Reconciliation Lectionary: Isaiah 58:1-11

mary-the-penitent.jpgWe associate the prophet Isaiah with Advent, and with just cause. The fifty-eighth chapter of the book is rather a blast of reality-check in the middle of an otherwise-comforting section (chapters 40 through 66).

The prophet begins not with a confession, but with an accusation:

Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;
Proclaim to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.

And the prophet is aware that people indeed want to be with God, to do right, to be very near to him. But it doesn’t happen. Our fault? God to blame? God knows people are looking for him, and are even persistent in their search. God even quotes us:

They seek me day after day,
and desire to know my ways,
Like a nation that has done what is just
and not abandoned the judgment of their God;
They ask of me just judgments,
they desire to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, but you take no note?”

God sees rather deeply:

See, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
See, you fast only to quarrel and fight
and to strike with a wicked fist!
Do not fast as you do today
to make your voice heard on high!
Is this the manner of fasting I would choose,
a day to afflict oneself?
To bow one’s head like a reed,
and lie upon sackcloth and ashes?
Is this what you call a fast?
a day acceptable to the LORD?

Are believers just putting on a show for God? Making some small offerings, but leaving much room for our personal pursuits, even if they brush aside others and keep them downtrodden? Is this a mirror God is holding up to me? To you? This is a serious examination of conscience for those who consider themselves religious and godly.

Many of you are familiar with the core of the chapter, often cited as God’s urging to deepen our experience and make the fasting and prayer connected to real life, to real charity, to real justice:

Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking off every yoke?
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry,
bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own flesh?

What then, is the result of what we Catholics would call “apostolic action”? Here is the message of comfort and hope:

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: “Here I am!”
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the accusing finger, and malicious speech;
If you lavish your food on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then your light shall rise in the darkness,
and your gloom shall become like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always
and satisfy your thirst in parched places,
will give strength to your bones
And you shall be like a watered garden,
like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.

This passage would be appropriate for a communal penance service anytime, including Lent. But if I were using it, I might be inclined to offer a brief Gospel passage with a general theme of penitence. Isaiah 58:1-11 is a long, complex, and thought-provoking piece.

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Mutuae Relationes 51: Overabundance of New Institutes

SenanquecloisterRemember you can check the full document Mutuae Relationes here. In this longer section, the Church concludes Chapter VII by offering some cautions on new communities arising without sufficient prudence. Do you think we have too many new communities? The Church raised the question in 1978.

51. In some regions there is noticeable a certain overabundance of initiatives to found new religious institutes. Those who are responsible for discerning the authenticity of each foundation should weigh with humility, of course, but also objectively, constantly, and seeking to foresee clearly the future possibilities — every indication of a credible presence of the Holy Spirit, both to receive His gifts “with thanksgiving and consolation” (Lumen Gentium 12) and also to avoid that “institutes may be imprudently brought into being which are useless or lacking in sufficient resources” (Perfectae Caritatis 19). In fact, when judgment regarding the establishment of an institute is formulated only in view of its usefulness and suitability in the field of action, or simply on the basis of the comportment of some person who experiences devotional phenomena, in themselves ambiguous, then indeed it becomes evident that the genuine concept of religious life in the Church is in a certain manner distorted (cf. Part I, ch. III).

It has been the situation, especially since Trent, that the Church experiences a continuous surfacing of new communities. Some persist in their apostolates. Some live for awhile and then die. It has always been so.

The Church gives three principles of discernment:

To pronounce judgment on the authenticity of a charism, the following characteristics are required:

a) its special origin from the Spirit, distinct, even though not separate, from special personal talents, which become apparent in the sphere of activity and organization;

b) a profound ardor of love to be conformed to Christ in order to give witness to some aspect of His mystery;

c) a constructive love of the Church, which absolutely shrinks from causing any discord in Her.

My guess would be that a) is the most nebulous or transgressed today, especially in the sense of separating out the personal charism of a founder and seeing it overshadow the Holy Spirit. But nearly always, good intentions drive new communities. Do you think that the discord mentioned above involves those who seek a deeper orthodoxy/faithfulness, and set themselves up in contrast to others? If so, what does that say about the various movements that moved long-standing orders back to greater rigor, such as the Trappists?

Moreover the genuine figure of the Founders entails men and women whose proven virtue (cf. LG 45) demonstrates a real docility both to the sacred hierarchy and to the following of that inspiration, which exists in them as a gift of the Spirit.

