Our community decided in 2008 that the mission of our parish was life-long learning. Everything we do centers around teaching the depth and richness of the Roman Catholic Faith. Our weekly 3-Minute Catechesis is read from the Ambo prior to Mass beginning. A written copy is made available in our weekly bulletin along with additional information for those who want to learn more. Visit us online at www.risensaviorcc.org for more information.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas and Tradition

Editor's Note: Our 3-Minute Catechesis is on vacation until the first of the year. In the meantime we invite you to enjoy this 3-Minute from our archives.

How did Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem? What did the innkeeper tell them? Which animals were present at Jesus’ birth? How many Wise Men came to visit? It might surprise you to know that we cannot find the answers to any of these questions in the Bible. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us the story of our Savior’s birth, but are silent about many of the details we take for granted.

For example, Luke tells us that Joseph had to go to his hometown to be registered, so he went from “Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” That is all the Bible tells us about the 80-mile trip to Bethlehem; there is no mention of how the couple traveled to the distant town. However, tradition for centuries has given us the image of a pregnant Mary riding on a donkey led by Joseph.

Once they got to Bethlehem, they needed to secure lodging. In the Gospels, no innkeeper says anything: we read simply that “there was no place for them in the inn.” Small, 1st century Jewish villages didn't have inns or hotels, so Mary and Joseph probably would have sought out Joseph’s relatives for hospitality. It is possible that there was no room for them because other relatives were staying there too, but it is more plausible that Joseph was looking for a private place for Mary to give birth. Many homes were built in front of dug-out caves used for storage or to stable the animals.

Which brings us to the animals present at the birth of Christ: in every Nativity scene, there are horses, cows, sheep, and other farm animals. But what animals are listed in the Bible as being present at Jesus’ birth? Matthew doesn’t mention any, and Luke says only that shepherds came to pay homage to the Messiah before returning to their flocks in the field. Once again, tradition fills in the blanks for us and gives us a manger scene full of life.

How many Wise Men were there and where did they find the Holy Family? The number is never given in Scripture. Tradition, however, puts the number at three because they offered Jesus three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And while they may have arrived on camels, that isn’t mentioned in Scripture either. When they finally arrive in Bethlehem (and we don’t know how long it took them to get there from “the East” or how old Jesus was by then), they find the Christ-child with Mary his mother – not in a stable or a cave, but in a house.

If we were a “Scripture-only” people, these revelations might rock our world. Thankfully, as Catholics, we understand the connection between Tradition – those customs and beliefs and practices, many passed on orally – and the written Scripture, and so our Nativities are bustling with life. Some more than others: a Bible scholar recently talked about finding Superman and Barbie in the Nativity scene in his home, additions made by his daughter. When he asked why dolls had been added to the menagerie, his daughter replied, “Daddy, everybody needs Jesus!” Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christ's Mass

Editor's Note: Our 3-Minute Catechesis is on vacation until the first of the year. In the meantime we invite you to enjoy this 3-Minute from our archives.

As we approach the Holy Day this [coming Sunday], it’s important for us to stop for a moment and examine the origins of this great feast on the Church’s calendar.

The word Christmas is a contraction of the words “Christ’s Mass,” and it is the Mass that celebrates Jesus’ birth. But is December 25th really Jesus’ birthday? The truth is that we don’t know and that it doesn’t matter. We’re celebrating the fact that He was born – that God chose to come among us as one like us. The date of his birth was unimportant to the Fathers of the Church – that he was born is all that mattered.

Before the birth of Jesus, the Romans celebrated Dies Natalis Invicti Solis or the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” at the Winter Solstice, December 21st – the shortest day of the year. The festival was celebrated with feasts and merrymaking to welcome the light coming back into the world.

In the year 350, Pope Julius the 1st declared that Christ’s birth would be celebrated on December 25th. There is little doubt that he was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans (who remained a majority at that time) to convert to Christianity. The new religion was a bit easier to swallow, knowing that their feasts would not be taken away from them. So the merrymaking went from celebrating the sun returning to warm the world to the celebration of the Son of God coming as the Light of the World.

Most historians would agree that the celebration of Christmas as we know it today with Yule logs and evergreen trees began in Germany in the early 16th century. But it wasn’t until 1870 when President Ulysses S. Grant declared that Christmas would be a federal holiday that workers began to get the day off to celebrate the feast. Recall Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol asking Bob Cratchit if he intended to take the whole day off. Most people took a little time off for Mass and then returned to their jobs.

In the years since 1870, many have begun to lose the meaning behind Christmas. Those of us who believe that God came to earth as one of us know that Christmas means giving thanks and praise to He who is our light and the Light of the World.

So with confidence we can pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.” Let us strive to hand on the light of faith to future generations until He comes again at the end of time.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Novena of Las Posadas

Editor's Note: Our 3-Minute Catechesis is on vacation until the first of the year. In the meantime we invite you to enjoy this 3-Minute from our archives.

One of the prayer traditions of the Church is the novena. The word novena comes from the Latin word novem, which means ninth. A novena is a prayer recited for nine days in a row. It can be done either privately or publicly, alone or with others. This custom may have come from the Greeks and Romans who held special feasts on the ninth day after a death or burial.

In the Christian world, we find the concept of the novena in the New Testament book of Acts. When Jesus ascended into Heaven, his apostles, Mary, and others gathered to pray. They knew they would need the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Their prayers were answered when they were filled with the Holy Spirit and gained the courage needed to go out and preach the Gospel. Following Easter, you will find that there are nine days between our celebrations of Jesus’ Ascension and Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit

So why are we talking about novenas during Advent? In the Middle Ages, in Spain and France, Christians observed a novena of preparation. This had its origins in the nine months Our Lord was in his Blessed Mother’s womb. This novena was practiced by celebrating nine Masses on each of nine days before Christmas, with specific anthems and incense, along with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

In Old Mexico, this nine day celebration became Las Posadas, which is Spanish for the inn. This traditional festival re-enacts Joseph’s search for a suitable place for Mary to give birth. At Risen Savior, Las Posadas begins on the evening of December 15th at the home of one of our parishioners. Inside the home are the hosts and invited guests, usually friends, relatives, and neighbors. Outside, a group of people which includes a priest and others carrying carved wooden statues of Mary and Joseph, come seeking lodging for the night. A poetic dialogue begins between the inside people and the outside people which culminates in Mary and Joseph being invited inside. Mass is celebrated, followed by refreshments and fellowship. The following evening, this tradition is repeated at a different home, with different people, and so it continues for the nine evenings before Christmas Eve. The carved statues of Mary and Joseph make one last appearance at Midnight Mass, where all of the Las Posadas hosts have come to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

In addition to spreading the real Gospel message of Christmas - God coming into the world to save us - the novena of Las Posadas opens our eyes to the plight of the homeless and the immigrant, and leads us to opens our hearts to our brothers and sisters for whom there is “no room at the inn.”

Friday, December 2, 2011

Origins of Tradition

Editor's Note: Our 3-Minute Catechesis is on vacation until the first of the year. In the meantime we invite you to enjoy this 3-Minute from our archives.

Two children were overheard talking about the words in some old Christmas carols. "What's figgy pudding?" one asked. "And bells on Bob's tail ring - who's Bob?' commented the other. They weren’t trying to be funny, but their confusion speaks for many of us who don’t know the meaning and origins of many of our Christmas customs.

Without any understanding of the faith-foundation of our religious traditions, it is easy to dismiss their relevance in our lives today. We follow them now because they’re familiar, and "It just wouldn't be Christmas” without them. As adult Catholics, however, we are called to an awareness of why we do what we do.

