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Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Ignite Your Torch

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Ignite Your Torch…Conquer for Christ! This was the rallying cry of those attending Ignite Your Torch (IYT), a youth conference which made its way to the Pacific Northwest earlier this month in order to evangelize and inspire 200 teens from Oregon and the state of Washington. IYT offers something unique in the way of youth conferences.  Frequently the accent at youth ministry events is on fun, games, and music, with a dash of catechesis and preaching that goes only so deep.  IYT also allows teen to participate in beautiful and reverent liturgies, and learn about the Catholic faith and how to put it into practice. In addition to being Eucharistic-centered, Marian, and pro-life, IYT invites priests, religious brothers (Br. Peter, myself, and Fr. Stephen Maria represented the Western Province of Dominicans) and sisters, and many others to come together and offer catechetical presentations and workshops on a number of topics.

Some of the highlights from the conference, in my opinion, included Br. Peter’s talk on natural law, and a presentation by Sister Angela Marie, O.P., who spoke about the human person and love, referring to St. Thomas Aquinas as she distinguished between the emotion of love and love as an act of the will. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak on a vocation panel for young men discerning the priesthood and/or religious life, and to talk about the Angelic Warfare Confraternity. Below are some excerpts from my presentation:

Even if we are vigilant and have the best intentions, resisting the devil is not an easy task. Satan is tricky. He appears as an angel of light, but is really the father of lies. His purpose is to thwart God’s plan, and to consume as many souls as he can, by any means necessary. He tried to do this 800 years ago with a young man named Thomas Aquinas, but thanks be to God, he failed. 

At the age of eighteen, Thomas had decided to join the Dominican Order. But his family was fervently against it. Because the Order of Preachers was new in the early 13th century, it had no prestige. Thus in order to keep him away from the Dominicans, Thomas’ family held him captive in one of their castles. After a time, his brothers came up with a plan that they were sure would cause Thomas to abandon his religious vocation. They hired a prostitute to seduce Thomas, but the plan backfired. When the prostitute entered the room and began to undress, Thomas grabbed a searing hot poker from the fireplace and drove her out, chasing her from the room! He then slammed the door and fell to his knees, praying to be preserved in chastity and in his intention to live the vocation of religious life. His prayer was answered in a vision. Two angels came to him and tied a cord around his waist, saying “On God’s behalf, we gird you with the cincture of chastity, which no attack will every destroy.”

This event, which was made public after Thomas Aquinas’s death, is the foundation of one of the oldest groups associated with the Dominican Order, that of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity—a fellowship of men and women, bound to one another in charity and prayer, dedicated to pursuing chastity under the patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Members throughout history have included: Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, and many others.

As I’m sure you all know, the pursuit of chastity is often a battle with the world. It is a battle against the devil, who prowls like a roaring lion, who works to devour and destroy the true beauty of our sexuality. Because he cannot create anything himself, the devil mimics God’s power by trying to corrupt everything the Lord has made. Thus the beauty of the human body and the gift of our sexuality is misrepresented in art, television, film, advertisement, etc. People are turned into objects, and love is replaced by lust. What’s sad is that this has occurred so gradually over time, many people don’t even notice it any more. They’ve become desensitized to the hyper-sexualization of our culture. Now, immodesty and promiscuity are practically deemed normal.

As human beings, affected by original sin and concupiscence, we are weak; tempted to act on sexual desires outside of the proper time and place. But we do not have to be controlled by our sexual impulses. God wants us to be free, and to pursue true happiness in a way that avoids the false and counterfeit loves the devil sets before us. Pursuing a life of chastity helps us to do this, for when we practice self-discipline in our thoughts and actions, this in turn leads to self-control, which ultimately leads to self-possession. And it is only when we truly possess ourselves that we can give our whole being back to God and find the happiness we seek.

This is just one of the benefits of joining the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, but there are many others. In addition to having Saint Thomas Aquinas as a personal patron, one is also strengthened in their resolve to resist temptation, especially as the prayers of hundreds of thousands of other Confraternity members, both on earth and in heaven, come to our aid each day. And on certain days, one may receive a plenary indulgence if the usual conditions are met…

As you begin to discern if you want to make this commitment, I offer one final thought. The Angelic Warfare Confraternity is not a magic wand. Members promise to strive for chastity, but you still might fall into sin. We are not perfect. The point is to grow in chastity, and to pray for others as they do so. God granted to St. Thomas Aquinas a purity that infused all his thoughts and actions for the rest of his life. As we pursue chastity, let us seek his intercession and remember that our Lord Jesus Christ calls each of us to be happy and holy saints-in-the-making.

For more information on the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, and how to enroll, please visit angelicwarfare.org

Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

The Apostle of California

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You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth.”(Acts 1.8)

Serra

Among the many aspects of the much-touted “New Evangelization,” one of its primary thrusts is a kind of “re-evangelization” of countries and peoples historically Christian but who have faltered or weakened in respect to the faith.  Of all regions in the Western World one might point to as an example, California would seem to be in the top running.  Hollywood and its television, movie, and media industries, exert a powerful influence not only on American but on world culture.  The billion-dollar pornography industry—it is well-known—cultivates its poisonous seed-bed in the San Fernando Valley, the “City of Angels.”  Violence seems to be a perennial Achilles’ heel of the state, from the rough-and-tumble cowboy and saloon days (which ended not too long ago—up until the 1940s, my hometown of Monterey was still quite a rough spot: read Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat or Cannery Row to get an idea), to the modern street gangs which have so troubled her cities and even public schools.  Up north the City of St. Francis has been home to an assertive homosexual culture since the 1980s, and its legal circuit has been busy in the last ten years bullying the California and American court systems into legalizing same-sex unions, culminating in a significant victory in the Supreme Court just last week.

