October 29, 2017 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 29 October  Comments Off on October 29, 2017 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Oct 292017
 

 

It’s enlightening to ponder the setting in which Jesus speaks; it regularly can give us things to see that we may not see otherwise. For example, in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says those most familiar words about love. What’s enlightening to me is that he is saying them to the Pharisees on Wednesday in Holy Week. He’s going to be crucified in two days. The Pharisees are plotting to kill him and Jesus is telling them that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your being, and to love your neighbor as yourself. It is a not-so-subtle reminder that the bottom line for all the Faithful—then and now— is to put love first and everything else is to follow. It’s agape love and I like to define Agape love as unconditional positive regard. Often that can only happen by divine intervention. I’ve been thinking about this in context of all the issues of violence in the world that are connected with Islam. It’s prompted this homily.

In light of current events, I thought I’d provide some very brief information about Islam in general, the Catholic Church’s teachings about our relationship with Islam and then I’d like to comment about some responses to Islam in the wake of all that is happening today.

Here’s a very brief snapshot: As you probably know, Islam is a religion that was founded by the Prophet Mohammad around the 7th century. The word “Islam” means both “peace” and “surrender” in Arabic and the one who surrenders or “submits” is called a Muslim. Mohammed’s message was that all people must submit both to God, Allah, and to Allah’s righteous will. At the Day of Judgment those who have submitted and lived righteous lives will enjoy eternal bliss in Paradise, while those who resist will be consigned to a fiery Hell.

Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is an “Abrahamic” faith; in other words is it monotheistic and it traces its roots back to the Patriarch Abraham. Muslims argue that their heritage flows from Adam to Abraham and on through Ishmael, the son of Hagar the slave girl, rather than through his half-brother Isaac, through whom Jews and Christians trace their lineage. Islam also reveres Moses, the Old Testament Prophets, John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus and even the Virgin Mary. Muslims consider Mohammed to be the last and greatest of all the Prophets.

Islam teaches that Jesus was born of the Blessed Virgin, that he was crucified, died, was buried and rose again on the third day. However, they don’t consider him to be God Incarnate as we Christians affirm: Resurrection yes; Incarnation, no.

The sacred scripture of Islam is the Koran which must be read in Arabic if one is pick up the essential nuances of the faith.

There are five requirements or “Five Pillars of Faith” that every Muslim is to observe.

  1. There must be an affirmation and frequent recitation of the Shahadah or Creed, which is: “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.”
  2. There must be recitation of specific prayers 5 times a day directed toward Mecca. In a mosque there is a niche in a wall that indicates the direction.
  3. There must be generous giving of alms.
  4. The believers must fast during the daylight hours of the season of Ramadan.
  5. There must be a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s lifetime. If it is impossible to go, a faithful Muslim is then encouraged to provide gifts to help another to make this pilgrimage.

In addition to these 5 obligations, Muslims also practice circumcision, they abstain from alcoholic beverages and pork, and it is permitted for a man to have as many as 4 wives.

Islam has always had an aggressive policy about converting others. Some, for example the Taliban and Al-Qaida, proselytize with the threat of violence, although the vast majority of Muslims do not.

Islam is not monolithic. To say that one is Muslim, is akin to saying that one is Christian; there is a wide variety of Islamic parties that are as diverse as fundamentalist Baptists, liberal Episcopalians and highly scrupulous Catholics. And yet there is this common core set of beliefs.

At the second Vatican Council the Bishops wrote that: “the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the [Muslims] who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God” (LG 16)

The council also tells us that the Church holds Muslims in high esteem because:

“They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; [Muslims] take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their desserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.” (NA 3)

Several years later, Pope St. John Paul II added:

“I wish to reaffirm the Catholic Church’s respect for Islam, for authentic Islam: the Islam that prays, that is concerned for those in need. Recalling the errors of the past, including the most recent past, all believers ought to unite their efforts to ensure that God is never made the hostage of human ambitions. Hatred, fanaticism and terrorism profane the name of God and disfigure the true image of man.” (Address, Sept. 2001)

So how do we apply this to all that is happening today? As my old colleague Bp. Dan Martins pointed out, we need to begin with the issue of “Islamaphobia.”

