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Mark Jacks

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

MATTHEW 22:21

Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells us: “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” It is, in a sense, a trick question. To be sure, the government has its area of responsibility, so do pay your taxes, stop at red lights, and don’t be a terrorist. But what belongs to God? God created the universe out of nothing; it is His. The government must conform itself to God’s laws.

In our lives, we can be tempted to compartmentalize, thinking that we give God His hour on Sunday, but the rest of the week is ours. We tend to think that we can volunteer for a parish group such as St. Vincent de Paul, and then spend the rest of our time the way we want. We should volunteer and we do have other things to do.

Yet, when we volunteer, we are not giving to God and the Church community like we give to Caesar. We are giving back to God what is already, truly His.

Reflection

  • Do I isolate Church contributions, like volunteering, or see them as returning what’s already God’s?
  • In using my talents, am I aware they belong to God, actively considering contributions beyond specific times or activities for His service?
  • Am I restricting my devotion to God to certain times or activities, instead of recognizing everything as His?

Church is She. Period.

Church is She. Period.

Fr. Paul Stein

Did you ever wonder why we have never called the Church, “he?” We most certainly don’t call the Church zie, ze, xe, or one of the other gender-neutral “pronouns.”[1] The Church is She. Period. Full stop.

The reason is that she is the bride of Christ, and he is most definitely a “he.” Our popular culture often imagines heaven as where we hope to sit on clouds and play harps. Yet, the image Christ frequently gives us in the scriptures is that of a wedding banquet: “Jesus again in reply spoke to them in parables, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son’” (Matt 22:1-2). If Jesus is the groom, then the Church is the bride: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:1-2).

Part of God’s plan for creation was the human complementarity of male and female, husband and wife, to reflect the close loving union of God with us through Christ. St. Paul describes it in his letter to the Ephesians:

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:21-32)

Heaven is thus, a mystical marriage.
In Christ, the natural institution of marriage,
built into creation, is elevated to a sacrament.

Heaven is thus, a mystical marriage. In Christ, the natural institution of marriage, built into creation, is elevated to a sacrament. The marriage between a baptized man and a baptized woman embodies and points to the reality of heaven. As Christ and the Church cannot fail to forever love each other, the sacrament of marriage is indissoluble:

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” (Matt 19:3-9)[2]

For the Church, the creation of humans as male and female is a gift from God that ultimately finds its fulfillment in heaven.

What This Means For Us

We live in a culture that still celebrates weddings with great fervor. That wedding to which we should ultimately look, however, is heaven. If brides and grooms work feverishly and spend large amounts of money to have a wonderful earthly wedding, then we should be willing to give everything we have to be a part of the heavenly marriage banquet. That is the one marriage in which bride and groom will live happily ever after.

Footnotes

1. This author has used – when an application form requires pronouns – who & what. Abbott and Costello were ahead of their time.
2. Annulments come from the clause “unless the marriage is unlawful” which has to do with the distinction between the Greek words porneia and moicheia.

For Further Reading On This Topic

Can I Start My Own Church?

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It seems like anybody and everybody is starting their own “church.” You can find them in storefronts and sometimes using a public school gym before they can afford to construct…

The Church Is Family

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St. Paul, in his letters in the New Testament, often refers to his audience as “brothers” or “brothers and sisters.” Is it hyperbole? Was it the first-century equivalent of “bruh”?…

The Church Is A Democracy

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Now and again, the news will report a survey on what Catholics think about a controversial issue inside the Church: divorce and remarriage, women “priests,” abortion, etc. The mainstream media’s…

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The Church Is A Democracy

The Church is a Democracy

Fr. Paul Stein

Now and again, the news will report a survey on what Catholics think about a controversial issue inside the Church: divorce and remarriage, women “priests,” abortion, etc. The mainstream media’s approach to the Catholic Church is the same as its approach to almost every other public institution, it analyzes the Church through a political lens. The problem is that the Church is not a democracy, at least not in the usual sense.

We were founded by Christ to teach the truth he has revealed to us; we are not interested in taking opinion polls to decide what we will believe. We can only call the Church a democracy in the way that G.K. Chesterton did: the Church is a democracy of the dead. That means we are founded on Tradition.

Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. (From Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton)

We were founded
by Christ to
teach the truth he
has revealed
to us

That is why the Church speaks of handing on the Revelation of Jesus Christ in Scripture (i.e. the Bible) and Tradition. Together, they make up what we call the Deposit of Faith. In the end, it is not a revelation of some abstract truths, but rather the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ. God is the Truth and source of all Truth. Jesus is God incarnate who came that we might know and have life in the Father, through the Son, by the power of their Holy Spirit. It is sharing in the life of God through Jesus Christ. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

In this way, we can speak of the Tradition or the Faith. It is the Church living the life that Jesus gives her, a life made possible by the truth that he has revealed. Because we know him, we can express things about him and the life he gives us in specific formulations known as doctrine.  As the Church in apostolic times began to grow, people began to live life through hearing the apostles’ preaching. The stories they told can be called the “oral tradition.”

