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The Wisdom of St. Ignatius

In Catholic, Christianity, Reading Lists on June 1, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Previous posts have mentioned Ignatius House Retreat Center. I am increasingly grateful daily for the wisdom of St. Ignatius, on whose Spiritual Exercises most retreats at Ignatius House and elsewhere are based.

There are numerous texts of the Exercises, but I would encourage you to get this edition, which has a wonderfully helpful Preface and Introduction. From this morning’s readings, later in the book, the following notes appear in my daily prayer journal (summarizing pages 235 and top of 236):

I am made to know, love, serve, and possess God:

  1. To know God, in the created order of the world (Psalm 24:1)
  2. To love God, because it is from his bounty He has given to me even the creatures; it is His love that serves me in each one.
  3. To serve God. Consider how all the creatures obey? Shall I be the only one to refuse to serve God? Shall I be the least faithful?
  4. To merit the possession of God. There is nothing created or ordained by God that cannot be the occasion of prompting some virtue:
    • Things we need and may enjoy offer occasions for practicing temperance and detachment.
    • Things to which we must submit (labor, illness, poverty) offer occasions for patience and humility.
    • Things that lead to God offer occasions to practice piety and faith.
    • Things that lead away from God offer occasions to practice sacrifice.

Community Matters

In Catholic, Christianity on March 28, 2011 at 8:55 am

Today I was reviewing my notes from the silent retreat I made at Ignatius House (Atlanta, GA) in February. This retreat was a three-day review of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Retreatants arrive and settle-in on Thursday night, and remain there through Sunday lunch. Silence is the gift retreatants give each other, permitting each to listen more intently to the gentle whisper of God (1 Kings 19:11-13).

On Friday night, 24 hours into our retreat, I spent time in the company others reading silently in the library.  Community matters, even in silence. Given our shared purpose of drawing closer to Christ during the weekend, there was a palpable sense of support from others without a word being spoken. Brief eye contact, a nod, or a quiet smile was all that was necessary and was fully understood.

Community always matters—and it matters even more, perhaps, when the noise of the world around us causes us to withdraw into ourselves. A torrent of words sweeps over us daily in simulated community: “So good to see you!” “How are you?” “Let’s all join in . . . (song, prayer, sharing).” Yet real community as the Body of Christ—seeking the graces of Christ—may be lost in social ritual, or lively Christian “fellowship.”

This is one reason I’m thankful for the communal prayers of the Church. Catholic Christians don’t pray the same prayers repeatedly out of lack of imagination. We pray from a fixed repertoire of public prayers so that all can participate.  Whether it is in simple thanks before meals, “Bless us, O Lord, in these Thy gifts,” or “Our Father” of The Lord’s Prayer, or the more extensive Liturgy of the Hours, community is always in mind. For this reason, Catholic Christians often use plural pronouns even when praying alone. “Bless us.” “Our Father.” “Forgive us our trespasses.” “Pray for us sinners.” “Bless the work we have begun.”

This sense of community is a good thing; a blessed reminder that in Christ we are one. Our identification with others parallels Christ’s identification with us—solidarity. So, let us not skip lightly over the the “we,” “us,” and “our” in communal prayer. And let us not abandon these signposts of community in personal prayer.  Community matters! It is a fundamental part of Christianity Richly.

The Best Preparation

In Catholic, Christianity on March 24, 2011 at 8:37 am

What is the best preparation for becoming a Catholic Christian?  One might answer, “The combination of Catholic schools and catechesis that existed in the U.S. during the first six decades of the twentieth century.” And certainly this system resulted in strong formation of young people who became Godly, productive Christian adults.

But I would argue for a second path—and one that may be followed more frequently in the twenty-first century: conversion of well-studied evangelicals, and even fundamentalists. How might one support this assertion?

Once a student of the Bible sees the scriptural basis for “the one, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic Church,” then the depth of that person’s Bible knowledge and the seriousness of their struggle for sanctity become strong anchors in the Church. Even anti-creedal Christians don’t ignore Ephesians 4:5—”One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” They just say that true Church is invisible.

So, when a Christian seeking authority, sacramental grace, transcendent worship, aids to holiness, and biblical unity arrives at the door of the Church founded by Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:15-19), only a short step remains to cross the threshold. That step usually involves overcoming a lack of information, or misinformation, about the Church.

For example, most evangelical or fundamental Christians don’t realize that their baptism—if performed with water, and in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—is regarded as valid by the Church, not to be repeated. That would not be true for a Catholic Christian entering some protestant assemblies. One might ask which group takes the scriptures more seriously?  But the point is not to be contentious. The point is to get beyond caricatures of each other.

