Adult Faith Formation Column for the Sunday Bulletin of St. Michael Parish, Livermore, California

This weekly column is a short meditation on the Bible readings of the Sunday Mass. The meditations are direct quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, papal encyclicals, writings of the Saints, and similar orthodox sources.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

29 April 2012

Religious Freedom for the Children of God

    The sacred [Vatican] Council begins by professing that God himself has made known to the human race how men by serving him can be saved and reach happiness in Christ.  We believe that this one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus entrusted the task of spreading it among all men when he said to the apostles:  "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt. 18:19-20).  All men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and his Church, and to embrace it and hold on to it as they come to know it.

    The sacred Council likewise proclaims that these obligations bind man's conscience.  Truth can impose itself on the mind of man only in virtue of its own truth, which wins over the mind with both gentleness and power.  So while the religious freedom which men demand in fulfilling their obligation to worship God has to do with freedom for coercion in civil society, it leaves intact the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies towards the true religion and the one Church of Christ....

    The Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom.  Freedom of this kind means that all men should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against is convictions in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in associations with others.  The Council further declares that the right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.  This right of the human person to religious freedom must be given recognition in the constitutional order of society as will make it a civil right.

                        -- Dignitatis Humanae, Vatican II, 1-2
                        (On the Right of the Person and Communities
                        to Social and  Civil Liberty in Religious Matters)
                        7 December 1965

        Beloved:  See what love the Father has bestowed on us
        that we may be called the children of God.    (1 John 3:1)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

22 April 2012

Only God Forgives Sin

    Only God forgives sins.  Since he is the Son of God, Jesus
says of himself, "The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive
sins" and exercises this divine power:  "Your sins are forgiven."
Further, by virtue of his divine authority he give this power to men
to exercise in his name.

    Christ has willed that in her prayer and life and action his whole
Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and
reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood.  But he
entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostolic
ministry which he charged with the "ministry of reconciliation."  The
apostle is sent out "on behalf of Christ" with "God making his appeal"
through him and pleading: "Be reconciled to God."

    Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members
of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into
grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded
ecclesial communion.  It is to them that the sacrament of Penance
offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of  justification.
The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as "the second
plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace."

                        -- Catechism of the Catholic Church
                            paragraphs 1441, 1442, 1446

        "Let us fix our eyes on Christ's blood and understand
        how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our
        salvation, it has brought to the whole world the grace
        of repentance."
                    -- St. Clement of Rome, d. 101 A.D.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

15 April 2012: Divine Mercy Sunday

The Church Appeals to the Mercy of God

    The Church proclaims the truth of God's mercy revealed in the crucified and risen Christ, and she professes it in various ways.  Furthermore, she seeks to practice mercy towards people through people, and she sees in this an indispensable condition for solicitude for a better and "more human" world, today and tomorrow.  However, at no time and in no historical period -- especially at  moment as critical as our own -- can the Church forget the prayer that is a cry for the mercy of God amid the many forms of evil which weigh upon humanity and threaten it.  Precisely this is the fundamental right and duty of the Church in Christ Jesus, her right and duty towards God and towards humanity.  The more the human conscience succumbs to secularization, loses its sense of the very meaning of the word "mercy," moves away from God and distances itself from the mystery of mercy, the more the Church has the right and the duty to appeal to the God of mercy "with loud cries."  These "loud cries" should be the mark of the Church of our times, cries uttered to God to implore His mercy, the certain manifestation of which she professes and proclaims as having already come in Jesus crucified and risen, that is, in the Paschal Mystery..,,

    ... In the name of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, in the spirit of His messianic mission, enduring in the history of humanity, we raise our voices and pray that the Love which is in the Father may once again be revealed at this stage of history, and that, through the work of the Son and Holy Spirit, it may be shown to be present in our modern world and to be more powerful than evil:  more powerful than sin and death.  We pray for this through the intercession of her who does not cease to proclaim "mercy ... from generation to generation," and also through the intercession of those for whom there have been completely fulfilled the words of the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

                    -- Blessed John Paul II
                        Dives in Misericordia Encyclical, #15
                        30 November 1980

    Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

8 April 2012: Easter Sunday

He Is Risen!

    "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain
and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting
God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ (1 Cor 15: 14-15). 
With these words Saint Paul explains quite drastically what faith in
the Resurrection of Jesus Christ means for the Christian message
overall:  it is its very foundation.  The Christian faith stands or falls
with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead.

    If this were taken away, it would still be possible to piece
together from the Christian tradition a series of interesting ideas
about God and men, about man's being and his obligations, a kind
of religious world view:  but the Christian faith itself would be dead.
Jesus would be a failed religious leader, who despite his failure
remains great and can cause us to reflect.  But he would then remain
purely human, and his authority would extend only so far as his
message is of interest to us.  He would no longer be a criterion; the
only criterion left would be our own judgment in selecting from his
heritage what strikes us as helpful.  In other words, we would be alone.
Our own judgment would be the highest instance.

    Only if Jesus is risen has anything really new occurred that
changes the world and the situation of mankind.  Then he becomes
the criterion on which we can rely.  For then God has truly revealed

    ... If we attend to the witnesses with listening hearts and open
ourselves to the signs by which the Lord again and again authenticates
both them and himself, then we know that he is truly risen.  He is alive.
Let us entrust ourselves to him, knowing that we are on the right path.
With Thomas let us place our hands into Jesus' pierced side and
confess:  "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:28).

                    -- Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)
                        Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week
                            Chapter nine

        The Lord has indeed risen, alleluia.
        Glory and kingship be his for ever and ever.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

1 April 2012: Palm Sunday

The Right to Religious Liberty

    "All men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and his Church, and to embrace it and hold on to it as they come to know it."  This duty derives from "the very dignity of the human person."
It does not contradict a "sincere respect" for different religions which frequently  "reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men," nor the requirement of charity, which urges Christians "to treat with love, prudence and patience those who are in error or ignorance with regard to the faith."

    The duty of offering God genuine worship concerns man both individually and socially.  This is "the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ......

    "Nobody may be forced to act against his convictions, or is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others, within due limits."  This right is based on the very nature of the human person, whose dignity enables him freely to assent to the divine truth which transcends the temporal order.  For this reason it "continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it."

    "If because of the circumstances of a particular people special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitutional organization of a state, the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom must be recognized and respected as well.

    The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities.  This natural right ought to be acknowledged in the juridical order of society in such a way that it constitutes a civil right.

                            -- Catechism of the Catholic Church
                                paragraphs 2104 - 2108

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.  ( 1 Timothy 2: 1-2)