Monthly Archives: August 2011

Pray for Our Founding Bishop

Late Monday night, the founding bishop of the ICCEC, Archbishop Randolph Adler was admitted to a hospital in Selma, AL, for congestive heart failure.  Since his retirement in 2007, Archbishop Adler and his wife, Betty, have left San Clemente, CA, and settled in Selma.  When news of Archbishop Adler’s hospitalization reached the Provincial Council meeting in Georgia, the leadership of the Southeastern Province immediately adjourned and returned to Selma to surround our first patriarch in prayer.  Please pray for Archbishop Adler, Betty, and the extended Adler family.

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St. Bartholomew: Upholding His Father’s Name

I do not know if I have ever heard of parish named “St. Nathaniel’s,” but I know there are St. Bartholomew’s parishes all over the world.  That is amusing to me since they are most likely the same person and he seems to be better known, or at least more celebrated, by what we would call his last name.

In each of the three synoptic Gospels (Saints Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s), we see Saint Bartholomew paired up with St. Philip.  Besides being listed among the twelve Apostles in the synoptic Gospels, and being mentioned in the upper room after Our Lord’s Ascension, the Gospels say nothing else about St. Bartholomew.  The Apostle is never even named in St. John’s Gospel.  Of course, that gives us a hint about his other name.  St. Philip also appears on those lists of the Apostles in the synoptic Gospels, but those Evangelists never record the Apostle saying or doing anything else.  On the other hand, St. John narrates Our Lord’s call to St. Philip and the subsequent event quite clearly.  St. John tells us, “The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow Me.’” (1:43)  Immediately thereafter we learn that,

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”  Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?”  Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”  And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (1:45-51)

St. John gives no list of the Apostles in his own account of the life of Christ, but neither does he ever mention St. Bartholomew.  St. Philip, who is always mentioned alongside St. Bartholomew, figures prominently into the call of (Saint) Nathaniel in St. John’s Gospel.  What else would suggest they were the same person?

“Bartholomew” is what is called a “patronym,” a name which is derived from one’s father.  Modern examples might be names like Stevenson, which, in a bygone day, would have meant that the bearer of this name was actually Steven’s son.  The prefixes Mac and Mc in Scottish and Irish names convey the same meaning.  MacDouglas would have been Douglas’s son, while McDonald would have been Donald’s son.  In Hebrew, “son of” is signified by the word “bar.”  We see this in St. Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus refers to St. Peter as “Simon Bar-Jonah,” meaning “Simon, the son of Jonah.” (16:17)  Similarly, sometimes the sons of Zebedee are referred to as John Bar-Zebedee or James Bar-Zebedee.

St. Bartholomew holding his own flayed skin from Michelangelo's Cistine Chapel

Though we think of it as a somewhat outdated first name, Bartholomew is a partronymic name which means “Son of Ptolemy.”  Ptolemy was a popular Greek name made famous by one of the generals and successors of Alexander the Great.  The most commonly held belief regarding Bartholomew and Nathaniel is that the Apostle was named Nathaniel (a Hebrew name meaning “Gift of God”) and that his father was called Ptolemy.  That would have made his full name Nathaniel Bar-Tolemy, which has become today Nathaniel Bartholomew.

So, why would someone choose to be known by their father’s name rather than their own?  Sometimes it is for clarity’s sake.  Most of us have been at a family reunion and introduced ourselves as “Greg’s son” or “Joe’s grandson.”  We do this because the person we are meeting is really looking for a family connection more than just a name.  At those occasions, giving your last name might not be all that helpful.  The room could be full of people with that last name; it is a family reunion after all.  At other times, identifying yourself in terms of your father or mother is a sign of respect.  By referring to yourself in terms of your father, you acknowledge their prestige and your position in relation to them.

