Confraternity of Penitents Monthly Newsletter -- September 2013
Letter from One Who Serves the CFP
WHAT IS MEANT BY “GOD”?
The Apostle’s Creed, which Joseph Ratzinger treats in Introduction to Christianity, begins with the phrase “I believe in God”. Professor Ratzinger next looks at the question of what is meant by “God”: “What in fact is ‘God’ really? In other ages this question may have seemed quite clear and unproblematical; for us it has become a genuine inquiry again. What can this word ‘God’ signify? What reality does it express, and how does the reality concerned make contact with man?” He then states that there are major or broad forms under which we think of God: monotheism - one God, polytheism - many Gods, and atheism – no God. Of course there are many variations within these three broad forms.
First it should be noted that the idea of God comes from two roots of religious experience. We can experience God as Redeemer, as One who saves us and He to whom we can personally relate. We can also relate to God as the Creator and Ruler of nature and the physical universe. If we read the psalms and other books of the Old Testament, we can easily identify these two ways of relating to God. Professor Ratzinger then states that the first way stands in the foreground.
Concerning God the Redeemer or Savior, Professor Ratzinger discusses two conditions which cause us to seek God. First, there is our own poverty and limitations which we are all aware of. We really need God because we cannot do everything or be everything. Our weakness and lacks cause us to turn to God. Yet there is also the other side of the coin. We can see greatness in ourselves and in others. This should and often does awaken in us thanksgiving for all that God has given us and done for us. Of course we can also turn to despair and away from God in times of trial and give in to feelings of self-sufficiency when things are going well. Yet we do have this striving for what is beyond, and this draws us to God.
There is something else which draws us to God. “Loneliness is indubitably one of the basic roots from which man’s encounter with God has risen. Where man experiences his solitariness, he experiences at the same time how much his whole existence is a cry for the ‘You’ and how ill-adapted he is to be only an ‘I’ in himself. This loneliness can become apparent to man on various levels. To start with, it can be comforted by the discovery of a human ‘You’. But then there is the paradox that, as Claudel says, every ‘You’ is at bottom another disappointment and that there comes a point when no encounter can surmount the final loneliness, a call to the absolute ‘You’ that really descends into the depths of one’s own ‘I’.” However, even the positive side of relationships can point to God since the joy we receive from a wonderful friendship or a good marriage points us to the joy we receive from our eternal relationship with God.
All of this relates to God as Redeemer or Savior, but there still remains our relationship to God as Creator. Professor Ratzinger states: “All this is just intended to give some idea of how human existence can be the point of departure for the experience of the absolute, which from this angle is seen as ‘God the Son’, as the Savior, or more simply, as a God related to our existence. The other source of religious perception is the confrontation of man with the world, with the powers and the sinister forces he meets in it. Again, it remains true that the cosmos has brought man to the experience of the all-surpassing power that both threatens him and bears him up as much through its beauty and abundance as through its deficiencies, its terrors, and it unfathomability. Here the resulting image is the somewhat vaguer and more distant one crystallized in the image of God the Creator, the Father.”
Next comes the question of whether God is one (monotheism), many (polytheism), or not at all (atheism). Professor Ratzinger asserts that there is an underlying unity between the three ways of looking at God but that does not mean that they are identical or the same. He discusses three possible labels for God: “There is one God’; There are many Gods’; and ‘There is no God.’ Between these three formulas and the professions contained in them there exists an opposition that cannot be swept aside, but there also exists a relationship of which the mere words contain no hint. For all three---this could be demonstrated---are in the last analysis convinced of the unity and oneness of the absolute. It is not only monotheism that believes in this unity and oneness; even for polytheism the many gods that it worshipped and in which it placed its hopes was never the absolute itself; even to the polytheist it was clear that somewhere or other behind the many powers there stood the one Being, that in the last resort being was either one or at any rate the eternal strife of two principles opposed to each other from the beginning. On the other hand, although atheism disputes the recognition of the unity of all being through the idea of God, this does not mean at all that for the atheist the unity of being itself is abolished. Indeed, the most influential form of atheism, namely Marxism, asserts, in the strictest form, this unity of being in all that is by declaring all being to be matter; in this view, granted, the one thing that is being itself becomes, as matter, completely separated from the earlier concept of the absolute, which is linked to the idea of God, but it simultaneously acquires features that make its absoluteness clear and thus once again recall the idea of God.”
