Welcome to the Reading Room

Here are some news stories and articles which might be of interest to you. I've posted the opening section, and if you want to read more, you can click on "Read the whole article" to go to the original item. You'll find a variety of things here -- current news, political analysis, opinion pieces, articles about religion -- things I've happened to read and want to share with you. It's your Reading Room, so take your time. Browse. You're certain to find something you'll want to read.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

God Has Appeared As A Child

By Pope Benedict XVI

Dear Brothers and Sisters!
The reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to Titus that we have just heard begins solemnly with the word “apparuit”, which then comes back again in the reading at the Dawn Mass: apparuit – “there has appeared”. This is a programmatic word, by which the Church seeks to express synthetically the essence of Christmas. Formerly, people had spoken of God and formed human images of him in all sorts of different ways. God himself had spoken in many and various ways to mankind (cf. Heb 1:1 – Mass during the Day). But now something new has happened: he has appeared. He has revealed himself. He has emerged from the inaccessible light in which he dwells. He himself has come into our midst. This was the great joy of Christmas for the early Church: God has appeared. No longer is he merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of him on the basis of mere words. He has “appeared”. But now we ask: how has he appeared? Who is he in reality? The reading at the Dawn Mass goes on to say: “the kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” (Tit 3:4). For the people of pre-Christian times, whose response to the terrors and contradictions of the world was to fear that God himself might not be good either, that he too might well be cruel and arbitrary, this was a real “epiphany”, the great light that has appeared to us: God is pure goodness. Today too, people who are no longer able to recognize God through faith are asking whether the ultimate power that underpins and sustains the world is truly good, or whether evil is just as powerful and primordial as the good and the beautiful which we encounter in radiant moments in our world. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed”: this is the new, consoling certainty that is granted to us at Christmas.
In all three Christmas Masses, the liturgy quotes a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, which describes the epiphany that took place at Christmas in greater detail: “A child is born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace. Wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end” (Is 9:5f.). Whether the prophet had a particular child in mind, born during his own period of history, we do not know. But it seems impossible. This is the only text in the Old Testament in which it is said of a child, of a human being: his name will be Mighty-God, Eternal-Father. We are presented with a vision that extends far beyond the historical moment into the mysterious, into the future. A child, in all its weakness, is Mighty God. A child, in all its neediness and dependence, is Eternal Father. And his peace “has no end”. The prophet had previously described the child as “a great light” and had said of the peace he would usher in that the rod of the oppressor, the footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood would be burned (Is 9:1, 3-4).
God has appeared – as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace. At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One who loves us, the One through whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you. We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours.
Christmas is an epiphany – the appearing of God and of his great light in a child that is born for us. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings. In 1223, when Saint Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light. Saint Francis of Assisi called Christmas “the feast of feasts” – above all other feasts – and he celebrated it with “unutterable devotion” (2 Celano 199; Fonti Francescane, 787). He kissed images of the Christ-child with great devotion and he stammered tender words such as children say, so Thomas of Celano tells us (ibid.). For the early Church, the feast of feasts was Easter: in the Resurrection Christ had flung open the doors of death and in so doing had radically changed the world: he had made a place for man in God himself. Now, Francis neither changed nor intended to change this objective order of precedence among the feasts, the inner structure of the faith centred on the Paschal Mystery. And yet through him and the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus’ humanity in an entirely new depth. This human existence of God became most visible to him at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The Resurrection presupposes the Incarnation. For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” – this phrase of Saint Paul now acquired an entirely new depth. In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God. And so the liturgical year acquired a second focus in a feast that is above all a feast of the heart.
This has nothing to do with sentimentality. It is right here, in this new experience of the reality of Jesus’ humanity that the great mystery of faith is revealed. Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the child Jesus, God made himself dependent, in need of human love, he put himself in the position of asking for human love – our love. Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.
Francis arranged for Mass to be celebrated on the manger that stood between the ox and the ass (cf. 1 Celano 85; Fonti 469). Later, an altar was built over this manger, so that where animals had once fed on hay, men could now receive the flesh of the spotless lamb Jesus Christ, for the salvation of soul and body, as Thomas of Celano tells us (cf. 1 Celano 87; Fonti471). Francis himself, as a deacon, had sung the Christmas Gospel on the holy night in Greccio with resounding voice. Through the friars’ radiant Christmas singing, the whole celebration seemed to be a great outburst of joy (1 Celano 85.86; Fonti 469, 470). It was the encounter with God’s humility that caused this joy – his goodness creates the true feast.
Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half metres high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half metres has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s houseon horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis – the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions – the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby. In this spirit let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night, let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart. And let us also pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they – and we – may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable. Amen.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why Catholicism Makes Protestantism Tick: Louis Bouyer on the Reformation

by Mark Brumley

Interpreting the Reformation is complicated business. But like many complicated things, it can be simplified sufficiently well that even non-experts can get the gist of it.

Here's what seems a fairly accurate but simplified summary of the issue: The break between Catholics and Protestants was either a tragic necessity (to use Jaroslav Pelikan's expression) or it was tragic because unnecessary.

Many Protestants see the Catholic/Protestant split as a tragic necessity, although the staunchly anti-Catholic kind of Protestant often sees nothing tragic about it. Or if he does, the tragedy is that there ever was such a thing as the Roman Catholic Church that the Reformers had to separate from. His motto is "Come out from among them" and five centuries of Christian disunity has done nothing to cool his anti-Roman fervor.

Yet for most Protestants, even for most conservative Protestants, this is not so. They believe God "raised up" Luther and the other Reformers to restore the Gospel in its purity. They regret that this required a break with Roman Catholics (hence the tragedy) but fidelity to Christ, on their view, demanded it (hence the necessity).