There is a lesson in this for fathers: your children will be known by what you do.  Before they ever really establish their own identity, they will be known as your child.  That legacy can either be a blessing to them based on your reputation and integrity or it can be a burden to them because of scandals and choices you have made.  Likewise, children, your actions carry over to the reputation of your fathers.  It is like your mother always said, “What you do and how you dress reflects on your father and me.”

But, more to the point, St. Paul tell us in his Epistle to the Ephesians that there is “One God and Father of all.”  (4:6)  We are all His sons and daughters and we are all called by His name.  As such, our actions reflect not only on our earthly parents, but on our Heavenly Father as well.  When we identify ourselves as Christians, we are claiming God as Our Father and, in doing so, we are putting His name before ours.  His name is great and glorious and can only bring us blessings and salvation.  What do our actions bring to His name?  How do we represent Our Father in Heaven?

Whether he is called Bartholomew or Nathaniel matters very little.  I prefer Nathaniel since it is my oldest son’s name.  Whatever name he went by, the Apostle brought honor to both his father on earth and his Father in Heaven.  He is reported to have spread the Gospel as far as Ethiopia and India.  According to tradition, he was martyred in Armenia, where he was flayed, skinned alive and crucified for upholding his Father’s name.

Almighty and everlasting God, who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your Word: Grant that your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

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The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

There is an old joke that asks, “Is there any proof in the Bible for the Assumption of Mary?”  The reply is, “Of course not, it’s the Assumption!”  Speaking frankly, the old joke is not far from the truth.  There is absolutely nothing conclusively persuasive in either the New Testament or the Old Testament which irrefutably show that the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken from the earth into Heaven.  Of course, there are a great many things in which we do believe that are not expressly stated in the Bible.

Prior to the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Church, all Christians believed that the Blessed Virgin Mary’s body had been taken up into Heaven.  The Eastern Orthodox refer to the event as the Dormition of the Theotokos (a term meaning, roughly, the “Mother of God”).  The word dormition is translated at the “falling asleep,” a phrase which St. Paul uses repeatedly to refer to one’s death (I Corinthians 15:6, 18, 20; I Thessalonians 4:20).  Over the centuries, Eastern Orthodox opinion as to whether her body was taken into Heaven immediately before or immediately after her death has changed repeatedly.  While there is not a definitive catechesis or Magisterium for the ethnically varied Orthodox Churches, most Orthodox Christians today believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary died and then was received up into Heaven.

On the other hand, most Roman-Catholic Christians today believe that moments before her death, perhaps even as she was exhaling her very last breath, the Lord prevented His beloved mother from ever truly tasting death and called her, body and soul, to be with Him in paradise.  This is ironic since, even though Roman-Catholics do have a definitive catechesis and Magisterium, their teachings are shockingly (and some say purposely) non-committal on the question of whether the Assumption took place before or after the Blessed Virgin Mary’s death.  On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII, invoking Papal Infallibility, in which he stated,

“We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

The document, Munificentissium Deus, declared the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be an infallible dogma of the Roman-Catholic Church.  Basically, in order to be a Roman-Catholic, you have to believe this dogma.  Failure to believe in the Assumption constitutes apostasy.   Thus, while Roman-Catholics have to believe that the body of the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken up into Heaven, the Pope never specified whether or not she had already died.  The document simply states, “having completed the course of her earthly life.”  Had she crossed the finish line or was she just at the end?

Some readers may have already said to themselves, “Who cares?  It’s not in the Bible!”  They are technically correct; however several other assumptions are in the Bible.  The patriarch Enoch was assumed into Heaven.  Enoch was the father of Methuselah, the oldest man in the Bible.  In the book Genesis, we hear that “Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters.  So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years.  And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” (5:22-24)  In a much more vivid and well-known story, the Prophet Elijah was taken up into Heaven in the miraculous chariot of fire.  (II Kings 2)  There is also a tradition mentioned in the Bible that says Moses was assumed into Heaven.  In the Epistle of St. Jude, we read, “Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (v. 9)  We know from Holy Scripture that Moses did, in fact, die (Deuteronomy 34:7) so St. Michael the Archangel and Satan must have contended for his body after his death.  Therefore, there is a precedent for the Lord taking people into Heaven both before and after their deaths.  Thus, there is Biblical precedent behind both the commonly held Roman-Catholic (pre-death) Assumption and the commonly held Eastern Orthodox (post-death) Dormition.

