Reflection at Communion Service, 9/19/2020

Now that we’ve had our homiletics course, we’re preaching at various liturgies outside of Mass for practice, and we’re recording them and sharing them with our brother classmates for feedback. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to preach reflections in communion services in my parish assignment. This morning, I accepted our deacon director’s suggestion that if we felt comfortable, we try preaching a reflection without a manuscript. Here is a transcript of what I delivered from a rough outline:

Saturday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time

Traditionally this week, Wednesday, Friday, and today – Saturday – are Ember Days, days of fasting in the Church. After the Exaltation of the Cross there are the fall days of fasting, the Fall Ember Days. And then traditionally, this weekend, in many places, especially where farming is a key part of life, there’s still a Mass of thanksgiving for the goodness, of the fruits of the harvest.

It’s in this time of year that a lot of the Church readings start to turn back to the idea of the richness of the harvest, of the earth – the return from those things that we sow and we hear today the idea of sowing.

We just heard the word “sow” nine times, between the first reading to the Corinthians – the letter to the Corinthians – and this this Gospel.

We actually heard this Gospel about five weeks ago at Sunday Mass, from Matthew, and today, again in this fall season, the church calls it from Luke and we hear it again in Luke’s words.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was a letter to, what one of our Scripture textbooks called, the “Las Vegas” of the early Christian world. It was a center of trade, a center of great wealth and lavish living, which also made it a center of difficulty of choosing between good and evil and a moral life, and that manifested itself quite a bit even in the the emergent Church in Corinth that Paul had planted the seeds of.

And so he wrote to them, multiple letters, encouraging them in faith, encouraging them to choose Christ and to choose a moral life. In this first reading, he speaks of what is sown looking like one thing, coming up looking different. He speaks of Adam, who chose – and led to death, and our original sin, and he speaks of Christ who rose, and opens the doors for us to new life.

Paul sows Christ, Paul sows new life, Paul sows that message that Christ, the ultimate sower, gave as a gift to his Church, to his apostles, and to us the faithful.

Jesus is the master sower, and in the Gospel, He reminds us of the different types of soil that we might encounter in the world, world that today we might even say looks a little bit like that world of Corinth – a world of great wealth, a world of abundance, and a world where that can sometimes make it difficult to choose between the good and the evil, even in our own lives. Corinth, looking a little bit, perhaps, like today’s culture.

Which begs the question: What do we sow? In the soil around us in the world, the good and the bad. What are the little good things that we sow through the little actions of our daily life?

I’ll say one example that I just saw this morning, as our two servers were getting ready, and we all know how brothers and siblings can be, right? And so you never know as a parent what you’re going to get when your kids are getting ready in the morning. One of these guys decided to share the last little packet of mini muffins. He split it into two and got a bowl and a cup of milk ready for his little brother who was still getting ready. That’s a very simple act of sowing; of sowing God’s grace into this world today.

Last night we all got the news that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice of many decades, passed away, and we can all pray for the repose of her soul. Someone that we know did much to fight for justice, but also did so much damage to the natural law and the good and the sowing Christ brings into the world. While we can be sorrowful for some of the decisions that she helped to lead to, and some of the arguments that she made, we can realize the opportunity that we have still to sow that good seed in the lives of those around us, to try and encourage others to live lives of grace.

I read a beautiful story last night posted by the son of Justice Scalia, who oftentimes argued vehemently for the natural law and the good, against Justice Ginsburg in the court. And his son said that there was a time that his dad had a vase of two dozen roses in his office, and one of his aides was asking what that was for, and he said, “I’m going to take it down to Justice Ginsburg for her birthday.” And the aide made a comment that was like, “Well, I don’t know that that’s going to sway her vote or get her to go the way we would like her to on some of these cases.” And his line was, “Some things are more important than votes.” And I think that’s another example, too, of Justice Scalia sowing the good, regardless of what the outcome might be, regardless of what he thought the type of soil might be, in those situations.

