This site is an attempt to unpack the contents of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (page numbers are from this edition and are in parentheses).

Interspersed are reflections on George Weigel's Book Letters to a Young Catholic. For good results, start at the bottom and work your way up. For best results - read the actual Catechism itself!

Also, check out the Aquinas Institute site for what's going with Princeton Catholics - a sharp bunch indeed.


Week 19 - The Lord's Prayer (p. 726-756)

Our Father
Although the Lord's Prayer, the greatest and most comprehensive of Christian prayers, is addressed to "Our Father," it is important to keep in mind something said earlier in the Catechism:
"God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God (239)"
In other words, there may be sexists in the Catholic Church (as there are everywhere), but they certainly cannot justify themselves with the Catechism.

The reason we call God "Our Father" is for a disarmingly simple reason: Because we approach him only through the Son. We could not have approached the transcendent, omnipotent God so intimately otherwise. "We can invoke Gode as 'Father' because he is revealed to us by his Son" (2780).

Who art in Heaven
Very important to realize is the fact that "Heaven" is not necessarily a space occupying "location" per se. The Catechism calls it instead a "way of being" (2794). So we won't be "floating up to the clouds" when we die - If anything, the book of Revelation depicts a heaven that comes down to earth, and the Christian understanding of eternity is located on a renewed earth.

The 7 Petitions

The First 3: THY THY THY
1. Hallowed by Thy Name
"The holiness of God is the inaccessible center of his eternal mystery. What is revealed of it in creation and history, Scripture calls "glory," the radiance of his majesty. In making man in his image and likeness, God "crowned him with glory and honor," but by sinning, man fell "short of the glory of God." From that time on, God was to manifest his holiness by revealing and giving his name, in order to restore man to the image of his Creator" (2809).
2. Thy Kingdom Come A quick glance through these Bob Marley lyrics reveal the popularized Marxist critique that Christianity's
"kingdom come" leads to neglect of life on earth. But according to the Catechism, though we must "far from distracting the Church from her mission in this present world, this desire [for Kingdom come] commits her to it all the more strongly. The We need be careful"(2818). Though we do need to "distinguish between the growth of the Reign of God and the progress of the culture and society in which they are involved..." still this "distinction is not a separation. Man's vocation to eternal life does not suppress, but actually reinforces, his duty to put into action in this world the energies and means received from the Creator to serve justice and peac" (2820).

3. Thy Will Be Done Here the word thy (not my) recalls the prayer of Gethsemane, and is indicative of love, for "it is characteristic of love to think first of the one whom we love" (2804).

The Second 3: US US US
4. Give us this day our daily bread This can be understood both eucharistically and for more literal hunger of ourselves and the entire world. This request for daily provision does not mean we shouldn't work. St. Benedict said "Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you."
5. And forgive us our trespasses The fact that the stipulation is added "as we forgive" is an astonishing limitation that God's places on his forgiveness! "In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father's merciful love" (2840). In other words, if we insist on the "right" to nurse a grudge towards someone, God may insist on his "right" to do the same to us! Ouch!
6. Lead us not into temptation With this we should keep in mind the distiction between trials which "are necessary for the grwoth of the inner man" and temptation "which leads to sin and death" (2847). The way to avoid yielding to temptation is through prayer and vigilance.
7. Deliver us from evil Keep in mind here our lesson from weeks past that Satan is real.
"In this petition, evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God. The devil (dia-bolos) is the one who "throws himself across" God's plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ" (2851).
The Catechism also adds that "In this final petition, the Church brings before the Father all the distress of the world" (2854).

The Doxology
For the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory are yours, now and forever . "The ruler of this world has mendaciously attributed to himself the three titles of kingship, power, and glory. Christ, the Lord, restores them to his Father and our Father" (2855).

To conclude, here is a sampling of wisdom on the Lord's prayer that Catechism brings forth from the early Church:

"Since everyone has petitions which are peculiar to his circumstances, the regular and appropriate prayer [the Lord's Prayer] is said first, as the foundation for further desires... The Lord's Prayer is truly the summary of the whole Gospel." -Tertullian

It gives us "not only the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired." -Aquinas

"Run through all the words of the holy prayers [in Scripture], and I do not think that you will find anything in them that is not contained and included in the Lord's Prayer." -Augustine

"[the Lord] teaches us to make prayer in common for all our brethren. For he did not say 'my Faterh' who art in heaven, but 'our' Father." -John Chrysostom

An Ecumenical Prayer
Because of Chrysostom's point above, praying the "Our Father" is a necessarily ecumenical endeavor. "If we are to say it truthfully, our divisions and oppositions have to be overcome" (2792).


Week 18 - Prayer (p. 673-725)

If you'll excuse the panegyric, up until now the Catechism has turned out to be a treasurehouse of theological, liturgical, and ethical resources - but I was not prepared for it to be a spiritual classic as well; yet that seems to be the case. In fact though the first three parts are quite intellectually substantial, if we stopped just with them there would be lacking a certain joy and delight in being a Catholic.

The section on prayer is therefore well worth your time in order to progress in this most essential aspect of the Christian life. It's unlikely that you have time at this point in the semester, but it's great summer reading!

It should come as no surprise that the Catechism goes to both Scripture and Tradition for instruction on prayer:

The WHAT of Prayer (Scripture)

Prayer is a "vital and personal realtionship with the living and true God" (2558).

"Whether we realize it or not prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with ours. God thirst that we may thirst for him"(2560).

"This communion of life is always possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ" (2565).

Old Testament
Creation - In the early chapters of Genesis, both Enoch and Noah "walked with God" as Adam and Even did in the Garden before the Fall.
Abraham - The "father of faith" passes through different stages of prayer, from constructing an altar, complaining, intercession for others, being tested.
Jacob - This patriarch illustrates the idea of prayer as a battle - His new name, Israel means struggle with God.
Moses - Lest we think prayer a pious exercise of sanctity, we are reminded that Moses "balks, makes excuses, and above all questions" in prayer. He also is the "most striking example of intercessory prayer before Christ.
David - We are even closer to Christ with David, the king "after God's own heart" whose Psalms are still our paradigm for prayer. Solomon will also build the Temple, the "house of prayer."
Elijah - But the Temple brought it's own problems. Catholicism can become empty ritualism as could become the temple Judaism of Elijah's day. The Catechism here states that "ritualism often encouraged an excessively external worhsip. The people needed education in faith and conversion of heart; this was the mission of the prophets..."
Psalms- The five books of the Psalms are the "masterwork of prayer of the Old Testament," but are also "Prayed by Christ and fulfilled in him, the Psalms remain essential to the prayer of the Church."
The New Testament
Jesus is "prayer fully revealed to us." He learned to pray "in his [not only divine, but] human heart... in the words and rhythms of the prayer of his people, in the synagogue at Nazareth and the Temple at Jerusalem."

Jesus calls us to pray in faith, which is "a filial adherence to God beyond what we feel and understand" (2609).

The three principle parables on prayer from St. Luke remind us in the first place to just do it, to be patient and persevere, and to be humble in prayer.

Jesus' great high priestly prayer sums up everything, and was not just for that time, for "his prayer, like his sacrifice, extends until the end of time" (2749).

Christian prayer in the age of the Church included blessing, adoration, petition for needs, intercession for needs of others, thanksgiving, and praise.
The HOW of Prayer (Tradition)

It is not enough to know what the Scriptures say about prayer, one must learn how (2650).

Perhaps we should start with what prayer is NOT
1. It is not "simple psychological activity"
2. It is not an "effort of concentration to reach a mental void"
3. It is not just another thing on the "to do" list to be neglected if we don't have the time.
4. It is not to be neglected because it yields no product or profit.
5. It is not a flight from the world.

Of course prayer can unfortunately become all these things, but this is not what the Catechism means when discussing prayer.
Now onto what Prayer IS

Christian prayer is Trinitarian: Of course prayer is to the Father, but we only have access to the Father if we pray in the name of Christ, the only name that actually "contains the presence it signifies" (2666). But no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit, who is the "Master of Christian prayer" (2670//72). The mystery of Trinitarian prayer is expressed by Augustine: Christ "prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to us as our God" (2616). Deep stuff, hey?

In addition, Mary is the "perfect Orans (pray-er), a figure of the Church" (2679).

