All posts by techdecisions

Non-denominational, Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Calvinist Confusion, Part 2 of 6


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

Calvinist Confusion

“I knew right away that I’d been given a new lease on life. I had been spared a punishment I deserved. We had bullied that kid, and now that he was grown up and bigger than we were, I had deserved to have my lights punched out by him. Instead, God had sent me the sign I’d asked for, a sign which clearly spared me from the punishment I was due. I knew poetic justice — or mercy — when I saw it. I surrendered my life to Christ, even though I hadn’t the faintest idea what that meant.

I proceeded, then, to do all the classic things that Christian converts did back in the early 2000’s. I bought a T-shirt. I bought a WWJD bracelet and thought it was the coolest secret club ever. And I bought a Bible and began reading at Genesis. By the end of Numbers, I was so bogged down that I gave up, until someone wiser told me that I needed to start with the Gospels. “Beg your pardon?” “With Matthew,” he said. Best of all, I got connected to a great youth group at a local Pentecostal church.

Looking back, I can draw a somewhat straight line from my first encounter with Christ to my running, arms agape, into the embrace of the Catholic Church. But in that moment, it wasn’t so clear.

One of my early memories as a Christian was when Calvinism crept into our youth group conversations. It began innocently enough — someone had read something somewhere — but quickly became a full-blown scandal, with Bible passages being hotly debated over Quarter Pounders at McDonald’s on a Friday night. In retrospect, I’m grateful for how we spent our time — debating theology rather than getting drunk like so many of our high school peers — but the debate nearly tore the youth group apart.

Back then, I couldn’t figure out how we were all looking at the same passages of Scripture and coming to different conclusions. How did this make sense? And why would God make the Bible so confusing, open to so many interpretations? In the end, it was a vicious debate, and more than one of my friends walked away from church back then, convinced by the Word of God that they weren’t amongst the “elect.” It was painful to see, and it’s painful to think about it now. I made it through, but I’d never forget the confusion caused by all of us trying, on our own, to interpret our Bibles.

I began university by attending a vibrant student church that met on campus at the University of Waterloo. I remember the first time I went, seeing a lineup of 200 students snaking down the sidewalk outside the campus nightclub. It was Monday night, and the church was to meet at seven o’clock.

Truly, I owe a lot to my years at that student church. Over the course of my university career, I was very involved with the church, from small groups, to setup and decorations, to sound and video production. Through friendships forged at the church, I met a beautiful woman named Maria, who later became my wife. I dug into my faith like never before, faced with a couple of questions I just couldn’t work out.

The first came from reading C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. In it, Lewis presents a picture of the afterlife which looks a lot like purgatory. Instead of dying and suddenly being in the glorified presence of Christ and the angels, the souls of the Christian deceased slowly make their way towards God on a bus ride towards the light, through a dark and solemn land. Thinking about what I had read, I realized that Lewis’s picture of heaven, and how we transition there, made a lot more sense than mine. I’d been raised, theologically, to believe that when I died, no matter what I had done in this life, I would instantly be face to face with Christ. My sins, of course, would be wiped away, and I’d be ready to be in His presence immediately.

But that never made sense to me. When I thought about it, I wondered how would I get ready? After all, I wouldn’t suddenly be free of all my bad moods, my hurts, and hangups the minute I died. How could I bring those things with me into heaven? Lewis’s analogy of the long, slow journey by bus made much more sense. I began to understand how Purgatory could be an opportunity to prepare my heart and mind to see God. But it didn’t fit into my Evangelical theology, and that would bother me for quite a while.

I had a similar experience with Confession. It occurred to me, after encountering a passage about it in a Bible study, that we didn’t do Confession. We were told to, right there in black and white in our Bibles, but we didn’t, and I couldn’t understand why. When I asked around — my peers, my pastor, and wise people that I trusted — no one seemed to know. We just didn’t do it, and no one knew why. Like my view of the afterlife, which didn’t jibe with what I’d been taught to believe, the confusion over Confession was something I just couldn’t shake off.”

Love,
Matthew

Non-denominational, Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Part 1 of 6


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

“I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada in a wonderful, loving family: my sister, my Mom and Dad, and a cat we’d adopted from the pound. It was an idyllic, carefree upbringing in a home that I affectionately describe as “Christian without Christ.” That is, we were morally Christians, raised with a strong sense of right and wrong, of kindness and generosity, and of doing to each other what we’d have done to us — we just didn’t know much about Jesus.