Islamaphobia is splitting our country. It has created a polarity that pits those who look for a violent Muslim behind anybody who looks even vaguely Arab or South Asian, fearing that they might be jihadist terrorists who long to cut our throats and abscond with our children. This is countered by those whose only understanding of Islam is of a peace-loving “Abrahamic” faith, a faith that is conjoined with Christianity and Judaism.

For the first group, they need to ratchet down the fear mongering. It is prudent to be watchful, but it is easy to move over into the camp of the bigoted and over reactionary. This group thrives on those almost daily stories of young U.S. Muslims doing all they can to join up with Isis, Jihadists and other radical Islamists; however, it must be pointed out that there is overwhelming, incontrovertible evidence that the vast majority of Muslims living here in the US have no sympathy whatsoever with acts of politically or religiously-motivated violence against anyone, anywhere.

That said, to the second group who tend to be dewy eyed progressives, I must say that it is naive and dishonest to deny that groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS (or ISIL, depending on how you like to translate the Arabic) who locate their identity and mission squarely and solely in the teaching and practice of Islam. One can argue that they distort and misconstrue Islam, as many Muslims indeed do argue. But they are not generic terrorists, they are Islamic terrorists. In a society where freedom of thought and expression are valued, it must not be off limits to criticize not only violent acts, but also the avowed motivation of those who commit violent acts, in this case, Islam. It is a dilemma.

Both of these statements are true. Fear-mongering and ethnically-based prejudice are particularly reprehensible. And calling into question this or that aspect of Islam is not necessarily in and of itself either “hate speech” or bigotry. It’s a fine line. We need to pray for the gifts of wisdom and prudence.

Returning to Jesus and the Pharisees in Wednesday of Holy Week and the looming crucifixion, I would remind you that Jesus is crystal clear about one thing: that love of God and love, unconditional positive regard of neighbor, including our Muslim neighbors, is our Lord’s single greatest admonition to us and we jolly well better take it to heart. And pray for help when our suspicions and prejudice seem to be winning the day.

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:34-40

 

 

October 22, 2017 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 22 October  Comments Off on October 22, 2017 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Oct 232017
 

 

Today I want to talk about conscience. We need to start with the Church’s understanding of the result of the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. To be sure, we have all inherited original sin but we Catholics see the fall as being only partial. There is always the tug of the world, the flesh and the devil. In spite of that, we believe that all people, even un-baptized non-Christians, are able to make good, moral choices simply because they are human beings created in the image of God. (Moral Natural Law.) So for example in Romans 2: 15 we hear St. Paul saying that the Gentiles  show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts,  while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them.

To be sure, we Catholic Christians have a decided advantage in the formation of conscience, but others are still endowed with the hope and instruction that a good conscience provides.

The Greek word for “conscience” is synoida which means to “think together.” By the way, this is the basis of our word “synod” which is the gathering of bishops and other holy people to collectively discern the will of God.

The conscience, synoida, implies that one is thinking and reflecting inwardly with God in order to come up with that which God deems is the good and the right thing to do.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote: If…we feel responsibility, are frightened at transgressing the voice of conscience, this implies that there is One to whom we are responsible, before whom we are ashamed and whose claims upon us we fear.

Conscience is more than just opinion. I rather like the statement in the Youcat, the Church’s revised Catechism for young people. In it we are told that Conscience is the inner voice in [us] that moves [us] to do good under any circumstances and to avoid evil by all means. At the same time it is the ability to distinguish…[between good and evil.] In the conscience God speaks to [us.] (#295)

God’s directives are discerned in that inner voice in which he makes himself known to us. So if anyone of us says with true conviction, “I can’t do this, before the one who causes me to fear and tremble,” then this is God speaking through the conscience. A whole lot of folks have gone to jail or have been martyred because they were true to their consciences.

