ChristianityRichly

Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

For Mom

In Christianity on September 26, 2017 at 2:07 am

“If you went into someone’s house to visit a friend, wouldn’t you say ‘Hi’ to his Mom?”

With these words, a priest who has been a wonderful friend and guide in my Christian life, introduced the topic of the Blessed Virgin Mary to his RCIA class.

Divisive Topic
Probably no topic prompts more debate between Catholic Christians and those who left the Church in the 16th century than the Virgin Mary. Fr. Dwight Longenecker, an evangelical who is now a Catholic priest, even wrote a book on this topic based on a debate with a Christian friend.

My growth in faith and ability to honor our Lord’s mother has come through seven realizations.

  1. Mary was the spouse of the Holy Spirit
    These words sound nonsensical, even sacreligious, until we realize that is exactly what the Bible declares in Luke 1:35. Trying to grasp this is difficult— especially if we have spent a lifetime thinking of Mary as simply a young Jewish girl given the honor of bearing the Savior. Choose, if you like, a different word than “spouse.” But look at the big picture. How else would you describe “being overshadowed,” leading to the birth of our Lord?
  2. Mary robed our Savior with her flesh
    The Blessed Virgin Mary robed our Savior with her flesh. He was both God and man. His manhood, and the blood He shed on the cross for those who come to Him, was the result of His incarnation. His incarnation was made possible, in the will of God, through the flesh of the Virgin Mary.
  3. Mary received God into herself
    Mary’s “yes” to God (Luke 1:31-38) is the precursor of the “yes” all of us must say, if we are to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. “Be it done to me according to your word.” Through baptism, we are overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and made children of God. But we must continually receive God into ourselves (Romans 10:9-11 and elsewhere) and daily recommit ourselves to living for Him. We must receive God into ourselves. Mary is the best example of an answer to the evangelical question, “Do you know when you invited Christ into your heart?”
  4. Mary always pointed to her Son
    Most Christians know the biblical account of the wedding at Cana. When our Lord’s mother realized the newly-wed couple’s joyful occasion might be spoiled by the host having run out of wine, with faith she said to her Son, “They have no wine.” Then turning to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” If only each of us followed her admonition daily, how much better our Christian lives would be!
  5. Mary suffered in a way few, if any, of us will suffer
    Surely anyone would shrink from the thought of seeing a beloved child tortured and executed. How much more difficult must it have been for the Blessed Virgin Mary? She saw her Son perform the miracle at Cana, heal the sick, and proclaim Himself “the way, the truth, and the life.” Yet Colossians 1:24 talks about “filling up what is lacking” in the afflictions of Christ. No believer would say Christ’s sacrifice was deficient. But apparently our sufferings matter. In that case, who, if any among us, has suffered like the Virgin Mary?
  6. Mary is an example of purity
    In our sex-saturated 21st century, what could be more important than a shining example of purity? Pornography is instantly available 24/7. Women are viewed as sexual objects, not persons.¹ Human trafficking for sex is widespread. Hollywood makes increasingly sensual films and TV shows, while its executives and actors too often mimic the plots. Political figures have been humiliated, impeached, and even imprisoned, for sexual misconduct. Abortion has taken the lives of millions of unwanted, unborn children. Even the Church has endured the disgrace of its own sexual abuse scandal. Do we not need purity? Get close to Mom. Pray for purity. “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”
  7. Mary is a picture of obedience
    Obedience is at the heart of the most pleasing offerings to God we can make. In Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen’s book, Into Your Hands, Father, he reminds us that our obedience—total abandonment to God—is to be patterned after Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.² God’s plan for our Savior’s birth begins with Mary’s obedience. He sends the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary with an astounding, incomprehensible message (Luke 1:26-34). “How can this be?” was her first reaction. But her obedience to God’s will follows immediately: “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Describing Christ’s obedience, the New Testament book of Hebrews says, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7, Psalm 40:8). Joseph’s obedience, despite his initial concerns, was essential as Mary’s husband and the guardian of the infant Savior: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Matthew 1:24).

We need pictures of obedience, Mary’s included, after which we can pattern our own lives. Fr. Jean C.J. d’Elbée writes of holiness, but it could as easily be said of obedience: “Holiness [obedience] is a disposition of the soul, of the heart, and, above all, of the will toward God.”³ May we seek, and nurture, that disposition of the will that leads to loving obedience to God.

As God prompts our Christian growth and compassion for the souls of others, each of us must be ready to tell his or her own spiritual story. We must wrestle with our own convictions about matters of faith.

What does your spiritual story say? What does it say about our Lord’s mother?

You’ve just read the chapter about Mom in my story. What’s yours?

 

¹ See Love and Responsibility by Bishop Karol Wojtyła (later Pope, and now Saint John Paul II). His subsequent teachings on human love were later compiled in Theology of the Body. As consequential as his papacy was in other ways, these two books may be his most important works for the 21st century. He points out that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather to treat a man or woman as an object, not a person. Similarly, his teaching suggests pornography’s worst evil is not that it shows too much, but that it shows too little—nothing of the interior person; simply an object being used for one’s pleasure.  For a shorter account of Saint John Paul II’s teachings on sexual intimacy, see Saint John Paul the Great, Chapter 8, titled “Human Love.”

² Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, Into Your Hands, Father (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001).

³ Fr. Jean C.J. d’Elbée, I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2001).

Forced Faith

In Christianity on June 28, 2017 at 9:03 pm

The phrase “forced faith” includes two completely contradictory terms (see No Forced Faith and the related posts, December 2009). Understanding that these words are contradictory—an oxymoron—is important. We live at a time when trust in the institutions around us is at an all-time low, ranging from lack of confidence in government, organized religion, and even the traditional family structure. We fear being compelled to live in a certain way.

Love Does Not Compel
That makes Robert Cardinal Sarah‘s statement about the nature of God all the more important:

God is love, and love will not compel, force, or oppress in order to be loved in return.¹

Why is Cardinal Sarah’s short statement so important?  It is because some fear Christianity out of concern that it is coercive. To those with such fears, Christianity seems to consist mostly of do’s and don’ts; it seeks to compel behavior based on those do’s and don’ts; it oppresses or even seeks to suppress those with opposing points of view.

God is Does Not Compel
God is love! He needed nothing. He was and is complete. Yet He freely created us to share in His divine love. To demonstrate His love, after mankind’s rebellion (which is also to say the individual rebellions mounted by each one of us), He even made the ultimate self-gift in Jesus Christ while we were still enemies.

Even you and I know that we cannot compel someone to love us, despite the hopes we sometimes have for a relationship with this person or that person. Do we imagine God is somehow different?  Has less understanding than we do? Thinks love can be commanded? No, He waits eagerly and watches for us, like the prodigal father.² But he does not compel, force, or oppress.

Emptiness Isn’t the End
Many people feel the emptiness of contemporary life. Robert Cardinal Sarah writes, “People . . . find themselves alone in the world, without anything that surpasses and supports them.” Quoting Blaise Pascal, Cardinal Sarah continues:

When I regard the whole silent universe and man without light, left to himself … lost in this corner of the universe without knowing who has put him there, what he has come to do, what will become of him at death … I become terrified, like a man carried in his sleep to a dreadful desert island, [who awakes] without knowing where he is and without means of escape.³

This is not a new thought. Emptiness abounds even in popular songs that go back decades, from the isolation of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby (“all the lonely people”) to the nihilism of Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is  (“let’s break out the booze and have a ball”).

So think for a moment: is it possible that this emptiness more oppressive, even more dangerous, than our fear of losing what we believe is “freedom”? In The Mission of the Redeemer (written in 1990),St. John Paul II wrote:

The Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing

It is true there will be a reckoning at the end of our lives (Hebrews 9:27-28). But we are given free will, the overarching power of to choose—just as the prodigal father gave his son opportunity to choose how he wanted to live.

If you fear compulsion but feel the increasing isolation of 21st-century life, St. John Paul II said, “Be not afraid. Open the doors to Christ!” And Christ Himself said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest . . . my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Come. No compulsion. No oppression. Only freedom and rest. That is Christianity Richly.

 

¹ The Power of Silence, by Robert Cardinal Sarah, paragraph 90 (location 918 of 4186), Kindle Edition.

² Luke 15:20, but be sure to read the entire passage about the prodigal father, from verse 11 through 24.

³ The Power of Silence, paragraph 241 (location 2058 of 4186), Kindle Edition.

Liturgical Beauty

In Christianity on February 28, 2017 at 7:33 pm

To marvel at Your beauty
And glory in Your ways,
And to make a joyful duty
Our sacrifice of praise.
O God Beyond All Praising¹

One of the most important books published during 2016 is Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century: Contemporary Issues and Perspectives, edited by Dom Alcuin Reid. A strong statement? Yes, but as Timothy Cardinal Dolan has said, worship is “the most profound act we can do.”

The Importance of Liturgy
What makes worship the most profound act we can do? Bishop Dominique Rey, organizer of Sacra Liturgia 2013, an international conference on liturgy, states Christ “acts uniquely in the world today in the Church’s liturgy.” Sacrosanctum Concilium, one of the most important documents of Vatican II, declares:

The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.

