Proposal For Conversion

The BeginningThis is a proposal I sent to an organization called Communion and Liberation.  They have an annual convention once a year called New York Encounter.  They are accepting proposals from people who have something to share that would fit with their theme.  A different theme each year.  For next year it is “something to start from”.  Hopefully what I write below fits.  It is attended by many people who are not necessarily Catholic or even Christian of any kind.  So I do speak in doctrinal terms here but hopefully in an approachable way.   

Enjoy,

Jason Miller

Greetings in Christ,

My name is Jason Miller, and I am a Catholic convert after over 30 years of practicing as a faithful and engaged protestant. Professionally, I am an Arizona-based therapist and my therapeutic approach is partly strengths-based in supporting clients towards their goals. In addition to my work as a therapist, I am also a certified catechist in the Diocese of Phoenix. 

My proposal for my exhibit is called “Critical Impressions in Conversion.”  I write, “Critical Impressions” due to first impressions of Jesus discipling people in the first week of His public ministry.  What could be limited to first impressions, I suggest, are to be always applicable “critical impressions” as Christians are called to ongoing conversion. 

In humanity we often are restless and repelled from conversion though it meets our  inner hunger summed up well by how “our hearts are restless for thee” (St. Augustine of Hippo). The chief traits of the gospel addresses this restlessness are how “God is with us” in the Incarnation, has “mercy on us” in the Cross, and continues victory in us by the Resurrection.  Grace can work in our hearts a conscious awareness of knowing Jesus is looking at us to engraft this reality in our souls.  It is in his gaze we know God wants holistic salvation as “grace perfects nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas).  A good place to start from.  Engagement in communion with Christ and the Church lifts up those parts that are meant to be fulfilled in him.  Guesses with reason alone point only to natural faculties of the person and lack the dimension of the “religious sense” that Fr. Giussanni wrote of. 

In my experience as a therapist, where I cannot explicitly refer to sin or share the gospel, behavioral sciences show the gaps in the person to be recognized then perfect in grace. I want to address several inner tensions to authentic conversion, and how they look if  they can be contextualized with grace.  I use an acronym to groups that approaches this with a neutral then strengths-based perspective. These concepts are in the acronym GOSCAMP:guilt, openness, skepticism, confusion, anxiety, manipulation and preparation.  These are the points of the human condition we are meant to meet Jesus and be changed in. What I do with each is show how each in the pure sense are neutral. 

The analogy I make is without being an athlete I can push a large truck down the road on one condition: put it in neutral for me.  So too can someone dealing with the factors below without a reminder in the right direction or too often in this fallen world in the wrong direction on these key points.  After having “de-neutralized” each, I challenge the hearer to drive slowly forward rather than staying neutral on those terms. 

But Jesus, if fully interpreted as Savior, addresses these things and so should the Church.  I thus point to the first week of Jesus’ public ministry to illuminate how the divine encounter of Jesus transforms the very fiber of our being.  This Chief Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25) does this work in the full presentation of gospel essentials, proper formation of the conscience and a mindfulness of his presence in our silence before him alone.

More substantively, for “something to start from” I will be pointing to the first days of Jesus discipling people in divine yet mundane encounters.  Below I outline how Jesus, who does not change, converses with the common struggles in humanity and draws them to himself.  So too can those who want more of the light of Christ can be discipled in and pass on to others like one beggar telling the other where to find bread.  These are indeed critical impressions by which conversion fits largely on the merit that Jesus does not change. 

Day One is the prophetic encounter with truth.  In this case it was John the Baptist  who shook up precious paradigms and even personal places of power meant to be shifted.  Some hear this today and stay for more.  Those who do stay choose the way of preparation for whatever comes next in the Lord.  It is to “make straight the paths of the Lord”.

Day Two- – Some saw Jesus “fulfill all righteousness” as they then would “Behold the Lamb” being baptized. We are meant for openness to see Jesus but on his terms.  God works to show us his ways in matter.  It is to be heavenly minded while in context of earthly good. These are like two rivers meant to flow together. Confusion is an initial reaction to this which can give way to see spirit and matter contradicting rather than complimentary like the gnostics. Grace perfects nature and makes them complimentary in contemplation. 

