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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Breakers of the covenant

Psalm 88 from today's Office of Readings recounts the Lord's promises of fidelity to David and his house. In it is I think prefigurement of Christ, who is the faithful son and faithful king. But the Psalm also talks about those in David's house who might break oath. There are consequences, but the Lord is faithful beyond all graciousness:

  “But if his children abandon my law
and walk no more in the paths of my decrees;
if they profane my judgements
and do not keep to my commandments,
I will punish their transgressions with a rod,
I will punish their wickedness with a beating.

Even so, I will not turn my kindness away from him,
nor will I be untrue to my word.
I will not profane my covenant,
I will not go against the word I have spoken.
I have sworn in my sanctuary, once and for all:
I will not lie to David.
His seed shall remain for ever,
his throne firm as the sun in my sight,
just as the moon, stays firm for ever,
a faithful witness in the sky”
The Lord epitomizes faithfulness. To the Lord, covenant goes beyond a contract, which can breaks on the grounds of the other party breaking faith first. The Lord cannot be anything other than faithful forever. We know that even Solomon, and certainly his descendants later, and even David himself, broke faith through grave sin: idolatry, adultery, murder -- all serious crimes against The Law. Despite the consequences to these men, the Lord remains faithful to his oath, his covenant with David's house.

Something in this speaks to me also about the Lord's new covenant. In one perspective, this covenant is particular to each and every Christian whose baptism was his or her circumcision covenant with the Lord. At another perspective, this covenant is collective to the bride, the Church. This covenant is fulfilled in Christ's consummation on the cross when he declares "it is finished!" The Lord gives his life for his bride, and this new covenant in blood gives life to the bride.

Protestants sometimes tell me that the Bridegroom's promises of unassailability to the Bride do stand. Indeed, the Holy Spirit continues to guide each and every baptized Christian as a holy people, binding them mystically as a result of their rebirth in Christ. Some also state that this is true institutionally, in a sense, with their particular denomination (e.g., Baptist) or all reformed congregations collectively, being the remnant, faithful Church kept safe from the corruption of either the Orthodox or Roman Catholic Churches.

I suggest a different perspective (naturally). The Lord gave his word to Simon Peter in Caesarea Philippi. He named him Kepha (rock), a patriarchal tradition for anointing new leaders among God's people, e.g., Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel. Christ told him that he would build his Church on this rock (kepha). Christ promises that the very gates of Hades would not prevail against this Church. He promises to give Kepha the keys of the kingdom, which harkens to the Davidic monarchy's vizier, Shebna then Eliakim in Isaiah 22. With the keys, he receives authority to shut and open with the king's very authority. He is to be as a father to the household. As with Shebna and Eliakim, this is a public office, and there is an appointment of succession. This appointment is God's to make.

What I suggest is simple. God is faithful to his house. He gave oath to his Church, and his Church he already organized with a structure. He appointed the vizier, Kepha, with authority. Kepha is a first among equals who also share the authority to shut and open. But there will be occasion for Kepha to strengthen them. Kepha is to feed the flock, and the Lord's parable about the faithful steward comes to mind, who feeds the household with the right measure of food at the proper time. Now everything that can be said about stewardship and strengthening others can be said about every Christian in general. But the household needs more. It needs some structure. The Lord organizes them into Apostles and elders. After Pentecost, they organize into Apostolic bishoprics, e.g., Matthias for Judas Iscariot. The bishoprics are expanded with new bishops, e.g., Timothy and Titus, and they too have authority, and they too anoint successors with their hands. And they have Kepha, whose role was not entirely too clear, but insight into this became clearer in time, particularly when corruption tainted even most bishops, as during the Arian crisis.

We have had and continue to have sinful and erroneous bishops, including the pope. But the Lord is faithful, and will not set aside the offices he instituted. As in the case of Kepha, however, the Lord may rebuke -- and sternly so. As in the case of Shebna, the Lord may hurl down and thrust from his office. But the office remains. Papal infallibility does not mean that the particular man who is pope is infallible. It is the office that is invested with infallibility, and this is a teaching office. It is the Holy Spirit who preserves the integrity of the Church, despite the sinfulness and imperfection of the man who is pope.

It is shameful that the corruption of men who were pope, and those who were clergy or bishops around him, caused such scandal that made many fall away. But the Holy Spirit is more potent than we can imagine. Christ is more faithful than we deserve. This may sound fatalistic, but faced with a corrupt pope (as we mercifully have not been in the two popes I've known so far), the people of God can put their trust in God who saves. When Shebna sits in Rome, God will hurl him down so as to preserve his household. He will put Eliakim in his stead, and on him grant the charism of infallibility. Should Eliakim also break faith, then should he also be thrust out of office, and so on.

