Monthly Archives: June 2015

What is he doing now?!

By Allan Gillis

The BBC is reporting that the Holy Father in Rome is going to Bolivia in July as part of a Latin American visit. He reportedly has asked to “chew coca leaves” when he arrives in the Andean nation. Coca leaves were declared an illegal substance under the 1961 UN convention on narcotic drugs. Coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine, has been used in the Andes for thousands of years to combat altitude sickness and as a mild stimulant.
Now it may be harmless… but it WILL BE UNCLEAR to many – starting with me – as to what good this will do to save souls. Why does he have to do this?  What the hell is this guy doing? He’s the Pope! I mean – beach balls on an altar?, tango-Masses?, washing women’s feet on Holy Thursday?
“Who am I to judge?”. THAT was a walk into the wall wasn’t it?!
I sometimes just shake my head and wonder if this Roman Pontiff has a clue about all these seemingly childish – maybe even irresponsible statements and actions that cause confusion at best and scandal even worse.
I continue to pray for the Holy Father – my Pope. I ask for his health and long life – but, God, I wince as I ask for the Heavenly delivery of the Pope’s intentions.  I sometimes have to wonder.vINCENZO A sAN pIETRO

Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect

gladius sotto lunaBy Allan Gillis

My Brother Stephen seems to revel in the “disruptive” nature of St. Francis’ ministry. I wonder if my middle-aged (perhaps even “grumpy”) temperament can really stand for too much “hagan lio!” of late. Aren’t we as men to bring order to the chaos? I mean, the task Adam had in Eden was to tend the garden… bring symmetry and even – dare I say: “husbandry”? In His mandate to mankind, Holy Scripture says in Genesis Chapter 1: “And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth. And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat: And to all beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon. And it was so done.” (I tip my scally-cap to my vegetarian friends – they love this dietary clause in scripture!)
So, back to order…and chaos. Order – to me anyway; is what the great Ancients strove for. Answers from the question, light from the darkness, peace from the anguish, flowers from the weeds, structure from the miasma. I’m not too keen lately on “raging against the machine” like I was in my twenties and thirties. I screamed and raged with the best of ‘em! I now enjoy sipping my Oban by the fireplace in quiet solitude… reflecting on the day and week ahead of me. My mental task-list. Pondering and surveying my “goals and roles”. What do I need to accomplish, what can I accomplish – then enumerate and categorize…then prioritize. Then, God willing, I execute. Well, God is willing – will I be?
Young men turn over the tables. Older, wiser men protect and preserve. Of course we run the risk of being stodgy, out-date, sticks-the-mud – but the dialectic between young idealism and mature être is primordial. Oftentimes the old is displaced by the new… sometimes not. I’m in the mood lately to fight for the latter. Hence, my political and theological/liturgical conservatism. I just reject the notion that has been the hallmark of my generation; we should throw the baby out with the bathwater and start anew. I reject this. It seems too many things, too many institutions need to be reformed. I say; let us slow down and rethink some of this! I have come to maybe not learn – at least completely – but certainly to revere virtues such as Baldassare Castiglione laid out in his « The Book of the Courtier ». Here we are introduced to the five manly virtues that were esteemed by any gentleman/knight in the Middle Ages across Christendom and codified by the Count in the 15th Century. I love these characteristics (offered to us in Latin) and have devised a scheme to try and implement them into my own life and character. I do strive to be a better man always. I strive to surround myself with those who will continually call me to a higher self. Sometimes, we find these people already dead – but, thank God they were able to read and write! Here is a sloppy mock-up of what we’ll call : APROC
Acies, Probitas, Ratio, Ordo and finally, Constantia.
ACIES – I see the first virtue as one that appeals to me in a number of ways. It translates to « sharpness ». I want to be sharp, cutting – on the edge. On my game. Professionally astute and ready for market changes. Aware of the competition and ready to dispatch. I want to be physically sharp. Strong. Honed. To be always able to provide and protect me and mine. I want my mind to be sharp – reading and staying informed. To know Holy Scripture and read the Early Church Fathers. As a man, I want to be SHARP.
PROBITAS – What is appropriate. Socially, do I handle myself with grace and humilty while radiating a sense of right and wrong…with integrity? Am I generous? Do I pay my bills on time? Do I cheat on my taxes? Am I on time for appointments? Am I deferential in demeanor to women and older men? Do I have an over-arching aura of decorum? Am I a slob? Do I dress accordingly to show respect for place and time? Do I use foul language to demonstrate how cool I am ?
RATIO – Rational thinking. Am I impulsive? Am I an angry man? Do I plan – as a rule – or go by the seat of my pants? Am I the go-to-guy for help in incidents or accidents by others? Can I remain calm and take charge in an emergency? Am I known as one who gives good counsel?
ORDO – Order. A place for everything and everything in its place. Order in my home – a set time for dinner and even somewhat of a liturgy about dinnertime… how we don’t sit at the table until the lady of the house does – we don’t eat until after the prayer of thanksgiving. Children don’t leave the table until either Papa or their parent gives assent. Kids especially need order in their lives. It gives them and even us a sense of timing. Some things in life should be predictable. We as adults enjoy – maybe more than we realize having ORDO in our lives.
CONSTANTIA – Constancy. This is the tough one for me. Remaining true to a form. Remaining is the key word. Clockwork. Dependability. Am I dependable? Can God count on me to get my ass out of bed at the prescribed time to be sure to pray for all those people to whom I’ve proclaimed robotically : « yes. I’ll pray for you – I promise ! ». I sometimes say that to people to sound pious and impress. What a maroon I am sometimes! Am I a constant source of happiness for my wife? Am I steady for her? Can she count on me? It is so easy to remain somewhat constant in the good times – but, our challenge as men is to remain constant even when we’re bored or lazy, see another shiny object or are just plain being selfish. Constantia is anti-self. Remaining true to the form. Don’t FEEL about it – just DO it.
So, weekly I make a list. I call it my APROC list. I go over each virtue and give myself a task that will have me face-to-face with each virtue (and concommitant shortcoming). I set about tackling a certain habit or acquiring a certain attitude specifically for each virtue. I’ll keep you posted as I plod through the mud… « Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect ».

