Social Doctrine and Pope John Paul II

by Bishop Gilbert I. Sheldon

Without a doubt, our present Holy Father is the most prolific writer of the modern era. From his pen have come a stream of apostolic letters, encyclicals, messages, and statements on a wide range of subjects from matters of Catholic doctrine to current world events. We would expect them to include among them some statements on social doctrine, following the example of his immediate predecessors. We are not disappointed. As of this writing, Pope John Paul II has given us no less than three such encyclicals: Laborem Exercens (On Human Work, 1981), Solicitudo Rei Socialis (On the Social Concerns of the Church, 1988), and Centesimus Annus (On the Centenary of Rerum Novarum, 1991).

The Emergence of Catholic Social Doctrine

Catholic social doctrine grew up with the industrial revolution and the problems that it generated. The beginnings of that revolution date back to the invention of the steam engine, usually attributed to James Watt in the 18th century. Actually, others preceded him, but his was the first practical success in harnessing steam power to replace that of human or animal muscle. Within 200 years would follow electrical power, fossil-fuel power, and nuclear power.

Progress did not come without a price. Clarence Darrow, the famous criminal lawyer, once remarked that mankind has learned to fly like a bird but has fouled the air with gasoline fumes as a consequence. The problems that were generated by industrialization did not end with pollution, however. There were worse ones for the human race.

The most practical use of steam-powered machinery came in large urban-based factories. That created a three-tiered class system: the capitalist entrepreneur, the managerial people who had the know-how, and the workers or “proletariat” who tended the machines. Mass production produced mass wealth, but that wealth was not evenly distributed. The rich became richer and the poor became poorer.

Into this scene stepped a number of social theorists who offered plans to fix the system, including Karl Marx and his theory of class warfare between capitalist and labor. Pope Leo XIII also weighed in with his encyclical Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of the Working Classes, 1891). He would be followed by successors over the course of 100 years, many of which contributed to a growing body of what came to be called Catholic social doctrine. Pius XI wrote Quadragesimo Anno (On Reconstructing the Social Order, 1931) during the Great Depression. John XXIII offered two encyclicals, Mater et Magistra (Christianity and Social Progress, 1961) and Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth, 1963). These documents called attention, among other things, to the fact that social problems, following World War II, now existed on a worldwide scale. A new class system had come into being between the developed or “rich nations,” and the developing or “poor nations.” Next, Pope Paul VI wrote Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples, 1967), which included a number of classic statements, such as “Development is the new name for peace!” The Wall Street Journal would call it “warmed-over Marxism,” but it was applauded by
the liberal New York Times. He would mark the anniversary of Rerum Novarum in Octogesimsa Adveniens (On the Coming Eightieth Anniversary, 1971), in which he would treat new social problems, such as racism, migration, the environment, and the role of women.

Pope John Paul II Weighs In

After writing two of what would be a trilogy of encyclicals on the Persons of the Blessed Trinity, Pope John Paul II turned to the social questions. He came to the papacy during the height of the Cold War, 1978. He knew the Communist system from the inside out, having lived in Communist Poland following the defeat of Germany in World War II. In Laborem Exercens (1981) he transcended the debate on social systems, which his predecessors addressed, and came to grips directly with the real “gut issue”: the dignity of the human person.

In the encyclical the Pope displays an ongoing theme in his writing, that of human anthropology: his view of what man is, what makes man tick, what man is about. He draws heavily from Sacred Scripture, particularly the account of the creation of mankind in Genesis. He shows how work-human activity-is part of the nature of mankind, and part of that which reflects his being made “in the image and likeness of God,” whose nature is also to act, to “work,” as it were. Human labor, then, has a value and dignity that is independent of its commercial value. It is not merely a commodity to be sold, traded, or bargained with. Economic systems, whether capitalist or socialist, must take this into account. Their shortcomings are rooted in their failure to do so, and social problems and unrest are the result. Such is the case when capitalism looks to human labor as a mere commodity. Such is the case with Communism, which looks to human labor as a means toward its goal of world revolution. Both see human labor as a means to an end, rather than what it truly is, an end in itself. Man must always take priority over things, human labor over capital!

The Pope reiterates the right of private ownership of property, but sees that right not as an end in itself, but as a necessary consequence of the dignity of human labor which, in a sense, imparts something of one’s own personality to the product. There nevertheless exists a prior right of all mankind to the goods of the earth. The real reason for private ownership is to promote and enhance man’s creative activity. When it comes to the means of production-the point at issue between the capitalist and the socialist schools of thought-the important thing is not who owns them, but whether they are at the disposal
of and subordinated to man’s nature as a working being.

