If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

How Can They Escape?

In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:1-2).

As I meditated on the first luminous mystery of the Rosary – the baptism of Jesus – I wondered why the religious and political leaders came to the Jordan. Many of them had little use for the common people, especially those like John the Baptist. And they often mocked the laity, saying of them “But this crowd which does not know the law are accursed;”* and “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?”**

So I sat there, fingering the Rosary bead, and wondered.

Perhaps they hoped to make points with the people whom they, in fact, disdained; to fool them into believing they were just as religious as the commoners. Perhaps they came to be part of the new religious club John was establishing. To get in on the ground floor, so to speak.

Whatever the reason, John the Baptist would have none of it. “You brood of vipers!” He called them. “Who warned you to flee God’s wrath? If you really want to be saved, do things that prove your repentance. Otherwise, you’re wasting my time and piling up more judgment to yourselves.”***

From the way the context reads (Matthew 3:1-12), John didn’t mince words. He didn't soften his tone. He didn't try to be inoffensive.

He knew the kindest thing he could say to them was truth – even when the truth was confrontational. To do otherwise would have done nothing less than help them remain in their sin – and condemn them to judgment. And I would not be surprised if John remembered the words of Jeremiah centuries earlier, “Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; and they have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity . . .” (Lamentations 2:14).

Oh, how I long for the time when all of our pastors exercise the spirit of St. John the Baptist, and speak truth – even when truth is confrontational. I long for them all to say “no,” every time phonies, even political and religious leaders, come for the sacraments without evidence of repentance.

Otherwise, how will they escape the wrath of God?

* John 7:49
** John 9:34
*** See Matthew 3:7-12

Monday, August 23, 2010

How Will We Answer?

And there was considerable murmuring about [Jesus] in the crowds. Some said, "He is a good man," (while) others said, "No; on the contrary, he misleads the crowd" (John 7:12).

It sometimes surprises me how people I talk to acknowledge Jesus as a 'good man,' or even a prophet of God, and yet deride the idea that He is Almighty God in flesh.

It was the same way with the crowds gathered that day in Jerusalem. The people jostled between two opposing opinions: Jesus was a good man, or He was evil, who led others astray from the faith passed down from Abraham and Moses.

And the argument continues to this very day. Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, Buddhists -- even atheists and agnostics with whom I've spoken -- admire Jesus as a good man who did a lot of nice works, but they never seem to question -- or bristle -- at the words Jesus said of Himself.

CS Lewis, in his book, Mere Christianity, argued the question this way:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse."

Lewis adds: "You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

Liar, Lunatic, or Almighty God and Lord.

If He is either of the first two choices, then nothing else we might say or think about Him really matters. But if He is neither liar nor lunatic, then how will the last -- and only other option open to us --affect our lifestyles and relationships?

We should be very careful how we answer, because our answer will determine our eternal destiny.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Proof-texts and the Rock

This morning I had another opportunity to reflect on why Jesus gave the Church -- through St. Peter and apostolic succession -- the final authority to interpret Scripture for faith and morals (for example, see Matthew 16:16-19, John 21:15-17, Acts 15:22-26, 1 Timothy 3:15).

I was talking today with a couple of men who teach predestination in essentially the same manner as one of the Reformers, John Calvin, taught. Many theologians refer to that part of Calvin's teaching as the TULIP -- an acronym for:

T -- total depravity. Meaning, sin is in every part of one's being, including the mind and will, so that a man cannot save himself.
U -- unconditional election. God saves people unconditionally. They are not chosen on the basis of their own merit.
L -- limited atonement. The sacrifice of Christ was not for everyone, but only for 'the elect.'
I -- irresistible grace. When God has chosen to save someone, He will. The person has no choice in the matter.
P -- perseverance of the saints. Consequently, those whom God chooses to save cannot lose their salvation; If they fall away, it will be only for a time.

I have always disagreed with most of Calvin's TULIP -- even before I was received into the Catholic Church. But what has always been a thorn in my eyes is the L of the Tulip -- Christ died only for the elect. In other words, God predestined from before time whom He will save and whom He will not. The idea that "God is love" (1 John 4:8) really means, God loves those whom He has pre-selected to love. He doesn't love the others -- else, why would He doom them to eternal suffering without giving them so much as an iota of opportunity to choose a different destiny?

