Reform Takes Courage

Cowardly Lion

I tell my clients all the time when working on coping skills to not being reaction based but responding with their head and heart.  In my concepts in my head of what I want to write about today, I need to work hard on some parts to follow my own advice on this subject: The latest bishop and priests sex abuse scandals. 

I am a counselor in Phoenix, Arizona and have heard in my career disclosures of sex abuse. “Reaction” thoughts come to mind like capital punishment and castration seem like a pretty good deal for justice. 

This is also juxtaposed with the fact that five years ago I was received into the Catholic Church knowing that there were scandals in its recent past.  But I was aware of reform and in being exposed as a volunteer in my diocese I was schooled on a very tight protocol that applies to all workers in the Catholic Church here. 

And now the latest bomb drops in two ways. One is with a cardinal preying sexually on vulnerable seminarians and, in one case too many, a teenager.  Another is 300 abuse cases in Pennsylvania with much direct and enabling sin by leadership. 

I have a good friend who is a Protestant pastor who wanted to know if my priest would say anything this Sunday.  I said he would probably not mince words and he is informed by his experience as priest and as for many years a credentialed mental health professional like me.

As mass was going on today, I grew concerned that I was wrong. The lectionary readings were on John 6 which is often called the Bread of Life Discourse.  This is an important passage for Catholics so I tried too be patient when he sat down at the end of the homily after not saying a peep.  We transitioned then from Liturgy of the Word to Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Same Jesus, same faith, but still wondering if there will be a response next week.  Father John then goes through announcements at the end being just regular stuff to deal with.

Then another bomb drops but the good kind.  Father John brings out a paper and states he is about to read a letter from our bishop but he is reading it “with protest and resentment”.  The bishop calls for priests and laity of our dioceses to join with the national council of bishops in prayer and fasting for a healing in the Church.  I was now not restless in the same way but a bit confused since I did not get what was wrong. 

But Fr. John made several points.  Though he reminded the congregation that the bishop had been a good reformer on several points, the body of bishops in America had been making the majority of priests and laity to carry all the weight of someone else’s sin for 30 years.  He further stated that massive prayer, fasting and repentance to be applied to that side was completely inappropriate though it was being passed on with the authority of our local bishop.  He then promised to be writing blogs the next several weeks about that and does hope for a way forward. By the way, he was born and raised in Pennsylvania. 

This is what I call a drop the mic moment and the standing ovation spoke to that fact.  I hope that more Fr. Johns like him are rising up.  I also hope that many cardinals and bishops will do the decent thing and step aside. 

So in an odd way, I am in a good enough state for now.  The scandals do not alter by unwise decisions or egregious sin my research into the Catholic Church 5 years ago nor any of my Catholic centered blogs.  I agree with the principle used against the heretical Donatists in the 3rd century: ex opere operato.  This means that the sacramental grace is tied to the holiness of God and not the personal holiness of the minister. 

And that is where I am left.  In my heart, it is a hope in Jesus who is the author and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:1).  It extends from his authority who he allows to pass through a select chain of sinners in a delegated authority.  I can also insert some irony in here in that as I am writing this blog to release today, I already had a blog auto-set to release today on the Sacrament of Confession.  It was uploaded several weeks ago. I will need to give credit more to God than luck on that. 

My prayer for those in that chain from the Bishop of Rome to the Bishop of Phoenix is that they take on the prayer my local bishop says.  “Watch over – – -[his personal own name].  He might betray you.” 

For my local pastor at my parish it is different and departs from churchy wording more than any other time in my years of blogging.  “Strengthen Father John.  Continue to strengthen his heart as he continues not to take shit from anybody”.  Just like Jesus turns some tables over in the temple when it was departing faith and becoming a “den of robbers”, we need the right stimulus with boldness to give a true reformation like the Church Jesus founded deserves. 

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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.     

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.

A King, A Wedding and a Mass

Long Live The King

The book of Revelation fulfills the themes of Church and Kingdom.  This can be seen  through hermeneutical keys of the universality of faith started in Abraham, the Davidic dynasty, nuptial language, sacraments and apostolic foundations.

