An Offer She Wouldn’t Refuse

Mary Magnify

CHAPTER TWO

It takes two perfect people to have the perfect relationship. Some spouses will compliment the other one saying that the other person’s perfection makes it happen.  That sounds sweet, but it is not entirely accurate when humanity is involved.  But not so if one is divine.   But if one is divine and changes the setting for the human involved then the whole dynamic is different. Grace tends to do that. 

A prime example for one who could see the kingdom of God for all it is as part of long-term called out community of God was someone who was “full of grace”.  This is why the first person in this “micro-church” I will address is Mary of Nazareth.  For a teenage girl, she had a lot to say because she was “full of grace” and was a daughter of Zion. Such is the case in the Bible when one comes to Mary. 

Here we see the most perfect collaboration between the infinite God, through an angel, and a finite, specially touched human.  She was specifically a young woman in an age where women were not highly esteemed.  But in relationship to God, she is empowered in a faith journey that is not for cowards of either gender. She had faith and knew what it was to step up in courage. 

There is another part to the historical backdrop in the Bible before getting to Mary: unfaithfulness.  God’s people in the Old Testament were described as unfaithful with those who  struggled righteously and unrighteously living one day at a time.  God starts things anew with someone in Mary that had a context of being faithful to God and called to be on the offense just like what light does with darkness.

 “And he [Gabriel] came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”(Luke 1:27-33).

Hail— The “Hail” is not a casual “hi”.  If one looks at the correspondence of the first century between highly esteemed officials, this word is used only to someone of notable, royal distinction.  Mary had that going on as one set aside by the King of the Universe for a special station in life.

Yet from an Old Testament perspective there is a Zion, or Davidic dynasty, connection.  The following verse from Pope Benedict XVI is pointed out also with that same Greek word, “Rejoice, daughter of Zion; shout, Israel…the king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst” (Zephaniah 14-17).  Pope Benedict also states, “The essential reason for the daughter of Zion to rejoice is stated in the text itself; ‘the Lord is in your midst’.  Literally it says: ‘he is in your womb’ (Pope Benedixt XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives). 

What is being heralded in just that word alone is like a shorthand for God’s kingdom to come—- and is coming now in the Christmas Story.

Full of Grace—  The original Greek is Kecharitomene, the perfect passive participle, shows a “completeness with a permanent result. Kecharitomene denotes continuance of a completed action” (H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar [Harvard Univ Press, 1968], p. 108-109, sec 1852:b; also Blass and DeBrunner, p. 175).  Or one can say she was too full of grace to have room for anything else.  Therefore, to me, she stands as the perfect prototype, as the Theotokos (God-bearer as defined in the Council of Ephesus 431), and how the Bride of Christ is supposed to be.  The words I have commented on here and others to come in the infancy era of indicate concretely she was without sin.  The Early Church Fathers were unanimous on this point and also Reformation leaders like Luther.

“But the other conception, namely the infusion of the soul, it is piously and suitably believed, was without any sin, so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin and adorned with the gifts of God to receive the holy soul thus infused. And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin…(Martin Luther, Weimar edition of Martin Luther’s Works, English translation edited by J. Pelikan [Concordia: St. Louis], Volume 4, 694).

So here we have royalty for a grand scale and grace with even grander ramifications all set for an expanding influence as demonstrated further.

The Lord is with you…she was greatly troubled—-  This is not a goose bump phrase. This phrase in the Old Testament was for servants of God like Moses, Joshua and David who would go into the land promised to them by covenant.  They were used by God for natural warfare for that level of revelation in the Old Covenant.  Mary was to be used, launched in the contexts of covenants, to expand God’s influence through a spiritual warfare but at that moment she did not know that.  She just knew that this greeting indicated a level and form of influence beyond what she would think was her humble state in life could handle.  So there was some awe there. Her scope of knowledge could only guess a troubling battle of flesh and steel like a Middle-Eastern Joan of Arc.

