Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pilate's King

Today is the day to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Pontious Pilate is a prominent figure in the second & third mysteries (the scourging & the crowning of thorns). He was, afterall, the one who condemned Jesus to death. Because of this, he's often viewed as a bad guy. But it occurred to me today that maybe Pilate actually believed Jesus was a King.

Did Jesus respond to Pilate's "faith" by showing mercy when He said to him, "The one who handed Me over has the greater sin."? He was of course, talking about Judas, who betrayed Him. If Judas had the greater sin, Pilate's was apparently somehow less, though he had the final authority to condemn Jesus. At least he thought he did. Jesus reminded him that he had no authority at all except that which was given from above, from God.

From John 18 right into the next chapter, I watched Pilate trying to set Jesus free at every turn. But the Jews would have none of it. They threatened Pilate by telling him if he freed Jesus, he was no friend of Caesar. This was a kind of 1st century blackmail & Pilate knew it. He wasn't willing to sacrifice his career just yet, so he let the Jews have their way. He publicly washed his hands of the guilt of Jesus' blood & sent Him off. But as an act of his own veiled faith, Pilate had a sign put up that declared Jesus as the King of the Jews, much to the Jews' dismay. He stood fast & told them "What I have written, I have written.". Did Pilate believe? Did he utter some prayer to God that day for forgiveness? Who can say. But actions speak louder than words...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Living Waters

The parts of the Catholic Church present themselves like ripples in a pond, each one being propelled by another behind it. The waters are not stagnant or stilted... they are alive. I could not have known this from "the outside". Its so easy to observe & jump to conclusions.

There's one statue in my parish. Its a life size Virgin Mary. I actually prefer to sit next to it, though I can't explain why. At first, I was uncomfortable with the idea of such a thing in church. There's a "prayer bench" in front of it- a place where people can kneel & pray just inches away from this image. I watched an old man do that very thing today. Was he kneeling before an idol? Did he think that statue was the Blessed Virgin herself? I can't say. But I think it comes down to perspective. God knows the heart. I can't judge what his motives were as he knelt there. I can only judge my own heart. I don't know that I'd be able to kneel in his place at this point. I'm still getting used to the idea of icons & candles! But if I ever were to kneel in front of such an image, I would not be kneeling in worship of that image. My worship & my prayers go to God & to Jesus, my Great High Priest, Who lives to make intercession for me. Only after I've presented my requests to God can I dare entertain the idea of seeking out intercession from Mary or a saint. And I still do so timidly, not wanting to offend God in any way. On the outside, that statue is nothing more than a chunk of painted wood. On the outside, that old man was committing idolatry. But that's just one frame of the video- a stagnant view of a greater whole. If I were to watch the scenes in succession along with his internal dialogue, I might observe a humble man who is incredibly faithful to God.

Only God knows our hearts. In my short time within the Church, I have observed that I cannot judge a thing merely by observation. So I'm kicking off my shoes & I'm stepping in. As I immerse myself in the waters of Catholicism & meet the many ripples surging toward me, I trust that I'll be propelled toward solid ground on the other side. Afterall, when I pass through the waters, He will be with me (Isaiah 43:2)...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Salvation Through the Church

"Salvation through the Church" is kind of a strange statement. At first glance, it implies that the Catholic Church at large is saying "If you're not one of us, you're doomed". But I'm under the impression that this is just a misconception. Salvation through the Church is not a line in the sand. Its actually an open door to a treasure trove.

What is the "Church" anyway? Is it a building? It can be. But its more than a building. Is it a group? Sure. The Church is a group of believers... but its even more than that. The Church is the Body of Christ. Its a body that can't be confined by stone or drywall or wood. Its a body that doesn't hide behind stained glass, social status or geographical boundaries. The Church is a living, breathing, corporeal, spiritual body here on this earth. What does that look like on a cellular level? All of us are like individual cells that work together in community. Every day the breath of God animates us so we can say "In Him we live & move & have our being"... We're so tiny on our own, but we can get things done when we work together. Perhaps salvation through the Church could be better translated as salvation through community.

How can we experience salvation in community? Jesus said He is the Way, the Truth & the Life, so why would we need anything but Him to be saved? Well, consider His approach. He came as a man to dwell among us. He could have stayed in Heaven & sent down some pyrotechnics to freak us out... He could have sent more prophets or some super scary angels or just obliterated us all together. But He chose to become one of us in order to save us. This is love- not that we loved Him first, but that He loved us. And as His Body here on earth, we are called to love others in the same way. This is community. This is salvation, through the Church. The fullness of salvation can't be experienced without it. Within the Church we have the sacraments. These are specific ways God bestows grace through faith, & they only happen in community. Within the church, there is a lineage of believers that stretches back to the beginning of time. We are descendents of God's holy people, even as we ourselves are called to be holy.

