Archive for the ‘Catholic’ Category

Richness of Thought

In Catholic, Christianity on April 5, 2009 at 11:53 pm

Christianity Richly can be described in many ways.  In some cases richness is described by analogy, as in Psalm 63:5, “My soul shall be filled as with rich food.” In other cases, we directly experience richness through Christian art, architecture, and music. In other circumstances, we sense great richness—even if only momentarily—as worship transcends our “earthbound-ness” and takes us to the edge of the eternal.

Disciplined thought also ranks among the great riches of Christianity, although this treasure is sometimes undervalued within the Church, and almost entirely discounted outside her.  Yet the world is going to need disciplined, Catholic thought to survive the next few centuries, if Christ does not return in the interim. Why?  Because unthinking Christianity is an ineffective witness against the onslaught of evil the world faces.

This thought struck me this morning, as I was reading Janet Smith’s, Humanae Vitae a Generation Later.  After 100 pages of carefully reasoned preparation, she writes, “Human life is such a great good that it is considered to be an intrinsic good (as opposed to an instrumental good).”  

There you have it, in 22 words: the answer to the abortion controversy; the answer to euthanasia and assisted suicide; the answer to medical cost/benefit analysis, and much more.

Disciplined thought.  Christianity Richly.

Battles Converts Must Fight, Part II

In Catholic, Christianity, Postmodernism on April 4, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Having written that it can be difficult not to enter the Church (Battles Converts Must Fight, Part I), many converts still face doctrinal questions and spiritual struggles that contradict that statement.  In talking with others whose spiritual journey took them into the Church, one common theme emerges—the question “Am I being deluded?  Am I fooling myself?  Is a force at work within to deceive me?”

This struggle was difficult.  I use myself as an example, not because I am in any way noteworthy, but because I know my own journey best. Still, this question may be the biggest hurdle well-taught biblical Christians will face on their way home, to the Church.

The argument with oneself against the Church goes like this:  “All that I have found in the Catholic Church—all the richness, the joys, and the beauty of holiness—may only be Satan disguised as an angel of light and his servants masquerading as agents of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).  Shouldn’t I reconsider and retreat from all that I have found, lest I be deceived?”

By God’s grace, this struggle was resolved for me on Good Friday, 2006.  Here are the notes made in my Bible:

All good gifts come down from the Father (James 1:17).  If we give good gifts to our children (and we are fallen creatures) how much more shall our Father give the Holy spirit when we ask (Luke 11:13)?  Therefore, never be afraid Satan disguised as an angel of light is deceiving you, because He Who is in us is greater than the fallen demon who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Never fear that Satan is deceiving you when the Holy Spirit, through scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) and the Church Christ founded (Matthew 16:18), is leading.  And never commit the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit by attributing His work to Satan (Matthew 12:32).

To think otherwise is to enter a postmodern rabbit hole, where nothing you see is what it seems to be, and nothing you hear is what was the Author intended to say.  One could run in endless circles on such a path: “Well, if it seems good, it must be bad.  But if it seems bad (austere or difficult), then it must be good.  So, if I am drawn a certain direction, I should do the opposite.  But if the opposite now seems wrong to me, then it is probably right—because I was about to be wrong about what is right.”

This amounts to rational and linguistic suicide.  See Kevin Vanhoozer’s, Is There a Meaning in This Text?.  

Instead, believe what you see; be assured you are continuing in what you have learned and believed (2 Timothy 3:14); and rejoice that, like Apollos under the instruction of Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:24-26), you have been invited home, where you will find the way of God explained more adequately.

Battles Converts Must Fight, Part I

In Catholic, Christianity on April 2, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Let me be clear:  Christianity Richly is about the joys of life in Christ—the rich interior and communal life in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Having said that, depending on your faith tradition (small “t”), if God is leading you to become a Catholic Christian, you will fight battles almost every day until you enter the Church.  Some of those battles, even if graciously contested, may be with family and friends.  But most of the battles will be with yourself.  You will experience moments of interior discomfort no one would believe, unless they have been on the same journey.

