John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Church Study

Posted on April 17, 2014

So, this is Holy Week, the last week of Lent for Christians.  Today is Holy Thursday, which marks the day on the Christian calendar when Christ had his Last Supper.  Tomorrow is Good Friday, the day when Christ was crucified.  And, of course, Sunday is Easter, when Christ rose from the dead.

Not all Christians agree that these are the dates to celebrate Easter.  The Orthodox Church uses a different calendar.

According to Wikipedia:
“Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the March equinox.[11] Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on 21 March (although the astronomical equinox occurs on 20 March in most years), and the "Full Moon" is not necessarily on the astronomically correct date. The date of Easter therefore varies from 22 March to 25 April inclusive.”

In America, we use the Gregorian calendar.  Pope Paul III convened the Council of Trent in 1563, called up some mathematicians, and they, along with a bunch of other interested parties, hammered out the specifics about how we count our days.   It took a lot of hammering.  19 years later, a new Pope, Gregory XIII, took all of that work and issued a Papal Bull that set up the calendar we all live under.

Eventually, the rest of the world decided to follow the advice of Gregory.  Like the Council of Trent, politics played a pretty big role in they of the Catholic Church.  Some Protestant countries didn’t want to adopt the Papist prescription for how we live our lives on a daily basis.  But eventually they did, as did the Russians and the Chinese and the Japanese.

I find all of this to be pretty fascinating.

We can all learn a lot by studying Church history and I believe that the Church should do a better job of teaching that history, warts and all, especially to Catholics, but also to the public at large.

The child abuse scandal that has hit the Vatican, the American Church, the Irish Church and others is terrible.  There is no getting around that basic truth.

But the Catholic Church has had other scandals that have rivaled it in its rich history.  Popes have had illegitimate children.  The indulgences scandal broke the Church in two during the Reformation.  The Defender of the Faith, Henry VIII, broke away from the Church because he wanted a wife who would bear him a son, and he couldn’t find one.

This is all a part of the rich history of the Church.  But along with that bad news is plenty of good news.

The Church has had in history, distant and not so distant, real Saints who have had a tremendous influence on Western Culture.  Aquinas, Augustine, Mother Theresa, St. Francis of Assisi, Pope John Paul II, Fulton Sheen.   The list goes on and on.

The Catholic Church is made up of humans.  And humans, as we all know, are imperfect beings.  Some are better than others.

A proper teaching of Church history would give us all, but especially us Catholics, a better understanding of the world we live in and a better grounding about how we live our lives today.  It would give us a better perspective about what we should expect out of our Church and our fellow parishioners.

It would make it real.  None of us are perfect.

I raise this point because I know a lot of Catholics like to go to Bible study.

I think that studying the Bible has its uses.

I think it is particularly interesting how the Bible was put together.  That process has its own fascinating history.

It is said that The Bible is the revealed truth.  But so is history, especially the history of the Catholic Church.   Nothing reveals truth more than experience.  And some of that truth has been learned the hard way.

Somebody once said that all truth, in the long run, is common-sense clarified.  But getting to that common-sense can be its own painful process.

As we celebrate the holiest of Holidays this Easter weekend, we should commit to learning more about our Church and its development over the last 2000 years or so, up to and including today.

And the Church should spend some time thinking about how it can help us to learn that history.   I think it would give us a healthy sense of perspective.

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