Saint John XXIII

This Sunday, which concludes the eight-day celebration of Easter, we will witness something that has never occurred – the canonization of two popes in one ceremony. Excitement is high in part because adult Catholics are very, even personally, familiar with John Paul II, and elder Catholics (myself included) have a memory of the avuncular John XXIII and his astounding call for Church reform.

Pope Saint John XXIII portraitPope Saint John XXIII, born Angelo Roncalli in 1881, was ordained a priest in 1904 and was active as both a papal diplomat and a diocesan bishop. Elected pope by the College of Cardinals in 1958, one of his first acts was to buck the hierarchy and call for an Ecumenical Council- the first in nearly a century. The theme of this blog site is ‘aggiornamento for 21st century America”; Saint John XXIII popularized the Italian term, which means a ‘bringing up to date’, in his description of the reason for Vatican Council II: it was time to fling open the windows and allow in fresh air. The holy pope presided over the first session of the historic Council in Autumn 1962 and then died in June 1963. The remaining three sessions of the Vatican Council continued under the auspices of Pope Paul VI in the autumns of 1963-65.

As Pope, John wrote two encyclicals- papal letters to the whole Church- Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher, referring to the Church, 1961) and Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth, 1963).

But what makes John – or anyone – a saint?

The word ‘saint’ comes from the Greek hagios, literally meaning a holy one/person. The New Testament uses the term to refer to one who believes in, and lives a life according to the model of, Christ Jesus. This would be people not unlike you and me hopefully. As the Church has evolved, the term saint has taken a more eschatological nuance and we acknowledge specific people in the Church Triumphant- those who have passed into life with the Lord in heaven. The Church does not claim to know everyone who is in heaven, but it recognizes two methods of identifying people as being in heaven:

  1. those who have been martyred for their faith;
  2. those for whom there is evidence of their having lived an exemplary Christian life (after which the Church deems the person “Venerable”) and for whom there is overwhelming evidence of a miracle that can only be ascribed to this person, which is evidence of their now being in heaven (after which the Church deems the person “Blessed”).

Canonization is the Church’s formal recognition of a person’s both having met either of these two qualifications and also after an additional miracle is documented.

Canonization does not make one a saint; it is merely our recognition that the person is indeed a saint (in heaven). One can be a saint in heaven without our declaring it or even our knowing it. The purpose of canonization is to provide official models for us to follow or from whom to get inspiration to a Christ-like life, and also as an intercessor for us as a strengthening of our relationship with Christ.

The need for a second miracle attributed to Saint John XXIII was waived by the Pope as is his prerogative. The healing miracle that was obviously at John XXIII’s intercession is, well, incredible! Read the official witness here. Watch for a follow-up blog on Saint John Paul II later this week.

— Eric Wolf

New Resource – Lectio Publishing

Lectio Publishing logoIn keeping with the aggiornamento spirit of this blog, I’m happy to announce to this blog’s readers that this past year we have started Lectio Publishing a new publishing venture for religious – Catholic – authors and topics.

This month we published a book titled Sacramental Theology – 50 Years After Vatican II, which has been published as both a softcover and eBook. The book honors the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and traces the major issues promulgated at Vatican II as they relate to both the meaning and celebration of the sacraments today.

cvr_st50The author is Franciscan theologian Kenan  B. Osborne, O.F.M., a scholar of international repute and is Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the Franciscan School of Theology/Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA where he taught for over 30 years. He is a frequent guest lecturer at numerous colleges and universities throughout the U.S. and the world, mostly recently in China and Korea. He is considered an expert in Christology, the sacraments, the permanent diaconate, post-Vatican II theology, and contemporary and Chinese philosophy.

Information, and a downloadable excerpt, can be accessed on the Lectio Publishing website.

— Linda Wolf

Thy Kingdom Come

The Old Testament, especially the prophets, spoke of the coming of the Messiah, the Anointed one, who would save Israel and usher in the Day of the Lord, that is, the time when God would exercise His power to vanquish evil.

The New Testament Greek noun basileia refers to something associated with a king; in English we translate this word as either ‘reign’ or ‘kingdom’. In the New Testament, Jesus saw His ministry as revealing the presence of the reign or kingdom of God. Jesus himself is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. The reign of God is no longer in the future; when we have faith we are dwelling right now in the kingdom of God.

Jesus healed in order that people would have faith and believe. Jesus taught and preached so that people would understand the new paradigm and believe. The Gospel According to Matthew focuses significantly on Jesus’ teaching and preaching (Mt 5 – 7 et al).

At one point (Mt 6:9-13) Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray- and so we have the Lord’s Prayer. We recall that Hebrew poetry is based not on rhyme as in English tradition but rather on repetition or various types of related parallel phrases. The Lord’s Prayer is a New Testament example of Hebrew parallelism using five supplications each with a parallel phrase.

Our Father who art in heaven = hallowed be thy name

The opening sentence is an example of synthetic parallelism: the second phrase builds on and expands the meaning of the first phrase.

