Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Quote of the Week

"Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to them: ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed.’ Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding; but they can only bind the body. Priests, in contrast, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself and transcends the very heavens. Did [God] not give them all the powers of heaven?...What greater power is there than this? The Father has given all judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven"
-St. John Chrysostom

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Studying Isaiah (Part 1)

In our Facebook Bible Study we have moved on to the Old Testament and the book of Isaiah. Specifically we are dealing with chapters 1-5. To read more about our Bible Study just search this blog for posts titled Studying James and Studying Romans.

Here is the post I wrote this week:

I picked out a few verses to put some of my thoughts together…

Obviously these opening chapters have much to do with punishment of sinners, those who have turned away from God. Israel has been unfaithful and those who have disobeyed will be punished. But God is not unreasonable. He offers the hope of redemption:

 “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” (Isaiah 1:18-20)

Certainly this warning from Isaiah applies to Israel of his day, but there is also reference to a future time when other nations will be included in God’s divine plan:

“Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’” (Isaiah2:2-3)

So when Isaiah writes about Israel/Zion being cleansed of evil-doers and a remnant of faithful servants will be left, we can also see the Church in that imagery:

“When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning, then the Lord will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy.” (Isaiah4:4-5)

I think, the Church sometimes suffers a loss in her numbers, a falling away from the faith, but this could be a purging, a cleansing of the Temple, which in the end leaves the Church smaller, but more faithful. I can see this in the Church today…a cutting away of dead branches.

I especially see modernism and the intellectual elite who reject God described in the following verses:

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21)

When these ideas (modernism, moral relativism) creep into the Church and lead the faithful astray, it would certainly be better to purge the Church of such false teachings and emerge smaller in number, but united in faith.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Monday Musings

A few random thoughts and ponderings to start the week...

It has been a busy weekend with little time to write, so I will only say that I wish blessings for all on this Memorial Day!

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Dear Heavenly Father,

With a sober heart
we come before You this Memorial Day.
We pause for a moment
and call to mind all the men and women
who have died in the service of our nation.

Dear God, please look with mercy
on our brave and selfless brothers and sisters,
who did not shirk from their task
but gave themselves completely
to the cause of defending and protecting us all.
Bless all who have given their lives for the sake of liberty,
and grant them eternal rest with You.

We remember also our brave men and women
now serving in our Armed Forces,
both at home and abroad.
Dear God, send out Your angels to protect them all.
Help them discharge their duties honorably and well.
Please bring them safely home
to their families and loved ones.
Please bring Your peace and mercy
to our troubled world.

We ask this, Father,
in the name of Jesus, Your Son,
our Savior and Lord.

Friday, May 25, 2012

This Week's Headlines

As another week comes to an end, this is your chance to top off your glass with a final helping of news, current events, and just plain interesting stuff that may not have made into the mainstream media. A chance to linger for a few more moments before we close the door on the week. Below are some links to articles, blogs, and miscellaneous happenings that caught my eye over the past few days. Sample what you like - I'll serve up more next Friday...

This weekend is Memorial Day weekend. And it is also our 12th wedding anniversary for my wife and I. And it is our youngest daughter's 3rd birthday. So, needless to say, this week has been full of preparations for the events of the next three days. I've had very little time to work on the blog much, therefore\ what follows is a hit-and-miss compilation of some headlines that I threw together at the last minute. As always, feel free to list some of your own headlines in the comments section. (Maybe I'll have more time next week.)

Unprecedented Legal Action Takes HHS Mandate Battle to the Courts - "In an unprecedented action, 43 Catholic dioceses, institutions and laypeople filed a dozen lawsuits May 21 in federal courts throughout the country, challenging the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s 'contraception mandate.'"

Evangelicals respond to Catholic lawsuits:  ‘We are all Catholic now’ - "The Obama administration’s HHS mandate has united Christians of all stripes – evangelical, historical Protestant, and Roman Catholic – as they close ranks behind a flurry of lawsuits..."

Biggest Religious Lawsuit in U.S. History Launched, Liberal Evening News Shows Ignore It - "This is not a mistake, nor is it an editorial oversight by the broadcast networks. This is a deliberate and insidious withholding of national news to protect the ‘Chosen One’ who ABC, CBS and NBC have worked so hard to elect and are now abusing their journalistic influence to reelect Obama."

Is the American press anti-Catholic? - "[It is] pretty safe to say the general impression of the U.S. public is that the national press is basically liberal in terms of its members’ political leanings and is also generally not balanced when it comes to reporting issues concerning Roman Catholic teaching."

The 500 Year Old Attack on Holy Matrimony... - [Thank you, Protestant Reformers!]

Heads or Tails? - "And here’s the trouble: because nominally Catholic politicians are allowed to publicly advocate anti-Catholic policies, and because they are never called to task for it...we have a situation in which the bishops’ positions (and with them Church doctrine) and the politicians’ opinions (and the laws that follow) appear to be two sides of a socio-political coin that one may reasonably flip."

