Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Year of the Holy Eucharist

Familiarity breeds something more insidious than contempt. Familiarity breeds indifference. Like a well-worn pair of shoes, we don’t think much of them, until the day comes along that they have to be replaced. Then we start all over trying to get those shoes into shape.

Unfortunately, our life of Faith falls into a similar rut. We become accustomed to the elements of the Faith that we take them for granted. We treat the great Mystery of our Faith with indifference. Like those disciples on the Road to Emmaus, we must come to our senses, re-embracing, saying a fresh "yes" to the truths we have learned (II Timothy 3:14-15). Our Holy Father has provided us with just such an opportunity this year.

From this October to October 2005, the Holy Father has declared a Holy Year in honor of the Holy Eucharist. In his Apostolic Letter, Mane Nobiscum Domine (MND), the Holy Father calls each of the faithful, laity and clergy alike, to rediscover a more profound wonder in the light of the Eucharist (MND 2). "In [the Holy Eucharist, Christ] is received in person as the "living bread come down from heaven" (John 6:51), and with him we receive the pledge of eternal life and foretaste of the eternal banquet of the Heavenly Jerusalem" (MND 3).

Some readers may wonder why I am covering this event in my column. On a practical front, the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist is one of the first topics the novice apologist must master. On the spiritual level, the Holy Eucharist should serve as our apologetics motivator. The Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian faith (CCC 1324). The unity and completeness of Christian Faith that the Eucharist both brings and effects motivates our desire to clear the obstacles for others to come to fullness of Faith in the Catholic Church. Until all Christians share the common faith and the common life of worship, the prayer of our Savior, that all who believe in him may be one, remains unfulfilled (John 17:20-23).

At the heart of this Holy Year stands a personal commitment. Certainly the Holy Father expects local pastors and bishops to find ways, appropriate to particular situations, to observe this special time in the Church. With that said, this doesn’t exclude the personal response of every Catholic. As the Holy Father notes, "…I am confident that the People of God, at every level, will welcome my proposal with enthusiasm and fervent love" (MND 5). Everyone should ask themselves and set a goal for what they are going to do to respond to this opportunity, not expecting parish programming to do everything for them. Here are a few basic suggestions.
If you want more information, you could spend time reading the appropriate sections of the Catechism or studying the Pope’s most recent encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia. If you want to grow in your relationship with Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament, spending time before the Blessed Sacrament, speaking with him in the intimacy of your soul, is quite effective. It doesn’t matter if the Blessed Sacrament is in the tabernacle or exposed in a monstrance. He is there and longs for your presence. Perhaps, your participation in the Holy Mass leaves something to be desired. Now would be a time to become more aware of the Sacrificial nature of the Holy Mass. Prepare yourself through reflection upon the Scripture readings used at Mass and more frequent confession. If we are seeking freedom from the slavery of sin, we are more free to give ourselves to God through the worship of the Holy Mass.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, each day, spent one hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. He called it his "Hour of Power." He found the strength to serve the Church through this time, growing in love for the Lord. What’s most important is don’t let this chance past you by. Find a way to renew yourself in the Love that flows undiluted from the Heart of Christ, hidden under the appearances of bread and wine, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Limbo is not a Caribbean Dance

Limbo is a classic bugbear of apologetics. Usually, if you encounter a non-Catholic who makes the claim that the Church changes her teachings, limbo is one of the matters that comes up. The reason for this is simple. For most non-Catholics, there is a profound confusion about the relationship between an individual theologian opinion on a matter of the Faith and the definitive teaching of the Church which comes to us through the Magisterium. The Magisterium’s task is to protect and to clarify the Deposit of Faith in its content and expression. The Magisterium effects this protection and clarification either, extraordinarily, through ecumenical councils and ex cathedra teachings of the Popes or ordinarily, when they confirm that which has been taught previously in accord with the over all history of the Church. The theologian’s task rests upon drawing new conclusions or unpacking what is present in the Church’s official teaching.

Limbo falls into the category of a theological opinion. There is no evidence that limbo was ever taught officially by the Church, either through extraordinary or ordinary means. The idea of limbo comes from a convergence of two apparently contradictory notions. First, we believe that Original Sin separates us from God and that through the sacrament of Baptism, we are freed from this condition. Second, we know that, sometimes, infants and many others, who through no fault of their own, fail to receive Baptism and therefore die in the state of Original Sin. Therefore, it seems unmerciful to claim that the infant would go to Hell, even though that is the logical conclusion of the propositions of the Faith given. At the same time, it would violate justice if somehow this objective fault of the Fall were not dealt with. What are we to conclude?

The solution was to speculate that there was a place for those who die in Original Sin without baptism and without fault. Limbo was proposed, at least by St. Thomas Aquinas, as a state of natural happiness, excluded both from the punishment of Hell and the Beatific Vision of God in Heaven. If I remember correctly, limbo also makes an appearance in Dante’s Divine Comedy as the place where the "good pagans" from the time before Christ rest until the Resurrection of the Dead. Without being glib, I often say that limbo is a sophisticated way of saying "We aren’t exactly sure what happens to one who dies without receiving Baptism."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church treats the subject in this fashion: "As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God.... Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children...allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism" (CCC #1261). In my personal opinion, this is a much better way of thinking this matter through, because it requires to return to the fundamentals of Faith and to practice one of the theological virtues, the virtue of Hope. This doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t strive to tend to their children’s baptisms as soon as possible. It simply reminds that God is not bound to act only within the sacramental system He has given to His Church. In this month dedicated to the Faithful Departed, let us renew ourselves in praying for those who have gone before us, marked with the signs of Faith, held aloft on the mercy and justice of God.