Unscrambling the Bad Dialogue

Miscommunication-Cartoon“Lost in translation” is a sometimes nightmare in the art of diplomacy.  Either a message is incomplete or, even worse, fear or hostility emerges from the recipient. In dialogue across the religious spectrum there is the matter of wide gaps on some concepts in the languages as well as cultural nuances. 

One case of this can be found in the last 500 years between Catholics and Protestants.  As I have written before, Catholics are misunderstood on when they are speaking in definitive theological intent on wording and those times that are metaphorically spoken.  An example is when the metaphorical wording is implying how Mary has a distinct holiness but means it as extrinsically obtained. 

Ironically, the modern Protestants may even misunderstand the original Reformer fathers.  For instance, when I was evangelizing recently in a Catholic ministry a fiery Protestant emphasized sola gratia (grace alone).   That does tie back to Martin Luther.  However, he maintained a work of grace to be baptismal regeneration which the modern, zealous Reformed Christian would not ascribe to. 

More specifically on the translation is the Latin to English post-Reformation divide with an example like “holy”.  When a Protestant hears of a pope being referred to as “his Holiness”,they may perceive that Catholics see the pope as internally based in his holiness.  This is not true as one can see with an example of when Pope Francis was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergolio?”   He answered that he is a sinner. 

To see this linguistically one can see the Latin root word santus.  It morphed into cognates that sound similar in the more blatant Latin based languages like Spanish and Portuguese for both holy as in Holy Spirit as well as saints.  While the former, holiness is intrinsic but for the latter, it is because they know they are sinners at the same time and wanted sanctification. 

Next is how “prayer” is used as an operative term in casual or fully theological conversation.   When Shakespeare writes, “Make haste, I pray then” we give him the benefit of the doubt that one mortal is not worshiping another mortal.  In modern language in a petition to a court undergirded by English common law the petitioner says they “pray this court…..” would do such and such.  Again, the judge is not being worshipped. 

So to with how Catholics or Eastern Orthodox pray to the saints.  They ask their intercession and the context is Christ centered.  The dilemma is that Catholics and Protestants in English have their wording quirks and in at least one direction there is a lack of benefit of the doubt in examining the written or spoken word.  When one is biased towards a person or group in examining their characteristics, the traits that confirm what is expected will be seen and the traits that counter what is expected are dismissed.  This is called confirmation bias. 

Another word that blurs the communication is “merit”.  Protestants often have taught that Catholics believe they get merit for salvation through their works.  The confusion is fueled in part about the Catholic Church due to the etymology of the word. 

In the second century, the Latin word meritum (“merit”) was introduced as a translation for the Greek word for “reward”, and so entered the theological vocabulary.  The doctrine of merit [Catholics] and the doctrine of reward [Protestants] are two ways of expressing the same concept (The Fathers Know Best, Jimmy Akin). 

In the 5th and 6th centuries the Catholic Church condemned Plagiarism and Semi-Plagianism which was a heresy that taught one could earn salvation with works absent of grace.  Later the Catholic Church stated “none of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification; for if it is by grace, it is not now by works; otherwise, as the apostle says, grace is no more grace” (Decree on Justification 8, Council of Trent). 

But sometimes, a good translation happens.   In 1999 there was the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification which included Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later known as Pope Benedict VI).  They collaborated, looked through the history with cooler heads than some of the hotheads of both sides 500 years ago and said ,“By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part,” its key passage said, “we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works.” We are called to a life where faith is working through love (Galatians 6:5). 

For Jesus’ prayer of unity in the Body of Christ (John 17:21) to be realized, we owe it to our Lord to listen better and pray more.  As brothers and sisters redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, we owe it to each other too.

At the time I write this, I went to an event in the John 17 movement last night.  It is a touchstone for good dialogue and prayer for each other.  That is not all of the work, but honoring what unites us is a start. 

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A Tale of Two Priesthoods

Set Free Broken Chains

Urban myths are a dangerous thing to live by; especially in the realm of faith and history. 

One that I heard and then believed ad nauseam was “What about the priesthood of all believers?  The Church Jesus left was supposed to be pure and pristine.  One way those Catholics have it wrong is that only a select few are priests and thus they take away true freedom of the gospel and the priesthood of all believers.”

There is a further one that says, “anything from the Catholic Church that softens things up is a later development to make it look nice in the last 100 years.”

Below I will address both. 

To proclaim the gospel is a charge to all Christians and the Catholic Church affirms this as a natural unfolding of the great commission to make disciples and baptize them (Matthew 28:20).  It is just implied that it is not official likely because it is not in the midst of a mass where clergy read the words of one of the actual gospels of the Bible.  The calling of priesthood happens to all Christians upon initial justification.  But the empowerment for ones expression of the common priesthood is in what is called Confirmation. 