Since work is of man’s nature, it is his obligation and therefore also his right. The Pope exhorts employers to see that their providing of employment is as important as turning a profit. Obviously, this is an ideal based on his “Christian anthropology.” We have a long way to go before it is universally accepted. It is part and parcel of the conversion of the world that is the Church’s mission. The Pope speaks similarly in describing the relationship of other groups, “indirect employers,” such as the state to workers. Likewise, the relationship of workers to employers would be just as benevolent in an ideal world where Christians really lived up to their calling!

The right of workers to organize is one of the oldest principles of Catholic social doctrine. John Paul was particularly interested in it in connection with the “solidarity” movement in his native Poland. His encouragement of the movement and its eventual success played a large part in the downfall of the Soviet system.

Development Across the Board

In Solicitudo Rei Socialis Pope John Paul II marked the 20th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio. He noted the central theme of that encyclical as the unequal industrial development between the rich and the poor nations of the world and the need to bring the poor nations up to a point where they can compete on reasonable terms with their developed neighbors in a growing, worldwide economy. One can distinguish the rich and the poor nations of the world by simply drawing a line around the globe at the 30th parallel, north latitude. The nations above the line are the developed nations, those below (with the exception of Australia and New Zealand) are the poor nations.

The Pope points to economic exploitations as a primary cause of this disparity. His solution is true development across the board, both material development in the poor nations, as well as spiritual development in the affluent countries (such as the United States, of course).

The background for Centesimus Annus was the centenary of Rerum Novarum and the collapse of the Soviet Union (which, by the way, was predicted in Rerum Novarum!). That collapse was due to the atheistic materialism inherent in the Marxist system. However, western capitalism often reveals itself as no less materialistic. “Consumerism” is the form that western materialism takes. It emphasizes having over being, and gratification of the senses as a prime value. It leads to a plundering of the world’s resources without thought to ecological damage or the needs of the future. It rates the production and perfection
of material goods above the spiritual perfection of the person. It also leads to a two-class system between haves and have-nots within a nation, fomenting either the welfare state or revolution.

What we have here are only a few highlights of Pope John Paul II’s social doctrine. The reader is urged to study these documents-and all of the many documents of our Holy Father-at much greater length!

Most Reverend Gilbert I. Sheldon is the Bishop of Steubenville, Ohio. To obtain copies of the papal documents cited in this article, call Benedictus Books toll-free at (888) 316-2640. CUF members receive a 10% discount.

In Brief

Holy Father’s Intentions

Pope John Paul II has announced the following general and missionary intentions for July and August 2001:


That the Gospel may be read and lived in Christian families by parents and children, so that they may bear witness to the hope of Christ.

That catechists and lay missionaries may not lack the necessary means for solid pastoral training.


That the awareness that only God is the master of human life may orientate the decisions of the legislators and leaders of nations.

That the Church in China may be animated by the profound evangelical spirituality of contemplative life, reaching out toward China’s great tradition.

New Catholic Video on Homosexuality-the Untold Story!

COURAGE, a spiritual support group for Catholics who experience same-sex attractions, has produced a two-part video that presents a perspective on homosexuality that is seldom heard in the media. “Portraits of Courage: Into the Light and Cry of the Faithful,” released in June, profile 10 men and women who have renounced the gay and lesbian identity and have chosen to live chaste lives. Their testimonies, together with insight from psychologists and priests, shed light on this complex issue that is often misunderstood by the secular culture and Catholics alike. “For nearly an entire generation, the culture has been saturated with a pro-gay message that has distorted the reality of homosexuality,” says Fr. John Harvey, OSFS, director of COURAGE. “But with this video, there will finally be a voice crying out in the wilderness that gives credibility to the Church’s teachings on homosexuality and offers hope to men, women, and youth who are seeking answers to some of their most troubling questions.” (Fr. Harvey has written for Lay Witness on this topic, see March ’01 issue).

The video will be an eye-opener to those who believe that one is born gay. Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychologist who has counseled men and women with same-sex attractions for 25 years, exposes common misperceptions about homosexuality and argues that a homosexual orientation has its origins in early family conflicts. For women, he believes that past abuse from men is often the cause. Male homosexuality, he finds most often results from incomplete male bonding, particularly father-son bonding but also peer-to-peer bonding. (Fitzgibbons contributed an article on this topic in the June ’01 issue of Lay Witness).

COURAGE is a pontifically approved spiritual support group for Catholic men and women who experience same-sex attractions and strive to live chaste lives in accordance with the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. Today there are 90 chapters worldwide. EnCourage, a sister group, offers help to parents, family members, and friends of persons who have same-sex attractions.

