Catechetics

The always excellent Monsignor Charles Pope is calling for a back to basics catechesis. This is a topic naturally dear to my heart and as usual, he nails it. “It became clear to me in that moment that we could no longer do business as usual when it came to catechesis,” he writes.

[W]e have to go back to basics and tell the “old, old stories” again of mankind lost in sin, living in the dark shadows of death and ensnared in the mystery [of] iniquity. Yes, It was time to re-read the Genesis account of Original Sin and all the old stories.

He goes on to describe the program in his parish, in which all grades are taught from the same Bible text each week, with parents in their own group going over the same material. He describes his own approach, based on the three pillars: Sin, Redemption and Grace, but what strikes me is the weight he assigns to Bible stories:

Bible Stories are both memorable, and teach fundamental truths in ways that reach deeper than merely the intellect. They touch the heart and draw the children into the world and mind of God.

When I first started working in the classroom, my job was to take the Gospel for that particular Sunday. After reading it to the class I opened the floor for discussion, guiding the students to relate Christ’s teaching to their lives.

This year in my parish we are starting a lectionary-based curriculum. Each week takes the Gospel (or occasionally an Epistle or Old Testament reading), which we will explore in detail, tying it into specific Church teachings. Children in the same family will be on the same page, so to speak, so families can pick up the theme together if they wish.

Such an approach carries a risk. This is not a systematic ticking off of the CCC point by point, and some critics have described it as hit-or-miss. I have criticized “content-free” catechesis myself, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Before the upheavals of the 1970s, a teacher could count on the children growing up in an environment where the Gospel was part of the fabric of daily life, and going through the questions in the catechism book simply added some intellectual rigor to what the child lived in his family and in the parish. Today, we cannot count on any of this, and catechists have to be evangelists as well. The times may well call for some good old fashioned kerygma.

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Sundæ Sermon Notes: 22nd Sunday (OT)

The humble man uses his strengths to serve God while understanding and accepting his limitations. The humble man depends on God and trusts him rather than his own powers.

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Sundæ Sermon Notes: 20th Sunday (OT)

The transitional deacon spoke today at his last Mass before leaving for Rome to finish his priestly formation. He linked all three readings to the theme of martyrdom. He said the virtue of charity is a sharing in the love of God. Love means to empty oneself for the good of another and Jesus did this perfectly. Human love is limited, but divine love is not limited. God transforms our finite charity to conform to his infinite charity. He also mentioned the example of St Lawrence, the deacon martyr.

He asked whether we loved early things so much that we are willing to forgo heavenly things, and he asked this of himself.

Personal note: Some people don’t like to hear a priest or deacon admit his own struggles. These are the folks who were scandalized when Pope Francis, in his first appearance as Pope, asked for the people’s prayers. I don’t think it diminishes the special nature of the ordained priesthood for a priest to view himself as a brother to parishioners. A priest is not a plaster saint to be put on a pedestal, after all.

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Sundæ Sermon Notes: 19th Sunday (OT) / Clare of Assisi

The permanent deacon made reference to the recent Powerball excitement and contrasted the remote chance of hitting the lottery with the much more certain chance of gaining the Kingdom of Heaven by faith in action. He stressed the need for daily prayer, worship in the Sacred Liturgy and the works of mercy. He then addressed St Paul’s definition of faith and admitted that it is easier to believe in what is tangible as opposed to the intangible things of God. He suggested we pray for the gift of faith.

Suitably enough, I recognized two people in the congregation today who are named Clare.

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Litany of Humility

humilitasSomething I found in a prayer book at Adoration this morning.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…
Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val

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Sundæ Sermon Notes: 18th Sunday (OT)

A new Associate Pastor, a native of Nigeria, said his first Masses this weekend.

He began by reminding us that there is a common thread running through the three readings. It is refreshing to hear a homilist who not only recognizes the unity of Holy Scripture, but also the coherence of the Lectionary. His themes, about the use and abuse of wealth, were unsurprising given the readings, but one thing he repeated stood out: God will demand an account of the gifts he has given us.

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Find hex

FindXHereItIs

The good Christian should beware of mathematicians, and all those who make empty prophecies. The danger already exists that the mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of Hell –St Augustine, De Genesi ad Litteram, Book II, xviii, 37

See, the Catholic Church is against science! Well maybe not. Julian Havil in his excellent book Gamma: Exploring Euler’s Constant offers a helpful gloss: “here, ‘mathematician’ means ‘astrologer'”.

So WDTTRS (what did the theologian really say)?

It doesn’t take much thought to see here that Augustine does not use the word mathematician in its modern sense. Mathematicians today don’t make prophecies. They might work out some arcane things, such as the gamma-filtration of oriented cohomology of complete spin-flags (no, I don’t know what that is, either) but it is all very rational and logical, and to someone who loves the field, such things hardly darken the spirit.

In a sound-bite age, it’s hard to take the time to look at something in context, but I’m going to do it anyway. Here’s the whole thing, with my emphasis:

Hence, we must admit that when astrologers speak the truth, they are speaking by a mysterious instinct that moves a man’s mind without his knowing it. When this happens for the purpose of deceiving men, it is the work of evil spirits. To these spirits some knowledge of the truth about the temporal order has been granted, partly by reason of their keen and subtle senses, since they possess bodies of a much more subtle nature than ours, partly because of their shrewdness due to the experience they have had over the long ages they have lived, partly because the good angels reveal to them what they themselves have learnt from Almighty God, at the command of Him who distributes man’s merits by the right principles of His hidden justice. But sometimes these wicked spirits also feign the power of divination and foretell what they themselves intend to do. Hence, a devout Christian must avoid astrologers and all impious soothsayers, especially when they tell the truth, for fear of leading his soul into error by consorting with demons and entangling himself with the bonds of such association.

Nothing in there about the disciples of Euclid and Eratosthenes.

Augustine had no truck with astrology. He even anticipated the apparently modern objection that twins born under the same configuration of stars have entirely different fates. So if he has a beef with astrologers, why does he rail against the mathematici? Blame semantic shiftMathematicus doesn’t mean today exactly what it did in the fourth century. Back in the day, what we now call mathematics was often employed in the service of divination: astronomy was as much about casting horoscopes as anything else, and gematria, what we now call numerology, was all the rage, even in the Bible, where John’s number of the Beast is a numerological reading of “Nero Cæsar”.

So did Augustine have anything to say about mathematics, as we understand the term today? Well, he had a lot to say about everything, including mathematics. Here’s a summary if you’re interested.

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