Without the Church in one's life, the effect of the sacraments is significantly weakened or lost, the heritage of faith is all but forgotten & that one is in danger of shipwreck. The Church is a navigational tool, even like a GPS. It lays out the map, the coordinates & the ways we can take to get to our destination. It speaks to us, guides us, corrects us. How does it do this? It comes from a community of data which is based on information from satellites, maps & invisible degrees such as latitude & longitude. It knows where we're at & devises a route based on known knowledge (that yet may be unknown to us). This is the Church. Thousands of years of history & God's own intervention provide invaluable resources for us along the way. We could opt to pursue salvation outside the Church as many Protestants & even some lapsed or nominal Catholics do, but they're not experiencing the fullness of faith. Its the difference between taking a museum tour with or without the audio narration or navigating new territory with or without a GPS. Salvation comes through the Church, the community of believers; even Christ's own Body. He is the Way, the Truth & the Life.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fishers of Men

Thursday is the day to pray the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. They take us through the baptism of Jesus, the wedding at Cana, the proclamation of the Kingdom, the transfiguration & the institution of the Eucharist.

Instead of using one of those little Rosary booklets that state the general idea of the mystery & launch off into the 10 Hail Marys, I've been using my Bible. I read a verse, say a Hail Mary, read another verse & on & on. It keeps me engaged in the purpose of the prayer, which is to walk through the life of Jesus.

I came across the statement that after the miracle at Cana, "the disciples began to believe"... This implies that maybe they didn't believe right from the first & were just following out of curiosity. They couldn't have known Who Jesus really was when they left their boats. He hadn't begun His public ministry yet. Chances are they weren't there at the Jordan when He was baptised. As far as they knew, He was just some guy looking for some new friends to hang out with. Maybe He could teach them a thing or two about fishing. Afterall, He DID tell them He'd make them fishers of men. I can imagine them sitting in their boats thinking. "What the heck does that mean? Who knows. But why not go with Him & find out?".

They followed. That was faith... it was only after Cana that "the disciples began to believe". (Jn 2:1-12) I think sometimes its easy to confuse faith with belief. Faith is based on things unseen (but somehow inwardly known or sensed), while belief tends to be based on what is known because it is seen, experienced or authenticated in some way. No wonder Jesus said "Blessed are those who believe & have not yet seen!" Belief is one thing, but belief coupled with faith is extraordinary.

Gloria Euphoria!

I've had the Gloria stuck in my head since Mass on Sunday. This is a good thing because I've been struggling with the new version since Advent. I'm not the only one. But we haven't been left to our own devices or chided for our lack of enthusiasm or faith because we don't sing. That was something new for me. In my experience, if you don't sing, something's wrong. You're rebellious & selfish for holding back your "joyful noise" from the Lord. But at my parish, the music director recognized our problem & addressed our need with kind instruction. He's been taking time out before Mass to teach a different verse each week & I think its finally starting to stick! Now that I know the music, I'm able to join in with the community as we sing this beautiful, ancient hymn of praise to God.

Why does it matter? It matters because the Mass is kind of like a wedding. Everything has its time & place & certain things need to happen in order for the ceremony to "go off without a hitch". But its not so much about getting through without hiccups. Its more about exhibiting reverence for the sanctity of the ritual. If part of the marriage ceremony is marred by mistakes or inexperience, that's it. You get one chance to muddle through it & you're done. In the Mass, we have many more chances to smooth out the rough edges... to "be holy as He is holy". And isn't that what the Christian life is all about? The Mass is not just another church service. Its an extraordinary event, a ritual that cuts through time & space. It binds us together with one another in Christ & it counts us with the community of saints & angels unseen. It recalls the history of our sin, the depth of God's grace & our salvation through Jesus Christ. The Gloria matters because it is part of the bond we share as believers.


