Hear How I Think, Then What I Believe

misunderstandingRECURRING KEY TERMS

Five years ago this fall my world got rocked.  I flipped through the channels one night and stumbled on a show called Genesis to Jesus.  It was an interview show focused on a theologian and his book about God’s covenant approach to humanity that is shown up as a family.  I was intrigued and kept watching that show.  I then bought one of his books.  Then another.  The attempt at approaching these subjects were not new to me but were in my experience where I thought I had “figured out” things by my comfortable Protestant experience.  What was new here is that I could see God’s divine plan for saving the world through the heart of the Catholic Church.   I revealed to my wife where my discernment was drawing me and after a month of prayer and study of both the Bible and history I was received into the Catholic Church.  In the words of former Pentecostal pastor turned Catholic deacon “I had to.  How do you look truth in the face and say, ‘No, can’t do it’?”  My wife joined me after her own discernment process in 2014. 

But it was not always smooth.  There was tension in my household.  Tension with my friends.And tension in my mind.  I would watch Youtube debates between Catholics and Protestants and found myself disturbed with some wording of Catholics not rightly put in context and anecdotal stories from ex-Catholics who “know by experience”.  Below I list some of the fine points that were helpful for me to consider in the intellectual part of my journey. 

Homecoming versus conversion- – I prefer to say that I am not a Catholic convert.  That is like saying I am an immigrant from Oregon to Arizona.  I would be demeaning Oregon and I would really be not be speaking to the nature of those two subjects accurately.  If someone was Catholic and became Protestant they left one Christian fellowship to another and did not “get saved out of the Catholic Church”.  I consider my journey as one of coming home to the spiritual soil of what was founded and kept from error by the Lord Jesus Christ.  I want to stress those last two points as something I have seen through my study of scripture, prayer and research of the early church writings. 

Both/and instead of either/or- – One of the chief attacks against the Catholic Church and also Protestant communities with traditional theology of morals with human affairs is that things have to be seen as one thing or another.  Frequently this is a false dichotomy.  Either you support gay marriage or you want the gas chamber for gays.  Either you want people free to know Jesus purely or you want to talk about sacraments.  Either you go to Jesus to forgive your sins or you go to a priest.  I would suggest that the answer to these emotional dares above is both/and or neither.  False dichotomies end the conversation before it gets a chance to breath.  There is a great need for the Holy Spirit to illuminate where two seeming paradoxes can coexist. 

“with” instead of “through” in a derogatory sense- This goes a bit with the both/and but I bring this up because the Catholic Church is misunderstood to have saints who usurp the centrality of Jesus Christ in Christianity.  I often consider being a very comfortable airplane passenger knowing that the captain is in charge and that there is a co-pilot.  The co-pilot participates but is not in command and that is alright.  “There is one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus”.  I can still say amen to that knowing that all Christians are called to raise up petitions to heaven for each other, the world and specifically even civil authorities.  Christians can do that informed by the scriptures and as co-laborers with Christ and co-heirs in Christ. As for celestial beings in heaven being involved in that, there is scriptural precedence where it says in Revelation “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).    

“ancient and enduring” instead of old– – – A common argument in modernism that newer ideas are better.  Along with that, since new ideas may have a fresh car smell then the old ideas can be emotionally dismissed and may err in suspending their critical thinking skills. 

But some ideas that are old and maintained for hundreds or thousands of years are still believed because they work.  The Catholic Church has not only endured past the 2,000 while empires have lived and even opposed them but while ideologies would come and go.  This includes ideologies that were supposed to eclipse the Catholic Church into the dustbin of history. 

faith versus reason. There are too many ludicrous assertions to count that I alone have heard on this one.  One example I have heard a year ago was that the more religious one is the lower their IQ is and vice-versa.  That’s a worthy debate one could have hypothetically with Pope John Paul II in one of his 14 languages.  He casts a wide net that sees the beauty of faith and reason in an integrated point of view. 

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (John Paul II, Fides Et Ratio, 1998). 