So may God give us the grace to let the little seeds that we plant in our daily life, regardless of how they look at the moment, still be sown by us. May He give us the grace to still make that effort and trust that Christ will raise it into something new, something beautiful on the last day, much like He raises His own body. Much like He gives us the gift of His Eucharist, something that looks very different than what we know that it is, the gift that we come here today to receive.

Institution as Acolytes

Last week, my brother formation classmates and I each received letters from our Bishop in response to our recent letters to him.

Mine read, “I have received your letter… petitioning to be instituted in the Ministry of Acolyte and confirming your intention to continue formation for the permanent diaconate. I have also received the letter from your wife, Suzanne, endorsing your petition… After receiving the endorsement of your petition by those entrusted with your formation, I am happy to inform you of my intention to institute you in the Ministry of Acolyte on September 12, 2020.”

We’re excited for this next step in our formation, the formal rite by which we will be instituted as acolytes in service of the church. This is the third and final “minor order” to receive prior to diaconate ordination (the other two minor orders are the Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders and the Institution of Lector, both of which we have already received.)

What is an Acolyte?

Here’s some relevant information from the Ceremonial of Bishops:

27. In the ministry of the altar acolytes have their own proper functions and should exercise these even though ministers of a higher rank may be present.

28. Acolytes receive institution so that they may help the deacon and minister to the priest. Their proper ministry is to look after the service of the altar and to assist the deacon and priest in liturgical services, especially the celebration of the Mass. In addition, acolytes may serve as special ministers of the eucharist, giving holy communion in accord with the norms of the law.

When necessary, acolytes should instruct those who serve as ministers in liturgical rites by carrying the book, the cross, candles, or the censer or by performing other similar duties. But in celebrations presided over by the bishop it is fitting that all such ministerial functions be carried out by formally instituted acolytes, and if a number are present, they should divide the ministries accordingly.

29. So they may fulfill their responsibilities more worthily, acolytes should take part in the celebration of the eucharist with ever increasing devotion, as the source of their spiritual life and the object of an ever-deeper appreciation. They should seek to acquire an interior and spiritual sense of their ministry so that each day they may offer themselves wholly to God and grow in sincere love for the Mystical Body of Christ, the people of God, and especially for the members who are weak and infirm.

From the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM):

Additional responsibility at the altar, including purification of the sacred vessels is a key added responsibility as an acolyte.

190. If no deacon is present, after the Prayer of the Faithful is concluded and while the priest remains at the chair, the acolyte places the corporal, the purificator, the chalice, the pall, and the Missal on the altar. Then, if necessary, the acolyte assists the priest in receiving the gifts of the people and, if appropriate, brings the bread and wine to the altar and hands them to the priest. If incense is used, the acolyte presents the thurible to the priest and assists him while he incenses the gifts, the cross, and the altar. Then the acolyte incenses the priest and the people.

191. A duly instituted acolyte, as an extraordinary minister, may, if necessary, assist the priest in giving Communion to the people. If Communion is given under both kinds, when no deacon is present, the acolyte administers the chalice to the communicants or holds the chalice if Communion is given by intinction.

192. Likewise, when the distribution of Communion is completed, a duly instituted acolyte helps the priest or deacon to purify and arrange the sacred vessels. When no deacon is present, a duly instituted acolyte carries the sacred vessels to the credence table and there purifies, wipes, and arranges them in the usual way.

279. The sacred vessels are purified by the priest, the deacon, or an instituted acolyte after Communion or after Mass, insofar as possible at the credence table. The purification of the chalice is done with water alone or with wine and water, which is then drunk by whoever does the purification. The paten is usually wiped clean with the purificator.