It may not be coincidental that we celebrate today, in the wake of last week’s happenings, the feast of the patron of California, Blessed Junipero Serra.  As all native Californians recall from state history in 4th grade, Father Serra initiated the founding of the chain of missions that dot our coast.  Serra is a known figure for most Californians, evoking generally kindly images of a generous friar in a brown habit, whose name adorns various streets, highways and schools throughout the state, and whose missions retain a certain rugged mystique evoking California’s Spanish and Native American past.  These are all good things.

Christians, however, can look to Serra for far greater and deeper inspiration.  He was, above all, a Champion of the Gospel with an indomitable zeal for souls, and perseverance in carrying out the Lord’s Great Commission.  Born in Petra, Mallorca, off the Eastern coast of Spain in 1713, he became a Franciscan at the age of 17.  Due to a particularly sharp intellect, he rose quickly through his philosophical and theological studies, becoming “lector” of philosophy before ordination, and eventually a Doctor of Sacred Theology at the age of 29.

Though an admired and respected teacher, he was a more revered preacher, able to stir crowds to tears and joy with his fiery sermons, and often dramatic penitential practices.1

From the early days of his Franciscan vocation, he felt a strong desire to offer himself to the missionary efforts of Spain in the New World.  This “dream” of his was delayed for a number years then finally granted by his superiors.  He arrived at the Mexican Port of Vera Cruz in 1749 and proceeded to walk 200 miles to Mexico City, a journey in which his leg became infected from insect bites, crippling him enough to render walking difficult the rest of his life.  After teaching at the College of San Fernando in Mexico City, and then some initial mission work among the Pame Indians of the Sierra Gorda mountains, Serra eventually got himself assigned to missionize the then untouched land of Alta (modern-day) California.

His contingent disembarked in San Diego Bay and founded Mission San Diego de Alcala on July 1st, 1769 (his now feast day).  California acquired its first martyr at this mission on November 5, 1775, as Padre Luis Jaime was killed in an Indian attack.  Serra was not present at the mission at the time, but on hearing of his compadre’s death, exclaimed, “Thanks be to God; now that the terrain has been watered by blood, the conversion of the San Diego Indians will take place.”2

He also set a standard for treatment of the native population of California in response to this incident.  Instead of seeking retribution, Serra demanded (and had codified into the laws governing the mission) that Franciscans could never seek legal retribution from the natives for any violence perpetrated.  Instead, it should be forgiven and their spiritual conversion and nourishment peacefully sought.

San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo (“Carmel Mission”) was founded one year after San Diego, in 1770.  When Serra’s ship arrived on the shores of Monterey Bay, the crew made a remarkable discovery.  The Spanish conquistador Sebastián Vizcaíno had been the first European to explore these shores in 1602.  A priest in Vizcaíno’s retinue had offered mass under an oak tree just up from the shore, and planted a cross to commemorate the event, the first mass said in Alta California.  To the amazement of Serra’s men, the cross was still standing in 1770, 168 years later.  Not only this, but the native population had venerated it with abalone shells and other decorative arrangements.  Serra dutifully said mass on the spot to commemorate the original landing, and in hopes of future missionary success.

And success did come.  Serra’s efforts in California were by any scale heroic, and the fruits quite remarkable.  He traversed thousands of miles by foot during the course of his life in spite of his leg injury, founding nine missions; he was well-known as a keen administrator and forceful leader (often intervening on behalf of the native populations against the Spanish military presence, with whom he frequently came into conflict for mistreating the Indians); was a gentle and generous pastor of souls; confirmed over 5,000 natives in the missions by special permission of the bishop in Mexico City; and oversaw a mission system which baptized and converted even more to the Christian faith.3

I have been told that to this day at Mission San Antonio, Native Americans gather to celebrate the Feast of St. Anthony, many of whom are descended from the original converts.

It is, then, with fervor and joy that we should celebrate the feast of Blessed Junipero Serra, at a time when California’s Catholic and Christian identity is in a rather bad way.  Countless of its cities are named after saints.  We need saints like them to arise even now.  California has always had a reputation for being  a rough-and-tumble place, as beautiful in its natural diversity as it tends to be lawless in its behavior.  Such, indeed, makes up a good part of the state’s lure and lore.  We can, then, seek Blessed Junipero Serra’s intercession even today for the renewal of the Christian faith in California and the West.  For nothing is ultimately more alluring than the beauty and goodness of God’s Son.  Serra’s penitential spirit, zeal for souls, and shrewd practical wisdom, are all needed if the faith he once planted in California over two centuries ago is to come alive again.  It may just do so if we take up the mission of the New Evangelization, inspired and under the patronage of the so-called Apostle of California.


[1]

Serra was known to, during sermons, beat his chest with a rock or hold a flame to his hand to stir repentance in his hearers. Though these practices may seem odd or repellant to many today, they were not uncommon in the Spanish piety of the time, a reflection of which one can glimpse even now in the modern day “Peniténtes” of Colorado and New Mexico.

