Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for December 24, 2006

I'm sorry it took me so long to post this for Christmas! I pray that everyone is enjoying the Octave, and celebrating the Birth of Our Lord with gusto. Thank you to those who have sent cards and gifts; I'll get to the Thank-Yous as soon as I send out my own Christmas cards!

From the December 24th Bulletin:

The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, or Christmas Day, celebrates that great and miraculous event of the birth of Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. Our hearts and minds also reflect upon the related mystery of the Incarnation – God made man – at the Annunciation. These two deeply intimate and related mysteries of the virginal conception and the virgin birth demonstrate the incomprehensible reality of the blessed Trinity, which is at the same time entirely and completely transcendent and distant, and yet also immanent and present.

In honor of this great and awesome celebration of Christ’s Birth, our exploration of the Fathers of the Church will take a brief pause, and we will instead reflect upon these mysteries of Christ’s love, made present for us in the Sacred Liturgy and revealed to us in Sacred Scripture.

“The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” says St. John’s Gospel (1:14). Such is the joy that fills our hearts (and the entire world) at God’s coming among us as a man. Yet His generosity and humility does not stop there, but He condescends to come among us as one of us, being born into a human family, thereby sanctifying every part of human life. The “hidden life” of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, gives us confidence that the Creator of the universe desired to endure the difficulties and hardships of family life, not only to provide an example but also to sanctify it from within.

Joyfully, then, we welcome Christ into the Holy Family and place the baby Jesus into his manger on Christmas morning. By doing so, however, we welcome Him into our own families as well, desiring to keep Him there not only during the Octave of Christmas (which we should celebrate with fervor!) but throughout the year. Even the image of the manger (or less-romantically the “feeding-trough”) and the name of Bethlehem (“House of Bread”) directs our minds to the Holy Eucharist, in which we feed upon Christ, the Bread of Life.

The Incarnation stands at the center of all human history: our Advent preparations recall the longing of the world for centuries upon centuries for our Savior to come, and our celebration of Christmas directs our lives to prepare the world for His return in Glory. God, having joined Himself definitively to our human nature, saves us by His miraculous birth and gives us each a personal share in the redemption He won for us by the Cross.

Wonders do not cease, however, as we contemplate the entrance of God into His creation, for by the union of the Creator to his creatures, He restores all creation in Himself. Therefore every Sacrament owes its possibility to the Incarnation. Because God has sanctified the ordinary and humble material world, through bread and wine, water and oil, and human touch, He gives to His Church the means of salvation through these very ordinary means. It was “by the Holy Spirit” that Mary conceived our Lord; likewise, it is “by the Holy Spirit” that each Sacrament allows material creation to mediate the grace of the Paschal Mystery (the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ).

As Dom Guéranger illustrates in his Christmas volume, “It is for this divine transformation that the world was in expectation for four thousand years, and for which the Church prepared herself by the four weeks of Advent. It has come at last, and Jesus is about to enter within us, if we will but receive him. He asks to be united to each one of us in particular, just as he is united by His Incarnation to the whole human race; and for this end, He wishes to become our Bread, our spiritual nourishment. His coming into the souls of men at this mystic season has no other aim that this union. He comes not to judge the world, but that world may be saved by him, and that all may have life, and may have it more abundantly” (Dom Prosper Guéranger, The Liturgical Year, vol. 2, p. 11).

It would be difficult to conclude without quoting from the great St. Bernard of Clairvaux, from his second homily for Christmas Eve, “Who by his great mercy unto that great birth, and who tomorrow leads us to that most famous event, and likewise tomorrow to visit us as our neighbor and condescend to be with us … who tomorrow sets foot upon earth, that we might receive the crown of our infant King with the joy of salvation and be victorious with Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit who lives and reigns, God, forever and ever. Amen.”

Have a blessed and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for December 17, 2006

Since Christmas Eve is also the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we are only one week away from Christmas. Customarily, this week has been a week of intensified prayer and even works of penance to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth. Certain cultures maintain this tradition by abstaining from meat on Christmas Eve. Because the days fall as they do, our Mass schedule is also somewhat confusing for next weekend. Planning ahead will ensure that we are able to celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent with its joyful anticipation – as well as to enjoy the celebration of the Birth of Christ on Christmas Day. The Sacred Liturgy prepares us for this Feast, but also allows us to encounter these Mysteries in a tangible way.

Continuing with our preparation for Christmas, but also in our exploration of Tertullian and his theology, we move into the “Montanist” or heretical period of his work. Not everything that Tertullian wrote during this time was in error, as we will see, but his separation from the Church casts suspicion on them. In order to refute another heretic, Marcion, he wrote “On the Flesh of Christ,” proving that Christ has a human body. Appropriately, we will explore this work today.

