HOLY UNCTION

Anoint-Sick

Anyone who thinks that any religious experience will protect them from problems, they are listening intently to a lie one way or another.  Conversion includes a sense of meaning for ones existence but along the way of life there will be trials and tribulations including all parts of the person.  By that time, if one has received the new birth in baptism, the oil in confirmation for growth then what about the healing and meaning for the rough passages? 

This is among the implied contexts in the formal but general sense as the “laying of hands”  in Hebrews 6:2. 

But this is referred to in an authoritative and objective sense in James. 

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up (James 5:13-15a). 

Someone who is a student of the scriptures may look at this and wonder what is at issue.  After all, Jesus said after his resurrection that laying hands on the sick and seeing them recover would follow those who believe (Mark 16:18 c).

There is a difference between the two contexts.  In Mark 16:18 c the word used here is epitithēmi  for “laying on of” and cheir for “hands”.  The same Greek words are used in Hebrews 6:2.  But we have scriptural means to say that it is a matter of context.

If I am gravely ill, a priest or bishop may come who has been anointed with an indelible mark on their character where they represent the priesthood of Christ which Thomas Aquinas concedes as the ultimate, central priesthood while believing in holy orders.  It is a message for the one receiving that sacrament to have a context that the church on earth and in heaven is praying for him or her.  In such a grave moment, there is the light of the hope of the gospel that is objectively known to happen through church history.  However, as one who has been a charismatic Christian all of my life in different realms of Christianity I can say that laypeople can also lay hands on the sick and have hope for them to recovery. 

There is no impersonation by me of being in any holy orders.  I have known of many people being healed through Christians who did not have holy orders.  However, when it is happening, the context is a subjective experience and does not have the context of someone being set aside to communicate the transcendent and above earth perspective.  Also, if he or she accompanies the healing with some teaching or method that is heterodox then the accountability is harder to enforce with less to lose.  Being suspended from holy orders ministry is a grave issue that is hoped to not happen but at least can with much on the ordinary minister to lose. 

Below we some non-sacramental healing happening that does not conflict with the sacramental perspective. 

With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured. There was great joy in that city (Acts 8:6-8).   

Yes, it is true that Philip the evangelist was in holy orders.  However he was a deacon and not an elder (presbuteros from which is contracted in English etymology as priest). But as we seen in James 5 above, it was expected one could call an elder.  So he was set up on that respect with the same faculties as any layperson. No anointing of oil but God used him powerfully.    

As we see in ongoing church history, the anointing of oil as a sacrament of healing continually affirmed.  In non-sacramental and anti-conformist sensibilities, there could be a revulsion to any uniform ceremony and it must have been developed in the medieval ages.  A look further in church history is going to show them to be historical. 

“And in this [in quo] is fulfilled also what St. James the Apostle says: if any one is sick, let him call in the priests of the Church, and let them lay hands on him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and if he be in sins they shall be remitted to him” (Origen,184 AD,  Hom. ii, in Levit., in P.G., XII, 419). 

There was not only an emphasis of form but all of matter in the application.

St. Aphraates, “the Persian Sage”, he wrote of the various uses of holy oil, saying it contained the sign “of the sacrament of life by which Christians [in baptism], priests [in ordination], kings, and prophets are made perfect; [it] illuminates darkness [in confirmation], anoints the sick, and by its secret sacrament restores penitents” (St. Aphraates, Demonstratio xxiii, 3, in Graffin, “Patrol. Syriaca”, vol. I, p. lv, 336-345 AD).

In a biography of St. Augustine, who was a bishop, it is written that Augustine applied this Sacrament of Holy Unction thus.

“[T]he rule laid down by the Apostle that he should visit only orphans and widows in their tribulation (James, 1:27), and that if he happened to be asked by the sick to pray to the Lord for them and impose hands on them, he did so without delay”(Possidius,”Life of Augustine” c. xxvii, in P.L., XXXII, 56). 

By this matter being consecrated by consecrated men, it was understood that anointing oil for healing would effectively be an objective demonstration of God’s power. 

We beseech you, Savior of all men, you that have all virtue and power, Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we pray that you send down from heaven the healing power of the only-begotten [Son] upon this oil, so that for those who are anointed . . . it may be effected for the casting out of every disease and every bodily infirmity”  (Bishop Serapion 350 AD, The Sacramentary of Serapion 29:1). 

This sacrament that is at its heart Christ founded and Christo-centric has always been tied as a comfort for those leaving the church on earth to the church in heaven with the deathbed context of the Viaticum. 

