Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Pentecost

A Prayer

Holy Spirit, You came upon the disciples with the sound of a strong, driving wind; blow through my life and sweep away everything that hinders me from growing closer to God.

Holy Spirit, You appeared as tongues of fire; inflame my heart with love.

Holy Spirit, a tongue of fire rested on each disciple, uniting them with You and with each other; help me always to remain in full communion with the Body of Christ.

Holy Spirit, through You the disciples had the power to speak in different tongues; open my lips to proclaim the Gospel, and give me the insight and creativity to present the Christian message in the way my hearers will best understand.

Holy Spirit, You give Christians the power to say, “Jesus is Lord”; help me to open my mind and heart that Jesus may always be Lord of my life.

Holy Spirit, You give each person gifts to build up the Body of Christ; inspire me that I may recognize my gifts and use them in service of God and neighbor.

Holy Spirit, when You enter someone's heart, You make Your fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control blossom there; may I always embrace these fruits and live them in the Kingdom of God.

Holy Spirit, You are the breath of God; breathe in me that I may have the strength and courage to accept and fulfill God's plan for me life.

Holy Spirit, You are the Advocate; guide and guard my heart and help me to stay on the right path, the path straight to God.

Holy Spirit, You are the Spirit of truth; teach me the fullness of truth.

Holy Spirit, You testify to the Father and the Son; fill my mind and heart with Your testimony that I, too, may testify to the Father and the Son and to You.

Holy Spirit, Your glorify the Father and the Son, may I, too, glorify them with my words and with my life.

Holy Spirit, saints and scholars have called You the Love that flows back and forth between the Father and the Son; pour this love into my heart that it may flow through me to all people.

Holy Spirit, Spirit of life and love, Spirit of wisdom and understanding, Spirit of reverence and joy, Spirit of the living God, grant me life, love, wisdom, understanding, reverence, joy, and all of Your wonderful gifts.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Apostolicam Actuositatem – Part 2

In the second half of Apostolicam Actuositatem, the Vatican II Fathers focused on the various forms of the lay apostolate and on the order and training necessary for these important activities.

Here are a few of the topics and ideas you'll find in the second half of Apostolicam Actuositatem.

Chapter IV – The Different Forms of the Apostolate

Individual Apostolate

* Every lay person is obliged to practice the lay apostolate at all times and in all places.

* In the practice of the individual apostolate, the lay person witnesses to Christ with his or her whole life; manifests faith, hope, and charity; proclaims Christ; professes, explains, and spreads His teaching; worships and prays publicly; accepts the difficulties of life in imitation of Christ; and governs his or her behavior by Christian values in all circumstances.

* Through these activities, individual lay people cooperate with God and “contribute to the salvation of the entire world.”

Individual Apostolate in Certain Circumstances

* In places where clergymen are curtailed in the practices of their ministry, lay people take a special role in teaching their fellow Christians and helping to care for souls.

* Where Christians are “few and scattered,” lay people have a special responsibility to exercise their apostolate. They should try to gather as much as possible for mutual support and friendship.

Group Apostolate

* The opportunities for group apostolate are numerous, and such activities are necessary, for humans are “social by nature.” The group apostolate shows forth the “communion and unity of the Church in Christ.”

* Lay people must practice their aposotolate in “a spirit of concord” as they work in their families, parishes, and dioceses and wherever they form “free associations” among themselves.

* The group apostolate allows for better support, training, and organization for apostolic activities, and can produce a “much richer harvest.”

Various Types of Group Apostolate

* Apostolic organizations for lay people vary greatly according to their goals and methods. Some practice a general apostolate while others focus on specific areas like evangelization, charitable works, or “permeation of the temporal order by the Christian spirit.”

* Organizations that seek to promote unity between Christian faith and everyday life are of great importance.

* International organizations of lay people should be promoted.

* Laity may establish and direct their own organizations as long as they maintain the “necessary link with ecclesiastical authority.”

Catholic Action

* Catholic Action refers to a type of lay apostolate that 1. has the goals of evangelization and sanctification of all people, the formation of the Christian conscience, and the spread of the Gospel spirit throughout the world; and 2. is directed by lay people acting in unison under the guidance of the hierarchy. 

* Catholic Action is especially commended by the bishops.