Do not be afraid, Mary… you have found favor with God. — Mary was full of grace but Gabriel elaborated that God’s favor for her and her mission was in grace to overflow by the direct hand of God with the undeniable fact that the source and summit of the grace and favor for her was external to her in God.

you will conceive—  as the angel unfold’s God’s plan for her life there is a connection to the Incarnation. God would be with her, it would be form of warfare but it would be the Word made flesh. 

you shall call his name Jesus—- Jesus means “God saves”.   The Incarnation means salvation in some way yet to be revealed.  The Word, dropping in behind enemy lines, is to save humanity.    

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;—-  Here is the framework in that it will be in the pattern of David as the throne is from David.  This savior bring a visible kingdom and it would be consistent with the pattern of the Davidic dynasty.    

and of his kingdom there will be no end——  The declaration of God Incarnate and being savior of the world happens within a framework of a kingdom that has no end and thus continues.

On the devotional side, how can a modern person relate to these lofty subjects?  Well, we know through the rest of the story that Mary cooperated with a kingdom that is personal, holistic, authoritative and beyond our earthly limitations if seen by faith.  God initiates to us for full participation.  She was to carry God in her womb.  If we respond in the same humility to the gospel of the kingdom, we carry Jesus in a different but substantial way. Possibly it is we who really can stop us from this encounter. 

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HOLIDAYS BEYOND ROUTINE

new-beginningCHAPTER ONE

Too often, church is seen as something carnal, full of empty ceremony or both. 

To illustrate this point, I heard a joke about church once that bears repeating. A horde of chipmunks were flooding a street that had three churches on it. The first two used brutal, inhumane means to kill the chipmunks and felt bad about it. The third was a Catholic Church. There the priest said that their method would not get rid off all of them all of the time and his method would make sure that they would only have to deal with them Christmas and Easter. He would baptize them.

The joke made the audience and I laugh but there was a kernel of truth to it. Often there are people that will do their duty by darkening the door of a church for those special occasions but stay away otherwise even if they felt “touched” by their experiences. People that are only holiday church goers also find church attendance then as less threatening. So they get a spiritual feeding and go home and not to return until later. Hardly the layout of a good spiritual family to just take the blessing and run.

The truest Holy Family is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three in One. Three Who’s and one What. It is the highest experience of a community of persons we can presently point to.  In those three persons are the Father who initiates love, the Son who responds the love and the Holy Spirit who proceeds as the personhood of love between. 

Church, as founded by Jesus, is meant to be an extension of this divine fellowship where heaven and earth meet. Not because it looks nice nor gives the members goosebumps.  A gathering of people as Christians is always to join together in Jesus and worship the Father in Jesus.  It is his higher purposes to be met whether it is set of two or three gathered in his name or something even more deliberate. A gathering for higher purposes in the Old Testament was considered a solemn assembly. It was their everything.  It was the qahal.  When the Old Testament was translated into Greek in 2nd Century BC an assembly was translated as ekklesia

Church was about being called out to something.  The Greeks would refer the a small democratic town leaving the village to a nearby forest for a vote on what we might call a ballot measure.  the “ek” was the out of.  This comes to mind where we read in the Bible where God tells his people to come out and be separate for the world.  The highest point for an assembly is to be consecrated in some way. This was needed because it was a sacrifice. 

The important thing to note is that the advancing kingdom of God has an aspect that transcends what we can measure with our senses but still is true. The traits are there.  This is why for them then and in modern times we need eyes to see and ears to hear and all the while without fear. For this family God started is supposed to walk in the, “[P]erfect love [that] casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:17). 

But in looking at the splendor of these truths of Jesus and the kingdom he founded in a heavenly context, we should not forget the roles of simplicity and humility that are communicated in the four gospels.  This is why two of them, Matthew and Luke, give what is called the Infancy Narratives.  Most of the storyline centers on three persons who are called in different Christian traditions the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  They serve as a basic template in truth and virtue for communities to be inspired by in the ages to come that call themselves Christian.  One is not recorded for any of his words but suggests a sense of wonder.  One is filled with grace and says a yes heard for all time.  And one is grace and truth realized (John 1:17), “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) and was born in the “house of bread” called Bethlehem.  Let us go forward and explore this Church of Bethlehem. 