Concerning the departing, the ancient canonical law is still to be maintained, to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of the last and most indispensable Viaticum” (canon 13). Having repented of our sins and received reconciliation, we travel with the Lord Jesus out of this earthly life and to eternal happiness with him in heaven (Council of Nicaea, 325). 

To discount this quote causes two problems for those who want to discount their implications as part of the historical Christian faith.  First, it is the problem of saying this council was gravely wrong on this but completely right about the other part that defined orthodox Christology and other doctrines that non-sacramental Christians espouse.  A great hurdle arises again for how just the latter is not up for a revisionist history and abuse of the historical-critical method.  Second, it makes casual in passing reference to this being an ancient practice.  Are we to limit it to 50 years? A hundred years?  The veracity of the historical claim of the sacrament of healing holds up quite well in tandem with the fact that as an ecumenical council this is both an ancient and widespread context.  It is implied that it was applicable to the beginning of Christianity. 

This was a reference point for someone in their relationship with Christ and his mystical body which is the church.  This is to be understood as tied to being in communion with Jesus in his authority which is delegated to a visible church with his delegated authority. 

As often as some infirmity overtakes a man, let him who is ill receive the body and blood of Christ; let him humbly and in faith ask the presbyters for blessed oil, to anoint his body, so that what was written may be fulfilled in him: ‘Is anyone among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he be in sins, they will be forgiven him. . . . See to it, brethren, that whoever is ill hasten to the church (Caesar of Arles, early 500’s. Sermons 13[325]:3). 

We are told from scripture that Jesus is always the same.  He also made a promise that the church he founded would always stand.  Not only can we see in this sacrament a reference point but a power point.  And such power is upon the earth due to the nature of the Holy Spirit and grace to be known in the Body of Christ in both objective and subjective contexts. 

There is not only a beauty to the Sacrament of Healing but also to the Sacrament of Penance  or Reconciliation.  They go together and there is both rich scriptural and patristic content to support that which we will next see.

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Seeking UNity

UnitedLast week was a great Easter celebration.  In my Christian tradition, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus starting on the Saturday night before Sunday.  I like how there is an ebb and flow of seasons in the year that ground us on the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and tie it to our personal, onward growth in his love. 

Looking around in the faces of so many wonderful brothers and sister in Christ, I see so much of the life of him so strongly reflected in words, deeds and overall commitment to state strong in the face of opposition in a materialistic world.  Christians are called to be a light and the prayer of Jesus calls us to be one.  That is a prayer that has not been greatly answered at this point.

For there is much that divides Christians too.  There has been mistakes on different sides with rhetoric and actions that fall short of the command to “love one another”.  And the world is watching.  Watching with skepticism about that division and maybe rightly so at points. 

But there are ecumenical movements that are going on to change the story.  There was an event last night that I almost went to but my wife went instead to help with the worship team.  I didn’t mind since I have gone to far more than her.   It included worship and teaching from two pastors. One who has had flack from officials in his own denomination for a trip to meet a leader in another part of the Body of Christ.  There was also break out groups where people were able to interact in constructive dialogue.

I am all for dialogue but I am restless for more than that in wanting to see where the action is.  Perhaps the leadership in this specific movement, John 17 Movement, has something in mind.  I would like to make some suggestions partly in the context of a season.  It would end before Advent season begins for the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. 

As far as I know, mid September to the turn of the months of November and December are free.  This could be a season of “Unitas” as a working title for now. 

1: In this season, Christians go to a church meeting of some kind of Christians that ascribe to the tenets of the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed.  But there is a catch, you go by Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant.  If you are a Baptist Protestant Christian then you are not making a splash by going to a Presbyterian Church.  In my case as a Latin Rite Catholic it is not brave to go to a Byzantine Rite Catholic Church.  If you go, seek to understand and bless where you can. 

2: In this season read a book by a respected author in one of the other traditions but not an apologist for that tradition.  It is not a matter of getting converted.  Even more, recommend something like that from your side to a friend of one of the other traditions. 

3: If you have been mean spirited to a brother or sister in Christ, this may be a great season to examine yourself and seek forgiveness. 

4:  Take a break from debating for your version of Christianity.  40 days won’t kill you.  I am not proposing an indifferentism on the things that matter.  Instead I am saying there could be a temporary setting aside of stressful debate. 

5:  On a grander scale, organize a charitable work between your church and one of the other traditions.  This may be a better way to reverse the scandal of division than a joint doctrinal declaration. 