Finally comes the question of how these three ways of looking at God, although there is an underlying unity between them, also differ from each other. Professor Ratzinger puts it this way: “If---to treat the question very schematically---monotheism starts from the assumption that the absolute is consciousness, which knows man and can speak to him, for materialism the absolute, being matter, is devoid of all personal predicates and can in no way be brought into the concepts of call and answer.” For the monotheist, the absolute can speak to us and we can speak to Him. The atheist denies this possibility. The polytheist, who does recognize the existence of the absolute, can see the absolute as consciousness (monotheism) or as not. Professor Ratzinger points out that ancient philosophers were all polytheists with regard to religious practice, but could be philosophical monotheists such as Plato, Aristotle, or Plotinus. They could also be philosophical atheists such as Epicurus or Lucretius. In the ancient pagan world, religious practice (polytheism) was separated from philosophy (monotheism or atheism), whereas in Christianity religion and philosophy are united. In other words, Christianity is not just another religion, it is the truth. The early Church Fathers made that perfectly clear. Unfortunately, our modern secular society is trying to separate religious worship from philosophy (the love of truth) by removing the religious principles of citizens from the public sphere and relegating them to the private sphere. We seem to be returning to the ancient world where people could worship the many gods for social purposes but not really believe in them. Most people knew the “gods” did not exist but went along with worshipping them in order to fit in with society. Those who held power could do what they want since they were responsible to “gods” which did not exist. This is not very far from modern society which operates as if God (the absolute) does not exist or at least does not communicate with us. Some people still go to church and worship but this has virtually nothing to do with the way they live when they leave church, We all have to continually struggle to make sure that our worship does not become detached from the rest of our lives.
Jim Nugent (Life pledged member of the Confraternity of Penitents)
No Greater Love
Further Thoughts on Marriage
Madeline P. Nugent’s thoughts on marriage in the July 2013 issue of the monthly newsletter of the Confraternity of Penitents addressed the dynamic nature of a language and how the use of words changes over time. She focused on the currently popular understanding of the meaning of the word “marriage” and described how its meaning has undergone a major redefinition in the minds of people. She notes that the traditional meaning “was a life-time union between a man and a woman who are committed to each other and who intend to bear and raise children.” She points out that in the view of the secular world this has changed to be understood as a “union of two people who love each other.” She explains how this is a significant change and identifies some of the factors that lead to this redefinition, and, the implications of it. As a result, our traditional Catholic definition as marriage as a sacrament limited to two people of the opposite sex is being challenged in the minds of many, both non-Catholic as well as many who call themselves Catholic. In this letter I will attempt to expand on some of these thoughts.
Nugent focused on the gender of spouses and how the traditional definition reflects the order in which God established the vocation of marriage, i.e., a partnership between a man and a woman for “… the procreation and education of offspring” (CCC #1601). It is for this reason that a marriage entered into by a couple with a mindset that is not open to procreation with plans to take action to prevent procreation, is both offensive to God and lacking of validity, and therefore lacking in sacramental nature. This is so essential to the validity of marriage that during the rite, the minister asks the couple to affirm their openness to procreation with the following question: “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”
Holy Scripture is emphatic in defining marriage to be a union between man and woman; for only they are capable of procreating and hence suitable partners one for the other. In God’s plan, we see, a man is not a suitable partner for another man nor is a woman a suitable partner for another woman. Nowhere is this more evident than in the raising and parenting of children. Young children need the presences and influence of both genders to provide them with models of how to grow to adulthood. Young boys learn from their fathers the way to become men and how men should relate to women. And from their mothers, boys learn the proper role of women and to love and respect the women in their life. Similarly, young girls learn from their mothers the way to become women and how to relate with men. And from their fathers, girls learn the proper role of men in their lives and how they are to be loved and respected. Absent either model the child fails to receive proper nurturing and is in danger of growing into an under developed adult.
With the modern secular definition of marriage being merely a union of two people who love each other and the absence of a sacramental aspect accompanied by a responsibility for procreation, children are viewed as an unnecessary accessory. Thus we see that Christians today encounter two different definitions of marriage. How is the one to be differentiated from the other? And what need Christians do to witness to the world the sacramental nature of the union of one man and one woman?
