Friday, December 30, 2011

The Sinful Woman

In Luke 7, Jesus was invited to a Pharisee's house for dinner. Folks typically reclined while eating in those days, so Jesus would have been propped up on one arm with His legs off to one side. A "sinful woman" had followed Him there & stood behind Him, weeping. Can someone say "stalker"?! She must've had some gall to show up to the house of a Pharisee at dinnertime. Talk about awkward... Luke tells us she was standing so close, her tears fell onto Jesus' feet. I wonder if this was a faux pas- she was a "sinful woman" afterall. She bent down to wipe His feet with her hair & kissed them. Was she apologetically wiping His feet? Why not use her garments or a napkin? No, she used her hair. I wonder if it has anything to do with the idea that a woman's hair is her "glory" (1 Corinthians 11:15)... She surrendered that to Jesus, took the filth of His feet upon herself & proceeded to anoint them with some ointment she had with her. Jesus understood these things as acts of love toward Him & forgave her sins.

It would never occur to me to follow someone I didn't know personally into a stranger's house. I wouldn't stand there crying & making a spectacle of myself. I certainly wouldn't use my hair to dry anyone's feet. In fact, I don't like feet all that much & would probably steer well clear of them! But this woman was different. What was it that compelled her to pursue Jesus & humble herself in such a profound way? This lady made a fool of herself in front of the entire dinner party & she probably could have been arrested, but she showed Jesus the utmost love & He knew it. She was not reprimanded or dragged out to the street- instead, her sins were forgiven. I love Jesus, but I have difficulty imagining myself loving Him to the degree where nothing else matters in the world- not even my "sinfulness". She showed up, asked nothing of Him and He gave her life. What faith.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Faith and Modern Culture

People often call for the church to "get with the times". How else can it perpetuate the faith? Hardly anyone buys the old stuff anymore. But when we attempt to repackage the "old stuff" by mass producing some generic equivalent of what we do & believe, is it faith we're actually perpetuating? Folks say the language is archaic, so we need a new translation of the Bible or some new media tactic- maybe music or video- to get the Word out, to make it appealing to our culture today. Some say the music is lame. How about some Latin Rap or the Gloria mixed up "House" style? That would really pack 'em in & Mass might actually be fun! Take out the pews & let the people dance to show their thanks to the Lord! I don't know of anyone who has done that, but what if someone did? Wouldn't that be the same as conforming to the world? I've often heard the argument that God gives some of us gifts for music & media, so we ought to use them for the glory of God by meeting the culture where it's at. We have to be relevant or no one will take us seriously. Its as if we think we're in competition with the forces of evil & we have to try & stay ahead of the game. Or do we? Who is our God, anyway? Again, I ask, what is it we're perpetuating through modern media tactics? Is it truth? Or are we actually allowing the world to dictate our next move? If, for some reason, our efforts actually accomplish something, can we be sure the recipients connected for the reasons we intended? Will they grow up strong & sure in their faith? Or will they only crave the generic junk food we've offered?

There is a reason why the church tends to stand in opposition to modern culture. I'm not a prude, but I believe there is wisdom in maintaining the integrity of tradition & scripture... Its kind of like responsible forestry. The forest will always be there because for every tree taken, another is planted in it's place. If we gave in to modern culture, we might cut a stand of trees to build a bar, a strip mall or a gym to accommodate people. If that went well, we might take some more trees, lay roads & build houses. Eventually, only a tiny grove of trees would remain, set aside as a park for all. This would be what's left for us & those we accommodated... Eventually, we might even forget where we come from altogether & unceremoniously settle in among the people. The church needs to be responsible with the gifts it has been given, but not at the risk of giving up it's heritage from the Lord. We are called to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. May we strive to be conformed to God rather than the Godless culture around us.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Away In A Manger

At Christmas Mass, the priest read from (where else) the gospel of Luke, chapter 2. This is a very familiar passage to most because we sing about it in songs & see it acted out in Nativity scenes. We hear the same story every year: there's no room at the inn, no room anywhere & as a last ditch effort, Mary & Joseph are offered a stable to spend the night somewhere in Bethlehem. Mary gives birth to the baby Jesus, wraps Him up & lays Him in a manger. A manger, commonly mistaken as the stable itself, is actually a food trough.

Jesus was laid in a manger. When I heard those words, I was strangely reminded of the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells His disciples that His flesh is true food & His blood is true drink. When we look into the manger, what do we see? A cute little baby or the Hope of our Salvation? This Bread from Heaven, this true food & true drink was laid in a manger for all of us from the very first...

Christmas, a.k.a. "The Nativity of the Lord"

I braved my annual holiday malaise & attended Midnight Christmas mass as planned. I had nearly talked myself out of it, but was strangely relieved to enter with a group of teens in their pajammas & cowboy boots, followed by some middle aged women in shiny blazers. As usual, I staked out my place in the back. The church was darkened & gold banners had replaced the Advent-y red & purple. The Advent candles were gone. In their place, pointsettias had erupted on the altar. The music minister led some traditional carols, but few sang. Most talked to their neighbor, adjusted their clothing or looked around with bland expressions... all throughout the Mass.

The Nativity of the Lord, otherwise known as Christmas, began with the incensing of the altar, followed by the "Proclamation of the Birth of Christ". I had never even heard of this declaration till a couple weeks ago when I read about it in an Advent devotional. It came to life when I heard the priest sing it out. I was filled with a sense of wonder, as if I were hearing about Jesus' birth for the first time. The last sentence says "Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the flesh" and it reminded me that the scripture(s) say "TODAY if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts...", "TODAY is the day of salvation".

It seemed, however, that many who heard did not truly "hear". From my vantage point, many people were just there to fulfill an obligation. It troubled me. I began to question whether Catholicism was truly faith or at its core, just a cultural, social thing... For me, it IS about faith. I envisioned myself standing up at the end of mass- standing on my pew & crying out to these people- didn't they understand what was happening here? Didn't they understand what they were a part of? How could they not sing? How could they not drink in the scripture & be aware of the presence of God in that place? It seems that many Catholics don't even know what they have. What spiritual riches in Christ they possess already by virtue of heritage! How much more could be theirs if they only had faith?!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Gift of Presence

It's the Christmas season again. This year, for the first time in my life, I will ring in the day with midnight mass. I hope to make it a new tradition. I have plenty of old traditions you see. When I was a kid, the Christmas season always meant a cold or flu. It also meant presents, getting to see my father, crying my eyes out when he left & then getting into yelling matches with my mother. Grandpa came for dinner, made things better by his presence alone & the day ended unceremoniously. That was my Christmas, my Easter, my birthday, every year till I was 13.

My body remembers... this Christmas season, I nurse my sniffles & the remembrance of gain & loss, hope given, hope deferred.

As an adult, Christmas & the giving of gifts has become something of an empty ritual for me, but I understand that in this world, love is gauged by gifts or some other monetary value. I don't tend to show true love by "things" however. My grandfather gave me gifts often, but his greatest gift to me was the gift of presence. I loved going to his house whenever I could just because I knew he was there & I could be myself with him. It didn't matter if we were engaged in conversation or play together. I felt a great satisfaction knowing he was in his chair watching the late night news as I fell asleep on the floor.

God also knew how much more valuable the gift of Presence was above monetary offerings. That's why He sent His own Son to us. He is both the Giver & the Gift of Presence. Its something I'm coming to appreciate most dearly this year.

As the wrapping paper piles up in crumpled heaps this Christmas, let us not forget the Good Gift God has given us.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Worship or Laundry List?

I've been thinking about the differences between Catholic worship & Protestant worship. Note sometime, the words you sing from Sunday to Sunday. As a Protestant, I remember constantly singing something about my weakness, my need, my desire for something more from God. Seems pious enough, humbling myself & all. But the focus was on me, not God... not so pious afterall.

As I journey toward Catholicism, I've noticed a difference in the songs we sing. Just flipping through the Missal, one can see the words tend to recount Who God is & what He's done... Much of it is actually scripture. Catholic worship is not so much me striving & grasping for something from God, but rather, me offering my thanks & praise to God. I think the law of reaping & sowing can be applied here. It seems the more we sow in worship, the more we actually reap from Him. While that shouldn't be our sole motivation, perhaps it can give us the courage to put Him first, above ourselves. He is a good God. He knows what we need. Can't we put our needs aside but for a moment?

When we come together to worship the Lord, are we worshiping in Spirit & in truth or are we merely submitting our laundry list to Him? I've heard it said that worship is as much for us as it is for God. But I think this concept is misunderstood... We shouldn't be seeking warm fuzzies & goosebumps to make ourselves feel better. The benefit we ought to be seeking from worship is a glimpse into the mystery of faith we're part of. Who is our god? If we aren't seeking the One True God in worship for love of God alone, it just isn't worship.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Power of Yes

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us... Isaiah 9:6

I've often thought of being "born again" as something that happens TO us, but with Christmas fast on the heels of Advent, I've started thinking of it in a different way. What if the act of being born again is not confined to just one moment in history? And what if this act hinges upon our own simple "Yes" like Mary? When we say "Yes" to God, is that it? If so, why? Why is Christ not born again in us daily as "Emmanuel, God with us", Savior & King? What if it were not so much we who were born again, but Jesus in us? Imagine how that new Life would change ours! Could it be that "born againess" is actually more a process of daily conversion, symptomatic of Christ's birth in us rather than a one time event?

May He indeed be born again in us this season & daily lead us to salvation through His life, death & resurrection!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

How Could I?

Believe me, I've heard it all in the last few months. How could I even think of submitting to an archaic church full of homosexuals & pedophiles that's rife with theft & deception? Doesn't that seem like the very antithesis of what the church is supposed to be? Popes have been called "antichrist" since the days of the Reformation & some say the Church is nothing more than a Godless cult or elitist social club. At first, yes, I admit I had my doubts. How COULD I align myself with an institution that has had so many accusations laid against it?

