Monthly Archives: June 2011

We Go to God Through Questions

I’ve been talking to a number of people lately who have questions about their faith. I emailed this to one of them today:

Here are some sources you might find interesting as you look again at the faith you learned long ago.

Just a few months ago a new Catholic bible was published called the New American Bible Recent Edition. NABRE. The last printing was 20 years ago, but since so much new archeological material and textual discoveries have become available since then, they thought a new edition was due. Part of what we are experiencing today is an explosion of new knowledge in these fields and in other fields of human knowledge. I’m going to pick up that new bible soon myself. It has wonderful notes and introductions to the books and it’s also the translation we read in church.

I was in a Barnes and Noble store yesterday and looked at the section of bibles, but I could hardly locate the New American Bible among the other editions. With the decline of Catholic book stores it’s hard to get the books we might be looking for. The media don’t help either with some of their sensational productions on religion.

The pope’s two new books, “Jesus of Nazareth”. are also good to read. I’ve been reading his last one about the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, and I find it stimulating. He’s using much of the latest scholarly materials and offering some wonderful insights. and he’s not afraid to take on tough questions.  We are all doing the same thing: learning and learning again.

I like a recent catechism published by the American bishops: The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. You can get it at Amazon.com. It approaches the different aspects of faith simply and offers a person, whether a canonized saint or not, who exemplifies that aspect and tells their story. Faith is better seen when it’s lived by people.

Since you were impressed by your recent visit to the Holy Land you may be interested in some entries I did for our pilgrimage from St. Mary’s from October 16 to November 20, 2010. You can find them on Victor’s Place, my blog, at https://vhoagland.wordpress.com/

I think I told you what one of my theology teachers told me long ago. “We go to God through questions. You find one answer and ten more questions are there waiting to be answered.”

Questions are part of our search for God.

Good St. Anthony, come around

“Good St. Anthony come around, something’s lost and can’t be found.”

The famous 13th Franciscan saint  was born in Portugal and died in Padua, Italy.  He was canonized almost immediately after he died in 1231. A brilliant preacher and teacher of scripture he was declared a doctor of the church in 1946.

Anthony’s skill at finding things seems to come from a personal experience–he lost his psalter, the book of scripture that contains the psalms. In his day the psalter was the prayer-book of religious, who carried it around with them always. Gradually printing made it possible to put all the scriptures and prayers  in one book, but in Anthony’s day the psalter was it, most likely the only book a poor friar could call his own.

What makes the story more interesting is that some say a disgruntled student of Anthony’s stole the book. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of Anthony’s class notes–he was a teacher–and all of his sermon notes–he was a preacher in demand– were in that psalter too. So. imagine losing your computer with all your files and personal information on it?

Horrors!

You can see why Anthony prayed to get that book back, and why he has sympathy for those who  experience losing important things.

The story also reminds us that Anthony not only taught, he prayed as he taught. The way he lived matched the words he spoke. That was the secret of his effective preaching.

Here’s some words of Anthony from one of his sermons:

“The one who is filled with the Holy Spirit speaks in different languages. These different languages are different ways of witnessing to Christ– humility, poverty, patience and obedience. We speak these languages when we reveal these virtues to others. Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak… Gregory says: ‘A law is laid upon the preacher to practice what he preaches.’”

St. Gabriels, Toronto

I’m spending a few days in Toronto with our Canadian Passionists, who minister at St. Gabriel Church, a new church built in 2006 which reflects the eco-theology of Fr. Thomas Berry, a Passionist who died a few years ago. He believed we need to foster a life enhancing relationship with the earth and the whole cosmos.

The church is located in a booming area along Sheppard Avenue in North York where high-rise condos and a new subway line are recent additions to this growing prosperous Canadian city. It’s a showplace for human technology and building skills. What better place for a  reminder of things beyond the human?

The church and its surroundings are almost swallowed up by the great buildings around it; a modest sign along busy Sheppard Avenus beckons you into St. Gabriels.

It’s not a church you would expect. No steeple skyward, no shrines of saints outside. A solitary statue of Christ stands on the roadway toward it. The entire south facade of the church is clear glass welcoming sunlight into the worship space within and a garden where the story of creation is retold from its beginning. Rocks, flowers, trees and grasses face the glass wall that dominates the new building,  A large tree trunk cut from a land development nearby stands at the edge of the outdoor garden, signed with a green cross. It signifies the Passion of the Earth, which the human community, recklessly exploiting the earth’s resources, has inflicted on the natural world.

Looming beyond the garden are the tall buildings of our modern human world.

Sunlight through its expansive southern window and upper windows plays through the interior space of the church by day and over the seasons. This is not a church cut off from the world outside but in harmony with it.

The church pews, salvaged from an earlier church, are arranged antiphonally facing the baptismal fount near the southern glass wall, the ambo where the gospel is proclaimed, and the altar where the Eucharist is celebrated. A chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved is situated in the northern part of the worship space. The Word who made the universe; the Savior sent to redeem us is present here in this church.