6:  Do something to directly bless those in the other tradition.  I have deep respect for the Southern Baptist Convention writing an amicus brief when the contraception mandate was effecting a group of Catholic nuns known as the Little Sisters of The Poor. 

7: Read the 17th chapter in John’s gospel.  In the minutes before Jesus was arrested he prayed what theologians on different sides call “The High Priestly Prayer”.  He prayed for Christian believers on many issues but this included unity.  What does that mean?  Worth prayerfully considering. 

8: There is a side effect that could happen which can be unpleasant to some.  With responsible, ecumenical dialogue on what “those people” actually believe some people may change how they define themselves as a Christian including where they take communion each week.  If someone from your Side A “converts” (I hesitantly use that term here) to Side B but is still in the Nicene Creed then based on my personal experience here is what you do: get over it.   Give the Holy Spirit some credit unless with a deep breath you honestly think that specific fellowship is objectively unsafe.   

As Christians we should be fueled to honor the beautiful, good and true and I will on that note end a bit with my own path.  I had my conversion to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior at 11.  I was baptized at 15.  All of this in the Protestant tradition.  At the age of 42 after a few years of questions that I was wrestling with, I inquired through prayer, scripture and history to the point of entering the Catholic Church.  My oldest daughter was received the same night and my wife was received a year later.  As of this writing it appears that my older brother and his wife will be received into the Catholic Church in Advent season. And my second oldest daughter is a Baptist missionary in Argentina with her new husband.  I love them all. 

I’m so proud of my missionary daughter I can hardly contain myself.  When I see her, I see the love of Christ and also a love for others.  No macro level divisions change that for me. Nor does my thankfulness for my pastors and friends over my years as a Protestant who invested so much time, encouragement and many aspects of biblical teaching that I still cherish and apply.  I see the good and discern where needed on what truths are transferable in large part due to the lens of love.  Sure, there are other faculties in discernment, but I must keep love.  We must all keep love.  Love never fails.   

Simple Words, Simple Faith

simplefaitharchiveDebates can have at times “drop the mic” moments where one points out an irrefutable fact that the other side is defenseless on.  The other side may be seem like they should just pack up and go home. 

When I see some debates between Catholics and Protestants it is sometimes said that Catholics do not have the gospel.  But if the rhetoric is simple and the audience is an average American Protestant one then that could be stalled whole as a central point.  As a former Protestant who is now a very grateful Catholic, I can use examples of the contrary with the mass and more.

First, there is a reading from the gospels in every mass with no exception.  On Sunday mass the priest or the deacon lifts up a book that only has the gospels, walks to the ambo (podium) and is accompanied by a lit candle.  In that walk the congregation sings allelulia. Reverence is definitely given.

Second is the homily (sermon).  The priest or deacon teaches off of the scriptures (on Sundays a minimum of four passages area read).  In my experience there is something shared for initial or ongoing conversion for the hearer. 

Third is the recitation of the Nicene Creed. It includes the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, doctrine of the nature of Church and the end times return of Jesus with the final judgment.  This ends what is called the Liturgy of the Word. 

Fourth is in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  The priest lifts up and consecrates the host saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.  Behold him who takes away the sins of the world”.  Someone reading this may not believe that the host is any more than a piece of bread nor that Jesus was any more than a good man.  That is your choice.  But for those who read this and believe that it is just a piece of bread but Jesus is indeed everything that he said he was, I have a question.  If we were to go back in a time machine, snip some hair from Jesus and put it under a microscope what would we find?   Would it be shown to be something that knocks our socks off?  I would doubt it because that could be means of us being coerced into faith.  There is no true free will in that.  Likewise a Catholic or Orthodox can see the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. 

The last one has some distinguished beauty to it.  At the end of mass we are dismissed.  The etymology of this is being sent out.  In fact, one of the common things a deacon will say is “The mass is ended.  Go our and share the gospel with your life”. 

This bears light if one reads the scriptures.  Part of the priesthood of all believers’ calling is remembering that they are also sent into the world to proclaim the gospel. 

“Through him we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles, among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ (Romans 1:5-6).

Right Resolve. Not Just Resolution

Heart by hands in the sunAs I am writing this, It is New Year’s Day of 2018. People love to make resolutions with some of theme having a permanent effect.  Honestly, some of them can be superficial or easy.  They say “I have a resolution to change”.  Resolution means one has resolve to follow through if one takes the wording correctly. 

But people can lose the emotional fuzz and let go.  In fact, give the person enough time and they will forget they made it. 

But conversion is a different thing.  There is an indelible mark on the person’s soul and their biography is not the same.  The story of their life has a reference point for context. 

