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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

One body, One Spirit

This comes from today's readings in the Liturgy of the Hours (via Universalis):

  Mid-morning reading (Terce) 1 Corinthians 12:4 - 6
  There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them.
  Noon reading (Sext) 1 Corinthians 12:12 - 13
  Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.
  Afternoon reading (None) 1 Corinthians 12:24 - 26
  God has arranged the body and that there may not be disagreements inside the body, but that each part may be equally concerned for all the others. If one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it. If one part is given special honour, all parts enjoy it.

Meanwhile, there are hopeful signs of Anglicans/Episcopalians heading to Rome -- hopefully towards Rome and not simply running away from liberal heterodoxy. Quite a few Anglicans/Episcopalians have been doing this individually. In this link, Aimee Milburn presents many excellent points. She also links to signs that entire dioceses are of a similar collective disposition, which is not as simple as it may sound. There are also signs of hope for unity with the Orthodox Church, with the Ravenna document (posted online by an Orthodox on his blog) providing an amazingly positive point of further dialog. Note the interesting but mixed opinions below the posted document. The curious reader may also wish to visit this forum with its own interesting opinions offered from both lungs of the Church, as it were.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Free will in Scriptures

A Baptist I encountered online from years ago had once challenged me on his allegation that the notion of free will has no basis in Scripture. Here are a few verses from Scripture which are in today's Liturgy of the Hours that I think presuppose it:

  Mid-morning reading (Terce) 1 Peter 1:13 - 14
 Free your minds, then, of encumbrances; control them, and put your trust in nothing but the grace that will be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Do not behave in the way that you liked to before you learnt the truth, but make a habit of obedience.
 Noon reading (Sext) 1 Peter 1:15 - 16
 Be holy in all you do, since it is the Holy One who has called you, and scripture says: Be holy, for I am holy.
 Afternoon reading (None) James 4:7 - 10
 Give in to God: resist the devil, and he will run away from you. The nearer you go to God, the nearer he will come to you. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.

I think that Calvinist hearts are well-meaning when they seem to devalue human will while raising up the supreme majesty of God's will, but it backfires in the end since devaluating humanity ultimately devaluates its creator, which is God himself. There is nothing wrong in acknowledging the incredible creation of God, including humanity. What goes wrong is when we end up treating it as a substitute or something better than God himself. Otherwise, putting things in perspective, we cannot but wonder and echo the Psalmist who exclaims, "you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor!" Among the wondrous works that the Creator wrought unto man is choice, which unfortunately cuts both ways: in our ability to choose life, we also have the ability to choose death. But God does not abandon us. As he invites us to begin with, he offers us his own Spirit, and by grace, he raises us up as a Father raises up his child: teaching, correcting, nurturing. As his child, he has the same aspirations for us as any father would: that we would truly grow up unto the fullness of our being. As he had planned from the very beginning.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Works and rewards

Here's a one-liner from today's Liturgy of the Hours (via Universalis) that should give a Catholic something to think of should he/she be getting caught up by fundamentalist sentiments over "works righteousness" among Catholics:

  We must never get tired of doing good, and then we shall get our harvest at the proper time. While we have the chance, we must do good to all, and especially to our brothers in the faith. (Galatians 6:9-10)

Another one-liner from the end of today's Gospel reading:

 Your endurance will win you your lives. (from today's Gospel reading, Luke 21:5 - 19)

Good deeds and works have taken a beating in ages past, and this continues to happen today. For Catholics, being ecumenical in the wrong way can be dangerous particularly when one tries to hide such verses and the sentiments behind them. Yet there they are, in Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Ignore them at your own peril.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Evangelical warns other Evangelicals of being "over-committed to the Bible"

Ted Olsen at the Christianity Today blog posts about J. P. Moreland warning against "Bibliolatry".

  The problem, he said, is “the idea that the Bible is the sole source of knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items. Accordingly, the Bible is taken to be the sole authority for faith and practice.”

