Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Third Scrutiny 

The Scrutinies are prayers the priest, in conjuction with the congregation, prays over the unbaptized catechumens preparing to join the church at Easter. The Scrutiny prayers are on the 3rd, 4th and 5th Sundays of Lent. The First Scrutiny this year was a prayer based on Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, the Second Scrutiny was based on the healing of the man blind from birth, the Third Scrutiny, today, was based on raising Lazarus from the dead. Our priest had the unbaptized catechumen kneel and he prayed that any and all evil from their past lives would be left behind when Jesus called them forth at their baptism. Father laid his hands on their heads and we all prayed for them.

After this special prayer, we had the normal prayers of our church: for a successful, peaceful resolution to the conflicts in the Middle East so our soldiers can return safely home; for an increase in vocations to stable marriages, the priesthood and a dedicated single life; for an end to abortion, especially in the United States; for those who have died and those who mourn the dead; and for the intentions we hold silently in our hearts.

The rest of us Candidates (those of us already baptized in other faiths) then joined the Catechumens and were dismissed to study the the readings. While everyone else attended to the Eucharist, we focused on the 1st reading, the reading from Ezekiel 37 and how it foreshadowed the Gospels:

Reading I
Ez 37:12-14

Thus says the LORD GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them,
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.

In two weeks, we will join the church at the table. We generally have three Masses each weekend: Saturday evening and two on Sunday morning. After we join the Church, our RCIA class will disperse among those Mass sessions and, perhaps, some to other churches. We've been in class together for about seven months of Saturday dismissals and Monday RCIA sessions. I'm already looking ahead to missing my classmates.

What was it Yoda muttered about Luke Skywalker? "Always he looked to the future...Never his mind on where he was!, what he was doing!" Yeah.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Raising of Lazarus 

Jouvenet, the Raising of Lazarus

I look back over the last year and realize I've learned a lot. I never knew Catholics joined the church at Easter (although some do join whenever). I never knew Catholics held an Easter Vigil waiting for Easter morning and the rise of Christ from the grave and that new members joined at that vigil. I'd never heard of the scrutinies or heard the prayers for new members. I never knew Catholic alters held a relic of a saint within. I never enjoyed the depths of prayers and readings available to Catholics from 2000 years of saints. There's much I didn't know and much I thought I knew was wrong. I have much yet to learn.

Perhaps one of the biggest things I've come to understand is that there is more to Christianity than the Bible. The raising of Lazarus in John 11 (our third and final Scrutiny), for example, is not mentioned in the other three gospels. Now why, I ask you, would Matthew, Mark and Luke leave out this wonderful vignette, this story from the life of Jesus that very neatly encapsulates the entire message of Christianity? The other gospels walk all around the story of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, but never mention, "Oh, by the way, Lazarus died and Jesus brought him back to life after four days in the tomb." Why? Why would they do that?


If the foundation of your spiritual life is the Bible and the Bible alone, a question like that can suck the life from the center of your faith. The number of arguments over the Bible and its various translations are endless and endlessly carry on toward no end. No one knows, "Why?" about the Lazarus story or any of the other discrepencies found here and there in the Old and New Testament. The Bible takes slavery as a fact of life, for example, and people use that to throw out anything else they don't like.

In Catholicism, faith has more blocks in its foundation. If the Bible is unclear, I can trust and seek support from the Tradition of the Church. I can trust and seek support from the Catechism and from the Magisterium. I can trust and seek support from the teachings of the Pope and from the writings of the saints. The question of "Why?" the three synoptic gospels did not include Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and telling Martha, "I AM the resurrection and the life," fades into the background like a paper cut on the finger of a severed arm.

I don't mean to say that Catholicism owns these things, either. The saints, the Catechism, the Pope and even the Magisterium are all available to every branch of Christianity. The prayers of the saints would have added deeply to my Methodist prayer life. The analysis of the 10 Commandments in the Catholic Catechism would have greatly benefited me as a teen going through Methodist confirmation. Just as the Bible is for all branches of the Faith, for all Christians, so too are the resources of the Catholic Church for all Christians. All Christians are one, we can all find ourselves in the painting above . . . we're the one in the lower left, in the cave. Our eyes are opened and the bindings of death/sin have fallen away. Christ stands before us with open arms... now is not the time to ask, "Why?"

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Simon Magus 

The Fall of Simon Magus, by Gozzoli

This particular painting, "The Fall of Simon Magus," is by Bennozo Gozzoli from the 1400's. I've been shamelessly updating this one post all day as I had different thoughts from different readings of different authors. That's St. Peter on his knees in the painting and St. Paul making the sign of the cross. Nero is on the throne and Simon Magus has fallen. Of course none of this happens in the Bible, it is Philip and Peter and John who dealt with Simon Magus in Acts, but I find the fictional story useful and . . . fetching.

