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

Saturday, September 6, 2008

bible in a minute

HT: American Papist

thank God for youtube?

I saw this awhile back and was shocked by what seemed like unwarranted police aggression. Apparently the bike rider was charged with some kind of disorderly conduct, but the youtube video came to this guy's rescue and now the officer who charged the guy w/disorderly conduct is in trouble.

Read about justice coming through youtube here.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

sola scriptura or sola ecclesia or NEITHER

Many scholars have called Sola Scriptura the formal principle undergirding the Protestant Reformation.

As such, for me the study of Catholicism centered around understanding Sola Scriptura and the evidence for and against it.

If you were to ask me what the strongest passage supporting Sola Scriptura was (as a dedicated Presbyterian), I would respond without thought that 2 Timothy 3 was the key.

Let's read what Paul has to say to Timothy on the importance of Scripture.

14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

As a former advocate of Sola Scriptura, I would point out that the Scripture is useful for so much: teaching rebuking, correcting, training in righteousness. The end result, you ask? We will be come a thoroughly equipped person of God ready for every good work.
If we're ready for every good work, how could anything else be needed in our lives? Surely all we need is Scripture?

Now, there are many considerations that have led me to challenge this, such as answering the basic question of what Scripture IS in the first place, but another important consideration/angle came to my while reading a book by Dave Armstrong.

Read this clip of a passage and tell me if you do not see a similar sufficiency from something else.....Imagine Ephesians was somehow destroyed so that the first part of this chapter was destroyed, and we were left with a scroll describing the consequences of some action, but that action (or book) was unclear due to the destruction of the manuscript. We would read:

".........12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From 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."

We see an even fuller declaration of some amazing thing that provides for the full equipping of individuals and these individuals comprising the body of Christ in general to grow up in maturity, but if the manuscript were torn, we would be left to wonder: what caused all of these amazing things? Was this another affirmation of Sola Scriptura?

Well, thankfully, the manuscript was not torn. But at the same time, to the Protestant's dismay, what we read does not speak to the paradigm that a written text is all-sufficient. For we read:

"11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God's people for works of service...."

Here the full read of Paul's argument to the Ephesians shows us that it is the provision of Church Leadership, from apostles down to teachers, that provides all of those amazing blessings.

So what are we to conclude? Would Ephesians alone lead us to say that it's only the Church Leadership that provides us a stable foundation of truth? Well, maybe, but thankfully we have all of the Scriptures to understand that the Scriptures also play an important role.

Thus, just as 2 Timothy does not provide for a paradigm of Sola Scriptura, neither does Ephesians 4 make us think that it is only the Church that gives us truth, as though that occurred apart from the Word of God.

Rather, as custodian of the Word of God, the Church can tell us what is reliable and what is a good interpretation of that Word.

Thank you Lord, for your Word and the leaders that you appointed!

Monday, September 1, 2008

30 facts you probably(?) don't know about me

Of course, some of you will be bound to know these facts. But hey, it's hard to think of 30 things about me in general. As I wrote this it felt very self-centered to do it, but how could 30 facts about me not have that feel?

Oh well, here we go, in no particular order.....

1. One main reason why I left private school in 4th grade was that I was deathly afraid of having a male teacher (or maybe he was just a jerk-historians will debate that one).

2. I have a strange fear of having people notice that my ears are completely different from each other.

3. I hate when others drive during road trips, but on routine trips I feel like a king when my wife (or someone else) drives.

4. I tip way too much, because I used to be a night shift waiter at Denny's.

5. From age 5 to ~10 I used to have a glitter sticker that said "I <3 Michael Jackson".

6. Flying insects of any sort terrify me-a hike at age ~12 led to me getting stung 13 times by yellow jackets. At night my friends made fun of me for being sure that one had crawled into my sleeping bag, and when I got out and held a flashlight on the inside, there was indeed one in there (though it didn't sting me a 14th time!).

7. When I was 19 I started using Rogaine and was obsessed about going bald. That didn't last after the first bottle, but it's true.

8. I have portrayed myself as being from almost every conceivable ethnicity and gotten away with it.

9. I absolutely love art but have no ability to draw.

10. I tend to cry almost every week and, like Bigfoot, these events are almost always not captured.

11. I am terrified of dancing or singing in front of others and will do anything to avoid these events, with very few exceptions. At the same time, these are things that I enjoy almost more than anything else.

12. I learned Spanish as a young child and completely lost memory of this fact until my high school teacher was tired of me thinking that I just magically "got" Spanish.

13. I complain about people taking pictures but probably look at them more than those same people who take them.

14. I shook O.J. Simpson's hand at a restaurant when I was 4.

15. 95% of jokes that I tell are made to make myself laugh at how ridiculous they sound, and usually leave people scratching their heads or (when I fail to live right) offended.

16. I have never rolled on a skateboard, and am quite proud of this fact.

17. I have never gone skiing or snowboarding, and this all began when as a child someone mistakenly said, "I'm going skiing, would you like to go? Oh wait, you went and you didn't like it, right?" I shook my head in a vague manner and went to a different room and cried, and since then have still not gone.

18. If I go out to eat and the order is completely botched, I refuse to say anything to the waiter. See #4 for clarification (though this tendency of mine was also true before gaining that experience-most likely due to life companions who have a tendency to complain at every opportunity).

19. I hate musicals but love the concept of them.

20. I am probably one of the ~0.05% of all husbands in married couples who dominates phone use for chatting, etc., as compared to their wives.

21. I feel but do not intellectually conclude that I have some psychic powers-I predicted such diverse events as my friend's car getting stolen (the day before I told him it would happen), I predicted that my wife would stop swimming in the middle of a high school race (she was on track to beat my best time and I couldn't imagine another way of her not beating me-she got out of the pool crying in the middle of the race and I nearly cursed myself for my powers), and others.

22. I check my e-mail on average 20 times per day.

23. Small errors such as spelling, grammar, pitch in singing, clinking in eating, cause my mind to obsess and get very annoyed. As for a hugely disordered pile of papers, etc., I almost expect this to be the norm.

24. I still insist (to myself, at least) that at some point in my life I will be an actor.

25. I pretend to not like dogs but they're not ALL so bad.

26. I am deathly afraid that people look at my right foot due to my mangled large toenail.

27. I think that my nose is my best feature, and when it was broken in high school I was terrified about it being ruined before finding out that the bone was not bent at all.

28. I'm not sure whether I am really left-handed, or whether it's simply a matter of convention.

29. I carry on extensive conversations with my cats, and change their names into odd nicknames all of the time. On that note, I change the names of my family all of the time as well.

30. I am very grateful for every person who has ever come across my life.

A corny way to end, but I was running out of facts that seemed interesting enough and I also wanted to say thanks to everyone for being around me despite all of these (and other unstated) quirks.