All Christians should rejoice in the many fine schools and religious assemblies that continued to teach God’s Word faithfully during the decades of infatuation with modernism. I regret the misunderstandings I was taught in such places, about the Church, but I trust those who taught misinformation honestly imagined it to be true, even while I wish they had more adequately investigated their assertions. But we only know what we have been taught—and perhaps nothing ever challenged them to question their lifelong denominational affiliation.

Are you uncomfortable with your present Christian experience? The best preparation for your next steps may have been from the least likely starting point. “Seek, and you shall find”¹ . . . the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church: Christianity Richly.

¹ Luke 11:9-13

Why Be Catholic?

In Catholic, Christianity on March 23, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Often, since becoming a Catholic Christian, I am asked, “Why? Why did you do it?” To answer that question, I began this blog.  See About, particularly the links on certainty, history, unity, authority, and liturgy.

Those five reasons continue to be important. However, now that I am inside the Church, rather than looking in from outside, those reasons look more like inviting welcome mats, placed before the Door. They are valid and objective. They point to the good, true, and beautiful. But they fall short of the richly-hued experience one actually encounters across the threshold, inside Christ’s Church.

Pope Benedict XVI used a better analogy during his 2008 visit to the U.S. He said the experience (and answering the question, “Why be Catholic?”) is like viewing the windows of a cathedral from outside, where they may appear indistinct or even dark.  It is not until one goes inside that the richness, and beauty, and Gospel narrative of the windows is clear, illuminated by the Light.

Then, why be Catholic? Unquestionably the starting point is grace given. Protestants and Catholics differ on the number and nature of the Sacraments. But understanding the nature of the Sacraments is fundamental to seeing the richness available to all who come into Christ’s Church. The Sacraments are not memorials, public professions, or religious rituals. “Christ . . . acts through the Sacraments He instituted to communicate His grace. The Sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature.  By the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they make present . . . the grace they signify.”¹

So the first answer to “Why be Catholic?” is grace given, for life and eternity. Why would anyone cut-off himself or herself from the power of God offered in the Sacraments? The only reason would be failure to understand something really happens in Baptism, Confirmation, receiving the Eucharist, Confession and Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage, and Holy Orders. But we only know what we have been taught and misinformation about the Church is plentiful.

If the Sacraments are only rituals, then one ecclesial community’s rituals are as good as another’s. But if they are the means through which Christ communicates grace, as scripture and the Church teach, then don’t walk—run to receive them:  supernatural salvation, gifts for ministry, food for the journey, forgiveness and reconciliation, healing, strength for lifelong commitment, and sacred power for service!

That is Christianity Richly.

¹ Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1084.

One Small Detail

In Catholic, Christianity on October 26, 2010 at 3:56 pm

For blog readers following the Gospel in Glass series, two apologies. The first is for the long lapse between posts. September and October are two of my busiest months. Time to write was limited. The second apology is actually the basis for this post!  So, let me provide some background.

Each year during RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, the course adults take before entering the Church), one of the Deacons conducts a tour of St. Mary’s. The tour helps candidates and catechumens become familiar with the physical setting for the Liturgy. A major part of the tour is an explanation of the stained glass windows.

Although I had previously heard the Deacon identify the figure at the foot of the cross as St. Mary Magdalene, I believed it was St. John. The figure’s halo was green, a color identified with St. John, and the dramatically dejected posture mirrors what I imagine St. John must have felt seeing his Lord crucified. “Good men (the Deacon and I) simply differ on interpretation,” I told myself—particularly since, in other windows, the Deacon has pointed out identification of some figures is not absolutely clear.

Good men might differ but for one small detail: the long, curly brown locks, used to identify St. Mary Magdalene, streaming out behind the figure at the foot of the cross.

Having missed this reminded me of my younger days. I “knew” and pointed out to others that there might be Christians within the Catholic Church, but that the Church was not Christian. God forgive me! We only know what we have been taught. I hadn’t read the Church Fathers. I hadn’t paid attention to Christ repeatedly transferring authority to the Apostles. I couldn’t remember reading Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 3:15 about the Church being “the pillar and foundation of the truth,” although I had read 1 and 2 Timothy often.

But for one “small” detail!

Catholicism in Washington, DC

In Catholic, Christianity on August 6, 2010 at 3:03 am

Last week, I was in our nation’s capital.  There weren’t many free hours until Saturday, when my wife and I set out mid-day to see as much as possible of the Church’s presence there.  A half-day is far too little time, but let me suggest some highlights, in the event you are visiting Washington this summer.

