Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Gaudium et Spes – Part 5

The first part of Gaudium et Spes, entitled “The Church and Man's Vocation,” discusses four main themes in four chapters: the dignity of human beings, the community of mankind, human activity, and the Church's role in the modern world.

Here are some of the topics and ideas you'll find in Part I, Chapter IV, of Gaudium et Spes.

Chapter IV – Role of the Church in the Modern World

Mutual Relationship of Church and World

* The Church is present on earth in history and is made up of human beings who form a visible society and the family of God.

* At the same time, the Church is a “spiritual community” with a “saving and eschatological purpose” that will be fulfilled only in the “next life.”

* The Church journeys with humanity, serves as the “soul of human society,” and casts the light of God upon the whole world. The Church provides deeper meaning to all human life as she promotes human dignity and communicates the divine life.

What the Church Offers to Individuals

* The Church opens up the mystery of God to humanity and offers meaning and truth.

* Human beings are always searching for the answers to their deepest questions. The Church provides answers, for she proclaims the redeeming work of Christ and the fulfillment of humanity in Christ.

* The Church defends human dignity and freedom; announces the Gospel of salvation; promotes service and love; and proclaims human rights.

What the Church Offers to Society

* Through the Church, human beings, with the grace of God, work toward unity, peace, love, service, and a lived faith.

* The Church has a universal mission to draw all people together into one family, united by the divine law and the love of God.

* “Whatever truth, goodness, and justice is to be found in past or present human institutions is held in high esteem” by the Church, which encourages these qualities and the common good of all people.

What the Church Offers to Human Activity through Its Members

* Christians, as citizens of both heaven and earth, must “perform their duties faithfully in the spirit of the Gospel.” Their Christian faith ought to permeate their entire lives and all their activities.

* The laity, especially, are called to “animate the world” with the spirit of Christ and to be witnesses in all circumstances. They must “become truly proficient” in their particular spheres; properly inform their consciences; abide by the divine law in all their affairs; take responsibility for spreading the Gospel; allow themselves to be guided by the Church; and to let the “light of the Gospel” shine through them.

* The Church is “an inexhaustible font” of the resources the world needs to reach its fulfillment as the family of God. She is both the “faithful spouse of the Lord” and the “sign of salvation in the world,” but she is also always in need of purification and renewal in Christ.

What the Church Receives from the Modern World

* The Church has always “profited from the history and development of mankind.” She uses the “concepts and language” of different cultures to express and explain the Gospel.

* Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church listens carefully to the voices of each era and interprets them according to Divine Revelation “in order that the revealed truth may be more deeply penetrated, better understood, and more suitably presented.”

* Cultural and technological advancements contribute to the Church in as much as they are used “according to the plan of God.”

Christ: Alpha and Omega

* The Church has one single purpose: “that the kingdom of God may come and the salvation of the human race may be accomplished." She is the “universal sacrament of salvation” that manifests and actualizes “the mystery of God's love” for humanity.

* Jesus is the center and goal of all human history and civilization. He is the “joy of all hearts” and “the fulfillment of all aspirations.” All people, all things, all history, and the whole world are called to unity in Him.

The full text of Gaudium et Spes is available online at the Vatican website.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Problem of Ephesians 5:22-24

These three little verses, Ephesians 5:22-24, might just be some of the most provoking words in the whole Bible. It's probably safe to say that nearly every modern woman, at some point in her life, has read these verses and come away indignant and perhaps even angry.

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as Christ is head of the church,
he himself the savior of the body.
As the church is subordinate to Christ,
so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

To many women, these verses seem to advocate a blind obedience to their husbands, a loss of female independence and progress, and an anti-woman agenda. After bristling in annoyance for a while, most people likely shake their heads, roll their eyes, and think that these words are just so old-fashioned or offensive that they need not be taken seriously. They don't bother to read or listen further. If they did, they might be surprised.

Take a moment and carefully read the next few verses, Ephesians 5:25-30, with an open mind.

Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ loved the church
and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
that he might present to himself the church in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish.
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself.
For no one hates his own flesh
but rather nourishes and cherishes it,
even as Christ does the church,
because we are members of his body.

Does it seem perhaps that husbands actually have a more difficult task than their wives? Wives are called to be subordinate to their husbands, to offer them the gift of themselves with respect and obedience. But husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the Church.

Christ died for the Church. He gave Himself up for her on the cross. He shed every last drop of His blood. And He did so out of pure love. Pure, self-giving, self-emptying love.

Husbands are called to love their wives like that, to care for them tenderly, to nourish them and cherish them.

True love only wants what is best for the loved one. True love sacrifices the self that the loved one may be healthy, happy, and safe. True love puts the well-being of the loved one before all else. This is what husbands are called to do, for this is what Christ did for the Church.