But even the stories they told would never have completely described the life of Christ. For example, how many families have numerous stories about this member or that member, yet a family is more than the stories it has about itself.

A family tradition is more than the stories about the tradition. You can speak for hours about what your family’s Christmas is like, yet the reality is more than what you can say about it. You have to live in the family and be a part of the Christmas celebration to be a part of that tradition, that life. Think of how impossible it is to encapsulate the entire family life throughout the year.

Equally so, the oral preaching of the apostles was not the entire Tradition, it was part of it. The stories about Jesus that they shared were necessary for people living life in Christ; after all, you cannot be in a relationship with Christ if you don’t know who he is. However, life in Christ is more than what you can know about him. That is why people entered the Church through baptism; they entered a community and began living in the family of God, living the life.

As the apostles started to be killed for their faith (martyred), the Christian community became concerned with writing down the stories about Jesus to preserve them for future generations.

This is the origin of the gospels. The remainder of what is in the New Testament comes from letters written to the Church in specific cities (e.g. St. Paul’s letter to the Romans) and certain individuals. The presumption is that the people to whom the letter was addressed were already living the life. The letters of St. Paul, for example, are meant to address certain issues of the community in that city, not to provide an all-encompassing description of what Jesus said and did or a complete description of how to live the Christian life. These letters would not make sense to someone who was not a Christian, because the letters presume that you are already living — although poorly, as St. Paul points out — the life of faith.

As time progressed further, other people began writing stories about Jesus that were not true. An example would be the Gospel of Thomas, which reports: 

Simon Peter said to them: Let Mary go forth from among us, for women are not worthy of the life. Jesus said: Behold, I shall lead her, that I may make her male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who makes herself male shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Gospel of Thomas, 114)

Not only were there false gospels, but also false letters attributed to apostles as well. This required the Church to begin deciding which writings were truly reflective of the faith she had received from the apostles, handed down from one generation to the next. The Church accepted as Sacred Scripture, those books which were reported to be from the apostles and reflected the life of faith that the Church was already living.

For example, the Gospel of Thomas claims things that women must become men to enter the kingdom of heaven. That is opposite to what the Church lives and believes. So the Church did not accept the Gospel of Thomas as authentic. The canon, meaning the list of books accepted by the Church as inspired by the Holy Spirit, was decided based on the life the Church was already living. In short, we know the Bible to be the inspired word of God because the Church declares it to be such. Furthermore, the Church teaches us to interpret the Bible because she is a community founded by Jesus and sustained by the Holy Spirit.

While the Tradition is more than the writings about the Tradition, once the writings have been completed and agreed upon as accurate — inspired by the Holy Spirit, without error — they become normative and cannot be edited.

Future generations cannot insist that Scripture does not reflect and communicate the Tradition, particularly since such future generations receive the faith from the prior generations, all the way back to the generation that decided that Scripture is inspired and without error. Only in this way can a person speak of the Sacred Scripture in a way that distinguishes it from Sacred Tradition.

To summarize, there is one source of both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture: the revelation of Christ entrusted to his apostles as a living reality. The Church is thus hands-on in every age (to every generation) everything that she is: the community of believers living life in Christ, which is only made possible by the truth. She hands on her very life which includes the “what” of belief. Thus the Church hands on Scripture and Tradition. The Tradition is thus everything that is a definitive part of living life in Christ. It includes belief in the Trinity as well as the celebration of the sacraments and the liturgy. Since the Sacred Scriptures are normative, the Church continues to reflect on and interpret them to continually clarify and hand on the Tradition. Yet, since Scripture is not self-interpreting, the Holy Spirit, which upholds and enlivens the Church in the first place, guarantees that the Church will not go astray in interpretation.

What This Means For Us

So if the Church is a democracy, it is a democracy of the dead. The opinions of our current culture notwithstanding. We belong to something so much greater than something we could create on our own. We belong to a living 2000-year Tradition started by God himself in Jesus; we are still living in communion with our ancestors. We are standing on the shoulders of giants, or rather, of the saints of God.

