Words for the Critically Priveledged

wind-tree

Changing ones perspective at  a very basic level can be hard for anyone.  But there is a special angle to that experience when a person has a privilege in perspective that is head and shoulders above those of their peers.  In someone is at the pinnacle of the physical sciences then the bias could be what is called scientism in knowing much of reality but confining that which can believed in to only what is totally quantified.  Or one could be a great mind in the social sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, anthropology, social work etc.) and be fixed in thinking based on post-modern theories that lack meaning of the human experience to what a person or group defines as true or good.  The disciplines go on and on and much of the time good can come from them as long as there is humility to keep asking the right questions after hefty and good answers.  Mankind, after all, is a thinking being and that is why we use the term homo sapien.  The term is about the genus that thinks and reaches toward what is good, true and beautiful often with words that end with “-logy” coming from the Greek work logos which is a thought out, reasoned expression for order.

But with Christianity what is clear is that Jesus Christ is the proclaimed “Logos”, the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14) and the first prism to view Jesus in his time would be theology.  Such a man that had qualifications in Palestine in the 1st century was Nicodeumus.  He was a decision maker and one who could influence what was defined as truth and order among the Jewish leaders.  But one night he had  an encounter with a man who was both a rabbi and an ex-carpenter.  This encounter was an interview that started in curiosity, went on in a confusing vein and left him with a choice.  Likewise, I will point out here that those things can happen today for the inquirer with all of those traits but yet be take only so far.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can this happen?” Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:1-15).

teacher who has come from God… unless God is with him— This is a good starting point for the person that is privileged.  Even a high and mighty atheist will at least say Jesus had a great following and a sociological phenomena ensued.  Even better, Nicodemus sees that there are miracles and that Jesus is spiritual and is blessed by God.   This is a sign of that first spiritual hunger when one hears the introductory basics of the gospel.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above— In reading the words of Jesus one should know the context of good news from him.  From the Old Testament the good news was the word of divine provision.  In the Roman empire the “good news” was that your people are conquered and Caeser gets to rule you.  But in Jesus he brings spiritual provision in the context of a tangible kingdom that is anchored in heaven.  But to accept that good news one must transition from an earthly citizenship to a heavenly one and thus a spiritual birth.  No spiritual birth, no spiritual citizenship.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit— At this point Jesus doubles down on the point of spiritual birth that is in the context of the material and spiritual.  Make no mistake, this is the theological normative of baptism.  Some say that the water reference is just giving credit to the physical birth and amniotic fluid which was referred to by the early church fathers and ecclesial writer— absolutely never.  The material of water as the normative in the new birth was spoken by Rabbi Jesus to Jews because their point of redemption in salvation history was shown forth through water in God’s deliverance.  One can see that with Noah and the ark through the flood or Moses in the wilderness.  The antitype is in 1 Peter 3:21 when it says “baptism now saves you”.  Those experiences were of God’s deliverance and always in the context of community.  This community is in comm-union with the Blessed Trinity.

The wind blows where it wills….so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit—  This is an important principle in having a life in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Growing after your spiritual birth is to be in full yield mode to the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit.  This is like a childlike yielding of trust unto God.  An example is shown later with the apostle Paul.

It could be tempting to fight the implication that the call to discipleship under the power of the Holy Spirit could be that humbling.  With that, one may want to rationalize away this call saying that wind and spirit are like apples and oranges.  Linguistically this is not the case.  Steve Ray covers this well in his commentary on the Gospel of John.

The English words “wind” and “spirit” in the New Testament are the same Greek word-pneuma.  So, when we read “wind” and “spirit” in this passage, we do so because the translators have made the distinction for us based on the context.  The original readers would have read only the one word pneuma  (St. John’s Gospel, 2002).

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:14-17).

How can this happen?— Briefly I would say that Nicodemus was frustrated that he was given a riddle for his question rather than something simpler that fit in his theological paradigm.  Jesus proceeds to challenge him to get over it.

You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? — The crux of some of the matter is right here.  Nicodemus is a man of privilege and Jesus urges him to check that very thing.  Jesus challenges Nicodemus to see him through the scriptures on the fullness of tradition.  “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40)

how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?— Jesus points to Nicodemus’ earlier struggle in the cleansing power of God through matter of water as reference for how far he needs to go to truly absorb many sacred mysteries.  Nicodemus wanted to comprehend while Jesus wanted him to apprehend in faith or get the just.

