Called to Conversion And Unity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Reflection On Will–Reboot

Cooperation

Do to some different personal variable that have happened in my life the last few weeks, this is my first time that I have wanted to do editing of a post after it is posted.  Call it a lesson for me in humility since I like to leave my work alone when I have supposedly “figured it out”.  Nevertheless, I hope that this is an encouragement to those who read the first version and those new to my writing.

It is no small thing to figure out what God’s will is, even  a piece of it, and go forward in life in accordance with it.  I might compare it to eating an elephant: one bite at a time.

Assuming the hearers know what the will of God is, Jesus includes this in the teaching of “The Our Father”.  What is more, Jesus teaches the hearers to ask for it to be done as follows.

“Your kingdom come.

Your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

The concept of God’s will being done should be understood first that God is love.  The first way to misunderstand what God’s will is is having a wrong premise of how He is love.  The type of love God is in the Greek is “Agape” which is divine, unlimited, unselfish love and always in the context of giving.  Even in the trinity the members defer to one another in an eternal loop.  Just looking at John 3:16 we see, “God so loved the world that He sent…” you likely know the rest.  Within the communion of the Trinity the Father initiates and the Son reciprocates and the Holy Spirit proceeds always from both (the ancient word for this was the Filioque).  Time does not exist for these three Who’s of The Divine What.  This love with deference for the other two is in an eternal “now”.  And thus the identity of “The I AM”.

But the world we live in is not made of agape.  It is made of eros.  Eros could be translated as, “I love you..based on what I can get out of you”.  With this is a blindness so par for the course with sin.  It is to instead defer to ones instant gratification so much that when Jesus comes on the scene their hatred was considered from the blindness of their hearts and because their deeds were evil.  The evil deeds were part of a perpetual cycle of self-love that costs everything of a soul.  Jesus pinpointed on this about “gaining the world but losing your soul”.

So with that in mind, God wants to remedy this situation with creation coming into that communion as described above which is His will.  How has this been explored?

1:  All man’s effort.  Work for it in the midst of vague hints and the spiritual elite are full of the stuff to ascend to that.  This does not work because God is love and does not create people to be elitists.  This is why Plegianism was condemned at the papal level in the 400’s.

2:  God coerces.  This would be God blowing our socks off by interupting life everywhere and every way.  This would be so imposing that the independent will of the individual is hampered and faith stops being a substance.

3: The still small voice of God in universal truth with a universal message with a universal community in mind that works in cooperation with God’s will.  Though I appreciate my conversions experience to Jesus as a boy knowing Him as my, “personal Lord and Savior”, this is only a start.  God has a message of his will for salvation through a still, small voice but as Lord and Savior for the world the megaphone of the announcement of salvation is through the Catholic Church.  Through such a community God would use people in cooperation with Him.    When integrating The Magesterium, Tradition and Scripture, it shines bright as, “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

But how does cooperation with God’s will look for the individual? In the history of God redeeming the world there were important people with sin and they cooperated imperfectly.

Until you come to Mary of Nazareth.  She says, “Let it be done to me according to your word” in context of being told she would bear the Son of God.  She had been so filled with grace that there was not room for anything else: namely sin.  By her faith and work she is the “Mother of God” (Council of Ephesus, 431).

The conception happened in the context of her having been filled with grace unto a work of cooperation.  Are you filled with grace now?  Can you be?  Ask and see how God could call you in your own unique way to carry the grace and truth realized in Jesus Christ into the world around you.  You could lose the world, but gain your soul living fearlessly in holiness.

But another important point from the turning point person in salvation history is the simple message of Mary when speaking to the servants preparing the way for Jesus to change water to wine, “Do whatever He tells you”. We can do the former and declare the latter.

I have only addressed somewhat where we can come to a knowledge of God’s will and exhort others to His will but the heart of abiding and interceding in Christ is where both meet.  We abide as we “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:19) and are scandalized because our deeds are evil.  But if in humility and grace we get past that, the scandalous Christ on the cross becomes our righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21) and such an engrafted word of God will save our souls (James 1:21). It is perhaps because the wild ride of faith is so examplified through Mary that Jesus said to John on the cross, “Behold your mother” as she knew God as Savior connecting to our redemption.  The Father meet us in the process.

