Thursday, October 17, 2013

"The Christian Life is A Battle"--Fought with Prayer

Moses, putting the warrior in prayer warrior. By the way, the Sacred Page blog is an excellent resource for Catholics wanting to learn more about Scripture, and for non-Catholics who want to know what Catholics teach about Scripture. Excerpts:
...Our First Reading is Exodus 17:8-13:
In those days, Amalek came and waged war against Israel.
Moses, therefore, said to Joshua,
"Pick out certain men,
and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle.
I will be standing on top of the hill
with the staff of God in my hand."
So Joshua did as Moses told him:
he engaged Amalek in battle
after Moses had climbed to the top of the hill with Aaron and Hur.
As long as Moses kept his hands raised up,
Israel had the better of the fight,
but when he let his hands rest,
Amalek had the better of the fight.
Moses’ hands, however, grew tired;
so they put a rock in place for him to sit on.
Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands,
one on one side and one on the other,
so that his hands remained steady till sunset.
And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people
with the edge of the sword.
We should recall the context here. After the Ten Plagues and the Passover, Israel has left Egypt a few weeks ago, crossed the Red Sea, and now entered into the Sinai Peninsula: a vast, rocky, mountainous desert. Amalek was a nation of nomads that controlled the northeastern part of the Sinai Peninsula and the southern part of the Negeb (the south Judean desert). The Amalekites were not happy to have the Israelites moving through the outskirts of the their territory, and they sent bands of scouts to trail them. According to Deut 25:18, the Amalekite raiders killed off the weakest of the Israelites who lagged behind the main camp—the ill, the elderly, poor families with many children, etc. The Amalekites were an ancient expression of the culture of death.

Now on their way to Mount Sinai, in Exodus 17 the Israelites are attacked outright by the bulk of the Amalekite forces, and they are forced to respond, despite the fact that they are not military men but former slaves, and have few if any proper weapons. It is a situation of great peril that could end with the complete annihilation of the Israelite people in the middle of a desert wasteland.

The young man Joshua goes out to lead those forces the Israelites could muster, while Moses goes to the mountaintop to beseech God in prayer. The moral sense of this text is a good example of the complementarity of prayer and action, of ora et labora. The people fight and pray: both are necessary, for the same reason that faith and works operate together.

How curious that Moses’ prayers are necessary! Why doesn’t God just send victory without them? Surely he could! Yet this is the mystery of God’s will: that he chooses to incorporate our participation in the fulfillment of his plans (See Aquinas, Summa 2, 2, Q. 83, art. 2). He ordains to grant victory to Israel through Moses’ intercession. Prayer is a cooperation with God’s will for us.

In the Old Testament, there were no “secular” wars. Every battle was both a physical and spiritual conflict, because the opposing armies always called on their respective gods. The conflict of nations was the conflict of their divinities, and the stronger divinities won. So in Exodus 17 as well: there is a spiritual battle going on here between the LORD God of Israel and the gods of the Amalakites, just as earlier in Exodus the LORD took on the gods of Egypt through the ten plagues, defeating the Nile god, the crop god, the livestock gods, the sun god, etc. In this spiritual conflict, prayer is vital—God chooses to use it as his means to victory. This calls to mind later spiritual conflicts in the ministry of Jesus, when the disciples cannot defeat and demon and the Lord tells them: “This kind comes out only by prayer.”

As a Church, we find ourselves very much in the position of the Israelites on their way to Sinai. We have left Egypt (=slavery to sin by crossing through the sea (=Baptism), but now that we are free people we find we have a fight on our hands.

People are surprised sometimes to discover that the Christian life is a battle. They supposed, perhaps, that things would be easier after baptism, or after conversion. But you see, slaves don’t have to fight. In Egypt, the Israelites weren’t in the army—they just slaved away in obedience to their Egyptian masters. That’s like the life of sin: its not really a struggle. You don’t fight temptation, you just obey it. It’s not slaves, but free men who have to fight, who have to serve in the army. So it is in the spiritual life. When we leave our addictions behind, having experienced conversion, we enter this life of freedom, but discover that freedom entails struggle, that freedom cannot be maintained without fighting.