I've been thinking about it in recent days & here's what I've come up with: my relationship with the Church is based first & foremost on my relationship with Jesus. I can submit to the authority of the Church so long as the church remains submitted to the authority of Christ. Where it does not, I cannot in good conscience submit to it. In the "true" spirit of deception & crime, most of the horrible things we hear about have happened under the guise of secrecy & lack of submission to higher Church authority. I tend to think the breakdown happens with individuals who have been protected by other individuals who are either sympathetic to the crime or unwilling to upset the "order" of things. Other situations, I believe, occur out of ignorance, like Galileo or the Inquisition. Suffice it to say, I don't necessarily believe in conspiracy theories.

At this point, I'm not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I was many years ago, but something kept drawing me back. I had to take a closer look- beyond the media, beyond the accusations, beyond the confessions & financial pay offs. Could I possibly see beyond the scathing humanity of the Church? I have no answers for the countless victims out there. Is there more to the Catholic faith than the sordid traditions of some so-called holy men? I believe that for every authentic thing, there is a deception, a knock off of some kind. I acknowledge the horrible, inexcusable crimes, but I also believe an authentic representation of the Catholic Church still exists. I believe it because I've personally encountered transformation as I continue to study & interact with the Catholic faith. I can tell you I never experienced such joy, such anticipation, such desire for the things of God as a Protestant. Catholicism is not found in the Pope or a priest or a sacrament or a church building. True Catholicism is the mystery of Life that manifests itself in the heart of every believer united to one other in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Angels We Have Heard On High

Christmas seems to be the one time of year we can acknowledge the existence of angels without sounding like we belong in a looney bin. We sing of angels in our Christmas carols, make angels in the snow or top our trees with them... but what do we really know about them? When you think of an angel, what comes to mind? Some sort of glowing, blondish, feminine (yet oddly androgynous) figure (don't forget the wings), dressed in a flowing white frock & a gold sash? Or perhaps we think of them suspended in a starry winter sky, singing in perfect harmony (complete with cymbals, harps & maybe even a trumpet or two).

When Mary first saw Gabriel, what was her reaction? She must've been frightened. Why else would he have told her to "fear not"? There was an angel or two at Jesus' tomb- how did the guards or the women who arrived later respond? They were terrified. Again the angel(s) told them not to fear. I wonder, how would you or I respond if we saw an angel? Would we be all calm & chummy? Or would we wet ourselves & cower? These beings stand before God, they reflect His glory & they are His messengers to us. I find it odd that we should attribute such "fluffy" sentiments to them... but then, don't we do that with so many things related to God? We argue that God is love, God is "Daddy"... but Who is our God, really? And who are His angels? Who are we to claim that we know anything about Him and HIS world beyond the little He's revealed?

Symbolism In Relationship

"This is how all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." -Jesus

Jesus did not say all would know His disciples by the symbolism they embrace. He didn't say that crucifixes or icons, rosaries or monstrances, postures or prayers showed forth love or proved discipleship. So where does symbolism fit in here? Why is it even necessary? Its my opinion that symbolism makes any relationship more meaningful. Symbolism could take the form of a gift, a picture, a memento, a song, a card, a letter. Symbolism is history, presence & hope for the future. Without symbolism in a relationship, things tend to stagnate or fizzle.

For the Christian (and even more specifically the Catholic Christian), symbolism is a manifestation of the salvific love language that God first spoke to us. We, in turn, speak it to one another out of our love for Him. Through the language of symbolism, we remind ourselves & each other Who our God is. We proclaim what He's done, what He's doing & what He has promised to do. We're reminded of the forerunners who paved the way of faith before us. We're reminded of our own heavenly citizenship- that we are not of this world. We're reminded to humble ourselves that He may lift us up & that we are not alone in this world. He has not left us as orphans. He has given us symbolism to guide us, to strengthen us & to show forth His love. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Embracing Symbolism, Embracing Life

Today I felt compelled to attend Adoration again. I had planned to go to the early morning mass (but slept in). Ok, so maybe I would make it in time to see the priest put the host in the monstrance (nope). I waged an internal war with myself to get out of bed, let alone drive out to the church. Of course, once I got up, I had other things to do- more important things like dishes & laundry. Eventually, I made it out the door & arrived just before the noon hour. The guardian on duty was an older lady I knew & it was just she & me for a while. A few others arrived as the hour progressed. I knelt & then sat before the Blessed Sacrament, feeling much the same as I had last time. It was as if my senses were flooded, overwhelmed, yet at the same time, I felt incredible peace. Today I had difficulty "seeing" beyond the monstrance. Were we really "keeping Jesus company"? Did He really live in that box off to the side- the tabernacle- when He wasn't displayed for all to see? Did Jesus really mean for us to believe such things? Did He mean for us to remember Him in this way? Did He forsee that we might forget the origins of our faith without tangible reminders? Does this expression of faith signify weakness or strength? Why don't Protestants "need" this stuff, these outward symbols, these gestures of respect & reverence?

I know symbolism makes me feel very different about my faith. Every day I wake, I see the crucifix & the rosary beads on the wall. I see the distinctly Catholic Bible & my RCIA notebook sitting on the table. The Catholic Catechism & a pile of other Catholic books have found their home on my nightstand. And every day, I put on the St. Benedict medal & remember that the letters on the back stand for a Latin prayer- something to the effect of saying no to the temptations of the devil. These things help me remember every single day that I am the Lord's, that I am on a journey, that this is real. As a Protestant, I might have my bible, a bare cross & maybe a few devotional books to aid me in prayer. Mary & the saints never crossed my mind & I rarely thought of Jesus' sacrifice. I never thought about my duty to love God & my neighbor. I rarely thought of social justice. As I embrace the symbolism of the Catholic expression, I have begun to embrace all these things as well & so it seems, even a new sense of life. If Jesus is present in the Eucharist, what a great gift this is! And even if He isn't, the symbolism alone suffices...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Cyrenian

Today is Tuesday, the day to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. I recently found a website that offers a scriptural rosary where a scripture is given for contemplation during each "Hail Mary". As I was contemplating the 4th Sorrowful Mystery, one of the scriptures assigned told about how Simon of Cyrene was "pressed into service". He was the one who carried Jesus' cross. I got to thinking about the significance of this moment. It's often said that Jesus carried His own cross up the hill & so should we. Afterall, He Himself tells us to take up our cross & follow Him, right? But it seems even He needed help to bear the burden. The significance of the Cyrenian not only attests to this fact, but magnifies our own humanity; that is, our own need for help. It seems God deliberately meant to enlist the help of humanity in the process of salvation. From the womb of Mary to the back of the Cyrenian, humanity has played an integral part in the story. Without us, there would be no story. We can't know if Simon of Cyrene felt anything for Jesus as he was "pressed into service", but we certainly have a choice to bear one another's burdens out of love for God. Could this be the "light & easy" yoke Jesus wants us to take up? Is this how we find our rest in Him? Is this how we can learn of His gentleness, His humility & meekness? What was the significance of the Cyrenian's presence to Jesus? Perhaps a better question might be what would the Cyrenian mean to us if we were Jesus in that moment? Or what might our presence mean to someone else even now? He's written us in. We're part of the story...

Scriptural Rosary

Faith, Hope, Joy

Faith. Hope. Joy. These are three of the four themes of Advent related to the waiting, the expectation of Christ's appearing. But what do they mean to me? A year ago, nothing. They were merely secularized seasonal words slapped onto Christmas cards or displayed in storefront windows. They were familiar, yet foreign, like some other language. Indeed, for me, these words WERE a foreign language! Faith. Hope. Joy. They were mere slogans for executive advertising schemes, used for timely sermon topics in church, and representative of things I could not possibly attain.

This year however, I am learning the language of salvation, which is what the Christmas season is truly about. It is a language of passion, of pursuit. It is a language of love. It is one of belief, of waiting, of struggling. It is faith, hope, joy. And even in the uncertainty of the learning, I can experience that great peace that Christ will come. But how?

Certainly Mary & Joseph asked this very same question- not once, but many times in the 9 months they spent waiting. Certainly the prophets & teachers of the law asked this question many times throughout the centuries leading up to Christ the Messiah's birth. But how? How can this be? How will it all go down? They could not possibly know. All they knew was that He was coming...

This year, faith, hope & joy floats on the surface of the season like lifesaving buoys. In the waiting, it's easy to be concerned with the hows & the whens & the whys. In the moment, it's the investment that matters. What we do in the moment prepares us for what comes next. Jesus is coming. This holiday season, are we holding fast to faith & hope with joy? Are we learning the language of salvation so we will see Him when He arrives? Or are we just waiting for presents under the tree?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tiny Moments

My best friend just graduated from a Christian University. It was standing room only in the church & I noticed how this rite was much like my own recent rite of welcome. Professors in their academic regalia led the graduates past family & friends in precession, much like the priest led us to the altar one Sunday during mass. After an opening prayer, a hymn & what was supposed to be a graduation address (but ended up feeling more like a sermon), the first graduates were called. Since my friend had earned her Master's, she was first "hooded", presented her degree & walked off stage after shaking some hands. That was it. That was her moment. Eighty some odd students each had their "moments" & then it was done. A closing hymn & a prayer sent us off unceremoniously to the foyer for refreshments. My friend & I had waited for this day since she began this journey two years ago & now that it was over, we were left feeling a little empty... though for different reasons. For me, it felt deflating that she had worked so hard to reach this point & then it was just...done. I can't help but wonder if it will be like that for me on Easter when I expect to be received into the church... When my moment has passed, then what? Will I too feel empty? Will I feel lost? Thankfully, faith is not like academics in that one is always learning & living the journey in some way. Faith is not a "closed canon" learned in a classroom or culminating in distinctions or degrees. Faith, it seems, is not one big moment alone, but many tiny moments stitched together...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Plotting the Course

