Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Eastern Catholic Churches

I have been asked to provide a list of Churches in union with Rome. Currently, there are twenty-one Eastern Catholic Churches. They are arranged here according to Rite:

Alexandrian Rite
Antiocene Rite
Armenian Rite
  • Armenian Church
Byzantine Rite
Chaldean Rite

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Bread of Life

The Eucharist is God.

Jesus is the Bread of Life and the Bread of Life is Jesus (cf. Jn 6: 35 & 48). The Eucharist is God become Man. It is Jesus: His Body, His Blood, His Soul, and His Divinity - the whole Jesus. The Eucharist is the Son of God and the son of Mary, the Son of Man and the son of David. The Eucharist laid in a manger and later let Simeon go in peace. The Eucharist walked on the water, healed the sick, raised the dead, and exorcised demons. It still does. The Eucharist ate and drank with sinners. Now, It is eaten and drank by sinners. The Eucharist was once nailed to the Cross for our salvation. The Eucharist died, broke the gates of Hades, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven. The Eucharist is seated at the right hand of the Father. The Eucharist will come again to judge the living and the dead. Through the Eucharist, everything that is was made and without It was nothing made. The Eucharist is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6).

This is the Eucharist on every altar of the Catholic and Orthodox Church; It is eaten and drank by the faithful everyday. Everyday, others “eat and drink judgment against themselves” (1 Cor. 11: 29) and, everyday, most of the world ignores Him.

“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53). If you are not Catholic or Orthodox, become Catholic or Orthodox, lest you have no life in you. If you are Catholic or Orthodox, properly and frequently receive the most precious Body and Blood of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and life everlasting.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Jesus Would Discriminate

The heretics and blasphemers who brought us the “Would Jesus discriminate?” yard signs have become more aggressive. Perhaps the yard signs were only the preamble to their intended coup-de-grace. The day before yesterday I saw a new sign which read, “David loved Jonathan more than women. II Samuel 1:26,” and last night I saw a billboard very near my erstwhile house proclaiming to all, “Jesus said some are born gay. Matthew 19: 10 – 12.”

I would prefer the exhibition of gay pornography on a billboard to this, printed as it is next to an image of O.L.G.S. Jesus Christ. That, at least, might offer an honest image of active homosexuality. Pornographers and sodomites ought to be briefly imprisoned. Blasphemers ought to be shown the implements of torture, in an effort to inspire repentance. Failing that, they ought to be burned at the stake. Probably I overreact. Do I? Only, who would do the torturing and burning but some other sinner?

At the very least, some vandal ought to spray paint a meaningful alteration to this billboard - perhaps inserting the words “did not say” over the word “said,” or inserting the word “eunuchs” over the word “gay.” I would suggest setting fire to the whole thing, only we must not disrespect Christ’s image. Meanwhile, the written lie stands, even as I write this, disrespecting Christ’s image.

The best remedy to blasphemy is to glorify the name of the Lord. If we speak the truth unfailingly, maybe we needn’t destroy those who speak falsehood. I shall try to let these scriptures speak for themselves.

II Samuel 1:26:

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother! most dear have you been to me; More precious have I held love for you than love for women.

Matthew 19: 10 – 12 (NAB):

His disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” He answered, “Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Matthew 19: 10 – 12 (Douay-Rheims):

His disciples say unto him: If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry. Who said to them: All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mother's womb: and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Would Jesus Discriminate?

Several months ago, blue and white yard signs began to dot lawns and street corners all over Indianapolis bearing the words, “Would Jesus discriminate?”

Though I am aware that “discriminate” is a buzzword, I did not immediately think of it in this context. Immediately, visions of sheep and goats filled my mind, as well as wheat and chaff, publicans and Pharisees, the Final Judgement, heaven and hell (cf. Matt 25:32-33, 3: 12; Lk 3: 17, 18: 10-14). I thought, too, of Jesus dining with sinners (cf. Matt. 9:11). Yet even these sinners whom He came to call, He came to change. To sinners he says, “sin no more” (Jn 5:14, 8:11). For this reason He dines with them: to discriminate against their former way of life. Yes, I thought to myself, if anyone would discriminate it would be Jesus.

Soon, of course, it occurred to me that not only was this yard sign asking me a rhetorical question, but that its answer was meant to be “no.” Many of our age “put darkness for light, and light for darkness” (Is 5:20). Discrimination, our buzz-catechism teaches, is the greatest of all sins – and surely Jesus is guilty of no sin. What point the authors of this sign were making, I wasn’t sure.

I was unsurprised to discover, upon exploring the website given on the yard sign, the following:

“Would Jesus discriminate? Instinctively, we all sense that the answer must be a resounding No! Yet we live in a time when many churches are leading the effort to deny gay and transgender people equal...”

Hmm… “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness” (Is 5:20). Instinctively, my answer was a resounding Yes!

Discrimination is a quality of any intelligent mind. An undiscriminating chef, for example, would put rats pellets in a stew when he ran out of peppercorns. An undiscriminating husband would sleep with his secretary when he was working late and couldn’t get home to his wife. The inability to discriminate is a mark of madness. The unwillingness to discriminate is a mark of evil.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Church

Nothing is more important than the Church.

Most Christians will agree that God should be our first priority – family our second. The Church is both. Nothing is more important than the Church.

“God is more important,” some will protest. God and the Church are one. To say that God is more important than the Church is like saying that a husband is more important than his wife. In truth, a husband is the head of his wife, but she is not his inferior. It is in the same way that Christ is the head of His Church (cf. Eph. 5:23). Only through the Church can you come to Christ.

“You’re idolizing a man-made institution,” others will accuse. The God-Man made the Church. His Body is the Church (cf. Col. 1:24). The Body of Jesus Christ is no idol.

