Monday, April 24, 2017

Reflection 2 on Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntiandi)

            Evangelii Nuntiandi paragraphs 8-16 reiterate themes for which I was hoping when I first read it over 10 years ago, the themes of internal renewal, radical conversion, profound change, evangelization is the essential mission of the Church and is the work of everyone in the Church.

“For the Christian community is never closed in upon itself…only acquires its full meaning when it becomes a witness, when it evokes admiration and conversion, and when it becomes the preaching and proclamation of the Good News. Thus it is the whole Church that receives the mission to evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important for the whole.”

            I have found regeneration to be one dynamic which is almost unique to Christianity. Even some groups who consider themselves Christian may deemphasize or even ignore it. I searched through the websites of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and did not find any teachings on regeneration. The only way Christianity can work is for the Church’s members to be regenerated to become creatures who are less prone to sin and prone to turn to God rather than away from Him.

            I have lived my life banking on 2 Corinthians 5:17 Revised Standard Version Second Catholic Edition (RSVCE) 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. I need to be a new creation. The old creation I was before I started letting God transform me and started experiencing continuing conversion was not the kind of creation I wanted to end up being.

            I am reminded of the story of the father who needed to keep his son occupied for a while. He found a picture of the world in a magazine and ripped it into little pieces because he figured his son was not familiar with where in the world the various continents lie. Five minutes later the son came back with the puzzle put together. The father asked his son how he put the map together so quickly, and the son replied, “I found a picture of a man on the other side of the page the map was on. I got the man right and the world came out right.”

            I have always believed we will not be able to solve the problems of the world until we change the problem of the human heart. If we can get the man right we can get the world right. As long as the human is not together, the world will not get together. The only way to get the human right is by getting him linked up with God, and the only way to get linked up with God is to get linked up through and with Jesus Christ.

            I was taught early on I would need to link up to God through Jesus Christ as an act of my will. Paragraph 13 also teaches this. “Those who sincerely accept the Good News, through the power of this acceptance and of shared faith…make up a community which is in turn evangelizing.”

            I won’t name names but I know of a parish wherein the “Time, Talent, and Treasure” document contains no activity I would consider primarily to have a focus on evangelization. Yet Evangelii Nuntiandi teaches evangelization is the essential mission of the Church. “Those who have received the Good News and who have been gathered by it into the community of salvation can and must communicate and spread it.

            The Church “is linked to evangelization in her most intimate being.” “She begins by evangelizing herself…she has a constant need of being evangelized…to retain freshness vigor and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel…evangelized by constant conversion and renewal in order to evangelize the world with credibility.” How often have we heard people in the church have been sacramentalized without first being evangelized? We have seen the sorry results. Confirmation of young people who have no intention of ever coming to Mass is one result I’ve seen most often.

Reflection 1 on Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntiandi)