It seems God has been plotting my course all along. Someone asked me how it is that I came to pursue Catholicism. I can assure you I didn't just wake up one day & decide I wanted to be a Catholic! I've written some about my influences in childhood- my Catholic neighbors, Catholic Bazaars, movies & tv shows with Catholic characters or themes... But my real interest began when I was a teenager. I had been looking for some Christian music, so my uncle let me borrow some of his old 70's records. I heard artists like Silverwind, Honeytree, Keith Green, Evie, 2nd Chapter of Acts and most importantly, John Michael Talbot. It was his album "The Lord's Supper" that had the most profound
effect on my soul. I had never heard anything like it. I began to hunt for his music, acquiring albums such as "Hiding Place" & "The Lover & the Beloved". There was something in this man's voice that made me believe He really believed what he was singing. I wanted whatever it was he had. I knew he was a Catholic... and I felt like I wanted to be one too. It wasn't until several years later, after I had been away from church for a while, that I began to consider Catholicism as a viable option. I'd had it with the whole of Christianity. In a last ditch effort to find truth, I began to read about church history, church fathers... I was particularly interested in the pre-Constantine era (from the time of the Apostles to about 300 A.D.). What I found startled me. I read the Bible again, confirming my suspicions that my former denomination- heck, Protestantism altogether, was not a true representation of the historical church. I was now in my 30's. I was too frightened to attend mass, talk to a priest or join RCIA, so I read books. I bought a rosary, I prayed Catholic prayers. But it didn't go beyond that. I ended up joining an Evangelical Free church instead. Fast forward nearly 5 years. This summer, I took a religion class at the community college. On the last day, the teacher arranged for us to tour a Catholic church. The woman giving the tour would later become my RCIA director. As she explained the different functions of symbolism in various places in the sanctuary, I was overcome. It was that day that I knew I had to pursue this til I couldn't pursue it anymore... I signed up for RCIA & the rest is history...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Finding Advent

Advent. I knew nothing about it till about 5 years ago when a Protestant friend celebrated by keeping an Advent calendar- the kind with the little flaps that reveal pictures each day. Even then, I didn't fully know what it was about. It seemed like it was just a countdown of sorts to Christmas. Last year, I began hearing about something called "Advent Conspiracy", designed to essentially put Christ back into Christmas. But it wasn't until this year- a few days ago in fact- that I actually learned what Advent is about. Its about waiting & expectation of Christ's appearing on Christmas day. Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical calendar & is celebrated for 4 Sundays before Christmas with a wreath in which 4 coloured candles are placed. Three of the candles are purple (or dark blue) & one is pink. The purple symbolizes repentance & the pink, hope of Christ's appearing. One candle is lit each week (purple, purple, pink, purple) & prayers are said for faith, hope, joy & peace.

This is my Advent wreath. When I look at it, I'm reminded of my faith in a new way. This year, I get to take part in the ancient story. This year, I "wait"... not in long lines or in traffic, but for Jesus' appearing as the prophets, the Magi, the shepherds, & Mary & Joseph once did.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Favorite Mysteries

On Tuesday & Fridays, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary are recited. These have become my favorite, hands down. It's not because I'm dark & find some sick kind of satisfaction in the remembrance of Christ's suffering. On the contrary, His suffering brings me peace. The five Mysteries are: Agony in the garden, Scourging at the pillar, Crowning with thorns, Carrying of the cross, Crucifixion. I find myself thinking more about the mental brutality He endured during these acts rather than the more obvious physical effects. When He was betrayed in the garden, He had already been on an emotional roller coaster with the last supper, the sweating drops of blood as He cried out to God, the frustration with His disciples sleeping... If that wasn't enough, Judas showed up with a crowd of soldiers who came to arrest Him. Jesus is led away to stand before Pilate. Its the middle of the night... He is accused, scourged, mocked, weighted with a crown of thorns & led out to Golgatha with His cross come morning. By this time, He had been up all night. His flesh was torn, bloody, aching. Maybe He was hungry. Think about how you feel when you're up all night... and then couple that with physical pain, hunger & an active thought life. What was He thinking as He listened to people condemn Him, whip Him, beat Him, strip & mock Him? Was He thinking He was so tired, that He just wanted to get it over with? Was He angry inside? Was He sad? Scared? Was he thinking about you & me & the souls He would save by His obedience to death on a cross? Did He feel confident that His God, the Father Almighty, would swoop down & save the day? Was He at all nervous or unsure that everything would go according to plan? He didn't sound too convinced on the cross for a while there... Considering Jesus' thoughts as He was suffering brings me peace. He must've gone through the gammut of emotions if He was fully human. He must know what I go through in my own daily trials... when I feel alone, imprisoned, betrayed, mocked, beaten down, exposed, tired, hungry, sad. I have trouble connecting with the physical brutality of these mysteries because I've never experienced nor witnessed such things first hand. But the internal sense of brutality is very real, very raw. I know the sting, as most of us do... And that's what makes these mysteries my favorite.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rite of Acceptance/ Welcome (After)

A little over 12 hours ago now, we entered the church in precession behind the priest. The Rite began with our RCIA director calling out the names of the catechumens first. Each lined up facing the congregation & their sponsors stood behind them. Then it was time for the candidates. Mine was the last name called. My sponsor, like all the others, walked up with me, stood behind me & put her hands on my shoulders for support. Distinct rays of sunlight streamed through the windows & spotlighted the group. It felt surreal, like a dream. The priest explained who we were & why we were standing there & then asked us what we asked of the church. We responded in unison, first the catechumens & then candidates. We sought "the fullness of faith in the Church". The priest then turned to the congregation & asked them if they were willing to pray for us & help us on our journey. Of course the answer was "Yes". I looked out on a sea of smiling faces. I knew I was not alone. The priest invited them to stretch out their hands to pray for us. Following prayer, he took the anointing oil & went first to the catechumens, anointing each one on the forehead & hands. He proceeded to the candidates, anointing each one in kind. After a prayer of blessing, he dismissed us back to our seats. I was very nervous & honestly, the day was mostly a blur to me. I was so focused on what I had just done that I had a difficult time following the remainder of the Mass... I felt like just behing silent, like crying, like I was in shock. I had been so ready to bail, to make some excuse, to sleep in accidentally... I really struggled with my faith & intentions in the hours leading up to the Rite. But I knew I had to do this despite the fear I felt. I'm so glad I did.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rite of Acceptance/Welcome (Before)

In less than 12 hours, I will have gone through the Rite of Welcome at the Catholic Church I've been attending. This signals the end of the inquiry phase for both Catechumens & Candidates. Catechumens (unbaptised) are "accepted" to pursue faith in the Catholic Church. Candidates (those previously baptised) are "welcomed" to pursue the fullness of existing faith. Both groups will enter into a new phase of the RICA journey- the teaching phase. This is where the nitty gritty begins.

I'm terrified. I'm not sure why. Perhaps the gravity of what I'm about to do is starting to sink in. Perhaps its the fact that I will have to enter the church in precession with the others & stand in front, on display for all to see. My name will be read for all to hear. All my life as a Christian, its hard to believe I've never made such a public declaration of faith (aside from my baptism). Truth be told, I've not had much occasion to. Even my baptism was witnessed by just a small group of people. Symbolic traditions don't seem to have much merit where I come from, but the Catholic Church is full of them. This is an aspect I both love & shy away from. I love the idea of rites & rituals, traditions & symbolism because these things help bring faith to life for me. Yet I am scared to be seen, to be known, to be held accountable- perhaps for the fact that I've been able to remain otherwise up to now.

I'm told there's nothing to fear... Countless others have done it... but all day today, I've had thoughts of dropping out or making excuses not to be there. It surprised me because I've been looking forward to this day since I started RCIA. To me, the Rite of Welcome is a pivotal point in my journey. How can I possibly abandon the pursuit now just because I'm afraid to be known?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Holy Things

I sometimes listen to Catholic Answers on my way home. Its one of those call in radio shows where people across the country can have their questions about Catholicism answered. Some of those calls are doozies- people seem to freak about about stuff that would never cross my mind. Someone called in the other night to talk about the rosary & brown scapular which were supposedly given by Mary. The caller wanted to know why the Protestants hadn't seen Mary or been given these things too.

For those who don't know, the rosary is essentially a string of beads with a crucifix. The story goes that it was given to St. Dominic by Mary herself. One meditates on various scenes of Christ's life in prayer & keeps track on the beads. There are "promises" associated with the rosary- 15 of them in fact- and one even has to do with the assurance of salvation. The same is true of the Brown Scapular, given to St. Simon Stock. If I were ignorant, I would be so excited that I wouldn't have to do much more than pray on a string of beads & wear a little brown piece of cloth in order to get to heaven.

So I got to thinking about the origin of the rosary & scapular. The promises associated with these things are not especially Biblical... Firstly, when did God ever hand people a thing uncreated by human hands & tell them how to use it? In the Old Testament, we often see Him instructing people to build something (an ark, an ephod, stone tablets, a tabernacle, utensils, etc.) & then He gave them ceremonies to consecrate these things to His service. The holy things were designed by God, but man made. The way things became holy was designed by God, but man had to enact the rituals.

So where did Mary get a rosary or a scapular? How could these things have such weighty assurances attached? Perhaps its just the stuff of legends- in reality, someone was inspired by Mary to fashion these things but in the retelling of origin, we see Mary holding out a rosary or a scapular. That is, perhaps its not a literal understanding, but figurative. Perhaps the "promises" imply that the saving power actually comes from Christ, though I've yet to see that little disclaimer anywhere.

So why don't Protestants "see" Mary? I've heard that maybe they don't want to... Or they lack faith b/c they don't believe she lives & is in heaven. But I'm wondering why I haven't seen her either. I have faith too...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Puzzled In the Crosshairs

A few years ago, my mom came to visit. We see each other maybe once a year, so it was kind of a big deal. She enjoys doing crossword puzzles & brought her book with her to help pass the time. At some point, I sat down & filled in a few squares, thinking it might be fun to do a puzzle together. My mother did not share this sentiment. When she sat down to her book & noticed the puzzle had been molested by some foreign pencil, she actually got angry. She lamented how the puzzle was ruined & couldn't be finished. I watched her turn the page & start anew.