Developing a Johannine church as a response to the crisis: On the community of the beloved disciple

By Augustinus

The root of every crisis that has afflicted the church down through the centuries has been disputes over the nature of Jesus. Was he truly divine and was his crucifixion an expiatory sacrifice and the source of our salvation? These are the questions that separate the wheat from chaff and will always do so…

High christology refers to the idea that Jesus was the logos incarnate and died an expiatory sacrificial death on the cross and then was resurrected from that death in glory. Resistance to this fantastic story and to the idea that Jesus was an incarnation of God in the flesh began right at the start of the church and persists to this day. Islam defines itself in opposition to this idea as does Judaism. Within the Christian church itself there are many voices that urge a movement away from this high Christology as it is considered anti-scientific and immoderate. The idea that the divine can be killed as a sacrificial victim on the cross is particularly repugnant to Islam, Judaism and the modernizers within the church.

It will therefore be instructive to investigate the ancient sources of this high Christology to see if lessons can be drawn as to how best to combat modern deniers of this high Christology.

One of the sources of ‘high Christology’ in the Christian tradition has been the fourth gospel. Behind this gospel lay one of the most intriguing of early Christian communities: the Johannine community, otherwise known as the ‘community of the beloved disciple’. The author of the fourth gospel identified himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ and the community that formed around this disciple has ever since been called the community of the beloved disciple.

One of the most respected reconstructions of the history and theology of the community of the beloved disciple; the community that produced the fourth gospel and the epistles attributed to John, has been Raymond E. Brown. I will discuss some of the ideas in his 1979 landmark book on the community of the beloved disciple. Brown emphasized the theme of the development of a high Christology and that is the theme I will develop here as well.

Brown begins his treatment with a discussion of method and notes that he used to hold with tradition that the author of the fourth gospel was the Apostle John but after reading the work of his colleague J. Louis Martyn, Brown could no longer hold to the traditional view. Brown reasonably argues that we have to accept results of the latest science or produce good, rational reasons not to accept what the latest science can tell us about the gospels. Scholarly biblical criticism has now produced something of a consensus around the view that the Apostle was not the author of the fourth gospel. Biblical criticism focuses on the ‘life situation’ of the community associated with the texts of interest as well as the internal logic and sense of the texts themselves. The texts tell us what issues were facing the community that produced the texts. For Brown one of the most prominent issues facing the early Johannine church was the ‘Christological’ question of just who Jesus was.

Was Jesus just a wisdom teacher? Was he merely an enlightened human being and not a god? Was he God and not human at all? Was he a reincarnation of a prophet like Elijah or Moses? Or was he God himself? But if God how could that be as Jesus himself prayed to his ‘Father’. In addition John the Baptist baptized Jesus. If Jesus was God why did he need baptism? How could Jesus be the Messiah as that was a Royal title and Jesus was crucified.

According to Brown these were some of the theological issues that concerned the early Johannine community. Don’t they sound remarkably modern! The fourth gospel was written to the ‘Community of the beloved disciple’ but this community included several factions including 1) former disciples of John the Baptist, 2) a group who held to a very high Christology (Jesus as LOGOS–these members had probably been expelled from the synagogue for holding these beliefs) and 3) a group who exhibited an anti-Temple bias possibly associated with the Essenes. There was probably also 4) a group of gentile converts as there is much material in the gospel that explains Jewish customs and references.

Brown posits four phases in creation of the written texts associated with the beloved disciple. These are: 1. The period before the gospel was written (between death of Jesus and after the fall of Jerusalem (AD 70). The writing of the core material of the gospel occurred prior to the expulsion of Johannine Christians from the synagogues (John 9:22; 16:2); 2. The period when the first version of the gospel itself was written (around 90 AD) after the Jewish persecution; 3) when the epistles were written when intra-community schisms began to be develop again around Christological issues and; 4. The period after the last Johanine epistle was written and the final version of the gospel was edited (100-110 AD).

Brown’s basic thesis seems to be that the community began with a group of Jewish Christians, disciples of Jesus and John the Baptist, eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry who held to a low Christology. Jesus was considered to be the potential messiah and a prophet along the lines of John the Baptist. He might even be considered a son of God along the lines of the Davidic royal person. Jesus was definitely God-sent but he was not divine himself. Into this group of Jewish disciples of Jesus espousing a low Christology came another group of followers of Jesus who held to a high Christology. These too were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ earthly ministry as the writer of the gospel himself emphasizes…particularly at the end of the gospel (John 21:24).

It is not clear why this second group developed a high Christology. At first these members (who also exhibited the anti-Temple bias) of the Johannine community seemed to espouse a low Christology like the original members of the group did: they treated Jesus as another Moses or wisdom figure who like Moses had seen God face to face and had been with God on the mountain and brought God’s word down to earth. But then Brown argues that they facilitated development within the Johannine community of a high Christology with Jesus as a logos figure pre-existing with God. This development appears to have been led by the beloved disciple himself who had seen Jesus face to face, spent time with him, witnessed the crucifixion (unlike the other apostles), witnessed the empty tomb and received special treatment from Jesus throughout Jesus ministry and was now sheltering Jesus’ mother Mary.

But then this theological development created a reaction and friction with mainline Jews who thought that these Christians were breaking with monotheism. These Jews had the Johannine Christians either sanctioned or outright expelled from the Temple and subjected to persecution. So the gospel was directed against ‘the Jews’ and these ‘children of darkness’ and in support of the ‘children of light’ who saw Jesus as logos. These theological developments coincided with the destruction of the Temple and the demise of the Temple priesthood and the rise of the new Pharisee party that emerged from the council of Jamnia. The early anti-temple bias no longer mattered as the new threat was from the rise of rabbinic Judaism and its hostility to Christianity. There was apparently a late first century ‘benediction’ or curse against the Christians promulgated in the synagogues and Brown claims that this was a critical factor in creating an animus between the Johannine community and the ‘Jews’. This animus of course appears throughout the fourth gospel. The high Christology had to be emphasized against crypto-Christians who wanted to remain in the synagogues and against former followers of John the Baptist so the high Christological theme was emphasized throughout the gospel.