Christ, by sharing in human birth, demonstrates his care and concern for every aspect of human life: “Our birth He reforms from death by a second birth from heaven; our flesh He restored every harassing malady; when leprous, He cleanses it of the stain; when blind, He rekindles its light; when palsied, He renews its strength; when possessed with devils, He exorcises it; when dead, He reanimates, -- then shall we blush to own [our flesh]?” (On the Flesh of Christ, ch. 4).

Recalling the dualism of Marcion’s heresy, we can understand why Marcion would be ashamed of God having human flesh, since there can be no interaction between spirit and matter. Nevertheless, Tertullian demonstrates the Catholic faith quite strongly, in insisting on the reality of Christ’s birth. “Which is more unworthy of God, which is more likely to raise a blush of shame, that God should be born, or that He should die? That He should bear the flesh, or the cross? Be circumcised, or be crucified? Be cradled, or be coffined? Be laid in a manger, or in a tomb?” (ch. 5).

If all these things were merely figments of the imagination, or only “phantoms,” we are reminded “all that we hope for from Christ will be a phantom” (ibid.). Tertullian adds a rhetorical flourish to illustrate his point: “You ought rather to have brought Christ down, not from heaven, but from some troop of mountebanks, not as God besides man, but simply as a man, a magician; not as the High Priest of our salvation, but as the conjurer in a show; not as the raiser of the dead, but as the misleader of the living, -- except that, if He were a magician, He must have had a nativity!” (ibid.).

As a corollary of the truth of the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh, he sanctified humanity: “For in putting on our flesh, He made it His own; in making it His own, He made it sinless” (ch. 16). In all of these statements, Tertullian does not err or stray from the Catholic faith, and although his rhetoric may seem extreme in certain cases, his goal was to publicly defend the truth of the Incarnation.

Our Holy Land pilgrimage preparations are in full swing; please prayerfully consider joining us as we explore the places made holy by Jesus’ own footsteps. There are flyers in the gathering area. Have a blessed Third Week of Advent as we “rejoice in the Lord always,” and prepare our hearts and homes for His coming at Christmas. May God bless you!

Faith Seeking Understanding for December 10, 2006

Drawing closer to the great Solemnity of Christmas, we have already arrived at the Second Sunday of Advent, with only two full weeks to prepare for the coming of Christ. The theology of Tertullian will continue to assist us in our preparations, while we continue to examine his orthodox writings. The ancient maxim, “Corruptio optimi pessima” or “The corruption of the best is the worst,” held true with Tertullian. His faithful writings provide a sure and true guide to theology, whereas his heretical writings only bewilder and surprise.

In his work The Prescription Against Heretics, Tertullian continues the important work of establishing the authentic rule of belief against those who taught contrary to the teachings of the Apostles, handed on through the authority of the Church. This rule of faith “prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word…; that this Word is called His Son, and … at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ” (On Prescription Against Heretics, ch. 13).

The source, he says, for this rule of Faith is the teaching of the Apostles, who were directly sent by Jesus Christ. In turn, the Apostles bore witness to this Faith by their preaching and miraculous deeds, in order that the churches founded by them in every city would preserve this same Faith. “Indeed, it is on this account only,” Tertullian teaches, “that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. … Therefore the churches, although they are so many and great, comprise but the one primitive church, (founded) by the apostles, from which they all (spring)” (ibid., ch. 20).

Furthermore, “it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches – those molds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God” (ibid., ch. 21).

The simple historical truth of apostolic succession (a continuous connection to the apostles and the churches which the founded) is the most eloquent defense of the truth of the Catholic Faith.

More than defending the truth and historicity of the Church, however, Tertullian is also known for the development of Latin terminology and systematic theology to describe the Sacraments. On Baptism begins with beautiful words of hope and confidence: “Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life!” (On Baptism, ch. 1).

In this treatise we discover a systematic explanation of the Sacrament of Baptism, beginning with its prefigurement in the Old Testament (the parting of the Red Sea, the water from the rock, the waters of the great flood), the correspondence of the exterior sign (washing with water) to the interior grace (cleansing of sin and recreation in the Holy Spirit), an answer to objections, and the effects of Baptism.