Believe it or not, I kind of get this behaviour. I'm a hard core perfectionist deep down. As a child, I remember having a difficult time with failure & making mistakes of any kind. If I couldn't do it right the first time, I wouldn't dare risk defeat. As an adult, I've come to grips with the fact that trial & error are the primary means by which we learn. Still, this behaviour from my mother surprised me. What was she really saying about my involvement? Was she saying my interjection was a mistake? My words were correct... but perhaps my presence in her puzzled world was not. It didn't fit with her idea of how things should have been completed.

How many times in the world of denominations have we turned the page in a huff, convinced our efforts were ruined beyond redemption? That's precisely what we do when we bite & bludgeon each other with arguments of faith. Aren't we working on the same puzzle? My mother & I share the same blood. Can't we say the same of our supposed brothers & sisters across denominations? And if not, why? Is Christ at the center or not? And if not, who or what has edged Him out?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

FrankenFaith

Are we "creating" Christians or growing denominations? Shouldn't a person who becomes a Christian be made aware of their options? As in, if a Catholic evangelizes, does the convert have to enter the Catholic church? Why? Because salvation is only found in the Church? If a Protestant evangelizes, do they have to be Protestant? Why? Because the Christian can only experience the freedom & assurance of salvation as a Protestant? Why can't we just present the good news that Christ saves & let converts be "Christian" so long as they walk out their faith- in faith- by God's grace? All sorts of theological arguments come to mind... what about the authority of the Bible or tradition, what about faith v.s. works, etc.? We go round & round in our discussions only to end up retreating to our own sides at the end of the day. God is not the Author of confusion. Yet there's so much of it these days in Christendom.

Could it be we who call ourselves Christians are a little less Christian than we thought? Is the thought of relaxing the dividing lines of denominational security just the subtle 'evil' of ecumenicism, spreading error & heresy like yeast among lumps of dough? Or could this possibly be closer to the original intent & purpose of Christianity? Do we follow Christ or not? Have we forgotten that the Body of Christ has many parts?

Lets Get Slothy

I'd like to be able to say I'm a patient person, but more often than not, I tend to be a few degrees off the boiling point. I've trained myself to be tolerant & to roll with the punches over the years, but I'm still not great at it. I know how to compartmentalize & downgrade situations from red to yellow... But if I don't ultimately deal with stuff, it comes back to bite me in the end. Literally. It may take hours, days or years, but neglected grievances build up. To release pressure, I either have to blow my top or find a way to let things out gradually. Since the first option never seems to turn out well for me, I've decided to go with the alternative. I've begun practicing slowness.

Some things that tend to exacerbate the feeling of anger in me are being busy, existing among lots of noise & activity & racing around from place to place trying to multitask to the nth degree. Even though things may seem well organized & "flow" at such a fast pace, there is a gradual breakdown happening, much like a machine. Every machine needs maintenance at some point, and most break down for lack of it. So when I find I'm close to or have already reached my breaking point, I can conclude that I was not properly maintaining myself. Maybe I cut a corner, skipped a step, excused something that bothered me in favor of keeping peace... But it all builds up to breakdown.

Practicing slowness looks like this: I don't have to race with the other drivers on the road. I don't have to try & accomplish ridiculous amounts of work every day. All I'm required to do is what's actually required of me. Obey the speed limit. Make my numbers. Finish out the night & go home. In communication, I can tell the truth the first time. That is, I have permission to say what I think & feel without sugar coating or editing. This one is gonna take some more practice, I can tell you that. I'm so used to trying to make situations comfortable for the other guy, trying not to offend... but that plan eventually backfires. I'm not saying I get to be rude if I speak my mind. I get to be honest. And really, that's far better than being a two faced liar. Honesty benefits everyone. Practicing slowness is being aware of what I'm doing, how I'm feeling, remembering what's actually required of me (& doing only that). Its called being mindful, its called maintaining. Its downtime, its sanity, & it feels downright slothy...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Doctrine v.s. Faith

I got to thinking today about how I'm able to forge ahead with my pursuit of Catholicism. Its very difficult to stand by what you sense by faith when others are trying to tell you what you should believe based on their doctrine. As I've mentioned in prior posts, my family doesn't approve of Catholicism & they certainly don't approve of my personal journey. As soon as I mentioned interest, I had evangelical apologetic cds in my mailbox explaining the errors of Catholicism. I've found that the Protestant view is often not correct in it's assumption of what the Catholic Church teaches. In fact, since I was fresh from reading the first half of the Catechism, I noticed Protestants seem to have a nasty habit of pulling both text & scripture out of context to prove their point. As with anything, in order to fully appreciate or even gain a fair understanding of something, one must invest the time to learn about it. It wasn't until I started reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, talking to practicing Catholics & attending Mass that I realized I had been taught to dismiss Catholicism. And honestly, I have to wonder why.
I've been told that one can't possibly find God in Catholicism because He's not there... He can't possibly be there because Catholicism is an unholy marriage of paganism & Christianity. But who has the right to tell me I can't find God in one thing or another? The fact is, I do find God in Catholicism, so much more so than in any Protestant denomination I've been a part of. I may not agree with some of the doctrine... I may think some of it archaic or unnecessary, but these things won't keep me from faith in Christ.
I've been looking for ways to use the things I may still be uncomfortable with to point me toward God. Can I find God by praying to Mary or believing in the communion of saints? If so, how? Can I find God by minding my so called mortal & venial sins & (eventually) attending reconciliation (confession) on a regular basis? Can I find Him in Eucharistic Adoration? Perhaps the teachings & expectations of the church are burdensome & serve to magnify its weakness... or perhaps they're its genius & strength. The Church leads me to Christ by reminding me how much I need Him. By honouring Who He is, I am reminded of Who it is I truly live for. Its this mindset that keeps me going: Faith first. Doctrine will follow...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Adoration

In Catholicism, there is a practice called Eucharistic Adoration. During this time, a consecrated "Host" (a.k.a. communion wafer) is placed in something called a monstrance for the faithful to see. It is typically "guarded" by one or two people in attendance. Curious, I made a point to attend a time of adoration at the parish. The Host was indeed "guarded" by one person, but there was no distinction as to who it was. We were not watched or exposed to threat. This "guard" was merely a presence. In an extraordinary situation, this person might even give their very life to ensure the safety of the Host. Its believed that the Host needs to be guarded at all times for fear that someone will desecrate the body of the Lord. Firstly, if Jesus is really present, why would He need us for protection?! If you knew how much one of those monstrances cost... well, I can't help but wonder what's really being guarded!
This wasn't some kind of science project for me however. I didn't merely go to observe, but to pray & wrestle with this concept of the real presence. I stayed for some time & watched people come & go. Some got on their knees to pray, some sat. All were silent. The feeling of peace in that room was profound. On either side of the monstrance was a single lit candle. The monstrance itself looked kind of like an ornate golden lamp without a shade. It was about 2 feet high with sunbeams radiating from the center where the Host was fixed behind glass. At the top was a simple cross. The whole scene was very stark, very simple. Within the monstrance rested this cracker- believed to be the presence of Jesus Christ displayed for all to see. It was, in effect, Jesus behind glass, like some kind of prized museum piece. I absolutely don't mean to be disrespectful to the Catholic faith or to Christ Himself in describing the host as a "cracker". I'm simply stating what my intellect saw. And yet, despite what my eyes beheld, something stirred within me the entire time I was there. I had been compelled beyond reason to attend & once I got there, I didn't want to leave. I couldn't understand what it was that made me want to stay. I prayed, I cried. I felt very... exposed, yet profoundly safe. Was it merely a symbolic experience or was it the real Presence of Christ? I can't say. But I do know that whenever two or more are gathered in His name, there He is in the midst of them.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A New Hour

Yesterday I attended a "music showcase" at the parish & it was quite good. Toward the end of a beautiful piano/violin duet, the music got softer & I heard the parish bells ringing out. I have to say, I've still not gotten used to them. Those bells catch me by surprise each time & remind me I'm not in "Kansas" anymore.

I've been struggling with how to tell my family about my journey... They are staunch believers that Catholicism is a cult & a vehicle for the coming anti-christ. To my knowledge, none of them has ever stepped foot in a Catholic church or actually listened to a Catholic's perspective of faith. I've tried to warm up the waters by telling them that I'm merely "checking things out", which was indeed my intention at first. But as time goes by, I don't see how I can possibly go back to the emptiness of Protestantism. I hinted at this in a conversation with my mother the other day & she was perturbed that I would disregard her thoughts on the matter. I wish to honour my mother, but not at the cost of my faith. It was then that I realized its not the bells outside that catch me by surprise so much. Its the ones within my own heart that call out the beginning of a new hour...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Failure

"Your fortitude will determine whether you are truly a failure or not."

This came to me last week as I was tramping through the warehouse filling orders. I had received my current numbers for math earlier that day & realized there was no way I could pull out. I thought if I pushed through, spent more time with the material & got help, that I could do it, I could squeeze out a "C". But the reality was that I was going to fail this class, kill my GPA & my self confidence right along with it if I didn't do something. This of course, plunged me into a familiar darkness, so I prayed. I had no clue what to do. I wrote my teacher, who suggested I audit the class rather than drop it. The only catch was I had exactly 3 hours to do it b/c the deadline to drop or change status was fast approaching. Thank God I accepted defeat & chose to audit rather than trying to stubbornly forge ahead. I made the deadline & am set to try again come winter. I'm frustrated, but I can definitely feel the weight lifted from my shoulders. Sometimes its necessary to back off & take things a little slower in order to reach the higher goal...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mary's Scrapbook

Oh yes, its another post about the Rosary. Each "Hail Mary" has become a petition for help to get to know her Son better. Now most Protestants would say that's not necessary because we can go straight to Jesus. Some would say its the Holy Spirit who teaches us about Jesus, not Mary. I agree with this, but I've begun to see it in a different way as well. God, via the Holy Spirit, leads me to Jesus through Mary. Whoa there, cowgirl. I know, it sounds heretical. But hold on & consider the process of marriage in more traditional cultures. The parents, the family, even the community are involved in the process. One comes to know their fiance one on one, but also through the involvement of others. If the physical world foreshadows the spiritual, why not in this instance as well? We are told we are the bride of Christ & that we can grow closer to Him when we gather as a community in His name. We are told to pursue a personal relationship with Him. So what about Mary? In a traditional relationship, the parents play an active role. If God's Holy Spirit reveals Jesus through the written word, how can Mary also show me Jesus? When I pray the Rosary, I can picture her next to me with a scrapbook of sorts, showing me pictures of His life through each "decade" (much like a mother might do). Since we know she could not be His mother except by the power of the Holy Spirit, "to Jesus through Mary" seems... less offensive. Is it all a ruse? A wile of the "enemy"? I don't know yet. Just making observations.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Rosary Races

Grab yer beads & get on yer knees, people! We're goin' to the Rosary Races!