Number of ‘pro-choice’ Americans hits record low: Gallup poll - The results closely track results in May 2009, when 51 percent of Americans called themselves 'pro-life' and 42 percent called themselves 'pro-choice.'"

Absentee dads hinder children’s understanding of God, Pope says - "Perhaps modern man does not perceive the beauty, grandeur and profound consolation contained in the word ‘father’ with which we can turn to God in prayer, because the father figure is often not sufficiently present in today’s world..."

Magneto-Culture - "It’s heartbreaking to see children leave the Faith and do things that are hurtful to themselves, even though they doesn’t realize it. But there is always hope..."

Ascension Thursday/Sunday: Feast Day Fake Out - "Apparently, the laity needn’t be burdened to take an extra hour out of their lives during the week to honor Christ’s Ascension into heaven."

Finding St. Joseph - "[Until the 14th Century] St. Joseph was almost universally ignored, reduced to a mere spear-carrier in the pageant of Salvation."

The Isolation of Musicians - "Catholics have a sense that they have no more business intervening in the world of music than they have in telling the plumber how to fix the pipes or the roofer how to deal with the leaks. They believe it’s not their place, and many musicians are happy to have people think this way too."

The Traditional Symbolism of Four- "Recently I wrote an article about the idea that the number five was symbolic of Our Lady... In it I raised a doubt in mind about the suggestion that it was part of the tradition... This can be contrasted with consideration of symbolism of the number four."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Studying Romans (Part 5)

This is  part of a continuing series of posts from a Protestant Bible Study of which I am a part on Facebook. To read more just search "Studying James" and "Studying Romans" on this blog...

This week we move on to Romans 9-12:

I have three main ideas I picked up on…

1) This verse jumped out at me…
Romans 10:12-13 “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
This reminded me of the flowing words spoken by Jesus…
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
I think Paul is stressing the idea that Gentiles now have access to the Jewish God. When Gentiles now call on the name of the Lord, they “have His ear” because of the Grace of Christ. So, salvation is now open to them. But obviously, Jesus tells us that more is expected. Only calling on the Lord does not save you; we must also obey His commands.

2) I think it is pretty clear that throughout the text of Romans Paul is stressing the issue of “Jews vs. Gentiles,” especially contrasting the Old Law (Works) with the New Law (Grace). Works are still important and necessary (as James states). But Christianity is based on Grace.
In these later chapters of Romans, Paul wants to be clear that this does not mean that the Jews are lost or that they should be looked down upon as though cast aside by God…
Romans 11:25-28 “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.’ ‘This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’ From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
This reminds me of John 4:22 - “…salvation is from the Jews.” I often ponder what role the Jewish people have played and will continue to play in salvation history.

3) Finally, I recall this passage…
Romans 12:3 “…God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly…”
The idea of the Church as “Body of Christ” is, I believe, essential for understanding the purpose of the Church and the importance of membership in the Church. By belonging to the Church we are incorporated into Christ’s Body. And each member has a different role to play. Paul returns to this theme elsewhere in his writing.
I also think that the “Body of Christ” which we receive at the Lord’s Supper (Communion/Eucharist) is important in this context. We receive His Body (Communion) and we become members of His Body (the Church). The two are linked.
...Thus far, no response.

Friday, May 18, 2012

This Week's Headlines

As another week comes to an end, this is your chance to top off your glass with a final helping of news, current events, and just plain interesting stuff that may not have made into the mainstream media. A chance to linger for a few more moments before we close the door on the week. Below are some links to articles, blogs, and miscellaneous happenings that caught my eye over the past few days. Sample what you like - I'll serve up more next Friday...

The Solemnity Of The Ascension - "The reality of the Ascension is so important that the creeds (the basic statements of belief) of Christianity all affirm, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, that “He ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” The denial of the Ascension is as grave a departure from Christian teaching as is denial of Christ’s Resurrection."

Fr. Z’s annual rant about Ascension Thursday Sunday - "The liturgical celebration of Ascension by the Latin Church has become a little confused in recent years."

Responding to Obama on Same-Sex Marriage - [Excellent Round-up of responses from a Catholic perspective.]

We Only Lose Marriage If We Spend All Our Time Saying We Will Lose Marriage - "Catholics who believe we have inevitably lost marriage have succumbed to a deep cultural pessimism that has everything to do with how they view history and the future and has nothing to do with marriage."

Democratic split over gay marriage breaks open - "Just over a week since President Obama flip-flopped to endorse gay marriage, a significant split among Democrats has opened and threatens to become Grand Canyon-wide..."

Two Contradictory Examples of How Gay Marriage Is Being “Debated” Today - "If gay activists actually want to have a civil debate on marriage, they can begin by ceasing to claim that every hurt visited on young people is the responsibility of Christians, and acknowledging our right to use our own tradition and moral principles as a guide."

Tolerance Looks Like Rainbows and Smells Like Burning Churches - "A Catholic parish in Massachusetts has become the target of threats of violence, and vandalism because of a sign posted on church property supporting the traditional definition of marriage..."

