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Archive for August, 2016

Brandon Andress has a post on what he perceives as being the direction the Church is heading in. To a Catholic, his words simply do not make sense. He notes that people are leaving organized institutional churches. This is true. He does not see this as a weakening of the Church, but rather a rebirth and strengthening of the Church into a new form. The institutional Church will be crucified and with Christ will be raised up to something new, something that is not institutional, something through which Jesus Christ will be definitively known, a true witness of the love of our Lord and God. The world will look and perceive that truly Jesus is the Son of God. There are multiple problems with this, but here I would like to limit myself to one: our Lord Jesus established the Church Himself and did so with an organized institutional structure. Christ and the Church cannot be separated. To reject the Church is to reject Him. How can I profess to love the very one that I hate. And it is hate! If I choose myself then I am turning my back on Him. The acknowledgement of Jesus being Lord makes no difference here for there are many on that great and terrible day who will say “Lord, Lord” and Jesus will reply, “Truly, I do not know you.” We do not get to determine who Christ is, how He operates, or what His relationship to the Church is. He has revealed these things, and it is up to us to accept His revelation in humble submission, even if we do not understand it.

There are many approaches that can be taken in how we see and speak of the Church. There are so many aspects to Her. None of these approaches, however, are mutually exclusive, and to emphasize one (such as the mystical union of the Body of Christ) over against another (such as an institutional hierarchy of any kind) is to stunt not only our perception of the Church, but also our perception of Christ. If Jesus and the Church are inseparable than what we believe of one affects what we believe about the other. It is clear from the Holy Scriptures that the Church was established and from the beginning has functioned with an organized hierarchical structure. It is an aspect of the Church here on Earth that cannot be negated. It is also interesting to note that every single movement in the Church’s history that has reared its ugly head proclaiming a pure Church that has ascended its institutional structure either does not now exist or is wholly insignificant. Through it all the Church with Her hierarchy and institutions has persisted with strength. When Christ says that He will not leave the Church and the gates of hell will not prevail, what do we look to: the various spiritualist movements that have come and gone, or the true Church with all its vibrancy? What substantial evidence is there that this movement among some Protestant communities today is any different from the various movements of the past?

So where is our Lord in all of this? Where do we encounter Him? In all that Mr. Andress identifies in his post. We encounter Him in “Christians married to political, national, and ideological persuasions over and above their allegiance to Christ.” We encounter Him in “the days of the misguided and ill-informed health and wealth gospel,” in “this period of consumer Christianity,” and in “Church pews lined with habitual hypocrites, judgmental legalists, and blind and hateful zealots.” This is the true challenge of Jesus Christ and the mystery of our union with Him, a challenge and mystery that those like Mr. Andress run from (please, do not!): We are one body in Christ. There is no getting away from the hypocrites, legalists, zealots, et. al. In Christ, we are bound to them. Mr. Andress speaks of organized, institutional churches needing to be crucified (and done away with), but in truth it is he and me, and all of us who must be crucified with Christ for the sake of the salvation of our brothers and sisters who have turned so far from Him while remaining in their pews. Like Christ we must come down from the mountain of glory and enter into the mire of sin and walk with these people, all the while remembering and recognizing our own failings and sins and absolute need for our Saviour.

The Catholic Church teaches that She continually walks a path of penance and renewal. This applies to the whole Church throughout the world, to the Church present in various countries and regions of the world, to each individual diocese, vicariate (deanery), parish, and to each individual Christian. This path of penance and renewal is a path that is walked daily, but it is not one that can be walked on its own. The Church’s history is filled with people who have sought to renew the Church. Some of those people attempted (and failed) to do so by breaking from Her visible structure and institutions. Others attempted and succeeded by remaining part of Her visible structure. The latter group also quite often suffered much in doing so. Through their crucifixion they were co-redeemers with Christ and were instrumental in renewing the Church in their time. Do you (do I) have the courage, faith, hope, and charity to do this today?

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From Fr. George Byers. Absolutely beautiful. 

I’ve been posting only rarely. I’ve been screamingly busy these past number of weeks and it’s only picking up steam. I entirely blame guardian angels for this. And thank them. In …

Source: Angels, the weight of the glory of God, final perseverance, death and donkeys

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Jesus carries Cross

Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth. (Is 53:7)

I seem to remember in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ that, when Jesus was given His Cross and embraced it, one of those crucified with Him cried out telling Him not to do so. It gives the impression that this is not something that someone about to be crucified typically did. Rather, it is indicative of one who is “meek and humble of heart.” While this particular portrayal of Jesus embracing His Cross is not related in the Gospel accounts, it does express well the above verse from Isaiah: He went along willingly. Why? Why embrace the instrument of your death? Why embrace that which will bring you excruciating pain? Because it is the way of love. In love and mercy we are redeemed. In love Jesus embraced His Cross because He knew it was not just the instrument of His death, but the instrument of life and redemption, of the restoration of man to God. So, yes, love. In love He created us; in love He became incarnate for us; and in love He redeemed us.

To embrace our own cross and follow Him, is to do the same. The crosses of life are inescapable. We can neither run nor hide from them; if we simply confront them relying on our own strength, we will find that we are weak. The Cross is a fact of life, and there is only one response that does not result in our being crushed: to embrace it in love – love of our Lord, love of our neighbor including our enemies, and to suffer as co-redeemers with Him for ourselves and for all people.