The 12:10 Mass at Old St. Patrick’s was our first stop.  This is the oldest Church in Washington, founded in 1794 for stonemasons who were working on federal buildings including the White House, a few block away. If you are downtown, walk over and have a look. Although mid-day Saturday Mass was relatively empty, the pastor was faithful about offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation for thirty minutes before Mass, and then spoke faithfully and well about St. Ignatius of Loyola.  He helped remind me of my connection to St. Ignatius through the books The Discernment of Spirits and Thirty Days.

Leaving St. Patrick’s, we drove to the Catholic University of America campus. CUA, as well as The Dominican House of Studies across the street, are both a bit quiet during the summer months.  However, that inactivity didn’t diminish our joy at visiting The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception!

I had driven past The Shrine on previous trips, but was not able to go in.  Having now done so, the Basilica is beyond words:  the chapels, the oratories, the majesty of the building itself, the mosaics, and more.  And when the organ began the prelude before Mass, you didn’t just hear the music; you felt it—it became part of you.  But the most wonderful part was to be able to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation there and then attend Vigil Mass.

Remember that these sacred spaces are part of our riches as Catholic Christians. They reflect the Incarnational basis and nature of our faith.  Fr. Dwight Longenecker just wrote a wonderful post on this topic—click here. Don’t miss the grace God gives us on our pilgrimages of faith, small and large.  They are an important part of Christianity Richly!

Simple Things

In Catholic, Christianity on April 7, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Having completed Lent, and making the most of of Eastertide, I found myself doing some small “spiritual housekeeping” tasks today. Real spiritual housekeeping, of course, is an interior act.  But most of us employ external resources to assist in that act, scripture being first among those resources, followed by The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Some time ago, while in Washington, DC, I stopped at the Newman Bookstore, near the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and The Catholic University of America.  While there, I found one of the most helpful small study aids I’ve encountered in a long time:  a set of page-tabs for The Catechism of The Catholic Church (click this link is for the Catechism in print; it is the Catechism web site in the paragraph above).

Perhaps one shouldn’t find such pleasure in the simple act of mounting page-tabs. But doing so reminded me of the immense privileges and joys of being a child of God. Just the anticipation of the contents of each section should thrill every Christian:  God the Father, Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit, The Church, The Creed, Sacraments, Life in Christ, Prayer—and that’s only 8 of the 26 sections tabbed!

The other effect of mounting these tabs was to remind me the Catechism is a document meant to be read.  I’m not book-phobic, but a 904 page book is substantial.  The tabs had the effect of breaking the book into digestible sections.  “Oh, I could read that much this morning, or before bed tonight!”

Why does it matter?  Reading the Catechism reminds us of, and confirms us in, what Pope John Paul II called “the strength and beauty of the doctrine of the faith.”¹

The Church [we!  You and I] . . . will become greater in spiritual riches and gaining new energies therefrom, [we] will look to the future without fear . . . Our duty is to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us, thus pursuing the path which the Church has followed for 20 centuries.

Yes, that is Christianity Richly.

¹ Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City:  Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), p. 2.

Be Godly on the Road

In Catholic, Christianity on December 31, 2009 at 7:58 pm

We often say, “Be safe,” when someone tells us they are making a road trip. However, maybe it would be more appropriate for us to say, “Be Godly.”  One of the great riches of being Catholic is that the Church actually thinks about all of the challenges we face as Christians—and then seeks to guide and assist us.

The secular press was amused when The Vatican published “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road.”  Yet, one of our most frequent challenges is to be Christian in traffic.

On New Years Eve, the clearest way to express our Christianity in traffic is to ensure we are safe, and to ensure others are safe—even if that means saying, “You aren’t driving tonight.”  One hopes, of course, that our formation as Catholic Christians means drunkenness is not a concern for us, and that we serve our friends wisely (or our customers, if we are in the hospitality business).

So, in the interests of encouraging all readers of Christianity Richly to celebrate responsibly tonight, here are the “10 Commandments of Safe Driving”:

  1. Thou shalt not kill.
  2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people.  (This one always convicts me of sin, because I so often think of only my priorities in traffic; “me first, me first.”)
  3. Courtesy, uprightness, and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.
  4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.
  5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination and an occasion of sin.
  6. Charitably convince people not to drive when they are not in condition to do so.  (This post is being added to the site on New Years Eve.  Take heed!)
  7. Support the families of accident victims.
  8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together in an atmosphere of forgiveness.
  9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.  (As a bicyclist, I’d certainly appreciate more attention to this commandment.)
  10. Feel responsible toward others.

If you are driving tonight, be Godly.  And Happy New Year from Christianity Richly. Warmest wishes and our prayers for health, joy, and progress on our spiritual journey (Hebrews 13:14) in 2010!