I am particularly interested in the early faction of Jewish Christians who Brown argues were characterized by an anti-Temple bias because they, under the leadership of the beloved disciple developed the high Christology and were later the ones who had been expelled from the synagogue. Perhaps the early anti-temple bias was due to associations with the Essene community whose scriptures were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. An alternative source for the anti-Temple bias may have been recent conversions from Samaria. The story of the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well points to a special relationship between the Johannine community and the Samaritans who did not worship at the Temple in Jerusalem.

In any case it was these anti-temple members who Brown asserts developed the high Christology that characterizes the first gospel. Why or how did these individuals catalyze the development of the sublime Christology we find the fourth gospel? They must have been influenced by Greek culture given the utilization of the logos concept. But Greek culture alone could not account for the development of the sublime Christology we find in the fourth gospel.

A third body of material found in John that might shed some light on the development of the high Christology is the pervasive dualism of the gospel. We find the themes of light versus the darkness; world vs. elect; flesh vs spirit, truth vs the lie and so forth. Jesus is the light of the world. He existed before Abraham (8:12-59). The light shineth in the darkness with the world cast in the role of darkness. These dualistic themes of good vs evil are echoed in some of the dead sea scrolls derived from the Essene community at Qumran (the temple scroll, the war scroll and the Damascus scroll for example). These Qumram community members were very pious Jews who felt that the Temple had been corrupted and thus they separated themselves from mainstream Judaism of the period. They were led at first by a ‘teacher of righteousness’ in the century before Jesus. They kept the memory of this teacher alive. They grew increasingly alienated from Temple worship but did not jettison the notion of animal sacrifice that was so central to temple worship. They also developed apocalyptical themes in response presumably to the impending cataclysmic clash with Rome. They like the gospel of John too spoke in terms of children of the light versus children of the darkness or evil. The expression “sons of light” is a key term in the War Scroll, one of the Essenes’ self-designations. The same term appears in John 12:38. Baptism, or ritual immersion, plays a key role in the Community Rule of the Essenes and in the New Testament. It is therefore possible that some members of what was left of the Qumram community became followers of Jesus when Jesus appeared.

Ultimately the dualistic theme of light versus darkness with light equivalent to goodness may derive from Zoroastrianism. The Jews, like everyone else in the ancient near east would have been exposed to the Persian religion during the period of the return from Exile when Cyrus rebuilt the Temple (the second temple period). By the time of the Maccabees, however, the Temple and the high priesthood had been compromised in the eyes of the leader of the Essenes, The Teacher of Righteousness (which interestingly was a religious title in Zoroastrianism) and thus they separated themselves from the temple worship. This anti-temple bias can be detected in John as can the dualistic theme so beloved of the Essenes.

Ultimately however we have to find the real source of the high Christology in John in the beloved disciple himself, supported by ex-members of the Essenes. It was the beloved disciple who witnessed Jesus’ life first hand, face to face as well as his crucifixion. He knew Jesus better than anyone else. He was Jesus’ preferred confidante. Even though Peter was the preferred leader of the disciples, the beloved disciple apparently received Jesus’s special revelation and he remained true to this revelation to the end.

In Brown’s fourth phase of development of the Johannine community, after the death of the long lived beloved disciple, he maintains that Christological themes continued to divide the people. In 1 John the presbyter is concerned to heal divisions within the Johannine community. A group had separated from the main body of the community (Brown calls these secessionists) on the basis of the nature of Jesus’ nature and earthly mission. They seemed to have downplayed the cross or Jesus’ death as expiation for sin (1 John 1:7; 2:2; 4:10 and 5: 6). In 2 John the author sends a letter to a distant daughter community in order to prevent schism along the same lines (i.e. due to differences over the meaning of the Passion). There also appears to be a danger of dissident teachers as the author attempts to bolster his readers against false teachers (II John 10-11). In 3 John the issue is one of church authority rather than Christological error. Diotrephes refuses hospitality of the main community and is a false teacher that needs to be guarded against.

Nevertheless the prestige and legacy of the beloved disciple was strong enough to keep a Johannine sensibility alive in the church through the turbulent birth of Christianity as an empire – wide religion. The Johannine church is still alive today but dormant and under sustained attack from all sides. Just as the earliest Christian communities had to fight to keep alive the beloved disciple’s special revelation so to must we today do the same in order to overcome the current crisis in the church today as in the final analysis it is a very old crisis.

Brown, R. E. (1979). The community of the beloved disciple. The life loves and hates of a individual church in New testament times. New York Paulist Press.


Brown, R. (1997). An introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday.


Brown, R., Fitzmeyer, J., and Murphy, R (Eds). (1990). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.


Coogan, Michael, ed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha Fourth Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.


Acknowledgement: This piece is excerpted and modified from a longer work by Augustinus submitted to St Joseph’s College in 2012

Book review


By Augustinus

Why Priests: A failed tradition. By Gary Wills Penguin Books; Reprint edition (January 28, 2014)

In his recent book “Why priests” Gary Wills wants to do away with the roman catholic priest. He finds priests to be treated too specially by catholics. In his childhood priests were treated as “sacred” beings and this affronts his egalitarian instincts and perhaps his jealous regard to treat only God as sacred. He finds the notion of the real presence in the communion host not only superstitious but nefarious because it gives rise to all kinds of distortions from the doctrine of transubstantiation to so-called Eucharistic miracles. He cites some historical tragedies where hapless mentally ill individuals and sometimes Jews were accused of stomping on or otherwise abusing consecrated hosts and then were murdered hideously for this supposed crime. Wills points out that the claim that Christ is really present in the communion host lies at the source of the justification for the priesthood as the priest is the only individual who can change bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Like many others he finds the doctrine of expiatory sacrifice repugnant with its notion of an angry God who can only be appeased by the blood of his son. He finds the source of papal abuses in the tradition of the priesthood and the priesthood linked to the notion of the Eucharist as a sacrifice rather than a mere communal meal…and he traces this latter ‘distortion” to one place: the letter to the Hebrews wherein it is claimed that there is no salvation without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22).