When there is question, therefore, of new foundations, all who have a role to play in passing judgment must express their opinions with great prudence, patient appraisal and just demands. Above all, the bishops, successors of the Apostles, “to whose authority the Spirit himself subjects even those who are endowed with charisms” (LG 7), and who, in communion with the Roman Pontiff, have the duty “to give a right interpretation of the counsels, to regulate their practice, and also to set up stable forms of living embodying them” (LG 43), should feel themselves responsible for this.

Prudence, patience, and justice: bishops must keep these in mind when in dialogue with leaders and members of new communities.

Thoughts or comments?

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Unity Without Uniformity

What do the NCReg, NCRep, America, and OSV have in common today? A unified statement against the death penalty.

We, the editors of four Catholic journals — America, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter and Our Sunday Visitor — urge the readers of our diverse publications and the whole U.S. Catholic community and all people of faith to stand with us and say, “Capital punishment must end.”

It’s a good day for American Catholics. Hopefully a good day for justice will follow.

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New Vestment

lent vestmentOne of our parishioners did a marvelous job on our new Lent vestment. Draped in the sacristy is one thing–the look is better in the church with it hanging on a clerical body.

My pastor put in a request a few years ago for an overhaul of chasubles. This is the fourth installment in the new series. The other three (Ordinary Time, Advent, and Christmas) were acquired from vesture companies, though they were all custom designs.

I think I’ve mentioned that our vestment task force likes to see cloth samples in our own church lighting. You readers don’t see the true colors, even if you have a nice computer. At minimum, companies will send you samples, and our people can compare these under the glare of sanctuary illumination.

The plan is to add a second festive chasuble for Easter and a second green to provide variety in Ordinary Time–probably in the next year. No word given on red.

A few questions for you readers:

  • My pastor has asked for distinctive vestments for Lent and Advent, as well as Christmas and Easter. Do you agree?
  • He has not asked for rose and black. Agree with that?


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A Little Votive Prevention

pam and votivesIn my parish, the shrine of the Blessed Mother icon is framed by many receptacles for small candles. The wick’d wax of choice is tea lights our volunteer team (a mother and daughter) acquires from Hobby Lobby for us.

A number of years ago, my friend Sue Dean told me her secret for preventing difficult clean-up jobs on candle holders: a little vegetable spray. The metal-enclosed mini-candles also help, but sometimes there is molten flow of wax. If we used the larger votive candles, some kind of no-stick treatment would be required.

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Conflict of Charitable Interest

CNS reported in a brief that Catholic Relief Services defended itself against accusations that it cooperated in providing contraceptives in Kenya. The concerted campaigns against charity and justice arms of the USCCB continue. I find them disconcerting, and frankly, not terribly convincing.

For one thing, there’s a clear conflict of interest. A “reporting” group is not peopled by journalists, but by another charitable organization. If you go to the main page of the other partner in criticism, their first two banners do not self-promote, but criticize CHS and CCHD.

Like many such organizations, the latter claims the moral high ground:

The Lepanto Institute was created to present the facts regarding organizations that claim the name Catholic or even Christian, but are acting in opposition to the teachings of our Blessed Lord and His Holy and Immaculate Church. Sadly, organizations like Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the Catholic Health Association and many others are giving aid and comfort to the enemies of Christ.

CRS and CCHD are two organizations that operate under the US bishops. One might wonder just who the “Holy and Immaculate Church” might be. Are bishops excluded? The “faithful” pajama media? Those who are self-styled whitewashed and polished?

And to be clear, all the charities involved here have a right to operate in freedom. Competing charities can say truthful things about rivals. They can conduct research. In addition to rights, people also have responsibilities. Among others, accepting that good ends do not justify shady means.

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DPPL 241: Veneration Beyond The Image

STA altar at night smallWe’ll continue discussing sacred images today and through section 244. A caution and corrective is offered here that we respect what the image signifies. The actual work of art is not an idol; it is a window to another reality, namely, the unseen God and those who point to him and serve him.

241. It is necessary for the faithful to understand the relative nature of the cult of images. The image is not venerated in itself. Rather, that which it represents is venerated. Thus, sacred images “are given due honor and veneration, not because there are believed to contain some divinity or power justifying such cult, nor because something has to be requested of an image, nor because trust is reposed in them, as the pagans used to do with idols, but because the honor given to sacred images is given to the prototypes whom the represent”(Council of Trent, Decretum de sacris invocatione, veneratione et reliquiis Sanctorum, et sacris imaginibus, in DS 1823).

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

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