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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The last will be first

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio writes an excellent piece about the God of the most destitute, whose kingdom is Catholic but whose gate -- Jesus of Nazareth -- is narrow (Lk 13:22-30). Unfortunately for many, pride is precisely what will keep them from appreciating what this means. It is ironic but not incorrect to say that even my miserable sinfulness can be made into the opposite by the Lord, whom alone I can boast about.

Monday, August 27, 2007

St. Monica and hope for our children

Or perhaps I should say "St. Monica and hope for us parents". I seethe at times when the kids seem impossibly distracted when we pray at bedtime. Earlier, Patrick (6) was giggling and laughing himself silly even before we finished.

Sigh. St. Monica, please lend just an ounce of your patience. Actually I was doing fine up to that time. On my way home, I was making up a song that went sort of like this:

Dearest Lord, teach me to be patient. For you are so patient with me. Lord, why do you love me so? How can you love me, wretched as I am?

And from the moment I stepped into the house and up until bedtime prayers, I was patient. We had a laughter-filled dinner. And then I read Francis his story. And I read Patrick his story after he read his reader (homework). And then I fell asleep while Trix read Justin his story. I guess my temper is at its worst when sleepy. And the boys goofed off some. So I was grumpy during bedtime prayers. Silly, silly me!

Eucharist and conversion

Aimee Millburn posts a conversion story. I love conversion stories. :-)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Abuse of Authority

From today's Gospel reading from Matthew 23:1-12,

  Then addressing the people and his disciples Jesus said, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi. ‘You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one master, and you are all brothers. You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will exalted.

My Bible's commentary points out that there is a delicate balance on the point of authority.

  This .. suggests that the ambitious appropriate to themselves the authority over the people of God and that to a certain point God tolerates it. Matthew, in recording these words of Jesus, wants to preserve in the Church fundamental equality. It is the whole Church which enjoys the Holy Spirit, and the heads or doctors will have no authority unless they are deeply rooted in the community's life.
.. The bad example of the authorities does not discredit the word of God. Nor does it lessen the principle of authority. .. They cannot renounce their authority on the pretext of humble service and then carry out what the majority has decided.

There is no problem with people having teaching authority in God's household. The Apostles were explicitly given this authority, and even among them, Peter is singled out with primacy (see Matthew 16:13-19, John 21:15-19, Luke 22:31-32). Nor is it a problem of calling someone a father, or a rabbi, or a leader, for St. Paul does not hesitate telling the Corinthians that he became their father (1 Cor. 4:15), nor in telling the Christians in Rome that Abraham is the father of us all (Romans 4:16-17). St. John likewise does not balk at addressing his words to fathers (1 John 2:13).

And it is true that God may tolerate the sins of people in authority, as he had the many sins of kings, judges and Apostles in the Bible, as he tolerates ours -- for some periods of time. And for people ordained, God does not abolish their offices, as he retained the kingship despite Saul and/or David, the office of judges despite Samson, and in the above, the Lord allows the teachers of the Law to retain their teaching authority, despite, in the same breath, pointing out their sins and hypocrisy. For if it were a principle that an office is only as good as the office-holder, then the office of being a Christian witness is in trouble, for all can fall into sin and caused scandal.

Perhaps this is again a good occasion to point out the wise choice of the Father in choosing to building the Church upon Simon the Rock, for he is perhaps the perfect example of an office-holder who does not quite elicit complete trust. This man, so impetuous, occasionally given to thoughtless action and reaction, was not given the honor of becoming that Rock because he was personally fit for it. But then neither are any of us fit for the honor of being sons or daughters of the Most High. And yet we are. By grace. All by grace.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The wedding feast of Heaven

Today's readings also include the parable of the wedding feast from Matthew 22:1-14. As our university chaplain explained today with a chuckle, there's nothing wrong in itself with tending your farm or business. But such harmless activities must not become more important than the kingdom of Heaven -- in which case they do become idols. Something else that caught my attention was a man not wearing the festal garment. Two questions come up for me: why was this man punished for this, and why did the Lord see fit to include this man in his parable? My Bible commentary goes thus:

