Friday, July 31, 2009

Order through Prayer

The following is a short essay I wrote while I was still teaching. It's also been previously posted on another blog a couple of years ago.

In teaching my students about what it means to be an image of God, a much clearer view of human nature has emerged within my own spiritual vision.

What is natural to man? Is indulgence in worldly affairs natural? Is revelry in sexual adventure that which completes man? Are we naturally bound to the desire for the accumulation of material goods? To know what is natural to man, one must first know man’s nature.

To say that something is natural, one is claiming that that which is deemed natural is in accordance with the nature of the thing being observed. Is it natural for a fish to swim? Of course it is. By observing the nature of the fish, the conclusion is easily reached that swimming is natural to the fish, for that is in accordance with its nature. A fish that doesn’t swim quickly dies. A bird that doesn’t fly falls to its death. A man that doesn’t pray is crushed under the weight of the world, for he is not made for the world in both his and its present state.

What, then, is man’s nature? The answer is both simple and profound -- man is an image of God. The image must tell us something of that which it reflects, and if the image is a reflection of the eternal, then to reflect eternity for all eternity is what is natural to it. This is confirmed by St. Gregory of Nyssa in his Catechetical Orations in which he writes:

"If humanity is called to life in order to share in the divine nature, it must have been suitably constituted for the purpose…That is why humanity was given life, intelligence, wisdom, and all the qualities worthy of the godhead, so that each one of them should cause it to desire the godhead, so that each one of them should cause it to desire what is akin to it. And since eternity is inherent in the godhead, it was absolutely imperative that our nature should not lack it but should have in itself the principle of immortality. By virtue of this inborn faculty it could always be drawn towards what is superior to it and retain the desire for eternity."

God is all good, and order is good. Therefore, God is Order itself. We see a reflection of the face of God in the order of His creation. The Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement in his book The Roots of Christian Mysticism writes:

"Each being manifests the creative word which gives it its identity and attracts it. Each being manifests a dynamic idea, something willed by God. Ultimately each thing is a created name of him who cannot be named."

There is order in creation, for its Creator is Order itself, and Order begets order. Man is an image of God; therefore, he is made in the image of Order. Order is part of man’s nature as an image of God; therefore, disorder is unnatural to man.

In God, all of His attributes are one. Because he is eternal and infinite, He cannot be made of parts, nor does He possess parts. He is one is His essence. This has infinite implications, a few being that His order is His love, His love is His justice, His justice is His love, His love is His order, etc. God is all these good things, and man being an image of God finds in them his natural habitat. It is natural for man to have order both in the world and in his mind, will, and body. It is natural for man to love, to seek justice, etc. It is unnatural for man to do anything else. In saying that it is unnatural to man, although man seems tends towards these, I mean to say that it goes against his nature as an image of God. Yet more often than not, we do that which is unnatural to us and claim that it is simply human nature. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! To do anything but love, seek justice, obey God, etc. is to introduce disorder into our minds, wills, and bodies. Disorder in the human soul is manifested in many and various ways, all of which are hideous to the ordered soul.

Who is the man that embraces disorder? He is the one that is confused, addicted, angry, materialistic, yet all the while convincing himself that he has found happiness and contentment. Of course, the conclusions of a disordered mind will almost always be disordered.

How must a disordered system be overcome? By introducing order into the system. When it comes to the human soul made in the image and likeness of Order, Order must be brought into the disordered soul. By an opening up of the soul to the influence of Order through the indwelling of Order can the human soul begin to banish from it the darkness of disorder. This opening up of the soul is called prayer, which is as natural to man as barking is to a dog, as flying is to a bird, as swimming is to a fish. Yet we are like dogs that do not know how to bark and fish that cannot swim. We are dominated by the world which was created to be dominated by us. How absolutely unnatural!