We are to pray without ceasing, but important to remember is that "we cannot pray 'at all times' if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it" (2697). These include daily set times of prayer, the Church's liturgy, prayer before meals, etc.

Prayer is multiform, but three main categories seem to arise:
1. Vocal Prayer- Because we are embodied, vocal prayer cannot be neglected. But "whether or not our prayer is heard depends not on the number of words, but on the fervor of our souls"(2700).

2. Meditative Prayer - This "quest" of mental prayer is usually helped by books, be they Sacred Scripture, or the "books" of icons, liturgy, writings of the great spiritual fathers, the book of creation or of life. There are various methods of meditation, but be aware that "a method is only a guide; the important thing is to advance, with the Holy Spirit, along the one way of prayer: Christ Jesus."

3. Contemplative Prayer - This even more internal and simplest and most intense form of prayer. It is a "gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentivenss to the Word of God, a silent love" (2724). It is a "gift, a grace; it can be accepted only in humility and poverty" ( 2713).
Difficulties in Prayer
1. Distraction. - "To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, wehn all that is ncecessary is to turn back to our heart: for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to"(2729).
ANTIDOTE: Vigilance.

2. Dryness - when the heart is separated from God
ANTIDOTE: Faith - "sheer faith, clinging faithfully to Jesus in his agony and in his tomb" (2731). Lack of faith "expresses itself less by declared incredulity than by our actual preferences" (2372).

3. Acedia - (Amodern translation for this ancient word could be simply "boredom.") This is a "form of depression due to lax ascetical practice, decreasing vigilance, carelessness of heart.
ANTIDOTE: Humility - for the "humble are not surprised by their distress; it leads them to trust more, to hold fast in constancey"(2733).
We should also take advantage of the many traditions of spirituality within Catholicism, each of which are "refractions of the one pure light of the Holy Spirit" (2684), and find the one that is best for us. There is the religious life of monks, hermits and nuns, the "domestic Church" of the home, prayer groups, eucharistic adoration, prayer with icons, pilgrimages, and much more. One of the most famous is well explained here. John Paul II added the luminous mysteries in 2002. The Catechism also advises caution in choosing a spiritual director.

One of the earliest Christian images of a woman in prayer from the Priscilla catacomb in Rome. Compare with this modern icon.


Excursus on Papal Elections

For obvious reasons, we will examining in detail the election process this week. The information below is from these excellent lectures from a Notre Dame professor. Live transmission of the election events and accurate info can be found here.

The Papal Election Process
- The Papacy is the world’s oldest functioning institution.
- Every Pope is technically Peter’s sucessor (not his predecessor’s successor).
- Cardinals of course do the electing: There are 183 (as of March 2005) 95 Europeans, 31 Latin Americans, 18 each from North America and Asia, 16 from Africa, and 5 from Oceania. 38 are Italian; they are the largest single group, but they can no longer dominate the College. Paul VI forbade cardinals over 80 to elect a Pope (which leave 118 of them).
- The camerlengo, the papal chamberlain, is head of the Church when the Pope dies.
- The tap with the silver hammer “legend” is just that, a legend
- At a papal death, the baptismal name (Karol) is called 3 times by the camerlengo. He then does though crush the “ring of the fisherman” (to prevent forgeries).
- The Pope is buried with gold ring of the Bishop of Rome
- Heads of all major offices of the Catholic Church RESIGN except head of the Apostolic Penitentiary (who handles grevious cases of sin). We don’t know much about what they do (bound by seal of confessional).
- Second ranking officer stays in place to handle routine business.

The Election of the New Pope
- The 118 Cardinals who are under 80 will meet cum clave “with a key” which means locked in, a tradition which arose in the 13th century
- Until then the Cardinals are meeting almost daily in “general congregation” which formalizes the “practicae,” the “negotiations” – Cardinals will get to know each other during this time, but are forbidden to bargain their votes, they discuss the kind of person who would be best – Presided over by Dean of Cardinals (Ratzinger)
- Each cardinal takes a vow that he will abide by the rules written by J.P. II in 1996
- After funeral, JPII will be 148th Pope buried at Saint Peter
- Conclave must begin no fewer than 15 and no more than 20 days after Popes death
- Novemdiales – 9 days of official mourning
- During this time the Cardinals preach
- The Cardinals and attendants slept in Sistine Chapel or Hallways adjacent Sistine Chapel – the Casa Santa Marta (hotel) with 120 rooms (not 5 star) but nicer than the cots in the halls in Sistine chapel
- Mass of the Holy Spirit is celebrated
- The homily Pro Eligendo Pontificae, or "the electing of a pontiff” remind cardinals of awesome responsibility
- The cardinals then proceed, solemnly, from St. Peter's to the Sistine Chapel, singing Veni, Creator Spiritus, “Come, Creator Spirit,” the hymn to the Holy Spirit written in the 9th century by Rabanus Maurus.

Conclave Begins
- No television, newspapers, outside lines on phones
- Entire area will be swept for bugs (modern tech concerns?)
- Extra omnes! Extra omnes! (everybody out) is declared and conclave starts
- A second homily is given, and a second oath is sworn to abide by rules
- Each receives three paper ballots. Printed at the top of each is Eligo in Summum Pontificem, “I elect, as highest pontiff.”
- Disguising their handwriting as much as possible cardinals will write whom they elect (cannot vote for themselves)
- Each ballot called a “scrutiny” – There are 3 scrutineers, 3 revisors, 3 infirmallii (goes to sick cardinal in Casa Santa Marta) All of these chosen by lot
- Up to 4 “scrutinies” per day (2 in morning, 2 in afternoon)
- Writes vote, walks forward, places it in large chalice on floor of Sistine Chapel
- 1st scrutineer shakes chalice, the 2nd one counts (if a discrpancy, ballots thrown away)
- 1st and 2nd read silently, record name, sends it to the 3rd scrutineer calls out the name, runs out a needle and thread through the vote. Then votes are burned.
- straw for black smoke (no vote)
- chemicals added to produce white smoke in case of successful 2/3rds vote

The New Pope
- Once a man is voted he is asked by the Dean (Ratzinger) if he accepts. At the moment he says “Accepto” we have a new Pope. (Unless he is not yet a bishop in which case he needs be ordained one – this happened in 1831).
- He is then asked by what name he is to be called, and then a ceremony of welcome amongst the cardinals
- Tailors from Gammarelli prepare a set of white vestments – alleged that they are given tips in advance for fitting’s sake but this also is a legend. (White vestments date to Paul V 1566 who wore a white Dominican habit.)
- First public appearance – led above main façade of St. Peter’s – The Cardinal Deacon says Habemus Papa. After a playful delay…imposuit sibi nomen, “he gives himself the name…”
- Pope then gives a blessing and may say a few words.
- Few days later solemnly installed in a mass in St. Peter’s. Pope gives first formal homily.

Principles for New Election
- qui intrat papa exit cardinalis, “who goes in as pope, comes out as a cardinal.”
- In other words, frontrunners getting elected are rare (last one was 1939 Pius XII)
1. Collegiality in the Church
2. Ecumenism
3. Globalization, poverty and social justice
4. Bioethics, sexuality and the family
5. Role of the laity and women in the Church

How Did This Process Arise?

The First 5 Centuries
- Jesus made Peter (Matthew 16:16-18) elsewhere he is made first as well and acts as spokesman
- Peter had in tradition been at Antioch, went to Rome and served 25 years and martyred by Nero. We have actually discovered his tomb under St. Peter’s Basilica.
- By end of 2nd century cities giving lists of their bishops (beginning of apostolic succession)
- Tradition says Peter named Linus, Anacletus and Clement as his successors – (No evidence to prove or disprove these facts)

The Mid 6th to Mid 8th Centuries
- From this time we know much more
- No reasons to assume Rome was different from other cities – bishop chosen by other clergy and people, but we don’t know exactly how, on occasion Roman emperors intervened
- Byzantine emperors wanted to confirm papal elections at this stage.