For example, the Jesse Tree: the Jesse Tree dates back to the Middle Ages and came from Europe. Even some ancient cathedrals have Jesse Tree designs in their stained glass windows. The "tree" is usually a branch decorated with various symbols that remind us of the promises of God, from Creation to the Birth of Jesus Christ.

Jesse was the father of King David of Israel, and God promised David that his Kingdom would last forever. Two centuries after the death of King David, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said:

“… a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. “

Jesus is that bud Isaiah was talking about, and so the Jesse Tree helps us make the connection between the Old Testament prophecies and Christmas.

Another traditional item is our Advent Wreath. The Advent Wreath originated in Germany about 500 years ago. The wreath is round as a symbol of God's eternity and mercy, and it is made of evergreens to symbolize God's "ever-lastingness" and our immortality. Green is also the Church's color of hope and new life. Representing the four weeks of Advent are four candles: three purple ones which represent penance, sorrow, and expectation, and one rose candle which represents hope and coming joy. Wreaths are an ancient symbol of victory and symbolize the "fulfillment of time" in the coming of Christ and the glory of His birth.

You may also have noticed that the clergy wear purple vestments during Advent, just as they do during Lent. This is a reminder of the reflective nature of Advent – a season that some have referred to as a “little Lent” because we are called to be mindful of our sinfulness even as we joyfully prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Welcoming Advent

Editor's Note: Our 3-Minute Catechesis is on vacation until the first of the year. In the meantime we invite you to enjoy this 3-Minute from our archives.

The word 'advent' is Latin for 'coming or arrival'. Advent is a season of preparation in which we thank God for choosing to come into the world as one of us. But Advent is not just a time of looking forward to the birth of Jesus – it’s a time of preparing for His second coming. In the ancient hymn we sing, “Oh come, oh come Emmanuel.” We’re praying that Christ comes to us again.

The Season of Advent, as we know it, first came out of France. During the fourth century the monks began to look on the six weeks leading up to Christmas as a time of penance. At the same time in Rome there developed a tradition of a three week period of fasting and joyful prayers preceding the Feast of Christmas.

Pope Gregory the Great set the current length in the sixth century, but it took another four hundred years before the French penitential prayers and the Roman joyful prayers melded into the season we now know.

But Advent has fallen on hard times. For most people, it’s become a time to get ready for whatever they’re doing with family and friends during what has become known as the “Christmas Season.” It seems to no longer be a time to get ready for the coming of Christ. The bigger Christmas has become, the more it has swallowed up Advent.

The main problem with this is not that Christmas has intruded on Advent, but that the commercial season of Christmas has shifted our focus away from Christ. It has diverted our senses from the fact that we wait for Christ to come again.

For many of us the commercial Christmas season has become a mad-rush of shopping and parties, wrapping and decorating, baking and shipping. These have replaced the nature of Advent with frustration and anxiety. Many people have expressed a concern that because of the sour economy Christmas won’t be very joyful this year. But that misses the point of both Advent and Christmas. As those who await the coming of Christ, we understand that the next four weeks are a time to think about others and prepare for Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"I Confress"

At the beginning of the Mass, after the Greeting, we have the Penitential Rite, which gives us time for reflection. As we gather for worship, we think about our sin, and use this opportunity to set aside anything in our lives that would separate us from God. The Penitential Rite is not a replacement for sacramental Confession; rather, it is a way we prepare for the Sacrifice of the Mass more completely.

With the New Roman Missal, the rite will sound a little different. While the part where we say “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy” – the Kyrie – is not changing, the Confiteor is. The Confiteor is the prayer that begins, “I confess.” The biggest change in the Confiteor occurs in the middle of the prayer, where we will now say, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” This translation of the Latin text preserves the original poetic repetition. We see this literary tool in other texts of the Mass: for example, the repetition of “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world” before Communion.

When we say the Confiteor together as a community, there is a gesture which accompanies this prayer: the striking of the breast. This is not a new gesture; it has long been a rubric in the English translation of the Roman Missal, and if you look at the prayer in the missal, you will see the instruction. When saying “through my fault,” a person strikes the breast once. This is an ancient gesture expressing sorrow and is a sign of contrition. In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, for example, Ephraim pleads to the Lord, saying, “I turn in repentance; I have come to myself, I strike my breast.”

After the Confiteor, the priest says a prayer that begins “May almighty God have mercy on us…”, at which point many people make the Sign of the Cross, which is what we do in the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation after being absolved of our sins. Is it appropriate to do this? The short answer is no. In the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation, we make the Sign of the Cross as the priest speaks the words of absolution. The words of absolution are not spoken in the Penitential Rite and the intention is not the same as that found in the Sacrament. Because blessing ourselves after reciting the Confiteor sends a mixed message, we should not be making the Sign of the Cross at that point.

As we prepare for our Eucharistic celebration, we understand that the Penitential Act is a communal recognition of our sinfulness and an act of praise for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Music in the Liturgy

How important is music and singing to our celebration of Mass? Over the centuries, many documents have addressed the role of music in liturgy. In late 2007, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a document called Sing to the Lord, a guide primarily for liturgical music leaders.

The first section of the document is entitled “Why We Sing.” It begins by commenting that song is a gift from God. In fact, in the first paragraph, it says “God dwells within each human person, in the place where music takes its source.” This reflects the divine nature present in song. Music is not simply something created by humans for their own amusement; rather, it is something received from God.

Sing to the Lord then traces the history of singing in the Bible. It begins with the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, where Moses teaches the Israelites specific songs, and goes all the way to the New Testament, with Jesus singing a hymn with his Apostles before their journey to the Mount of Olives.

Since the first Christians were Jews, it's difficult to imagine them not singing psalms. Historically, we know that from the third century to the present, the singing of psalms has been a part of Christian worship. St Augustine, a theologian and a doctor of the Church, says: "As to the singing of psalms and hymns, we have the proofs, the examples, and the instructions of the Lord Himself, and of the Apostles.”

What does singing do for our faith? “Inspired by song, the body of the Word Incarnate goes forth to spread the Gospel with full force and compassion.” Inspiration – literally a “divine influence on one’s soul” – that’s the power of music in the liturgy. We sing because our ancestors in faith sang, because Jesus sang, and because the early Church sang. And we sing because it connects us to us that spark of the divine inside of us.

As the prayers of the Mass change, some of the music that we are comfortable with will be changing as well. Fear not, however, because the choir members of Risen Savior have come together as a combined choir to learn and to teach us the new music. The St. Cecilia Concert next Sunday, November 20th, at 3:00 PM right here in the church, will be an opportunity to listen to some heavenly music and begin learning the new Mass settings that will be used starting in Advent.

As the People of God, we worship together and we learn together. As the prayers we say change, we carry on, singing joyfully to God.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Consubstantial with the Father

It is now just three weeks before we start using the new translation of the Roman Missal. It is important that we understand that the implementation of the changes is not something optional that parishes and dioceses can say “yes” or “no” to – the changes have been made and will begin on the first Sunday of Advent. In our 3-Minute Catecheses, we have already talked about why the changes were made and specifically talked about the response to “The Lord be with you” changing to “And with your spirit.”

Today, our topic is one of the changes to the Nicene Creed. In the second paragraph of the Creed, the phrase “one in being with the Father” is being replaced by “consubstantial with the Father.” Why must we use such an uncommon word as consubstantial? Both phrases attempt to put into words one of the great mysteries of our faith: that Jesus Christ is equal to the Father.