Later in his encyclical he calls out several scientific disciples including the social and the physical that are integral to the development of mankind.  He expresses hope for informed consciences and not any supposed shackles of religion dictating like a micro-manager.  Has all religion been so nice?  Not even time but the high majority of the Catholic tradition is actually good at picking their battles on what is a big deal.  As to my Protestant brothers I can assert that the Catholic Church greatly fosters critical thinking. 

What does the Catholic Church actually teach rather than what you have heard? – – Someone close to me that was angry that I went from Protestant to Catholic quoted a narrative that he heard second hand that proved that Catholics worship Mary.  When someone hears something outlandish of what is infallibly or even authoritatively taught by the Catholic Church they are better served by going to the Catechism of The Catholic Church.  Frankly, deciding what the Catholic Church by some layperson comment account or even ones childhood memories falls short of inquiry fitting Christian conduct. 

Community balance instead of either individualistic or collectivist- – When I was a new Catholic I met with the second highest deacon in my diocese regarding formation of future deacons.  I mentioned that it seems like I now need to go from an individualized experience of Christianity to an collectivist one that resembles something not of western culture.  He kindly corrected me and informed me that it is really a matter of community which is neither extreme. 

Language of theology and language of love.- – My early discernment into the Catholic Church nearly was stopped in its tracks when I saw a debate on Youtube on Marian devotion.  The quotes used by the Protestant certainly seemed worded like Mary is an object of worship.  Over time I came to realize that in Catholic expression of truth there are metaphors that I can call the language love.  An example I use sometimes is that if I was doctor in astrophysics and said that the sun rises and falls on my children it would be interpreted as my devotion as a father and not my estimate on solar events. 

As I begin to write this it is a few month from what my Protestant brothers and sister will celebrate as the “Reformation”.  Debates may spike even more for awhile but I pray that cooler heads will prevail and the Catholic Church can be taken in context rightly for how it thinks and talks rather that stereotypes. 

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Nothing of Importance Happened Today

Walking on a roadA day in our lives that we say that nothing happened is really a matter of perspective.  “Nothing of importance happened today” was written in the journal of King George III on July 4th, 1776.   Any American reader of that quote would say that this was the day America declared its independence from England and that king was missing a vital perspective.

Every big enterprise will be built on dramatic event days but also those days when they were just on the way. So too did the new disciples of Jesus that first week that he stopped being an plain carpenter.  Walking with him on the road to a wedding, there were various thoughts they must have had from their respective experiences.  One can imagine what they thought their first encounters with Jesus might mean.

Day One some were prepared by the prophetic for the Lamb—prophetic in the sense of a sampler of the fulness to truth to come.  It is a preparation for truth and putting down the sins that would blind our eyes. On that day it was also pointed out that precious paradigms and even personal places of power were about to be shifted.  Some heard this and stayed for more.

Day Two some saw Jesus “fulfill all righteousness” as they “Beheld the Lamb” being baptized- – Sacramental experience of Jesus by Jesus.  God works to show us his ways through the material.  It is to be heavenly minded while in the context of the earthly goods.

Day Three- – Some saw Jesus as someone to dwell with and therefore fellowshipped with the Lamb- Holy Friendship. One only knows more if they come and see.

Day Four- Some saw Jesus as one who calls one to a personal mission of service to Jesus and his kingdom.- Ongoing obedience.

Day Five- Jesus invited the openness of hard inquiry  or to examine the Lamb- – Contemplation.  Ongoing engagement of reason is not an enemy of faith.  “The Truth, which is Christ, imposes itself as an all-embracing authority which holds out to theology and philosophy alike the prospect of support, stimulation and increase (Fides Et Ratio, para.92).

Day 6-  One may be quick to look at these ways to experience Christ as their favorite or objectively the best.  I would suggest that the initial and ongoing follower of Jesus Christ needs them all; all of the above are treasured in the heart and are part of something akin to a flashpoint of conversion.