Mid 8th Century
- In mid 8th century the Popes allied themselves with the Franks (Charlemagne) and liberated central Italy from Byzantine Empire. This is the origin of Papal states (including the 108 acres that form the Vatican today) and the introduction of powerful noble families, who had powerful influence on life in the Church until the 19th century. If you look up at the façade of St. Peter's Basilica you read there not something about St. Peter at all, but "Paulus [V] Borghesius romanus." This was Camillo Borghese advertising to the world that it was a Borghese who built that building. The middle of the 8th century is when that becomes a force, these powerful noble families.
- The year 769 gave us the first decree on elections by a Roman Synod
- exclusion of laity
- only cardinal priests and cardinal deacons eligible to be elected (because bishops were “married” to their see and could not move around)
- “Cardinal” come from cardo = hinge in latin, the hinge figures
Cardinals are “incardinated” to one of Rome’s Churches where they are senior priests

9th - 11th Century
- 10th century was the worst time in the Papacy due to external pressures from western monarchs and emperors,
- In 1059 Pope Nicholas II saw a window for reform, and took advantage of child emperor to push forward an election decree
- No election until 3 days after Pope being buried – election could happen anywhere
- It was not necessary to seek approval of emperor upon new election (how many votes necessary not specified however, leading to much confusion)
- There was much disagreement with Nicholas, but basically his rules persisted

12th –13th Century
- In 1179 Pope Alexander III required a two-thirds majority to settle one of the flaws in the decree of 1059. Cardinal factions had been exploiting the lack of clarity of the 1059 decree. Senate of the Church (consistory) began to take shape at this point. In priciple 53 Cardinals, soon factions develop
- Cardinals could be as few as 12 however, leading to a deadlocks – one in the 13th century where the papacy was vacant for more than 10 years!
- Therefore in 1241 the Conclave was introduced by Rinaldo Orsini—leader of one of the great Roman families (the Orsini, the Colonna, the Cattani, etc.) —he locked the cardinals in a dilapidated building, gave them lousy food, and would not let them out until they chose a pope. So they were locked in cum clave.
- When Pope Clement IV died in 1268 the conclave took so long that the people of Viterbo (where it was being held) tore the roof off the building, allegedly acting on a quip by an English cardinal that such an action would help the Holy Spirit get in. Still the process (with a makeshift roof) took another year, and even then the pope elected was on a Crusade so until he returned the papacy had been vacant for 3.5 years.
- Therefore Gregory X in 1274 set up rules for conclave – the novemdiales was instituted, and 10 days after the Pope’s death the conclave would happen in city where the Pope died. The camerlengo was to operate the Church while the cardinals were inside – they would get five days of meager provisions and after that only bread, water and wine. This is the outline of the process as we know it.
- In this time began the tradition of ransacking the house of a newly elected Pope which didn’t stop until 1864!
- Boniface VIII 1296 attempted to ban some Cardinals to sway results, but it was then determined that a Cardinal only excluded for heresy or apostacy

The 14th – 18th Centuries
- From 1305-1378 Popes resided in Avignon, otherwise known as the “Babylonian Captivity” of the Church. The only innovation in this time was the “capitualtion,” which meant Cardinals could stipulates a series of conditions that new Pope would have to meet. This was very important up until the 17th century.
- 1378 election was terribly contested leading to The Great Schism where several different people claimed to be Pope
- Council of Constance (1414-1418) settled the matter and Pope Martin V was elected in conclave to end to the Great Schism (this was the only conclave where bishops were permitted).
- After this the Popes were almost always in Rome. 54 of next 68 were Italian. Never again would there be a serious contestation to a Pope elected in a conclave.
- 1458 – the “practicae” (negotiations) were introduced (probably due to a non-Italians majority of Cardinals)
- The 15th century also saw the rise of the “conclavists” – the assistants who were go-betweens between cardinals – they were later illiminated.
- Conclave of 1484 first one held in Sistine chapel
- Sixtus V in 1586 decreed there to be 70 cardinals – No one with children eligible to be Cardinal, attempt to ban the naming of relatives
- 1591 Gregory XIV forbad election by adoration (basically short-circuiting the voting process by hailing one figure and insisting he be Pope). He also forbad betting on papal elections, and attempted to tighten the rules of closure in conclave.
- But our most voluminous surviving records of elections are from Roman bookies!
- In 1621 Gregory XVI tried to guarentee secrecy of ballots, 1 name per ballott, cardinals were to disguise signatures, separtate desks, 2 scrutinies per day
- Rules were pretty well kept, but in 1740 the conclave lasted 6 months!

9th Century – Present
- The first time the smoke was used was 1823
- 1878 common kitchen to stop information leaks
- Alarmed at information leaks during conclave, Pius X said that if secrecy was violated it meant excommuication
- Paul VI illiminated the conclavists, expanded college of cardinals. He also considered inviting bishops but backed off from the plan. He also expanded the college of cardinals.
- JPII 1996 added new features:
- papacy could become vacant only by death or resignation.
- If no one elected after 3 days, 1 day for prayer, discussion, spiritual exortation
- If no more for 7 days, new pause
- If no more for 7 more days – simple majority possible

Collective Result of These Reforms
- Conclaves have of in the last century averaged 3 days
- Little info has leaked out (to bookies, journalists)
- Bacause only 38 of cardinals are Italian, can no longer easily select a majority

Papal Trivia
- John II in 533 was the first to change his name (Mercury sounded too pagan!)
- In 1464, Pietro Barbo, an immensely vain man, declared that he was going to be Pope Formosus II. Formosus in Latin means “handsome.” The cardinals talked him out of it and he became Paul II. Generally speaking Popes take the name of the Pope who made them a cardinal.
- In 955 John 12th was the youngest Pope (18)
- Pope “Joan” was a legend fabricated in the 13th century due to the conflicting Dominican and Franciscan orders… it’s not true.


Weigel Chapters 7, 12 and 13

Chapter 7 - Evelyn Waugh
Mark told us about Weigel's reflections on this famous British writer. This website has an excellent commentary on the stir caused by the "ultra-modern" author's conversion to Catholicism. We discussed the "ladder of love" which is climbed by Charles, the central character in Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited (which is also a good but loooong film). From college friendships, to romance, and finally to God through the Church, Charles journey mirrors Waugh's own ascent to the highest love which encompasses all others. In a letter to a friend who became Catholic Waugh wrote this,
"Should I as Godfather warn you of probable shocks in the human aspect of Catholicism? Not all priests are as clever and kind as Father D'Arcy and Father Caramna. (The incident in my book of going to confession to a spy is a genuine experience.) But I am sure you know the world well enough to expect Catholic boors and prigs and crooks and cads. I always think to myself: 'I know I am awful. But how much more awful I should be without the faith'" (p.103).
Chapter 12 - Chartres
Laylah told us about Weigel's reflections on beauty and Catholicism, with a focus on Chartres Cathedral, including the lament that beauty is too often absent from Catholic worship today, and needs to be recovered. Writes Weigel,
"Whether it's in response to modern AmChurch ugliness or old-fashioned Catholic bad taste... Chartres is instuctive - it tells us that beauty and prayer go together. When Chartres invites us out of ourselves into a realm of luminous beauty, it's invitinig us, however gently, to pray" (p.204).
Chapter 13 - Catholicism and Democracy
This chapter focuses on the "Old Cathedral" in Baltimore, otherwise known as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (not to be confused with the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary). It is from the former, much older church that we got the famous Baltimore Catechism, and it is where you can find the tomb of Bishop of John Carroll, an vital early figure in American Catholicism, close friend of Benjamin Franklin and founder of Georgetown U. Carroll thought that "Catholic ideas about freedom just might be crucial to the future of the American democratic experiment" (p. 222).

Weigel uses this famous Catholic building as a launching point to discuss the compatibility, even the necessary link, between Catholicism and Democracy. Weigel asserts that
"The Catholic Church taught European man - taught him ideas and values that would later prove crucial to the success of the democratic project in the modern world" (p. 214). These lessons included...
1."God's sovereinty transcends and stands in judgment on all worldly sovereignties. Because God is God, Caesar is not God... [his] power is limited, not absolute" (p. 214).
2."Medieval Catholic thinkers insisted on a sharp distinction between 'society' and the 'state,' they created a vaccine against absolutism in either its royal or modern (totalitarian) form" (p. 214).
3."The Church's claim to be able to judge princes, and the Catholic teaching that 'the people' have an inherent sense of justice within them, injected a crucial idea into the political-cultureal subsoil of the West - the idea that 'justice' isn't simply what those in authority say it is" (p. 215).
4. In contrast to current views, Catholicism taught that freedom is not merely about choice, but about what we choose and why. "Freedom untethered from moral truth will eventually become freedom's worst enemy" (p. 220).
In other words, it is perhaps no coincidence that Dr. Martin Luther King quoted Thomas Aquinas' statement that "An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law" in his Letter from Birminghan Jail.

