Portrait of An Assembly

Mountain TempleI used to love a show on CBS called “Picket Fences”.  It was set in a small town in Wisconsin.  It had drama and comedy with lots of social issues covered that represented the cultural dialogue at that time.  One TV critic at the time referred to the small town of Rome, Wisconsin as a “microcosm” of a larger culture.  One might compare it to a lab except there were real feelings involved.

When people think of church in a small level, for better or worse, they may see it a microcosm of the common culture but lose sight if they see it only as a social gathering. This is a mistaken approach because what is missed is the true “cosm” that the “micro” is based on. It is based on a beautiful fellowship in God and we are invited to participate in that which is heavenly and holy.

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 initiating love, responding in love and a personhood of the 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 ias Christians is always to point to Jesus and his higher purposes whether it is set of two or three gathered in his name or something even more deliberate.

The normative of such a gathering for higher purposes in the Old Testament was considered a solemn assembly.  One who said they loved God did not want to miss the event.  It was their everything.  It was the qahal.  When the Old Testament was translated into Greek in 200 BC an assembly was translated as ekklesia.  That Greek word was then used again in the New Testament to what we translate now as church.

Which brings us to another theme about church by the time the New Testament events occurred: 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. 

There were many sacrifices to be made.  As for the aspects of consecration and reason for a group to have the called out characteristics,  one would need to broaden their perspective to know what to look for.   Such a perspective would be informed by how the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New (Augustine).

Below are some of the broader elements of church in God’s eye that are worth considering. Consider it a “Picket Fences” but of the community of God to look for.

 No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect,  and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22).

Mount Zion—  When there is Zion, there is David who made that mountain a standard for covenant.  Jesus was called the Son of David because he has a kingdom that is modeled after David and how his dynasty was established and flourished.  His dynasty in the sense ended eventually but his line is fulfilled in Jesus.

..the living God— God is alive and not an idol.  He is not subject to man’s desire to make him in man’s image.  We know from Adam and Eve, however he did it, we are formed unto him.

..the heavenly Jerusalem—– Heaven is where you go to for Jesus the King and Jesus the High Priest.  And going there one does to some extent when they are in prayer with other believers.

countless angels in festal gathering—- Angels are God’s way of delegating heavenly power and authority to those who will inherit salvation.  The are a part of Christian fellowship whether one can seem them with the carnal eye or not.  I can add my own anecdote that my first time as an adult going to mass there was not a doubt in my mind that there were angels there.

the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven— This would be called the communion of the saints.  Those who are in heaven and witness to our running the race of faith and also who intercede for us under the merits of Jesus (Revelation 5:8).  The Church Triumphant is who we are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).

and God the judge of all— This is not a bad thing.  God is a judge who gives us a chance to reap the benefits of discipline.  This was covered earlier in Hebrews 12 on how much we can submit in discipline to the “father of our spirits and live”.  God is judge and father.  It appears to be a paradox but not a contradiction.

and the spirits of the just made perfect—  This state is referred to as the Church Suffering or Purgatory.  To speaks of salvation for the members of God’s people as only an imputed, or legal designation, righteousness falls short for all of the grace that God the Father has for his children.  The gospel has for the converted the opportunity to accept “the engrafted word of God which can save your soul (James 1:21).  For further scriptures on this I recommend the fire references of 1 Corinthians 3 and the prayers for the dead shown in 2 Maccabees 12:24.

and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel—  An important distinction in Greek is that “and” often can be translated as “with”.  I would point out that this description of church ends on the highest note:  pointing to the saving nature and work of Jesus that is ongoing in our temporal reality but planted in eternity. That salvation in Jesus is in the context of joining. To join with Jesus is to receive him on his terms.  Jesus said he was the bread that came down from heaven and that the one who eats his flesh and drinks his blood receive eternal life (John 6). 

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. As one looks at the passages of the New Testament before Jesus one can appreciate who he was by those who knew him in a manner of the senses and beyond. 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 stared is supposed to walk in that “perfect love [that] casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:17). 

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The Final Word

The Final Word FB LogoIt is an honor to receive what we call a personal invitation.  Ironic that what we call a “personal invitation” is something sent to us through the postal service.  We can really highlight this if someone important comes up to us and says they are pleased to meet us can come to their home.  “I have been personally, face-to-face invited to….”. 

In this historical message of this in Christian thought, that is the beauty of the incarnation.  As I write this my wife is putting up the Christmas decorations around the house and somewhere will be the line from scripture and many yuletide songs of “peace on earth and good will towards men”.  This is the story: Jesus, the Son of God, Word with God and is God (John1:1) could not just be explained the light and send an impersonal invitation.  Actions speak louder than words, and thus, the act of incarnating himself on earth is the beginning of the message of Jesus’ presence on earth through a real mother, in a real town in the context of a marginalized blue-collar family. 

He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’”  From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him (John 1:11-18).

