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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lent is love: God's love

Rather than make too much out of the penitent practices, it is best to remember that Lent is about love: God's love for us. This is not a warm-and-fuzzy love, nor about being okay with each other. It is about what is good for us, which is what is behind the great love that God bears for us. The following come from today's readings from the Liturgy of the Hours, courtesy of Universalis.com

Mid-morning reading (Terce)Isaiah 55:6 - 7 ©
Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near. Let the wicked man abandon his way, the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him, to our God who is rich in forgiving.

Noon reading (Sext)Deuteronomy 30:2 - 3 ©
If you return to the Lord your God, if you obey his voice with all your heart and soul in everything I enjoin on you today, you and your children, then the Lord your God will bring back your captives and will have pity on you.

Afternoon reading (None)Hebrews 10:35 - 36 ©
Continue to have confidence, since the reward is so great. You will need endurance to do God’s will and gain what he has promised.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why do Christians fast?

Bro. Austin G. Murphy, O.S.B. from Ignatius Insight explains why.

[Thanks to the blog, Against the Grain, for this link.]

Good deeds...

.. must have, at its root, love:

  If, in accomplishing a good deed, we do not have as our goal God’s glory and the real well being of our brothers and sisters, looking rather for a return of personal interest or simply of applause, we place ourselves outside of the Gospel vision.

That's from Papa Benedict XVI in his Lenten Message this year.

[Thanks to the blog, Against the Grain, for this timely message.]

Saturday, February 23, 2008

May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life

The above is said at the end of the Penitential Rite, soon after Mass begins. A Lutheran acquaintance complained a few weeks back about the said prayer because it says "may" when it is already a fact that God has shown mercy and forgiven our sins. This is a common understanding among Protestants for whom it is most important to emphasize that we have obtained forgiveness unmerited -- past, present and future. However, while it is true that the once and for all atonement in Calvary expiates all our sins for all times, it remains a proper posture for us to actually ask for forgiveness at all times. Protestants variably refer to this as being confronted by the Law and living out repentance for our entire lives, or, as some Evangelicals use the term, pleading the blood for forgiveness (among other things). None of them would deny the singular event on Calvary, but they mostly recognize that we all continue to sin, even after having become Christians (whether from baptism or, as others think, from praying the sinner's prayer). For these, which were not confessed when we first became Christians, we humbly ask pardon. And for our continuing attachment to sin -- concupiscence -- leading us to the same sin again and again, we must repent.

Therefore, I don't see that the above prayer is problematic at all. It would not have met with objections if ancient Christian liturgy and Scriptures are any indication. Here is an ancient Lenten prayer, which is also a commentary for today's Gospel reading (Luke 15:1 - 32) on the prodigal son:

  Saint Andrew of Crete (660-740), monk and Bishop
Grand canon of the Orthodox Lenten liturgy, 1st ode

"Here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father"

How shall I begin to weep for the works of my life?
What shall be the first notes of my mourning chant?
In your mercy, O Christ, grant me the forgiveness of my sins…

As the potter who moulds the clay
So you have given me, O my Creator, flesh and bones, breath and life.
O Lord who created me, my judge and Saviour,
Take me back to you this day.

O my Saviour, before you I confess my sins.
I have fallen beneath the blows of the Adversary;
Behold the wounds with which my death-dealing thoughts
Have wounded, like brigands, my soul and body (Lk 10,30f.).

I have sinned, my Lord, yet I know that you love mankind.
It is in tenderness you chastise us
And in your ardent compassion.
You see me weeping and come towards me
Like the Father welcoming the prodigal son.

Since my youth, O my Saviour, I have despised your commandments.
I have spent my life in obsession and heedlessness.
I call to you: Before I die,
Save me…

I have dissipated in emptiness the inheritance of my soul.
I lack the fruits of fervour and now I feel hunger.
I cry out: Father, full of compassion, come to me,
Take me in your mercy.

The one whom the robbers attacked (Lk 10,30f.)
Is myself in the midst of the wandering of my thoughts.
They strike me and wound me.
But you, O Christ my Saviour, bend down to me and heal me.

The priest sees me and turns away.
The Levite sees me, naked and in distress, but passes by on the other side.
But you, O Jesus born of Mary,
You stop to help me.

Jesus, I cast myself at your feet;
I have sinned against your love.
Free me from this burden for it is too heavy for me
And, in your mercy, take me to yourself.

Do not enter into judgement with me,
Do not uncover my deeds,
Nor inspect my motives and desires.
But in your compassion, All-Powerful one,
Close your eyes to my sins and save me.

Now is the time of repentance. I come to you.
Free me from the heavy burden of my sins
And, in your gentleness, grant to me tears of repentance.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Lenten readings

The following are readings from the Liturgy of the Hours. As always, in the Scriptures, God draws near to us and calls us to him.

