Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Catholic But Not Roman

Mary and Child - Icon
I am guessing that as you read the title of this post you thought that I meant Christians of other traditions like Protestants or the Orthodox. However, I am merely speaking of Catholics who are not Roman – Catholics who do not belong to the Roman Rite. I haven’t conducted a survey but I am probably right in saying that the vast majority of Catholics in the West are not aware of the fact that there are six major rites in the Catholic church that are broken down further depending on the areas of the world in which they are found: Roman, Alexandrian, Antiochian, Armenian, Chaldean, and Byzantine. Catholics belonging to any of these rites are equally Catholic. 

A few years ago I happened to interview a Hindu priest who explained to me the difference between Hinduism and (what he called) “western religions.” Over the years, I have meditated quite a lot on this priest’s comments. I find them to be at once enlightening and disturbing. Is Christianity - is Catholicism - a western religion? 

While the Roman Rite is the largest rite in the Catholic Church, I believe that those of us who live in the West must not forget about the other rites, some of which exist in countries of the world like Iraq in which churches are bombed and Christians are tortured for their faith. The word “catholic” means universal – not just Western. There is always a tendency for people to divide up the globe and assign different religions to different parts of the world, but Christ has called all people, not just those in the West. When we fail to recognize the rites in the East we send a message to non-Christians that Christianity is a Western religion and thus not appropriate for the East. But, as the great Episcopalian hymn proclaims, “In Christ there is no East or West,/ In Him no South or North;/But one great fellowship of love/Throughout the whole wide earth.” After all, the first Christians lived in Jerusalem, a city of the near east.

The Second Vatican Council is responsible for many reforms in the Catholic Church, but one reform that is often overlooked in the West dealt with the relationship between the West and the East, not just between Catholics and the Orthodox but between Roman and Eastern Rite Catholics. Many non-Catholic Christians find Saint Cyprian’s statement  “Outside the Church there is no salvation” (Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus) to be quite offensive when referring only to the Catholic Church as the one True Church in which all must belong to be saved. But, the old interpretation of this statement was even more offensive. Often, Catholics were taught that outside of the Roman Church there was no salvation. In other words, Catholics who did not belong to the Roman Rite were either completely ignored or else were considered inferior Catholics. During the council, the Melchite Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh spoke on behalf of all Eastern Catholics, reminding Rome that while he was Catholic he was not Roman. Participating in a council where all the prelates spoke Latin, the Melchite Patriarch,however, spoke French.  Latin is not the language of the Catholic Church but the language of the Roman Rite. The patriarch wanted the Church to recognize the East because the Orthodox would never consider unity with Catholics if they had to become Roman. Largely because of Maximos IV, today there are even Eastern rite Cardinals in the Church. 

It may surprise you (at least it surprises me) that there have been Eastern rite popes in the past. But for so many centuries this has not been the case. Is it possible, though, to have an Eastern rite pope today? After all, the pope is also the Bishop of Rome. What does that mean for the East? I have only started learning recently about the Eastern rites. Does anyone know whether an Eastern rite Catholic could be pope? If the pope has to be the Bishop of Rome as well, would an Eastern pope be allowed to celebrate mass in his own rite or would he have to celebrate mass in the Latin rite? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Jesus We Know and the Jesus We Do Not Know… (yet)

It is always nice to take walks in a large city. There are many people to see. Apart from getting fashion ideas from my promenades, I come face-to-face with reality. As a man walks by me, I notice how ordinary he looks. Dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt, he is just another man. Later, as I’m eating lunch at a cafe, I notice that the same man is standing in line to buy a salad. Nothing fancy. As I get up to leave, I notice that he has a few friends with him. They are all sitting round a table, eating and talking about this, that, and the other. I am certainly not eaves-dropping or spying, so I walk past with only a quick glance. Later, I will forget them altogether. Especially, the man in jeans whom I’d seen twice that day. I forget him after a few hours. And if he was the King, I certainly wouldn’t have known it from his physical appearance.

2,000 years ago, an ordinary man walked the Earth.
This man “Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
 something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
 and found human in appearance,
 he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Thus, when the disciples met Jesus by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, they did not see a man surrounded by glory with a halo on his head but an ordinary man, not even a Temple Elder. “Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him.” (Matthew 13:55-57a). But surely he did miracles. There was no question of his identity then. Right?