Obama Mandate Forces First Catholic College to Drop Insurance - "Franciscan University appears to be the first casualty of the new Obama HHS mandate that requires Catholic colleges, groups and businesses to pay for drugs that may cause abortions and birth control for their employees."

The Disturbing Link Between Obama, Communism and Abortion - "...while conservatives tend to focus on matters of economics and excessive government growth and intervention, they’re missing crucial aspects of Obama’s social policy, vision, and rhetoric which, in fact, are arguably even closer to the Marxist/communist tradition."

I Want to Hear The Abortion Jokes - "I want to see and hear what people actually think about things like 50 million dead babies. I want to hear where pro-aborts find humor in that. I think the more punchlines people hear, the more people will see the truth. And the truth is that many people don't have any problem whatsoever with the destruction of human beings"

3 Arguments Atheists Aren’t Allowed To Use Anymore - "I mean you can, but you’ll look dumb."

Church as state - "In this secular world 'Big Government becomes a kind of religion: the church as state', and that religion co-opts 'many of the best and brightest but politically passive'."

Extra Embryos? One Family Sells Them on Craigslist - [Why is it that only the Catholic Church seems to be pointing out the evil of this?]

Departing leader of NARAL laments the youth of the pro-life movement - "Keenan told Newsweek back in 2010 about the March for Life crowds: 'I just thought, my gosh, they are so young,” she said. “There are so many of them, and they are so young.'"

What the Pill Is Doing to Our Water Supply - "While its impact is still being widely studied, there is no doubt that the exposure is occurring: multiple international studies have documented elevated levels of natural and synthetic hormones in drinking water..."

Answering Common Objections to the Catholic Teaching on Holy Orders - [Some solid responses to often asked questions about priesthood.]

Of booties and killing - ''Thou shalt not kill.' Seems obvious, right? It isn’t. Not really. And let me explain why."

G.K. Chesterton and the Use of the Imagination - "The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon."

God Doesn't Care What You Wear to Church... - "So does God really care what we wear to church when we worship? Probably not, but our neighbors do, and this is the point."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Quote of the Week

"If you do not live what you believe,
      you will end up believing what you live."
- Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Studying Romans (Part 4)

And so the Facebook Bible Study continues. (To see more, just search this blog for Romans and James.) Below is my latest comment posted on the Bible Study page, We are covering Romans chapters 5-8...
I chose one passage from each chapter as key verses on which I focused this week:

5:17 - “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!”

I have always found the Adam-Jesus parallel fascinating. Christ as the New Adam sets up a very rich symbolism. For instance: The first Adam in Genesis ate fruit from the tree and his penalty was death. But the New Adam BECAME for us fruit from the tree. (His body/flesh was on the cross/tree.) When we eat this fruit (His flesh) we gain eternal life rather than death. There are, of course, many other comparisons.

But here Paul is also focusing on the role of GRACE for Christians under the New Law. For Adam it was a transgression of God’s Law that brought death, but Christ brings life through Grace. What Paul wrote earlier in Romans focused on the Old Law of Works, but the New Law is not “Faith Alone” (James proves that wrong) – rather it is a Law of Grace. “…those who receive God’s abundant provision of GRACE and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” So I think Paul is stepping out beyond the “Faith vs. Works” debate and focusing on Old Law vs. Grace.

6:12-14 “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”

Here again, Paul is comparing “Law vs. Grace.” So it would be unfair to say that Paul preaches a “Faith Alone” doctrine. He is more concerned with Grace.

7:4-5 “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death.”

This “bearing fruit” refers to the WORKS that we do – either through sin or by responding to God’s Grace. So Paul does not leave out the importance of Good Works. We are called to “bear fruit” through God’s Grace working in us. To me, this means that Paul’s doctrine is much more complicated (or rather, more ‘dynamic’) than the “Faith Alone” doctrine would have us believe. Paul does not preach “Faith Alone” but rather “bearing fruit through our Good Works done in Faith as a response to God’s Grace.”

8:16-17 “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs —heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

I wanted to include this bit about suffering. Paul returns to the theme of suffering with/in/through Christ elsewhere in his writing. It is just another example of Paul’s rich and complex understanding of the Christian path to salvation. It is a relationship with Christ that is not simply “Faith Alone” but reaches into a lived experience.

I did receive one reply:

I agree with you that it's through grace alone that we are saved. It's by grace through faith is how the bible states it. But you have to first have faith to receive grace. I would say grace (the new covenant that demolished the old covenant of the law) alone is a more true statement of how I as a Protestant believe rather than a faith alone doctrine. However faith is a crucial component to receiving grace so I can see how people can get that confused.

