Tag Archives: ecclesiology

Truth taught and loved since 33 AD

Church foundationI saw a bumper sticker several years ago that read: “Preaching Jesus Christ since 33 A.D.” One of the Orthodox Churches published it as a way of saying that truth, beauty, goodness and unity are given by Jesus Christ; Christ and the church is not a system of beliefs or policies created at-will. Read carefully the image here.

There is always the perennial question about following Christ in the Catholic Church: Why does it matter if you leave the Catholic Church? Does it matter if I stay in the Church?

You can have several approaches to the question, but here are the essentials:

1. the truth claims in God as One and Triune; that God is Being itself; that all beauty and unity are defining characteristics of Father, Son and Holy Spirit;

2. Grace –the inner life of the Triune God, not sin, is given to the Catholic Church because its founder, Jesus Christ;

3. Jesus gave his apostles the grace of the sacred Priesthood, and the other sacraments; the Church gave us the Holy Bible, our sacred Scripture revealed by God;

4. Saint Peter was given the pastoral authority and power to preach, teach, and lead the Church to the fullness of the truth, Christ Himself (Matthew 16; 17-19);

5. the power to forgive sins was given by Christ to Peter and Peter to those anointed to share in his ministry down through the ages (apostolic succession, it is called); we follow the Master in the unity and sacramentality of the Church.

Hence, he Catholic Church, was founded by Jesus and she contains the fullness of truth, as promised by Jesus Himself.

The Church is not merely one among many denominations. The Holy Spirit does not divide the truth; there are not personal versions of the truth that claim to set man and woman free. We believe in the objectivity of truth and this truth is not a thing, but a person. There is one Church only: the Catholic Church. In the USA we encounter many groups who claim to be a “church” and to have the fullness of truth.  Yet, the question needs to be raised: what do we think of the Protestant groups? The teaching of the Catholic states that each of the groups have some aspect of truth but they do not have the fullness of the truth as revealed by Scripture because they lack  valid priesthood and therefore valid sacraments (very few have 7 sacraments that are believed to be instituted by Christ to give grace). As a caveat, we teach and hold that the Orthodox Church has the fullness of truth and sacraments but it lacks true unity with the Body of Christ on earth. One day we will share the Holy Eucharist with the Orthodox.

Catholics are not perfect and they are certainly not holier than other Christians. We are a church of sinners seeking redemption in Christ Jesus. Our belief is that the Catholic Church is both human and divine. And because she shares in Christ’s divinity, it is holy and she will last forever (“I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20). The human side of the church explains the sins, the scandals, unfaithfulness of the people. Logically, though, you cannot claim that the presence of scandals and singer prove that the Catholic Church is false. It proves we need a Savior.

Considering the Christian ecclesial communities and churches, historically we can say that ONLY the Catholic Church existed since the time of Jesus. All other Christian churches have broken from the Catholic Church. Examples: Orthodoxy broke away from unity with the pope in 1054; various mainline Protestant communities were established during the Reformation (1517); and then many of the other smaller groups are breakaways from the Protestant communion.

It is recorded that Church history has lead many unbelievers to search and know the truth. History will demonstrate what the early Church believed about the Eucharist (the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist); how and why the early Christians prayed for the dead; what the Lord gave to the Apostles in terms of sacraments; Peter was clearly chosen by the Lord as the leader of His Church; that Mary was loved and honored by the early Christians and understood as the All-holy Mother of God.

Raising Cardinal George’s galero

Francis George galeroSunday, May 17, 2015, marked the month anniversary of the death of Francis Eugene Cardinal George, OMI, the emeritus archbishop of Chicago. The traditional Mass known as the “month’s mind Mass” was celebrated in Holy Name Cathedral. It completes the Church’s funeral rites for the Cardinal.

He served Chicago for 17 years he as its archbishop. The Cardinal’s motto was Christo, Gloria in Ecclesia (To Christ be glory in the Church).

There is a red hat, once worn by cardinals but no longer used, called a galero; this wide-brimmed hat with elegantly woven tassles hanging from it (see picture).

George’s silk hat now hangs alongside those of previous Chicago Cardinals Joseph Bernardin, John Cody, Albert Meyer, Samuel Stritch and George Mundelein. The tradition of bestowing the wide-brimmed hat when a man entered the College of Cardinals. Pope Paul VI replaced it with a silk biretta following the Second Vatican Council.

In fact, Cardinal George had two galeros but never wore them: one was gift to him from the seminarians of Mundelein seminary and the second one was given to him by friends just months before his death.

20 new cardinals

new cards 2015We now have 20 new members of the College of Cardinals. Men who come from various parts of the world. 15 of the 20 are able to vote in a future conclave, and the 5 are honorary due to age. (Over the age of 80 a cardinal does not enter the conclave to elect a new Roman Pontiff.) The novelty in this group of cardinals is that several dioceses receive for the first time: there are 5 firsts: Agrigento (Sicily), Morelia (Mexico), David (Panama), Santiago de Cabo Verde (Cape Verde), Tonga (Kingdom of Tonga).