To be fair, we did go to church a few times. It was a tiny United Church which, in Canada, is an amalgamation of several mainline denominations that merged in the 1920s. Their teaching presented a rather watered-down version of Christianity, with Christ largely out of the picture. But I wouldn’t have picked up on such nuances in those days. Instead, my memory of attending church was the childhood anxiety that I might accidentally rip off too big a chunk of bread when we went forward for communion, that and the resentment I felt when Dad got to stay home watching The Three Stooges in his pajamas while Mom packed my sister and me into the family station wagon.

It was in high school that I finally “met Christ,” and it happened in a strange way: by encountering an alleged Wiccan. I met this Wiccan at a campfire get-together with friends. It was the beginning of summer, and we were hanging out, celebrating the end of our first year of high school. The Wiccan kid, a couple of years older than the rest of us and a friend of a friend, stood out immediately with his long hair and earthy wardrobe, and I was instantly drawn to the way he talked, the content of his speech. At one point that night, he said, “Did you guys know that everything is connected and that there’s more to life than just us?”

To the ears of an unchurched, irreligious fifteen-year-old, that sounded like high philosophy, and I was hooked. I hadn’t thought those thoughts before. Suddenly faced with the reality that, yes, there was more out there than just us, that there was, probably, a greater power, something holding everything together — I was suddenly taken with the idea. I remember rushing home that night, firing up my computer, and trying desperately to find something, anything, on the Internet about Wiccans. In those days before Google, the search was fruitless. Everything I found contradicted everything else, and nothing seemed straightforward.

But it was then that I considered God. I’d heard of Him, of course, at church, but I didn’t have a clue where to begin my search for Him. Still, I knew I wanted to search, so I said a prayer. I prayed, “God if you’re there and you can accept me, send me a sign.” Incredibly, for reasons I still don’t understand, I knew that if God were real, if He were out there, I’d have to approach Him in holy fear. Although I knew nothing about sin — the concept was foreign to me at that stage — I knew that I wasn’t exactly “worthy” of God and needed a measure of forgiveness. It wasn’t long before I received my answer.

Later that week, I was walking home with a friend. We rounded a corner and came face to face with a boy we had teased years earlier. We were nerdy kids, but we had found someone even nerdier to bully — the neighbour of a friend who now was all grown up and much taller than we were. My friend, never the bravest of our crew, took off running and left me alone on the street with this kid who, it was clear, was looking for a fight. I could tell he was on drugs; he looked angry, and I was quaking in my shoes. When he cocked back a fist and said, “Where do you think you’re going?” I panicked and shouted, “There!” pointing to a house just up the block. At that exact moment, completely by happenstance, a woman pulled back the curtain at one of the windows and peered out at us. The boy knew instantly that he was caught. He panicked and ran away. I went the opposite way and ran home, saved by the woman in the window — and by the grace of God.”

Love,
Matthew

Chains that bind


-by Br Luke VanBerkum, OP

“Some chains are taken off and some are put on.

We hear in Scripture, “The Lord listens to the needy and does not spurn his servants in their chains” (Ps 69:33), and again, “He led them forth from darkness and gloom and broke their chains to pieces” (Ps 107:14). The Lord is the breaker of chains!

What, then, do we make of the Gerasene demoniac? The devil had come to possess this man, and his fellow townspeople had tried to bind him in chains in an attempt to control the devil. But, “no one was strong enough to subdue him” (Mk 5:4)—the devil easily made him destroy these bonds.

Does the devil offer the same freedom from bondage as the Lord? Assuredly not: it is a mirage that still leaves him bound. This false freedom is called license, and such a “freedom” only leads to “bruising” (Mk 5:5) of the soul.

Alone we can do nothing to bind the devil and come to true freedom. “No one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property,” Jesus tells us, “unless he first ties up the strong man” (Mk 3:27). The Gerasene demoniac was possessed: he had become the house for the strong man, the devil. He needed someone stronger than the strong man.

‘Thus says the Lord: Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, and the prey of the tyrant be rescued, for I will contend with those who contend with you, and I will save your children.’ (Is 49:24-25)

Jesus looked on the possessed man with compassion, and then, as the Lord promised, he entered the strong man’s house. With His mighty word, He bound the devil and cast him out into a herd of swine. He then plundered the house—rather, He claimed the man for God and restored him to his right mind and right place at the feet of Jesus (Lk 8:35).

We, too, need Christ to break into our souls when we are bound by sin, when the strong man in his cunning has ensnared us in his chains. We seek in hope those effective words—“I absolve you from your sins”—that bind up the strong man and transform the soul.

Such transformation propels us into the great mystery of love. Those things that the devil attempts to use against us are recast in love for the salvation of our souls. Thus, we have saints who—in the face of the devil—freely choose to wear chains about their bodies. These are not chains of sin. They are “chains of love in which they allow themselves to be entrapped, so that they will love [God],” St. Alphonsus Ligouri writes (Office of Readings, Aug 1).

