Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Annunciation--A Feast For ALL Christians

March 25, 2015

Today the Church marks the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, the day when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to a young (probably 14 or 15 years old) Jewish girl in the obscure town of Nazareth in Galilee, and announced the beginning of the Greatest Story Ever Told.  If you're not fully familiar with the details, it's all set forth by St. Luke in Chapter 1, verses 26-38 of his Gospel.

Strictly speaking, what we celebrate is really three separate events: (1) the Annunciation by Gabriel to Mary of the unique role for which God had chosen her, (2) Mary's assent to that role (a/k/a her "fiat"), and (3) the Incarnation (conception) in Mary's womb of the Word made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Because God in His infinite love gave all human beings free will, (and any of our Calvinist brethren who believe in "double predestination" are welcome to comment and explain their view, which essentially denies free will), the incarnation did not take place until Mary said "yes." 

I learned from some quick research that in various Church documents and liturgical books as far back as the fifth century, this feast was referred to, and properly in my view, as that of the "Annunciation and Incarnation."  For reasons I've not yet discovered, the common reference was at some point shortened to Annunciation, which can be somewhat confusing since, as noted, the Annunciation and Incarnation, both events of awesome significance to the world, were not one and the same occurrence.

For Catholics in the USA, unfortunately, the confusion was heightened by the way the original International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) handled the Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed* back around 1970, when the Roman Missal was being translated into English for the first time.  ICEL at that time took the "dynamic equivalence translation" approach, for reasons too complex to discuss here in any depth, and one of the results was what I view as a poor translation of the following line from the Latin:
"Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est."
Until the beginning of Advent in 2011, when the English translation of the Third Edition of the (Novus Ordo) Roman Missal was finally** put to use in parishes in the United States, this line was translated as follows:
 "...and by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became Man."
"Incarnatus est", which means "was incarnate", had been changed to "was born." Since medical science as well as theology both indicate the Incarnation would have occurred at the moment Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, this was simply wrong.  Jesus became man, i.e. a human being with a soul, nine months before he was born, not on Christmas Day itself.  In addition, the original translation seemed to go against the long-standing teaching of the Church with respect to both contraception and abortion.  If a person doesn't "become man" (or woman) until they are born, what's all the fuss about, anyway?  So, at the stroke of a pen, so to speak, a very important change was made in language Christians had been reciting since the fourth century, when the Creed was first compiled by the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople.

Well, since we now have a new translation done by the "formal correspondence" method, which seeks to make the English words more closely resemble the original Latin, it's fair to say the Holy See  agreed that the previous English translations had a lot of problems (not just in the Creed).  We now say "...was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man", which gets us back to what the Latin text has always said. 

Now that we have that cleared up, my primary point here is, as stated in the title of this post, to make the case that ALL Christians ought to celebrate this day in some fashion.  At present, in addition to Roman and Eastern Rite Catholics and our Orthodox brethren, I believe only the Anglican/Episcopal and Lutheran traditions make any formal reference at all to this world-changing event, and it may not be done in all the various subsets of Lutheranism.  Individual ministers may well commemorate the Annunciation/Incarnation in various denominations or "non-denominational" congregations, but it's not uniform because, of course, they lack either liturgical worship or a central teaching authority, or both. 

I think this is not only a sad symptom of the divisions that have existed among followers of Christ for about the past 500 years, but is also rather un-Biblical.  The Gospel of Luke belongs to all of us, and its account of the Annunciation and Incarnation of Jesus Christ couldn't be any more obvious in its significance.  Human biology being what it is, if we celebrate Christmas on December 25, then March 25 is as good a day as any to recognize the day Christ "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant" (Phil 2:7).  So why is it all but ignored by so many?  Heck, even if you're a Double Predestination Calvinist, you have to concede that God came into the world when Jesus was conceived in Mary's womb.  You don't even have to pay attention to the fact that God waited for Mary to give her consent before it happened.  For those of our separated brethren who bristle at the mere thought of giving any sort of honor or veneration to the Mother of the Lord (see Lk 1:43), fine; you don't have to do that, either.  The Word just became flesh, people! (Jn 1:14). We should act like it!