To obtain the videotape or for more information about COURAGE and EnCourage, write: National Courage Office, Church of St. John the Baptist, 210 W. 31st St., New York, NY 10001; or call (212) 268-1010; or email

Vatican’s New Instruction On the Liturgy

The Holy See has issued a sweeping document aimed at the proper translation, publication, and implementation of texts used for the liturgy. Features include making sure the Mass is translated correctly; prohibiting wrongful attempts to foster inclusive language; prohibiting the paraphrasing or substitution of hymns for sung liturgical texts; and requiring the Holy See’s approval before a proposed text may be published and implemented.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) issued Liturgiam Authenticam, which Pope John Paul II ordered to be published and take effect April 25. The complete title is lengthy, yet self-explanatory: Fifth Instruction for the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. In a press release, the Holy See stipulated that Liturgiam Authenticam “supersedes all norms previously set forth on liturgical translation, with the exception of those in the fourth Instruction [Varietates Legitimae], and specifies that the two
Instructions should be read in conjunction with each other.”

Regarding translations in general, the document provides, “While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses” (no. 20).

Regarding inclusive language in particular, the CDWDS guidelines include referring to God and the individual Persons of the Trinity as “He,” and words “which are clearly masculine or feminine by virtue of the context,” e.g., “brother” or “sister,” “are to be maintained as such in the translation” (no. 310).

Within five years, bishops conferences around the world must submit for Congregation approval “a directory or repertory of texts intended for liturgical singing” (no. 108). In addition, within five years, the presidents of bishops conferences, as well as the leaders of religious orders and institutes, must submit to the Congregation “an integral plan regarding the liturgical books translated into the vernacular in their respective territories or institutes”
(no. 132).

The faithful will see concrete changes sooner, though, because the new Roman Missal, which includes the “Order of the Mass,” is expected within a year.

To read Liturgiam Authenticam visit:

University of Dallas’ Loss is Ave Maria’s Gain

Tim Drake, features correspondent with National Catholic Register, reported on the recent resignations of the entire full-time staff of the University of Dallas’ Institute for Religious and Pastoral Studies (IRPS) program. Director Douglas Bushman and associate directors Timothy Herrman and David Twellman resigned on April 9, effective May 11. Drake quoted Bushman as saying that there is strong evidence that “the current administration [of the University of Dallas] is antagonistic to the IRPS in its present form and there is a desire to change direction.” “It placed me in the awkward position of inviting hundreds of students and several bishops to make a significant commitment to a program that the university did not support.”

Bushman worked hard to develop the program, which he said embodied “rigorous fidelity to the texts of the Catholic tradition” and emphasized “the universal call to holiness.” Ave Maria College of Ann Arbor, Michigan, immediately contacted Bushman upon hearing of the news of his resignation. Ave Maria now has a program modeled after the University of Dallas program, directed by the resigning Dallas faculty!

Bushman directed the Dallas program since 1992, increasing its enrollment from 67 students to 200. He developed satellite sites in Irving, Texas, St. Paul/Minneapolis, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Drake reports that future sites were being planned for Omaha, Nebraska in the fall of 2001, and Atlanta and Syracuse, N.Y. in 2002.

The University of Dallas President Msgr. Milam Joseph told the Register that the resignations were nothing more than a matter of professors changing universities. Yet, Dr. Nicholas Healy, Ave Maria’s president, didn’t agree. “Why would three senior administrators of a prestigious program leave the University of Dallas for a start-up?” questioned Healy. “I did not initiate Doug Bushman’s decision to leave Dallas. I never would have talked to him had I not heard that he was looking for a job. When I learned of Bushman’s work and accomplishments, I was convinced of how important this is for the Church in America and how good these men were in executing a program. I spoke with students and other faculty, and they confirmed this too.”

Congressman Takes Pro-life Petitions to Washington, D.C.

Congressman Mark Kennedy, a freshman representing Minnesota’s Second Congressional District, accepted an invitation from the president of American Life
League, Judie Brown, to participate in a pro-life conference on June 22. Congressman Kennedy attended the youth rally in Bloomington, MN, where he was presented with approximately 100,000 petitions from pro-life youth of America asking Congress to enact legislation defending all preborn persons from abortion. Kennedy accepted the petitions and gave a brief speech before returning to Washington, D.C.-with the petitions. What a contrast from our Catholic politicians who advocate abortion rights!

Health Care Right of Conscience Act

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that it’s against federal law for employers to exclude contraceptives from their health insurance plans when they cover other preventive treatments. According to this interpretation of the federal law, Americans no longer have moral choices in health care. The Christus Medicus Foundation is educating Americans on the need to reverse this absurd interpretation of federal law. Bishop Lori, of Washington, D.C., referred to similar proposed legislation in D.C. as “totalitarianism.”