Lately, I've been devoting some time to learn how to pray the Rosary. I must admit, I do like the way the beads feel in my hands. But I see the whole thing as sort of an experiment at the moment. The Rosary supposedly brings peace & a greater depth of fellowship with Christ & Mary (among other things), so I say, "prove it".

The Rosary is aired multiple times a day on the local Catholic radio station & I'm usually able to catch it on my way home from work. I've found in many recordings of the Rosary prayer (& some other common Catholic prayers as well) that people jump in & recite the words like they're in a race. The prayers are said in unison or in a call & response type format, but the timing is a little spastic. For the individual trying to pray along, its hard to keep up! Breathing actually becomes an issue. I don't understand how one can find this format meditative. That's what the Rosary is, afterall... a meditation on the life of Jesus & occasionally, Mary.

At this point, I'm still not sure why "Hail Mary full of grace... etc." is recited 10 times. Perhaps my latent Protestant skepticism concerning Mary hinders me. Maybe its the recall that Jesus said not to pray with vain repetitions like the heathens do... When I hear Catholics racing through their prayers, I'm in awe. If one doesn't contemplate the meaning & audience of their prayer, what's the point? You may as well be talking to yourself. When I pray a (specifically Catholic) prayer on my own, I try to think about what I'm actually saying & who I'm actually talking to. As I repeat words like "Our Father or Hail Mary", I'm looking for something new each time. If it begins to become monotonous or rote, I pause & direct my attention back to Jesus & Mary & the "mystery" at hand. It can be meaningful, but only if I slow down & take my time. So it is with many things in life.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Challenge of the Church

The idea of joining the Catholic church has proved itself to be more of a challenge to my faith than being a member of Protestantism ever was. At that, I should just throw in the towel & walk away. Then I would surely be embraced by my Protestant brothers & sisters without suspicion. Then I could go back to living a guilt free life & rest assured of heaven's blessings here on earth & for eternity. But truly, in my mind's eye, that seems like prison. I'm sure Protestants would see it the other way however.

The challenge doesn't have so much to do with strange new beliefs & rituals (because honestly, they aren't really all that strange). Its the practice of these rituals that presents the conflict. And it's not the rituals themselves, but the things they produce in the life of the believer. I don't imagine "cultural Catholics" struggle with this sort of problem, but I bet there are a few faithful out there who truly strive to live their faith in word & deed. Something clearly sets them apart.

The challenge of the church is the necessity of submission. Its the discipline to adhere to certain beliefs & rituals in the face of persecution. That persecution can come from within ourselves as well as from the outside world. Words like submission & discipline seem 'sticky' for Protestants in particular. They're archaic & binding. They squelch individual freedom & creativity. But have we forgotten these things can also be a help to us? Why teach children to submit to authority? Why teach them to be disciplined in their thoughts & actions? Because its the wise thing to do. If they learn to respect themselves & others, it can help them get through school, hold down jobs, raise families & become active members of society. Most adults know this. But the children have to understand in some way why they need it in their lives. In the same way, we're called to gain understanding as to why we need submission & discipline as it pertains to our respective beliefs.

As a child, I lacked discipline. I never really understood what was in it for me until I got older. As I approach the Catholic church, I see that a disciplined faith can actually afford me greater freedom. There's so much more to it than meets the eye. While the practice of ritual is not meaningless or dull, it can, admittedly, be binding. When I contemplate its purpose & meaning, it puts a plumbline to my wall, calls me into further submission to Christ & reminds me that I am not my own. The challenge of the church, yes, Protestant & Catholic alike, is to be bound to the building code of Christ.

Friends or Fugitives

Isaiah 66:19. I ran across the word "fugitive" while reading in the New American Bible this morning. In Protestant translations, the same word is rendered "those who have escaped", "survivors", "remnants". When I think of a fugitive, I think of a criminal on the run... I think of Harrison Ford in the remake of the same name. But its clear that the "fugitives" from Isaiah 66 aren't criminals. So who are they? At first glance, they appear to be Jews of the (then) future diaspora. But the reading also calls to mind perhaps a foreshadowing of the persecuted saints- those first Christians who gave their lives to spread the Gospel.

I thought about how most of us live out our faith these days. Would we live differently if we too were fugitives? What if our sole purpose was to "know God & make Him known" (as the now tired expression goes)? And what if that purpose was against the law or rejected by society? What if, despite the danger of mockery, punishment or even death, our love for God was worth any cost? What doctrine or practice would we consider most important in a time of persecution? Would we be willing to redefine ourselves? Would we be able to get over our denominational hurdles or would we remain divided? A house divided cannot stand... but will we be friends or fugitives of the world? We can't be both for long.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Point of Salvation

If you call yourself a Catholic, as I understand it, there is no "one point of salvation". There are no Four Spiritual Laws, no sinner's prayer, no altar calls to spur you on to tearfully surrender your life to God once & for all. The closest I get to finding a starting point for salvation is the sacrament of baptism. This of course, wrecks havoc with my deeply ingrained Protestant understanding that one chooses to have a personal relationship with Christ. How can a baby baptised into a Catholic heritage possibly be exerting choice? Can the child be "saved" by virtue of the parent's will? The Catechism states "...Baptism has been administered to children, for it is a grace & a gift of God that does not presuppose any human merit; children are baptised in the faith of the Church. Entry into Christian life gives access to true freedom." CCC1282

It appears from the catechism that the baby will indeed be "saved" & go to heaven. Ideally, the child grows up & receives instruction that culminates in confession of faith, confirmation & full reception into the Catholic community. Here, the other sacraments help guide the life of the faithful "from womb to tomb" as some like to say.

If I were to jump to conclusions, I might think Catholics believe in a "once saved, always saved" type of thing like most Protestants. But even if they do, there is an element of consequence & satisfaction of debt that is still expected. True "once saved, always saved" proponents make a quick escape with God's "free gift". As a result, arguments rage about the sufficiency of Christ's work on the Cross.

Catholics believe that while sin can be forgiven, the consequence remains. I'm not sure what I believe about that yet. But when all is said & done, is there a specific point of salvation for the Catholic? Its hard to say. I'm inclined to think it was the moment when Jesus proclaimed "It is finished". Faith, by its very nature, hinges on the grace He afforded us that day- Catholic & Protestant alike.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Missing the Point

Seriously, why is the Catholic church still in existence after 2,000 years? Why, after 500 some odd years of disagreement, does the Protestant church still oppose Rome with the same tired arguments? And why hasn't Rome fought back with the apologetic vehemence the Protestants seem to wield? The Catholic church, for the most part, hasn't changed the core doctrines it was founded upon. Yet Protestants still say Catholics worship a false God of their own making. They say paganism is blatant. How dare Catholics presume they're the one true church!
Because tradition is given equal footing with & occasionally even surpasses scripture in some areas, Catholicism is clearly wrong. Yet even the apostle John said so much more could be written about all Jesus said & did on this earth... So why confine God's work to the parameters of the Bible only? The Bible never claims its the handbook for life. It does not give life, it points toward life. Yes, it is alive, living & active, dividing between joint & marrow, etc., it is inspired by God & useful for teaching & rebuking & training in righteousness, but no book gives us life. That job is Jesus' alone. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. In Him we live & move & have our being. Simply saying that He is the Word is not enough- the written scriptures only point to Jesus, they don't contain the fullness of who He is. He Himself said why don't you come to ME to have life?! Yes, Catholicism has its troubles. I think, for instance, if they want to demystify praying "with" or honouring Mary & the saints, perhaps they shouldn't choose words like "veneration" or "prayer" to describe practices people typically reserve for God. Non- Catholics see these things as worship or talking to the dead. Yet the church hasn't made a move to change the official lingo regarding such topics. I have to wonder why this is... Either they know what they know based on some authority or they are mocking millions of people to their faces. Which could it be?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Prison or Paradise?

Paradise. When we hear this word, we think "heaven". But is that what it really means? I was reading questions on a Catholic forum where someone asked about the thief to whom Jesus said "Today you will be with me in Paradise". This person wanted to know if the thief, now forgiven by Christ, would still have to pay the consequence for his sin. Protestant knee jerk reaction would say "NO!", but then I remembered Jesus' words when He had risen. He was speaking to Mary (of Magdala) in the garden (John 16:17). He told her not to hold on to Him because He had not yet ascended to the Father. We know the Father is in heaven... so apparently Jesus hadn't been there yet. And if Jesus hadn't been there, neither had the thief to whom He said "Today you will be with me in Paradise". Well, where did He go then? What was He doing all that time? We know from 1 Peter 3:18-20 that in spirit, He went to preach to the souls "in prison" that had been there since the time of Noah. Could this prison otherwise be known as "Paradise", a sort of midway point between heaven & hell? Could it be another way of describing the concept of purgatory? Even Paul talked of being caught up into a third heaven... according to tradition, there are multiple "layers" of heaven... is Paradise one of them? If Jesus told the thief he would be with Him in Paradise on that day, might it be logical to assume that Jesus took the thief with Him when He went to "prison", so he might also hear the gospel? I don't know. It was just a thought.