Day 7-   The conversion of the heart.  One now believes in Jesus with willingness to obey.  You are a friend of Jesus and a witness of the wedding that is far above the one that is studies in the verses below.

What we can deduce this day is that the followers of Jesus were on the road to a wedding.  Taking a step back in a read of the whole Bible, so are all who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ.  We are all on the road to a wedding, at the wedding below or some of both.  In fact, at the end of time, the reality in fulness is in the wedding supper of the Lamb “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” (Revelation 19:7).

In the meantime, not all of the disciples going with Jesus have the same experiences.  Peter joined on day four for example.  A question could be asked on which of those experiences can prepare his disciples the best for the first miracle of the ministry.  I propose that it is  a matter of time that they learned all of these approaches are valid. They are all crucial before either an individual or group faith can have a fulness of response to Jesus.  And at least some have to be developed to approach Jesus with the fulness of “prayer and petition” (Philippians 4:6) so that the consciousness of the person and nature of Jesus is rightly formed.

On the way to any upcoming consolation of the Lord, the embracing of the meaning of such an encounter with Jesus is indeed of great importance.  There would be one person in this upcoming wedding that is undergirded by the characteristics outlined above.  But this person would not be a fisherman or a scholar or hermit.  Instead there is an example for us by a lovely middle aged woman, likely a carpenter’s widow, from Nazareth. And her formation was a process.

The Day 1 of Mary- – Her fiat (Luke 1:46-55), like what John the Baptist spoke of, included how God was going to bring in a new paradigm that would bring the lowly up and bring the self-exalted low.

The Day 2 of Mary- – Mary and Joseph honored the Lord in how the child who opened her womb was born.  Thus there was a sacrifice of turtledoves which like the baptism of Jesus was a means to “fulfill all righteousness” in the sense of connecting to the covenantal nature of God’s favor as revealed up to that time(Luke 1:22-24).  But yet we know that the grace of God was at work before that or any other works on Mary because grace is in God’s initiative and that action was reflected in Mary’s first encounter with the kingdom of heaven when approached by Gabriel the archangel.  He said “Hail, Full of Grace” (Luke 1:28). This is best translated as a royal greeting with “hail” and that she had been perfected in a past action up to that point by grace.

The Day 3 of Mary- – She dwelled with Jesus.  But Jesus first dwelled in her.  Christianity is not meant to be based on externals first with a subsequent external motivation.  God is indwelling when we give permission.

The Day 4 of Mary- – “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  A mission was given to her and she said yes.  That was the power in her life and everything else followed from that.  Saying yes for the mission was a cooperation with the Holy Spirit in which Christ is formed in her.  That is how the person of Jesus was expressed in Mary and in principle for us.

The Day 5 of Mary- – She loved God with her mind and engaged that way in asking how she could get pregnant when “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man(Luke 1:34)?”  One teaching is that she was determined to not know a man because of a perpetual consecration of virginity.  But her engagement of reason was still informed by faith as she “pondered [contemplated] these things in her heart”. (Luke 2:19,51). Her use of critical thinking and humility are good for an example of fully integrated faith and reason.

Jesus and his disciples are on their way to a wedding in Cana.  They were about to see the first miracle of Jesus through the intercession and collaboration of the disciple with the most extravagant love for him who was also his mother with 30 years of a relationship with him.  Every day that we are open to such principles in relationship to Jesus Christ is is a day we can say something “of importance happened today”.  You never know what may happen next. But you will know that Jesus is king.

Guadalupe

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.

Indefectability

Old Church

I heard a striking story once that nailed the continuity of Christianity to a T.  Tim Staples was on a place once seated next to a young, polite mormon man who had just finished his two years of missionary service.  One of the stances of the Mormon Church is that Christianity started in its pristine shape but then became apostate.  Along came the prophet Joseph Smith who restored what was dead.

On this theme, Staples had some follow up questions on that point.  He asked him “Is ‘all scripture God-breathed’ and is ‘useful’ like it says in 2 Timothy 3:16?”.  He answered yes.  Then he took him to the following passage that most people do not think about.

