Friday, August 08, 2008

To preach the unsearchable riches of Christ
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;
St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians 3:8,9 (RSV)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

... In the Lord's Garden, with Dominic

Tomorrow, we observe the great Feast of St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans). The praises of St. Dominic and his service to God are sung by the great poet Dante (through the voice of St. Bonaventure) in Canto XII of the Paradiso:
Dominic was his name, whose work and worth
I publish, as the husbandman whom Christ
Called to His garden to help till the earth.

Right well the friend and messenger of Christ
He showed him, for the first love he displayed
was love for the first counsel given by Christ...

With Apostolic sanction guaranteed,
Equipped with doctrine and with zeal as well,
Like some high torrent thundering down at speed

On briars and brakes of heresy he fell
Uprooting them, and still was swift to go
where opposition was most formidable.

From him, unnumbered rillets took their flow
To irrigate the Catholic garden-plot
Thenceforth, whence all its bushes greener grow.
Five years ago, I determined that whatever my vocation entailed, it would be linked, in some way, to St. Dominic. And yet, I had no idea how that would be, considering I was far from any Dominican communities; in fact, I had no physical exposure to any Dominicans save those I had met on-line, particularly to those who had made (or who aspired to make) profession in the Third Order of St. Dominic (aka Dominican Laity). Moved, as it were, by their witness and devotion to Truth (that is, veritas), I joined the movement of Lay Dominicans here in Houston many months ago as an inquirer.

While everybody is called in grace to holiness, it is certainly true that not everyone is called to attach themselves to a religious order. The Rule of the Lay Chapters of St. Dominic states from the very beginning:
Among the Christian faithful, men and women living in the world, in virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, have been made partakers in the prophetic, priestly and royal mission of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are called to make Christ present to the peoples so that the divine message of redemption may be heard and welcomed by all everywhere.
Nonetheless, the Dominican way of life, as that of any religious order, offers those who are called to it a particular way of cultivating their relationship with Christ and serving Him in the world. As our Rule goes on to make clear:
Some of these Christian faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit to live according to the spirit and charism of Saint Dominic, are incorporated into the Dominican Order through a special commitment to their appropriate statutes... They have a distinctive character in both their spirituality and their service to God and neighbor. As members of the Order, they share in its apostolic mission through prayer, study, and preaching according to the lay state.
Such is it for me, called fundamentally to preach! praedicare! Cajoled by the Spirit, I began, many years ago, to develop a spiritual life which, as it turned out, coincided with the Four Pillars of Dominican Life: Prayer, Study, Community, and Apostolate (Preaching). In the coming weeks and months, I will devote time to fleshing out my contemplata, or the fruit of my contemplation, as it were. Please pray for me.
St. Francis, and the Feast of St. Dominic

Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans). The Church of St. Vincent Ferrer weblog has a beautiful post on the mutual respect and collaborative tradition between the Dominicans and Franciscans, and how this tradition is lived out on the respective feast days of St. Dominic and St. Francis:
Tradition has it that St. Dominic and St. Francis of Assisi met each other in Rome in 1215 while observing the deliberations of the Fourth Lateran Council. Because the Council Fathers were creating legislation governing new religious orders, the two founders were particularly interested in the outcome. According to one legend, Dominic and Francis met and fell immediately into mutual esteem for each other’s grace and charism. As a sign of their friendship in the Lord, they exchanged belts. Francis took Dominic’s leather belt, characteristic of a preaching canon, while Dominic took Francis’s rope cincture, the symbol of his poverty.

In honor of the friendship between Dominic and Francis, a noble tradition has developed among their disciples. Dominicans and Franciscans celebrate the feasts of their founders together. Franciscans join Dominicans on August 8, and Dominicans join Franciscans on October 4. At the Mass of St. Dominic, a Franciscan preaches, and at the Mass of St. Francis a Dominican delivers the homily.
I suspect this isn't universally observed, but it does remind us of the mutually enriching benefits offered by the spiritual traditions of various religious orders and their common fraternity in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Not just How, but also Why

Hugo of the Seventh-day Adventist to Roman Catholic blog reflects a bit on the Catholic Church's authoritative decision concerning which books would comprise the Old and New Testaments, making up the "Bible" as we know it today. Most Christians accept that the Holy Spirit was involved, although the key attribute for Catholics is that the process was guided by both Tradition and Church Authority. We have records, for example, from the regional councils of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397-419 AD), as well as the later confirmations such as that of the Council of Trent (1546 AD) concerning the accepted books. When I approached this from a Protestant perspective, I found a lot of folks to be dismissive about the origins of the Bible -- some even assuming that the Bible more or less fell out of the sky in its present form (and in English). Others simply ignored the fact that the Catholic Church had anything to do with it. But all of that aside.

The question of how the Bible, and the books that comprise it, came to be is an interesting one, but I find that an even greater question, often left out in contemporary apologetics, is Why? Why did the early church go through the trouble? After all, the Church existed for decades before many of the Gospels and letters that would comprise the New Testament were ever written. Why these letters, as well as a formal recognition of what books would comprise the Old Testament, were debated, bound together in codices, and eventually canonized authoritatively by early councils and confirmed by bishops is inextricably linked to the Catholic Church's ancient liturgical heritage. That is, to understand why, one must also understand the role the Scriptures played in early Christian and Jewish liturgical worship.

To my delight, I found that Scott Hahn treats the question of why very well in his book, Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word in the Liturgy. He summarizes the answer to the question very well in Ch. 8:
The liturgy is, once again, where the early church kept the scriptures. Indeed, the books we know as the New Testament were canonized not so much for devotional reading -- which was rare in those days before the printing press -- but for liturgical proclamation. The liturgy is where most exegesis took place through much of the patristic era. The controversy over which books should be included in the Bible was, to a great extent, a running argument over which books could be read during the Mass. As Justin Martyr said in 155 AD, one of the principle parts of the liturgy was the reading of the prophets and the "memoirs" of the apostles.
Absolutely! And though the Church today, of course, encourages regular private study of the Scriptures, the Church considers that their special and proper place is within the context of liturgical proclamation, where they are, as it were, actualized. Of course, we see this connection in some of the ancient conciliar canons regarding the authoritative list of books. The Council of Carthage, for example, prefaces the canon regarding the accepted books by first asserting:
That besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture. But the Canonical Scriptures are as follows...
The Second Vatican Council reaffirmed the importance of the Scriptures in the life of the Church, particularly within the liturgical context, in Ch. 6 of Dei Verbum:
The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spirit resound in the words of the prophets and Apostles.


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