Son. She is both a member of the “poor and humble of the Lord” and the “exalted Daughter of Sion.”

* Mary gave her consent to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. She had been prepared beforehand through her Immaculate Conception. Free from sin and entirely holy, Mary cooperated freely and gave herself wholly to the plan of God and the “person and work of her Son.”

* Mary's cooperation with Jesus in the salvation of humanity continued throughout His life and reached its climax at the foot of the cross where Mary consented to the sacrifice of her Son and suffered in union with Him.

* At the end of her earthly life, Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven where she reigns as Queen beside her Son.

III. The Blessed Virgin and the Church

* Mary is the mother of the faithful in the order of grace. Her motherhood and mediation flow from and are subordinate to the one mediation of Christ.

* As Advocate and Mediatrix, the Blessed Virgin always brings the faithful closer to Christ and His saving sacrifice.

* The Church looks to Mary as the prime example of motherhood and virginity and seeks to imitate her in faith, love, virtue, holiness, and surrender to God.

IV. The Cult of the Blessed Virgin in the Church

* Mary is exalted above all other humans and even above the angels; she is “second only to her Son, as the most holy mother of God who was involved in the mysteries of Christ.”

* From the Church's earliest days, the faithful have prayed to Mary for her help and protection.

* Mary is venerated by the Church, not worshiped.

* Honoring Mary helps the faithful love and glorify Jesus and keep the commandments.

* The faithful must honor Mary with true devotion that “proceeds from true faith” and leads to “filial love” and imitation of Mary's virtues.

V. Mary, Sign of True Hope and Comfort for the Pilgrim People of God

* The Blessed Virgin is both the “image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come.” She stands as “a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim people of God.”

* Mary intercedes for the unity of all humankind that they may be “one People of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity.”

The full text of Lumen Gentium is available online at the Vatican website.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Second Sunday of Lent

Fathers and Sons

Today's readings explore the relationships between fathers and sons: human fathers and sons; the divine Father and Son; and especially God the Father and His human children.

First Reading – Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18

Abraham loves his son Isaac, but he loves God even more. When God asks Abraham to offer Isaac as a holocaust to Him, Abraham obeys. He takes Isaac to the place of sacrifice, builds an altar, picks up a knife, and goes so far as to reach out to slay his son before God stops him.

Even in the midst of what must be horrible pain and sorrow, Abraham trusts God. As Abraham and Isaac are walking up the mountain at Moriah, Isaac asks Abraham, “Father...where is the sheep for the holocaust?” “Son,” Abraham answers, “God Himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.” Abraham has hope, hope that God will intervene before he actually has to kill his beloved boy, hope that God will provide an alternative sacrifice, hope, as the Letter to the Hebrews suggests, that God will even raise his son from the dead if necessary (see Hebrews 11:17-20).

In any case, as much as Abraham loves his son, Isaac, he knows that he must choose God's way, whatever that may be, and trust that God will make the situation turn out right in the end, which He does.

May saints and scholars have identified Abraham and Isaac as types or symbols of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Our divine Father sacrificed His own Son for us. He may have prevented Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, He did not stop Himself. He gave His own Son, Whom He loves more than we can imagine, that through the Son's suffering, death, and resurrection, we might also become the Father's beloved children.

Second Reading – Romans 8:31b-34

This reading reminds us again that God did not spare His own Son but handed Him over for all of us. Imagine the Father's pain when Jesus was being beaten and hung on the cross. He knew His divine plan. He knew His Son would rise again. Nevertheless, He loved His Son so much that to see Him suffer and die must have caused the Father's heart to break.

But the Father loves us, too, and He wants us with Him in heaven forever, so He gave His only Son that we might have eternal life (John 3:16). We are also His beloved children, sons in the Son, and His beloved Firstborn Son now sits at His right hand, interceding for us that we may have all we need in this life and in eternal life.

Gospel – Mark 9:2-10

In today's Gospel, we hear the Father as He verbally expresses His love for His Son, Jesus Christ, God-made-Man. Jesus is transfigured on the mountain top, and His clothes shine dazzlingly white. Moses and Elijah appear and speak with Jesus. Peter, James, and John are terrified. Then a cloud passes over, not just any cloud but God's glory cloud, the shekinah. A voice booms out: “This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him.”

This is the second time the Father has spoken these words. He did so first at Jesus' baptism, but He wants to make sure the disciples get the point. They must hear and know the love of the Father for the Son. They must know Who Jesus really is, the divine Son of the divine Father, Who will make them sons of their heavenly Father and heirs to the kingdom of Heaven.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II - Lumen Gentium - Part 2

The second section of Lumen Gentium (Chapters IV through VII) focuses on the role of the laity in the Catholic Church, the call to holiness that extends throughout the entire Church, religious life, and the Church as a pilgrim in the world.