My hope in drawing the reader to the events that surround the birth and nativity is that they would allow the truths in those scriptures with a new perspective that would inspire a fuller understanding of Jesus Christ.

But skepticism can kick in if inquiring into Christianity when seeing what does not appeal to common sensibilities.  Items such as mystery in ceremony, demands of “thou shalt not’s” and traditions that are not at first explained. For the modern person who wants to make sure everything makes sense it can be a bit distasteful to an inpatient mind. But with patiences one can ponder the Christmas story the right way and in turn ponder the person of Jesus and his call to follow him but in a different view by a baby’s coo.  Encountering who Jesus is can be best seen through the lens of a responding to a proposition and not a passionless obedience to an imposition.

Seeing the participants in the Christmas story in a full way can reinforce that the plan of God is not oppressive but a guide to how and why we are made in the first place. This small family points obedience to the will of God that honors our design and does not demean it.  In the words of GK Chesterton, “When is a train most free? When it is on it’s tracks”. Bethlehem, meaning house of bread, is a beacon that points us to tracks of the Father’s house instead of a courthouse.

Thus, we are called to encounter God with head and heart. A recurring point in the narratives is that the gospel is meant especially for those most in a humble state of mind so they can grasp the simplicity of the gospel. Jesus rejoiced at this saying, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike” (Matthew 11:25).

Going forward, let us prepare the way of Jesus in our hearts individually but in the context of disciples be intentional as the church of Jesus on the terms of Jesus. A Christ-centric community is to decrease as Jesus would increase.

MY SECOND SIGH

Walking on a roadFor any religion to be true to itself they need to have a truth at it’s core and keep a visible unity or it falls apart of the definition of who the believers are.  Looking at early Christianity when I was a young adult I sighed looking at the beauty of the early church and lamenting that it died waiting for some ultimate movement to find the key and get it back on track.  The following passage made me sigh and makes me sigh now but for different reason. 

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47). 

apostles’ teaching– – Everything that has been covered in what I wrote in Hebrews 6:1-2. 

fellowship- – Not a mutual admiration society.  It is a bond they have in the Holy Spirit. 

breaking of bread– – As indicated in what has already been covered, the believers not only understood the sacramental life but acted out on it. 

the prayers- – They reached out to God.  Some of it was formal and some not. 

Awe came upon everyone- – Now we get to longstanding traits that stand the test of time of right Christian practice and outreach.  Awe was not of the apostles but Who they taught about.  The center was the living Christ.  It was a sense of reverence. 

many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles- – Christianity is supposed to have the miraculous.  Miracles point to God in times of refreshing. 

All who believed were together and had all things in common- – Social justice teaching was something that was developed in articulation and practice over time.  But loving ones neighbor needs it since resources get complicated over time. 

Day by day, as they spent much time together- – They hang together, have joy in their hearts and have true and unified worship as a community. 

the Lord added to their number those who were being saved- – Simply put, they were obedient to the Great Commission.  They had a revolution that was spiritual and practical that Jesus is Lord in an empire that said Caesar was Lord.  This is only natural since in the Great Commission Jesus said “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:18-19a). 

And here it stands today.  I have readers who are Christians of different backgrounds.  Most affirm the even more articulated declaration of the Nicene Creed of 325.  Possibly you are a reader who is unsure of what Jesus is and if it is worth it to be a part of any context of the Body of Christ since it is full of sinners.  To you, I would say I am one and there is room for one more.  But if Jesus is all he said he was and did all he said he would do, then to surrender to his bond in the cross is the greatest adventure of all.  And it is an adventure meant to be planted in the soil of what he founded which is “the Church. The pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). 

And now I return to the aforementioned sighs.  In my youth I saw a deadness of church that was dependent upon brief revivals that would be reflective of something kind of like the “real church” of the roots or early days.  Later I came to see verses like the “pillar” reference which made me question my beliefs of church.  It made me look for golden threads.