That font is our Lord Jesus Christ present to His people during Mass. We must remember what is being celebrated by the liturgy. It is not a gathering of friends or like-minded religionists. It is, in the words of Cardinal Dolan, “our connection to the saving life, death, and resurrection of our Lord.”² 

The Importance of Beauty
Transcendent worship is evangelical
. Why? In a word, because it is beautiful. Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke’s chapter in Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century takes beauty as the theme:

The search for beauty has nothing to do with a mere aesthetic sensibility or with an escape from reason. From the divine perspective, beauty, together with truth and goodness, are manifestations of being and, ultimately, the source of all being, God, Being Himself . . . the way of beauty, is a most important and irreplaceable means of announcing God to a culture [emphasis mine].³

Margaret Hughes cites French writer, Paul Claudel: “One can resist force, skill, or self-interest. One can even resist Truth, but one cannot resist Beauty [again, emphasis mine].” Why? Because:

Beauty . . . is essential to . . . manifesting to human beings what is authentically good. Beauty conveys that it is good to exist, and so opens us to the appropriate, fitting joy in being, and being in the world. Joy is the only proper response to the gift of Creation and Redemption. 

God shows His love for each of us in ways uniquely suited to us. Truth, goodness, and beauty are not only attributes of God and, therefore, of the Christian life (or they should be). Truth, goodness, and beauty are also powerful incentives drawing men and women into relationship with Christ — “to marvel at Your beauty and glory in Your ways,” as Michael Perry’s text at the beginning of this post states it.

An Open Door
In that sense, the liturgy is not only for the Church. The liturgy is for the entire world! Celebrated with reverence and transcendence, it parallels the invitation given to St. John in Revelation 4:1: “I had a vision to an open door to Heaven.” That’s what the liturgy is; that’s what it must be for the world.

According to Pew Research, the number of religious “nones”  is increasing significantly. Yet a deep spiritual hunger remains. Celtic spirituality talks about thin places, where “the distance between heaven and earth collapses.” The liturgy is precisely that: a thin place, a door to heaven standing open; a place of great visual richness, glorious song, and sights, sounds, even scents, all of which proclaim:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, Who was and Who is and Who is to come . . . Worthy are You our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power.  —Revelation, chapter 4.

Liturgy matters. Liturgical beauty matters. Thanks be to God for the the increasing number of faithful pastors and parishes who value the richness and eternal impact of liturgical beauty. That is Christianity Richly!

 

¹ Text composed by Michael Perry, to the tune of Gustav Holst’s Thaxted.

² Introductory Greeting and Messages, Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century, pp. xi-xvii.

³ Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, “Beauty in the Sacred Liturgy,” in Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century: Contemporary Issues and Perspectives, Alcuin Reid, ed. (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), pp. 2, 11.

4  Dr. Margaret I. Hughes, “The Ease of Beauty: Liturgy, Evangelization, and Catechesis,” Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century, pp. 91, 100.

 

Reality

In Christianity on February 23, 2017 at 7:27 pm

Understood rightly, Catholic Christianity is not a matter of “religion” but of reality.

If we believe what Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition tell us about God’s creating love, caring intervention, and constant presence, then our comprehension of the world around us will be changed.

Strangers Among Flatlanders
Archbishop Charles Chaput has written a wonderful book titled, Strangers in a Strange Land. The title¹ comes from the Old Testament book of Exodus 2:22 (King James translation) of the Bible, a verse which explains why Moses named his son “Gershom,” which can be translated as stranger, sojourner, or even foreigner.

Certainly many of us feel like strangers and sojourners in our societies. We question our society’s direction and our government’s priorities.

Archbishop Chaput likens our postmodern world to that portrayed in the novel, Flatland. He points out: “Popular wisdom holds that Flatland was a satire of the conventionalism the Victorian era. But we might find better parallel closer to our our land.”

How so?

For Flatlanders, all of reality consists in width and length . . . One night the narrator, an urbane and orthodox Square (an attorney), is visited by a Sphere. The Sphere lifts him out of this Flatland universe. It shows him the glory of three dimensions and proves that Flatland is only part of a much larger reality [emphasis mine].²

The Order of Things
Fr. James V. Schall’s book, The Order of Things, may be the best guide to getting out of flatland and grounded in reality. As Fr. Schall explains, “The highest activity of the human being, that in which his natural happiness consists, is the contemplation of the truth, that is, of knowing the order of things [emphasis mine], what life and the world and their sources are about.”³

We live in an age of scientism. But science can only tell us about that which is observable; measurable on science’s own terms. But how much can science tell us about justice, meaning, character, virtue, or love? What can it tell us about the possibility of a higher power’s having ordered things as they exist? The limits of empirical validation are exceeded very quickly. Summarizing Fr. Schall:

Christian revelation, whether we like it or not . . . exists as an intelligible explication of things that are [emphasis his]. It is intended to alert us to more than we might think possible to know by our own powers. It is also a response to things we do know.

Revelation doesn’t simply complement reality. Revelation completes reality.

Reality is two-tiered: seen and unseen; visible and invisible, as the Nicene Creed expresses it. Men and women who permit their reasoning to be constrained by the visible make themselves strangers to reality. More than 500 years ago in Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote of a similar failure to grasp all of reality, using words remarkably similar to the title of Archbishop Chaput’s book:

Horatio:
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

Hamlet:
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

The refusal to consider all of reality, especially the Creator of reality, does not escape the “God problem,” as Fr. Schall calls it. “We merely locate our explanation someplace else, even if we call it atheism.”4

Yet the Christian is also a stranger in any land that closes its eyes to reality, by asserting that faith is a private matter with nothing to say about visible, public, day-to-day parts of reality. Archbishop Chaput’s book offers much that is helpful as we seek to live thoughtfully and responsibly as Christians and citizens. In the words of Fr. Schall:

To rule ourselves . . . means to use our mind and will to know and guide what is already in us or related to us, so that we direct these powers to a proper purpose, to the end of our being.5

Strangers in a Strange Land does much to identify that proper purpose and to explain our role in pursuing it during an era when thinking or acting in only two dimensions will not do.

 

 

¹ If seeking Archbishop Chaput’s book, click the title below, which is linked. The Archbishop’s book is a very different work from Stranger in a Strange Land, the science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein.

²  Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World, by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, page 80 of 273 (Kindle edition).

³  The Order of Things, by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), page 108. See also The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 37–38.

4 The Order of Things, p. 49.

5 The Order of Things, p. 95.

 

Sacramentality

In Christianity on January 29, 2016 at 5:57 pm

Have you ever had the experience of going to a museum many times, yet finding something you hadn’t seen before — a painting you hadn’t noticed; an artifact from an earlier civilization you hadn’t paused to examine? Have you ever walked through a city you know well, but stumbled upon something you didn’t realize was there — a special shop, a statue or monument, a lovely park?

My experience with the sacramental nature of Catholic Christianity has been a bit like that. I knew from my earliest days in the Church that the seven sacraments instituted by Christ are the foundation of a Catholic Christian’s life: Baptism, Confirmation, and The Eucharist (Sacraments of Initiation), Penance and the Anointing of the Sick (Sacraments of Healing), and Marriage and Holy Orders (Sacraments of Service). God conveys grace through these sacraments.

The Electrifying Story
But only after some years in the Church did the sacraments begin to even more powerfully inform and strengthen my faith. Why? Because the sacraments are God’s ongoing expression of His electrifying engagement with us! The sacraments manifest His creating love, caring intervention, and constant presence to us, for our good.

Enfleshed Souls
What makes the sacraments so significant? This: God created us as enfleshed souls. We each have a body. Each of us also has an eternal soul, the part of us that will live forever. The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses this truth more formally: “The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once [both] corporeal and spiritual.”¹ Moreover:

Spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature . . . every spiritual soul is created immediately by God—it is not “produced” by the parents . . . it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.²

Deep concepts, yes, but in his painting, Divine Generation, the French artist Louis Janmot expresses this in a way we can understand. We see the recently born child being embraced by its parents. But simultaneously, the child and its parents are being embraced by Christ, as angels kneel in reverence at the birth of this newborn eternal being “created immediately by God,” in the words of the Catechism. This is why abortion is such a grave sin — not beyond God’s mercy, but extraordinarily serious — because God is directly involved in the unborn child’s coming into being.

The Significance of the Sacraments
So what’s the point? The point is that we are not simply spirits who are expected (and equipped) to relate to God abstractly — by precept and principle alone.

This sounds strange, even heretical, to separated brothers and sisters in Christ who insist on sola scriptura, scripture alone. God’s written Word is vitally important, as St. Jerome said and the Catechism reminds us: “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (paragraph 133). But we weren’t created as incorporeal spirits. We were created as enfleshed souls, both spirit and matter.

How Do the Sacraments Address Enfleshed Souls?
Therefore, God comes to us not by precept alone, but in the sacraments. This is not surprising. If we love someone, we try to express our love in ways she or he will understand. We say, “I love you.” But we also do things that show we care. We don’t limit ourselves to one or the other. Neither does God.

The sacraments are God’s ongoing way of conveying grace, in love, to us. In the sacraments the invisible touches the visible. Each sacrament consists of matter and form. Think of “matter” as the visible, physical part of the sacrament (bread and wine, for example). Think of “form,” as the words spoken by the minister of the sacrament, asking the invisible Holy Spirit to make the sacrament effective; to make it become what truly it is, not just a sign but a means of grace.