Before I close, let me note that tomorrow, March 26, is the tenth anniversary of my entry into Holy Mother Church, at the Easter Vigil of 2005.  Thank you, Lord, for calling me back from my secular ways and bestowing on me the immeasurable grace of a life of faith in Jesus Christ, and for leading me to the fullness of Christian truth in the Catholic Church.

Laudator Jesus Christus!

* More commonly called the "Nicene Creed."  I think you should get some kind of indulgence if you can pronounce that full name without hesitation, but since I'm not the Pope, I can't give it to you.  His address is pretty easy to find, though.
** The Third Edition came out in Latin in 2000.  So it took ICEL and the Bishops' Conferences of the English-speaking countries "only" eleven years to get the translation done.  If you're interested in a nearly play-by-play account of that arduous process, go to the website of the Adoremus Society and dig around in their archives.  It's actually fascinating, if you're into that sort of thing.  Lots of Church politics involved, too.  Whee!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Communion In The Hand vs. On The Tongue--Does It Matter?

While I am anything but the World's Biggest Fan of the "Crux" blog run by John L. Allen, Jr. of the Boston Globe, occasionally a friend will send me something from that site, or I'll encounter an interesting piece on New Advent or some other aggregator site, and will give it a read.  Just today I received via email a link to an interesting commentary on Crux, by Mathew N. Schmalz, on the seemingly endless debate about what is the "better" way to receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament--on the tongue or in the hand?  It's worth reading and considering, and has a good brief review of the history of communion in the hand in the USA, as well as the author's experiences in other countries.  Mr. Schmalz concludes his reflection as follows:
"Debating Communion in the hand versus Communion on the tongue does raise important issues. But all too often, it has become a way, on both sides, of judging people we do not know. In doing so, we can distract ourselves not only from the miracle what is happening in front of us, but also from the miracle that is happening alongside of us.
And so what is it about Communion in the hand versus Communion on the tongue?
As always, the problem is with our own sinful selves."
Nothing to argue with there, really, although I might add that part of the problem is the choice itself, which the Church could take care of by revoking the indult given to the US Bishops years ago.  More on that below.

My friend also e-mailed this link, to a post from several years ago by one of my favorite Catholic bloggers, Father John Zuhlsdorf (a/k/a "Father Z.")  It raises what I think is a serious issue, that of the fragments or crumbs which tend to fall from the hosts used in most Catholic churches in the US (based on both personal experience and some research), even if all concerned are exercising due care.  Fr. Z demonstrates photographically that crumbs/fragments are likely to be present in one's hand merely by having the consecrated host placed there by the priest or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.  I'd venture to say that darn near nobody ever licks or otherwise removes any fragments from the palm of their hand after consuming the Sacrament, so those fragments, each of which contains the whole and entire Presence of Christ, end up getting dropped somewhere between the place of reception and the communicant's pew.  That is with the exception, of course, of those communicants who bolt directly for the parking lot upon receiving.  Their fragments could even end up outside.  (More on my view of early departure from Mass in a subsequent post, perhaps!)

The friend who sent me these articles commented that he stopped receiving in the hand after seeing Fr. Z's photographs. I can understand that.

As for myself, I've floated back and forth on this practice since my entry into the Church (ten years ago next week!)  At my original parish, where I went through RCIA, we were not even told we had a choice; had it not been for my "auxiliary" education in the faith via EWTN, Catholic Answers and independent reading, I would not have known anyone received other than in the hand prior to actually seeing people do it at Mass.  (Remember, we Candidates were not there to watch the communion process until the Easter Vigil itself.)  I have read all sorts of commentary from both perspectives, including issues such as those raised by Fr. Z and by the writer on Crux, as well as hygiene, reverence, tradition vs. indult, the "throne" theory attributed to St. Cyril and endorsed in word, at least, by Pope Benedict XVI, in the book Light of the World, although he normally required receipt on the tongue when he celebrated Mass, and probably others.  I've also seen commentary such as appears in the comments on Fr. Z's post about the type of host used--the thin white kind vs. the larger and slightly darker colored ones like we use at my current parish.  Many say the small, white ones are less prone to leaving particles, but I wouldn't know about that; I do know they dissolve quickly and don't require chewing, which is another issue that seems to get folks excited.  

