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...