In other words, the sacraments are:

Efficacious [i.e., effective; they actually do something] signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.³

The Importance of Preaching
In “The Renewed Understand of the Liturgy of the Word” (Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century), Fr. Allan White explains that while preaching is not one of the seven sacraments, preaching Sacred Scripture is a vital part of sacramental life:

. . . the everyday words of the minister, the everyday experiences of the congregation are fashioned by the Holy Spirit, operating by his power in the midst of the community, into a real presence of Christ the Word. Through the operation of His Spirit God takes up temporal, everyday realities to be transformed into the means whereby his supernatural grace is channeled.

Misconceptions
Thus, sacraments are not “priestcraft,” as I was once taught in a strongly anti-Catholic sect. Nor is the power of any sacrament affected by the worthiness or unworthiness of the minister of the sacrament, although God desires holy priests. The sacraments are effective because God’s power flows through them. The Maronite Rite of the Catholic Church shows this vividly, as the priest’s hands flutter over the bread and wine — like the Holy Spirit descending as a dove at Christ’s baptism (Matthew 3:16) — to remind us that it is the Holy Spirit Who actually changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Nor are the sacraments magic: go to communion, get the wafer, and all is well. No. Re-read the the final sentence of the indented paragraph, above: the sacraments “bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.” The interior disposition — the heart attitude and intentions of the Catholic Christian — are vitally important. The sacraments are not get-out-of-jail-free cards, that permit one to live like hell, yet go straight to heaven.

Truth, Goodness, and Beauty
By addressing common misconceptions of sacramentality, however, we’ve digressed from the amazing grace offered to us through the sacraments; from their immense spiritual beauty!

Through the sacraments, God meets us where we are, as what we are. We are enfleshed souls, matter and spirit, on our individual life journeys. He is not indifferent to the needs of our bodies, any more than our souls. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) — eternally, yes, but temporally as well. “For the work of Your hands, I shout for joy” (Psalm 92:5).

Yet Christ also says, “Come . . . learn from me and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). We are flesh and spirit and God provides for both.

Thanks be to God for His almost inconceivable love in Christ, coming to us in both Word and Sacrament. That is Christianity Richly!

¹ Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 362. Click the link to paragraph 362, by all means, but read on through paragraph 368 for a concise definition of what we truly are as women and men.

² Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 365–366.

³ Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1131.

For Catholic friends who fear I’ve only scratched the surface of sacramentality, you’re right. A helpful discussion is here and the entire section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church about the sacraments begins here.

For sisters and brothers in Christ who find too few citations of scripture in this post, I encourage you to read this and this. You will find many more references to scripture, in the context of Christian reflection on the sacraments for millennia. For you — and also with you, I hope — I pray Pope Francis’ prayer intentions for January 2016:  “That by means of dialogue and fraternal charity, and with the grace of the Holy Spirit, Christians may overcome divisions.”

Constant Presence

In Christianity on December 11, 2015 at 8:25 pm

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20

O changing wheaten wafer, that veils the changeless One.
— 
From The Pilgrim Pavement, by Margaret Ridgeley Partridge

__________________

To write about Jesus Christ’s constant presence in the Eucharist brings us into deep waters. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the Eucharist “the source and summit of the Christian life.”¹ This doctrine is also a point of division among Christians. Yet the waters, deep as they are, are not unnavigable. Nor are they so wide that the waters cannot be crossed by non-Catholic Christians.

Not Just for Catholics
Note that this is not an exclusively Catholic Christian belief. Anglicans believe similarly, hence Margaret Ridgeley Partridge’s text, The Pilgrim Pavement.² Similarly, many Lutherans believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The LCMS Lutheran church my wife and I attended for several years in California placed gentle reminders into the hymnbook rack, asking those who did not believe in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist to refrain from taking communion.

Not Just a Belief  
Yet Christ’s ongoing presence with us in the Eucharist is not simply a belief. In our postmodern world, some of your friends and mine imagine that they can believe one thing, and you or I can believe another—but all those “beliefs” can be true.

No. Christ’s Real Presence can be believed or rejected. But it cannot be dismissed with “Well, I’m sure that’s true for you.” His body, blood, soul, and divinity are either present in the bread and wine or they are not. And if they are, if He is really present in the Eucharist, then this fact becomes the third door³ into the most compelling possible story.

Not a Complete Explanation
It would be tempting to continue here with an explanation of the Eucharist, how it is celebrated in the liturgy of the Church, and even why—if Christ is really present—the bread still looks and tastes like bread; the wine still looks and tastes like wine.

But these topics are explained elsewhere. See this FAQ on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website. Or read the Catechism of the Catholic Church for this stunningly beautiful and much more complete explanation.

It would also be tempting, if Christianity Richly were a theological textbook rather than a celebration of Christ’s riches, to address the opinions of some who reject the Real Presence (e.g., John Calvin, and later Charles Hodges, whose views shaped much of my Christian experience before I entered the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church).

But rather than conclude this post with explanations that can be found elsewhere, I want to share an illustration that helped me link all three parts of the Gospel account, the compelling story of God’s creating love, the His caring intervention, and Jesus Christ’s constant presence with us in the Eucharist.

A Touching Illustration
A Catholic Christian expresses the truth of the Real Presence in the Eucharist by bowing deeply or genuflecting to Christ before being seated, when entering the pew. Similarly, Catholic Christians kneel to honor and worship Christ in the Eucharist at times separate from liturgical worship. Such times are called “Adoration.”

So what illustration of Christ’s constant presence did I witness?

One day when I was at Adoration in a small chapel, a parish priest entered and removed several of the consecrated hosts—Christ present with us. He probably was going to take the Eucharistic Christ to the sick of the parish. However, whatever his reason, the speed with which he entered and departed struck me as inconsistent with the solemnity of adoring the Lord of the universe.

Then the realization hit me:

No, no! The priest’s entrance, the gathering of the Eucharistic Bread, and his departure were exactly right.

As St. John explained, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled . . . ” (1 John 1:1).

When God came into the world as the babe we adore at Christmastime, he was touched and handled by His mother—to bathe, to change, to embrace in love, the same way the priest entered the chapel and handled Christ in the Eucharist. 

When Christ’s cousins and friends roughhoused with Him during His childhood, as all boys do, His divinity was veiled. He was touched and handled in a way that was completely inconsistent with the fact He was (and is) the Second Person of the Trinity.

When Christ was seized by the chief priests, officers, and elders of the temple in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was handled in a way that was much more than rough.  And when He was scourged and nailed to a cross as a human criminal, the God of the universe permitted Himself to be handled as if He were a criminal—even less than a mere man.

The Changeless God, Veiled
In all of this, Christ was “veiled,” as Margaret Ridgeley Partridge’s wonderful hymn text says: O changing wheaten wafer, that veils the changeless One.

  • He was veiled in the womb of The Blessed Virgin Mary
  • He was veiled as a newborn child in the manger
  • He was veiled in his youth, recognized simply as Joseph’s son
  • He was veiled during His public ministry and teaching
  • He was veiled to those who did not believe, and paradoxically at times, seemingly even to His own followers
  • He was veiled as He was seized by the mob, taken before Pilate, scourged, and crucified
  • He is veiled in us today when we fall into sin, or division, or “casual Christianity”

At any point, the Second Person of the eternal Triune God could burst forth with more power than a nuclear bomb. Yet He did not. He remained veiled; hidden to human eyes, revealed only to the eye of faith that saw the reality beneath the veil of humanity.

Is it so difficult, then, to see His Real Presence veiled in the Eucharist? He gives Himself to us (John 6:53, Matthew 26:26-28) in the Eucharist and remains truly with us. He is not with us just “spiritually” or abstractly but Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, veiled in bread and wine, until the end of the age.

This is creating love, shown through God’s caring intervention, and His constant presence with us until the end.

This is a compelling, electrifying story! This is Christianity Richly.

¹ Catechism of the Catholic Church,  ¶ 1324.

² The Pilgrim Pavement.  The copyright holder for this work is uncertain, but the complete text (not reproduced here), along with Vaughan Williams musical setting, is available on Chandos Records, Vaughan Williams: Symphony #5. This text served as the basis for a post on Christ’s Real Presence four years ago, here, where you will find a shorter meditation.

³ See Evangelical Catholicism, near the end of the post, for an explanation of how the elements of the Gospel record—which are most compelling to us—become “doors” into that story.

Caring Intervention

In Christianity on November 30, 2015 at 2:21 pm

In the post that began this series, I said that for faith to be real, each of us must be grasped by a compelling story. My story comes in three parts:

1. Creating Love
2. Caring Intervention
3. Constant Presence

Clear Love
God’s creating love was explained in the previous post. God’s caring intervention is the topic of this post—and caring intervention is clear: God became man.

God entered the world He created. If that is not a compelling story, I don’t know what is. But 2,000 years after the event, we sit in church and we hear words like “God became man,” “God’s only begotten Son,” and “The Son of God” without any genuine sense of their reality. Too often, if we examine ourselves, the football game televised Sunday afternoon is more real to us.

Christ’s Incarnation and the events of His earthly life took place two millennia ago. By comparison, World War II happened only 70 years ago. Yet despite the recency of World War II, for anyone born since 1945, the war is simply history. We know the key dates and facts (or should). We may have some sense of how it affected the 20th-21st centuries.

