Saturday, February 09, 2008

Lecture Notes II: Why Are We Catholics?

Rev. J. Bryan Hehir: Reasons, Questions, Reflections

Continued from Part I.

Christ as the Center of Our Prayer

In Part I, we were locating where the Church fits in the structure of Catholic faith. The Mystery of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Church.

In worship, we are drawn into the life of the Trinity.

- A dynamic of knowledge and love
- An exchange of love between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
- In prayer, we are drawn into knowledge of God and up into the love of God.

There were two different approaches to the understanding of Life in God.

- Rome’s
- Constantinople’s

In the West, under the influence of St. Augustine, there is stress on:

- Unity of God
- Going inside the Trinity to point to three people

In the East:

- Do not start with unity
- Start with three persons, and trace from there back to unity.

The Eastern approach is how you encounter God through worship..

- To the Father
- Through the Son
- In the Holy Spirit

The inner life of God is pure spirit (St. John’s opening passage – “The Word”)

How do we come to know who God is? Through the Incarnation. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It opened the life of the Trinity to us.

The Incarnate Christ is two things:

1) The perfect revelation of who God is, revealed in word and deed. The image of the invisible God.

2) Christ as the one who takes us back to God. The perfect response to God’s love. The pattern of our way of life, for those who walked in “The Way”. To be a disciple means to “walk in the discipline.”

For some, this is the totality of Christ. Put all together, there is a two-fold meaning, and that becomes Christ as mediator.

Pius XXII – Mediator Dei. Christ stands between God and us, brings grace to us, and lifts us up to God.

Part of our prayer is dependent on the human Christ.

In the three Synoptic Gospels, we see certain aspects of Christ.

- In Luke, forgiveness
- In Matthew, teaching
- In Mark, action

St. John’s Gospel is the only one we hear for the last two weeks of Lent.

“The light came into the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it.”

Christ entered a world separated from God. The journey back to God can only pass through the Cross. The Passover of Christ, or, Paschal Mystery. It breaks the power of sin in the world. In the Resurrection is the triumph over death and sin. At the Ascension he sends the Holy Spirit.

How are we joined to Christ?

When he becomes one of us, he is never separated from God. He is without sin in a world filled with sin. Jesus walks the earth filled with the Spirit of God, but he cannot share it. The darkness must be broken, which can only occur through his death and Resurrection.

The Risen Christ can only be known through faith. He is only available to us through the eyes of faith. He says to Mary Magdalene, “Don’t touch me, I must return to the Father first. Then I will send the Spirit.” Then the Spirit of God fills the world. We receive it in Baptism, and are joined to the Risen Christ.

We cannot know this Christ or grow in him without prayer. Prayer is a means to an end. The Spirit teaches us to pray,

There are two kinds of prayer:

1) Public
2) Personal (Private)

1) Public Prayer – Liturgy (from “liturgia” – “public work”)

Essential meaning is that it is the Risen Christ who prays, and we gather around him as a community. It is expressed in:
- Sacraments
- Liturgy of the Divine Office

To the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit

The Mass is the great study of public prayer. We gather in the Spirit, bound by the Spirit, in the Mystical Body of Christ. This is two-dimensional:

I. In Word
a. Spirit speaks to Spirit
b. Christ is Teacher
c. Holds special power when read in the assembly

II. In Sacrament
a. Christ is Priest
b. Sacrifice of Christ (unbloodied)
c. Once for all

Regarding Christ’s sacrifice: It was not the degree of suffering that mattered, but the offering of obedience to the Father.

We repeat the sacrifice in ritual and symbol so that we can be drawn into the perfect prayer of Christ.

It is Christ the Priest who offers the liturgy. The Priesthood of Believers joins in community with him. The ordained priest links the community with the Risen Christ.

The other sacraments are also examples of the Public Prayer of the Church.

The two great sacraments:

I. Baptism
II. Eucharist

The other sacraments are built around those two.

- Confirmation (Completion of Baptism)
- Reconciliation (Better prepares us to celebrate in spirit)
- Anointing of the Sick (Healing is needed)
- Matrimony (State in life)
- Holy Orders (State in life)

Sacraments include human signs in which the divine presence of Christ is embodied:

Water – Washing, and sign of living water, springing up eternally.

Eucharist – A meal we share, bread and wine

Oil – Healing ointment

God comes to us in the human, but the Incarnation guides us to the sacraments.

Mystery of Transformation: Ordinary human things in a given place and moment and the Word of God, carry divine power. The transformed things transform us.

Seeing the world in sacramental terms… We look for signs of God’s presence in the human, and we are sent to transform the world. We live with the sense that we are surrounded by God, that he is with us, all around us (The Breastplate of St. Patrick).

2) Private Prayer

- Has real ability to relate us to God.
- We see it in relationship to public prayer
- Personal prayer prepares us for public prayer, and flows out of public prayer.
- Allows us to shape our prayer uniquely in our own way. We try to “Enter in Christ” (St. Paul)
- “When we meet God, we don’t want to meet him as a stranger.”
- Characterized by devotions, and other semi-formal ways – Lectio Divina
- Discipleship is only possible if there is an order of prayer in our lives.

Part of being Catholic is knowing how to pray with the Church.

Next, Part III. Faith and Morality


crystal said...

The Eastern approach is how you encounter God through worship..
- To the Father
- Through the Son
- In the Holy Spirit

Interesting - that's how Fr. Marsh explained prayer to me when I began that retreat .... you pray to the Father, through Jesus, in the Holy Spirit ... I was confused about who I was really talking to :-)

I miss out on public prayer since I don't go to church, but I think it can be powerful to have so many praying (or singing) at once.

We cannot know this Christ or grow in him without prayer. Prayer

I think this is true and pretty Ignatian. It's like trying to know someone without ever interacting with them - you can only know about them.

Another great post :-)

Jeff said...

Hi Crystal,

The Eastern approach vs. the Western approach is interesting, isn't it? Here's how Hans Kung explained the difference in the understanding of the Trinity in his book The Catholic Church: A Short History.

"The Greek church fathers always began from the one God and Father, who for them, as for the the New Testament, was "the God" (ho theos). They defined the relationship of God the Father to the Son and Spirit in the light of this one God and Father. It is if we have a star which gives it's light to a second star ("light of light, God of God") and finally to a third. But to our human eye, all three stars appear one after the other only as one star.

Augustine differed completely: Instead of begining from one God and Father he began from the one nature of God, or divine substance, which was common to the Father, Son, and Spirit. For the Latin theologians the principle of unity was not the Father but the one divine nature, or substance. To develop the illustration given earlier: three stars do not shine one aftter the other but side by side in a triangle at the same level; here the first and the second stars together give light to the third."

I also liked this quote along Ignatian lines:

“When we meet God, we don’t want to meet him as a stranger.”

Meg said...


So when you pray the Office privately, as a layperson who is not bound - is that personal prayer? Public? or maybe both?

Jeff said...

Hi Meg,

Now that's a curious thing, isn't it? Good question. I sort of have them listed under both, so maybe I heard something wrong.

I'd be inclined to say that the Divine Office is private prayer, but if others are saying it all around the world at the same time you are, with the same readings, perhaps it is public in that sense.