No False Starts

In Catholic, Christianity on December 22, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Today’s post is the third in a three-part series (see the bullet list, below).

No forced feelings:  The first post in this series points out that the Catholic Christian does not rely on feelings, but rather on the fact of Christ’s atonement. The merit of His death for us, is made ours by grace through faith, the benefits of which are lovingly conveyed in the Sacraments.

No forced faith:  The second post reminds us that true conversion never rests on forced faith. “Forced faith” is an oxymoron and faith without content is false hope. True faith is the willing response of the heart to the historicity and reality of the Gospel, prompted by God’s Holy Spirit, not something we prompt in ourselves.

No false starts:  Having said that our reconciliation with God is not based on feelings, and that saving faith is all of grace—the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9)—we can live and pray with the confidence that God makes no false starts.  In the words of St. Paul, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). “Perseverance unto glory,” Father Garrigou-Lagrange calls this confidence.

Does this mean we will live every day in joyous hope and untroubled confidence? No! The publication of Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light shows that one of the most Godly women of the twentieth century experienced decades of spiritual aridity, and even pain.  If you don’t have time for the book, a well written summary appears here (although the musings of atheist, Christopher Hitchens, who went into eternity in December 2011, also make a brief appearance).

What does all this mean? Just this: Christianity and Catholic Christianity in particular, is real; even “gritty,” in the words of George Weigel.¹  While at times we may be blessed with effusive joy and abundant sense of God’s closeness, at other times we may not. Yet Christianity is based on fact, not feeling. Rejoice when walking in blessed communion with God.  But in more difficult times remember:

When people came to John the Baptist asking, ‘What should we do?’ (Luke 3:10-18) he gave them the most reasonable, commonsense reply.  He said, in effect, ‘Live reality.’ God is asking you to be faithful to the ordinary circumstances of your life. He will make Himself evident there

Press on, in good times and in bad. God is faithful. Eternity is real. Meanwhile, never forget that “His love endures forever” (Psalm 136).  That is Christianity Richly.

¹ See George Weigel’s wonderful short book, Letters to a Young Catholic, Chapter 2.
² With thanks to Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P., and the staff of Magnificat, for these thoughts in their preface to the liturgy, Third Sunday of Advent, p. 177.

No Forced Feelings

In Catholic, Christianity on December 2, 2009 at 2:56 pm

This post begins a three-part series (see the bullet list). It was originally written on December 2, 2009, then revised on February 26, 2013, after reading Bishop Karol Wojtyła’s Love and Responsibility

The book was written in 1960. In addition to Blessed John Paul II’s  discussion of personhood as the basis for true love, the primary topic of Love and Responsibility, his caution about emotions and the “authenticity” of experience significantly clarified and strengthened my thoughts I had written about feelings. See especially the first and third paragraphs after the list.

___________

Many of us, whose pilgrimage began outside the Catholic Church, remember times we may have been concerned about our salvation. Specifically, thinking of our own conversion—when we “walked the aisle” or responded to an invitation to accept Christ—we find ourselves wondering, “Did I know enough?”  “Was I sincere enough?” “Was I old enough?”

By God’s grace, in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, these questions are answered.  The answer has three parts:

No forced feelings:  In the Church, God meets us as what we are: men and women composed of matter and spirit. Our spirits long for communion, for deep belonging, for love—to love and be loved. We may not always be quick to identify the only truly satisfying Object of our love: God. But because our longings are so powerful, we too frequently imagine intense emotion also will signal the satisfaction of our longings—if our experience is genuine.

“Did I know enough? Was I sincere enough?” Often our response, our metric, is “Well, it sure felt like it!”

Yet authenticity is not dependent on feeling. “Emotion . . . diverts ‘the gaze of truth’ from the objective elements . . . The effect of emotion is that the consciousness is preoccupied above all with the subjective ‘authenticity’ of experience.”¹ This doesn’t mean Catholic Christianity is cold or abstract, by any means. Quite the contrary. It is physical—Incarnational. Moments of great spiritual passion are not uncommon. But it has objective truth as its foundation.

Hence, each Sacrament includes a “sensible sign” (some element that can be detected by the human senses) through which grace is conveyed.  For example, you feel the water of Baptism; the chrism oil of Confirmation.  You taste the bread of the Eucharist.  You aren’t left to wonder, “Did I?”  And, “Did it feel like it?” Instead, you can have the confidence that “God did, just as He promised!”