In this I hope, because the Word of God gave oath, and His Word never returns to him in vain.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Brother, or sister, or mother

In today's Gospel reading from Mark 3:31-35, we have the story of the Lord's earthly family trying to see him. When the Lord is told of this, he looks at his audience and points out ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.’

While I was reading this to my family during bedtime prayers, one of my sons asks, quite interested: who were the brothers of Jesus? He's never heard of them (he's only 6). I explained that Aramaic limitation in vocabulary which makes it possible that these brothers or sisters were simply relatives. I also pointed out that some of these brothers are mentioned elsewhere as being sons of another Mary, a relative of our Lady. Obviously, this was more food for thought for my Evangelical wife than my kids, but I'd rather give a proper answer anyway.

It bears thinking that this oddity about the largely unknown brothers and sisters of Christ cause interest. Obviously my children are not atheists looking for a way to discredit Christian tradition. It does not matter: if it is interesting, the question ought to be asked and the answer should be given.

First I had to make clear that the point of St. Mark here was to marvel at God's gift of household, making all who do the will of the Father his children, making them brothers and sisters and mothers of the Lord. I've read of strange arguments using the Lord's brothers as a way to discredit the Church, as if it really mattered so much. Our Lady's perpetual virginity is not quite drilled in vehemently in the catechism, and its theological value is the pressing subject of volumes. There is a passage in Ezekiel about the gate that shall not be opened after the Lord had already gone through it. It has elicited comment from Saints Ambrose, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and certainly from many others. It is logical if you put yourself in the shoes of St. Joseph, who would probably feel some awe at the fact that our Lady was, in the virgin birth, a holy vessel who was overshadowed by the Spirit -- the Jews were clear about how holy the ark was as a result of that overshadowing in the OT.

And yet wrangling about these brothers of the Lord detract from the message. This particular message is about the marvelous inclusion of all as children of God. His hearers, who naturally held the Lord in high regards, were likely to have felt some envy for those who were closest to the Lord: his mother and his brothers and sisters -- even twice removed cousins, or even his childhood friends who grew up around him. The Lord, however, grants them a wonderful boon: we who did not know him as a child, who did not grow up around him, are also called to be his brothers and sisters -- simply from doing the will of God.

Now I don't mean here a case of works-righteousness. This is not about buying our way into God's family. But having been adopted into this family, even so purely by grace, here is a deeper truth. We are not family in name only. We are a family in fact. The will of God? St. Basil the Great, in today's Office of Readings, expounds on the marvelous and generous love of God. And our proper response (because it is a response, not an advanced payment) is simple: Love. That is what makes a family.

Now that I think about it, the Church actually does one better than those who would use the brothers of the Lord as a stick with which to beat Church tradition. They might claim, on the cursory reading of a few passages, that Christ had younger brothers, children of Mary. The Church claims more: we are all children of Mary. We were adopted into God's family through kinship with the firstborn, Jesus Christ. If we become his brothers and sisters in baptism, what does that make of Mary who is his mother?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Work of the Devil, or work of the Holy Spirit?

Sad. That's all I can say, and how I feel, when I read about the common Protestant charge about the Church, in communion with the bishop of Rome, is the Whore of Babylon. Also, that the pope and the papacy is anti-Christ, and so on. While I can sympathize with the concern about Christians being misled, I obviously disagree from my perspective as a Catholic. Does Rome drive out demons in the name by the prince of demons? Do Catholics baptize in the name of the devil? Do the works of charity and mercy practiced by the Church scream of evil?

Or is the Catholic Church on earth, like any human institution, filled with saints who are also sinners? Does this exclude the work of the Holy Spirit within it anyway?

Our Lord was also charged with being of the devil in today's Gospel reading (Mark 3:22-30). I guess his answer is twofold: first, consider the fruits of his works and the logic of the charges in that perspective; second, his accusers should be careful whom they end up insulting.

Among those who still see the Catholic Church as diabolical, they are happy enough to take for themselves the traditions that the Church established centuries ago, e.g., Nicene Creed, the canon of the New Testament, the doctrines on the Trinity, the hypostatic union of Christ's two natures, and a few more. Regardless of how crucial these truths were, and despite their roots in the Catholic Church that did have bishops and councils and communion (of a less defined sort) with Rome, they cannot see past the bitter charges. Even after having discovered the frauds of the Maria Monks, Alberto Riveras and Jack Chicks, and even after discovering that their own congregations and leaders are also sinful, that they also made doctrinal mistakes, they don't let up. I'm not talking about all Protestants here. I know many who are happy enough to drop the Whore of Babylon or Anti-Christ labels. But others continue to wave them around. I would be the first to say that this is understandable if some grave injustice or uncharity was perhaps visited upon them by Catholic leaders in the past. But I continue to pray and hope that the Holy Spirit will heal their hurts, open their eyes, and allow them to get past the labels, finally sitting down to examine the doctrines and history of the Catholic Church with charitable criticism.