The mission of redemption in the Gospel is partially defined at the pivot point of God’s promise to Abraham.  The universal opportunity of the Gospel is implied by an angel who said,

 I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants will take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing, because you obeyed my command (Revelation 22:-17-19).

It is important to point out that this multitude will be numerous, on the offense against the enemies’ gates and be a source of blessing to all the nations.  This is fulfilled in part if one looks at “Catholic” meaning “according to the whole”.  It is also fulfilled in part if one sees that the blessing of Jesus on Simon Peter the first pope how “upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  The Church is meant to be on the offense in evangelism and in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-17).

But as to Revelation there is a particular fulfillment in the eschatological sense.

After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands (Revelation 7:9).

It is important to note in light of early church history we know that Christians were often baptized in white robes.  This symbolized their purity in Christ but also points to the priesthood of all believers.  By the merits of Jesus the High Priest of their good confession and through the sacramental grace of baptism, this fully realized people of God are a blessing to all nations in their priesthood in Christ.

The theme of the Davidic dynasty is fulfilled in Revelation and is noted often as authoritative and not to be disputed.  The foundation of the Davidic dynasty is laid in 2 Samuel where Nathan says,

I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord also declares to you that the Lord will make a house for you:  when your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom. He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever….. Your house and your kingdom are firm forever before me; your throne shall be firmly established forever (2 Samuel 7:11b-13, 16).

After, David was a fog of war and the Babylonian captivity.  Confusion abounded until Jesus came and was known to many as Messiah and also as the “Son of David”.

But again, in an eschatological sense there is fulfillment here.  “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet. There were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world now belongs to our Lord and to his Anointed, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

In this passage is a vital case of “the Old revealed in the New” (St. Augustine). Jesus the Christ is the “Anointed One” but is not the first in salvation history.   Kings in Israel’s history were anointed using the Hebrew word from which we get Messiah.  The authority of David’s kingship is alluded to as an example for how true strength is affirmed.  “The holy one, the true, who holds the key of David, who opens and no one shall close, who closes and no one shall open“ (Revelation 3:7).

What is important to see in patterns in the passages is how permanency is clear and to whom it is given. This is unique authority from God the Father.  Otherwise Jesus is one of many co-kings.  Also of note, we can see again the theme of universality but it is in the worldwide scope of the reign of Jesus whereas the passages above are in an ecclesial and royal contexts.

 

The Old Testament points to the paradoxical identities in God as both Creator and Bridegroom.

“For as a young man marries a virgin,

your Builder shall marry you;

And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride

so shall your God rejoice in you” (Isaiah 62:5).

This works well in understanding the Jewish culture.  It was customary for an engaged man to build a house for his future bride and it would take a year.  The high point at the end of the year would be the wedding and residing together.  Again, in an eschatological context, we see a fulfillment.

“Let us rejoice and be glad

and give him glory.

For the wedding day of the Lamb has come,

his bride has made herself ready.

She was allowed to wear

a bright, clean linen garment.”

(The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.) Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These words are true; they come from God.” (Revelation 19:7-9).

The fulfillment of God being the Creator and Bridegroom is multifaceted here.  Glory is given to the Lamb (Jesus who is divine), the wedding day is present, the bride is sanctified through her works in faith and there is a blessing to those who are called.  This passage is wrapped in divinity even in the end where it is clear God is declaring this to be true and this declaration of righteousness of this wedding is of Him.

Staying true to God in a covenantal perspective is essential in salvation history from Moses to the future era of the ultimate redemption of God’s people.

 “You will keep this practice forever as a statute for yourselves and your descendants.  Thus, when you have entered the land which the Lord will give you as he promised, you must observe this rite.  When your children ask you, ‘What does this rite of yours mean?’  you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice for the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt; when he struck down the Egyptians, he delivered our houses.’ Then the people knelt and bowed down, and the Israelites went and did exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron” (Exodus 12:24-28).