As St. Thomas Aquinas taught, Anything that is done against conscience is a sin.

After World War II, the Church started doing some very serious reflection on the place and role of the conscience. Finally, when Vatican II came around, Catholic Theologian Karl Rahner wrote that the conscience is the proximate source of moral obligation, and so must be followed even if mistaken; but that we must form our conscience rightly and avoid confusing it with subjective inclination or personal preference. A Catholic must be prepared to accept moral instruction from the Church and never appeal to conscience to make an exception for him (or her)self. If we realize that we may very well have to sacrifice everything or lose our soul, then we would not look for exceptions to be made for us from God’s law and our confessors would not use evasions like “well, follow your conscience” when some hard if sensitive teaching were needed. If in our sinful world God’s law seems unrealistic, the trouble is not with God’s law but with the world—and therefore with us.

Rahner wrote on the verge of a new age in which Christian ethics faced challenges from many quarters, not least from within the Church herself. Vatican II sought to restate and update Catholic moral teaching. Though aware of growing individualism and relativism, the Council seemed optimistic to the point of naïveté about how their words would be received. Many people took up the Council’s views on the dignity and liberty of conscience with greater enthusiasm than they did for its teaching on the duty to inform conscience and exercise that liberty in accord with moral absolutes known to right reason and proclaimed by the Magisterium.

In the heady days right after Vatican II, the conscience often became confused with opinion. The watershed was Pope Paul VI encyclical Humanae Vitae, which in part affirmed the Church’s stance against artificial birth control. A whole lot of people have ignored this teaching. They have rationalized their choice and claimed it was and is a matter of conscience. This was and is linked with a lax attitude toward abortion and other grave moral issues.

St. John Paul II took the opportunity of the 25th anniversary of “Humanæ vitæ” to publish his groundbreaking encyclical “Veritatis splendor.” Here he reasserted the teaching of Vatican II that Christ and the Church instruct definitively in moral matters, and that a well-formed Christian conscience will be informed by such authoritative teaching.  St. John Paul taught us, the faithful, to proceed with obedience of faith, submitting our experiences, insights and wishes to the judgment of the teaching Magisterium. We constantly need to reform ourselves according to the mind of Christ which is authentically transmitted by the Church.

A well-tutored conscience is indispensible for the formation of Godly morality. The magisterium serves the Christian conscience by highlighting and clarifying those truths which a well-formed conscience ought already to possess.  Again the Youcat tells us that No one may be compelled to act against his [or her] conscience, provided that he [or she] acts within the limits of the common good. (#296)  So for example, someone may feel as if an abortion or an act of violent discrimination may be prompted by conscience, but that is simply not true.

And yet, anyone who disregards the conscience of a person, either by ignoring it or by using coercion, violates that person’s dignity. Practically nothing makes a human being more human than the gift of being personally able to distinguish good from evil and to choose between them. This is true even if the decision seems to be wrong. And if anyone is sincere in following the conscience, then God will not hold that person accountable, but he or she had jolly well better be right. The consequences for being wrong could be eternal.

Unless the conscience has been incorrectly and improperly formed, the inner voice speaks in agreement with what the Church deems reasonable, just and good in the sight of God.

In the Epistle lesson today from I Thessalonians, St. Paul tells us that we are enlightened with power and…[the] Holy Spirit and with much conviction.  We are given the promise of help and clarity and specific direction, especially if our goal is to be truly faithful.

In her teaching Dignitas Humanae, Vatican II proclaimed that In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend the sacred and certain doctrines of the Church. For church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth.

It must be said that the first school of conscience is self-criticism. We all have the tendency to judge things to our own advantage. The second school of conscience is orientation to the good actions of others. The correct formation of conscience leads us to that freedom to what has been correctly identified as the “good.” With the help of the Holy Spirit and Scripture, the Church over her long history has accumulated a vast knowledge about right action; it is part of her mission to instruct people and to give them direction.