Christian free will, and the efficacious Word

More readings from today's Liturgy of the Hours that speak of our own participation in Christian living. To be precise, our participation in our sanctification, and, in the last reading, the promise of the here and now.

  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.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Instead of Disagreeing...

From today's second reading (1 Corinthians 1:10 - 17), more of the Holy Spirit's sentiments about visible Christian unity in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church:

  I appeal to you, brothers, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, to make up the differences between you, and instead of disagreeing among yourselves, to be united again in your belief and practice. From what Chloe’s people have been telling me, my dear brothers, it is clear that there are serious differences among you. What I mean are all these slogans that you have, like: ‘I am for Paul’, ‘I am for Apollos’, ‘I am for Cephas’, ‘I am for Christ’. Has Christ been parcelled out? Was it Paul that was crucified for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul? For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the Good News, and not to preach that in the terms of philosophy in which the crucifixion of Christ cannot be expressed.

Now the Gospel reading (Matthew 4:12 - 23) might give us the most straightforward clue to unity among divided Christians today. As Herr Shutz has helped me understand, unity will be achieved by all Christians following Christ. And as I have learned from Mark Shea, this requires all to give a thorough and thoroughly meditated answer to Christ's most pressing question to all who would be his followers: "who do you say that I am?" I have to admit that I am not convinced with the answers coming from those who believe that the answer must conform with the times. Making the answer more relevant to modern hearers does not mean changing the answer, but merely in delivering it differently. Changing the answer is not an option, for Christ is the same yesterday, today and for always, objectively true, the Son of God who came to redeem us from sin by his sacrifice on the cross, because he loves us. This gospel, however, can be obscured by the squabbling among those who believe it, and that is a grave scandal, for there are many more who need to hear and see this gospel as a sign that there is Jesus of Nazareth, the light that Isaiah spoke of in prophecy (Isaiah 8:23 - 9:3):

  The people that walked in darkness
has seen a great light;
on those who live in a land of deep shadow
a light has shone.
You have made their gladness greater,
you have made their joy increase;
they rejoice in your presence
as men rejoice at harvest time,
as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils.

And how confused people might be when they hear Christians argue, `I am for Paul', `I am for Apollos', `I am for Christ' -- dare I say it then, `I am for Luther', `I am for Calvin', `I am for Rome', `I am for Constantinople'. What scandal!

But I cannot resist pointing out that in the first millennium, there was only one universal Church, whose bishops were all in accord. That unity was challenged occasionally by heresy and heterodoxy, but they knew what the norm was, because that was what Christ expected. So those occasions were occasions of grace, too, where the Holy Spirit pulled the Church back, time and again, from endless fragmentation.

Where are we now, and what have we (not) done?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Survey of Chistendom Reformed

Interesting online opinion here about the topic. I don't think that the author is actually pushing for everything becoming one under Rome under a monolithic model, but he is pushing rather aggressively for some unitive direction. It is not a bad position, I guess. No one really knows how a singular, visibly united Church consisting of Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox will ever look in the future. We continue to hope, however, and trust in Christ's powerful prayer for unity in John 17.

Something that came to mind was whether confessional Protestants, Evangelicals and Baptists (I'm sure I didn't quite get all the appellations, e.g., emergent; but I do mean all adherents of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide) should first attempt to overcome their theological differences and become one spiritual communion. [That is how I think the Eucharist is received in the aforementioned denominations except among Lutherans and Anglicans, that the Eucharist is symbolic but they receive Christ spiritually] But, come to think of it, it isn't that simple. I am no expert, but I think that the aggressively non-sacramental theology of Baptists, not to mention their particular notion of predestination, will not sit well at all with Lutherans. Catholics and Lutherans hold baptism and the Eucharist as very real sacraments. Likewise, Evangelical who worship in mega-churches are very different to Lutheran and Anglical notions of liturgy centered on the Eucharist.