What gives us the power for this fight? Prayer. That’s the true source of our victory. But it must be persevering prayer that continues until the final victory is won.

Benedict XVI points out that Moses, with both arms lifted up in prayer, strikes a pose on the mountaintop much like Christ on the cross. So we can see Moses here as a type of Christ, prefiguring the great prayer to the Father that was the Passion and Crucifixion, the great prayer which defeated the Enemy of God’s people definitively. We participate in that great Prayer of Christ on the cross at every Mass...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Happy Feast of Mary, Mother of the Church!

Pope Francis greets the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima in St. Peter's Square ahead of the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary tomorrow.

Here's a prayer by Pope Francis, prayed before the statue of Our Lady Aparecida in Brazil:
Mother Aparecida,
today I feel like you once did
before your God and mine,
who proposes for our lives a mission
whose contours and limits we ignore,
whose demands we only glimpse.
Yet in your faith that "nothing is impossible with God,"
O Mother,
you did not hesitate,
and so I cannot hesitate.

"Behold the handmaid of the Lord! Let it be done unto me according to your word!"

In this way, O Mother, like you,
I embrace my mission.
Into your hands I put my life
and we will
– you-mother and me-son –
we will walk together,
believe together,
fight together,
win together as your Son and you always walked together.

"Woman, behold your son! Son, behold your mother!"

Mother Aparecida,
You once took your Son to the Temple
to consecrate him to the Father,
that he might be fully available for the mission which awaited him.
Lift me up today to the same Father,
consecrate me to him,
all that I am and all that I have.

"Here I am! Send me!"

Mother Aparecida,
I put in your hands,
and so take to the Father, our and your youth, and World Youth Day:
so much strength, so much life,
so much dynamism sprouting and bursting,
which can be at service of life, of mankind.

"Father, welcome and sanctify your youth!"

Finally, O Mother, we ask you:
stay here,
always welcoming your son and daughter pilgrims,
but also come with us, be always by our side
and go along with us,
the great family of your devotees, in our own missions:
especially when the cross weighs heavy,
sustain our hope and our faith.

"Keep faithful, and I will give you the crown of life. Amen!"

Inconceivable! Hamas, Hezbollah Losing Legitimacy

Epochal, if true. Excerpts:
...Current discourse on Palestinian and Lebanese social networks indicates that a surprising trend has emerged over the past six months with potential momentous consequences for Israel’s security concept and the strategic challenges before it. The violent resistance (muqawama) against Israel by Hizbollah and Hamas has lost its legitimacy in Lebanese civil society and Palestinian society, respectively...

One of the most evident results of the “Arab Spring” has been the shift in focus by Arab civil societies from outside to inside – from foreign policy to domestic affairs. Civil society in the Arab world is demanding the redressing of injustices. Nationalism and Islamism have been replaced by a demand for democratization, rights, and freedom...
In related stuff, see Pope Benedict XVI's document on the Church in the Middle East.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Pope Francis on Abortion, Gay Marriage

On abortion: In Italian, unfortunately.  But you can get the gist from other sources.

John Allen:
...Francis delivered an address to a group of Catholic gynecologists in which he strongly affirmed the right to life as a “primary value and primordial right of every human person.”

In that address, the pope also called on Catholics to defend a “culture of life” that begins “from the first instant of conception...”
“Every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord, who even before his birth, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world,” he said.

Pope Francis condemned the “throwaway culture” abortion promotes, saying, “Our response to this mentality is a ‘yes’ to life, decisive and without hesitation. ‘The first right of the human person is his life. He has other goods and some are precious, but this one is fundamental –- the condition for all the others’”.

The leader of the Catholic Church described a contradiction whereby scientists pursue cures for diseases but snuff out human life in abortion.

