Continuity of Good News

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PARAGRAPHS 74-141 OF CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

1. What are the central themes or ideas the Catechism is communicating in this week’s readings?

The central themes communicated in the first week’s reading from the Catechism are about the existence of God and  the transmission of Sacred Tradition in harmony with the Magisterium and Sacred Scripture.  To compliment the manifold experience of the believer in those points, there is a brief introduction to proper biblical hermeneutics.

There is also an important theme of the believer responding in taking in the truth of the above and specifically regarding scripture. The tone is set for all in the Church to participate in the deposit of faith.

The Church “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ (para.133).

It cannot be plainer than that.  And by using the quote from St. Jerome of the 4th century, one can see the responsibility the Catholic Church puts on people to study the Bible for themselves.

2. What does this contribute to our understanding of who God is, and who we are as His children?

This teaches us that the Church in the trifecta of the Magisterium, Tradition and Scripture stand as an ongoing instrument of proposing His enduring love in salvation to be accepted in the gospel.  This gospel is applicable to all peoples in all generations. The figurative translation of “catholic” is universal while the literal one is “according to the whole”.  In this reading there are indications of both definitions as they are appropriated in and through the Church founded and maintained by Jesus free from all dogmatic error as shown below.

The Father’s self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: “God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son. And the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church – and through her in the world – leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness” (para.74).

The beautiful inference here is that the proposal of God’s love is in fatherly and nuptial language. I can anticipate later how liturgical language comes in as part of our response to the proposal.  This also contributes to my understanding of God where it involves proposing versus imposing.   And this proposition is best presented in the character of Christ as demonstrated in the Penn Jillete clip played in class.

3. What was it about these sections of the Catechism that resonated with me, personally?  Why?

Coming out of Protestantism there was a constant duel with either/or paradigms one God’s election and man’s free will in soteriology. However, I find the approach in these paragraphs of the CCC to be altogether holistic and with humility to the mystery of God’s grace.  But that is not to say that it is entirely a mystery.  The message in the Gospel is the unveiling of God’s nature and explicit in the flesh and blood historical Savior.

I would also like to highlight much of my entire Christian journey before and after becoming a Catholic has been centered in Acts 2:42.  In paragraph 84 of the CCC, I see an ideal of the early Church called to grow under the guardianship of the Magisterium.

The apostles entrusted the “Sacred deposit” of the faith (the depositum fidei),45 contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church. “By adhering to [this heritage] the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the “teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” [Acts 2:42]. So, in maintaining, practicing and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful (para. 84).

Reading this is a humbling blow to the restorationist man I used to be.  The part on “the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” is a verse (Acts 2:42) that I used to think I had figured out.  Now I read this and remember that my instructor points to the four sections of the Catechism of The Catholic Church and shows how they nail each of those line items of scripture.  When I consider how the Church has nailed those essentials continually for two thousand years I am humbled that I could have found Acts 2:42 in its proper implementation at a Catholic (or possibly Orthodox) parish down the street when I noticed this verse in 1989.

As I reflect on the “should” there, I am inspired all the more to at least be a bridge to ecumenism and hopefully be even more effective in seeing my separated brethren come into the fulness of the truth in the Catholic Church.

From my degree in the social sciences I would say there is no logical explanation that this institution would last for two thousand years against so much opposition and much less be able to guard the “Sacred deposit”  so well.  But it has.  The oak tree looks different from the seed but the DNA is the same.

As I write this in my beginning of a two year journey in the Kino Catechetical Institute, and possibly seven if I go towards the diaconate ministry, I can do no less than cover my mouth and ask for God to teach me all that I can proclaim his love.

Lighthouse for Now and Always

lighthouse_in_the_640_02As I go further in this week’s readings for my homework the term “laying down the gauntlet” comes to mind.  I have heard that term when I was in school about different theories of psychology.  Some would come and go but some seem to have staying power to describe or explain the psyche of humanity.  That is essentially what psychology is with theories that can be tested by observation 100% of the time or they will not have credibility.  In fact, true of almost any “logy”.

Where theology from a Christian perspective is the exception is that it involves the explanation of God’s nature in relation to humanity with professionals or amateurs (like myself).  This is incredible in the sense that it is no discipline by the rules of observation described above.