My response:   

I don't know if I would go so far as to say "Grace ALONE" is what saves us (though I would come close to that statement)... But I would definitely say that Grace is the *starting point* for our salvation. It all begins with Grace - God's gracious and undeserved gift to us. God reaches out to us first with His Grace, and the rest is our feeble response to Him. But the process of our salvation is always a dynamic relationship that involves Grace, Faith, and Works - they are bound together - I would not say any of them are ALONE. Grace comes first, then we respond with Faith, and we continue to grow that Faith and keep our Faith alive by doing Good Works. God's Grace is the foundation for all of that, but all are working together. None of it is really ALONE.

I would also say that Faith does not come first. We do not have Faith first and then we receive Grace. I would say that we always receive Grace first and then we respond with Faith. God reaches out to us FIRST. He is the first mover. So God and His Grace always come first. He moves us to have Faith, and then he also moves us to do Good Works.
So far, that is as far as the conversation has gone.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Musings

A few random thoughts and ponderings to start the week...

I came across a Facebook page appropriately named "Ask a Catholic Priest" which (as the name suggests) allows readers to post a question that will then be answered by a Catholic priest. A question recently asked there about paranormal activity piqued my interest:
Ghosts, souls and spirits whatever you may want to call them. Persons who have passed away are caught on camera or evp etc. From professional hunters of this phenomenon, In the bible it states that the soul returns to the one who gave it to you. Are these paranormal events part of purgatory of the human soul. Or is it something evil and demonic playing with peoples minds and their equipment. And their are also mediums who say they can speak or feel the presence of a person and read their actions of intent whether they are demonic presence or a actual trapped soul of a human being who has passed away.. Is this a form of purgatory or is this something else. Does the church believe in trapped souls on earth in this situation. The demonic I believe is everywhere to deceive us. But how can you tell the good from the bad...
The answer given by a Fr. Scott Brossart, SOLT, was simple, clear, and solid. The story he tells in the beginning was also compelling:
There are honest cases of souls in purgatory who can make noise, appear, move things, a physical way because they need our prayers and help. Sometimes they need help from others in making atonement for what they have done. I know of one case where, after a pastor had died, a week later there were strange knocks in the rectory. After an exorcist was called, they found through an investigation that this pastor had stored up Mass intentions that were never prayed and he just stuck them in a drawer. His soul is accountable for having those masses said and once the intentions were spread throughout the diocese for other priests to offer up and a Mass was said for the repose of his soul.. the knocking stopped.

This is not always the case as the demonic can also try to steer us into error and darkness by mimicking the dead but a well trained priest can recognize the difference by the fruits of the alleged appearances/disturbances. This is why it is so important not to seek psychic mediums, etc. because one does not know who is really on the other end and furthermore God commands us knock to seek communication with the dead.

I am not going to give advice on how to tell the good from the bad because we should never try to deal with these things on our own because of the level of deception and harm that can come as a result, but rather seek the help of a competently trained priest.
With shows like "Ghost Hunters" and other paranormal franchises out there for consumption in the pop culture, it's important to remember that the spiritual world is not a game or source for entertainment. These are real souls, real people, and even real demonic forces that can cause us real harm.

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I've been discussing some doctrinal issues with a few Protestant friends recently. I've had many debates/discussions/dialogs like this with Protestants before, but I am always struck by one comment they frequently make. These Christians will sometimes disagree with their particular denomination, church, or pastor on a doctrine or a specific teaching, and they will explain that this is OK because their church is capable of error. To them the church is a fallible, error-prone institution. There is no reason to think that their preacher or church leaders have absolute certainty on doctrinal matters more so than any individual layman might. If they disagree with their church on a doctrine, it's no big deal.

The thing that struck me in my recent conversations is that these Protestants lack a certain zeal or sense of earnestness when I challenge their church's doctrines. If I point out that this or that  doctrine is false, they reply, "Well, I kind of see your point. Yeah, maybe my church is wrong on that. But then, it wouldn't be the first time I disagreed with my church. I guess this is just another point where we disagree."

As a Catholic it just seems so uninspiring, so empty. I mean, I am certain that my Church CANNOT err! - not on matters of faith, not when Christian Truth is at stake! It always surprises me when I encounter the limp and lukewarm uncertainty of Protestantism.

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Still no missal. It's still on back order. Frustrated!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Studying Romans (Part 3)

This is part of a continuing series of posts concerning a Facebook Bible Study in which I am participating. Those involved are almost exclusively Protestant, but non-Protestants (including even non-Christians) have been encouraged to join and I received an invitation myself. (To read more search my old posts for the Studying James and Studying Romans posts.)

Throughout this Protestant Bible Study I have seen very little participation. This surprises me since Protestants pride themselves on their love and knowledge of the Bible. So as the first thread I started on Romans 1-4 died out, I posted a second thread to get the ball rolling again. And in the process I wanted to make clearer the James vs. Romans contrast on "Faith and Works":

We have studied James, and now we are beginning on Romans. I would be interested to see what others here have to say about these two passages (one from Romans; the other from James):
"For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…" (Romans 4:2-5)
“But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:20-24)
I can almost imagine this as a “conversation” between Paul and James. Paul is stressing the importance of Faith in our salvation. And Paul is exactly right, as far as that goes. But James is driving home the point that our good works must also be at play. “[A]re you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?” He says that we are NOT justified by “faith alone.” So both verses are correct, as long as we recognize that “Faith Alone” is false just as much as “Works Alone” would be false.
I wonder, if any of you accept the Protestant notion of “Faith Alone,” how do these two passages work together in your mind?