You, Christians, who are already inside the Church, do you wear the new garment — a life of justice, honesty and trustworthiness? Let us not believe that the surprised guest who was not properly dressed for the occasion was some kind of poor person. No, for it was customary during those times to supply all guests with the robe they should wear at the banquet. This one could ahve put on the robe but did not, so he had nothing to answer.
I think St. Paul's words in Romans 12:1-2, I think from today's morning prayer (from the common of women saints religious: St. Rose of Lima) are appropriate here:
I beg you, by the mercy of God, to offer yourselves as a living and holy sacrifice, pleasing to God; this is the worship of a rational being. Don't let yourselves be shaped by the world where you live, but rather be transformed through the renewal of your mind. You must discern the will of God: what is good, what pleases, what is perfect.
It is not lost on me that St. Paul's imperative (if that is the term for it) words are confronting: our choice is before us — and he begs that we choose wisely. We have been brought into the banquet, the festal garment is ours to wear, but we must put it on — keep it on.

We have come into the banquet. Though we will never ourselves be worthy, we have been gathered and brought into the hall — purely by grace. The robe of the feast is ours to wear. Let us not be so foolish as to take it off.

Jephthath's Daughter

The reading from Judges 11:29-40, from today's readings, was naturally shocking. I have three children myself and my first impression was that I would rather break that vow than commit murder and sacrifice my children. In the first place, both murder and human sacrifice are shunned by God, so what gives? The Spirit of Yahweh came upon Jephthah that day, but it immediately follows: He went through Gilead .. and then entered the territory of the Ammonites. Then the foolish judge made the vow, should God enable his victory in battle, to sacrifice .. whoever first comes out of my house .. and I shall offer him up through the fire. Of course, it is his own daughter who greets him as he comes home victorious. Horrified as he was, Jephthah nevertheless fulfilled the vow he had made and sacrificed his daughter.

There are some rabbinic traditions that speak of this sacrifice as simply that of the daughter as becoming a consecrated virgin for all her life, but the more ancient tradition seems ot be that the foolish judge truly did offer his daughter as a holocaust. My Bible (Christian Community Bible: Catholic Pastoral Edition), says simply:

  The Bible relates Jephthah's vow without commentary. It is considered as the lamentable error of a hero.
I think this is the best explanation. It is quite possible that the holocaust was indeed carried out on the poor girl, simply because her father was foolish enough, not only in making the vow, but in carrying out what should have been known to be an invalid vow, for the notion of human sacrifice is repugnant to the Lord who commands "thou shall not kill" (murder). On the other hand, it appears that human sacrifice was practiced in the other kingdoms around Israel.

While the Spirit of Yahweh may indeed have come upon this valiant warrior-judge, it was in inspiring him to battle. Actually, even had the Spirit inspired the vow (unlikely), it is by no means an endorsement to carry out such a foolish vow. It should have been enough of a lesson that unjust, thoughtless vows should not be carried out, and should not be made at all. The vow sounds a lot like putting the Lord to the test, for some reason that I cannot now explain. May I be spared from making such foolish vows, given that I can be very foolish, too!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Oh dear

They do hate us, don't they? This is something I've never quite related to. In all my years as a Catholic, I have never been told to simply believe, and never to question. In fact, even in Opus Dei, we were encouraged to study, study, study. Of course we were told "this is true", but we were also encouraged to examine why -- through study.

One thing which I pray may be taken up by my children is the spirit of true learning. Not that which arrogantly claims to know what one has not studied nor analyzed, but that which begins with a proposition -- yes, perhaps a dogma -- and ends with a position obtained from careful, prayerful study. What of dogmas that can't be understood? May they be humble enough to state that they cannot understand it -- rather than claim that what they do not understand is false. There's a difference, after all.