So I will now look at the development of the Christianity with more focus on the Nicene Creed written at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.  It defined Jesus being 100% God and 100% man.  It defined the Trinity.  It was their shoulders that successors stood on a few generations later when the canon of Sacred Scripture was first defined. This body of teaching authority in that same council referred to “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”   

Let us see if the threads hold up 300 years after the church was founded by Jesus. 

apostles teaching of 1st Century— apostolic in the 4th

prayers and awe of the 1st—- is holy in the 4th 

fellowship and social conscience in the 1st- one and with “communion of saints” in the 4th

breaking of the bread in the 1st——catholic and eucharistic in the 4th.   Is this last one a stretch?  Catholic figuratively means universal.  But literally in the etymology means “according to the whole” in Greek.  The universal tied of Christ being present in beautiful in the preaching of the word but is substantial everywhere through a universal church.  For this church that would pierce the kingdom of darkness it would be authoritative and would re- present the sacrifice of Calvary in a supernatural way.  Below is ironically a passage of the Old Testament that shows us the way but the early church fathers quoted often. 

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 1:11). 

This can be described as a “cosmic sign of the rising sun which symbolizes the universality of God” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,The Spirit of the Liturgy, 2006 p. 64).  But follow the line of consistency on these overlapping traits shown in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and history.  When Malachi wrote this, no valid sacrifice could happen except in Jerusalem but the sacrifice of the mass being a universal re-presentation of Calvary.  But a valid Eucharist requires a valid priest.  A valid priest requires laying of hands.  Valid laying on of hands would require a tracing all the way back to the upper room when Jesus breathed on his disciples and hence gave the power of the authoritative church in an authoritative priesthood.  And so the Catholic Church stands.  “You are Peter.  And upon this rock I will build my Church.  And the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16: 18).  And this is my second sigh.  It stands now and by the grace of God in Christ Jesus it will always stand. 

KINGDOM OF LIGHT: CONTINUING TO DO SO

Son of DavidI have been writing about early teaching foundations of the early church which were good for what they are as a compass or boundaries on the shape of the faith.  To not lay the foundations again because someone has a spiritual amnesia is important.  The writer of Hebrews mentions in the next breath there is a momentum to go forward in growth.  “And we shall do this [going beyond the basics], if only God permits”(Hebrews 6:3).

I had a surgery resident friend who who said an organism is either growing or dying. In the next verses the writer of Hebrew sounds out a clarion call for the believer to continue on in holiness and not assumption.  The writer had touched on judgment in the prior verse but next it is shown how judgment needs to be put in context of also those who have been touched in a salvific way as well.  The Christian is called to a marathon of faith and not just a judge’s affirmation that the “fire insurance” was paid in Bible camp decades ago.  However, some who have the foundation of being saved, evangelized and catechized may want to take it all for granted. 

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly, and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and on the verge of being cursed; its end is to be burned over (Hebrews 6:4-8). 

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance- – This seems at first to be literally damning unless one looks more broadly in the New Testament. 

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:24-26).

Seeing the words of Jesus here we are reminded by him pointing to his Father in heaven that salvation of any kind is tethered to his grace.  Now in returning to the context of Hebrews 6 we see a context of catechizing and spiritual formation by the authority of the church.  The church is called to bring the gospel and give the formative teaching which is God working through the flesh of imperfect, finite people.  When that is done, the church has done all it is called to do.  But in what Jesus said is that God does not know the meaning of the word “impossible”.  God can still reach the converted who fall away.   

who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit– – These parts underly the point that there was a sacramental context to the life of a fully initiated believe.  There had been catechesis which is an early church term for the handing down of Sacred Tradition.  By scripture and early church fathers we see that to be baptized is to be enlightened, to taste of the heavenly gift is to be baptized, partake of the Eucharist and to share in the common bonding effect of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation.   

tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come– – Another reference of the tasting but not only of ceremony. This an emphasis of a current encounter with life.  Strongs Confordance defines it as “that which is or has been uttered by the living voice, thing spoken, word” (G4487).  This puts the context of being  Christian disciple as being holy and always fresh with what I would call the objective and subjectively understood reality of God’s kingdom. 