I got this brief reply:

could it be that James is unifying faith and works as one?
Also, the person who wrote this comment gave a link which lead me to a page giving a Protestant handling of James vs. Romans. Among the arguments there, I found the admission that Martin Luther was perhaps wrong about his reading of James. It was an honest re-evaluation of Faith Alone...but stopping short of outright rejecting the doctrine. I did appreciate this round-about answering of my question. So I responded:

I think that what you say here about James "unifying" Faith and Works is a part of answer. He certainly says that the two work together: on the one hand, Faith produces Good Works, and on the other hand Good Works "perfect" our Faith. So the two have a close connection - each working to build up the other. But James also insists that the two can be separate, and that such a separation is dangerous to our souls. He says that even the demons believe in God "and shudder". So it is possible to have "faith" without "works" (as the demons do) - but James says that such "Faith Alone" is not what justifies us before God. It is not enough for us to say "Faith and Works are the same thing. If you have Faith then Works will just flow out of that." James insists that that is not the case. That is why he sees the need to stress doing good works to the Christian community. Apparently many BELIEVERS to whom James wrote his letter lacked GOOD WORKS; they were treating fellow Christians harshly. James is telling them, you may have FAITH in Christ, but you have a dead faith if you don't start treating each other with love. You must do good works to be justified.

So, Christians are certainly called to live out Faith and Works together (unified, as you say), but it is not appropriate to say that Faith Alone is enough to cover that unity. And therein lies my question about the "Faith Alone" doctrine. Was Martin Luther wrong? Is it wrong to stress "Faith Alone" and elevate it to the status of Christian doctrine, when obviously James insists that it is not a valid doctrine?

The article you posted is very helpful. It seems to hint at an answer to my question: "Martin Luther seemed to think that James contradicted Paul; modern scholars question that view."

Indeed Protestant scholars are re-examining Luther's teachings on many issues, and I am always interested in where these new theological opinions are leading. But if the basis of the Reformation is now being questioned, the where does that leave Reformed Christians?

He replied:

When you talk about the demons believing in God and shuddering; are you equating belief and faith? I don't think belief and faith are the same. Faith is something you acquire when you start believing The demons shudder because they are powerless against God, 
And my rebuttal:
James uses the demons as an example to show that faith without works is dead: "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?" (2:19-20)

Now, the use of “belief” instead of “faith” could be significant. I don’t know the original Greek, but I agree that in the English there is a subtle difference. However we also use these two words interchangeably in English: “I am a believing Christian; I hold the Christian faith.” – The words are not so radically different that they are unrelated. – “I believe in Christ; I have faith in Christ.” – They can have a similar meaning.

Is there a difference? …Perhaps. But more importantly, the Bible itself uses “believe” in a very strong context: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” (John 6:47) So “belief” is not necessarily a weak form of faith. Jesus says that “believing” will gain us eternal life. That seems pretty powerful to me. So I wouldn’t make too much out of the difference between faith and belief.

Now James says that “the demons believe and shudder.” Obviously the demons “belief” has not won them eternal life. But Jesus says that our “belief” can gain us eternal life. So what is the difference? James says that it is Works. Faith/belief can gain us eternal life if we have Good Works. You can say “faith” or “belief” – but the bottom line is that it must not be Alone. Faith must include Works for it to be a saving Faith.

So is the “Faith Alone” doctrine false? Was Luther wrong?
Or to make it more specifically about Romans (the focus of our current study) can Luther's "Faith Alone" doctrine be supported by Romans when we compare it to what James says about "NOT by faith alone"? If yes, how? Does it trouble you that Luther wanted to remove James from the Bible and does that cause you to question his ability to formulate sound doctrine?

Thus further response.

Friday, May 11, 2012

This Week's Headlines

As another week comes to an end, this is your chance to top off your glass with a final helping of news, current events, and just plain interesting stuff that may not have made into the mainstream media. A chance to linger for a few more moments before we close the door on the week. Below are some links to articles, blogs, and miscellaneous happenings that caught my eye over the past few days. Sample what you like - I'll serve up more next Friday...

On Mother's Day and Honoring Parenthood: Mothers were designed to hover - "Mothers were designed to hover.  And children were designed to thrive when they are so cherished. It's beyond sad that we live in a world where that natural relationship is denigrated instead of respected."

Obama Admin’s Catholic Treatment: Coercion in the Name of Freedom - "It is, of course, the Administration that wants to “use the force of secular law” to deny a freedom Americans have long enjoyed."

Triangulating Marriage:President Obama Uses Joe Biden as a Political Lightning Rod - "With the prospect of a second term looming for President Obama, we all need to wake up... If given four more years, they will dismantle marriage and the family and society founded upon it." [I didn't realize it when I added this to the list...but this story really took off. See below...]