Update: The American Papist provides more details about the book "The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman, including reader comments at Amazon. So television executives are willing to pull episodes on TV that might offend Muslims, but no such charity towards Catholics when every visible aspect of their faith is insulted and villified -- in children's fantasy novels/movies?

Truth, faith and tolerance: excerpts

I found this amazing piece from Ignatius Insight, which includes excerpts from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's "Truth, faith and tolerance" -- written before he became Pope Benedict XVI. It's great reading.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Spirit and truth

The Jews do not seem to have any metaphoric understanding of "Spirit." Yet many Christians cite such a metaphor as the key to the doctrine of the Eucharist as a purely symbolic meal. One step improved is the doctrine that the Eucharist is a purely Spiritual meal, but even that is not good enough. The Catholic doctrine is instead the sacramental one: the Eucharist is a parallel of the Incarnation. It is Spiritual and physical. It is also holy -- sacramental. How can something Christian not be sacramental, when Christ came and remains our most Blessed Sacrament? Just as the Incarnation is about God becoming man, the Eucharist is about God becoming bread and wine. And just as the Incarnation does not compromise the fullness of divinity, neither does the Eucharist.

It came to mind earlier that a similarly strange metaphor of the Spirit is also responsible for compromises on Baptism as a sacrament. Likewise Confirmation, the Eucharist, Holy Orders, Matrimony, Confession, and Extreme Unction.

I have an image of the Enemy chipping away at athe faith of the Church. Chip, chip, chip. No sacraments, no bodily Incarnation, no bodily Resurrection -- pretty soon, one is worshipping a christ who is not Jesus Christ; God who never became man.

When you exclude the hard doctrines because they are divisive, what do you risk losing? Who says that divisive doctrines are wrong simply because they are divisive?

Dim lights

From today's Gospel reading, our parish priest pointed out in his homily that some people pretend that Christ did not have hard words. Today's Gospel reading is about some of those hard words. From Luke 12:49-53, the Lord said these words:

  ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over! ‘Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’
Fr. John points out, however, that while Christ is not here solely to cause grief and division, he does bring a challenge which will always be opposed by many who are firmly embracing this world. Our parish priest also points out if we were to discard this challenge and Christ's hard teachings, then we can truly say that the salt has lost its taste and the light has gone dim.

The image of dimmed lights stands out: when the light has gone dim, it becomes harder to see the truth. In the dim light, it is difficult to distinguish shapes and objects apart. Such dim lights are indeed useless, and such conditions are probably ideal for the Enemy to deceive many so that they stumble and fall.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Forgotten martyrs

Sandro Magister provides a good look at a forgotten page of history: how eight hundred martyrs in Otranto saved Rome from invaders. These are martyrs who were defending first their homeland from invaders, and finally their souls from the consequences of (albeit forced by the sword) apostasy. In the end, these people persevered and chose to forfeit their lives rather than rejecting our Lord, Jesus Christ.

[Link discovered via The Catholic Report.]

Friday, August 17, 2007

Catholic Faith

Now why would the Catholic liturgy of the hours include these readings for today?

Mid-morning reading (Terce) Romans 1:16 - 17
The power of God saves all who have faith – Jews first, but Greeks as well – since this is what reveals the justice of God to us: it shows how faith leads to faith, or as scripture says: The upright man finds life through faith.

Noon reading (Sext) Romans 3:21 - 22
God’s justice that was made known through the Law and the Prophets has now been revealed outside the Law, since it is the same justice of God that comes through faith to everyone who believes.

Afternoon reading (None) Ephesians 2:8 - 9
It is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit.