There are some dramatic conversions that can change someone’s story.  Governor George Wallace was a racist, pro-segregation governor who changed his mind and heart and apologized.  There was one man who was party to religious persecution and the death of at least one good person who changed and became the Apostle Paul.  I knew someone who was a Neo-Nazi, violent meth dealer who came to fulness of life as a Christian minister.  By the time I knew him he was a soft-hearted man serving the mentally ill and addicted with tact and wisdom.  There is a line of before and after in an encounter with divine love.  True Love is a person who loves us as we are but too much to stay the way we are. 

This is why in a way we who call ourselves by the Christian name should always be converting.  Constant conversion speaks to constant grace that stirs us on to our calling.  Jesus said,  “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”.  And this is not impossible to attain at temporary, precious moments to be savored just as “grace perfects nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas).  Standing by grace is good but walking continually in grace is the gospel taking on flesh in our lives. 

I can testify that I became a Christian at a young age but I am having a conversion season right now and it is not the first time.  Below is my history.

1:  A rainy day in Newport, Oregon my cousin explained the gospel and led me in the “Sinner’s Prayer” of the Protestant tradition.  I accepted Jesus in my heart and meandered clumsily through the Bible for the next few years. 

2:  At 14 I met a friend who took me to my first regular church (I was not raised by Christians) and got more grounded on the fulness of Jesus and the Bible. 

3:  At 18 I was stressed with a lot of self-confidence issues, struggling with learning disabilities and discord with my parents when a spiritual older man came into my life with some light and some mixed bag insights.  Some conversions can be a mixed bag but God allows it so we can know more about what the pure is when we get our feet back under us.  When it was good, it was good.  But when it was toxic…Jesus gets very blurry when a pseudo-savior gets in the mix. Long story, ugly story. 

4: At 27 I got my feet back under me.  I went back to a well rounded church on a day they were singing “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand”.  My wife at the time was leaving me for another man.  Our children  were 5, 3 and under 1.  I used only a Bible for a year with few commentaries so that I would be re-grounded with the simple Jesus Christ. 

5:  By 35, life as a non-custodial father was hard and unfair.  Bitterness and entitlement over time had set in.  Through a combination of events and also brothers and sisters in Christ that served me “black coffee with no cream or sugar”.  I really let go of my entitlement. And then I got married to my best friend at 36.  Sigh.  The end.  Or so I thought. 

6: By 42, life was sort of looking good outwardly.  I had finally got my bachelors degree.  My wife and I had two beautiful children together.  We had moved from cloudy Oregon to sunny Arizona.  What could I want spiritually when we were also going to a good, local church with a very committed pastor?

But by then, skepticism had been setting in which is good if you distinguish it from cynicism. Below are some questions that had been on my mind for a few years.  

Up on the stage, there should be some focal, physical point of worship to God that is not some fallible human being.  Why has this not been figured out?

Christianity was so divided with so many voices and divided interpretations of the Bible.  There should be some environmental thing or something by which the Body of Christ can be united.  Why not?

I have been praying the Lord’s Prayer for some reason very often the last two months.  Why do I not see something authoritative that I can recognize? 

Jesus had the answer for all of that.  The answers begin with him and end with him.  After months of prayer, study of the Bible and viewing history I realized the reference point was the Catholic Church.  I “came out of the closet” to my wife that I was being drawn by the Holy Spirit to the Catholic Church.  She was not thrilled but I knew, ironically in the words of Martin Luther “Here I stand I can do no other” and was received in 2013.  She was received in 2014. These recent years have been my most grace and joy filled years as a Christian I have ever had.  

  But I am still converting.  I have discovered the beauty in the Catholic Church with approved ecclesial communities that have respective concentrations on some parts of the kingdom, include intensive Bible study and intentional fellowship.  My wife and I recently discerned out of one and I am investigating another. God’s grace sustains me. 

There is a phrase from Buddhists I like that is “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him”.  There is applicable truth from that in how God is living and active with the gift of mystery to our “figure-it-out” tendencies.   

So with that here are my impressions. 

1: Christianity at its core is not as much on the small details one knows but who you know.  And the Who is the central person by whom one is truly known.   

2:  Jesus is The Way.  But Jesus allows in our lives persons and faith communities by which one finds a way that reflects part of the Way.  This is why I still cherish the Protestant pastors and friends that instilled in me much of my understanding of Jesus. 

3:  God is practical.  He took on flesh and bone in Jesus.  Talking up in the clouds gets old and it should. Likewise on click, inside track Christian- see.  Speak plainly when possible. 

