Totally Religious But Skeptical

Be Bold Challenge With Lion Face

There is a fine point between cynicism and skepticism.  It is like fine point between going forward in a faith community with an engaged mind with critical thinking like the Drive gear and being too passive with ones mind on Neutral.  Neutral could mean that even a weak thing can push me around.  God, who is good, does not mind honest questions.  Thomas Jefferson addressed this saying, “Sit wisdom firmly in her seat.  Question with boldness even the existence of God.  For if there is a God, he must want honest questions rather than blindfolded fear”.

True spiritual seeking is not an objective experience. It is fully informed Christian is engaging all of the person.  If someone sells you Christianity allows no questioning, run!

There once was a man who grew up in a spiritual community that did not allow members to even read materials critical of their faith.  He started seeing holes in their doctrine and their history not adding up so he confided to someone to listen to his many struggles in faith.  Days later he was disfellowshipped and no one could speak to him. Supposedly, “blind folded fear” would be better with a focus on that group alone.

Below we see Jesus having a healthy attitude to skepticism and expanding the conversation to how “God so loved the world……” (John 3:16).  Too often those on spiritual journeys overlook the value of questions though Jesus does not.

The next day he decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51).

Phillip was dedicated to Jesus by the time he approaches Nathaniel.  When he approaches him he communicates on what they knew were their signs of hope in what Moses and the prophets said.  He uses a common faith related shorthand to communicate the historical context and momentum that is realized in Jesus.  This is an informed faith and culture perspective.

But Nathanael responds, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  He hears the deposit of faith context, yet the name of a backwater town seems too simple for any far reaching consequence.  He was likely a spiritual seeker to begin with or Philip would not have approached him right away.  His emphasis was on how God would bring out greatness from what is already impressive in the Old Testament history.

But my above statement rings true in how there can be subjectivity, a bias, that the seeker brings in applying the critical mind to a spiritual picture.  But the beauty of the pattern of Jesus is he dwelled among us.  He had a footprint without a flashiness or faith would be too easy.  When faith comes too easy it leaves easy.

This is why skepticism is valuable.  Skepticism is a way to look at the merits of something with honest questions.  For example, Mary asked Gabriel how she could be pregnant since “I know not a man”?  She was not punished for it since she was staying in touch with that which was revealed truth up to that point.  Skepticism is healthy because it protects the good.

Using skepticism is also good for one obtaining a personal ownership on the matter. An example is of two personality types in a cancer study.  They examined two personality types of men in their mid-fifties with the same cancer.  One was skeptical and wanted to know all of the process.  The other was passive with whatever the authority says.  Of the two, the passive had lower survival rates. Likewise too much passivity in the spiritual life with ones reason leads to spiritual death.  There, ownership saves.

Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him—- This is a turning point.  Jesus respect Nathanael’s response even in his error.  A true Israelite would highlights of salvation history engrained and Nazareth was not in one of them.  Though there is presumption or conjecture in Nathanael’s doubt there is a single-mindedness on the God of his understanding having continuity with earlier works.  Jesus sees him as a glass half full and is able to work with him. Jesus is open here to the hard questions of honest inquiry and compliments Nathaniel for that. For a future apostle who would pass on the faith, he sets the table for a refined balance of faith and reason.  “To believe is nothing other than to think with assent… Believers are also thinkers: in believing, they think and in thinking, they believe… If faith does not think, it is nothing” (Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 2, 5: PL 44, 963).

You will see greater things than this—- Jesus honors the tenacity of Nathaniel.  In that, Jesus explains how and why his supernatural knowledge of the spiritual and physical location of Nathanael is a fragment for kingdom perspective.  By speaking of angels Jesus makes reference to something even larger than Israel since being the “King of Israel” is not the limit for Jesus because he was also the king of spiritual Israel to come.  This reference of angels ascending and descending goes to a transcendent nature of God’s kingdom.  Jesus makes a  vague reference to the life of Jacob that points to both that and how even more expansive the grace of God will be shown.

Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s angels were going up and down on it. And there was the Lord standing beside him and saying: I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and through them you will spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south. In you and your descendants all the families of the earth will find blessing (Genesis 28: 12-14).