Otherwise World War II is an abstract thing. The war is something we only know about. But as one definition of abstract says, we know about it “apart from concrete realities.” At most, we have a father’s or grandfather’s uniform, some photos, or his medals. But all of that is carefully preserved in a box that has little to do with our daily lives.

Concrete Love
I’m convinced too often the Incarnation is just such an abstraction. We know a few dates and facts. We may understand—please God!—how it affects us today. But it stands apart from the concrete realities of our lives. Our knowledge of the Incarnation sits in a box called “going to church on Sunday,” along with other details we don’t think we really think much about on a daily basis.

Yet it was not so for the woman at the well: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have done!” (John 4:29). It was not so for the man born blind: “One thing I know is that I was blind and now I see” (John 9:25). The Incarnation, for us, should be as miraculous as Christ’s knowledge seemed to the woman.  It should be as miraculous for us as the blind man’s his healing.

As Robert Cardinal Sarah writes in God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith, “Christianity is Someone bursting into my life.” Christ’s Incarnation should be more startling than a Martian landing on earth.

The illustration is silly. Its point is not. Are we actually startled—even dismayed, or perhaps troubled, or thrilled—by the fact that God became man? Or is it just an abstraction? Did God really became man or is this just a dramatic way of describing His empathy for us? God becoming man would be quite a miracle, after all.

Caring Intervention
The Triune God entered the world in the person of Jesus Christ. That is caring intervention! It links to, in the most powerful possible way, the first part of my story: God’s creating love. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). And “in this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent His only Son into the world so that we might have life through Him” (1 John 4:9).

This love, demonstrated through the concrete reality of God’s caring intervention, should affect every moment of our lives—and our response to that love, that intervention, will determine our circumstances in eternity.

This is why during the Nicene Creed, Catholic Christians bow in awe at God’s loving condescension as we say:

For us men and for our salvation He [Jesus Christ] came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man.¹

God’s caring intervention is among the reasons The Virgin Mary is held in such esteem by Catholic Christians. Her flesh robed the Incarnate Christ.² She is an integral part of the compelling story of God’s intervention.

As G.K. Chesterton pointed out, “Without Mary’s maternity, Jesus would become a mere abstraction to us.” There is that word again: abstraction—without concrete reality. No! The reality is (in the words of poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.) that Mary is “her who gave God’s infinity . . . infancy.”³

The Continuing Story
So what is my story, so far? God’s creating love. What is not God need not exist. Yet by His desire, we do.

As a result of God’s caring intervention, described in this present post—God became man; one of us. He has experienced all we experience, including most of all our sufferings. God could have remained aloof, outside His creation, but he didn’t. He intervened, He accompanied, and continues to accompany us, in the most personal way possible to set right what we put wrong.

How does this story end? I invite you to read on, click here, because Christ is still with us and will be until the end of the age, “the consummation of the world” (Matthew 28:20). He is with us, not abstractly but truly. He is constantly present in The Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life.

 

¹ Nicene Creed:
http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/index.cfm

² Even if we ignore the Blessed Virgin Mary saying “Yes” to God (Luke 1:26-38), when we so often say “no”; even if we ignore the immense responsibility she was given, with St. Joseph, to parent the Son of God; even if we ignore Mary’s constancy of faith, despite immense suffering, at her Son’s brutal crucifixion (John 19:25), we cannot escape the fact Christ was given His flesh by Mary. The flesh He bears even now in Heaven—with nail scarred hands and feet, and wounded side—was Mary’s. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, called Mary “the ‘holy earth’ from which Christ was formed as man” (Magnificat, August 5, 2016). Yet the attention Catholic Christians give the Lord’s mother is often misunderstood.

³ This quotation by G.K. Chesterton is from Magnificat, January 2015 (http://us.magnificat.net/online/).  His quotation appeared as explanation before the liturgy for The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, which is celebrated each January 1 as a reminder of Mary’s role.

Gerard Manley Hopkin’s thought is an excerpt from his lovely and much longer poem, “The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to the Air We Breathe,” which further emphasizes that one of the roles of the Blessed Virgin Mary is to prevent Christ’s Incarnation from ever seeming abstract to us:

. . . Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race . . .

To say more about The Blessed Virgin Mary is beyond the scope of this post, but it is a topic that, through misunderstandings, has needlessly divided Christians for far too long. See the post, For Mom, for additional perspective.

Creating Love

In Christianity on November 20, 2015 at 6:41 pm

The two posts prior to this one (Evangelical Catholicism and Fear and the Good News) talk about having a compelling story. So it would be fair for you to ask, what’s my story?

In the broadest sense, all of Christianity Richly is my story. But what would I say to to someone I just met, sitting beside me on an airplane? Or to a family member in just a short conversation? Or to you?

The short version of my story comes in three parts:

Does God Need Us?
The first part of my story is the reality of God’s creating love. What does that mean? It means that your existence and mine aren’t at all necessary. We aren’t needed by God. But to be wanted is much better than to be needed. 

The poem, “The Creation,” by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1928) asserts God is lonely, and therefore He made the world. The poem recounts God creating light, then the physical features of our world, and finally plants and animals—but, so says the poem, God was still lonely:

Then God sat down
On the side of a hill where He could think;
By a deep, wide river He sat down;
With His head in His hands,
God thought and thought,
Till He thought, “I’ll make me a man!”

Nonsense! In his book, The Order of Things, Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. explains:

Within the inner life of the Godhead there is a diversity of Persons such that God is in fact lacking no perfection, such as friendship … [this] means that what is not God … is not the product of necessity … what is not God need not exist. God would be perfect and complete even if there were nothing besides God.¹

Does God Love Us?
Did you notice, “What is not God need not exist”? Just in case you or I miss Fr. Schall’s point, that’s us. God was not moved by some sort of loneliness to sit down (in Johnson’s poetic language) beside a river and think, “I’ll make me a man!” Instead:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness, freely created man to make him share in [God’s] own blessed life. [italics mine] For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man . . . In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life. (From Paragraph 1 of the Prologue to The Catechism of the Catholic Church)

God created freely. He created joyfully, for Genesis 1 repeatedly says that God viewed what He created as good. He even created us in His own image. And He blessed the first man and woman with everything needed for their welfare and creative activity (Genesis 1:27-31). This is evidence that God’s intent toward us is loving; that He desires our good; that He wants to draw close to us!

As Fr. Schall writes:

If God freely causes what is not Himself to exist, [then] we can, on the basis of His own merciful purpose in creation, anticipate or expect that His loyalty or fidelity will be freely given to what He causes to be.

How Do We Know?
As noted above, we get our first sense of God’s love from creation: we were created in His image, given everything needed for human welfare and creative activity. Evidence of God’s creating love starts here.

As magnificent as our world is, however, God went beyond creation. His communication is also evidence of His love. Before the first man and woman damaged their relationship with God, He apparently walked with them daily in friendship and complete communion (Genesis 3:8-9). Yet even after they chose their way over God’s, he continued to communicate through Moses and the prophets. And He continues to communicate today, as Fr. Allan White, O.P., explains:

Revelation is . . . a conversation of God with humanity, a conversation in which God takes the initiative. It is an impulse of His love . . . an expression of God’s continuous offer of friendship to humanity.²

God loves us and He tells us—as the simple children’s hymn says: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

God’s Highest Expression of Love
Like our first parents, each of us has failed individually and collectively—sinned—in what we have done, and in what we have failed to do. So God went beyond creation, and beyond communication. God’s ultimate expression of love for us is in His Son, Jesus Christ.

“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). This is the strongest possible evidence of continuing love from the One who created us, not because we were needed but because we were wanted. He entered our circumstances, becoming man.

By doing so, He went beyond the evidence of His love that might be deduced from creation. He went beyond His ongoing communication of friendship through revelation. Jesus Christ is the highest expression of God’s love for us, in absolutely concrete form. He is God walking with us, not distant from us.

We might mistake the meaning of creation. We could misunderstand the intent of revelation. We cannot miss the meaning of God’s caring intervention in Christ:

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, He spoke to us through a Son (Hebrews 1:1-2a).

What is Our Response?
Knowing these things, the question becomes, “What is our response to God’s offer of friendship?” Listen to Pope Francis talking about God’s creating and redeeming love:

“It would do us good today to ask ourselves: Do I believe the Lord has saved me freely? Do I believe that I do not deserve my salvation and that, if I merit anything, it is [only] through Jesus Christ and what he has done for me?”

Pope Francis continues: “The gift of God’s son, his death and resurrection, is a mystery that is and always has been difficult for human beings to understand. One must obey the commandments and do what Jesus said to do, but this obedience is is [our] response to God’s salvation, not a condition for it.”³

God’s humbling Himself in Jesus Christ, to walk with us in our circumstances and actually die for us, is faithful love. That is costly love. That is God’s creating love.

What is our response? Need to know more before answering? Click this link, for part two of my story—which can be yours, too!

 

¹ The Order of Things, by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., pp. 54-55.

² Allan White, O.P., “The Renewed Understanding of the Liturgy of the Word,” in Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century, Alcuin Reed, editor (London and New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), p. 179.

³ Cindy Wooden, The Catholic News Service, in The Catholic Miscellany, October 22, 2015.

 

Fear and The Good News

In Christianity on November 19, 2015 at 6:00 pm

In trying to explain anything that is life changing—for example, the compelling story mentioned in the last post—many of us fear that what we say is just too strange, too inexplicable to repeat in public.