And still there are those who say “Who cares?  It’s still not in the Bible!”  They must have tremendous confidence in me or they would have quit reading long ago!  There is one very persuasive argument in favor of the Assumption, although it is, admittedly, not a Biblical proof.  There has never been anyone claiming to have a first class relic of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that is to say, no church, cathedral, monastery or basilica has ever claimed to possess any fragment of the bodily remains of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  To drive home the point:  NOBODY.  EVER.  It is inconceivable that no one has ever made such a claim.  Someone claims to have the head of St. John the Baptist.  Multiple churches, at one time or another, have claimed to have the foreskin from Our Lord’s circumcision.  Everything else ascended into Heaven.  Various churches claim to have the remains of each and every one of the Apostles.  If you were to name a classical saint, someone would raise a hand and declare their possession of that saint’s remains.  Whether you believe relics are worthy of veneration, respect, curiosity, or just deserve a decent burial is completely beside the point.  No one has ever claimed to have the remains of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Why?  Because, since the earliest days of Christianity, believers knew and were taught that upon her death, Our Lord took His blessed mother, body and soul, into Heaven.  Keep in mind, during the Middle Ages, churches charged admission to see Holy Relics and gave indulgences for seeing those relics.  Having a first-class relic of the Mother of God would have made any church a fortune, yet, still, none have ever claimed to have those remains.

Admittedly, there is no specific citation in the Bible that proves the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  There is also, of course, nothing against it either.  The Bible never specifies that any of the Apostles other that St. James the Brother of John actually died.  We do not believe they are still walking around today.  We assume they died because that makes sense.  In the Old Testament, there were three times when the Lord took someone body and soul into Heaven, both before they tasted death (Enoch and Elijah) and immediately afterwards (Moses).  The Lord took those three men who walked with Him, whom He called friends, through whom He performed incredible miracles into Heaven.  Would anyone say that Enoch knew the Lord better than His own mother?  Would anyone assert that Moses was a better friend to God than the Lord’s own mother?  Would anyone suggest that all of the miracles of Elijah put together compare to the miracle of the Incarnation?  With those questions in mind, why would anyone suggest that Our Lord would not take His own beloved mother into Heaven?

O God, who have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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St. Dominic: Setting the World on Fire

Saint Dominic is a personal hero of mine.  In fact, outside of the Biblical saints, St. Dominic ranks right up there with Saints Benedict and Francis as the greatest saints in the history of the world.  Maybe it is just me.  I also believe that the modern Church has a great deal to learn from St. Dominic.  Keeping some of these lessons short and sweet, I will arrange them around what St. Dominic referred to as the Four Pillars of Dominican Life and Spirituality: prayer, study, community, and mission.

St. Dominic knew that prayer was absolutely essential for the life of any Christian.  One of the earliest works of the Dominicans was a text called The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic.  Each friar was required to spend time in prayer with God privately.  They must regularly communicate with their Lord in order to have a relationship with Him.  In order to draw nourishment from the well, one must regularly go to the well.  Unlike the Jesuits of St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Dominic required that his friars prayed together corporately.  St. Dominic knew that Christianity is not an individual endeavor but a mass migration of people from exile to their heavenly home.  He knew that as much as individual prayer is vital to the life of each Christian, corporate prayer is vital to the life of each Christian community.  St. Dominic also desired that his friars partake of the Blessed Sacrament as much as possible.  Dominicans are required to take Holy Communion on Sundays and should participate in the Daily Mass where ever it is offered.  The sacramental prayers of the Holy Eucharist give Christians that sure and certain sign of the spiritual grace imparted through the Body and Blood of Jesus.  Nothing reminds of more of Christ’s sacrifice than recalling the events of the Last Supper, His death and resurrection and remembering that Jesus Christ, the second person in the Holy Trinity humbles Himself to take on the form of simple bread and simple wine so that we might eat of His Flesh and drink His Blood.  Finally, St. Dominic required that his friars regular partake of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  St. Dominic knew that we must frequently go before the Lord and confess how we have sinned and receive His forgiveness.  I would venture to say that the vast majority of churches in a America neglect at least one (if not more) of these four aspects of prayer.  To St. Dominic, all of them were vital and none could be neglected.