Thy kingdom come = Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven

How often do we unthinkingly break this sentence after the word ‘done’; perhaps for breathing purposes we tend to make two equal size phrases. However, in terms of Jesus’ meaning as He teaches us to pray to the Father, the sentence is better paused after the word ‘come’: ‘Thy kingdom come’ is our basic supplication. What does this mean? Remember one of the purposes of parallel poetry is to confirm meaning.

This is an example of synonymous parallelism, in which the second phrase has the same meaning as the introductory phrase. Typically one phrase can define one or more terms in the other phrase. So we find that ‘Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven’ defines ‘Thy kingdom come’. Jesus doesn’t just announce the coming of the kingdom, He is telling us what that means. The kingdom of God means that the will of the Father is fulfilled not just in the next life but right here and now! Wow, what a difference a Savior makes!

When we pray the “Our Father’ let us put the pause after ‘come’; if we need to break up the second phrase, let us do so to punctuate Jesus’ message by placing a pause not after ‘done’ but rather after ‘Earth’.

— Eric Wolf

Mark: Read All About It!

In reading the Gospel of Mark I was reminded of how newspapers were sold on the street
corners early in the nineteenth century. I can envision the Gospel of Mark being held up on the
street corner and a fifteen year old boy yelling out. “Jesus of Nazareth claims to be the
Messiah!” read all about it. This would be the headline; “Jesus of Nazareth – Messiah or
Impostor?” There would be the story on the front page on how Jesus brought the little girl that
had died back to life, on the following pages stories of the parables Jesus used to teach the
people. Some would say he was an agent of Satan but others that heard Jesus rebuke this
would say Jesus made perfect sense when He said “how can Satan drive out Satan?”

In the commentary section many would have given testimony of how Jesus had fed them when
there was no food and others who had witnessed a man’s withered hand be restored. Others gave false testimony in order to have him crucified. In the opinion section the Sadducees would say “Jesus is a phony, he claims he can forgive sin; only God can forgive sin. We need to silence him, let us ask Pilate to crucify him.”

In the obituary section it would read: “Jesus of Nazareth, died 33 AD after being scourged and
crucified along with two thieves. He had his mother by his side with many friends and well
wishers. He claimed he was the Messiah but the Jewish high priests would not believe him. He
was given over by one of his apostles, Judas Iscariot who was paid twenty pieces of silver to
hand him over to the authorities. Joseph of Arimathea handled the burial arrangements.”

Late breaking story: “Jesus not found in the tomb, Mary Magdalene said Jesus appeared to her
but Apostles skeptical till Jesus appears to them and commissions them to proclaim the Word.

— Mike Gardner

The (Inspired) Word of God

Christians believe that the Bible (Old and New Testaments) is the inspired Word of God. Human authors wrote the various books over a millennium; each however was inspired by God. inspire means both to ‘breathe in’ and to ‘fill one with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially creative’.

God did not dictate to the human authors, as for example Islam claims that God/Allah dictated the Qur’an to Muhammad. Rather we believe that the Holy Spirit infused human authors with the understanding of what God wished to communicate, so that the authors could do this appropriate for human understanding yet without theological error.

Recently a friend shared with me an insightful article written by Jason Carlson and Ron Carlson entitled Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God?. To paraphrase their article into a Catholic context, let’s delve into what the Church understands about the formation of the Bible.

Although our term ‘Bible’ comes from the Greek word (biblion) that means ‘book’, the Bible is not one book but a collection of 73 books.

The 46 books of the OT were composed over a period of 10 centuries leading up to the time of Christ; portions had been taken from written stories from perhaps several centuries earlier. The 27 books of the NT were written over the last half of the first century AD/CE. During this long span of time that the books of the Bible were composed, the culture and society changed dramatically many times.

These 73 books were written by an untold number of authors- several dozen at the least. They were a wide variation of educated and not-so-educated people including priests, prophets, preachers, apostles, kings, courtiers, scribes, fishermen, a physician, and regular people like you and me. There could not have been collaboration between the disparate authors.

The Bible, and indeed a sizable number of the books, are not of a single literary genre. Throughout the books in each testament we find story, poetry, prayer, prophecy (speaking on behalf of God), wisdom, novellas, letters, and history. Yet each holds true to the central message of God’s creation and plan for our salvation.

The books were originally composed in at least 3 different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. This would seem to lead to confusion and dissonance, yet the opposite is true- the books agree on their message of God’s love and care for His human creation.

The various authors composed the books on 3 separate continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe, from Jerusalem (Israel) to Rome (Italy) to Babylon (Iraq) to Alexandria (Egypt). Again this cultural variation would seem to lead to less cohesion, yet the opposite is true: the Bible is consistent in its message of who God is and what our relationship is with Him.

The consistent message throughout the span of the Bible points us to the One author- the Bible is the Inspired Word of God.

— Eric Wolf