I will continue to maintain that miracles can only be seen through the eyes of faith. At most, miracles can convince someone “on the fence”, but those who do not want to believe won’t believe. So, how do we know that this ordinary carpenter’s son is God? If we do not know from any external evidence then how can we know? We know Jesus was and is God because He said so. It is natural to question this claim. How do we know that this man is who he claims to be? The answer is not logical and does not use reason. The answer is faith. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It is only faith that proves to us that this man who will eventually be crucified for treason is God. This faith, Paul admits, is “a stumbling to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23b). There were many false prophets prior to Jesus. In our time, there have been many false prophets as well.

It is on the cross that we come to know God face-to-face because only God would accept the cross. All other false prophets would recant if faced with the cross. However, I must admit that I never cease to be awed by the disciples who believed in Jesus even when their Master was living - who believed just because He said He was the One Israel was seeking. Like the man in the blue jeans and tee-shirt who I hypothetically encountered, Jesus was an ordinary man with an extraordinary claim. In Israel, everyone had their own view of who the Messiah was supposed to be, and many overlooked the ordinary Rabbi whose only weapon was Love. While theologians have created and continue to create logical explanations for the existence of God or the divinity of Jesus, we are continually reminded of the fact that the disciples were not Biblical scholars. They did not receive a doctorate in philosophy. We worship a God who spoke and the world was created. One of the most powerful lines in the entire Bible is Genesis 1:3 in which the author writes, “Then God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.” Whether the world was created in a few thousand years or over 3.5 billion years, you can be sure that it was God who willed it. Jesus in the New Testament is the Word incarnate. Whatever Christ says is the Truth whether or not it makes logical sense. What do you read in the Gospels that you cannot logically accept? Do you believe that Jesus is the Word? For me, it helps to say to Christ, “I believe because You said so.”

Christ too recognizes the fact that faith is an illogical leap. “And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me” (Luke 7:23). Let us not forget all the martyrs of the early Church and all those who die today for their faith. Most of Jesus’ disciples were killed for following Christ so how were they blessed? Once again, the blessing is not necessarily something we can see but something we believe in through faith. We believe that because Jesus was who He said He was, He had the power to die for the sins of the world. We believe that because Jesus was who He said He was, we too will experience the Resurrection. After all, because we believe Christ, we believe in His Resurrection. The Resurrection is only seen through the eyes of those who already believe in Him. The blessing is not necessarily health, wealth, and earthly happiness but everlasting life with God. “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). All these things Jesus promised his disciples so long ago, even while he was walking the Earth and looked like an ordinary human. If we do not know the human Jesus then we cannot know or recognize the glorified Jesus when he comes again.

It is true that Jesus will come again. But the proof of Christ’s divinity is found in faith. The glorified Jesus we do not know yet, but the human Jesus we do. And this human Jesus who was at once God and man – this Jesus was the fullness of God. In the meantime, there is much that we need to do to help Christ accomplish what He wants to accomplish on Earth. Even if Jesus does not return in your life time or even in the next 2,000 years, Jesus’ words are enough. For, it is in His words that we find the fullness of life. I believe, Lord, because You said so.  Because of faith, I know that my sins can be forgiven and that death does not have the last word. Because of faith, I know that there is hope even in seemingly hopeless situations.

As Blessed John Paul II once said, "Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song."

Recommended Reading: Training in Christianity by Søren Kierkegaard

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The King James Bible Celebrates 400th Anniversary

Below is an article on the King James Bible. It is arguably the most influential book in the English language, a book that even includes iambic pentameter (the meter used by Shakespeare). I must admit that I do not own a copy of the King James Bible but recently I have been reading some of it online. There is nothing like hearing a man with an English accent read from the King James.

Ye olde Bible hailed as Shakespeare's rival

By Michael Collett
Updated Fri May 6, 2011 9:33am AEST 

When King James I of England published his authorised translation of the Bible 400 years ago, his aim was to establish control of the church and so cement his rule.
But while his reign itself no longer excites popular interest, his namesake lives on, credited with democratising religion and rivalling Shakespeare's influence on the English language.
This month marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Version's publication and an exhibition in tribute, The Book That Changed The World, opens today at Parliament House in Canberra.
On display are an original King James Bible from 1611 and an even earlier translation with Shakespeare's notes in the margin, as well as Australian relics including a Bible that belonged to Governor Lachlan Macquarie and others that were taken to war.