Of course, the people I spoke with today were ready to support their position with what I call "proof-texts" -- Scripture texts that "prove" their position.  Likewise, I was ready to provide my "proof-texts" to prove their position wrong. But doing so, I believe, would have gotten us nowhere. I am sure they were as convinced of their doctrine as I am of mine.

And that brings me to my point. With all the variations in Christian theology -- Pentecostal, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Eastern Orthodox, Baptist (including their many splinter groups), non-denominational Christian, Nazarene, Anglican, Episcopal, etc., etc., -- each of which can prove their positions with their own 'proof-texts' -- I am very glad for the assurance of knowing that Jesus Himself said to St. Peter: "I give you the keys (e.g., the authority) of the kingdom" (Matthew 16:19), and the Holy Spirit said through St. Paul, the Church "is the pillar and support of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).

If not for the apostolic succession through the Catholic Church, one man's opinion could be 'proven' just as valid as the next man's. And therein lies great danger. Not a few cults and heresies have begun with proof-texts.

But Jesus didn't want His flock to flutter from one wind of doctrine to another. Which is why He gave us the Church.

Does the Catholic Church have its problems. Of course it does. Serious problems in some cases. But with regard to its authentic teaching regarding faith and morals, it remains the "pillar and support of the truth."

It is there Christ gave us a rock.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Grace Alone

Thus did the children of Israel; according to all that Lord commanded Moses, so did they (Numbers 1:54)

In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6).

What caused Israel to turn,
in less than a generation,
from doing “all that the Lord commanded”
to the lament in Judges
“every man did what was right in his own eyes”?

Did the details
of their deliverance
from bondage
fall on dulled ears?

Did they tire of hearing God’s law,
and grow weary
of submitting their will
to His?

What robbed them of their love for God?

Or, who?

It frightens me to think
how easily their sin
could become mine,
how I could turn
from “all that the Lord commanded,”
to doing instead what is right
in my own eyes.

What protects us from the Thief?*

Grace alone.

Which is why,
with love - laced
and kindness
the Savior offers
day by day
His drink to the thirsty,
His bread to the hungry,
and His yoke to the weary –

that we might find life,
and not death.**

*St. John 10:10
** St. John 4:14; St. John 6:51; St. Matthew 11:28

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Conundrum

Unlike most of my other posts to this blog, this one is directed specifically toward my fellow Catholics.
When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, "By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority? (see Matthew 21:23-27).

I heard the other day that Anne Rice, famous for her books about vampires – and more recently for her books about Jesus – left the Catholic Church. She explained her departure from Catholic faith is rooted in her belief that the Church’s position on some moral issues is archaic and out of touch with the true teachings of Jesus.

As I mused about her rationale, I thought of the text from St. Matthew’s gospel in which religious leaders asked Jesus by what authority He said the things He did. In reply, Jesus asked them what they thought about John the Baptist’s message. Was it from God or from men?

And that presented them with a conundrum. If they said from men, they knew the people would stone them because they all thought John to be a prophet. But if they said from God, Jesus would ask them why they didn’t follow John’s teaching. And so they opted for the coward’s way out. They said they didn’t know where John’s message was from.

A similar conumdrum circulates in our day. Has the Holy Spirit “spoken through the prophets” as we read in the Nicene Creed? If not, then who’s to say one person’s opinion of morality and faith is better or worse than the next person’s? But if the Holy Spirit did speak through those prophets, then Jesus’ follow-on questions to us are the same as they would have been to the Pharisees – do you do as the prophets said? If not, why not?

Which brings up another question – especially for those like Anne Rice who claim (or claimed) to be Catholic.

Did Jesus give Peter and his apostolic successors authority over the earthly Church to delineate and define true Christian faith and morals (Matthew 16:17-19)? If not, then one can argue that God has given us freedom to live according to the teachings of any religious path of our choosing. But if the answer is yes, then Jesus’ follow-on questions demand sober consideration of people who call themselves Catholic: Do you obey His Church? If not, why not?

Those who believe Scripture about God’s justice, as well as His mercy, understand that to elevate our opinions higher than God’s is tantamount to sorcery and idolatry. And those who believe in an eternal heaven and an eternal hell also realize that the Pharisees of Matthew 21, if they persisted in their rebellion, still grind their teeth with regret over their decision to disobey God. Even after 2000 years.

And so, the point. To those of us who claim to be Catholic, Jesus asks the question that demands our answer: Will we obey Him by obeying His Church? 

Our eternal home, even 2000 years from now, depends on our answer.