Saturday, September 10, 2011

Two Insights Into Running an Inquiry Process

I'm currently running an Inquiry process at the parish that is based on the Gospel According to St. Mark. I read a short passage from the Gospel, extrude some key points, and then read some selections from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) that coincide with those same key points, repeat the key points, and then open the floor for questions on the topic at hand or anything else pertaining to the Catholic Faith.

Insight 1) At this stage, select the key points (and the CCC paragraphs) entirely from the "IN BRIEF" sections of the CCC. This will help to narrow your focus in the CCC and save you a lot of preparation time. This approach will also ensure that you deliver essentials and not initiate a dialog on details that uninteresting/unimportant in the initial stages of conversion. (You can get into all the details during systematic catechesis.)

Insight 2) When you put up the slide that says Q & A has begun, be sure there are lots and lots of possible applicable questions up there in case it happens to be a slow day for questions.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why I Don't "Get" Mormonism

I recently read Michael Otterson's Post at the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog. In it, he objects to categorization of the Mormon Church as a "cult".

An examination of the following statement from Otterson will help to demonstrate why I don't "get" Mormonism. Incidentally, I think it will help to demonstrate why people are comfortable labeling Mormonism a "cult". Otterson says,
"It is not true that Mormons do not draw their beliefs from the same Bible."
I can find a grain of truth in that statement, but I think the casual reader who knows nothing about Mormonism will be completely misled. You can't trust your first impression with this statement. It is an onion with many layers, and peeling the layers negates your first impression rather than develops it.

You can read for yourself, at publicly available Mormon sources like this one, that Joseph Smith produced his own "translation" of the Bible. But wait, when Mormon documents say "translation", they actually mean "revising" and "correcting", as if all the terms were synonyms.
"The Prophet's main work of revising, correcting, or translating the Bible was done during the three-year period from June 1830 to July 1833."
That's one layer.

In the next sentence, we learn that the meaning of the word "translation" is even farther removed from your first impression. As you can see, Joseph Smith was not working from original-language manuscripts in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Rather, the source for his "translation" was already in English.
"During this time he and his scribes went through the Old and New Testaments of the King James Version and produced nearly 500 pages of manuscript, containing thousands of variant readings and new passages that clarify and enhance the message of the Bible."
That's another layer.

Why are we still calling this a "translation?" The only justification seems to be that the end products are in English, rather than Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Does that word help to convey the truth, or does it obfuscate it? Is the author trying to tell us the truth about Mormonism, or is he trying to communicate a sentiment?

Read a little further, and you'll see that Joseph Smith denied the inspiration of an entire book of the Old Testament, "Song of Solomon", which makes the Mormon Bible look even less like the Bibles used by other groups identifying themselves as Christian.
"The Prophet also censored the Song of Solomon by declaring that it was not inspired scripture."
So, there's a third layer.

And yet, Michael Otterson can, in good conscience publish this statement for all to see?
"It is not true that Mormons do not draw their beliefs from the same Bible."
This type of communication, which presents one meaning upon first impression, and entirely different, negating meanings upon examination, arouses my intellectual defenses. I don't think I'm alone in this respect. This 'double meaning' gives the impression that the speaker is trying to deceive, and when the speaker identifies itself as a religion, the concept of "cult", in the pejorative sense, is a natural association.

I examined a lot of Mormon writings and talked with a lot of Mormons, and it seems to me this a deeply rooted principle in Mormonism and probably why Mormonism was a non-starter for me. It resists intellectual engagement from the outset. Am I missing something?

Trinitarian, Incarnational Christianity, on the other hand, demands no such thing. On the contrary, this Christianity perceives the human intellect as an aspect of the image of the creator, and a useful, complementary part of the spiritual journey. Not a hindrance! (See Fides et Ratio.)

That is something I can "get", and probably one reason I am Catholic.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Conversion Fragment 4b: Justification Revisited

I've already blogged about the important role played by the Doctrine of Justification in my conversion, but after hearing Dr. Anders speaking on Catholic Answers, I feel compelled to fill in the picture just a little more.

You see, there are certain elements of the Protestant interpretation of the Passion of Christ that I don't get. In particular, I don't understand the ideas of (1) God literally punishing His sinless Son with the pains of hell in order to effect a (2) purely juridical and extrinsic salvation in which we remain guilty and worthy of punishment. I heard both of these things repeatedly while dwelling in Protestant circles.

I find this narrative confusing because it clashes with one of my most basic assumptions concerning the character of God: that He is just.

How can we maintain that God the Father is just while also saying that He punishes His sinless Son undeservedly? Furthermore, if we remain deserving of punishment even after 'getting saved', how can we maintain that God us just for withholding punishment from us?