Text for the Institution, from the Roman Pontifical:

Bishop: Dear sons in Christ, as people chosen for the ministry of acolyte, you will have a special role in the Church’s ministry.  The summit and source of the Church’s life is the Eucharist, which builds up the Christian community and makes it grow.  It is your responsibility to assist Priests and Deacons in carrying out their ministry, and as special ministers to give Holy Communion to the faithful at the liturgy and to the sick.  Because you are specially called to this ministry, you should strive to live more fully by the Lord’s Sacrifice and to be molded more perfectly in its likeness.  You should seek to understand the deep spiritual meaning of what you do, so that you may offer yourselves daily to God as spiritual sacrifices acceptable to him through Jesus Christ.  In performing your ministry bear in mind that, as you share the one bread with your brothers and sisters, so you form one Body with them.  Show a sincere love for Christ’s Mystical Body, God’s holy people, and especially for the weak and the sick.  Be obedient to the commandment which the Lord gave to his Apostles at the Last Supper: “Love one another as I also have loved you.”

Brothers and Sisters, let us pray to the Lord for those chosen by him to serve in the ministry of acolyte.  Let us ask him to fill them with his blessing and strengthen them for faithful service in his Church.

God of mercy,
Through your only Son
you entrusted the bread of life to your Church.
Bless + our brothers
who have been chosen for the ministry of acolyte.
Grant that they may be faithful
in the service of your altar
and in giving to others the Bread of Life;
may they grow always in faith and love,
and so build up your Church.
Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Each candidate goes to the Bishop, who gives him a vessel with the bread or wine to be consecrated saying:

Take this vessel with bread (wine)
for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Make your life worthy of your service
at the table of the Lord and of his Church.
Amen.

In your charity, please continue to pray for my brother classmates and me as we enter this final year of formation, and increase our ministry and service.

Reflection: March 2019

Originally written for and delivered as a reflection at Holy Hour at our March 2019 diaconate formation weekend – March 8, 2019:

A reading from the first book of Kings, Chapter 19 verses :3-8:

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life, going to Beer-sheba of Judah. He left his servant there and went a day’s journey into the wilderness, until he came to a solitary broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: “Enough, LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  He lay down and fell asleep under the solitary broom tree, but suddenly a messenger* touched him and said, “Get up and eat!”  He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat or the journey will be too much for you!”  He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.

As we begin our Lenten journey, at the end of a week that had a day of fasting and abstinence, and another day of abstinence, this reading might make us think only of physical food like the angel pointed out to Elijah… food like a Filet-of-Fish, or a salad, or Saturday morning bacon.

And yes, refraining from physical food as a means of self-denial, sacrifice, and penance, is an important part of the spiritual life and of our penitential season of Lent.

But tonight, as we spend time with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ here in Holy Hour, I’d suggest that we turn our thoughts inward on this moment and the way we pray and approach this moment.  I’ll admit that, despite hours upon hours in adoration and prayer with Jesus in Holy Hours like this one, I still find it uncomfortable at times.  I wonder whether I’m praying “the right way.”  My mind gets distracted, and I feel bad that I’ve left Jesus sitting there looking at me, waiting for me, while my thoughts are elsewhere.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, despite my best efforts, I feel like I fail at spending time here with my best friend.

Sometimes, in those moments, I’m like Elijah, turning back and saying, “Enough, Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors!”

But that’s when I realize that Jesus is still sitting here, the most patient and loving of friends, still waiting for me.  He understands, and he’s ready when I’m ready.

Last month in the Holy Hour reflection, David talked about suffering and silence.  He went into vivid detail about his son’s suffering after his attack in the streets New York City.  It was an amazingly touching story, but my heart and mind quickly flipped beyond suffering and honed in on the word “silence.”

Silence.

Let me tell a little story….

The night before our last formation weekend, I had made the decision to take a HUGE leap for someone who makes his living working in the daily grind of the tech industry, for a software company that makes much of its money from the time and attention of consumers inside of advertisers’ experiences.