Being a Catholic doesn't mean that I would entertain triumphalism here, for Catholics are often guilty of a different sort of extreme: ritualism. Whereas Mr. Moreland warns against over-commitment to the Bible as restricting revelation and growth, the same could be said against over-commitment to rituals.

Both extremes are obviously limiting, whereas our Father wants nothing less than fruitfulness. For this reason, he also gracefully grants us the fullness of faith, in the complete deposit of faith which is both oral and written. But some entrenchments are hard to overcome. Sola Scriptura is still the premise for most Evangelical/Protestant minds. To them, there is no possibility of revelation outside of Scripture, and so many would shun anything else, particularly Sacred Tradition and the Church Fathers.

This movement, which I pray goes beyond a handful of individuals, is critically important. I've often been at a loss as to how an Evangelical might imagine conversing with a committed atheist or religionist of another faith, when there is no common regard for the Bible. St. Paul was not shy to start his conversation with the Greeks based on reason and perception of the natural universe. Neither should we. Our conversations today are not with Greeks who have no religion, but with secularists who are increasingly rejecting religion. Two things, of course, are invaluable here: the witness of our Christian lives and, if necessary, our preaching the gospel to them. It just doesn't strike me as realistic to begin our dialogue with them by citing chapter and verse to anti-Christian secularists.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fraying and unravelling

I can't exactly remember why retired bishop Geoffrey Robinson came to my attention today. In any case, it has been an occasion of sadness. He certainly seems to be an up and coming hero of some dissenting Catholics. It looks like he has not gone as far as some of his new fans seem to have gone, but I am not surprised that they would project their own aspirations on him.

I haven't read his book, of course, but this interview is enough to raise alarms for me.

His heart is most certainly in the right place when he raises grave concerns about the sexual abuse crisis, but he seems to get a few things wrong (in my opinion) and he seems to be bordering on heterodoxy. :-( I get a feeling that, in worrying the edges of the tapestry, he will end up unravelling more than he meant to at first. It's odd when he notes the weakness of synods in that the bishops are not professional theologians, but on the other hand, there he is contesting some rather serious dogma. I may have gotten that out of context, however, but my point seems to be relevant anyway.

It was probably Mark Shea in his book, "By What Authority?", who impressed upon me the slippery slope of unravelling the lines of authority in the Church. Or, more importantly, I learned to appreciate the lines of authority that, naturally, come from Christ himself. When one starts doubting the authority on earth of the pope and bishops, one has got to wonder where it all ends. No authority, no councils, no creed, no canon of Scripture -- gasp! What bedrock of authority do we have left to stand on??

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The news is even better

At least for one Evangelical and one Baptist I have corresponded with, the notion of ascribing any value to our own effort is unthinkable. Even born-again humans are so depraved that any good we do is purely a fruit of the Holy Spirit and does not involve human effort. That puzzles me, and my understanding is more in line with this noon reading from today's Liturgy of the Hours:

  [Deuteronomy 30:11 - 14]
This Law that I enjoin on you today is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach. No, the Word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance.

This comes from a long discourse from Moses, encouraging Israel in the covenant they find themselves in. The following words are particularly heartening:

  [6] The LORD, your God, will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, that you may love the LORD, your God, with all your heart and all your soul, and so may live.
[8] You, however, must again heed the LORD'S voice and carry out all his commandments which I now enjoin on you.
[11] "For this command which I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you.
[14] No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.
[16] If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.

There is a certain dread (perhaps Occamite in influence) in the notion of man's total depravity, which, I think, compromises the fullness of God's love for his children. The bleak view of man's fallen nature actually compromises the Christian hope in God's salvation, not only in the promise of Heaven, but also here and now in the promise of sanctification. I've always wondered why Evangelicals settle for Luther's snow-covered dunghill, when the promises of God are nothing less than to purify us, whiter than snow, and to pour upon us his own Holy Spirit. A baptist once scoffed at my allusion to free will, which he maintains is not supported by Scripture. Well it is, and the good news is better than what the notion of total depravity allows: the Lord's precepts are "not too mysterious and remote." A life of holiness is within reach, because it is he who circumcised our hearts, and it is his life, his holiness, which we partake in. Even better, in his graciousness, our Father entrusts the doing to us: "it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out." And we grow with the doing: "If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy."