“On the one hand we see progress in the field of medicine, thanks to the work of scientists who passionately and unreservedly dedicate themselves to the search for new cures,” he said. “On the other hand, however, we also encounter the risk that doctors lose sight of their identity in the service of life.”

“While new rights are attributed to or indeed almost presumed by the individual, life is not always protected as the primary value and the primordial right of every human being,” he continued. “The ultimate aim of medicine remains the defense and promotion of life...”
Related: on Rachel's Vineyard.

On gay marriage: the Telegraph:
Dissident priest Greg Reynolds has bee
n both defrocked and excommunicated over his support for women priests and gays - the first person ever excommunicated in Melbourne, he believes.

''...I've come to this position because I've followed my conscience on women's ordination and gay marriage.''

According to church teaching, excommunication is the strongest sanction and means one can not hold any office or receive any sacraments. Being laicised means one is no longer a priest.

Fairfax Media understands that the only other Melbourne priests laicised against their will have been notorious paedophiles...
Edward Pentin on Francis and gay marriage:
According to an article in tomorrow’s L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Primate of Argentina, has said that if a proposed bill giving same-sex couples the opportunity to marry and adopt children should be approved, it will “seriously damage the family.”

He made the statement in a letter addressed to each of the four monasteries in Argentina, asking the contemplatives to pray “fervently” that legislators be strengthened to do the right thing.

He wrote: “In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

Cardinal Bergoglio continued: “Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
The cardinal also noted that “today the country, in this particular situation, needs the special assistance of the Holy Spirit to bring the light of truth on to the darkness of error, it need this advocate to defend us from being enchanted by many fallacies that are tried at all costs to justify this bill and to confuse and deceive the people of good will.”

The cardinal explained why he has called on the nation’s Carmelites for “their prayers and sacrifice, the two invincible weapons of Santa Teresa.”
“I invoke the Lord to send his Spirit on senators who will be voting, that they do not act in error or out of expediency, but according to what the natural law and the law of God shows them,” he said. Addressing the contemplatives, he called on them to pray for the legislators and their families, “that the Lord visit, strengthen and console them. Pray for the senators to do good for their country.”

Cardinal Bergoglio said the bill will be discussed in the Senate after July 13. “We look to Saint Joseph, Mary and the Child Jesus and ask that they fervently defend the family in Argentina at this particular time,” he said. “We remember what God said to his people in a moment of great anguish: ‘This war is not yours, but God’s’: defend us, then, in this war of God.”
Jimmy Akin has quotes on both issues:
The moral problem of abortion is pre-religious in nature because the genetic code of the person happens in the moment of conception.

A human being is already there. I separate the topic of abortion from any religious concept. It is a scientific problem.

To not let the development continue of a being who already has all the genetic code of a human being is not ethical.

The right to life is the first of human rights.

To abort is to kill someone who cannot defend himself [On Heaven and Earth]....
And, of course, the papal interview on the plane coming back from World Youth Day in Brazil:
...Patricia Zorzan:

Speaking on behalf of the Brazilians: society has changed, young people have changed, and in Brazil we have seen a great many young people. You did not speak about abortion, about same-sex marriage. In Brazil a law has been approved which widens the right to abortion and permits marriage between people of the same sex. Why did you not speak about this?

Pope Francis:

The Church has already spoken quite clearly on this. It was unnecessary to return to it, just as I didn’t speak about cheating, lying, or other matters on which the Church has a clear teaching!

Patricia Zorzan:

But the young are interested in this ...

Pope Francis:

Yes, though it wasn’t necessary to speak of it, but rather of the positive things that open up the path to young people. Isn’t that right! Besides, young people know perfectly well what the Church’s position is.

Patricia Zorzan:

What is Your Holiness’ position, if we may ask?

Pope Francis:

The position of the Church. I am a son of the Church...

Saturday, October 5, 2013

"What's the budget for the entire Catholic Church?"