Why do we even recite the Nicene Creed and where did it come from? The experience of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension caused early Christians to ask and explore, “Who was Jesus?”

By the beginning of the fourth century, a heresy, which is an incorrect teaching, taught that Jesus was not God, but was a creature that God had made. The priest Arius claimed that Jesus was a supernatural being not quite human and not quite divine. Even though Arius was condemned by the Church, he wandered through the Holy Land spreading his heresy. At a council of the world’s bishops in 325 in Nicaea, located in what is now Turkey, the bishops condemned Arius and the heresy and reaffirmed what had been taught by the Apostles: that Jesus is of the same substance as God. They used a Greek word which means “of the same essence” to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son. That word is best translated “consubstantial.” It is important to remember that when we recite the Creed, we aren’t just saying words; we are professing and affirming profound truths of our faith.

There are still opportunities to better prepare for the coming changes in the Roman Missal. In today’s bulletin, you will find a Catholic Update with good information. Next Sunday, one-hour workshops will be offered at 9:30 and 11:00. And on November 20th at 3:00 PM, our combined choirs will be singing the new Mass settings at the St. Cecilia Celebration, and all are invited to come and sing along. As we adjust to these changes, we pray that we will remain open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our Church.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Love and Labor Movements

In the past couple of months, a group called Occupy or (un) Occupy Wall Street has made national news in this country as they protest the abuses of big banks and lending institutions. There is even a faction in the UNM area of Albuquerque. Like others we have witnessed through the years, it is a movement to peacefully protest and ultimately change the status quo. It brings back memories of another non-violent movement, one led by Cesar Chavez in the 1960s and 70s.

Cesar Chavez was born on March 31, 1927 in Yuma, Arizona and raised during the poverty of the Great Depression. His Catholic parents raised him to remember that there was always room for one more at their dinner table. After losing their home and business, the Chavez family moved to California and became migrant farm workers. The family would pick peas and lettuce in the winter, cherries and beans in the spring, corn and grapes in the summer, and cotton in the fall.

As an adult, Chavez served in the Navy during World War II. After the war, he met a priest who ministered to the Mexican and Mexican-American migrant workers. The priest shared with Chavez the Catholic teachings concerning the rights of workers, which intrigued Chavez, who became determined to learn more. As a result of what he learned, he soon became active in drives for voter registration and in countering abuses against working immigrants. The primary concerns were higher wages for the grossly underpaid workers and stopping the use of toxic pesticides on grapes, a practice which endangered the health of everyone in and around the vineyards.
Influenced by the Catholic tradition of doing penance, part of Chavez’ nonviolent protest against the injustices was praying and fasting, often for weeks.

His organizing efforts were instrumental in the creation of the United Farm Workers Union. To get growers to recognize the union and listen to their concerns, Chavez used the strategy of consumer boycotts. At one point, millions of Americans supported the grape boycott. Chavez eventually got the United States’ bishops to intervene and mediate the conflict. The nationwide support was in part due to Chavez’ nonviolent approach, which publicized and made the farm workers’ struggle a moral cause.

Having educated himself in the social teaching of the Church, Cesar Chavez was led by his Catholic faith to improve the lives and livelihood of America’s farm workers.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

3-Minute Catechesis Week 162 – Pope Benedict’s Message to Young People

World Youth Day began twenty-six years ago when Pope John Paul II invited young people to meet with him in Rome to celebrate their faith. On this 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we listen to an excerpt from Pope Benedict’s message to the youth of the Church, and to all of us:

“... In thinking of my own youth, I realize that stability and security are not the questions that most occupy the minds of young people (today). True enough, it is important to have a job and thus to have firm ground beneath our feet, yet the years of our youth are also a time when we are seeking to get the most out of life. ... We wanted to discover life itself: to break out into the open, to experience the whole range of human possibilities. I think that, to some extent, this urge to break out of the ordinary is present in every generation.

“... Is this simply an empty dream that fades away as we become older? No! Men and women were created for something great, for infinity. ... The desire for a more meaningful life is a sign that God created us and that we bear His "imprint”.... We reach out for love, joy and peace. So we can see how absurd it is to think that we can truly live by removing God from the picture! God is the source of life. To set God aside is to separate ourselves from that source and, inevitably, to deprive ourselves of fulfillment and joy.

“In some parts of the world, particularly in the West, today's culture tends to exclude God, and to consider faith a purely private issue with no relevance for the life of society. Even though the set of values underpinning society comes from the Gospel - values like the sense of the dignity of the person, of solidarity, of work and of the family - we see a certain "eclipse of God" taking place, a kind of amnesia which … is a denial of the treasure of our faith, a denial that could lead to the loss of our deepest identity.

“For this reason, dear friends, I encourage you to strengthen your faith in God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. … As young people, you are entitled to receive from previous generations solid points of reference to help you to make choices and on which to build your lives …

“Dear young people, the Church depends on you! … Your presence renews, rejuvenates and gives new energy to the Church. That is why World Youth Days are a grace, not only for you, but for the entire People of God.”

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Look Around the Church

Anyone unfamiliar with the inside of a Catholic Church would be a little confused on their first visit. What are those things hanging on the wall? What is that raised area with a table? Why are we sitting on benches rather than chairs? Why is there water at the entrances?

Those of us who grew up in the Catholic Church can enter any other parish and feel almost at home. The church building is a familiar place to us, and we recognize common elements in other Catholic churches as well as in the Mass, no matter how far from home we go.

Because there are many things in a church that have always been there, we don’t often think about them enough to question what they are and why they’re there. It often takes a visitor to the parish or a child asking, “What is that?” to make us stop and ask the question ourselves and search for an answer.

So, on occasions like today, our 3-Minute Catechesis will answer some of these common questions, based on inquiries we have received.

We begin with the ambo. Why do we call the podium an “ambo”? Is this a special religious term? The answer is that the piece of furniture from which the readings are proclaimed and the homily often delivered is not a podium. A podium is something you stand on, like a soapbox, which is used to raise the height of a speaker.

In many Christian churches, there are two speakers' stands at the front of the church. Typically, the one on the left (as viewed by the congregation) is called the pulpit. Since the Gospel is often read from the pulpit, that side of the church is sometimes called the gospel side.

The other speaker's stand, usually on the right, is known as the lectern. The word lectern comes from the Latin word lectus, from a word meaning to read, because the lectern is mainly a reading stand. It is typically used by lay people to read Scripture from the Lectionary, to lead the congregation in prayer, as a cantor might, and to make announcements. Because the 2nd reading is most often taken from a letter or epistle, the lectern side of the church is sometimes called the epistle side.

The word ambo comes from a Greek word meaning an elevation, and it was originally an elaborate raised platform in the middle of the nave where Scripture would be read, and was occasionally used as a speaker's platform for homilies. In churches where there is only one speaker's stand, like Risen Savior, it serves the functions of both lectern and pulpit, and is properly called the ambo.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Kingdom of God

For the past few weeks, the Liturgy of the Word has had us in the vineyard, not casually drinking a glass of wine, but learning about the “kingdom of God” and who shares in it. What is meant by this image of the “kingdom of God?”

The phrase “kingdom of God,” also translated as “reign of God” or “dominion of God,” appears 150 times in the New Testament. It is a rich metaphor that has roots in the Old Testament. Although the precise phrase “kingdom of God” is not found in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament gives God the title “king” many times to illustrate His relationship to Israel, to history, and to all of creation.