Shouldn't the Church be removing such verses from the liturgy of the hours, to keep Catholics fooled? ;-)

Update: I almost forgot about this Christianity Today article by Simon Gathercole that is quite relevant and interesting to read: "What did Paul really mean?" -- about justification by faith.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Forgiveness, peace and unity

The primary motivation for starting this blog some time ago was a concern for the unity of all Christians. I take the Lord's prayer for unity very seriously, and St. Paul's exhortations to the same. Division and strife contradict God in his Trinity and the Lamb's marriage with the Church. Today's Gospel reading (Matthew 18:21 - 19:1) is about forgiveness, and I think that is crucial to the unity of all Christians. I think the late Pope John Paul the Great made great strides in this direction, and I think several partners among the Orthodox and Protestants have done the same. Many injustices were committed on both sides, and a genuine endeavor to comply with the Lord's wishes in John 17 requires repentance acknowledged and forgiveness granted by all parties.

Doctrinal differences remain, and that is to be expected -- and nothing else should be under discussion. The rancor should no longer be there, and old sins apologized for need not be brought up. But when dealing with non-Catholics, I often find that the old sins -- of the Roman Catholic Church -- keep coming up. Apart from the fact that the accusations may be flawed in the first place, it makes me wonder if the undying accusations are there for another reason. Some hurt caused by some member of the Church, perhaps, or maybe a bitter disappointment once dealt.

And this leads to a great scandal among the nations: that Christians who preach a gospel of God's mercy and forgiveness, seventy-seven times (a good and Godly number), are unable to produce the evidence.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The crown of thorns

Musing on this third sorrowful mystery of the holy rosary usually brings to mind the bewildering inversion that Christ embraced: that the king of kings should be treated with the utmost contempt. Tonight the musing gave way to real horror. Those thorns! These were not shallow cuts, since the soldiers actually hammered the thorns in with blows. How could the Lord have stayed silent for that? Like a lamb led to slaughter -- I cannot imagine how I could have withstood such treatment. This is particularly difficult for the Son of God to endure because he was completely innocent and he had complete power over the situation had he chosen it. Scores of angels would have fought for him at his call, and those heartless soldiers would have perished horribly. What kept the Lord on his seat, enduring the humiliation and pain?

What love he must have in his sacred heart, which made such treatment acceptable to him who had his marching orders from the Father above and saw the desired end: the redemption of wayward children. St. Josemaria Escriva wrote in the Holy Rosary that the torture meant for our flesh was received willingly by Christ for love of us. He did the heavy lifting. He took on the eternal and impossibly horrible punishment for us. Expiation in his blood for us. What is left for us then? The free will on our part to seek mercy and forgiveness. That which the expiation does not take away is the necessity of contrition -- already assisted by the Holy Spirit's constant call to repentance -- that which must be ours. Not because our contrition in any way makes amends, but in our onward journey full of scenes of contrition, the Holy Spirit shapes us into sanctified children of God.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Peter, the Rock

In today's Gospel reading (Matthew 16:13-23), I am reminded of something I wrote last year concerning the Protestant disdain and/or horror of the papacy. I just wish they could also see in it what they accept in other contexts.