Special Commendation

* The hierarchy may choose to specially commend lay organizations that meet particular needs.

* Lay people who offer their professional service to the apostolate are to be specially respected and praised.

Chapter V – The Order to Be Observed

* The lay apostolate “must be set in its true place within the apostolate of the whole Church.” Lay people collaborate among themselves and unite with other members of the Church to fully and efficiently practice the aposolate. The hierarchy guides the entire activity.

Relations with the Hierarchy

* The hierarchy recognizes the importance of the lay apostolate, provides it with “principles and spiritual assistance,” directs it for the “common good of the Church,” and ensures that “doctrine and order are safegaurded.”

* All lay organizations must be approved by ecclesiastical authority if they are to claim the name “Catholic.”

* Some lay organizations receive a special mandate to work in close conjunction with apostolic functions of the hierarchy.

* Those lay people who perform some of the duties of pastors are “fully subject to superior ecclesiastical control” in these activities.

* The hierarchy must especially teach and interpret the moral principles and make sure that the lay apostolate is in full conformity with these principles so as to safeguard and promote the “values of the supernatural order.”

Relations with the Clergy and Religious

* The laity plays an important part in the Church's apostolate, and clergy and religious work with the laity as siblings.

* Good relations and constant dialogue between the laity and the clergy are necessary.

* Priests provide lay people with spiritual guidance, wise advice, and encouragement.

* Religious assist both priests and lay people according to the “spirit and rules of their institute.”

Special Councils

* If possible, dioceses should set up special councils to assist the laity in their work and to promote cooperation between clergy and laity.

* The Holy See will have a special secretariat to serve and promote the lay apostolate.

Cooperation with Other Christians and Non-Christians

* Catholics often cooperate with other Christians and even non-Christians especially in charitable activities.

* In such circumstances, lay Catholics must always bear witness to Christ.

Chapter VI – Training for the Apostolate

The Need for Training

* Lay people's training must be “many-sided and complete” if their apostolate is to be effective. Lay people should make “continuous spiritual and doctrinal progress.”

Principles of Training

* Training should be particularly geared to the laity and their place in the secular world.

* Lay education should emphasize the mission of the Church, the life of faith, and the practice of love. Lay people should receive spiritual formation and a “solid grounding in doctrine,” including theology, philosophy, and ethics. Practical and technical training should also be given.

* Education is a continuous process that should guide lay Catholics to live their faith in all areas of their lives and to “enter actively into the service of the Church.”

* This training helps lay people take their places as living witnesses to Christ and the Church in the temporal order.

Those Who Train Others for the Apostolate

* Training should start early in childhood. Parents are the first to prepare children for their apostolate within the family, which is “a kind of apprenticeship to the apostolate.”

* Children should participate early on in their parishes, and schools must foster “a Catholic outlook and apostolic action” in their students.

* Lay associations also assist in the education of their fellow lay people.

* Lay people must take responsibility for their own education as they grow older. They will become more aware of their talents and charisms and learn how to use them best in service to Christ and the Church.

Fields Calling for Specialized Training

* Those taking part in activities of evangelization and sanctification should receive careful formation in Catholic doctrine and learn how to confront materialism in the world.

* Those specially involved in the “Christian renewal of the temporal order” must learn “the true meaning and value of temporal goods” as well as the right uses for those goods. They should be aware of Catholic social teaching and be able to apply its principles in specific cases.

* Those participating in charitable works should learn “how to sympathize with their brothers, and help them generously when in need.”

Aids to Training

* Lay people can take advantage of the many aids to training including books, periodicals, sessions, recollections, congresses, retreats, meetings, and conferences.

* Centers for higher learning and for research should be established.


* The Council exhorts lay people to “give a willing, noble and enthusiastic response to the voice of Christ,” Who calls them to participate in the apostolate of the Church and unite ever more intimately with Him.

* Christ sends the laity into every place throughout the world that they may share in His work.

The full text of Apostolicam Actuositatem is available online at the Vatican website.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Ascension of the Lord

Some Thoughts on the Ascension

1. St. Luke's account of the Ascension in Acts 1:6-10 begins with the disciples gathering together. The first community of Christians assembled. They already recognized the value of fellowship in the Body of Christ.