Prayer is our best bet for happiness as happiness can only be found in order. In fact, order is happiness. The purpose of prayer is to turn outside of ourselves, to empty the image in order to be filled with the reality. It is our nature to empty ourselves to both God and neighbor, that in emptying ourselves we may be filled. Fulfillment in emptiness! Yet another of those wonderful Christian paradoxes.

How can we know that our calling is to turn and open to others? If we were created to turn in on ourselves, then our eyes would be facing the opposite direction. We would be created to look inward. But according to nature that is not so. We look outward. It is in looking outward that we can empty ourselves just as the greatest Man, the God-man, did: “Who though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped; Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave…”

Through prayer, we look outward to the Source of all order and happiness. Through prayer, we empty ourselves of our worldly accretions, placing ourselves under the direct influence of a Perfect Order. As Order begins to reign in our souls, so, too, does love, truth, joy, peace, and all other attributes of God.

We pray in order that the unnatural might be overcome by the natural, that darkness might become light, and that disorder be crushed under the liberating weight of Order.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Eucharistic Miracle

The Gospel reading today (John 6:1-14), when read through a Eucharistic lens, sheds light on the covenantal and unifying aspect of the miracle of the multiplication of the fish and loaves. It seems appropriate to immediately see shades of the Eucharist here because of the wider context. Just 11 verses later John records Jesus’ discourse of the bread of life, an apologetic goldmine for the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist.

The reason I mentioned that the covenantal aspect can be seen is because of a connection that I believe can be made between this Gospel reading and Jeremiah 31. Verses 31 and 34 of the latter reads: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” It’s important to note the distinction between ‘Israel’ and ‘Judah’, for ‘Israel’ is used in reference to the 10 Northern tribes that fell into idolatry and were then displaced by the Assyrians. They simply ceased to exist as a distinguishable, ethnically Israelite community. It seemed impossible that unity between these tribes and the faithful tribe of Judah would ever be a possibility, yet Jeremiah the prophet pronounces such a reunification of all 12 tribes through a new covenant. Through nothing short of a miracle, God would gather in the twelve tribes through this new covenant, and this covenant would be one by which their sins are forgiven and God’s law is placed within them. Compare this to what we read in Matthew 26: 27-28: “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The Eucharistic sacrifice is, therefore, the new covenant the world had been waiting for! The Eucharist is the means by which the 10 northern tribes, displaced and paganized for centuries, would be brought back into the true worship of God, worship by which the Law Itself in its very fulfillment (Jesus Christ) is placed within them.

With this in mind, the Eucharistic paradigm of the multiplication of the loaves comes into view. Consider a couple elements that may help to illustrate this:
-The manner in which Jesus prepared for this miracle: “Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated.” (Jn 6:11) This sequence of events is mirrored during the Last Supper, the institution of the Eucharist.
-The details of the gathering of the fragments: “He told His disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves…” (Jn 6:12-13) This very event itself serves as a prophecy for the miracle that would occur through the new and everlasting covenant of the Eucharist. Through it, the twelve tribes would be gathered into His covenant through the effort of the Apostles and, of course, His grace.

Interestingly, it was the area of the Northern kingdom, the area in which the 10 northern tribes dwelt, that were among the first to accept the Gospel, and therefore, be gathered back in to the true worship of God through the Eucharistic covenant. Nevertheless, this “gathering in” is yet to be complete as we await the full inclusion of the tribe of Judah, our Jewish brethren, who as St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans would experience a mass conversion in the end times.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Authority, Obedience, and Selfishness

The title of this piece reminds me of the “which one doesn’t fit?” question often found on IQ tests and the like. Clearly, the answer to the above would be ‘selfishness’, but why doesn’t it fit? If we recognize that selfishness is insoluble with authority and obedience, why do the terms ‘authority’ and ‘obedience’ cause such discomfort in people? I would propose that a population conditioned by an environment and culture absolutely obsessed with individualism claiming that this individualism is what makes us ‘great’ has not a chance of escaping the pitfalls that are bound to occur – pitfalls characterized by the eventual rejection of obedience as a virtue and selfishness as a vice. When this occurs, recognition of authority as a good becomes a virtue held by a small minority, those who are diagnosed as sheltered, parochial, and even simplistic by the multitude of self-made pop psychologists who have it all figured out. They just can’t seem to figure out why their own marriages are broken, their children are self-mutilating misfits, and the list could go on.