Only the light of divine Revelation clarifies the reality of sin and particularly of the sin committed at mankind’s origins. Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize sin clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc. Only in the knowledge of God’s plan for man can we grasp that sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another (Catechism of The Catholic Church, para. 387, 1994).

I am reminded of the saying from GK Chesterton that “When is a train most free?  On its tracks”.  Seems silly in wording but holds reason.  I use that quote sometimes with my clients in recovery and illustrate how silly it really is to say that we have set a train “free” if we knock it over.  So in the spiritual realm I can say the same about when we know the plan of God in our lives in what the Gospel states and fail to conform as designed.  If we submit to that plan we are then free to be “capable of loving him and loving one another”.

“At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father. . .who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever.” To catechize is “to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person. It is to seek to understand the meaning of Christ’s actions and words and of the signs worked by him.”‘ Catechesis aims at putting “people . . . in communion . . . with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity ” (CCC, para. 426, 1994).

Catechesis is the handing down of Sacred Tradition that began with the apostolic preaching of the 12 apostles who were witnesses of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Because one of my goals is to pass on the teachings of the Church to others, starting with my children, I really take this to heart.  My favorite line is how “Catechesis aims at putting ‘people . . . in communion . . . with Jesus Christ’ “. This is rich to me because in recent years I have seen conversion as an ongoing process that is sustained by God’s grace.

In catechesis “Christ, the Incarnate Word and Son of God,. . . is taught – everything else is taught with reference to him – and it is Christ alone who teaches – anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips. . . Every catechist should be able to apply to himself the mysterious words of Jesus: ‘My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me’ “ (CCC, para.427)

This brings to mind the fine line of authority.  Frequently in the New Testament the giving of power to the followers of Jesus is exhousia which is specifically delegated authority.  The above paragraph implores the one who would teach the Sacred Scriptures and/or Sacred Tradition to remember that they are answerable to God and the delegated authority that is over them.  The teacher is not the plan but just passes it on.

But in stepping out of this wonderful bubble of the Kingdom of God, there is always a reminder that there is an ugly world out there.  It is one of people loving things and using people instead of loving people and using things as ways to love people (Pope John Paul II).

From the beginning of Christian history, the assertion of Christ’s lordship over the world and over history has implicitly recognized that man should not submit his personal freedom in an absolute manner to any earthly power, but only to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Caesar is not “the Lord”. “The Church. . . believes that the key, the center and the purpose of the whole of man’s history is to be found in its Lord and Master” (CCC, para. 450).

Whenever possible, the wisdom of historical Christianity does well with “both/and” and often does not try to instigate conflicts.  But when the Church is consistent with the deposit of faith in practice down to the most humble believer we must declare out of the divine revelation in the Gospel that Caesar, secular humanism, materialism, ISIS and convenience are not lord but Jesus is Lord.  I am growing further in the belief that the further the Body of Christ grows in the centrality of Jesus Christ and His divine nature shining through us, the more distinction will be on the darkness of this world.

Problem of Evil, Order and Choice.

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As a social worker I often encounter the problem of evil in sometimes heart-stopping ways.  In working with clients that have had substance abuse, mental health challenges or a mixture of both I hear stories all the time of inhumane things done to them especially because of being in a vulnerable state but of course also by them.  The phrase, “man’s inhumanity to man” comes to mind.  At the end of the day I rarely share anything dark with my wife because I want her to live in some kind of blissful ignorance of such things.  Yes, there is a problem of evil in the world and it seems like it takes supernatural grace to not be a cynic about it if there is no response.

But in this week’s homework I see there is an answer.

If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil (Catechism of The Catholic Church, 1994, para. 309).  

no quick answer will suffice— I remember hearing from a couple years ago who, when looking for a new church, were getting “quick answers” or formulas from pastoral staff about losing their son in Iraq.  They knew they found the right church when the pastors were wise enough to listen to their hurts and tell them they did not have an answer.  That church became their new home.