For Further Reading On This Topic

Can I Start My Own Church?

| Behold-The Church | No Comments
It seems like anybody and everybody is starting their own “church.” You can find them in storefronts and sometimes using a public school gym before they can afford to construct…

The Church Is Family

| Behold-The Church | No Comments
St. Paul, in his letters in the New Testament, often refers to his audience as “brothers” or “brothers and sisters.” Is it hyperbole? Was it the first-century equivalent of “bruh”?…

The Church Is A Democracy

| Behold-The Church | No Comments
Now and again, the news will report a survey on what Catholics think about a controversial issue inside the Church: divorce and remarriage, women “priests,” abortion, etc. The mainstream media’s…

Join the Behold Newsletter

and receive topics (like the one above)
on Catholicism straight to your inbox!

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Section Leader

ST. JAMES PARISH – ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, IL
COORDINATOR OF MIDDLE SCHOOL MINISTRY

Department: Music & Liturgy

St. James Parish in Arlington Heights, Illinois is seeking Section Leaders (SATB) for our traditional choir effective immediately. The traditional choir, affectionately known as the “Gallery Choir”, is seeking strong musicians to support a group of twenty volunteer singers throughout the choir season. The choir sings a diverse repertoire from Palestrina, Victoria, Mozart, Tallis, and Gjeilo, among others, as well as a fair amount of chant within the context of the Mass.  

Experience with and knowledge of the Roman Catholic Church is a major plus. Section Leaders will need to be strong readers, leaders, patient, positive, and willing to work with amateur voices that need guidance. The Section Leaders will be paid $50 per rehearsal (Rehearsals on Tuesdays from 7:10-8:30pm) and $75 per Mass (Choir rehearses at 8am, Mass is at 8:30am). Interested applicants can email the Director of Music and Liturgy, Tamaron Conseur at tconseur@stjamesah.org. Please include your resume listing relevant experience.  

More Information:  

The parish performs major works throughout the year. Past major works have been: The Brahms Requiem, Mozart’s Requiem, and Rutter’s Requiem.  This year we plan to sing the FauréRequiem in November and the Vivaldi Gloria and BWV 140 in the spring. Section Leaders will be offered these major works as an optional bonus to their regular position. 

About St. James: 

We are a welcoming Catholic Community whose mission is to be disciples of Christ and make disciples of Christ. The parish weekend attendance is around 2,800. St. James has a long history of excellent music and greatly values the arts. 

Coordinator Of Middle School Ministry

ST. JAMES PARISH – ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, IL
COORDINATOR OF MIDDLE SCHOOL MINISTRY

Position Type: Full Time 35-40 hours/week

Department: Evangelization (Reports to Director of Youth Ministry)

The Coordinator of Middle School Ministry develops and implements the process of evangelization and formation for middle and high school students, with an emphasis on Middle School Formation within the parish. This role will include overseeing and coordinating the preparation for the sacrament of confirmation. This is a dynamic position that St. James believes will play a crucial role in helping our parishioners to be disciples of Christ and make disciples of Christ.

RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Coordinate EDGE Program for the 6th-8th grade including selection of materials, recruitment, and training of group leaders and confirmation leaders (Core Team)
  • Coordinate curriculum calendar including social nights, retreats, mission trips, confirmation rehearsals, and Confirmation Mass
  • Manage the Confirmation program according to Diocesan Guidelines, EDGE, and Purpose Models and Evangelization Team Vision and Strategy
  • Work closely with the Evangelization Team to help facilitate an integrated, organized, and comprehensive Faith Formation Program.
  • Recruits, trains, supervises, and evaluates volunteer Faith Formation personnel through the recruitment of team catechists and volunteers, aiding in catechist goal-setting, and modeling best teaching practices.
  • Within the guidelines set by the Diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection, develop appropriate relationships with students with the focus of leading them closer to Christ through the example of discipleship.
  • Attend activities off church property such as sporting events, plays, musicals, and award ceremonies, as able to do so.
  • Working closely with the team’s administrative assistant, manages communication, including website, social media, and bulletin content with other staff members, parents, and EDGE.
  • Reports to and works closely with the Director of Youth Ministry to continue the process of evangelization and formation for high school students participating in Life Teen Program activities.
  • Maintains a presence at St. James School building relationships with students, faculty, and staff
  • Manages annual budget for Middle School Ministry and Confirmation.
  • Attend all pertinent Archdiocesan/Vicariate meetings and St. James Staff Meetings

QUALIFICATIONS AND EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS

  • Bachelor’s Degree required; Major in theology, education, pastoral studies, or youth ministry preferred
  • 3 – 5 years of experience in education, administration, management, evangelization, training and equipping
  • Proven success in creating and implementing programs
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Demonstrates ability to handle confidential and sensitive information
  • Comfortable working and collaborating within a team in a fast-paced office environment
  • Working knowledge of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, web content management, and social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).
  • Practicing Catholic who fully adheres to and models the Church’s teachings in faith and morals (Cf., “Code of Ethics for Catechetical Leaders,” National Certification Standards for Lay Ecclesial Ministers. 2003. p. xxv.)
  • Registered with the Protecting God’s Children/Virtus program.
  • Must be available for evening/weekend work.