In any case, my thought process has always been centered on showing the reverence I believe we all should show to the Lord's Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.  Once I learned the teaching of the Church on the Real Presence, I was so captivated by it that showing great reverence just seemed like the only logical thing to do.  That doesn't mean I think I'm smarter than anyone else or have some special gift of discernment; on the contrary, one of the things that attracted me initially to the Church was the much greater sense of reverence I saw at a Catholic Mass as compared to the Protestant (mostly Methodist) services to which I was accustomed.  Some adherents of the TLM greatly disparage today's "Ordinary Form" as having very little reverence in comparison with the TLM, but the OF was all I knew when I started my journey, and it can be celebrated with great reverence, indeed. 

Deep down, I think showing proper reverence doesn't depend on whether one receives in the hand or on the tongue, although I appreciate the argument that says only ordained clergy or properly trained lay ministers should handle the consecrated host. I also am aware that a fair number of folks who might be called "traditionalists" believe that communion in the hand was an intentional effort on the part of "modernists" to strip the Church of belief in the Real Presence.  They maintain (and I have not researched the history here) that immediately after the Protestant separation, Luther and others adopted the practice of communion in the hand precisely as a means of demonstrating rejection of the Catholic doctrine.  But I'm not getting into all of that here.  The Church still teaches Transubstantiation and the Real Presence, so if communion in the hand was an attempt to change that, it has failed, at least so far.

To me, what is most important is a person's general demeanor.  In the Sacred Liturgy, every movement and posture of the priest, deacon(s), lay ministers and faithful is intended to be meaningful, because we are physical persons, and how we move and act is part and parcel of what is in our hearts--it both reflects what is there, and helps to form us into better disciples.  I remember reading a while back about one of our separated brethren saying that if he believed what the Catholic Church teaches about Jesus' presence in the Eucharist, he would crawl on his belly up to the foot of the altar to receive Him.  And, in principle, he's absolutely right.  Now, obviously, having everyone prostrate themselves to receive Holy Communion would make things a bit difficult logistically, but it's the same principle that underlies the practice of the communion rail in the TLM, and there are times when I wish we could go back at least to that manner of distributing Communion, even within the Ordinary Form rite.  

This next part I say somewhat reluctantly, in light of the passage I quoted above from the Crux article, so I'm trying not to be sinfully judgmental here, in the sense of inferring from exterior actions what is in someone's heart:  I especially tend to wish for a return to the communion rail when I see people at Sunday Mass bopping up the aisle as if they were in line for a burger and fries, casually receiving the Eucharist without even a minor bow of the head, and then walking away as if the whole thing were sort of boring, and gee, I'm glad THAT's over with, now what's for brunch?  It's entirely possible that these folks are solid believers who do all they can to live out the faith in their daily lives, but you'd never know it from the way they treat Holy Communion.  There is also a very good chance that the reason they don't show more reverence is that nobody ever taught them otherwise.  And that's really sad.

At the end of it all, it may well be that the loss of some particles of the Blessed Sacrament, and thus the Presence of the Lord, is unavoidable even when everyone is careful, regardless of whether communion is given in the hand or only on the tongue.  However, if I were Czar of the Universe (to quote my professor of contract law way back when),  I would prefer to see it standardized, even if for no other reason than to shut off the frequently uncharitable debate.  And going a bit further in the line of reasoning, it makes sense to me that the fewer people who touch the consecrated host, the more likely it will be that such loss can be avoided.  Again, as noted, I'm not convinced that it's in any way "bad" for us ordinary lay Catholics to touch the Blessed Sacrament with our grubby hands, as long as we treat it as what it is, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I just think it's a mathematical certainty that when we all receive in the hand, more little pieces which are the substance of the Lord Jesus will be dropped on floors or on the ground and walked on, unknowingly, by lots of other people than would be the case if everyone received on the tongue.