The afternoon reading goes:

  [Isaiah 55:10 - 11]
As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.

His Word does not return empty, and the Word made flesh gives life, and in him, we are born again, sons and daughters of the most high, circumcised in our hearts by the waters of baptism. And as he declares, so it is true, for his Word is never uttered in vain. He declares us justified, and so we are. He calls us temples of the Holy Spirit, and so we are. He refers to us as holy ones, saints, and so we are, "loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him."

Monday, November 12, 2007

The persecution that mainstream media ignores

You can't do it to any other gorup, but Christians can be safely ignored in their continued persecution in various societies. Chuck Colson reports, in Burma:

  .. people might be surprised to learn that Burma not only has a substantial Christian population, but that these Christians have long been the junta’s preferred target. ..
.. the U.K. Telegraph reported about a Burmese government document describing a plan for eradicating Christianity in that country. The document began with the words “there shall be no home where the Christian religion is practiced.”
What followed were “point by point instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state.” While the junta denied authorship of this specific document, it “made no public attempt to refute or repudiate its contents.”
.. persecution of Burma’s Christian minority is well-documented. Christian churches have been torn down and replaced by Buddhist pagodas; and Christians have been forced to financially support Buddhist projects and festivals.

and in India:

  .. millions of Dalits have sought to escape that hierarchy by converting to Christianity. According to the Wall Street Journal, the “overwhelming majority” of India’s Christians are Dalits.
.. if a Dalit converts to Christianity, he risks losing whatever little anti-discrimination protection and benefits are offered to Dalits—benefits that, however, can mean a decent chance at life.

Please pray for Christians in Burma, India, Iraq, and in many other places around the world.

Yes, abortion is a religious issue after all

Gregory Popcak's article demolishes Gary Wills' thesis. A must-read.

[Link found via "Against the Grain".]

Catching Catholics

Over at the blog "Ad Altara Dei" is a post about a tact used by non-Catholic groups in attracting Catholics. The blogger provides a rather balanced discussion of religiosity in general, and this is something close to my heart. In my discussion with some Evangelicals, especially those who used to be Catholics, religiosity and superstition are often ammunitions used to charge the Catholic faith as being a ritualistic, faithless religion. I think the post linked above gives a fairly good distinction between ritual and faith. This is not either/or. Just because you observe rituals, it does not mean that you have no faith. Take that woman with a bleeding problem, who touched the edge of the Lord's clothes and was healed. On the outside, that appears to be superstition, but the Lord goes and speaks of her faith, instead. They are not antithetical: faith and ritual do have a place together, with faith being the foundation of any ritual, which may not be superstitious after all.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

On Scriptural discrepancies and mighty efforts to unbelieve

Mark Shea explains it as it is:

  Here’s the thing: eyewitnesses of extraordinary events tend to give varying accounts of those events. .. Did the Titanic pop its rivets or tear a hole in her side? Did she split in two at the surface as some witnesses said or did it happen just as she sank? ... The list of curiosities and "discrepancies" in the record surrounding the Titanic is a much-loved pastime for disaster buffs.

But only a fool would conclude from this, even after 2000 years, that there was no Titanic and that she did not strike an iceberg and sink on April 15, 1912.

But I do say that there is more to this foolishness than meets the eye. People exert effort when something is at stake. Perhaps the effort put into nullifying the existence of Jesus -- the Jesus of the Gospels -- is that there is a grave desire to thereby negate its implications.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Charism of Blessed Mother Theresa

Reacting to analogies between dark nights of the souls for Dr. Martin Luther and Bl. Mother Theresa, someone objected in this way:

  "Martin Luther's despair and feelings of abandonment from God, are as different from that experienced by Mother Theresa, as darkness is from light. Why? Luther's dryness did not last for 50 years like Theresa. Theresa was a devout Catholic, consecrated her life to the 'Immaculate' heart of Mary, prayed to Mary, instead of through the 'Sole' Omnipotent Mediator, The Lord Jesus Christ. She was known to have held dying 'Hindu's' and 'Muslims' in her arms, and said to them, '...believe in your god...' I ask, is this what a 'true' Christian, who knows JESUS as personal Saviour and Lord, DOES? Certainly not! No wonder she did not feel the presence of God in her life for 50 years! When you give this kind of credence to Roman Catholicism, you do a terrible disservice to the Lord Jesus Christ, and His Word, which are all vitiated and invalidated by the utterly unchristian doctrine and dogmas of Catholicism. This is just not right!"

This was my response:

  "1 Corinthians 13:8 - 13 tells us: "Love does not come to an end... In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love." Blessed Mother Theresa's preaching has effectively been through action, not words. Hers was the charism to care for the sick, the dying, and the neglected. Perhaps she shuns arguments over religion, but preaches love and the Gospel by caring for those who need it. Perhaps she felt that it would be ineffective to hold a dying person, preaching the Gospel to them insistently and expect them, at that moment, to come to faith with their dying breath. Perhaps she is the neighbor who, finding someone close to death on the road, comes to the victim's aid, regardless of his religon."

I'm not saying that all religions are equal. I don't think Bl. Mother Theresa does either, who was indeed a faithful Catholic. I might baptize them (if they haven't been), but I probably wouldn't go preaching into a dying person's ears either. A terminally ill man, yes, definitely, but someone at the point of death? Show them faith, give them hope, and lavish them with love: I think Bl. Mother Theresa does them all throughout her life in Calcutta. These readings from today's Liturgy of the Hours (via Universalis.com) are probably apt:

  Mid-morning reading (Terce) 1 Corinthians 13:4 - 7
  Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.
  Noon reading (Sext) 1 Corinthians 13:8 - 13
  Love does not come to an end. But if there are gifts of prophecy, the time will come when they must fail; or the gift of languages, it will not continue for ever; and knowledge – for this, too, the time will come when it must fail. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophesying is imperfect. In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.
  Afternoon reading (None) Colossians 3:14 - 15
  Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

If today you hear his voice..

From today's Gospel reading from St. Luke 14:25-24:

"A man gave a great dinner to which he invited many. When the time for the dinner came, he dispatched his servant to say to those invited, 'Come, everything is now ready.' But one by one, they all began to excuse themselves. The first said to him, 'I have purchased a field and must go to examine it; I ask you, consider me excused.' And another said, 'I have purchased five yoke of oxen and am on my way to evaluate them; I ask you, consider me excused.' And another said, 'I have just married a woman, and therefore I cannot come.' The servant went and reported this to his master. Then the master of the house in a rage commanded his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame.' The servant reported, 'Sir, your orders have been carried out and still there is room.' The master then ordered the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedgerows and make people come in that my home may be filled. For, I tell you, none of those men who were invited will taste my dinner."

It is disquieting to think that such excuses as were given by the originally invited guests are not objectively bad things: one's business, one's properties, one's marriage. It is equally disquieting that I could easily come up with such excuses for all sorts of occasions in which it may well be the Lord inviting me to come. How does a Christian husband and father juggle his family's needs as well as his God's will? What did those countless martyrs think when confronted with a threat of execution (and therefore depriving their young families of themselves) unless they renounced Christ?

One of the debates I had with myself from the beginning is this very dilemma. Is it right for me to take my family out of our third world and needy country and raise them instead in an opulent country such as Australia? Did I come here to be salt and leaven, or am I here simply to enjoy the privileges of a first world country? Am I not getting lost in those seemingly reasonable pursuits, using them as an excuse to decline the call of the gospel?

Of course, I am probably just taking myself too seriously. I guess if I do things right, in small ways, we and our children can all be leaven and salt in this society -- provided that we don't lose the plot.