“How much more reason have we sinful creatures to learn obedience – we who in him have become children of adoption. We ask our Father to unite our will to his Son’s, in order to fulfill his will, his plan of salvation for the life of the world. We are radically incapable of this, but united with Jesus and with the power of his Holy Spirit, we can surrender our will to him and decide to choose what his Son has always chosen: to do what is pleasing to the Father (Catechism of The Catholic Church 2825).

The further we go in such union, the more in line we are in God’s purposes until salvation for the world is our highest prayer.    “Consider how Jesus Christ teaches us to be humble, by making us see that our virtue does not depend on our work alone but on grace from on high. He commands each of the faithful who prays to do so universally, for the whole world. For he did not say “thy will be done in me or in us,” but “on earth,” the whole earth, so that error may be banished from it, truth take root in it, all vice be destroyed on it, virtue flourish on it, and earth no longer differ from heaven”  (St. John Chrysostom, 4th century).   This is one boundary that we do want blurry when it is for the one between heaven and earth so that the Lord’s Prayer is fulfilled in and through us.

Where Love Can Rock The World

Augustus Tolton

I have been renewing my memory about a hero of mine.  He lived in the late 1800’s and suffered a lot of oppression for the color of his skin.  His name was Augustus Tolton and he was the first African-American priest ever.  Some people in his parish and all of the American Catholoc seminaries did not like the idea of him becoming a priest.  But that did not stop the priests and nuns of his community from sending him to be schooled in the Vatican.  He came back many years later speaking Latin, Italian and German and holding mass in Chicago.  Some priests told the parishioners that if they went to a mass that he held they could not say they had really gone to church.  Some of his fellow called him a priest with an ugly redial epithet attached.

But Father Augustus never let that get him down.  He was known to have a pattern of humility and forgiveness and be equally available to love and serve those who accepted him and those who did not.   He walked in a loving agenda when it was not convenient.

One day on a hill with his disciples Jesus laid down the gauntlet of loving not only your neighbor but also your enemy.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 

I remember years ago receiving some semi-formal education about eros love.  It is a Greek word that was used in different situations that included romantic love.  Although that could be a very clean romantic love, we also get the word erotic out of it.  A thread that is in that is, “I love you, based on what I can get out of you” if the eros love is an end in itself.

But if it is based on agape, the source and destination is contemplated in the person with such  a higher purpose.   Agape is love founded in the infinite, powerful intentions of God who wants the world to be reconciled to Him.  Agape has been ultimately demonstrated by the atonement by Jesus Christ on the cross.

Through the years, the Church had to walk out this thing about God’s love where it applied to their persecutors.  They forgave them and blessed them. And where it came to a persecutor responsible for Christian deaths, they had to learn to receive them when Saul of Tarsus become a Christian himself.  Years later as an apostle he penned these words.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

I heard Scott Hahn in an mp3 recently say that if Paul had applied himself to philosophy alone would have surpassed Plato and Aristotle.  Though I would not disagree with that assessment, his philosopher mind for this thing about love was at least as much from the University of Hard Knocks as it was any philosophical learning.  More specifically, Paul had years of formation as a Christian where the Church took him in and treated him like a brother.  Paul was simply passing on what he received in word and deed.

We will have our times where was have the opportunity to curse but must remember to bless in love instead.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This perfection is about being completed in the design of the Creator that we would love in accordance with His will as Father.  What father would want to see his children in a bitter loop with each other?  None.  By taking the cup of blessing in love, a choice that one can make in free will, the person that has does right in love and knows what love is would put flesh on this calling of Jesus and be a participant in the ongoing timeline of salvation for the world.   Acts of charity is nice.  Philosophy of charity is quaint.  But loving ones enemies is the calling of The Church to rock the world.

True Religion In The Time Of Paris

Jenga

As I write this there has been a recent series of terror attacks in France.  There has been talk about cultural sensitivity, freedom of expression and xenophobia since it was someone using their freedom of expression in a way that conflicted with someone’s religious point of view that precipitated the violence.

Such a conflict has prompted some people like comedian and social commentator Bill Maher to call religion the cause of evil and to be abandoned for the good of all.  After all, aren’t all religions alike?  Don’t they all involve hypocrisy when they say it is about perfection?