What kind of battles?  You will find yourself in conflict, not because the Church is difficult to enter, as a result of her doctrine or rituals.  Rather, with study, you are quite likely to find the Church is difficult not to enter!  Her joy in Christ and the beauty of holiness, her aids to spiritual growth, and the Church’s  biblical foundation will begin to almost irresistibly draw you.

The pilgrim who prays daily, “Show me the way, Lord; show me any untruths; show me any lack of conformity to scripture; show me any error in this way,” will be led to see that the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is the Church established in Matthew 16, verses 13-19.

Lex Orandi Lex Credendi

In Catholic, Christianity on March 26, 2009 at 9:50 pm

In launching Christianity Richly I would be negligent—in gratitude, as well as in identifying vital influences—without mentioning my pastor, Father Jay Scott Newman of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Greenville, SC.  Fr. Newman’s impact on my formation as an evangelical Catholic can hardly be overstated.  The power of his preaching, the light of his example, and the reverence and transcendence of worship at St. Mary’s have had profound effects.

It is that last point, reverence and transcendence in worship, to which this post’s title refers.  George Weigel, theologian and biographer of Pope John Paul II, writes, “The people of St. Mary’s Greenville have learned experientially an ancient theological maxim that you should know: lex orandi lex credendi—what we pray is what we believe.  Sloppy worship leads inevitably to sloppy theology” (Letters to a Young Catholic).

Weigel’s chapter on St. Mary’s describes the significance of right worship far better than I might.  I leave you in his good hands, should you choose to read Letters to a Young Catholic.  The point is that right worship is an immense part of living Christianity richly!  In terms of influences used by the Holy Spirit in my conversion to Catholic Christianity, nothing, except the clear need for teaching and interpretative authority, rivaled the impact of my first visit to St. Mary’s.  The veil between earth and Heaven became nearly transparent.  The glory and majesty of God was reverenced and worshipped. It was impossible to go away unchanged—and it remains so.

Origins of Christianity Richly

In Catholic, Christianity on March 20, 2009 at 11:30 pm

It now feels foolish to have waited so long before launching Christianity Richly. The idea was born in 1991, when my son and I were staying in Freiburg, Germany, across the square from the Freiburger Münster (the Cathedral begun in 1120 A.D.).  While there, I started making notes for a book called Simple Things.  

The book is still unpublished, but the idea was to focus on one word at a time: “tent,” “face,” “power,” or “gospel,” for example.  The book’s goal was to show the richness of biblical truth underlying each word.  That idea later evolved to include word pictures and metaphors of scripture.  If we know a little about the food, customs, and agriculture of the Mediterranean, then when those metaphors are employed, our appreciation of the richness of God’s love is enhanced.  When the Psalmist writes, “You brought a vine out of Egypt . . . and planted it,” the image of God’s tender care is greatly magnified by having lived (as I did for a decade) among vineyards.  

What finally prompted launching Christianity Richly, however, was having become a Catholic Christian. Father Dwight Longenecker, a former Protestant, has written a fine book titled More Christianity. His book explains that the Church is not mere Christianity (as wonderful as C.S. Lewis’ book is). Nor is the Catholic Church characterized by additions to Christianity (as commonly supposed by many Christians still outside her walls). Rather, more Christianity is the fullness of what God intended in Christ—fully biblical and glorious in its richness and beauty.

Not every Christian is convinced of that, of course.  But taste and see.  Stay a while. Come back to visit, as time permits.


In Catholic, Christianity, Liturgy on March 14, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Authority is the bedrock upon which my confidence in the Church rests.  But my pilgrimage was deeply affected by liturgy—or as I would have expressed it at the time, by a yearning for transcendence in worship; for Heaven and earth to meet. Reverent worship is powerfully evangelical.

In the town where I lived in California, I often drove past a church that had a sign out front:  The church for people who hate church.  But I don’t hate church!  I love church.  Church has always been a special place for me—from the summers when I marched into Baptist Vacation Bible School with the other children, singing “Holy Holy Holy,” right up to and including my last opportunity to participate in solemn liturgy.

