Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Thursday, December 25, 2008
A few nights ago the kids and I sat down to watch a Christmas movie - a cartoon adaptation of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." It was a film that they had never seen, and a story with which they were not familiar.
Before beginning the movie I thought a few words of explanation might be in order, just to lay the groundwork for what was to come. After all, the plot could be kind of confusing to a preschooler, with ghosts and restless spirits, flashbacks, flashforwards, flashsideways, and themes that might be too complex for someone who has never experienced the harder things in life, the allure of money, providing for a family when times are tough, and the inevitability of death.
And so I began, "This movie is about a man who doesn't understand what Christmas is all about. You see, Christmas is all about giving to others. It's not just about receiving presents...we don't just 'get' things...we're supposed to 'give.' That's what Christmas is all about."
I paused there for a moment. I saw that I had their attention. I received nods of agreement...so far they got it.
I continued: "Christmas is about 'giving' because God has given so much to us. Can you think of something God has given us?" I asked.
Joey (our five-year-old) replied, "Life."
"That's right. That's exactly right, and we are happy about that, and we want to give back to others the way God has given to us," I said, excited that he was actually engaged in the conversation. "But what else has He given us? Didn't he also give us Jesus?"
"God is way up here, in heaven." I held one hand far above my head. "And we are way down here, on earth." My other hand reached down toward the floor. "We can never reach up to God on our own. We can never cross this huge gap between us. So instead, God came down to us." I brought my raised hand down to the lowered hand, as though God were coming down to meet us, and I clasped my hands together.
But before I could continue Joey interrupted, "Wait, Dad, let me explain something. You see, Jesus comes down to us and makes His body into bread. Then he gives us a piece of His Body, and we eat it, and He goes inside our body. Then when we die, Jesus can take us back into heaven with Him, because he's inside of us. Jesus gives us His Body to eat."
My lesson ended there.
I thought I was telling my children about the joy of the Incarnation, neatly simplifying the message that Jesus is the real reason for Christmas. But instead my son taught me about the joy of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the real reason for Christmas. Jesus came down to earth in the form of a child to bring us salvation; we encounter that child at every Mass and He enters into us as food for our souls. That is the true gift of Christmas, so many centuries ago in Bethlehem (Bethlehem - a word which means "house of bread").
The manger leads to the Cross, and that one sacrifice of the Cross is made present to us at every Mass. The Son of God acquired flesh so that He might one day give us his flesh to eat.
I congratulated Joey on his wonderful insight.
"I'm a pretty good thinker," he replied.
He certainly is.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Disagreement between individual Christians can certainly cause pain and division. Christians are all too often guilty of great sin against one another due to doctrinal disputes or jealous strife – one faction pitted against another, each pointing to Scripture as their guide. There is no question that such division ought to be healed, but who should be the final judge? Who can point to the sin of another and rightly decide? Does the Bible alone settle disputes between Christians?
Jesus gave the answer to this question in anticipation of such strife: "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:15-18)
Jesus tells us that the Church has moral authority over the individual on earth. And God Himself recognizes this authority in the Church…God will bind what the Church binds and loose what the Church loosens. So it seems that the Biblio-centric model has ecclesiology exactly opposite: It is not up to the individual to look into the Bible and determine what the Church ought to believe, rather it is up to the Church to instruct the individual on the path truth. The individual Christian must submit to the authority of the Church or he finds himself cut off, like “a pagan or a tax collector.”
Monday, December 8, 2008
Original sin is passed from parent to child – it is inherited. Because of humanity’s fall, we are all conceived in this state which damages our relationship with God. Because of original sin, we are all in need of salvation. There is nothing in our power that we can do to overcome this fall from grace. Only an act of God can save us.