So, as Czar, I would opt for receipt on the tongue only, and require the use of patens. Also, to shut down another sometimes contentious discussion, this one about hygiene at Mass, if the Precious Blood is to be administered to the faithful, it should be by intinction only.  The USCCB could do this, simply by declining to follow the indult (exception) granted back in the oh-so-silly 1970's.  Maybe they could spend some time studying this instead of issuing all sorts of political statements on issues beyond their expertise.  Or the Holy See could revoke the indult, though I suspect that's not an issue very high on the Pope's radar at the moment.  Either way, I bet that after the usual period of wailing and grinding of teeth that erupts whenever a change in liturgical norms occurs, everyone would get used to it and life would go on.

Of course, if communion in the hand were to be abolished in the USA, priests and Ministers and communicants would all need remedial training on how to make receipt on the tongue work smoothly, as too many people don't really know how to, for lack of a better term, present a proper "target" so the priest or extraordinary minister can place the host on the tongue without actually touching the tongue with their fingers.  That's yucky, even if you don't have a communicable disease to spread around (and if you do, you should probably just stay home, anyway.) Also, I suspect that since in my experience about 95% of communicants receive in the hand, the EMHC's themselves are not very adept at placing the host, either.  Time to practice!  Pizza afterwards!

That's my little contribution to this discussion.  Thanks for reading.  Laudator Jesus Christus!

UPDATE--March 24, 2015:

A friend and RCIA colleague at my parish went and did some research on this issue and came up with the following:

Thomas Aquinas in ST 77:4 states:

“Nevertheless, a distinction must be made between each of the aforesaid corruptions; because, when the body and the blood of Christ succeed in this sacrament to the substance of the bread and wine, if there be such change on the part of the accidents as would not have sufficed for the corruption of the bread and wine, then the body and blood of Christ do not cease to be under this sacrament on account of such change, whether the change be on the part of the quality, as for instance, when the color or the savor of the bread or wine is slightly modified; or on the part of the quantity, as when the bread or the wine is divided into such parts as to keep in them the nature of bread or of wine. But if the change be so great that the substance of the bread or wine would have been corrupted, then Christ's body and blood do not remain under this sacrament; and this either on the part of the qualities, as when the color, savor, and other qualities of the bread and wine are so altered as to be incompatible with the nature of bread or of wine; or else on the part of the quantity, as, for instance, if the bread be reduced to fine particles, or the wine divided into such tiny drops that the species of bread or wine no longer remain.

This still needs to be reconciled with the practice of rinsing the ciboria on the altar to capture the particles left in the bottom of the vessel after Communion, as great care is required by the Church to be taken by the priests and deacons to ensure these are not lost.  I think that is fairly easy to do, since it is obvious that when particles reside in the sacred vessels, they are in fact part of the consecrated species.  However, once removed from the altar, if reduced to "fine particles", then Aquinas is saying it no longer remains the body and blood of Christ if it can no longer be recognized as bread.  

Makes sense to me.  

Laudator Jesus Christus!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bravo for the Bishops of Virginia--And Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco

The Virginia Parade:  I've been following this story since I first saw it on the Web yesterday.  Seems there is an annual St. Patrick's day parade in Norfolk, VA (as in so many other cities coast to coast), and this one is apparently run by a regional Council of the Knights of Columbus, a wonderful organization of which I am a proud member at my home parish here in Texas.  That Council decided to invite Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to be Grand Marshal of the parade.  According to accounts in Catholic media, the Council did not bother mentioning this to the pastor of their parish, the Bishop, or the Virginia State Council before they did it.  Gov. McAuliffe is a vocal supporter of abortion "rights", homosexual "marriage"and the HHS mandate, and thus publicly stands against the Church on these and possibly other issues.  For him to be honored by a Knights of Columbus Council is scandalous, to say the least.  The parish pastor, at the urging of his Bishop, contacted the State K of C Council for Virginia, who first told him the decision to honor McAuliffe would be reversed, but then informed him the Council had refused to withdraw its invitation.  As reported here , both Virginia Bishops have now publicly stated their support for the pastor, who has severed the parish's ties with the Council and issued a letter to his entire parish explaining what has happened.  Good for him, and good for the Bishops.  