Certainly Weigel admits that The Church "accommodated itself to royal absolutism in Europe" and that "several popes in the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century were deeply skeptical about democracy" (p.216), but Weigel thinks that the siting of these facts as "proof" that the Catholic Church is incompatible with democracy is wrongheaded. Vatican II of course is very much in favor of democracy. Explains Cardinal Dulles
"For a correct interpretation of the shift between the nineteenth–century popes and Vatican II, it is necessary to take account of the intervening history. In the nineteenth century the principal threat to faith came from militant secular liberalism, inspired by the slogans of the French Revolution. In the twentieth century, Christian faith was confronted by oppressive atheistic regimes, such as Soviet Communism and German National Socialism."
Incidentally, should you like to visit the "Old Cathedral," renovations will be complete in Summer 2006 - though the Immaculate Conception Basilica is open.

The "Old Cathedral" of the Assumption (top), Chartres (bottom left), the newer Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (bottom right)

UPDATE: Jacques Maritain has an interesting Catholic political philosophy that came up in our discussion as well.


Week 15 - Catholic Ethics (p. 471-672)

Further expressing the deep continuity between Catholocism and Judaism, the Church then leads us to the "Decalogue" as the guide to Christian life. Their original location is either Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5. There is nothing essentially "new" about the Decalogue in human history, for
"From the beginning, God had implanted in the heart of man the precepts of the natural law. Then he was content to remind them of them. This was the Decalogue." -St. Irenaeus (pt. 2070)
But important to remember that the 10 commandments are not abstract moral principles that we are to follow by our own effort. The title to this section is called "Life in Christ," meaning we follow the 10 commandments by abiding in the same Christ (who dwells in us by the Holy Spirit) who fulfilled the law perfectly (pt. 2074).

But before getting to the big Ten, the Catechism establishes the freedom of the human creature. This may seem obvious, but there are many contemporary systems of thought that deny human freedom, e.g. Behaviourism, Determinism, some forms (but not all) of Protestantism.

Freedom is one of the manifestations of God's image within human beings. Freedom entails responsibility. Freedom does not simply mean the ability to choose good or bad - by choosing the bad continually one can lose one's freedom (how "free" is an alcoholic?), and by choosing the good continually one can increase in freedom. Christ died in order to restore the freedom which we lost at the Fall.

In heaven we will be perfectly free, because we will only be able to choose the good.

The Beatitudes are also covered in the Catechism at this point because they illustrate that joy that underlies the following of the law in other Christ, rather than the commandments being a chore we do out of duty. The Beatitudes "depict the countenance of Jesus Christ"(pt. 1717).

John Henry Newman called conscience the "aboriginal Vicar of Christ," by which he means all humans from time immemorial have had a "voice" within them telling them what is right or wrong. The Catechism defines conscience as
"a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed." (pt. 1778)
Unless you've either never committed sin or are an alien, you should be able to relate.

Conscience however needs to be educated. For example, someone who thinks there is nothing wrong with cheating has a poorly educated conscience. Conversely, someone whose conscience condemns them for trivial or insignificant matters also has an undeveloped conscience. St. Paul's words on this matter are instructive as well.

The process of learning the 10 commandments is educating the conscience. But no matter how well educated your conscience is, YOU SHOULD NEVER ACT AGAINST CONSCIENCE (see pt. 1790).

This site is a fun introduction to the virtues listed in the Catechism.

Classic definition of sin: "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law." - St. Augustine (see point 1859)

Classic definition of love: "To love is to will the good of another." - Thomas Aquinas (point 1766)

The Ten Commandments

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." -Jesus

1. I am the Lord your God. You shall have no strange gods before me.
NOT INCLUDED: Use of images or statues, provided we worship of venerate through them, not to them.
2. You shall not take my name in vain.
INCLUDED: Going to mass perfunctorily, saying "Jesus Christ!" when you stub your toe.
3. Honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
INCLUDED: As much as is within our power, we should not work too little or too much. We should attend mass weekly as well as holy days of obligation.

"You shall love your neighbor as youself" -Jesus

4. Honor your father and your mother.
INCLUDED: Taking care of parents in old age
5. You shall not kill. (now with upgrade!)
INCLUDED: Abortion and Euthanasia.
6. You shall not commit adultery. (now with upgrade!)
See notes from Weigel's talk
7. You shall not steal.
INCLUDED: Withholding our excess from the poor who have a right to it! "Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them an deprive them of life" -St. John Chrysostom (pt. 2446)

8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
INCLUDED: Gossip, slander. A good rule is not to say anything about someone that you wouldn't say to if they were present, or simply Eph. 4:29. Not to mention Matt 12:36-37! Ouch!
9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife (or husband!).

10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Remember the antidote, to covetousness, GRATITUDE!
In addition to all this, there is also our Lord's injunction to "be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Therefore all this would be an utterly impossible burden without him, but with him it is an exciting challenge to nothing less than Sainthood!

A Greek vase depicting Orestes and the Furies, a classical of example of conscience condemning the perpetrator of an unjust act (see point 1781)


Weigel on J.P.II's Theology of the Body

Below are some notes to the lecture that George Weigel gave last Wed. (Feb 23rd, 2005) on the Catholic understanding of sexuality specifically as expressed by John Paul II:

The Catholic Sexual Ethic is often perceived as prudish or obsessive. But the Church has never taught that sex is tainted with sin.
“No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end.” – John Paul II
Denigration of sexual love has been practiced; the 60’s presented a challenge to sexual ethic. Who are the beneficiaries of the sexual revolution? Not women, as claimed, but men who can fulfill urges without consequences, thanks to abortion license, contraception, commitment-free encounters.
The consequences: High divorce rates, STDs, AIDS crisis – all are difficult to reconcile with sexual revolution claims of “freedom”.
“Human sexuality is greater than you think.” – John Paul II
In Catholicism there is literally a vocation of sexual love - Rules of church to be used as guideposts to happiness. In the late 50’s JP II produced Love and Responsibility in which he taught
- Never use another person for our own Purposes: moral basis o f authentic human freedom.
- When our freedoms coincide we can mutually benefit.
- Radical gift of self to other – permanence and commitment are required to allow for this.
- If the body is to speak the truth of love attraction must be attached to loving relationship.
- Chastity is the virtue that allows me to love another
- Freedom, not prohibition, is the framework of RC sexual ethic.
Adam & Eve [From series of General Audiences given by Holy Father]
- Our bodies are intrinsic to who we are – not just the machine we inhabit
- Identity of one is enhance by being given
- Fertility – self-giving love/intimacy like God’s giving in creation.
- Shame is produced by original sin of treating the other as an object
- Lust = corruption of self-giving into self-assertion
The challenge is not in psychological category of Self-Control, but moral category of Self-Mastery. The Sermon on the Mount calls us not even to lust in our hearts.

Marriage is the most ancient sacrament – reveals that God created the world in an act of love. It is also a signal act of redemption (i.e. Christ/Church). Conjugal life becomes liturgical, sacred. Is this all impossibly high-minded? No – the aim for ecstasy (in the Greek sense it means “to stand outside of” oneself). Plus, look at alternative: animal quality of so-called liberated sex.

Sexuality contributes to our ability to become saints we are called to be by our baptism (i.e. life with God). Within this positive framework J.P. II looks at the controversial issues: What is forbidden? What transgresses dignity?
- Premarital sex interferes with integrity & dignity
- Self-pleasuring or abuse is sexual solipsism
- Pornography reduces others to objects for gratification – no one can learn virtue from this
- Rape is intrinsically evil act which cannot ever be justified, most profound assault on dignity imaginable
- Contraception – not permitted, but reject the idea of fertility at all costs: build families prudently (family planning is a moral responsibility) So, natural rhythms of body vs. mechanical/chemical (be ministers of the design); process of sexual celebration/abstinence, ecstasy/asceticism
- Divorce – Indissolubility of marriage is based on icon of sacrament. IF icon is dissolved then is God’s love dissoluble? Annulment in cases where it can be shown that sufficient knowledge was not at hand at the time of the marriage. (Cardinal Ratzinger suggests Canonical indissolubility might be addressed by experienced pastors)
- Homosexuality violates icon of reciprocity and is incapable of creating life. Homosexual orientation is not sinful though homosexual behaviour is; this form of attraction is a trial and a burden. Called to live law of self giving inscribed in human heart – this will be a challenge in our society. Cardinal O’Connor of New York visiting with patients and changing bedpans weekly at AIDS hospice expresses the heart of Catholic teaching regarding homosexuality.


