DEATHBED ZIP DRIVE

Jesus Holding The Bread

The meaning of life and death is pondered in groups and for individual departed.  People often try to give the departed a sense of dignity and give comfort to the survivors. A seemingly impossible task in finding a meaning for it all if “this is all there is”.

Sometimes someone gets it right when there is an epitaph on a tombstone. It could be something funny to bring a laugh to loved ones that come visiting at the cemetery or something sentimental.  But really a lot have no message fearing a failure to give justice to what someone’s memory.

However, there is always room for something more than a few words in the last spoken words by the deceased or what they write in their will. If their heart senses their values and choices were integrated with consistency then the sense could be literally called integrity instead of despair like the theory of Erickson about the end of life stage.  And even still, often, the soon to be dead would rather keep living.

But the counter-intuitive approach from traditional Christianity is in the cross of Christ and what Jesus said.  In evangelizing in his ministry Jesus said, “take up your cross and follow me”. This is not appealing to comforts. The inflexibly comfortable would not endeavor to be a disciple of Jesus any more than any other contradiction of terms. The voice that wants to play it safe would say no.

But the epitome of the gospel of the cross may be summed up precisely in what Jesus said on the cross.  There are several reasons for this.  It is half the gospel literally in action and we see up to two other convicts there and many others who are both witnesses and a captive audience.  We see a thief who first mocked Jesus having a turn of conscience and faith and spoke up for him to the other thief.  We see a soldier, there for duty, say, “surely this was the Son of God”.  And then there were his loved ones including his mother and “the disciple Jesus loved”. Last, there were scoffers of the religious elite who refused his love.  From the cross, his actions and words from the cross moved some even though the eyes of the flesh would be seeing only a Roman execution.

So what will be addressed below are the 7 sayings of Jesus. One final will and testament expressed in words and blood. They are not evangelistic spells of a sort that Christians are to use and overwhelm the unbelievers into a trance of conversion.  But we can see glimpses on what Jesus addresses of normative experiences for a full, Christian life for those who do not have it.

To understand what his last words from the cross means to Christianity is see them like a zip drive.  The convert receives it but the disciple unzips it over a lifetime. Christ on the cross illuminated truths to be taught and caught in him and in unity with his Church.

Paul connected to this in the grace of conversion and ongoing growth in holiness.  He stated when Peter erred in his prudential judgment of living out the meaning of grace in the gospel saying, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:19b-20). Paul connects himself in Christ’s cross, denies his life as being the center so Christ’s life is central and applies it continually in faith.  This is a testimony for Paul but signals to us what that flashpoint of conversion is and calls us to in simplicity in the heart first.  Paul later wrote on the simplicity of the gospel.  “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel–not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17).

A few letters later Paul elaborated on where this mysterious connection to the cross is for the believer.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).

Paul knew that we have all accessed the cross of Christ in baptism. This is why several times in Acts Christians are referred to as followers of the Way.  The word for way was hodos and in the Greek Old Testament the word, exhodo,is the “way out” in the sense of Moses guiding Israel through the water of deliverance which Paul calls a baptism into Moses (1 Corinthians 10:1-3).  The ultimate way out springs from the work and meaning of Jesus in the cross.

So really this is the personal testimony that all Christians can draw hope from and integrate in sharing the message of Jesus.  However, it is not to be comprehended like a simple math equation. It is made practical in the school of experience and chief in that experience is suffering.  We can point to the mystery of Christ on the cross as hope and light especially when we join him in suffering.

For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh(2 Corinthians 4:6-11).

Last, I would like to see how we can see the person we share Jesus with in the fullest kind of sight.  People we meet may be cynics like those who jeered at Jesus while he was suffering on the cross.  For the Christian this unzipping the zip drive includes knowing God’s mercy to us and those who may even persecute us.  We must join our voice together for the world as intercessors calling for God’s mercy over the earth.  And this intercession of sorts is not only our words but also our actions. For this, Paul wrote, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24).

Filled with the unity of knowing Jesus, we can only then keep the resolve to change the story of our faith communities seeing the bond of peace in the cross.  Seeing Christ in his glorious sacrifice, not just a Roman execution, we see its end working out to make all people new who convert and then be disciples.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view. We know him no longer in that way. So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).

