Monday, December 29, 2008

Thoughts on life in general, using generalities (generally)

It's fascinating how one can be captivated by the future-hope for better times may have been the single driving factor which guaranteed the outcome of this most recent Presidential election. The same can be said of the majority of the elections which now find their place in the pages of history.

For so long I have lived in neglect of the present to embrace my thoughts and plans which were wrapped around some sort of notion of an ideal future. The perfect job, the perfect home, both materially and in the immaterial matter so often forgotten by modern sages who empty their hearts to "increase" their "minds".

I say this with restrained lament, because it is inevitable that the trainee looks to the future. The one who is on the road wants to consider their destination, but at the same time the sights along the way can be obscured by such forward-thinking. That forward thinking which only sets goals and considers them is of course the most backwards way of all, because it leaves out what could be enjoyed--the great trip of life.

My mind screams, "Oh well--So much for thinking of how I could have had a better time during my training"-it's neither here nor there in this new world where I have what could be considered by many accounts (perhaps all but the accounts of the wisest) a dream job. What is striking about my new found situation is that I was so used to the world of wondering about the future that I almost feel more inept than ever. What is to be done with my time, now that there is none of this soul-searching about what career I should go into? I can only imagine how the newly retired person feels, excepting those poor souls whose careers were more slavery than craftsmanship.

So yes, generally speaking, things are so amazingly great in my life I can scarcely utter an appropriate form of thanks to God for the changes that I see on a daily basis...and yet it feels like life is too eerily quiet. Am I in a lull before a new storm? The trough of a wave that is about to throw me to the stars? The world around me tells me that the storms are quite wild in this the 21st century, but I may be among those who are spared, right? (crickets) It makes me hope that at some point the quiet will be a source of some semblance of solace, and not cause for concern. It makes me hope for the future, in a new way, that my future is spent in the present, and that life where the thoughts only on the future are, you guessed it, past.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

christmas messages

From two bishops, one the head of the US council of catholic bishops, the other from Hong Kong.

Thanks, Fr. Dwight, for the head's up!

Monday, December 22, 2008

a great and timely video--i love the message!

Loving Chesterton more....

Yes, dear cynic, it is possible for me to love him more. I'm reading a biography of G.K. Chesterton by Joseph Pearce, and this story about an experience between one journalist who interviewed his wife Frances blew me away. She knew him so well, and had a great comment about our world. I can only assume how much we've degraded since the time of the interview, which was 101 years ago.

The message about his quip about how it's worth doing things even if done badly is so amazing. I need to sing more, is the conclusion......and you, what do you need to do badly?

‘The best thing your husband ever wrote,’ so I began, ‘was that “if a thing is worth doing at all –“’

‘It is worth doing badly,’ replied Mrs. Chesterton. ‘I know it well, because I have opened debates on the point and got everyone to agree. Look at children playing with paints,’ she continued, ‘and you will realise the truth of the paradox. Music and dancing and singing have all been banished from our lives because we are all afraid to do things badly.’

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Twitch Upon The Thread

" The moment men cease to pull against the Catholic Church they feel a tug toward it. The moment to cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair."

From Evelyn Waugh's book 'A Twitch Upon The Thread', which is based on a fascinating quip by G.K. Chesterton in the Father Brown stories.

I am so astounded by how true this quote has been in my own life, both personally and in many friends and other fine folks I've met. I'm also so thankful that this is true.

On that note, today's O Antiphon resonates quite well with my heart on this matter.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I call your bluff

I read this article this morning, vis a vis Fr. Dwight Longenecker's blog.
Fr. Dwight is one of the few married priests in the Roman Catholic Church,
having been an Anglican priest first. Combine that with his healthy Anglophilia which resonates with my love of Tolkien and Lewis and Chesterton and what is often perceived as dryness or stodginess or some other -ness, I've enjoyed his blog for quite some time.

At any rate, I read that article's pitiful attempt at calling American Christians to task for not celebrating all of the elements of the liturgical season and thought, "Hey man, I call your bluff. Thanks for reminding me of all of the things I can celebrate. Let's bring all of the old celebrations back."

For my part, I'm trying by celebrating Advent, but I want to grow in my appreciation for all of the deep history in celebrating the birth of Our Lord, and His life.

So yeah, let's not take the Mass out of Christmas, but seriously, is that deficiency a basis for not wanting to focus on Christ in this time?

It's true that consistent Protestantism might lead to a full rejection of Christmas trees and December 25th as a special day, but I can say from first-hand experience that trying to do this consistently is an utterly pitiful process. Last year, when I knew that it was inevitable that I'd become Catholic, I looked at this time of year with the first ray of hope that I could embrace the traditions and my faith simultaneously. That was the start of something grand. I still have a lot of the Grinch's attitude in my heart from cynicism and self-righteous notions of consistency, but now that I'm Catholic I think I would much rather see some inconsistency in my Protestant brethren than a world of no Christmas.

With that being said, it's Advent-the time of joyfully awaiting Christmas. Today I hope to incorporate a tradition that the whiny atheist who provoked my thoughts this morning seems to be missing--the O Antiphons. In our 7 last days before Christmas, Advent is especially hopeful, and by praying these seven prayers I hope to see that hope grow in my own soul, and yours as well.

Wisdom that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence!

O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

the adventures of tim field (a eucharistic analogy)

Tim Field had waited his whole life for this moment.

His parents would watch him as a young boy whine and protest when they would try to use the television as a babysitter. He just would not sit still. Their "forward thinking" led them to try to make everything in life educational, even these moments of detached parenting. And so when the video player showed bright images set to the tune of classical music, it just didn't do anything for him.
Frustrated, they tried the one thing they thought they'd never expose to their child, gun violence. From one simple episode of G.I. Joe began a life-long dream of being an enforcer. Tim Field had just finished high school, but he spent the time in Boy Scouts and had been an Explorer Scout for 5 months. Accompanying police officers on duty was a dream come true-it felt like this would be a dream come true if he could actually make it through academy.

Maybe it was because his mom had been robbed at gunpoint, he didn't know. He'd leave that to the pop psychologists to prattle about.

What mattered most was today, for today Tim Field would begin his first exercise that involved a gun. The infamous target practice, where you do not merely stand from afar and try to hit targets as close as possible. No, instead he would run and duck and do all the sort of amazing twirls and whirls to clear a perimeter of any suspects. Amidst all of this were, he knew, the off-targets he'd need to avoid. The moving target that was not a target, such as an old lady or a little kid, could not be shot at. But he knew that this mock-up was dark and full of shadows. It made sense, for after all that's how the real world is.

So Tim Field breathed deep as it was his turn to go through the maze. He'd been debriefed, but he knew that he had to do well.

The world of cardboard instantly morphed into the realm of bricks and mortar, as he checked to his left and right. There was some noise above him on the right, and though they were merely machines, Tim shouted out, "Don't move, this is the police!"

That just made the cracks in the facade fade even further away. The "call-in" had told him that there were 3 suspects of an armed robbery, so he was vigilant. They could come from multiple angles, after all.