Week 14 - The Sacraments (p. 300-470)

As you'll recall, there are four parts to the Catechism:
1. The Creed (What Catholics believe)
2. The Sacraments (How Catholics worship)
3. The Ten Commandments (How Catholics live)
4. The Lord's Prayer (How Catholics pray)
The first section is the toughest, and so we went into it in detail. We'll be going through the last three sections however pretty quickly. Though you may not get to read it all, please keep in mind the INDEX of the Catechism (or search online here). In other words, don't be one of those Catholics who thinks that maybe the Church might teach that perhaps... (you get the idea). Look it up! Nevertheless, if you'd like need a shorter edition of the Catechism that is still legit, try this.

The Sacraments:
The word "sacrament" is the Latin translation of the Greek word mysterion, reminding us that sacraments are at their core mysteries. That is, although sacraments are physical, they are not necessarily logically demonstrable, and are certainly not "magical." St. Augustine's classic definition of sacrament is "a visible sign of an invisible grace." In other words, just as Christ was physical, so He leads the Church to minister in a very physical way as well. The Sacraments are reminders that the drama of salvation is still in process, and includes us. The purpose of each of the Sacraments is to direct us to Jesus Christ.

There are of course Seven Sacraments which evolved over time in Church history and are definitive for Catholics. This does not mean that these are the only ways God works - there are also what Catholics call sacramentals, and of course God is at work in many ways we are unaware of. But the Sacraments, we are assured, are his unique instruments. They are gifts, and we will be learning how to better unwrap them for the rest of our lives.

Sacraments of Initiation
If a weary, homeless traveler came to one of our doors, there are two things (I hope) we would do. Let the person have a bath, and give them a meal. This is what God does for us with the Sacraments of initiation (cleansing Baptism and sustaining Eucharist).

1. Baptism - Baptism is the death of the old self with Christ and the resurrection to the new self in Christ. It can only happen once, and is valid even if done outside the Catholic Church (granted it is done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit). The Catechism interestingly states that "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments" (point 1257).

2. Confirmation - Ideally Baptism and Confirmation (the infilling of the Holy Spirit thorough laying hands of the Bishop) takes place in an adult at the same time. The Sacrament of Confirmation however arose as a separate tradition in order to insure that a person who was baptized as an infant had the opportunity to affirm with their more developed intelligence what happened to them before the "age of reason."

3. Eucharist- This is of course the end all and be all of the Church. You can literally worship the Eucharist in the Catholic Church without being guilty of violating the first commandment, because the Eucharist is the veiled presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. It looks like bread, but it is Jesus. It has been said that you spiritual maturity as a Catholic is directly proportional to you devotion to the Eucharist - an interesting point to ponder.

Sacraments of Healing
If you're not yet a Saint or if you do not yet possess a resurrected body, you may find the following of assistance:

4. Penance- In the Catholic Church you get forgiven at Baptism - but you CAN lose this forgiveness by committing a mortal sin. In the mystery of our freedom, we are capable of cutting ourselves off from the unceasing love of God. Penance is the way to be restored to the waters of your baptism. Penance though is of course not only for mortal sins. If fact, the more we are aware of our sinfulness and the need for penance, the more we can be assured we are progressing towards that "holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).

5. Anointing of the Sick - This one is kind of self explanatory.

Sacraments of the Consecrated State

6. Matrimony
Question: In the Catholic Church can you still be a minister of the Sacrament if you're married?
Answer: Yes.
Question: In the Catholic Church can even women be ministers of the sacrament? Answer: Yes.
Why? Because husbands and wives are the ministers to one another of the Sacrament of matrimony. Bound as she is by the words of Christ, the Church can only recognize one marriage. Annulments are not "divorces," but the declaration by the Church that a marriage never in fact existed due to one or both parties not being fully aware of what was involved. This Sacrament is an icon of Jesus Christ's love for the Church, and just as that love will never end, so a marriage cannot end except by death (there will be no marriage in heaven). Sex can only happen within the bond of marriage for Catholics. As George Weigel quoted at his presentation, "Christians only make love to people they have made promises to." And not just any promise of course, but the promise sealed in the Sacrament of marriage. Those of you getting married soon, please do read the Catechism on the subject (p. 446-464 or online here). It's really good stuff!

7. Priesthood - Family life for the married is demanding. But by becoming a priest one is taking up "family" commitments in a completely different way, by becoming a "Father" of a different sort. A priest's sexuality is not "suppressed," but "sublimated" through celibacy, leading to greater energy to devote to ministry. It is a high calling, and one that our Lord followed himself. He who can accept it should.

Jan Davidsz de Heem
Eucharist in Fruit Wreath 1648


Week 13 - Concluding the Creed (p. 251-299)

Before we get to the end of the Apostle's Creed, the Catechism discusses...

The Structure of the Church
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church is evident (lay, priests, bishops, papacy), but it can be forgotten where that authority comes from all too quickly! For example, the infallibility of the Pope is described as being a share in the infallibility of "Christ who is the Truth"(point 889). So when the Church makes an infallible (in other words, utterly trustworthy) declaration, she does no not so based on her own inherent genius, but on the basis of the authority given her by Christ.

Though there is of course lots on the web about Papal Infallibility, this brief article contains an nihil obstat and an imprimatur, which means it has been declared free of error by the Church. You may find it helpful.

Perhaps the most pertinent aspect of the hierarchy to us is the laity (Catholics that are not ordained or in a religious order). Laity have the responsibility to "permeate social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life" (point 899). The activity of the laity is so important that "the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it" (point 900). The laity also have a function in informing pastors of their opinions which pertain to the good of the Church (point 907).

Now the Catechism moves towards the last four items of the Apostle's Creed.

1. "I believe in the commuion of saints"
There are three "States of the Church," together which make up the communio sanctorum (point 954)
A. Those "in glory" (Heaven)
B. Those "being purified" (Purgatory)
C. And "pilgrims" (those yet on Earth)
The commuinon of saints means that Christians in different stages still help one another. The Catechism at this point sees fit to mention Mary again, and as we discussed before, Mary's function as "Benefactress" and "Mediatrix" flows (similar to papal infallibility) not from her own ability, but "from the superabundance of the merits of Christ [and] depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it" (point 970).

2. "the forgiveness of sins"
Although at Baptism sins are forgiven, we still of course sin afterwards. The Church therefore has confession and penance to bring us back to that point of original forgiveness should we sin either venially or mortally. (The difference between venial and mortal sins is explained well here.) If you have unconfessed mortal sin you should not take the Eucharist.

Incidentally, as Brad Pitt may have reminded you, the Seven Deadly Sins is an ancient tradition in Christian theology, and are as follows (with corresponding "contrary virtues")
1. Pride (Humility)
2. Envy (Kindness)
3. Gluttony (Abstinence)
4. Lust (Chastity)
5. Anger (Patience)
6. Greed (Liberality)
7. Sloth (Diligence)
Also please be aware of the four cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, courage, justice). These have pre-Christian precedent, and goes to show Catholicisms openness to goodness outside the bounds of the Church. But the theological virtues (faith, hope and love) are only possible through the supernatural grace of Jesus Christ. Why not shoot for all 7, both cardinal and theological!

Because the Catechism goes into this in much greater detail when discussing the Sacrament of Penance, permit me this brief aside: No Catholic is ever forgiven based on their own merit, but after the initial unmerited forgiveness of Baptism, Catholics can build up merit in heaven with the help of the Holy Spirit (see point 2010). But some Saints didn't even want their earned merit! St. Therese of Lisieux said "I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone" (point 2011) This quote from Therese (arguably) incorporates what the Protestant Reformers were after in the 16th century into the official teaching of the Catholic Church.

The forgiveness of sins in the Catholic Church is a real declaration that happens externally rather than being a mere subjective state of "feeling forgiven" in one's soul. We are told boldly that "There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive"(point 982). The priest who forgives acts not on his own authority, but on the authority given him by Christ.