To support the efforts of the Christus Medicus Foundation to enact a Health Care Right of Conscience Act, write: Christus Medicus Foundation, 3707 W. Maple, Bloomfield Hills, MI, 48301; or call (248) 594-8664; or email; or visit

Senator’s Remarks Misleading and Inflammatory

Cathleen Cleaver, director of planning and information for the Pro-Life Secretariat of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, criticized “misleading, insulting and inflammatory” remarks about the pro-life community made by New York State Senator Eric Schneiderman. Cleaver wrote the senator:

“You urge supporters of abortion to participate in a protest rally against a ceremony, sponsored by the National Right to Life Committee, during which Fr. [Frank] Pavone [National Director of Priests for Life] will receive an award . . . However, I am concerned about remarks you make regarding not just Fr. Pavone but, by extension, others in the pro-life community that can only be described as misleading, insulting and inflammatory.

“The mainstream pro-life movement, representing millions of Americans-male and female, Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, religious members and those with no religious affiliation at all-have been outspoken in their rejection of violence and in condemning the actions of those who would resort to murder in the name of pro-life. We have repeatedly, publicly stated, and firmly hold, that to resort to violence makes a mockery of the core beliefs of the pro-life movement.

“To suggest that the ‘real intentions’ of the millions of Americans who oppose abortion are to endorse the murder of abortionists . . . is similar to saying the murderous actions of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, are representative of the real intentions of environmental activists.

“The pro-life movement, the Catholic Church, and certainly Fr. Pavone unambiguously reject all violence in opposition to abortion. Contrary to your suggestions, our real intention is that all turn away from violence as a means to address our nation’s problems, and that includes violence against our unborn brothers and sisters.”

Peace of Jerusalem

by Leon J. Suprenant, Jr.

I was different from many of my law school classmates in the early 1980s. I had no desire to become rich, nor was I interested in the power and prestige that accompanies a successful law practice. Rather, in my own naïve way, I wanted to help people. Issues such as poverty, injustice, racism, and nuclear arms were what motivated me. I even volunteered one summer with the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s office. In retrospect, I truly believe that the Lord blessed my sincere desire to defend the “underdog” and used this as the means to draw me back to Himself and His Church.

After graduating from law school, I was still searching for a way to channel my desire to help other people. I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with secular approaches to societal ills, but I was still ambivalent, at best, about the Church. Then one Sunday I went to Mass and heard a sermon on the Church’s social teaching by a deacon who also happened to be a lawyer. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Church had something to say about these issues. Even more, I then realized that the Church not only took seriously my questions, but also offered satisfying answers-answers rooted in the

For myself and many others who were raised after Vatican II, the burning issue was not liturgical abuse or some intramural Church dispute, but rather, where is God in my life, and what does He have to say, if anything, to the contemporary world? When I was engaged on that level by the deacon, I profoundly realized that I was yearning for the Peace of Jerusalem, not the peace of this world, and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to transform every aspect of our world. Although my understanding has deepened over the years, the fundamental lessons I learned then have remained with me.

Priority of Persons

The first lesson I learned was that I was approaching issues from the wrong direction. I tended to think abstractly (e.g., poverty or criminal justice) or collectively (e.g., poor people or criminal defendants). I needed to learn that just as Christ dealt with me as an irreplaceable person, I needed to approach social issues with the mindset that each member of the human family is an irreplaceable person with God-given dignity. There’s something to be said for the slogan “Think Globally, Act Locally”-if it’s understood in the sense that authentic human development must be interpersonal. Mother Teresa was
one of the greatest social reformers of our time, but her brand of reform was accomplished one person, one precious soul, at a time.

Yet, I discovered I had to back the bus up even further. I cannot provide enduring assistance to others if I’m not continually being renewed in Christ myself (cf. Rom. 12:2). Life in Christ changes everything. I realized that I needed-with God’s grace-to eradicate sin from my life and strive, however imperfectly, for holiness. To love another person with Christ-like love, I had to become more like Christ. That, in a nutshell, is the lesson of the


As faithful Catholics we understand the centrality of the Mass as the source and summit of the Christian life. We know the strength that comes from the Eucharist, and we eagerly receive Our Lord every Sunday and perhaps even daily. We also know we are called to “live the Mass,” that our participation in the sacrifice of the Mass should affect everything we do. In fact, we receive the “bread from heaven” precisely to lead lives worthy of our calling as children of God and heirs of heaven. Mass simply can’t be compartmentalized or separated from the rest of our lives.

Similarly, our Holy Father has repeatedly emphasized that ecumenism or the pursuit of Christian unity is not simply a compartment or appendix of the Christian life-some sort of “extra”-but rather an integral part of her identity and mission.

