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.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Discussion Questions for Living the Mysteries
These questions are provided for the use of those who reading the book recommended on Catholic Ragemonkey. They are free for re-production for those using this book in group discussion.

Discussion Questions #1
1. Name one thing you learned about the Sacraments in general from this week’s reading.
2. Discuss how the Church Fathers used the Old Testament to explain various aspects of the Sacred Mysteries.
3. Using specific information from the reading, demonstrate how you could more effectively explain the role of tradition in the life of the Church.
4. Based upon your reading, which element of the Sacramental Mysteries is most important to the Church Fathers?
5. Given what is said about the commonness of the signs used in the sacraments, explain what effect that might have on a Christian’s identity and self-perception.
6. When the Church Fathers speak of "change," do they perceive change as a positive or negative reality?

Discussion Questions #2
1. List the effects of Baptism and Confirmation according to St. Cyril. Be sure to show where you found your answer.
2. Describe how the ancient practices surrounding Baptism and Confirmation are similar and dissimilar to what the Church does today.
3. Interpret what the rituals and details of the sacrament of Baptism communicate about the human person.
4. Discuss the paradoxical nature of Baptism as it is understood by St. Cyril.
5. Using the readings, name some practical ways to live out the promises of your baptism.
6. Does the location of St. Cyril’s preaching of these instructions enhance the points he is making?

Discussion Questions #3
1. In your own words, define the concept of ‘illumination’ as understood by St. Clement of Alexandria.
2. Describe the effects that come from illumination.
3. St. Clement uses several strong analogies for the process and work of illumination. Interpret
why these images are particularly fitting for the topic of illumination.
4. Distinguish between the various causes for man’s illumination. Why is it important to make these distinctions?
5. Since all Christians are illuminated through Grace and Faith, compose a daily schedule for yourself that better reflects your illuminated nature. What must go into that regime?
6. When St. Clement discusses the Holy Eucharist, which images employed were most obvious to you? Which images were most moving for you?

Discussion Questions #4
1. According to St. Ambrose, what is the Holy Eucharist? (Be careful; this one is a loaded question.)
2. Discuss how reception of Holy Communion immerses us in the fullness of salvation history.
3. What petition of the Our Father is underlined in the preaching of St. Ambrose on the Holy Eucharist? What changes in your personal life might this create?
4. Do you see a pattern in the evidence St. Ambrose marshals for the reality of the Holy Eucharist, i.e. the Holy Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ? What is that pattern? Why is it relevant?
5. Using elements from St. Ambrose’s homilies, explain how the Church can describe the Holy Mass as "Heaven on Earth."
6. In one of the readings St. Ambrose uses especially strong, if not erotic language, to describe the act of receiving Holy Communion. Did you find that strange? Why or Why Not? How can he use such language to describe this holy gift?

Discussion Questions #5
1. List the characteristics of the Church as St. Augustine presents them in the given selections.
2. What one characteristic of the Church most influence and shapes St. Augustine’s thought concerning the Church?
3. Given the various images and types St. Augustine uses to describe the nature and operation of the Church, do these images and types help you to have a more dynamic life in the Church? How so?
4. What unforeseen consequence arises from our union with the Church and our reception of the Holy Eucharist? (Hint: While I have one specific idea in mind, it doesn’t exclude other possible answers.)
5. Could one call the Church a sacrament? What aspects of St. Augustine’s teaching would support this?
6. Could you relate St. Augustine’s teaching on the Church to your own experience as a Catholic? What might one do to bring a deeper richness to one’s lived experience of the Church as a Catholic?

Discussion Questions #6
1. According to St. John Chrysostom, to which three theological mysteries does the Sacrament of Matrimony refer?
2. Contrast the common understanding and perception of celibacy with that of St. John. How are they different? How are they the same?
3. Using the commentary provided in the reading, illustrate how the Christian married couple is called to live. Give specific examples.
4. Of the three goods of marriage – faithfulness, permanence, and fruitfulness – which one would St. John say permits marriage to be a symbol of the Holy Trinity?
5. Taking into consideration what St. John Chrysostom said on the subject of priesthood, marriage, and celibacy, could a renewal of married life result in an increased response to the vocation of priesthood and religious life? How? Why?
6. If you were St. John, summarize how he might suggest strengthening your marriage, if you are already married, or how one might go about finding a spouse, if you aren’t married.