3. "the resurrection of the body"
St. Augustine said that "on no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body." As we mentioned below, this point is often misuderstood. Many think that our "souls" go to heaven and our bodies decay on earth. And though of course this is true for a time, the Church believes that at the end of time, all people will stand accountable before God with their bodies (albeit in a resurrected form). In other words, our bodies are a big deal. As Margarita mentions below, for Mary (and of course Christ) the bodily resurrection has happened already.

4. "and the life everlasting, Amen."
The Bible uses figurative language to describe Heaven (point 1027), and the Catechism describes it as "the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings"(point 1024).

The Bible also uses figurative language to describe Hell, and the Catechism calls it a "state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed." (point 1033). Notice it is called "self-exclusion" for "God predestines no one to go to hell." Hell involves
A. Williful turning away from God
B. Committing mortal sin
C. Persisting in that sin until the end
In other words, God does not force Himself onto the unwilling (see point 1037). He lets us have our own way even if it means our own destruction.

Final Judgement
"In the presence of Christ who is Truth itself" states the Catechism, "the truth of each man [and woman's] relationship with God will be laid bare" (point 1039).
The Catechism quotes a beautiful (and frightening) passage of St. John of the Cross who says, "At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love."

New Heaven and New Earth
Just as the bodies will be resurrected, changed but still our bodies, so will the earth be renewed, changed but still the earth. This is another often misconstrued point. We don't float up to heaven, actually the image used in the Bible is Heaven coming down to us. We don't know how this renewal will happen (point 1048), and nor is this eventual renewal a warrant for ecological irresponsibility, but rather a commission to care for the earth (point 1049).

Congratulations! You finished the Creed!

Michaelangelo's Last Judgement


Weigel Chapter 4, 5 and 6

Here are Margarita's reflections on the next three chapter of George Weigel's book Letters To a Young Catholic:

Chapter 4: The Dormition Abbey: Jersualem—Mary and Discipleship

1. The authority apostles and apostolic succession are formed in the image of Peter.
2. Discipleship: “the Church of discipleship—which is the basis of everything else—is formed in the image of a woman, Mary, who is the first of disciples and thus the mother of the Church.” P. 57
3. Vocation—being called. “a unique something that only you can do in the providence of God.” P. 62
4. Marian Piety—“True devotion to Mary necessarily points us to Christ, and through Christ (who is both son of Mary and Son of God) into the mystery of God himself, God the Holy Trinity.” P. 55
5. Witness—Mary points to her son “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5)
6. Trust—Mary’s fiat extends to taking her son down from the cross.
7. Assumption: Mary is the first disciple of Jesus on earth and the first to experience the fullness of being saved, including the bodily resurrection (the saints are in heaven but awaiting the bodily resurrection). Interesting tidbit: No one knows where Mary lived after the Resurrection or where she died. Unlike Peter, Paul, and many other apostles and saints, there is no pilgrimage spot to Mary’s grave, no relics of Mary.

New vocabulary
Cenotaph— monument erected in honor of a dead person whose remains lie elsewhere.
Dormition—the act of sleeping. Mary didn’t die, she “fell asleep” at Mt. Zion. This is formally defined as the doctrine of the Assumption.
Dominus Flevit—“The Lord Wept” (Lk 19:41-44).
Fiat—“be it done unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38)
Luminous Mysteries—Pope John Paul II “filling in” Jesus’ public life in the rosary.

Chapter 5: The Oratory, Birmingham, England—Newman and “Liberal” Religion

Famous Works by Cardinal John Henry Newman
Apologia Pro Vita Sua— His spiritual autobiography.
The Idea of a University— On the value of intellectual life and the unity of knowledge.
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine- How his study of Church history led to his being convinced of Catholic claims.

Important Ideas
- A conversion story: from atheism to Evangelicalism to High Church Anglicanism to orthodox Roman Catholicism
- Embraced papal infallibility (on issues of faith and morals), which was later affirmed by Vatican II
- Named a Cardinal in 1879 at age 78, in his address in Rome he critiqued “liberal religion” with the following words:
“Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining force and substance daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternize together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need for them.” (p. 70)
(in other words “religion-we-make-up”)
- Weigel uses the example of Cardinal Newman to emphasize that:
1. Liberal” religions are declining in membership
2. “Modernity” cannot stand in judgment of doctrine
3. Inter-religious dialogue does not have to be based on ideas of modernity and liberalism
5. Tolerance does not mean cultural relativity.

New Vocabulary
Laudatio—keyword address
Oratory/oratorians—“independent clerical kingdom”/people who live in community but have no founding purpose
Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem—From shadows and appearances into truth

Chapter 6: The Old Chesire Cheese, London—Chesterton’s Pub and a Sacramental World

Works by G.K. Chesterton
Orthodoxy (published 13 years before he entered the Catholic Church)

Some Chapter Topics
-Sacramental Imagination: “the core Catholic conviction that God saves and sanctifies the world through the materials of the world… the world was sacramentally configured by God ‘in the beginning’—and still is today (cf. everything around you.). p. 86-87 Some examples of the sacramental imagination are: the Eucharist, holy oil, the consummation of martial love, the anointing of the sick, and the Incarnation.
-Gnostic imagination—a heresy Chesterton and many others have critiqued for teaching that the material world is bad or a distraction.
-Many truths, like love and beauty are beyond scientific proof, but they are real.
-According to GKC, the 20th century was the “Age of Uncommon Nonsense”, or a “gnostic nonsense that takes everything in the human condition as infinitely malleable and infinitely plastic.” P. 98
- Catholics preach the world transformed, redeemed, through Christ. In other words, world history is salvation history. History is His-story.
-Catholics don’t deny the world, not even cigars, pubs, cheese. Worldly joys, in moderation, are “anticipations of the joy that awaits us in the Kingdom of God”(p. 99).

The Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion in Jerusalem


Week 12 - Holy Spirit and Church (197-251)

The Creed continues "I believe in the Holy Spirit..."

The Catechism shows that the third person of the Trinity is referred to using many different analogies (water, anointing oil, fire, cloud, light, seal, hand, finger, dove, gift of God) none of which exhausts his dynamic reality.

Faith in Christ is impossible apart from the work of the Spirit, for "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' [which is what being a Catholic is all about] except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3). In other words, your believing in Christ is not merely a result of your own effort or decision - it is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit animates all creation (point 703, but especially the Church, for "what the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is toe the Body of Chirst, which is the Church... the Church is where the Spirit flourishes" (point 797 and 748).

"the Holy Catholic Church"

The Catechism uses the moon analogy to describe the Church, for though the moon shines brightly, its light is not its own. In the same way "The Church has no other light than Chirst's (point 748)." This is often misunderstood! If Christ was not living and reigning in heaven, then the Catholic Church would be of no significance whatsoever.

Some people think the Catholic Church claims she is perfect. On the contrary the Catechism states,
"The Church... will receive its perfection only in the glory of heaven... Here below she knows that she in exile far from the Lord, and longs for the full coming of the Kingdom, when she will 'be united in glory with eher king" (point 769).
Yet at the same time the Church is also, according to the Nicene Creed "one, holy, catholic and apostolic." This may seem a contradiction, but is in fact a sort of "double reality." As Bernard of Clarivaux stated, the Church is
"Both tabernacle of cedar and sanctuary of God; earthly dwelling and celestial palace; house of clay and royal hall; body of death and temple of light; and at last both object of scorn to the proud and bride of Christ!"
That the Church is this double reality is no excuse for her shortcomings, but a result of her being constituted of sinners like us. The Church points to the saints (point 828) as models of what we all should be like!

The Catechism also points out that the Church has been given gifts (charisms)to sustain her - and each member has at least one. It is essetial that each of us "discern these charisms" for "no charism is exempt form being referred and submitted to the Church's shepherds" (point 801). That means that the talents and abilities you have are not only your own - but are to be given for the sake of building up the Church. Rather than a burden, I hope this sounds exciting!

OTHER FAITHS: Christianity is the largest religion in the world, and Catholics account for over half of that number. But what is the relationship of the Catholic Church to these other Christian and non-Christian faiths?

The Second Vatican Council was open in an unprecedented way to non-Catholics. This chart may be helpful in understanding this more developed perspective.

But this new understanding also has (not surprisingly) led to confusion. The Church sought to clarify such confusion in the encyclical Dominus Iesus in the year 2000. Here are some exerpts:
"As a remedy for this relativistic mentality, which is becoming ever more common, it is necessary above all to reassert the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ. In fact, it must be firmly believed that, in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6)...