He looked closely at the target above and to the right, inching closer to make sure it was a suspect and not someone innocent. He knew that it had motion sensors which would emit a laser at him and "shoot" him if he'd get too close, but he had to be right. As he came around the "car" that was in his way, his view cleared up, and he knew it was a suspect. He fired before the suspect could fire back, and breathed a sigh of relief. But before he could exhale, the set changed from a midnight world of obscurities to a fluorescent glow of artificial daylight.

A voice came over the loudspeakers--"Cadet Field, you have missed the mark. Your first hit was off-target. Look more closely and see what you have done."

The adrenaline levels were still high in his 18 year-old frame, but they slowly ebbed as the mirage of a city street had fallen apart. As he breathed more slowly and listened to the loudspeakers, his perception of the "suspect" had slowly lost the vigor of certainty that first met him seconds before firing.

Yes, the suspect was too large to be a child, but as he looked the frown and grimace of what would look like a nefarious no-gooder turned into the wrinkles of an old man. More importantly, what was so clearly a pistol to his hawk-like eyes on the prowl transformed into a clunky metallic case, clutched closely to his chest. His suspect was no suspect, after all.

Ashamed, but having learned his lesson, Tim cried out, "Sergeant O'Neil, I'm so sorry. I was too quick on the trigger. But this was my first time, and I know that if I hesitate a bit more to be sure of who my suspect is, I'll never make that mistake again."

As he looked behind him, Sergeant O'Neil had left the control room where the loudspeakers and was walking toward Tim Field.

"You sure are right you won't make that mistake again. You are under arrest for 3rd degree murder. It's really a shame Field. I thought you'd make a great cop. Come to find out, you're a killer."

Handcuffs grated against his wrists, and Tim Field was led away.

Now, what you're thinking right now is most likely verbatim what was going through Tim's mind. Tim had been raised by parents who stayed away from thinking about violence and guns and the ways of the world as they pertain to crime. They had no idea that a law had been enacted which stated that those people who acted upon a stage where people were symbolized by cardboard cutouts were responsible to treat those symbols with the same austerity and respect as would be given to real people. And if they were not fictitious, this law would be irrelevant. However, since they are my own creations, they are as valid as butter and beer.

But why do I choose to take you through this thought experiment of a world where cops are punished for murder when they shoot at cardboard? And, if it's not clear, maybe I should answer how this is is related to the Eucharist.

Let me take you to the words of Paul the Apostle, and let's see if I can shed some light on this.

Paul writes in the 11th Chapter of 1 Corinthians:

23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.27Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

What strikes me about the way that my non-Catholic Christian friends look at the Eucharist is that they would produce a world where Tim Field's arrest made sense. The Eucharist would be a mere symbol of an important reality, and while only representing the truth of Our Lord's Body and Blood, we who enter into the drama of this sacrament would be guilty if we failed to live up to the majesty of the call of the occasion. Like Tim, if we missed the mark for what the right use of the symbols were, we would fall short to the point of being guilty of the reality represented by the symbols. The cardboard wasn't actually an old man, but in the logical scheme presented before us, shooting the cardboard would be like shooting an old man. Likewise, if the bread and wine are merely bread and wine, Paul would call us guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord for abuse of bread and wine.

Which leads me to say this, in conclusion--the punishment does not fit the crime.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

happy tuesday!

lather, rinse, repeat (the sounding joy)

Oh, the wonders of His love. We sing or contemplate or overlook the phrases that have been written so many years ago to acknowledge a birth that is even older than those songs, but is there monotony? Only if the wonders are not truly wonderful. But, (and this is a big but), if those wonders are unceasingly growing in grandeur and scope, the simplest song, the lamest limerick, based upon these truths, will make one shudder with fear over how faintly the first feelings grasped the truths that are contained within those truths. And it is to that I raise my glass of Advent toasts and say "Dear God, I am so sorry for parsing lines without a heart. I wish I could look to the simplest song and realize how much your love lives in these little thoughts that are made to remind me of what you did in leaving your exalted estate, and joining my own rather wretched wreck of an existence." There is no reason for such condescension save a great love. For that love, I am ever in debt, and at the same time, always the richest man on earth.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Thought for today

For me, prayer is a burst from my heart, it is a simple glance thrown toward heaven, a cry of thanksgiving and love in times of trial as well as in times of joy.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

watching a Saint on Youtube

Not too many people who have been declared to be saints by the Church can be found on youtube. Among popular ones, they're often from before the 1800's, so movies are not really a possibility. St. Josemaría Escrivá is an exception-he was just canonized in 2002, having died on June 26, 1975.
Listen to him discuss work, and be ready to feel contrite for your failure to see life with such beauty and simplicity, and then feel hopeful that this can be yours (at least, to some extent) if you are willing to trust God and see things the way He wants us to see things.

Friday, October 24, 2008

another move-appropriate song post

What I WON'T miss about the DC area

I'll try to hold back here, but then again I may say too much. I don't want to sound like someone who is ultimately ungrateful for where I am. You see my tension, don't you?

Oh well, here goes.

1) The great majority of people are completely unfriendly, myself included.
As just one qualification, think about the DC area. So many people come here for internships, fellowships, vacation, to make their mark in the military/government/etc., but the point is that they're coming here. They are not from here-this is not their home. And then you have the people who are actually from here who see this constant ebb and flow of people. What is permanent, what is something I can count on? Nobody knows the answer to these questions, humanly speaking, and as such, almost everyone has their guard up. This air of indifference and apathy, etc., is something that I can't wait to get my mind away from. Oh, and there's also the air of importance that is downright disgusting. As I said, people come here on a mission, and sometimes it feels like everyone thinks that their mission is the ultimate one. Oh, human folly. Ever ubiquitous even in SoCal, but this flavor of folly really gets to me.

2) The disgusting summer.
Humidity that makes one feel guilty for breathing. It has to be more unhealthy than smoking, I can just feel it.

3) The bugs.
Maybe California is the unnatural place, but I'm used to the idea that when it looks nice outside, IT IS NICE. And maybe my foreign blood is tasty to these East Coast bloodsuckers, but whatever the reason, I just can't stay outside without having some beetle, mosquito, or wasp, bee, etc. coming after me. And then there is the elusive fear that I have of ticks. I can proudly say that in ~3.5 years I've never had one of these on my body (and no, I never even worried about them in the time before then). Meanwhile, I've heard of people coming down with Lyme disease!

4) The places called Mexican restaurants.
When I first got out here I thought, ok, where can I get some Mexican food? And of course I don't just mean On the Border or Baja Fresh, I mean some place run by a family, some place that has pozole and menudo on the weekends. The long and the short of it is, there isn't really a place like that. One place in an obscure part of DC makes that cut, but it is too hard to get to on a regular basis. A key clue that I found myself in this situation was that most places would say something like "Mexican and Salvadorean food". This was a clear sign that the patrons were from El Salvador-they meant well, knowing that the average Marylander would shrug over Salvadorean food, but darn it all that's their home territory! So they'd serve up "Mexican" "favorites" that they "knew" "Americans" would "like". And so my depression sunk to a new low.