Morning Prayer reading, Romans 12:1-2
Think of God’s mercy, my brothers, and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God. Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.
Mid-morning reading (Terce) Wisdom 11:23 - 24
Lord, you are merciful to all, because you can do all things and overlook men’s sins so that they can repent. Yes, you love all that exists, you hold in abhorrence nothing of what you have made.
Noon reading (Sext) Ezekiel 18:23
Am I likely to take pleasure in the death of a wicked man – it is the Lord who speaks – and not prefer to see him renounce his wickedness and live?
Afternoon reading (None) Isaiah 58:6 - 7
Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me – it is the Lord who speaks – to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, to clothe the man you see to be naked and not turn from your own kin?

[Readings taken from Universalis.com]

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hard but liberating words to live by

In today's Gospel reading, our Lord teaches us how to pray. He also leaves us some hard words to consider about forgiveness:

 ‘Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.’
I am currently discussing with Lutheran friends what they call JBWA: "justified by works also". They object to it based on the Protestant principle of being saved by faith alone (sola fide). But these particular Lutherans do not subscribe that once one is saved, one is always saved (and assured of it). It is therefore plausible to explain that, in that lifetime of being saved, or, having been saved, in the lifetime of remaining saved, one's cooperation has an impact. This cooperation, they see as "works also", and they will never permit that it is a cause of justification. Fair enough, I think. The who of salvation is of course he-who-saves (Yeshua), our Lord and God, Jesus Christ. The what of remaining saved, as in the things that impact our state of grace, includes, significantly, obedience. Not as a cause, but as a requirement of God, i.e., he requires our obedience. In their doctrines, faith that saves (or that which keeps us saved), seems to what we Catholics might refer to as a living faith, or a life of faith. This necessarily involves obedience -- and that involves love, as in the two greatest commandments to love God with all our mind, heart, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love exhibits itself in good works.

Faith without (good) works is dead, says St. James, so works are in there someplace as the "flesh" of our faith. If we refuse to give our works over to the will of God in obedience, then we most certainly wreck our faith and imperil our salvation. This refusal to obey is the opposite of cooperation with grace. This refusal to love is a rejection of God, who is love. Therefore, cooperation with grace, which is by obedience in our whole being (body included), does impact our salvation. It is not the cause of it, but it is a requirement. More precisely, it is God's requirement.

But a word about the Catholic notion of being saved: we don't generally express it in this way. We know instead of the state of grace, which keeps us in friendship and unity with God. Mortal sin (deliberate and gravely evil works) severs that state of grace, so we therefore understand salvation as a process that mortal sin can interrupt. We also understand that refusing to re-establish that state of grace, that friendship with God, may completely derail salvation. Thus, it is our habit to speak only of the state of grace, not of being certainly saved. The New Testament also refers often to the Last Day, at the hour of judgment, as the definite time of salvation, because that is when the process is complete. It is not a lack of confidence in the God who saves, but a realistic assessment of our sinful nature, which, in the state of grace, is being repaired by the Holy Spirit. It is daunting to think that God has given us the will to resist and rebuff the Holy Spirit. Just look again at what the Lord teaches above about the refusal to forgive. But we take comfort in the fact that we are not without help -- we refer to the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete, the helper. With his help, we can discern, we can forgive, we can love, we can obey.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Why do you eat and drink with .. sinners

I don't know what I would have done in the 16th century, had I been witness to the corruption of Catholics then, including clergy. Perhaps I would have been one of the corrupt ones. I don't know what I would have done had I been anywhere near the clergy sex abuse cases. But if asked now, "how can you believe in the Catholic Church?" I might point this out:"

 "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus said to them in reply, "Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners." [Luke 5:27-32, today's Gospel reading]

The Lord does not give up his covenants, and the Church is more than a collective: she is a family, bound by the Holy Spirit in a unity beyond that of a natural family. She is the Bride, and the Bridegroom has married her in holy covenant, consummated his sacrifice for her, and will never abandon her for new brides.

Christian Attenuation Continues...

.. as Anglican archbishop pushes for sharia law in England.

Evangelicals reconnecting with the early Church

Interesting developments in Protestant circles.

I will give to you .. this box of biscuits

I don't know why, but as I was pondering my kids behind me in the car, Justin holding the box, Patrick asking him to pass the box over, Caesarea Philippi came to mind. One Peter, one set of keys, mandated rather than arrogated.

Then Justin gave the box to Francis, who sits between the two, making the box accessible to all. And I figure that it was the best situation, for the box to be given to one of them only, mandated to .. hold the box so that everyone can get a biscuit. There really was no need to pass the box around after that. I couldn't have planned it better.

Friday, February 08, 2008

I Am

All Christians should be aware of the implications of those two little words. I AM is how the Lord is known in the Old Testament. I remember our RE teacher in college pronouncing what I think was the Hebrew: eyeh asher eyeh, and it stuck in my mind. It made perfect sense that God who has no other reference of significance except Himself can only say that he is simply .. he is.