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” as Jesus said to his first followers.  At 4pm the future apostles John and Andrew went and stayed with Jesus. 

Day Four- Jesus here calls one to personal mission of service in his kingdom as happens with Peter.  In the early encounters of Jesus with Peter his struggle with guilt turns into shame.  Guilt is spiritual pain. Guilt is for the mistakes we make or the sins we have done against our conscience.  Shame says that we are a mistake putting us into spiritual shock and not seeing hope for change.   Ongoing mission, like in the early encounters with Peter, is key here in grace. Though Peter tells Jesus to get away from him with his “resume”, Jesus responds with mission.  Mission is manipulation redeemed for it educates us in the pure sense like pure education.  Education comes from educare which draws from within.  The calling of Jesus addresses how his life is walked out individually. 

Also the same day Jesus invited the openness of hard inquiry. Nathanael asked behind Jesus’ back if anything good could come out of Israel.  Jesus miraculously responded by complimenting him on his straightforward demeanor in place of “guile”.  While Ignatius of Loyola would call for contemplation, which is valid,  there is a beauty of skepticism. 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). Without skepticism, we are not stimulated. I could guess that he had anxiety, but his anxiety of Jesus that could have been on the exposing miracle, but changed to fear of the Lord.   

Days 5 and 6 on their way to a wedding in Cana-  One takes time in contemplation of Christ on their favorite angle of him.  I would suggest that the initial and ongoing follower of Jesus Christ needs them all like flashpoints of conversion.  To sum up on these points I would say the first and ongoing critical impressions of Jesus are preparation over stagnation, contemplation over confusion, communion over isolation, grace over shame, and skeptical seeking over blind cynicism. 

But not with Our Lady since she is best disciple of them all.  She asked “how can this be”? about conceiving as a virgin.  It says, twice “she pondered these things in her heart”. She had a sense of esteem in God’s love in saying “I am the Lord’s servant”.  These first impressions of this mysterious carpenter/rabbi from Nazareth were critical and lifelong impressions for Mary who was full of grace and leads us to Jesus. In our case, gazed upon by Jesus in all of the parts of us, we can be also filled every day. 

Day 7-   The conversion of the heart.  One now believes in Jesus with willingness to obey like the disciples did at the wedding at Cana.  You are a friend of Jesus and a witness of the wedding far above the one studied in the verses below.   Some wrongly think Jesus rebuked Mary for her approach about fixing a wine situation.  But the idiomatic impression meant there is nothing between him and her.  Though we were conceived in sin, we can be asked to be filled with grace now and push the throttle of faith on the upside of our internal struggles in receiving everything Jesus that he wants to be in us.  Today we can know God’s narrative of ourselves with a holistic understanding of the gospel that saves the whole person. 

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Right Road On The High Road

string-broken-hutong-wallsI think about “Rocky Mountain High” when I think of retreat.  People who have an intentional life of faith sometimes go on a retreat to the beach or mountains and set aside time for prayer which can be a good experience.  But eventually we have to come back to earth.  We are meant to walk this earth announcing in word and deed that God is relevant.  That is at the heart of Jesus’ nature.  “God so loved the world…” is not just a catch phrase at a sports game but a way of life. 

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus (Matthew 17:16). 

took with him – – It is not enough for the believer to white-knuckle themselves by willpower to their retreat or in any Christian growth experience.  The grace of God comes first always whether it is clear to us or not. 

There he was transfigured before them- Much fanfare is given in light of the spectacular descriptions here.  Pope Benedict VI makes a point that in a way this was the moment in Jesus’s earthly life where he ironically was not transfigured but was his normal self and thus meaning his glory was hidden otherwise. 

Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus- – In God’s involvement on the earth before, during and after the events of the gospels there are adornments in person or things that confirm what God has done or is doing.  In a parallel passage on the same event there is more detail here where it is pointed out how  they “appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). 

The wording in the original Greek is literally what the Greek translation of the Old Testament uses for the exodus of Moses.  The word meant “the way out” of Egypt but here it is a heavenly direction. “What he was going to accomplish” is about the work of redemption on the cross. 

Lord, it is good for us to be here- – God really does not need our good ideas.  And we do no favors to ourselves when we emphasize a geographical location due to what the think it is intrinsically to be.  Such are the thoughts that we can have when we are unsettled and absent God’s peace. 