This passage is a center of much theological tension or debate this past 2,000 years.  Water down a key word here or there and Jesus is either so lofty that he drops truth like a dry letter or is so earthy that redemption on the cross has limited or no effectiveness.  Jesus has from birth and now forever the 100% existence of being 100% God and 100% man.  And dear reader, if you say that you completely understand it, I may have written something wrong.  Why is it a mystery?  From an evangelistic rationale, I could point to the three theological transcendentals: beauty, goodness and truth.  Respectively, the drawing of ones heart to things above, what is rightly ordered and what is applicable. These are impulses of the heart and not formulas of the mind.  The incarnation of Jesus as divine Logos made flesh speaks to those conditions of humanity.    

to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God– – This is outlined in a few chapters later by Jesus.  It is a birth that is real, spiritual but not mad made. Man has something to do with it as a vessel but it is not initiated by fleshly means since it is grace.  The “grace on top of grace” is because the prior grace was emphasized through men but now and forever would be through Christ the unique mediator.  If we are tied to religious expression that neglects that understanding, we neglect God and his intent. 

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.- – I would like to return to the theme I pointed to earlier in that God is not out to wow us.  The “still, small voice” is in Jesus.  The prior grace that Israel knew a grace to prepare us for the higher one at best.  And this grace now would be experienced. Christ is described several times to have had compassion.  Compassion means to suffer with.  His heart was drawn to the hungry so he gave them bread and fish.  In turn, we are able to connect with Jesus as Christians by living an intentional lifestyle in carrying our own cross and even adding our own to his.  “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).  It is a part of intimacy with Christ that we can “know him and the power of his resurrection and [the] sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death” (Philippians 3:10). 

The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me– – This is more profound than it likely appears upon first reading.  Yes, John the Baptist is right, Jesus is greater than him.  But if one sees Jesus only through the eyes of the flesh then this must be incorrect.  After all, John was conceived three months before Jesus.  Though the timelessness of Jesus is implied by the earlier versus of John it is worth pondering in the journey of ones conversation to Jesus that we how “eternity stepped into time”.  Jesus is not a being for today but forever. 

while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ– – The Greek word for truth was alithia.  This was inspired by the Lithia River in Greece which meant “forget”.  When one puts the suffix “a” before it the meaning is “not forget”.  We remember what we experience.  While we do not demand as Christians to be “wowed” or coerced into faith, the ongoing experience of salvation is a joint journey to experience grace of the Lord Jesus Christ together.  To be “followers of the Way”.    

No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him– – Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:7).  This unveiling is part of a long term journey of growth under the fatherhood of God.  The more we “behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29) the more we peer into the agape love of the Father’s heart and give full yielding to the redemption through the Cross. 

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3). 

 

Below is a link to a song called “Final Word” that think connects to many of the themes I wrote here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuUF152hV9o

Lens of Law or Lens of Love

worldview eyeball

Years ago there was a brilliant man on television that rocked the ratings landscape by beating other prime time competition with a chalkboard, a cape, good stories and a sense of humor.  His name was Bishop Fulton Sheen.  He said many things that were profound but he was always aware that the truth he spoke to was greater than himself.  One year his show “Life Worth Living” won an Emmy award.  He said, “I would like to thank my staff writers.  Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.”

But another point he made was that, unlike leaders of other world religions, Jesus came pre-announced.  One who is a Christian believer would point to Old Testament prophets to illustrate that point.  But if one sees John the Baptist, they see him foretelling the arrival of Jesus and giving the world an introduction.  Looking at his life one can see he did this with the utmost reverence.

A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world,
    and the world came to be through him,
    but the world did not know him.

He came to what was his own,
    but his own people did not accept him (John 6:6-11)

He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him- – If one sees the body of Christianity correctly in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scriptures held up by the Church Jesus later founded, the same goes as a calling for more than one baptizer at a river. The message of Jesus was intended to be more than what is for just one man or through one man.  The eventual community to be founded would be of many witnesses.  “Therefore, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). 

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world- – If one gets the solid objections of their spiritual life out of the way, then anyone can know Jesus.  There are “if’s” that unfold in the gospels.  If one is born again by Spirit and water (John 3:3).  If you believe and are baptized. 

He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him- – This is a tragic paradox.  Jesus was coming to the Jewish people who had historically know divinity but through thunder, clouds and earthquakes.  God is shown here in the Son, Jesus Christ, as too simple to be true to religious tastes common to them at that time.  But in the beginning, the world was made by Jesus as the Logos or the expressed wisdom of eternity that stepped into time first to create more than the Jewish people but the whole world.  In another way of speaking, in their disconnected form of religion that was contrary to the light and intimacy God wants to have with mankind they knew of God but did not naturally get Him.  But ready or nor, here he comes on the Jordan River and today in ways to be received objectively and subjectively. 

The key to “getting” Jesus is not through the lens of the Law but through the lens of love. It is to be experienced in material contexts and contextualized by a growing movement of articulated grace and truth that sprouts from the nature of Jesus (John 1:17).  To move forward in investigating the text of scripture is to not to lose a healthy context of the latter. Yes, the gospel is bigger than any one of us. 