One couple I recently read about planning their marriage were very concerned about the overshadowing of the sacramental nature by all the hoopla that accompanies the circus like atmosphere of many modern marriages. So, they decided to stage their wedding with two events. In the first they arraigned to have a weekday Mass said where quietly in the sacred space of Church, they solemnized their marriage and exchanged vows in the company of only their parents and siblings. Then on a following weekend they celebrated a renewal of vows with friends and extended family in a secular place with all the pomp and circumstances that accompany today’s marriages. By excluding all the non-essential secular activities from Church, this couple was able to relax and give their undivided attention to the Mass and the sacrament; and then later, as a married couple, renewed their vows and celebrated with family and friends in a secular non-Church environment.
I would agree with Nugent’s suggestion that now seems to be the time for the Church to “coin a new phrase to bring back the sacramental meaning of a lifetime union between one man and one woman with the intent to bear children”. However, I would expand on her letter by pointing out that as essential as openness to procreation is to the validity of a marriage, it is of equal importance to recognize the two fold purpose for marriage defined in the above CCC paragraph, “a partnership of the whole of life, is by its very nature ordered toward the good of the spouses …”. Holy Scripture affirms this dual vocation of marriage in Genesis chapters 1 & 2 and is referred to by the CCC in paragraph 1605. This is important because it provides a basis for answering the question that can be asked: “If marriage is only for having and raising children, how then do we justify marriage between elderly persons who are beyond the age of child-bearing?”
In our answer to such a question, we might note that the Rite of Marriage permits that the question regarding acceptance of children to be omitted for those couples advanced in age. However, I might note that even in old age as followers of Christ we are called to place our trust in God regarding all matters of life, including matters of fertility. Although advanced in age and believed no longer fertile, God’s plan may again ask an older couple to bring forth new life; so, it would seem, even we who by nature are no longer fertile must never be completely closed to that possibility. Holy Scripture reminds us of the stories of Sarah (mother of the patriarch Isaac), Hannah (mother of the prophet Samuel), Elizabeth (mother of the prophet John the Baptist), and Anna (mother of Mary the future mother of Jesus the Christ). All were women who had been barren and conceived in old age, all a part of God’s plan. As Christian couples we are called to place our trust in the Lord, confident that God is in-charge and will help us, no matter what hardship we may be asked to undertake.
Finally, I would like to turn my thoughts to the benefits of God’s plan for a partnership between a man and a woman. We know from the Book of Genesis in the Jewish Torah that “The Lord God said: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him’” (3:18). Right from the beginning of creation we see the importance of the marriage partnership.
Fifty five plus years ago as my beloved and I planned our marriage; we fully understood that by our union, we were forming and committing ourselves to a life-long partnership, whose primary purpose was to help each other in our journey to follow Christ. We were one another’s best friends and we wished to be in each other’s company for the rest of our natural lives. Throughout these years we have continued to grow as each other’s best friend. And it is gratifying to look back over our lives together, through the benefit of hind-sight, and see how our marriage has grown and how God has used us to help one another. It is our hope that the Lord will give us many more years to be together as friends, loving & serving as the Lord has loved and served us. Now that we are old, we at times pine for the good-old times we had together, however, we believe and trust in Jesus’ promise that the best is yet to come.
Jesus, teaches and demonstrates by example of his own life, the essence of love – to serve without counting the cost. There is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life, the most precious gift we have to give, for a friend. In our marriage we see that acted out, day-in and day-out, in the many opportunities given to sublimate one’s own desires and serve each other; sharing, yielding, deferring – doing little things to please, or make life simpler for the other. Through commitment and devotion and attention to each other’s needs our friendship continues to grow; and the bond of love with our Lord continues to be strengthened and deepened through our love for each other.
We see this most acutely in our spiritual lives. Throughout the years our fervor for the spiritual life has waxed and waned. During my low times, her fidelity and commitment to our faith has been an encouragement for me. I can, in all humility say that through her support and encouragement God has called me to ordination as a Permanent Deacon to serve in the ministry of His Holy Church.
God brought us together that we might help each grow in Christian virtue and help one another in our hope of eternal life in heaven with Jesus. I see it as beyond coincidence that I, a Protestant boy from a rural area in Ohio, chose to go to a secular college in Pittsburgh to study to be an Electrical Engineer; through study of the Bible and the influence of college friends came to believe in and accept the Roman Church as the one true Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ; was introduced in my Senior year to a Catholic girl from Long Island, NY; with whom we chose to be life-partners in the Sacrament of Matrimony and were gifted with two daughters and three sons; and, finally called to be ordained as a Deacon of God’s Church. It is that common bond of commitment to God and to each other that gives me the hope that I have that God will continue to help us grow in love and service to His Holy Church and to one another. Praised be God!