 “If your brother[l] sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector (Matthew 18:15-17).

His wise follow ups after the young man said this passage were: Is this also applicable?  “Yes!” Was it applicable 5 years ago?  50?  Yes.  Yes.  In 1790?

Then the young man’s face was downcast.  1790 was thirty years before his beloved prophet had his revelation.  So before that, even if one could say there could be more than one valid Christian, there would be nowhere to settle disputes.  The young man was discouraged and a seed was planted that there had to be some kind of Christian community that was both visible and authoritative from Jesus’ passion until now.

And that is the crux of how that argument comes down to: the reliability of Jesus depends in part on a continuity of an institution that keeps existing and has authority in faith and morals.  This is why Jesus said  “upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  Apostasy?  No match unless one believes that Jesus was a liar, lunatic or combination of that with legend.

There is more to this ongoing church.  It is to carry on the proper glory given in worship to God.  “Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).  So, how can an apostate church bring glory to God?

The other mission of the church that is meant to keep going is being a witness to the grace of God.

that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them (Ephesians 2:7-10).

Notice those words “might show” and “we should live in them” are to be ongoing and not just for Paul’s day.  The context is set up as “the ages to come”.  So God does not get what he wants?  Or, again, does God do this through an apostate church?

And then there is the matter of Mary.  According to scripture there has to be some level of veneration of Mary through all the generations. “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’ “ (Luke 1:46-48).

So in every generation there needs to be a people who are giving some reverence to Mary the mother of Jesus.  We have this recorded in the word of God in her conversation with an angel.  If this was conceit on her part about “all ages” then surely Gabriel would have set her straight to make sure no one would worship her.  But yet one can find veneration to her among the Anglicans, Catholics, Coptics and Eastern Orthodox.

Next, there needs to be a perpetual teaching office for any kingdom to continue that is rooted in a spiritual line.  We learn from the Old Testament that there was a teaching office in the magisterium, scriptures and tradition.  Jesus gave us the apostles who carried on the Old Testament and had tradition that would pass on something orally “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).  This includes the proper celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11) that is what we know through the early church fathers as the Eucharist.  When Jesus said in the gospels that his blood is true drink and his flesh is true food (John 6) and that “This is my body” he meant it and commissioned a church government to regulate the distribution of himself in the Eucharist.

Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God… They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” —Letter to the Smyrnans, Ch 6. 107 AD.

He was on his way to be martyred when he wrote this. He was the third bishop of Antioch. The first city where the word Christian was used.

But the teaching office?  We have the word of God!  Scripture alone!  Nor really.  If you look at Acts 1 the apostles replace Judas with Mathias.  He never wrote an epistle just like most of the apostles but in that chapter they quote the psalms about another taking his office.  In quoting the Greek translation of the Old Testament the word for office is where we get episcopate as in that which a bishop holds.  You then see that Paul later tells Timothy to set up bishops who would guard the deposit of faith and would spread that to still more people setting the stage for four generations alone (2 Timothy 2:2).

Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.  Ignatius Letter to the Smyrnans.  107 AD.

In fact, it was bishops that organized the final canon of scripture even more generations later in the late 300’s.  Bishops of that confederation belonged to lines of apostolic succession that are now called Catholic, Coptic and Eastern Orthodox.

But in that council, not the first of its kind, the organized canon was not official without Pope Damasus I presiding over it in 382 and Pope Innocent I finalizing in 405.  Even then the historical residence of the Pope was in Rome (look further back to the 90’s with I Clement the letter).  The bishops could not have anything officially infallible without the say so of the Bishop of Rome.

At this point I would like to get back to the rock and church reference in a fuller context.

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you [singular], Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 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. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16: 16-19).

Peter would be a new royal steward and chief of the new magisterium of the New Israel.  Anyone else that would come up as a new bishop for centuries to come would be defaulted to be approved by Peter or whoever would take also his office with the same logic as Matthias replacing Judas.  In other words, papal succession went with apostolic succession.

