Thursday 15th November 2018

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A Book Review… Not Leftovers, But Full Meals Of Doctrine

August 3, 2018 Featured Today No Comments


That Nothing May Be Lost: Reflections on Catholic Doctrine and Devotion, by Fr. Paul D. Scalia (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2017), 190 pp. $17.95. Available from or call 1-800-651-1531.

In the miracle of the loaves and the fish, Christ instructs His disciples to “Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost,” a simple request that reveals, as Fr. Scalia explains, the Lord’s attention to detail, the importance of little things like sparrows and lilies, and His loving desire that nothing essential remain unfinished.
In the spirit of preserving everything and omitting nothing, the Church imitates the example of Christ by transmitting the entirety of Christian teaching in matters of faith and morals because “To neglect one dimension or the other, to cut corners here and there, only puts souls at risk” and leads to heresy — the failure of transmitting the fullness of the truth that results in error, the exaggeration of one part of Catholic doctrine at the exclusion of the wholeness of her universal teaching and tradition.
Imitating Christ’s example, Scalia identifies his collection of short essays or homilies as “fragments” because they are all brief and “left over” — they present nothing unknown or extraordinary. Despite their brevity, however, these reflections are not leftovers but full meals — intellectual and spiritual nourishment. For Christ’s concern that “nothing may be lost” refers not only to the bread and fish that feed the four thousand but also the heavenly food and divine truth that satisfy the soul and lead to salvation. No person should go hungry or lack knowledge of the love of Christ or of the way, the truth, and the life.
A wide-ranging series of meditations on passages from Scripture that encompass the whole of Catholic life and teaching, Scalia divides the book into nine chapters on topics like knowing and loving the Lord and the Body of Christ, the paradoxes of faith, and the sacraments. Other chapters address the beauty and power of the Virgin Mary, the lives of biblical saints like Joseph, John the Baptist, and John the Beloved.
The final chapters elucidate the life of prayer, the life of grace, and the feasts of the Church. The structure of the book provides an excellent catechesis of the comprehensive teaching and abundant richness of the Catholic faith — a copious banquet, not small morsels.
The essay “The Same Old Thing” in chapter 1 “The Lord” dwells on “how ordinary our Lord was,” the son of Joseph the carpenter without any halo, emanation of light, or host of angels. The thirty years of Christ’s hidden life in a small village “in the humdrum, common, everyday world” were notably unspectacular. The people of Nazareth who had heard of Christ’s miracles expected something marvelous or magical in their “itch for novelty,” only to fall into disbelief: “Is this not this Joseph’s son?”
In gathering up the fragments from this story, Scalia observes that God reveals His nearness and presence “through the common and familiar things” not only of domestic life and daily work but also through the same old things like the Creed, the Mass, and the rosary that order human life with meaning and purpose. Scalia explains that the routine and repetition of life’s ordinary patterns increase faith and belief in “what is unseen.”
Chapter II “The Church” notes the contradictory accusations that charge the Church with both worldliness and escape from the real world: “In short, the world demands that the Church be human and then complains that she is not divine.” While the Church promises holiness, it often delivers weakness and sin. Could the powerless, innocent Jesus on the cross be God? Could a holy Church founded by God be guilty of scandals?
This paradox Scalia explains through the historical fact of the Church’s endurance and continuity: “What should surprise us is that the Church has survived its scandals.”
Despite the fallible nature of the Church’s representatives, she remains God’s authoritative voice in the world because the failures of her leaders never compromise the integrity of her moral teachings or destroy the rock of the Church’s foundation.
In chapter III “Paradoxes of Faith” Scalia ponders the mystery of God’s intimacy and transcendence (“The sacred Host both reveals and conceals Him”). God is both the light of truth that reason grasps and a great darkness that only faith illuminates. The “fragments” Scalia gathers from these paradoxes explain the necessity of humility — the realization “that reality is greater than what we can grasp or comprehend” and always eludes the proud who rely exclusively on scientific method. He laments the separation of faith and reason in the modern world that produces skepticism (“modern thinkers doubt their ability to know anything for certain”), while science and modern philosophy deny the reasonableness of faith and the need of higher authority: “If I do not trust the Church about the truths of Revelation, then I will not be able to think clearly about God.”
Chapter IV “The Sacraments” explains the mystery of the Eucharist as the paradox of “abundant insufficiency,” alluding to Andrew’s objection to the boy’s five barley loaves and two fish as inadequate fare for the hungry crowd of four thousand: “What are they among so many?”
God, however, does much with little, asking man to contribute his small portion as He multiplies its increase, whether it is changing the water to wine at Cana or producing a bountiful feast from the loaves and fish: “When a generous soul offers what little he has, the Lord uses that small offering for tremendous good.”
The offering of the bread and wine at the altar, likewise, is a small, insufficient amount that God multiplies to become the bread of Heaven and to nourish the souls of the spiritually hungry.
Chapter V on “The Virgin Mary” captures the significance of “Our Lady of Promptness” traveling “with haste into the hill country” to Elizabeth. The fragments that Scalia gleans from this simple phrase present another facet of the Holy Mother’s noble example of Christian life. Without panic or tension, Mary exemplifies diligence, alacrity, and single-mindedness in the fulfillment of duty: “Those imbued with the life of Christ respond promptly to His initiatives, to His every last suggestion.”
Mary’s readiness, Scalia recalls, is Dante’s example of the zeal that combats the deadly sin of sloth with its procrastination, negligence, and apathy. Loving God and loving neighbor demand diligence: “And when we love God, we are attentive and responsive to His every touch — no matter how slight — to knowing and doing what pleases Him.”
Chapter VI “The Saints” recognizes the humility of John the Baptist as a mere “voice” who must decrease for the Messiah to increase, praises the perseverance of John the Beloved remaining at the foot of the cross whose intimacy with the Lord discovered the burning furnace of Christ’s Sacred Heart, and commends Mary Magdalene’s adoration of her Lord pouring out ointment to wash His feet with her hair and later sitting at his feet to contemplate His divine teaching. These acts of devotion portray the highest love of God.
This chapter also offers a greater understanding of the silent or obscure saints. Joseph, finding himself unqualified and unworthy of the role of the Holy Mother’s spouse and guardian of God’ son, depends always on the sufficiency of God’s grace as he learns of the prophecies of suffering, Herod’s slaughtering of the innocents, and the loss of Jesus in the Temple: “Scripture and Tradition both give the sense of Joseph’s quiet, peaceful resignation — finding in his weakness an opportunity to lean more on God’s strength.”
Veronica’s example of wiping the face of Jesus with her veil on the Way of the Cross illustrates “the power a simple act of charity carries.” The image of Christ’s face on the veil is another one of the “fragments” or details that should never go unappreciated: “So also, through our acts of charity, the likeness of charity continues….We make Him visible through simple but courageous acts of love.”
Chapter VII “Prayer” explains the purpose, discipline, and fruits of prayer. It requires a time for preparation, a state of recollection, a sense of contrition, the virtue of humility, and the willingness to seek and ask God. Though God is part-concealed, He is also half-revealed in what Scalia calls the game of “hide and seek”: “He hides so that we will search, and in searching we will grow in faith.”
This chapter distinguishes the different forms of prayer. The prayer of adoration proceeds from love because “we adore what we love” and because we contemplate the goodness of the person for His own sake, not for any reward or gain.
The prayer of thanksgiving proceeds from justice, the obligation to repay a debt for great blessings and undeserved gifts, and it recollects the multitude of graces received in a lifetime. It thanks God for specific things like the gift of life, good health, and the joys of love. This habit of prayer produces fruit like the “merit to receive yet greater benefits” and a more charitable heart open to God’s bountiful love and graces.
This openness to God’s will in prayer always requires trust in His wisdom and divine will that surpasses man’s incapacity to distinguish between what he truly needs and what he unthinkingly wishes: “Nevertheless, we should not think of God as a divine vending machine, obliged to spit out exactly what we request.”
Chapter VIII clarifies the manner of God’s grace in human lives. It depends on human cooperation and active participation because God’s miracles often make a request: stretch a withered hand, go and wash, get up and walk, or fill the jars with water.
The life of grace requires “intellectual vigilance” that disciplines the eyes and ears to avoid all the lurid sights and images that attack the senses, and it eschews the worldly influences of secularization, decadent entertainment, and liberal ideologies that subvert moral law.
The life of grace also exercises “a vigilance of the heart” especially in the attack on marriage by a culture of no-fault divorce, access to pornography, impurity, and infidelity. The life of grace suffers when moral sluggishness makes man lax and unwary of the subtle lures of evil. “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he returns.”