Shedding Light On The Subject

Light In A Maze

“Ignorance is bliss” so the saying goes.  People love to say that not knowing those things that bring a dark view of life are not worth knowing.  But knowledge needed for a painful but needed change can be good from a more objective point of view.  In the human experience one can look back to painful change that came from knowledge that we are appreciative of.  The ignorance comes for often better change but by choice.  The dominant culture we live in allows for change with knowledge but with a caveat that “that’s good if it works for you…but don’t force your views on me” or something like that. 

But religion comes in as a contrast in the post-modern thought but it really should not.  The “lig” part of religion has an etymology that speaks of connecting like where ligaments comes from.  Religion is a matter of reconnecting for those that think beyond the materialistic point of view even if but for a moment. 

Christianity has a message for reconnecting with what matters that is objective and above the natural limits of meaning but in different forms of default delivery.  Much has been said about the improvised means of delivering the message of Christianity that has been violence or anecdotes of conversion.  The kernel of meaning on those two basic means of delivering the Christianity are still worth discovering.  From the Christian point of view, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). 

So the first means of the delivery could be considered black coffee in a microwave.  Paul, who had his sudden conversion being blinded by Jesus says later as an apostle that the time for “bliss” is over. 

 God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now he demands that all people everywhere repent because he has established a day on which he will ‘judge the world with justice’ through a man he has appointed, and he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). 

So should we assume that is all that Christianity is?  I would say there is a declaration that we are accountable to the natural law for morals that are revealed with logic that anyone can adapt.  That is why there are very moral atheists and agnostics out there. But we will be judged.  Even though I am a counselor, I believe in guilt trips to a point if they are self-imposed.  Those moments are our spiritual pain crying out to do better.  To think better.  They are a shadow of things to come where we stand before Deity and are judged.  If one is ignorant, that is once thing, but the other?

But there is another means that all mankind can consider and that is in the full, multi-layered presentation of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the kingdom he founded.  Make no mistake, Paul said the abrupt statement above in the midst of a nuanced discussion where he borrowed from points of light from Plato and pagan deity script to illustrate the truth he presents in Jesus.  But without a printing press, without the gospels having been even written, that was what his audience could get.  Centuries later, we have in Christianity a well developed thought for “Man’s Search For Meaning” that Viktor Frankl approached as well as he did.  It is the message of Jesus that can also be legitimately be expressed as a kingdom based message of a battle won on a cross that is encountered and organically appropriated with initial and ongoing conversion.   

But from what starting point could the most erstwhile seeker begin?  Much of what I write is from the Gospel of John.  He begins with this proposition to the world to believe in Jesus from outside of conventional time and space. What is greatly addressed is a message of connection and it is divine.    

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5).  

We know from the first epistle of John that God is love.  One could say then that what was happening was a love exchange that was mysterious, perpetual and reciprocal. 

without him nothing came to be— The word for word is Logos in Greek.  “Ancient Greek philosophers associated the Word with the order and design of the universe or the intelligible expression of the mind of God as he sustains and governs it” (Ignatius Study Bible).  The Word is in transition in relationship to the world as the gospel unfolds in that.  The ISB goes on to states that “this eternal Word, once a mediator of creation, has now become a mediator of salvation through his incarnation”. 

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.  Of all things visible and invisible.  I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ…. Born of the Father before all ages.  God from God.  Light from Light.  True God and true man.  Begotten not made.  Consubstantial with the Father (Council of Nicea, 325).   

What came to be through him was life—  Already we are seeing in the text an inference of the love between the Father and the Son to have an overflow.  If it was only to Jesus, then it ends with Jesus.  But since we know that the Holy Spirit is a person with relation to the Father and the Son then we can surmise that this life comes from God the Father in his initiative and goes through Jesus to mankind. 

and this life was the light of the human race- – We as humanity are initiated with the overwhelming, holy love of God that is tamable like a wild firehose.  But it is filtered through the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus and his Church preach. 

the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it- – As Jesus walked on earth and taught in parable he was setting up his followers to spread the message in words and action.  Jesus said that he was the light of the world but said to his Church too that,  “you are the light of the world”.  It is another case of Jesus being the Lord and transcending realities of our lives and pushing out darkness.   

this life was the light of the human race- – John speaks here to where Jesus of mystery steps into history.   Jesus expresses his light through the Church in a way that engages humanity in all of it understanding by whatever foundation of truth is in the pocket of civilization. 

and the darkness has not overcome it- – That is quite a declarative statement.  There is a stain of sin over individuals and communities out there.  But light keeps finding a way to shine through or around those things of substance that resist and cast a shadow.  Shadow is all solid obstacles to the kingdom can do.  Truth is going to still be evident.  And it is described in the narrative of Christian history and doctrine in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Again, it should be understood that for some individuals it may seem that the darkness is overcoming in present observations one can see in  a case by case basis.  One case of someone that was spiritually blind was Saul of Tarsus.  He was a persecutor of Christians, had a life changing encounter with Jesus and converted to become Paul the apostle.  He spoke from his experience on light and darkness.

And even though our gospel is veiled, it is veiled for those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

We are not all connected.  But we can be! What is our choice?

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. 

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