These chains of love come in various forms. For St. Dominic an actual iron chain adorned his waist as an act of penance. Acts of penance only come from intense love for souls. Desiring the salvation of every soul, like his savior Jesus Christ, St. Dominic lovingly chose to undergo significant pain as an offering for the forgiveness of sins.

You and I will most likely not don chains in such a way, but we can still consider other, lighter, chains of love. This is why we take on penances, or mortifications, during Lent. We love Jesus, and inspired by this love we seek to offer something alongside His offering on the cross for the salvation of our own soul and the souls of all sinners.

The devil uses chains to bind, but Christ breaks them. We use chains to love, and these Christ helps us carry.”

Love,
Matthew

Counterfeit Christ: Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Heresy of Arianism

Jehovah’s Greatest Creation

The doorbell rings, and you peer through the peephole. Standing on your doorstep is a man in a suit and a woman in a tasteful dress. They don’t look like your average salespeople, so you open the door.

It turns out they are here today to see if you “hope for a better world” or if you “wonder if the Bible is still relevant.” They offer you some free magazines and let you know they’re willing to study the Bible with you at your convenience. You soon learn that the guests on your doorstep are Jehovah’s Witnesses, part of a religious group founded in the 1870’s that has nearly eight million members worldwide.

And they have their own counterfeit version of Jesus.

The central belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses is that there is one God and his name is Jehovah. According to them, Jehovah created a “Son” and it was through this Son that he created the rest of the world (Arianism). This Son, whom we now call Jesus, has the same “spirit nature” as his Father, which makes him “a god” or “a mighty god.” However, the Son is still a creation of the Father, and so he is not the “true God” and should not be worshiped. As their Awake! magazine says, “[T]rue Christians do well to direct their worship only to Jehovah God, the Almighty.”

Since the Witnesses believe that Jesus is the highest or most glorious of God’s creatures, and they consider archangels to be the highest of the angels, it follows for them that Jesus must be an archangel. And since Michael is called “the archangel,” that means there is only one archangel and so Michael and Jesus must be the same.

They further claim:

The only other verse in which an archangel is mentioned is at 1 Thessalonians 4:16, where Paul describes the resurrected Jesus, saying: ‘The Lord [Jesus] himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet.’ So Jesus Christ himself is here identified as the archangel, or chief angel.

But how can that be true if . . .

The Bible Says that Jesus is Not an Angel

Calling Michael the archangel in Jude 1:9 doesn’t prove that Michael is the only archangel any more than calling Sonic the Hedgehog proves he is the only hedgehog. Neither does describing Jesus as descending “with an archangel’s voice” require us to conclude that He is an archangel. (The same verse also says that Jesus will descend with God’s trumpet, but that doesn’t mean Jesus is a trumpet.) It only means that Jesus’ voice will have the quality of an archangel’s voice, or that He will be accompanied by angels who will shout for Him.

Besides, the Bible explicitly teaches that Jesus is superior to all the angels, including the archangels. Hebrews 1:4–6 says Jesus has:

“become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs. For to what angel did God ever say, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship Him.”

Angels don’t worship other angels; they worship only God. Since Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is Michael the archangel, their New World Translation of the Bible (NWT) avoids the situation of angels worshipping another angel by rendering this passage, “Let all of God’s angels do obeisance to him.”

Obeisance means to bow down in respect for another person. In Exodus 18:7, Moses made obeisance to his father-in-law, Jethro; and in 1 Kings 1:16, Bathsheba bowed before King David. These instances of obeisance merely describe paying solemn respect to someone. They do not describe the kind of worship one would give to God.

The Greek word in Hebrews 1:6 that Jehovah’s Witnesses translate “obeisance” is προσκυνέω, proskynéō, pron: pros-koo-neh’-o. This word can indeed refer to simple bowing or showing a sign of respect to someone in authority. But, it can also refer to the kind of worship given to God alone. Interestingly, elsewhere the NWT renders proskuneo as “worship” when the verb has God the Father as its direct object (e.g., John 4:20-23). It even translates it as “worship” when it is used to describe the worship of a false god, such as the Beast in Revelation 13. But when proskuneo is used of Jesus, the NWT always translates it as “obeisance” and never as “worship.”

This may be appropriate in verses that describe people paying respect to Jesus, such as when the mother of James and John kneel before Jesus before requesting that he give her sons special authority (Matt. 20:20). But there are other verses where context makes it clear that worship is the most appropriate word to use. This includes Luke 24:52 and Matthew 28:9, both of which refer to the apostles worshipping Jesus after his resurrection.