5) The lack of a sense of service
In a land dominated by "public" "servants", it's amusing that this place has to be the worst when it comes to service. At nearly every store in my area, the customer will find himself in my shoes: you begin to ask the waiter/checker/salesperson for their help, or they strike up the conversation with a "Can I help you?" or a "Can I take your order?" Here, in the world of paper, we are fine. But going deeper, I can tell you what else accompanies these mere letters. A smirk, a shrug, a begrudging sigh, a slouch, a frown, the tone of voice that says why in the world am I serving you? This is especially true of chain stores, which may be a big reason why I am opting for more family-based businesses as of late. Whatever the reason, it's almost impossible to go to the grocery store or Barnes and Noble without wanting to tear one's hair out.

6) The horrible drivers
California is sometimes referred to as the land of the fruits and nuts, and this is true for some justifiable (and some unjustifiable) reasons. However, one area where we Californians have received a negative mark without cause is the driving department. It's true, we have areas which are very densely packed, but with that being said there is not as much insanity as what I have seen out here, and that is with very limited driving experience. I am sure my wife could bring you all to tears with the myriads of monster stories that sometimes come to me via her. As one point of substantiation, I think I have been waved at by someone letting me get over once in ~3.5 years. In California, sure, there are jerks but there are still those people that I lovingly call "humans" who actually extend this courtesy to each other on a more regular basis. In fact, when I flew out for an interview in the Bay Area, I recall leaving the airport and getting waved at when I was trying to get over 3 times in the span of ~100 miles! This also extends to the realm of pedestrians. When I would go jogging in the OC, people would stop for me and even wave sometimes (Was it some kind of mockery or curiosity at this space oddity? To me it matters not.) Over here, people die on a regular basis. And I'm not joking at this point. Ultimately, I can't wait to get away from this driving experience. Is it the abundance of out of towners? The twisty roads which predate the War Between the States? Is everyone mad that they don't live in California? I don't have the answers. I just call them like I see them.

7) Government Waste
Seeing the enormity of government first hand is frightening. It has a breathtaking element when viewed from afar, but zooming in close one can see what everyone knows--this heaving beast is far too large to properly care for itself. I won't enumerate instances of waste, and am not (necessarily) speaking about where I work, but let's just say it's something I'd rather leave out of mind, by leaving it out of sight.

8) The winter
Walking in a winter wonderland also includes sliding on a slippery ice slope and hitting one's proverbial fanny. That, and the fact that there are moments where my weak soul says "How much longer?" to days of scant sun, and awkward vesting and unvesting of the 4 or 5 layers of sweaters, jackets, gloves, beanies, gloves and the rest (think old school Gilligan's island here).
Winter is fun for 3 weeks, tops.

And yes, I know our DC winters are nothing as compared to Canada's winters.

Oh well, I think that's enough for now. Maybe I don't feel like complaining anymore because in posting about winter I'm realizing that I won't even be here during this coming winter. I'll be back in California in a mere 12 days, d.v.!!!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

the sign of the cross

In my last post I mentioned that the sign of the cross is used.
I found many sites discussing its history and I think this one is really helpful to show
the great amount of sources of people who practiced this.

It's amazing how far back this practice goes.....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Great Biblical Depth of the Catholic Mass

I have a large Missal, which contains many comments on what goes on at a Catholic Mass, as well as many prayers to aid one's spiritual life.

Because so many people are ignorant of what goes on in the Mass, both inside and outside the Catholic world, I thought it would be helpful to tell in order what happens in the order of the Mass. I'll mainly be copying what's in my book, but I'll supplement it with my own comments.

Of course, there are varieties of religious expression even within the Catholic Church, so when I can comment on how these variations manifest themselves in places like Eastern Catholic and Latin liturgies, I'll try my best. Because the Mass is divided into two sections, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I'll break up these posts into 4 sections, where each section is divided into two halves.

When I have comments, they will be shown in a unique font.

Mass begins with a bell that rings or a song that is song. This is what the notes in my Missal state.

Entrance Song

After the people have assembled, the priest and the ministers go to the altar while the entrance song is being sung. When the priest comes to the altar, he makes the customary reverence with the ministers, kisses the altar, and (if incense is used) incenses it. Then, with the ministers, he goes to the chair.


After the entrance song, the priest and the faithful remain standing and make the sign of the cross, as the priest says:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The people answer:


The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

The people answer:

And also with you.

In the greeting we come together and are summoned to prepare ourselves to worship the Lord, as the priest and those who come towards the altar reverently come to the altar, where the blessed Eucharist is celebrated. As the song ends, the Mass is about to begin. It technically begins as the priest begins by greeting us in the name of the Holy Trinity. In response to this invocation on God's holy name, we make the sign of the cross. Why do this? Is this mere superstition? No, it is an ancient symbol that should bring our hearts to unite the reality that Christ died for us with our own life. We are to take up our cross and follow Christ, and by making this sign we are saying that His cross is also our cross. The inner reality of the truth of the Trinity and the Cross of Christ has a verbal acknowledgment, and an outer manifestation. Our response of "Amen" brings us to
the greeting which follows the invocation on the trinity is nearly a word for word phrasing of most of the Pauline epistles. Again, the Scriptures are brought to our minds as this 21st century man is bringing our hearts to the 1st century with his greeting.
When this Biblical prayer that God be with us is brought to our ears, we respond by saying "And also with you." We echo back the hope that God's blessings be upon the priest who serves us.

As the Mass progresses, the next phase after the Greeting is entered.

Pentitential Rite
After the introduction to the day's Mass, the priest invites the people to recall their sins and to repent of them in silence. He may use these or similar words:

Coming together as God's family, with confidence let us ask the Father's forgiveness, for he isfull of gentleness and compassion.

You were sent to heal the contrite: Lord, have mercy.
The people answer:
Lord have mercy.

You came to call sinners: Christ, have mercy.
The people answer:
Christ have mercy.

You plead for us at the right hand of the Father: Lord, have mercy.
The people answer:
Lord have mercy.

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


During this penitential act, which sometimes includes a longer prayer and would then call on the Lord for mercy often in Greek (in a Latin Mass this would be the only time Greek was regularly used) by saying Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison,
we are mindful of who we are; yes, we are part of God's family, but we are never free to act as though His mercy is not our all in all in sustaining us. We call on Him to be our strength and source of all forgiveness. The Biblical truth that we need to always come to Him humbly as His children who need His mercy resonates if we only spend the time to think of the words that are said.
We then go on to sing a hymn called the Gloria.

Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to his people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King,
almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.
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.

When I first heard this song, I was amazed by its depth of truth. So many elements of what occurs throughout the life Our Lord is encapsulated in this song. It begins with the prayers of Angels who celebrate his nativity, and goes on to call him the lamb of God, which is exactly what John the Baptist calls him. It then goes on to describe His glorious status in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father, asking him to receive our prayer. The closing part of the Gloria says why this is true--because He alone is God, the only one worthy of our adoration. When the rest of the world tells us to question his goodness, or whether someone else should be thanked, the Gloria puts our mind in the right place-on the glory of God. Again, there is so much biblical depth seen in all elements of the Mass.