Jesus relates to Nathanael in the Old Testament reference, knowing his bias, and emphasizes how individual journeys have meaning partly in God’s grace to everyone and, sometimes, through humble beginnings.  Personal conversions should add up to God’s agenda for the world that engages God’s grace to humanity.

Philip was only extending the invitation of Jesus.  Jesus promised in the context of making disciples and baptizing them in the Trinitarian formula (Matthew 28:20) that he would be with us to the end of the age.  How deeply he will do that is up to us, as we ask honest questions but open to the fullness of Jesus.

 

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Lighthouse for Now and Always

lighthouse_in_the_640_02As I go further in this week’s readings for my homework the term “laying down the gauntlet” comes to mind.  I have heard that term when I was in school about different theories of psychology.  Some would come and go but some seem to have staying power to describe or explain the psyche of humanity.  That is essentially what psychology is with theories that can be tested by observation 100% of the time or they will not have credibility.  In fact, true of almost any “logy”.

Where theology from a Christian perspective is the exception is that it involves the explanation of God’s nature in relation to humanity with professionals or amateurs (like myself).  This is incredible in the sense that it is no discipline by the rules of observation described above.

Only the light of divine Revelation clarifies the reality of sin and particularly of the sin committed at mankind’s origins. Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize sin clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc. Only in the knowledge of God’s plan for man can we grasp that sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another (Catechism of The Catholic Church, para. 387, 1994).

I am reminded of the saying from GK Chesterton that “When is a train most free?  On its tracks”.  Seems silly in wording but holds reason.  I use that quote sometimes with my clients in recovery and illustrate how silly it really is to say that we have set a train “free” if we knock it over.  So in the spiritual realm I can say the same about when we know the plan of God in our lives in what the Gospel states and fail to conform as designed.  If we submit to that plan we are then free to be “capable of loving him and loving one another”.

“At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father. . .who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever.” To catechize is “to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person. It is to seek to understand the meaning of Christ’s actions and words and of the signs worked by him.”‘ Catechesis aims at putting “people . . . in communion . . . with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity ” (CCC, para. 426, 1994).

Catechesis is the handing down of Sacred Tradition that began with the apostolic preaching of the 12 apostles who were witnesses of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Because one of my goals is to pass on the teachings of the Church to others, starting with my children, I really take this to heart.  My favorite line is how “Catechesis aims at putting ‘people . . . in communion . . . with Jesus Christ’ “. This is rich to me because in recent years I have seen conversion as an ongoing process that is sustained by God’s grace.

In catechesis “Christ, the Incarnate Word and Son of God,. . . is taught – everything else is taught with reference to him – and it is Christ alone who teaches – anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips. . . Every catechist should be able to apply to himself the mysterious words of Jesus: ‘My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me’ “ (CCC, para.427)

This brings to mind the fine line of authority.  Frequently in the New Testament the giving of power to the followers of Jesus is exhousia which is specifically delegated authority.  The above paragraph implores the one who would teach the Sacred Scriptures and/or Sacred Tradition to remember that they are answerable to God and the delegated authority that is over them.  The teacher is not the plan but just passes it on.

But in stepping out of this wonderful bubble of the Kingdom of God, there is always a reminder that there is an ugly world out there.  It is one of people loving things and using people instead of loving people and using things as ways to love people (Pope John Paul II).

From the beginning of Christian history, the assertion of Christ’s lordship over the world and over history has implicitly recognized that man should not submit his personal freedom in an absolute manner to any earthly power, but only to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Caesar is not “the Lord”. “The Church. . . believes that the key, the center and the purpose of the whole of man’s history is to be found in its Lord and Master” (CCC, para. 450).

Whenever possible, the wisdom of historical Christianity does well with “both/and” and often does not try to instigate conflicts.  But when the Church is consistent with the deposit of faith in practice down to the most humble believer we must declare out of the divine revelation in the Gospel that Caesar, secular humanism, materialism, ISIS and convenience are not lord but Jesus is Lord.  I am growing further in the belief that the further the Body of Christ grows in the centrality of Jesus Christ and His divine nature shining through us, the more distinction will be on the darkness of this world.

Integrity Versus Despair

LighthouseI heard a story once about what I might call “The Worst Sermon Ever Told”.  Abraham Lincoln went to a church one time where the preacher went on for a while with fancy language and flowery illustrations.  After it was over he was asked what he thought of it.  He said, “That was the worst sermon I ever heard….it did not call me to action.”  As we know from history he indeed went and did action motivated by his Christian faith.  Ipso facto that solid words lend to solid actions for short term and long term.