Is this really, really, really hard to understand, or is it just an error? A error concerning the very heart of the Gospel?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Praying With Adults

I'm hoping to use one of my favorite chant books with some guests we're entertaining tonight. The book covers the "Office of Compline" (night prayer) in both Latin and English. It is just simple enough that you could learn it by ear, but not so simple that it would bore you to tears.

I've actually purchased a few extra copies of the book for just such an occasion. It seems like a good investment to me, since the hour of Compline seems to be the one time we most frequently entertain guests that share our faith, (or guests in general).

The longer I celebrate the Divine Office, and especially the longer I chant it, the stronger the urge becomes to celebrate the hours in community. There's something truly magical about the Word of God set to music. It demands to be shared with others. I hope you'll consider making this book a part of your "domestic church" as well.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Praying With Children, Revisited

Two days ago, we prayed through four of the Joyful Mysteries with our children and they did very, very well! Four is a new high for us. (The most we've every prayed is three.) Praying the Rosary with them seems to be getting easier every time. If you're currently trying to pray the Rosary with small children and are feeling discouraged, press on! It will get better and it is so worthwhile! For consolation: children are sponges and absorb way more than they appear to absorb.

We're probably progressing more slowly because we're using a "scriptural" rosary book rather than just praying the Hail Mary's end-to-end in the more typical way. I think this is a good approach. The little scriptural "thought" that precedes every Hail Mary teaches something about the Gospel Mystery, which is actually first exposure for my little ones, (unless you count the Mass, which is soaring right over their heads). The thoughts, and the pictures in the book provoke all kinds of questions. It seems like a perfect way to introduce small children to the Gospel.

We've also added the Canticle of Zechariah to our morning prayer routine. We are chanting it along with the Invitatory Psalm (95). Carol is not quite ready to sing with us, but when she is, we'll be ready to help her write all these Words on her heart. Chant seems like the perfect vehicle to train children in the faith who are by necessity an oral people, not a written people and the tones seem to be an excellent support for memorization. How many of us learned their ABC's to the melody of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and still depend upon it!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Forgiveness Muscle

If there is such a thing, I don't know where it is, nor how to move it.

I know only how to express forgiveness in concrete, physical actions. My hope in such expressions is that somehow, the "forgiveness muscle" will move---maybe just a tiny bit---and I'll be able to fulfill the commandment of the Good Master and open myself to the gifts He so earnestly desires me to have through this emulation of- and participation in- His inner life.

I was able to do that today and I feel a little more freedom, a little more readiness to face my own judgment, a little more innocence before His Sacrament. Yet, there is still so much more work to do.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Praying With Children

I've been wanting a prayer routine in my home for quite some time and only recently have I gotten any traction on this. I'm not currently aware of any good resources for praying with small children.

During Lent, we started praying an (abbreviated) Rosary with our Carol (3) and Anna (1.5) before bed. How much? A single mystery, with the usual material before and after it. We used a "Scriptural Rosary" book. Carol jumps in half-way through the "Our Father" and the "Hail Mary". At the end of each Hail Mary, Carol puts an cross into a basket. Anna squirms in my lap and occasionally says "Alleluia!"

Lent was somewhat tragic for us. We lost a(nother) baby to miscarriage, lost our prayer momentum, and didn't recover it until Easter. Now we pray two mysteries instead of one, and use another "Scriptural Rosary" book that is a little more kid-friendly. It has better pictures and each of the Hail-Mary thoughts is a simple paraphrase of scripture rather than a direct quotation. Instead of saying the Salve Regina, we sing another Marian antiphon that we actually know: Regina Caeli. When we're short on time, we telescope this whole thing down to an Our Father with simple intercessions.

We've also started praying more consistently before I leave for work in the morning. Historically, this has been as simple as an Our Father with intercessions, but we've started chanting "Lord, open my lips" followed by Psalm 95. (Tones from "Christian Prayer".) Perhaps you can see where this is going: a family prayer routine based on the Liturgy of the Hours.

How much actual prayer takes place with children this small? I have no idea. At least they are hearing the words repeated over and over again. At least they will see Mommy and Daddy taking time out of their day to pray with them in their earliest memories. And I'm finding that I'm actually able to pray despite the toddler squirming in my lap, and sometimes the slower pace helps me to pray better that I might pray in "ideal" circumstances.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I Love the Easter Vigil

I love the Easter Vigil. It is so full of hope.

I remember when "hope" was a dirty word in my vocabulary. I understood it as a kind of cowardly retreat from the senses into a warm and sticky sentimentality. Hearing Christians use that word did nothing to improve my opinion of them.

And then a lot of stuff happened and "hope" became something ontological, something rational. The former "autonomic" associations are gone, and have faded to nothing but a memory of historical events.

I find it interesting how our privately held definitions for words change as we change.