The “kingdom of God” as defined by Jesus goes beyond the Old Testament meaning of a king and the land he rules. To figure out what Jesus meant by the “kingdom of God,” we look to the gospels. His ministry to the poor and downtrodden and his fellowship with sinners were defining characteristics of his public ministry of healing and reconciliation. He called attention to the meals he shared with those less fortunate as symbolic expressions of the arrival of God’s reign. Jesus’ parables often used the meal as metaphor for some bigger truth of the kingdom. What is that truth?

That Jesus established God’s kingdom as just and inclusive, without boundaries and with the promise of salvation - and not to a limited number of people. The Catechism of the Catholic Church assures us that His saving mission is extended to all without limit (CCC 543). The gospel stories, which illustrate the healing worked by Jesus and his inclusion of outcasts, show that the “kingdom of God” is an experience of salvation for all. In fact, Jesus himself announces, as he works a healing miracle, that the kingdom of God “has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28 and Luke 11:20).

It is important to note that the Church is linked to the idea of the kingdom of God. On earth, the church is the seedbed for the kingdom, but it is not exactly one and the same. The Second Vatican Council taught that the mystery of the Church is founded on Jesus’ announcement of the good news of the kingdom. Jesus is the head and lifeblood of the Church, and we cannot talk about the “kingdom of God” without reference to Christ. It follows, then, that the Church and the kingdom are twin vines in the vineyard of the salvation story.

As we worship together, we remember that we are charged with the sacred duty to do our part to bring about God's kingdom on earth by following Jesus' example of inclusion.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

And With Your Spirit

Eight weeks from now, the new Roman Missal will make its debut at Mass. In case you are hearing about this for the first time, here’s what’s happening: beginning in Advent, we will be using the newly translated words of our most important prayer, the Mass. Translating the liturgical texts from the original Latin has required many years’ work by several qualified groups, including the United States Conference of Bishops and the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. The result is that the new text follows the style of the original Latin texts more closely, and is more formal and dignified.

According to the bishops, the shepherds of the Catholic Church, using the revised translation requires preparation and catechesis for both priests and the faithful. To that end, all of Risen Savior’s clergy – priests and deacons – have been studying and practicing the new words. Several members of our parish have also attended workshops in order to educate themselves and pass the information on to the rest of our congregation.

Articles have been included in our monthly newsletter and in our weekly bulletin to help you learn more about the changes. One-hour workshops are also planned - all in a coordinated attempt to help you feel a little more comfortable about the changes, even though they may seem somewhat minor.

Perhaps one of the more noticeable changes to the English translation of the Mass is the people’s response to the greeting, “The Lord be with you.” Currently, the response is, “And also with you,” but the new translation will have everyone say, “And with your spirit.” We engage in this dialogue with the priest five times during the Mass: at the greeting, before the proclamation of the Gospel, at the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, prior to the offering of peace, and during the Concluding Rites.

Many people are familiar with the original Latin dialogue: “Dominus vobiscum. Et cum spiritu tuo.” The Vatican’s new rules for translation singled out this response to be rendered more closely, saying “Certain expressions that belong to the heritage of the whole or of a great part of the ancient Church, as well as others that have become part of the general human patrimony, are to be respected by a translation that is as literal as possible,.” While this change and others will be in the missals in the pews, we are going one step further by providing you with cheat sheets; on the first Sunday of Advent, you will find cards in the pews that have the new Mass responses and prayers. It may seem difficult at first, but keep in mind that we are all in this together, priests included!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Saints Cosmas and Damian

In Eucharistic Prayer 1, we pray: “in union with the whole Church, we honor Mary” along with “Joseph, her husband” and a list of twenty-four named apostles and martyrs, ending with Cosmas and Damian. These two men are also invoked in the Litany of the Saints, which we sing at the Easter Vigil. Who are Cosmas and Damian that we ask for their “constant help and protection?”

Saints Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers born in the 3rd century in Cilicia, in what today is Turkey. They became physicians, practicing their profession in a Turkish seaport, and later in the Roman province of Syria. Because they accepted no payment for their services, they attracted many to the Christian faith.

During the Christian persecution under Roman Emperor Diocletian, Cosmas and Damian were arrested and ordered – under torture – to recant their Christian faith. However, according to legend, they stayed true to their faith, enduring being hung on a cross, stoned, and shot by arrows. They ultimately suffered execution by beheading. Three of their younger brothers shared in their martyrdom. The execution took place on September 27th, probably in the year 287.

Following their martyrdom, Cosmas and Damian were regarded as the patrons of physicians and surgeons, and represented with medical emblems. As early as the 4th century, churches dedicated to the twin saints were established at Jerusalem, in Egypt, and in Mesopotamia. Emperor Justinian I, who ruled in the 6th century, attributed his cure from the bubonic plague to the intercession of Cosmas and Damian. In gratitude, the emperor built a church named for them at Constantinople.

In 1969, the feast day commemorating the martyrdom of Cosmas and Damian in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, which had been celebrated on September 27th for centuries, was moved to September 26th to make room for St. Vincent de Paul’s feast day. In Brazil, the brothers are regarded as protectors of children, and their feast day is celebrated by giving children bags of candy with the saints' image printed on them. Saint Cosmas and Damian Church, built in 1535, is Brazil's oldest church.

Orthodox icons of the saints depict them each holding a spoon for dispensing medicine. The handle of the spoon is shaped like a cross, to indicate the importance of spiritual as well as physical healing, and that all cures ultimately come from God.

While most of us do not anticipate martyrdom for our beliefs, we can follow the holy example of Saints Cosmas and Damian by giving our time and using our gifts in the service of humanity for the glory of God.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Church and the Census

In 2010, the United States conducted a census, just as it has every ten years since 1790 as required by the Constitution. This is important because the results determine the number of seats in Congress that each state receives, as well as the number of electors in the Electoral College. It also determines the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds.

Census-taking has been around since Biblical times, beginning in the book of Exodus, when the Israelites were camped at the base of Mount Sinai; the men over twenty years old were numbered at just over 600,000. The 4th book of the Bible is actually called Numbers because it includes not one census but two. The purpose of taking a census then was not for market research or for purposes of representation, but primarily to get an accurate number of able-bodied men. The last Biblical census mentioned was during the Roman Empire’s occupation, at the time of Jesus’ birth, for the sake of assessing taxes.

According to our database, we have over 3500 families registered in our parish. Many of you are numbered among those. But many others are not. Some of you are actively involved in ministry and are here every week for Mass, but are not in our database, for whatever reason. And many who are registered are registered only nominally.

Our database should be an accurate reflection of our parish population, so Risen Savior is embarking on a census of our own. To that end, we are asking all of our registered parishioners to update their information. To those of you who are not registered but really are part of our parish community, we are asking you to register. Our goal is to accomplish this by the end of January 2012.

As a parish, we offer so much: spiritual and social support ministries; sacramental preparation and reception; formation opportunities; and pastoral care to those in need. While these services are not usually denied to non-registered people, in the interest of good stewardship, especially in these difficult economic times, these resources should be available primarily to our registered parishioners.

If you receive mail from Risen Savior or use the collection envelopes, you are registered. You can sit back and relax - we’ll be working with you in the coming weeks to update your registration. For those of you who know you are not registered, do not receive our mailings, or who aren’t sure, there are cards in the pews for you to fill out and put in the collection basket today.