For me, all this means is that I darn well better be humble. As a consequence, I embrace the teaching of the Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman when he said, “I believe what the Catholic Church believes.” and “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” This is the basis of conscience; this is the basis of faith.

 

October 8, 2017 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 08 October  Comments Off on October 8, 2017 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Oct 082017
 

 Matthew 21:33-43

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes? Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

Let’s take a look at today’s parable. The standard interpretation is that God is the Landowner, the Vineyard is Israel, the agents are the prophets and Jesus is the Son. Although this is foundational, I’d like to come at it from a slightly different angle.

So, we have a landowner who is being given the run around by his tenants. They no longer want to pay their rent. These tenants want to be in control; they want to own the vineyard if you will. However, it is not for sale and it never will be. The owner is not looking for buyers.  He is looking for tenants who will give him his fair share of the produce at harvest time, and this is the key part, the real issue is stewardship, a word that puts many of us on the defensive because it challenges our sense of entitlement and ownership.

With few exceptions, we have worked hard for what we have; we have deeds and titles and fence lines to prove ownership of our property. We have registered land plats and mortgage payment books and tax bills and home owners insurance, all with our names on them. We have gone to a lot of trouble to get these things and hanging on to them requires no small amount of financial courage but according to today’s Gospel lesson we are simply deluding ourselves.

Our ancestors became divine tenants thousands of years ago; it was so far back that most of us have forgotten the circumstances. Somewhere along the way someone misplaced or ignored the tenants’ agreement and wrote up a deed instead, saying that we now own the property instead of leasing it and that is the basis of the problem in this parable.

In the story today, the Landowner—representing God—spent most of his time in a far off place.  His absence made him really, really easy to ignore. When he sent messengers to remind the tenants of their agreement, they said, “You have been gone so long and have been so undemanding that we’ve decided that things have changed. This vineyard, this land, is now ours.”

All it took was a little bravado and a couple of bursts of violence and—bada bing— the agents of the land owner who were still alive ran away empty-handed.

The owner could have sent the police or the sheriff or even recruited his own army of thugs. He could have returned violence for violence but he did not. He just kept sending messengers, one after another, each of them pleading with the tenants to come to their senses and honor their agreement with the landowner.

Finally, when there was a whole row of unmarked graves full of messengers outside the vineyard walls, the owner sent his son, unaccompanied and unarmed, to teach the tenants things they had clearly forgotten or had opted not to learn. He reminded them that they were stewards and tenants, not owners. In fact they were guests on the earth. He even might have reminded them of Psalm 24:1—“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein…” It’s all His—none of it was theirs—or now ours.

The Son reminded them that being guests placed them in relationship with the landowner who also was their host, who also placed them in relationship with each other, and once they got over their delusions of ownership, these relationships, with him and others, could be based on our gratitude, not our fear, nor our resentment nor a false sense of security, nor even the mere desire for power.

He reminded them that as guests they had free access to far more than they could ever have earned for themselves. All he asked was that they take care of the vineyard and that they give him a prescribed portion of what they produced; not because he needed it, for he turned around immediately and gave it away, but they needed to be constantly reminded that they were tenants and stewards and not owners.

They needed to give, in order to remember who they were: grateful tenants and stewards who took their lives and the fruits of their efforts from the Lord’s favor and returned the favor by giving a portion of their largess back to him and to others.

The Son probably reminded them of the Hebrew Scriptures that God, the land owner, gave instructions on paying what they owed to him by giving to others. There’s a good chance he reminded them of the importance of honoring God with the “first fruits” of their labor. Most likely, he shared with them that they would be greatly blessed by so doing. He may have quoted Proverbs 3:9-10: “Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce—then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”

He may even have told them of God’s confrontation through the prophet Malachi, referring to the only place in scripture that God challenges his people to test him. God says: “…you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In your tithes and your offerings.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me.  [What can we do?, we may ask. The answer God says is to…] Bring the full tithes into the storehouse that there may be food in my house and thereby PUT ME TO THE TEST’ says the Lord of hosts. [See] if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down on you an overflowing blessing.” (Mal.3:8-10) By the way, this is the only place in all of the scriptures where God commands us to test him. In all other places we are warned not to test him. I think this was the son’s message.