When we continue this, we will cover how the reading of the Scriptures is treated, describe the homily (and answer why these sermons are so much shorter than those of the Protestant services), and discuss the Creed.

why i'll miss DC, in concrete terms

Monday, October 20, 2008

What I will miss about the DC Area

As much as I have been excited about leaving this area, I think it's fitting to make a list of the things that I will truly miss. The order is not in terms of priority, it's just the order in which things came to me as I sat and typed.

1) New Friends-I have stated elsewhere that I'm bad at making friends, but that doesn't mean that I've made no friends in ~3.5 years. I have met some very nice people in science, and in the rest of the world.

2) Weather Changes - The actual fluctuation allows the mind to really go into transition and consider things, whether it's growth in spring or death in autumn, etc. The landscape here is amazingly different from season to season. There are many complaints which spring from this good point, but I'll save that for a later post. Seeing the world raining with leaves floating down is magical, as is walking through a forest of mere sticks with rare specks of green buds of new flowers breaking through that soil greeting me as I pass by them.

3) Food - There is a great diversity of food in the area, which is probably reflective of the people who live here. From down home Southern BBQ to Lebanese food, I have grown to try many more types of food. This is partially due to my growth as an individual, and due to the different things that are out there. A corollary of this is that given the nearly absolute lack of good Mexican food here, I have been stretched from my comfort zone to try things like Peruvian food, and am so thankful that I have done so.

4) History - Seeing places that formerly resided only in books, from DC to battlefields to quaint old towns with buildings that are over 200 years old, this is something California lacks. The main exception in my mind are those things built by the Franciscan missionaries, but that has its own architectural style and feel that does not compete in a good or bad sense.

5) Memories - Given the fact that 2 of my children were born here, and that my eldest spent so many formative years here, it will be something I'll miss. This is the place where so many first steps, etc., were taken, and as such I will always have a fond place in my heart for the DC area.

6) The Metro - Public transportation is awesome, and California is lacking in this department.

7) Working at the NIH - I complain all day about being a postdoc (or it would seem at times of despair), but the NIH has been a very good place for me to develop more scientific training.

8) The Culture - Now, if you quantitated all of the things I dislike about the culture here, the scales would violently crash in the opposite direction of disdain, but let me state here what I do like about the culture here. First, there is a greater sense of formality, which translates into people dressing more nicely. In fact, I still haven't adjusted and risen to their level of anti-slovenly appearance, but it's a goal I still hold in my mind. Second, there are so many great bars and restaurants and shops and activities, it reminds me of how snobbish a Chicago friend of mine once seemed. But ultimately, there is a strong sense of society that exists in different neighborhoods out there, for good or for ill.

9) The Christian "Atmosphere" - This is another highly qualified statement, but I will say this about the area. In an environment surrounded by history and tradition, there is a respect for that history and tradition. In some (mind you, SOME) individuals, this has led to a great fervor for being connected to our roots, and I don't merely say this as a Catholic. Our Protestant friends out here have a similar appreciation, but I guess what I'm ultimately thinking about is a very ecumenical atmosphere, where Catholics are willing to dialogue with Protestants (and on both a friendly and a debate level), and vice versa. This dialogue has brought me to challenging places, but where I have ended up is so peace-giving I wouldn't trade the awkward moments for the world.

10) The wildlife - seeing deer, squirrels (grey AND black, mind you), snakes and other interesting creatures on a regular basis has been very enjoyable. Many inverse corollaries arise when we move to the insect kingdom, but again, I'm here to be thankful.

11) The Chesapeake Bay et al. - When oceans go toe to toe, the Pacific destroys the Atlantic, if only for the fact that no hurricanes come to California through my darling Western Sea. But with that being said, there is something special about the Chesapeake Bay (and the major rivers such as the Potomac) for its unique feel as a body of water that is not an ocean. The water is "dirtier" in some senses, but in another sense it feels more living. While I still haven't learned to eat the Maryland Crab with the dexterity needed to really make it enjoyable, I am amazed by the life that teems in those waters. The communities that live along this water (I'm specifically thinking of St. Michaels and Annapolis) have a character that is like a beach town but unique.

12) Living Across the Country from Family and Friends - This sounds contradictory, but there's something very valuable about spending time away from so many people. It has helped me (at least try to) grow in my appreciation for my life. Many times we spend our day in drudgery thinking the grass is always greener on the other side, and there is nothing like going to that other side and missing that first location to realize that this is human folly in action. To be relatively isolated from a large group of friends and family has reminded me that our connections with each other, no matter how strong, should be made stronger when possible. I hope to return to California with this zeal in my mind.

13) I'll leave this blank for now and when more things come to mind, will add them as they come to me.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

a fitting post #200

According to my blogger site this is my 200th post.

This video is more than appropriate given my current plans.

The greatness of Luke (and his gospel)

El Greco. St. Luke. c. 1605-1610. Oil on canvas. Toledo Cathedral, Toledo, Spain

Today is the feast day in honor of St. Luke. I found a cool article that was made by sharing excerpts from a book about the Gospel of Luke, which was written by the great theologian (and among those who make my dream team pick for a great future Pope??) Cristoph Cardinal Schönborn.

This section is especially poignant-it emphasizes what makes the Gospel of Luke so special. Many Christians have spent time considering the greatness of the Gospel of John, for its depth of theological insight and the detail he puts on the prayers and sayings of our Lord just before His passion. But read what makes Luke special, and you may find yourself wanting to read through his gospel today. It's a small goal I've made in honor of St. Luke, and the One who is the Word.

Enough of my nonsense, here's that quote I promised:

"What picture would we have of Jesus without the parable of the good Samaritan? How much, altogether, would be missing from our picture of Jesus if we had no Gospel of Luke! I myself was almost horrified when I discovered, with the help of a synopsis (that is, a parallel edition of the four Gospels), how much of what is quite essential in our picture of Jesus is owed to Luke's alertness in bringing it all together.

Only he tells us the three parables about the way that God's love patiently seeks for us men: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost penny, and above all—perhaps Jesus' best-known parable—the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15). What a marvelous picture of God Jesus offers us in this parable!

Only Luke has passed on to us the disturbing parable of the gluttonous rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). And the parable of the Pharisee who praises himself before God and the tax collector who is sorrowfully aware of his sins (Lk 18:9-4)—how it speaks to us! That, too, is found only in Luke.

Thanks to Luke, we know a great deal about the life and the suffering of Jesus, such as is presented in the precious and impressive story about the wealthy little man Zacchaeus, who was not ashamed to climb a tree in order to be able to see Jesus, even though Zacchaeus was a despised "bloodsucker" (Lk 19:1-10).

Thanks to Luke, we know some important things about Jesus' Passion. Only Luke tells us about Jesus sweating blood during his sorrow unto death, about his agony, and about the angel sent to strengthen him (Lk 22:43-44). Only Luke has preserved the deeply disturbing little scene in which Jesus, after Peter's betrayal, turns around and looks at him. "And {he] wept bitterly", it says about Peter. That is how it is for everyone who meets that gaze in his heart-that gaze, free of all accusation, which brings tears of repentance for the betrayal of love (Lk 22:61-62).