Evidence of this as the prevailing mindset of many today (although none would ever admit to it), is most clearly seen in the elementary and high school classroom, a veritable observatory of the many and varied errors the modern family has imposed upon itself with the children serving as guinea pigs for the new human cultural experiment performed by mad scientists that go by the title of ‘mother’ and ‘father’. In this experiment, a dual hypothesis is being tested: children will be better suited to reach the goal with less guidance, and they will be able to assimilate into the real world in a productive way without being conditioned to recognize the need for authority and more importantly the need to accept another’s authority.

There is an insidious movement of parents away from the role of teacher, guide, and disciplinarian and towards the role of friend. This establishes a relationship in which authority has no place, and the results of this new experiment are quite telling. Since ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’ have decided to be simply peers to their children, there has been a corresponding rise in apathy towards those things that create a stable society – education, self-discipline, faith, and marriage. This should raise a question in our minds: Why would lack of authority on the part of parents within the home lead to such a result?

To answer such a question, we must first understand the nature of authority and, therefore, its purpose. Etymologically, ‘authority’ comes from the Latin auctor and auctoritas, meaning ‘model, teacher, and progenitor’ and ‘security, full power, and decree’, respectively. The purpose of authority is to provide a standard by which we learn and model our lives. It is meant to securely and with power guide those in submission to it into a life of goodness. Clearly authority can be abused in the most horrid of ways; nevertheless, this fact does not take away from its necessity for cultural stability. More specifically, authority in the home plays an even greater role. The role of the father, and consequently his authority, is meant to provide an image of the paternity of God to his children, thus forming the child’s notion of God and the submission due to Him by virtue of His authority. St. Paul assures us of this notion in Ephesians 3:14,15 where he writes, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.”

The natural consequence of such a lack of authoritative parenting, most clearly seen when they choose to be their children’s peers, is a corresponding lack of acknowledgement of God as Father. This rejection may not occur in an explicit fashion but can certainly be discerned in the wayward decisions of those who adopt such a way of life. How could a child conditioned to reject the notion of valid authority somehow innately accept the authority of God? Faith, therefore, becomes no longer part of the equation, nor is the concept of self-sacrifice, for if mom and dad have taken on the role of ‘friend’, then at what point will little Suzy or little Johnny ever experience the need to submit their will and desire to the greater good? This sets up children for nothing but failure, but not only children as individuals, but also the society of which these children will ultimately take control. With no appreciation for self-sacrifice and an overdose of selfishness, lasting and fruitful marriages become near-impossibilities, and as we are experiencing now, the breakdown of marriage translates into breakdown of the culture.

Another symptom of such rampant selfishness is the unveiling of its high-maintenance handmaiden that goes by the name of Materialism, which should be no surprise to the thinking individual. The materialist philosophy is a natural outgrowth of such an environment in that the one who rejects sacrifice for the greater good accepts only consumption for the benefit of self.

At the risk of sounding sheltered or parochial, I would gladly forgo the pleasure of being my child’s friend if it meant saving them from adopting the status of a selfish, materialistic, and faithless divorcee.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Things are looking up

Things are looking up with the installation of Archbishop Di Noia:

Concise and beautiful.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Baptism Now Saves You (Part IV)

Protestant Objection #4:

Infant Baptism is unbiblical. It makes no sense to baptize a baby since they can’t make the choice to accept Jesus Christ, nor can a baby repent and repentance is necessary for baptism.