The Samaritan Woman’s Story
Yet fear didn’t stop the Samaritan woman Christ met at the well or the man he cured of blindness. “The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, ‘Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?’ … Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me everything I have done.'”¹

The Blind Man’s Story
Nor did fear—even fear of telling a story that seemed too simple to believe—stop the blind man. “One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” He was then pressed for details about what Christ did and how he did it. The formerly blind man replied, “I told you already and you did not listen … This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, but he opened my eyes.”² The blind man’s life was changed. He had evidence. There was a lot he could not explain, but he was enthusiastically recounting what he could; what he did know.

Your Story?
What is there in your Christian life that you know, that has changed your life and faith so significantly that you can say, “This I know. And what I know makes a difference. Here’s why.” We so easily repeat the things we were taught as cultural Christians, the things we are supposed to believe. But why do we believe them? What about the gospel story is so personally engaging it has stopped us in our tracks? What makes a real difference in the way we describe our relationship to God?

Messengers, Not Minstrels
When we have an answer to those questions—what has made a real difference in our lives? What has stopped us in our tracks?—then we are prepared to be evangelicals in the best sense of the word.

Like the blind man and the woman at the well, you will be eager to share the news that affected your life. Don’t stop short of that. Phillips Brooks, a 19th century Episcopal minister, said we will no longer be content as minstrels who entertain; who tell a pleasant tale. We will feel like the messenger, who rushes breathlessly into a room to deliver information of vital importance.³

My Story
For me, the message, the overwhelming experience, was to encounter Christ in the Church—not just in the Bible, as important as that is, or in my “quiet time.” Lifelong questions were answered; language was provided to describe my faith more precisely; Bible verses not explained in my prior Christian experience became clear; seemingly isolated ideas now fit into a coherent whole.

That is Christianity Richly. As the woman at the well said, “Come see.” The next four posts describe my story, the good news of of God’s creating love, Christ’s Incarnation, and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Don’t stop here. Read on. “Come see.”

 

¹  John 4:28, John 4:39

²  John 9:25, John 9: 27, 30

³  The Joy of Preaching, by Phillips Brooks

Evangelical Catholicism

In Christianity on November 19, 2015 at 5:46 pm

The months leading up to any presidential election frequently include references to  “evangelicals.” Politically, the term means little more than a block of socially and fiscally conservative voters, whose political platform is imagined to stem from their Christian convictions.

However, the term evangelical is based on a Greek root-word meaning “good news,” and has come to mean the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ—which is decidedly more than a political platform. So, although the term evangelical is typically associated with protestantism, one can be an Evangelical Catholic. Indeed, the Church’s last three decades strongly suggest that one should be.¹

What Evangelicals Do
If we are evangelicals of any kind, this begs for some attention to the practical consequences of being evangelicals. Evangelization has acquired negative connotations in some modern circles, yet that need not be so. Evangelization comes down to good news, telling a story—a good story!  During the first dot-com boom, it was not unusual to be handed a business card with the title “Evangelist” or “Product Evangelist.” But effective evangelism requires the story to be so compelling you cannot not tell it.

Any narrative that compelling is easy to remember and to talk about with others. So what is Christianity’s compelling story? What is our good news?

What Our Story is About
At its heart, the story is about the Cross of Christ. French poet Paul Claudel expresses it this way: “Who knows, definitively, whether [the effect of Christ’s death on the Cross, applied to us] is not a bridge cut in advance to the exact measurement of that fissure we shall have to cross, just broad enough to pass from one bank to another,” from death to life; from time into eternity?²

Hasn’t each of us, at some point during our life, thought about our own death? About what comes after death? About whether there might be an antidote to death—a bridge to ongoing life?

Who Needs to Hear That Story?
If Christianity’s compelling story provides an answer to those questions, who needs to hear that story? Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical, Redemptoris Missio, identifies three groups:

  1. Those who don’t know Who Christ was or how he relates to us
  2. Those who are already part of Christian communities, whose faith will be increased by hearing our story
  3. Those who have been baptized and call themselves Christian, but have lost a living sense of the faith, “or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, or live a life far removed from Christ and His Gospel”³

Each of these three groups needs to hear the story. God’s grace must first open our ears and prepare our hearts: for by grace are we saved (convinced of the truth of the good news, converted, born again) through faith—Ephesians 2:8.  But faith requires content. We believe in something or someone.

How we tell the story of what or in Whom we believe in depends, first, on our own personal encounter with Christ by God’s grace. Then, as evangelical Catholics, we take time to reflect on our personal story, so we can share the good news with others.

How I Tell My Story
My story? I increasingly believe that, if we grasp the significance of three things, then we come face-to-face with a story so compelling, we will be eager to tell it. These three things are not to the exclusion of the rest of the gospel story. They are doors into that story:

The next several posts tell this story. It is a story you can re-tell, first to yourself and then to others, if the content of the story grasps you as powerfully as it does me. And this story’s power, its truth, and its implications for us, are most assuredly Christianity Richly.

 

¹ See Fr. Jay Scott Newman (St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Greenville, SC) on Evangelical Catholicism, here. Fr. Newman also refers to George Weigel’s very helpful and timely book, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church, here.

² Paul Claudel, A Poet Before the Cross (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1958), p. 50. Although copies are becoming hard to find, they occasionally become available by searching AbeBooks.com.

³ Redemptoris Missio: On the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Mandate

The Splendor of the Church

In Christianity on April 22, 2015 at 1:05 pm

My family does not yet believe in Saints. “Greet the saints around you,” yes. Capital-S, lives-of-heroic-virtue Saints, no.

Nor do their religious assemblies put much stock in the glories of Church. Their churches are local groups of believers, gathered for worship and service, governed by men and women in loose affiliation with like-minded believers. The believer is primary; the assembly is malleable—or if it is not, one simply finds or forms a new assembly more in line with one’s own beliefs.

Hence, while browsing in a Catholic bookstore, The Splendor of the Church caught my eye. Like Fr. James V. Schall’s title, The Order of Things, the title of Fr. Henri de Lubac’s book begs for attention.

More properly, His Eminence Cardinal Henri-Marie de Lubac († 1991), Henri de Lubac loved Christ’s Church for his entire life. He lived in service and fidelity to the Church, even during “the dark years.” Indeed, Méditation sur l’Église (retitled in English, The Splendor of the Church), was written during those years.

What makes this book remarkable? It is because The Splendor of the Church confirms that, long before the Church embraced me; long before the richness of catholic (which is to say, universal) Christianity became evident to me, the glories of the Church had been extolled for 20 centuries. For those of us from less than supportive families, or living in less than sympathetic communities, it is a great joy to be reminded history is on the side of the Church, and other women and men were drawn by the same transcendence.

The Catholic Church is a “standard raised among the nations” … a rallying point for all, “inviting those who as yet have not faith, and assuring her own children that the faith which they profess has the firmest of foundations” … She is the mountain visible from afar, the radiant city, the light set in a candlestick to illuminate the whole house. She is the imperishable building of cedar and cypress, which defies the passage of time in its awe-inspiring massiveness and gives to our ephemeral individualities their measure of confidence.  She is the “continual miracle,” always announcing to men the coming of their Savior and manifesting His liberating power in examples without number; the magnificent vaulting under which the saints, like so many stars, sing together of the glory of the Redeemer.¹

When a Catholic wants to expound the claims the Church has on his obedience he feels a certain embarrassment or, rather, a certain melancholy.  It is not that her title-deeds are inadequate. But when taken in the dryness of the mere letter, the claims do not do justice to something that is, as far as he is concerned, essential.  He can point to the facts of history, develop the arguments that are suitable to the occasion.  But when he has done all this, all he has done is to establish the fact that we ought to submit, as a matter of justice and our own good; he has not been able to convey the spontaneous leap of his own heart to obedience, nor the joy he feels in his submission.²

Thus, when we say to the Church, in the words which the Apostle used to Christ, Who founded her: “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life,” this is not in virtue of some fatigue of spirit, which seeks to place itself under an authority to escape the effort of thought and the labor of living; rather it is, as Newman put it, in virtue of a sense of coming to rest in the Catholic plenitude.³

 And that, by God’s grace, is Christianity Richly!

 

¹ Henri de Lubac, The Splendor of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), p. 46.

² Pages 265-266.

³ Page 271.

 

The Basis of Community

In Christianity on November 11, 2014 at 9:11 pm

If you are a regular reader of Christianity Richly, the importance of community is already clear. If not, click here and follow the links, because this present post is not simply about the the richness of community within the Church. This post addresses something more fundamental: how community came about; how the very basis of community arises from God’s own nature; and what the basis of that community means for you and for me.

If all community arises from God’s nature, then that certainly has implications for Christians (see John 17, particularly verse 21). But if community arises from God’s nature, we gain a better understanding of even “ordinary” friendship. We also gain insight about God’s purpose for us and guidance in terms of what response best suits that purpose. And finally, if community arises from God’s very nature, we can dispel a very common misconception about God and establish a right relationship with Him.

Let’s begin with the misconception. There is no better illustration than James Weldon Johnson’s (1871-1928) poem, “The Creation,” which begins:

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely—
I’ll make me a world.