Like many other schismatics before him Wills wants to jettison those scriptures (e.g. the letter to the Hebrews) that contradict his vision for the church. But Wills fails to address the larger issue that the notion of expiatory sacrifice is firmly embedded in the entire Bible including the entire New Testament. It is NOT confined to the letter to the Hebrews. Paul says “we have redemption through His blood” (Ephesians 1:7), He “made peace through the blood” (Colossians 1:20), and we are now justified “through faith in His blood” (Romans 3:25). The book of revelation is replete with sacrificial imagery and expiatory sacrifice as is the Gospel of John. In the gospel of John we have the famous scene wherein Jesus says explicitly if you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. The synoptics all have some version fo the saying that the son of man gives his life as a ransom for the sins of the many.

Wills is right—the justification for the priesthood including the papacy is ultimately rooted in the idea of the Eucharist as a reenactment of Jesus’ expiatory sacrifice. His problem however is that you cannot jettison the notion of Jesus’ expiatory sacrifice without gutting the scriptures. Just as Jesus’ listeners were scandalized by his insistence that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to attain salvation so too are the good and reasonable people of our own time, like Wills, scandalized.

A Disruptive Presence

Many years ago, our Franciscan Fraternity invited one of the Friars from Arch Street (Boston) to come and direct a one day retreat. I remember he was a good speaker and delivered a great retreat, but of all that he said that day, one sentence continues to stick in my mind. It was early in his first lecture, as he was talking about the Franciscan charism, when he said, “Franciscans are called to be a disruptive presence in the Church”.

His statement stopped me in my tracks and never left me. That simple sentence defined my Franciscan ministry as I started to recognize just how disruptive St Francis was to the status quo of his time and how uncomfortable he made everyone by his all out, unfiltered Catholicism as he stood as a homeless beggar in the street and loudly pointed to the poor, crucified Christ.

There is so much discomfort for those witnessing and those witnessing to the Catholic faith. Even more than in Francis’ time, our society spends significant time and money convincing everyone that how we live and especially how we consume is not only good, but necessary. Yet, by simply being present as a poor, homeless, beggar, St Francis started a revolution that continues today. This discomfort is at the heart of Pope Francis’ new encyclical. Like St Francis standing on the corner in rags, the encyclical makes people wonder, even just for a few seconds, if something in their life needs to change.




I have not finished Pope Francis’ encyclical, but I am reading it and encourage everyone to read it as well. Please remember that EVERYONE who tries to tell you what the encyclical is about (good or bad) is filtering it through their agenda. I urge you to read it and pray with an open mind and heart.

I am a Secular Franciscan and my initial thoughts were that this is clearly influenced by the teachings of St Francis of Assisi. Two thousand years ago, Jesus used a parable to ask “who is my neighbor”. Twelve hundred years later, St Francis answered with his “Canticle of the Creatures” which taught that EVERYTHING is part of God’s community. Francis called out Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Mother Earth, fire, water and all creatures in his poem to remind us that we are all connected to each other and our environment.

Eight hundred years later, as the nineteenth and twentieth century brought increasing insult to our planet, our Popes started revisiting the connection between wealth, the environment and the impact to our global community. There has been a lot of research, prayer and thought into this encyclical and to me, it offers a detailed and very Franciscan view of our connectedness and the impact of sin throughout our shared environment.

Please remember, there are a lot of people who stand to gain or lose money, power, prestige and votes based on this document. I urge everyone to remember the words of St Paul (I think) who said “test everything, retain what is good”.


Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put all my trust in You

The crisis of lack of belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, is not a recent occurrence.

In 1691, Fr john Croiset, S.J. published “The Devotion tho the Sacred Heart“, which he based on the visions of St Margret Mary Alacoque, to spread the devotion to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus throughout the Church. The Sacred Heart is a wonderful devotion (one of my favorites) that is still with us today, but while the devotion itself is well documented, much has been lost on the original reason for the devotion that was so important to both Sr Margaret Mary and Fr John. This reason is outlined in Chapter 1 where he states,  “The object and principal motive for this devotion, is, as has been already said, the immense love which Jesus Christ has for men who, for the most part, have nothing but contempt or at least indifference to him”. Later on the same page, he explains in more detail by stating “This devotion consists, therefore, in ardently loving Jesus Christ, whom we have always with us in the adorable Sacrament of the Eucharist, and in showing this ardent love by our grief in seeing Him so little honored by men and by our acts or reparation for this contempt and this want of love.”

Throughout the first chapter, Fr John makes clear that the reason for the devotion to the Sacred Heart is to push back on the increasing lack of belief in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist during that period. This was a problem for the Church 400 years ago and is an even bigger problem now, as the devotion to the Sacred Heart lost it’s meaning to an increasingly “pragmatic” Catholic community in Europe and the USA. Clearly, the understanding of the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and the belief in this miracle of the Mass has lost it’s meaning to the faithful.

Without the belief in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, all the pageantry, gestures, music, smells and bells of the Mass lose their meaning. Without the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we are simply another Christian congregation stepping through another tedious series of symbolic gestures with the hope that “we” are the Body of Christ through our presence and the Word alone. Catholics who do not believe in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist have no reason to stick around, because, clearly, the Evangelicals do it better and have a much better time on Sunday.

This massive problem is exacerbated by Catholic Bishops who do not know how to respond to the crisis and instead, focus their outward obsessions with dress and gestures with the hope that their increased pageantry will somehow get through to a bored and uncaring congregation.  This is not working.