Rev Deacon John Croy (Deacon Croy has been a Spiritual Advisor to a CFP House of Discernment)
Reflections on the Rule
CHAPTER IV: PRAYER
(Note: Chapter IV of the Rule speaks of prayer. The first two sections of the Constitutions discuss the importance of prayer to the spiritual life, and those will be the focal point of this month's reflection).
12. In keeping with section 12 of the Rule:
12a. Prayer is the core of growth in a life with God. Penitents must be committed to a life of prayer as outlined in this Rule. More prayer than what is listed, including daily mental prayer, meditation, and contemplation, is encouraged.
12b. One must adjust one's schedule to make time to pray. Extraneous activities that do not foster prayer life should be dropped. However, prayer must not interfere with daily duties such as caring for family members, keeping house, or earning a living. Penitents may have to pray during the night, while driving, while doing house or yard work, and so on. Playing tapes of spiritual conferences or sacred music and hymns while working or driving may help. A pocket sized New Testament or Psalter may be carried so that the penitent can seize a few moments of prayer and meditation while waiting in line, waiting on hold on the phone, and so on.
These two articles of the CFP Constitutions set the tone for the prayer life of a penitent. Prayer. offered to God in love, humility, and service, must be the core and foundation of a life of penance (conversion). The Constitutions acknowledge that a prayer life requires attention and adjustment and is not always easy to regulate in the busy secular world. Therefore, the penitent must be attentive to times and places to pray and must think of prayer not as an appendage to the day but as the fulcrum. When a penitent becomes alert to the presence of God at every moment, he or she will naturally lift his or her mind and heart to God, and such a lifting is prayer. Thus, with the proper attitude, it is possible to fulfill the Biblical injunction to "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (2 Thessalonians 5: 16-18)
Affiliates of the Confraternity of Penitents should make prayer the core of their lives, finding time to pray throughout the day even if they do not keep to the full prayer schedule followed by CFP members. They, too, can be creative so that they are always lifting their minds and hearts to God.
I ask you, Lord,
why do you make me wait?
Why does it take so long
for you to fill my plate?
Why, O dear Lord,
why do you allow me to suffer?
Why won't you fill me with such grace
until our Lord's supper?
Why, indeed, why
is faith such a mystery?
Why must I find in total darkness
the only way to see?
--Joseph Matose IV, CFP Affiliate
Reflection on the San Damiano Crucifix
If a viewer compares the eyebrows of Christ on the San Damiano Crucifix with eyebrows of Christ on other icons, the uniqueness of the San Damiano representation becomes evident. On many icons, the eyebrows of Christ make His gaze appear severe and threatening, as if He were the just judge captured at the moment of issuing a verdict on a guilty humanity. On the contrary, on the Crucifix of San Damiano, the eyebrows of Christ arch upwards over His large eyes in an expansive, welcoming manner as if to say, "You, the viewer, are a wonder to me, and I love you very, very much."
Saint of the Month
Blessed Mikael Gabra (Michael Ghebre)
(1791 to 1855)
Mikael Gabra was born at Dibo in Gojam, Ethiopia, in 1791. He was educated at the monasteries of Dibo and Martula Maryam, probably as an Orthodox Christian, and became a monk (Abba). After fifteen years of study, he was crowned as Liq, or distinguished scholar. He left Gojam in 1825 for Gondar, where he lived until 1838, after which he went to Tegré, where he stayed until 1840
Abba Mikael's ambition was to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This he did in 1841, when he was made a member of the Ethiopian delegation which Prince Webé sent under the leadership of Abba Habta Selassé to bring an Abun (head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) from Egypt. The delegation was accompanied by Monsignor Giustino de Jacobis, bishop of the Lazarist (Vincentian) Catholic Mission of Northern Ethiopia, who was charged with carrying goodwill messages to the Pope in Rome, and to act as a guide to the Ethiopians on their travels.
The delegation visited Egypt, Jerusalem, and Rome. It is probable that Abba Mikael was already a converted Catholic when he returned from Rome. This conversion, however, was made official only in February 1844. From 1844 to 1847 he headed the Lazarist Mission Station at Guala in Tegré. He left for Gondar in 1847, and returned to Tegré in 1849. He was ordained to the priesthood in the Vincentian Order in 1851. But because of the persecution of Catholics in Tegré, he had to return to Gondar again in 1851. The persecution, however, extended to Gondar and, on the orders of Abuna Salama , Mikael was arrested on July 15, 1854. He was brought before the court of Prince Kassa, later to become Emperor Téwodros, to stand trial for having converted to Catholicism. He maintained his stand as a converted Catholic, and even refused to accept the authority of Prince Kassa. The prince, angered by his effrontery, condemned him to death on May 31, 1855. He was dragged from place to place and died from abuse in prison on August 28. He was beatified in 1926.