Prepare to stand up and be counted!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Living With Faith and Hope

Two months after the 9-11 attacks, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral message on Living with Faith and Hope After September 11th. What the bishops wrote then applies today, and so our 3-Minute Catechesis this weekend recaps that message of hope:

“It has been said many times that September 11th changed the world. That is true in many ways, but the essential tasks of our community of faith continue with a new urgency and focus. The weeks and months and years ahead will be:

“A time for prayer. We pray for the victims and their families; for our president and national leaders; for police and fire fighters; postal, health care and relief workers; and for military men and women. We pray for an end to terror and violence. We also pray for the Afghan people and for our adversaries.”

It is “A time for teaching. Many Catholics know the Church's teaching on war and peace. Many do not. This is a time to share our principles and values, to invite discussion and continuing dialogue within our Catholic community… We should seek to help our children feel secure and safe in these difficult days.”

“… This is a time to engage in dialogue with Muslims, Jews, fellow Christians, and other faith communities. We need to know more about and understand better other faiths, especially Islam. …”

It is “A time for witness. In our work and communities, we should live our values of mutual respect, human dignity and respect for life ... We should use our voices to protect human life, to seek greater justice, and to pursue peace ...”

It is “A time for service … This is a time for generous and sacrificial giving.”
… It is “A time for solidarity. We are not the first to experience such horrors. We now understand better the daily lot of millions around the world who have long lived under the threat of violence and uncertainty and have refused to give in to fear or despair...”

It is “A time for hope. Above all, we need to turn to God and to one another in hope...”

“Our nation and the Church are being tested in fundamental ways. Our nation has a right and duty to respond and must do so in right ways, seeking to defend the common good and build a more just and peaceful world. Our community of faith has the responsibility to live out in our time the challenges of Jesus in the Beatitudes ... We face these tasks with faith and hope, asking God to protect and guide us …” Amen.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The New Mexico Bishops and Immigration

The spiritual leaders of the Catholic Church in New Mexico are the Roman Catholic Bishops of the three dioceses: Archbishop Sheehan of Santa Fe, Bishop Ramirez of Las Cruces, and Bishop Wall of Gallup. Because of our large Catholic population, they guide over half of our state’s residents. One of their responsibilities is “to inform and educate our church’s members and the public about issues of moral concern and social justice as seen through the eyes of the Catholic faith.”

Almost ten years ago, the Vatican published a Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life. In this Note, we are told that “Among the saints, the Church venerates many men and women who served God through their generous commitment to politics and government. Among these, Saint Thomas More, who was proclaimed Patron of Statesmen and Politicians, gave witness by his martyrdom … he taught by his life and his death that ‘man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality.’”

The simple explanation of why Catholics should be concerned about what happens in government is that we are called to live our faith always and everywhere - not just in church. We rely on our spiritual leaders to guide us in issues of faith and morals, even when the guidance they give us is counter-cultural.

To that end, the New Mexico Bishops have spoken out about a variety of political issues which affect Catholics and others. Most recently, in anticipation of the upcoming legislative session, they have addressed the contentious issue of driver licenses for immigrants. This is seen by the Church as a larger issue of “the treatment of migrants in our society, including those laws and public policies that directly impact the justice and dignity experienced by all residents of the State of New Mexico.”

While appreciating the positive impact of immigrants, the New Mexico bishops also “recognize the right of our country to regulate its own borders and to control international immigration. Those controls, however, should be influenced by a sense of justice and mercy in light of the God-given right of people to migrate when faced with grave social or economic dangers.” Our own Scriptures, from Abraham to the Holy Family, are filled with stories of the need to migrate.

As you read the full text of the letter – which can be found in today’s bulletin – you will read that the bishops “understand that many people are frustrated at the current state of affairs surrounding immigration in our state and nation.” However, because we are not just citizens of this country but also citizens of Christ’s Church, our frustration needs to be tempered with love and mercy.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

World Religions: Islam

Unlike Christians, who believe that Jesus was the Son of God and part of the Trinity, Muslims believe that the Holy Prophet Mohammad was a man and that he followed Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus as the last of the great prophets to receive divine revelation. A Muslim believes in the revelation of God through the Quran that was given to Mohammed.

Mohammad was born in Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia, in the year 570. As an adult, he worked as a traveling merchant, which put him in contact with Christians and Jews, who worshiped one God. The Arabians at that time worshiped many gods, but Mohammad was attracted to this notion of one God. When he was 40 years old, he had a mystical experience, receiving the first in a series of revelations that lasted over 23 years. During those revelations, the Quran, God’s Word, was revealed to Mohammad. It contains 114 chapters or suras, which cover topics from reverence for Allah – God – to practical ways of living.

The Five Pillars of Islam are five basic acts which are a framework for worship and a sign of commitment to the faith. They are: the creed, or profession of faith that Allah is the one God and Mohammad His prophet; prayer, which is said up to 5 times a day; fasting during the holy month of Ramadan; almsgiving, a sharing of earthly prosperity; and lastly, a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.

When Mohammad died suddenly at age 62, Islam – which by then had spread throughout the Middle East – was left in a state of disarray. There was a struggle between those who followed Mohammad’s son-in-law Ali – they are the sect known as the Shiites – and those who wanted another man, Abu Bakr, to be the leader; they became the Sunnis.

When it comes to Catholics and their relationship with Muslims, we once again look to the Church document Nostra Aetate, which says: “We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man's relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: "He who does not love does not know God." That said, we make an effort to set aside the misunderstandings we may have of each other, especially the harmful stereotypes we may have of our Muslim brothers and sisters. Instead, we are called to invest our time and energy in learning about the deep connections of our faiths, and to engage in fruitful, God-filled dialogue.

Friday, August 19, 2011

World Religions: Judaism

When it comes to the Catholic Church’s relationship with other religions, the message is clear. Nostra Aetate, a Vatican II document that addresses this, says, "The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions. She looks with sincere respect upon those ways of conduct and life, those rules and teachings which …often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people.”

The places of origin of the world religions fall neatly into two geographical areas, the Near, or Middle, East and the Far East. Shared beliefs among the three Near Eastern or Western world religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – make sense because both Christianity and Islam spring from Judaism and, therefore, share a similar worldview and concept of God. These religions are monotheistic, a word which means “one God.” Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all trust in that single all-powerful, all-knowing divine being who is entirely responsible for creation, yet exists apart from it. This is in contrast to the Greek or Roman gods, like Venus and Apollo, who were physical beings who lived on earth. And while these Olympian gods toyed with people for their own amusement, the Western faith traditions all believe that human beings, made in the image of the Creator, can and should enter into a relationship with God.

As Catholic Christians, we know a little more about Judaism because we hear a reading from the Old Testament every Sunday.

A fundamental difference between Jews and Christians is that Jews do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah spoken about in the Hebrew Scriptures. Other differences are found in what is celebrated and when. For example, while Christians attend services or Mass on Sunday, Jews may attend a Friday evening service, but primarily celebrate Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, with home rituals.

Major Christian holidays reflect important times in Jesus' life, like Christmas and Easter. Jewish holidays, on the other hand, commemorate significant historical events and agricultural observances. This includes Passover, which commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, and the Festival of First Fruits, which recalls receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.

The Church, says Nostra Aetate, recalls what St. Paul said about Jews: " ‘theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh,’ the Son of the Virgin Mary.” The Church also reminds us that “the Apostles … as well as most of the early disciples … sprang from the Jewish people.” And so we acknowledge our differences and celebrate our shared beliefs and history in our relationship with our Jewish neighbors.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

World Religions: An Introduction

When non-Catholic friends and co-workers know that you are Catholic, they often ask frank questions like “Why do Catholics worship Mary?” or “Why do you have idols in your church?” Your response is probably something like, “We Catholics don't do that - it would be completely against our beliefs!”