I had come to the realization that enough was enough when it came to the distraction of quick little glances at my phone for Facebook updates, Tweets, Instagram posts, even emails and text messages.  That Thursday, I had made the decision to remove all of the social media apps from both my work and personal phones, and to turn off all of the notifications on emails and other messages, except for work emails during working hours and texts from Suzanne at any time.

Immediately after taking that step, I noticed that I had entered a vast ocean of wonderful silence.  I actually hadn’t even realized how much I had longed for that silence… that peace.

By the end of our last deacon weekend, I was truly savoring the fact that I wasn’t constantly pulling out my phone as a distraction in those “down moments” between conversations to check what was going on out there in the broader world beyond my immediate experience and influence.

Yes, there have been times when I’ve really been tempted to reinstall those apps.  Yes, there are moments when I really want the distraction. But no, I haven’t given in, and yes, I truly am appreciative of the “new life” I’ve had in my new, more real, more focused, interactions with other people in real life over the last month.

I saw its impact on my time in our Salt Lake City office this week, when my phone stayed in my bag most of each day and I found myself more focused on my teammates and team members.  I’ve certainly seen its impact in the time that I spend with Suzanne, and my time with the boys and with our other family members and friends.

Silence.

In this morning’s office of readings, St. John Chrysostom reflected upon prayer and conversation with God as “a supreme good.” He spoke of how our spirit should be quick to reach out toward God, constantly and in every moment and action.  Our prayer should be just an ongoing awareness of God and conversation with Him through each day.  He says, “The spirit, raised up to heaven by prayer, clings to God with the utmost tenderness; like a child crying tearfully for its mother.”  He says, “When the Lord gives this kind of prayer to a man, he gives him riches that cannot be taken away, heavenly food that satisfies the spirit. One who tastes this food is set on fire with an eternal longing for the Lord; his spirit burns as in a fire of the utmost intensity.”

I can’t say that I’m there yet.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be there in this life.  But I can say with sincerity that the “technology Lent” that I started last month is yielding fruits in helping me be more attentive to and present for others in my life.

Not that I ever pulled out my phone during Holy Hour, but my mind still had the muscle memory of quick distractions, and that’s starting to fade away a bit.  I hope and pray that this little change helps me be able to be more present here in Holy Hour with my Lord and my friend.  I hope and pray that we each find those little changes we need to make in our lives in order to deepen our time in prayer and increase the frequency in which prayer finds root in the moments of our day.

Then, like the child clinging tenderly as to its mother, we’ll be able to eat and drink deeply of God’s presence and grace, and like Elijah, we’ll find ourselves strengthened for the journey, ready to get up and face our forty day and forty night journey to the mountain of God.

My we all find our ways toward deeper prayer, deeper presence, and being more deeply filled by God as we journey through this Lent together.  Maybe it can begin in a special way here tonight, as we each spend time face to face with our Lord.  May God give us this grace.

Personal Reflection on Chapter 1 of ‘Ministries: A Relational Approach’

Reflection Paper: Church History II

I found Edward Hahnenberg’s analysis of the contrast and balance between clergy and laity in Chapter 1 of his Ministries: A Relational Approach to be fascinating and intriguing in the context of the re-introduction of the permanent diaconate in the wake of Vatican II.  Hahnenberg outlines the tension between clergy and laity and the start of a “theology of the laity” coming out of Vatican II, and explored new models that evolved out of the council, like Yves Congar’s concept of “ministries of service / community.”  As a deacon aspirant, it was interesting to consider yet again how the deacon sits “between” the clergy and the laity, or in a spot that others have referred to as a “seam” or a “bridge.”  I find myself reflecting again on the opportunity for the deacon, formally part of the clergy and sacramentally ordained but also living a life within and among the laity, to truly bridge this perceived gap.