[2]

Serra was appropriating here the famous phrase of Tertullian, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

[3]

As an interesting sidenote, there is even evidence that Serra, whose missionary efforts historically coincided with the American Revolution on the opposite American coast, sent out orders in the 1770s for all the missions to pray for the victory of George Washington over the British.  Serra’s interests in this were in part nationalistic, since Spain was at war with England. It is nevertheless an intriguing historical fact that Franciscan prayers, masses, and penance were being offered for the victory of the country which would one day span the North American continent along this latitude.

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Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

Roper, the Answer is No...

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“...and will be no, so long as you’re a heretic,” says Sir Thomas More in the great film A Man for All Seasons, when young William Roper Holbein's Moreasks to marry his daughter. Instantly indignant, Roper thunders back “I don’t like that word Sir Thomas!” More—never at a loss—rejoins “It’s not a likeable word, it’s not a likeable thing.” (See here for the entertaining exchange.) The presumption (Saint) Sir Thomas More makes here—namely that what we believe about God and the universe, even down to the minutest and gritty details, matters—is radically alien to contemporary Christians. And it is we, not More’s generation, I fear, who have gone astray.

One often hears today the cry “I am spiritual but not religious.” In the mouths of those who say it, it seems to have behind it something like this: “I feel within me spiritual forces and principles. I also have a sense of the mystery of the universe, its beauty and splendor, and the heart-breaking contradictions of a world with so much good and so much evil side by side. There does seem to be ‘something’ or ‘Something’ out there. But I also don’t want to be a part of any organized group that talks about these things or imposes on me ideas of what they are. I do have a vague sense that these larger forces deserve 'reverence,' even 'worship,'  but I don’t want to offer this reverence like anyone else, or with anyone else, or according to any set format, or in any way that smacks of tradition or human institution or set rules for behavior. I sense something like ‘God,’ however we call it, but I will have no part in traditional religion.” So is the intention.

Now the first part about the universe’s mysterious character is truly a noble, human and healthy instinct. It is not wrong to call it, from the side of human nature, the basis for all contemplation, prayer, and worship. It is the second half that is problematic. I will re-phrase our contemporary man’s creed into plainer language, with a slightly cheeky elucidation and commentary on its real meaning: “I,” says this man actually, “have a deep, though obscure sense that ‘God’—whatever that might mean—exists [good so far]. But since these things can’t be known for sure [well...] and people have killed over them [true but not determinative] and religion in general is very dangerous [yes and no, but even if yes, not necessarily a bad thing], I will invent my own, the religion that belongs to me, the religion of me [insert Family Feud buzzer].”

There are countless things to say in response to this “personalized” sort of creed. I will state just a few. Vast segments of the Christian West would rise as a phoenix from the ashes if Christians understood one truth and the implications following from it: namely, that faith is an act of the intellect (see Summa Theologica II.II.4.2). Faith, Christian Faith that is, does not arise from our feelings about what might be nice or not, or from what we are “comfortable” believing about God or not, or from what our family or friends or The New York Times thinks about priests, or from behavior we want to justify in our own lives. Faith believes in realities that are more solid and sure and sharply contoured than anything on earth, precisely because they were crafted in heaven. We cannot change them because we want them to be different any more than we can remove the Pacific Ocean at will, or obliterate half the stars in the sky on a wish. It can be truly said that we have absolutely nothing to do with determining the essential content of the faith, any more than Jesus could metamorphose into different shapes, alter his nature as God, or shrivel the moral demands of the Gospel according to whether people agreed with them or not. God is infinitely beyond us, and He is as He is, regardless of what we think about Him. The Nicene Creed can be affirmed (as Christians affirm it) or denied (as non-Christians deny it, or confused Christians deny parts of it), but there is no middle ground.

This is an important point, because for some time Christianity has been yielding to the temptation of presenting the faith as something bland, undemanding, and ultimately uninteresting (which is why it has been shrinking since the 1960s). Christianity itself has contributed to the "religion of me" creed. God is presented as a non-judgmental moral therapist, there when you need Him (or Her—whichever way you like!), goes away when you do not, and affirms in gentle lullaby voice whatever you already believe or do. But this is not Christianity! This is not faith! Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus say, “Come follow me, when you want, and how you want,” or “Affirm yourself, take up your personal creed, and visit me when you feel like it.” Rather, Jesus’ preaching perpetually insists on very sharply defined principles. It often has the character of holding out two radical extremes without diluting either side. Exceeding mercy and severe demands are wedded in a beautiful and entrancing unity. In one moment Our Lord will say, “Come to me, all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest,” then in the next, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” His promise, “I am with you always” reaches the heart with comfort and security, after which neck-hairs stand erect at the rebuke, “Brood of vipers! How do you expect to escape the damnation of hell!” “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” pierces the heart with profound joy, while “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” sounds, out of context, like a sick and cruel practice in some barbarous land. Translation: Jesus is infinite love because he is God, but milquetoast moral therapist he is not.