According to the Vatican, in 2009, there were almost 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. You would think that with so many of us, misunderstandings would be minimal. Apparently not. But those experiences of having our own religion misunderstood should help us to realize that we have a responsibility to be informed about other religions in the world. After all, we don’t want to make those same mistakes.

When we look at various world religions, we learn that, first of all, we have much in common. Secondly, if we ever hope to see an end to the world's religious conflicts, we must understand and respect the beliefs and practices of others.

For guidance, we look to the teachings of the Church, especially Vatican II. Almost 50 years later, we're still trying to absorb it all. While some major writings have received a lot of attention, some of the shorter documents remain virtually unknown. One of them was (and is) a milestone in Catholic thought. Its title is not very exciting: The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, also known by its Latin title, Nostra Aetate.

Nostra Aetate says that the Church, “In her task of promoting unity and love among men … considers above all … what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship.” Nostra Aetate recognizes that people come to various religions for answers: Who are we? What is the meaning of our life? Why is there suffering? How do we find true happiness? What happens after death? Where did we come from, and where we are going?

The document goes on to say that, from ancient times until today, various peoples have perceived that there is a “hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history.” For some peoples, this has led to the recognition of a Supreme Being, and filled their lives with a profound religious sense.

While Pope John XXIII wanted to have the Council make a strong statement about the positive nature of Judaism and Christianity's historical ties, the final document came to include other non-Christian traditions as well. We will spend the next two weeks looking at some of the world religions, what we have in common, and what all Catholics should know about them.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A New Roman Missal

Seven months ago, on the first Sunday in January, our 3 -Minute Catechesis gave you a glimpse at some Church history and a hint of changes coming. It talked about how the Mass has been changing, gradually, over the last 45 years. In the late 1960s, these changes included the priest facing the congregation during Mass, and lay people taking more meaningful roles in liturgy. These and other changes were implemented because the Church is the people, and we are called to "full, conscious and active participation" in the Church's liturgical life. To that end, more changes are coming soon, this time to the language of the Mass.

Let’s be honest: many of us don’t really like change. Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, once said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” Change can be hard. Your grandparents may have told you that what they liked most about being Catholic was that Mass was always the same, no matter where you went. Back in the day, Mass was in Latin everywhere in the world. And then came Vatican II in the 1960s and changes were made to that Latin Mass. It was then that Catholics began to hear the liturgy in the vernacular, the language of the people.

Within five years of its introduction, most Catholics preferred the liturgy in a language they understood. That doesn’t mean the transition was without bumps, of course, but considering that few Catholics believed the Mass could change at all, the switch was an astonishing success.

English-speaking Catholics the world over are preparing for another change, one that will begin on the first Sunday of Advent, just 4 months from now. The Mass itself is not changing, but some of the words of the Mass are changing. Why? Because the new words are a closer translation to the original Latin Mass in language and meaning. The new translation will allow us to easily connect not only to the early Church but to Scripture, especially during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

There will be opportunities through the bulletin, newsletter, 3-Minute Catechesis, and Sunday morning workshops to learn about the new translation and to practice the unfamiliar words, phrases, and sung responses and prayers. It cannot be stressed enough that while our beliefs are unchanging, the way we express those beliefs can and will change over time. Price Pritchett, a businessman and author of a book on work habits, wrote, “Change always comes bearing gifts. It's up to you to find them.” When it comes to the New Roman Missal, we’ll be looking for those gifts together.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Marriage and the Catholic Church, Part 5

When it comes to marriage, you may be surprised to learn that the Catholic Church begins with the presumption that all marriages are valid in the eyes of God. The Church considers the marriages of any man and woman – be they Baptist, Muslim, or even non-believers – to be binding, and a divorce in those cases would also require Church annulment. But…why would someone of another faith (or no faith) seek a Church annulment? This usually occurs when a Catholic is involved. Perhaps the Catholic is engaged to a non-denominational Christian who was previously married. When the couple approaches the Catholic Church for marriage, one of the first questions they will be asked is “Have you ever previously been married, or attempted marriage, even a civil marriage?” If the answer is yes, then the question of annulment must be explored. The response from the couple is usually something like, “But the marriage didn’t take place in the Catholic Church!” Just as the Catholic Church recognizes the validity of Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran baptism, so the Church presumes that a marriage is valid until proven otherwise.

When a couple separates and divorces, and then begins the annulment process, the Church looks at the marriage in detail. If it is determined that something essential was missing from the couple’s relationship at the time of consent, then the Church issues a declaration of nullity, and both are free to marry again in the Catholic Church.

What are grounds for annulment in the Church? The most common reasons are lack of due discretion and no intention to have children, be faithful, or remain together until death. More specifically, a couple may marry quickly because of pregnancy, only to realize later the lack of wisdom in that decision. Or one spouse brings an addiction to alcohol or drugs into the marriage. Or a person, unfaithful during dating and engagement, continues the infidelity after marriage. In cases like these, the tribunal, the Church court, may decide that something prevented the consent to marriage from being sound or binding.

Does annulment mean that children born during the marriage are now considered illegitimate? Absolutely not. The parents presumably entered into a valid marriage. Children from that union are, therefore, their legitimate offspring. Legitimate means “legal.” The civil divorce and the Church annulment do not alter this situation.

You cannot “buy” an annulment. Those seeking an annulment may be asked to help with part of the expenses because maintaining a tribunal, with a professional staff, is expensive. But no one is denied an annulment because of an inability to pay.

So ends our series of 3-Minute Catechesis on Marriage and Annulment. For more information, contact a priest or deacon!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Marriage and the Catholic Church, Part 4

Most couples enter into marriage with good intentions. In an ideal world, a couple who marries shares the same values, has excellent communication and conflict resolution skills, and agrees on the handling of finances. But the world we live in is often far from ideal. There are many things that are unknown at the time of the wedding that eventually come out – things that, had they been known at the beginning, would have led the couple down separate paths.

Deciding to divorce is not easy, and couples who are discerning separation often seek pastoral guidance in making the choice. Good people often find themselves in bad marriages and have to determine a course of action. When a couple makes that painful decision to end their marriage, the first step is filing for divorce. This does not happen in Church – it happens in a court of law. A divorce, which is granted for a variety of reasons, legally dissolves a civilly-recognized marriage.

A common misunderstanding is that a Church annulment is a “Catholic divorce.” This simply isn’t true. While a divorce ends the legally-contracted marriage, a Church annulment is a decree that a marriage was invalid from the beginning. What would make a marriage invalid? There are many reasons. It may be that one of the spouses doesn’t see the value in being faithful or independently decides not to have children. Or you discover that the person you have married is actually a close biological relative, or that your spouse is already legally married to someone else, a practice known as bigamy.

A Church annulment contends that an important element was missing at the time of consent, even if it wasn’t apparent then. So an annulled marriage is one in which a covenant never actually existed because it couldn’t, under the circumstances. This would be akin to receiving a diploma when you hadn’t completed the requirements for graduation. You may have walked across the stage and received a certificate, but you didn’t actually graduate, and so the diploma is not valid.

The annulment process ordinarily begins after a legal divorce has been granted and finalized. It is important to know that following divorce, a person may continue to receive the sacraments, including Eucharist. However, the Church requires that before one of the couple remarries, an annulment is granted. This can take some time, but it also offers an opportunity for reflection and healing.