Presence in the Peace

I went to Mass today with a keen eye toward the Presence. I wanted to know if I could sense Him & if I did, when did He come?! The Bible says of course that when 2 or more are gathered in His name, there He is in the midst of them. So technically, Jesus was with us before the Mass even started. But I was looking for something extraordinary I suppose.
It was after the bread & wine had been consecrated & bells chimed. It was after the prayer. It was when the deacon announced the "Sign of Peace" that I felt it. Last time at Mass, I felt the same thing, but couldn't put my finger it... It was as if something was washing over me. Last time, I chalked it up to anxiety. This week, I knew it had to be "The Presence". I sat down after shaking a few hands, even though all remained standing. I was floored. I wasn't quite sure what to do. I held back my tears, closed my eyes & prayed. It became clear to me that Jesus was made manifest in the people as the parts of His body reached out to one another. I envisioned it like water that came trickling over us like a rugged mountain stream... it spread through the church slowly, steadily until it engulfed us all. I thought He might only be in the wine or the wafer if He was anywhere to be found... but the sign of peace almost seems to draw that Presence out. Its as if He reaches out to us first & we respond by partaking of His body & blood in the elements. I of course don't get to do this yet, but there will come a day.

Body & Blood

I initially went to see the priest to find out more about the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I have to admit, I didn't come away with any new information. He offered me bits of the Catechism & a lesson from tradition. All things I'd heard before. This evening I came across 1 Corinthians 11:23-31 . I'm not a KJV fanatic, but in these verses, I not only saw a case for transubstantiation, but also for the use of the crucifix. As it concerns the Lord's Supper (Eucharist), Paul warns of eating & drinking "unworthily... without discerning the Lord's body...". The one who does this "shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord". I have to wonder what that actually means if the Eucharist is merely a symbolic remembrance. These simple verses, to me, present a case for the validity of the Real Presence. There's something serious... even scary about the Lord's Supper. We are told to take it seriously for a reason. Could Jesus really have meant that people are actually consuming His flesh & blood in the host & wine? And how would that change us if we believed that over the idea of symbolic consumption alone? Is this really what Christ instituted for us? I can't say for sure, but the gravity of Paul's words struck me differently tonight.

As to the use of the crucifix, Paul says that we proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. He is of course still talking about the Eucharist, but when I think of a crucifix, I think of the Lord's death. When I think of the bare cross, I think of His resurrection. Why proclaim His death over His resurrection? I thought the resurrection was the crux of everything I was supposed to believe... it is, afterall, the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead... and isn't that the good news? Yet if Jesus had not come to die, there would be no resurrection. The power, it seems, is in the cross of Christ & His submission to death. Paul said somewhere else that He wanted to know nothing more than Christ... risen? No, "Christ crucified". (1 Co. 2:2) In Protestantism, we proclaim "the risen Lord!" when maybe we should be proclaiming Christ crucified for us, Christ the power & wisdom of God... (1 Co. 1:24)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hell No!

I had a meeting with a priest the other day. We discussed many things, but two things in particular caught my intellectual eye. The first concerned the topic of indulgences, which I had questions about. Typically, they are "granted" only after one has confessed & repented. If one completes the requirements of their penance successfully, they are then granted indulgence(s) to help alleviate their suffering in purgatory. At least this has been my understanding. In short, the more indulgences you gain, the less you suffer. The priest told me this had faded in modern belief, that it was a medieval practice & that no one really believes in that anymore. He compared it to the state of "limbo" (where babies go when they die) & how it was recently taken out of the theology of Catholicism. In the same way, he said, indulgences are on their way out.
Another belief he said was fading (& this is my second point), was the idea of hell. I swear I felt the color run out of my face. "WHAT?!" I looked him in the eye & tried not to let my shock reveal itself. He said that God is good & because of this fact, he couldn't believe that God would or could send anyone to hell. He brought up the story of the adulterous woman & how the people wanted to stone her. Jesus piped up & said "He who is without sin, cast the first stone..." He was the only one who met that requirement, but He refrained in spite of the fact that He would have been justified in His actions. I guess the priest assumes since Jesus came on the scene & saved the adulterous woman, He will also save us- all of us- in the end.
I can digest the Catholic belief that we are essentially good with the stain of sin & propensity toward evil (as opposed to the Protestant view that we are born evil & depraved through & through), but the idea that God will save everyone just because He is a good God? That one I can't swallow. Incidentally, I don't know that all priests or Catholics think this way. But if no one is really destined for hell, why bother with references in the Bible? Why require a sacrifice to atone for sin? How can sin be sin without the threat of punishment? Even in our own society, a law is essentially worthless unless there are consequences for breaking it. If there is no hell, how is the good news "good"?! Hell is something I just can't evict from my belief system...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Presto Change-o!

The sign of the cross, the Lord's Prayer, even, dare I say it, the Psalms or the "armour" of Ephesians 6... These are not meant be magical "Abracadabras!" or "Ala-kazams!". They are not the source of salvation. They don't provide us with some mystical, impervious bubble to ward off sin, but they ARE meant to direct us back toward God in whatever situation we find ourselves. We are the ones who make the choice to "master" sin.

I say this because I recently encountered the sting of sin even after I had gotten on my knees, made the sign of the cross, prayed the Lord's prayer & parts of the Psalms. How pious of me. I was sure I had sufficiently submitted myself to God. I was "clean & strong" in conscience (in my conscious opinion)... However, sin was still crouching at my door. It didn't run away or go "poof" while I was praying. It simply stepped out & waited. I heard it murmuring outside the door. What was it saying? I had to know. I placed my hand upon the knob & turned it. I only opened the door a crack- and then sin grabbed me & slammed the door behind us.

I thought about 1 Corinthians 10:12- "If you think you're standing firm, take heed, lest you fall..." It seems the very moment I think I've gained security & confidence in my own righteousness, sin pipes up. James 1:14 says "Each man is tempted when he is lured & enticed by his own desire". Magic words or scripture didn't keep the sin away. So what now? I repented once again, but remained troubled. If I'm lured away & enticed to sin by my own desire, that means there's still something about me that's not fully submitted to God, even though I pray the words & believe them in my heart. What could have averted sin this time? What could have kept me away from that door? Should I have read my Bible? Prayed more fervently? Should I have called out to Mary, the Saints & all God's angels to help me? I could have... but the question remains: What could I have actually done to "master sin" in the moment? I realized I wasn't a victim, but a willing participant. In order to master sin, the only thing I could have done was to acknowledge that I was powerless in & of myself. I needed some good old fashioned fear... fear of God, that is. So called "magic" words & motions can help me think about God's attributes in the midst of danger, but I actually have to get my hand off the knob & step...(no, run) away from that door. I can't even for a moment give temptation the audience it desires lest it bait me & grab hold...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Crucifix or Cross?

I was listening to a radio call in show lastnight that asked the question: why did Catholics keep Christ on the cross (crucifix), whereas Protestants typically have only a bare cross? The answer was that Catholics believe the point of redemption was at the cross- that is, on Good Friday, when Jesus died. Remembering Christ on the cross is therefore a remembrance of His loving sacrifice & our redemption. Protestants, on the other hand, claim the bare cross is in remembrance of Christ resurrected. It was noted however, that the bare cross could mean anything to anyone- it could be the symbol for historical crucifixion unrelated to the message of the Gospel. It could mean an unused cross... it could even mean a cross devoid of Christ. This last one hit me between the eyes. I too have wondered why a crucifix instead of a cross. I've always been told Catholics were attempting to keep Christ on the cross b/c they didn't accept the fullness of His saving power. It was believed that the crucifix was even a subtle gesture of mockery. But the truth is, the crucifix does remind us of Christ's sacrifice & suffering, whereas the cross alone really is just an empty cross without Christ... Chew on that one for a bit.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Seeking Mary

My Protestant mind still has difficulty with the Catholic Imagination & the ability to envision Mary as spiritual Mother. Its not that I don't want to, but I haven't exactly felt anything, heard anything or seen anything that might support the validity of her office in my life.

However... I've been praying to God that He would show me Mary, that He would reveal Mary to me if indeed she is integral to my faith. As yet, nothing. But then, I've not heard Jesus' voice with my ears either, nor have I seen Him with my eyes. I've not touched His corporeal body or received any grand revelations via mystical visions. I have the Bible, I have tradition, I have inklings & parabolic dreams that point to Him. Does that mean I don't know Jesus or can't believe in Him? Does that mean everyone who does is off their rocker?

As it concerns Mary, there are few verses in the Bible that mention her specifically & for the most part, her life remains a mystery. If you were to believe the Protoevangelum of James, you might feel a bit more informed as to who Mary's parents were, how she was born & how the betrothal to Joseph came about. But its one of "those other writings"- part of early Christian tradition not included in the canon of the Bible. For this fact alone, a typical Protestant might thumb their nose at such a fable. This book also gives us the Immaculate conception & the reason she remained ever virgin. If one were to believe this, one could possibly also believe that after she died, she was assumed into heaven & crowned queen. Jesus being King, His mother would be rightful queen according to the human understanding of monarchy. But is that God's truth or the traditional understanding of man?

Perhaps I'm looking too hard for Mary, expecting her to show up some night all aglow, drifting down through the ceiling in her flowing blue & white garb... Her hands would be outstretched & she would have a faint smile on her face as she speaks to me in a calm, motherly tone of voice... This is what I think of when I think of Mary. But really, how is that any different from considering the character of a rapper decked in bling? Surely he's a drug running, gang banging, womanizing thug. People took one look at Jesus & sneered. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" "He's no prophet! He's mad! This guy is the carpenter's son!" Yet He was God in flesh, come to save us. I take one look at the traditional Mary & think that's how she should "appear" to me. That's what I've been looking for. Yet so often the revelations we think we ought to see or receive from Heaven have been right in front of us the whole time...

Friday, September 30, 2011

Portrait of Peter?