You shall also make a table of acacia wood, two cubits long, a cubit wide, and a cubit and a half high” (Exodus 25:23).

In both passages what is implied is that the people are invested in a recapitulation of the deliverance by God in the Exodus according to His covenant promises.  Their servitude in the Seder and the building of the acacia table (Table of The Lord through the OT is often a synonym for sacrificial altar) serves as a shadow of things to come. Revelation addresses the superior covenant in Christ.

They sang a new hymn:

“Worthy are you to receive the scroll

and to break open its seals,

for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God

those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.

You made them a kingdom and priests for our God,

and they will reign on earth.” (Revelation 5:9-11).

Again, we see the royal and the liturgical connected again, but this time it is in the people of God in Christ who are redeemed by the blood of The Lamb rather than a lamb.

Last, there is a pattern of government established in the Old Testament pointing to an order of things in the New.  He took twelve stones, for the number of tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the Lord had said: Israel shall be your name.” (I Kings 18:31).  This was reinforced in the generation after Moses as well” (Joshua 3:12).

The Church is built by Jesus in part on the apostles (Ephesians 2:20), this is reinforced in a broader dimension in experience than what a pre-Christ doctrine could allow in salvation history.  This is because, though Jesus said that the apostles sit on thrones,  they were also instrumental in founding a liturgical kingdom that bridges a heavenly reality.  We know this through John 20:21-23.  Absolving

“The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14).  Each name had a story and a testimony by martyrdom.  A majority of the apostles were martyred but also they served in martyrdom and being in service.  Both factors are fitting to be represented because of the liturgical aspects sprinkled throughout this book (e.g. Jesus as the Lamb is mentioned 28 times in its 22 chapters).  This book through the areas highlighted above brings to fulfillment God’s promises in the contexts of kingdom, liturgy and nuptial celebration.

Recommended Reading:

The Lamb’s Supper, Letter and Spirit and Consuming The Word by Dr. Scott Hahn.  Probably best appreciated in that order since they make a trilogy though it is non-fiction.

Upon This Rock by Steven Ray

Breadcrumbs to Bread: Continuity

ContinuityLogo

No one likes an absentee parent.  Those who by biology are the parents who gave life to the child and walk away.  The term deadbeat seems appropriate because by ditching their responsibilities they deaden a part of their heart.  Ways to be a deadbeat can include detaching themselves from the nurture of the child financially, emotionally and in physical presence that includes protection.

Soon after I became a Christian when I was young, without Christian parents teaching me the faith, I tried to construct an understanding of God’s involvement on the earth.  I heard about “silent years” at times that seemed brief and made sense.  One was not knowing from the Bible what happened with and through Jesus from the ages of 12 to 30.  There was a guess that Jesus lived the life in all appearances of a carpenter guy who knew his Torah well.  I had little problem with that since I got the sense that Jesus’ growth was a model of holiness in itself and people around him that saw it could see something good about that in hindsight.

But the longer periods were hard to swallow if God the Father is not a deadbeat to the people who were in covenant.

After Joseph in Egypt there seemed to be some prosperity and then there was oppression by Pharaoh.  They suffered for 400 years until God appeared to Moses.  Deadbeat there?

Not at all.  During the generation that they were prospering, and after, they kept alive the covenantal understanding of what God had done with their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They also carried an important understanding of the involvement of the wives involved and counted their burial ground sacred.  When God does show up he reveals himself to Moses and to Israel as the God of the above named.  Also they were really into having babies to be in the position of getting into the land someday and filling it with their flesh and blood if they could be free.  God was silent indeed but their covenant based prayers were not and God tells Moses they their cries had reached him (Exodus 3).  Although it was hard, the lesson is that their being fruitful and believing in the covenant was a conversation with God where words and actions spoke equally loud.  Enough that Pharaoh hated that light of increasing population and slaughtered their toddler boys.