The Church Is Family

The Church is Family

Fr. Paul Stein

St. Paul, in his letters in the New Testament, often refers to his audience as “brothers” or “brothers and sisters.” Is it hyperbole? Was it the first-century equivalent of “bruh”? Quite to the contrary, St. Paul meant it: in Christ Jesus, we are all brothers and sisters. There is an old expression to indicate that the bonds of family are stronger than the bonds of friendship: blood is thicker than water. In the end, the blood of Christ is thicker than anything else.

It might surprise you, but adultery was a common image in the Old Testament for Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. When the Israelites sinned and worshipped other gods, prophets such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea spoke on God’s behalf, comparing such behavior to adultery. The reason is that God’s relationship to Israel was portrayed as a type of marriage. When God spoke to Abraham and promised to make of him a great nation, he made a covenant, not a contract, with Abraham and his descendants.

A contract is simply a business deal: party A will do this, and party B will do that. If party B doesn’t fulfill its part of the deal, party A is not obligated to fulfill its part. Once each side has completed its part of the deal, the relationship is over; like making the final payment to the contractor who installs new windows in your house. In contrast, a covenant establishes a blood relationship; it establishes a family where there was none previously. Marriage is the covenant we encounter daily.

he made a covenant, not a contract, with Abraham and his descendants

The concept of a covenant is an ancient one that spans ethnic groups, cultures, nations, and time. In times past, groups of unrelated soldiers became “brothers” by the ceremony of (literally) mixing their blood, usually through a cut on the hand or arm; hence the phrase “blood brothers.” In the Old Testament, we see a more Middle Eastern custom of Abraham’s day in chapter 15 of Genesis. God has Abraham cut several animals in half, laying each half apart from each other with a pathway between them. Then in a sacred trance, God manifests his presence “walking” between the halves using a smoking fire pit and flaming torch. In those times, each party to a covenant would walk between the animal’s halves to establish the family relationship, also indicating that should one party violate the covenant, may God (the gods) split the violator in half.[1]

The idea of covenant is found throughout the Old Testament. For example, God made a covenant with Noah; he renewed the covenant he made with Abraham through Moses at Mt. Sinai. Ultimately, these covenants and their renewal prepared the way for Jesus, who established the new and everlasting covenant in himself. Jesus is the Lamb of God whose blood establishes us as God’s adopted children with the promise of living with him forever. At the Last Supper:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks,* and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.” (Matt 26:26-29)

St. Paul’s entire letter to the Hebrews is an excurses on Christ as the High Priest who inaugurates the new covenant:

For this reason, he is the mediator of a new covenant: since a death has taken place for deliverance from transgressions under the first covenant, those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance. Now where there is a will, the death of the testator must be established. A will takes effect only at death; it has no force while the testator is alive. Thus not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. (Hebrews 9:15-18, 24)

We, who live 2000 years later, enter that covenant through initiation into the Church. Just as the Jewish people would circumcise their (male) children as a sign of the covenant, Christ gave the Church Baptism to wash away sins and adopt someone into God’s family: 

“Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

The sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist complete that initiation to make someone a full member of the Church, the family of God. For us, like St. Paul, greeting another member of the Church is to greet a brother or sister in the Lord. We have all been adopted into the family of God through Christ Jesus. In ancient times, adoption was not seen as somehow being a “lesser” member of the family. In the Roman Empire, a biological child was not truly considered a son or daughter until the father of the family accepted the child. Hence, in pagan Rome, infants that were not accepted were at times exposed, meaning placed out in nature or “on the hillside” to die from exposure to the elements or wild animals.[2] A Roman father could adopt a slave or anyone else not biologically related and that adopted son or daughter was truly a son or daughter as far as society, religion, and the law were concerned.

This is why certain things at mass seem odd to outsiders, but not to those in Christ. What the priest says and how we respond shows that the “brothers and sisters” include those in heaven and purgatory as well as those on earth: everyone living in Jesus Christ. It is why communion is only given to those initiated and belong to the Church. Intimacy belongs in marriage: a wife should not have sexual relations with a man, not her husband, nor should a husband have sexual relations with a woman who is not his wife.

What This Means For Us

As members of the Church, we have been initiated into a covenant; we have been adopted into the family of God. We couldn’t pay for it if we wanted to do so; there is not enough money in the world that could compensate God for what he has done for us in Christ Jesus. Rather, we have been given a gift, and as brothers and sisters, need to live godly lives as we are now called children of God.