Archbishop Cordileone's Battle:  You've likely heard or read about this, too.  The short story is, Abp. Cordileone is amending the contracts of the teachers at the Catholic high schools in the SF Archdiocese to clarify that they are expected to adhere to Church teachings when acting or speaking at school or in public.  He makes the point, which seems to me a no-brainer, that teachers in a Catholic school ought not to take public positions or engage in public actions in contradiction to the teachings of the Church.  To no one's surprise, the politicians, most of the teachers themselves, and the usual California-style busybodies have all hyperventilated; the City Council is even threatening legal action against the Archbishop.  Well, excuse me, but these are private schools which are owned by the Archdiocese, which in turn is supposed to have a Constitutional right to free exercise of religion--in this case, obviously, Roman Catholicism.  If you want to oppose Church teachings, fine; you have that right, but not while you're taking a paycheck for teaching in a Catholic school!  Bravo to Archbishop Cordileone for standing up for Christ's Church in the face of secular persecution.  

"Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5: 11-12.)  Amen.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Woman at the Well

Sunday, March 8, 2015

If your parish has a group of Catechumens preparing for the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil, now less than a month away (!), then at least one scheduled Sunday Mass most likely included a rite called the "First Scrutiny", and instead of the Gospel reading about Jesus running the money-changers and merchants out of the Jerusalem Temple from John 2: 13-22, the faithful heard about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well (John 4: 1-42.)

Ever since my own RCIA journey ten years ago, this has been one of my favorite Gospel accounts.  It contains multiple layers of meaning and describes startling actions and statements by our Lord, all presented in the mystical, fluid prose of St. John the Evangelist.  Certainly the Gospels are chock full of stories like this, which point in multiple directions and seem to reveal new truths each time one reads and reflects on them, and it's hard to put my finger on exactly why this particular story has always resonated so deeply for me.  I'll try to lay it all out here, with some significant help from the commentary of Dr. Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible-New Testament (Ignatius Press, 2010).  If you don't already own this marvelous volume, I recommend it most highly.

Most every serious commentator on this story points out, as they should, the important historical context of this encounter.  Recall that in Jesus' day, the Jews considered the Samaritans an impure, apostate people, and refused to have anything to do with them.  (For their part, the Samaritans weren't particularly interested in socializing with the Jews, either.)  The Assyrians invaded northern Palestine in the eighth century B.C. and had their way with the place and the people.  Most Israelites living in the area were deported and replaced by Assyrian immigrants and other foreigners, all of whom were pagans and idolaters.  The few remaining Israelites were labeled Samaritans by the southern Palestinian Jews, and held in contempt for intermarrying with the invaders and adopting many of their pagan ways.  The Jews particularly regarded as forbidden the sharing of food or drink with Samaritans.  In addition, Jewish tradition at the time strongly discouraged men from having any public interaction with women.  Finally, as portrayed a number of times in John and the other Gospels, Jews were expected to avoid any association with "sinners." 

So right off the bat in this story, Jesus ignores three significant cultural rules of his community.  Of course, this was just one of many such instances in his Earthly ministry.  It bears noting here that all of these situations in which Jesus defied convention add up to a powerful rebuttal of the notion that he chose only men to be his Apostles out of deference to cultural norms.  That one just doesn't wash.  Today is not the time for me to discuss the inapplicability of the Sacrament of Holy Orders to our beloved sisters in Christ, but the absence of any women among the Twelve always has been understood by the Church as one of the major reasons for it. 