I was reading a little New Testament fan fiction last night (The Twelve, by C. Bernard Ruffin), and ran across the story of Simon Magus dueling magic with the Apostle Peter. Most of the story comes from the early Christian Writing "The Acts of Peter," but the basics of the story are from Acts 8:9-25. Simon Magus (Magus means Magician) was a known magician in Samaria and when the Apostles came through the area full of the Spirit, curing people and making miracles, the Magus, amazed, made Peter a proposition, offering big bucks for Peter to lay hands on him and give him the Spirit, too. Peter rebuked him. That's where Acts ends and the fan fiction begins. You can read The Acts of Peter yourself, but I'll rob the ending from you. Simon Magus, known for his ability to levitate, launches himself up above the city and challenges Peter to display the Magic of Jesus. Instead, Peter drops to his knees and prays to Jesus to put a stop to the magician's display, to make him fall so the people would not be confused and all their hard work to convert them destroyed. The magician then fell to earth and broke his leg and was stoned by the people.

I've long been a fan of "Acts" and don't think I've ever heard the whole book preached... perhaps that's impossible. Ministers and readings take little pieces of the Acts of the Apostles and fold them into sermons and homilies, but read the whole book and you begin to understand how Christianity could have grown so rapidly while being persecuted so horribly. The Holy Spirit was poured out, resulting in healings and miracles attracting hordes of people from all over the Middle East, Jew and Gentile alike. Visions and Angels (and their opposite from the darkness) were rampant across the land. It must have been a most amazing time and place.

Wishing I was there, then, is perhaps like Simon Magus offering to pay Peter for the gift of the Holy Spirit... it is missing the forest for the trees. Sometimes good children become jealous of the attention troubled children receive from their parents. Later in life, perhaps, they come to see their parents' trust and joy in their own goodness and the need for the time and effort and prayer for the troubled child. God created His Church around the Apostles back then. Today, the Church is here; the desire for the miraculous is what led Tom Cruise (dyslexia), Kirstie Alley (cocaine addiction), John Travolta (desire for fame) and others to Scientology. The desire for the miraculous shouldn't outweigh the desire for God... that's my take, anyway.

Further Reading.

Afterthought: Kirstie Alley talked about Scientology in this week's TV Guide. She said she was addicted to cocaine, walked into the Scientology office and was cured in one session. Tom Cruise, also, says he walked into Scientology with lifelong dyslexia and was cured in one session. John Travolta has said that right after his initial foray into Scientology, he got the role in Welcome Back Kotter that made him famous. All three were Catholics. All three, offered their heart's desire, turned their back immediately on God and took the prize. All three now use their star power to turn more people away from God and into Scientology, in fact, Tom Cruise has sucked his entire family away from their faith. So what? So what have we to do with any of that? We play the part of Peter. If Peter had ignored Simon Magus and just walked away, how many souls would he have lost? How many souls are lost to Scientology by ignoring it? What can we do? Perhaps only what Peter did in the face of the Magus: drop to our knees and pray for God to make the cost of magic clear to the onlookers.

Monday, March 07, 2005


Michelangelo's Pieta

At RCIA, our priest went over some basic prayer methods. We went to the chapel and prayed an entire rosary of the joyful mysteries, then we did a devotion and then a type of focused reading on a Bible passage (Lectio Divina) where we read the passage three different times and focused on what catches our mind. The passage we read was from Hosea 2:14 through 2:23. After this, we discussed prayers and methods of praying in general.

I happended to have a copy of the Pieta Prayer Booklet and asked about the prayers in it and whether it was OK to believe what was written in the booklet. If you don't know the Pieta, it has lots of prayers in it that were divinely received by different saints, like the 15 St. Bridget Prayers, and items like the Chaplet of St. Michael, and many prayers, like the Prayer of St. Gertrude the Great (which is supposed to release 1,000 souls from Purgatory each time it's said):
Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the Universal Church, Those in my own home and within my family. Amen.

The Pieta also has prayers and pictures in it (like the Prayer to St. Joseph) that notes, "If you are carrying this on your person, you will never die by drowning or poison or by fire or any sudden death." It's a very rich and history set of interesting prayers.

Father said that we aren't required to believe what has been revealed to individuals, but there is nothing in the Pieta that is against the teachings of the church, so whatever enhances your faith and prayer life is fine. He also pointed out that teaching books and items officially accepted by the Church will have an "Imprimatur" on the copyright page and perhaps a "Nihil Obstat" section which show the books are officially approved for the Catholic Faith and also who approved them.

Another good session. Everyone knows one another and we're gearing up for Easter.

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