One of the cardinals that catches my eye is His Eminence, Berhaneyesus Demerew Cardinal Souraphiel, CM, 66, archbishop of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Cardinal Souraphiel comes from a country where Catholics number less than 1 percent of a total population and the majority are Orthodox Christian; more than 30 percent are Muslim. He also brings the Vincentian charism to the College of Cardinals.

The youngest cardinal at the age of 53 is Soane Patita Paini Mafi, bishop of Tonga, a diocese with about 15,000 Catholics. Part of his education was in the USA having spent two years in Baltimore studying psychology before returning home for parish and seminary assignments. Pope Benedict XVI named him bishop in 2007.

One of the honorary cardinals, His Eminence, Luigi Cardinal De Magistris, 88, Major Pro-Penitentiary Emeritus, is noteworthy and well-deserving.

“The greater our responsibility in serving the Church, the more our hearts have to expand according to the measure of the heart of Christ. It means being able to love without measure, but also to be faithful in particular situations and with practical gestures.”

Pope Francis told the new cardinals (but what the Pope says is applicable to all):

The cardinalate is certainly an honour, but it is not honorific.  This we already know from its name – “cardinal” – from the word “cardo”, a hinge.  As such it is not a kind of accessory, a decoration, like an honorary title.  Rather, it is a pivot, a point of support and movement essential for the life of the community.  You are “hinges” and are “incardinated” in the Church of Rome, which “presides over the entire assembly of charity” (Lumen Gentium, 13; cf. IGN. ANT., Ad Rom., Prologue).

In the Church, all “presiding” flows from charity, must be exercised in charity, and is ordered towards charity.  Here too the Church of Rome exercises an exemplary role.  Just as she presides in charity, so too each particular Church is called, within its own sphere, to preside in charity.

For this reason, I believe that the “hymn to charity” in Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians can be taken as a guiding theme for this celebration and for your ministry, especially for those of you who today enter the College of Cardinals.  All of us, myself first and each of you with me, would do well to let ourselves be guided by the inspired words of the apostle Paul, especially in the passage where he lists the marks of charity.  May our Mother Mary help us to listen.  She gave the world Jesus, charity incarnate, who is “the more excellent Way” (cf. 1 Cor 12:31); may she help us to receive this Word and always to advance on this Way.  May she assist us by her humility and maternal tenderness, because charity, as God’s gift, grows wherever humility and tenderness are found.

Saint Paul tells us that charity is, above all, “patient” and “kind”.  The greater our responsibility in serving the Church, the more our hearts must expand according to the measure of the heart of Christ.  “Patience” – “forbearance” – is in some sense synonymous with catholicity.  It means being able to love without limits, but also to be faithful in particular situations and with practical gestures.  It means loving what is great without neglecting what is small; loving the little things within the horizon of the great things, since “non coerceri a maximo, contineri tamen a minimo divinum est”.  To know how to love through acts of kindness.  “Kindness” – benevolence –means the firm and persevering intention to always will the good of others, even those unfriendly to us.

The Apostle goes on to say that charity “is not jealous or boastful, it is not puffed up with pride”.  This is surely a miracle of love, since we humans – all of us, at every stage of our lives – are inclined to jealousy and pride, since our nature is wounded by sin.  Nor are Church dignitaries immune from this temptation.  But for this very reason, dear brothers, the divine power of love, which transforms hearts, can be all the more evident in us, so that it is no longer you who live, but rather Christ who lives in you.  And Jesus is love to the fullest.

Saint Paul then tells us that charity “is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way”.  These two characteristics show that those who abide in charity are not self-centred.  The self-centred inevitably become disrespectful; very often they do not even notice this, since “respect” is precisely the ability to acknowledge others, to acknowledge their dignity, their condition, their needs.  The self-centred person inevitably seeks his own interests; he thinks this is normal, even necessary.  Those “interests” can even be cloaked in noble appearances, but underlying them all is always “self-interest”.  Charity, however, makes us draw back from the centre in order to set ourselves in the real centre, which is Christ alone.  Then, and only then, can we be persons who are respectful and attentive to the good of others.

Charity, Saint Paul says, “is not irritable, it is not resentful”.  Pastors close to their people have plenty of opportunities to be irritable, to feel anger.  Perhaps we risk being all the more irritable in relationships with our confreres, since in effect we have less excuses.  Even here, charity, and charity alone, frees us.  It frees us from the risk of reacting impulsively, of saying or doing the wrong thing; above all it frees us from the mortal danger of pent-up anger, of that smouldering anger which makes us brood over wrongs we have received.  No.  This is unacceptable in a man of the Church.  Even if a momentary outburst is forgivable, this is not the case with rancour.  God save us from that!

Charity – Saint Paul adds – “does not rejoice at the wrong, but rejoices in the right”.  Those called to the service of governance in the Church need to have a strong sense of justice, so that any form of injustice becomes unacceptable, even those which might bring gain to himself or to the Church.  At the same time, he must “rejoice in the right”.  What a beautiful phrase!  The man of God is someone captivated by truth, one who encounters it fully in the word and flesh of Jesus Christ, the inexhaustible source of our joy.  May the people of God always see in us a firm condemnation of injustice and joyful service to the truth.