I will address the first question by saying that all religions have certain similarities in that, with one exception, they either collapse on themselves or contradict themselves in their most fundamental characteristics.  The reason why the do that is in that they do not have a balanced foundation of putting ones self last in light of both a Higher Power and their fellow human beings.  Within the religion of secular humanism there is the cry of justice from within its trinity of class, race and gender for revenge that calls itself justice.  Within pantheistic religions there is a disposable view of ones fellow man since reincarnation means being recycled.

The place to find such a balance is in what theologians call salvation history which can be defined as the successive line of unfolded truth and divine relationship initiative from Abraham until today as the Judeo-Christian body of faiths.  People that study the Old and New Testaments may wrongly come of the conclusion that it is alright to cherry pick from the wording in the Old Testament but not all or one could be extreme like the terrorists of the radical expression of militant Islam.  If those critics are right then this Judeo-Christian salvation history is like a door that falls off and gives one no proper entry way to this spiritual house.

However, I would posit that this door does not fall off because the hinge that it turns on is solid and keeps it on track and His name is Jesus Christ.  Remember, that the collapses of religions around the world happen because of a deficit in regard to the Higher Power and ones fellow human being.  Jesus Christ stands as both God and man, the main ingredients or subjects of discussion important and offers disciples past and present the opportunity to be connected to Him

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20).

Please notice how this passage answers the first question.  That is because we know that Jesus said when asked about the greatest commandment that it was to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength with the second to love your neighbor as yourself.  As for the terms “abolis” versus “fulfill” it is about this love being brought out for the world to know in His coming in baptism and perfected in suffering on the cross.  This is His ultimate commitment to us and surrender to the Father’s love for the world.

Now since this is born out, so a Christian believes, through the Christian people then one would think that hypocrisy should not be an issue.  I can say for sure that it is a problem but I am not seeing Jesus as an ineffective leader.  The reason is that when Christian hypocrites rise up, and I would call myself both at times, there is a point of reference in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ to come back to.  And there are always standard bearers that will lead such a believer, and an honest inquiring unbeliever straight home.  Such a home is referred to in other scripture as follows.

“… may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:

He was revealed in flesh,

vindicated in spirit,

seen by angels,

proclaimed among Gentiles,

believed in throughout the world,

taken up in glory.

So if you are reading this and wonder what good can be found in being a Christ follower and do so fully then I would say it is fine to be skeptical.  Be open minded in thinking about where your paradigms come from.  Just do not be a cynic and thus a disciple of Bill Maher. For if you consider what you may be missing, the joke could really be on you.

Meek Will Inherit The Earth

Meekness

I heard when I was a teenage that meekness is power held in control.  Most of what to keep ourselves in check.  But if it is for keeping up appearances then it is for the wrong reasons.  If we keep our power in check for only selfish reasons then it is really about something not so noble.  Maybe fear or playing politics.

But when we read a verse like “Blessed are the weak, for they shall inherit the earth”, what should it look like?

A baptist preacher named Martin Luther King Jr had something in mind.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Rules for Marchers:

1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus. As Christians we should always do this

2. Remember always that the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation, not victory. Jesus came for us all… we wrestle not against principalities and powers

3. Walk and talk in the manner of love; for God is love.

4. Pray daily to be used by God that all men might be free. Jesus sets us free.

5. Sacrifice personal wishes that all men might be free. What good does it do to gain the world yet lose our souls?

6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.

7. Seek to perform regular service for others and the world.

8. Refrain from violence in fist, tongue, and heart. We can do a lot of damage to people even by gossiping.

9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on demonstrations.

One should note that there is difference in having the attitude of meekness with your fellow man and having humility before God.  God cannot be directly faulted by a system by which we rightfully can hold Him accountable.  However, in this world there is room for expectations to have of someone to measure up to our own patterns on how to act.  Sometimes those expectations are right and sometime they are wrong.

But the funny thing in that verse is that is goes against the basic desires one has.  Inherit the earth?  Not conquer it?

To conquer territory or people is to love people with a false love.  Even to use people due to love of things.  Meekness is drawn to use things as a means to love people.  Ultimately in a later post I want to point out that ones noble suffering for the betterment of society is beautiful way to serve others.

But to inherit is based on the premise that someone owns the earth and has the right and full power to pass to whom He wishes.  Meekness that is spiritually based has a knowing that in putting others above themselves is to know in some way that your holding an animalistic level of power in control ties to respecting His love and authority.  This is at the expense of not being full of ourselves.  Sounds like being free at last to me.