Obama endorses gay ‘marriage’: says support based on Jesus, Golden Rule - Obama: “We are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others..." - Ya think...?

Cardinal Dolan calls Obama’s remarks on marriage ‘deeply saddening’ - "I pray for the President every day, and will continue to pray that he and his Administration act justly to uphold and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman. " [As do I...but I'm not holding my breath.]

Obama once supported marriage but now he's evolved - "The news is oddly timed, just as voters resoundingly spoke out in defense of marriage in North Carolina by supporting a state amendment that bans gay marriage."

Marriage Wins! Overwhelming Victory for the Truth in North Carolina Vote - [This was the good news even if overshadowed by Obama's announcement.]

Is Marriage Any of the State’s Business to Begin With? - "There are two primary ways to account for the state’s obligation to marriage, neither of which presupposes or requires a specifically Catholic or even Christian faith. The two arguments that follow are used by the Church (especially the second) but they are not religious arguments, per se..."

Non-Religious, Social Defense of Marriage - "Marriage and the family are in the interest of society and should be recognized and protected as such; they are the fundamental nucleus of society and the State. "

The Devil went down to Georgetown - "But this isn't a song - it's reality. Kathleen Sebelius, who has openly dissented from the teaching of the Church and drawn the ire of so many Catholics and other Christians, has been invited to speak at an awards ceremony at the supposedly Catholic Georgetown University in Washington DC."

Georgetown: Final Examinations for the Bishops - "Here’s a suggestion: in light of recent failures on the part of Catholic universities to exercise prudence in selecting candidates for large public speeches and the bestowal of honorary degrees, perhaps the American hierarchy should insist that any university wishing to consider themselves Catholic will have their list of speakers subject to the approval of the local Ordinary."

Obedience - "...obedience should be popular because we only grow when something reaches us from outside of ourselves. It can be as simple as food or as vital as the imperative to love and follow the truth. "

Using Aborted Babies for Medicine, Is Cannibalism Next? - [This is disgusting!! But we need to know what the culture of death is capable of doing, so please read.]

The Asian Tiger ― Japan ― is in danger of extinction - "Just as Japan’s population leveled out and began to plunge, so will the world’s, and very soon. This will lead to gigantic economic consequences and human suffering on a scale never before known."

Meddling In the Lives Of Middle Schoolers - "It's our job to meddle in our children's lives.  You don't have to be an obnoxious helicopter parent to realize that kids in their early teens are not yet adults.  We're not done raising them yet!"

Follow that Cardinal! Dolan's Message at Time Top 100 Banquet Shows Us How to Evangelize  - "This happy Cardinal of the Catholic Church is a wonderful instrument of the New Evangelization, a trumpet in the hands of the Lord. He is a dynamic and inspiring communicator and solid teacher of the truths as taught by the Magisterium of the Church."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Studying Romans (Part 2)

So I got a few responses to the comment that I posted this week on our Facebook Bible Study. The focus this week is Romans 1-4. Among the responses I read, this one stood out as the most coherent:
I beleive Martin Luther was gifted from God not for this principle [Faith Alone] but because he saw the way the roman catholic church of the dark ages was requiring offerings (I can't remember the specific name right now)but you were practically charged a fee because of this practice to go to church. In addition they required confession to a priest. Jesus has been and always will be our high priest. He paid the price through his death on the cross so that we no longer have to go to a rabbi or priest to confess our sins. As for the faith alone doctrine. In the book of hebrews (which I know we aren't reading) it says that "abraham had faith and it was accounted to him as righteousness." It was his faith alone that justified him with God. However we also know from the text in Genesis that Abraham because of his faith believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead. It was his faith that lead him to action. Not his actions that lead him to faith.
She offers here some classic examples of Protestant complaints against the Catholic Church: confession of sins to a priest; and indulgences (the word she couldn't think of). But on indulgences she is off base - "you were practically charged a fee because of this practice to go to church."

Notice that these things are really just an attempt to avoid addressing the real issue - Faith and Works. When backed in a corner, Protestants like to throw out these quick accusations in order to change the subject (notice that she even leads with these attacks, and only then follows up with a halfhearted attempt at defending Faith Alone). So in my reply I was sure to begin with the topic at hand. Let's address "Faith Alone"...then we can clean up some of the side issues:

As for “Faith Alone” - I know that there are other passages (such as the one you mentioned from Hebrews) which are used to support “Faith Alone.” The problem I am having is that none of these actually say that Faith *Alone* is what you need to be saved. Romans, for example (which we are currently studying and which is often cited to support Faith Alone), has many good things to say about Faith. Don’t get me wrong… Faith is EXTREMELY important. I value my faith. I always seek to strengthen and inform my faith. Faith certainly is an important factor in our salvation. The Bible is clear about that. Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness, and God looks likewise on our own Christian faith…but that does not mean that faith *alone* saves us. The Bible does not say, “Faith Alone” saves us.