I think this principle also holds true with social justice issues. It’s great when Catholics dedicate some time each week to help the poor or visit the sick or minister to the imprisoned. But that’s not enough. Our compassion cannot be compartmentalized either, but rather must inform the way we live even when we’re not at the soup kitchen, the hospital, or the jail. Fr. Groeschel is right on the mark when he says that something is amiss if our Eucharistic adoration doesn’t commit us to the poor. Just as we must not be “cafeteria Catholics” in picking and choosing which Church teachings we’re going to
intellectually accept, we also must not be cafeteria Catholics in picking and choosing which teachings we’re going to allow to transform us.

Big Picture

We are living during a crisis of faith. Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, which reflects the thought and input of the man who would eventually become Pope John Paul II, refers to the unprecedented acceptance of systematic atheism and secularism in today’s world. Many people are looking for solutions “right here, right now,” without reference to the divine or to our supernatural end. Such secularist and materialistic models have in some places corrupted the Church’s social outreach. When this happens, social justice degenerates into myopic political activism. The authentic quest for human development then becomes
co-opted by agendas that are completely opposed to Church teaching and the good of the human person, most notably the pro-abortion forces.

Accordingly, we frequently encounter “peace and justice” Catholics who outright dissent from Church teaching on abortion and other “conservative issues,” or who relativize such teaching to an intolerable degree. Our rejection of such distortions of Church teaching can, unfortunately, lead to our not paying sufficient attention to the social teachings of the Church.

The “big picture,” which our Holy Father sees and brilliantly proclaims on behalf of the Church, transcends the artificial separation of “pro-life” and “peace and justice” issues that we find in the Church in America. The contemporary loss of the sense of God has led to a culture of death that is fundamentally violent and unjust. The remedy is found when we turn our gaze upon Christ, the Bread of Life and Prince of Peace.

Least, But Not Last

One Church teaching that has deeply affected me is her “preferential option for the poor” (cf. Catechism, nos. 2443-49). This teaching is not pious altruism. It is a challenging reminder to apply the Gospel, especially Matthew 24:31-46 (“whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren . . .”), in practical, concrete ways. This applies both to our one-on-one relationships and our societal response to issues such as the rights of workers, immigration, health care, and a host of other issues that call us to affirm and uphold the dignity and fundamental rights of all human persons.

The drama of salvation history is played out in individual lives. God’s family plan encompasses every human person. When we reach out to someone in need,
we’re not only serving Christ (cf. Mt. 25:40), but in ways largely unknown to us, we are also bringing the light of Christ to someone who is just as precious to God as we are. In contemporary parlance, that’s a “good thing.” God’s saving plan encompasses the entire human family, thus transcending race, social standing, and all other categories that tend to divide rather than unite us in the Family of God.

No Comfort Zone

None of the beatitudes begin “Blessed are the comfortable and secure . . .” Rather, Jesus says, “[W]oe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger” (Lk. 6:24-25). St. James builds on that theme in the fifth chapter of his Epistle in even stronger terms. I don’t know about you, but passages such as these strike me to the heart. How should we respond?

It seems to me that material and spiritual sacrifices for others should be part and parcel of our Christian pilgrimage. We also need to expand our awareness of others’ needs-not only around the world but especially in our own backyard. Who is the poor, oppressed, or forgotten in our midst?

The bottom line is that the totality of our lives must give credible evidence that the kingdom of God indeed is at hand. May the peace and joy of Christ be with you these summer months, and may our lives of Christian charity radiate and extend that peace.

Nothing Ordinary About Ordinary Time

by Sean Innerst

Therefore are feasts so seldom and so rare,
Since, seldom coming, in the long year set
Like stones of worth they thinly placed are,
Or captain jewels in the carcanet.

-William Shakespeare
Sonnet 52

After the festal cycle of Lent-Easter-Pentecost, the Church settles into a long season of Sundays that are known by the unassuming title of “ordinary.” Not that there is nothing extraordinary about them. Rather, Sundays outside the major festal cycles are called “ordinary” only because they are designated by ordinal numbers. In this two-month period of July and August we will celebrate the 13th through the 21st Sundays of the year. We already enjoyed a few Ordinary Sundays (the second through the 8th) earlier in the year between Epiphany Sunday and the First Sunday of Lent. (Please don’t ask what happened to the first or the ninth through the 12th Ordinary Sundays. That is too long a story for an ordinary article like this one.)