With that in mind, let us sit at the Master’s feet while he hangs from the cross, heaving and pulling himself up for breath to say the words that free us in this sacrifice of love. Sacrifice without love is unendurable.  Love without sacrifice is meaningless.  But Christ’s wisdom in the cross is the power of God.

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Called to Conversion And Unity

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Tomorrow is going to be my fifth Easter as a Catholic.  These years, from when I first investigated into the claims of the Catholic Church to my entering it, then my wife and now nearly two years of college level formation has been a whirlwind.  It has been a great ride and I am excited for what the Lord is going to do in the years to come for my family and I.  I see conversion as a continual call as a Christian to take up ones cross and follow Jesus wherever He leads.

I would like to address my anniversary as a Catholic with a different reflection for a moment.  Yes, I have a bias that the Catholic Church is awesome but I am also aware that for many Christians who are not in communion with Rome they have not yet discerned that this is their spiritual home.  So what is the meeting place I should have with Christians of good conscience that are tied to the same basics of the historic Christian faith?

I like Nicea as a meeting point.  What that is for theologians of both the Catholic and Protestant persuasions is where a council took place that elaborated on the Apostles’ Creed.  This was especially a referendum on the theology of who Christ is.

God from God, light from light, True God and True Man begotten not made.  Consubstantial with the Father He came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary He became man

As Rich Mullins said about this creed, “I did not make it.  No it is making me”.

There could be a reader of what I am writing that still is persuaded that Catholicism is not true Christianity.  For me, that is sad.  I would suggest to all of my Protestant brothers and sisters two points: I have grown closer in my relationship to Jesus Christ in these last several years and that there is more that unites us than divides us.  My love for Jesus and my neighbor has only increased.  My prayer time is better and I have a renewed love for the scriptures in engaging my faith with a good breadth of what the Catholic Church teaches.

Now more than ever, it is important that Christians learn to stand together as we consider the growing wave of persecution against Christianity across the globe.  In fact, last year there was a crucial meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kiril in Cuba about how to find a defense for their flocks mutually.  This is a good development  when I consider how the one unanswered prayer of Jesus is “that they all be one” (John 17:21). Or in the words of Peter Kraft about ecumenism “Brothers tend to stop fighting when there is a mad man at the door”.

The Nicene Creed addresses four marks of the Church.  These are applicable for discussion whether one sees Church of church in it.  The first is “one” which I addressed above.

The second is “holy”.  This has many facets to it and in light of a recent event it worth exploring particularly with the sacramental point of view.  Recently a lifelong Protestant known as the Bible Answer Man, Hank Hennegraff, was received into the Greek Orthodox Church. Some are editorializing that he has left biblical Christianity.  For me, I admire his courage even though I am a Catholic.  Some may object to my wording but at some point he must have thought , “Here I stand, I can do no other”.  He speaks of theosis which is where Christians partake of the divine nature through communion with Christ.  He connects that in context with the Eucharist particularly.  The sacramental perspective can be verified with an open mind by reading the early church fathers and their interpretation of the New Testament which was written closer to their time than that of the reformers.

There is Catholic and then there is catholic.  Either way, I hope that Christians of good conscience can see that there is a universality to the gospel, how universally it should be proclaimed and universally experienced.

Apostolic can seem like a scary word.  Really, it does not have to be.  When the Pharisees asked Jesus by what authority he said or did things, one could say that this was healthy skepticism.  Who really wants to follow someone who made himself pastor and has a close circle of fans?  How far is that from a cult?  Apostolic succession simply means that one can trace in the authority that hands were laid on them with a sacred imparting of an anointing that started in the upper room when Jesus breathed on his apostles the Holy Spirit to represent the redemptive aspect of Him.  With the Bible Answer Man, he is going to a source that I as a Catholic would affirm has a history of guarding the deposit of faith including in the sacramental expression of Christianity.

But this is not to put down my Protestant history.  It is from my Protestant experiences I can talk about my love for bible memorization, my first zeal in pointing to Jesus and time in prayer.  I am thankful for the pastors and other loved ones that invested into me so much that I am an evangelical still albeit I believe fulfilled in that in the Catholic Church.  With a renewed fervor, I hope that increasingly my Protestant and Orthodox brothers can join me in loving each other as Jesus prayed and telling the world He is risen indeed!

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.