Perhaps the only real way forward is to proceed to who truly is in the center: the head of the Church, Jesus Christ. This is not to discount the Church, his body, since by this I mean the Church of the last 2000 years, within which are several Fathers and councils that most Christians of any ilk are willing to listen to, as with the creeds. Nonetheless, this requires a profoundly different stance towards ecumenism. It must go beyond "I'm okay, you're okay, we're okay". Taking my queue from the down-to-earth approach of Mark Shea, it really must come down to responding to the Lord's question:

"Who do you say that I am?"

And that does not exclude looking around to what other Christians across the river are saying. We might just learn something, and that goes for Catholics, too.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Unity in the Body of Christ

Apt to consider with the post just below are the following passages, from today's readings in the Liturgy of the Hours.

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.

Protestant or not?

There is an interesting discussion in Extra Nos about "Protestant" as an appellation. Some reject it, some embrace it. It is heartening to note that it binds them to the western Church somehow, and those who use it are aware of it, but it is also disheartening because it is used as a perpetually sore condemnation that, in some cases, will apply to the Catholic Church in any age, regardless of where they really stand in the issues of justification and ecclesiology. Now I must admit that it is embarassing to report on how mushy I can get on this topic, since I am sometimes rather shameless in melodrama. Today is one of those days, and I couldn't write it any other way anyway, so below was my contribution to their discussion:


I was forming a thesis in my mind recently about Evangelicals, confessional Protestants, and Roman Catholics. There seems to be a trajectory for Evangelicals towards an increasingly Roman Catholic outlook, which seems to also translate a diminishing level of hostility towards Roman Catholics. The thesis is simple, really: by identifying themselves as Evangelicals, born again, or simply Christians, these folks are not as grounded on the Reformation. Hence they are no longer steeped in the bitterness of the Reformation.

Now I would not deny that learning from the past need not be sacrificed in the name of healing. While grudges have no place in the heart of Christians, we must never forget mistakes made all around. For example, I believe that the pope should have handled Luther with more pastoral concern. Eck should not have been sicced on him. Those are some of my observations from our side. In any case, done is done, but too much bitterness remains. In my limited experience, I see this bitterness most among the Protestants who sound like they are blaming me for the corruption of the Church in the 16th century. ;-)

I just think that holding on to the bitterness of the 16th century goes against the Spirit of unity. At times, the continued jibes, barbs and accusations sound improportionately contrary to charity, so that calm, charitable criticism can be so lost in the depths of bitterness and blame.

Many Evangelicals I know today are perfectly willing to consider Catholics, on an individual basis, fellow Christians. I am thankful that Lito accords me the same concession, although it may be biased since he knows me and he considers me to be an Evangelical who remains a member of the Catholic Church. ;-)

Anyway, the Evangelicals I know seem to have shed all identification with being "Protestant" and, instead of defining themselves as being against something, are embracing the way forward as being for something else.

I do not think that a visible unity among all Christians is impossible in this age. That would seem odd when you look at John 17 and various passages of St. Pauls as in 1 Cor 12.

The crucial step which I hope all Christians would take -- and there are unwililing parties on all sides -- is to concede Christ's will for unity, the purpose of that unity, and trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about such a unity, despite some rather depressing failings of human nature, e.g., a penchant for squabbling.

I would also be so bold to say that, holding on to the bitterness and the need to be angry makes the Spirit of unity sad. I'm not at this point saying that all Protestants should consider what it would be like to become Roman Catholics. That is too specific, and no one asks the eastern Catholics to subscribe to the Roman rite, nor the Melkite, Coptic, Assyrian, etc. Simply be open to the possibilty -- and pray for it -- that the journey towards Christ should necessarily bring about a single communion within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

It isn't that we will ask the Holy Spirit to help us in our work of unity: it is more in asking the Holy Spirit to aid us so that we do not resist in His work of unity.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The God of the empirical

The Church declares that we are saved by grace alone through faith that works in love. It is dizzying how such an orthodox position can be attacked over ... well, over what I feel are technicalities. One that puzzles me is the bold assertion that we are saved by faith alone but it is a faith that is not alone. We certainly agree that we are justified by faith that is not alone, so I don't see the logic in claiming sola fide at all.

Not to seem offensive, but I just don't see the angst. It is sufficient to point out that we do not save ourselves, not even with God's help (as Trent condemns both). It is enough to point out that we are saved entirely by God's grace, and it is He who saves: we are simply participants whose will must not reject him. And when the Church puts emphasis on works? These passages from the Old Testament (yes, the OT is also inspired and inerrant) might explain:

 1 Kings 8:60 - 61
  May all the peoples of the earth come to know that the Lord is God indeed, and that there is no other. May your hearts be wholly with the Lord our God, following his laws and keeping his commandments as at this present day.
 Jeremiah 17:9 - 10
 The heart is more devious than any other thing, perverse too: who can pierce its secrets? I, the Lord, search to the heart, I probe the loins, to give each man what his conduct and his actions deserve.