If husbands truly did what they have been commanded to do, if they truly loved their wives in this way, then wives would have very little trouble being subordinate. How could they? They would be showered with love by husbands who truly want what was best for them, who truly desire to give their wives every possible good thing, who are willing to lay down their very lives that their loved ones might flourish. How could wives not respond with their own tender, self-giving love?

The main point of this passage, then, is not that wives must submit to tyrannical husbands who will take away their freedom and make them little better than slaves.

On the contrary, these verses are all about love, a mutual, intimate, self-giving love that imitates the powerful love of Christ for the Church and the open, responsive love of the Church for Christ, the love that should exist between husbands and wives.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Gaudium et Spes – Part 4

The first part of Gaudium et Spes, entitled “The Church and Man's Vocation,” discusses four main themes in four chapters: the dignity of human beings, the community of mankind, human activity, and the Church's role in the modern world.

Here are some of the topics and ideas you'll find in Part I, Chapter III, of Gaudium et Spes.

Chapter III – Man's Activity in the Universe

The Problem

* Humanity has made progress in science and technology, so much so that all people now form “one single community over the whole earth.”

* In spite of this progress, the human race is still “troubled by many questionings” about the value and goal of work and life.

* The Church seeks to answer these questions by applying “the light of revelation” to human experience.

Value of Human Activity

* Human activity, both collective and individual, is a part of God's plan and ought to be used to praise and serve God and to improve the lives of all human kind.

* Daily work contributes to “the fulfillment in history of the divine plan” and actually participates in the work of the Creator.

Regulation of Human Activity

* People learn and grow through their daily work, but they must be careful to avoid making work and wealth ends in themselves, for it is “what a man is, rather than what he has, that counts.”

* Human activity should help people to “pursue and fulfill their total vocation” in God's will.

Rightful Autonomy of Earthly Affairs

* Earthly affairs necessarily function according to their own “order and laws” as should the different branches of scholarly pursuit.

* Yet all these spheres must comply with the absolute moral law. Faith and reason work together because both “derive from the same God.”

* Many people today misunderstand the autonomy of earthly affairs and refuse to acknowledge God, but “without a Creator there can be no creature.” All people must strive to recognize “the voice and the revelation of God in the language of creatures.”

Human Activity Infected by Sin

* Human activity is infiltrated by disorder and selfishness, and humans struggle every day against the power of evil that they may overcome their own pride and self-centered ways, cooperate with Christ in all their activities, and discover their own “inner integrity.”

* Only in Christ is human activity “purified and perfected.” In Christ, people can use and enjoy the things of the world “in a spirit of poverty and freedom.”

Human Activity: Its Fulfillment in the Paschal Mystery

* Jesus Christ, the God-Man, entered into history and took all history into Himself. He taught, lived, and died love, and only in love can the “ordinary circumstances of daily life” reach their full potential in the plan of God.

* True freedom comes only with love, service, self-giving, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

* While Christians await a new heaven and a new earth, they work to better order the current society so that the Kingdom of God becomes more and more present in this world until it reaches its fulfillment at the end of time.

The full text of Gaudium et Spes is available online at the Vatican website.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Redeeming the Time

In today's Second Reading, Ephesians 5:15-20, St. Paul offers important advise on how Christians must live their daily lives.

He begins by saying that we must watch how we live, taking care not be be foolish but wise. Then he says, in the New American Bible translation we use in the Lectionary, that as wise people, we should be “making the most of every opportunity.”

In the Greek, these six little words, “making the most of every opportunity,” take on a depth of meaning not evident in the English. Here is the Greek line: exagorazomenoi ton kairon. It literally means “being involved in redeeming the time.”

Let's take a closer look at the structure and meaning of this little phrase because knowing the details of the original Greek opens up a whole realm of possibilities for study and reflection.

We'll start with the Greek present middle participle exagorazomenoi. Without getting too technical, the Greek middle voice indicates that the subject of the verb (or participle in this case) is involved in the action of the verb but not necessarily the primary cause of the action. While English doesn't have a middle voice, we can approximate it with the sentence, “The door closed.” The door is involved in the action but not causing the action. It's doing something but not on its own power. This participle comes from the verb exagorazō, which has multiple connotations including to ransom, to buy off, to buy for one's self or one's own use, to set free, or to rescue from loss.

So people who are wise are involved in rescuing or ransoming or buying for their own use kairon or time. They are not necessarily the primary cause of this action, but they are involved in it as cooperating participants.

There are two Greek words for “time”: kairos and chronos. The word kairon in this passage is the accusative (or direct object) form of kairos. It receives the action of the participle exagorazomenoi. It is what is being redeemed.

We can more easily understand the meaning of kairos if we compare it to the other Greek work for “time,” chronos. Chronos refers to mechanical time. It is measured time: days, months, hours, minutes, seconds, years, etc. Chronos is all about quantity. It's what we think about when we're awakened by the alarm in the morning or watching the clock at the end of the work day.