Glory to God in the highest,
& on earth, peace to His people of good will
We praise You, we bless You,
we adore you, we glorify You
we give You thanks for Your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.
Lord Jesus Christ, only begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
You take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us;
You take away the sins of the world,
Receive our prayer;
You are seated at the right hand of the Father,
have mercy on us.
For You alone are the Holy One,
You alone are the Lord,
You alone are the most high, Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father.
Amen!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Part 6 Intro to Salvation (Our One Assurance)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

It came as a surprise to me that the Catholic Church believes we are saved by grace, through Jesus & through His work on the cross. It is a work finished. The proverbial paperwork is all drawn up & ready to go. We are all technically saved. But while Jesus already put His name down in blood, we still have to "sign" & abide by the requirements laid down for us. Its a covenant. And like any covenant God ever struck with humanity, He requires faithfulness on our part. If we don't consent, salvation can't possibly be ours.

We are also currently being saved as we await the fullness of our future salvation, which is eternal life. This being saved is our ongoing response to God. The active work of salvation reveals itself through the ways we choose to live out our lives in accordance with His covenant (& yes, the sacraments are part of this equation). But again, its not we who "work" for the grace to live out our salvation. Grace is the work of God, the gift of God & God's own response to us. Obedience that flows from a heart of thanksgiving & love is our response to Him & its how we participate in being saved.

And finally, we await the hope of salvation that is yet to come. We won't know the fullness of salvation until the final day. So we aren't saved yet- we're still waiting for His blessed appearing. Who hopes for what he already has? The idea that we are already saved, are being saved & await a future salvation coincides with God's intrinsic nature: He is "Who was & Is & is to come". There's nothing certain in this life (including our salvation) beyond that one chilling fact... that God "IS".

"What is man that You are mindful of him?" (Psalm 8:4) We've been given such an unfathomable gift. To think that the God of All would consent to join in a covenant relationship with you or me, that He gives us everything we need to hold up our end of things & all we have to do is be faithful to Him... its unheard of. But this is salvation, the gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. 2 Timothy 2:11-12

Monday, January 23, 2012

Part 5 Intro To Salvation (Man Made Inventions)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

As Christians, we're familiar with the concept of baptism. We get baptised as a sign of our devotion to Jesus & follow Him into symbolic death & life. Some of us get married & raise our kids in the church. Most of us take communion “in remembrance of Him”. If we're honest, we know the value of repenting to another a human soul & asking forgiveness for our sins. Some of us may feel “called” to ministry. And when we get sick, maybe we seek out prayer from someone we respect. If you were practically weened in the pew, it was probably a big deal that you “graduated” from Sunday school when you finally hit your teen years.

If you're a Christian, can you relate? Because what I've just described are the seven sacraments in a nutshell. I've heard it said that if you follow Christ, you don't need sacraments. Sacraments, after all, are just man made inventions that usurp the authority & power of Jesus. But I'd like to invite you to think of your faith, your life as a regular ol' Christian without baptism, communion, repentance or a sense of life “calling”. Think of what you would do if you were sick & there was no such thing as anointing oil & intercessory prayer, no distinction between kiddie church & adult church, no sanctity of marriage. Sounds kind of dull to me... sounds kind of secular.

If the sacraments are just man made inventions, why bother? But if they add something to our faith, if they somehow lead us closer to Christ, then would it be fair to surmise that they're actually necessary in order for us to experience the reality of our salvation?

Part 4 Intro To Salvation (Sacraments In Community)

This is Part 4 of a continuing series:
Part 1 Intro To Salvation
Part 2 Intro To Salvation (Sacraments)
Part 3 Intro To Salvation (Sacraments & Works)

Its interesting to note (in case you haven't picked up on it already) that the sacraments are community oriented. There is no “Just Jesus & me” in any of them. They all occur in the presence of a priest & the community one worships in (with the exception of reconciliation, which typically occurs in private audience with the priest). I've heard the argument that one doesn't need intermediaries like the sacraments or a priest to receive grace. I think I can agree with this in part because God is God & He can do what He wants. But because I believe that God routinely uses the temporal to reveal the eternal, I also have to disagree. I'm under the impression that we need as much help as we can get to know God better! The sacraments provide a framework for a community of individuals to grow into the Body of Christ. Each one has their own faith, troubles & victories. But as we participate in grace together, we become unified.