Perhaps this is part of the wisdom of the Second Vatican Council that is yet to be fully understood – precisely into the empowerment of the laity and calling them to fully live out their life as Baptized Christians, “priests, prophets, and kings”, in a very real sense is planted the diaconate.  The order of the diaconate bridges the life of the lay person with the life and sacramental orders of the clergy.  For someone aspiring to orders as a deacon, what might this mean?  I believe that this means fully taking part in the proper clerical role of a deacon, while at the same time maintaining a life that otherwise is that of a faithful Catholic lay person. While being present in the ministries of sacrament and word in a liturgical sense, a deacon also sends the laity forth at the end of Mass, and then truly leads them forth, first among them, back to his home, his workplace, and the streets, parks, and secular places that need the light of Christ. Without “taking over” opportunities for the laity to serve in new and creative ways, the deacon in fact both sets an example and becomes a facilitator of the participation of the laity in their calling.  In this way, he “represents” them and their daily sacrifices at the altar, and he also leads by example in how to take the Word and make it present in the everyday culture and life in the secular world. In this sense, I don’t see the tension outlined by Hahnenberg being as present in a Church in which the diaconate has come back into its full nature and become the “bridge” closing the gap between clergy and laity.  In my own reflection, I see the deacon as playing a critical role in a truly “new theology of ministry.”

Submitted December 9, 2017, for assignment 3 of the course “Church History”, Instructor: Deacon Patrick J. Donahue, D. Min..

Getting the Rite Right: The Intent and Results of the Vatican II Liturgical Reforms

Essay: Church History II

Of the four Constitutions resulting from the Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, was the first discussed and approved, and it was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 4, 1963, a year after the council opened.1  This Constitution had significant effects and led to a stark reform of the liturgy in the years just after the council, and it continues to impact the Church’s liturgy today. However, some of the ideas found in the document are still being addressed or contradicted in practice in many places today.  Liturgy remains one of the most controversial areas of reform in the years following the council.  On one side are those who advocate “the spirit of the council,” seeking to interpret the intent of the council fathers and enact liturgical changes in line with that interpretation. On the other hand, others favor a stricter interpretation of the council documents and more rigid adherence to tradition while still enacting the reforms for which the council called.

The debate over the liturgy seems to be at fever pitch today on blogs and in parish meeting rooms.  In an article relaying events of a Jesuit liturgical conference in Rome in June 2002, Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium was quoted summarizing the issue, “If Catholic worship before the council suffered from exaggerated ‘discipline and obedience,’… today in the rush to develop ever more creative liturgies, the ‘sense of mystery’ may get lost.”2  However, this debate is not a new area of discussion and divide. Five short years after the council, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship’s Liturgicae Instaurationes detailed the challenge of the day, and it sounds like something right out of today’s discussion:

 “there have been here and there both resistance and impatience. In the cause of holding on to the old tradition, some have received the changes grudgingly. Alleging pastoral needs, others became convinced that they could not wait for promulgation of the definitive reforms. In consequence, they have resorted to personal innovations, to hasty, often ill-advised measures, to new creations and additions or to the simplification of rites. All of this has frequently conflicted with the most basic liturgical norms and upset the consciences of the faithful”3

From the days just after Pope Paul VI promulgated Sacrosanctum concilium, its effects have been broad and far-reaching, but still haven’t been completely on target.

One might ask what the council fathers intended as a result of Sacrosanctum concilium.  A strict reading of the outline of the document provides a handful of intended principles. First, the council pointed out “the nature of the sacred liturgy and its importance in the Church’s life.”4  Then it called for the “fully conscious, and active participation… by the Christian people, as… their right and duty by reason of their baptism,” the proper training of the clergy in liturgy, and “the liturgical instruction of the faithful.”5  Next it called for “a general restoration of the liturgy itself, [in which]… both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify,” which reiterates the Church’s authority to regulate the liturgy, and permits “no other person, even if he be a priest… add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority,” and stressed the role each person plays based upon their rank or office. It also called for more reading of scripture within the liturgy, the proper placement of preaching, and for adapting the liturgy to the language, cultures, and traditions of peoples.6