But if it produces thorns and thistles….- – This is dire and calls out the nature of man with the Parable of The Sower of Jesus in the background which illuminates how the seed of God’s word is not to be received as shown below. 

And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing (Mark 4:18-19). 

But what if someone hardens their hearts and is too spiritually blind to admit that they are fallen away?  Maybe they fabricate a convenient Jesus of their own choosing?  Though they are not responsive to the finite reach of the church, the Holy Spirit the word can come in a level that is not seed form, is sudden and for that fallen believers repentance.  Call it a divine illumination as detailed below. 

Let us [Christians] therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:11-13). 

In a word, God wants to break the heart of the one who is religiously fluent in their head but hard of heart. 

So for the Christian the sobering news is that you are not in heaven yet.  However, later in the same book there is good news is that maintaining salvation is possible when attached to God in grace. One can pivot from servile fear to a balanced fear of the Lord in his love knowing Jesus knows how hard it is to live a holy life on earth with its struggles.    

 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

But this drawing one can do is perfectly natural if filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.  Jesus founded his Church that way to be a light to the world in Him. There is in God’s “permitting” a holy people who can go forward by the merits of Jesus and in communion with the saints.  This last point is important in how the ongoing growth in holiness in the believer is not meant to be solo.  Christ built his church and said it will not end.  He even said that it would be on the offense overall so that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.  How that works in theory and practice is worth now looking at beyond the individual believer and more broadly to the macro level.

KINGDOM OF LIGHT: LOVING THE LIGHT

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“Dad. I don’t want to go to heaven.”

“What? Why?”

“Because in your books you write that in heaven it is a mass that never ends”. 

Such was a conversation between Dr. Scott Hahn and his daughter.  He is a theologian who has written much about what happens in heaven but if one takes in the teaching with an underdeveloped understanding then heaven may appear to be boring, impersonal and potentially stagnant since forever is a long time. 

One can go even broader than that in the adult world.  We are jaded in modern life where it is common for couples to “grow apart” and one may make relationship changes to “shake things up”.  Some think if things don’t work out with that maybe one should be able to end it after a few years if it grows stagnant. The same philosophy of entitlement is applied as a society and in some individuals about God.

Such is a failure in understanding of the being with God in enternity which is called the Beatific Vision.  It is a joining of the soul to the divine for all eternity and divinity is unlimited in glory and power.  To sing a new song may happen but the freshness is always with God.  For one to be in the presence of God is to be in the presence of someone who does not exist as we usually conceive of the concept.  He is something other than being in the sense of how we classify living and non-living objects.  He is the “I AM” of where it is written “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”’ God just is not of time and space (Exodus 3:14).    

To imagine God beyond our limits of time and space, we are called by scripture to fully know our dependence on things that tether a believer by those aspects of God’s kingdom, or even the essence of God, while walking on earth.  To be prepared for eternity is in the gifts of faith, hope and love. 

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).   

The fullness of being in fellowship with the Holy Trinity is love.  When love is seen rightly as a gift above all others it is is through the lens of two things: God is love and he best demonstrated this in the full giving of himself as the Bridegroom on the cross.  In the cross, God is Love in Christ Jesus as the ultimate self-donation.  Without that sense, what is said below is only meaningless philosophy meant for a goose bump at weddings.   God being love is not a concept towards the main thing.  “God is love” is the main thing and thus for eternity he wants to marry us.

There are many rich things here but they bow to love.  God is love.  The greatest gift is love because the nature of God’s agape love is self-giving without holding back.  Anything less than love is at best a thing to be used for communicating or self-giving in love.  We are not meant to relate to God or each other for anything like an empty agenda.  It is fitting that the agenda leads to the highest motive.  “A person is an entity of a sort to which the only proper and adequate way to relate is love” (John Paul IILove and Responsibility, 1960). 