After Jesus’ calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, Matthew 14:33 tells us, “Those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” In the Old Testament, only God possessed power over the weather and the sea. Biblical scholar Moran Hooker points out that even though the disciples ask, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41), to the reader of the Gospel “the answer to their question is obvious. It is God who made the sea, and God alone who controls it (Ps. 89:8). The authority with which Jesus acts is that of God Himself.”

Love,
Matthew

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” -Heb 10:31



-by Br Bartholomew Calvano, OP

“It is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. -Heb 6:4-6

It is one thing to reject God before being baptized and receiving faith. It is another thing entirely to sin mortally after having received such great gifts that God gives to those who love him. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews equates it with crucifying Jesus Christ a second time. This is a circumstance in which a healthy fear would help improve our long-term happiness.

Proverbs says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (9:10). While no one likes being afraid, it really is a good thing at the beginning of the spiritual life. Fear keeps us from doing some pretty foolish things. I, for one, would have jumped off a lot more and taller things as a small child and broken many bones had I not had a healthy fear of heights. Fear is a great counter to curiosity, a temptation that can easily lead us to sin for the perceived novelty of it. Every child learns right from wrong in the first place because of fear of punishment from a parent. Fear of the Lord, then, helps us to avoid sin and to do good, but this is only the beginning of wisdom.

Wisdom is the consideration of the highest cause and the right ordering of everything else in relation to that cause (ST II-II.45.1). Fear helps us to recognize God as that highest cause. This is the first step in becoming wise. Further, wisdom perfects love. Those who are wise love better than those who are foolish. This is because love is directed first and foremost to God. After loving God, we love creatures according to their relationship to God. Thus, we love people more than pets. Since the wise know how everything is ordered, they also know how to love appropriately. Therefore, wisdom produces perfect love and “perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). So we have come full circle: from fear to wisdom to perfect love back again to fear, but this time to cast it out.

Once we love, fear is no longer needed. While it may be better never to have been born than to sin after having once accepted Christ, the fear of offending the Lord by sin will eventually lead us to the perfect love of God and eternal happiness with Him in heaven.”

Love,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 9 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

“To wrap up this short series, I hope to describe as simply and clearly as I can the essential line thought that led me, as a Baptist minister, to embrace the Catholic teaching of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Step One: The Witness of the Fathers

As I explained in Part I, the first step was reading the early Church Fathers and finding myself faced with descriptions of the Eucharist that were totally different than I was familiar with and that I would have ever thought to use.

Jesus had said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54) and the early Church seemed to take this literally.

For Christians living in the earliest centuries of Christian history, the Eucharist was a meal of remembrance of Christ’s death, as I would have said as a Baptist, but it was more than that. It was supernatural food, a miraculous meal in which simple bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. It was, to quote St. Ignatius of Antioch, an early bishop and disciple of St. John, the “medicine of immortality.”

The following quotation from St. Justin Martyr is fairly typical of what one finds in the writings of the early Church Fathers.

For not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food that has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus (First Apology 66).

During the past week, I’ve pulled four of five important historians of Christian doctrine off the shelf and looked again at what they have to say on this subject, only to have my own impressions confirmed.

According to one of the most prominent, J.N.D. Kelly:

Eucharistic teaching, it should be said at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e. the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood (Early Christian Doctrines, p. 440).

Even those historians who personally reject the doctrine of Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist tend to admit that this indeed was the view of the Church from as far back as we can tell. Of course they take this as an illustration of how quickly the Church departed from what they perceive to be the “clear teaching” of the New Testament.

Step Two: The Examination of Scripture

The next step for me was to leave the writings of the early Church to re-examine the writings of the Apostles themselves. After all, the writings of the Fathers are not inspired. Only Scripture is inspired.

Now, I’d read the New Testament passages that touch on the Lord’s Supper many times. What I was eager to do now was read them again in the light of what I had seen in the early Church.

I wondered, would the Apostles contradict the early Church’s view of the Eucharist? Would the things they say about the Lord’s Supper support the teaching of the early Church, and possibly even be illuminated by it? Would I see things in Scripture I hadn’t noticed before?

What I found was that this was indeed the case.

First, there was nothing whatsoever in the New Testament that was not entirely consistent with the faith and teaching of the early Church, nothing that excluded or contradicted it.

But beyond this, there certain Old and New Testament biblical themes and passages that seemed positively illuminated when read in the light of the early Church’s faith and teaching (see Parts II, III and IV of this series).

I did not come away thinking I could, from the New Testament alone, somehow “prove” the doctrine of the Real Presence, or demonstrate its truth “beyond a shadow of doubt.” There simply is no passage where a “doctrine” of the Eucharist is spelled out in so many words.