The Extraordinary Behind the Ordinary
Others have written better and at more length about what follows.¹  But in the liturgy, in a very real sense, Heaven touches earth.  We are brought into contact with the extraordinary behind the ordinary; the Supernatural just the other side of the natural. The only testimony I can offer here is that of the woman’s at the well . . . “Come and see” (John 4:29).  If “come and see” is the test, then what has Catholic liturgy shown me?

One thing Catholic liturgy has taught me is that symbols and ceremony often say more than words. For example, I remember the funeral of former President Gerald Ford. Eight young military men slowly carried the casket bearing the body of the former President up the steps of the U.S. Capitol.  Ford’s 88 year old wife stood at the top of the steps, enduring the cold night air, on the arm of a Major General.  No words could have better said, “This is my husband, whom I so dearly loved.” “This is my fallen Commander-in-Chief.” “This is our declaration of love and honor for him.”

Liturgy is Not a Spectator Sport
Moreover, liturgy involves us.  We don’t simply sit and listen, standing occasionally to sing a hymn.  Some translate leitourgeo as the “the work of the people.”  Acts 13:2 captures this idea when it says, “They ministered (leitourgeo) to the Lord” (“ministered” is the KJV translation); others say, “While they were worshipping the Lord.”

Liturgy also incorporates the senses. Christ took on human flesh. Our bodies matter to God. Because they do, one consequence is that our bodies also can be used in worship. In Catholic worship all five senses are joyously engaged.

  • I kneel before God, smelling the incense representing the prayers of the saints (Revelation 8:3-4 and elsewhere).
  • I see a “visual Bible,” Christ and the communion of the saints in scenes represented in the windows and the statues around me (John 3:13-15 and Numbers 21:8, Hebrews 12:1-2 and more).
  • I hear God’s Word read and preached, accompanied by the organist, congregation, and choir praising God (Colossians 3:16 and many other places).
  • I touch others while offering them the “Peace of the Lord” (1 Peter 5:14).
  • And by God’s grace, I receive Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, during which the fifth sense is employed (taste, Psalm 34:9John 6:54-56 and elsewhere).

Liturgy Protects the Faith
In addition, liturgy protects us against each generation’s limitations.  Step back and remember the Catholic Church has endured for 2,000 years.  The Church has transcended illiteracy, language barriers, war, plague, poverty, the rise and fall of empires, and more.

Perhaps we think of our own times and imagine, “But we no longer face most of those limitations.” Really? May I differ? One of the limitations we face in our day is a dangerous overconfidence in our own understanding of the world, coupled with a limited sense of mystery. Liturgy rebalances our view of ourselves and the world.  Without that balance, we risk having a limited grasp of reality—the real (both “seen and unseen,” as The Nicene Creed says). Liturgy helps us focus on the unseen as something much more than just an abstract or intellectual exercise.

Finally, contemporary Christianity sometimes shows a lack of propriety. I would gently suggest that kneeling in Christian worship is more spiritually fruitful than watching a drummer in headphones sitting in a Plexiglas drum cage built to improve the sound mix for a “worship band.”  I can find similar-sounding music in most nightclubs. I can also listen to a speaker wearing a business suit (or a Hawaiian shirt) at a corporate offsite.

Where—except in the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”²—will we find majesty, mystery, and transcendence? God be thanked, all are found in the Church’s liturgy!  Psalm 63:6 “My soul will be filled as if by rich food” (Jerusalem Bible translation).

Reverence, abundance, transcendence, majesty, and sovereignty in worship: the extraordinary behind the ordinary!

That is Christianity Richly.

¹ See particularly The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Joseph Ratzinger (subsequently Pope Benedict XVI) and the essays in Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century: Contemporary Issues and Perspectives, edited by Alcuin Reed.

² From The Nicene Creed.