Only Luke refers to the way that Jesus forgives not only Peter, his disciple who betrayed him, but also those who crucified him: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34).

Only Luke is able to tell us of the marvelous transformation brought about in the righteous thief by Jesus' loving forgiveness: "Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power"—"Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:42-43).

All these examples from the material peculiar to Luke show that the author has emphasized in a particular way Jesus' turning toward sinners, as well as his love for the poor, the sick, and those who have lost their way. Luke did not invent all that; he discovered it."

Friday, October 17, 2008

St. Ignatius, Pray for Us!

This post by Bryan Cross
is fitting for today, given that the Church calendar celebrates St. Ignatius of Antioch's feast day.

Some of his quotes really challenged me before I joined the Church. Ponder on them and call me in the morning.

St. Ignatius, pray for us all.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

our present hope, our future glory, our deep connection - II

"I believe in the communion of the saints."

This simple clause in the Apostles' Creed means so much more to me as a Catholic than it did as a Protestant. It's an underlying basis for explaining why Catholics and other Christians are not ashamed to call on saints in heaven to help those on earth.

In my last post on this issue, I decided to heap up what I see as the crucial data from Scripture that clarify who we will be one day. I wanted to follow up on this concept by taking a simpler approach.

Instead of quoting Church Fathers and establishing precedent from the Catholic Church, I think a very helpful approach is to see things from the other group's side. Stepping into someone else's shoes, it may be possible to show how even their view of the world is amenable to one's own view.

To really step into these shoes, I am going to quote a song that only a few in this world know. It's quite silly, but still I know that the majority of my friends from my home town who would care about this debate will remember its words.
I quote the part that I remember most clearly:
"more like you
less like me
make me more and more like you
less and less like me.
more like jesus
less like me-sus
at your name i bow my knees-us
to do what my master pleases"

Now I would probably faint if I ever stepped into a Catholic parish and heard this song being played, and there was a large period of time where I made fun of this entire genre and wrote it off completely.

But on a fundamental level, what do we as Christians mean when we utter such words? We understand what our Lord has in store for us. There is an element in which this will be true in this life, but most of us understand that ultimate transformation into His image will find its fulfillment on the other side of the grave.

Does this transformation undo our connections to each other?

How could we not be closer after this transformation?

Similarly, if you were to become more like Jesus would that make you more or less fervently passionate about helping your brethren? Would your prayer life resemble Our Lord in Gethsemane or the disciples who slept while He prayed (which is more often than not my own status)?

If these things are true, how much love must our brethren in heaven have for us?! We have only a glimpse of how much love and concern they must have for us, based on the moments when we die to our selves and live in union with Jesus. May those moments grow in depth and intensity, but the point is.....there is full union in heaven. What must that say about our departed brethren?

How could they worship our God who ever lives to make intercession for us and discard the same passion that He has for us while in His presence?

How could they not give Him glory by imitating Him. We do it here, why would they not do it there?

This brings us to the fundamental objection that saints in heaven can't hear us because of their finitude. True, they are finite, but they are united and transformed by the all-consuming love of the Father. Just as John felt compelled to worship the glorious angel who brought him messages in the book of Revelation, we would probably fall over if we met a saint who has been glorified.

If we will know even as we are known in heaven, what would that say about our grasp of the earth? That's the theme I hope to convey in a future post, but for now, consider what it means to be more like Jesus and less like "me-sus".

Monday, October 13, 2008

the job

Monday, October 6, 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, pray for us!

On the Church calendar, today is the Feast of the Great Saints who are Angels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

St. Michael triumphing over Lucifer-putting Revelation into sculpture.
Revelation 12:7-8, "And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven."

Here is a traditional prayer to St. Michael the archangel.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into hell satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

As new Catholics, my wife and I have a lot to learn. Last night she asked me why an angel would be called a saint.

In case you share this question, let me answer it here - the Greek word for saint is hagios, which means holy one. An angel that is not fallen is clearly a holy one, and as a result it is quite fitting to bestow this appellation of saint upon an angel.

At any rate, I was starting this blog thinking of my dear Protestant brothers and sisters. As Presbyterians, our worship service would invariably begin with the singing of the Doxology. I reflected on these words as I heard a Latin song sung after Mass today. The melody was the same as the Doxology, and while I understand Latin when read I had no text to read.

So my mind turned to the words we once sang on a weekly basis.

Here they are:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Praise Him all creatures here below!
Praise Him above ye heavenly host!
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost!

It was at that point that the notion of praying to the saints, of communicating to them while they are in heaven, was nothing new in becoming Catholic. It was there all along, admitted or not, at least in some corners.

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host!

And so, whether you admit their help in your life, I call upon the angels of the world to continue to praise Him and minister to us all as the first chapter of St. John's gospel records that they did to our Lord.

49Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."

50Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that." 51He then added, "I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

G.K. Chesterton on Confession

When people ask me, or indeed anybody else, "Why did you join the Church of Rome?" the first essential answer, if it is partly an elliptical answer, is, "To get rid of my sins." For there is no other religious system that does really profess to get rid of people's sins. It is confirmed by the logic, which to many seems startling, by which the Church deduces that sin confessed and adequately repented is actually abolished; and that the sinner does really begin again as if he had never sinned. And this brought me sharply back to those visions or fancies with which I have dealt in the chapter about childhood. I spoke there of the indescribable and indestructible certitude in the soul, that those first years of innocence were the beginning of something worthy, perhaps more worthy than any of the things that actually followed them. I spoke of the strange daylight, which was something more than the light of common day, that still seems in my memory to shine on those steep roads down from Campden Hill, from which one could see the Crystal Palace from afar. Well, when a Catholic comes from Confession, he does truly, by definition, step out again into that dawn of his own beginning and look with new eyes across the world to a Crystal Palace that is really of crystal. He believes that in that dim corner, and in that brief ritual, God has really remade him in His own image. He is now a new experiment of the Creator. He is as much a new experiment as he was when he was really only five years old. He stands, as I said, in the white light at the worthy beginning of the life of a man. The accumulation of time can no longer terrify. He may be grey and gouty; but he is only five minutes old.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

our present hope, our future glory, our deep connection to each other

I am currently reading a book called Furrow by St. Josemaría Escrivá. He arranged the book into 1000 points, and in a twist of irony and comedy, point number 666 spoke to me almost more than all the others I had read up to that point. This is what he said:

Those in love don’t know how to say good-bye: they are with one another all the time.

—Do you and I know how to love the Lord like this?

Many people have criticized me for being slightly awkward with personal relationships. I'm not one to say goodbye every time I walk out of the house, for example. And I've always had this sort of intuitive understanding that we're not apart from each other, because of our love for each other. Now, this kind of silly way of pointing to my personal oddities (without excusing all of my deeds, of course) is just a way to call to mind the idea that whether you act like me or not, as friends and brethren we are more deeply connected than we sometimes think.