But this only served to confirm something I had been coming to think for some time: that the New Testament was not written to function alone.

After all, Christian doctrine was something the Apostles taught the churches they founded, over a period of time, by word of mouth and face-to-face. St. Paul speaks, for instance, of having spent a year and six months in Corinth and three years in Ephesus teaching the believers there “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 18:11 and 20:27).

When the Apostles later wrote letters to those churches, the letters that comprise a good part of our New Testaments, with rare exceptions they were writing to those who already knew the doctrines of the faith and needed specific encouragement or correction or some issue resolved. When the churches read those letters, they read them, and understood them, in the light of what they had already been taught and already knew.

It wasn’t entirely surprising to me, then, to find that the passages in the New Testament that talk about the Lord’s Supper might need to be read and understood in the light of the early Church’s teaching.

Step Three: Relating Scripture and Tradition

All of this led to me thinking more deeply about the relationship of Scripture (the teaching of the Apostles as it was written down) to what Catholics refer to as “Tradition” (the teaching of the Apostles as it was known and preserved in the churches they founded).

As a general principle, it seemed reasonable to me to think that the teaching of the Apostles would be reflected in the faith and practice of the early Church, more than reasonable to think that when one found unanimous consent among the early Church Fathers on a particular issue, what the early Church believed would be a very good indicator of what the Apostles had taught. This made sense to me.

Given that we know all about the debates that took place in the early Church over issues both great and small (e.g. the correct day for celebrating Easter), it did not seem reasonable to me to imagine that when it came to the Eucharist, the very center of Christian worship, the Apostles would teach one thing and Church turn around and immediately teach another and there be no record of a debate on the issue.

This did not make sense.

And yet, here I was staring at quotations spread over the first three centuries of Christian history, quotations from the most prominent bishops, apologists and theologians of the Church at that time. I’m looking at quotations from every corner of the Roman Empire: from Syria (Ignatius), from Rome (Justin Martyr), from the south of France (Irenaeus), from Egypt (Clement and Origin), from Carthage and Hippo in North Africa (Tertullian and Augustine), from Milan (Ambrose).

Three centuries of witness from every corner of the Christian world supporting the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and no record of any dispute? Not even one priest or bishop rising up to say, “this is not what we received from the Apostles!”?

Having been an evangelical Protestant for many years, there was the ingrained tendency in me to think:

Listen, Ken, everything God wants us to know is recorded in the New Testament and laid out clearly enough to be understood. You need to look again at the passages, examine the exegetical arguments and decide on the basis of Scripture alone which view you think best reflects the data. That’s how these things are determined. It doesn’t really matter what the early Church thought.

At the same time, thoughts that were new to this evangelical Protestant were beginning to insinuate themselves:

But Ken, Luther examined the data and came out in one place, Calvin examined the data and came out in another. And then there were the Baptists who examined the data and hold a view of the Lord’s Supper that differs from both Luther and Calvin. What if the New Testament wasn’t meant to function “alone”?

What if the very reason sincere and prayerful students of Scripture can “examine the data” for years, decades and centuries and not agree on the nature of the Eucharist is that the writings of the Apostles need to be read and understood in the light of that teaching preserved and handed down within the Church?

Step Four: Tradition in the Early Church

The final step for me was coming to see that this is exactly the view the early Church had of the correct relationship between the inspired Scripture and the faith and teaching of the Church.

In his book Against Heresies, the first serious work of biblical theology that we possess, St. Irenaeus describes the Apostles as having deposited their teaching in the Church as a rich man deposits his money in a bank. Because of this, when there are disputes about the correct teaching, Christians, he says, can come to the Church to draw from her the truth.

As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith [from the apostles], although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth…. When, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek among others the truth, which is easily obtained from the Church. For the Apostles, like a rich man in a bank, deposited with her most copiously everything which pertains to the truth; and everyone whoever wishes draws from her the drink of life (Against Heresies I:10:2 and 3:4:1, c. 189 A.D.)

What can I say but that this was a way of looking at things that was beginning to make more and more sense to this Evangelical.

I had treated the New Testament as though it were a stand-alone manual of Christian doctrine. The early Christians did not think of the New Testament in this way.

I had treated the faith and practice of the early Church as though it were essentially worthless when it comes to deciding what to believe as a Christian or how to understand the New Testament. None of the early Church Fathers thought in this way. None of them.

I was beginning now to think that my understanding of the nature of both the New Testament and Tradition, and how the two should be related to one another, was simply incorrect. I was beginning to think that the Catholic Church’s view of these matters was not only more historical, but more biblical.

Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And sacred Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God, which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching.