The Good News

The final chapter “The Feasts” emphasizes the incarnate nature of God’s love that became flesh and manifest in the Christ Child born of the Virgin Mary. God becomes visible, embodied, and small to inspire the human response of returning love for love. God also establishes His real presence by his “established appointments with us” in prayer, at Mass, in the confessional, and in the sacraments so that man does not fail to keep these assigned times as moral obligations.
In the Transfiguration God reveals His glory to intimate the splendor of the heavenly world and invites man to anticipate eternal life in its superabundant beauty and goodness. Thus God becomes incarnate in all that He reveals and speaks to man’s five senses: “Love seeks to be concrete. We cannot love in a general way.”
The Resurrection of course also declares the incarnate reality of God’s ever-present nearness in the nail marks and the body of a risen Christ who asks for something to eat.
As the women on Easter morning run from the tomb “fearful yet overjoyed” to announce the good news to the disciples, their fear of the Lord and the joy in the heart capture the Christian way of life: “The Risen Christ will not be domesticated. He must be feared in order to be received. Only when that fear is present can joy arise.”
God reveals Himself, proffers His love, performs miracles, and answers prayers only on His conditions, not on man’s terms. No human intelligence can explain the miracle of the loaves and fish or the mystery of transubstantiation in the Eucharist, a Resurrection from death, Christ’s sudden appearance and disappearance on the road to Emmaus, or the power of a small deed of charity.
These mighty acts naturally evoke awe and fear at the power of Almighty God, but they also inspire joy as man rejoices in the loving kindness of a munificent God who never ceases to pour out His prodigal love for all His children.
Although Fr. Scalia describes his reflections as meager “fragments” left over from a feast, old things with no exceptional savor or freshness, they amount to a banquet in which all the flavors and aromas of the best and most delicious spices make a reader exclaim, “Taste and see the sweetness of the Lord.”

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Having watched the first session of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops General Meeting, and that fact that the Pope has ordered them not vote on any action items, I have to ask, what is the point of this meeting? What is the point of National Bishops' Conferences?

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