While the King James Version is instantly recognisable for its use of anachronisms like 'loveth', 'prayeth' and 'believeth' - simply add '-eth' - literary critic Peter Craven says it still dominates the most basic of everyday speech.
"It's the greatest influence on prose in the English language and together with Shakespeare it's the most influential of all texts," he said.
"It influences Mark Twain, Hemingway... It's hard to write English without being influenced by the King James Bible."

Grandeur and poetry

Among the translation's seemingly unlikely champions: high-profile atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who have both used its anniversary to recognise its momentous literary impact.
"It's important to people who are at some remove from religious belief but who understand the grandeur and the poetry of that vision," Craven said.
As well as helping to formalise English, the King James Bible is credited as responsible for dozens of popular phrases including 'The love of money is the root of all evil', 'How are the mighty fallen' and 'All is vanity'.
Craven says he regrets the current direction of Bible translations, which remove the poetry and replace it with simplified modern language.
He cites the Lord's Prayer and the transformation of "Hallowed be thy name" into "Your name is holy" as an example of meaning being lost in simplicity.
Craven says another high-profile example of this could be seen at the wedding ceremony of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, during the Bible reading given by Catherine's brother James.
"He talked about their love being genuine," he said.
"I think what the King James Bible would have said is 'true' rather than 'genuine'. It strikes me that true is a richer word."

Language of the people

But Rev Dr John Harris, who is curating the Bible Society's exhibition, says modern translations are actually keeping to the King James Version translator's intention to be "understanded by the people".
"It's a marvellous scripture and a marvellous piece of English literature and I greatly admire and respect and love it," he said.
"But if the King James Version's translators were alive today, they would wish that they could translate into today's language."
Fifty-two English scholars worked on the Authorised Version - with the King himself thought to have translated some of the Psalms - and it was published after seven years of labour.
Rev Dr Harris says the King James Bible was designed to give the commoner as much access to the Word of God as the Pope and clergy, making it a revolutionary political symbol as well as a religious one.
"It arrived at a time when England was reaching its colonial supremacy... and it became the Bible of Protestant England and therefore the Bible of the Protestant English-speaking world," he said.
Rev Dr Harris, a historian and theologian, has himself overseen translations of the Bible into Aboriginal and Pacific languages.
He notes that not all modern translations have been able to replicate the literary power of the King James Version.

The Book That Changed The World, which has already been to Adelaide, will be at Parliament House until June 28 and is making its way around Australia until early 2012.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Wonderful Prayer

But unto Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, will we pray that Thou wilt draw us entirely unto Thyself. Whether our life shall be passed calmly in a cottage by the tranquil lake, or we shall be tried by conflict with life’s storms upon the troubled ocean; whether we shall “make it a point of honor” (1 Thes 4:11), or shall struggle in abasement, do Thou draw us, and draw us entirely, unto Thyself. If only Thou wilt draw us, then indeed all is won, even though, humanly speaking, we were to win nothing; and nothing is lost, even though, humanly speaking, we were to lose everything  - then this or the other condition of life would be our true life; for thou dost draw none to an unworthy distance from dangers, but neither dost Thou draw any into foolhardy adventure.