Although this sounds like another quotation from the early Church Fathers, it’s actually from Vatican Council II, Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Secular philosopher discovers the Catholic Church: Transfiguration, Part 5 of 5


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by KRISTEN ANNA-MARIA HAUCK, Obl. OSB has a MA degree in Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is a Benedictine Oblate of the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Westfield, Vermont and lives in a tiny hermitage in Maine.

The Transfiguration

“Shortly after starting RCIA in Maine, I was introduced to another girl in a very similar position as myself. Elizabeth was raised atheist and, after an “alternative Spring Break” with a Catholic religious community in South America, came to the similar conclusion that the Lord was truly present, and she must give herself completely to Him. After our initial meeting, which turned into an hour conversation, we had plans to depart for Boston that Friday to go convent hopping. Through Elizabeth, I was introduced to the writings of Scott Hahn, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and many others.

Though Elizabeth believed she had a vocation to active religious life, our priest urged her to visit a small traditional cloistered monastery in upstate Vermont. She made a brief visit of only two days.

“Oh, Kristen! It was like prison!” she described after her visit. Yet, it was also like home, she said. She was torn. She knew she belonged there, yet how could she possibly help the world living such a hidden life?

“I’m going back, and you’re going with me!” she determined. And a month later, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 2006, Elizabeth and I made our trip to the Benedictine Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The moment I entered, I knew I was home.

A few months later, shortly before my entrance into the Church at Easter Vigil, Sister Elizabeth Rose and I made our last trip. She knocked on the great wooden doors which led to the hidden life, and I bid her farewell.

Though I had no doubt that this was my home, I could not enter as easily as my spiritual sister since I had a growing mountain of student and medical debt. I begged the Lord for a means to overcome the debt, and the Lord answered: join the Army.

This was both fitting and humorous. Even my parents laughed at the thought of such a rebellious — indeed, anarchist — child attempting such a disciplined life. Friends from religious communities joked that, on account of my stubbornness, military life might be the only way I could learn the discipline necessary for religious life. There were bets on how many weeks I would survive boot camp,  especially since I rejected the option to join as an Officer.

But I did survive boot camp. In fact, to everyone’s surprise, I enjoyed the military.

Once again, I quickly adapted and began to question if military life were not my call. I began longing for marriage — to a man of flesh and blood, here and now. I longed for children. It led me to question my religious vocation altogether. Yet, the Lord put an abrupt halt to these thoughts along with the worldly lifestyle I began adopting. My military career came to an end upon suffering a foot injury, a hip fracture, and, finally, a spine injury. Like Jonah, it was not enough that I simply be cast out into a storm; I had to be swallowed up whole.

I returned home to Maine, much as I did years earlier during my graduate career — fully intending to avoid God and my vocation by any means necessary. I maintained my Catholic faith, but minimally. Any attempt to work deeper into my spirituality would lead me inevitably to my beloved Jesus. At the time it was too painful. I was still too attached to the world. Yet keeping dis- tance from my beloved caused greater pain. I was conflicted; I wanted God’s will but was weakened with worldly desire.

So I prayed, asking the Lord to bring me back into His will by any means necessary. The Lord answered my prayer in the form of intense suffering, taking seriously the “by any means necessary.” A worsening spinal injury led to a series of surgeries, followed by a stroke, and other serious illnesses that brought me to death’s door.

While some might see these calamities as sure damnation, for me they were a glorious gift from God. I trusted even when I said, “I am sorely afflicted” (Psalm 115). They left me with no choice but to return to Him. It was a necessary transfiguration of body and soul that allowed me to return to my home, the cloister nestled in the Vermont wilderness.

On September 14, 2016, the Exaltation of the Cross, I made my full profession as a Benedictine Oblate sister of the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Unlike my cloistered sisters, I live out my monastic vocation in the world. Like Jonah, spewed from the mouth of the whale, I still have a mission to fulfill.

All for the praise and glory of God!”

Love,
Matthew

Suffering & Merit


-by Br Elijah Dubek, OP

“When we look at Jesus, we often (and rightly) say that by suffering and dying for us, He merited our salvation. His passion and death are causes of our salvation. Nonetheless, St. Thomas tells us that sufferings and toils are meritorious only insofar as they are borne willingly (ST I-II q. 114, a. 4, ad 3). The strength to bear these difficulties willingly comes from love. In other words, it is by Christ’s love, His charity, that His passion and death become causes of our salvation. The immensity of His sufferings manifests His love: “God proved His love for us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Elsewhere the same Apostle says, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her” (Eph 5:25-26). The motive and power of Christ’s suffering is found in His infinite love.