It isn't that our actions will merit us our justification. That is pure grace and is clear. The words above are for the people of God, already justified, so it puts things in perspective. As the justified, we are adopted children of God, and there are expectations of us to conduct ourselves holy, for the Lord our God is holy. Likewise, since he judges our conducts, then there are consequences to our actions. What consequences are in store for evil actions? To whom much is given, much is expected indeed. People of God, to whom He has poured out His Spirit, for whom salvation was bought by the precious blood of the Lamb, have everything they need, despite their concupiscence, to conduct themselves worthily -- for they have the Holy Spirit. If we willfully turn away from God's grace, if we deliberately reject God's love and choose grave evil, what then does our choice merit?

[The passages above are from the Liturgy of the Hours, via Universalis.]

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Jesus cures a leper

In today's readings, we read about two supplications with very different results. In the first (1 Samuel 4:1-11), the Israelite army, having been defeated by the Philistines, bring up the ark of the covenant among them, trusting that the Lord will then lead them to victory. They instead suffer a more disastrous defeat, and the ark is captured by their enemies. The Psalms (Psalms 44(43),10-11.14-15.25-26) lament a profound disappointment that is fitting. In the gospel reading (Mark 1:40-45), a leper begs the Lord for healing, the Lord touches the leper and heals him.

Over at Extra Nos, Lito and I have been discussing the feast of the Black Nazarene, celebrated in the Philippines every year. In this feast, devotees believe that they can obtain the Lord's blessings in various forms by touching the Black Nazarene statue: a wooden replica of the Lord carrying the cross. It is four hundred years old. It is black because it had improbably survived two major fires that destroyed the church housing the statue. It has also survived two earthquakes, and the devastating bombing of Manila in the second world war. Lito is rightly concerned that these devotees might be putting their trust on the touch, rather than seeking recourse in prayer. And yet we have the example of St. Paul's face cloth in Acts 19, which reports that touching the cloth endowed healing. Lito counters that this is St. Paul's cloth, and its properties are in Scripture, whereas the Black Nazarene is not reported in the Bible. Nor is there a report in the Bible of curative properties for simply any object that belongs to or is a replica of holy people. There is only St. Paul's face cloth, the Lord's garments, the bones of Ezekiel, the ark of the covenant, the staff of Moses, the serpent staff, etc. No general statement about other items in general.

However, I do propose that the Word made flesh is more than the word in print. While we have this limited collection of inspired scriptures, the Lord is not limited to them. His revelations, as in the canon of Scripture, exhibits beyond the pages of canonical Scripture. His works go beyond the reports of the evangelists. I only propose, therefore, where miracles are concerned, that if the Lord had at some instance used physical objects as channels of his grace, e.g., to heal, then it is entirely possible that he may do so again for objects that are not reported in Scripture. There is no explicit report about infants being baptized, for example, but Lutherans and Catholics (as with the Orthodox, among others) believe in the efficacy of infant baptism. There is no explicit report about transubstantiation nor consubstantiation, and yet Catholics and Lutherans believe in the real presence of the Lamb of God in the bread and wine.

Perhaps what has yet to be considered is that many who observe the Black Nazarene devotions really have experienced the Lord's healing in their lives. And perhaps the survival of the Black Nazarene statue through fire and earthquake was indeed miraculous. I am not a devotee of the Black Nazarene, and I will likely never become one. I hate crowds, for one thing, and I am not a very "touchy" sort of Catholic. That is perhaps to my disadvantage: my faith is not as childlike as theirs.

What is certainly true is that the devotees must be aware of two things in their devotions. First, they must understand that the source of blessings is the Lord himself. He may indeed use a charred statue, and, having been touched by God's holy protection, it may indeed be a blessed statue. But the Lord is the source of that blessedness, and all healing comes from the Lord. Second, they must understand that the Lord chooses when to bless and when not to, as in the readings today illustrate. Supplicants must not presume that the Lord is a genie, compelled to grant wishes by the devotion of touching the statue, or any particular work (such as bringing the holy ark of the covenant into battle) or object (such as the ark). And I think Lito is rightly concerned that the priests in charge of the feast should make that clear, and the bishops of the land should teach that clearly.