Thinking in light of this connection, we can go to a grander scale and see how it applies to the idea of where we are, where we are going, and how we are aided by those who have gone on before us.

This is vitally important, as one objection to the Catholic idea of the intercession of the saints on our behalf is that it places powers into our hands which are only rightly God's. For example, His omnipresence enables Him to hear our prayers, and yet Catholics often ask saints in heaven to pray for them. But again, how connected are we?

And more importantly, how connected to God are the saints?

To answer that question, I want to share something that may or may not be familiar with you. St. Athanasius, champion of defending the divinity of Christ against the Arian heresy, also spent some time in the 300s defending something else that may make you feel a bit of unease. To quote him,

"He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God."

That sounds quite heretical, but it comes from the mouth of one that Protestants and Catholics alike call a champion of orthodoxy. How do these oddities coexist? To answer that, I want to place some passages of Scripture before you for consideration. In my next post, I will explain how I have come to conclude that these passages not only clarify what St. Athansius meant, they vindicate the practice of the earliest Christians down to those Catholic and Orthodox brethren who have seen fit to ask for prayer from departed saints. For now, think on these words.

As you read, consider where you are now, where you are going, what you want to be, and what the word of God says you will be. Ask whether you have limited the grandeur or the scope of what the Scriptures say is in store for us. And ask for the eyes and faith to see and hold to the great promises, despite your situations that may cloud such a view.

"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." Romans 8:29-30

"For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." 1 Corinthians 13:9-12

"I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."1 Corinthians 15:50-54

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3

"Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." James 5:14-16

"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." 2 Peter 1:3-4

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." 1 John 3: 1-2

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17:20-23

"Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." Revelation 5:6-8

"When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed." Revelation 6:9-11

" After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for true and just are his judgments.
He has condemned the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.
He has avenged on her the blood of his servants." And again they shouted:
The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever."

The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried:
"Amen, Hallelujah!" Revelation 19:1-4

"I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years." Revelation 20:4

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'" Revelation 21:3-4

Saturday, September 20, 2008

a letter on my last week before becoming Catholic

I wrote this letter to describe why I am becoming Catholic. I realized some of you may appreciate this as well. Hope it's helpful in understanding my change better. Names and other personal elements have been altered, but the substance remains.

Dear ____

I hope all is well with you and ____.

I'm writing to you because you are a person who is close to me, and I think it is fitting that I share what we have come to believe about the Church established by Christ. A few weeks ago I met with a good Protestant man to discuss my thoughts, but he is not as close to me and my family as you. The point is that these are serious matters that have been on my mind for a while, and I think now I am at the stage where I am able to express myself about what we believe consistently and thoroughly.

Coming to where we have been has been one of the best things that has happened to me spiritually speaking, for it has helped me grow away from a position that I now realize was spiritual elitism, to a deep love for all Christians. I must admit that when I was attending other churches I would look down on even some Calvinist congregations, while my judgment was even harsher for non-Calvinist groups such as the one that first shared the word of God with me.

This mentality was even with me after we had joined, and so I must say that it was quite surprising to see quotes from famous Catholics like Mother Teresa, Fulton Sheen and G.K. Chesterton in the meditation section at the beginning of our order of worship. At first I was even upset about this openness. Were we playing with fire in embracing Catholics as brethren? Wasn't the Pope the Antichrist? These and other questions have been going through my head on a conceptual level, and on a practical level. For I had been taught that Rome's exclusion of Protestants for believing that they were not saved by works was an exclusion of the gospel. They were in essence synagogues of Satan for renouncing the simplicity of the gospel. When I first started following Christ at the age of 15, my first "treatise" on theology (written 2 weeks after professing faith, mind you) was a mockery of praying the Lord's Prayer word for word, advocating praying in the Spirit of the Lord's Prayer only. And while I eventually came to see that that practice itself was not the problem, the fundamental idea of Rome's gospel as founded upon works was still with me. And yet at where we are technically members, we would put quotes by Catholics in our bulletin. Were we being inconsistent?

Beyond these quotes in the bulletin that would frighten me somewhat, I recall being at a home fellowship group and hearing you saying that we as Presbyterians could learn from the monks who took good time to be silent. Additionally, Rev. Jim T. once preached a sermon discussing the nature of God's sovereignty in light of the petition in the Lord's Prayer which asks the same God that His will would be done in earth as it is in heaven. To explain this mystery it was to my great surprise that he recommended a book that he even produced from the pulpit, reading from Jesus of Nazareth, a book written by the current Pope. Lastly, a prominent member who is an author, Ellen V., has advocated a real acceptance of Catholics by Protestants in her book The Body, which she co-authored with Charles C.

Running parallel to my change from the OPC to the PCA and seeing this openness towards embracing Roman Catholics as brothers (without agreeing with their particular views that set the two groups apart), in moving to the East Coast I also met several devout Catholics in the area. These are not your run of the mill individuals that are uninformed about their Church's history and beliefs, which seemed to be the only brand of Catholic back in California (upon cursory analysis, at least). They are fervent believers who understand what they believe, and why. Several of them are also former Presbyterians. When I had first encountered these individuals I was taken aback, for my understanding of Catholic theology repeatedly would be challenged by their (seeming, at least) sincere love for me and more importantly, for the Lord. One person in particular went out of his way to buy me a book, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism by Louis Bouyer. I appreciated the gesture, but honestly I had no real mental interest in evaluating the claims of a Church that seemed so wrong. And so, from August of 2005 until May of 2007, I left the book on my shelf.

As I said, my ingrained idea was that to be Catholic was to deny the gospel. Sure, there could be saved Catholics, but that had to be in spite of their theological backdrop, not because of it. Needless to say, my experiences out here left me feeling quite unsettled and confused.

It was in May of 2007 that this confusion reached its apex, because I had learned that the then President of the Evangelical Theological Society, Francis Beckwith, returned to Rome.
When I had been attending a non-denominational denomination known as Calvary Chapel, Beckwith would frequently speak to us on the importance of glorifying God with our minds as well as our hearts. He brought the idea that apologetics were not apologies, and with many other good Christians, he kindled my interest in Reformed theology. At his return to Rome, I was also surprised to hear that it was the understanding of the Catholic view of justification and how it is not as anti-Protestant as one would imagine. For the idea of justification is really the thing that Luther railed upon most as he wrote against the Roman Catholic Church.

In addition to our church's friendliness to Catholics and these conversions, there is also the matter of the New Perspective on Paul. While not a staunch advocate of this position, when I would read those who advocated it, I did not see a dangerous error, which is what has been said by the general assemblies of the PCA and elsewhere. That theologians such as Norm S. and others can demand that baptism has objective effects on the baptized (without asserting that it saves the baptized) and that faith must be living, active and obedient did not strike me as heretical (or bordering on heresy). It struck me as the key to more accepted movements such as Tim K.'s Sonship program, which emphasize the believer's continued need to grow in the Gospel and to embrace one's position wrought by Christ's death and resurrection by believing that there are objective consequences of being Christian that are manifested in this life. And yet, the formal rulings of general assemblies have held this view to be denying the grace of the gospel. Some have even accused this position of being intrinsically Roman Catholic in its orientation. Again, my sympathy with this broad and varied theological movement led me to want to know more about Catholicism itself.