The Church is God and family. It is God’s family. The Church makes bold to call God, “Father,” – even, “Abba” (Gal. 4:6). The Church is the children of God. The Church is God’s Son – Jesus, the Son of God. The Church is the Mystical Body of Jesus. As God the Son is to God the Father, so the Church is to God. The Church and God are one.

The Church is the Bride of Christ. As in marriage, the two are made one (cf. Eph. 5: 31- 32).

What is this Church? It is not the guy in the next pew – nor myself, a sinner. It is not the priest, nor the bishop, nor the pope. I do not worship men. It is not the saints nor the angels that I worship. I do not worship flesh and blood, but the awesome God. But this God I worship is in the angels and the saints. He is in men. He is in the pope, the bishop, and the priest. He is in the guy in the next pew. And He is in me, a sinner. And all these are in God, too.

God is in the Church and the Church is in God. “There is no salvation outside the Church.”

Monday, April 9, 2007

Byzantine Catholicism

I am often asked why I became a Byzantine Catholic. Like many, if not most, cradle Roman Catholics, I made it through my formative years in the Church unaware that there was more to Catholicism than Roman Catholicism – unaware, that is, of universal, complete and entire (Catholic) Christianity. Though most Roman Catholics are hardly aware of our existence and many, upon hearing of us, ask, “are you Catholic?” or “are you under the Pope?” or a hundred such questions, it is worth pointing out that most members of our Byzantine Catholic Church in Indianapolis were themselves raised Roman Catholic. I am not alone among Westerners in my decision to practice the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic faith according the traditions, liturgy, theology, ecclesiology, and spirituality of the East.

The question is sometimes phrased: “why did you convert?” Becoming Byzantine, having been Roman, is not a conversion of religion. Personally, it resulted from a deepening of faith, an inner conversion perhaps, but we must always remember that there is but one true Church, one God, one faith, one baptism, and one Lord who is Savior of all. Each of the more than twenty Eastern and Western Churches is equal in the one true Church.

Though it is not conversion as such, becoming Byzantine is certainly a change. The liturgical, sacramental, and theological differences attracted me and my love for them draws me into ever deeper immersion in my Byzantine Church.

My Byzantine Church is an abundant Church, a Church of plenty, a Church of overflowing cups, a Church where anything worth doing once is worth doing three times in honor of the Holy Trinity. Here there is anointing and more anointing, blessing and more blessing, incense and holy water, blessed bread and blessed wine. We don’t just dip our fingers in the holy water; we drink the holy water. When we blessed the holy water, it was the day of Theophany – our Lord’s Baptism. The priest blessed the water with fire, with breath, and with the sign of the cross. We don’t just anoint the forehead; we anoint the forehead, the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth, the chest, the hands, and the feet. When the priest incenses during the Divine Liturgy, he incenses the whole church, up and down the aisles, everyone singing all the while, until the place is filled with smoke.

Byzantine Liturgy is always oriented – the priest faces God, the tabernacle, the altar, and the East, from whence O.L.G.S. Jesus Christ will return. Marana tha! The congregation chants and sings throughout the entire Liturgy – the congregation is the choir. We gather together to worship and to exalt the Lord our God. We have no concept of a Low Mass in our Byzantine Church.

The Byzantine Churches make use of four distinct divine liturgies: most commonly we celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom; occasionally we use the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil; during the Great Fast (Lent) we use the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, traditionally attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great – this has some similarities to the Good Friday Liturgy of the Roman Church; and, rarely, we use the Divine Liturgy of St. James the Apostle and Brother of the Lord, which is an early liturgy of the Church. Each of these liturgies is a glorious sacrifice of praise. The use of different liturgies for different seasons or occasions adds richness to the yearly cyclical life of the Church.

An infant receives communion in an Eastern Church.
Above these liturgical differences, I love the generous and abundant Byzantine approach to the sacraments. The three mysteries of initiation (Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation), and Eucharist) are given in their original order to infants. My own six month old son, John Elias, having been Baptized and Chrismated, receives the Most Holy Body and Blood of O.L.G.S. Jesus Christ for the remission of his sins and for life everlasting every time he attends the Divine Liturgy. He will receive the Mystery of Penance when he gets older, before which time he is seen as a holy innocent.

The Anointing of the Sick is given to all who are able and wish to receive it at least once a year – and more frequently in my parish. We do not see it as a sacrament only for the dying. All are in need of healing – whether from physical, mental, or spiritual maladies – all can therefore be anointed.

The Holy Mystery of Crowning (Matrimony) is not a bar to the reception of Holy Orders. The Roman Church acknowledges this theologically, but for pastoral and practical reasons usually forbids the ordination of married men. The Eastern Churches do not forbid such ordinations – another example of generous distribution of sacraments. Yet, we also exalt celibacy as imitative of O.L.G.S. Jesus Christ and as a calling from God – even to the extent of acknowledging the sacramentality of monastic vows.

St. Athanasius Byzantine Catholic Church
Eastern theology has never officially limited the number of sacraments to seven, as the Roman Church did at the Council of Trent. Although, certainly, the seven sacraments are held in great reverence – the Eucharist above all others, but this does not keep us from regarding other acts and signs as sacramental. Fr. Sidney Sidor, of blessed memory, formerly of our local parish, St. Athanasius, told us emphatically, “there are more than seven sacraments!”

These are but a few of the differences that attracted me to the Eastern Church. Probably I leave you with more questions than answers. Pope St. John Paul II had more answers than I do. His encyclical, Orientale Lumen, is a good source of information. The Byzantine Churches are a source of truth and beauty in the Catholic Church which everyone should get to know better.

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