John Paul II

Book Review!

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Please feel free to check out my book review of  Christ’s Descent into Hell: John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger, and Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Theology of Holy Saturday for Homiletic and Pastoral Review through link below. This book is probably the best book on Holy Saturday theology I have ever read!

http://www.hprweb.com/2017/09/early-fall-reading-2/

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 3 Reasons Christians are Called to be Bridge-builders

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I love random facts! I find they are great conversation starters and help me to trigger and bridge past and seemingly unconnected memories together. Speaking of the subject of bridges, I recently learned that the world’s longest bridge is over 102 miles! Carrying trains this incredible engineering feat connects the cities of Nanjing and Shanghai.

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Aside from being massive architectural projects and accomplishments, the daily function of a bridge is a little more mundane—it serves as a connection between two points that otherwise could not meet or communicate. In a similar way today I am going to share my thoughts on how I myself and all Catholics, and Christians in general, are called to act a bridge between God and humanity. Examining Scripture, Tradition, and evidence from a strictly logical standpoint, I put forth three reasons why all Christians need to be bridge-builders

1. For the Bible tells Me So: You do not have to look far in the New Testament before you discover examples of Jesus promoting unity and building relationships with traditional 1st century outsider groups. In John 4, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at the ancient water-cooler, the well of Jacob. Here is reaches out to a Samaritan who Jews ostracized during ancient times. Despite this Jesus provides her an offer of everlasting water. She readily exclaims, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4:15).
The Gospel of St. Luke abounds with examples of Jesus ministering to outcasts and “building bridges” to all of humanity. I will list just a few: shepherds being invited to witness the birth of Christ (Luke 2:15-20), call of Levi the tax collector (Luke 5:27-32), forgiving the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50, and sending out of the seventy-two disciples to minister to others (Luke 10: 1-10).
Finally, I want to share the instance in the Acts of the Apostles where possible discord over whether followers of Christ needed to be circumcised in the custom of Judaism. In Acts 15 the Council of Jerusalem took place and God provided unity in this affair by bestowing authority to Peter through the power of the Holy Spirit. According to the author of Acts the following happened:

After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them, “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe.c 8And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the holy Spirit just as he did us.d 9He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts.e 10Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?f 11On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus,g in the same way as they.”* 12The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them. (Acts 15:7-12).

In the midst of such authority silent reflection and pondering took place and unity flourished.

2. Follow Francis: Continuing on the theme of unity promoted by papal authority, Pope Francis on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall told Christians to, “Build bridges of understanding and dialogue.” In the pope is a visible sign of the unity of the Catholic Church. We as Catholic look to the pope with honor and as a leader of the faith not because he tells us but because Jesus gave us the gift of the papacy.

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Like Francis, the late Pope John Paul II promoted ecumenism [fancy word for promoting unity J) The Polish pontiff tells us in his encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint [On Commitment to Ecumenism],

Together with all Christ’s disciples, the Catholic Church bases upon God’s plan her ecumenical commitment to gather all Christians
into unity. Indeed, “the Church is not a reality closed in on herself. Rather, she is permanently open to missionary and ecumenical endeavor, for she is sent to the world to announce and witness, to make present and spread the mystery of communion which is essential to her, and to gather all people and all things into Christ, so as to be for all an ‘inseparable sacrament of unity’…The unity of all divided humanity is the will of God (nos. 5-6).  

3. Brains, brains, brains: I was binge watching an episode of The Walk Dead [YES I DID JUST TRANSITION FROM THE POPE TO ZOMBIES!!] a couple summers ago and took an important lesson from the show. In dire situations humans will work together to survive despite coming from various backgrounds. Police officers, farmers, and pizza delivery boys were able to unite for a common objective [namely to avoid being turned into a zombie] and I came away from the show thinking: should all people, in particular Christians unite?  From a strictly logical standpoint people tend to be happier when working together as a team. This is true for me. At work I am more fulfilled when I work to serve the rest of my co-workers and assist throughout the day as opposed to having a self-serving mentality. Moreover, the old adage “two heads are better than one” is true when it comes to uniting and forging improved relationships.

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Please do not interpret my urging for all Christians to be bridge-makers as a full on endorsement of compromising your Christians values completely. There are some non-negotiables I hold as a Catholic-Christian. I will not sell out my faith and I believe in the value of life at all stages. That being said, when it comes to me interacting people with completely different world outlooks
from myself I need to exercise patience, clarity in my thoughts, and charity in my dialogue to help others see the value in my positions. I also need to be humble enough to see things from others’ perspectives as well. Bridge-building is not an easy process—it is long and toilsome. With the gift of understanding and patience from the Holy Spirit such dialogue is possible!

Reconciling Mary as Mediator with 1 Timothy 2:5

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This Saturday marks the 100th anniversary  of the Marian Apparitions at Fatima, Portugal . Along with this upcoming feast day, I am participating in a 33 day Marian consecration which culminates on the Feast of Fatima as well.  That being said, I think it is appropriate to dispel common misunderstandings non-Catholics may have about the Blessed Mother of Jesus.  According to 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself.” It seems clear-cut that any reaching out to Mary for help and mediation is to be frowned upon to prevent falling into heresy!