CHOOSING THE LIGHT

Be Bold Challenge With Lion Face

It is a common wish for life to be fair.  There is a common statue outside courthouses that show justice is blind.  Defining and finding justice can be difficult.  If it is someone who has wronged me, then I have my biases for what I want dished out to the other person but we do not always get things seen the way we prefer.  As a counselor I refer to the court system as a “stranger in a black robe”.  I say it that way with purpose in the sense of how imperfect a judge on judging guilt and meting out a sentence.

People can be initially repelled of God in heaven being a judge.  The first reflex in someone who is effected by shame and a legalistic form of Christianity is that God is out to punish for the sake of a macabre satisfaction of making us suffer.  With a right representation of what Christianity is about the nature of God being holy and Love in the flesh in Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. God being love and holy may seem to be contradicting but really they are paradoxes in perfect harmony with each other in the person of Jesus.  In explaining the dynamics of the important lines of demarcation one can see a building stage by Jesus on the Holy Spirit illuminating this truth. 

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged (John 16:7-11).

Weeks later the Holy Spirit came down on the Church’s birthday.  When consistent with the deposit of faith, the Holy Spirit communicates through the Church the reality of Jesus as Lord and Savior, his role as High Priest in going to the Father and Satan being judged.  When the gospel is preached in the world, enlightened by the Holy Spirit,  Christians can engage in the marketplace of ideas and call out those things that are rays of light.  This was picked up on by Paul in respecting and engaging the culture. 

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you (Acts 17:22-23). 

Here Paul uses something 200 years before in the history of Athens where they had prayed to every god they could to cure their sheep, and came up empty.  Among their means to “grope for him” they  came up with their spiritual door to an unknown God. 

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,“For we too are his offspring.” Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’  (Acts 17:24-33). 

Yet Paul does not water down the need to turn from sin.  He says, “While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). 

For the people at the end who converted we see beauty, truth and goodness on display.  Paul led them into conversion by embracing the light that was in their culture and put what validly attempted to meet the needs of humanity in the true light of the gospel.  But among the dark forces they were tied to there is to be a day when the parties that “scoffed” will get their wish of not being connected to God. 

The scoffers in all ages come up with other means that were more enclosed to their boxes.  Paul shines a light on how those fail in contrast to God’s long-term golden thread of sovereignty in humanity. 

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles (Romans 1:18-23). 

The Apostle John saw this to a logical conclusion at the end of this age. 

Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). 

Yes, it is possible for someone to choose to not be with God as well as to be with God. 

If actions speak louder than words, God is willing to honor the “no thanks” of the human person.  God is Love in his essence and no choice would mean no love.  Satan is the one who already stood judged and hell is not meant for us.  Augustine was one who went from scoundrel to saint.  He had riches, high intellect and lots of immorality before having a radical conversion to Christ.  He said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee” (Confessions, 5th Century). Restlessness for all eternity is not appealing to me nor to God and thus it is his preferred will that we choose him. 

“God allows man to learn His supernatural ends, but the decision to strive towards an end, the choice of course, is left to man’s free will. God does not redeem man against his will.”  “John Paul IILove and Responsibility).

And such is the hidden beauty on this divine fork in the road.  The principles of God are laid out and the end result of what we choose will have startling conclusions one way or another. 

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened” (C.S Lewis, The Great Divorce). 

LIGHT ABOUT THOSE IN THE GREY

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 Martin Luther King had such a page turning effect when he spoke of a day where “a man would not be judged by the color of his skin but by the content of his character”.  This was accepted as true and right by all of good will but points to a broader reality: we are all going to be judged.  One subset of that experience that is pointed to in ancient scripture and tradition is a cleansing of that person when they area already heaven bound as summed up above. 

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030, 1994). 

A common objection is that this is a yoke of burden and oppression which undermines the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and is unscriptural.  However the term used above is “undergo” meaning Christ is doing the work.  Also, supposedly, any interpretation of scripture to support purgatory is woven out of whole cloth.  Here I will make a case that purgatory is consistent with the atonement in Christ, scriptural and founded in Christian tradition.  We know that God has set a time for one and all of eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:2), but there is his work to do in us along the way.