How does this character of our Lord relate to the virtue of faith? If we are to be Christian, if we are to be Catholic, it is imperative that we believe in God and not--well--not in ourselves. Faith involves accepting, in a posture of humility, all that God has revealed to be true through his Holy Church; since the Church’s commission from Christ is precisely to guard and pass on the fullness of the truth which liberates. There is certainly a subjective side of the faith involving our own particular circumstance and personality and experiences, which may make it more or less easy to assent to all the Church has revealed. No one can come to faith apart from the grace of God, meeting and imbuing our hearts and minds, and healing the deepest recesses of our souls.  This is where the will and choice and conscience and love come in—but this more subjective side would require another article.1

For now, it is simply my burden to highlight a truth that has been all but lost in contemporary Christianity (Catholic and non-Catholic): it really matters what things we objectively believe about God. It really matters whether or not we can believe with our minds what the Church has revealed to be true about God. Eternal things hang in the balance. Orthodoxy and Heresy hang in the balance. Heaven and Hell hang in the balance. If it were not the case, honoring martyr-saints like Sir Thomas More makes no sense. Aquinas, to put an even finer point on it, goes so far to say that if someone rejects even one article of faith from Scripture or proposed by the authority of the Church, he cannot have real faith in any of the articles (ST II.II.5.3). Translation: when we pick and choose what we want to believe, when we are “Cafeteria” Catholics, we are not exercising faith but “only a kind of opinion in accordance with [our] own will.”

I do not mean to harp excessively on the point, and it is neither my desire nor personality to enjoy upsetting people. I emphasize faith’s objectivity, though, since one of the fundamental spiritual ills of our time is, to put it bluntly, self-worship. Modern man is inclined to trust no authorities outside his own personal subjectivized world: which is fatal to faith. Realizing, on the other hand, the positive place our minds have in establishing a relationship with God goes a very long way towards getting us on the right track. Such an affirmation of the mind in relating to God implies necessarily that we study about Him, contemplate Him, ask questions about Him, seek Him always, and address Him daily in prayer. Only when we have believed rightly can we fully and authentically love Him. This, above all, implies a humble posture towards all that He reveals, including the institutions and authorities He has established to govern, lead, and clarify Church teaching. Every saint took such a posture. If we do so with our whole hearts, souls, and minds, God can make us into one as well.

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1 For example, I could go into the distinctions between, in Aquinas' language, "formed faith" (faith with charity, which alone can save) and "unformed faith" (faith without charity, which even the demons can have); or between "material heresy" (non-culpable error about God which stems from ignorance, rather than bad will) and "formal heresy" (knowledgeable and obstinate denial of revelation). (see Summa Theologica II.II.4, Questions 3 & 4)

These are important distinctions, but would require another article. I here focus simply on the objectivity of the Christian faith and the importance of believing it.

Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

The Living Soul of Reform

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We live in exciting times. They are times of great change and great drama; of great controversy and great polarization; of great trial and great suffering. And they demand a vigorous response. We live in an era of cultural decay coming in the wake of the great upheavals of the 20th century, the most recent of which was the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Traditional forms of social cohesion like religious commitment, love of country, and familial stability, have been in decline for some years now. Crises have rocked the Catholic Church seemingly uninterruptedly Crepuscular Rays in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City  - Uploaded by Jraytramfor the last 40 years—whether confusion and dissolution in liturgical discipline, near-catastrophic failures in catechesis, a dearth of religious and priestly vocations, or (more recently) immoral and scandalous behavior of clergy. The question arises, “What do we do?” To begin, I propose a way of rethinking our use and understanding of a particular word. This word is summoned by diverse and sundry individuals and groups to defend changes in the Church, whether great or small, good or bad, wise or foolish. And the word is...“reform.” But first, a few words about using words.[1]

Sometimes when a word begins to be used in a variety of contexts, and by different people with differing intentions, it gradually loses its original specificity and can act as a kind of bully club, delivering a punchy and often emotionally-charged swipe at the expense of clarity and reasoned engagement. Such, I suppose, is the fate of words like “liberal” and “conservative” in popular discourse, or “open-minded” and “fundamentalist” in popular religious discourse. The words indeed mean something, but that meaning has gone through the wash so many times, and been worn again and soiled by so many different people, that they are often hurled forth irresponsibly, casting, as it were, a dirty and undignified garment on the adversary in the place of reasoned and patient engagement. Thus, in one fell swoop, a proponent of same-sex unions can brand his opponents “bigots” and the defender of traditional marriage has of a sudden been verbally clothed in a white suit with a pointy-hat, bigotry ready at hand. Or, in a similarly fellish swoop, a Catholic who believes the Magisterium ought to be adhered to in all matters of faith and doctrine can be called, with a tinge of visceral disdain, “narrow” or “rigid,” after which jaws clench, voices hush, and the argument has apparently been ended.

The word “reform” has not quite the same emotional baggage as those just mentioned, but ever since the Vatican Council II, it has been at least as bandied about by diverse and sundry groups, dressed up in one ideological agenda or another. On one side of the spectrum it is used to justify sweeping liturgical changes or to dismantle the concept of “hierarchical structures” or to advance women’s ordination. On the other side it is used as a dirty word in the midst of a wholesale critique of everything that has happened since Vatican II, sometimes even rejecting the Council itself and longing for a return to the perceived-to-be-pristine 1950s. And yet, the Vatican Council II itself spoke of the need for “reform” in the Church: “Christ summons the Church, as she goes her pilgrim way, to that continual reformation of which she is always in need insofar as she is an institution of men here on earth.” (Unitatis Redintegratio 6). The Council is careful in its phrasing. In her human aspects, the Church has many deficiencies, and we should not be afraid to recognize them and “reform” them. But in her essence the Church, united to Christ her Head, is perfect, an eternal font of creative energy, holiness, and life flowing through her.  This distinction is vital for any notion of “reform.” 


