Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Re-understanding Vatican II

Dear Theophilus,

Recently I sat with a small group of colleagues trying to figure out how to best serve the needs of the rest of the staff at our catholic high school for our upcoming Faith Awareness Day. My other colleagues kept talking about how there is an undercurrent of aggravation with the Catholic Church amongst the staff; and although I tend to keep a low profile, I had heard the rumblings and wasn’t surprised. At one point, a colleague at the table said, “I thought Vatican II was supposed to open a window from the Church to the world. Now it seems as if the window is being shut.” With hindsight, I wish I had has the courage and wisdom to ask who he thought might be shutting the window.

I add wisdom to the courage needed to answer such questions, because up until a couple of weeks ago, like most Catholics of my generation, I knew basically nothing about Vatican II. Sure, I could tell you that it was in the early 60’s (but not the exact date), and that it had been called by John XXIII, who died during the council and that it had been seen to its fulfillment by his successor, Paul VI. After the vernacular becoming the language of the liturgy, I would have been hard pressed to name any of the documents issued by Vatican II (I would have guessed at Gaudiem et Spes and Lumen Gentium – and I would have counted myself lucky).

As a part of my Year of Faith Resolutions, I’ve decided to take on getting to know the Vatican II documents better. Even if I just manage to read through them once, I would hope that it would leave me with a better understanding of them than if I had not read them at all. To this end, I picked up Vatican II – The Essential Texts with introductions from His Holiness Benedict XVI and James Carroll. I’ve only just gotten out of the introductions to begin Sacrosanctum Concilium, and I based on the introductions alone, the book has already paid for itself.

Where James Carroll gives the reader a historical look at the Second Vatican Council, Benedict XVI delves more philosophically into the council documents. The Holy Father’s introduction comes first, however, I would have preferred to have read Carroll’s historical treatment first to give me a context of Vatican II so that I could better understand Benedict XVI’s interpretation of the council texts. Not only does Carroll put the notion of Vatican II into its historical context with the backdrop of the Holocaust and Hiroshima, he also sheds historical light onto where the documents got their catalysts.

As I noted, Benedict XVI’s introduction to the Vatican II texts is much more philosophical, a way to make the documents of half a century ago relevant today. Time and again, throughout his introduction, the Holy Father alludes to, or outright tells us, that Vatican II had no intentions of changing Church doctrine, but rather the way in which Church doctrine is taught in order to make it more comprehensible to the modern world: “… the Council wishes ‘to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion.’” Unfortunately, it seems that many people, especially Catholics trying to reconcile their faith to the pressures of the modern world, have understood Vatican II to mean quite the opposite – that doctrine must be changed so we can comfortably remain within the visible traditions of the Church.

Keeping this misunderstanding that Vatican II was designed to change doctrine and not the modicum of teaching, it was very refreshing, from an orthodox point of view, to listen to the homily given on October 26, 2012 by Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, to about 1,000 catholic educators. I imagine that his Eminence ruffled a few feathers when he stated: “I’ve been told that up to 85% of Catholics today do not agree with many of the Church’s social teachings. Pause. And I tell them, yes, that is true. But it doesn’t make it right or wise. It is easy to go along with the flow as it is presented in the mainstream media. However, sometimes we need to go against the flow. It might not be easy, but it is right and wise.”

This is our challenge as Catholics in a very anti-catholic world. We are challenged to go against the flow because it is right and wise – but not necessarily easy. And when our opponents throw the window of Vatican II in our faces, we need to have the courage and wisdom to ask them who is closing the window before opening the door to light and truth and inviting them to enter.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dr. Scott Hahn in Toronto

Dear Theophilus,

This past Saturday I was lucky enough, along with my wife and a group of friends, to spend the day listening to 3 separate lectures by Dr. Scott Hahn. The event, The New Evangelization: Equipping Yourself to Engage the Culture was put on by David Gilbert of Catholic ChapterHouse. The day also featured Damian Goddard as the Master of Ceremonies, along with Kathleen Dunn as a musical guest.

The day began with the more than 1,000 attendees reciting the Rosary. It’s hard enough to get that many people to sit silent and attentive, to have that many people praying the Rosary together was simply powerful. The last time I had my spine tingle with that many people lifting their hearts up to the Lord in unison was attending High Mass in front of the cathedral in Fatima as thousands waved goodbye to Our Lady with white handkerchiefs. With it starting out this way, I knew the day was going to be special.

