Lately there have been accusations that a church with a social justice mission is one that supports socialism.
Conservative TV personality Glenn Beck told Christians, "I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice' or ‘economic justice' on your church website. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. . . . If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop."
A seminary pal of mine once remarked that he had no difficulty believing that Christ is present in holy communion. What he did question was the proposition that it was actually bread being used as a host.
Believe it or not, the hosts we use at Mass qualify as “real bread,” but they aren’t very good bread—at least not in any ordinary, earthly sense of the word. In accordance with one particular tradition of Western Christianity, canon law requires that the bread be unleavened (made without yeast).
If Catholics know anything at all about the Bible, we know that there are four gospels. But every so often, a newly discovered ancient text hits the headlines, such as the Gospel of Thomas (1945), the Gospel of Judas (2006), or the papyrus fragment last year that included a phrase about Jesus’ “wife.”
What are Catholics supposed to make of texts not included in the canon of the New Testament?
In short, be not afraid. While the fourfold gospel canon holds a mine of inexhaustible spiritual riches, there is also much to be learned from noncanonical sources.
When I was a teenager, I took a religious education correspondence course from the Paulist Fathers. They would send me booklets to read, and at the end of them were questions on the material that I would answer and send back. Then some anonymous Paulist priest would grade my answers and return them to me with the next pamphlet.
Catholics have become accustomed to the idea of popes dying in office—after all, 600 years is a long time between papal resignations. But there is no written rule that a pope must serve for life.
Pope Benedict, in his announcement of resignation, said of the papacy that “both strength of mind and body are necessary—strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
We sometimes say of people that they’ve been “to hell and back.” Christianity says the same thing about our Savior.
The statement is found in the Apostles’ Creed, a profession of faith with origins that may go back to the questions asked of candidates for baptism in the late second century. It reminds us that the saving power of Christ is for all times and all peoples, even those who entered and passed from human history prior to his death and resurrection.
When Catholics hear the word evangelization, we tend to think of Protestants. This is not surprising. They have been highly visible in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ in their own way.
Before the obligatory “Ave Maria” and a crazy aunt leading “YMCA” at the reception, guests at a Catholic wedding witness “a covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation of children.” But this was not always the case. For more than a thousand years of church history, this idea of marriage faced plenty of healthy competition.
A few years ago the Vatican issued a revised version of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the “guidebook” for how to celebrate the Mass. The cover of the document’s American edition showed a part of Jan and Hubert Van Eyck’s magnificent 1432 altarpiece painting The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.
James Joyce said it best in Finnegans Wake that “Catholic means here comes everybody.”
Our word “catholic” comes from a Greek adjective meaning “universal” and “together for the good of all.” Early Christians applied it to the church, and our earliest written example comes from Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, in the first decade of the second century.
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