Monday, October 22, 2007

Scripture and Tradition

Chapter II of the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) explains the teaching of the Church regarding the role of both Scripture and Tradition in the handing on of the faith. Following are some points mainly from scripture that point to the role of tradition in Divine Revelation.

First of all we have the question of scripture itself. How do we know what books are in the canon of scripture and what books are left out? We cannot find an answer to this question in scripture itself. The answer has to be found in the tradition of the Church eventually given written form by a council of the Church. Regarding Hebrew Scriptures; why does the canon here differ between Protestant churches and the Catholic Church. The answer again is found in tradition. The Catholic Church accepted into the canon of scripture all those books included by the Alexandrian tradition (the Septuagint translation) while during the Reformation Protestant churches instead accepted the later canon of the Palestinian tradition.

Secondly, we find this testimony at the end of John’s gospel: (John 21:25)

25But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

If Jesus is the complete revelation of God and only some of what he said and did was eventually written down it makes sense to me that some of what he taught could also be part of the tradition of the early Church. Also, if we accept the verdict of scripture scholars that the Gospels were written down some time after the life of Christ we must accept that originally the stories of Jesus were handed on by the tradition of the early Church before the scriptures were even put into written form.

We can see evidence of this early tradition in the letters of Paul. For example in 1Corinthian 11:2 we find:

2 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you.

Here Paul seems to be saying that the normal way of passing on the teachings of Christ was through oral tradition. Again in 2Thessalonians 2:14-15 we find:

14For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news,* so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers and sisters,* stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

Here Paul says that the traditions were passed on both by written letters and by word of mouth. In the second letter to Timothy Paul makes references to tradition as well as to scripture

14For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news,* so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers and sisters,* stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. (2Timothy 1:13-14) Note the virtual repetition from 2 Thessalonians.

2You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; 2and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well (2Timothy 2:1-2). Note that Timothy hears the message rather than reading it.

Finally, in the second letter of John we find a passage indicating the desire of the teacher to talk face to face with the people rather than communicating through written letter. (A sentiment found also in 1Thessalonians 3:10).

12 Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. (2John 12)

Additionally, in Acts 8: 30-31 we see demonstrated a need for people to have help interpreting the scripture. This help comes from tradition.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

So, it seems to me that there are verses in the scripture that point to a role for tradition as well as for written scripture in passing on the Word of God. We must of course have a proper understanding of what tradition is (it is not the whim of the Magisterium) and we must understand that Tradition and Scripture go together. (All quotes are taken from the NRSV translation of Scripture)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Prayer, the Saints, and RCIA

Inquirers in RCIA sometimes have questions about the role of saints in Catholic prayer. The first thing to note is that Catholics do not pray to the saints in the sense that they (the saints) have any power of their own. We ask them to pray with us to God, just as I can ask people in my family or community to pray with me to God. We do assume that they can hear us because they are with God, and lived very good holy lives. We feel their prayers joined to ours will be powerful. However, we do not think that it is necessary or essential to pray to saints. The one mediator (intercessor) is Jesus who is the bridge between God and us. Jesus is really the essential conduit. However, we do venerate the saints, which is not to say that we give them adoration and honor due to God alone. It means that we honor them as people who cooperated with God’s grace in this life and are among the great cloud of witnesses in heaven as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

2683 The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom,
especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share
in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the
transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They
contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they
have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master,
they were "put in charge of many things."42 Their intercession is
their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask
them to intercede for us and for the whole world.

The saints are fully human and they give us an example and the hope that we too can succeed if we persevere in doing God’s will. Again, the Catechism says:

956 The intercession of the saints. "Being more closely united to
Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more
firmly in holiness. . . .[T]hey do not cease to intercede with the
Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on
earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ
Jesus. . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly
helped." (1Tim 2:1-5)

Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death
and I shall help you then more effectively than during my
life. (St. Dominic on his deathbed to his brothers)

I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth. (St Theresa of Lisieux)

Note the pattern of prayer when the Church remembers saints:

“Father, you endowed Anthony Claret with the strength of love and patience to preach the Gospel to many nations. By the help of his prayers may we work generously for your kingdom and gain our brothers and sisters for Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” (Liturgy of Hours, Oct 24)

Notice that the prayer is addressed to the Father. The example of the saint (in this case, Anthony Claret) is mentioned and the prayer is summarized through Jesus who is the intercessor. Again, the Catechism has this to say about the prayer of intercession:

2634 Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray
as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of
all men, especially sinners.112 He is "able for all time to save those
who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make
intercession for them."113 The Holy Spirit "himself intercedes for
us . . . and intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."(Romans 8:26-27)

2635 Since Abraham, intercession - asking on behalf of another
- has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God's mercy. In the age
of the Church, Christian intercession participates in Christ's, as an
expression of the communion of saints. In intercession, he who prays
looks "not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,"
even to the point of praying for those who do him harm..(Phil 2:4)
2636 The first Christian communities lived this form of fellowship
intensely.116 Thus the Apostle Paul gives them a share in his
ministry of preaching the Gospel117 but also intercedes for them.(Phil 1:3-4)
The intercession of Christians recognizes no boundaries: "for all
men, for kings and all who are in high positions," for persecutors,
for the salvation of those who reject the Gospel.( 2Tim: 2:1)

So, to summarize:
1. Intercessory prayer (praying for the needs of another) is a basic form of prayer.
2. Our belief in the communion of saints means that we remain in community (communion) with those people who have gone before us and are now in heaven.
3. When we remember the saints in our prayers we do not pray for them (that would be pointless) and we do not pray to them (that honor is due to God alone). Rather we remember their example and dare to hope that their prayers might help us on our own journey. Note that occasionally Mary will be addressed in a manner than is different from all other saints. This reflects her unique relationship with Jesus but still does not change the basic pattern of our prayer.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

RCIA and Church

At the end of RCIA last week I was impressed with the amount of intelligent participation from most of the inquirers in our group. When I think of the coming session tomorrow I worry a little. I hope and I pray that we can keep the positive atmosphere and good participation going. I know that when good things happen in RCIA that it is the work of the Holy Spirit but I hope that the participants and the team can keep co-operating with the Spirit. Most especially I know that in RCIA a lot is expected of everyone. I hope that I don't say or do anything that would make this experience into a burden for anyone.
The notion of burden is an important one. Many of the blogs that I read on the subject of RCIA deliver the impression that the writer definitely felt that RCIA was a burden and that the Rite was simply a hoop to jump through. From the viewpoint of the Church sacramental preparation (like preparation for adult initiation) is a key opportunity for catechesis. So for the participant (and in the RCIA) the whole process is an opportunity for grace. It is an opportunity obviously to grow in relationship with God.
Another thing that bothers me (or worries me) is the notion that members of the RCIA team are somehow "gatekeepers" of the sacraments of initiation. In other words that we will evaluate participants and decide if they are "worthy" of admittance to the Church. There is no question that this idea was part of the RCIA in historical times and I recently read a blog where the writer bragged that he had excluded a number of the people that he had sponsored from admittance. In this parish I know of no case where that has happened. We regularly have people who withdraw on their own from RCIA at some point after speaking with the Father but nobody has ever been excluded by the team. Such a thing could happen I suppose if the participant was giving some kind of public scandal but it has not happened so far.
The most interesting question from the session last week was one that I had not heard from an inquirer before. She asked about spiritual dryness. She, or her friend, was getting discouraged in prayer and found it difficult to continue. Off the top of my head I recalled the fuss that surrounded the Time magazine article about Mother Theresa's "dark night" in her own prayers and used that to assure the lady that such "dryness" could be perfectly normal. Thinking about it since then I realize that for beginners (if that is what the inquirer here is) the answer is probably simpler than the "dark night" one. Firstly, someone might begin praying or meditating with great enthusiasm but with a preconceived notion of what ought to be the result of this prayer. When the preconceived result does not come the person might become disillusioned. Of course prayer is an encounter with God and it does not automatically follow that we can determine the result on our own. God has something to say here. Secondly, it is possible that we might begin to pray with motives that are tainted in some way. We might hope for example that becoming a leader in prayer will establish some kind of status in the Church. In such circumstances people might become disillusioned with prayer as well. So beginners can experience their own sort of "dark night of the soul" but that does not need to place them in the same category as John of the Cross or Mother Theresa.

Finally, in preparation for the session tomorrow, we are asked to reflect on our initial reactions to the word "Church". For me, this word brings me back to the Church of my early childhood. I remember the old church at St. Emerence parish. I remember the pews, and the Latin (especially Father singing the preface) and the incense and the bells. I'm not sure what feelings I connect with this. I suppose that it was a feeling of mystery and comfort at the same time.