“ ‘Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.’ “(Luke 22:31-33).  The word here for strengthen is not just a pep talk.  He would confirm them.  As much as I appreciate the janitor staff of where I went to school, for them to confer on my parchment at graduation would be inappropriate.  Someone of a higher standing than me in that university handed that to me.  In this era, it is common to lift high the banner of “spiritual but not religious” but make no mistake: Jesus is religious, he founded a church and it is hierarchical. I have been the chief of the supposed “spiritual” argument.  But as you can see in what I have outlined above, I believe I have encountered Christ in the context of a a 2,000 year old, Marian spirituality, Petrine governing, authoritative, transcendent called out community.   I am home.

Breadcrumbs To Bread

Guadalupe

 

No decent person wants to be a male chauvinist.  Among the cries for justice in the post-modern era there is a cry against patriarchy in the face of authority structures that have kept women bound up from living their full potential.  Who would want to be a part of a belief system, let alone and organized system, that oppresses women?

This conundrum increased for me in 2010-2012 when I was dealing with two identities: one working on an undergrad in social work and identifying myself as a born-again Christian who took the Bible as the word of God.

A prevalent theory I was exposed to was Critical Theory.  The emphasis was on the social implications that is imposed on those who are disenfranchised whether intentionally or not and how that can create hardship.   In this way of looking at things there is a pseudo- holy trinity of race, class and gender.

In focussing on gender as a point of oppression from the privileged, the gender implications gave me a challenge as a Christian.  As a Christian I would use the terms The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.  At first glance the first two were easily seen as male and enough of a close look shows the Holy Spirit as male too.  Furthermore, the New Testament indicates that only men are of authority in the carrying on the Christian faith.  I asked sometimes if God was a chauvinist or if he allowed early representatives to be ones.  If the answer is yes to either, is there not a clear contradiction for my then growing two identities?  And if I could say no to both, am I being intellectually honest in light of what I had been informed by?

In 2012 I began an investigation into The Catholic Church. Early on I used the non-scientific method of looking at Youtube videos of debates between Catholic and Protestant apologetics.  Among the subjects were the doctrines about the Virgin Mary.  See the link here https://youtu.be/Xs7QaHFvtvY

I went into looking at the debate with an open but intrigued mind.  If half of what I had been starting to hear on Catholic radio about Mary was true then there could be a very feminine touch to Christianity as interpreted by the Catholic Church.  However, the Protestant apologist made it seem like Mary is made into a goddess and easy made into a distraction from devotion to Jesus.  Either Jesus or Mary with the implied choice by Mr. White.  By being swayed by this argument I took a step back to look at other dogmas first.

But further research eventually reassured me.  I read Hail, Holy Queen by Dr. Scott Han and much later Behold, Your Mother by Tim Staples.  Looking at their scholarship and adding my own (albeit an amateur) I came to the conclusion that the dogmas about Mary are everything that the Catholic Church says they are.  To see what I have written on a few of them, see the following.

http://wp.me/p3jICb-92

http://wp.me/p3jICb-8Z

But beyond seeing Marian dogmas in a theological point of view is how this effects my relationship to Jesus.  First, asking Mary for intercession, looking at her example and seeing her as a queen is all based on the merits of Jesus.  In one sense she is like any other servant of Jesus in that she the good she is and does is in light of Jesus.  In fact, in using light of the son as a an analogy I would say that just as the moon only reflects and does not take from the sun, neither does Mary take away from Jesus.  True Catholic Mariology is only going to point to Jesus.