I don't think the idea of participation as a community bothers folks. Its my opinion that the problem lies with the priesthood. From what I can tell so far, Catholicism says (in so many words) that a priest is necessary for the sacraments to be “valid”. But we have Jesus, our High Priest. Why do we need earthly priests? Didn't Jesus say “No man comes to the Father except through Me.”? Are we still approaching the Father through Jesus if we bring the priest into the picture? The priest is a kind of “sacramental” object, a vessel for God, operating under the grace given him by the sacrament of Holy Orders. He has been ordained as a representative of Christ. So we can come to God through Christ, as represented in the person of the priest, who is under the authority of God. The priest is not Jesus, but by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders conferred upon him, he is able to act with the same authority (for example, concerning the sacrament of reconciliation, to forgive sins or not) as Christ.
John 20:21-23

Now there's another argument about us being a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9b). So what makes the priest so special? Aren't we all priests? Well, the Catholic Church says yes, we are all indeed a priesthood. But certain men receive Holy Orders & are ordained priests over communities. I think of Moses or the Old Testament judges in this respect. God instituted authority & order for a reason. Why would He abolish that idea because Jesus came to earth? It seems to me there would be even more need for Holy Orders following His resurrection. The first "priests" were the disciples, a.k.a. the apostles. Its no secret that Jesus singled them out for a reason. And so the torch has been passed down throughout the centuries & still burns today- perhaps a little dim in some places- but burning just the same. Thinking of the disciples in this way has challenged my concept of the priesthood & the sacraments...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Part 3 Intro To Salvation (Sacraments & Works)

This is the continuation of a series I seem to be compiling.
Part 1 Intro to Salvation
Part 2 Intro to Salvation (Sacraments)

I suppose I could launch into a detailed exposition of what each sacrament means, but not just yet. I'm still interested in looking at the concept of the sacrament in Christian life. If Jesus instituted anything, it would have some proofs attached, that is, some way to be validated. The top proof would be the witness of God the Father. Jesus tells us with fair regularity in the Gospels that He speaks only what He hears the Father speaking & does only what He sees the Father doing. Here's where we ask ourselves: Do the sacraments glorify God? Do they point us to God & echo the things He might be saying or doing? The witness of the Holy Spirit also factors in. The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus & guides us into all Truth. Do the sacraments reveal Jesus & guide us into all Truth? I believe they can.

A well worn argument I've heard against the sacraments is that the whole concept is works based & works are not required for salvation. All we need is love. If we embrace Christ's perfect love, utter our confession of faith but once & believe in our hearts that we are saved forever, well, that's all that's required of us. But I'm not convinced.

The sacraments are not so much our works as they are the work of God Himself. Baptism is administered, not as a work of ours, but of God. He is the One Who confers grace upon us through the priest/pastor/presider. We are merely the recipients of this grace. The specific work of baptism is to cleanse us from our sins. We humble ourselves, repent with thanksgiving & "die" with Christ in the waters of baptism, only to be raised to life by the same. But have we actually done anything? It is God who does the work. That work is grace & that grace enables us to live out our salvation daily.

Baptism, Confirmation & Marriage are the one time sacraments. Events such as birth & death, a rite of passage (becoming an adult in the eyes of all) & marriage are typically understood as things that happen once in a lifetime. So it is with these three sacraments. The rest- Reconciliation, Eucharist, Holy Orders & Anointing of the Sick can be repeated. The sacraments are God's work. We are called to participate & when we do, we receive grace & "everything we need for life & Godliness" in that moment.

Part 2 Intro to Salvation (Sacraments)

This is a continuation of a previous post, Part 1, Intro to Salvation.

So relationship with Jesus takes time. It doesn't happen instantaneously when we recite a prayer or read some scriptures that support our new found freedom in Christ. How does one engage in relationship with Jesus if He can't be "seen"? How did the people who came to faith after Jesus left this earth do it? Well, here's where the concept of sacraments comes in. When I first heard the word "sacrament", I admit I went into defense mode. But a sacrament is simply a visible representation of a thing unseen. Every sacrament is a visible reminder of God's love for us or "graces" He gives us for life & Godliness. Its through the sacraments that we can come to know Christ. In the Catholic Church, there are seven: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, reconciliation, holy orders, marriage & the anointing of the sick.

These aren't listed in the Bible like the attributes of Love or the Fruits of the Spirit are. In fact, some might say there's no such thing as a "sacrament" because Jesus didn't mention them specifically. But how can we really know all that He said or didn't say? A verse I hear rattled off repeatedly is 2 Timothy 3:16, which essentially says "All scripture is inspired by God & is useful for teaching, training, etc..." The argument here is that if its not in scripture, its not God's inspiration. Yet even Jesus says in John 5:39 "You search the scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the scriptures point to Me!" Paul affirms all scripture is God breathed, but He doesn't say anything to the completeness of it. Think about all those times you've gone to the Bible looking for an answer & there's nothing... Not everything is written. Can you imagine the entire Word of the Eternal God put into print? Of course not. Its impossible. So how can we surmise that everything we need is contained in our Bibles alone?