And so with the friendliness to Rome by good Presbyterians, Beckwith's conversion and the thoughts that some Presbyterians were "too Catholic" in the eyes of some, I finally opened up the book bought by my friend on Catholicism, and read it. I've also checked out nearly every book in our church library and read the relevant parts. There are many arguments and considerations that could be mentioned that are the fruits of my reading and arguments, but the main thing I want to say is that with each distinctive Catholic doctrine that seemed so idolatrous or contrived, I found the support of both logic, history, and the Christ-centered attitude that to me is the essence of the Gospel. I was shaken greatly by these discoveries, so much so that at this point I am preparing myself and my family to convert to Catholicism.

This was the last thing that I could imagine happening to me, but as I said, in reading Bouyer and others, we found our hearts saying Amen at so many points. Sure, some specific doctrines struck us as odd initially, but I can say that there are so many things about my life and the history of the Church that have coalesced into a beautiful harmony when I looked at them from the Catholic perspective.

I understand that this must seem quite unexpected to you, and there may be some questions that you have about my understanding of the Gospel. I would be open to discussing my change of heart about the Catholic Church, but would like to do it the right way.

So I would like to set forth what I think would be good grounds of discussion, assuming that you do have such questions. If you would like to meet or talk on the phone (etc.) to discuss my change in views about the Catholic Church further, I think it would be wise to have an agenda or basis for discussion. For my part, if asked to meet on this issue I would point to these sources of Catholic theology as most helpful in explaining Rome's position: The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism by Louis Bouyer, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, and Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. If you would like to have the conversation hinge around a work that is critical of Catholicism and have me defend or clarify on the matter, I would like to know what that book/essay/line of reasoning is, so as to have time to meditate upon it. If this sort of meeting does not seem desirable or necessary to you, I can respect that opinion as well.

In light of what I shared, I think of one particular argument that is offered in Kreeft's book on Catholicism. I think it touches at the essential matter of why we feel called to become Catholic.

A common way to defend the truth of our Lord's message and mission of saving us by His blood is to take Him at His word. He is either a liar, a lunatic, or our Lord.

In Catholic Christianity, Kreeft argues that in a sense, the same must be true of the Catholic Church, given Her claims. They must be liars, lunatics, or from the Lord, to assert their visible primacy, infallibility, and charge to lead all Christians on earth. As Christ's spiritual headship of the Church (and this world) leads him to make a claim of divinity, so too does Rome's claim of physical headship of the Church place it in a claim of divinely appointed authority. To make this claim while not really having it is to be either a liar or a lunatic, driven mad by power. But if the Catholic Church is justified in making this claim, it deserves our allegiance. Because of our growing affinity towards embracing Catholics as my brothers and the combined experience of evaluating their claims, we are taking steps to join the Catholic Church. To me, the only other option is to call them liars or lunatics. The testimony of history, the level of love that I have seen in talking to Catholics, the reading of their documents expressing their perspective, and the perspective of loving Christians, has led me to deny the validity of the idea that their claims are made out of pomposity or presumption.

After evaluating Rome's claims I can see only these two types of responses: embracing Rome fully, or rejecting Rome fully. That Rome is a neutral third party of Christians who happen to make such absolute claims does not make sense to me. So I have concluded that the only fully consistent response to Catholicism besides agreement is anti-Catholicism, as was historically the case with the first edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and other early Protestant statements.

Again, my purpose in writing this is not ultimately polemical. Each person has to take their time to think about all of the issues wrapped up in the single issue of the Church and come to a conclusion. But as I have sifted through the evidence, I am compelled to be persuaded by the claims of Rome, and cannot violate my conscience by remaining out of full communion with her. At the same time, I respect and believe that there are many sincere Christians who cannot and will not on this side of heaven come to agreement with me on this issue.

After all, the Church has been horribly ripped since 1054 between East and West, and since the 1500s, so many Europeans who were good Christians went to war with each other over the issue of the Reformation. This obscures our ability to evaluate such long standing wounds in the Body of Christ. Please understand that my main motivation in these studies has been to embrace all Christians, and that as we transition to joining the Roman Catholic Church we will never hesitate to call you and many other dear people our brethren in Christ.

But at the same time, I must say that given the call of Scripture to be fully united with no schisms (1 Corinthians 1) and to be one with each other as the Father and the Son are one (John 17), it is necessary for us to take whatever steps are needful to fulfill these verses to the best of our ability. In our analysis of the situation, we see this happening through a body of believers that claims authority over all believers, namely through submission to the bishop of Rome.

I will forever be indebted to you for looking out for us as friends and spiritual parents in the Lord. I wish you all the blessings from our Father, who is the source of every good and perfect gift. But I must also be honest and inform you that even if we do not move, we will be moving to the Catholic Church. Please let me know what needs to be done to be taken off of the membership rolls-while we do desire that to happen, we do not desire to take you and everyone who is Protestant down from our list of brethren whom we admire, respect and pray for. My prayer is also that you would continue to hold us in a similar regard.

Apologies for the length of this e-mail but I wanted to lay out my heart as clearly and fully as possible.

In the peace of Christ,

Friday, September 19, 2008

and now for some Friday humor


Thursday, September 18, 2008

on the communion of the saints

A very common argument used to object to the Catholic view of the communion of the saints is that the idea of praying to someone who is in heaven but not God is not as good as praying to God Himself.

Many like to construct analogies and say something to this effect:

Suppose you wanted to discuss the President (or CEO, CFO, etc.) of the company. Maybe if you were slightly connected, you would talk to some lower level executives. If you were a lower level executive, the next person you might contact is the Vice-President. But to have a direct line of contact to the President, you would have to be the Vice-President or some other second highest level of command to have such full access.

This hierarchy is compared to the Catholic Church's hierarchy on earth with laypeople, priests, all bishops, with special emphasis on the Bishop of Rome, aka the holy father, the Pope. After death and away from earth, the hierarchy doesn't end, either. For you have suffering believers who are being purged of the inclination to sin in purgatory for whom we are recommended to pray, and the you have saints in heaven, to whom we are recommended to pray. Among the saints in heaven, the Virgin Mary is afforded the highest level of veneration and through devotions such as the Rosary, she is definitely one that Catholics would say is worth contacting.

The person who frames this sort of analogy is quick to make this qualification to the analogy. They would say:

Suppose that you were the son or daughter of this President. Now all objections that could be made by the hierarchy of leadership would fall apart, as daddy's little boy or girl would have the father's full attention. There is no need to schedule an appointment with the VP first, you are instantly accepted by the father.

And thus, the argument concludes by objecting to the Catholic's view of the saints being in communion as including invoking the saints.

But wait a minute! Wait an hour! Please do not pass go with this contortion of reality!

