Sunday, March 22, 2015

Scrutinies, Options, and "a Great Multitude"

Someone called my father-in-law, asking which set of Bible readings we were using this week.

It's a reasonable question. One set for this fifth Sunday in Lent is Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; and John 11:1-45. The other, labeled "Fifth Sunday of Lent - Year A Scrutinies," is Jeremiah 31:31-33; Hebrews 5:7-9; and John 12:20-33.

Having options isn't odd: readings for some Sundays include an abbreviated version — I'm not a big fan of those, since I like hearing Sacred Scripture, and my attention span doesn't time out quite that fast.

Two completely different options isn't usual, though: and "Year A Scrutinies" wasn't a familiar phrase. Turns out, it's part of RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

You'd think I'd know about that, since I'm an adult convert to Catholicism.

I was a bit surprised, back when I talked to a priest about signing up, he mentioned a bit of paperwork he'd have to do: and that was it.

My guess is that he knew about me. It's a small town, I married one of the deacon's daughters, and might have had a reputation for being gung-ho about our faith. Also a tad obsessive about research.

Priests, the ones I've been around, don't seem eager to rack up 'covert' numbers, and that's another topic. (June 15, 2011)

Anyway, I bypassed RCIA: which means I occasionally run into something unfamiliar connected with it. For that matter, I run into other new-to-me wrinkles of my faith now and then, too: hardly surprising, since we've been accumulating traditions (lower case "t") for about two millennia.

RCIA is a second Vatican Council thing, sort of. It's not a new idea, of course. We've been fine-tuning how to handle adult converts ever since our Lord picked out the original 12. ("Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy - Sacrosanctum Concilium," 64-66, Pope Paul VI (December 4, 1963); Catechism, 1232)

I'm pretty sure that some parishes had wacky variations on RCIA committed 'in the spirit of Vatican II:' which let tightly-wound Catholics assume that their little circle of friends was the only 'real' Catholic Church in the whole world. And that's yet another topic.

Or maybe not so much.

The Great Commission, Two Millennia and Counting

Our standing orders, outlined in Matthew 28:19-20, haven't changed in two millennia. What keeps changing is how we carry them out.

At this moment, we're living in the 21st century.

It's not like the first, or 11th, centuries.

We'd be daft, trying to proclaim the Gospel the way we did when Bi Sheng1 invented movable type: or during the year of five emperors. I'm convinced that American elections aren't the best possible way to select leaders: but it could be worse, and that's yet again another topic.

Like I've said before: change happens, and it's often not comfortable.

Folks who got used to rites introduced somewhere between the fall of the Sur Empire and whatever we cobble together to replace the United Nations may be upset about reforms a millennia or so from now.

What got me thinking about that? Change. Porcelain. the Song Dynasty. Got it.

I ran into someone who hadn't gotten over the Council of Trent, when we got a new Catechism and missal. Pope Pius V signed off on that, about five centuries back now.

Getting back to "scrutinies."

"The Elect," Catholic Style

"...The RCIA describes them as 'rites for self-searching and repentance and above all a spiritual purpose. The scrutinies are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong and good. For the scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.'(#141)..."
("Bulletin Article 1," USCCB)
"The elect?!"

I've talked about spiritual snobbery and Holy Willie before. Bottom line, it's a bad idea and we shouldn't do it — Holy Willie is a terrible role model. (July 27, 2014)

In this context, "elect" means "singled out from a number or group as more to one's liking (this elect body of students represents the best that the nation's high schools have to offer)" (

I hope I'm one of the folks who are the "elect" — someone who, at the end, has the good sense to choose God's will.

God knows which choice I'll make, but I don't. Not yet. I've talked about time, knowledge, free will, and getting a grip, before. (July 27, 2014)

More to the point, the Catechism has a bit to say about it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 31, 355-361, 373-379, 386-390, 396-409, 1730-1738, 1778, 2402)

Where was I? "The elect," Holy Willie, free will. Right.

Faith, Works, and Very Bad Ideas

Pop-theology versions of predestination can be comforting — or depressing — both of which are bad ideas. Very bad ideas.

Focus on the notion that we're "predestined" for Heaven, no matter what damned stupid stunts we pull, and we're skidding into presumption.

That's the notion that I can work my way into Heaven: or that God is such a sucker that I'll get in, no matter what. (Catechism, 2092)

"Faith without works is dead" and all that. What I do matters, but I'm entirely dependent on my Lord for forgiveness and salvation. (James 2:14-26; Catechism, 2006-2011)

Going the other direction, assuming that there's no way I could avoid Hell, is daft.

Reality check. Hell is real, but nobody — nobody — is "predestined" to end up there. Hope is a virtue, and despair is strictly against the rules. (Catechism, 600, 1033-1037, 1817-1821, 2091)

Scaring folks silly with tales of hellfire and damnation is part of America's cultural history: which doesn't make it a good idea. (March 15, 2015)

Catholics have our equivalents of Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." One I've heard about is a nifty little story about Saint [whoever] visiting someone in a dream and saying either that only a handful of folks from [wherever] made it to Heaven — or that they're all damned.

As for the notion that Heaven is underpopulated — John described one contingent as:
"...a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue...."
(Revelation 7:9)
I'm savvy enough to realize that Revelation — an example of apocalyptic literature, full of symbolic language — wasn't written by an American. Small wonder that folks marketing 'end times Bible prophecies' have a field day with the book.

On the other hand, I have trouble believing that Revelation 7:9 tells us that God doesn't have enough folks in Heaven to play six-hand spades.

And that's still another topic.

More of my take on life, death, and the long view:

1 Gutenberg's big contribution was metal type: and mass-production techniques. (January 27, 2009)


Brigid said...

I find this sentence hilarious. "Focus on the notion that we're "predestined" for Heaven, no mater what damned stupid stunts we pull, and we're skidding into presumption."

Brian Gill said...

Brigid, :)

Yeah - serious stuff, but I didn't see much point in being grim about it.

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.