Let us pray in the words of today’s Morning Prayer (12/02/09) from The Liturgy of the Hours:

Lord, You are the source of unfailing light.  Give us true knowledge of Your mercy so that we may renounce our pride [belief that salvation is something that depends on anything but grace] and be filled with the riches of Your house.

That is Christianity Richly!

¹ Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), p. 154.

The End of Ender’s Game

In Catholic, Christianity on November 24, 2009 at 3:27 pm

“I believe . . . in the Communion of Saints.”  This statement in The Apostles’ Creed, professed by most Protestant bodies as well as the Catholic Church, is the end of Ender’s Game for the Christian.

If you are not familiar with the book, Ender’s Game is a science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card. A young man named Ender Wiggins is, without realizing it, being trained to defend the world against invasion.  Leaving the story line  and violence aside for now (though they deserve discussion in another forum), Ender’s utter aloneness is the overriding impression one is left with throughout the book.  The demands of training to defend the planet are extraordinary.  Summarized:  “Every level gets harder, and there is no one who can help.”

How often do we feel like this in our own lives?  Simply getting through school, or making a living, or doing a good job of rearing children, or dealing with a serious illness—or growing in holiness—often seems a Herculean (if not Sisyphean) task.  “Every level gets harder, and there is no one who can help.”

I was feeling that way recently, when I picked up my Catechism for another purpose. Its pages fell open to Paragraph 1474:

The Christian who seeks to purify himself of his sin and to become holy with the help of God’s grace is not alone. The life of each of God’s children is joined in Christ and through Christ in a wonderful way to the life of all the other Christian brethren in the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, as in a single mystical person.

That’s the end of Ender’s Game for the Christian, particularly for the Catholic Christian, who understands to the fullest extent possible the role the Communion of Saints actually plays in the believer’s life. Certainly, this takes nothing away from the work and intercession of our Lord and Saviour, who ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25).  But in God’s wisdom and mercy, He has also surrounded us by brothers and sisters—alive on earth and in eternity—as helpers on our journey and aids to attaining holiness.  We can ask the prayers of “all the angels and saints,” whom we entreat during communal confession during the Liturgy.

You and I are not alone! It’s the end of Ender’s Game and his aloneness. That is just one of the many blessings of living Christianity Richly!

Majesty and Glory

In Catholic, Christianity, Liturgy on July 6, 2009 at 7:40 pm

The Canticle from Morning Prayer, Monday Week II in The Liturgy of Hours, includes these words:

Fill Zion with your majesty, your temple with your glory. (Sirach 36:13)

Right worship is evangelical—not in the sense of protestant evangelicalism, but in the sense of the new evangelization to which Pope John Paul II called us all, in his Encyclical “Mission of the Redeemer,” his Apostolic Letter “At the Beginning of the Third Millennium,”and elsewhere.  We get a glimpse of the glory of the Lord!

Men and women in twenty-first century Western cultures are longing for transcendence and authenticity.  We long for transcendence in the hope that something or someone significant will give our lives meaning. The old song “Is That All There Is?” expresses, even four decades later, our ongoing existential dilemma.  And we long for authenticity, because so much in our world is shallow, insincere, or false.

Did you experience the glory and majesty of God in the Mass on Sunday?  Is it possible, as John Paul II’s “Mission of the Redeemer” points out, that some of us may need to be re-evangelized ourselves—or as Dave Nodar writes, “need to be socialized into situations of vibrant faith.”

May we always show the authenticity of God’s majesty and glory through our worship! May each Mass be powerful “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). May your parish be blessed with evangelical worship and the Gospel of Jesus Christ thereby be advanced in our world. Christianity Richly!

Five Reasons

In Catholic, Christianity on July 6, 2009 at 12:15 am

Some of us write to organize our thoughts. At times, we even may write to be sure we are thinking rightly.

During my pilgrimage into the Church, I wrote about five reasons that led to my conversion.  I did so partly to make certain I was not being drawn to the Church only by the immense beauty of the Solemn Mass at St. Mary’s (an example is here.  George Weigel’s book, Letters to a Young Catholic, which includes a chapter on worship at St. Mary’s is here). But I also wrote about the reasons for entering the Church because many family members and friends did not understand how I could even consider Catholicism. How could I explain to them?

Ironically, these reasons were suggested by an evangelical scholar, Dr. Scot McKnight. As I’ve written elsewhere, I’m not suggesting that Dr. McKnight would endorse my conversion. Rather, he  simply identifies some broad trends in protestant and Catholic Christianity—trends that were meaningful, and solid, and important in my journey. The five posts below (see the bullet points) elaborate on the themes Dr. McKnight identified.