First of all, let's follow the analogy out. OK, maybe Mary is the VP and St. Peter is the Executive Director of Corporate Activities, and so on and so forth.

Even granting that, is that to deny that these believers are NOT children of God??? What a sad way to look at those who are in heaven!

And this brings us on to the second gaping hole in this analogy-its very structure is inaccurate, for the Church is the family of God. Sure, it's a kingdom of priests (1 Peter) and it does have ordained leaders (Matthew 16, Hebrews 12), but God forbid that said leadership get in the way of the bond of love that is the most excellent way of all (1 Corinthians 13)! To start the analogy by describing the family of God as some kind of business is perhaps fitting given the way some Christians make a profit, but it is not what Our Lord ordained, and therefore should not have been the analogy to begin with.

Thirdly, this criticism of the Catholic view is faulty in that it neglects to consider the fundamental relation that is proposed to exist between Christians when they call upon the saint. Look up any prayer to a saint, and you will see this is false.

Take, for example, the Hail Mary. I quote it here:

Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou among women
and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death.

Here we see many things-particularly that the main request of Mary is that she PRAY for us. We as Catholics do not ask Mary to give us this day our daily bread. Secondly, all veneration of Mary is connected to the Lord-she is beautiful because the Lord is with her. God, on the other hand, is to be worshipped and adored, for His name is Hallowed. He is goodness itself. Everyone else is good to the extent that they are in union with Him. But as I said, the real thing that is requested in a prayer to a saint is prayer to the Lord. And this is where another old memory of my Protestant days comes back to haunt me. My calculus teacher stated something so simple that I could only respond by mockery and neglect. He simply asked me, "Jonathan, do you ever ask your friends to pray for you? Does that show that you are not close to God, or that you neglect your own requests made before God? Then neither should praying to a saint."
I couldn't answer him then, and I now find myself on his side.

Fourthly, the whole story that it's better to pray to Our Lord than to pray to a saint offers a false dichotomy. It's a false dichotomy that would fall by the wayside with a moment's reflection-just consider that Catholics pray the Lord's Prayer (or Our Father) and you will understand that the love that we have for our brethren in heaven does not undermine our love for Our Father in heaven. Rather, it is the source of our love for each other, and to the degree that we venerate a saint or a living person, it is to the extent that these people shine forth that image which we all bear-the imago Dei. No, we do not have to choose between praying to saints and praying to Our Lord, any more than we have to choose between loving God and loving our neighbor.

Lastly, I would like to propose a counter analogy, with much fear and trepidation. If it does anything, may it help you to love your brethren on earth more.

Imagine a family where there was a wealthy father who had many children. He gave gifts to all of his children, and would often gather his children together for feasts.

The father sat down at his table, food was passed, drinks were opened, and the candles were lit. Imagine that this meal passed with each child taking turns talking to the Father. His love was so great that he did not mind hearing all of their thoughts and requests. Everyone had a chance to speak to him, and everyone did.

After going to the head of the table, these children sat back down and continued to eat. They did not turn to their left or right to remark about the beauty of their siblings' dress, to ask them for advice, or share the latest joke.

They only longed for the next time to talk to their Father. And in their family, to share with anyone but their Father just did not happen. Call them prim, call them proper, the meal was held in silence, apart from those comments made to and from the head of the family.

At one meal, the oldest child Peter asked the youngest child Mary to ask the father to pass the potatoes. He then proceeded to tell his brother Anthony about his sadness over having lost his favorite shirt. He figured that Anthony would be sympathetic to his story, as he too used to lose items.

In the midst of this discussion amongst the brethren, the Father stood up. The plates clattered with falling silverware, and the burgeoning conversations among the children stopped as silence set in.

"This is not how we operate in our family! After all, I bought the clothes you are wearing, the food you are eating, and the drinks you are drinking! I have given you your very lives! For you to talk to each other about your lives is to assume that I did not give you them, or that your brothers and sisters could actually give you these things! For you to ask someone else to talk to me-that is disgusting! Do you not see that I am here?! Can you not talk to me? How dare you talk to your brothers and sisters!"

And with that, the Father grabbed Peter by the collar and told him to go home for his lack of gratefulness.

Would any of us hesitate to call this man a tyrant?

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Theology of the Body

"From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Ephesians 4:16

For about two years I have considered writing a series of stories that deal with illnesses and the body. I use this term with hesitation and hope that at some point a better name will come to mind, as a key set of teachings from Pope John Paul II is called the Theology of the Body (and you can read more about it here). While the issues he discussed are more focused on matters of love and marriage, the notion of body permeates his thoughts. His message to the world is far more important than my own reflections, but nonetheless my mind is also drawn to the body from a different angle.

For those of you who do not know me so well, my work has involved considering the body on a genetic level, with a hope that our findings would shed light on why we have various illnesses, so that one day they may be better treated. In studying biology for the past 12 years, I am in many ways fulfilling my childhood wish of understanding what goes wrong when people we love get sick.

Thinking of the verse quoted at the top of this post, it is clear to me that the things which wound the Church as the Body of Christ may be better understood if we better understand what goes wrong in a physical body plagued by various diseases.

So here is the outline for these stories. Each chapter would begin with a real (or realistic) story about someone with a well-known disease. Starting with how one's life is affected by that disease, the story would progress to the level of organs, and then cells, and in some cases understanding what some molecules do to cause illness (without being fully reductionistic, of course). What I think emerges from such reflection is a clearer sense of the problems that we face not only as humans, but as members of one body in Christ.

Just as examples, consider these very brief descriptions, and you will begin to see if it wasn't obvious already that there are many parallels between the physical and spiritual bodies that we either have or comprise.

The caveat I would place on this analogy is that, especially as a Catholic, I would never say that the illnesses that the Body of Christ will suffer will actually cause death (Matthew 16). But that we would be very sick is not out of bounds with Church teaching. At the end of the day, I think each of the following illnesses (and more) characterizes various problems that we as Christians have in our life as one body.

1) Neurodegenerative diseases-the body loses an ability to either communicate to various parts, or parts of the storehouse of memories become destroyed or inaccessible to the body as a whole.
2) Cancer-one part of the body grows beyond its normal bounds, eventually invading other territories and damaging those invaded areas.
3) Heart-related illnesses-the body cannot bring nourishment to all locations for many reasons.
4) Immune deficiencies-the body cannot defend against harmful agents.
5) Autoimmunity-the body decides to attack what is not a harmful agent.
6) Malnutrition-the body is lacking in some factor that is needed for health.
7) Obesity-the body has an overabundance of some factor that is needed for health.
8) Liver and Kidney diseases-the body cannot filter and rid itself of waste properly.
9) Digestive issues-the body cannot process the nutrition that it receives.
10) Allergy-the body reacts to things that do not cause illness as though they do cause illness.

Well, 10 is a round number, but I hope you get a glimpse of what I am considering, and would like to know if this interests you. A friend of mine said that there are so few people who are interested in both biology and theology that the double filter will exclude 99.9% of the population. I think that illness is so ubiquitous that this criticism does not apply, but maybe I'm wrong.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

musical fixation du jour