Catholics agree with their more agreeable Protestant brethren that the sixteenth century division among Christians was tragic. But most Catholics who think about it also see it as unnecessary. At least unnecessary in the sense that what Catholics might regard as genuine issues raised by the Reformers could, on the Catholic view, have been addressed without the tragedy of dividing Christendom.

Yet we can go further than decrying the Reformation as unnecessary. In his ground-breaking work, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, Louis Bouyer argued that the Catholic Church herself is necessary for the full flowering of the Reformation principles. In other words, you need Catholicism to make Protestantism work–for Protestantism's principles fully to develop. Thus, the Reformation was not only unnecessary; it was impossible. What the Reformers sought, argues Bouyer, could not be achieved without the Catholic Church.  (Read the whole article here).



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

An American Saint-Maker

by Thomas J. Craughwell

Katharine of Aragon (1485-1536), the first wife of the much-married English king, Henry VIII, has a new champion. Gregory Nassif St. John, a retired New York stage actor now living in Georgia, has begun the process that he hopes and prays will lead to the Catholic Church declaring that Katharine (Nassif St. John uses the traditional English spelling) is a saint.

Nassif St. John learned of Katharine's story via The Six Wives of Henry VIII, the award-winning BBC series that aired in 1970. Katharine was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain (the royal couple who bankrolled Columbus' voyage to what turned to be the Americas). In 1509 she married Henry. It was a love match, at least at the beginning, but after 18 years of marriage and the birth of six children, only one of whom, Mary, survived to adulthood, Henry grew tired of his wife. Infidelity was commonplace among kings, and Henry was no better than his brother monarchs, but about the time Katharine stopped conceiving, he became particularly infatuated with one his wife's ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. Anne was intelligent, ambitious, vivacious, sexy, and she was candid about her terms: she didn't want to be Henry's concubine, she wanted to be his wife and queen.

As a Catholic, Henry could not divorce Katharine, so the only alternative was to have their marriage annulled. Only the pope could declare that what had appeared to all the world as marriage had been invalid from the beginning. In presenting his case Henry argued that because he had married his elder brother's widow their union was cursed by God -- they had no child (by "child" he meant a boy; Mary, as a girl, didn't count). Katharine countered that she and Henry's elder brother Arthur had been married only three months before the sickly fourteen-year-old died, and during that time they had never consummated their marriage. When he married Henry, she said bluntly, she was still a virgin -- a fact well known to him.

The case dragged on as Pope Clement VII dithered about what to do. After four years of waiting, Henry took matters into his own hands. He had his obliging archbishop of Canterbury annul his marriage with Katharine. He married Anne Boleyn. Then he severed England's ties with Rome and proclaimed himself head of the Church in England. In short order Anne was crowned queen and Parliament declared her children would be heirs to the throne of England. As for Katharine and Mary, they were shipped off two different castles. Katharine was stripped of her title, "Queen of England," henceforth she would be known as "Dowager Princess of Wales." As for Mary, she was declared illegitimate. Katharine absolutely refused to accept such a settlement. Her marriage was valid; her daughter was Princess of Wales; and the pope did have authority over such matters. But under Henry's new political and religious order, such sentiments were treason. Those who supported Katharine, including Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher, were beheaded. Other supporters were hanged, drawn, and quartered; starved to death in the Tower of London; or in the case of Katharine's confessor, roasted to death over a slow fire. When Henry sent two envoys to threaten Katharine with death if she did not conform to the king's will, she fully expected that she would die a martyr like her friends. (Read the whole article here.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Benedict XVI: In No One's Shadow

by Samuel Gregg

It was inevitable. In the lead-up to John Paul II's beatification, a number of publications decided it was time to opine about the direction of Benedict XVI's pontificate. The Economist, for example, portrayed a pontificate adrift, "accident-prone," and with a "less than stellar record" compared to Benedict's dynamic predecessor (who, incidentally, didn't meet with the Economist's approval either).

It need hardly been said that, like most British publications, the Economist's own record when it comes to informed commentary on Catholicism and religion more generally is itself less than stellar. And the problems remain the same as they have always been: an unwillingness to do the hard work of trying to understand a religion on its own terms, and a stubborn insistence upon shoving theological positions into secular political categories.

Have mistakes occurred under Benedict's watch? Yes. Some sub-optimal appointments? Of course. That would be true of any leader of such a massive organization.

But the real difficulty with so much commentary on this papacy is the sheer narrowness of the perspective brought to the subject. If observers were willing to broaden their horizons, they might notice just how big are the stakes being pursued by Benedict. This pope's program, they may discover, goes beyond mere institutional politics. He's pursuing a civilizational agenda. Read the whole article here.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Evicting Jesus

by Lisa Fabrizio

I have often written that the reason some folks persist in calling themselves Catholic is to be ready when reporters from the New York Times come to call. Sometimes I think that the Old Gray Lady might someday be the catalyst for many conversions to the faith, should serious thinkers ever meditate on just why the Church is so often in her crosshairs.

The Catholic Church is the largest institution in the world, and probably the oldest still in existence; and as such, her ways have been and still are well known throughout the globe. Why then, must she constantly explain herself to those who neither hold to her tenets nor share her mission? And even more curiously, why are her attempts to lead her own flock the subject of so much controversy? Surely, in this enlightened age, no one is forced to be a Catholic. If those who chafe at Rome's bit wish, there are many options out there from which to choose. But this exercise of free will does not serve the real agenda of those who wish all worship of God expunged from our nation...(Read the whole article here.)

AtonementOnline

About Me

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Fr. Phillips is the founding pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, the first Anglican Use parish, established on August 15, 1983. Not that there is any confusion, but he is on the left, shown in his younger, less gray-headed days.