Here's a sampling of the topics and ideas you'll find in these four chapters of Lumen Gentium.

Chapter IV: The Laity

* The laity contribute in a special way to the welfare and mission of the Church. They are fully members of the body of Christ and share, in their own way, in the priesthood, prophetic office, and kingship of Christ.

* Lay people “seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will.” By living Christian lives in the world, they help to sanctify the world and consecrate the world to God.

* All members of the Church share a common dignity, a common grace, and a common call to sanctity. All members of the Church are truly equal in dignity and are united in the Holy Spirit, but they have different roles and ministries according to the gifts the Spirit has given them.

* The laity “make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the salt of the earth.” In other words, the laity spread the Church throughout the entire world and cooperate in the divine plan of salvation.

* Lay people share in the priesthood of Christ, into which they were incorporated at baptism. They laity perform their priestly role by offering their entire lives to God as a spiritual sacrifice and “worshiping everywhere by their holy actions.”

* As witnesses to Christ, the laity share in Christ's prophetic office. By living lives of faith in the midst of the world, they offer testimony to Christ in word and action and thereby help to evangelize everyone around them.

* Christian families especially proclaim the love of God to the world.

* By living holy lives and exercising self-control, the lay faithful participate in Christ's kingship and seek to spread His Kingdom throughout the world.

* The laity must work together to fill the world with the spirit of Christ and promote justice, unity, and peace. They ought to permeate “the culture and all human works with moral value.”

* In all their temporal duties, the laity should be “guided by Christian conscience.”

* The relationship between laity and clergy must be steeped in love. The lay faithful should obey their pastors and pray for them. The clergy should guide the laity with paternal love and encourage them to progress in sanctity, take active roles in the Church, and spread their Christian faith throughout the world.

Chapter V: The Call to Holiness

* The Church is holy because she is joined to Christ and has received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

* All Christians “in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered in earthly society.” By using the strength Christ gives them, the faithful follow God's will in all things, devoting themselves to God's glory and to serving their neighbors.

* Bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, and lay ministers strive for holiness as they perform their duties in the Church.

* Christian families offer the world an example of “unfailing and generous love” as they witness to the “fruitfulness of mother Church.”

* The Church recognizes the dignity of human work. By their work, the faithful can perfect themselves, serve their neighbors, and contribute to the advance of human society. Workers who imitate Christ the worker will find that their daily work can help them them achieve sanctity and promote the mission of the Church.

* The suffering are united to Christ in a special way.

* Christians have the responsibility to grow in love. God has poured His love into their hearts and given them the gift of love for Himself and for their neighbors. Christians cultivate this gift of love by listening to the word of God, following His will, receiving the sacraments, assisting in the liturgy, and performing acts of prayer, self-denial, virtue, and service. True disciples of Christ are marked by love, which “governs, gives meaning to, and perfects all the means of sanctification.”

* The faithful must take up their crosses and follow Christ even in the midst of persecution.

Chapter VI: Religious

* The religious life is both a call and a gift from God. Religious offer themselves completely to God and vow to faithfully practice the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience.

* Religious enjoy many special benefits and graces that help them work toward holiness as they contribute to the Church's mission of salvation.

* The evangelical counsels are “means to and instruments of love” that “unite those who practice them to the Church and her mystery in a special way.”

* Religious act as inspiring signs of eternal life, for they seek to imitate Christ as closely as possible and to transcend earthly life to focus the Kingdom of Heaven.

* Christ shows Himself through His faithful who have embraced religious life. These religious, in turn, seek to embrace the evangelical counsels in order to purify their hearts, grow in a life of love, and conform more closely to Christ.

Chapter VII: The Pilgrim Church

* The Church will receive perfection only in Heaven, but she is already “the universal sacrament of salvation” and is “endowed already with a sanctity that is real though imperfect.”

* The Church is the family of God and the communion of saints. She is made up of the faithful who are still pilgrims on earth; the saints in Heaven; and the souls being purified in Purgatory. All of these, in living communion, share the same love in Christ and exchange prayers and spiritual goods.

* The saints intercede for their brothers and sisters on earth, offer examples of true Christian living, and show forth the presence of God. The saints point to Jesus, witness to His love, and seek to help others towards unity with Him. Prayer to the saints does not diminish worship of God but enriches it.

* “When...we celebrate the eucharistic sacrifice we are most closely united to the worship of the heavenly Church...” The Mass is a little bit of Heaven on earth.

The full text of Lumen Gentium is available online at the Vatican website.