God is not lonely. Moreover—and be attentive here—the fact He is not lonely is the basis for community. Why? Because non-loneliness begins in the Trinity, the three-Person Godhead. Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.’s magnificent book The Order of Things includes a chapter titled “Order Within the Godhead.” Note the word “order.” Fr. Schall does not mean “giving an order” or “ordering things rightly,” although that second meaning is close. By order, he means something more like the inherent structure of things; the true nature of things. So in that chapter his focus is the reality, the true nature of what the Trinity is.

Fr. Schall directly addresses the misconception in Johnson’s poem (a view held by some modern men and women):

Within the inner life of the Godhead there is a diversity of Persons such that God is in fact lacking no perfection, such as friendship … [this] means that what is not God … is not the product of necessity … what is not God need not exist. God would be perfect and complete even if there were nothing besides God.¹

Notice the statement “what is not God need not exist.” Just in case you or I miss the point, that’s us! God was not driven by some sort of loneliness to sit down (in Johnson’s poetic language) beside a river to think and think, until He thought, “I’ll make me a man!” The love, joy, and community among the three Persons of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—were complete and perfect before the act of creating. We aren’t “needed.” That sounds discouraging but the reality is infinitely greater and more positive. Read on.

So what is the first thing we learn by correcting the “God is lonely” misconception? The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers comprehensively in its first paragraph:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man . . . In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life. (From the Prologue)

By extension, then, Fr. Schall writes, “if God freely causes what is not Himself to exist, we can, on the basis of His own merciful purpose in creation, anticipate or expect that His loyalty or fidelity will be freely given to what He causes to be.” He created freely. Apparently He created joyfully, for Genesis 1 repeatedly says that God viewed what He created as good. He even created us in His own image, endowed with reason and free will.² And He blessed the man and the woman with everything needed for their welfare and creative activity (Genesis 1:28-31). What marvelous evidence that God’s intent toward us is loving; that He desires our good!

The second thing we learn from the Trinitarian basis of community is what Fr. Schall calls the “principle of return.” He writes:

Creation needs and has the capacity to respond to its own cause [God] in the manner in which its existence was originally given, that is, out of love or mercy, not necessity … This means that the highest point of contact between the inner life of God and the life of the world is at the point where an intelligent creature is capable of receiving a gift and returning it to its source.

In other words, we are intended to love God in the same way love is freely given and reciprocated among the three Persons of the Trinity. Fr. Schall concludes, “The inner life of God is complete in itself. What is not God [us] exists in order to reveal or reflect this inner order insofar as it can be imitated outside of itself.” Our lives in community are to mirror the Trinity!

But unlike the Trinity, our love is not perfect. Our fidelity is not complete. So what does this mean for our friendship with God? First, that we must repent and turn from our sins to restore community with the Source of community. Second, we must gratefully receive the gift offered—the love of God expressed in the death of Jesus Christ for our sins. Third, we must respond in gratitude and reciprocate God’s love through lives of holiness and service to others.

How do we do this?

[God in] His wisdom has found a way by which we can truly reach Him, can give our love to Him directly, and yet retain the unfettered liberality of friendship. He has found the way of Faith. By faith … we reach God Himself; yet such is the character of the knowledge born of faith that seeing, we see not; we know the one living God, yet remain unconstrained by His unbearable beauty, free to present before Him the priceless offering of friendship.³

Do you desire friendship with God? Do you want forgiveness for failings? Do you desire the basis for true community in your family? Do you seek to be united with the vast Communion of Saints? Then extend the hand of friendship to God, expressed through your faith. And join in the community that is only possible through the free gift and reciprocation of Divine Love.

That is Christianity Richly!

_______________

¹ The Order of Things, pp. 54-55. The quotations of Fr. Schall that follow in the running text of this post are drawn from pp. 54-59, a section of the chapter so conceptually rich, it should be read carefully and used as a basis for meditation.

² Any discussion of free will quickly ends up in deep waters. This post’s purpose is not to re-argue a topic that has been the subject of debate for millennia. Let’s save that for another day. As the Catechism, “The grace of Christ is not in the slightest way a rival of our freedom when this freedom accords with the sense of the true and the good that God has put in the human heart” (Catechism, “Human Freedom in the Economy of Salvation,” 1742).

³ The Prayer of Faith, by Fr. Leonard Boase, S.J., pp. 102-103. This book is difficult to locate, but well worth the effort. The title is linked to the AbeBooks.com search engine.

A final editorial note: when to capitalize personal pronouns and other references to God is a subject of much disagreement. James Weldon Johnson, in his poem, chose not to capitalize the personal pronoun for God. We’ll trust that was not a reflection of his theology. Fr. Shall prefers to emphasize God’s divinity and infinite otherness by capitalizing third-person singular references to God, as well as the his reference to “Persons” in the Trinity. I have followed Fr. Schall’s lead. However, other sources, including the Catechism of the Catholic Church, have chosen editorially to lower-case personal pronouns referring to God to create a smoother flow of the text for the reader. I understand and try to do that in my own writing by eliminating extraneous commas and other punctation marks, where clarity is not affected. If you wondered about He/he, Him/him, etc., in this post, hope this explanation the inconsistent treatment of upper and lower case answers the question.

 

A Day for Community

In Christianity on October 18, 2014 at 4:20 pm

On November 1, we celebrate Christian Community—All Saints’ Day. Previous posts on community¹ were not intended to mark this celebration, but still we can give thanks for God’s providential timing and add a quiet, “Hooray!” for All Saints’ approach, especially given the ghouls and ghosts our society celebrates at Halloween.

Now called The Solemnity of All Saints, this celebration once was titled Hallowmas, just as September 29 was Michaelmas (for the celebration of St. Michael and the Angels) and December 25 is still Christmas (for the celebration of Our Savior’s birth). Hallowmas was instituted to recognize and remember “the holy apostles, all saints, martyrs and confessors, [and] all the just made perfect who are at rest.”² Hallowsmas was sometimes called All Hallows. This led to the secular Halloween (short for “All Hallows Evening” or “Hallows E’en”).

Why should we care about All Saints? That’s like asking, “Why should we care about departed members of our biological families?” We care because those family members who were committed Christians nurtured us; they served as our examples; they prayed for us. The Christians in our families from previous generations served as beacons, guiding lights toward which we could walk on our own pilgrimage. As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

We are encouraged to demonstrate the same discipleship and imitation of those whom, like St. Paul, the Church recognizes as Saints — particularly the martyrs. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

We worship Christ as God’s Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord’s disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples! (CCC 957)³

Not all Saints are martyrs, however. Others lived long lives of faithfulness to Christ. Equally significant, the Church recognizes there were (and are today) even more men and women whose lives of heroic virtue qualify them as Saints, but they are yet unknown to us. All Saints’ is a day to celebrate them, too.

Finally, all who have died in Christ and have entered eternity before us, whether formally recognized as Saints or not, are part of the same Body of Christ as we are:

[A]t the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating “in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is.” 

All of us, however, in varying degrees and in different ways share in the same charity towards God and our neighbors  and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God. All, indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together. (CCC 954)

How do we cleave, while separated by temporal death, as we presently are, from the Saints who are with Christ? One way is by asking the Saints to pray for us:

Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness…. [T]hey do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus…. So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped. (CCC 956)³

This in no ways contradicts the wonderful promise made in Hebrews 7:25, that Christ lives forever as our eternal High Priest to make intercession for us. But we can ask the Saints in heaven to pray for us, just as we ask family and friends on earth to include us in their prayers! The Saints are not indifferent to our needs. Have you asked for a Saint’s prayer recently? Just as we imitate the Saints’ holiness, we can ask their intercession. This privilege is underscored in during the Sacred Liturgy, when the priest prays:

Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church and, recognizing the sacrificial Victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself … May he make of us an eternal offering to you, so that we may obtain an inheritance with your elect, especially with the most Blessed Virgin Mary, other of God, with your blessed Apostles and glorious Martyrs, and with all the Saints, on whose constant intercession in your presence we rely for unfailing help. (Eucharistic Prayer III)

The immense richness of this doctrine, the great opportunity the Communion of Saints places before us, constitutes an entire section of The Catechism. It is very much worth our attention. But for brevity here, we can summarize and conclude preparation for All Saints’ Day with this:

None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. Charity does not insist on its own way. [T]his solidarity with all men, living or dead … is founded on the communion of saints. (CCC 953)³

And that is is another magnificent example of Christianity Richly!

_______________

¹ See Community Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

² In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III moved the date from May 13. That was the date on which All Saints’ had been celebrated since 609 or 610 when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the martyrs (Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres). The Pantheon is still standing, of course, and well worth a visit.

³ Catechism of the Catholic Church. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Libreria Editrice Vaticana (2011-11-02). Kindle Edition.

 

 

Community, Part 4

In Christianity on October 6, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Amy Welborn has written an absolutely wonderful book about prayer, titled The Words We Pray. In it she recounts her early prayer experience, which, although she grew up Catholic, was not unlike my own. “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” guided our contemplation. If it was a really good prayer experience, we cried.

Most of all, we both were convinced “praying with words that someone else had written” was not worth our time. In her view, memorized prayers were for children — not for a spiritually mature person. Memorized prayers, from my separatist protestant perspective, were for Catholics and high-church folks who didn’t understand the Gospel and didn’t have anything to say from their own Christian experience.