If you are being drawn to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, I pray that these posts may be helpful in your journey. If you are a longtime Catholic, I pray they will remind you of the immense richness with which God has blessed His Church. If you are interested simply because you have a Catholic Christian friend, then read on.

To God be the glory, now and eternally—Christianity Richly!

Sons of the Church

In Catholic, Christianity on June 28, 2009 at 2:38 pm

One of the great riches of the Catholic Church is the Liturgy of the Hours. The Hours are the ongoing prayer of the Church; “praying always,” Ephesians 6:18.  In praying The Hours—particularly (for me) “Lauds” or Morning Prayer—one finds encouragement for the day, as well as constant help by which we can praise our gracious God.

Thus it was no surprise, but rather, a case of the ongoing blessing The Hours offer, when I encountered the phrase “sons of the Church” yesterday. The phrase appeared in a quotation from Hesychius prefacing Psalm 149.  What a powerful phrase!  The phrase would mean nothing, of course, if the Church were not Christ; if being in the Church did not mean being in Christ—saved by Him, in Him, for Him.

But the fact that the Church is Jesus Christ’s and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18) is what make this phrase, this title, and this honor so powerful. Meditate on it today!  See yourself welcomed by Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church: “So now in His eyes I have become one to be welcomed” (Song 8:10b).  See yourself having access to His Church, through His love: “I, through the greatness of Your love, have access to Your house” (Psalm 5:7/8).

“Sons of the Church.”  Christianity Richly!

The Reality of It All

In Catholic, Christianity on June 2, 2009 at 2:34 pm

While traveling in Italy near Montalcino, a group of us visited Abbazia di Sant’Antimo (Abbey of San Antimo). Even our non-religious friends immediately sensed and were silenced by a Presence in the Abbey.

Catholic Christians know, of course, that Christ is present. The Holy Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle is The Real Presence of Christ.  Our church buildings are not simply halls where believers assemble for fellowship and teaching.  We come to worship Our Lord; we come to be near Him; we come to pray, knowing that Matthew 28:20 (“I am with you always”) was inspired to communicate a much more profound truth than than that Christ is simply with us “spiritually.” The reality of it all! What joy; what richness.

After a difficult business meeting recently, I drove directly to church. Stepping into the silence, I touched my finger to the font, remembering my baptismal promises. I made the sign of the cross. I entered another world: my Lord’s house. “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord'” (Psalm 122:1).

After a gesture of reverence and humility, I was able to kneel in the presence of my God. “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6). I touched the cool stone floor—it’s realness and solidity, a comfort. I gazed upon the strength of the ox under the pulpit, representing the third evangelist, but also speaking to the strength of Our Lord; of His sacrifice. “I think of the sacrificer in Leviticus who was charged with providing the high priest with the blood which he was to take behind the veil.”¹ I meditated upon Christ on the cross, pictured in the altar window. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).

And I prayed. I gave thanks for what had been accomplished that day. “Bless the work we have begun, make good its defects, and let us finish it in a way that pleases you” (Liturgy of the Hours, Daytime Prayer, Wednesday Midday). Real life. Real meetings. Real Presence. Real prayer.

God be thanked for the reality of it all! Christianity Richly, so very richly!

¹ Paul Claudel, A Poet Before the Cross, p.221.  Claudel’s book, translated into English by Wallace Fowlie (Henry Regnery Company, 1958), can be difficult to obtain. But is a treasure for the contemplative, prayerful Christian—or one who desires to be.  Search AbeBooks.com periodically, if interested. Claudel’s mediations (first suggested through a reading in Magnificat) have left a lasting, positive mark on my worship of Christ and my desire for time alone with Our Lord in His house.

Penance

In Catholic, Christianity on April 29, 2009 at 3:00 am

Had an interesting conversation with a friend today, a Baptist.  He asked if I confess to a priest and accept penance.  I responded that I do.  He said, “But isn’t penance a ‘work’? Aren’t you doing something to earn forgiveness?  If you confess to Christ and sincerely repent, then you are forgiven.  Why do penance?  It’s like ‘busy work’ assigned as a punishment, or to earn God’s pardon, isn’t it?”

Unfortunately, many protestants have that perception of the Sacrament of Penance. Worse still, that is the perception of many Catholics.  My wonderful Baptist friend is a lapsed Catholic.

The Sacrament of Penance is actually one of God’s most beautiful gifts.  It is Christianity Richly, indeed!  Here’s how. But in describing penance by analogy, please understand that the full richness and beauty of the Sacrament of Penance cannot be captured in a formulaic way.  Even a good analogy falls far short of the reality of the sacrament itself.