The Lectionary for these Ordinary Sundays consists of a Gospel reading from one of the three synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, or Luke; an Old Testament reading chosen to correspond to the Gospel text, and a reading from one of the New Testament epistles. The Gospels are read more or less serially, one in each of the three years of the Lectionary cycle. This year, which is Year C in the three-year cycle of Sunday readings, is given
to Luke. Year A presents Matthew and Year B Mark. (The Gospel of John isn’t slighted, as it is read on certain Sundays in Year B and during the Easter season in all three years.)

The Gospel readings for the Ordinary Sundays are the anchors of the Lectionary. As I mentioned already, we read through most of one of the synoptic Gospels each year. The Sunday Gospel reading is then paired with a reading from the Old Testament that complements it. Often the Old Testament passage is chosen because it is quoted or prophetically fulfilled in the Gospel passage, or because it carries a similar theme.

This dependence of the Old Testament passage on the Gospel in the Lectionary highlights the point that we have made so often in this liturgical Bible study series. Jesus is the interpretive key to the whole of Scripture, even of that portion which predates His earthly existence. All of salvation history has been ordered by the God who became man in Christ to point to His role as our Savior. So, the Church has always read-even the texts of the Old Testament-christologically, or as having their fulfillment in Him.

The Epistle readings in ordinary time are not so tightly joined to the theme of the Old Testament and Gospel passages. In fact, they are virtually unhinged from the other two. They have been chosen to give us a glimpse into the richness of that part of the New Testament literature. Because of their character, spiritually deep and dense, we read briefer sections of these texts so as not to overload ourselves with too much spiritual food.
Although no attempt is made to read any Epistle through in its entirely, they are presented in continuous segments.

We’ve not spoken much about the responsorial Psalms in our liturgical Bible study. A rich study could also be made of these texts. In many cases the Psalm response is just that, our response to the Old Testament text we’ve just heard proclaimed. But it is not a response from mere spectators to the saving works of God in the Old Testament. In the responsorial we speak as participants in those events by virtue of our presence at the
liturgy, where these great works are made mystically present in Christ.

Now that we have a sense of how the pieces of the Lectionary fit together on the Ordinary Sundays, let’s look at what one Sunday’s readings can teach us. The subject of our study this month will be the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Genesis 18:1-10

A famous Rublev icon, made for the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Moscow, reflects the common, ancient interpretation of this scene as a pre-Incarnational manifestation of the Trinity. In it, three angels with identical faces but differing garments symbolize the three Persons of the Trinity-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are presented gathered around a small, square altar table with the figure of the Father on the left and the figure of the Spirit on the right, forming a chalice shape that encloses the Son in the center.

The Trinitarian interpretation of this text is encouraged by the ambiguity of the terms describing the scene in Genesis 18. It begins, “The Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre,” and yet we find out that the manifestation is of “three men.” Recent scholarly opinion suggests that one of the three is some sort of epiphany of God and the other two angels. That is supported by what follows in verse 22 where we read, “the
two men walked on farther toward Sodom, the Lord remained standing before Abraham.” The patristic voice is not unanimous on whether this is a full Trinitarian manifestation or a pre-Incarnational appearance of the Word.

In either case, Abraham offers hospitality to the three beings, and finds he is entertaining his God. That, we will see, is the theme of the gospel text. Here, Abraham and Sarah learn of the impending conception and birth of Isaac, the child of promise. As the story unfolds, this only beloved son of Abraham will eventually be offered to God as a sacrifice. God will provide a ram in place of Isaac, who is spared. In the Gospel for this Sunday, we will see the women of Bethany offer hospitality to their God. He, the only beloved Son of the Father, is the true sacrifice foreshadowed by the offering of Isaac.

Colossians 1:24-28

As has already been mentioned, the Epistle readings are not necessarily tied to the first reading and the Gospel passage. But the unity of the Scriptures-that unity which is supplied by the central figure of Christ-means that homilists often need not strain too much to find links. Several points present themselves from this passage in Colossians. In this letter to the largely Gentile church at Colossae, Paul is responding to the influence of some who have been enticing the believers there to take up practices derived from the old Jewish law. Paul must remind them that the Christ they had received is not only the fulfillment of all the requirements of the old law, but the very purpose for all of God’s work from creation to eternity. As Paul notes a few verses earlier, “in him all things hold together.”

In Christ, Judaism and its ritual and other requirements are not abolished, but completed. Just as fruit bursts forth on a tree, the work of the tree is not abolished but completed. Judaism is now expressed in this new people-the Church. Christ, the full fruit of Judaism, discloses the purpose of the tree of Judaism. This is the “mystery hidden from ages and generations past but now revealed to his holy ones.” This means a “glory beyond price” for these Colossian Gentiles who formerly appeared to be outside the plan of God for the Jews.

