Passing It On

Slide 1

“Who died and made you….”, insert word into the blank.  This is a common challenge someone makes to someone who assumes authority that is not theirs.  I remember when I was  a kid that sometimes the one being challenged would cite a parent or teacher or some other adult who had indeed given them charge of a situation.   Then the accuser would comply or rebel.  But if the challenged one had no comeback then it was usually assumed that they do the “walk of shame” away from the school yard taunt.

When I was a young adult I was intrigued by the writings of a man named Gene Edwards.  He wrote great Christian historical fiction that still stands up today as worth reading.  But he also had some non-fiction books that had a mixed effect on me.  One hand, it made me hungry to see the continuity of the Christian people living in the first century continued or restored in the 20th.

But secondly he made me hunger for the snapshot of church we get in the book of Acts as the way to go always and that it was definitely not hierarchical.  He saw apostolic authority only as something to be used then and now at a minimum and that most things of consequence were left to the laity.  Being you, almost my definition, made me love what he was saying and easily swayed by rhetoric that was against anything perceived as modern day Pharisees.

There was a central verse for this that I pondered on day and night. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

A cornerstone to that list is with the apostles teaching.  Surely, if God was going to “restore” Christianity to the purity of the apostolic age then he would need to raise up apostles.  But that song and dance has been tried before regarding someone new on the scene with a gift for reformation.  It is a long story but I erred in many movements in my Christian life become a man or group of men were considered “on the cutting edge” and raised up “for such a time as this”.

But Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition do not indicate this.  First, the premise I had was wrong in that since only something evil would make the church drown in error in doctrine and practice then that means Satan in large part got the upper hand.  But this would be a contradiction with the words of Jesus when he said, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  Am I making the connection too strong?  Logically, I do not see how.

For someone to have a conversion and hold on of Jesus they are first met with the choices that he is Lord, Liar, Lunatic or Legend.  For Jesus to be discerned as Lord in ones heart the truths are that he was what he said he was, did what he said he would do and is with us to the end of the age (more on the last one when I write about breaking the bread).  If he said he would build a Church that would never fall, but it did, does that not cast doubt that he rose from the dead?

For it to last, there would have to be safeguards based on Jesus and the ongoing revelation by the Holy Spirit.  An example is where Paul writes to a Timothy who was a bishop under him but meant for others in the church to overhear since at the end of the letter he says, “Grace to you” using the plural form.  “And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2).  Right there is a trust of Sacred Tradition to be passed on at least to a fourth generation.  Now are these just nice sayings?  We can look at Paul earlier in his ministry on this.  “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).  “Stand firm” is more serious than a handed down recipe.

But not just anyone can carry that weight.  “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone, and do not share in another’s sins. Keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22).

But can this be passed on with good intentions to the empowerment over all people like Americans think of “We The People”?  Not so easily.  “For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God  that you have through the imposition of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6).  This lends to the doctrine of Holy Orders and apostolic succession.  This is a sacrament that part of the guarding of the deposit of faith and its access.  For instance we see it next to the sacrament of baptism which is the baton of salvation in the adding to the number of the church.  Both belong side by side.

Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And we shall do this, if only God permits.  (Hebrews 6:1-3).

This is the skeleton of the Church of Jesus Christ as indicated by Scripture and Tradition.  With the truths above she survives.  But with the truths below she thrives.

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God,  built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-21)

So is this “teaching of the apostles” still ongoing?  If one reveres the Bible then to be consistent it begs reverence for apostolic authority until at least the 4th century when it was codified.  Objectively speaking, what has been outlined above points to a church that has had a laying of hands, never passed away, never ceased teaching the same doctrines of the early church and definitely has current the Holy Orders.  Long story short, that leaves us with the Coptic, Orthodox or Catholic Church.  I would posit that this deposit of faith rests in its fulness in the Catholic Church.  How it is the Catholic Church and not the others will be explained later.

Recommended reading:

The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin

Crossing The Tiber by Stephen Ray


Pigs and Dogs and Returnees

Pigs and dogs

I have wondered what the opposite is of loving money but keeping the affection to a virtue or thing that we experience on earth.  It would have to be really good if it is the perfect opposite of the love, or lust, of money.  With the verse I am writing about today I come up with the great pursuit and treasure of what can be experienced on earth: God’s holiness.

This is where Jesus is coming in as the Sermon of The Mount is coming to a close.  It should be noted that as Jesus is nearing the end of this sermon there is a more intentional groundwork for the disciples hearing it so that they will have an informed discipleship conscience that syncs with the sacramental life of the Church that will emerge.

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6).

Jesus wants a hedge of protection around the Church.  That which is holy must retain its value.  Would like it if a billion dollars rained down on Phoenix tomorrow?  Sure!  I would be ecstatic! Until I tried to  buy my favorite car with my handful of cash and it costs $30,000,000.

The early Church had something to say about this verse in the Didache.  Historians place the date of this document typically no later than the turn of the 2nd century and as early as the 40’s.

“Allow no one to eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized in the name of the Lord. For concerning this, the Lord has said, ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs’ ” (Didache 9:5).

Is this mean?  No.  It is not against any group of people because being a wanderer like a dog or self-indulgent like a pig, in view of the Church, was an equal opportunity state to be in.  Jesus is for holiness always and wants it to be hemmed in properly.  Someone that has been baptized is not a wanderer but has been found and adopted and transformed fundamentally through baptism.