"...there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church."
So while very open to other faiths, especially other Christian faiths, the Catholic Church still claims to contain the fullness of truth, and speaks as one "with authority" (Mark 1:27).


Week 11 - Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Return (p.168-197)

We have come in the Creed to "He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried."

This is of course the heart of the Catholic faith. To misunderstand this is to misunderstand everything - and conversely, to get this right will make it difficult to go wrong elsewhere.

POP QUIZ: According to Catholics, who killed Jesus?
A. The Jews
B. The Romans
C. Everybody - but most especially you and I.

If you answerd "C", you're on the road to Catholic Confirmation. The Catechism explicitly states,
"we cannot lay responisbility for trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole... [in fact] our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews [for] we profess to know him... and when we deny him by our deeds,. we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him... it is you [Christians] who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins"(p.168-170).
The Catechism then explains that the Passion is the capstone of project-Universe. This is the reason all things exist - so that God could display love for sinners by dying for us on the cross. The event is so universal that
"There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer"(p. 172).
This event, according to the Catechism, was a real death by a real man who was also really God. He was really innocent, but he really chose to bear our very real sins. On the cross he really suffered and really was buried. It may seem tedious to have to insist on these points, but in the history of the Church they have all been denied, leading to the necessity to clarify.

"He descended into Hell"

By this the Catechism explains that Christ's soul entered the realm of the dead (Hades in Greek, Sheol in Hebrew) not to abolish hell and free the damned, but to free the righteous who died before Christ's work was complete.

"On the third day He rose again."

This again is a real resurrection - an historical and yet transcendent event.
"Although the Resurrection was an historical event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the reality of the apostles' encounters with the risen Christ, still it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history"(p. 185).
This resurrection, which was both physical and spiritual at the same time, establishes several things:
1. It is the confirmation that Christ actually was who he said he was, that is God (see point 651).
2. The fulfillment of the Old Testament (see point 652).
3. The ratification of all that Christ taught (see point 653).
4. The promise of our future resurrection (see point 655).
NOTE: In Plato's Phaedo Socrates says, "It has been proved to us by experience that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body – the soul in herself must behold things in themselves... I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible intercourse or communion with the body, and are not surfeited with the bodily nature, but keep ourselves pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us." Though there are certainly commonalities between this and Christian belief, this is not Christian belief. The Church teaches that like Christ's, ours will be a bodily ressurrection - not just our souls going to heaven as Plato suggested. Unfortunatley many Christians are more Platonic than Biblical in this regard!
If you have difficulty believing the fact of the resurrection, you are not alone - even the disciples after hearing the witness of the women who first saw the resurrected Christ did not believe, and as you know Thomas did not believe until he stuck his finger in the wound. But keep in mind that St. Paul wrote "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain"(1 Cor. 15:14). If you are struggle with believing this, that is fine - keep struggling and praying! But if you dismiss this outright as an impossibility - then you may want to consider not joining the Catholic Church!
Carravagio's Doubting Thomas 1597

"He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father."

This event, the Ascension, which is celebrated forty days after Easter is often forgotten but is quite a big deal - for it celebrates the moment when resurrected human nature is exalted bodily into the Trinity! Again, the Catechism affirms this as a historical, yet transcendent event.

"From thence He will come again to judge the living and the dead."

Christ is exalted and reigns from heaven, and the Church is the place that lives under that reign before it becomes impossible not to. Although Christ does come to us concealed in the Eucharist, one day he will come in glory to establish his reign on earth that will not end - a day on which the whole world, especially the Church, will be judged. How this will happen is a mystery. Interestingly, one physicist/priest has said that he expects the "Second Coming of Christ to be as surprising in its form as the first."

In the meantime we wait and watch so that this will not happen to us unaware. Although the Catholic Church is not among those who interpret Revelation literally, still she takes the warning Scriptures regarding the Second Coming quite seriously. The Catechisme is also quick to warn agains any ideology that promises utopia in this lifetime, including Christian versions.
"The kingdom will be fulfilled not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancey, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil..."(p.194).
Lest we get too complacent that the Second Coming will not occur in our lifetime (which it very well may not), do remember that our judgement by Christ happens de facto for each of us individually at our own deaths.


Weigel Chapter 3

Below are Joanne's reflections on the third chapter of George Weigel's book Letters To a Young Catholic:

St Catherine’s Monastery
- A twin peaked mountain known as Jebel Musa, located at the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula was identified as Mt Sinai (~ 400 A.D).
- Following that discovery, hermitages were found on the northern slope of Jebel Musa.
- Justinian (Byzantine emperor) built a monastery on the northern slope and dedicated it to Mary and the commemoration of Christ’s transfiguration.
- The complex was renamed when the relics of St. Catherine of Alexandria were transported there
- St. Catherine’s is still a Christian community and contains great manuscripts that include the Codex Sinaiticus (earliest extant copy of the Greek Bible), and Codex Syriacus (fourth century translation of the Gospels in Syriac), as well as its famous icon Christos Pantokrator – Christ the All-Sovereign, Christ the Universal King.

St. Catherine's monastery

Christos Pantokrator
- Image of Christ with a golden halo clutching a jeweled Bible. This icon embodies the theme that “in Jesus Christ we meet both the truth of the merciful Father and the truth about our humanity.” p. 40

- Weigel states that icons, unlike paitings, are “written (not “painted”) by an iconographer, for whom his work is both a vocation (not merely a job) and a form of prayer.” p. 36
- Icons are not just for viewing; Christos Pantokrator was written so that “we meet Jesus Christ, the Lord.” p. 36
- Widespread destruction of icons (iconoclasms) occurred when some Christian thinkers strongly opposed the idea of painting and image of God. They believed that the image of God should be in the “rational soul”.
- “Christianity is a matter of truths enfleshed: God become man, and man deified” p. 39. One expresses feelings to the people and events depicted in the icon and not the icon itself.

The Holy Sepulcher
- The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is located where Jesus was crucified. Weigel states that it looks like a jumble of shrines.
- The Armenian Apostolic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, and Catholic Church, cooperate in the administration and church maintenance. But, sometimes “they argue for decades about which of them gets to fix the roof” p. 33.
- None of the squabbles matter when we realize that God searched for us and his Son saved us in the flesh.
- “He is the true measure of who we are. In his Holy Face, we meet the truth about ourselves, in the flesh” p. 50.

The aedicula on the tomb of Christ


Week 10 - The Life of Christ (p. 143-167)

The Creed jumps abruptly from "born of the Virgin Mary" to "He suffered under Pontius Pilate." Therefore at this point it is appropriate for the Catechism to say as much as possible about the life of Christ before dwelling upon the mystery of his his Passion.

The Historical Jesus
First, a word of caution. Much is made in contemporary scholarship about the "historical Jesus." You've probably heard of "The Quest for the Historical Jesus" before, and this website gives you an idea of the range of scholarship that is out there. The best historians have admitted the relative impossibility of this quest... because documentation from this period is so very limited. Luke Timothy Johnson (Catholic) and N.T. Wright (Anglican) do a great job of meeting and even exceeding the standards of modern scholarship, while still holding to their Christian commitment that Jesus is in fact who the New Testament and the Church says He is. By becoming a confirmed Catholic therefore, you will not of course be leaving solid scholarship behind. The fact of the matter is the best New Testament scholar of our era was a faithful Catholic! He being the recently deceased Father Raymond Brown.

Access to the real, historical, and risen Christ is available however to us through faith, and the Catechism in this section underscores the necessity "To become a child in relation to God" for this access to be realized (point 526). The Gospels were written from the perspective of faith in this risen Christ, to inspire faith in that Christ. The categories of historical "objectivity" were simply not in existence at the time of the writing of the Gospels (and furthermore such categories are increasingly out-of-fahion in the postmodern world). Measuring the Gospels by "objective history" standards would be like criticizing a horse because it doesn't have a steering wheel (see points 514 an 515). The Gospel's were not written to satisfy our contemporary curiosity, but to inspire belief.