Kairos, on the other hand, is about quality. It is measured by the significance of the events it contains, so it is filled with meaning, possibility, and promise. Kairos is time with with a human, and even divine, element embedded in it.

So when we are “being involved in redeeming the time,” we are claiming the meaning of our time, the possibility of our lives, and the promise of each moment. We are setting all the meaning, possibility, and promise free. We're rescuing time from from the mundane, the insignificant, and the hopeless.

But we are not doing it on our own. We cooperate, certainly, we are not not in charge of this redemption of time. God is. Without God, there would be no kairos, no meaning, no possibility, no promise. And without His grace, we would never be able to redeem the meaning, possibility, and promise of kairos.

Take some time today to reflect on how well you are cooperating with God in redeeming your time. Are you rescuing the meaning in each moment or simply letting it slide by?

(Sources: Fundamentals of New Testament Greek by Stanley E. Porter, Jeffrey T. Reed, and Matthew Brook O'Donnell; Eschatology class notes from Dr. Regis Martin;

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Prayer for the Assumption

Mother Mary, your soul magnifies the Lord; teach us to become small in order to make God larger in our lives and show Him to all those around us.

Mother Mary, your spirit rejoices in God the Savior; help us to be joyful in spirit as we exalt in the salvation our God has so graciously given to us.

Mother Mary, you called yourself a lowly servant and remind us that God lifts up the lowly; teach us to be humble and to serve God and our neighbors.

Mother Mary, you foretold that all nations would call you blessed; increase our devotion to you that you may lead us to your Son, Jesus.

Mother Mary, you proclaimed that God has done great things for you; help us recognize and be thankful for the great things God has done in our lives.

Mother Mary, you warn us that God scatters the proud in their conceit; teach us to let go of our pride.

Mother Mary, you tell us that God fills the hungry with good things; inspire us to be hungry for God and for His grace.

Mother Mary, you assure us that God remembers His promise of mercy; motivate us to always run to God for His great mercy.

Mother Mary, you were assumed body and soul into Heaven through the power and love of your Son; may we all join you there that we may spend eternity in God's loving arms.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

How to Be Happy

Every human being on the face of this earth wants to be happy. It's what we long for, what we seek, what we work so hard to achieve. Yet we are often unhappy, even miserable, because we aren't looking for happiness in the right place.

Today's Psalm, number 34, offers us some advice about achieving true happiness.

1. Bless the Lord all the times, and praise Him constantly. Kneeling before Him, we worship and adore His majesty, remembering that He is the Almighty, the Creator, the Blessed One, the All-Knowing God. We recall His great works and His great love. We remember what He has done for us and for our salvation, and in doing so, we are happy, for we know Him, Who is the Source of all happiness.

2. Glory in the Lord. We must not focus on this world and boast of our own achievements and possessions but instead glory in the Lord, extolling His greatness.

3. Be lowly in order to hear God. If we are proud and full of ourselves, we often cannot hear God's still, small voice, for we drown Him out with our own chatter. The humble are able to listen to God, for, in their smallness, they quiet themselves before Him. Then they are glad and rejoice in their closeness to their Lord.

4. Seek the Lord. If we seek the Lord, we will find Him. He will answer us, as the Psalm says, and deliver us from all our fears, fears that prevent us from being happy. If we look to God in all our needs and troubles, He will respond to us, and we will be radiant with joy.

5. Call out to the Lord in all affliction. In prayer, we bring before God all our stress, all our problems, all our trials, and He saves us from them. He may not solve them all in the way we might wish, but He will bring good from everything we experience, and we will find peace.

6. Fear the Lord. We need to remember that God is God, and we must hold Him in the highest reverence. While we understand that God loves us and cares for us tenderly, we also know that He is the Holy One, Whom we must not offend by sin. When we maintain this proper attitude toward God, the Psalm assures us that He sends His angels to protect us and that He delivers us, strengthening us, rescuing us, and setting us free.

7. Taste and see that the Lord is good. When we receive our Lord in the Eucharist, we taste and see Him in a most intimate way, for He enters into our bodies and our hearts. If we are open to Him and ready to greet Him, He fills us with His love and joy and peace, and we taste and see that He is very, very good.

8. Take refuge in God. Trusting in God, we run to His protection and fall into His loving arms. He holds us close to Him and pours His blessings out upon us.

The key to true happiness, then, is living in right relationship with God, loving Him, worshiping Him, relying on Him for all things at all times, and most of all searching for happiness in the right Him.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

What Not to Do

In today's Second Reading from Ephesians 4, Paul tells his audience what not to do if they want to live good Christian lives.