1305 This “character” [sacrament of Confirmation] perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and “the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi ex officio).”[122 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theolpgica III,72,5, ad 2]

In reference to the referred Confirmation, it is a matter of one having a connection with the divine through God the Holy Spirit that binds the baptized to a common fellowship with the Godhead and not just “my Holy Spirit experience”.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is proclaimed since no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except through the Spirit of God. 

But doesn’t the role of the priesthood take away from non-priests like a second class citizen placement?  Not at all.  I have bones and I have muscle.  I need one to keep me moving and another that fits in and supports passing on the blood flow.  This is consistent with the many passages in the New Testament where there are distinct gifts to the Body of Christ and how not everyone can say they are everything. 

1547 The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, “each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.” While being “ordered one to another,” they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace –a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit–, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders. [22 Lumen Gentium,1965 10 § 2]

So if one was to an argument that one side exists to the own detriment of the other, it is really the position of the Catholic Church that the servants are the clerical priests. 

1141 The celebrating assembly is the community of the baptized who, “by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all the works of Christian men they may offer spiritual sacrifices.” [Rev 1:6; cf. Rev 5:9-10; 1 Pet 2:5,9] This “common priesthood” is that of Christ the sole priest, in which all his members participate:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people,” [1 Peter 55-67AD] have a right and an obligation by reason of their Baptism.  (11 Sacrosanctum Concilium,1965 14; Cf. 1 Pet 2:9; 2:4-5, 55-67AD)

“Aha!  But there you have the problem of how you Catholics go about ceremony that has a  form of godliness but denies the power of God thereof. Just dry religion.”

For that I would respond that such premises are incorrect and miss the good, the true and the beautiful with the following points. 

Liturgy is a word that comes from the Greek that is liturgia meaning the work of the people.  Sounds like a non-Christ centered work?  Consider that Jesus spoke of the “work” to believe in Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3) which was the night he was betrayed and said of communion “Do this in remembrance of me”. 

As for the celebration of these two forms of priesthood?  It is the sacrifice of thanksgiving that is tied to the nearness of Jesus through the Eucharist.  This may be implied where Paul writes,  “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Phillipians 4:5-6). The word for thanksgiving is eucharistia where we get Eucharist.  Once again, we see a participation of Christ’s priesthood who has done the direct work by suffering and death on the cross.  When we do liturgy we are doing what Jesus said with a supernatural remembrance “Do this in memory of me”.  Sacramentally, when I go to my parish in Tempe, Arizona, I do not re-sacrifice Jesus in my common priesthood but Christ lives out his sacrifice in me. 

1546 Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” [1 Peter].  The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood” [Lumen Gentium]. 

Yes, some were within the last 100 years.  The latest ones I can find are in the Catechism quoting from the Vatican II council in the 1960’s.  But one of the source quotes are from St. Thomas Aquinas from the 1200’s.  That is far before any possible “remodeling”.  Plus, for the Bible passages they are quoting that show the common priesthood, it is worth noting that such scriptures that point to  a common priesthood were approved as scripture by the Catholic Church.   If the Catholic Church is so against the priesthood of all believers, why did they call those passages as divinely inspired public revelation?  This was accomplished in the 380’s and 390’s AD with approval by popes. 

One other thing about this common priesthood of the faithful are those who are later in heaven.  There is more than biblical room that the worship before God in heaven can include such intercession ongoing. 

 When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones. (Revelation 5:8).

The beauty is not that Jesus is usurped of his status as Lord, Savior and Redeemer.  The Church does not teach that.  It is that the role of the believers is one that participates in what Jesus did and does in an ongoing way.  We are “a holy priesthood”(1 Peter 2:9). It is no coincidence that Catholic means “according to the whole”.  Jesus makes it that way.     

Mace, Priest In A Kilt and a Broken Link

Mace and Rosary

On a still warm evening on September 1st, I arrived in downtown Phoenix hoping to make connections with people looking for answers and also meeting with at least one person who presumed to have all the answers. 

Phoenix has a First Friday event once a month that has loud music, food trucks, art and people sharing information on their causes.  For me, I was there as part of an evangelization team.  Unfortunately, some others there to evangelize are not unity minded with my faith community.  There is a history of them giving my group mean looks and one makes pot shots on his microphone about my group’s practices and supposed practices. 

But tonight I had a plan.

There is an event coming up in a few weeks called John 17.  The John 17 movement has been going on for four years now and is based on the prayer of Jesus in the 17th chapter of John where Jesus prayed that all of his followers would be one.  One could say that it is a prayer that has not recently been answered.  So sad.  It is a beautiful prayer.  The meeting will involve Christians of different stripes that adhere to some very basic doctrines of the identity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and other matters. 