Christian faith as a whole—This is fitting since Catholic means “according to the whole”.

the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants— So true in that God proposes in his covenants in salvation history with Israel and then the Church.  God honors the dignity of humanity in his proposition rather than an imposition.

the redemptive Incarnation of his Son—- This is the summit of God’s grace for the world in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church—  As one would see in how the book of Acts lays out the narrative of the Church, the Holy Spirit and the holy people are enmeshed together beautifully to be a light of hope in the world so all can come to the holistic saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

the power of the sacraments—  In my former days as a Protestant I would have described the sacraments as man-made hurdles that get in the way of a direct relationship with Jesus.  Now after being fully informed of the deep scriptural foundation of these I would see them as the most default channels of God’s grace that brings us out to the deep like stepping onto the undertow at the beach.

Evil needs to be laid at the feet of the choices of man when it is of the immoral choice origin.

The beauty of the universe: The order and harmony of the created world results from the diversity of beings and from the relationships which exist among them. Man discovers them progressively as the laws of nature. They call forth the admiration of scholars. The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man’s intellect and will.

Even atheists can discover the order in natural law and be a humanitarian.  Now how far they apply such submission that they connect it to being in relationship to their creator is another thing.

Also this week in the readings I am reflecting on the fine line in the faith experience between coercion and desertion of God’s evident presence.  Peter Kreeft stated that if there was not beauty or order in the world to give us hints toward God then we would be abandoned.  I would compare it to being on a treasure hunt without a map.  But Kreeft does well to point out that if God blew our socks off with evidence then there would be only coercion and not act of faith.  Free will would be at least in jeopardy.

Where my hope is as a Catholic in my discussions with others that I can point people that are not on a faith journey to open up to God with what revelation they have and see where God would engage them in their faith and reason.  I have much to learn intellectually and much to internalize in my spiritual formation so that I will not be another person with a “quick answer”.

A Lesson With Some Shepherds

stock-poor-people-are-often-most-generous.

The process of spiritual seeking always has two parties in play: the Creator and creation and starts with a breaking ground process.  Sometimes the people that do the seeking are very intentional when a seeming lightning in a bottle happes and sometimes it comes out of nowhere in the Creator doing the initiative.

Such is the case of the shepherds that we sing about every Christmas.  Though the breaking of ground happens with effect for the shepherds there is a larger lesson for God breaking ground for a kingdom that is being established.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.  The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them (Luke 2:8-20).

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields—  In our modern western culture we miss the importance in this narrative that these guys were in the lowest distinction of occupations in society.  At least a lowly carpenter could be preferred for a draft and be a witness in court.  Shepherds were not considered to have a transferable skill set and were not considered to have enough nobility to testify in the finding of facts.  A PR expert would say that they should not be on point with the revelation of Jesus.

But it was the will of God that this new kingdom have a true value of being “of the poor and for the poor” ( Pope Francis).

“At that very moment he rejoiced [in] the holy Spirit and said, ‘I give you praise, 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.[Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will’“ (Luke 10:21).

good news of great joy that will be for all the people…and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests—- This is rich because the message of Jesus that would be expressed when the Church is actualized is for all people.  There are no white or black, rich or poor but just those who choose to be God’s favor.

For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord—- though Luke’s gospel is not known to have as many Jewish traits as the others proportionally, he mentions this because with Jesus being born in the city of David there is a continuity of God’s long-term plan still that is not lost with its universality.

… a sign for you… an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger—- Theologians refer to the infancy narratives as the protoevangelium which is to say that it is primitive portion of the the gospel (evangeleon) that points in principles to the whole of the gospel narratives.  The description above they are to look for is not aesthetically pleasing for someone looking for the king with sparkle.  But neither are shepherds with their sparkle.  And neither are any of us when we remove the veneer of our self-righteousness and worldly pride.  The simplicity of Jesus as a baby points to the humility in essence to when his precious baby hands have grown and are pierced for our sins.

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God— The simplicity of the understanding of how to discern Jesus correctly is our best preparation for heaven to touchdown on earth where the Church on earth is manifest.  These shepherds in being called out by the angels to gather to Jesus could qualify as a divine qahal, or assembly, in the Jewish understanding.  From a completed New Testament understanding on being called out to God’s purposes they were doing Church.  It only makes sense that angels are manifest for this point to be made.  The writer of Hebrews makes such a point later in the 1st century how the presence of angels is typical for the kingdom of God in Christ.  “No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering” (Hebrews 12:22).   On a personal note I had a distinct sense of angelic presence the afternoon I went to my first mass as an adult in late 2012 and began my journey of discernment into the Catholic Church.