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.— Jesus points very strongly to the dividing point in the Incarnation.  Jesus points to the fact that he has come from heaven and in breaking, living and talking he offers something to the world that is incomparable.

so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life- And then there is suffering.  Jesus points to how, though he was heaven sent, he was heaven bound for the salvation of men through the cross.  Yes, God came to earth in the Son.  But the cross is still the cross. If Nicodemus were to come into that kingdom it would be due to the work and expressed context of the cross and no experience of the Holy Spirit or 1,000 baptisms would be enough to replace that need.  To take the Incarnation and the Atonement in Christ in fulness is to have true life.  This is the life eternal in Christ and it is — as is.

The odd part to me is that the quotation marks in these last words end in that chapter according to most Bible versions right before what is possibly the most popular Bible verse in at least the Western Hemisphere.  It is “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).

This is a beautiful verse to now come to though likely now the words of John the apostle and not the words of Jesus yet rich in meaning in context of the chapter before and after it.  Before it we see in the set up that engaging with Jesus in the most freshest of Christianity as founded by Jesus will be under authority by God, community based, sacramental and engaged in mystery.  These are true, good and beautiful to experience in Christ.

But keep in mind what the “believe” part is in John 3:16.  In the Greek it is believing.  For salvation to happen in the kingdom there is a declaration of the righteousness of Christ, but the ongoing connection of that is in the context of onward holiness in grace and obedience.

And this brings me to how we are informed of the believe as ongoing and measurable in obedience to Jesus as Lord. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him” (John 3:36).  In this gospel the antithesis of believing is not unbelief but disobedience.  So, do you call yourself a Christian because you raised your hand at the right goosebumps moment at church camp as a kid?  Great! —But are you still obeying Christ now?  Otherwise you are hooked on a feeling and not walking by faith.

Many people out there think they have the right spiritual credentials about Jesus but too few have the connection that is of Jesus, in Jesus and for Jesus.  The call to encounter all of us and our “spiritual privilege” still stands and that call is from Jesus.  He does not change but we do.  Our choice that is indicated whether we consider ourselves as a Nicodemus or not still is up to us on if we will follow Jesus unconditionally.

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Jenga, Church and a Reflection

Jenga 2I have come to the end of my first year at Kino Catechetical Institute.  It has been a great year as a student learning so much as a new Catholic and long-time before that Protestant Christian. This last class was ecclesiology which is the doctrine of the Church.  We operated out of the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and good lectures.

The first section of this paper is about what my favorite paragraph was of each week’s reading and why.  The second part is about which week reading was my favorite and explain its themes and how it communicates the nature of God.

I said a funny thing early on in this class.  The instructor asked bus to describe what the Catholic Church is.  I responded it is like Jenga the game where you put blocks integrated into each other and whoever has their tower collapse first loses.  I added that the blocks in use by Jesus are oneness, Catholic, apostolic and holy.  And Jesus cheats at Jenga by using concrete and that is why it has existed for 2,000 years.

Needless to say, that seems strange.  But as I put my thoughts down in this final paper, I hope I made more connections that draws a picture for those who are out there seeking God and how he shows himself on earth. This is for the people that are Catholic, Protestant, unsure or neither.  A bit of food for thought for the journey.

688 The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit:

– in the Scriptures he inspired;

– in the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are always timely witnesses;

– in the Church’s Magisterium, which he assists;

– in the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, in which the Holy Spirit puts us into communion with Christ;

– in prayer, wherein he intercedes for us;

– in the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up;

– in the signs of apostolic and missionary life;

– in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation.

The reason this paragraph was my favorite was my growing curiosity on how the Holy Spirit operates in the Church.  In the actual working out of Jesus founding and building His Church, the Holy Spirit works as the binding and illuminating agent through all of the mentioned processes.  The last point is important because each individual is a member of the Body and the holiness referred to permeates to the micro and not only the macro level.

771 “The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men.”184 The Church is at the same time:

– a “society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ;

– the visible society and the spiritual community;

– the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches.”185

These dimensions together constitute “one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element”:186

The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but as a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest.187

O humility! O sublimity! Both tabernacle of cedar and sanctuary of God; earthly dwelling and celestial palace; house of clay and royal hall; body of death and temple of light; and at last both object of scorn to the proud and bride of Christ! She is black but beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, for even if the labor and pain of her long exile may have discolored her, yet heaven’s beauty has adorned her.188

Paragraph 771 shows that the Church is in nature very much both/and.  More to this point, the Church is described in heavenly and earthly language in this paragraph because it transcends in its full existence in the realms of heaven, purgatory and earth.  I also like the reference to it being a “visible organization” because one can better quantify the continuity of delegated authority through the magisterium by Christ.

826 Charity is the soul of the holiness to which all are called: it “governs, shapes, and perfects all the means of sanctification.”