But who is to say that they haven't already, as the archbishop clarifies in his invitation to the fourth centenary in 2006? In it he wrote:

  • that the centenary celebration shall carry the theme: ”JESUS NAZARENO – KAGANAPAN NG BUHAY” (Jn. 10:10), which appropriately embodies His salvific role as center of our lives
  • that the two-fold objectives of the centenary shall be:
    • The renewal and strengthening of the faith of the Filipino people in the tender mercy and love of Almighty God, who sent His Son as an aloning sacrifice for our sins (1 Jn.4-10); and
    • The preservation and enhancement if the heritage devotion of the Filipino people in the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29), under the special appellation of NUESTRO PADRE JESUS NAZARENO;
  • that all celebrations shall be directed at understanding the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church in particular the catechesis proposed by the Archdiocese of Manila in its Vision Statement and encouraging the faithful to frequent the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion;

Trent repeats the points in Nicea II in stating the following about venerating images in general:

  [The holy Synod commands] that images of Christ, the Virgin Mother of God, and other saints are to be held and kept especially in churches, that due honour and reverence (debitum honorem et venerationem) are to be paid to them, not that any divinity or power is thought to be in them for the sake of which they may be worshipped, or that anything can be asked of them, or that any trust may be put in images, as was done by the heathen who put their trust in their idols [Ps. cxxxiv, 15 sqq.], but because the honour shown to them is referred to the prototypes which they represent, so that by kissing, uncovering to, kneeling before images we adore Christ and honour the saints whose likeness they bear (Denzinger, no. 986).

The efficacy of catechizing devotees in particular is difficult to measure, but who is to say that all who hear will at all pay heed? I am certain that many, if not most of the devotees, are aware of these crucial things. The catechism is concisely clear about the proper disposition to images. I believe my people in the Philippines are smart enough to know the difference between the statue and the prototype. They would connect mentally and sentimentally with the prototype (Christ). But there is a different and greater danger. I am also sure that many among them, like the Israelite army in the first reading (1 Samuel 4), might approach the Lord without humility. When the ark of the Lord appears among them before the second battle, the army is proud and perhaps arrogant. They do not treat the Lord with respect, but consider the ark as a talisman that they control as they please. Among them were Eli's sons, corrupt as narrated in 1 Samuel 2, yet incredibly certain that the ark's presence means that the Lord will ignore their unrepentant disposition. Perhaps some devotees will likewise approach the Black Nazarene as if it were a talisman, rather than approach the Lord with humble supplication. Instead of praying "if you will, you can make me clean", they might instead demand "make me clean!"

Ultimately, I know nothing of these things about the devotees personally and with certitude. I cannot read their minds and hearts. Only the Lord can, and to whom he will, he will grant his blessings.

[Further reading on the Black Nazarene from Whispers in the Logia. Other sources are inline above.]

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

An accredited prophet of the Lord

In today's first reading (1 Samuel 3:1-10,19-20), we read about young Samuel called by God in the middle of the night. From that moment, his calling is confirmed by Eli, "and the LORD was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect. Thus all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba came to know that Samuel was an accredited prophet of the LORD."

Whereas all Christians are called to be prophets, there is a particular ministry to prophecy, just as there is, according to St. Paul, a special gift of prophecy -- a charism, given by the Holy Spirit. Samuel is a recipient of this wonderful gift, and so the Lord makes sure that "any word of his" (Samuel's) is not without effect. And so everyone knows that he is an accredited prophet of the Lord.

It would be wonderful in this day and age to know for certain that certain individuals are "accredited" prophets of the Lord. Scriptural authority is ratehr limited because what is spoken by the preacher is not necessarily what is written. That is because some things that must be said are not always explicitly written, e.g., the truth about abortion and the sanctity of embryonic/fetal life. And so people find ways to dither and differ from the silence of or lack of explicitness in Scripture.

Needless to say, we do have that in the Catholic Church: our bishops and the bishop of Rome. The Orthodox have that, and they get by for the most part with just their bishops. I'm not bragging about that, but I am thankful. I don't know any of the bishops personally, nor am I familiar with any significant portion of what they have been teaching. I trust their office, however, as Apostolic successors, because I trust the one who instituted the office: Christ, the head of the Church. I also trust the one who continually confirms the office: the Holy Spirit, the soul of the Church. None of these bishops have ever been impeccable -- without sin -- but I believe in God's promises to the Apostles in particular, authority to teach. They are accredited prophets of the Lord, and I can trust that accreditation.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

False scientific reports

A Georgetown University report promotes condoms and blasts behavioral change promotion from faith-based communities. Tragically, the reverse is true instead, as scientific data substantiates clearly. This goes beyond ideological competition: formulating government policy based on this erroneous report will cause more people to contract and die from AIDS. Unfortunately, such false reporting is common in many countries where condom profits and lifestyle agendas are more important than the truth.