A psychoanalyst named Erick Erickson laid out in his theory that there are several conflicts in a person through life depending on the stage they are in.  The last one for someone’s life according to his theory is integrity versus despair.  One way I could sum up the “integrity” is this:  on ones deathbed they feel that their values and choices were generally not in contradiction from one another.  If not they feel “dis-integrated” with an overwhelming sense that they are out of do-overs.

As Jesus comes to a close on the Sermon on The Mount, the words that had been shared were highlighted with the fine point of application with the understanding that all have values and actions.  Looking from the outside I would say that is a morally neutral and universal statement about anyone with a formed conscience.  What Jesus does here is contrast the foundation and results between one who builds on the values of true wisdom and those who do not.  Then what is implied on some subtle wording is that one can be tied to a continued living authority on what right values are for real life.

 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law (Matthew 7:24-29).

Jesus in all His teachings is not some used car salesman trying to speak in a material realm for getting rich quick or any other empty pursuit.  Jesus wants to build each individual into a saint who lives a holy life despite the fact that there are hardships to live through.  With hardships being a morally neutral but universal certainty Jesus talks about rain coming, streams rising, winds blowing and a house falling. With Jesus meaning soul preservation in place of house maintenance the application is on where someone has their hope and how they live it out.  The foundations of a persons life will be things like prayer, favor of people, sexuality, forgiveness, discerning good spiritual leaders and many other things that Jesus addresses on the mountainside.    If you hear the words of Jesus and put the words into practice then your values will be both correct, internalized, lived out and preserve the integrity as described above.  If one hears those words, chalks them up to a cafeteria run through on truth at best and walks away then despair is bound to come.  And not just at the deathbed but with any storms of life does the “wind” hit and so goes the crash.

But as much as Jesus wants to build the individual listening on the mountainside, He wants to break ground for a long standing assembly.  Hearing Jesus teach, sitting down, reflects a crowd hearing a rabbi.  “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them” (Matthew 5:1-2).  But by referring to Himself a moment ago as Lord on Judgment Day, the kingship of Jesus is implied.  The crowd sits down to hear just another rabbi and get surprised by the manner that the teaching comes out.

Jesus indeed challenged them to action with kingly overtones.  Jesus speaks of wisdom and building  a house.  God built what was understood at the time as the divine house with the temple on a rock.  Jesus had the goal to build His Church.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law—- But this day Jesus was just breaking ground for three prisms of truth that would be in that Church: Tradition, Magisterium and Scripture.  Jesus was speaking with the authority not of the scribes.  This was obvious because Jesus spoke with a different method and emphasis.  Repeatedly Jesus says, “You have heard this but I say to you….”.  Jesus was the beginning of a new tradition that Christians of today can see now as Sacred Tradition.  The authority of Jesus can be inferred to be delegated by God the Father as seen from Strong’s Concordance.

1849 eksousía (from 1537 /ek, “out from,” which intensifies 1510 /eimí, “to be, being as a right or privilege”) – authority, conferred power; delegated empowerment (“authorization”), operating in a designated jurisdiction.

In the NT, 1849 /eksousía (“delegated power”) refers to the authority God gives to His saints – authorizing them to act to the extent they are guided by faith (His revealed word).

So Sacred Tradition needs The Magisterium.  This would be a governing teaching authority on faith and morals.  This was a an integral part of salvation history since Moses.  The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3).

Jesus left room in the gospels to be ones “personal Lord and Savior”.  This is a beautiful aspect of conversion.  But instead of being left to be a disciple of Jesus according to ones personal interpretation Jesus has a display for the crowd and us if one looks to the verses preceding the words of the Sermon On The Mount.

“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them” (Matthew 5:1-2).  Yes Jesus is very personal but the delegated authority goes on to His disciples of the apostolic context. Jesus does not present to us a Gospel of Nice but a Gospel of the The Kingdom.  My hope and prayer for myself and the reader is that the follow through of Jesus words will help us all to hold together in the form of His making and even thrive.

But we ought to give thanks to God for you always, brothers loved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in truth. To this end he has [also] called you through our gospel to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.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 Thesolonians 2:13-15).