The only answer to the problem is to stop obsessing about liturgical gestures and start witnessing to the presence of Christ.

  • It does not matter what language the priest speaks – Jesus is there in the Eucharist
  • It does not matter what the church looks like – Jesus is there in the Eucharist
  • It does not matter what the priest wears – Jesus is there in the Eucharist
  • It does not matter how the people in the pews dress – Jesus is there in the Eucharist
  • It does not matter if someone forgets to kneel or stand or forgets the response – Jesus is there in the Eucharist.
  • It does not matter the style of music or instruments – Jesus is there in the Eucharist.

Let me state that I believe with all my heart that Jesus is there in the Eucharist. This is the heart of the Catholic Church and by rebuilding the belief in the presence of Christ, we rebuild the Church.

Steve Shields OFS








The marks of the church in the modern age

By Augustinus

The church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The church is one because God is One. The church is holy because it is Christ’s mystical body and Christ is holy. In addition, the life of the church subsists in its sacramental character, and the sacraments create Godliness or holiness. The church is catholic in its universal call and invitation to holiness, as well as to participation in the sacraments. All are invited to be part of the mystical body of the Christ. The church is apostolic because it is rooted in the life and missionary activities of the 12 apostles, with Peter as leader. In addition, the apostolic character of the church is manifested in the sacrament of holy orders wherein the “laying on of hands” proceeds from its source in Christ to apostle to initiate/presbyster to bishop down through the centuries to ensure that the sacred deposit of faith is passed on intact across the generations.

These four marks, unity, sanctity, catholicity and apostolicity, provide sure signs that church is present when they are present and that church is absent when they are absent. They also provide guideposts for members of the church to strive to more fully realize church. While the sanctity of the church (not the church members) is guaranteed by Christ’s statement “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18)”, there are constant temptations to break the unity of the church, limit its catholicity or to undermine its apostolicity. Unity can be undermined by schism. Catholicity can be constrained by an over emphasis on excluding others due to non-essential doctrinal differences; or by downplaying real doctrinal differences in such a way as to not reverence what we have been given by the Lord. Catholicity can also be undermined lack of missionary effort to reach all nations. Apostolicity can be undermined by either overemphasizing or underemphasizing the hierarchical structure of the church. The reduction in heeding the call to vocations to the priesthood can also undermine apostolicity. In short, the four marks of the church allow us to work to build up church so as to more fully conform to the mystical body of Christ. The four marks of the church are the marks of Christ’s resurrected body as it subsists in time or world.

The four marks of the church inform Dulles’ five models of church (institution, communion, sacrament, herald, and servant) but they would exclude denominations or groups that exclude apostolicity, catholicity and unity. Holiness or Sanctity is a mark God confers and outside of extreme cases hard for observers of a group to judge. So we cannot easily use the mark of holiness/sanctity to judge models. Virtually all Christian groups practice at least one of the sacraments (baptism), and when they do they arguably contain the visible mark of sanctity. Even, however, when groups do not practice the sacraments it is difficult to conclude that holiness is absent. Some radical Anabaptist groups, for example, evidence a true holiness, but they do not practice a sacramental spirituality. When groups, however, argue against apostolic succession as a criteria for church they necessarily place themselves outside this important Christian tradition. The radical protestant critique of apostolic succession centers on a supposed Catholic and Orthodox deviation away from scripture-described, and spirit-ordained models of presbysters/elders leading the church to a more hierarchical and authoritarian interpretation of the role of bishops. The protestant and orthodox rejection of the Roman Catholic view of the central role of the Petrine ministry is rooted in different ideas of the mark of apostolicity. When groups place themselves in schism with the wider church by adopting clearly heretical doctrine they necessarily lose the mark of unity, and place themselves outside of Christian tradition. There have been many examples of this down through the centuries from the early Jewish sects that denied the divinity of Jesus to the modern Unitarians that deny the trinity. When groups deny that all persons are called to union with God they lose the mark of catholicity and thus exclude themselves from Christian tradition. Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28:19) to go and make disciples of all nations. The gospel is intended for all –not a special elect or secret group of adepts.

Nevertheless the apostolicity mark needs to be understood correctly—not as mere hiearachy. The Marian dimension of the church’s character precedes it Petrine character (CCC #773). This means that the church’s contemplative character precedes its active character. Mary ponders things in her heart when she witnesses divine revelation. She gives her consent to the incarnation and makes it happen. Mary as the spotless bride responds with love to the gift of the bridegrooms love. She is clothed with the sun and crushes the serpent’s head of ignorance and the lie. She magnifies the glory of the Lord, she gives voice to the marginalized and the poor and she advises us to do whatever He (her son) tells us to do. Unlike Peter, Mary never denies her son and she never deserts Him. She was there even at the foot of the cross.

Given that she was given (by the Lord himself) into the care of the apostle John, the Marian character of the church might to some extent be reflected in Johannine spirituality as reflected in John’s gospel and the church traditions flowing from that. The mark of church unity is rooted in the logos given birth by Mary; the word that creates and orders the cosmos and our lives in church. Unity is achieved by Mary’s contemplative stance as much as by Peter’s impetuous love for action on behalf of Christ. Mary embodies the holiness that characterizes church and its sacramental life. She is perfectly conformed to God’s will. She also embodies the mark of apostolicity as the Queen of the apostles and like the church is the bride of the logos. She helps to initiate Christ’s public ministry by asking Him to change water into wine that enlivens the guests at the wedding feast. Finally Mary also embodies the universal call to church, the church’s catholicity in her role as bride and God-bearer. She is receptive to all who call on her and she is generative. She accepts the divine seed, incarnates it, and manifests it. The fruit of her womb is blessed. All nations shall call her blessed.