Getting back to the story, after Jesus asks the woman for a drink, and she asks him why he's even bothering to speak to her, ("How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?"), the Lord drops the first of his verbal bombshells, saying (I'm paraphrasing) "If you knew who you are talking to, you would have asked and I would have given you living water."  (Jn 4:9-10) The woman's reaction to Jesus' mysterious statement is, unsurprisingly, a sort of first-century equivalent of "Huh?"  She points out that Jesus doesn't even have a bucket, so where, she asks, is he going to get this "living water", anyway?  Then she issues a little challenge--"Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?" (Jn 4:11-12)

Here, the Samaritan woman acted without the malice normally shown by Pharisees who challenged Jesus with various questions throughout the Gospels, but her question nevertheless managed to generate one of the Lord's classic evangelistic prophesies:  "Jesus said to her, 'Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.' " (Jn 4:13-14) (Don't you wish you could go back in time and hear some of these statements as they were made, and watch people's reactions?)  Now the woman apparently understands that Jesus is not talking about the well water, but something else entirely...and she wants some!  (Who wouldn't, after that little speech?)  But even so, her reply shows that she doesn't completely get it: "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw." (Jn 4:15) She seems to think it would be pretty neat never to be thirsty and not have to trudge back and forth from home to that well a couple of times a day, but she misses the more supernatural aspect of Jesus' statement, especially the reference to eternal life.  (Whenever I read or hear this part, I think "Hello, pay attention!")

Since our Lord was well accustomed to having people fail to understand him fully, especially when he spoke in "mystical mode", he decides it's time for a little demonstration.  He directs her to go get her husband and come back, and when she admits she has no husband, Jesus reveals that he knows all about her situation and her checkered past--five husbands, and currently living with a man not her husband.  Now, she elevates her opinion of him, saying "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet."  After she mentions that her people worship "on this mountain" and that "you [Jews] say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship," Jesus proceeds in rather dramatic language to predict that both the Samaritan mountain and the Jewish temple worship will be replaced: "Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.' "  (Jn 4: 16-24)

As Hahn and Mitch note in their commentary, here Jesus is referring to the distinctions between Christian worship--spirit and truth, a theme Jesus will repeat at the conclusion of the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6--and both the ritual animal sacrificial worship of the Jews and the idolatry of the Samaritans.  Notice also how Jesus shows great respect for the Samaritan woman, as he addresses her in the same way as St. John witnessed him addressing his Mother on two important occasions, at the Wedding of Cana ("O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come", Jn 2:4) and while hanging on the Cross ("Woman, behold your son", Jn 19:26).  Otherwise, I can find only three instances where Jesus uses this form of address:  In Mt 15:28, when he heals the demon-possessed daughter of the Canaanite woman, ("O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire"); at the healing of the crippled woman on the Sabbath ("Woman, you are freed from your infirmity", Lk 13:12), and on the day of the Resurrection when he speaks to Mary Magdalene, ("Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?", Jn 20:15). 

At this point, the Samaritan woman begins to get a glimmer of what's going on, it seems, as she replies to Jesus' predictions by saying "I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things." And then Jesus drops the Big One: "Jesus said to her, 'I who speak to you am he.' "  (Jn 4: 25-26)  This is one of only two times in the entire New Testament that Jesus explicitly claims to be the Christ; the other is during St. Mark's account of the trial before the Sanhedrin. (Mk 14:61-62.)

After the disciples return and "marvel" at the fact that Jesus is talking to the woman, the conversation bears immediate fruit, as she heads back into town and starts telling everyone about her encounter with "a man who told me all that I ever did", and asking "Can this be the Christ?" (Jn 4:27-29)  In effect, she becomes an evangelist herself, and as a result, St. John tells us, the people of the town began coming out to see Jesus, asking him and his disciples to stay with them, which they did for two days.  Many from that city became believers, either because of the woman's testimony or from hearing Jesus' teaching.  (Jn 4:30; 39-42)  The remainder of the account describes Jesus' speech to his disciples after the woman has "left her water jar" (similar to how the disciples themselves "left everything behind") to spread the news to her community of her encounter.   Again, as he so often did, Jesus reminds the disciples that doing the will of the Father is the primary mission: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work." (Jn 4:34)  This recalls his statement, recorded in each of the synoptic Gospels, that those who do the will of the Father are in effect members of Jesus' family  ("my mother, sisters and brothers"; see Mt 12:50; Mk 3:35; Lk 8:21). 