2. The little group had a question for Jesus Who was there with them. “Lord,” they asked, “are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” First, the question came from the whole group; they all wanted to know. Second, the Greek verb for “asked” here is ērōtōn. It is in the imperfect tense, which in Greek, refers to an action in progress. In other words, the disciples' question was not a one-time deal; they probably asked it repeatedly over time. The verb ērōtōn also implies a certain familiarity between those asking and the one being asked. The disciples were in a loving relationship with the risen Jesus. They knew they could ask Him anything.

3. Let's look more closely as the disciples' question: “Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were still thinking of the kingdom in an earthly, even political, way. They were hoping, perhaps, that Israel, raised up by the power of the risen Lord, would become a free and dominating force in the world, a ruling kingdom with political power. Their vision was still too narrow to allow them to see what Jesus was really doing or to perceive the real dimensions of the kingdom of God. Further, they wanted to know God's plan right that minute. They were not humbly content to wait for the mystery to be revealed on God's time.

4. Jesus didn't scold the disciples. He simply reminded them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by His own authority.” Think for a moment about your own life. Does Jesus ever say these words to you in the depths of your heart?

5. Jesus continued with a promise: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you...” The Greek word for “power” here, dunamin, has connotations of power in action; the power of God; both physical and moral energy; and even miraculous power. This was no small gift. It would change the disciples' lives.

6. Further, this power would lead the disciples to witness to Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and “to the ends of the earth.” The Word of God would spread throughout the entire world by the power of God acting in Jesus' followers. The Greek word for “witnesses” here is martures, and indeed, some of those witnesses of Jesus did become martyrs for Jesus when they gave their lives for their faith.

7. As the disciples looked on, Jesus ascended into Heaven and was received by a cloud. This cloud, the shekinah, indicated the presence and glory of God. Jesus was taken not into some remote other world but into the presence and glory of His Father.

8. Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week says of the Ascension, “...the disciples do not feel abandoned. They do not consider Jesus to have disappeared far away into an inaccessible heaven. They are obviously convinced of a new presence of Jesus...He is now present to them in a new and powerful way...they know that He is now permanently among them, in the way that only God can be close to us.”

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Apostolicam Actuositatem – Part 1

The apostolate of Catholic laity is constantly expanding and deepening as lay Catholics take on more and more responsibility for spreading the word of God, assisting in their parishes, and bringing their Christian faith into their secular communities. Recognizing the necessity of the lay apostolate, the Vatican II Fathers wrote Apostolicam Actuositatem, or the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, to encourage and guide lay people in their Christian service.

Here are a few of the topics and ideas you'll find in the first three chapters of Apostolicam Actuositatem.


* The lay apostolate is necessary in the Church's mission. It derives from the Christian vocation of every lay person and is guided by the Holy Spirit.

* This lay apostolate has expanded greatly in recent years, and lay people can often bring the Christian message into areas of the temporal sphere that would otherwise not receive it.

Chapter I – The Vocation of Lay People to the Apostolate

Participation of Laity in the Church's Mission

* The Church's mission is to spread Christ's kingdom all over the earth, lead all people to salvation, and bring the entire world into relationship with Jesus. All activities that forward this mission fall under the title “apostolate.”

* All members of the Church must participate in the apostolate according to their state of life and abilities. All members function in the unity of the Body of Christ, each performing their own roles.

* Lay people have a very important part in the apostolate. They work to evangelize and sanctify the world and “endeavor to have the Gospel spirit permeate and improve the temporal order” as they give witness to Christ. They are “a leaven in the world.”

Foundations of the Lay Apostolate

* The lay apostolate is founded first and foremost on union with Christ. Lay people share in their own way in Christ's kingship, priesthood, and prophetic office.

* Their apostolate flows from the sacraments, from the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, and from the power of the Holy Spirit.

* The Holy Spirit gives lay people charisms that they use to help build up the whole Church. All spiritual gifts are to be used for the good of all people and for the “development of the Church.” They must be exercised in the freedom of the Spirit and in communion with the whole Church.

The Spirituality of Lay People

* Spiritual life is founded on “living union with Christ.”

* Christian spirituality must permeate all of life. In this way, Christians will grow closer to God through their daily duties.