So I've been reading various websites from various sources on the subject of paganism & the Catholic church. I can't deny that there are striking similarities between ancient Babylonian beliefs & (what I'll just call "The List" of) basic Catholic understanding. I can't deny that they seem to have deliberately changed the 10 commandments- altogether deleting the 2nd one that talks about not making graven images & bowing down to them or worshiping them. Part of me wants to jump on this bandwagon & shout "A-HA!" But then I wonder, how could deception be so ridiculously blatant? If the Catholic faith is truly rooted in paganism & deception, wouldn't you think the lying spirit behind it would do a better job disguising it? Or perhaps there's no need if the Catholic church sets itself up as the authority on scripture & all matters concerning the faith. If that's the case, what motivation would the faithful have to even read, let alone understand their Bibles with discernment? I suppose deception doesn't always have to be subtle... But a truly good one seems to start out that way.

Another question I have is how has the Catholic church survived for nearly 2,000 years? Was it because everyone was too afraid to buck the system for fear of punishment or death? That's not been the case since Luther burst onto the scene. Yet even with the countless Protestant denominations that have risen up over the last 500 years, Catholicism remains. Is it just a revival of ancient Babylonian practices? Or is it the "church" that Christ instituted for us? The Catholic church has made so many mistakes over the centuries, I would have expected it to melt into obscurity like some kooky fringe group. Yet it remains.

I also would have expected John to be entrusted with the church, but instead, it was Peter. Or was it? There's debate about this too. Still, there's no denying that Peter was a head honcho according to Acts... and Peter was apparently chosen over John for a reason. Remember Peter, a rough & tumble sort, always putting his foot in his mouth, always full of vigor & faith... at least when it was convenient. Who could forget his boldness, his walking out on the water, only to shriek with fear moments later at his sinking? And lets not forget how he denied even knowing Christ on the fateful night... just hours after the Last Supper no less. That boy took off & wept like a baby when he realized what he had done. Yet when Jesus came to him later, Peter saw Him from a distance & took off running, dashing through the waters half naked just to get to Him. I can neither confirm nor deny pagan influence or revival as it concerns current beliefs & practices sanctioned within the Catholic church. But perhaps Peter is a better, more accurate portrait we can use to shed light on the identity & purpose of Catholicism.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Bereans

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11 (NIV)

What sort of scriptures might the Bereans have been "examining"? The New Testament was still being written & not yet considered scripture. At that point, it was just a bunch of letters & stories floating around the Mediterranean countryside. What the Bereans had was the Septuagint &/or the Hebrew scriptures, which is where we get our Old Testament. How many of us take the time to dip in to books that aren't Job, Psalms, Proverbs or Isaiah?

Whenever the New Testament speaks of scripture, it might be helpful to remember that it's not referencing the canon we have today. It's speaking of the Old Testament. That's not to say that the New Testament isn't scripture or isn't worth reading, but how often do we consider reading the OT over the NT unless we absolutely have to? While we have both now, it seems there's a grand division between the two. The New Testament is seen as superior for Christian living, while the old is just history of how we ought not to live. The new is revelation of Jesus & the life we have in Him, while the old is all prophecy & waiting, rules & punishment. There's truth in this, but if we allow ourselves to be limited by these ideas alone, we also limit our potential to understand what it means to be fully alive in Christ. The Bereans examined the scripture to see if what Paul said was true. What did they know that we don't? What treasures might the now dusty, supposedly culturally antiquated, hard to understand OT hold for us?!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Roamin' Romans

I've been making a practice of putting away the Catholic material for a day or two each week. On these days, I get into the New Testament & read what Protestants of all shapes & sizes have to say about Catholicism on various blogs & forums. There are a lot of "proof texts" & arguments flying around, but everyone seems to have the same thoughts over the "big issues"- Mary, purgatory, scripture + tradition, salvation by works + faith, authority of Rome, etc. I must admit, I have the same concerns. However, I've yet to find many worth listening to because I don't get a sense of love from most sources- Instead, I find judgment & superiority & all those things that would make someone reject an argument on the basis of it's delivery. I don't want truth sold to me. Show me a person who can speak the truth out of genuine love for Christ & for others & I might be more inclined to listen.

Anyway, this past week, I began to wonder about the Catholic "Plan of Salvation" & felt led to read Romans. If there were any book of the Bible to proclaim a death knell over the basic precepts of Roman Catholicism, it would have be Romans. So far, I can see no reconciliation between the two & I'm up to chapter 8... I know the Word is spoken in mass on Sundays & I know the calendar of reading takes the community through the Bible over 3 year's time. Clearly, Romans is heard by all in attendance at some point, but is it really "heard" with the heart?

In light of this, I'm not prepared to abandon the process of inquiry just yet... I can see there's clearly a difference in how Catholics respond to the Word, but I need to know why. It seems according to their view, salvation is found within continual participation in the sacraments rather than a "personal" relationship with Jesus. They don't seem to believe in one point of salvation- instead, it is a continual action, a journey whose fruit can be snatched away at any time & counted loss for eternity. I admit, I've believed this myself, way before my exploration began. I still have trouble with eternal security. But Catholics seem to live in a specific kind of fear & doubt... Things done are for safety's sake, to stay right with God so they'll have a shorter stay in purgatory & maybe make it to heaven. Their faith at times seems more like an investment in fire insurance... (Hmm. Where have I heard that term before?) One conclusion I HAVE come to is that we are all guilty, Catholics & Protestants, of reducing salvation & relationship with Jesus to rules, consequences, & reward scales. Heaven forbid that we should ever lose sight of our Lord & His love for us even for an instant...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Comfort Control

Today I attended another mass & participated minimally, singing songs & antiphons. I stood when they stood, sat when they sat, but did not kneel or cross myself. I'm not quite ready for that level of interaction. I love that the Word is preached, Old Testament & New. The gospel is read, a Psalm is sung, the Nicene creed & the Lord's prayer are recited- the latter, with hands upraised or clasped with your neighbor. Then there's something called the “Sign of Peace”, which is not just a “hi” or a handshake, but a full on smile, a hug & maybe even a kiss with the words “Peace be with you” attached. The atmosphere appears lively & warm during these few seconds of interaction. Some more words are said & then row by row, folks trickle down to the altar to receive the Eucharist. I quietly excused myself & launched back into the world with my bulletin & a heavy heart.

I have a heavy heart because it seems Laodicea knows no bounds. It seems there is no denomination, no culture, no country where it does not exert it's power over men (and women alike). One could tell there were a few truly devout Catholics in the crowd, but the rest seemed like they were just there... looking over the congregation, spacing out, reciting the words while contemplating their manicures, etc. I'm not attempting to make a blanket statement, but one could clearly see the disinterest on many faces. It was not real to some... it “just was”.

I considered moving on. Maybe I should try & find a more vibrant church to be a part of. But if everyone who felt that way left, Laodicea would remain. If those who recognized it stayed & let their own flame burn & shine, the church would have no choice but to notice... eventually. I'm not saying I'm going to mount a rally against Laodicea in the church, whether Protestant or Catholic. It has to happen within me first. And just because I recognize it doesn't mean I have the flame burning bright in me either. In fact, I see Laodicea in me when I'd rather see Christ.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Litmus Test

Mary's Immaculate Conception, Mary's Perpetual Virginity, Mary's Assumption, Mary's Coronation as Queen of Heaven, Purgatory, Indulgences/ Praying for the dead, Praying to Mary & the saints (communion of saints), Icons, statues, etc., Confession & Penance...

These are things that caused me to bristle in the beginning. But tonight a thought came to mind: Do any of these take away from the message of Jesus Christ? Do any of these things actually prevent one from ultimately being saved? If you were a staunch supporter of purgatory & indulgences for yourself & your loved ones, would it change the true status of your salvation (saved by grace, through faith & this, not of yourselves, it is a gift of God*)? Believing in these things would not change God's love for you or Christ's saving work on the cross. What about Mary? Unless the Church decides to deify her & the triune Godhead miraculously becomes a quad, even the details about Mary don't seem to impede upon Christ. At best, you might achieve what you desire from adhering to these things wholeheartedly. At worst, you would merely be wasting your time. But Christ does not change in the shadow of these beliefs, neither is His gift of salvation diminished by these things. What He has already done stands as a perfect sacrifice, a perfect representation of His love for us. What we do in response, whether we are Catholics or not, cannot change that. [*Ro. 2:8]

I still don't know what I believe about some of those things on the list, but I've come to see the worth of confession (now called reconciliation) & penance. It puts flesh to the act of repentance, offers accountability & even has the potential to teach us discipline in our lives. Being a sensory person, I can also appreciate the visual reminders of Mary & the saints. I don't worship a sunset or photographs or letters; I see these things & I am reminded of God, of experiences, of good friends. When I see Mary & the saints, I am reminded of this spiritual family I'm a part of. If I believe in the communion of saints, I speak to them just as I would a flesh & blood person in the same room. I don't worship them or “pray” to them as I pray to the Father- they are powerless in & of themselves to effect change in my life. They are subject to God just as I am. But apparently they can intercede with me & for me because God is God of the living & not the dead... What a gift that would be if He truly does allow us to “commune” with those who have gone before us, even that “great cloud of many witnesses”.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Once Upon A Time...

This is how most fairy tales start. I'm beginning to realize that for years, I've had sort of a fairy tale mentality about Catholicism. I grew up in the Protestant church, but was introduced to Catholicism early on as my neighbor's kids went to the Catholic school just down the street.

I remember the church used to hold a bazaar once a year to support the school. My family looked forward to it & usually went both days. Food booths, game booths & even a few mechanical rides were crammed into a tiny parking lot across the street. The weekend would be filled with beer, music & the scent of grilled onions & bell peppers. Their burgers were the best. The school itself was a huge 3 story brick building & each day, hundreds of blue shirted boys & checker skirted girls streamed in & out of its doors. The Catholic kids I knew were kind of snotty & foul mouthed.... the stereotype was effectively cast early on.