But in the parable, the tenants weren’t buying it; they killed the son but he would not stay dead and to this day he challenges the tenants and stewards, reminding us that we are God’s guests, welcome on this earth and loved with a fierce love, all the while being reminded that we are not the owners. There is also the warning that violence will befall us if we do not heed.

All this is right in the wheelhouse of Pope Francis’s teachings, especially his 191 page encyclical on the environment, Laudato si. Although the Holy Father doesn’t hold much back about our troubling stewardship of the earth, I would like to share a word of hope with you. He writes:

…all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start. He does offer a word of hope. We can change our ways. And what does that mean?, we may ask.

Well to start, we must not spurn the owner and persecute his messengers because to do that is to court our own destruction. To do that is to forget, or ignore, who we are and what our purpose here is. We are God’s sharecroppers. We tend the earth and reap it’s riches on God’s behalf. We can love this vineyard, this earth, as our own. We can water it by hand and build fires against the frost and take deep pleasure in the harvest. We can even will pieces of it to our children or sell our part of the tenancy to others. But we are expected to represent God’s interests, being as generous with each other as God is with us. We are not owners. We were never meant to be owners. It may fly in the face of much of what we have been taught, but it is the way of the Kingdom of God and I will tell you, if we abide by God’s rules, the harvest will take your breath away.

 

 

 

 

October 1, 2017 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 01 October  Comments Off on October 1, 2017 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Oct 012017
 

 Matthew 21:28-32

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir, ‘but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

Tension is rife in today’s Gospel lesson. The setting is Tuesday in Holy Week. Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem with an overwhelming ovation and the city is abuzz with rumors and anticipation: “Is this the Messiah? What’s going to happen?” We see in the text that Jesus is in the Temple and he’s having a significant dust-up with the Chief Priests and the Elders of the People. They are feeling threatened and are both defensive and looking for a reason—any reason— to have this self-proclaimed Messiah put in his place.

It’s not going well for the Chief Priests and Elders, they are getting testier, and as we know their reaction is going to get Jesus crucified. Consider their mind-set; they have witnessed this popular Galilean teacher enter their city in a Messianic fashion. They have watched in horror and outrage as he trashed the whole sacrificial system of worship by driving out the money changers with a whip, and he has announced the Temple’s destruction, implying that he has authority that is much greater than theirs. They are more than threatened and so they confront him publically and at length.

In the preceding section of the scriptures they ask: “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you that authority?” (vs. 23): Authority has become the central issue.

This particular confrontation started when Jesus asked the chief priests and elders questions about the authority of St. John the Baptist and because the atmosphere was so fraught with political explosiveness, they punted. They chose not to undermine their own authority by affirming the authority of John, and at the same time they were also aware of how popular John was and the crowd was edgy enough without firing them up by refuting John’s authority. So they said that they’ didn’t know.

Jesus responded by saying that since they wouldn’t answer, neither would he. But the whole thing comes down to Jesus’ Messianic authority and whether or not folks were going to submit to it. Jesus then told the little parable about the two sons, the first said that he would not be dutiful, then repented and was obedient. The second said that he would do what was required of him, and then refused. As we know, the first one who repented is the model for faithfulness.

Faithfulness is a matter of submitting to authority. The question is who’s authority? For Christians, it is the authority of Christ. And the primary place for discerning the authority of Christ is the Catholic Church. The basis of Catholic teaching and belief is that Christ’s authority has been passed on to the Church, the Catholic Church. Let me tell you why I have accepted it and continue to submit to it after living the first 60 years of my life as a Protestant.

First this authority is historical. In the little one chapter NT book of Jude, in the third verse, there is this phrase that refers to the “faith which was once for all delivered.”  In other words, the faith of Jesus was delivered to the first century apostles and in turn it has been handed on through the centuries by means of the apostolic succession of bishops and this faith has been delivered to us today.