* The spiritual life grows through meditation on God's Word, seeking God's will, and seeing God in all aspects of life by the light of faith.

* Lay people are on a pilgrimage through life and are “hidden with Christ in God.” “Generously they exert all their energies in extending God's kingdom, in making the Christian spirit a vital energizing force in the temporal sphere.”

* Christian love expressed through actions enhances the good of all people and attracts them to Christ.

* Jesus must be first in the life of all Christians, who seek to live out His teachings and “please God rather than men.”

* Lay people should use their talents and gifts to practice the apostolate in their state of life.

* The Blessed Virgin Mary is a perfect model for the lay apostolate in the temporal order

Chapter II – Objectives

* The lay apostolate seeks to “bring men the message and grace of Christ” and to “permeate and improve the whole range of the temporal.”

* Lay people must consistently follow their Christian conscience in all situations of life.

The Apostolate of Evangelization and Sanctification

* Lay people announce the Christian message to the world in word and action. They witness to Christ through the actions of their Christian lives and also by their words of truth.

* Lay people are also called to help combat the errors that have taken root in the world.

The Renewal of the Temporal Order

* The temporal order and all its dimensions have their own value, given to them by God. Lay people work to renew the temporal order so that it matches God's design.

* The temporal order has been corrupted by human beings and even turned into an idol at times. Therefore, it must be renewed and immersed wholly in Christ.

* Lay people who live in the world seek to guide the world by the values of Christ and “direct it towards God through Christ.”

Charitable Works and Social Aid

* Charity is the “origin and driving force” of all aspects of the apostolate, but particular works of charity are special signs of Christ's “messianic mission.”

* Love is a mark of Christian discipleship, for the Incarnate Christ has united all people into one single family.

* Love is also the “characteristic mark” of the Church, which “claims charitable works as its own mission and right.”

* Charity must reach all around the world to meet the needs of all people.

* Christians should practice charitable works with justice and pure intentions and with special consideration for the dignity of those they are helping.

Chapter III – The Various Fields of the Apostolate

* Lay people practice their apostolate “both in the Church and in the world.”

* Women are urged to participate actively in the lay apostolate.

Church Communities

* Lay people “have an active part of their own in the life and action of the Church.” Their action is necessary.

* The liturgy especially nourishes lay people and strengthens them to participate in the life of the Church, bringing others to the Church, spreading the Word of God, teaching the faith, assisting in the care of souls, and administering the Church's goods.

* The laity work in close cooperation with their pastors, with each other, with the diocese, and with the whole Church. They seek to develop a universal outlook and “concern for the needs of the People of God scattered throughout the world.”

The Family

* Married life is the “beginning and foundation of human society.”

* Christian married couples pass on the faith to their children through word and example. They also defend the rights and dignity of the family in the world.

* With their children, they form a domestic Church that strives to worship God and spread justice, charity, and hospitality.

* The family practices a special apostolate in the world, and it witnesses in a special way to Christ.

Young People

* Young people have a greater influence than ever before in society, but sometimes this can prove troublesome and even detrimental for them.

* Young people are called to participate actively in the apostolate, especially by witnessing their Christian faith to other youth and animating their environments with the spirit of Christ.

* Adults should dialogue with young people, lead them by example, and offer “sound advice and practical help.” Young people in turn must treat their elders with respect and appreciate traditions even as they enjoy what is new and fresh.

Apostolate of Like Towards Like

* Lay people should “infuse the Christian spirit into the mentality and behavior, laws and structures of the community” in which they live. They witness to the world around them and to the people around them in all the circumstances of their lives.

* In caring out the apostolate, lay people live their faith, becoming lights to the world. They draw others to Christ and help develop strong moral values in society.

* Lay people must reach out to “every single person” in their environment, doing spiritual and temporal good for each.

The National and International Levels

* The apostolate has a vast field on national and international levels. Lay people should be aware of the problems on these levels that they might help find solutions.

* Lay people strive toward the common good and “prepare the way for the Gospel.” Those with the talent and inclination should enter public life but must not set aside or compartmentalize their faith.

* Catholic laity often work with non-Catholic Christians and even non-Christians to promote the common good and carry out works of charity.

 * No matter where they are in the world, lay people are “the traveling messengers of Christ.”

