Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Simple Reflection?

The brothers have gone for their retreat and the seminary is quiet. In many respects, it has become a retreat environment for the formators as well. In one of the quiet moments of prayer, several things popped into my mind for a visit. These became elements of a simple reflection. Unfortunately, the expression of what resulted from that reflection was not simple.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a useful volume with the teachings of the Church found therein. Yet, there are many things that are not found in there, for example, the classification of angels. Jewish angelology developed rapidly during the Persian and Greek periods. In the apocryphal book of Enoch, seven classes of angels were identified. (see Ludwig Blau and Kaufmann Kohler, “Angelology”, Link: It was in the Middle Ages that Christian theologians began to develop the idea of the hierarchy of the celestial powers. Pseudo-Dionysius spoke of nine choirs. (see Dionysius the Areopagite, “The Celestial Hierarchy”, Esoterica II (2000), pp. 148-202. Link: Esoterica Website) St. Thomas Aquinas also speaks at length about the hierarchy (see Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, q.108. Link:

Yet, these classes are not described in the Catechism. What Catholics need to know is that angels exist and that they are spiritual beings created by God. Scriptures tell us that there are archangels. Seraphim and cherubim are mentioned in the scriptures, as are principalities and Dominations. However, the Scriptures do not place them in this level or that level in the celestial hierarchy. Thus, what Dionysius and Aquinas were doing were giving us their theological opinions. Whilst they may not be heretical, these opinions are not obligatory teachings of the Church.

Let me quote the First Vatican Council:
This one true God, by his goodness and almighty power, not with the intention of increasing his happiness, nor indeed of obtaining happiness, but in order to manifest his perfection by the good things which he bestows on what he creates, by an absolutely free plan, together from the beginning of time brought into being from nothing the twofold created order, that is the spiritual and the bodily, the angelic and the earthly, and thereafter the human which is, in a way, common to both since it is composed of spirit and body.
(Vatican Council I, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius on the Catholic Faith, 24 April 1840, Chapter I. Emphasis mine. Link: Intratext)

The Council quoted the Fourth Lateran Council. Catholics are required to believe in angels as spiritual beings created by God. Those who know the opinions of Thomas Aquinas are more knowledgeable but are not necessarily better Catholics than those who do not.

Why this lengthy rant? A young man recently asked me about angels. A friend from a different parish had told him about the nine choirs of angels and proceeded to tell him the details. It ended with a comparison between the faith levels of the two parishes. I know that trivia like the celestial hierarchy is extremely interesting to certain young people. However, I feel that that should not become the standard to judge faith levels. Does it mean that one who knows the learned opinions of a Saint is a more sophisticated Catholic?

I am awfully afraid of priests who are not able to let go of comparisons. Sometimes, I make comparisons. I make comparisons to encourage rather than to condemn. Hopefully, those who hears me making comparisons do not end up judging others. Comparison of parishes based on the liturgy or the priest's preaching style may end up being more divisive than unifying. Saying that one parish is different from another is not the same thing as saying one is better than the other. The first acknowledges differences without actually setting one parish apart from another. Saying that one is better than the other usually implies that we have set one parish apart from the other.

We are one church. We are all parishes in one diocese. We may be different but we belong together. Preference should not lead us to rejection. Perhaps we like the ambience provided by one Church because we feel more prayerful there. However, we should not reject praying in another Church, which has an ambience we don't like. Perhaps we like the kind of hymns that Parish A uses but not that of Parish B. Except for the case of grave liturgical abuse, we should not reject Parish B.

Priests in the same diocese should all be in communion. Yet, because we are sinners, our communion is far from perfect. There are priests who work on the basis of efficiency so much so that communion suffers. There are those who emphasize authority and power to the detriment of communion. Some priests think only of co-operation and that is not communion. What is communion then, if not co-operation, nor enforced by power and authority, nor effected by efficiency? Communion is that union Jesus had with his father. It is effected by love and obedience. It is a mystery and grace given by God. It can only be established and maintained by submission to God and not through the efforts of human beings.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Father. That was a very reflective and positive post, and I am glad you bothered to write about it.

Sometimes among people, they talk, comparing one parish with another, or one form of devotion to another, unintentionally implying that 'the other' is less good, less holy, or less Christian. They may not do it on purpose, but you can see the dangers it has on the listeners, making them feel like they are less of a Catholic because they don't practise their faith a certain way, they don't know some things, or worse, because they attend Mass at a particular parish.

Sometimes I'm guilty of speaking without such sensitivity and only later do I realise that the other person may have felt that his faith was being judged by me, and I squirm at such carelessness on my part.

I pray that we are more careful with our conversations, and that more people will not fall into such easy 'judgement' traps. It really makes the other party feel very lousy and inferior, and that's not what we're supposed to be doing.

Thanks for bringing it up.