Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

How St. John Saved Me

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” - John 21:15

I can still remember the question, "Are y'all Catholic?" I had no idea what a Catholic was. We had recently moved to a small town in central Louisiana from a small town in east central Alabama. Needless to say there were few Catholics in that part of Alabama, but Louisiana was a different situation altogether. About three-quarters of the town I lived in was Catholic, so the question asked by a new neighbor of mine was a legitimate one. I simply said, "I don't think so." And that was that.

Until Lent rolled around. Same neighbor in the cafeteria line wanted fish, and the server in the line asked him, "Are you Catholic?" I thought, "Does that matter?" Evidently it did because when I was asked and said no, I was given a hamburger with no option for fish.

When I experienced my first Mass, I noticed a couple of similarities. First, the creed was familiar, although in the small United Methodist Church we attended, the Nicene Creed was only rarely recited. More often Apostle's Creed was recited, sans "he descended into hell" of course. And the Lord's Prayer was familiar except they didn't do the closing doxology the way we did it. Otherwise, I noticed there was a lot of movement: genuflection, making the sign of the cross, crossing the forehead, lips and chest at the gospel, and stand, sit and kneel. These Catholics really put their entire selves into worship!

But I was drawn to the Catholic liturgy. It was beautiful and solemn compared to the services of the United Methodist Church. The sermon was not the center of worship. It was more prayerful and less boring. Yet, my friends who were Catholic lamented going to Mass every Sunday and complained how boring it was. I was always shocked by this because nothing was as boring as four walls and a sermon.

Fast forward to college. I began attending a small Episcopal Church on my college campus. They had all the liturgical benefits without the "Romish" doctrines of Mary, Purgatory, etc. But there was still something that gnawed at me. Was it enough to worship like Catholics while still not being a Catholic. Oh, the Anglicans will say that they are Anglo-Catholic, but I knew deep down that this was like those people who wear the "Kiss me I'm Irish" pins on St. Patrick's Day but were really of French or German descent. So I prayed for God to lead me to truth.

And then one day as I was reading the bible, I turned to John 21 and came across the above passage. By God's grace I was able to see clearly St. Peter's place in the grand scheme of things, and to boot it was St. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who was affirming St. Peter's role as leader of the disciples. It was obvious to me that St. John could not have meant stuff related to fishing when he quotes Jesus as asking, "Do you love me more than these?" The these had to ultimately mean "these other disciples" because Jesus then responds to St. Peter's affirmative reply, "Feed my lambs." The Catholics were right! Jesus had indeed left St. Peter in charge of the Church on earth. With this realization alone everything else fell into place, and I fully believed that the Catholic Church was indeed the Church founded by Christ on St. Peter the Apostle and to remain outside of the Church was tantamount to not being honest with myself.

And so, while I recognize God's grace leading me to the Catholic faith from a fairly early age, I credit St. John for pushing me into the Tiber River as I gazed at St. Peter's from the opposite shore. I like the view from inside much better.

Monday, April 09, 2007

It's in the details

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. - St. John 20:6-9

There are those who question the gospel accounts of the Resurrection. How on earth would a man who was executed outside the city wall as a common criminal be allocated a burial place? Some say that his body would have been left on the cross. Others say that he was buried in a shallow grave unmarked and unknown by all. The problem with most of these accounts is that they are merely speculative and use as evidence that this is simply how the bodies of criminals executed in first century Palestine were treated.

Here is the problem with this circumstantial evidence: the gospels say otherwise. Jesus was not unknown to the people of Jerusalem, and even gospels say that Jesus had followers amongst the Jewish authorities. Two that are mentioned are Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and it is documented in all four canonical gospels (written at different times and for different communities) that Joseph of Arimathea asked Pontius Pilate for the body of Jesus. The gospels go on to say that Joseph laid the body in his own new tomb.

But aside from that I find the detail with which St. John describes the tomb striking. He describes Peter going into the tomb first, and then himself entering the tomb. He sees the burial cloths separated from the napkin which covered the head of the Lord. The napkin is described as rolled up and in a place by itself. How people can brush this off as mere fantasy is mind-boggling.

Yet, what I find most saddening is that those who go to great lengths to speculate what happened to the body of Jesus discount these written accounts altogether as unreliable mainly because they were written by men of faith for the Church.

They seem to forget that this Jesus who was executed as a common criminal is also the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Son of God. And they seem to forget that he is risen from the dead. Alleluia.

Pascha nostrum immolatus est Christus, alleluia: itaque epulemur in azymis sinceritatis et veritatis, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Where I am going you cannot come.

Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going you cannot come.' - John 13:33

One of the things I have found most comforting as a Catholic is that even when a church building is empty of people, it is alive because of the Eucharistic presence of Christ in the tabernacle. When this is most comforting are those times when you need to actually be in the presence of the Lord. I don't mean this in a "spiritual" sense; of course we can be in the presence of Christ's spirit anywhere, but because we are incarnate beings we have the need to experience the Lord in a concrete and incarnate manner. There are times where I quite literally need to be with Christ.

For those of us with faith, we experience the risen Lord in the consecrated bread and wine which has been transformed into his body and blood. This is a substantial and real presence where we experience the risen Lord. Many churches in our archdiocese (including my own) have chapels of perpetual adoration (a place where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, usually in a monstrance) where you will find someone present in prayer 24 hours a day throughout the year, so I spend at least one hour a week in prayer before Christ present in the most holy Eucharist.

However, there have been times of special need when I have just popped into the chapel to pray outside of my scheduled holy hour. One such time was yesterday at about 2:00 pm. I had some time, so I figured I would use it to do my assigned penance from confession earlier in the day. My penance was to pray the rosary for our pastor, Fr. John Talamo. Easy enough. Since it was Lent, I chose to meditate on the sorrowful mysteries. As I contemplated the final mystery, the crucifixion, I thought how the disciples and Our Lady must have felt so abandoned and alone after Christ's death. Their friend and teacher was suddenly taken from them in a most violent manner. They must have been so afraid and wondered, "What are we going to do now? He's gone."

Then I realized something. In an hour, the chapel was going to be closed for the Triduum celebration. We would celebrate the Mass of Maundy Thursday soon, and afterwards the Blessed Sacrament would be removed from the Church, reposed on a special altar until midnight, and then completely unavailable for adoration for 3 days. The only experience we would have would be Holy Communion on Good Friday, but immediately afterward, he would be taken away once again. In a very small manner, I experienced a sense of sadness knowing that for a time Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament will not be there. For a time, all of the Church will feel a longing for the Lord's sacramental presence, but he will be gone.

For this period of loneliness, I am truly thankful to God, for it made me realize the grace bestowed on me by Him through the gift of the Eucharist which is truly the gift of his son at Calvary.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Hosanna filio David!

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass. - Zechariah 9:9

If there is a common theme in the life of Christ it is humility, and he best expressed that humility through obedience to his Father's will. Born in a cave and laid in a manger. Submitting to baptism by St. John the Baptist. Triumphantly riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Washing the feet of his disciples at the last supper. Enduring agony in Gethsemene, scourging, crowning with thorns, and crucifixion. The scandal of it all is quite a stumbling block, even to this day.

Such is the mystery of God's love, that the greatest power of the universe humbly submits to the judgment of his creatures. Reviled, spat upon, mocked, and utterly rejected, he is lifted up on the cross and draws all mankind to himself. Through his humble death we all have abundant life.

Christus factus est pro nobis obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis.
Propter quod et Deus exaltavit illum, et dedit illi nomen, quod est super omne nomen.