The full text of Apostolicam Actuositatem is available online at the Vatican website.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Sixth Sunday of Easter

Friendship with Jesus

In today's Gospel from John 15:9-17, Jesus tells His apostles, and by extension all of us, that He no longer calls them, or us, slaves but friends.

This is part of Jesus' farewell speech. He is about to become living proof, dying proof, of His assertion that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for his friends.” But He has a lot that He needs to tell His apostles first, especially about His loving relationship with them.

The Greek word for friends, philoi, suggests people who are beloved, dear ones, intimates, and associates. The Greek word for slaves, douloi, on the other hand, refers to people who belong to the lowest class of servants, those whose wills are not their own.

Jesus, then, is raising His followers to a new level, a new status, a friendship that is based on love and knowledge.

First, Jesus makes it quite clear that if we are to remain in an intimate relationship with Him, we must keep His commandments. Actually, He sets out just one commandment here, the most important one, the one that encompasses all others: “This is My commandment: love one another as I love you” (verse 12). This is so important that Jesus repeats it a few verses later: “This I command you: love one another” (verse 17).

So being friends with Jesus, living in an intimate relationship with Him, isn't just about us and Jesus. It's about us and Jesus and everyone else. Our friendship with Jesus, the love we share with Him, must pour out onto other people. It must overflow like a bubbling spring. If a spring doesn't move and flow, it gets stale and stagnant, but if it bubbles out of itself, it is constantly refreshed and clear. Our friendship with Jesus is like that. It is renewed and refreshed when we share Jesus' love with those around us.

Second, our friendship with Jesus provides us with knowledge. Jesus says that He calls us friends rather than slaves because slaves do not know what their master is doing. This implies, of course, that we do know what Jesus is doing. The apostles were likely skeptical about this when they first heard those words. They probably thought that they had no idea what Jesus was doing, but they did. He was telling them. He had been telling them all along about His kingdom, His love, His sacrifice, and His imminent resurrection.

We also know what Jesus is doing. Not all the time, of course. Do we know even everything our earthly friends are doing all the time? But we do know Jesus' plan. He has told us how He has come to save us from our sins and give us eternal life. We have Divine Revelation (that is, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition). We have the Church's teaching and the moral law. We hear Jesus' voice in our hearts through the events of our lives, through those around us, and as we pray and read. We may not know all the details, but we know what Jesus is doing. He has chosen us as His friends, and He wants us all to be with Him in Heaven forever.

Take some time today to meditate on your friendship with Jesus and the love and knowledge it brings.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Dei Verbum

God has chosen to reveal Himself to His people. He speaks to us through creation and in our hearts, but He also makes Himself known through Divine Revelation. Catholics understand that Divine Revelation passes down through both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture and that the Church's Magisterium, or teaching office, has the right and responsibility to preserve and expound Divine Revelation to the faithful. In Dei Verbum, or the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, the Vatican II Fathers addressed the nature and use of Divine Revelation. Dei Verbum is, in my opinion, the most beautiful document of Vatican II. In fact, even if you never read any other Vatican II documents, please take some time to peruse this one. You won't regret it.

Here are some of the topics and ideas you'll find in Dei Verbum.


* The council seeks to set forth “authentic doctrine” about the nature of Divine Revelation and how it has been passed down in the Church.

* The message of salvation contained in Divine Revelation leads to faith, hope, and love.

Chapter I – Revelation Itself

* God has chosen to reveal Himself and His will so that humans can have access to Him and even share in His divine nature.

* In Divine Revelation, God speaks to His people as friends and “lives among them” in fellowship.

* God's words and deeds have “an inner unity.” The deeds confirm the words, and the words proclaim and explain the deeds.

* Throughout salvation history, from the very beginning, God has cared for humanity and “prepared the way for the Gospel.”

* In Jesus Christ, God has given perfect revelation, for Jesus has shown humanity the “innermost being of God” even when He lived on earth.

* Jesus initiated the “new and definitive covenant,” and there will be no further public revelation.

* Humans must give God the obedience of faith; they must submit their whole selves to God in “full submission of intellect and will” and freely assent to the truth. God assists with His grace, and the Holy Spirit brings faith to fullness.