If the Church was a body composed of different members, it couldn’t lack the noblest of all; it must have a Heart, and a Heart BURNING WITH LOVE. And I realized that this love alone was the true motive force which enabled the other members of the Church to act; if it ceased to function, the Apostles would forget to preach the gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. LOVE, IN FACT, IS THE VOCATION WHICH INCLUDES ALL OTHERS; IT’S A UNIVERSE OF ITS OWN, COMPRISING ALL TIME AND SPACE – IT’S ETERNAL!

Paragraph 826 reminds me of “the love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 but in light of its ecclesiastical application through salvation history in the Church.  Also, the inference of “comprising all time and space” points to how God, who is love, holds the universe together by His good will towards creation.

901 “Hence the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives.

Paragraph 901surprised me.  It contextualized through a eucharistic lens on how to offer up my suffering and mundane events to God at mass with a meaning that is humble, processed contemplatively and worshipful.  The last line where it referred to how “the laity consecrate the world itself to God” particularly struck me in what the priesthood of all believers concept is all about.

970 “Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men . . . flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it.” “No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.

This paragraph meant a lot to me as a former Protestant in how it explains that God’s goodness that is radiated does not have any limitations on it for intercession roles.  As for Mary, this paragraph shows how the holiness of Mary is extrinsic and dependent on the graces of Christ and not to be seen as a hinderance. Indeed, good Mariology is good Christology.

748-810  

This section is about the Church in God’s Plan/Characteristics of the Church. The central themes revealed in this section are about the reflection of Christ’s presence, its eucharistic nature, example of divine love, nuptial purpose, accessibility and prophetic mission.

On reflecting God’s presence, we are show how the Church is “like the moon, all its light reflected from the sun” (CCC 748).  The light of truth is shown in Christ by the Church.  This recurrent theme is shown in the references to the Magisterium and Sacred Tradition guarding the deposit of faith for the benefit of all humanity.

The eucharistic nature that is communicated is in its reference to the sacramental lived out in small communities in a liturgical context.  “She exists in local communities and is made real as a liturgical, above all a Eucharistic, assembly” (CCC para. 752).  This shows the Church in its mystical expression as the Eucharist is a meeting and communal with the divine that communicates how Christ’s ecclesiastical design transcends earth.

As to the showing of God’s love, this section points to the Church.  The Catechism states that though the world is “creation” that his display of love that is ongoing is in the Church  (CCC para. 760).  The Church accomplishes this in all of the expression in both evangelization and catechizing.

The Catechism in this section points to a nuptial context that is born from the Cross.  It states that the Church more specifically is, “born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation, anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and fulfilled on the cross” (CCC. para. 766). The point of self-giving alone has often a marital context in Catholic parlance.  This is used especially in the teachings of regarding marriage and points to the laying down of Christ’s life for the Church which is His bride.  “the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross” (p. 766).  The Church is able to connect with that fact in the Eucharist.

In paragraph 771 there is much said about the accessibility of the Church on earth as an extension of God’s love and divinity.  This extension is visible, hierarchical,  spiritual and heavenly enriched.  In being complex between these above elements the Church is an expression that is “both/and” in its experience.

The last central theme that stands out is the prophetic nature of the Church.  This applies to members in both the lay and clerical state starting with understanding and standing in the faith.  The testimony of Jesus being the spirit of prophecy is carried out by the Church in a manner consistent with what is “delivered to the saints” by the sovereignty of God (para. 785).

God is to be understood very much in this section and covenantal through Christ and the sacraments and in that process a divine kinship for us as His children.  Paragraph 766 points to the Church being born from Christ’s side.  This points to a historical reference point where the work of the spiritual birth of each believer started (Galatians 2:20).

The themes that resonated with me personally were how the Church is shown to be transcendent, apostolic, and missional.  For the transcendence I would say there are many points about heaven and earth simultaneously involved in personal and corporate prayer.  How the sacraments are explained in the community setting reinforces the reality of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection in a manner that is experienced with the both/and experience.

In the apostolic nature I like it is twofold in being around for millennia and being visible.  The Church is shown to have an authoritative word and deed for the world that speaks to the nature of Christ.  The references to a hierarchy is in itself one of the many aspects that communicate a kind of order for maintaining and passing on the deposit of faith.  How it is explained in this section is very reassuring to me.

The Church is missional in this section by the references to being a light to the world.  It is shown to be a light repeatedly in this section through love.  The best example is in paragraph 826 in how God’s love is fully elaborated upon.  The power of God’s love to the world that is glued continually and increasingly to extend God’s love to the world means the world to me.  My impression from this passage is that a good case is made that the best environment for the love of God to be fostered and explained is in the Catholic Church unlike any of my prior Christian traditions.