There are misconceptions about what annulment means for the children of a marriage, and who exactly needs to seek an annulment. Next week, our series will end with a look at these two issues.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Marriage and the Catholic Church, Part 3

We continue our series on Marriage in the Catholic Church, having touched on what the requirements and expectations are for Catholics and non-Catholics who approach the Church asking for marriage. In his April letter, Archbishop Sheehan mentioned “those who have a merely civil union; and those who have a civil union who were married before.” What is a civil union?

The term marriage generally refers to a state-sanctioned union. The phrase legally married can be used to emphasize this point. When a couple is legally married, they have entered into a civil union, which is a contract between the man and the woman. In order to be legally married, the couple begins by obtaining a marriage license from the county clerk’s office. Once the ceremony is over, the license is signed and sent back to the county to be recorded.

Since the 12th century, Marriage or Matrimony has been recognized as a sacrament in the Catholic Church, and has therefore required a Church presence. The Church, taking its view from Jesus Christ and Scripture, regards marriage not as a contract but as a covenant. What’s the difference? The Hebrew word for covenant, berit, means much more than a legal contract. Covenant signifies something that binds one to another forever, an unshakeable bond, like the one God has with us, His people. This stands in stark contrast to a contract, which, when violated, can be remedied through the legal system.

In many jurisdictions, the civil marriage ceremony takes place during the religious marriage ceremony, although they are two distinct entities. In the U.S., the marriage may be officiated by a priest, minister, or religious authority, with the religious authority acting as both a church witness and an agent of the state. So when a couple marries in the Catholic Church, they are joined both civilly and sacramentally.

In some countries, a couple is required to be married by the state before having a religious ceremony. An example of this is the 2007 wedding of basketball player Tony Parker and actress Eva Longoria, who married in Paris. Following the laws of France, Tony and Eva entered into a contract when they wed in a civil ceremony at City Hall, with the mayor officiating. The next day, they entered into a covenant when they married in the Catholic Church.

Once joined as husband and wife, the Marriage Rite of the Catholic Church says, “What God has joined, men must not divide.” So what if the marriage ends in divorce? What does that mean civilly and religiously? Next week, we continue our series by looking at divorce and annulment.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Marriage and the Catholic Church, Part 2

Last week, we established that in order to be married in the Catholic Church, at least one of the couple should actually be a baptized Catholic. While the Catholic party should also be fully initiated, having celebrated 1st Communion and Confirmation, this is not absolutely required. And yet, you may know of a couple that has been denied marriage in the Catholic Church because the Catholic party had not been confirmed. How can that be?

This is what Canon Law has to say about marriage and Confirmation: “If they can do so without serious inconvenience, Catholics who have not yet received the sacrament of confirmation are to receive it before being admitted to marriage.” The law contains that all-important clause, “If they can do so without serious inconvenience.” In other words, Canon Law makes allowances for, as an example, those who live in areas where Confirmations are celebrated infrequently. In areas like ours, however, where Confirmations are celebrated annually, the pastor may insist that you be confirmed before marrying, and that is his prerogative.

What about the other half of the couple? Are there any requirements for the non-Catholic party? If the other party is a baptized Christian but not Catholic, you may marry in the Catholic Church. If the other party has never been baptized in any Christian church, you may marry in the Catholic Church. This means that a Catholic may marry, in the Church, someone who is Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or even someone who doesn’t believe in God. It is important to know that the Catholic Church does not require the non-Catholic to convert to Catholicism.

However, before the mixed couple can marry, the Church must grant a “dispensation” – permission for the marriage – based on canonical reasons. The most common reason is “for the spiritual well being of the Catholic party.” Additionally, the non-Catholic party needs to accept the Catholic understanding of marriage: intending to enter a permanent union and to be faithful. The Catholic Catechism for Adults says that “Married love is ordered to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of children.” So the non-Catholic also needs to be open to having children, and understand that the Catholic must promise to intend to continue living the Catholic faith and do “all in (his or her) power” to share the faith with their children by having them baptized and raised as Catholics.

Obviously, this question is not a new one, since St. Paul addresses “mixed marriages” in his first letter to the Corinthians. His view is that “…the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through the brother.”

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Marriage and the Catholic Church, Part 1

In April of this year, Archbishop Sheehan issued a letter on Pastoral Care of Couples Who are Cohabitating, saying “We have three groups of people who are living contrary to the Gospel teaching on marriage: those who cohabit; those who have a merely civil union; and those who have a civil union who were married before.” For many couples, not following Church teaching on this matter is based on misunderstanding or ignorance of Church teaching on marriage.

We start with Canon Law – Church law – which tells us that the Church understands marriage as a “matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership …(for) the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.”

Because a marriage exists through the consent exchanged by the spouses, the Church requires that both parties have the capacity to enter marriage, as well as:
• sufficient knowledge about marriage;
• the intention to enter marriage as the Church understands it; and
• the marriage celebrated before an authorized priest or deacon and two witnesses.
A valid marriage involves understanding and intention to live by these requirements and the ability to carry out this commitment.

Why does the Church have such strict requirements for marriage? Because Jesus Christ valued marriage highly. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus quotes Genesis, saying, “they are no longer two but one flesh; therefore, let no one separate what God has joined.” This is the basis for the view that marriage is an enduring and exclusive partnership, one which requires serious consideration.
We begin with who can celebrate the Rite of Marriage in the Roman Catholic Church. A basic requirement is that at least one of the parties should be a baptized Catholic. While this may seem obvious, there have sometimes been non-Catholic couples who approach the church and ask to be married there simply because they think the church is pretty! While one of the parties should be Catholic, exceptions may be made for someone who is, for example, going through the R.C.I.A. process in order to become a fully initiated Catholic.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we explore the answers to other questions about Catholic marriage.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Today we celebrate the Feast of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also called the Feast of Corpus Christi. The addition of Corpus Christi as a feast in the Christian calendar was partly due to a thirteenth-century Augustinian nun named Juliana of Liège. From her early youth, Juliana had a veneration for the Blessed Sacrament, and longed for a special feast in its honor. In 1208, she had her first vision of Christ, a vision which was repeated for the next twenty years, but she kept it a secret. When she eventually told her confessor about her visions and Christ’s request for a special feast, he told his bishop.

Juliana also approached the Archdeacon of Liège, who later became Pope Urban IV. In 1263, after the death of Juliana, Pope Urban investigated claims of a Eucharistic miracle at a little town in central Italy, in which a consecrated host began to bleed. In 1264 he issued a papal bull, or formal proclamation, in which Corpus Christi was made a feast throughout the entire Latin Rite.

As we celebrate this special feast, we should remind ourselves of the proper way to receive Communion. Internally, we should not be aware of any grave sin. Externally, we should be reverent.

We have the option to receive either on the tongue or in the hand. As the minister says “The Body of Christ,” you should bow your head slightly in reverence and respond “Amen.” If receiving in the hand, put one hand on top of the other to make a throne for the Lord. Allow the Host to be placed into the palm of your hand – do not take it from the minister’s fingers. Once the Host is on your hand, take a step to the side, and then receive Our Lord.

If you are going to receive on the tongue, your head should be tilted back slightly. Please allow the priest, deacon, or minister to place the host on your tongue and remove his fingers before you close your mouth.

If you are receiving the Precious Blood, again bow your head slightly as the minister says “The Blood of Christ” and respond “Amen.” Carefully take the chalice and sip from the Precious Blood. Then, just as carefully, give the cup back to the minister, making certain the minister has it firmly in hand before you release your grip. Remember that in the Roman Catholic Church, we do not dip the Host into the Precious Blood. This ritual, called intinction, is not done in the Latin Church.