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Transfiguration of our Lord

So many times St. Peter is used as an example of God showing His strength through the weak. Personally, I think we need to find better examples because Peter wasn’t abnormally weak. Today’s feast celebrates the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on Mt. Tabor. It was a revelation of His glory to three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John. I’ve heard Peter pointed to in this episode as the one who yet again sticks his foot in his mouth and on this particular occasion finds himself corrected by no less than God the Father. Peter sees his Lord in glory conversing with Moses and Elijah. Up to this point there has been no moment in his life in which he was caught in such awe and amazement. It elicits from him a petition: that three tents should be erected – one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for our Lord, Jesus Christ. St. Peter was not being dumb when he made this exclamation. He was being reasonable. He was thinking like a good Jew. God pitched His tent among the Israelites in the desert, then in the Promised Land during the period of the judges, and finally He pitched His tent in an immovable place when He inhabited the Temple in Jerusalem. To stand before God and be in His presence one had to go to where His tent was pitched, to where His dwelling was among men. From their time in the desert until the destruction of the first Temple the Jews enjoyed in a unique way God’s presence among them (via the Ark of the Covenant). When the Jews return from exile, they built a new Temple, but the Ark was not within it. Peter recognizing the revelation of the Divine on Mt. Tabor petitions that three tents be erected so that once again God’s dwelling may be among men. Rather than being corrected by God the Father, Peter is directed to His Son who will reveal the fulfillment and true dwelling of God among men. No Jew, no person, at this time could have known what this meant. Peter was not being dumb or sputtering in the midst of his wonder. Peter was expressing what is the desire of all men and he did so in accordance with God’s revelation: to dwell with God and He with us. Just as the New Law does not abolish the old, but fulfills it, so too the new way in which God dwells among men.

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When studying theology it is very easy to fall into the trap of turning it into a superficial exercise: it becomes academic, a “study” of God as if such a thing were possible. It is easy to get caught up in the wonder and beauty, and at the same time not let it penetrate your heart, your life, your religious practice. All theology is apophatic. The deeper one delves into the mysteries of God the more one becomes aware of their position of not knowing. Ultimately, the Mystery is incomprehensible and inexpressible. When St. Thomas Aquinas experienced this truth at the core of his being, he declared that all he had written seemed to him as straw and he never wrote again. (To clarify, Thomas did not say this because he thought God couldn’t be known – He can be! No, he said this after receiving a vision which impressed upon him the ultimate inexpressibility of the mysteries of God). Paradoxically, the nearer one approaches the Lord, the more intimately one enters into relationship with Him, the more they become aware of their not knowing. Easy to say, but not so easy to live. What does this truth, this mystery mean for my life? How do I allow myself to be penetrated by it, rather than just “know” it intellectually? How will my life change should this happen?

There was none on Earth nearer to God than His mother. By the above, therefore, it stands to reason that there was no one who was more acutely aware of not knowing Him than His mother. In The Lord, Romano Guardini says, “Everything that affected Jesus affected his mother, yet no intimate understanding existed between them.” It would be an understatement to say that I was shocked reading these words. Faith planted in my heart experienced a small quake. There are still tremors. I do not want to accept these words; and, yet, I can’t help but sense an audacity in Guardini that follows in the tradition of St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Athanasius, St. Paul, and our Blessed Lord, Jesus Christ, God.

I would like to look at one episode to see this lack of understanding. Mary obviously knows that her Son is not conceived of man. He is different from all others. When he had disappeared though, she looked for three days before finally finding Him in the Temple. We are told that when Mary and Joseph found Him they were astonished, they did not understand Him when he replied to His mother’s question, and having returned home Mary pondered these things in her heart. Why did she not look there first when she knows that he is conceived of the Holy Spirit? It seems obvious to us that Jesus must be about His Father’s business. But we have 2,000 years of Christian tradition behind us. Mary was a Jew, a pre-Christianity Jew, and a strict monotheist in accordance with Jewish understanding and religion. If this was your life context, as it was for Mary, your child being conceived of the Holy Spirit and being the Messiah would not necessarily immediately translate into your child literally being the Son of God.

There are a couple things this lack of understanding points us to. First, Mary’s heroic perseverance in the virtue of faith is second to absolutely no one. Her’s was a faith greater than that of Abraham. This faith was manifested through her constant trust, but it was also manifested in another way. This second way in which her faith was manifested goes beyond simply trusting and following: she pondered. She took into her heart that which she did not understand despite her lack of understanding and she pondered. She let the mysteries take root in her and form her. By faith, not understanding, “she accompanied the incomprehensible figure of her son every step of his journey, however dark. Perseverance in faith even on Calvary – this was Mary’s inimitable greatness.”

My soul magnifies the Lord… This mystery of Mary’s faith leads to a mystery of her Son, a mystery that I think is probably little thought about: “the unspeakable remoteness in which He lived.” What must it have been like to live as Christ lived among men? (Don’t even attempt to answer this. Like Mary, let the mystery take root in your heart). No one understood Him. The Sons of Thunder did not understand what it meant to sit at His right and His left. Peter, after confessing Him as being the Son of the living God, protests when his Lord says that He must die. There has never been anyone like Him and there will never be another like Him again. He is wholly unique, the God-man. Yes, He fully partook of our humanity, but no one had partaken of divinity. He was alone; that remoteness, that disconnect was with Him His whole life and reached its pinnacle on Calvary. He ceased to be alone when He poured out His Spirit on Pentecost.

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