The Petrine character of the church is informed by its Marian contemplative character. It manifests the fruits of this gestative, contemplative, generative Marian process in the church. The Petrine character clearly manifest apostolicity as it embodies the role of the bishop of Rome in passing on the sacred deposit of faith to succeeding generations. The hierarchical structure of the church is also a sign of unity as it roots the church in a single, historical person, Jesus and refers its life and authority back to Him and Him alone. The Petrine ministry is one of vigorous, fearless action on behalf of Christ, and therefore its missionary impulse manifests the mark of catholicity. The church calls all into its fold and Peter is the one who constantly issues that call. The Petrine militates against schism because the buck stops with the Pope and the magisterium. After discussion and prayer if a clear statement needs to be made the Pope will have to do so and this clarity promotes unity. Finally, the Petrine character of the church realizes the church’s holiness as the priests have the responsibility of dispensing the sacraments, and it is these that ensure the holiness character of the church. None of this denies the obvious distortions that can occur when the Petrine ministry is done poorly or wrong. The councils provide a check on papal distortions and errors

Both Dulles and McCormick mention the councils as a check on papal over-reach. Both authors see Vatican II as a watershed mark in the church’s modern history. McCormick argues that Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae and the Curran affair created dangers to unity and apostolicity given the widespread dis-satisfaction among some theologians with the ruling against contraception. Dulles mentions that some of the interpretations and variants of liberation theology had a tendency to reduce the Christian message to a theme of mere social reform. If that interpretation of liberation theology had won the day it would have undermined the mark of catholicity; that all are called to holiness, to union with God; not just social emancipation. It is easy, however, for those not in poverty to forget how crushingly deadening to the human spirit poverty can be. Thus, the Marian dimension of the church, its option for the poor and the defenseless (like the unborn), and its solidarity with those who are afflicted, can recall the mark of catholicity while recognizing the true nature of poverty as an evil.

The church is heading into a global era, and in some countries it is likely headed into an era of persecution and marginalization. While globalization will emphasize the church’s catholicity, it may also undermine its unity. Globalization will entail more frequent interactions with other religions and thus the church’s unity and catholicity will be tested in the realm of ecumenical dialog and interaction with other faiths. The church’s ability to assimilate the good in all other traditions is a mark of its unity as the body of Christ. It is a living organism that can ward off the evil and assimilate the good, the true and the beautiful wherever it sees it.

While the ongoing secularization of modern societies may enhance the church’s internal unity, it may also undermine the church’s apostolic presence as priests and bishops come under the increasingly hostile restrictions of the secular authorities. The source of the church’s holiness in its sacraments may be increasingly more difficult to practice. If state authorities outlaw the mass, or jail priests for refusing to perform same-sex marriages, or sanction church institutions and schools for refusing to teach contraceptive sexual activity etc., it will become more difficult to access the sacraments and church teachings. In many ways the greatest danger to the church in the modern world is the state, the secular state that sees religion as a competitor to total domination of the people. The state is the Leviathan come to life in the modern world. Its first manifestations were the totalitarian regimes of the last century. While totalitarian ideology proved too blunt an instrument to crush religion, its remnants are alive and well and dressed in sheep’s clothing in the modern secular state. While not yet the ruling ethos of modern elites, it remains an active element in their default assumptions about who should rule and how. That totalitarian tendency of the modern state (found all over the world) opposes the four marks of the church.

Against church unity, the state desires, and practices a divide and conquer strategy. That is why state and elite media foster a narrative where liberals battle conservatives over the soul of the church. These interpretative frames belittle the real issues whenever diverse opinion arises in the church. Against church apostolicity and hierarchy the state desires its emasculation in order to more easily control and manipulate the people of God. Against church holiness the state seeks to redefine church sacraments. In the view of elites same sex marriage is permissible and women should be ordained. In short a major challenge to the four marks of the church is dawning in the form of the aggressive secular state, controlled by elites who see themselves as more righteous and better informed than people in the pews. This challenge is recognized by all Christian denominations it seems to me and none have devised an effective strategy to meet it. Some have capitulated to modernity calling it good and progressive. Others re-act against modernity as entirely evil, throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Recourse must be made to our roots in logos, reason, united with revelation in order to preserve intact the four marks of the church in the modern age.

Works cited.


Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. (2nd ed.) Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana; Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. 1997. Print.


Dulles, Avery, S.J. “A Half Century of Ecclesiology.” Theological Studies 50 (1989): 419-442. Print.


Pope Paul VI. (1968). “Humanae vitae”: A challenge to love. Trans. Janet Smith. New Hope, KY: New Hope Publications. 1968. Print.


McCormick, Richard, S.J. “Moral Theology 1940-1989: An Overview.” Theological Studies 50 (1989): 3-24. Print.

Ratzinger, Joseph, Cardinal. Church, Ecumenism & Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2008. Print.

Acknowledgement: This piece is excerpted and modified from a longer work by Augustinus submitted to St Joseph’s College in 2012

The real presence

By Augustinus

In order to save the church we need to understand, really understand what is meant by the theological term “real presence”. The real presence refers to the absolutely real presence of our Lord during the Eucharistic sacrifice and during related sacramentals as in adoration of the Blessed Host. We moderns find it hard to believe these things but thinking on them, and pondering them in one’s heart will yield renewal. While the other sacraments make Christ present through the graces they effect in us, the Eucharist gives us Christ’s himself in bodily form. This is called the “real presence”. As Pope John Paul II puts it: “In it he is received in person as the “living bread come down from heaven” (Jn 6:51), and with him we receive the pledge of eternal life and a foretaste of the eternal banquet of the heavenly Jerusalem (Mane Nobiscum Domine [MND] 3). We cannot fully grasp the tremendous power of the Eucharist to make Christ bodily present unless we use the eyes of faith: “Faith demands that we approach the Eucharist fully aware that we are approaching Christ himself” (MND 16). It is this issue of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist that scandalizes some protestant sects today just as Jesus’ message to his contemporaries, that they must really eat his flesh and drink his blood if they were to find salvation, scandalized them.