Enter the Communion of Saints. How wrong both Ms. Welborn and I were! That’s why this post is titled “Community, Part 4.” Early in her book, she expresses the reality better than I could (p. xvii):

The words of our traditional prayers are also gifts from the past, connecting us to something very important: the entirety of the Body of Christ, as it was then, as it is now, and as it will be to come.

Early in my Catholic Christian days, I was faced with “saying grace” before a meal with others in my parish. “Bless us O Lord,” our priest began, followed by others joining him praying, “and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty through Christ Our Lord. Amen.” What? Wait. Stop! The blessing was over before I got started. And worse, where was the extemporaneous prayer asking God to bless the food, but also to bless those around the table, the work of the Gospel in the world, and all the other needs pressing upon our minds and hearts?

Was there to be no extemporaneous prayer? No. Not at that moment. Certainly no one there was unmindful of the other thanks and requests that might be included. But those assembled wanted to pray together. As Ms. Welborn writes later:

Life on earth is a reflection of God’s nature. He creates a world in which none of the parts work in isolation, in which loving community is the ground of being and action¹

— including prayer. This is very much in contrast to the ruggedly individualistic prayer that characterized so much of my protestant fundamentalist and evangelical years. And yet,

We are not alone. We have billions of brothers and sisters, all of whom breathe the same air and whose souls look to the same heights for meaning and purpose.²

As a protestant, I assumed (or at least hoped) my brothers and sisters were praying along with me. How much more wonderful it is to be audibly joined in prayer, which encourages all of us to come before the Father, in the Name of the Son, by the Holy Spirit. Memorized prayer doesn’t somehow relieve us of worrying about what we ought to say to God. It supports us and brings us into community with others who want to express the same thanksgivings; the same needs; to the same God and Savior.

It’s just one more way of bringing us together in God’s love. I’m not living for myself alone. I’m joined with an entire Church, living for God’s kingdom in all it does.³

 __________

¹ Amy Welborn, The Words We Pray: Discovering the Richness of Traditional Catholic Prayers, p. 195.

² Ibid, p. xvii.

³ Ibid, p. 56.

Please also see Community, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, as background to this post.

Angels and Saints

In Christianity on September 29, 2014 at 5:35 pm

On the nightstand in the guest bedroom of our home stands a statue of St. Michael the Archangel. Its purpose is to remind guests and ourselves of the protecting power of God. “He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” ¹ Today’s Feast of the Angels (September 29), is a reminder that, in writing about Christian Community², God’s ministering spirits³ are very, very much among those in the family of our Faith.

The statue is modeled after Guido Reni’s painting of St. Michael, part of the altarpiece in the first chapel of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome. A marvelous copy by Giovanni Andrea Sirani, one of Guido Reni’s best students, hangs in the Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC.

What does this have to do with community? With the Communion of Saints? Just this: as Catholic Christians celebrate and remember the lives of Saints daily, whose faith and holiness we are to imitate (1 Corinthians 11:1), these three ministering spirits — Michael (Daniel 10:13, 21, and 12:1; Revelation 12:7-9, and Jude 1:9), Gabriel (Luke 1:26), and Raphael (Tobit 12:11-22) — are very much among them.

For what reason? From Butler’s Lives of the Saints:

Of the good angels, we are called upon to give thanks to God for the glory angels enjoy and to rejoice in their happiness; to thank Him for His mercy in constituting such beings to minister to our salvation by aiding us; to join them in worshipping and praising God, praying that we may do His will as it is done by those blessed spirits in Heaven; and lastly, we are invited to honour them and implore their intercession and succour.  —September 29, from the entry for Michael the Archangel

Is this a blessing, as a result of being one of Christ’s own? Or is it nonsense, as some of our separated brothers and sisters would maintain? “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10). If our memory and honor of Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael impels us to more perfectly seek to “do His will as it is done by those blessed spirits in Heaven,” let me be nonsensical! One is reminded of John 13:8-9.

Even more beautifully, one is reminded of the The Anima Christi. Our prayers matter. They say a lot about who we are as Christians. Read Amy Welborn’s The Words We Pray. Then we can rejoice that on this September 29 day of celebration, we can conclude The Anima Christi with the words (translations vary):

In the hour of my death call me,
And bid me come to Thee.
That, with Thy Angels and Saints,
I may praise Thee
Forever and ever.  Amen

_______________

¹ Psalm 91:11, from the translation I memorized years ago, though other translations don’t differ in meaning.

² See also the first three posts about Community, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. In a very definite and fitting way, today’s post could have easily been titled “Community, Part 4.”

³ Hebrews 1:14

Community, Part 3

In Christianity on September 23, 2014 at 7:09 pm

In January 2014, I wrote two posts on community for Christianity RichlyCommunity, Part 1, and Community, Part 2. In those posts I began to explore how Our Lord used community as one of the means by which He drew me into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. The importance of community, the degree to which it is integral to the Church, has become increasingly clear—so clear I now consider it a vitally important sixth reason why I am a Catholic Christian.

In some ways community is the visible manifestation of unity, one of the five original reasons I embraced the fullness of the Catholic faith. But community and unity go far beyond the visible unity that Christ intended for His Church on earth. Community also includes the invisible but very real unity we have with in Communion of Saints, “the greater part of the Catholic Church . . . beyond the grave where lies our ultimate destiny.”¹

We are very much part of a family that includes the Mother of God—the Mother Jesus Christ gave to be our Mother, too (John 19:26-27). We can be sure of her love and prayers for us today, just as her love and prayers were offered for the Apostle John, into whose earthly care she was given. Our family also includes the Saints of the Old and New Testaments. We are encouraged to honor them (Hebrews 11) and imitate their holiness (1 Corinthians 11:1). We are able to offer “loving and constant prayer for the departed,” our family and friends who have preceded us into eternity (2 Maccabees 12:38-46, 2 Timothy 1:16-18). All of this reflects “the truth that we are in communion with those in the world to come . . . that the Catholic Church is the one body on earth which is always adding to its members by Baptism, but never losing them by death . . . the heart of it is a community of love.”²

Should any of  this surprise us? No. As Kenneth Noakes writes:

In recent decades, there has been a recovery of the sense of the Church as communion, an understanding which was prevalent in the early centuries of the Church’s life when the sacramental sense was so strongly developed.  The goal of human life is communion with the Father in Jesus Christ . . . We are united with one another in Christ within His Church [those on earth and those alive in eternity], as we are united with the Blessed Trinity—we experience communion horizontally and vertically, as it were—when we share the Eucharist.³

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Amen!  Christianity Richly.

__________

¹ From an essay by Graham Leonard titled “By Whose Authority?” in The Path to Rome: Modern Journeys to the Catholic Church, edited by Fr. Dwight Longenecker and first published in 1999 by Gracewing (Herefordshire, UK), p. 31.

² Ibid.

³ From an essay by Kenneth Noakes titled “Echoes of the Early Church: The Testimony of the Church Fathers,” in The Path to Rome: Modern Journeys to the Catholic Church, edited by Fr. Dwight Longenecker and first published in 1999 by Gracewing (Herefordshire, UK), p. 69.

A Family Pilgrimage

In Christianity on July 11, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Those who keep prayer journals and spiritual diaries usually find this discipline strengthens their faith. One of Advent’s joys is to prepare my journal for the coming year. I transfer as yet unanswered prayer requests, to continue to bring them to the Father. I also page through the year-to-come and note specific blessings from years past, to serve as encouragements. Those notes are my “stones in the stream.”¹

When July 1, 2014 arrived a note appeared: “A month of special grace for me as a result of having been received into The Church on July 27, 2008.” My first thought was “Thank you Lord. I need that grace. The last 18 months have been pretty rough.” That thought was followed by the question, “And what will the grace be, Lord?”

God knows what grace remains to be given, but one was already granted in the first octave of the month: to spend four hours with my brother-in-law, Neil Willett, who is persevering in the Faith amidst his courageous battle with a brain tumor (glioblastoma multiforme). Immense grace was granted through Neil, on a family pilgrimage—a journey of spiritual significance.²

We discussed books. He pointed out the volumes he wanted me to have. We discussed Saints, whose examples God gives us to follow.³ We discussed suffering and how his is being offered up for others. I don’t fully understand Colossians 1:24, but admiration and gratitude overwhelm me as I see my brother-in-law valiantly striving to live out what we do understand.

He spoke of the encouragement I have been to him. Dear Lord, how can this be—when he is so far ahead of me that I only follow the Light from fires at camps he has pitched in the distance? Neil grew up in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Faith and prayed I might find it.

We prayed “Bless us, O Lord” before a meal. I joined his prayer in the bond of communion that comes, certainly from The Eucharist and a common Liturgy, but also from simple shared prayers. We talked of music and of growing up in the same town. We listened, via the Web on our iPads, to shared songs.

My past year has been even less than light affliction (2 Corinthians 4:17). Hear St. Francis de Sales: “Consider the pains that the martyrs have endured, and think how even now many people are bearing afflictions beyond all measure greater than yours.” Yes Lord. And St. Francis de Sales again: “None of your sufferings can be compared to His.” No Lord. Never. Thank You for patiently suffering misunderstanding, scorn, abandonment, betrayal, scourging, unendurable agony, and so much more for us! “Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O good Jesus, hear me. Within Thy wounds hide me.”

We whispered a prayer in parting, just for now, Neil and I. “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us,” which Neil finished with, “and on the whole world”—his benediction on our time together and for me.