So, penance:  aren’t we already forgiven? Yes, by God’s grace and mercy.  But think of sin confessed as kids breaking a window while playing baseball.¹ In Christ, the offense is forgiven and the price of the window fully paid.  There is no further forgiveness or payment for sin to be “earned.”  But one problem remains.  The broken window still has to be replaced.  

When we sin, we injure ourselves (and often others).  Part of us is “broken.”  Penance is the process of repairing the window; fixing what was broken; remedying the injury.  For example, if we confess fearfulness, our penance might be to prayerfully read Psalm 27:  “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear?”  This is not busy work.  This is not punishment. This is God’s grace, restoration, love, and kindness offered to men and women, through the Sacrament of Penance.

Penance?  Yes!  It’s all part of Christianity Richly . . . and thanks be to God for it.

 

¹ Any analogy breaks, if pressed too far.  For example, one might offer the objection, “But the kids playing baseball didn’t break the window deliberately.” If your mindset is to object, rather than to understand, then please assume the batter possessed the necessary skill to deliberately drive the ball through the window of an annoying neighbor.  I trust, of course, that the readers of Christianity Richly have the attitude described by Saint Anselm (✝ 1109): “Faith in search of answers,” not skepticism demanding answers before exercising faith.

I Want to Be a Saint

In Catholic, Christianity on April 14, 2009 at 11:34 pm

Early in my journey toward the Church, St. Mary’s eight month RCIA program began (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults).  Each Wednesday night, our group of 75+ adults met for instruction as a single group.  Then, with maybe 10-15 minutes remaining before dismissal, we divided into small groups for discussion and prayer.

On the first night of small group discussion, we were asked to introduce ourselves and explain why we were in RCIA.  A variety of reasons were offered, ranging from “just exploring possibilities,” to “feel drawn to the Church,” to “marrying a Catholic.”

One member of the group, however, offered an explanation that stopped most of us cold. He said simply, “I want to be a saint.”  

Be a saint?  What did that mean?  Weren’t we all “saints” in the protestant sense of the faithful; the redeemed?  The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible with which I was raised used the word quite liberally, with 96 occurrences of “saints” and another 5 for the singular form “saint.”  Imagine my surprise when I found only 3 occurrences of “saints”—all very much more specific—when I searched my Catholic New American Bible (NAB).

As audacious as the statement “I want to be a saint” seemed, however, the quality of this person’s life matched the simplicity and directness with which he said it.  Despite our talk of 96 occurrences versus 3, or questions about the formal canonization process, that seemed insignificant beside the the gentleness with which he spoke;  how well he listened; how he treated his children.

Obviously, three admirable attributes don’t make a saint.  But what accompanied his brief testimony was a more difficult to describe beauty of holiness—a life being lived, with as much effort and integrity as possible, pointed constantly toward God.  

“The Church is Holy . . . [and] Her holiness shines in the saints” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶ 867).  

“I want to be a saint.”  Christianity Richly.

Battles Converts Fight, Part III

In Catholic, Christianity on April 9, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Having written two posts on the challenges converts face, I thought I was  probably finished with the topic.  One post dealt with the difficult of not entering the Church, when the coherent doctrine and the richness of Catholic Christianity is so compelling. The other dealt with the unique challenge converts face, fearing they have been deceived (or are deceiving themselves), despite careful study and prayer. 

Imagine my surprise, then, when in the middle of Holy Week 2009 I was struck by absolute terror that perhaps I had fallen into error—a fear made worse because, through writing and teaching, I am pointing others in the same direction. James 3:1 is very clear that teachers will be judged with greater strictness.

I confessed my fear in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that same day.  My penance, by God’s grace, helped me realize that when these fears strike, we must go back to basics.  Psalm 27:1—”The Lord is my light and my salvation.”  Whose cross will I reverence on Friday?  Whose resurrection are we so eagerly awaiting to celebrate on Easter Day?  The Lord is my light and my salvation.

Yet back to basics in no way means “just me and my Bible,” a Church-less faith. Christ’s Church serves as a curb to our subjective fears and feelings.  It is, as 1 Timothy 3:15 says, “. . . the pillar and ground of the truth.”

  • Christ founded His Church.  He appointed Apostles and gave them authority to teach and to appoint others.  That apostolic succession and promise of teaching authority comes right down to today (and beyond!).
  • The Sacraments are not dependent on my feelings or any man’s doing.  Yes, God be thanked, our priests are set apart—called to do a work I cannot do.  But when we are baptized; when the bread and wine is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ; when we are absolved of our sins, God “does the doing.”  It is God’s action, God’s power, and God’s sovereignty that gives grace through the Sacraments; His power guarantees that these signs accomplish what they signify.
  • Scripture and Sacred Tradition are always there to guide us.  When we begin to think, “Did I?” or “Have I?” or “Am I?”, the second word in each of those questions is dangerous.  Go back to the Bible.  “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (St. Jerome).  Go back to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  One of the biggest red flags in conversation among Christians, or when musing on something ourselves, is “Well, I think.”  With all due respect for reason and disciplined study, what I think must be congruent with what the Bible teaches; what the living magesterium of the Church has taught and is teaching us.