Eucharistic sacrifice

The Eucharist is not merely a symbolic event—it is an actual sacrifice where a victim is immolated for the remission of sins. It makes really present Christ’s original sacrifice on the cross. When the Eucharist is properly celebrated we transcend time and become present at Golgotha, at the sacrifice of the cross. Christ’s sacrifice is the key event for the atonement of mankind with God, it is the key event in redemption history, and this event is present during Eucharist. “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” “And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner. . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.” (CCC# 1367)


Because we truly become present at the sacrifice of Christ, the Eucharist is not to be thought of an additional sacrifice beyond the original historical event of the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross at Golgotha. Rather, it is the representation of Christ’s once and for all sacrifice offered during His passion and death. While the original event was bloody, the Eucharist is the unbloody re-presentation of that bloody sacrifice on the Cross.


Christ becomes physically present as bread and wine during Eucharist by the process of transubstantiation. When the priest invokes the power of the Holy Spirit over the offerings fo bread and wine these items do not change their ‘accidental’ appearances. They still look like bread and wine. Nevertheless, their real fundamental, substance changes. Their substance becomes Christ’s flesh and blood. “This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation” (CCC 1376). The term transubstantiation captures this change in substance without change in appearance or accidentals. The term was elucidated by St. Thomas Aquinas. In Eucharistic miracles, however, both substance and accidental are changed into flesh and blood. The host may transform into a piece of flesh and the wine may become blood. These miracles which have happened throughout history confirm faith in the real presence of the body and blood of the Lord in the Eucharist.


While in the Eucharist the sacrifice of the cross is relived and Christ becomes really present in the bread and wine of the communion altar, the Mass itself is a memorial of Jesus’ passion, death, and Resurrection. The memorial of the Mass, however, is not just a remembering. It is also a re-living or a living into the paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. “…the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real. … In the New Testament, the memorial takes on new meaning. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present…” (CCC# 1363-1364). Because Christ becomes literally present at the memorial of the Mass, the mass itself is best understood as an encounter with the full redemptive mystery of the crucified and risen Christ.


When a Christian receives the host during the Eucharist he receives into his own bloodstream and body the resurrection body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is the stuff of the New Man of God’s creation. This is real material that transforms our current bodies into a higher physical and sacred reality. In short, we humans become united with the Godhead and we rest in the union with the beloved. This is called communion. “When the disciples on the way to Emmaus asked Jesus to stay „with‟ them, he responded by giving them a much greater gift: through the Sacrament of the Eucharist he found a way to stay in them” (MND 19).

Hahn says that to live without the sacraments is to live outside the covenant with God and that is no life at all (Hahn 152). This is all the more true for the Eucharist, given that it is in the Eucharist that we become united with Christ himself and through him with all of the church. Jesus himself said that the Eucharist was absolutely necessary: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:53-54). Here Jesus says explicitly that without the Eucharist we have no life in us. The Eucharist is also absolutely necessary for the Church’s life. The priesthood exists to bring the Eucharist to the people. Baptism, confession and confirmation exists to purify us so that we can partake in Eucharist and achieve union with Christ.

Eucharist and the missionary life of the Church

We cannot effectively evangelize others unless we have something or someone to give them. In Eucharist we receive the joy of Christ in utterly real terms. It is this joy and this person Christ that we give away to others in evangelistic activity. This joy impels us to genuine missionary activity, which is always a sharing of good news. In Mane Nobiscum Domine, John Paul II points out that the disciples who suddenly recognized Jesus after he broke bread with them, immediately set out for Jerusalem to share the good news with the other disciples. “Once we have truly met the Risen One by partaking of his body and blood, we cannot keep to ourselves the joy we have experienced” (MND 24).

Eucharistic miracles give us a sign that testifies to the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine on the altar. One such miracle is the one that created the tradition of Eucharistic adoration as well as St Thomas Aquinas’ profound meditations on the mystery of the real presence. That miracle occurred in 1263 in Orvieto and Bolseno, Italy, long before the controversies erupted over the real presence with the protestant reformation. A priest by the name of Petrus was skeptical of the concept of the real presence, until one day while saying mass blood began to stream out of the host and onto the corporal at the moment of consecration. On news and investigation of this miracle pope Urban IV created the feast of Corpus Christi and then asked St Thomas to compose the office for the feast, which we still celebrate to this day.

Although Christ’s once and for all sacrifice won for us justification in the eyes of God, we need to participate in that sacrifice in order for it to become operative in us. We need to cooperate with the grace won for us by Jesus if it is to bring us to heaven. God does not force salvation on us. We need to cooperate with grace in order to become Christlike. We do this by uniting ourselves with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We “merit” heaven by sacrificing ourselves via union with Chris’s meritorious self-sacrifice. We unite our sacrifice with Christ’s when we participate in eucharist. “Merit and reparation, in short, are events in the life of man, reflecting God’s working within him; they cannot affect God; rather they reveal His design for man”

In the Eucharist Christ as High Priest offers himself as pure and holy victim for remission of the sins of humanity. This self-offering of Christ on behalf of humanity is re-lived each time the mass is performed. During the Eucharist we imitate Christ’s self-offering by offering our own selves up to God. Just as Christ gave himself totally in obedience to God the Father, so too do we during Eucharist. When we take up our daily crosses and offer them up to God during Eucharist they become united with Christ’s offering which has infinite value in the eyes of God.

Our self-offering to God flows from Christ’s self-offering insofar as we unite our crosses and sufferings with those of Christ himself when he was crucified on the cross. Since he was spotless and without sin His sacrifice was of infinite value and it ransomed us away from the evil one so that we could become children of God once again.

At the last supper Jesus explicitly said that the bread and wine were his real body and blood, and that if we did not eat his flesh and drink his blood we would not be saved. The church exists for the salvation of the world. But the salvation of the world depends, as just mentioned, on eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ, i.e. the Eucharist. Therefore, Church itself depends on the Eucharist. As O’Neill says, “…the central idea to grasp is that Christ’s primary intention was to leave his body (via the Eucharist-pm) with the Church…His body is the foundational sacrament of the mystery of the redemption” (O’Neill 163). The Church quite literally is the body of Christ. This theological reality is most evident in the Eucharist, but it is also the reality that vivifies the Church and gives it power to sanctify men.