As we celebrate this special feast, we are reminded that Jesus said, over and over, that He is the Bread of Life.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Why We Call God "Father"

On this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, as we also celebrate Father’s Day, we pay special tribute to the first person of the Trinity, God the Father.

In the creeds, we profess our faith in God as “Father almighty.” His fatherhood and His power are evident in His care for us, by adopting us as sons and daughters in Baptism, and by being rich in mercy to forgive our sins. God is almighty and all-powerful, but His power is not oppressive; it is loving, for He is our Father.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “by calling God ‘Father,’ the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and … that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God's parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes …the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man.”

But we need to keep in mind that God “transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.” (CCC, paragraphs 238-239)

So if God is not a man, why do we use masculine pronouns when referring to God and why do we call Him “Father”? Because Jesus, the Son-of-God-made-man, revealed Him as such, and through our Baptism, we are given the grace of an intimate relationship with God. As Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ ” (Galatians 4:6). The term “Abba” is best translated as “Daddy.” Jesus implies that a relationship with God should be like that of a child: very close, personal, and dependent.

Many people think of and define God the Father according to their experiences or memories of their earthly fathers. If there are bad memories, or no memories, it is often difficult to understand the heart of the Heavenly Father. But Scripture assures us that God is "a father to the fatherless" (Psalm 68:6), and the ideal Father. He provides, protects, and keeps His promises. If necessary, He disciplines and corrects, but then always reassures His children of His love. He never rejects or abandons them. He listens, and is gracious, merciful and forgiving. He is the perfect example of and to all fathers.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Saint Joseph, A Man of God

Many of us remember writing "J-M-J" at the top of our papers in parochial school, picturing the members of the Holy Family as we did our work. As we look to honor our fathers next Sunday on Father’s Day, we look at the man God chose as the guardian of Mary and foster father to His Only Begotten Son, Jesus. That man was Joseph, and very little is known about him.

The earliest Christian writings, which are the letters of St. Paul, make no reference to Joseph; nor does the Gospel of Mark, the oldest of the Gospels. The first appearance of Joseph is found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, both of which trace Joseph's family tree back to King David. Matthew and Luke are also the only Gospels to include the infancy narratives, the stories of Jesus’ birth, though with some differences.

In the Gospel of Luke, Joseph lives in Nazareth and travels to Bethlehem, the city of David, for the census. Subsequently, Jesus was born there.

In Matthew, there is no mention of where Joseph lived before Jesus' birth, and there is no mention of Joseph and Mary travelling to Bethlehem because of the census, though it does mention that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Following Jesus’ birth, Joseph stayed in Bethlehem for an unspecified period until forced to take refuge in Egypt when Herod ordered the execution of all male children in the village of Bethlehem. When Herod dies, Joseph brings his family back to Israel, and settles in Nazareth. After this point there is no further mention of Joseph by name, although the story of Jesus in the Temple at age twelve includes a reference to "both his parents." Christian tradition represents Mary as a widow during the adult ministry of her son.

The gospels describe Joseph as a "tekton," which is where we get the word technology. Traditionally, the word has been taken to mean "carpenter,” though the Greek term is more accurately translated as “general contractor.” Very little other information on Joseph is given in the Gospels, in which he never speaks.

Joseph is venerated as the patron saint of workers, and the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19th, is also Father's Day in some Catholic countries, including Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

In a month when many couples choose to get married, we remember that Mary and Joseph were a couple, and with a husband's love, he cherished Mary. And so we honor Saint Joseph as father, husband, and servant of God.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sacraments & Grace

In the past couple of months, our parish has celebrated many Baptisms, Confirmations, and weddings. Weekly, we celebrate Eucharist, Reconciliation, and anointings of those who are sick or dying. We truly are a sacramental people.

Growing up, many of us learned that a sacrament is "an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1994, updated that definition, saying, “The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.” The definition definitely got a little more complicated, so let’s break it down!

Efficacious means effective or successful in producing the desired outcome. In everyday life, we see signs everywhere. However, when we approach, for example, a stop sign, there is no power in the red metal octagon that makes us put on the brakes; it is our own effort that makes us stop. Most of the time, our efforts are effective!

Sacramental signs are different in that God is the one doing the action, transmittting His unseen grace into our souls through material symbols. These objects, words, and gestures, including water, oil, and laying on of hands, are perceptible to our five senses, and through them we are given God’s life and grace.

We know that no human power could attach an inward grace to an outward sign: only God can do that, which brings us to the next part of the definition: "instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church." While Christ the one who instituted the seven sacraments, it has historically been the Church who was given the responsibility of identifying them and specifying how they are celebrated. Jesus did choose the matter and form of some of the sacraments, like Baptism and the Eucharist, which is documented in Scripture. But for other sacraments, like Confirmation, He left it to His Church, the keeper of His sacraments, to specify how.

Coming now to the final element in the definition of a sacrament, we have its essential purpose: to give us divine life or grace. Theologians speak about sacramental celebrations as “encounters with Christ.” This is grace, and it strengthens us to live as disciples of Christ. The sacraments allow us to become aware of a great gift: the creative, sustaining, loving presence of God. This is why the Church encourages us to receive the sacraments as often as we can, and why so many Catholics who leave the Faith for whatever reason often return – because this is where they feel the sacramental presence of our loving God who sustains us.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sister Matriarchs: Leah and Rachel

Our series on Biblical Matriarchs concludes with not one but two women, sisters Rachel and Leah, both of whom married Jacob. After deceiving Isaac into giving him Esau’s birthright blessing, Jacob travels to the homeland of his mother Rebekah, to escape his twin brother Esau’s justifiable rage, and also to find a suitable wife.

Jacob soon finds a well and the woman of his dreams, Rachel. It turns out that Rachel, the daughter of Jacob’s uncle, Laban, has an older sister named Leah, but Jacob has no interest in her. He agrees to work for Laban for seven years in exchange for marrying Rachel. Seven years later, Laban plans the wedding and brings his veiled daughter to Jacob as his bride. The book of Genesis says, “And it came to pass that in the morning, behold, it was Leah…” Laban has deceived Jacob into marrying his older daughter!

When confronted by Jacob, Laban explains that he is simply following custom, saying, "It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn." There is irony here that seems to escape Jacob. Remember that this is the man who, with his mother’s help, stole the birthright of his older brother, by concealing his true identity from his father.

The words of the Midrash, which is Jewish commentary, provide an explanation for why Leah went along with her father’s deception. Upon discovering that he has been tricked, Jacob says to Leah: "You are a deceiver and the daughter of a deceiver!" She retorts, "Did not your father call you Esau, and you answered him! So did you too call me and I answered you!" In other words, Leah responds that her actions were no different than Jacob's.

Laban proceeds to offer Rachel as a bride to Jacob – if Jacob agrees to another seven years of servitude. In his love for Rachel, Jacob agrees to this arrangement, and they are wed right away.

Later in Genesis, Jacob, who along with Abraham and Isaac is one of the patriarchs of the faith, is given the new name “Israel” after wrestling with an angel of God. The twelve sons Jacob fathers with Leah and Rachel and their handmaids become the Twelve Tribes of Israel. While Rachel may have been the love of Jacob’s life, Leah left as her own legacy half of the twelve tribes. This includes her sons Levi, father of the priesthood, and Judah, father of the monarchy. While Rachel is buried in a tomb en route to Bethlehem, where she died giving birth to Benjamin, Leah is buried with Jacob in the Tomb of the Patriarchs.