Mary was saved by an act of God. She was preserved from original sin so that she would be spotless, the perfect vessel for carrying God’s Son. The reason this was so necessary is quite simple. If Mary had possessed original sin, she would have passed it on to Jesus, her child. Jesus would inherit a fallen human nature. To prevent this, God could have “stepped in” at the moment of Jesus’ conception to save” Him from original sin. But can you imagine a Savior in need of salvation? …the Son of God in need of grace? This is obviously not a workable solution.
Instead Mary was spared so that Jesus would be born NATURALLY without the stain of original sin. It was not an act of Mary that caused this…she still owes her salvation to God, as we all do. But without this singular act of God’s grace the birth of the God-made-man would have been a theological impossibility. Mary was spared from original sin so that Jesus (who is God) could be born without need of salvation, so that he could offer himself unblemished as a sacrifice for us all.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
But if we listen to the words of Christ, we can see that the Church had its one and only start with the Son of God and cannot pass away or fall into oblivion. “…I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) The Church was built strong enough to withstand the powers of Hell. Why should anyone find it necessary to improve on such a structure? Why should such a Church ever need to be rebuilt by mortal man?
Those who do believe that the Church must be “restored” in our present age generally look to the Bible as a guide for their reconstruction. However, the Bible does not contain a blueprint for the structure and function of the Church. The Church does not arise from the pages of Scripture; rather the Church sprang forth from the lips of Jesus as He breathed life into her at Pentecost. “‘…as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22) From that moment the Church has bore witness to Him throughout history. This Church, which Jesus established, is a Spirit-filled Body centered on the Resurrected Christ.
We cannot build anew what Christ Himself has already built. The Church cannot be discarded when we perceive some abuse or neglect, either real or imagined, and then re-established or re-constructed by every passing generation. And yet new “churches” spring up in every corner of the globe - “Bible-based” churches - as though the Church is a “thing” to be assembled like a jigsaw puzzle from pieces scattered throughout Scripture.
But the Christ-centered Church, the Church that was built by Jesus to withstand the powers of Hell, was built to last. Like the wise man in the parable (Matthew 7:24-27), Jesus built His Church on the “rock,” not on “sand” like the foolish man. “[U]pon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Like a “light to the world” and “a city set on a hill” for all to see, His Church is standing still.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
The story took place in late fall. The characters were eating a holiday meal which included turkey, dressing, and all the fixings, complete with pumpkin pie. It was a time of family gatherings, the retelling of old stories, and passing on long-held traditions. Everyone brought his or her own dish and shared in a common meal. It made a lovely Thanksgiving special…only they were not celebrating Thanksgiving. It was called “Fall Feast,” and it consisted of all the usual trappings of the traditional American holiday, but under a different name.
It should come as no surprise that Thanksgiving has been blacklisted by the political correctness police. After all, the person to whom we “give thanks” is God – the number one guy on the radical left’s Most Wanted List. The left knows that the popular history of Thanksgiving is thoroughly God-centered. Pilgrims and Indians celebrated the abundant fall harvest with a common meal, giving thanks to Divine Providence for their food and newfound friends, and asking God to bless them through the long winter ahead. God was the focus of the Pilgrims’ celebration and of their lives, as He was also their reason for coming to the New World in the first place. The word “pilgrim” denotes one who is on a religious journey.
Sharing a common meal as a way of giving thanks to God is an integral part of many religious faiths, especially the Judeo-Christian tradition which shapes our own cultural understanding of God. Every year observant Jews celebrate the Passover meal thanking God for delivering their ancestors out of bondage in Egypt. Christians adapted the Passover ceremony to reflect what Jesus did at His Last Supper. Christians give “thanks” to God for delivering humanity from the bondage of sin. These Jewish and Christian meals put the faithful in contact with God. And the ritualized form of these shared meals creates a visible link between all those who share the faith around the world and throughout history.
Historically Christians have given a specific name to their ceremonial meal, a name that aptly describes a key element of its purpose. Most Christians in the first few centuries A.D. were Greek-speaking converts to the new religion. Greek was the language regularly used by the early Church. And in Greek the ritual bread-breaking ceremony was often called eucharistia. From this we derive the term Eucharist which is still used today by many Christian denominations to describe the action and the object of their Sunday celebration. The Greek word eucharistia means “thanksgiving.”