Discussion Questions #7
1. Which events of our Lord’s life give a hint of our final destiny and by what means do we encounter and participate in this destiny?
2. Discuss how, in the thought of St. Leo, glorification achieved by Christ corrects the Fall.
3. How can St. Leo the Great’s discussion of glory correct the Protestant notion of "Salvation by Faith Alone?"
4. What relationship does the virtue of hope have with the reality of God’ glory? Which vices related to the virtue of hope does this allow us to correct?
5. Are the mysteries of the Faith mere metaphors? Why or why not?
6. Why can the topic of glorification be both a fitting conclusion to our study and a fitting resumption of our spiritual journey?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Dear Father Tharp,
I was recently discussing cremation with my mother who is not Catholic and she asked me what the Church’s teaching is on cremation. I looked in the Catechism for direction, but I was not able to locate information regarding the specific question we were hoping to find answered. What does the Church teach about cremation and spreading of ashes? Thank you for any information you may direct my way.
Tami Young, Edmond, OK

Perhaps we need to make a small distinction here at the outset, to avoid any possible confusion. The Church proposes various matters of doctrine which she, through the act of Revelation and the work of the Magisterium, professes as part and parcel of her being the Bride of Christ. These teachings have necessary, practical consequences in the lives of Christians. They result in various outward expressions or practices that constitute the outward expression of one’s own professed Faith. The key distinction rests on the fact that the Church’s doctrines do not change, but her practices often do and must in order to address new issues that confront the Church as she proceeds through history. Hence, in your question, you have both realities competing for space. On the one hand, we need to understand what the Church teaches about the nature of the human body and the nature of death. Only after that can we point to what practices are acceptable when disposing of someone’s mortal remains.

The Church teaches that the body is a constitutive element of being human. Unlike much of the pagan, pre-Christian philosophy which treated the body, and all things material, as a prison for the spirit, the Church recognized that man is a unified or composite being, a being of body (material) and soul (spiritual). It is through the body that we make the reality of our personhood known and experienced. It is with human hands, human language, and human gestures that the greatest and most noble expressions of our humanity come to light. When we combine this natural notion of the body with the reality of the Incarnation, a greater light dawns. Man, body and soul, participates in the very life of God by virtue of the Lord’s coming and assuming to Himself a human nature.

Because of Original Sin, death entered the world. For the Church, death is the soul separating from the body. This is significant as it is the soul’s power as the animating and personal principle which allowed the body, in life, to be more than a bag of bones. The mortal remains signal the truth that the one we knew and loved, the real person we had encountered, is gone. With that said, it doesn’t mean that the body suddenly loses its meaning. Instead, we are called to respect the mortal remains of the deceased precisely because they were so integral with the person in question. At the same time, though, we know that death is not the end. Rather, we wait to rise as Christ rose from the dead, in a real body like the one we possessed before, albeit glorified, again as our Lord’s own body was glorified in the Resurrection.

In practice, then, when disposing of someone’s mortal remains after death, nothing can be done which would suggest either a denial of the Resurrection or a disrespectful attitude toward the body (CCC #2301; Code of Canon Law c. 1176, §3). Hence, for many years, cremation was not permitted. In recent times, especially in many countries where scarcity of available land restricts the building of new cemeteries or where infectious disease remain a problem, the Church has seen fit to permit cremation under the circumstances mentioned above, i.e. that the cremation is not being performed in order to disrespect the body or deny the bodily Resurrection of the dead. Generally speaking, it is preferred that cremation take place after the funeral liturgy so that the body may be present (GIOCF #418).

It should then come as no surprise that while the body may be cremated, the ashes cannot be scattered as though they were of no consequence (CCC #2300). Regardless of its condition, those ashes are still the mortal remains of a person for whom Christ died and who, in their body, made evident their being created in God’s image and likeness. As the General Instruction for the Order of Christian funerals clearly states: “The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in thehome of a relative or friend of the deceased are not reverent disposition that the Church requires” (GIOCF #417). The urn containing the ashes should be interred either in a mausoleum or grave. The ashes may also be buried at sea, so long as the urn is sealed and the body deposited intact.