This is where the sacraments come in. Paul reminds us that yes, scripture is useful for discipleship, but he never implies that's all we have. We've also been given the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. Truth is found in Jesus Christ Himself. Who can say Catholics are right or wrong to consider oral tradition just as inspired as the written word, especially on matters of salvation? Who can say the institution of the seven sacraments is not Biblical simply because they aren't written out in scripture? John 16:13

Part 1 Intro to Salvation

I'm attempting to study the "Catholic Plan of Salvation". At first glance, it seems unnecessarily difficult. It's obvious that Jesus made it easy to be saved. Why, just look at the New Testament. All one has to do is repent & believe on Jesus Christ as Lord & Saviour, right? There was no need for a "sacrament" of any kind... Jesus spoke & the person responded one way or another. Everything was finished on the Cross. Its the confession of Christ's life, death & resurrection that saves you, not any other pickin' thing. Catholics must be off their rocker to think anything they do beyond that can grant them heaven. Well then, I guess that's it in a nutshell, eh?

Not so fast. The more I've become familiar with the Bible over the years, the more I've come to understand it as an outline for faith. The fullness of faith can't possibly be contained in 1,654 pages or less. When I read the Bible, I don't get the impression that it contains "everything we need for life & Godliness" as I hear quoted all too often. 2 Peter 1:3 says "God has given us everything we need for living a Godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know Him...", but Peter doesn't offer us a comprehensive list of just what "everything" & "all of this" is. When he was writing this discourse, there was no New Testament. The writings of the Apostles were mere letters floating from one church to the next. The only "Holy Scriptures" were the texts the Jews used, which is what we consider the Old Testament these days. Peter had to be talking about something more than scripture (and he was). He was actually talking about how we come to know Jesus. It's not a one time event that magically happens when the final syllable of the Sinner's Prayer is capped off with the all powerful "Amen". The bank account is not instantly full. "Everything we need" gets deposited in increments as we come to know Him.

How do we come to know Jesus? Certainly we come to know Him by enjoying a personal relationship with Him right? We read the Bible, pray, go to church, etc. We "feel" close or far away from God based on what we do or don't do, just like in a relationship. However, I have yet to come across the specific phrase "personal relationship" in the Bible as it concerns how we interact with any part of the Godhead. We infer it because Jesus tells us the Father loves us like the prodigal son, the lost sheep, the wayward wife... We see how the women responded to Him & how much time He spent with His disciples. Personal, right? Yes & no. It wasn't instantaneous. It took experience & time. Even some of the disciples were kind of clueless about Jesus after 3 full years with Him!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Re-Evaluating Evolution

I'm taking an anthropology class this semester & have about 50 pages to comb through each week. I'm currently reading about Evolution & Natural Selection. As a Christian, I've been trained to think a certain way & it wasn't either of those! I was taught Creationism, otherwise known as the "fixity" of species. In other words, man & animals are exactly the same now as God created them in the beginning. I honestly don't know at this point & am content to read for the moment. I happened across this thought along the way:

"Natural Selection operates on individuals, either favorably or unfavorably, but it's the population that evolves (Jurmain, Kilgore, TrevaThan, 2011).

I thought the quote was interesting because one can see this at work in the faith life as well. God "operates" on individuals & the immediate population they're part of changes because of them. Think of the influence the disciples had after Jesus ascended, or the affect conversion of a family member, friend or co-worker produces. In fact, we know that one or many individuals can have great impact on populations outside the normative sphere of influence, be it geographical, intellectual, spiritual or even time itself. Not only does the individual change, but the lives that one touches change as well. It happens over time, but it happens. And its how we got our faith...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From Water to Wine

In most religious art, Jesus is a thin, well groomed white man with piercing eyes & a stiff presence. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy you would see "kicking back" with His buddies at the end of the day. We imagine He speaks like He's narrating some bland documentary or works the crowds like an old royal dignitary.

Jesus was in His 30's when He started His ministry. Imagine your modern day 30ish guy... Now imagine he's Jewish. He's worked as a carpenter for years- first as His father's apprentice & now he calls the shots. He doesn't have modern technology. There are no power tools, chainsaws or nail guns. He does everything old school. Imagine his hands... perhaps they're big, scraped & blistered. Perhaps there's dirt encrusted into every crevice & deep under his nails. Maybe his cuticles are dry & bloody. Think about his physique- he must have some strength to be able to handle raw materials & then to saw, hammer & form the finished product into a table, a chair, a cart. He probably has a good appetite too! Imagine how your 30ish carpenter speaks. He's a blue collar worker, an "everyman". If he wants business, he has to put himself out there & talk to people. He'll talk to anyone at anytime & always has a story to tell. Know anyone like that? He's always got a smile & he's passionate about the causes that are important to him...