So if one is to receive a message of God’s universal and practical plan of grace for mankind and are mindful of God’s kingdom come to earth, what is the proper response?  “So they went in haste” is here the definition of a good knee-jerk reaction.

And what should we discern or find when we get in haste to what God has called us too?  “[A]nd found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger” means to find Jesus is to find him in the context of fellowship.  What should that fellowship be?  More of a church that is “of the poor and for the poor”.  Further, that manger speaks of transition.  Through the ages the spiritual richness of the Church, which is what counts, has been greatest when on the run, general transition or both.

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart—  So for those that hear, God’s call to come, come and stay with a reflective heart on the mysteries of Jesus.  Mary is in the narrative as an example of experiencing the grace of God’s kingdom, which she was “full of”, that Side A is the experience but Side B in the contemplation as we consecrate ourselves in whatever station of life we are called to.

My prayer for you and I dear reader is that we do not let distractions keep us from meditating quietly of the nature of Jesus and relationship to him.  With a fullness of grace there is nothing left to stop us.

Tradition—Not Just For Fiddler On The Roof.

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As a new Catholic, one of the things that I appreciate the most of the Church is the universality to the world in the application of her liturgy and sacraments.  This Tradition, despite some of the anti-Catholic hysteria that is out there, is not from way later but early in history.  Today I am reflecting how this Tradition is universal, prophetic and effective for an authentic Christian life.

Irreneus about 195 AD said—

“For though languages differ throughout the world, the content of the Tradition is one and the same. The Churches established in Germany have no other faith or Tradition, nor do those of the Iberians, nor those of the Celts, nor those of the East, of Egypt, of Libya, nor those established at the center of the world. . .” The Church’s message “is true and solid, in which one and the same way of salvation appears throughout the whole world (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 174).”

Were all of the books in his time that were read in the mass what we have in the Bible today?  No.  But those books that were read in some areas but not others were certainly not contradicting those that were.  First Clement and the Epistle of Barnabas would still point to a Christianity that was apostolic in succession and eucharistic in practice.

The reference to “throughout the whole world” is important not only in light of Church history but salvation history.  Malachi wrote the following passage that makes room for a valid sacrifice to God in the future that would be beyond the confines of a levitical priesthood.

“From the rising of the sun to its setting,

my name is great among the nations;

Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere,

and a pure offering;

For my name is great among the nations,

says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 1:11).

Up to the time of Malachi, any offerings to God had to be in a constructed tabernacle in an ordered way with animal sacrifice and centered on one ethnicity.  With Jesus and his salvation re-presented in the mass the de facto segregation of salvation history is over.

As zealous as I am to be a new Catholic in continuation of my long-term life as a Christian, I recognize an emphasis in this week’s homework that the Catholic Church is not an end to itself but a means to the end that comes in relationship to Jesus.

Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation.” Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith (CCC, para. 169).  As Augustine put it, ‘I would not believe in the Gospels were it not for the authority of the Catholic Church’ (Against the Letter of Mani Called “The Foundation” 5:6)

For those that have left the Catholic Church saying that they could not have a relationship with Jesus and/or the Bible, I would challenge them to consider how much of the practices and teachings were either passed on properly or practiced.

Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature (CCC, para.150).

Did you both go to mass and pay attention?  If you did, there is an ordered lectionary where you would get four separate readings from the Bible each Sunday.

Did you try the Rosary in its fullness?  This sacramental that is inspired by the Sacred Tradition relies on 20 mysteries centered on rich Christology.  19 out of 20 are explicitly in Scripture.

Did you lack a sense of the Holy Spirit?  With no danger of contradicting the continuity of Sacred Tradition there has been a living charismatic renewal since at least the 1960’s in the Catholic Church.  And even if you do not have a Pentecostal temperament the witness of the Catholic Church is very much centered on the pursuit and fruits of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

There is nothing stopping the individual but themselves.

http://www.catholic.com/tracts/whats-your-authority