Blessed Mikael, pray for us to have the courage you displayed. Amen.
Quote from Scripture
When Amaziah returned from his conquest of the Edomites, he brought back with him the gods of the people of Seir, which he set up as his own gods; he bowed down before them and offered sacrifice to them. Then the anger of the Lord blazed out against Amaziah, and he sent a prophet to him who said: "Why have you had recourse to this people's gods that could not save their own people from your hand?" (2 Chronicles 25:14-15)
This passage shows how quickly lip service to God is revealed. Amaziah was king of Judah and Benjamin, but he half heartedly followed the Lord. When God gave him a victory, he did not see the success as coming from the God of Israel. Instead, as a novelty, he began to worship the gods of the people whom he had just conquered. So how could he really have believed that God had given him victory? Was he giving God lip service to as to assuage the people when, in reality, he did not believe or care?
Blessed Michael both believed and cared. When the test of his faith came, he was prepared to pass it. Never relinquishing his faith, he chose to die for it. Amaziah had won the victory and then turned to pagan gods to thank them for it. Did he believe in them? Probably not. He was making a political gesture to gain the good will of the conquered nation. Blessed Michael was not about to do anything to court anyone’s good will but God. To Him, Blessed Michael gave his all.
Quote from a Saint
Though the path is plain and smooth for men of good will, he who walks it will not travel far, and will do so only with difficulty, if he does not have good feet: that is, courage and a persevering spirit. --St. John of the Cross
How could Saint John of the Cross say that the path of life is plain and smooth if we have good will? Often having good will makes the path very difficult because people don’t accept or understand a good will that comes from faith. Or could the saint mean that the path to virtue is clearly visible and that we can easily follow it if we have good will, that is good intentions to be holy? The saint emphasizes that courage and perseverance are needed to keep to the path of Christ.
Blessed Michael certainly had both of these qualities. His martyrdom proved that. May God grant us the same virtues so that we may find out path to the Lord plain and smooth, no matter how many “bumps in the road” others who do not know the Lord may discover.
Happy Birthday to:
Terry F 9/2
Castilo M 9/6
John A 9/7
Natasha S 9/10
Amanda M 9/11
Angela C 9/11
Tsion A 9/12
Betsy K 9/14
Karen H 9/20
Linda S 9/22
Brian R 9/27
Gina K 9/28
Francesca B 9/30
Priest's Retirement Dinner
A Priest was being honored at his retirement dinner after 25 years in the parish.
A leading local politician and member of the congregation was chosen to make the presentation and to give a little speech at the dinner. However, he was delayed, so the Priest decided to say his own few words while they waited.
'I got my first impression of the parish from the first confession I heard here. I thought I had been assigned to a terrible place. The very first person who entered my confessional told me he had stolen a television set and, when questioned by the police, was able to lie his way out of it. He had stolen money from his parents; embezzled from his employer, had taken illegal drugs; and had committed several different sins that would not be polite to mention at this gathering. I was appalled that one person could do so many awful things. But as the days went on, I learned that my people were not all like that and I had, indeed, come to a fine parish full of good and loving people.'
Just as the Priest finished his talk, the politician arrived full of apologies at being late. He immediately began to make the presentation and gave his talk: "I'll never forget the first day our parish Priest arrived," said the politician. "In fact, I had the honor of being the first person to go to him for confession."
Moral: Never, Never, Never Be Late!!!
Confraternity Photo Album
Dustin Niblock, Life Pledged CFP Member at CFP Retreat 2013
Patrick Wheeler, Novice 2, at Niagara Falls during CFP Retreat 2013
Featured Items CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop
All of these items and many more are available at the Confraternity of Penitents on line gift shop at cfpholyangels.com All proceeds go to support theConfraternity of Penitents in its mission of promoting penance (conversion) worldwide.
Magnet--Saint Francis Embracing Christ - 5.75
Stories of Patron Saints (you provide baptismal name; we will give you the story). Perfect for All Saints' Day. Any donation.
Where Did Grandad Go? A children's picture book about death from a Catholic perspective. 9.95