How, then, to look at this story as a whole?  On the surface, in addition to Jesus' typical defiance of cultural conventions, I think we have in this account one of the more impressive stories of large-scale evangelization and conversion in the New Testament, especially given that it was unaccompanied by the working of any miracle of healing, feeding a crowd, or raising people from the dead.  We are not told the size of the city or exactly how many became believers due to these events, but the implication seems clear that at least a majority of the citizens were converted, thanks to the faith awakened in a single Samaritan woman.  In fact, the only similar conversion event I can think of from the New Testament is the baptism of 3,000 on the day of the Christian Pentecost, recounted in Chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles, which was preceded by the miracle of tongues, itself triggered by the descent of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room.  That's pretty heady company for a simple woman of Samaria, living in a state of serious sin, and stands in stark contrast to the reception Jesus got in his own home town of Nazareth, where his friends and neighbors tried to throw him off a cliff in return for his teaching. (Lk 4:16-30)

But of course there is more under the surface.  The Samaritan woman's story seems to be a microcosm of the experience of all who seek to fill the longing in every human heart for God.  Her having cycled through five husbands suggests, as our priest noted in his homily this weekend, that she was searching for love, obviously without much success prior to encountering Christ.  The "living water" Jesus promises to her is traditionally understood by the Church to refer to Baptism, but Hahn and Mitch also note several instances where the Old Testament prophets used water as a metaphor for God's blessings.  For example, in Isaiah 12:3, "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation"; or again in Isaiah 44:3, "For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring."  And who can forget the beautiful symbolism of Ezekiel 47:1-12, where the prophet describes his angelic vision of the life-giving river flowing around and out from the Temple?

So whether by Sacrament or otherwise, as through prayer and reflection or other ways of seeking God, the "living water" of God's blessings comes to us, if we are willing to receive it.  Often, this means major conversion for us, as for the Samaritan woman leaving her water jar, the Apostles leaving their former lives, or perhaps less dramatic but no less important changes in the little things we do, think and say each day.  But it never fails to have an effect.  This, I would venture to guess, is at least one reason why the Church places the story of the Woman at the Well in the liturgy of the First Scrutiny, where the journey of Catechumens on their way to full communion with the Church heads into the home stretch.

That's all for now.  Thanks for reading. Laudator Jesus Christus!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Hello! Here I Am...

Texas, USA, March 6, 2015

Hello and God's blessings and peace to all.  This is a new venture for me.  The title of this blog, Son of Blessed Mary, has two levels of meaning.  The first, which should be obvious, is to honor our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High God and of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Eternal Word, the Prince of Peace, the Redeemer of mankind.  The second refers to me, because our Lord gave His Mother to all of us as our spiritual Mother as he hung in agony on the Cross.  Therefore I, along with everyone else in the world for whom Christ died, can claim the privilege of being Mary's son.  She is, in addition to being our spiritual Mother, a perfect example for every follower of Jesus Christ.  She was the first Christian, after all; she accepted Him on the day of the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel, lovingly nurtured and raised Him to adulthood, suffered with Him to the end of His earthly ministry, and reigns with Him as the Queen of Heaven, Queen of Angels and Mother of the Church.  Her one and only purpose is to lead all people to her Son, if we will only let her do so. 

You should have figured out by now that I am Catholic.  Ten years ago this month, in March, 2005, by the grace of God and through the power and working of the Holy Spirit, I was received into full communion with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  A little less than a year before that, again by the grace of God and not by any merit of my own, I experienced a profound conversion of heart which led me back to active faith in Jesus Christ, and to the Church He founded nearly 2,000 years ago.  I was baptized as an infant in the Presbyterian tradition, raised by loving and faithful parents and taught the basics of Christian faith.  I am thankful for them and for all the wonderful Protestant Christians who have done so much for me and for our great United States of America, but now I am where I belong, thanks be to God.  Perhaps at a later time I will share more details of my conversion story.  For now, suffice it to say that I am thankful beyond any human expressive capacity for the gift of faith in Christ which was freely handed to me at that time, and for the grace to have accepted that gift.  I also hasten to say that one gives up absolutely nothing when one "crosses the Tiber" from any non-Catholic faith tradition.  Rather, one gains immeasurable treasure in the fullness of the Christian faith, handed on to us over the millennia in direct succession from Christ and His Apostles.  I love the Catholic Church and will stand in defense of her and her Magisterium, with charity and devotion, just as I stand for Christ Himself.  I pray that God will give me the grace to remain faithful and obedient through whatever trials He has in store for me and my loved ones and friends in this deeply troubled world.