We were then treated to the music of Kathleen Dunn. Although contemporary Christian music really isn’t to my taste, Kathleen’s music was just the thing to add to the prayerful setting. On top of it all, anyone who can make such an acoustically unfriendly setting as the Canadian Christian College in Toronto sound that good, must have talent. You can listen for yourself by visiting Kathleen’s website.

Then it was the moment I had been anticipating since I had heard of Dr. Hahn’s visit last July.

Dr. Hahn’s first session was called The Lamb’s Supper after his book of the same title. The talk he gave, however, was more of a blend between The Lamb’s Supper and Rome Sweet Home, something a friend who has heard both talks through Lighthouse Ministry cd’s confirmed for me. Although I had read both of Dr. Hahn’s books, what he did on Saturday was make them come alive. Between his intonation and facial expression, Dr. Hahn opened up his works on a whole new level. Since his recognition of the Mass in the Book of Revelations was key to his own conversion story, the two go naturally together. In his talk, Dr. Hahn is able to reveal how both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Liturgy are intertwined, each dependant on the other and each giving life to the other.

During the lunch break Dr. Hahn was gracious enough to meet with everyone who wanted to meet with him, shake his hand, have their books signed and their photo taken. Those who weren’t lining up to meet Dr. Hahn were all excitedly buzzing about the morning’s talk. Even though most of us knew what we were coming to hear, it was like we had all uncovered a hidden gem at the same time. In many ways we had – the hidden gem was the fire of faith being rekindled in our hearts.

The afternoon started with Dr. Hahn tackling the subject of The Bible, The Eucharist and The New Evangelization. Here Dr. Hahn delved deeper into the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and its institution in the Last Supper. Dr. Hahn traced the roots of the Eucharist in the Old Testament and showed us how we need to understand the Eucharist in its entirety, from the Passover meal of the Last Supper, through the sacrifice on the Cross, through the fulfilling grace of the Resurrection. As Dr. Hahn put it, if you look only at the Cross, you see nothing but a bloody and violent Roman execution, but once you put it into the context of the Passover meal and see its fulfillment in the Resurrection, then you can begin to truly grasp the significance of what Christ did for us.

After another brief performance by Kathleen Dunn and a quick break, Dr. Hahn returned to the stage for his final talk of the day, Why Scripture Matters. This theme continued along much the same lines as the earlier two, taking an even deeper look into the role of Sacred Scripture in our Catholic faith. Dr. Hahn began this session by telling the story of crossing paths with an old high school acquaintance who, upon learning that Dr. Hahn had converted to Catholicism, offered the same challenge that he himself used to bandy about: Where is the Mass in the Bible? Dr. Hahn’s answer was to show that the Eucharist permeates through the entire Bible, from Old Testament through the New – although there was nowhere near enough time to delve completely into this question, Dr. Hahn left the audience with the conviction that the New Testament exists because of the Eucharist and that the Eucharist can exist because of the New Testament. A symbiotic relationship very similar to the one discussed above regarding Sacred Scripture and Sacred Liturgy.

Here I have to make a confession. Throughout this blog my fingers have continually wanted to type Dr. Haha instead of Dr. Hahn, but in many ways, this could be a very apt name for Dr. Hahn. His sense of humour and ability to laugh at himself kept his talks flowing with a certain panache, transforming what could be a somewhat dry subject and turning it into an entertaining and thought provoking day. My head is still spinning from everything I learned, but here are a few of my favourite Dr. Scott Hahn sayings (paraphrased, of course):

Turn down Pride and you’ll find Mercy.

I need to remember I am merely the donkey that carries Christ.

All those who reject God are nothing but Ashes. (Quoting Peter Kreeft)

Another amazing aspect of the day was the amount of people I knew or knew of in the room. There were friends I had once worked with, friends who had moved out of our parish and other parishioners I didn’t know were going to be there. My wife and I had fun at lunch comparing notes on who we had bumped into in the line for the elevator to the washrooms. One major highlight in this regard was meeting up with fellow blogger and pro-life advocate, Joe Sales. If you haven’t read his blog Being Joseph Michael before, I suggest you do (as well as following him on Twitter).
With Joe Sales

The day drew to a close with the announcement that Catholic Chapter House will be bringing Peter Kreeft to Toronto on May 25, 2013. We’re already making plans in my parish to organize a group. We can’t wait to go back.