“And even though our gospel is veiled, it is veiled for those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 4:3).

or throw your pearls before swine—-I can only guess, but I know in 1 Corinthians 3 Paul speaks of our works being tested in the fire of God at the end of the age.  These could be considered ones good works.  Good works are fine, but casting them out to the be noticed by man more than God is operating the gifts of God for the wrong reasons.  Another “pearl” that the Christian could see in this verse is the general experience of the mystical in the Christian life.  To live more fully as a Christian is to live in the great mystery of being a disciple of Jesus.  To pass this on to the self-indulgent who want gratification of the flesh and want it now is unrealistic and a setup for being crushed.

So have you been baptized? Great!  But if you are living in the flesh more than spirit, then like a pig was not be consumed in the nation of Israel of the old covenant, neither are you to be consumed or to consume in the Eucharist.

But to be cleansed from piggishness?  That is different. “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing” (1 John 1:8-9).

There is always hope for even the worst sinner. In 1 Corinthians there was a young man sleeping with his step-mother.  Paul took exception to that and he was cast out.  But the young man repented and with the same zeal Paul spoke out that he was to be received back.  The young man did not like living out of his spiritual home.  One could say he was tired of acting like a pig.

Or take the Prodigal Son.  His rock bottom had him in the mud with the actual pigs.  But he knew where his father’s house was and did something about it.  He came back repentant and regained the wholeness of his inheritance.  He received gifts from his father that spoke of authority (the ring), favor (the robe), good footing for the future (a Greek word for fancy shoes was used for that part),  a slain, fatted lamb (communion) and a party (a group celebration of reconciliation).  These do not belong to a prodigal in the pig pen but they do belong to the child of God who comes home.

And for me there is a renewal for my coming home at least each Sunday.  As a part of the liturgy I say each week before receiving the Eucharist, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.  But only say the words and my should shall be healed.”

If there was no scandal to me stealing from orphans, being unrepentant about it and “getting” the Eucharist then what would be holy about the gifts of God?  I would be my own God and the Church would be an afterthought or self-generated goose bump.  But by the grace of God, I know who He is and know what I am not.  And so I ask Jesus to say the words….



Disorientation.  Nobody likes that.  We spin around too much so that we get dizzy and we can’t wait until we feel planted again.  I do not know how fighter pilots deal with the vertigo as they fight for what is up and down.

So where is God when we feel spiritually disoriented?  How do we find the presence of Jesus? If we think He is distant, who moved?  But if we find Him again, what do we do next?

In the case of Peter, he hurt ever since Jesus was arrested and his own denials of Him.  One time could be explained away as an impulse sort of.  Three times is the anti-charm making Peter feel like he was close to the anti-Jesus or worse. 

But Jesus was out for mercy and not vengeance.  Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it; doing it one soul at a time.  In His first appearance to the apostles he renews this message but now in the power of the cross and the resurrection. 

John 20:21 “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

But in his heart, Peter may have asked, “But will my sins be retained? Have I committed the unforgivable sin? Do I deserve to be in the new normal of this forgiveness that he talks about?” 

But the next day Jesus relentlessly pursues this lovable fisherman right in his territory. 

JOHN 21: 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.”

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.”

 Jesus is into meals.  He says in Revelation that he stands at the door and knocks.  If you open the door then He and His Father will come in and dine with you. So there He is standing on firm ground.  The way is clear for Peter to come closer without hesitation. 

 A few things have always confused me about this story.  One is that Peter takes his cloak into the water with him.  He is weighted down in the water more than if he had stayed less clothed. 

 What I get is dedication.  Jesus said many times before that if you want to follow Him but are looking back, then you are not worthy to be His disciple.  I am thinking now that Peter did not want to get to Jesus and then tell Him to hold on until he gets his cloak.  Peter had the attitude, knowing only that Jesus is Lord, that to set himself up for total dedication this time would have to be holistic. 

 The other thing that confused me is the 153 fish detail.  What is the big deal about the exact number?  When I was reading this passage in my Ignatius Study Bible, Curtis Mitch wrote, “The number of fish hauled ashore is symbolic.  St. Jerome claims that Greek zoologists had identified 153 different kinds of fish (Comm. In Ez. 14, 47).  If this is the background, the episode anticipates how the apostles, made fishers of men by Christ (Mt 4:19), will gather believers from every nation into the Church.”

 I would go a bit further with a lens for typology or a symbolic point of view.  Before I do, I should tell the reader if they do not know already that I am a new and old believer.  I want to be up front that I have been a follower of Jesus for over thirty years but now I am also a new Catholic.  I wear Catholic glasses much of the time and appreciate the life of Simon Peter in these blogs both as a fellow sinner saved by grace and as the first pope. 

 Peter was not only the chief apostle but that day the chief pursuer of Jesus by diving toward him.  While he was pursuing Jesus, the other apostles brought in the catch of the day.  But the fish coming to Jesus was put into the hands of Peter.  Peter has them in his hands in a net that should not stay together but does.    

 By design this pope or any pope is called to set the best example of pursuing the presence, thought and intent of Jesus.  The fish are the nations and the pope is delegated to be the chief fisher of men if Jesus is not on the boat.  His helpers on the boat called earth cast out the net, and bring in this world of different peoples that should be divided but are not.  The pope presents the world to Jesus because the world is his assigned diocese. 

 So as Peter heads off to breakfast after a rough graveyard shift, he is getting the hint that yes, this grace thing, it is for him too.  Hopping out of my time machine I would tell Peter to go to breakfast boldly knowing that there is always a place for him, and us, at the Masters table.