This Christ-centered context of this post-death purging for those heading to heaven is not an impersonal action of Christ but between his death and resurrection he preached to them.  Would it be in his nature to communicate with us while being purified?  We know he never changes (Hebrews 13:8). 

Look at 1 Peter 3:19–20. These verses show Jesus preaching to “to the spirits in prison.” The “prison” cannot be heaven, because the people there do not need to have the Gospel preached to them. It cannot be hell, because the souls in hell cannot repent. It must be something else…..there is nothing unbiblical about the claim that those who have died might not immediately go to heaven or to hell (Christine Pinheiro, Catholic Answers, www.catholic.com November 1, 2005). 

Jesus made a reference of specifying a context of a sin not be forgiven and implied some can be forgiven.  Jesus says that some sins “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32).

Where Christians can be at a loss on understanding salvation, soteriology, often one sees only a legal conversion with little room for further grace filled participation under Jesus as savior who forgives and cleanses (1John 1:9).  In fact,  God works his grace to perfect us as its says, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

This may be conceded by critics of purgatory but the objection is that God uses only earthly circumstances to discipline us.  However, only a breath of words later a heavenly context is used. 

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24). 

If “just men” means perfect, how are they “made perfect”?  Doesn’t this seem like a contradiction? God is judge and acting that way in heaven.  This is why there is intercession by the faith for the departed saints precisely to support them sharing in “his holiness.”   

This was embedded in Jewish belief a few centuries before Christ.  When Jewish rebels died with pagan lucky charms on them, there was a concern for their souls. 

He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection (2 Maccabees 12:43).

Paul took this to heart in discussing how the Christian will be judged and keeps a purgative effect centered on an encounter with Jesus Christ.  While MLK had the beginning of a point, here we see our works being judged and a purification after death for those who are already Christians. 

For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—  each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.  If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

This belief of interceding for the departed and their post-death purgation continued in the early development of Christian faith and practice.  Having a mass said for a loved ones was believed by someone who was pivotal on the word and doctrine of the Holy Trinity. 

A woman, after the death of her husband…prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice” (Tertullian, Monogamy 10:1-2 [post A.D. 213]). 

Augustine differentiated between mass said for those whom there was doubt or no doubt that they went straight to heaven.  This man is someone who Catholics call a Doctor of the Church and Protestants often see as proto-Protestant. 

“There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered.” (Sermons 159:1 [inter A.D. 391-430]). 

Augustine specified two points of reckoning other than heaven.

The man who has cultivated that remote land and who has gotten his bread by his very great labor is able to suffer this labor to the end of this life. After this life, however, it is not necessary that he suffer. But the man who perhaps has not cultivated the land and has allowed it to be overrun with brambles has in this life the curse of his land on all his works, and after this life he will have either purgatorial fire or eternal punishment (Genesis Defended Against the Manichaeans 2:20:30 [A.D. 389]).

Augustine described a continuity of the Lord’s discipline that transcended earth into beyond. 

Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment (The City of God 21:13 [inter A.D. 413-426]). 

Perhaps this was just a fluke in North Africa.  Not so according to Augustine who had lived in Italy before he was the bishop of Hippo and corresponded with bishop of Rome.

The universal Church observes this law, handed down from the Fathers, that prayers should be offered for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their proper place at the Sacrifice (Augustine, Serm. clxxii, 2, P.L., XXXVIII, 936).

This was not only a universal practice but a common practice of the priests in their parishes.  This was clergy and laity in unison and with great vigor according to an early church historian respected by Christians of many different backgrounds. 

“[A] vast crowd of people together with the priests of God offered their prayers to God for the Emperor’s soul with tears and great lamentation” (Eusebius, Life of Constantine IV.71).

As someone who used to not believe in purgatory this gives me pause to be both reverent and hopeful.  I am reverent because God is consistently holy and just.  I am hopeful because I know God neither allows or does anything regarding me without it being something tied back to the essence of who he is: Love.  For this covers a multitude of sins.  And he disciplines those he loves (Proverbs 3:12).