In common speech today the term “reform” drums up associations with political and social movements that seek to recraft social structures or advance political agendas. It is often bound up with a notion of democratic participatory decision-making and grassroots “movements” that seek to challenge existing structures. This is not what the Church means by “reform,” and to project this meaning onto ecclesial realities can lead to grave errors. The reason is that the Catholic Church is not merely a human or social or political institution. These realities are an inevitable part of the way she is structured here on earth, but they do not constitute her core, her heart, her “soul,” as it were. Properly speaking, the “Church” is not so much a structure, as a living organism with its own inner vital principles all afire with life and energy, principles that need to be respected and properly developed. It is more like a living and breathing human being than a machine. In this case that “being” is nothing less than the Mystical Body of Christ, the second Person of the Trinity in unity with his pilgrim people on earth.


Avery Dulles—in an article more detailed and theologically nuanced than I can be here—has admirably laid out the principles for “true and false” types of reform, principles that should be presupposed for any thinking about what “reform” is.[2] He points out that the Second Vatican Council used the word “reform” very sparingly, more often opting for the terms “renewal” (renovatio) and “purification” (purificatio). These seem more adequate terms since they point not so much to molding and shaping and bashing a thing into order from without, as to an encouraging-from-within, a support and nourishment that catalyzes the inner-forces of a thing so it can grow and develop properly.[3] 


Dulles’ distinction is a very Thomistic one. All living things have their own proper laws placed within them. A flower will only grow in a healthy way through a combination of nutrients in the soil, an amenable external environment, sufficient light from the sun, and water. A flower cannot be slashed at and bent about from the outside in order to conform with an idea that we have of what it should be. We cannot make a rose into a violet by painting it and cutting and pasting its petals this way and that, any more than we can feed a turtle steroids and turn it into a crocodile, or work very hard to train our pet cat to beat a cheetah in a race. What we can do is feed and nourish the rose, the violet, the turtle, or the cat, so that each grows and develops into the thing that it—and only it—is supposed to be.[4] 


If things like cats and turtles and flowers have these inner-principles, these “forms,” that need to be respected if we are to enjoy their company or their beauty, the Church has an inner-constitution which is infinitely more alive, vital, creative, and deserving of respect. This inner-principle of the Church is all afire with the divinity and the creative energy of God, flowing from an eternal source that will never cease. This “energy” is nothing less than the Holy Spirit Himself, often spoken of as the “soul” of the Body of Christ, that is, the Church.


Popes John Paul II and Benedict have continually called for a “new evangelization” to spark an age of renewal and yes, even “reform” in the Church. But this reform can never be achieved through a clumsy application of political and social models, or a purely secularized morality where truth is relative, irresponsible or even perverse behavior is condoned, and the only social rule is that one should never “offend” another. But neither will the new evangelization happen by simply retreating into a previous era as if the last 50 years never happened.


What the Body of Christ needs today is reinvigoration. It needs—or rather Christ now urgently calls—religious and lay people, priests and bishops, the whole Body of Christ, to a fearless and audacious confidence in the goodness of God and the power of the gospel to convert the world. We need, in a word, to become holy, to avail ourselves of the living waters flowing eternally from the Temple of God and the Heart of Christ pierced on the Cross. This can be the only true source of authentic renewal. How do we go about this? Ultimately, the responsibility devolves on each individual Catholic. But in a special way it devolves on: (1) religious to be faithful to their vows and the charisms of their founders; (2) clergy to order and lead and inspire their flocks with true knowledge and firm faith in Christ and his Church; (3) bishops to sound the call and be “examples for the flock” (1 Pet 5.3).

But getting more practical, Dulles gives a number of criteria to distinguish signs of true and false reform. True reform will: (1) not be an abandoning but a “return to the founding principles of Catholicism”; (2) respect the Church’s spiritual and devotional heritage, including Marian piety, the cult of saints, high regard for monastic life and religious vows, penitential practices, and eucharistic worship: (3) be committed to the “fullness of Catholic doctrine” as authoritatively proposed by the Magisterium; (4) respect the “divinely given structures of the Church, including the differences in states of life and vocations”; (5) sustain unity and communion, avoiding schism and factionalism; (6) be marked by a spirit of patient perseverance, not feverish demand for sweeping change; (7) not yield to our fallen nature’s tendency to prideful self-assertion; and (8) guard against reforms too closely associated with fads and ephemeral ideologies in the secular sphere.

Dulles sketches out in practical terms what he quotes one of the 20th century’s theological giants as affirming in more concise terms. Henri de Lubac said that he did “not believe that structural reforms...are ever the main part of a program that must aim at the only true renewal, spiritual renewal.” John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and—indeed—the Lord himself calls with intense urgency every Catholic to take up this call to the spiritual renewal and vigorous revitalization of the Church’s life. Such a renewal will come—can only come—from respecting and drawing off of the Church's interior vitality imbued and poured out by the Holy Spirit. God alone gives the growth, of course, but we are messengers and ambassadors of his work on earth, and he urgently, very urgently, exhorts us to the task.