Then as I went to bible studies I heard that their was another four hundred years of silence after the minor prophet Malachi until Jesus arrives on the scene.  The deadbeat dad feel was disturbing to me there as I perceived the deist “God on the other side of the universe” in play where wisdom and miracles cease for Israel of any divine intervention worth noting.  Particularly disappointing is that in salvation history there was nobody with delegated authority from God there.

But then I discovered the Catholic Church and the seven books of the Bible that were taken out in the Protestant “Reformation”.  In that I realized that there were virtually no eras in those centuries without miracles, wisdom or prophecy that prepares the way for Jesus from Moses on.  And of great importance was some kind of a set spiritual authority.

There was some insight on this from Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz (Mishnah, Sayings of the Fathers, 1943) “The Jews have always maintained that, along with the Law of Godwritten on stone, the oral Law or tradition was also passed down through succession from Moses.  The ancient oral tradition of the Jews was codified in the Mishnah, which states, “Moses received the Torah on Sinai, and handed it down to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the Men of The Great Assembly…Simon the Just was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say, ‘Upon there things the world is based: upon the Torah, upon Divine service, and upon the practice of charity.’ “

And then there was the next period of God seeming to be a deadbeat: supposedly within generations after the apostles died, the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased and any earthly based rule of faith outside of the Bible ceased.  In fact, no authentic Christianity existed until God’s great “Reformation Fathers” arose in protest to that dusty man-made institution in Rome, founded by Constantine in the 4th century was confronted.  The true, pure Christianity was rediscovered by these great men.

A few intellectual problems were there in some of my formation hear as well as my assumptions. These problems screamed at my much later in my Christian life.

1: The Great Apostasy happened in 325 AD.  No valid Christianity until the 1500’s.

2: Yet in the late 390’s the New Testament canon of scripture was finalized.

That takes mental gymnastics right there.  First, how are we to respect the canon of the NT if it was put together over 60 years after the great falling away and long before the “Reformation”?

There was was still something else that was confusing to me in the words of Jesus.  For someone to consider Jesus as Lord they are choosing that as truth over him being Liar, Lunatic or Legend or a combination of the latter three.  I chose Jesus because he said he would be crucified, rise from the dead and draw all men to himself.  I believed he did all of the above and that the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to teach and work with authority including for some of them to writer inspired scripture (ironically Protestant minister RC Sproul calls the Bible “A fallible list of infallible books”).

But another prophecy of Jesus was not being fulfilled if the Great Apostasy was true.  Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”

For continuity to work there has to be a continued line of authority like the Mishnah alluded to above.  And it was implied based on church history classes I took in a non-denominational church I went to.  There were heresies that were fought against.  Thank God for the Bible!  Except these heresies were refuted before the Bible was established.  Some more confusion there.

But after all of the gymnastics are done with this part of church history at last the heroes come that renew the true Christianity like Martin Luther and John Calvin.  The problem that plagued me was that it is difficult to see salvation history being put on track by someone who was so openly anti-semitic. I did not want to believe it when as a Christian senior in high school a speaker at my school on the holocaust mentioned “On The Jews And Their Lies”.  He was actually a visiting professor from a Lutheran university.  Here is an excerpt.

“My advice, as I said earlier, is: First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire...Second, that all their books– their prayer books, their Talmudic writings, also the entire Bible- be taken from them, not leaving them one leaf, and that these be preserved for those who may be converted…Third, that they be forbidden on pain of death to praise God, to give thanks, to pray, and to teach publicly among us and in our country…Fourth, that they be forbidden to utter the name of God within our hearing. For we cannot with a good conscience listen to this or tolerate it…The rulers must act like a good physician who, when gangrene has set in proceeds without mercy to cut, saw, and burn flesh, veins, bone, and marrow. Such a procedure must also be followed in this instance. Burn down their synagogues, forbid all that I enumerated earlier, force them to work, and deal harshly with them. If this does not help we must drive them out like mad dogs.”