Footnotes

[1] Think of how much more exciting our wedding ceremonies would be if we included something like this…

[2] If that sounds harsh, keep in mind two things: (1) it was the Church in her conversion of the Roman Empire that brought this practice to an end. (2) We are similarly barbaric today in the practice of abortion, directly killing innocent human life at its beginning.

For Further Reading On This Topic

Can I Start My Own Church?

| Behold-The Church | No Comments
It seems like anybody and everybody is starting their own “church.” You can find them in storefronts and sometimes using a public school gym before they can afford to construct…

The Church Is Family

| Behold-The Church | No Comments
St. Paul, in his letters in the New Testament, often refers to his audience as “brothers” or “brothers and sisters.” Is it hyperbole? Was it the first-century equivalent of “bruh”?…

The Church Is A Democracy

| Behold-The Church | No Comments
Now and again, the news will report a survey on what Catholics think about a controversial issue inside the Church: divorce and remarriage, women “priests,” abortion, etc. The mainstream media’s…

Church is She. Period.

| Behold-The Church | No Comments
Did you ever wonder why we have never called the Church, “he?” We most certainly don’t call the Church zie, ze, xe, or one of the other gender-neutral “pronouns.” The…

Join the Behold Newsletter

and receive topics (like the one above)
on Catholicism straight to your inbox!

* indicates required

Can I Start My Own Church?

Can I start my
own Church?

Fr. Paul Stein

It seems like anybody and everybody is starting their own “church.” You can find them in storefronts and sometimes using a public school gym before they can afford to construct a proper “church” building.[1] Years ago, when a well-known Chicago priest threatened to leave the Catholic Church and start his own “church,” Cardinal George said something like this: he (the priest) can start his own church when he rises from the dead.

The word “church” is a translation of the Greek New Testament word ekklesia. It means a called out, or summoned, assembly of people. In ancient Athens, for example, it was the assembly of male citizens who qualified to participate in the governance of the city-state. In the Bible, Jesus clearly establishes not “a” church, but “the” church.

Beginning in the Old Testament, we see that God “elects” or selects Abram and promises to make of him a great nation: “The Lord said to Abram: Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Gen 12:1-2).

The Jewish people were and are God’s chosen people, his elect. Abram was renamed Abraham and had a son named Isaac. Isaac’s son, Jacob, would receive a new name from God: Israel *Gen 32:29. Jacob/Israel had twelve sons, from whom came the twelve tribes of Israel. When they wound up in slavery in Egypt, he called them out,[2] passing through the Red Sea under the leadership of Moses; the eventual destination was the promised land.

In the New Testament, we read of how Jesus established the Church as the new People of God, extending God’s elect beyond the Jewish people to include the Gentiles, or non-Jews. When he began his public ministry, it states:

He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.” From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:13-17)

He then goes on to call his first disciples (Matt 4:18-22). Of them, he chose twelve to be his apostles. He would explicitly form the twelve to lead the people he called, choosing Simon to be the first among the twelve, renaming him Peter: “Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:17-18).

Then, after his passion, death, and resurrection, Jesus would commission them to go and call others to be a part of God’s people in the Church, starting with the waters of baptism and ending, if the person responds to God’s grace, in the promised land of heaven:

Jesus didn’t
found “a” church,
but “the” Church

Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20).

Jesus didn’t found “a” church, but “the” Church, the people called out of sin and death into light and life. A people God has elected or chosen to be his own forever if they but respond to his power working in them. These people are no longer limited to the Jewish people, but now also include the Gentiles, hence it is katholikos, which is Greek for “universal.” The first time in history it was called the Catholic Church was in 107 AD, in a letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the church located at Smyrna:

See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.

So, no, you can’t start your own church… unless you rise from the dead on your own power.

What This Means For Us

It is exciting to know that the “project” we are working on, as members of the Church, is ultimately not our project. It is a divine project. We are on a mission – which in Latin means “to be sent” – to which God calls us and, therefore, has an incredible depth of meaning. We didn’t join a club that some random human started, we were initiated into the Church, which the God-man started.

Footnotes

[1] Which begs a question: what should a church look like? A theatre… a stadium… or a lecture hall? For a Catholic, a church building should look like heaven. See the book of Revelation, chapters 4-8.

[2] “When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). This is also considered a Messianic prophecy to be fulfilled when Mary and Joseph left Egypt, after fleeing there to protect Jesus from the murderous intent of King Herod (Matt 2:15). Jesus relived the history of Israel, but did so perfectly, whereas the Israelites frequently sinned and failed to obey the Father’s commands.