In addition, Chapter II of the Constitution covered more intended changes specific to the Mass, including parts of the Mass to receive new emphasis (the homily, the Prayers of the Faithful), and expanded permission for concelebration.7 Chapter III-V covered changes to other Sacraments and sacramentals and renewing the structure of the liturgical year.  Finally, Chapters VI and VII covered music and art, calling for liturgy “celebrated solemnly in song, with the assistance of sacred ministers and the active participation of the people,” giving Gregorian chant pride of place.  But it also permitted other types of liturgical music, allowing for adaptation to local musical traditions and customs.  The pipe organ was given “high esteem,” but the admission of other instruments was permitted, “on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use.”  They called for composers and other artisans to bring their skill and talent to the renewal of the liturgy, contributing “art which is truly sacred… [striving] after noble beauty rather than mere sumptuous display.”8

Which of these changes have happened?  The “ordinary form” of the Mass, the Novus Ordo Missal first promulgated in 1969 and its subsequent revisions, have accomplished the renewal of the liturgy itself, restructured the liturgical year, and made room for more reading of scripture within the liturgy. In addition, it has given elements like the homily and Prayers of the Faithful their proper place, and allowed for concelebration. There seems to be a better sense of the nature of the sacred liturgy and its importance in the Church’s life.  The faithful now take a more conscious, active participatory role in the liturgy in many places.  National Directories for formation of priests and deacons call for the proper training of the clergy in liturgy (a structure begun with the Council of Trent).  Moreover, in many places, the liturgy is celebrated well and with good music and art that are truly sacred and strive for noble beauty.

On the other hand, the liturgical instruction of the faithful could be improved, and perhaps deeper liturgical instruction is what some of the “missing faithful” might need to better appreciate the liturgy.  Furthermore, the liberty that some clergy take in adding to the rite could be tempered in the spirit of the council’s desire that “no other person, even if he be a priest… add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”  In the Church in America, music has been an area of diversity and strength, but re-balancing the use of Gregorian chant to give it its “pride of place” would be one way to further align with the desires of the council.

Another area of consideration as it relates to the intent of the council fathers is that of adaptation in other (particularly non-Western) parts of the world.  To understand the gravity of the need for adapting the liturgy in other cultures, one might reflect on the reaction of Cardinal Joseph Malula of Kinshasa in the Congo, to the liturgy when Pope John Paul II became Pope.  He stated, “All that imperial paraphernalia…  All that medieval remoteness and inheritance that makes Europeans think that the Church is only Western.  All that tightness that makes them fail to understand that young countries like mine want something different, they want simplicity.  They want Jesus Christ.  All that, all that must change.”9  The spirit of Cardinal Mulala’s reaction can be seen within paragraphs 37 and 38 of Sacrosanctum concilium:

“Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community; rather does she respect and foster the genius and talents of the various races and peoples. Anything in these peoples’ way of life which is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error she studies with sympathy and, if possible, preserves intact. Sometimes in fact she admits such things into the liturgy itself, so long as they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit. Provisions shall also be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples, especially in mission lands, provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved; and this should be borne in mind when drawing up the rites and devising rubrics.”10

In Liturgy and Inculturation since Vatican II, Where Are We? What Have We Learned?, Mark R. Francis, CSV points out how the Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire, one of the first attempts at inculturation of the Roman liturgy in Africa, has elements that flow directly from African culture while still being patterned on the structure of the Roman Rite. Among these are the invocation of saints and ancestors at the start of the liturgy, the placement of the penitential rite just before the sign of peace and preparation of gifts, the use of dance, an “announcer” calling the assembly to worship paralleling a servant announcing the arrival of a chief.11