This is the Faith of Jesus and it is supremely authoritative. This faith is conveyed to us through the teaching Magisterium and it transmits to us what Christ would have us believe and do and what we do not believe nor should we do. Over the years we’ve often had to have the faith explained through the teaching of ecumenical councils and the prayerful reflections of Popes and bishops and some of the concepts have had to be developed, but there has always been one faith that has been passed along to the Church. That is basis of our authority and it is an historical authority.

My second reason is that this authority is objective. In other words, it couldn’t be subject to my personal whims or the whims of some vote by a Church convention. A 50% plus one vote is not authoritative enough to say that abortion is ok or that the definition of marriage can be changed, let alone issues like the nature of the Eucharist or the question of the Incarnation of Christ. These latter points had to be settled by Church councils.

This authority had to operate within the very fibers of the Church itself. To prove its objectivity, this authority had to be spread out over a large number of people, over a long period of time while remaining consistent in its themes and purpose. The Catholic Church has been faithful and consistent for 2000 years.

Third—connected with the criterion of objectivity— is that this authority is universal. As you know, Catholic means universal. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 396) said that “The Church is called Catholic because it extends through all the world…because it teaches universally and without omission all the doctrines which ought to come to man’s knowledge…because it brings under the sway of true religion all classes of men, rulers, and subjects, learned and ignorant; and because it universally treats and cures every type of sin…and possesses in itself every kind of virtue which can be named…and spiritual gifts of every kind.” (Catechetical Lectures 18.23) The Church cannot be the voice of just one person, one nationality, one theological grouping or one pressure group. This authority has to transcend geographical, cultural and intellectual boundaries. Not only does this authority have to be universal in geographic terms, it also has to transcend time as well. It has to be universal down through the ages, connecting authentically with every age.

But if this authority is universal it must also be particular. This fourth trait means that this authority must be practical and applicable in a particular place and through a particular person. It cannot be just a vague ‘body of teaching’ determined by majority vote, nor can it be some kind of ‘consensus of the faithful’ at a particular time and place, something that is subject to change 10 years from now. However, if it is particular, then it also has to be able to speak to particular problems and circumstances. A particular authority will apply the universal truths of the gospel to particular problems with confidence.

Fifth, this authority is intellectually satisfying. Unlike some traditions, the Catholic faith has not been “dumbed down.” While it must be simple enough for every person to understand and obey, it also must be challenging enough for the world’s greatest intellects. As St. Jerome, whose feast day is today, said of Scripture, ‘it must be shallow enough for a lamb to wade and deep enough for an elephant to swim.’ This authority must be intellectually coherent within itself and it must be able to engage confidently with all other intellectual religious and philosophical systems. Furthermore, if it is intellectually satisfying, it must offer a world view which is complete without being completely closed. In other words, there must be both answers and questions which still remain.

Sixth, this authority is Scriptural. The Church’s authority is rooted in Holy Scripture. Because it is Scriptural it also looks to the Bible continually as a source of inspiration and guidance. While this authority flows from Scripture it also confirms Scripture and the Church offers the right interpretation of various texts with confidence, never contradicting Scripture as a whole, but always working to further illuminate Holy Writ. In fact,“ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ!” insisted St. Jerome. So to review, I accept and submit to the authority of the Catholic Church for six reasons:

  1. The authority is historical.
  2. It is objective.
  3. It is universal.
  4. It is practical and applicable in particular places and through particular people.
  5. It is intellectually satisfying.
  6. It is based on Sacred Scripture.

The authority of the Catholic Church fulfils all six of these traits. They show that the Church’s authority is not ephemeral and merely human, but is of divine origin; in other words much of it has been revealed by God. Obviously there are many, many more reasons to accept and submit to the authority of the Church. This is at best a partial list. The point is that I need reasons to say “yes” when the Father instructs me to go work in the vineyard of the Lord and these in part are my reasons. And more importantly, I want to follow through, especially during times of great stress and tension. That is the essence of being faithful.