[1] The inspiration and much of the substance of this article I draw from the late Avery Cardinal Dulles’ excellent article, “True and False Reform,” First Things Aug/Sep 2003. (Read it here.)



[2] see ibid.



[3] We do not have time to go into it here, but Dulles names a number of areas the Council pointed to for authentic renewal: biblical and patristic studies; liturgy; kerygmatic (i.e.preaching) theology; catechesis; lay apostolates; ecumenism; social teaching.



[4] I avoid the technical terminology here, but in Thomistic terms, this “inner-principle” is called the “form,” and the elements of change and particularity—all that goes into its color, shape, change through time—are its “matter.”


 

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Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

True Grit

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Latin CrossDuring my two-week home visit following Christmas this year, I had occasion to witness the Body of Christ active in a very gritty, grubby, and difficult way. As a celibate religious, I have undertaken a path of discipline in prayer, study, and common life which is built to aid the Christian in being “perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It involves many trials and difficulties, from the often toilsome nature of study, to the unpredictable itinerancy of new pastoral assignments, from the daily perseverance required to seek out silence and contemplation, to the head-spinning and body-draining activity of parish work. But the week following Christmas, I visited my sister and her husband, proud parents of two little ones, an adorable two-year old girl and a goggle-eyed (and boisterous) six-month-old boy. Difficult, grinding, and gritty work is parenting. And holy.

One of the great beauties of the Catholic faith is the way it honors difference, diversity, and complementarity.  And one place I have seen this most vividly is in the complementarity of the celibate and married vocations. As a celibate I live a life not many people do, and which is also easy to idealize: those white-robed holy men who spend all their days in the perfect peace of contemplative prayer, dipping down now and then to bring Christ to the world. There is truth in the fact of the alternating rhythms of prayer and activity in a Dominican’s life; it is a rhythm I love, exult in, and live out day-by-day. But illusions of “perfect peace”-perpetually-maintained vanish quickly upon entry as a novice. Numerous and eccentric personalities in close quarters for extended periods do not for perfect peace make. The friar has to learn constantly to readjust his personality to the eccentricities (sometimes delightful, often unnerving) of those around him. It is partially for this reason that religious life is called a “school of charity.” Prayer, too, has its vicissitudes of sensible consolation and peace, alternating with stale and flat periods where the Lord withdraws from the soul to teach perseverance amidst feelings of desolation and abandonment. The ideal of religious life remains an ideal; but perfect charity is only acquired by constant effort in cooperation and made possible with God's grace, self-abnegation, patience, and conformity to the Lord’s Cross. The free gift of God in Christ Jesus is anything but a lawn chair with a Dos Equis on the beach; it is rough, untidy, exacting, toilsome, dramatic. It is God’s sanctifying action upon hearts gone astray and needing purification to see God face-to-face in eternity.

So too parenting.  It is easy, on the one hand, to idealize “domestic tranquility” (especially if one is familiar with 19th century British literature or, for that matter, 1950s sitcoms).  It is refreshing, soothing, and sometimes even inspiring to picture home life as a congenial and happy arrangement where father and mother love each other and their children, have only minor disagreements swept away with a quick resolution and a smile, and are adept at managing children who are—if not angels—kindly, docile, and amiable souls.  At its best moments perhaps something like this shines forth.  But day-to-day reality is messier.  As my sister and brother-in-law demonstrated to me over this Christmas break, parenting involves constant attention to needy creatures who are simultaneously adorable and attention-consuming, endearing and unnerving, too cute to imagine and exasperating to the point of exhaustion.  Sleepless nights.  Medical anxieties.  Endless demands.  Non-stop needs arising from an infinity of unpredictable situations.  My sister has told me two things which capture the essence of her situation: as a stay-at-home mom (for now when they are very young), she has never been happier or more fulfilled in her life; at the same time, she has never experienced this degree of mental and physical exhaustion, combined even with periods of certain loneliness, her husband being a hard-working and dedicated father, but whose schedule as a physician’s assistant can be so demanding that meals and time at home become irregular.

St. Paul tells us that marriage is a holy vocation which images the relationship of Christ to his Church (Eph 5.32).  Both are beautiful.  And both are messy.  The Church as mother gives her children new spiritual life in baptism, nourishes them with spiritual food in the Eucharist, and continually calls new members into her fold, making the earth a home of God’s true peace.  But she does this by her union with Christ the Head, who for love of his Bride, the Church, underwent torture, the shedding of blood, and death.  As Christ lays down his life for the Church, so a husband lays down his own life, all he is, for love of his wife and the provision, protection, and nourishing of his family.  The wife in union with her husband then becomes, as the Church, a “home” for the wonderful, inspiring, difficult, and exasperating task of having and raising new little human creatures.

I rejoice in the gift of my vocation, though at points it has led to exhaustion, loneliness, and an attention to external demands so unrelenting that one wonders where new fuel comes from. But I know, too, that this sacrificial kind of love is both more real to the demands of life, and more closely approximates the way our Lord loved his Church even through trial. Real and lasting joy can only come at such a price. For this reason I marvel all the more at the beauty of God’s design for the human family. I have found myself frequently in a position of bringing to married couples a certain witness to the primacy of spiritual values in life. The time I devote to prayer and “things spiritual” puts me in a good position to share with married couples the beauty, challenge, and importance of our relationship with God; both its joys and its trials. On the other hand, I am constantly blessed to see up close in marriages a living picture of the marvelous gift of family, married life, and new children—full of joy and its trial.