He has some family around- a mom, some half brothers from his father's previous marriage & a wacky cousin who lives out in the desert. He's a preacher, kind of "granola". He wears hair shirts & eats bugs. It makes him feel close to the land I guess. They see each other around once in a while, but they don't really get together as often as they'd like. He also has a friend who has 2 sisters. He hangs out with them quite a bit. He likes the one, but the other is a little obnoxious. He's not looking for a girlfriend though. He's got other plans.

When I think of Jesus like this, the scrawny, intensely dull white man disappears. I begin to see someone human... surviving in the world just like the rest of us. He was God, but He was God in flesh. He walked in our nappy shoes for 30 some odd years & no one expected anything out of the ordinary. He was "just some guy" till Cana. Then He became a prophet, a teacher, a leader & eventually, Lord & Saviour. But He was always these things, even when He was "just some guy"...

What about you or I? What have we always been that we may not be now? What is our "Cana" going to be & reveal about us to the world?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Days of Doubt

Some days I doubt. I don't know whether to chalk it up to being sick or as an answer to prayer. When I'm sick, not much matters in the moment but comfort & sleep. Yesterday was my worst day physically, even spiritually. It seemed that even God didn't matter. Today, I feel like I'm watching my spiritual journey from the back seat of a movie theater- that's me up there, but I don't have quite the conviction I did when I was making that movie.

I've been praying for direction since beginning this journey & I tried to think of the reasons why I abandoned it back in 2005. My reasons included fear, the inability to grasp the Catholic view of salvation, Mary's many laurels & the functions of an intercessory afterlife, among other things. Some of these have been resolved, while others remain strangely elusive. In favor of Catholicism, I think "That all these people can't be so gullible as to follow something blindly, so there must be something to it...", but then, I've heard that if sheep don't recognize the shepherd's voice, they won't follow. Do Catholics follow another shepherd altogether? Do I know my Master's voice? Am I afraid & doubting because I do? Or can I just chalk it up to a few days of momentary sickness? Why would God let me get this far (12 weeks till the big day) & only now throw a wrench in the works? Experience tells me this is indeed only momentary... but I also can't ignore the presence of fear & doubt outside my door.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Exposure

Well, the journey isn't all bullfrogs & butterflies. I really just wanted to hole up in my own little corner of the church today, but its a day of Solemnity- a Day of Obligation- and the place was packed. I stayed quiet instead of participating & closed my eyes to listen to the words of the scriptures & prayers. I felt a paralyzing heaviness & zoned out shortly after the homily, letting my gaze play outside in the naked trees. The light was still soft in the blue sky. I wished I was still in bed. I looked around the congregation as the bread & wine were being consecrated. I knew some of these people. It was a comforting feeling. But could I ever let them know me?

I felt very alone today. I was greeted by 5 or 6 people, but it didn't seem to phase me. Jesus was made present in the sacrifice, but I didn't connect with the reality of it. I left right after the Sign of Peace, realizing I had no clue why I was there. But I was compelled this morning, so I went.

While my heart usually soars from the meaning of the Mass, I've still been afraid to participate in full. I don't know what it is that I'm afraid of- people seeing? Or maybe I'll do something wrong? Yes & no. For me, full participation would be like an exposure of sorts, even though these folks participate freely & without fear... I would probably not stick out like I think I would, in fact, I would blend in even more! I think my hesitation actually has little to do with the need to practice & get the proper physical/verbal responses down. For me, it seems full participation would subject me to a kind of internal scrutiny. If I refrain, "Christianity" remains safe. If I engage...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Epiphany

Epiphi-what? An epiphany is a "revealing", a manifestation of meaning otherwise obscured. I've heard the exclamation "I've had an epiphany!" at various times throughout my life, but as a Protestant, I've never really known what the actual day is supposed to be celebrating. So here's what I found out: Epiphany is technically the 12th day of Christmas (yes, its true, there are actually 12, just like that old timey Christmas carol says). But the day is not about 10 lords a'leaping or 7 swans a'swimming (though in the Orthodox tradition, swimming is apparently very much a part of the festivities). On this day, also known as Theophany, a priest will throw a cross into a body of water & the men will go out to "save" it. Whoever finds it gets a blessing. These guys are the original Polar Bear Club. Apparently this tradition is associated with the waters of baptism (among other things over the years). Dig those crazy Orthodox.