Now, the Christian worship service and the American celebration of Thanksgiving are not directly linked in any tangible way. I do not mean to suggest that Thanksgiving is in any way equal to a Christian Sunday service. Our November holiday does not rise to that level of worship and is at best a pale reflection of the Communion meal or any religious feast. But the word “thanksgiving” carries with it a wealth of religious meaning that should not be lost on any Christian (or any member of any faith). To give “thanks” to something greater than ourselves implies that there exists a Being to receive that thanks and bless us in return. And our celebration of Thanksgiving should retain that vital element. Without God, there is no one to receive the "thanks" we "give."
The secular atheists realize all of this, which is why they see the word “thanksgiving” as such a threat to their agenda. A happy “Fall Feast” can be had without any mention of God and without the religious implications of the word Thanksgiving. So before this annual tradition becomes just another “Happy Holiday,” take time this year to be with those who matter most, get out the best china, roast the bird, and remember to give thanks in whatever way your faith guides you.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
The Church has established this feast day with an eschatological outlook, that is, with a view to the end of time. As it falls at the end of the Church’s liturgical year, it points toward the end of time itself, and celebrates Christ’s final triumph as King of kings and Lord of lords, when all things will be brought into submission, and He will reign for all eternity.
This feast caps off the entire liturgical cycle and prepares us to enter the new year, which begins with the First Sunday of Advent. The Feast of Christ the King is given the title “Solemnity,” which is the highest rank for a feast celebrated by the Church.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to tradition, Mary's parents presented her at the Temple to be consecrated to God as a virgin. She then lived at the Temple until the time of her betrothal to Joseph, who promised to honor her commitment to virginity. This event is not recorded in the four canonical gospels but is found in apocryphal texts. While the Presentation itself may not be authentic historically, its celebration, which dates back to the early centuries of the Church, reminds us of Mary's special place of honor in God's plan for our Redemption. She was called from the moment of her conception to be the Mother of God, and today's feast is one way the Church reminds us of this important role she fulfilled. It also reminds us that we too are called to commit ourselves to doing God's work in whatever capacity that might be. We too are called to present ourselves to God as his loyal servants.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
There is, of course, no end to the types of Christian churches this method yields, and no two churches look exactly alike. There exists a multitude of differences in how these ecclesial groups function, which doctrines they believe are essential for salvation, and how specific Scriptural passages ought to be applied. Biblio-centrism offers us a plethora of competing churches with no sure way to distinguish which one is practicing authentic Christianity. They simply begin with the Bible and derive from it their own idea of “church,” whatever that might be.
Obviously it is commendable when Christians wish to imitate the early Church. It is wise to seek our roots in ancient Christianity, to be grounded in the historic foundations of the faith. And it is certainly correct to use Scripture as a guide to govern doctrine and maintain sound teaching. But is the Bible the true “starting point” for the formation of the Christian Church? Did God give us first the Bible and from the Bible springs forth the Church? Is this the true order of things? Should the Church be biblio-centric?
I would propose instead that the Church ought to be “Christo-centric” – centered on Christ. God gave us Jesus Christ and from Christ springs forth the Church. Those who call for a “Bible-based” Christianity should instead seek a “Christ-based” Church. This does not mean that the Bible must be rejected. Far from it! The Bible is the primary source for Jesus’ own words about the Church (in the Gospel), and an excellent record of how those words were applied in the early Church. The Bible must be a key in any search for Christian Truth. It is after all the very Word of God, His revelation to mankind.
But as “the Word of God made flesh,” Jesus is the truest revelation of God to humanity. It is in Jesus that we must search for the Church, for it is in Jesus that God searches for us. We must not seek a “Bible-based” Church; to find the true Church of Christ we must find the Church that has its origins in Jesus Himself.