The baptismal fount, also from the earlier church, has water flowing from it; a rainspout on the outside southern wall delivers rainwater to a simple river bed below. The two remind us of our dependence on water as well as light.

The church seats 750 people; the present parish membership comes from all the continents and many nations. A parallel narthex provides a meeting place for these “living stones” who form the church today.

The church was built to be energy efficient. Most of its parking area is located beneath the church. Parishioners ascending from the underground parking face a large bank of plants, which serve to purify the air as well as remind them of the importance of the rain forests for the earth.

”Imaginative and creative,” Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic, Archbishop of Toronto, Canada, called the new Passionist church of St. Gabriel, when he dedicated it on Sunday, November 19, 2006. The Jesuit magazine AMERICA featured the church in a recent issue on church architecture.

The parish website is http://stgabrielsparish.ca/

A Youtube video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GasOYiK1l68

Walkin’ all over God’s Heaven

Jesus did not just come out of the tomb; he ascended to heaven. He rose from the dead and disappeared from our sight to return to his Father and our Father, his God and our God. The mystery of his ascension completes the Paschal Mystery. In his victory of death we have his promise of a life beyond this one.

When I was a boy, I remember my father buying a record player. It was the early 1940’s and times were hard; I’m sure he broke the family bank to pay for it. For a good while he only had a couple of those old vinyl records he would play over and over.

One of them was a haunting black spiritual sung by Marian Anderson called “Heaven.”

“I got shoes, and you got shoes, all God’s children got shoes.

When I getta heaven gonna put on my shoes

and gonna walk all over God’s heaven, heaven.

Everybody’s talking bout Heaven ain’t goin’ there.

heaven, heaven.  Gonna walk all over God’s heaven.”

I still feel the hope in that great singer’s voice as she sang that song. She was singing the song of barefooted slaves who were looking for something more. It wasn’t just a pair of shoes that would wear out after awhile. These were shoes God gave you in heaven, a place of completed dreams. Once you put on those shoes you could walk freely and walk everywhere.

Our readings for the Feast of the Ascension describe heaven as our final home, where all our dreams are realized, where tears are wiped away, where sadness is no more, where wrongs are righted, where reunion with those we love takes place, where we enjoy the presence of God and all the saints.

For now, we only have hints of heaven. We only have assurances of faith. However, it’s not enough to just talk about it, we must walk in the steps of Jesus. Walking in his steps brings us, not to a grave, but to the place where he is. That’s heaven.

Feast of Charles Lwanga and Companions

 

The martyrdom of St. Charles Lwanga and his twenty one companions in Uganda, Africa in 1885-86 was a decisive factor in the remarkable spread of Christianity in that continent that began in that century. The White Fathers reached that remote part of the world in 1879 and the Catholic missionaries succeeded in converting a number of native Africans, some of whom were servants of King Mwanga, a local Ugandan ruler. In 1885 King Mwanga began to persecute Christians.

Charles Lwanga was in charge of the pages in the king’s court. The king wanted some of the pages as sexual partners. When the Christian pages  refused he threatened them with torture and death.

Led by Charles, they rejected the king’s advances, and so the king summoned them to appear before him and asked if they were going to persist as Christians and deny what he asked. “Till death!” they answered.  “Then put them to death!” the king shouted.

On the road to their execution at Namugonga  three pages died. Many of the bystanders were amazed at the courage and calm of Charles and his companions.  On Ascension Day, 1886, they were wrapped up in mats of reeds and set afire for their faith. The following year an extraordinary number of Ugandans became Christian. The prayer for their feast  praises God for his graces to them:

Father, you have made the blood of martyrs the seed of Christians.

In today’s Office of  Readings, Pope Paul VI says their sacrifice opened a new page in the history of holiness in Africa. They join the 4th century Martyrs of Scilli (whose relics are now in the Passionist church of Saints John and Paul),  Cyprian, Felicity and Perpetua and other Christian martyrs and confessors from the past.  And he adds:

“Nor must we forget those members of the Anglican Church who also died for the name of Christ.” A recognition that holiness is found in other Christian churches too.

“These African martyrs herald the dawn of a new age. If only our minds might be directed not toward persecutions and religious conflicts but toward a rebirth of Christianity and civilisation!”

 

 

Praise

Here’s Augustine, wise as ever, with some thoughts on the Easter Alleluia.

“ Our thoughts in this present life should turn on the praise of God, because it is in praising God that we shall rejoice for ever in the life to come; and no one can be ready for the next life unless he trains himself for it now. So we praise God during our earthly life, and at the same time we make our petitions to him. Our praise is expressed with joy, our petitions with yearning. We have been promised something we do not yet possess, and because the promise was made by one who keeps his word, we trust him and are glad; but insofar as possession is delayed, we can only long and yearn for it. It is good for us to persevere in longing until we receive what was promised, and yearning is over; then praise alone will remain.”

And one of my favorite passages from CS Lewis as he discovers what praise means:

“,,,the most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless . . . shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise — lovers praising their beloved, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. . . . Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible. . . . I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?’ The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.”  Reflections on the Psalms