I will put up three shelters- –  The following could be an imaginative translation of what he is getting at. 

What an awesome experience!  Let’s turn this into a new village! We’ll hang out, do a  Torah study with Jesus, Moses and Elijah and Jesus will bring the wine.  Sure, I’ve got a wife down the mountain and there are masses of people that want to get into this new kingdom thing (whatever that is) but let’s settle. Letting his excitement get ahead of him, Simon Peter puts Moses and Elijah on equal footing with Jesus.  The Father loves them, but not like He loves Jesus.

Peter is centering on this experience to be the end all. The kingdom of God does go beyond earthly things and is across the generations and in part he is right to recognize that.  But those are things and not a person.  Christianity is based on the person of Jesus and his central work of being crucified and being raised from the dead.  Days earlier the cross was a scandal in his mind.  When Jesus was first announced by John the Baptist it was as the Lamb of God (which in Jewish tradition is sacrificed).  If one does not get that and keep this truth engrained they will miss how sacrifice in the gospel and the Christian life is entwined. “Love without sacrifice is meaningless.  Sacrifice without love is unendurable” (Dr. Scott Hahn). 

a bright cloud covered them- – Through the Bible there is a theme of clouds as symbolic of covenant or community.  Here it is both in the sense of God being a community of holy persons and that the establishment of The New Covenant is drawing near. 

This is my Son, whom I love- – But with that overwhelming presence of God the Father, Simon Peter gets his perspective readjusted.  But notice it is not, “Listen to my Son or I will smite thee.”  The Father brings it back to love and repeats what He said at the baptism of John the Baptist.  He is well pleased in Jesus.  Jesus is enough. Jesus and the message of sonship for those in him does not change

Listen to him- – Where John the Baptist says “Behold” the model of ongoing conversion is “Listen”.  That is a means by which faith comes (Romans 10:17). 

they fell facedown to the ground, terrified- – At best they interpret the love going on as only to Jesus and the Father is fresh out of mercy.  But the gospel shows us that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). 

But Jesus came and touched them.- – Coming to the end of ourselves and admitting we are powerless over our sin is a sobering experience. Wrong does not mean one is bad and deserving only punishment.  So Love Incarnate steps in and does what He does: He pushes out that fear. But Jesus embodies perfect love and “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:17).  Jesus will manifest his presence in some way for that if we let him.  Where shame immobilizes us in a sort of spiritual shock, Jesus changes the story.    

When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus- – The story comes to the full circle with Jesus being central.

When I was a Protestant, Peter was the comedy relief in a lot of sermons.  Now with a passage like this, I have to laugh at myself.  What goose bumps have I raised to the level of Jesus?  Have I mistaken a definition for myself that is like being too spiritually minded for any earthly good?  Where has Jesus called me down from my “Rocky Mountain High” and I have refused to come back to the simplicity of devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3)?   

Again, Jesus does not change.  But He does love us enough to call us to Himself in purity and practicality.  Let’s cast off pretentious ideas, listening, and surrender to him. 

Being Shown The Way

you-are-not-alone

If one thinks of conversion superficially, there is a tendency to see it as solitary at first and with an emphasis that it stays that way.  But what if ones conversion experience is meant to start with someone else’s take on Jesus?  There is the message of the good news of Jesus Christ but messages typically come through messengers.

In western society we have a common phrase, just tune into the right channel, that one can accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. Can that be valid as the central point of ones Christian faith?  A decent scan of the Bible and Church history will show that Christianity is communal or relational as well.  The evangelism and ongoing conversion of the experience is meant to be in both a communal context and ones personal decision.   This effects the person and the world can be effected by God through such a person.  Taking this fact in one way, this is what it can mean to be an evangelical Christian which can apply to Christians of any community.

In Protestant Christianity a common term is “led to the Lord” where someone makes a personal decision for Christ to be Lord and Savior but some mortal person was greatly involved in proposing Jesus (hopefully not imposing). Often converts of the last 2,000 years have converted through someone being an instrument of the grace of conversion.  But to give way to the idea that someone else knows more than you on an eternal subject takes humility.

