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.