Because Jesus is bodily present in the Eucharist, the consumption of His sacred body and blood literally unifies us with Him. Our flesh becomes one flesh with Him. This power to bring man into union with God is the key to the graces the Eucharist bestows on men and it is the key to its power to create Church. “The other [sacraments] derive their power from the body of Christ active through them; this one, however, contains the body “of itself” …it has power to give grace‟ (O’Neill 171).

A very significant effect of the real presence of Christ in Eucharist therefore is to create Church, the mystical body of Christ. The body of the resurrected Christ is a new, higher physical and spiritual reality that, as scripture says, continually gives off power (Luke 8). That power is the power to heal, to bring peace, to sanctify and to bring people into communion with one another and with God.

There is no magic in this. Easting the flesh and drinking the blood of this higher sacred reality that is the body of Christ, produces sanctity, and union with God because it produces the supernatural virtues in us, faith, hope and charity. “The Eucharist, in short, causes the unity of the mystical body because it causes charity. … There is no charity and nothing belonging to the Church which escapes the influence of the sacrament” (O’Neill 173). The incarnate and resurrected body of the Son of God is the very essence of God. God is Love. Therefore, when we eat this bread and drink this blood, we become Godlike insofar as we let Love flood our hearts and minds. Through Christ’s body come all graces and the Church is Christ’s mystical body this side of time, in the world.

The ecclesial existence of Christ, i.e. Christ’s vivification of His Church, happens primarily through the sacraments with the Eucharist being the summit sacrament. In addition, Christ vivifies His Church by mediating between man and the Father. The Father looks, as it were, at humanity and sees the perfect response of obedience that Christ accomplished for us.

Finally the body of Christ gives us nourishment or food for the journey through this life and onto the higher reality of heaven, where we will put on bodies much like the resurrected body of Christ. The Eucharist vivifies us just like it does the Church itself. It nourishes our spirits so that we can be active, full members of the body of Christ and in this way it builds up the mystical body of the Church.

The Eucharist makes the Church because it communicates to each member of the Church that receives the Eucharist the real presence of the Lord Himself. It brings to life or manifestation the resurrected body of Christ in each member of the Church. When someone receives the Eucharist they are mingling into their bodies the God-substance of Christ as well as His resurrected humanity. They are literally putting on the New Man in Christ. They become new persons. They are no longer composed merely of fallen human physical substance. Instead they carry within the new physical, bodily reality of this Christ. All of the Church’s other sacraments are preparatory to and attendant upon the Eucharist. Baptism, confirmation and penance all are meant to purify and prepare the soul to receive Christ in the Eucharist. The Eucharist, because it transfers Christ’s bodily substance, gives power to all the other sacraments. The sacraments in turn are the lifeblood of the Church.




Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana; Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1997. Print.

Hahn, Scott. Swear to God: The Promise and Power of the Sacraments. New York: Doubleday, 2004. Print.

O’Neill, OP, Colman E. Meeting Christ in the Sacraments. Revised ed. New York: Alba House, 1991.

Pope John Paul II. Mane Nobiscum Domine, 2004.,



Acknowledgement: This piece is excerpted and modified from a longer work by Augustinus submitted to St Joseph’s College in 2012

On Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change

By Augustinus

I am surprised that many of my conservative friends, –especially my catholic conservative friends vehemently oppose Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change. All he is doing is saying that the scientists are telling us that climate change (whether manmade or natural) will disproportionately affect the poor and vulnerable of the world. If that is so it seems reasonable to suggest that is a duty of the Christian to do what he can to protect the poor and vulnerable against negative effects of climate change.

It seems to me that a truly conservative response to climate change is to do everything possible to conserve the environment. Indeed, the environmental cause itself was originally a conservative political project conceived by the conservatives (not the progressives) around the Teddy Roosevelt administration who wanted to protect what was left of the America wilderness and the national reserves. The progressives too wanted to wanted to set up national preserves –mostly in order to more efficiently exploit natural resources while the conservatives wanted to preserve wilderness areas because these were untamed, remote from state control and tended to be located in their states.

To oppose efforts to control negative effects of climate change seems to me sheer folly. Even if climate change is NOT induced by human activities we should still do everything we can to control its negative effects on human well-being.

The science is unequivocal—climate change is real. Whether human activities contribute to climate change is being contested. The fossil fuel industries, mostly supported by Arab oil interests and oil industries in the USA question whether human activities contribute to climate change. The Saudi led lobbyists claim that their efforts should not be curtailed because human activities do not contribute to the climate change we all see occurring around us.

But the world scientific community says that human activities do indeed contribute significantly to climate change and that these activities will have significant effects on human communities and businesses around the world.

The most recent definitive scientific assessment can be gleaned from the official US National assessment on climate change and its effects:

This assessment conducted just last year is from hundreds of scientists –both conservative and liberal scientists from all over the world and representing every relevant scientific discipline. A few choice quotes from this consensus statement follows:

“Evidence for changes in Earth’s climate can be found from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. Researchers from around the world have compiled this evidence using satellites, weather balloons, thermometers at surface stations, and many other types of observing systems that monitor the Earth’s weather and climate. The sum total of this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming.

Many lines of independent evidence demonstrate that the rapid warming of the past half-century is due primarily to human activities.

The report includes analyses of impacts on seven sectors – human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forests, and ecosystems – and the interactions among sectors at the national level.

While scientists continue to refine projections of the future, observations unequivocally show that climate is changing and that the warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. These emissions come mainly from burning coal, oil, and gas, with additional contributions from forest clearing and some agricultural practices.

This National Climate Assessment concludes that the evidence of human-induced climate change continues to strengthen and that impacts are increasing across the country.”