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Can I Start My Own Church?

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Now and again, the news will report a survey on what Catholics think about a controversial issue inside the Church: divorce and remarriage, women “priests,” abortion, etc. The mainstream media’s…

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God Does Not Hate Satan

God Does Not
Hate Satan

Fr. Paul Stein

While it sounds crazy to the contemporary mind, God does not hate Satan. God’s love encompasses even Satan, as it extends to all beings without exception. However, God condemns what Satan is doing and abhors what Satan has done to himself. Love doesn’t mean approval of another’s thoughts and actions.

Satan is a fallen angel known initially as Lucifer. The answer to “what is Satan,” is “an angel,” albeit one that has freely chosen to reject God. Each angel only exists because God created and sustains him in existence (please see the prior Behold article “Evil Doesn’t Have Being”). Satan is not equal and opposite to God; Satan is but a creature, a being sustained in existence by Being Itself (i.e. God).

To that end, God does love Satan, God is love, and everything he does is loving. Even when God condemns a creature to hell, it is an act of love. Questions this author has heard is: will God forgive Satan? Can Satan eventually get out of hell and go back to heaven? The answer is that Satan will not and cannot repent and thus does not want to be forgiven. Satan’s condemnation to hell is permanent.

The reason is that Satan is an angel, not a human. An angelic intellect is similar and yet different than a human one. In contrast to humans who, at least on earth, do not fully comprehend the implications of their decisions, an angel fully understands the scope and implications of his decisions. An angelic decision is always a permanent one. For that reason, Satan’s rebellion and rejection of God is eternal; he will not change his mind and repent. In contrast, humans change their minds all the time; they are capable of repentance.[1] It is important to remember that no creature has a claim on God’s mercy without repentance; otherwise, for what is he asking forgiveness?

Sometimes we misconstrue God’s condemnation of Satan and the other fallen angels/demons to hell as somehow cruel or unloving. The following is this author’s speculation:

It stands to reason that if Satan and the demons reject God…then if God forced them to be in his presence in heaven, he would be forcing them, in a way, to suffer even more than by sending them to hell. While it is true that God is, metaphysically speaking, present in hell – since nothing can exist outside of God sustaining it – those in hell have no sense of his presence whatsoever. In a way, God sending Satan and the demons to hell was an act of mercy. Satan and the demons do not want to sense God’s presence.

Both humans and angels are made for God, they have an inbuilt desire and need for God to be happy. To be without God forever is misery. Additionally, sins have their own consequence (see the article “Why God Can’t Forgive and Forget”). Because sin is contrary to both human nature and angelic nature, one cannot escape the punishment for sin. A habitual liar is deeply wounded and cannot appreciate the truth; others do not trust a habitual liar and he is, in many ways, alone. Hell is a state of existence where each creature is totally self-absorbed, blaming God, and ready to devour or dominate the person next to him.[2] The suffering is double: eternal separation from God and the suffering caused by one’s sins.[3]

In the end, God is simple, meaning, he isn’t made of parts. You cannot say this is one part of God and that is a different part of God. For that reason, God’s mercy is his justice. They are not opposites; it is we humans who perceive them as opposites as they affect us. Purgatory for humans is simultaneously God’s healing us (mercy) for the self-inflicted damage through sin and divine justice, the consequences of our sins. We will be judged just as a doctor makes a judgment of his patient’s condition. For example, if you eat gluttonously and put on fifty pounds, it is going to take measured eating and exercise to lose those fifty pounds. Hence the expression from the gym: no pain, no gain.

Is hell a punishment? Yes, and a horrific one at that. It results from the rejection of God that is sin; yet, that punishment is effectively built into creation itself. God sent Satan and all the demons to hell; can he do that to us? Yes.

Both humans and angels are made
for God,
they have an inbuilt desire and need for God to be happy

What This Means For Us

Unlike Satan who will not and cannot repent, we humans can repent. We should recognize the insane love of God who cherishes all his creatures, and we should repent of all our sins. We should recognize that if we wind up in hell, it is because we have rejected God despite all he has done and does to animate us to return to him. C.S. Lewis’s characterization of hell quite well: “hell is locked from the inside.”[4]

Footnotes

[1] Why humans condemned to hell will not change their minds and repent even when in hell is a closely related, but different topic.

[2] This author sometimes asks in preaching: what would happen if God transported us to heaven, right now, just as we are? Would heaven be wonderful? The answer is universally “no.” Because we are sinners with sinful tendencies. We are the ones who gossip about each other, lie to each other, and steal from each other. If we were to suddenly arrive in heaven together without being transformed in Christ Jesus to be perfectly holy, then heaven would be a wonderful way to exist forever. That is why God is so good as to purge people after death. Purgatory is an amazing gift for those who are not bound for hell, but not yet ready for heaven.