Examining his treatise On Prayer is a fitting way to conclude this week’s article, because Tertullian explores the Lord’s Prayer, which he says is an “epitome of the whole Gospel” (On Prayer, ch. 1). As proof, he summarizes: “The honor of God in the ‘Father;’ the testimony of faith in the ‘Name;’ the offering of obedience in the ‘Will;’ the commemoration of hope in the ‘Kingdom;’ the petition for life in the ‘Bread;’ the full acknowledgement of debts in the prayer for their ‘Forgiveness;’ the anxious dread of temptation in the request for ‘Protection.’ What wonder? God alone could teach how He wished Himself prayed to” (ibid., ch. 9).

What is the value of such properly Christian prayer? “It supplies the suffering, and the feeling, and the grieving, with endurance; it amplifies grace by virtue. … Prayer is the wall of faith: her defensive and offensive armor against the foe who keeps watch over us on all sides. And, so we never walk unarmed” (ibid., ch. 29).

May we persevere in prayer as we watch for the coming of Christ! Have a blessed week!

Apology for Delinquency

I apologize for my slow and erratic posting of my articles. As you might imagine, things have been busy as we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Christ.

I'll add the previous two weeks now...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for December 3, 2006

The First Sunday of Advent begins a new liturgical year and begins to prepare us for the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas. In celebrating the Incarnation (God becoming man), the Church recognizes the importance and goodness of material creation and its union with the spiritual world in the person of Jesus Christ. By studying the Fathers of the Church, we have seen that the great theologians continually defended the goodness of the physical world, in contrast to the Gnostics (and others) who believed that the spiritual was always opposed to the physical.

We have a unique perspective on this battle in the early Church through the eyes of our next theologian: Tertullian. Tertullian was born around 160 A.D., in Carthage (North Africa, in modern-day Tunisia), and was a lawyer by profession. As a young man, he converted to Christianity and was ordained a priest around the year 200. He is often referred to as the Father of the Latin Church because he wrote no longer in Greek, but in Latin, vigorously defending Catholic practice and theology against pagans and heretics.
Unfortunately, his important role in the foundation of Latin Christianity began to suffer. Within a few years, Tertullian himself joined a heretical group known as “Montanists,” and he definitively separated from the Church by 213. From this point, he wrote even more strongly against the Catholic Church he had once loved and defended. Although the Montanists were moral rigorists, even their practice was not strict enough for him, and Tertullian eventually founded his own sect. According to St. Jerome, Tertullian died at a very old age, around 240 A.D., at Carthage.

Even though his later writings are heretical, Tertullian provides an important body of work detailing heresy and Catholic thought, as well as employing certain words and phrases in Latin that are still in use today. St. Cyprian of Carthage (early third century) relied heavily on Tertullian’s theology, which later influenced St. Augustine. We will spend a few weeks exploring Tertullian’s contribution to Latin theology.
Of his early works, the Apology defends Christians against the claims and attacks of the Roman Empire in its persecution of the early Church. After reading his excessive rhetoric, we might wonder if the Romans were even more outraged and determined to destroy the Christians. After mocking, to a certain extent, the false claims made against Christians (such as those of cannibalism, incest, and other shameful practices), Tertullian begins to describe the actual beliefs and practices of the Christians.

“We are neither ashamed of Christ – for we rejoice to be counted His disciples, and in His name to suffer” (Apology, ch. 21). He continues to describe the person of Jesus Christ: “He proceeds forth from God, and in that procession He is generated; so that He is the Son of God, and is called God from unity of substance with God” (ibid). But, the Second Person of the Trinity then proceeded forth from God, “Descending into a certain virgin, and made flesh in her womb, is in His birth God and man united” (ibid).

This, however, is only the first coming of Christ. “A second [coming], which impends over the world, now near its close, in all the majesty of Deity unveiled” (ibid). Nevertheless, the Empire still counts Christians as enemies, even though they simply worship God. Why?

“They pay no vain, nor false, nor foolish honors to the emperor; that, as men believing in the true religion, they prefer to celebrate their festal days with a good conscience, instead of with common wantonness” (ch. 35). He finally turns the persecutions on their heads, because “[Christians] conquer in dying; we go forth victorious at the very time we are subdued” (ch. 50), so much so, that we read that famous phrase at the conclusion of his work: “The seed [of the Church] is the blood of Christians” (ibid).

We will continue with Tertullian next week; have a blessed first week of Advent, as we prepare our hearts to welcome the Christ-Child. May God bless you!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Family of Faith Apostolate

Perhaps it's a bit late to promote a talk I'm giving this evening, but here it is.

I'll be speaking on "The Sacraments of Christian Initiation" tonight at Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn, Michigan, for the Families of Faith Apostolate at 7:30 pm. Hope to see you there.

Sacred Heart Parish website and directions.