So I decided to do something about it or I am part of the problem.  This group who has blue shirts, many of them related to their leader, and “owns” a corner.  I went down there thinking “if I don’t involve them, I am part of the problem”.  First I came to a few young people who were in their teens or early 20’s.  The young man recognized me and said, “they’re down there” with a furrowed brow and a terse voice. 

“Do you mean the Catholics?”

“Yeah”

After summarizing the prayer of Jesus in John 17, I described the meeting, where it will be held and my hopes for things to change.  I then excused myself. 

When I turned around, I saw their leader.  I had been warned by Sue, the lead in my chapter of my evangelistic organization, that he was intense and not good at dialogue.  I hoped to have a different experience and I was disappointed. 

He did not let me get a word in edgewise.  He dictated questions to me in a demanding tone on a few scripted biblical points and disregarded that I rejected his premises about Catholic teaching based on official teaching of the Catholic Church.  I affirmed that he is a Christian that God is able to use for people to come to faith in Jesus Christ and assured him that I would pray for him.  He said he would pray for me too and asked to pray for me right then.  I agreed if he would pray for me.  His turn was first.  My intention for when my turn came was to pray generally, for God to bless him and use him and remain ecumenical.  With him going first he was nice for a full ten seconds.  Then he prayed deliberate specifics of doctrine that I be led into with his volume increasing. 

I stepped back and said, “That’s not praying”

“This is how I pray!” he said with a quizzical look. 

“That’s not praying.  That’s preaching.”.  And I walked away. 

I was discouraged and told my team about what happened.  “You were right Sue.” My heart was sunk.  I am no stranger to division in the Body of Christ.  Between the three in that group I met I can only pray now that the Holy Spirit will bring light to their souls.  In all fairness, I can say as a former Protestant of many years that 90% of Protestants I knew would be disgusted at the lack of Christian decorum of that gentleman. 

But then a ray of light happened a few minutes later.  A man walked by with a clerical collar but in a kilt.  His name is Rob and “father” is acceptable but not required to him as a priest in the Episcopalian Church.  He was a pleasant man with a sense of humor including how his kilt is not about being Scottish but being comfy.  Embracing the rays of light where I can, I gave props to CS Lewis and his non-fiction books like “Mere Christianity” that helped me see Christianity as logical in my youth.  He gave me his contact info and wanted to hear more about John 17.  It turns out he had heard about it by being a fellow faculty member with a Catholic priest.  I rejoiced in our brief fellowship though he admitted, rightly, that his orders are not recognized by the Catholic Church as valid. But we centered on the good things we agree on and blessed each other.  Sigh, the end. 

But I wish it was the end, as now a physical fight then happened.  Several young people in late teens or early 20’s got in a group tussle with what first looked like a bullying of one young lady.  Who steps in but this tall, bulky and clumsy dude (me) and a priest in a kilt.  Some with our help and some of their self-restraint happened and after terse words about a pending restraining order all was well.  Rob and I checked in where we could to be sure. 

I then turned to him and said “Well Rob, I guess we just did some ecumenical work”. 

Sue was in on it too and restrained a young lady from part of our team from getting too deep into the melee and getting hurt.  With the skirmish, her rosary caught caught by someone’s key chain with a can of mace to it.  She gave it over to me. 

So there I am holding a metaphor for the evening in my hands.  In handing out rosaries, it is not about praying to Mary as a goddess to do something intrinsically in her power.  The words of asking for her intercession is like “background music” as one reflects of the life and impact of Jesus Christ on the world.  But this world is broken just like this rosary.  And the scandal is that the Body of Christ is broken just like that rosary as well.  And the mace that is used too often is that of poisonous words that cut people down to win an argument.  How about we feed the poor together?  I know it may be crazy.  I’m just spitballing here possibly. 

For those who are scandalized of this story who are not Christians.  I commend to you the person of Jesus Christ.  The scandal is not in him.  As for joining this motley crew of Christians, take the risk anyway.  Though I have had greater joy, grace, prayer and love for the scriptures these recent years as a Catholic I can affirm that Catholics have let me down.  We’re human.  We’re on a journey and it can be a mess.  And it is still worth it to be in fellowship and be involved in the works of mercy like making peace in the world.  I am encouraged “to go out and make a mess”(Pope Francis). 

So yes, darn right it can change.  At the time of this writing I am looking forward to John 17 at New Life Church on Central Ave September 15, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona.  Below is a link on Facebook.  This time it is on Protestant ground.  I have a sense that Jesus is going to meet us. 

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20-21). 

https://www.facebook.com/events/1501468463224785/?acontext=%7B%22action_history%22%3A%22%5B%7B%5C%22surface%5C%22%3A%5C%22page%5C%22%2C%5C%22mechanism%5C%22%3A%5C%22page_upcoming_events_card%5C%22%2C%5C%22extra_data%5C%22%3A%5B%5D%7D%5D%22%2C%22has_source%22%3Atrue%7D