            I read Evangelii Nuntiandi for the first time back in 2002. I was working at a small parish in a small town as a religious education coordinator for grades 5 through Confirmation. At our parish in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota we hauled our 16 year old Confirmandi, their parents and sponsors to the Cathedral in a couple charter buses. Of course most of these teenagers treat Confirmation as graduation and we don’t see much of them at church after that.
            I and my wife had gone through RCIA and entered the Church in 1992 after spending 13 married years together attending non-Catholic evangelical churches. We had learned how to evangelize by attending “Share Your Faith” seminars and “Evangelism Explosion” training. When we became Catholic we knew Catholics were supposed to evangelize but we were disappointed to discover how few were interested in evangelization. I was encouraged when I read Evangelii Nuntiandi and found Pope Paul VI and all the Popes since were more eager than I was to get Catholics evangelizing.
            Way back in the 1970s Pope Paul VI, in his Address for the closing of the Third General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, used the phrase “NEW period of EVANGELIZATION.” The New Evangelization has been around for a while.
            While I find this focus on evangelization encouraging, I also am a bit frustrated. As I have written elsewhere (Eleven Reasons Catholics Do Not Evangelize) I am frustrated because there seems to be no sense of urgency among most of the laity.  In the work-a-day world during a performance appraisal we hear, "You do not exhibit a sense of urgency." This comment is usually referring to some earth shattering, life or death thing like making sure there's enough toilet paper in the restrooms. We think, "Why should I be urgent about something that isn't life or death or involving somebody's eternal destiny?" So, to please the supervisor, we race around all day acting like emptying the pencil sharpener will forestall World War III. Leading lost people to Jesus does involve somebody's eternal destiny but when it comes to evangelization the average people in the Church move at glacial speed (using Sherry Weddell’s phrase).
When I was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ in college (now called CRU) the call to action was to reach the world for Christ in our generation. There was a great sense of urgency.
            At least all the Popes since I graduated from high school back in 1975 and probably Popes prior have stressed evangelization but most average Catholics seem to be afraid of the word and even sometimes believe “We Catholics don’t do that.”
            Throughout these paragraphs I find the word “proclaim”. I’ve heard Catholics often like to repeat a quote they think came from St. Francis (he never really said it) “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.” They think this gets them off the hook and they don’t really ever need to say anything about Jesus to anyone who might need to learn about Him. These Catholics figure if they live a good life people will be drawn to Jesus, but how will those people know anything about Jesus if these Catholics don’t explain Him to them? Jesus needs to be proclaimed. There is power in the message, but the message needs to be proclaimed.
            Pope Paul VI wrote Jesus is the greatest evangelizer. We are to imitate Jesus. Jesus proclaims a Kingdom. So must we. As Evangelii Nuntiandi says we have the power of Pentecost but we still may need to answer the first of the three burning questions, “In our day, what has happened to that hidden energy of the Good News, which is able to have a powerful effect on man’s conscience?”


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reflection 3 on the Acts of the Apostles

Acts of the Apostles

            Immediately after giving the example of Joseph Barnabas Luke gives the example of Ananias and Sapphira and things get dramatic. There were a couple run-ins with the authorities prior but in neither case was there as much drama as this, a man and wife dropping dead. 
            Solomon’s portico shows up in both chapter 4 and chapter 5 as the place where the people “hung out” with the Apostles, where their signs and wonders were discussed and probably even some signs and wonders were performed. Portico (from Italian) was popular in Greek architecture, a porch actually. This one was on the eastern side of the outer court of the temple (women’s court). As it happens, a prominent Protestant leader in the emergent church movement, Doug Pagitt, is pastor of a well-known church in Minneapolis called Solomon’s Porch.
While on the subject of names of things based on subjects showing up in the Acts of the Apostles, I find it interesting we haven’t found many healing, health or medical related things named “Peter’s Shadow.” Maybe because most people wouldn’t associate “Peter’s shadow” with St. Peter the Apostle but with Peter Pan, who couldn’t hang onto his shadow.
            Twice now so far in the Acts of the Apostles we see the various antagonists of the Apostles and the growing church (captain of the temple guards, priests) teamed up with the Sadducees.  Where were the Pharisees? It was easy to miss. I had to read through again to catch it. “Then the high priest rose up and all his companions, that is, the party of the Sadducees…” (It’s because they’re so “sad, you see?”) The Sadducees were calling the shots because the high priest had the Sadducees as his “companions”.
So the high priest and his Sadducee companions threw the Apostles in jail. Luke specified “public jail”. I thought there might be something significant, like there was a temple jail or some other kind of jail. I did some searching and discovered it’s a function of the translation. The Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition consistently uses “prison” and uses “jail” only as the root of the word “jailer”.  The New American Bible Revised Edition uses “jail” and “prison” interchangeably, so the “public jail” is probably not significant.    
The next morning, while the Apostles were already preaching in the temple the high priest and his ever loyal companions (ELC) arrived, convened the Sanhedrin and sent court officers to fetch the Apostles from jail.  I guess we are supposed to assume the high priest and the ELC arrived at the temple and didn’t notice the Apostles preaching. The court officers didn’t find anybody in the jail.  A paraphrase of part of verse 24 of chapter 5 might be “the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were clueless…”
After the clueless captain and court officers fetched the Apostles from the temple area there was finally a mention of a Pharisee, Gamaliel. So we find the Pharisees were not completely out of the picture.  
            When the neglect of the Greek widows was brought to the attention of the Apostles Stephen and six others were appointed to deal with the distribution of food.  The 12 Apostles were free to spend their time in the business of prayer and ministry of the word.  I find it interesting Luke wrote after the Apostles laid their hands on the seven chosen “even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” I cynically imagine the priests saw seven were delegated to do the “dirty work”, so they turned to one another and said “Wow, no manual labor! No serving at tables! We got to get a part of this gig!”
            Stephen demonstrated evangelization isn’t just for Apostles and it cost him his life.