Difficulty and suffering have a complex relationship with charity and merit. St. Thomas gives us two ways to consider it. “First, from the greatness of the work” (ST I-II q. 114, a. 4, ad 2). Great charity motivates great work, and so the difficulty is a sign of the charity and its merit, not the cause. Bringing the Gospel to unknown lands as a missionary or finding the means to serve the poor in a country plagued by poverty may involve many obstacles and difficulties; it is charity that works through them. “Secondly, from the defect of the operator” (ibid.). Tasks that involve self-denial and suffering are difficult because our own desires get in the way. We don’t want to clean the bathroom because it means we can’t relax or play a game instead. This sort of difficulty is healed by charity. By charity we love God above all and our neighbor for God’s sake, so we find not only supernatural strength but also a desire to perform those good actions that cost us time or treasure. In each case, we see that the grace of charity lies at the heart of merit.”

Love,
Matthew

Secular philosopher discovers the Catholic Church: Wedding Feast at Cana, Part 4 of 5


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by KRISTEN ANNA-MARIA HAUCK, Obl. OSB has a MA degree in Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is a Benedictine Oblate of the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Westfield, Vermont and lives in a tiny hermitage in Maine.

The Wedding at Cana

“It was nearly midnight on December 18th, 2005. I lay in bed, unable to sleep. I had researched my tragedy for the previous three months. Attempting to stay as far away as possible from Christianity, I had decided to approach the topic from a different, more scholarly angle. This led me to invest time reading about religious ritual, in general, from an anthropological point of view. I read all about the ancient Greek cults, such as the Dionysian; I read about the tribal religions of Africa and even the Mayans.

There was one topic that kept coming up over and over again that would inevitably lead me back to meditation on the Christian Faith: the ritual of expiation. What struck me was how this ritual occurred in so many varied cultures, in all points of time, in every form of ritual. Despite how varied the rituals or the terms used, the whole world appeared to agree on one point: at some moment in human history, there was an original sin that led to a current imperfect, sinful state, requiring some form of continual expiation. The Dionysian cult’s was the sacrifice of a bull. In Mayan culture, there were human sacrifices. And the sacrifice of virgins seemed to happen everywhere, second only to the sacrifice of goats and lambs as found in Ancient Jewish custom. Most required that the sacrifice remain “unblemished.” And all had a cycle around which the sacrifices occured. I could not help but find humor in the fact that, while a bull or goat may be required on a regular basis, human sacrifice often occurred on a more prolonged schedule; it was as if a lamb could only cleanse the soul for a month, but a human sacrifice, well, being the greater sacrifice, purchased a more thorough cleansing. Within this humor I also could not help but draw the conclusion that there is only one sacrifice which could wipe away all sin for all time: a divine one. And there I was again, face to face with my fairy tale Prince on the white horse.

That night many years ago, I thought over my research again and again. I hated it, for it pointed me every time to that very One I had been trying to avoid: Jesus Christ.

What Professor Frederick Turner had commented three months prior simply couldn’t be true — could it? It had to be a coincidence that, even in obscure research, I was always drawn back to this God-man.

I could not hide any longer. The fairy tale was real. I had found my Prince; it was Jesus Christ. In that moment of acceptance, instantly, I saw and understood all the wild effects of my imagination. I was indeed going to be a nun, and a Catholic one, for where else does one become a bride of Christ?

Even more profound was my understanding of the Eucha- rist. Through all my research on expiation ritual, what became evident was that the Eucharist would necessarily have to be the Body and Blood of Christ. If our Lord Jesus is truly divine, which He is, why wouldn’t such a complete offering puncture through all space and time, making itself ever present and thus one single offering, complete and sufficient for all history? Of course it would.

At the time, I said nothing. I wasn’t sure what to do next. So I waited.

A few months later, in February, I made a trip to Dallas to meet with my dissertation committee. My dear friend Chris, married to one of my grad school buddies, picked me up at the airport. Though not Catholic, Chris had always been deeply Christian and devout. She had, in fact, grown up with me in Maine and remained at my side through all the drugs, licentious relationships, and other horrid behavior — even when I would cancel our engagements, fail to call, or show up crying as a result of my latest misbehavior. She never judged me, and though I knew she was deeply Christian, she never spoke a word of it to me.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when, after a long and quiet car ride to her house, she asked me, “You are different; what’s happened to you?”

With that question, it all came out. I began telling how, three months earlier, Frederick Turner had told me my own fate — a fate that was revealed years ago in a dream and truly known even before then. I just kept repeating, “He’s real! He’s real, Chris! Jesus is truly real!”

I told her how I intended to become Catholic so that I might become a bride of Christ. She grabbed me and hugged me, and both of us began crying tears of joy.