I sometimes went dumpster diving (it was actually safe 25 years ago) behind the church. That's where they threw out their half used candles- the pillar kind in glass- I would rescue a few & bring them home to burn. I wondered what would happen if I ever got caught. I saw an actual nun on the grounds once or twice & it both fascinated me & scared me... I had seen my share of “nun movies”. From these, I learned that nuns (which translated as all Catholics when I was a child) were stern, disciplined & took no guff. They had fun, but only at great cost of their obedience to the terrible, all seeing eye of Mother Superior. The ones who had kind, generous hearts were always portrayed as the misfits, the disobedient, the seemingly halfwitted (think the Sound of Music, the Flying Nun, the Singing Nun, even the Sister Act movies).

In general, only the symbolism of Catholicism was portrayed in the media, not necessarily the heart & soul of it. Crucifixes, rosaries, statues of the saints, genuflection, crossing ones self & the chiming of the steeple bells were frequently present. I equated these things with Catholicism, but I understood it was not a faith like mine... I was taught that symbols equated to idol worship or that they meant nothing to real Catholics. They were just outward manifestations born in response to the inner superstitions Catholics seemed to believe... They weren't really Christians, the hierarchy always wanted money & they were riddled with bitter guilt until they went to confession & said their Hail Marys.

So here I am, decades later. I packed up all these memories & fairy tale notions & put them in a pile next to my knapsack. I was ready to board the train & head toward "Rome", but it seems one has to go on foot. So I left my perceptions at the station & left the station with my knapsack. I carry only my faith, my intellect & the hope that my God will keep me & guide me on this journey.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tiny Boxes

Perhaps the problem isn't so much what I DO know about my faith, but what I DON'T. That is, most of us don't have a giant catechism. Perhaps we hold to a creed or confession, but the rest is written up & approved by councils or general assemblies or the like. Or maybe there's nothing written down... No matter what denomination we associate with, we tend to get our guidance from a group of overseers as well as preachers itinerant or otherwise, via all forms of media, old & new. But where does love actually figure in? And who has the right interpretation of the Bible anyway? I'm not talking translations or versions here, I'm talking theology. How is it we can have centuries of seminarians from so many traditions with pretty much the same kinds of divinity degrees & Ph.D's, who can't come into agreement? Is it enough to agree to disagree? Theology seems a necessary "evil" to guard against false teaching, but it can also be a roadblock when that's all that guides your faith.

If you've grown up in the faith, its assumed that you know what you believe because you've been exposed to the plethora of theology available to you. You should be solid, ready for ministry. But I think that's a fatal assumption. I don't think the disconnect happens so much with the intellect as it does with the lack of experience. I'm not referring to being in church, completing Bible studies, attending prayer meetings or even going on missions trips. I'm talking more about personal discipleship- living out one's faith in daily life; not to be a part of a church, not to save souls, not to be assured of your place in heaven, but for the genuine love of God. When I begin to live out of that kind of love, theology admittedly blurs a little. I feel like I'm just now coming to understand what I believe & why. Its not that I lacked the resources to know what I believed previously... the difference is in the striving to live a life of discipleship- indeed, rooted & grounded in love- instead of living for acceptance or the hope of merit from my fellow Christians. I realize I might not be in perfect agreement with either a Protestant or Catholic viewpoint at this moment in my journey, but if I'm not living out of love, neither of these matter. I'm simply not living. Church affiliation, labels & even theology are worthless if I don't have love. I'm not very good at it yet, but I want to get better. I'm not abandoning the fundamentals of the cross, just the tiny boxes I kept each fractured piece in.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Born Good?

I don't have time to give the concept of being born good or evil much thought at the moment. However, its definitely something that's been on my mind since my conversation with my RCIA director. She said something to the effect that in Protestantism, they believe we are born "bad". Catholics, on the other hand, believe we are born good. I have always believed we are born bad also, simply because of the scriptures that say "There is no one righteous, no not one", and, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God". Seems pretty cut & dried. I've even heard somewhere that we're sinful from birth, born into sin, etc. This certainly echoes the cry of the Psalmists, but is it really true?
Doesn't one sin only if they make a choice for or against something? If they don't know it's sin, if no one tells them, its technically not sin for them... But once they know, they are held accountable. So are we really born sinful? I believe we are born with the potential to be sinful, but it can't really manifest until we are able to comprehend right from wrong. Only then do we gain the ability to really choose to be "good" or "bad". Why baptize babies, then? That one, I know nothing about... Not really pertinent since I don't have one. But I imagine its a way to set the baby apart as God's... much like our Protestant baby dedications. I don't think baptising a baby can be a failsafe for salvation once they hit the age of reason. Who knows, maybe we ARE born good... innocent, if only for a short time. No wonder the birth of a child sparks such wonder in people, changes them...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sci-Fi Gospel

Perhaps the gospel isn't so much that Christ paid the debt for our sins so we can be with Him in heaven. Yes, its definitely that, but I've always had trouble connecting with that picture. Honestly, it doesn't make me want to follow Him. Why would a spiritual being leave heaven 2,000 years ago & come to earth as a baby so He can grow up in human skin in order to "save" me from some invisible, inevitable consequence of an eternal damnation whose origin I personally didn't have anything to do with? (Phew!) Sounds a little sci-fi to me. Then He let Himself be nailed to a cross & killed after just 30 some odd years on the earth. I'd be expecting some sort of dramatic finish... lightening bolts & chariots of fire, maybe a legion of angels to thwart His enemies... that is, if He really was Who He said he was. That was the reaction of the witnesses gathered around Him that day as well... “If You're the Son of God, save yourself!” As if His dying wasn't enough, His resurrection 3 days later was even more disturbing. He conquered sin & death & the power of the grave & hung out on earth for another month or so before ascending back into heaven. Just as the Israelites called the bread God gave them “Manna” (meaning 'what is it?), so I have to wonder, who is this guy? Or, in slightly more biblical language, “what manner of man is this?!”

But the simple gospel message boils down to the fact that I would indeed be trapped by the inevitable consequence of sin if God didn't send His Son into this mess of a world after me. He had a plan all along & at just the right time... Christ. God had no intention of leaving me alone on this earth to rot. Why? Because I was made in His image. He breathed His own breath of life into me, just has He had done for Adam & Eve & every other human being on this earth. He was invested in me. He loved me & He knew I wasn't going to be able to get through this life on my own. He knew that sin would entice me & the consequences would swallow me up if He didn't step in. I'm not a disciple because Jesus paid the debt created by my sins. I'm a disciple because He anticipated my vulnerability & came to protect me. I believe because He saw my lack & came to fill it. I confess Jesus is Lord because He is the only thing that makes my life liveable & worth living.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Foster Child

"The world needs Protestants." This is the phrase that went through my head when I visited a charismatic meeting the other night. They worshiped God, they prayed much, they read from the Bible. They danced, they shouted, they laughed & swayed. They smiled. A lot. Still, I thought the evening was disorderly, irreverent at times & forced. It seemed to be all about getting caught up in the emotion to attain some kind of blessing.

The world needs these Protestants too. Why? Well for one, everybody is different. Some folks might languish in a Catholic church, but thrive in a charismatic congregation. I feel my experience with (this) Protestantism left me increasingly empty & disappointed. It took me years to realize that emotion can become mere filler that doesn't necessarily equal faith. It took me years to realize I had no clue Who God was. Not that I do now. But I think I get a greater understanding of Him via Catholicism. I always think that it was me who abandoned (this) Protestantism, but in a way, (this) Protestantism abandoned me. It left me wanting on God's doorstep & Catholicism was there. Even in my short time of exploration, she's shown me a family in the saints, tradition in the faith & discipline in practice that leads to a deeper understanding of Father God's love for me. I am, in truth, a foster child of faith.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Going Through the Motions

In my Protestant church, its easy to walk into the room, shove my hands in my pockets or grab a cup of coffee. Its easy to wander over to the snack table & start talking to someone I know. Kneeling or bowing doesn't even cross my mind because there's nothing to kneel or bow to. In prayer & the reading of the Bible, any number of us may bow our heads or close our eyes, but no other sign of solidarity is usually given. Instead, in some unspoken way, we seem to understand why we're there: we are Christians, this is our community, & this is what we do because we are "free".

If I walked into a Catholic church, everyone would know me by this same silence. I don't think I could remain anonymous for very long. I suppose I could go through the motions just to fit in, but why bother? I would be known by my fruit soon enough. However, if I were to believe I was in the actual presence of God when I walked into church, if I were there out of true reverence for God, I think I would feel very humbled. The Sign of the Cross, bowing toward the altar or kneeling- these things are acts that have the potential to mortify me, & perhaps rightly so. I would be expressing my faith for all to see & revealing that I too am in need of a Savior, I too am in need of the community of faith to make this journey with me.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cohesion

Today I watched a Canadian Mass online. I went to a Catholic website for readings of the day & was slightly surprised to discover they were the same as those read in the mass I had just viewed. I then remembered there was a mass on the local Catholic radio station at noon. Curious, I tuned in. They also had the same readings & celebrated the same saints, but they had bits in Latin & the homily differed. One spoke of secularism & shared encouragement from Pope Benedict to “Fight the good fight” & the other took the message of the reading quite literally & spoke about the love of money. The thing that impressed me most was the cohesion between these three. No matter where I looked, the same scriptures were there... the same martyrs were celebrated & the red vestments were called for in their honour.

Friday, September 16, 2011
St. Cornelius, Pope, Martyr and St. Cyprian, Bishop, Martyr
1 Timothy 6:2-12
Psalm 49:6-10, 17-20
Luke 8:1-3

I wonder if you can imagine the sense of excitement this instills in me, to realize that as I hear these readings, someone on the other side of the world is most likely hearing the same thing. Their local priests are probably clad in red to celebrate the same martyrs. Just as we Protestants marvel that the Bible came from so many sources yet is cohesive to form one story, so I marvel that there is such cohesion among the Catholic church, even over so many miles & in the midst of so many individuals. On any given day, in almost any place in the world, I can share in this community.