  • Protestants readily accept that they can be their own Scriptural interpreters (with the Holy Spirit's aid) of Scripture, but not see that the papacy and the Magisterium, with the Holy Spirit -- revealing not by flesh and blood but from the Father in Heaven -- can do the same interpreter's job. The pope and the Magisterium also act as a second witness to the Holy Spirit being the first.
  • Would Christians have refused to follow Peter's decrees unless they could be convinced from Scripture (the Old Testament)? Perhaps because they would never consider a human being wielding such authority to teach? But they accept their own authority to teach themselves. What's more, doesn't this constitute a contradiction to Christ's assertion that Peter has the keys to bind and loose on earth as in Heaven?
  • Further to that, is it a Scriptural precept that one is never to obey leaders of the Church unless one assents? What of the seat of Moses? What of hearing the Apostles as if one were hearing Christ?
  • It is easy enough to assert that the pope cannot possibly have infallibility. What is the basis? Is it his personal frailty? But his teaching authority and papal infallibility are not of "flesh and blood". Neither the most thorough, prayerful Protestant nor the pope possess a personal infallibility. Neither possess personal impeccability. Were Christians of all stations (including the Apostles themselves) to rely on personal abilities alone, then Christianity would succumb easily to extinction by error. Christendom would also degenerate into utter chaos, for there would be absolutely no foundation of certitude. On the other hand, were Christians of all stations (including the Apostles themselves) to rely on an equal share of the Holy Spirit's gifts, and were they all to assert an equal authority to teach from the Holy Spirit's guidance, then we would still degenerate into utter chaos. Why? Because it would be one's word against another's. The only solution is for the ministry to teach to be conferred rather than asserted. And the only conferrer could be the head, Jesus Christ. There is no objective basis otherwise.
  • On a recent evening, my friend maintains that doctrines in dispute among Christians are probably not important and should not be held as rock-solid truth. My response was that this measure will result in the necessary conclusion that there is no truth. Why? Because truth cannot admit contradiction. Christians of different denominations still contest the sacraments, predestnation, and even the Trinity. They also still contest the meaning of justification, salvation by faith alone that is or is not truly alone. They contest the validity of divorce, and as a result, they contest what adultery means. They even contest abortion as murder or.. not, depending on which stage of pregnancy it is carried out. In such a tableau of contested doctrines, it appears that Christendom is at an impasse.
Does the papacy and the Magisterium solve all of this? Yes, but not perfectly! In order for this to work, people must actually assent to the teaching authority of the papacy and the Magisterium of the Church. They must see that the pope and the Magisterium of councils occupy the seat of Peter (previously that of Moses). We must therefore do as they tell us -- even as we must sometimes not do as they do. Because hypocrites as they may be at times, it is not the persons of authority we follow, but the Father in Heaven who reveals His truth to these frail human beings of flesh and blood.

But why can it not be that the Father reveals truth to ALL human beings who are baptized? Because this charism is not for everyone. Some are called to be prophets. Others as teachers. One was called Cephas -- Rock -- on which the Church is built, and given the keys of the kingdom. He was told that what he opens and shuts are on earth as in Heaven. He was also given the task to feed the sheepfold. The sheepfold are still here, but Cephas died almost 2000 years ago. Quo vadis? Is it now our lot to be our own Cephas? Are we now bearer of the keys? Will what we open and shut be on earth as in Heaven?

Where does the Bible say that?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The metaphorical Christ

The thought came to mind that the "metaphorical Christ" is probably an evolution of the "historical Christ" as propaganda by the Enemy (the Devil). This metaphorical being, whose resurrection is purely spiritual, as my friend suggests as plausible, is most certainly inconsistent with Christ in the gospels, and is a perfect decoy. Not only would those who follow the metaphorical "christ" be worshipping a fictional person, they would also discover, sooner or later, that this being is not worthy of devotion and worship, considering that everything said about Christ in the gospels, in contradiction to this being, can be safely discarded. Out with the Eucharist. Out with the passion and the cross. Out with the fulfillment of prophecy and out with his hard words about the end of the world. What then is left? Nothing but a lofty ideology and comfortable ideals.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What is truth?

It was surprising today to find that I actually knew and count among my closest friends someone who has studied the Bible and harbors considerable skepticism concerning a pillar of the Gospel: the resurrection of Christ. Having watched James Cameron's documentary about the purported tomb of Jesus, Mary his mother, Mary Magdalene his wife, and other members of his family, we had an animated discussion for about 30 minutes. He poses a seemingly magnanimous idea: that even should Christ's bones be found in a tomb, that should not really matter because perhaps it is enough that Christ's resurrection was spiritual, not bodily. Of course, that does not make any sense for several reasons -- at least not to me, beyond Scriptural grounds. In the end, he did ask Pilate's rhetorical question: "what is truth?" I get the feeling that it is a question whose answer is not really of interest to the person asking it, and Pilate was probably no exception.