In other words, the Protestant doctrine of “Faith Alone” goes a step beyond Scripture. Yes it is true that Faith is important and it does affect our salvation. But are we justified by Faith *Alone*? Because that is what the Protestant doctrine claims.

James 2:21-24 says this: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

The Bible is God’s Word. I think we can agree to that. James is speaking God’s Word to us here. And God’s Word tells us that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Paul certainly stresses the importance of FAITH. And there are many other passages which tell us that faith is important. But the Bible (God’s Word) never says that Faith ALONE is what saves or justifies us. So the Faith Alone doctrine clearly goes against the Bible. Can you show me how that is not the case? Are you saying that James is wrong? I know you think that Martin Luther was gifted by God with great wisdom…but perhaps Luther was wrong on this point. Luther wanted to remove James from the Bible. Should we trust God’s Word or Luther? Could you explain how the “Faith Alone” Doctrine is true when James so clearly speaks out against it? 

 Now…about confessing our sins: I’m sure you’ll remember that the Jews grumbled against Jesus for forgiving men’s sins because the Jews believed that only God could forgive sins – not men. The idea that we can confess our sins to someone else and then that person can offer forgiveness was a strange idea for the Jews. But Jesus (as he did with many things) turned that idea upside-down. Jesus gave men the power to forgive the sins of others: “…He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:22-23)
And Scripture tells us that the practice of confessing sins became a part of the Christian community: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:16)
So Christians have been given the power to forgive (and retain) sins through the Holy Spirit. And we have been commanded to confess our sins to one another. So the Catholic practice of confessing sins is very Biblical. (Note: I asked about this when we studied James last week, but no one replied.)

Also…the word you were looking for, I think, is “indulgences.” But an indulgence is not “payment to go to church.” The issue is more complicated than what we can discuss here. Martin Luther was right in pointing out the abuses that were going on with indulgences. But indulgences are still a part of Catholic practice. The abuses were corrected. We could discuss this more in depth outside of this Bible Study, if you would like. But [the leader of this Bible Study] would probably prefer that we stick with the topics at hand. It is an interesting issue though, and you are right to point out abuses such as this.
She is right to point out error and abuses in the Church. I think that's fine. So I try to give credit to her for that, and I do accept that some members of the Church have been guilty of grievous sins and bad leadership. But in this context these abuses are way off topic. I mean, really, it's just a distraction.

But this thread died out, she quit responding, and so I posted a new thread which I will cover in my next post...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Studying Romans

And so, now our Facebook Bible study (which I posted about here and here) has moved on to Romans. The perfect answer to James (Faith and Works), which is where we began our study. So here is what I posted...

[Note: we are covering chapters 1 through 4 of Romans. That's a huge and rather arbitrary section, but it wasn't my decision.]

Romans 1-4. That’s a pretty big selection. But it does get us to where Martin Luther made his disastrous mistake in contrasting Paul with James. As I had noted in an earlier comment, Luther called James “an epistle of straw,” and he thought that James should be removed from the Bible entirely. Luther preferred reading Paul exclusively on matters of “Faith and Works.” Where James says that our “works” justify us, Paul says, “…we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (Romans 3:28)

I would argue that Paul is speaking specifically about the works of the Old “LAW” (that is, the rigorous commands that governed the Jews’ daily life) and not “good deeds” – whereas, James clearly refers to “works” as the acts of Christian charity which we are all called to perform. This distinction is made obvious when we read the full context of both Paul and James. Paul refers to circumcision as his primary example of “works” – but James refers to feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and caring for those less fortunate. So Paul and James are writing about two different “works.” That is where Luther got confused.

Paul and James do not disagree on “Faith and Works” as Martin Luther would have us believe. We can see this in the example of Abraham.

James says this:
“You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,' and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (2:22-24)

James does not deny that faith is an important part of our justification. He only says that faith and works must go together. And that “Faith Alone” is a false notion.

Now look at what Paul says in Romans:
“For we say, ‘Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.’ How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them…” (4:9-11)

Paul is obviously focusing on the “ritual law” of the Jews (circumcision is the example he uses) which he calls “works of the Law.” He is telling us that Christians do not have to follow these Old Law rituals. These things do not justify us. But Paul is not saying that we can ignore good deeds (helping those in need). Paul is not preaching “Faith Alone” apart from good works.

The Protestant slogan “Faith Alone” is troublesome to me. It is an unbiblical idea and Martin Luther proved that by suggesting that the Letter of James should be cut out of Scripture. Can anyone here explain how James and Paul together give us the doctrine of “Faith Alone”?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday Musings

A few random thoughts and musings to start the week...

Happy Easter!!! Yes it is still Easter. And don't let anyone forget it.

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This weekend we had our May Crowning of Mary at our home. It wasn’t anything elaborate. We just made a wreath of silk flowers to go on the concrete statue of Mary in our front yard. We said a Hail Mary and placed the crown on her head. As the month of May continues, we (as a family) will be learning the Hail Holy Queen and the Angelus so that we can use one of these prayer next year for the crowning as well as on important Marian feast days.