            Another thing I noticed is Stephen pointed out Abraham was told by God to “Go forth from your land and from your kinsfolk to the land that I will show you.” So what didn’t Abraham do? He didn’t leave his kinsfolk. He took his father and his nephew, Lot, and went where? To Harran, not to the land God would show him. Abraham then stalled until his father died. Luke wrote into the words of Stephen that God “made him migrate.” Talk about a reluctant emigrant! 

Reflection 2 on the Acts of the Apostles - 1st Chapters

Acts of the Apostles

            Whenever I think of the first part of the Acts of the Apostles I am reminded of the 1970s contemporary Christian music group I discovered in college, The Second Chapter of Acts (siblings Annie Herring, Matthew Ward and Nelly Greisen). Their Easter Song made it into a lot of hymn books.
            A lot happens in the first few chapters of Acts, the Ascension, the choice of Judas’s successor, Pentecost, two of Peter’s speeches, thousands of conversions, the start of the community of believers, healing of the crippled beggar, and the appearance before the Sanhedrin.
            There are a few verses in this section many of us memorized as we were leaning to share our faith, particularly Acts 1:8 (which we memorized in conjunction with Matthew 28:18-20 – the Great Commission) and Acts 4:12 (Jesus is the only way).
            Jesus appeared “by many proofs” to his disciples for forty days. Pentecost was a Jewish celebration fifty days after Passover, so between the Ascension and Pentecost was about 10 days. Sometime during this roughly 10 day stretch the Apostles cast lots to choose Matthias over Joseph, also called Barsabbas, or Justus. Because Joseph was also called Barsabbas makes it easy to confuse him with the Joseph at the end of chapter 4 and beyond (with Paul) who is also called Barnabas (Barnabas, Barsabbas) This seems to happen almost frequently in the New Testament, where people have several first names. Another example is Nathaniel who is also known as Bartholomew, although there is some disagreement about whether these two are actually the same person. I haven’t researched but sometime I would like to know where this practice comes from. Maybe it has something to do with so many languages spoken regularly in the area, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic.
            I noticed some interesting things about a standout verse, 2:38, where Peter answered a question someone, speaking for the group, asked “What are we to do, my brothers?” In 2:38 Peter addressed the answer to the group “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” First, I noticed Peter said “be baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ…” He didn’t say “be baptized…in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Maybe he didn’t want to try to explain the Trinity to the crowd at that time.

Second, I spent over half my life so far as a non-Catholic Christian. I have heard many disagreements about infant baptism and the significance of baptism. This short verse supports the Catholic view of both. Peter said, “Be baptized, EVERY ONE OF YOU…” He didn’t say put any restrictions on the age, and we might assume there were children in the crowd. I also recognize Peter said “Be baptized…for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” I do not see any support in this verse for the view I held until I became Catholic; that baptism is only an outward sign of an inward conversion. Peter seems to indicate it is so much more. Not only are sins forgiven but a person will also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Call now and we’ll double your order, just pay separate shipping.) It is just a pity so many Christians get baptized and then do not give the Holy Spirit control over their lives. The power they may have had is squandered until such time they come to their senses and allow the Holy Spirit to take control through a continuous conversion toward God the rest of their lives.