What else might a reader want to know about me?  I am a retired attorney, an adopted son of the Great State of Texas, born and raised in the Heartland of America, the Midwest.  I have been happily married for almost 35 years to a lovely Catholic woman who probably deserved better than what she got.  My father was a classically trained vocal musician, a graduate of the Juilliard School, a professor of drama and literature and a church choir director.  He used to draw applause from neighboring fans at St. Louis Cardinals baseball games for his rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.  Meanwhile, I was trying to hide.  This, obviously, was in my tender and callow youth, before I finally learned to appreciate his talent!  My mother was, in addition to her primary vocation as a Christian wife and mother, a dedicated small-town public servant as a city council member and then three-time Mayor of the Illinois town where my closest relatives still reside, the first woman ever elected to that position.  They raised my brother and me in the classic Judeo-Christian American tradition of hard work, patriotism, love of family, respect for others and the "rugged individualism" of our Scots-Irish and German Presbyterian heritage.  I am politically more conservative than any other label, although my Catholic faith leads me to some views (such as the truth of Catholic social teaching a la Rerum Novarum, including attempted adherence to Christ's admonitions to care for the poor, see, e.g. Matthew 25:31 and following, and opposition to the death penalty in most if not all cases), that many would not expect from a "conservative."  But this is not a political commentary blog, even though at times my reflections will by necessity overlap to some extent with matters deemed "political" by our "perpetual news cycle" culture, which sees every issue as "political."  This will especially be true with respect to matters of religious freedom (I'm for it!) and abortion (I'm against it!), and probably others.  As one of my favorite news media talking heads, Linda Ellerbee, used to say, "And so it goes."  (Wonder whatever happened to her, anyway?)

As this blog develops, I plan to add the usual things one sees in the Blogosphere, such as recommended links, moderated comments, and more or less regular postings of my own reflections and thoughts about the Christian faith, the Catholic Church, and the world in which we live in exile, awaiting with joyful hope the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life with our Lord and all his angels and saints.  I am my own developer, which is probably as big a mistake as trying to be one's own lawyer, but this little exercise isn't worth spending any of my retirement money.  My perspective is that of a sinner who tries to be a true disciple of Christ, obedient to His commandments and to the teaching authority of the Church, which He Himself established on the rock of Saint Peter.  My patron saint, whose name I adopted at the time of my receipt of the Sacrament of Confirmation, is Thomas Aquinas, and in addition to the arduous task of living a true Christian life, my worldly calling is, I believe, to teach and defend the Catholic Christian faith.  I claim no special expertise other than such knowledge as God has granted me through personal prayer, study of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium, reading the Church Fathers, reflection, regular attendance at Mass, and reading and hearing the reflections and teachings of other faithful Christians of yesterday and today through many books and online via the miracle of modern information technology.

I really doubt that very many people will read this any time soon, as there are so many millions of people calling themselves "bloggers" all around the world, and I discover new and worthy blogs almost every day, so many that I can't hope to read even a significant proportion of them.  Why bother with my own, then?  Probably some degree of sinful pride is at work, which I hope to squelch in favor of a more worthy mission of evangelization, with a philosophical and, if I'm given the grace, even a contemplative angle.  At worst, it will keep me busy thinking instead of playing games on my PC and iPad.  This will make my wife happy, always a good thing.

In any event, an infant blog like this one stands little chance of being noticed.  But if somehow you have found your way here, I ask for your prayers and that you might come back to visit once in a while, as I attempt to make it worth your time as well as mine.  Thank you.  Laudator Jesus Christus!