For the Lord is just in all his ways

And we who call ourselves sons and daughters of the most high must also be just. The following are from today's readings in the Liturgy of the Hours (via Universalis.com):

 Mid-morning reading (Terce) Jeremiah 22:3
 Practise honesty and integrity; rescue the man who has been wronged from the hands of his oppressor; do not exploit the stranger, the orphan, the widow; do no violence; shed no innocent blood in this place.
 Noon reading (Sext) Deuteronomy 15:7 - 8
 Is there a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any town of yours in the land that the Lord your God is giving you? Do not harden your heart or close your hand against that poor brother of yours, but be open-handed with him and lend him enough for his needs.
 Afternoon reading (None) Proverbs 22:22 - 23
 Because a man is poor, do not therefore cheat him, nor, at the city gate, oppress anybody in affliction; for the Lord takes up their cause, and extorts the life of their extortioners.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Hear their cries, O Lord!

Sadly, kidnap, rape and forced conversions like these (similar stories at the bottom of that page) are not rare enough, and seem to be ignored by mainstream media. But the Lord hears the cries of the oppressed. God have mercy on these savages.

Please pray for the victims and their families, and for our sisters living in perilous places. And may the oppressors see the light.

Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours

There is this common concept among Protestants, from Luther's famous snow-covered dunghill analogy, of the sinner before the throne of mercy, receiving mercy because Christ stands in front of us, shielding us from our just punishment by his righteousness and the ransom he already paid for us. The truth is even better than that (let me borrow from Prof. Scott Hahn here).

I think readings like these from the Liturgy of the Hours tell us just how much better:

Mid-morning reading (Terce) 2 Corinthians 13:11

Brethren, be joyful. Try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Noon reading (Sext) Romans 6:22

Now you have been set free from sin, you have been made slaves of God, and you get a reward leading to your sanctification and ending in eternal life.

Afternoon reading (None) Colossians 1:21 - 22

Not long ago, you were foreigners and enemies, in the way that you used to think and the evil things that you did; but now he has reconciled you, by his death and in that mortal body. Now you are able to appear before him holy, pure and blameless.

Healing to the contrite

It struck me today as the priest said it during Mass: "Lord, you grant healing to the contrite of heart. Lord have mercy." How wonderful indeed is our God, whose mercy goes beyond acknowledging our contribution. Rather than simply canceling our debts, he extends credit to us. Not only does he bind our wounds, he feeds us and brings us good health. And it all begins with the love of God, responded to (it is hoped) by our contrition, and reaches its climax in forgiveness and the giving to us of sanctifying grace. Praise God!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Pondering the Tiber

This is an interesting forum discussion where they tackle one particularly curious question: "What would you say to an Evangelical tempted to become Catholic or Orthodox?" You'll have to scroll to about 60% down to see the answers, but the whole piece is interesting to read.

[Link found via The Catholic Report.]

Sophia Institute Press asks for help

Sophia Institute Press is a great resource for good books, but the publisher is asking for assistance in this hour of financial need for their organization:

You know, this past quarter-century I've published hundreds of books like The Church on Earth, which, in just a paragraph, can make the difference between faith lost and faith regained.

Indeed, I've brought forth into the world over two million copies of books by the very best Catholic authors, living and dead -- authors whose holiness and wisdom continually draw souls to the Church (the perfect Church) that Christ founded 2,000 years ago.

Now, however, all this is threatened. Slow sales this past summer have left us with an empty checkbook and overdue bills approaching $50,000.

Please visit Sophia to buy a book or donate if you can.

All Saints at my parish

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of All Saints with Mass in the morning. In attendance was probably the entire primary school. Our parish priest gave a homily about the saints, past and present, not so much specific personalities, but the need to be saints. He pointed out martyrdom as something we all should be prepared for, and gave Saint Ignatius of Antioch as an example. He cited how, in his final letters, the dear bishop showed no fear from the lions he was soon to meet, but rather excitement at the prospect of finally coming home to God in Heaven.

Now there were children in that Mass, and here was our parish priest talking about martyrdom for Christ. What's wrong with this picture?

Absolutely nothing! What a good homily that was, and what blessedness to have saints and martyrs of Christ to look to for inspiration!