May God bless this Maundy Thursday to each one of us, and through Word and Sacrament, may the peace of the Lord be yours always.

Helps for Faith

In Catholic, Christianity on April 6, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Early in my journey to becoming a Catholic Christian, I met a wonderful young couple who were protestant converts to the Orthodox Church.  When I asked about their conversion, one of the reasons they gave was the helps, or aids to faith, they had found.  At the time I was curious but didn’t pursue the point.  Since entering the Church, however, I’ve discovered exactly what they meant!  Here are just a few of the helps that contribute to the immense richness of the Catholic (and Orthodox) Christianity.

The Church Year.  Growing up Baptist, I had little idea what terms like Advent, Lent, Ash Wednesday, or Good Friday meant.  What a shame! The rhythm of the Church Year, from season to season, keeps us grounded in reality—the reality of eternity: our progression from sin to salvation; mortality to immortality.

The Communion of Saints.  I had been taught “the saints” were simply those good Christians around me.  Yet, I always knew the Church extended forward and backward in time.  What a joy it was to discover that the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) were neither unconcerned nor unavailable to me as prayer partners!

Prayer.  For years I struggled to maintain a consistent daily prayer time.  By God’s grace I was often successful, but what I did felt improvised. Imagine to my surprise, after entering the Church, the disciplined routine I developed resembled a poorer version of the Liturgy of the Hours—the longtime prayer of the Church.  And when praying the Liturgy of the Hours, my brothers and sisters worldwide are praying with me; I am now caught up in communal Christian prayer.

Liturgy.  I have written elsewhere about liturgy at much greater length.  Much more could be said, but let’s leave that for another time.

The Sacraments.  Growing up, I was taught there were two ordinances:  baptism and The Lord’s Supper.  We didn’t call them sacraments.  That didn’t come until later, as a Presbyterian.  What are the Sacraments?  They are grace given!  By God’s sovereign act, the Sacraments actually accomplish what they signify.  Praise God they don’t depend on me, or understood rightly, even my priest.  They are the gracious action of God, objective and outside myself.

Helps.  Gracious helps, more numerous than mentioned here.  Christianity Richly.

Christ’s Body and Blood

In Catholic, Christianity on April 6, 2009 at 6:09 pm

In proclaiming Christianity Richly, nothing compares with the richness of Christ’s body and blood offered to the twelve at The Last Supper—and still offered to us today.  This is “the source and summit” of our Christian experience.  I was reminded of this today, while reading Fr. Peter John Cameron’s editorial opening Magnificat‘s Holy Week volume.

Writing about this takes us into deep waters, of course.  The challenge stems from the immensity of Christ’s declaration in John 6:53: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”  The implications of that statement push us into the depths of denominational differences.  Yet without ignoring the force of Christ’s words (we’ll come back to them), surely even the most restricted definition of what takes place at The Lord’s Table must nevertheless rank among our richest moments of communion with the Lord.

Let’s survey three traditions.  In our differences, we still see brilliant glimpses of the richness of life in Christ.  For a Baptist, the meal is a solemn memorial, to be joined only after carefully examining oneself.  For a Presbyterian, it is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, dependent upon the work of the Spirit and the word of institution. For the Lutheran, it is the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine.  None of these celebrations are insignificant occasions.

The Catholic Christian affirms each of those highlighted phrases, and then underscores (based on John 6 and 1 Corinthians 11) that the bread and wine truly become the body and blood—the Real Presence—of our savior Jesus Christ.  Described in this way, perhaps, a Catholic Christian’s joy in the richness of The Eucharist seems not only less strange or unfamiliar, but entirely scriptural, as well.   

Yes, the Real Presence stretches the finitude of our minds.  Yes, even when those following Christ heard the words “eat my flesh and drink my blood” from the Savior’s own lips, many of his disciples protested this was a “hard saying,” and they “turned back and no longer walked with Him.”  Yet Jesus didn’t allegorize or explain away what He had said.  And when Saint Paul tells the Corinthians, “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” then, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he simply repeats Christ’s words, saying . . . “This is my body, which is for you.”

This is My Body.  Source and summit.  Christianity Richly.