Here are several answers to that question, all equally true:
  • I don't know, and I doubt anyone could actually answer that question.
  • Since the Church preexists creation (it has its roots in the Trinity) and is the Mystical Body of Christ, the family of the Son of the Living God, then by rights it has a claim to all things. Therefore, the created order--that's the budget of the Church.
  • Since "the Church" means all of its members, the budget of the Catholic Church is equivalent to the amount of money passing into and out of the hands of all of its members at all times anywhere in the world.
  • Speaking in worldly terms, I'm not sure anybody knows the amount of money passing into and out of the Church in a year for the very simple reason that we aren't Coca-Cola. There's no general headquarters with accountants tracking all the doings of all the branch offices and franchises and everything. The Pope never sees most of the money going into the collection basket every Sunday. That's simply not how it's done. It's sort of like trying to figure out what the actual budget for the "government of the United States" is for a given year, if by government we mean every single bit of those bodies which govern the United States (federal, state, county, local). Does anyone ever try to figure out that number?
For more of a sense of the way the thing works, see:

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pope Francis, Proselytization, and Good and Evil

The new interview.

I think the good/evil thing was basically another (apparently ill-translated) way of saying you can't ask of someone what they haven't got. You cannot expect an infant to have the knowledge and experience of an adult. You cannot give meat before milk. People must follow the good insofar as they are aware of it, insofar as they can find it, even if their consciences are not well formed or misdirected. It's the antidote to the great Catholic error of the past, namely, coercing others to give lip-service to the faith (see: Inquisition, Heretics, etc.) even though they don't get it, don't agree with it, and see no reason to accept it as true. We can expel people from the Church, and we can admit them, but it's not right to put a sword to their throat or a gun to their head and demand of them a knowledge and acceptance of the good and the true which they're not in a place to honestly give.

Father Z. is doing some good work in translating Francis for people these days. Remember that Pope Francis is the same man who, before the election, was calling on the cardinals to elect someone who will help the Church to the sweet joy of evangelizing. Here's Jimmy Akin explicating the proselytization thing.

Deacon Greg quotes popes past on proselytization to good effect.
“The Church respects the freedom of individuals to seek the truth and to embrace it according to the dictates of conscience, and in this light she firmly rejects proselytism and the use of unethical means to gain conversions.” – Blessed John Paul II, in Sri Lanka, 1995

“ The word ‘proselytism’ has a negative meaning when it indicates a way of winning followers which does not respect the freedom of those to whom a specific kind of religious propaganda is directed. The Catholic Church in America is critical of proselytism by the sects and, for this reason, rejects methods of this kind in her own evangelizing work. Presenting the Gospel of Christ in its entirety, the work of evangelization must respect the inner sanctuary of every individual’s conscience, where the decisive and absolutely personal dialogue between grace and human freedom unfolds.” — Blessed John Paul, Ecclesia in America, 1999.

“We impose our faith on no one. Such proselytism is contrary to Christianity. Faith can develop only in freedom. But we do appeal to the freedom of men and women to open their hearts to God, to seek him, to hear his voice. ” — Pope Benedict, Munich, 2006.
You want to know what this pope is about? Read what he's said, not what he's reported to have said. For more, see:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mary's Meals: Spare the Food, Spoil the Child

Awesome idea, awesome ministry.  Excerpts:
...In 2002, SIR was operating a simple famine relief project in Malawi when Magnus met a family that led to a whole new area of work. The mother was dying of AIDS and lying on the floor of her hut surrounded by her six young children. She said that all that was left for her was to pray for her children, that someone might look after them after she had died.

When Magnus asked her oldest son what he hoped for in life, his stark reply, “To have enough food to eat and to go to school one day,” was not easily forgotten.

This was a key part of the inspiration that led to the Mary’s Meals campaign, which aims to provide chronically hungry children with one meal every school day. In this way the children are encouraged to gain the education that can lift them out of poverty in later life.

This simple but effective idea has gathered momentum and today provides meals to impoverished children in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and South America.

In 2012, Scottish International Relief officially changed its registered charity name to Mary’s Meals...


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