What I am going to outline today are a few explanations  from both Scripture and Tradition to describe the Catholic approach to Mary and how we are called to HONOR, but NOT WORSHIP Mary! First we will look at biblical evidence and then I will briefly go over the Second Vatican II document on the Church [Lumen Gentium] and analyze some thoughts about Mary from the St. Pope John Paul II.

  1. Biblical background on Mary’s Mediation: Before I mention the key passage about Mary’s intercessory action I want to highlight her vow of total obedience to God first. In Luke the angel greeted Mary with these words, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). The original Greek is Chaire, Kecharitomene which translated to “Hail, full of grace”. Catholics interprets the phrase full of grace to refer to Mary being conceived without sin. Having this preliminary understanding of Mary, let us look at a strong example regarding her mediation to help humankind. The wedding at Cana in the beginning of John’s gospel is Jesus’ first public miracle. Here Mary displays her role as a mediator and advocate when she urges Jesus to perform the miracle of changing the water into wine. According to the fourth gospel. “When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine” (John 2:3). Catholics honor towards Mary is not because she is a god but because of her close connection to God! John 2:5 is evidence that Mary’s end purpose is obedience and submission to God when she expresses to the wedding servers, “Do whatever he [Jesus] tells you.”

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  1. Testimony of Tradition: Along with the evidence from the New Testament, we will look briefly at what the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium and Pope John Paul II tells us about Mary as a mediator. According to Lumen Gentium 60,

There is but one Mediator as we know from the words of the apostle, “for there is one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a redemption for all”.(298) The maternal duty of Mary toward men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows His power. For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on men originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. In no way does it impede, but rather does it foster the immediate union of the faithful with Christ.

            It is also appropriate to mention that it is not a coincidence that the content of the final chapter of this council document being relating to Mary. The last major section of the chapter mentions Mary as the sign of created hope and solace to the wandering people of God. Mary is not the end but she is a signpost for Christians to rely on throughout our pilgrim journey towards Heaven! (Lumen Gentium 68).

Finally, I want us to examine St. John Paul II’s Marian devotion. The polish pope focuses on the maternal mediation of Mary in his encyclical, Redemptoris Mater. To start off, John Paul II acknowledges the same point I made at the beginning of today’s post—that there is only one mediator Jesus. In union with Tradition the pope states, “The teaching of the Second Vatican Council presents the truth of Mary’s mediation as “a sharing in the one unique source that is the mediation of Christ himself (Redemptoris Mater 38). Mary is the first and greatest apostle of God and God entrusted Himself to her before anyone else (Redemptoris Mater 39).  John Paul II also says, “After her Son’s departure, her motherhood remains in the Church as maternal mediation: interceding for all her children, the Mother cooperates in the saving work of her Son, the Redeemer of the world (Redemptoris Mater 40). The key word in this quote is cooperates. Mary is not equal to God, but she does COOPERATE with God and in the mediation of Jesus Christ!

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Finding the Creative Spirit of God in Play!

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According to G.K. Chesterton, “It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground” (From the essay Oxford from Without). There is so much theology packed into this quote. What stands out most to me in Chesterton’s thought is the word true. I think that while earthly life consists of toil and repeated work, God planted the seeds for true life to flourish in our earthly lives and hopefully culminating in the heavenly playground if we achieve sainthood. Let me explain.

The opening chapter in Genesis charts out the creation of the world by God. Creation occurred in six days [periods of time] and God rested on the seventh day. Why does God need rest? Is he not outside of time and space—thus He would never tire? The real purpose of the institution of the Sabbath rest on Sunday is because God knows that humanity needs time for rest and recreation! True joy and creativity oftentimes comes from our resting and recreational activities. Last summer I read a biography about St. John Paul II and it talked at length about the saint’s love of skiing. This playful activity was a unique way for the late pope to encounter God and to be recharged to continue his papal duties.

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Going back to the notion of God’s creative genius instituting the holiness of resting on the Sabbath, the Catholic Mass is considered the perfection and fulfillment of the Jewish Sabbath. The retired pope Benedict XVI says it best in his book Spirit of the Liturgy, “It is a ‘playful thing’ in which those gathered for the liturgy can be said to be at play— homo ludens—in the presence of God; it is like children’s play—it is ‘not there to achieve an end’ but is an end in and of itself (p. 2). To expand on this point, whenever I play with my children or friends it is out of love! It ultimately does not matter which game we play—board game, lawn game, basketball, football, or soccer. Within the creative activity of play, a joy arises similar to the joy I experience during a Catholic liturgy where I receive the gift of the Eucharist every week.

While work and toil certainly has its place in our earthly lives—and even is a means to holiness—we should not forget the importance of play as a means to holiness as well. As a person who tends to be more on the serious side, Chesterton’s words are a shot of theological medicine that thaw my impatient heart. This week my challenge to myself is to look for God’s creative Holy Spirit in playing with my young children!