Turning to India, Francis writes of a proposed outline endorsed by the Indian bishops and approved by Rome that is “…known as the ‘Twelve Points of Liturgical Adaptation’ and opened the door to particularly Indian liturgical gestures and other symbols. Among the Indian cultural practices permitted in the Eucharist were semi-prostration instead of genuflection, an Indian style of incensing, offerings of flowers and fruits, and the use of Indian musical instruments.”12

A tidal wave of change hit the Church after the Second Vatican Council.  Some of the biggest waves hit upon the liturgy, the first area touched by the council.  The liturgy is “the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.”13  It is precisely the liturgy that needed to undergo change to bring the faith into the modern world.  The council fathers, however, seemed to indicate a desire for change balanced with tradition.  Some of the liturgical wishes of the council fathers remain outstanding and some have been addressed differently than imagined.  Still, the Church seeks to bring the true “spirit of the council,” a true encounter between the Church and modernity, into reality in a balanced way, to get the Rite right, as the council fathers intended.

Submitted December 2, 2017, for assignment 2 of the course “Church History”, Instructor: Deacon Patrick J. Donahue, D. Min..

The Church, and the People

Essay: Church History I

One might recall the childhood activity of folding one’s hands, fingers pointing inward through the knuckles, then rotating one’s hands open and waving the fingers around, saying, “Here is the Church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors, and see all the people.”  This child’s activity can call to mind the strength of the Church as a place and an institution, as well as the strength of the Church as the people of God.  This paper seeks to illustrate the presence of Church structure and the acknowledgement of the Church as “the people of God” as two complimentary yet contrasting aspects of Church, and how they have evolved through ages of the Church.  In a sense, this balance of Church structure and the people of God is representative of the balance between Peter and Paul and their influence in the early Church.  Peter’s writings convey his deep sense of his Jewish roots, expressed in the Judaic covenants and the journey of the Jewish people as God’s chosen people.  Paul, on the other hand, especially in his later pastoral epistles, imparts his desire to apply order and structure, like that of the Roman Empire, to the early Church.  As one studies various ages of the Church, one can see a constant striving for balance between the desire for a strongly structured, organizational Church, against a desire for a strong appreciation of God’s people as “Church.”

Good, Evil, & God: Understanding the Old Testament’s “Dark Passages”

Essay: Introduction to Scripture

In the book of the prophet Isaiah, God teaches mankind, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways… For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8-9 NABRE). The words of God in this passage, spoken through the Prophet, remind us that no matter how hard we try to come to a full knowledge and understanding of the ways of God in this life, we will still fall short. Modern skeptics argue against faith and the truth of Scripture with intelligent, well-researched, and well-structured arguments based on seeming inconsistencies found within the supposedly-inerrant Scriptures. The “Method B” approach of the modern, historical-critical skeptic zooms into snippets of Scripture and focuses on the origins, historical settings, and truths surrounding the text to understand it from a scientific viewpoint. Because of such a read, and forgetting that “[God’s] thoughts are higher than [our] thoughts,” a skeptic using this approach is unable to explain seeming contradictions scattered through the entire Canon of Scripture, or singular events or stories that stand in contrast to the full, revealed truth of God’s nature and essence. Particularly in the Old Testament, there are many different types of contradictions noted by modern scholars: the nature of God, the nature of good and evil, and the nature of the afterlife.

The Problem of Evil, Augustine to Today

Essay: Introduction to Philosophy

For centuries, “the problem of evil” has vexed those who believe in God and given those who do not believe a strong argument against God’s existence. Put simply, the problem of evil begs an explanation for the existence of pain and evil within the creation of a God who is supposedly all powerful, all knowing, and all good. As Brian Davies explains, it “is commonly seen as the problem of how the existence of God can be reconciled with the pain, suffering, and moral evil which we know to be facts of life.”1 It is reasonable that if there is evil, God knows about it, could stop it, and would want to stop it. However, evil exists in our world. This problem was one of many Saint Augustine needed to reason his way through on his own path to Christianity, eventually settling upon an explanation that still serves us well today.