Let all the children of the Catholic Church, who are so very dear to us, hear these words of ours. With a still more ardent zeal for piety, religion and love, let them continue to venerate, invoke and pray to the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, conceived without original sin. Let them fly with utter confidence to this most sweet Mother of mercy and grace in all dangers, difficulties, needs, doubts and fears. Under her guidance, under her patronage, under her kindness and protection, nothing is to be feared; nothing is hopeless. Because, while bearing toward us a truly motherly affection and having in her care the work of our salvation, she is solicitous about the whole human race. And since she has been appointed by God to be the Queen of heaven and earth, and is exalted above all the choirs of angels and saints, and even stands at the right hand of her only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, she presents our petitions in a most efficacious manner. What she asks, she obtains. Her pleas can never be unheard.   (Pope Pius IX Ineffabilis Deus 1854).

She is given a place of high honor as the theotokos, the God-bearer, according to the Council of Ephesus in 431.  Those who stood in that day against that title and called her the Chrisotokos, the Christ-bearer, were only seeing her as giving birth to Jesus in her human nature.  The latter proponents were called Arians and they did not see Jesus as an eternal being.  They were heretics.

The gift of God to the world through the Catholic Church is the grace of Jesus Christ who is 100% God and 100% man.  But this gift has been historically understood in developed articulation of a Sacred Tradition truth to be through Mary.  She is the gebirah, the Great Lady, as the mother of the kings in the line of David were called.

Lastly, she stands as an example of devotion to God in her purity for the individual and the Church to ponder for eschatological (end times theology) purposes.  She being full of grace kept her virginity to God alone as a standard for the pure and spotless Bride that Jesus will come back for.

And so with much of this informing my conscience, I went forward in my investigation into the Catholic Church.  Not the only stumbling block for me on the way by any means but a crucial one.  The marian dogmas reinforced to me a Holy God with a holistic gospel through a holy church to a whole world.

For People Seeking Wholeness

Adoration-of-the-Magi

To think of goodwill from God to the world is to think universally.  I remember fondly from my old church in Portland, Oregon called Imago Dei (Image of God) how the slogan was “to take the whole gospel to the whole world”.  That summed up much of what is intended in the brighter spots to Christian history.

But Christian history has to have a template and God gives one in the gospel.  As wonderful as it was for Peter to be the first person to preach the gospel post-resurrection that is not the first example touched by the presence of the Divine.

And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9-11).

These magi were spiritual seekers.  They had a mixed bag of what had been figured out before discerning the star of Bethlehem but it seems clear that they had humility going for them quite well.

They were overjoyed at seeing the star—- Why does it say they were overjoyed at the end and not at the beginning of their journey?  It is is simply because there was a sense of fulfillment in that the star had taken them to the fulfillment of all their desire to see this great king.  This fulfillment, like any true spiritual fulfillment, is in the discerning of Jesus and his will.

on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother—- With the perspective we have now of semitic peoples for centuries leading up to that time we can apply what we know of the role of the queen mother.  The recognition of hierarchy in the royal courts of those people had a place for the queen mother that was higher in distinction than the king’s wife.  Joseph was not chopped liver but they knew that the infant was a fully endowed king and thus no figurative crown on his head.  Mary, however is named because she would be the gaberah (great lady) as the queen mother would be know.  Matthew had the proper theological hindsight to note it this way.

They prostrated themselves and did him homage— This is where discerning how Jesus is Lord turns into action.  Seek him.  Find him.  Worship him.  In prostrating they lay themselves down on the ground in vulnerability and surrender.

opened their treasures and offered him— Recall the words of Jesus where he said where your treasure is there is your heart also.  This is their gateway action example for us on going from servile fear like a slave to relationship.  Relationship is the heart of the gospel.

gifts of gold—- St. Ireneus stated in Against Heresies that gold is a symbol of royalty, frankincense is in the latria (worship) of God and myrrh Jesus’ humanity.  It is also noteworthy according the Ignatius Study Bible that myrrh was used to anoint levitical priests for service.  In summary, this interpretation could point to those symbols of speaking of Jesus as God incarnate and as a royal priest.