He begins with a solemn statement: “I declare and testify in the Lord.” He is not speaking on his own; he speaks a message from the Lord. Further, he is giving a testimony, witnessing to a truth. The Greek verb translated here as “testify” is marturomai. Without getting too technical, this verb is in the Greek middle voice (instead of active or passive), which indicates that the subject, Paul, is involved in the action of testifying but is not the cause of the action. Paul is witnessing with the power of God.

Paul testifies that his Christian audience “must no longer live as the Gentiles do.” Paul is referring here to the pagan people surrounding the Christian community. Many of the Ephesian Christians had probably been part of that group before they embraced the saving message of Christ, and Paul is reminding them that they must change their ways to make their behavior correspond with their faith.

So what do the Gentiles do that Christians must not do?

1. The Gentiles live in “the futility of their mind” (verse 17). The Greek word for “futility” is mataiotēs, which can also mean folly, emptiness, or vanity. The Gentiles do not understand the truth. They remain entrenched in error, worshiping empty idols and chasing the vanities of the material world.

2. The Gentiles are “darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart” (verse 18). They don't care to know God. They remain in ignorance, sin, and darkness, unwilling to open themselves to the light of Christ. They are stubborn, and they remain far from God.

3. The Gentiles “have been callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess” (verse 19). The Greek word for “callous” actually means to be insensible to pain or to be apathetic. The pain caused by their sins doesn't bother the Gentiles in the least. They don't care that they are hurting themselves or other people by their licentiousness (Greek aselgeia, wantoness, immoderation) or their impurity (Greek akatharsia, uncleanness, lust, luxurious living) or their excess (Greek pleonexia, greediness).

4. The Gentiles are “corrupted through deceitful desires” (verse 22). The Greek for “deceitful desires” is actually epithumias tēs apatē or “lusts of deceits.” The truth is not in them. They seek after false pleasures, after lies that will not satisfy.

The Ephesians must not be like these Gentiles. They have learned differently in Christ, Who is truth. They now have the responsibility to put aside their old selves, their Gentile selves, and be “renewed in the spirit” of their minds (i.e., spiritually transformed in their consciousness, their reason, their emotions, their moral judgments, etc.). They must put on new selves, selves “created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” Righteousness, holiness, truth, renewal of the mind, these must replace the Ephesians' old ways of life. The “what not to do” must fade into the past while Christians embrace the present of Christ's love.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Gaudium et Spes – Part 3

The first part of Gaudium et Spes, entitled “The Church and Man's Vocation,” discusses four main themes in four chapters: the dignity of human beings, the community of mankind, human activity, and the Church's role in the modern world.

Here are a few topics and ideas you'll find in Part I, Chapter II, of Gaudium et Spes.

Chapter II – The Community of Mankind

Intention of the Council

* In the modern world, people are developing intense personal relationships, but this fellowship must be based on mutual respect and foster the dignity of human beings. The Council intends to present the Church's teaching about human society.

Communitarian Nature of Man's Vocation: Design of God

* God created human beings to form one family, and all people are created in the likeness of God and are destined for the same end, namely, God.

* There is a parallel between the union of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity and the union of the children of God: self-giving love.

Person and Society: Interdependence

* There must always be a proper balance between personal development and societal needs. People need society, but the individual must always be “the beginning, the subject and the object of every social organization.” Society is made for people, not people for society.

The Common Good

* The common good is the “sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”

* All people must work toward the common good but must also balance that common good with each person's human dignity and individual rights.

* The “order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons.” People come first, and society must be founded on truth, justice, freedom, and love.

Respect for the Person

* Respect for the human being is absolutely necessary, and “everyone should look upon his another self.”

Respect and Love for Enemies

* Christians respect and love those who are different and even those who are opposed to them, treating them with kindness, forgiving them, and entering into dialogue with them even as they proclaim Christian truth.

* “God alone is the judge and the searcher of hearts: He forbids us to pass judgment on the inner guilt of others.”

Essential Equality of All Men: Social Justice

* All people are created in the image of God and share the same nature. All are called to the same destiny, eternal life with God. All individuals, therefore, share “basic equality” in spite of their “rightful differences.”

* Christians must work for “fairer and more humane conditions,” secure basic human rights and human dignity, and fight against discrimination.

Need to Transcend an Individualistic Morality

* All people have the obligation to “contribute to the common good.”

* Individualistic morality ignores essential social obligations and the duties all people have to care for each other.

Responsibility and Participation

* Education helps produce men and women of high culture and great personality.

* All people have a responsibility to participate in society according to their abilities in service to God and to their neighbors.

The Word Made Flesh and Human Society

* God created human beings to live in social unity as His people.

* Jesus shared in human fellowship and used “the most ordinary things of social life” to illustrate His teachings.

* Jesus taught that, as the family of God, Christians must treat each other with love and mutual service.

* The Church is the Body of Christ, and all members exist in communion with each other.

The full text of Gaudium et Spes is available online at the Vatican website.