Loving Father, grant a miracle for Neil and for those of us who love him! The paralytic was healed, the official’s daughter was raised, the blind were given sight, the mute to speak, and the woman who simply touched the hem of Your garment was made well. Yet we know You have given us a miracle—miracle upon miracle: You have given Yourself.

Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

_______________

¹ Joshua 4:1-24. The stones were visible, incarnational reminders of God’s faithfulness; His active intervention on behalf of His people.  Notice too, the 12 stones placed in the stream at Joshua’s instruction (Joshua’s name means “YHWH is salvation”). They prefigure the 12 Apostles placed in the stream of life by our Greater Joshua, our Lord Jesus Christ (who intervened in history by His Incarnation and whose name means “God saves”).

² See “A Modest Pilgrimage.”

³ Hebrews 11; 1 Corinthians 11:1-2.

A Modest Pilgrimage

In Christianity on March 29, 2014 at 5:12 pm

Christian pilgrimage is a rich tradition. Some of us first encounter the notion of pilgrimage as students, studying Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Others arrive at the idea intuitively, wanting to see Jerusalem and The Holy Land, or St. Peter’s in Rome, or Notre Dame in Paris. On these pilgrimages and others, the journey is one of spiritual significance. A pilgrimage is not just “travel,” with a religious destination at its end.

With that in mind, let me propose a modest pilgrimage—to Greenville, South Carolina. The town is chronicled in “Letter Nine” of George Weigel’s wonderful short book, Letters to a Young Catholic. Heady stuff, to be listed with St. Peter’s (“Letter Two”), the Sistine Chapel (“Letter Eight”), Chartes Cathedral in France (“Letter Twelve”), The Basilica of the Holy Trinity in Kraków (“Letter Fourteen”), etc. Some measure of modesty is regained, however, when one notes “Letter Six” is about Chesterton’s pub, The Olde Cheshire Cheese.

Why on earth would South Carolina, where Catholic Christians represent less than 4% of the population—the least Catholic state in the U.S.¹, save Mississippi and Tennessee—be a point of pilgrimage?

St. Mary’s Catholic Church
The reason is the public prayer of the Church, “Why and How We Pray,” as George Weigel terms it in describing St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the mother church of Catholicism in Upstate South Carolina.

We live at a time when the Sacred Liturgy is celebrated in ways ranging from awkward to awesome. By God’s grace, Fr. Jay Scott Newman has made worship during Solemn Mass at St. Mary’s “awesome,” in the truest sense of the word: reverent, transcendent, and content-rich, as the Church’s public prayer must be. The prayers of the liturgy are underscored by a program of sacred music second to none, thanks to Choirmaster Arlen Clarke and Organist Robert Lee. The beauty of the church architecture, the visual coherence of St. Mary’s campus, and a robust program of Christian education all confirm that Christ is Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Come, let us adore Him!

Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church
Over the years since Weigel’s book was published in 2005, robust Catholic orthodoxy has continued to take root in Greenville’s red clay soil—finding favorable conditions for growth and health.  Perhaps this stems from a biblically literate population, as a result of the strong fundamentalist/evangelical history of the region, many of whom are now experiencing a longing for “More Christianity,” in Fr. Dwight Longenecker‘s fine phrase. Fr. Longenecker is pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Greenville, a vibrant parish of families and faith-filled young Catholics. His own pilgrimage began in an evangelical family, followed by graduation from fundamentalist Bob Jones University, and then theological studies at Oxford University.

Most readers will recognize Fr. Longenecker’s allusion to C.S. Lewis’ much loved Mere Christianity. A longing for more Christianity recognizes, implicitly at least, that the trajectory of protestant belief since the 16th century has been largely subtractive: remove books from the Bible, deny God’s continuing grace conveyed through the Sacraments, and express the Faith as a set of propositions to be believed, as much as a Person to be followed. This is almost certainly the basis for Dr. Scot McKnight’s findings in “From Wheaton to Rome: Why Evangelicals Become Roman Catholic.” More Christianity is possible and God-ordained—it is Christianity Richly!

Prince of Peace Catholic Church
Finally, while on pilgrimage to Greenville be sure to visit Prince of Peace, where Fr. Christopher Smith, STD/PhD is is Parish Priest. Fr. Smith is a Greenville native and a convert to Catholic Christianity, as are Frs. Newman and Longenecker. Fr. Smith celebrates the Sacred Liturgy in both the ordinary (English) and extraordinary (Latin) forms. In addition, his two homily series—The Creed in Slow Motion and The Mass in Slow Motion—are wonderfully helpful guides to understanding the Christian faith itself, as well as the rich culmination of 20 centuries of Christian worship. Both series are available on the church’s website.

Finally in terms of why one might make a pilgrimage to Greenville, the work of these three extraordinarily gifted shepherds bears much hope for dispelling centuries of misunderstanding of the Catholic Faith. If one reads Eamon Duffy’s, The Stripping of the Altars, or Dom Bede Camm’s, Forgotten Shrines, the terrible consequence of hostility between Christians becomes clear. In the southeastern part of the United States, where English roots and amazing tales about “what Catholics believe” walk hand in hand, these men and their parishes model Christian charity without abandoning the immense richness of “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).  May we pray earnestly for that day, when all will see and understand Christianity Richly!

 

¹ 2010 Religious Census: Religious Congregations and Membership Study (RCMS)

Community, Part 2

In Christianity on January 2, 2014 at 10:00 pm

I grew up in a small family: 2 sisters, 4 grandparents, 1 aunt and 1 uncle. My Mom was an only child. My Dad had one sister. Perhaps this is one reason why community¹ in the Church is important to me. But the importance of  community and the Communion of Saints is greater than any comfort it gives me.

January 1 is the Solemnity of the Holy Mother of God, a holy day of obligation for Catholic Christians. On January 1, we recall the First Council of Ephesus in 431. The Council was assembled because the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, had objected to the title Theotokos (Greek for “God-bearer” or Mother of God) being given to the Virgin Mary. His point was that no creature could bear The Creator.

The Council taught otherwise. We must call Mary Theotokos, the Mother of God, because failing to do so would sever the Divine and the human in Christ. The dilemma of how a creature could bear The Creator is not resolved in Mary; it is resolved in Jesus Christ², the God-Man Who took the flesh of the Virgin Mary and became man to to accomplish our redemption.

What does any of that have to do with community? The Lord’s great act of love and condescension puts a new face, literally, on the meaning of community. This is infinite, eternal community—His solidarity with us in our flesh; in our joys and sufferings of our lives; in experiencing death. Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, paid the penalty for our sin that we might live eternally. That is community!

Still, a short postscript can be added to show yet another dimension of community. After Mass on January 1, I paused to kneel at the Crèche beside the altar. My wife and I had been away over Christmas and this was my first opportunity to pay homage to The Holy Family in this way. I was joined almost immediately by several others, parents and children of the parish—unforced, unprompted; motivated by love for our Lord. What joy! We didn’t need to speak. We were united in Christ and in this visible display of devotion. What a wonderful sense of family; what a joy-filled demonstration of community in Christ.

That experience also demonstrates the days of the Liturgical Year we call “Holy Days of Obligation” are actually “Holy Days of Opportunity.” In the liturgy, in the community, and most of all in The Eucharist, we are always given much more than we could ask or deserve.

Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord. That truly is Christianity Richly!

¹ If you have begun your exploration of community with this post, Part 2, then be sure to see Part 1 and Part 3, as well.

² Fr. Jay Scott Newman, January 1, 2014 homily at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Greenville, SC. I have footnoted this statement because it was one of the most incisive in his homily, but I am indebted to Fr. Newman for the substance of much of this post. I simply have placed it in the context of thinking about community.

Community, Part 1

In Christianity on January 2, 2014 at 9:59 pm

When the Christianity Richly blog was launched in 2009, several posts described my reasons for entering “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”¹ If you’ve read the About link (located beneath the large, red Christianity Richly masthead at the top) you’ll know my journey was based on certainty, history, unity, authority, and liturgy.

Over the years since entering the Church, an important sixth reason has become clear: community. The Apostles Creed concludes

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen. 

Not surprisingly, the communion of saints is viewed differently by Christians who protest that “the holy catholic Church” simply means the invisible body of true Christians, the members of which are known only to God.² But even while holding that position, protestant assemblies sometimes encourage members to “greet the saints around you.” Ah, now we are getting closer to the truth!

While authority remains first among the reasons for becoming a Catholic Christian, the importance of the communion of saints was always apparent.  A simple example: from the first time I knelt beside strangers in a Catholic Church, it became clear—from this very unaccustomed posture—that a greater consciousness of the needs of others, and their devotion to God, resulted. No longer was I surrounded by seemingly self-sufficient, individualistic Christians, relaxing with their legs and arms crossed, in the pews. The sense of community that comes from kneeling with others to worship God was (and is) powerful.

Yet this example only scratches the surface of what the communion of saints is, a reality that is is vitally important to understand. In the posts that  follow, perhaps together we can begin to grasp the importance of the communion of saints to our daily lives—yours and mine. I encourage to read on, Community Part 2Community Part 3Community Part 4, and even A Day for Community.

¹ See this article about what are called “the four marks of the Church” (one, holy, catholic, and apostolic). For it is in community that we find Christianity Richly.

² If the Apostles Creed, or the concept of the communion of saints, are new to you may want to read the material at the red-highlighted links as background.