4:  Take the Bible thankfully but not literally.  Sounds blasphemous?  Should I take the library literally? Depends on the genre. 

5: Thomas Jefferson said ”Sit wisdom firmly in her seat.  Question even God.  For if there be a God, he must want honest questioning rather than blindfolded fear.” We are invited by Jesus to ask the touch questions.  And so, dear reader, come to Jesus and bring your honest questions with you.  Jesus can take it and any movement connected to him can take it too.      

So, there your have it.  It is not the end for me.  It is a process by which faith and reason work together.  

—— The Ongoing.

Magnifying Above and Beyond

Mary MagnifyTruth has consequences.  We do not always have things figured out on how to live a truth that is introduced to us if it is moral or spiritual.  In fact, “dry truth” may be easier because there is always a quantifiable road on how to apply it.  Math has physics.  Biology has medicine.  But in a scene of the miraculous or that speaking of God in our hearts, rare is the time that we “got it together”.  When we understand God’s agenda it is because we are filled with grace and the Holy Spirit in context of relationship with him.

So we see with this young woman two thousand years ago named Mary of Nazareth.  She gives her cooperation to God’s will not having much at all figured out but obeys one step at a time.  When she arrives at the house of her relative Elizabeth what we see is an openness to life, applied obedience, filling of the Holy Spirit and an absolute hope of bringing order to the chaos that evil creates.  Herein is the launching pad for Mary and what Matt Maher calls “the first Christian song”.

“And Mary said:

‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age

to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,

dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;

the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,

remembering his mercy,

according to his promise to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever’ “ (Luke 1:46-55).

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord— Some Bible versions say that her soul magnifies the Lord.  One of my surprises as I made my journey to the Catholic Church from Protestantism was how good Mariology magnifies ones Christology (doctrine about the nature and work of Christ).  I know that I am only drawn closer to Jesus when I pray a rosary. Involving her is both involving the Queen Mother and one who reminds me that God was made flesh and dwelt with us (John 1:14) with her being the Theotokos (God-bearer of the Council of Ephesus 431). 

in God my savior—  “Aha! That shows she is a sinner.”  Not really.  If you pull me out of a pit then you are my savior.  If you yank me back when I am about to walk into a pit then you are just as much my savior. All of Mary’s family tree that leads to her was on a collision course for her to be born as a sinner— except God had other plans in how he filled her with grace. Several of the Protestant Reformers do not dispute this like Luther and Calvin. 

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed—– And that is true.  One could go to ancient writings and even a fresco that was made early in church history that illuminates her role in an honoring way. The important term from the early church has been hyperdulia.  It is an exalted honor that was always distinct from latria which is worship to actual Deity.  A small sect broke that line in the 4th century but they did not last and either fizzled or were shut down. The honor towards Mary has been so embedded into Christianity that even when Henry VIII of England was persecuting Catholicism and shutting down parishes he made sure that guards were posted at a parish that had a Marian name to make sure it was not vandalized.  Such was the recognition of Mary and her “yes” to God.   

His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him…He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy — Mary is seeing that God is a Father who keeps his promises and it is based on covenantal faithfulness and not due to the intrinsic holiness of any person.

He has shown might with his arm… the lines here are about God manifesting His presence in such a way through the ages, and ongoing, so that social justice takes place out of divine origin.  People will reap what they sow whether it was good or bad but it is God who is the catalyst in informing the consciences rightly in people. But it should be noted that God or the Church informing consciences is not the same as replacing them. 

The hungry he has filled with good things—this is the part where God distributes grace in the kingdom to those that have room for it.  For the rich who are stuck unto themselves there is not room for such good things. For the proud they are to high and comfortable to “demean” themselves. 

according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever—-this is powerful because we know Abraham is our father too but through faith (Luke 16:24, Romans 4).  In that line of faith in the Old Testament we see God’s promises, obedience and then blessing.  The promise of God is always bigger than ourselves and longer than ones lifetime. 

For all who believe in Jesus and open up to him as Lord there is a continuation of salvation history  up to and through ones conversion.  This is the kingdom that will have no end and Mary stands as one who stands at the point of salvation history where one path points to a law without grace and another to Jesus as the “way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

If you are on the outside of Christianity looking in, I say choose Jesus.  If you are in the inside, keep choosing Jesus.  To magnify his name with your words and deeds is our calling. And that magnifying will be beyond your life and above your agenda.  Yet you will be the better for it. 

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. 

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