Such was the case for a fisherman named Simon from the town of Capernaum who would one day be a fisher of men.  This is the beginning of the story of Jesus lived through his life.

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).  And he brought him to Jesus.Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter (John 1:40-42).

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother-  At the moment that this story takes place, Simon is just Simon.  The narrative throws in the full title with the hindsight of who Simon becomes, is better known as, and the irony that Andrew seeks him out. Again, to have the gospel proclaimed to us at any level will have some level of humility inherently tied to it.  Before Jesus, like any of us, was indeed lost without Jesus and needed to be found by Jesus vicariously through Andrew.  In away, Simon had to be found by the Church; albeit loaded with only two people.

The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon–  What can be lost on the reader is that the conversion experience of Andrew is expressed too. Andrew’s expression of conversion was in part to share the extent of Jesus that he knew by that time.  Andrew had seen Jesus pointed to in the foundations of faith, be favored by the Father, and had been able to “come and see” where Jesus lived. Those beautiful experiences of “in-reach” should inevitably being expressed in outreach.  Jesus impressed something on Andrew that had to be shared and soon.

You will be called Cephas –  Many Christians of good conscience see Cephas and see a verse that Simon Peter is the first pope.  Others see the title as symbolic.  I must confess, I have a bias.  For a moment, I would like to step back from that controversy and point out that Jesus calls all of us to be on mission of some kind.  To be converted to Jesus is not to have a mental assent or a goose bump.  We are to express that grace according to the individual calling of God on our lives and at some point we should see in our decision for Jesus his specific calling for us. Jesus leaves a deposit into the heart of this man as a point of reference.  Weeks later, Jesus returned to this man while he is working on his boat and adds to the foundation of this moment.

which, when translated- This may seem like a peripheral detail but not with more thought.  The conversation from an objective perspective was three men chatting in Aramaic on an average 1st century day in Roman-ruled Palestine.  But in a spiritual hindsight when one reflects on conversion stories there is a beauty in extrapolating the relational dynamics and apply it to more than one place or culture.  That said, the disciple John departs from the Greek so the reader can be especially in the feel of how personal Jesus was and give a reminder how down to earth the background of the gospel must be read. Jesus is applicable to every scene because his presence is always practical to each culture and through each culture.

In review of this encounter of the three men, one can draw out the profoundness of a properly composed Christian community.  This is not a matter of social conjuring of excitement or group think.  Any called out community that is centered on Jesus Christ has a distinctive of thinking of the other, proclaiming the person of Jesus, humility, knowing his call on our lives and echoing that relational aspect through the world and through the ages.  That is the Church that Jesus builds one person at a time and one pair at a time.  Such are the followers of the Way.

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: Continuity

ContinuityLogo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Reading:

Pope Fiction by Patrick Madrid

Upon This Rock by Steven Ray

The Fathers Know Best by James Akin

Reasons to Believe by Scott Hahn

Legacy Of A Convert–But Not Just What We Think

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For those who know me especially, you know that I have been on a journey for the last few years.  I have undergone a conversion or a completion, depending on your point of view, through becoming a Catholic after thirty years of identifying myself as a Protestant.  I have been challenged in many ways on where I thought I have God figured out.  Fundamentally I keep coming back to reminders that God likes structures where they are channel of grace but He does not like hurdles to His grace that put Him in a box. 

I have discovered that in my growth in His love and being formed in the image of Jesus, that steps forward and steps backward of being my best self in Him are natural.  When they happen, Jesus wants to forgive us but also challenge us to not do the sin again.  Oh yeah, that little cuss word.  

What has helped in the journey is having along my buddy Peter.  He is this guy who ended his life on a good note but hit a good share of notes off key along the way.  When I read about him taking his focus off of Jesus when walking toward Him on the water, I could appreciate the parallels in my life where I sank into the water of my foolishness because I was taking my eyes off of Jesus too.  Writing about Peter has been like writing about my twin separated at birth, though not by clerical office, but as a sinner that is looking for rest and hoping to be pure. 

Back to the channels of grace.  Peter was left with his role to nurture the Church in the sacraments that Jesus founded.  He overall did this like he said we should do about working out our salvation: with fear and trembling.  He did not do this because God was a fear monger but as one who appreciated his encounter with True Love too much to show disrespect the life he had after his conversion (s). 