We pray for all. The tender infant whom the parents bring to Thee that Thou mayest draw him unto Thyself. And if at a later time the parents exert such an influence upon the child that it is led to thee, bless, we pray Thee, this work of theirs. But if their influence is disturbing to the child, we pray Thee that Thou wilt make good their deficiency, so that this disturbance may not draw the child away from Thee, and that Thou wilt let this also serve to draw the child to Thee. Thou who didst call Thyself “the way” hast more ways than there are stars in heaven, ways everywhere, ways which lead to “the way.” We pray for them that have renewed at confirmation the covenant made with Thee in baptism which we all have made, which most of us also have renewed, which most of us also have broken – yet not all, for we pray also for them that, in a way different from the infant, stand at the entrance of life, after having renewed their baptismal covenant. We pray that Thou wilt drawn them unto Thyself. O Thou that dost not only accept vows and keep promises, but dost aid the poor man to keep his vows to Thee, draw them unto Thyself by the “vow” and if that is broken, do Thou draw them again and again unto Thyself by vows again and again renewed. We pray for them that have experienced that which in an earthly sense is the most beautiful meaning of this earthly life, for them that in love have found one another. We pray for the lovers, that they may not promise one another more than they can perform, and, even if they could perform it, that they may not promise one another too much in love, lest this love of their might become a barrier to hinder Thee from drawing them unto Thyself, but that far rather it may assist to this end. [We pray for the husband and wife, that their undertakings, if they be so situated in life, or their busy activity, or their toilsome labor, may not cause them to be unmindful of Thee, but that in their undertaking, in their activity, in their labor, they may feel themselves more and more drawn unto Thee]. We pray for the aged at the brink of the grave, that Thou wilt draw them unto Thyself. We pray for all, for him who at this instant first hails the light of day, that the meaning of his life may be that he is drawn unto Thee; and we pray for the dying, for him who has much and many to hold him back, and for him who has nothing and nobody that cares – we pray that it may have been the meaning of his life to be drawn unto Thee.

We pray for the happy and the fortunate who for every joy know not whither they are bent, that Thou wilt draw them unto Thyself and let them learn that it is thither they should go. We pray for the sufferers who in their wretchedness know not whither to turn, that Thou wilt draw them unto Thyself – that both the fortunate ones and the sufferers, however unlike their lot in life, may in one thing be alike, that they know nowhere else to go but to Thee. We pray for them that are in need of conversion, that Thou wilt draw them unto Thee, from the way of perdition into the way of truth. For them that have turned unto Thee and found the way, we pray that thy may make progress in the way, drawn by Thee. And since, truth being the way, there are three ways of going wrong: by losing the way, by stumbling in the way, by deviating from the way – we pray that Thou wilt draw the erring unto Thee from the wrong way, support the stumbling, and bring back the bewildered to the way.

Thus we pray for all. Yet no one is able to mention every individual. And who, indeed, can mention even all the various classes of men? So in conclusion we mention only one class, we pray for them that are the ministers of Thy Word, whose work it is, so far as a man is able, to draw men unto Thee. We pray that Thou wilt bless their work, but that at the same time they themselves in this work of theirs may be drawn unto Thee, that by their zeal to draw others unto Thee they themselves may not be held back from Thee. And we pray for the simple Christians, that, being themselves drawn unto Thee, they may not think poorly of themselves, as though it were not granted also unto them to draw others unto Thee, insofar as a man is able.

Insofar as a man is able – for Thou alone art able to draw unto Thyself, though Thou canst employ all means and all men to draw all unto Thyself. 

~Søren Kierkegaard in Training in Christianity

Friday, May 6, 2011


As you probably all know, the first woman mentioned in the Bible is Eve who incidentally is not called Eve until after the fall.  In the beginning, Eve is just called "the woman." In fact, as I flip through my copy of the New American Bible I am surprised to discover that the first time the man is called Adam is Genesis 4:25. What does Adam mean? Here is the link to an interesting article written by a Rabbi on the meaning of Adam's name: The Meaning of "Adam":Insights into the Hebrew Language.

God creates the woman for the man because "it is not good for the man to be alone" (2:18a). From the beginning, we see that God intends man and woman to be together, complementing each other. It is possible that God is not speaking here only about marriage although he certainly is speaking of that as well. It is possible that God is speaking of life in general. Modern science has proven that men and women think differently. In male dominated nations like China where women are aborted, there are great deficiencies. The same is true in male dominated corporations. Men by themselves are in a handicap. As I write this post on a woman, I find that it is impossible to speak solely on Eve. Humanity only begins when the man and the woman are together. Adam alone is lost. Eve is not just important because of the Fall (after all Adam ate the fruit as well) but because she is the "mother of all the living" (3:20). It is because of the fact that she is the mother of all the living that the Fall is so significant. Eve's choice affects the rest of the world, eternally. What a powerful role it is then to be a mother!