In the end, I came away thinking that these conspiracy theories are not always in themselves a cause for someone losing (or losing an opportunity to find) faith and truth. It is certainly not the case that my good friend was so swayed by Cameron and company's"evidence". A little grain of salt is enough to establish that they are grasping at straws. It does, however, grant yet another occasion for the skeptic to say "Aha! Now suppose that were true?"

My friend is not bothered by the fact that Cameron's case is without merit. It is enough for him that it is an interesting journey into the "what-if" of speculation. That tomb is not Jesus', but my friend is happy enough to add yet another point for skepticism. An open mind sounds nice, doesn't it? But an open mind will not lead to the truth if there are no foundations. If neither scientific evidence, expert opinions, Scripture nor Tradition -- nor even the Apostles' direct testimony -- can be admitted, then nothing can be built. Such openness to anything and everything is too liquid to admit firm truth, I think.

One of Uncle Diogenes' posts yesterday is exceptionally apt. In it, he cites the advice from Uncle Screwtape (from C.S. Lewis' classic Screwtape Letters, which I am in the middle of reading). Bear in mind that Screwtape is a demon advising a younger demon on the finer points of leading the faithful away from God.

  You will find that a good many Christian-political writers think that Christianity began going wrong, and departing from the doctrine of its Founder, at a very early stage. Now this idea must be used by us to encourage once again the conception of a "historical Jesus" to be found by clearing away later "accretions and perversions" and then to be contrasted with the whole Christian tradition. In the last generation we promoted the construction of such a "historical Jesus" on liberal and humanitarian lines; we are now putting forward a new "historical Jesus" on Marxian, catastrophic, and revolutionary lines. The advantages of these constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifold. In the first place they all tend to direct men's devotion to something which does not exist, for each "historical Jesus" is unhistorical. The documents say what they say and cannot be added to; each new "historical Jesus" therefore has to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another ... In the second place, all such constructions place the importance of their Historical Jesus in some peculiar theory He is supposed to have promulgated. He has to be a "great man" in the modern sense of the word -- one standing at the terminus of some centrifugal and unbalanced line of thought -- a crank vending a panacea. We thus distract men's minds from Who He is, and what He did. ... Our third aim is, by these constructions, to destroy the devotional life. For the real presence of the Enemy, otherwise experienced by men in prayer and sacrament, we substitute a merely probable, remote, shadowy, and uncouth figure, one who spoke a strange language and died a long time ago. Such an object cannot in fact be worshipped. Instead of the Creator adored by its creature, you soon have merely a leader acclaimed by a partisan, and finally a distinguished character approved by a judicious historian.
I am getting an eerie feeling because much of what Screwtape writes above was true for my good friend. And yet I know that arguments will not persuade him. This friend of mine is a brilliant, saintly man. But therein is another tragedy. He has studied the Bible quite carefully, having been trained by the Jehovah's Witnesses, and his studies took him out of JW. No words of mine can win his mind.

And so my true recourse is prayer.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Responsible parenting

Over at Testosterhome, a blog by a mother of five young sons, a commenter piped up about responsible parenting. The anonymous fella cited a saint and an example of abusive, drug-dependent parents, and said that biology happens.

It is true, we must take that responsibility seriously. But the number of children God invites each couple to have is unique to each couple. Many are blessed to have God's calling to have five or more (there are six of us in my family). There are also many who are only blessed with one child or two, however hard they tried to have more.

All I'm saying is responsible parenting sounds nice, but let God be at the center and let the number be strictly between him and the couple. No, I'm not saying that "biology" should take its course. In prayer, let God make his call. Because he is, after all, the author of life.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Converted because of the new Ark of the Covenant

Astounding that an Evangelical would convert because of Mary. Quite interesting too that the convert, John Weidner, correlates this with the sacraments. Not that it's shocking -- it makes sense, after all.