December 2013


Pope Francis’s attack on capitalism in his apostolic exhortation is having a very predictable effect: it’s raising the ire of capitalists.

CNBC reports that at least one wealthy donor for the Archdiocese of New York’s campaign to restore St. Patrick’s Cathedral is having second thoughts.

The story features two video-interviews with Cardinal Dolan — the first on the donor controversy, and the second on the Church and the market.

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“It’s like asking a Jewish charity to provide bacon-wrapped shrimp in its food baskets.”

— Mike Huckabee, on Obama’s mandate on Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives, abortion-causing drugs, and sterilization procedures in its healthcare plans

Catholics get asked this question by sola scriptura Protestants now and then about our teachings and practices.

Now you can ask them the same thing. Tomorrow’s Gospel reading closes with an allusion to a prophecy: “He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, He shall be called a Nazorean.”

We’re used to the Gospel readings this time of year being full of Old Testament prophecies coming from Isaiah and Daniel, but this one, about Christ being “called a Nazorean,” is nowhere to be found in Scripture. It’s most likely an example of Jewish Sacred Tradition.

The Catholic Answers forum pages discussed this topic a few years ago.

Last weekend at Xavier University’s Bellarmine Chapel, Ken Overberg, S.J., held forth on the Infancy Narratives. As best as I can tell, (1) the narratives are “not biographies or exact histories,” (2) Ray Brown — or at least a penumbra of Ray Brown — is his authority, and (3) this business about Jesus being the Son of God has to do with the dating of the Gospels. Here’s a sample:

Our other readings, the opening lines of Paul’s letter to the Romans and the gospel from Matthew, announce in statement and in story the identity of Jesus as Son of David and Son of God. If we listen carefully to Paul, we will hear that Paul links Jesus as Son of God to the resurrection. Given the transforming power of this experience, it is not surprising that early Jesus followers focused on resurrection. Decades after Paul, when Matthew’s gospel was written, the conviction and proclamation about Jesus’ identity as Son of God is pushed back to his conception. Still later in John’s magnificent prologue to his gospel, the Word is with God, is God, before creation.

In a recent blog post, the UK’s Fr. Ray Blake captures the unease many Catholics are feeling about Pope Francis. If you are concerned at all about the liturgy, catechesis, and canon law, these are troubling times. Here are Fr. Blake’s opening paragraphs:

The uncertainty of the last nine months seems to have affected younger clergy most of all, I mean those who studied for the priesthood under the later papacy of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Some might say much that Benedict built has already been dismantled. The careful beautifully crafted liturgies we saw in St Peter’s that spoke eloquently of ‘the hermeneutic of reform in continuity’ have disappeared. Even that phrase has gone and so much of the language Pope Francis uses seems to be a dog whistle to the sixties and seventies, to the point where contemporaries of the Pope both clerical and lay are given more comfort than the young.

We seem to have returned to many of the issues most of us had hoped had died on the vine 30/50 years ago, a priest ordained a little after me suggested we were living in ‘time warp’. Senior clergy are thrashing about with moral issues, like communion for divorcees, communion for dissidents politicians, (there is a very good article here on politicising the Eucharist) lay groups that strove to overturn settled issues are given fresh fuel, it is almost as if some bishops are deliberately pouring petrol on the smouldering embers that in the last few decades many of us thought had almost burnt themselves out.

There is a natural and benevolent tendency for Catholics to hope for the best and want their spiritual leaders to succeed. But there are limits. On facebook today, someone commented on Fr. Blake’s piece by writing, “I trust in the Lord having chosen our Pope and will trust in where that brings us.” The Church does not teach that God chooses the Pope, only that once chosen he won’t formally teach error. We should be grateful for that, for while the overwhelming majority of Popes have been holy men, at least a few were not, and we should be loath to lay the blame for those choices on God(!). Unfortunately, the cultivated popularity of Pope John Paul II laid the groundwork for a creeping ultramontanism. The best we can do is pray, hope, evangelize, and fortify ourselves for the controversies ahead; for the last of these, we thankfully have the writings of Francis’s immediate predecessor.

Back when I spent more time watching and listening to EWTN, my favorite contributor was Church historian Fr. Charles Connor. He was orthodox, lively, brilliant, and honest, and never thought “Catholic media” should be synonymous with “looks like it was filmed on a cam-corder and edited on a Commodore 64.” While I wasn’t paying attention, he produced a comprehensive video-history of the universal Church: The Catholic Church Through the Ages. Seasons I and II, from 2012 and 2013, are available for purchase from the EWTN online store, but they also let you listen for free on their content-rich audio-library. If you, like me, have more free time than usual for the next week or two before 2014 ramps-up, give Fr. Connor a listen.

Oakley’s St. Cecilia Catholic Church had this image posted on their facebook page and I thought it was worth passing along. Parishes could place it in their bulletins this weekend; it might cut down on the number of trees going to the curb by New Year’s Eve.

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