This is the Gospel, the good news of Christ. There is a freshness about it as we hear it expressed in Paul’s letters. And we ought to turn to them to be reminded of it often. The greatest mystery, the very reason for the universe itself, “the full measure of wisdom” has been revealed, and is revealed anew to each Christian generation. This reading from Colossians serves as a bridge between Genesis and Luke by reminding us of this great
mystery, formerly hidden in the heart of God, to which we have been given access in Christ.

Luke 10:38-42

Mary and Martha have become emblems of two basic tendencies in every Christian soul. So much so that we will sometimes say, “she is a Mary” or “he is a Martha,” by which we mean that the former shows a propensity for prayer and the latter for good works. These two women of Bethany, a town less than two miles east of Jerusalem, had the privilege of having our Lord as a frequent guest. During the week leading up to His passion, they hosted Him nightly while He spent the days preaching in Jerusalem.

This short episode comes at the beginning of that long section in Luke’s Gospel (9:51-19:27) where, after His Galilean ministry in the north, Jesus has headed south to preach in Judea in preparation for His entry into Jerusalem. It immediately follows the parable of the Good Samaritan and may well have been placed here by Luke as a commentary on it.

In answer to those who might be tempted to believe that good works like those performed by the Good Samaritan are sufficient for the Christian, Jesus says clearly that the way of prayer is primary-“the better part.” The reason for this is clear. “Mary, who seated herself at the Lord’s feet and listened to his words” is in a much better position to do His will, having heard it. Whereas, “Martha, who was busy with the details of hospitality” is said to be “anxious and upset” and is so because she has not taken the time to listen to the Lord first. Obviously, Martha isn’t denigrated for her concern for the welfare of her guests. Jesus simply reorders her priorities, as we would say today.

The evangelist John seems to note the same propensities toward prayer and action in these two sisters of Bethany. In the story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11), we see the same sort of dynamic being played out. Martha first comes out to meet the Lord, and Mary remains in the house, suggestive again of the two dispositions. One goes out to meet the Lord in the world while the other remains, we might say, within herself, in prayer. Both prayer and service are Christian requirements. But they belong in that order prayer, and then service. In the story from John’s Gospel, Jesus moves to raise the dead Lazarus only after the demonstration of emotion by Mary. We even hear that in response to her tears, “Jesus wept.” It is not that Jesus doesn’t love Martha. John, in fact, goes out of his way to say, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister” at the beginning of the story, placing Martha first.

Every Christian soul will find itself torn between the dual goods of service and prayer. The Gospels make clear in every instance that to unite our action to the will of God we must first sit at the feet of the Lord. But He also assures us that when we serve others, we are serving Him. The Mass and the Lectionary provide us with the best opportunity to do just that, to learn His will before we serve.

To sum up, in our first reading, the Holy Trinity, although not yet formally revealed, and the Christ, who has not yet entered time, are found in a mysterious scene of hospitality offered to “the Lord.” Paul reminds us in our second reading of the benefit of the full revelation of the mystery in Christ, which helps us to see this mysterious scene of hospitality. We now find in this Gospel passage that the best hospitality we can provide Him is a heart open to Him in prayer. That, in short, is the lesson provided by the pairing of these reading in Ordinary Time. By this one example we can see that the Lectionary is the primary textbook in the school of wisdom that is the mystery revealed in Christ. And there is certainly nothing ordinary about that!

Reflection Questions:

How would you rate your commitment to prayer? More importantly, how would Jesus rate your commitment to prayer? Are you a Mary before you are a Martha?

Rocky Mountain Way Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

by Molly Mulqueen

Colorado has always been mission territory. In fact, a Franciscan friar from Spain, Domingo de Anza, is said to have established the first mission in Colorado in 1706. Nearly 300 years later, another Franciscan is preaching the good news to the people of Colorado with all the vigor of a missionary. Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., has served the Archdiocese of Denver since 1997, and has worked tirelessly toward the Holy Father’s goal of a “new evangelization” of America.

Under Archbishop Chaput’s leadership, Denver has made great strides toward that goal with a myriad of opportunities for Catholics to enhance their education in the faith. Denver Catholics have invested in facilities and programs, and improved teacher salaries in Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the archdiocese, and also launched the Our Lady of the New Advent Theological Institute for adult formation. The Institute includes the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, where 58 young men are currently studying for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Denver. Friar de Anza must be very pleased.

All of this, and more, has been put into place by a man who told me that he was not sure he wanted the job when the call came for him to be elevated to Bishop (of Rapid City, South Dakota) in 1988.

“I am a Capuchin Franciscan, and St. Francis of Assisi did not want his brothers to become prelates,” Archbishop Chaput explained. “The resolution of that for me is to try to be a bishop after the fashion of being a Franciscan.”