In today's gospel reading (Mark 1:21-28), the Lord visits a synagogue where "[t]he people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes."

The homily I heard today focused on how authority can be easily undermined by a disconnection between one's words and one's actions. The priest cited how, throughout Church history, we have been unfortunate enough to have Church leaders with such a disconnection: hypocrites, in other words. Lest we forget, however, hypocrisy is a disease that is in all of us. As a father, I lapse into this fairly often in what I tell my kids about keeping their temper or sharing with one another. The tragedy in hypocrisy is that our words may be precise and true, but our contrary actions will render our words hollow. Worse still, our hearers, who hate our contrary actions, will associate the same hatred with our words. Just look at how many people now hate the Gospel, true as it is, because of some hurt suffered in the past due to the untoward actions of hypocrites.

There is one person in all the world, however, who is without any hypocrisy: Jesus of Nazareth. His words and his actions are one: they are of love. Even better, he shares his holiness with us, his very life. This divine life can heal our hypocrisy -- if we do not reject this gift.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Filipino Feast of the Black Nazarene

Black Nazarene feast procession in Quiapo, Manila. (Copyright Sidney Snoeck, Pinoy Travel Blog)

Over at Extra Nos, my Lutheran friend Lito blogs about the feast of the Black Nazarene, which is celebrated by thousands in Manila every year.

This sort of devotion is not my cup of tea, but I would not cast this as a bad form of devotion, as such. It may be a reflex for me to do so, some part of my mind pigeonholes this as superstition, but that would be too broad a brush. I have no doubt that many if not most of these devotees are truly devoted to Christ, gratefully see him as their savior, and strive as best they can to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. No doubt, there would be some, too, who would go through the motions and devotions, then go back to living lives contrary to the gospel. The need to deny themselves is no different to my need to deny myself daily; we are all sinners.

Devotions like these remind me of the woman whose bleeding stopped when she touched the edge of the Lord's garments (Luke 8:43-48). That, too, smacked of something superstitious, but the Lord does not hold that against her, and uses it for her benefit.

I have never and will probably never go to the Black Nazarene feast celebrations. But I do rejoice that so many would at least seek refuge in Christ our savior, and pray along with them for fortitude in tribulations and blessings of any sort that come from Him.

As for me, I will seek the Lord's healing, so that I should never, in pride, look down on those whose faith is simpler than my impression of mine. Their theology may indeed be different: down on bended knees more than with books, but who am I to say that theirs is not true faith that comes from the Holy Spirit working in them?

The bishops in the Philippines have responded to two tragic deaths during the massive procession Wednesday last week, by inviting people to rethink their faith, while careful not to judge them:

  Msgr. Pedro Quitorio, spokesperson of the said Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said the tragedy meant that the Church may need to bring Filipino Catholics to a more “mature” level of faith.
This is the kind of faith that knows that it is in loving one’s neighbor and living the Gospel that a person is brought nearer to God’s blessings rather than the touching of a miraculous image of Jesus, said Quitorio.
He said a deep understanding of one’s faith will help a person understand that God’s blessings will not depend on the touching of a miraculous image but on how one lives out the gospel of God.
Quitorio clarified, however, that Church officials are not passing judgment on the kind of faith espoused by the majority of Filipinos, which strongly believes that by simply touching a miraculous image of Christ or that of a saint will grant a wish or a prayer.
“That is their level of conviction. They believe that if they touch the image they will have good lives, they will be healed of their sickness. We respect this. We don’t judge these acts,” said Quitorio.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Sanctification and Purgatory

This is not well-researched, but a thought came to mind yesterday as I listened to Dr. Francis Beckwith's interview at "Stand to Reason" (see yesterday's post) and to Dr. Scott Hahn's interview at Spirit FM from years ago. Here is another link to Scott's audio interviews via EWTN, I think. The catechism does not really provide too many specific details about Purgatory (here's an article in Catholic Answers). It could be a place or a state, for example, but no one knows how time is kept therein. But what is taught appears to me to be a mere extension of sanctification, which Evangelicals understand, except that they can only conceive of it as a process during one's life.

If any Protestant and Evangelical passes through these blogs, I would like to ask this question: from the perspective of Scripture and logic, is there any reason to definitely shun the extension of sanctification past our deaths? Note that, being an extension of sanctification, Purgatory only pertains to the justified, who are in Christ and share in his divine life.

Comments, if you please?