I had never participated in a May Crowning until we started doing this brief “ceremony” with the kids a couple of years ago. So I have no idea what the typical celebration should look like. I know I could look up some resources online, but we’ve just been letting it take shape for us as each year goes by. It’s a shame that such celebrations are not as common in the Church these days. I feel like our Catholic heritage has been impoverished since the time of Vatican II… but don’t get me started on that.

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Speaking of statues, I plan on purchasing a St. Francis statue soon to place near our garden at home. Our kids play outside a lot, and I’ve noticed that they do pay attention to the religious statues we already have in the yard: they bring flowers to Mary, or they pray before the Sacred Heart. Strategically placing these reminders of the faith in the appropriate place around the home (or in this case, the yard) can be a great teaching tool. As the home is the domestic church (sort of the Church in miniature), the yard is like a mini-world to kids, where shrines and monuments can call our attention and draw us in on pilgrimage.

When my wife and I plan our family vacations we always try to include some shrine or church or religious site to visit along the way. We pause for a spiritual break as we enjoy our time away from home. I see the kids do a similar thing in our yard. They may be fighting dragons or building castles in their minds, but along the way they pass a statue over in the corner near some shrubs and they pause (even if just long enough to tap its head and then move along), and so they are reminded of their faith amid their daily activities. A twenty dollar hunk of concrete and some white paint can go a long way to teach a valuable lesson.

Friday, May 4, 2012

This Week's Headlines

As another week comes to an end, this is your chance to top off your glass with a final helping of news, current events, and just plain interesting stuff that may not have made into the mainstream media. A chance to linger for a few more moments before we close the door on the week. Below are some links to articles, blogs, and miscellaneous happenings that caught my eye over the past few days. Sample what you like - I'll serve up more next Friday...

Co-Mediatrix!!! What Gives? - "When I was Protestant and studying the Catholic faith, I happened upon the word "co-mediatrix" in Scott Hahn's book Hail Holy Queen. Despite what you may think about my long-term papist leanings, this word sent me into a Zwinglian down-ward spiral."

Jesus Had Laser Beams (Sharks Not Included) - "Italian researchers at the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development say they believe the image was created by an ultraviolet “flash of light."

The Welfare State’s War on Religious Liberty - "The case for limited government is becoming increasingly inseparable from the case for religious liberty."

Paul Ryan and Catholic Social Teaching (Roundup) - [A lot of ink has been spilled lately about Paul Ryan and the budget with regard to Catholic Social Justice. This piece gives a pretty good roundup of some important articles written on this subject.]

Catholic Republicans dominate list of possible Romney running mates - "Having defeated two Catholics (Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich) for the Republican nomination, Romney must now choose his preferred candidate for the vice-presidency."

Forced Abortion Converage; It’s Next - "Oakland’s Bishop Salvatore Cordileone says the federal government could require faith communities to offer abortion as a health benefit if the contraceptive mandate is not stopped."

Why Do We Call It a "Culture of Death"? - "The more I studied the Theology of the Body and took a look at human sexuality through the lens of millenia-old Christian teaching, the more the problems of contraceptive culture came into relief."

Fatherhood in a Fatherless Culture - "What does authentic fatherhood look like? An authentic father is a father of faith, strength, character and courage."

An examination of themes of keynote speeches delivered at LCWR Assemblies - [Considering the recent examination by the Vatican of this women's group, these "themes" are very telling.]

Can We Please Have Our Own Church? - "...there’s probably a church building near the local Catholic church that has everything you may believe in: women priests, gay clergy and homosexual 'marriages,' higher or lower forms of liturgy, structures that allow you to pick and choose among doctrines and practices. It’s called Protestantism, and a widely available option for whoever thinks it’s the right choice."

Closing Up Shop on Marriage? - "Why does government have a stake in this? Because it has a stake in encouraging the parents to provide a stable, loving, committed relationship as the morally best environment for raising children."

Is the Papacy in Need of Structural Reform? - [A book review - A lot to wade through in this piece, but worth the effort.]

The Structure of the Mass - [An interesting diagram (PDF document) that shows a visual diagram of what happens at Mass. May be a good resource for children.]

Pope Warns Doctors of Relativism Impacting Medicine - "Pope Benedict XVI used a May 3 address to doctors and medical students to warn that the spread of relativism is resulting in scientific advances having 'unpredictable consequences.'"

Error Has No Rights: Time to Ditch Liberalism for Theocracy - [Whoa! Now there's a bold title! Can't say that I agree with the author's conclusion, but it is an interesting proposition.]

 CDWDS Confirms Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb - [I've mentioned this here before - This is an update that includes the full text of the blessing.]

Taylor Swift, Adele and American Exceptionalism - "Both write and sing highly personal songs. Both are extremely talented musicians who paid their dues and made it big the hard way: Through persistence and hard work. But they also have very different attitudes toward life, and I wonder what, if anything, that means."