Archbishop Chaput, a Native American from the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe, was born in Concordia, Kansas in 1944. He began studies to become a diocesan priest, but instead joined the Capuchin Franciscans after reading a biography of St. Francis of Assisi. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1970, and held several leadership roles in his Capuchin province until he became a bishop in 1988. While he was in Rapid City, Archbishop Chaput was known for his commitment to catechetics and Catholic education, and for his devotion to minority groups in the Church. And then came the call to become Archbishop of Denver.

“I had lived in Denver before becoming Bishop of Rapid City, because the provincial headquarters of the Capuchin Franciscans is located here,” Archbishop Chaput stated. “So coming to Denver, in some sense, was coming home, but in an extremely different position. I would have never expected to be a Bishop of Denver at any time.”

“[Denver] is a much more complicated diocese than Rapid City. I jokingly say that being Bishop of Rapid City was more fun, but being Bishop of Denver is more exciting. With the complexity of the Church here and the multiplicity of resources, it is a great opportunity to be creative and try to accomplish some beautiful things for God.”

Archbishop Chaput is a very humble man, and he would be the first to credit his staff and his predecessors in Denver with many of the archdiocese’s accomplishments of the last four years. But if you spend any time at the Catholic Pastoral Center near downtown Denver, you soon realize that the vitality and work ethic behind all of these initiatives radiate from the top. Despite his work and travel schedule, he has a reputation for leading with a personal touch, for seldom forgetting a name or a face, and for playing a mean game of racquetball-even beating seminarians half his age.

That high energy level is an important prerequisite to be the Ordinary in Northern Colorado, a vast, fast growing, and challenging region. In March of 2001, Auxiliary Bishop Jose H. Gomez was appointed to Denver to share some of the daunting workload.

The Archdiocese of Denver, nestled against the majestic Rocky Mountains, is arguably one of the most beautiful dioceses in the country, but it also may be one of the most physically difficult to shepherd. It covers an expanse of over 39,000 square miles, much of that over mountainous terrain steep enough to test rigorously the best in four-wheel-drive vehicles-even when it isn’t snowing. It includes high-tech urban areas, upscale resort communities, rural ranch and farm country, and depressed mining towns. And the diversity of the archdiocese is as deep as it is broad. There is a strong and active Hispanic
Catholic community in Northern Colorado, as well as faithful of many racial and ethnic backgrounds and political orientations.

When it comes to Church politics, Archbishop Chaput avoids labeling people or ideas as “liberal” or “conservative.” He has said that as Catholics, our views should reflect Church teaching, which is not based on political opinions, but on the truth. In his new book, Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics, he explains further:

As Catholics we can’t be a source of joy and hope for anybody on the outside if we’re dimming the light of the Church from the inside with bickering over who we are as a community. If we truly wish to participate in the life of the community we call the Church, we need to stop thinking about the Church as if she were a political organization, social club, or corporation. We need to stop thinking like American consumers and lobbyists, and start thinking like Catholic believers.

“I think the truth is naturally attractive, but sometimes people get confused and think that some of the false teachings that are going around are options,” explained Archbishop Chaput. “For example, on the issue of contraception, some people think that the Church’s teaching is really just the Church’s opinion rather than the official teaching of the Church. I think it is very important to be clear where the Church stands on that and other life
issues, like abortion and capital punishment, and also on issues of justice. We have to be mindful in American society of knowing that we are advocates of the poor and of those who are most in need, because very few people speak for them.”

“I think it is really important for us not to look conservative and not to look liberal,” Archbishop Chaput continued. “Also, it is very important for us not to worry about what others might call us, because otherwise, we are just playing to issues rather than giving ourselves to the truth.”

According to Archbishop Chaput, the way to give ourselves more fully to the truth is to study the teachings of the Church:

“The way to do that, of course, is with the tools we use: the New Testament and Old Testament Scriptures. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a wonderful guide, and we also need to be attentive to the teachings of the Holy Father. And I think that there should be a vast and deep presupposition that what the bishops are teaching is in communion with what the Pope teaches, and not to be suspicious of the official teachers of the Church.”

“In other words, I am suggesting that we just have a positive, open confidence in the Lord working through His Church.”

That “positive, open confidence” is an attitude that Archbishop Chaput models in his life, and it comes through clearly in his many efforts to evangelize the people of Northern Colorado, a mission territory for the 21st century.

Archbishop Chaput’s new book, Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics can be ordered by calling Benedictus Books toll-free at (888) 316-2640. CUF members receive a 10% discount. Visit to review many of Archbishop Chaput’s pastoral
letters, homilies, speeches, and newspaper columns.