I began this commentary about the whole gospel to the whole world.  It is fitting to point out two things that we learn from this passage.  If one were to take away one element of the three gifts of the magi you would have an incomplete teaching of the completeness in Jesus being Lord and Savior.  No divinity means that his atonement has a limit to at best a year since his priesthood and sacrifice would be of a finite being.  No royalty means that Jesus cannot reign in our hearts much less the world.  And if one were to take away Jesus’ humanity we would not be seeing a chance of adoption in Christ through the gospel.  All of Jesus must be presented by his Church and it must be unwavering.

The second thing I would point out that just as there is a holistic vision of Jesus to be appreciated there is a holistic treatment by God to the world that is implied.  These magi were easterners but they were led by a miracle and the rays of truth in their hearts to encounter Jesus the Son of David.  On the first day that Jesus drew non-amniotic fluid breath there is a chance for the world to come and adore him.  He is always the same and never changing.  The invitation each day, each season is there to give him our all as he gave his all.  It is no coincidence that Bethlehem means house of bread and Jesus described himself in the bread as broken for all who would have salvation in him.

What is stopping us in turn from the chance to come and adore Jesus?  If we see him as distant, who moved?  And if you see a star guiding you out of your comfort zone towards Jesus, even if it is that small voice in your heart, what is lost and gained if you go with that?  These are the questions worth the asking in all ages.

Falling On The Sword

02-Simeon

I have often wondered where the thorns are for the roses in our lives.  For some who are looking for meaning there is an expectation that meaning and destiny needs to be forged into something that is only sweet and God forbid bittersweet.

 “The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce)[ so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:33-35).

Here is where the bittersweet comes in.  In what was written by Luke previously could be reduced to a nice Christian Hallmark card of a sweet old man who holds and blesses sweet baby Jesus who would grow up to be a sweet blessing for the world.  Do those perceptions still hold true? Yes but not by themselves.  The Good news has to have the hard news on its coattails.

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him— It is an important starting point in being a disciples of Jesus, which is what Joseph and Mary would amount to, in being amazed.  I am not talking about goosebumps.  They come and go in if we rely on those for our turning points in the Divine we will be putting God into a performance position.  God is not our clown but where his thinking is above our thinking it will inherently blow our minds.

and Simeon blessed them—-  If there could be any last anesthetic for the hard news of being a disciple of Jesus it is that God intends to bless you.  He wants to bless the world and will preface words and deeds with that bias.

Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel—- This is notable when we consider that Simeon has now directed his comments to only Mary the mother who would likely be the only one of those two when Jesus would come into his ministry.  Mary is a humble young woman in a backwater town but of great significance as we have seen in the eyes of God.  Being full of grace as we can see in the original Greek as a past and completing act she stands as an icon of God flipping over the paradigms that the carnal mind would be predisposed to.

and to be a sign that will be contradicted—  Jesus would be intertwined with the message of the cross.

but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).

It is fitting that Mary get this message.  She had been told “The Lord is with you” and Blessed are you among women” which historically were military conquest phrases.  Through Jesus who she had born the universal message of the Cross through the Church would rock the world.

and you yourself a sword will pierce—- But first Jesus and the cross would rock her world.  For some who have seen the Passion of the Christ they come away that it could also be of Mary’s passion in seeing her son die on the cross.  Her hope was in God but her heart was broken that her son would suffer.  But for the good of the world would she still cooperate with that?  In a way she did later when she brokered the logistics for Jesus to start his ministry in changing water to wine.

so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed— This is important because Jesus in the gospel brings in many turning points who encounter the message and what it calls for.  This “sign” would change everything in conversion because the word of God exposes those things that are and are not of God and necessitates our own turning points.

“Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart”  (Hebrews 4:12).

As Christ is experienced in the fullest, much is illuminated.  The soul and spirit is the psyche of our lives versus the God-life that is given to us.  The joints and marrow is about our means of accessing life and fulfillment.  Are the means ordered or disordered?  And as for reflections and thoughts of the heart, that is the crux of treasuring in our hears the baby Jesus, the Nazarene Jesus, The Risen Jesus and the Coming Jesus.  We must always remember, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).