This also tells a tale about self-idolatry. When a man puts everything under a reference to himself, i.e., I am <blah>, then he is indeed exalting himself and making himself out to be .. God, who alone can really claim that reference.

Of course, I'm not saying we cannot literally say things like "I am Jeff" or "I am a father of three boys" or "I am the world's sorriest excuse of a handyman." I haven't got time to think about everything that I might attach to "I am" in referring to myself, but it seems at first glance that they are all references relational to something else. I am, indeed, Jeff, but I did not give myself that appellation. I am a father only because I do indeed have children. And I am a poor fix-it-man in reference to my attempts to fix things around the house. Besides, there's something disturbing about so many "I am" to throw around when, in the blink of an eye, "am" becomes "was". One day, I might even forget my own name!

Two little words with incredible significance. Abused, they run the risk of embarrassing us utterly if our claims are subsequently found out to be false.

Something else to be said about self-reference is that it is best replaced with a different model: external references. Rather than make claims about oneself, having witnesses works best -- even better with two witnesses. This may seem a stretch, but what brought on this blog post was some unease I am having in dialogue with Protestants. Do I really have to read the Book of Concord in order to make any case about the Catholic faith? Well, no, since they're not obliging me to look there anyway, but yes, since I really want to contribute to the dialogue. Except that, I get the feeling that it will degenerate into "my creed is purer than your creed". What's worse is when it is reduced to "my interpretation is better than yours!" And that's at the crux of the "I Am" dilemma: is it up to you and me? Can't we bring in a grown-up into this fray? Yes, but which grown-up do we trust? Oh, the Church? That grown-up is anti-Christ, putting itself ahead/above God. Well, not really. I like order, and it seems to me neat and orderly that the Church Magisterium does not have to make claims about itself based on .. itself. The Magisterium is not trustworthy because the pope and the bishops are wise, or learned, or more academically gifted. Why, you can put a few fishermen, a tax collector, and someone who once condoned the unjust execution of an innocent man named Stephen, and by Christ, they're trustworthy. Why? Because Christ said so.

But you, what about your teaching authority -- where does it come from? Who appointed you elder? Who laid hands on you, gave you the keys of the kingdom, and promised you infallibility, so that what you bind and loose on earth are bound and loosed in Heaven?

Don't look at me! No sir, I know I was never given that appointment. I have enough trouble with my anointing as a husband and a father. Me, infallible? Just who do you think I am?!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday

Today marks the beginning of Lent, a penitential season set out by the Church as our forty days in the desert. It is not a dull time if we remember that Christ is with us. These days remind us of our need for constant renewal. To Protestants, this could be best understood as a means of being constantly confronted with The Law. With the very life of God in us as sanctifying grace, we can live up the Law, but not perfectly. However, each day thus lived, falls and all, is the opportunity to grow in holiness. In the desert of Lent, we set ourselves apart, finding ourselves with Christ in that bare landscape, away from the distractions of everything else in the world.

The Daily Gospel readings focus on the heart of Lent, which actually is to the heart, rather than in the rituals themselves, which are only means to reach the heart. Pope Benedict XVI (General audience of 21/02/07 ©Libreria editrice Vaticana) refers to Lent as "a way to true freedom":

From the outset Lent was lived as the season of immediate preparation for Baptism, to be solemnly administered during the Easter Vigil. The whole of Lent was a journey towards this important encounter with Christ, this immersion in Christ, this renewal of life. We have already been baptized but Baptism is often not very effective in our daily life. Therefore, Lent is a renewed "catechumenate" for us too, in which once again we approach our Baptism to rediscover and relive it in depth, to return to being truly Christian. Lent is thus an opportunity to "become" Christian "anew", through a constant process of inner change and progress in the knowledge and love of Christ.

Conversion is never once and for all but is a process, an interior journey through the whole of life. This process of evangelical conversion cannot, of course, be restricted to a specific period of the year: it is a daily journey that must embrace the entire span of existence, every day of our life… What does "to be converted" actually mean? It means seeking God, moving with God, docilely following the teachings of his Son, Jesus Christ; to be converted is not a work for self-fulfilment because the human being is not the architect of his own eternal destiny. We did not make ourselves. Therefore, self-fulfilment is a contradiction and is also too little for us. We have a loftier destination. We might say that conversion consists precisely in not considering ourselves as our own "creators" and thereby discovering the truth, for we are not the authors of ourselves. Conversion consists in freely and lovingly accepting to depend in all things on God, our true Creator, to depend on love. This is not dependence but freedom.

Further references:

  1. Catholic Encyclopedia on Lent
  2. Jimmy Akin links to Lenten resources
  3. Taped radio show on Lent and Fasting by Scott Hahn and Gus Lloyd.