Epiphany in the Latin Rite celebrates the wise men's arrival (or "Three Kings Day"). In short, its about Christ not only being born to the Jews, but being made manifest to the Gentiles as well (exemplified in the presence of the Magi from foreign lands). I guess that's reason to celebrate...

Friday, January 6, 2012

Coming & Going

The Priest at my parish once told us that Mass doesn't begin when we get settled into the pew. It doesn't begin when the church bells chime or when the music minister strikes the first note of the entrance song. It starts when we wake in the morning. When we step foot out our door, get in the car & hop on the road to church, we have begun the Mass of both our individual spirits & the corporate spirit of the Body of Christ.

I imagine us like a bunch of blood cells entering the "venae cavae" from all different walks of life & geological points (The Venae Cavae are the veins that carry de-oxygenated blood back to the heart). How fitting that God should seemingly order the rhythm of our physical bodies to the rhythm of the spiritual Body... Or could it be the other way around?

When we go to Mass, we are returning to the Heart of our faith, namely, Jesus. And when the Mass has ended, we carry "freshly oxygenated" blood back to where we came from. I found it interesting to learn that while all arteries carry blood away from the heart, not all arteries contain the good stuff... What are we carrying away from our time with the corporate Body of Christ?

The Body

"Are you part of the body?". This question was kind of a running joke in youth group because it sounded all creepy & cult-like. But what does it actually mean to be a part of "The Body"? And, are we speaking only of living, breathing human beings who walk this earth or the entire spectrum of saints past & present- even the communion of saints? Are those who died 2,000 years ago, 200 years ago or 20 minutes ago still part of The Body? The Catholic says yes, and apparently so does God.

God said, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"... (note the present tense) Therefore, "He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” Matthew 22:32 [ESV]

"For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him." 1 Thess. 5:9-10 [ESV]

Then there's the Transfiguration. Both Moses & Elijah were present with Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-3) Were they figments of the imagination? Mere ghosts? James & John saw them & Peter was so overwhelmed that He was ready to put up tents for everyone. Now that would have been some camp out! The point is, these are examples of saints who experienced the sleep of death & yet "live". Moses died an old man & Elijah was taken into heaven alive. His "death", like Enoch, was death in the sense that it was a separation from the confines of this earth. I imagine Mary experienced something similar upon her own assumption (Assuming, of course, that tradition bears the truth). Are Moses, Elijah, Enoch & Mary still part of The Body? I would venture to say they are every bit a part of The Body as they were when they were clothed in flesh & blood thousands of years ago.

But what purpose can they serve from the other side? Perhaps that's where the understanding of intercession comes in- they may not be able to enjoy physical union along side us in this world, but they can intercede for the members of The Body that remain here. The "dead" are not cut off from The Body anymore than we are not cut off from Christ just because He is seated at the right hand of God. Even He intercedes to the Father for us. In fact, He lives to make intercession for us.

If there is a communion of saints, awake or asleep (that is, technically alive or dead), are we treating with disrespect those who have left this earth before us? They are dead & gone... at best, sleeping & awaiting the day of Christ's return, right? Maybe. But what if they're truly alive & still able to function as members of this Body? Are we overlooking the potential spiritual contributions of our dearly departed brothers & sisters?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Mass

To the average Evangelical Protestant, Catholic Mass is the equivalent of a regular Sunday church service. The gathering is held at the same time & it employs prayer, worship & the Word, so its essentially the same, right?

Not so fast. The Mass is not like your ordinary Protestant service, but not for reasons one might think. The Mass is specifically a Memorial- a remembrance of Christ's Sacrifice for us at Calvary. Its much like the way we remember our nation's history. We recall something that has happened because it has somehow shaped who we are today. However, the Mass is not only a Memorial, but a kind of transcendence of time & place itself. When the Sacrifice (the Body & Blood of Christ) is presented on the altar, the boundaries of time disappear. All at once, we are transported to the night of the last supper, to the cross & to the tomb. A proclamation of the Mystery of Faith declares "Alleluia! Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ shall come again!" While the Sacrifice is offered over & over at every Mass, its not a new Sacrifice- its the very same one Jesus offered some 2,000 years ago. How can this be?

Consider the American tradition of Thanksgiving, now nearly 400 years old. Thanksgiving was an event that happened once, but is still celebrated to this day. In a way, we return to the 1st Thanksgiving each time we offer our thanks for God's provision. The feast is repeated, but the spirit & purpose behind it remains the same. We are essentially "transported" back in time, ultimately transcending time itself as we feast with our ancestors. We are joined as "one" people in this act of thanksgiving, just as we are joined as "one body" in the act of Christ's Sacrifice.