Based on the facts above, Luther should not be called a latter apostle of grace.  Not only did Luther not respect the dignity of the Jewish people but he even threw out 7 books of the Old Testament.  His justification was that he was going by what the Jews in Europe told him were canonical who in turn based that opinion on a Jewish rabbinical school in Jambria in the 90’s AD.  So on that he honors what Jews have to say?  On scholastic opinion at the end of the apostolic age?

There is further signs that Luther was not the herald of continuity of pure Christianity.  He was famous for his “5 Sola’s”.  One was Sola Fide which is Latin for faith alone.  He was so sure of his doctrine that he added the German word alone in his Bible translation of Galatians 3:28.

But I will return to the subject at hand. If your papist wishes to make a great fuss about the word sola (alone), say this to him: “Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and he says that a papist and a donkey are the same thing.” Sic volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas. (2) For we are not going to be students and disciples of the papists. Rather, we will become their teachers and judges.

Let this be the answer to your first question. Please do not give these donkeys any other answer to their useless braying about that word sola than simply this: “Luther will have it so, and he says that he is a doctor above all the doctors of the pope.” Let it rest there. I will from now on hold them in contempt, and have already held them in contempt, as long as they are the kind of people (or rather donkeys) that they are.

Do you feel the love?  So with the authority invested into himself, Luther states, “I know very well that in Romans 3 the word solum is not in the Greek or Latin text — the papists did not have to teach me that. It is fact that the letters s-o-l-a are not there.

So if Martin Luther is addressing himself against a body of teachers that are equally arrogant and of no higher authority than him then it is the Protestant scholars fallible interpretation against those of the Catholic side.

But history does not inform us this way.  Ireneus lists the order of the bishops of Rome until his time at the brink of the 3rd century with a primacy assigned to them.  The aforementioned canonization of the Bible that went through an ecumenical council at Hippo in 393 and Carthage in 397 was not ratified until the Bishop [Pope] Donasus in Rome declared it in 402.  This is because he was a successor to Simon Peter to whom Jesus said he would receive the keys and would be able to bind and loose which was a rabbinical term for declaring truth in faith and morals.

In coming back to the orphan point it is worth noting this scripture where Jesus is addressing his apostles,  “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you…The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you” (John 14:18, 26).

Suffice it to say, as a former Protestant who has come to the Catholic Church, I can say with confidence that Jesus leaving the Holy Spirit is on the individual and the church level in the sense of the one church that he founded and has protected from error for 2,000 years.

But the default mission in the continuity of the Church with evangelistic mission.

 Go, therefore,[l] and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.[m] And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

I hope I have not offended any of my Protestant readers out there.  I see God’s glory in your fellowships and that people are truly coming to a relationship with Jesus Christ.  In fact, my formation as a follower of Jesus for many years was in Protestant churches including a discipline for prayer and reading the Bible and standing up for righteous causes.  But the same council in Nicea of 325 that defined Jesus was 100% God and 100% man also declared “one, holy Catholic and apostolic church”.  I hope somewhere out there is someone that will join with the Father’s will in all its fullness.

Truth and history have consequences.  I pray for my Protestant readers that they ask of God what I did when I was in the season preceding the first insight into the Catholic Church, “Your kingdom come”.  You may find, like I did, that it never left because Jesus through the Catholic Church is with us unto the end of the age.

Recommended Reading:

Pope Fiction by Patrick Madrid

Upon This Rock by Steven Ray

The Fathers Know Best by James Akin

Reasons to Believe by Scott Hahn

Tradition—Not Just For Fiddler On The Roof.

handing_down_the_key_pc_400_clr

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

Irreneus about 195 AD said—

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

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

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

“From the rising of the sun to its setting,

my name is great among the nations;

Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere,

and a pure offering;

For my name is great among the nations,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is nothing stopping the individual but themselves.

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

Conversion Hindsight

Entering Catholic Church

I need to interrupt my series on Sermon on The Mount.  It seems appropriate to me to reflect this Easter on what my life is like since the big change.  Not a sex change operation.  Not a marriage situation.  A lot less of a change than that but some would say more.