[3] The Catechism teaches that there is “chief” punishment (separation from God), and hence secondary punishment of hell: “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death, the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” (CCC #11035)

[4] “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’”(CCC #1033, italics added).

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Angels Don’t Get Wings

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In contemporary American culture, we tend to think of hierarchy as a bad thing; it is one person or party holding power over another. Today’s mainstream culture tends to insist…

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The First Hierarchy: Angels

The First Hierarchy: Angels

Fr. Paul Stein

In contemporary American culture, we tend to think of hierarchy as a bad thing; it is one person or party holding power over another. Today’s mainstream culture tends to insist any “archy” is bad: monarchy, patriarchy, oligarchy, anarchy, etc. At least in terms of hierarchy, we have something that, when properly understood and lived, is very good. It is built into creation: the angelic realm.

In the Bible, there are numerous passages regarding angels. While there isn’t one passage that gives the entire hierarchy, there are several that reveal pieces of it.

… and what is the surpassing greatness of his power…which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Eph 1:19-21)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.
(Col 1:15-16)

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we find references to: angels (e.g. Genesis 28:12), Archangels (e.g. Jude 1:9), principalities (e.g. Col 1:16), powers (e.g. Col 1:16), virtues (also called authorities, e.g. Eph 1:21 and 1 Peter 3:22), dominions (e.g. Col 1:16), thrones (e.g. Col 1:16), cherubim (e.g. Ez 10:18) and seraphim (e.g. Is 6:2). All of them pure spirits, members of what is called the invisible part of creation.[1]

We know that they exist in a hierarchy, not only by the fact that St. Michael is named as an Archangel, but also by the way they are referenced in scripture. Names/titles such as thrones, dominions, and principalities all imply order, governance, and levels of power.

The exact ordering of the hierarchy, however, isn’t entirely clear in the Bible. For this reason, different writers have had slightly different listings of their rank and order. This article will focus on the writings of Dionysius the Arreopagite and his work De Coelesti Hierarchia (On the Celestial Hierarchy).[2] He groups them in three groups of three, reflecting the Trinity:

Seraphim     Dominions      Principalities
Cherubim    Virtues             Archangels         
Thrones        Powers           (Regular) Angels

A contemporary reader may wonder if an angel in the lower part of the hierarchy is somehow “less” than an angel higher up in the order. In a sense, no. Granted, angels higher up have more power, but that does imply less dignity or less importance.[3] (H)ieros meant holy (a hieros was a priest, a holy one), and archia meant to rule. The one above you is empowered by God to elevate you toward him, to lift you up. God empowers or capacitates a hierarchy to look after and be responsible for the one(s) below. Thus, while our guardian angels are “above” us, they take care of us.

For Dionysius, hierarchy is not an oppressive thing, but to the contrary, a responsibility to God and others in the hierarchy. Fans of Spiderman may appreciate the idea that: “with great power comes great responsibility.” This applies to any hierarchy: the military, the family, or the Church. When lived authentically, it is a reflection of the God who took on our humanity in Christ and suffered and died on a cross to save us, in service of humanity. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is supposed to be like a human chain that extends from earth up to heaven, with anyone above, a hierarch, lifting up (the chain) the one below him. Hence, one title of the Pope is the servant of the servants of God.

The Church, as the Body of Christ...a human chain that extends from earth up to heaven, with anyone above, a hierarch, lifting up the one below him.

What This Means For Us

The hierarchy of angels, as created by God, reassures us today when our culture maligns all hierarchy as a form of oppression. Authentic hierarchy is a beautiful and good thing. If it were not, we would not have guardian angels. Ultimately, we want to live in a monarchy under Christ the King. If you don’t want to live in such an order, there is always anarchy.

Footnotes

[1] In the Bible, as in the Nicene Creed that we say on Sundays, we refer to the fact that God made everything, the visible and invisible. While the hierarchy of angels is the main thing we reference as “invisible,” it does include anything that God created that we cannot see as part of this universe. Thus, heaven is likewise included, as is hell and purgatory. It also allows for the fact that God may have created other things of which we are not yet aware. God could have numerous other realms of creation which we do not know.

[2] He has previously been referred to as Pseudo-Dionysius. He is thought to be a fifth or sixth-century author, most probably a Syriac monk, who took the moniker of Dionysius, whom St. Paul converted at the Areopagus in Athens, Greece in Acts 17:34.