Thank you Catholic Chapter House for making this possible and for rekindling the fire of faith in so many hearts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Year of Faith Resolutions

Dear Theophilus,

With much anticipation, but with seemingly little fanfare, tomorrow, October 11, 2012 will mark the beginning of the Year of Faith. Pope Benedict XVI declared the Year of Faith (Oct. 11, 2012 through Nov. 24, 2013) with his Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei a year ago. In his letter, Pope Benedict XVI calls on Catholics “To rediscover the content of the Faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, (as) a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year.” (Porta Fideai, 9)

The Year of Faith was called to coincide with two important anniversaries in the Roman Catholic Church. Firstly, it is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Secondly, October 11, 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Two events that have left a profound impact on the shape of the Catholic Church as we know it today. With this in mind, in Porta Fidei Pope Benedict XVI challenges believers to get to know the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism better as “They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s Tradition…” (Porta Fidei, 5)

Throughout Porta Fidei, His Holiness calls on the Year of Faith to be a time of renewal, rediscovery and a strengthening of faith:

“The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: …” (Porta Fidei, 6)

“The Year of Faith, from this perspective, is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the World.” (Porta Fidei, 6)

“We want this Year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope,.” (Porta Fidei, 9)

“The Year of Faith will also be a good opportunity to intensify the witness of charity.” (Porta Fidei, 14)

Like every New Year, this Year of Faith offers a sense of renewal and hope for the year to come. In much the same way as I approach the last week of December every year, I’d like to try to chart out a spiritual Plan of Faith for the Year of Faith ahead. A sort of list of Year of Faith Resolutions, if you will.

My Year of Faith Resolutions include:

Becoming a more Catholic teacher, making a conscious effort to include faithful teachings and doctrines in my history and geography classes;

Increasing my own knowledge and understanding of Catholic doctrines through personal reading, attending lectures and furthering my studies;

Getting to know the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism in greater depth;

Attending Eucharistic Adoration at least once a month;

Intensifying my prayer life;


Inviting others to deepen their understanding of our shared Catholic faith by offering them a safe environment to explore their faith journey.

I know this list seems pretty hefty, if not daunting at best, but there is an entire Year of Faith laid out before us. If I keep in mind that I don’t need to accomplish them by October 18th, then I think I can make it. Pray for me, and I know with the help of your prayers, I can. In the same way, I encourage you to share your own Year of Faith Resolutions, this way we can pray for each other as we rediscover, renew and strengthen our faith.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Growing my Passion for the Eucharist by Growing in Understanding

Dear Theophilus,


Lately I’ve noticed that a lot of my reading has been on the theme of the Eucharist. Coming to this realization this weekend is quite appropriate, seeing that it is the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, and Eucharist means just that: Thanksgiving.

What I’ve also noticed is that with my growing understanding of the Eucharist, my love for Christ’s great Pascal sacrifice has also grown exponentially. As Cardinal George of Chicago points out so poignantly in his forward to Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s The Year of Faith: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics: “ But without a relationship to Christ, doctrine is just ideas and morality is only rules.” And we find this relationship with Christ through the Eucharist at the Mass each and every Sunday.

I recently had a conversation with the chaplain at the high school where I teach about my growing understanding of the Eucharist and how it has created a burning love in my heart to meet Christ in the Eucharist. I fessed up that, although I always believed the Eucharist to be the body, blood and divinity of our Lord, in hindsight it seemed almost like paying lip service to this most essential of Catholic beliefs. It was by really getting to know the Eucharist through my reading and attending workshops on the Eucharist that I came to actually know the Eucharist to be the body, blood and divinity of the Lord.

How did I get here? It wasn’t overnight. And I wanted to share some of my favourite titles that have led me to a passion for the Eucharist that I have read over the past couple of years. You’ll probably recognize some of the authors, as I’ve mentioned most of them here before:

Life of Christ by Fulton J. Sheen
Eucharist by Fr. Robert Barron
Supper of the Lamb by Dr. Scott Hahn
Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Dr. Brant Pitre
The Didache by the Twelve Apostles

If you truly want to experience the Eucharist in a bold way that will set your heart on fire, I urge you to deepen your understanding of Christ’s gift to us. The more you know about the Eucharist, the more you will yearn for the life it gives.