You might remember that the official name of the Jesuits is the Society of Jesus.  Likewise, the official name of the Dominicans is the Order of Preachers.  St. Dominic believed that the only way to overcome the heretics of his day, the Albigensians and Manicheans, was to effectively preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them.  In order to accomplish that, St. Dominic knew that his men would have to attain more than just a passing familiarity with the Scriptures.  He required his friars to spend hours studying the Holy Scriptures, commentaries and apologetic texts every day.  He did this in order than his friars might be able to confront the heretics of his day and triumph over them in the square of the public oratory.  Atheists and agnostics of our day are not ignorant ostriches who stick their head in the sand.  In some cases, they are more familiar with the Holy Scriptures than many Christians.  In order to convert them, we must not only show them the love of God and minister to them, we must show them, in their own language and using their own tools, how they are wrong.  That requires a great deal of study.  The battle is heavily slanted against us.  The mass media works against Christianity.  That matters little, however, since we have the truth on our side.  Nevertheless, we must study and train to show ourselves approved in the days of the verbal battles.

The third pillar of Dominican Spirituality is community.  In the twenty-first century our individualism has been taken to the extreme.  We now hold such ridiculous concepts as individual truths!  There are those who actually assert that what is true for one person may not be truth for another.  While recognizing that each Christian needs to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, St. Dominic knew the importance of working together in community.  His friars lived together in their houses and shared all of the labor between them.  They lived together and worked together and they struggled together—sometimes because of each other.  In their perseverance, they grew in the knowledge and love of God and of His Son Jesus Christ.  We must come to think of our parishes as our families, people with whom we are stuck by God’s grace.  All too often someone takes offense at a pastor’s message, whether that message is valid or not, and someone leaves.  The local parish is our family and our community.  We would do well to begin treating them as such instead of as a nice social club.

The final pillar of Dominican spirituality varies depending on which source on reads.  In some cases, it is mission; in another it is preaching; in a third it is apostolate.  For the Dominican it is all the same.  The word “apostolate” means that group of people to which you are sent.  Their mission, as the Order of Preachers, has always been to preach the Gospel.  Mission, preaching, and apostolate are all tied up in one for the Dominicans.  Our modern churches would do well to meditate and seek the Lord on the specific mission of each local parish.  As each individual parish differs, so do those in need surrounding those parishes.  A rural parish probably does not need to put a lot of energy into inner city renewal.  To what ministry is your particular parish called?  We cannot do everything?  What is your apostolate?  What is your mission?  How will you preach the Gospel to those around you?  Specific goals are far easier to meet then grand schemes.

One of the symbols of the Order of Preachers is a hound carrying a burning torch in his mouth.  The legend goes that St. Dominic’s mother had a vision while she was pregnant.  The Lord showed her that her son would be this hound who ran about the world barking and who set the world on fire as he ran.  May we, like St. Dominic, set those around us on fire where ever we may go.

Almighty God, whose servant Dominic grew in knowledge of your truth and formed an order of preachers to proclaim the good news of Christ: Give to all your people a hunger for your Word and an urgent longing to share the Gospel, that the whole world may come to know you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

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