“You have no idea how much and how long I have been praying for your conversion!” she whispered. With that, she gave me the courage to act.

A few days later, from her house in Dallas, I spoke with my mom by phone. Having travelled 2500 miles away, I felt I was at a safe distance to share the news with her. I told her plainly how I intended to become Catholic and become a nun. There was a moment of silence on the phone. Finally, she answered:

“That’s just incredible! You’re never going to believe this. I was clearing out old boxes this morning, putting them out for trash. This one box — the only box I checked — I thought I should stop and just make sure there’s nothing important in there — I found your baptismal certificate….”

I understood her words as the Lord’s confirmation that I was on the right path.

Within three months — between that February and May — my entire life changed. I ended up walking away from my dissertation and abandoning academia altogether. A number of events led to this, one of which was the leaving of my dissertation chair to go to a new job at a new university. I had already sensed that my time in scholarship was done. I had accomplished the end for which I had set out years before when I began my philosophy studies: I had found truth. I had also begun an RCIA program under the guidance of a disciplined Marist priest who determined that if I did have a vocation, then I needed to be well- grounded in the Faith. I left lucrative work in academics for odd jobs and the occasional tutoring session. I was again living with my parents. And I experienced the first of many illnesses that would leave me hospitalized and requiring surgeries.

By the time I entered the Church at Easter 2007, I had nothing but the Lord. And I couldn’t have been happier.”

Love,
Matthew

The Fisherman’s Ring: Annulus Piscatoris


-please click on the image for greater detail.  The more massive ring inset in the image is a historical ring for purposes of comparison with today’s style.


-Annulus Piscatoris of Pope Paul II (1417-1471), historically a ring for the bare hand was made, and more massive ones like the one above to fit over the Papal gloves during formal occasions.

The Piscatory Ring, or the Ring of the Fisherman, is first mentioned in a letter written by Pope Clement IV to his nephew Pietro Grossi in 1265. The Ring of the Fisherman was used for sealing all the pope’s private correspondence. Public documents, by contrast, were sealed by stamping a different papal seal onto lead which was attached to the document. Such documents were historically called papal bulls, named after the stamped bulla of lead. In that time, seals helped to verify that private documents had not been tampered with or opened in transit. With modern means of communication, this practice of sealing a document with wax and then pressing the signet into the wax has fallen out of use.


-a modern bulla attached by yellow cord to the Apostolic constitution Magni aestimamus issued by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011.


-Annulus Piscatoris of Pope St John Paul II, originally a crucifix belonging to Pope Paul VI, John Paul II had it shaped into a ring as a sign of continuity.

In keeping with this original and rather practical purpose, the ring of the fisherman was traditionally destroyed with a special hammer after the death of a pope. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had his papal disfigured so it could not be used as a seal anymore, to signify the end of his papacy, even though it is merely traditional and not used as a practical seal any longer.

According to the rules governing the interregnum and election of a pope, the College of Cardinals must “arrange for the destruction of the fisherman’s ring and of the lead seal with which apostolic letters are dispatched.” [From the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominis Gregis]

On March 6, 2013, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters that this “destruction” had been completed, although he explained that the ring is not smashed or destroyed completely; rather, two deep cuts are made in its face so that it can no longer be used as a seal.

Retired Pope Benedict received the ring at his inauguration Mass along with his pallium, the woolen stole symbolizing a bishop’s authority. Both are based on ancient designs.



-Annulus Piscatoris of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, it has Pope Benedict’s name etched on it and a scene of St. Peter casting out his net, symbolizing how popes are successors of the Apostle Peter.


-Annulus Piscatoris of Pope Pius IX (1792-1878)


-Annulus Piscatoris of Pope Francis, compared to older rings, is made of gold-plated silver. It was made from the wax cast of a ring supposedly made for Pope St Paul VI (1897-1978) but was never created. The former personal secretary of Pope Paul VI kept the wax cast and gave it to Monsignor Ettore Malnati, who later on made the ring that was offered to Pope Francis.

Traditionally, upon the pope’s death, in the presence of other cardinals, the ring would be smashed with a ceremonial silver hammer.

After doctors have clinically confirmed the Pope’s death, traditionally, to be sure ceremonially the Pope is dead, the corpus is tapped three times on the forehead with this hammer along with calling out his Christian (first) name three times to be sure he is not just sleeping. This comes from a time long before our current knowledge of brain death.  Then the ring and the papal seal are smashed.  The papal apartments in the Vatican and Castelgondolfo are sealed to ensure no documents in process at the time of the Pope’s death are disturbed or published during the interregnum. At the inauguration of the next pope, a new ring would be presented to the new pope.

Love,
Matthew