Much is also made of the Gnostic Gospels. In short, the Church knew what it was doing when it rejected these documents as not on the same level of witness as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Perhaps this will be evidence enough to convince you: The last verse of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas reads as follows: When Peter sneers that “women are not worthy of Life,” Jesus responds, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male.... For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Ouch. If you need more information regarding the Gnostic Gospels, and specifically to understand The DaVinci Code which makes much of them, give these lectures from the Teaching Company a listen, specifically the first one; but they're both quite good, and accurate.

The Four Evangelists by Abraham Bloemaert 1615 - Go check it out at the Princeton Art Museum!
Learn about the symbolism of the four Gospels here.

The Life of Christ and the Church Year
Important to remember is that as Catholics, study of the life of Christ is not merely an intellectual exercise. Through the vehicle of the Church Year, the Catholic Christian meditates upon and is conformed and united to the life of Jesus Christ as he lived on earth in a different aspect with each Church Season.

The Church unites herself to the anticipation and Birth of Jesus Christ during, of course, the Season of Advent where the Catechism begins. One interesting part of this section is the discussion of the Magi's, signifying pagan and non-Christian anticipation of the birth of the Messiah. One of the most famous examples is the pagan Poet Virgil's Messianic eclogue, discussed here, and written well before the birth of Christ (point 538).

The Church unites herself to the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist of course in each indivdual baptism, and in each time water is used in a service to sprikle or bless (point 537)

The Church unites herself to Forty Day Temptation of Christ in the desert during, of course, the Season of Lent. (point 540)

The Church unites herself to the Teaching of Christ concerning the Kingdom of God by the Gospel reading which is given priority at each service of the Mass througout the year. During this seciton (point 541 onward...)

And of course the Church unites herself to the Passion of Christ through the Easter Triduum, but more on that next week.


Weigel Chapter 2

Below are Kerry's reflections on the second chapter of George Weigel's book Letters To a Young Catholic:

- Focus of chapter is on tangibility of Catholic faith (it is based on fact, not myth), and Peter as the model believer: he was seized by the faith, emptied himself into it, but was still human as seen in his many failures and errors.
- Old St. Peter’s was built by Constantine in the fourth century over the believed burial place of Peter; this basilica was one of the central points of early Christianity.
- New St. Peter’s (which we see today) was built directly on top of the crumbling Old St. Peter’s starting in the late 1400s; construction on it lasted 120 years and passed through the hands of 10 architects.
- Pope Pius XI died in 1939; before being elected Pope in 1922, he had served as archbishop of Milan and thus the Milanese had a marble sarcophagus built for him and sent to Rome to place in St. Peter’s upon his death.
- The installation of the tomb and sarcophagus in the grottoes under the basilica became a catalyst for Pope Pius XII to renovate the grottoes and lower its floor.
- The digging became an archeological excavation site during the 1940s when tombs and eventually a necropolis (literally, city of the dead) were discovered; they found the Tropaion (in Greek, trophy or victory monument) which looked like an altar. The floor of the altar’s structure was the original floor of the Old St. Peter’s.
- Behind the Tropaion, there was a red wall; the supporting wall of that red one had graffiti all over it, including something resembling “Peter was [here]”, and contained a hidden storage area.
- The necropolis was probably originally a pagan burial site, later used by Christians and organized around St. Peter’s remains; these excavations are now known as the scavi.

- The slums in front of the basilica were replaced with the large via della Conciliazione in the holy year 1950; it symbolized the creation of the Vatican City and the peace between Church and Italian State.
- In the square in front of St. Peter’s stands an obelisk brought over from North Africa by Caligula; it stood as one of the centerpieces of Nero’s circus (used to entertain the public with executions, races, exotic animals…).
- To the left of the square is the Piazza dei Protomartiri Romani, or square of the first Roman martyrs, those of Nero’s infernal circus.
- Since Peter died as a martyr during Nero’s reign, he probably died in the circus, and his last sight was probably this obelisk.
- The remains behind the Tropaion and this obelisk are the closest one can physically get to the roots of the Church (see quote 1).
- Peter was the rock, but he was also ordinary: Pre-Easter, he was impulsive, he didn’t understand Jesus, he denied him, and he told Jesus that he, Jesus, was wrong.
- Easter is an event that changes everyone, and most of all Peter: he becomes the “first great evangelist” of the Church and shows peers that God’s saving message is for Jews and Gentiles alike. He was the center of Church unity in the beginning; he had become the rock. He finds death in Rome as a martyr.
- The scavi and the obelisk show that Catholicism has solid foundations; it isn’t based on myth, but rather tangible facts (see quote 2).

- Truths of Catholic faith and practice:
-“the truth of faith is something that seizes us, not something of our own discovery”: Peter wasn’t curious about Rome, he went because he was compelled by the truth of Jesus that had grabbed him.
- “faith in Jesus Christ costs not just something, but everything”: Peter paid for the opportunity to give away the truth that had grabbed him with his life.
- Love for Christ is not easy: when Peter is asked three times by the Risen Christ “Do you love me?” he is being warned of the difficulty of this love. This love is not selfish, it does not directly fulfill the giver, but the giver must give away all of himself (see quote 3).
- The Gospels show Peter’s shortcomings; these could not have easily been invented.
- When Peter walks out to Jesus on the water as Jesus appears to the disciples and calls them, he only starts to sink when he looks elsewhere but to Jesus for security. This also applies to us, and shows us that faith is a very radical gift (see quote 4).

- Quo Vadis story: Peter was fleeing Rome and Nero’s persecutions when he met Jesus on the Via Appia (the main road out of Rome). He asked Jesus where he was going (“Quo vadis, Domine?”), and Jesus replied he was going into town to be crucified. Peter immediately turned back and became a martyr.
- Stories about Peter and his failures in the Gospels show that “weakness and failure have been part of the Catholic reality from the beginning.” This weakness is everywhere in the Church, even in the leaders of the Church; we are only human. This means we must all be “constantly purified” (see quote 5).
- “Failure is not the final word”: Love is a transforming power that overcomes failure, though the love itself comes at a great price (see quote 6).

Notable Quotes:

“The scavi are more than excavations; if we take them seriously, the scavi demand that we think through the meaning of an extraordinary story involving some utterly ordinary people. Here it is. Sometime in the third decade of the first century of the first millennium of our era, a man named Simon, whose father was named John, made his modest living as a fisherman in Galilee…This man, Simon, became a personal friend of Jesus of Nazareth. Through that encounter, he became not Simon but Peter, the rock.” –p.25

“The scavi and the obelisk—Peter’s remains and the last thing Peter may have seen in this life—confront us with the historical tangibility, the sheer grittiness, of Catholicism…Catholicism does not rest on a pious myth, a story that floats away from us the more we try to touch it. Here, in the scavi, we’re in touch with the apostolic foundations of the Catholic Church. And those foundations are not in our minds. They exist, quite literally, in reality… Beneath the layers of encrusted tradition and pious storytelling, there is something real, something you can touch, at the bottom of the bottom line of Catholic faith.” –p.26-27

“Peter…is being told, gently but firmly, that his love for Christ is not going to be an easy thing. His love is not going to be a matter of ‘fulfilling’ himself. His love must be a pouring out of himself, and in that self-emptying he will find his fulfillment—if not in the terms that the world usually understands as ‘fulfillment.’ In abandoning any sense of his autonomy…Peter will find his true freedom. In giving himself away, he will find himself. Freely you have received, freely you must give—if the gift is to continue to live in you.” –p.28-29

“When we keep our gaze fixed on Christ, we, too, can do what seems impossible. We can accept the gift of faith, with humility and gratitude. We can live our lives as the gift for others that our lives are to us. We can discover the depths of ourselves in the emptying of ourselves. In the Catholic view of things, ‘walking on water’ is an entirely sensible thing to do. It’s staying in the boat hanging tightly to our own sad little insecurities, that’s rather mad.” –p.30

“Like Peter, all the people of the Church, including the Church’s ordained leadership, must constantly be purified. And purified by what? Like Peter, we must be purified by love, by a more complete and radical emptying of self…Although the early Church insisted on including weakness and failure in the narrative of its first years and decades, the story line of the New Testament…is not, finally, a story of failure, but of purified love transforming the world. To be sure, that transformation comes with a price…” –p.32

“…failure is not the final word. Emptiness and oblivion are not our destiny. Love is the final word. And love is the most living thing of all because love is of God. To know that, and to stake your life on it, is to have been seized by the truth of God in Christ—amid and through, not around, the gritty reality of the world.” –p.32

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