I am also looser on what conversion is.  I can say with confidence that I have had a relationship with Jesus for many years.  But I can also say with confidence that I acted out the sinner’s job description by lashing out at a panhandler recently.  God used my wife, a better Christian than I, to open my eyes to the sin of my my judgmental attitude. So I converted.  Peter told Jesus that the way of the Father was not the way of the cross and was rebuked sharply.  So on that issue he was converted on that though he was already an apostle.  

We are all works in progress and we are all called to leave something of God’s love and holiness behind.  How that works will be different for each individual. We must be open to where our roads lead and stay on them whether big details or small.  God’s grace can cover us all.  

But what about Peter’s legacy?  For us Catholics, he was the first pope but many Protestant brothers and sisters would sincerely disagree.  That is okay.  But what we can all agree on is that the Peter of his epistles who is unselfishly looking out for others to walk with God and has surrendered to the process of many conversions pleases God and leaves behind a legacy of walking according to being “God’s workmanship created for good works in Christ” (Ephesians 2:10).  It is a combination of God’s faithfulness and our surrender over time.

Last, there is a sign of both with Peter with an extra-biblical anecdote. “On June 26, 1968, Pope Paul VI announced that the relics of St. Peter had been discovered. On November 24 2013, these relics were held by Pope Francis and displayed publicly for the first time after celebrating closing ‘Year of Faith’ Mass” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j99AhFGnils&feature=youtu.be).  These were found in the foundations of St. Peter’s Basilica in the 1940’s.  “You are Peter. And upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  The science that has been done on those bones say that the bones are that of a man aged 61 years and Semitic and were found by the words “Peter is here”.  Either there was a Roman conspiracy with insight about DNA fraud or I think that is my buddy Peter.  

So those are the legacies of Peter as a faithful servant to God.  What is ours? 

Growing For Life

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A long time ago a pastor of mine I respected said that when we feel we have a gift that is truly from God, it is not first for our generation but for the next.  That has stuck with me first as a dad and then more broadly about the world I leave behind.  Am I leaving behind something worthwhile for the younger generation to be better than me?  

Peter, the fisherman turned pope, had been on quite the journey in his life.  He had learned a lot about walking in a holy life through being teachable to the hand of Jesus.  In his last letter of his life, he wanted to make his life count for something in sharing his journey.  His journey when seen by virtues of the faith he had picked up were:faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance godliness, mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. 

But what are virtues really about? Do we want to impress God?  Impress ourselves? Impress each other?  Peter thought that all of the above were true…but then he grew up.  

 

2 Peter:1:For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. 10 Therefore, brothers and sisters,[g] be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. 11 For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

For the right motivations, there are some great jewels of what matters explained well.

1: Being effective and fruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is not an intellectual pursuit.  Jesus wants to be known in an intimate way.  We are ready for that when we apply those virtues above in our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationship with others.  

2: It is then implied that to keep growing in those virtues, a process and not boxed items, you keep your spiritual awareness and remember the sanctifying grace of your baptism (see 1 Peter 3:21).  

12 Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, 14 since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.

Peter is accepting of death, but living fully in the life he has now.  Knowing that his death is coming up, Peter does not get bitter and sees his role in his last days to keep drawing people to God.  Peter has died a little at a time for many years under the formation of the Master and the spiritual harvest is in what he passes on to the others.  

And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

I would submit to you that Peter is not talking about a recent trip to the lawyer’s office for his last will and testament.  Peter is speaking partly from a theological fact of the communion of saints and also with words of love.  When he is in heaven he anticipates the chance to pray for them when he is in heaven.  What else is there to do?  Send a check?  His life of unselfish living made him into a servant for the people in the next phase of salvation history.  But his life in Christ also reassured him that there was work to be done on either side of the curtain so to speak.  This life of faith reassured Peter that he was called to be a servant in heaven as he had been on earth.  

So what is stopping us from living a heavenly life now?  Peter was slow to listen in his youth and sometimes had to be corrected sharply.  But what is stopping us from being moldable now?  From being God centered and others- centered now?  

Let’s follow Him. And start living a heavenly life a bit early.