* God actually gives Himself through Divine Revelation so that people may know Him with ease and certitude and without error.

Chapter II – Handing on Divine Revelation

* God sees to it that His revelation is handed on perpetually and with full integrity.

* The Gospel was proclaimed by the preaching, example, and observances of the Apostles, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, recorded the message of salvation in writing.

* The Apostles handed on Divine Revelation to their successors, the bishops, in the forms of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.

* Sacred Tradition is that which was handed down by the Apostles including “everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the people of God.” It is the Church's “teaching, life and worship.”

* Understanding of Sacred Tradition develops with the help of the Holy Spirit as believers contemplate and study, experience spiritual realities, and hear the preaching of the bishops.

* In Sacred Tradition, God converses with the Church. The Holy Spirit sounds “the living voice of the Gospel” in the Church.

* Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture flow from the “same divine wellspring” and form one sacred deposit of Divine Revelation. Both are necessary to receive God's Word whole and entire.

* The Magisterium serves the Word of God, “listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully” with the Holy Spirit's help.

* Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterim cannot be separated.

Chapter III – Sacred Scripture, Its Inspiration and Divine Interpretation

* The Scriptures have God as their Author, for they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

* The human authors of Scripture are true authors. God acted in them that they might write “everything and only those things which He wanted” even as they used their own “powers and abilities.”

* The Scriptures are without error, for God is their Author.

* In the Scriptures, God speaks “through men in human fashion.” In His gentle kindness, He adapts His language to our needs. Interpreters, therefore, must examine both the meaning the human authors intended and what God wanted to communicate through their words.

* Exegetes should explore the literary forms, genres, and contexts of the human authors of Scripture.

* They must also read the Scriptures in the same Spirit Who wrote them, paying close attention to the “content and unity” of Scripture, to its relationship to Sacred Tradition, and to its position in the analogy of faith.

* The Magisterium guides Scriptural interpretation and has the final word in it. Exegetes serve the Church that all the faithful might better understand God's Word.

Chapter IV – The Old Testament

* God has a plan for the salvation of all humanity. He chose a people for Himself and made a covenant with them. This covenant history is recorded in the Old Testament.

* The Old Testament is divinely inspired and “permanently valuable.” It prepared for the coming of Jesus thorough prophecy, typology, and divine pedagogy.

* The New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old is made manifest in the New.

Chapter V – The New Testament

* Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh. The New Testament bears witness to His saving work and “words of eternal life.”

* The Gospels occupy pride of place in the New Testament, for they are the primary witnesses to the life and teaching of Jesus.

* The four-fold Gospel is of apostolic origin and inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is historical and faithfully hands on what Jesus did and taught. The Apostles told the “honest truth about Jesus” even as they selected their material, synthesized some things, and explained things with the clearer understanding they had gained after the Resurrection.

* The other books of the New Testament, also inspired, confirm the teaching of the Gospels and explain it more fully.

Chapter VI – Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church

* “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the Body of the Lord,” and in the liturgy, “she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's Word and of Christ's Body.”

* In the Scriptures, the Father meets His children and speaks with them lovingly.

* The Scriptures support and energize the Church, provide spiritual food, strengthen faith, and nourish spiritual life.

* The faithful must have easy access to the Scriptures.

* The Church seeks deeper understanding of the Scriptures so that they may provide even greater nourishment to the faithful.

* Sacred Theology is always based on the Scriptures, which it studies in the “light of faith.”

* All Christians are called to read and study Sacred Scripture with prayer.

* Appropriate translations and study materials should be readily available.

* Divine Revelation is a treasure that should “fill the hearts” of human beings and stimulate “the life of the Spirit” in them.

The full text of Dei Verbum is available online at the Vatican website.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Fifth Sunday of Easter

An Unlikely Ally

In today's first reading from Acts 9:26-31, we hear about the post-conversion Saul, who would soon be known as St. Paul.

Saul's conversion story is truly remarkable, and although we've all heard it many times, it merits revisiting. Saul was a devout Jew, a Pharisee trained under the rabbi Gamaliel. He vehemently resisted the Christian movement with murderous violence, approving Stephen's execution, dragging Christians from their homes and off to prison, and making his best efforts to destroy the Church. Ironically, Saul was acting against the moderate advice of his teacher Gamaliel, who took a “wait and see” attitude toward Christianity, telling the Jews, “...have nothing to do with these men [the Christians], and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39).