[I observe that much of the resistance to Purgatory has been the mistaken notion that Purgatory is a second chance for sinners to repent, to be justified, and to be sanctified. This is not so. It is only an extension to sanctification for those already justified.]

Steve Ray (from whom I borrowed that graphic above), blogged on Purgatory some time ago, too, with some Scriptural references.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Get a Catholic revert on Evangelical radio show

.. and you get an interesting 2 hours. Dr. Francis Beckwith went on his first interview on Stand To Reason concerning his reversion to the Catholic Church. There is a modest discussion about this interview at the Catholic Answers forum, too. While Dr. Beckwith was indeed unprepared for the specific topics, he gave some rather good answers and I learned a few things from the whole thing -- mainly a better idea about what sort of issues due arise from a Evangelical-to-Catholic conversion/reversion. Dr. Beckwith's blogged account of his conversion appears to be cached via google. The Right Reason blog reports errors when attempting to recover archived blogs (the blog was closed down October 2007).

So what did I find interesting about the interview? For one, that it was identified at some point that the issues of justification and authority are key. I also learned the continuity of the doctrines on sanctification as pertaining to Purgatory and indulgences. A few other things struck me, also, but it'll be a few days for me to digest.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Who's Afraid of Mary?

Mark Shea talks about it in this excellent post, not about normal Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin, but about Protestant terror of it. This has set my mind to ordering a few copies of his book, "Behold Your Mother: An Evangelical Discovers the Blessed Virgin Mary". In this post, Mark makes an excellent point about how extremes in denying the biblical blessedness of Mary lead to unscriptural and incorrect beliefs about the Incarnation and the Gospel. Such errors persist, however, and result in oddities such as the picture of our Lord as an inhuman savior who never called his mother "Mother", or that of a disconnected redeemer who, not having partaken of the human material of his "mother", did not really redeem the children of Adam and Eve after all.

Of course, I would, as a good Catholic, condemn the errors of Mariolatry, and I have seen signs of it, growing up in the Philippines. Now Filipino Catholics have not started offering a sacrifice (which is what worship is in the Judeo-Christian context) to Mary (or of Mary). Feasts of saints, including Mary, are still celebrated within the proper context of the Eucharistic celebration (Mass), where we unite ourselves to the one redemptive sacrifice of Christ in Calvary, offered to the Father. However, in a few places (such as Quiapo and Tondo), frequent and popular Marian novenas, as well as the occasional processions, seemed excessive. I wouldn't know personally if people actually prefer to pray novenas rather than go to Mass. Perhaps I see a lot of novenas being prayerd because they are simply unable to reconcile weekday Mass times with their busy schedules. I did not see excesses in my hometown of Lucena, even coming from the Holy Rosary Catholic School, even where Marian devotion is naturally encouraged and thriving. We had a rosary rally in October, celebrated in some years. I remember them as prayerful celebrations, meditating upon the mysteries of the rosary. We have Flores de Mayo once a year, although I seem to remember that more as a beauty pageant, much as our Queen Rose of Mary fund-raising pageant in school.

I am sure that there are abuses in Marian devotion. I do not see this as a general indictment, therefore, of Marian devotion, for I remain a Marian devotee, as was my primary and high school, as well as the university where I attended college -- and I did not see the excesses there. After all, who would say that sinners among us indicts Christianity or the Body of the Christ in general? Of course, I do understand the frustration of some, who attended in a Catholic school and came away with a different experience. The Lord warned about false teachers vividly, but the Lord also promised the Spirit of Truth, as well as a charism of certitude based on the keys of the kingdom to St. Peter in particular, and delegated authority to the apostles in general.

My Lutheran friend is incredibly frustrated at this, but his conclusion is correct: the Magisterium is indeed the official teaching authority of the Church. I cannot put in any differently, but his ire towards the notion of improper catechism in Catholic schools is not misguided. Well-meaning and reasonably catechized teachers can and do commit mistakes, if not deliberate abuses. In college, my RE teacher was caught up in liberation theology. Some of it was right, some of it was wrong, and it was the Magisterium which clarified that for me. In high school, our priest gave me some bad advice which I corrected only after clarification with the catechism and another priest.

My Lutheran friend is correct in indicting that the Church has a responsibility to address devotional abuses in our country. It is almost certain that they can do a better job of it, but I have no certainty that they haven't been doing their best. I did not personally encounter such Marian excesses in my life as a Filipino Catholic, and there are certainly none here in Melbourne. Perhaps the schools and parishes I've joined have simply been blessed like that and his were sadly not? But to say that the Church numbers among her members saints and sinners, orthodox teachers and heterodox ones -- what makes this so improbable?