In Catholic, Christianity on March 12, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Elsewhere in Christianity Richly, I have written that my  journey into the Church involved many reasons:  certainly, history, unity, authorityliturgy, community, and sacramentality. First among these was—and remains—authority.

Authority rests upon the ongoing work for God the Holy Spirit, in and on behalf of the Church that Christ established (John 16:13).

The circumstances by which it became clear that teaching authority is essential began in a simple, everyday way. A friend with no strong religious convictions became a Baptist. Not long after entering one of the many different independent Baptist assemblies, the issue of alcohol came up.  This prompted sincere self-examination on my friend’s part. His desire to do right was absolute. Since Christians hold different positions, all he wanted to know was, “What is right?”

Well, what is right?  A good pastor, a seminary professor and man who loves Jesus Christ, was telling my friend, “You cannot drink wine and be a good Christian.” Yet my own former protestant pastor, an author of more than 40 books and a strongly biblical preacher, had more than once enjoyed a glass of wine with my wife and me.

Unquestionably, the word of God is certain. But interpretation is not. The vast diversity of protestant interpretations is evidence of this fact. Protestant denominations, all claiming the authority of scripture, differ on soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology.  In other words, all of the following—how we are saved, along with how the Church is organized and governed, and what will happen at the end of time—are up for grabs.  These are not small matters. Where is one to turn?  To the Bible, yes.  But each voice proclaims, “On the authority of scripture, I declare.”  At that point, their interpretations go in different directions.

Is this not the situation Saint Paul described in 1 Corinthians 14:8?  If the bugle gives an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? What are we to do?  Go forward?  Go back? The context for these two verses addresses speaking in tongues.  But the overriding point is found in 1 Corinthians 14:33:  God is not “the God of disorder but of peace.”

We find much of 21st century Christianity facing circumstances similar to those  of the early Church described inActs 15:2—marked by “no small dissension and debate.” The solution? The same as in Acts 15: Go to the Apostles and successors they appointed.

Authority.  Certainty.  Christianity Richly!

Catholic and Christian

In Catholic, Christianity on February 21, 2009 at 8:31 pm

This title of this post will seem odd to Catholics, and improbable to fundamentalist and some evangelical Christians. I ask forbearance.  Since I regularly use the term “Catholic Christian” in posts to Christianity Richly, it deserves explanation.

The two words are redundant for anyone who has entered the Church.  To say Catholic is to say Christian—and to say it with intensity, a sense of history, deep reverence, and spiritual vitality.  “Catholic” is not an adjective.  Catholic is a noun meaning “Christian of the all-embracing (Greek katholikos, ‘universal’) Church, the Body of Christ.”

Yet some still outside the Church view the term “Catholic Christian” as an oxymoron—contradictory terms used in connection with each other.  I encountered this not long ago, talking with a homeless man.  After we chatted for a bit, he said, “You’ve been so kind.  You must have a good church.”  I replied that I did, St. Mary’s Catholic Church.  He quickly countered, “Oh, well.  That may be OK for you, but I prefer the Christian religion.”  

Some will smile at this anecdote.  Others will find nothing ironic at all, but rather that the man’s statement mirrors their impression of the Catholic Church.  If you are in the latter group (and I was at one time in my life), please be patient.  You’ve found your way to this post.  Read others.  See what the Holy Spirit and your own sense of fairness say to you.

If you are a Catholic, I apologize for using two words where one should do.

A Reading List, Part II

In Catholic, Christianity, Reading Lists on February 21, 2009 at 6:49 pm

In a previous post, A Reading List, Part I, I promised a list of secondary sources that proved helpful to me.  This list is longer and more subjective than the first. Even so, many more fine books might be included. All I can say is that, on my pilgrimage and given the questions I had, these books were sturdy companions.  “Taste and see” (Psalm 34:8).