For those of you who are new to my blog, I became a Catholic at Easter Vigil 2013 in Wickenburg, Arizona.  This was after considering myself a lifer Protestant for thirty years.  I had been in several denominations and one underground church.  My direct formation had included periods of discipleship from godly men and a semi-formal theological institution at a good church that I went to for several years at Living Hope Fellowship in Aloha, Oregon.  For a few years I was educated in theology, biblical hermeneutics and church history.  With the richness of those experiences, one would think that would stay a Protestant.

But being a Protestant was not enough.  After my wife and I left a great church in Portland when we moved to the suburbs, something seemed to be missing.  I had these occasional “bread crumbs” that I was not getting resolved.  Where is there a solid, unifying stance on social issues in Christianity?  Why did communion always seem to have something missing?  Why is there so much division?  And one question that I always had was: How can Christianity reclaim the lost,mysterious truths of the 1st century?

When we had moved to Arizona for a few months, I had some inexplicable obsession on the Lord’s Prayer.  It was so much in my head that it felt like a touch of insanity.  All I could pray was something like, “God, get this out of my head or show me your kingdom!”

One fateful night I stumbled on a show while channel surfing called, “Genesis to Jesus”.  It was a bible study led by Dr. Scott Hahn that traced patterns through the bible that anticipate both the coming of Jesus as Messiah and also The Catholic Church with it’s expression of grace and truth in the sacraments.  I went to many resources on the internet soon including from Protestant websites that presupposed that Catholics do not live a Christian life.  I prayed for God’s wisdom and really tried to “play both sides of the chess board”.  God won out and His leading has been the Catholic Church.  I was received in 2013 and my wife was received in 2014.

So what has changed concretely in how I live my life?

In the words of Catholic concert from Protestantism, “I get to know my sins are forgiven”.  This is not to say that I could not ask God for forgiveness before.  But in the sacrament of reconciliation unveiled in Sacred Scripture (Matthew 9:28, John 20:21-23, James 5:14-15) and Sacred Tradition there is a more holistic experience of God’s forgiveness.  Let me be clear on one point: I do not confess my sins to a priest instead of God.  I confess to God, occasionally, through a priest because when I sin it is against God and the Body.  God is not lessened but magnified.

That brings me to another aspect: Mary.  She said “my soul magnifies the Lord”.  When i reflect on Mary and ask for her intercession as the Queen of Heaven (Revelation 12:1-6) my appreciation of Jesus in the Incarnation and Atonement is only more well rounded which includes that the Kingdom is not “an old boys club”.  Starting with Mary, and not only because of her, I would say that the Catholic Church is the most feminist organization in the world.  And I say that with complete confidence as a masters level social worker.

And as a social worker I can turn to social issues. There is not enough space in one blog to address this property.  Suffice it to say that I appreciated Humanae Vitae and the parts of Theology of The Body that I have read.  The phrases that stand out in my years as a Catholic are the life and dignity of the human person and “We are called to love people and use things, not love things and use people”.  This ethic full explained has helped me to be more consistently pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and even to be less of a conservative Republican regarding immigration.

Speaking of humanity, there is two more portions of humanity that have been effected by my wife and I coming into the Catholic Church: Josiah and our unborn daughter yet to be named.  We were content with the game plan of having our two kids together my previous three.  But looking into the limitations couples put on the blessing of children stirred something in my wife first when she was not yet joining me in discerning the Catholic Church.  As of August I will hold in my arms by seventh child.

So, yes, I am glad to be Catholic.  The scary part in my research process was that I was not entirely sure what I was losing and what I was gaining. I can say that I am still an evangelical  and charismatic and definitely “a Bible Christian” (The Catholic Church ratified the canon of Sacred Scripture).  What I gained was the Church founded by Jesus, maintained from error on faith and morals and as universal as John 3:16’s words imply.  I am just glad to have hopped aboard and off the “protest”.

Recommended Websites:

http://www.catholicscomehome.org

http://www.catholic.com

http://www.instituteofcatholicculture.org