Christians are called the Body of Christ for a reason. Just as He calls us to join in that 1st sacrifice through the Mass, we now offer ourselves up along with Him as living sacrifices. As we partake of the "Supper of the Lord", we are joined with His Body both as it was given for us that day- once, for all- & today, having become the "Mystical" Body of Christ, that is, the Church.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Love and Condemnation

This post is about purgatory. I've been wrestling with this subject for quite some time now. Purgatory is neither heaven nor hell. Its somewhere in between. From what I gather, its a place of purification (based on the understanding that nothing impure will enter heaven). Its not for everyone & not every Christian will experience it. Its only for those who die in a "state of grace" with God & have some loose ends to tie up. Those of us on this side of life can apparently pray for those in purgatory & they can pray for us too. Its so outside my scope of reason that I still find it hard to believe, let alone understand. Still, I keep thinking of 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 where Paul says "...each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." [ESV]

Perhaps this is what happens in purgatory? But then I think, "Wait a minute, God loves His people & nothing can separate us from His love. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, so why would we have to go to purgatory?" Well, purgatory isn't a place of condemnation. Its a place of purification. It doesn't separate one from God's love, it prepares the soul to meet Him face to face. In a way, I suppose purgatory could be viewed as a kind of extension of His love. He will always love us. And when I say "us", I mean ALL of us, good & bad, Christian & "wicked" alike. How can I say that? Surely the wicked will be separated from His love & condemned to hell, right? I wonder how we came to believe this way- that God's love was only for us Christians? The wicked will be condemned, yes, but nothing can separate them from His love either. "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8 [ESV] The next verse goes onto say "...while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son." Who is us? Us is everyone. And nothing can separate us from His love. I've often heard the "no condemnation/ separation" verses used as proof texts for the 'once saved, always saved' spiel. Once a Christian is saved, they are 100% saved, safe & on their way to heaven from the very second they confess belief. There's no need for purgatory. But I've had a difficult time believing that as well.

In light of the New Testament's many encouragements & admonitions, I'm under the impression that Christianity is not about resting in the belief that we're on our way to heaven so much as it is a matter of stewardship, discipline, and perseverance. Why? Perhaps purgatory waits afterall...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Solemnity of Mary

So New Year's day takes on a new significance. In the Catholic world, it's the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. In Protestant speak, its a day to honour both God & Mary: God, for giving us His son through Mary & Mary, of course, for saying "yes". I was out of town, so I made plans to visit the local parish. My best friend went with me & I was glad for the company. I admit I felt a little off kilter... The place was maybe 1/3 the size of my parish, moderately full & not really all that exuberant. Thankfully, the missal was familiar as its the same one we use in my parish. They deviated from the printed responsorials however, so I felt a little lost. The arrangements of the "Gloria" & the "Alleluia" were also different. The words were the same, but the melodies seemed foreign. I suppose each congregation can switch things up as they see fit. The Priest didn't circle the altar with the book of the Gospel & no one knelt while the bread & wine were being consecrated, but everything else was pretty much the same, with the addition of a congregational "Hail Mary" in honour of the special day. I remember thinking the visiting priest was very smiley. It kind of bugged me at first, but then I reasoned that the Mass is a celebration, so why not smile? We just don't tend to associate happiness with reverence I suppose... everything has to be so formal, so rigid, so fear-filled. Or does it? My understanding of reverence was definitely challenged.

But back to Mary. Honestly, I think the meaning of the day was lost on me, but I can't deny that Mary seems to be making more of an appearance in my life. It hasn't been at all what I expected... I haven't seen apparitions, witnessed any weeping statues, heard voices or found her image staring back at me from a grilled cheese sandwich, but somehow, she's begun to feel familiar to me, like "one of the family" I suppose. I've felt very much like a child in this process... almost like I'm staring at this strange lady from afar, this relative who I've heard of all my life. Suddenly, there she is! I duck behind the wall of my uncertainty... But as I've learned how to pray the Rosary, watched how she spoke with the angel Gabriel, rejoiced with Elizabeth, traveled to Bethlehem & beyond, I see how Mary endured so much for the sake of God, for this baby, Jesus. She threw herself into this thing 100% even though she probably had no clue what was actually going on or what would happen next. Sometimes I feel like I catch her looking up at me, flashing a knowing smile. There's a twinkle in her eye... its Jesus, reflected... & it makes me want to know her more.