  • Letters to a Young Catholic, George Weigel. Mentioned to me by my sister. Very much worth reading, for more than the chapter on St. Mary’s. This was among the first books that pointed to the immense richness of the Catholic Church.
  • Catholic & ChristianAlan Schreck. The very first book about Catholicism I purchased.  Still one of the most helpful short works I’ve read.
  • Evangelical is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament, Thomas Howard. I could not imagine (until I read Howard) anyone writing so graciously, so well, about his journey to the Church. I am grateful for the love and respect he expresses for his own biblical, evangelical background.
  • Magnificat, Fr. Peter John Cameron, Editor.  A helpful guide to daily prayer and Scripture reading, as well as texts used in daily Mass.  Liturgical Calendar appears on the inside front cover.  The daily readings selected by the editor have prompted many hours of richly blessed meditation.  This is a monthly subscription publication, but single copies should be available at your Catholic bookstore.
  • On Being Catholic, Thomas Howard. “We are ceremonial creatures,” Howard asserts. An invaluable book, with chapters ranging from “Glad Tidings” and “Is Man Religious?” to “Are Catholics Saved?” “Hiddenness” was a very special chapter.
  • Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, George Weigel. Highly recommended. Although lengthy, it is perhaps the best comprehensive introduction to the Church, to John Paul II, and to the years 1978-2005 one could ask for.
  • Theology of the Body Explained, Christopher West.  George Weigel says John Paul’s theology of the body will be one among the key contributions of his Papacy, though it may take decades to be appreciated. From Weigel’s foreword: “Some will, no doubt, find it odd that the Catholic Church takes human sexuality far more seriously than the editors of Playboy and Cosmopolitan. But that’s the plain truth of the matter.”
  • The Courage to Be Catholic, George Weigel.  For those concerned about the sexual and financial scandals in the Church.  From Weigel’s introduction: “Like every Christian community, the Catholic Church is a Church of sinners . . . The trauma of the Catholic Church in the United States in 2002 will become an opportunity to deepen and extend the reforms of Vatican II if the Church becomes more Catholic, not less—if the Church rediscovers the courage to be Catholic” (italics mine).  
  • Theology and Sanity, Frank Sheed. Tremendously helpful passages include his explanation (to the extent we even can begin to explain) of the Trinity; his description of God being outside time; his analysis of man as both matter and spirit all were extraordinary—as was his continual emphasis that living sanely means living in reality, and reality is both seen and unseen.

 To keep this post as compact as possible, I have included annotations about each book, but not full bibliographic citations.  For additional information, or if you have difficulty finding one of these books, email me at the address shown under Welcome, at the bottom of the copyright notice.

A Reading List, Part I

In Catholic, Christianity, Reading Lists on February 12, 2009 at 5:27 pm

If you are being drawn to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, or simply want to know more about what the Church believes, here is a list of references I found helpful.  The list is not exhaustive, but these are primary sources that will be indispensable to you.  A list of secondary sources is located here, which may also prove helpful.

By the way, if you are a Catholic Christian, these primary documents should be familiar. They describe what we believe.  In them, you will begin to see the immense richness of the Church—of Christianity Richly.  If these works are not familiar, then I encourage you to have a look, as well.  

Finally, although Christianity Richly normally links books and articles to Web sources, I have not done so for this list.  Most of these items will be readily available at your local Catholic bookstore.  Your Catholic bookstore needs your support. Even more than that, a good Catholic bookstore will also become a source of support and Christian community. Visit them and take advantage of their help.  

  • The Holy Bible. The New American Bible, School and Church Edition, Fireside Bible Publishers (Wichita, KS).
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition.  USCCB Publishing (Washington, D.C.).
  • Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours. Catholic Book Publishing Corporation (New York, NY).
  • Dei Verbum (“Word of God”).  Documents of Vatican II.
  • Lumen Gentium (“Light of the Nations”).  Documents of Vatican II.
  • Fides et Ratio (“Faith and Reason”).  Encyclical, John Paul II.

If there is no Catholic bookstore in your area, or they cannot help you with one or more of the documents on this list, email me at the address shown under Welcome, at the bottom of the copyright notice.  I would be happy to help you find the item or to describe any document listed here in more detail than this post allows.