My sister and brother-in-law are living out their vocation to marriage in a way that, to me, is beautiful and inspiring, witnessing as it does to the very way Christ relates to his Church. Its beauty shines forth all the more when I see my brother-in-law exhausted from work, yet coming home to treat his wife with kindness and dignity; my sister stretched to the point of exhaustion, yet still giving herself to her husband and children; and of course my niece and nephew--too cute to imagine, yet growing by fits and starts through the travails and joys of childhood. Love that proves itself in the midst of suffering is more authentic. For this reason I am thankful every time I witness to the beauty and drama of married life. The love demanded is inspiring because it is real, because it is gritty, and because it requires real courage. In other words, it is like Christ’s.

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Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

Why the Catholic Church?

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On July 25th I gave a presentation at St. Dominic's Church in Eagle Rock entitled, "why the Catholic Church?". Below is a link to the talk. This presentation followed a presentation that I gave earlier this summer, "Who is Jesus?" 

Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

Who is Jesus?

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On 13 June 2012, I gave the Dominican Forum presentation at St. Dominic's Parish in Eagle Rock California. The topic of the talk entitled, "Who is Jesus?" was on the nature of Jesus Christ as true God and true man and the importance and centrality of this teaching for the Christian faith. 

Starting from Scripture and moving through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I attempted to illustrate in a straight-forward and easy to digest fashion what the Church understands about the nature of Jesus Christ and how she has articulated that understanding throughout the centuries.

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

A Letter from the Studentate

Dear Friends and Loyal Readers,

On behalf of the studentate, I must apologize for our lack of posts over the last few weeks. The month of May is typically very busy at St. Albert's, as we begin writing papers and studying extra hard for our final exams. Now that the semester is over, we should get back to our usual schedule of one or two posts a week.

In the meantime, let me give you a little update as to what has happened in the last month...

1) Towards the end of April we celebrated the Solemn Profession of Br. Corwin Saxon Low, O.P., and Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P. In the beautful liturgy on April 28 at St. Dominic's in San Francisco, our brothers made a vow obedience until death into the hands of Fr. Mark Padrez, O.P., Prior Provincial of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.

2) A few weeks later, on May 7, I had the privilege of helping to light the consecration candles in our chapel as we commemorated the dedication of the chapel by Archbishop Mitty many years ago. The readings and prayers for the day are some of my favorites, since they remind us that the churches in which we pray should be beautiful signs of the presensce of God in our midst.

3) On Mother's Day a number of us traveled to Corpus Christ Monastery in Menlo Park, to be present at the simple profession of Sister Mary Isabel of the Angels, O.P., one of our cloistered nuns. During the Mass Sister Mary Isabel received a black veil, in place of the white one she wore as a novice, and was honored for her willingness to give her life in prayer to the Lord. Sister Mary Isabel is a prayer partner to many of the brothers in formation, and constantly offers spiritual bouquets on their behalf.

Sister Mary Isabel receives her new veil from Fr. Mark Padrez, O.P.

4) The Vigil of Pentecost was especially exciting for all of this year, since it was on this day that our brother Emmanuel Francis Taylor, O.P., was ordained to the priesthood. Fr. Emmanuel has been preparing for this day for many years, and it was a blessing to see the joy on his face as he was vested in his chasuble and his hands were anointed with sacred chrism. Hopefully we'll have some pictures up soon, so be sure to visit our site again.

And when you do, you'll also find some posts from our brothers regarding their summer assignments. A few of us will be in Clinical Pastoral Education programs, while others will be living and working with our communities in Portland and McKenzie Bridge, OR, Seattle, Antioch and Eagle Rock, CA, and Las Vegas.

 

Br. Chris Brannan, O.P.'s picture

The One and the Many: A Royal Priesthood, a Chosen People

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The preaching of Br. Chris on 1 Peter 2:9-10, for Vespers on Saturday, April 14, 2012.

Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

Not by "Faith Alone"

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Council of Trent

Over the last week of ordinary time before the season of Lent, we have been reading from the epistle of St. James during the weekday mass. As a former Lutheran, this epistle has played a special role in my life, due to the wrestling match forced upon me as I tried to reconcile my inherited belief in salvation by “faith alone” with the clear words of the second chapter of this letter, that salvation is not by faith alone. Needless to say, I lost the wrestling match, a loss which is not uncommon when fighting against sacred scripture, and have now embraced the full teachings of the Catholic Church. However this week has provided yet another occasion for me to reflect once again on how my own thinking developed during the years leading up to my entrance into the Catholic Church.

            When I was a Lutheran, I believed that, within the doctrine of salvation by faith alone the unpolluted, and pure core of Christianity was expressed with simple clarity. I believed that within this doctrine existed a key to that “Mere Christianity” that all Christians had been searching for. The very essence of the Christian faith was here contained and summarized, that man cannot save himself but is entirely dependent on the Grace won for him in Jesus Christ.

            But what about the epistle of James?