[3] See St. Paul’s explanation (1 Corinthians 12:12-26) about how the Church, the Body of Christ, is hierarchically organized. All parts are essential, even those we deem less: “Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another (1 Cor 12:22-25).

For Further Reading On This Topic

Angels Don’t Get Wings

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Contrary to the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, every time a bell rings, an angel does not get its wings. Furthermore, contrary to countless books, TV shows, movies, and famous paintings:…

Billions of Angels

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Billions of Angels

Billions of angels

Fr. Paul Stein

If you asked what species President George Washington is/was, the answer would be: human. If you asked what species the Archangel Michael is, the answer would be: Michael. As humans, we are soul-bodies, part physical and part spiritual. Yet, our awareness is dominated by the physical universe in which we live. For that reason – just as we think of labradors, poodles, and shelties as all examples of the species we call “dog” – we incorrectly think of archangels, cherubim, and seraphim as examples of the species called “angel.” To the contrary, each angel is its own species, and the term “angel” is a description of what that creature does. Angelos, in the original New Testament Greek, means “messenger.”

As soul-bodies, we can distinguish between the organizing principle of our humanity (the soul) and the material principle of our humanity (the body). Without a soul, you don’t really have a human being, you merely have a corpse. Without a body, you don’t really have a human being, you merely have a ghost. An authentic living human is the unity of soul and body.

While one human body is usually different than another – for example, Sara is 5’2” and Susan is 6’3” – they theoretically don’t have to be. If you could be cloned down to the last molecule, your clone would have the same body as you, down to the last neuron in the brain. It just wouldn’t be you; it would be a different person. The reason is that each soul is unique.[1]

If you think of a human as the unity of body and soul, then we can both distinguish one human being from another as individual persons, yet at the same time group them as one kind of species, homo sapiens, as in contrast to dog, cat, or elephant. Human bodies can be similar to each other, yet human bodies are not the same as dog bodies. In contrast, angels are pure spirits, they do not and have never had bodies; they are a completely different kind of creature(s). As pure spirits, there is no material principle to an angel at all. Thus, “angel” isn’t a type of species.

Similar to how each human soul is unique, each angel as a pure spirit, is unique. In effect, each angel is its own species.[2] Thus, while we group all angels together as we do humans, cats, and dogs, it is best to appreciate the fact that the angelic world is a massive world of individual, unique spirits. A starting point for understanding the angelic realm is to distinguish between what different groups of angels do. For example, guardian angels protect humans. Archangels are leaders among them who: fight against fallen angels (St. Michael), announce messages from God (St. Gabriel), or bring healing (St. Raphael).

A further point for understanding is that some angels are more powerful than others. For example, seraphim are more powerful than guardian angels. Such power is not physical, such as a bear being able to overpower a wolf. It is more like one human having more “brain power” than another. Bishop Fulton Sheen once described angels as being like “pure minds;” this applies very much to what angels do.

Since each angel is its own species, there are, in effect, billions of species of angels. While scripture doesn’t give a number, it does give indications that there are many of them:

Thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before Him” (Daniel 7:10).

Then Jesus said to him, “…Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:52-53).

While you can calculate what twelve legions would equal (at about 5,000-6,000 per legion), the biblical point is that there are many of them. One can infer that, if each human being has a guardian angel, and presuming that one angel only guards one human instead of four or a hundred at a time, then there must be at least 8 billion angels working on the planet right now.

Thousands of thousands ministered to
Him, and ten thousand
times a hundred thousand
stood before Him

What This Means For Us

God is the Creator; his glory is infinite. We see the manifestation of his infinite glory in the multiplicity and variety of creation. In terms of flowers, we not only have roses but also daffodils, orchids, daisies, etc. So too, God’s glory is reflected in an immense angelic realm where each angel is unique. It helps us appreciate how much God rejoices in his creation and that he is attentive to each one of us.

Footnotes

[1] Even with identical twins, who have the exact same DNA, their bodies are slightly different from each other, including a slightly or vastly different neuron arrangement in the brain.

[2] The term “species” properly belongs to the biological/physical world. I use it here to help the reader understand what an angel really is.

For Further Reading On This Topic

Angels Don’t Get Wings

| Behold-Angels | No Comments
Contrary to the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, every time a bell rings, an angel does not get its wings. Furthermore, contrary to countless books, TV shows, movies, and famous paintings:…

Billions of Angels

| Behold-Angels | No Comments
If you asked what species President George Washington is/was, the answer would be: human. If you asked what species the Archangel Michael is, the answer would be: Michael. As humans,…

The First Hierarchy: Angels

| Behold-Angels | No Comments
In contemporary American culture, we tend to think of hierarchy as a bad thing; it is one person or party holding power over another. Today’s mainstream culture tends to insist…

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