Reflection 1 on The Acts of the Apostles

Acts of the Apostles,

            I am not new to the Acts of the Apostles. Somewhere along the line I picked up the principle the Acts of the Apostles could just as well have been called the Acts of the Holy Spirit.
            I probably had my greatest exposure to the Acts of the Apostles when I was involved with Youth for Christ Bible Quizzing using the World Bible Quiz Association rules. I coached several teams both before and after joining the Catholic Church, Easter Vigil 1992. Bible Quizzing runs on a six year cycle. 2016-2017 they will be quizzing on the Gospel of Luke. They’ll be back to the Acts of the Apostles in the 2022-2023 school year. Over the coming years they will also quiz on 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians 2017-2018, John 2018-2019, Hebrews, 1 Peter and 2 Peter 2019-2020, Matthew 2020-2021, Romans and James 2021-2022, Acts 2022-2023 and  Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon 2023-2024. When they get back to Acts the younger kids will only quiz over Acts 1-6, 8, 9 while the older kids will quiz over the whole book.
            With this sequence of New Testament books the problem of connecting the Acts of the Apostles with Luke’s Gospel remains, but we certainly pointed out to our quizzers the sequence in which Luke wrote each. It might be clearer if we quizzed on Luke one year and on Acts the very next year, but we don’t. 
I suspect the way the Bible is laid out, the compilers wanted to keep the synoptic Gospels together and follow them with John, causing John to separate Luke from Acts. One alternative could have been to sacrifice placing the synoptic Gospels together and move John before Luke. I don’t think moving John to the front of the lot was considered very seriously because it seems to have been written later. It might not have worked as well as the first Gospel, although I often hear people advising new believers to read the Gospel according to John first. 
            The best way for Bible quizzers to compete successfully is to memorize the chapters covered for the monthly quiz competition. I most often coached the younger teams so we didn’t cover as many verses each month and usually did not cover all the chapters in a book. Even so I ended up drilling kids in practice and coaching them through Saturday afternoon Bible Quiz competitions on the Acts of the Apostles a few times over across the years.
            I remember how familiar we became with Theophilus and Cornelius, Peter and Paul, and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Bible Quizzing does not do anything about interpreting. We leave interpretation to the kids’ parents and churches but we help them know what the Bible says.
            After becoming Catholic in 1992 I continued to get teams together, including our own children or integrated our kids into other teams. I just asked our oldest daughter how much she remembers about Acts and she said she remembers the beginning of the year the best. That’s probably when we were all excited about the new quiz season and before so many other things diverted our attention.
            The kids were allowed to come up with their own names for their teams. We had some interesting ones like “Acts to Grind”, “GYAT - Get Your Acts Together”, and “Acts Your Age”.
            If in 2022 I am in a position to coach a team of Bible quizzers on Acts again I will certainly point out to them the most interesting information I found in the introduction to the New Collegeville Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. It was interesting and illuminating to learn the common practice of putting speeches in the historical participants’ mouths to help “tell the story". It’s a clever literary device.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Insecure Writers Support Group - March Writing Prompt

Insecure Writer's Support Group

March Writing Prompt

March 1 Question: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

On the first Wednesday of each month a website called Insecure Writer's Support Group invites insecure writers to submit a blog post to be included with the posts of other insecure writers in what they call a blog hop. 

This month, on Wednesday, March first, Ash Wednesday, the question announced as a little prod to help us beyond a blank page is "Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?"

Even before I try to remember if I've ever reworked any story, much less a really old one, I'd have to figure out how I could define "work out" in relation to anything I've written. I've had things published but for which I've never had a chance of being paid. So what could "work out" mean for me? 

I'd also need to figure out for myself what "really old" means. 

There is one way I pulled out something and reworked it and it worked out, but it wasn't really old. It was very, very new at the time. I needed to write papers in two different graduate school classes at the end of the semester. Rather than dream up two subjects, I tweaked the same subject two ways to satisfy each different class. I may have plagiarized myself, but I won't press charges. 

I guess I will need to admit I have never pulled anything really old out and reworked it. I have, nonetheless, hung on to many of the things I've written all the way back to freshman year of my undergraduate college days and a couple things from high school

I even still have a script for a parody I wrote in high school. The funny thing is it wasn't me who hung onto it. Neither my mom or my dad hung onto it either. My girlfriend's mother hung onto it. She's now my mother-in-law and she gave it back to me years later. I don't think it's really worth reworking. 

Having thought about possibly reworking something I wrote from before, I now might just go grab the three-ring binders from the shelf in the secret hide-away closet and look at those old scribbles again.