One day, Saul set off to Damascus, bent on gathering up Christians and bringing them back to Jerusalem in chains. On the way, in an instant, his entire life changed. A bright light flashed around him, and he fell to the ground. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” a voice cried out. Saul said the only thing that came to mind, “Who are you, sir?” “I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting.” Jesus told Saul, who was now blind, to enter Damascus and wait for further instructions. Saul fasted for three days before a Christian named Ananias, who was acting on direct orders from Jesus, baptized him. His physical sight returned, and his spiritual sight, his whole outlook on life, on God, and on the Church, had changed. He began to proclaim Jesus in Damascus, boldly professing his faith in the Son of God and his full acceptance of Christianity. His hearers were shocked. Saul only grew stronger in his faith and preaching.

Here we come to today's reading. Saul's perspective may have changed, but others still saw him as the persecuting Jew who had been making life miserable for Christians. When Saul traveled to Jerusalem to meet the other disciples, they didn't trust him at all. In fact, they were scared of him. For all they knew, he was acting, pretending to be Christian so he could infiltrate their ranks and betray them from the inside.

Barnabas took hold of the situation. He knew the details of Saul's conversion, and he knew it was real. He had seen the transformation in Saul and its results. He assumed the role of Saul's sponsor, brought the new Christian before the apostles, explained the circumstances, and gave his testimony about Saul's preaching in Damascus.

On Barnabas' evidence, the apostles accepted Saul, who immediately began to spread the Christian message throughout Jerusalem. Imagine people's reaction...astonishment, hesitancy, mistrust, even anger. Some of Saul's debating opponents even tried to kill him, and the other Christians quickly took him away from Jerusalem and down to Caesarea. Saul may not have been worried about giving his life for Christ, but his fellow disciples recognized that he was a powerful if unexpected ally, someone who would serve Christ and preach the Gospel in new and exciting ways.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Nostra Aetate

How should Catholics view non-Christian religions? Do these faith traditions have any validity or truth? How should we relate to non-Christians? In Nostra Aetate, or Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, the Vatican II Fathers answered these questions, emphasizing both the need for unity among all human beings and the Church's obligation to spread Christianity.

Here's a few of the topics and ideas you'll find in Nostra Aetate.

* In our age, human beings are drawing closer together. The Church has the obligation to work for unity and charity, to reflect on what people have in common, and to promote fellowship.

* Human beings are one community with a common origin in God and a common destiny in God.

* All people ask the same questions about the meaning of life and what happens at life's end.

* Throughout history, people have been aware of God on various levels and have sought to answer their questions through religion.

* Hinduism and Buddhism both attempt to answer questions about life and afterlife through doctrines, morality, and sacred rites. The Church respects these religions and does not reject what is true and holy in them.

* The Church must, however, always proclaim Christ as the fullness of religious life and the answer to all questions.

* Christians should enter into “discussion and collaboration with members of other religions” in prudence and charity, both witnessing to Christ and acknowledging the culture, social life, and “spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians.”

* Muslims share a spiritual heritage with Christians. “They worship God,Who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,” and they practice prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The Church urges “a sincere effort” to “achieve mutual understanding” with Muslims and to “preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice, and moral values.”

* The Church recognizes a strong spiritual link between Jews and Christians. God established a covenant with the Jewish people, who remain “very dear” to Him, for He does not take back His gifts.

* The Old Testament expresses God's covenant with the Jews and prefigures Christianity.

* The Church promotes “mutual understanding and appreciation” between Jews and Christians and firmly asserts that “neither all Jews indiscriminately” at the time of Christ, “nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed” during Jesus' passion. The Church strongly opposes persecution against the Jews and all antisemitism.

* Christ died “because of the sins of all men, so that all might attain salvation.” The Church is obligated to proclaim Christ and His saving work.

* All people “are created in God's image” and should, therefore, be treated as brothers and sisters. The Church denounces all forms of discrimination and harassment “as foreign to the mind of Christ” and seeks to be “at peace” with all people.

The full text of Nostra Aetate is available online at the Vatican website.