            “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness"; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” James 2:14-16

            What could James be talking about here by saying that faith without works is dead? What about all of those times in the writing of St. Paul where faith is continually contrasted with works and the two are apparently opposed?  How was I to understand this?

            The best explanation that I came across from the protestant camp, and the one that I held for some time, was this, that what James was talking about when he used the word “faith” was a mere intellectual assent, not true faith that saves. He is referring to the mere assent to certain propositions as true, like facts that are checked-off as on a list. There was no contradiction at all. What the reformed doctrine of Luther is referring to as opposed to St. James is (and this is the important phrase) a “Saving Faith”.

            I reasoned along with many Protestants that what is required for Salvation is a “Saving Faith”. Faith cannot be mere intellectual assent; it must be that faith which St. Paul speaks of, the faith that will unite us mind and heart to God. This is the answer; a clarifying and nuancing of the word “faith”. What is required for salvation is a “saving faith”. This is the faith that “alone” can save. This is at least how I would have reasoned ten years ago.

            But by saying this, what did I just do in my reasoning? By clinging to the doctrine of faith alone I was forced, in order to be faithful to scripture and to make sense of St. James, to clarify what I meant by faith. I was forced to make a distinction. I was forced to distinguish between faith in one sense and faith in another sense. The idea of faith must be qualified if it is to be a faith that saves. There is something about saving faith that makes it different from that mere faith that doesn’t; something about the faith of the saints that renders it wholly other than the faith of those who St. James is condemning for having “faith alone”. If there is truly a distinction between the faith of mere intellectual assent that James is referring to and the faith that saves, and there has to be if we are to understand James at all, then there must be something by which saving faith is different than mere faith. This something by which faith becomes saving must be something real; it must have real being. If it did not have real being there would be no reason to speak of the distinction at all and we must go back to the unacceptable contradiction. Also, this something by which faith becomes saving must be different than faith itself, it cannot just be “more faith”; otherwise St. James’s warning against “faith alone” would still stand as a contradiction. So there is something that must be added to the notion of faith to render it saving; and even if I were to recoil from the phrase ‘add to faith’ I still had to admit that there is something real to distinguish mere faith from saving faith. What is that? If there is something truly real by which the faith spoken of by St. James is distinguished from the saving faith of St. Paul, than that something must also be saving and essential.

            The next question: what is it that distinguishes faith to render it salvific? The faith that I had in my mind when I spoke of salvation through faith was a faith that opens the heart to the grace of God. It was a whole disposition of the soul, intellect and will, towards God. When I asked myself, “what is it about faith that is saving?” I had to conclude this. That faith in and of itself is an entire re-orientation of my life in the direction of God. And this is by no meansonly intellectual assent. It is indeed an intellectual assent at first, but that assent is immediately accompanied by ahope in God, a hope which surpasses human reason, and alove of God which is not of ourselves, not a love that arises from our own natural ability to Love, but a love that is infused from above, true Charity. This is the answer; what is added to faith that distinguishes it as saving is CHARITY! It is Charity that saves.

            This is the faith that St. Paul was talking about, a faith that, as soon as it was born in the heart, rebounded to acts of hope and love, and, as soon as the opportunity arose, overflowed into acts of obedience to God and acts of Charity to ones neighbor. This is what is truly saving, true Charity.

            I concluded thus: there is no such thing as the gift of the theological virtue of Faith alone. It is always accompanied by an infusion of all of the theological virtues and those virtues immediately begin the perfection of my natural powers to flourish as a human being and to know God. God Never gives the gift of faith alone but the gift of all the virtues. The faith can remain after the virtue of Charity has been lost, but once charity is lost through sin the faith that remains is “dead”.

[1]

It is Charity that saves. Just as what St. Paul said in the thirteenth Chapter of 1st Corinthians, it is Charity that is the supreme virtue.

            I came to realize that these two concepts, faith and works of Charity, were not separated at all but were two aspects of the same reality that was given to me at my Baptism, sanctifying grace. The gift of faith that, far from destroying my natural abilities to know, perfects them by granting them the power to rise and assent to divinely revealed truths that reason alone could not know, and the gift of charity, perfecting my nature by giving me the ability to love God for His own sake, are both aspects of the same gift of grace. This sanctifying grace was given to me as a free gift when I was reborn through baptism, but this grace did not remain dormant. This grace, then in seed form, began to sprout shoots, not only of acts of faith, but act of charity as well. This grace was not merely nourished by acts of faith but also by acts of love of God and love of neighbor. If this sanctifying grace given to me as a free gift at my baptism did not grow into free acts of charity towards my neighbor, the only thing that could be said about my faith is thatit is dead. As St. James so plainly puts it,“For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead”.

            This is by no means an exhaustive account of the debate that has raged for almost five hundred years over the nature of salvation. It is, as I said earlier, my own personal reflection, in summary form, of how I struggled to come to terms with discrepancies between the teachings that I inherited from my Lutheran training and the truth as revealed through Sacred Scripture. I wrestled with scripture for many years. But to fight against scripture is to lose. For me, it was a glorious defeat. When the fighting was over I found myself staring at the true Gospel of Grace as articulated by the Catholic Church for the last two thousand years; and how beautiful a teaching it is.

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[1]

Trent (session VI, Decree on Justification) canon 28

[2]

See the November talks (esp Nov 19) from 2008. Pope Benedict shows that it is Charity that saves, not faith.