Friday, April 22, 2011

Understanding Divine Revelation

In my last post, I wrote a little about the idea of Divine Revelation. As Catholics, we are privileged to be members of Christ's own church, instituted directly by Him. As members of His body the Church, we have the fullness of the faith in Christ, and the fullness of His Divine Revelation.

One thing you might notice as you study the Faith is that there are many repeating patterns (often called "Types" in religious literature) - each referring back to a fundamental truth about God. One of these types is the prevalence of the number three - not just a collection of three objects, but rather a grouping of three objects that are deeply, intimately connected with each other. The model for this is of course the Holy Trinity. God's revelation is also given to mankind in three profoundly related ways. Each of these methods of revelation depends upon and is revealed and explained by the other two. None can stand by themselves, and when people try to take one of the three methods of revelation and stand it up by itself, the result is inevitably not God's plan.

The three methods God chose to reveal Himself to mankind are Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and Magisterial Teaching. I will take a post to explain each of these methods of revelation more fully. But at this point, it's enough to understand that they are all related - Sacred Scripture is the Divine Word of God, Sacred Tradition explains the fullness of that Word in the life of God's people, and Magisterial Teaching explains how to read an understand the realities of Sacred Scripture and Sacred tradition with the mind of the Church - which is the mind of Christ.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A sure and certain norm

Vatican II brought many changes to the way Catholics practiced their faith around the world. Many of these  were good, and perhaps necessary changes. Unfortunately, most people are very much unaware of exactly what the Council taught. Very soon after the Council, the phrase "in the spirit of Vatican II" became a pass-phrase to wholesale experimentation with the liturgy, with the lifestyles of religious, and with the day to day religious practices of everyday Catholics. The vast majority of these changes had nothing to do with anything that the Council taught - and many of them were directly opposed to the documents of Vatican II and the teachings of Holy Mother Church for the preceding 2000 years.

And here the Church stood, for nearly thirty years - blown one way by the "spirit of vatican II", another way by the turmoil that both proceeded and followed Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae, the social and political upheavals of the Cold War and the Vietnam War, religious crisis in Iran and terrorism in the Middle East. Until in 1978 arrived on the scene Pope John Paul II - a father of the Council and key contributor to many of its most critical documents - most notably the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudiam et Spes.

Pope John Paul II was determined to recapture not just the "spirit", but the actual meaning of the documents of Vatican II for the Church as it made its way into the third millennium of Christiantity. And he thought he had exactly the right way to do that - by issuing a new, comprehensive Catechism of the Catholic Church - a definitive compendium of the totality of belief, truly representing what the Church believes - as defined by the three equal, balanced components of Divine Revelation to man, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterial Teaching of the Church.

Begun in 1985, the first version of the Catechism was released in the French language in 1992, and the definitive Latin edition was promulgated by the Holy Father in the summer of 1997. The Apostolic Letter LAETAMUR MAGNOPERE ("Greatly Rejoice") was the document which officially promulgated the Catechism to the world. In this letter, the Holy Father indicated that this Catechism of the Catholic Church was "a sure norm for the teaching of the faith."

At last, there was (and is!) a reference that details the essential facts of the Catholic faith. All teaching materials, all instruction manuals and books, all classes and lesson plans for instruction in the Catholic faith must ultimately be reconciled with this "sure and certain norm." If ever there is a conflict between one of these sources and Catechism, we know definitively that source must be modified and brought into compliance with the Catechism.

"But Wait!", I can hear my Protestant brothers and sisters say. "Doesn't the Bible say that:
All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
Certainly it does, and certainly this is true - if you know how to read and interpret scripture appropriately, which is to say read it with the mind of the Church, which is the mind of Christ. Next time, I will explain how exactly to do just that.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The job of the catechist

I am an RCIA catechist. Easy to say, but "catechist" is not a work you run across in ordinary speech, except maybe in catholic-oriented crossword puzzles.

What does it mean? Well, like a lot of "church words" the word catechist has its origins in Ancient Greek. I know almost no Greek - just a smattering from a seminar senior year in high school. But for blog purposes I am taking a shot at it. Greek scholars should feel free to comment.

There are two important Greek words that will shed light here I hope - κατέχειν (katēchein) which means "to echo back faithfully" and κήρυκας (kirikas) which means to "herald".

Most folks in the ancient Greek world were not literate - and yet the king obviously had a vested interest in making sure his commands were spread far and wide. So the messenger of the king, his herald (κήρυκας) was sent to the main meeting place in every town, to "echo back faithfully" (κατέχειν) the words and commands of the king.

And you better believe the herald had a vested interest in getting the message right - as the penalty for any screw-up was likely to be death.

Thus, catechesis is serious business! It is our job to echo back faithfully the words of the king we have learned, bringing them to those who have not heard them yet.

In my opinion - this also leaves opinion out. The kirikas' job was not to editorialize, or speculate on what the king's message might mean. I believe this is why theology students often make lousy catechists. Many times I have heard theological theories - often highly speculative ones at that - taught to students and catechumens who lack the basis to be able to determine what is sound (the message of the king) and what is mere speculation or theory.

Getting it right - helping our students find the truth and fullness of our faith - requires a faithful rendering of the king's message, free from distractions, and both taught and received in the Holy Spirit.

Where do we as catechists get the "message of the king" to pass on? That's the topic of my next post - "A sure and certain norm".

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Better Angels of our nature

I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." Jn 16:33

Certainly it is true that in this world, we often have troubles. These can be (and often are) of our own making - but also often come on us from outside; without warning or without time for preparation. My old mother often has a saying for times like these - "Offer it up!" she would say. The exclaimation point isn't a literary device - she means it - offer it up with joy.

When "bad things happen to good people," often our first response it to ask, "why?"

The spirit of "offer it up!" does not ask why. It says, when I have suffering, instead of asking "why?", ask "how?", as in, "how can this suffering work for the greater glory of God?"

In this, as in everything important, we are following the Lord. Through His suffering, He redeemed the world. And He said, "where I am, there my servant will be." Well there He is, lifted up on a Cross. And so then there we should be, uniting our physical, mental, spiritual suffering with His. Be assured, at least in some small way, our suffering, united through an act of the will, "offered up!" with His, places us with the Master. And He promised, if we die with Him, so too will we rise with Him.

To paraphrase Thomas Merton (sorry, I don't have the quote right in front of me):
Living in Christ is not complicated; but it is difficult.

"Offering it up!" may end up being one of the most difficult things we ever do. But I think it is still easier than suffering without result, our only consolation an unanswerable "Why?"