Finally, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”.  Here, in four words, is a spiritual and pastoral programme of life.  The love of Christ, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, enables us to live like this, to be like this: as persons always ready to forgive; always ready to trust, because we are full of faith in God; always ready to inspire hope, because we ourselves are full of hope in God; persons ready to bear patiently every situation and each of our brothers and sisters, in union with Christ, who bore with love the burden of our sins.

Dear brothers, this comes to us not from ourselves, but from God.  God is love and he accomplishes all this in us if only we prove docile to the working of his Holy Spirit.  This, then, is how we are to be: “incardinated” and docile.  The more we are “incardinated” in the Church of Rome, the more we should become docile to the Spirit, so that charity can give form and meaning to all that we are and all that we do.  Incardinated in the Church which presides in charity, docile to the Holy Spirit who pours into our hearts the love of God (cf. Rom 5:5).  Amen.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Is the Church confused?

The title of this blog post is a very broad and provocative question. But what do I mean by it? Well, when we think of the universal Church, her catholicity in the widest sense possible, you will experience division, feel a lack of cohesion and yet we profess faith in one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, even share in fact that we have a valid priesthood and the sacraments (mysteries, as Eastern Christianity calls them) but truly unity lacks –and I am only indicating a local context for the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Andrew Stephen Damick, an Orthodox priest, wrote a superb article for First Things online, titled, “Are you Greek?  He writes as having not been raised as cradle Orthodox person but as a convert and as a priest struggling with the question of Christian unity from within his own ecclesial context. I highly recommend the article because he raises the identity question in a way that makes sense. We want a less confused, a more united Church where discipleship is not the object of human manipulation.


Pope to new bishops: You are spouses of your community

pope with new bishopRemember the three words the Pope had for us in the first Mass he offered following his election? They’re easy to remember: to walk, to build, to confess. You can change them slightly, but you ought to recall them frequently. Pope Francis does and he reminds the Church –even baby bishops– of these words because they are essential in serving God and His Church. The following are a few paragraphs of an address the Pope gave (19 September 2013) when the greeted the group of new bishops at the conclusion of their meeting in Rome this week. He notes many essential things: humility, austerity, unity, communion, paternity, concrete witness, spousal relationship, etc. This is an amazing text to ponder, to live with vigor. Don’t this be a dead letter! Ecclesiology will never be the same.

Francis said in part (the full text is here):

To welcome with magnanimity. May your heart be so large that you are able to welcome all men and women that you meet in the course of your days and that you will go to seek when you begin your journey in your parishes and in every community. Henceforth ask yourselves: how will those who knock on the door of my house find it? If they find it open, through your kindness, your availability, they will experience God’s paternity and they will understand that the Church is a good Mother that always welcomes and loves.

To walk with the flock. Welcome all to walk with all. The Bishop is journeying with his flock. This means to go on the way with your faithful and with all those who turn to you, sharing their joys and hopes, difficulties and sufferings, as brothers and friends, but even more as fathers, who are able to listen, to understand, to help, to guide. To walk together calls for love and ours is a service of love, amoris officium, said Saint Augustine (In Io. Ev. Tract.123,5: PL35, 1967).

And in journeying I would like to mention affection for your priests. They are the first neighbors of a Bishop, indispensable collaborators to whom we look for counsel and help, to take care of as fathers, brothers and friends. Among the first tasks you have is the spiritual care of the presbyter, but do not forget the human need of each priest, above all in the more delicate and important moments of his ministry and life. Time spent with priests is never lost time! Receive them when they request it; do not fail to answer a telephone call; be constantly close, in continuous contact with them.

Then presence in the diocese. In the homily of the Chrism Mass of this year, I said that Pastors must have “the scent of sheep.” Be Pastors with the scent of sheep, present in the midst of your people as Jesus the Good Shepherd. Your presence is not secondary, it’s indispensable. The people themselves ask for it; they want to see their Bishop walk with them, being close to them. They need it to live and to breathe! Don’t close yourselves! Descend in the midst of your faithful, also in the fringes of your dioceses and in all those “existential fringes” where there is suffering, loneliness, human degradation. Pastoral presence means to journey with the People of God: in front, pointing out the way; in their midst, einforcing them in unity; behind, so that no one will remain behind but, above all, to follow the scent that the People of God have to find new ways. A Bishop who lives in the midst of his faithful has his ears open to hear “what the Spirit says to the Churches” (Revelation  2:7) and the “voice of the sheep,” also through those diocesan organizations that have the task of advising the Bishop, promoting a loyal and constructive dialogue. This pastoral presence will also enable you to know in depth the culture, the usages, the customs of the territory, the richness of sanctity that is present there. To be immersed in one’s flock.

Fo me, these words are some of central points of our teaching: “the Bishop is a man of communion and unity, the ‘visible principle and foundation of unity’ (Lumen gentium, 27).”

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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