Catholic Answer:

An important point to make regarding Colossians 2:15 (cited in Part III of this series) is that Paul makes the beautiful connection between circumcision and baptism. He makes this connection by teaching that baptism is actually a circumcision not made by human hands. Baptism, like circumcision, was a putting off of the flesh of the body, the destruction of the old self. In the world of typology, circumcision is a type of baptism. Baptism is the fulfillment of circumcision. That is why in baptism there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The problem with circumcision was that it was very exclusive being only for eight day old Jewish males. But now, through baptism, there is no exclusion. If baptism is the fulfillment of circumcision, then logically baptism must do all the things that circumcision did and much more. For example, circumcision brought a male, Jewish baby into the covenant God made with Abraham, making this baby a descendent of Abraham. Baptism brings us into the new covenant with God wrought in Christ’s blood through the piercing of His flesh that ours may not need to be pierced as it was through circumcision. Entering into this new covenant makes us part of God’s immediate family as we are made descendents of Abraham and sons in Christ. If baptism, being the fulfillment of circumcision does all the things circumcision did and more, then why would babies be able to be incorporated as descendents of Abraham through circumcision, but not through baptism? This would mean that the type is actually greater than the fulfillment. Under the Old Covenant, Jewish parents were able to make the decision for their babies to bring them into God’s covenant with his people. Why would the fulfillment of circumcision, that is, baptism, accomplish anything less? Thus the Catholic belief in baptizing babies.

Besides, there is not a single verse in the Bible in which the baptizing of babies is prohibited, something one would think would be a requirement for those that hold to the Scripture Alone heresy. The only reason Peter often requires repentance of sin before baptism is because he’s speaking to adults who have sinned. To say that a baby cannot be baptized because he cannot repent implies that one must first sin in order to be baptized. This makes sin a requirement for baptism. If this was the case, Peter would have to say to babies, “Sin, repent, and be baptized!” For some reason, that just doesn’t sound quite right. To deny babies baptism is to deny them the chance to be made alive in Christ. It is to deny them the chance to drink of the Spirit. It denies them the chance to become heirs of the promise.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Baptism Now Saves You (Part III)

Protestant Objection #3

Not only does Baptism not save, it accomplishes nothing in the soul of the one baptized. It is purely a symbolic action. It is only the external expression of a spiritual reality that has already been accomplished.

Catholic Answer #1:

Again, the point must be emphasized that it is simply inexplicable why Jesus, Peter, and Paul would waste time, breath, ink, paper, etc. on such an unnecessary trapping. Moreover, wasting time on materially symbolic rituals is one of the greatest objections that most Protestants have with Catholicism.

As a Catholic, if I was approached by a Protestant inquiring about whether or not I’ve been reborn, my answer would be, “Yes. I’ve been reborn through the waters of Baptism.” To which he would respond, “That’s unbiblical.” The Catholic position on Baptism is that through Baptism we are reborn, made new creatures in Christ, clothed with Christ, and our sins are washed away, literally. In short, we are saved. How can this be reconciled with Scripture one might ask. Not only can it be reconciled with Scripture, it is explicitly taught in Scripture:

John 1:32-34: “(32)And John bore witness, ‘I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. (33) I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ (34)And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’”

Matthew 3:16-17: “(16)And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; (17)and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”

How does one read these verses and continue to hold to the belief that Baptism does nothing? In fact, if, as Protestants say, we must be obedient to the example of Christ, then why would Christ’s example not give the same return to us? To put it another way, the example of Christ indicates that upon Baptism the Holy Spirit comes upon us, Heaven is opened to us(we are saved), and the Father acknowledges us as His sons(and daughters, to be p.c.). Jesus was not baptized to save His own soul, for it did not need saving, but the waters of Baptism must be sanctified in order for it to take effect. His baptism accomplished this and showed us what Baptism does for us.

Answer #2

John 2: 6-10: “(6) Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. (7)Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. (8) He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.’ So they took it. (9) When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom (10)and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.’”

The fact that these jars were used for the Jewish rites of purification is an extremely valuable point that must not be overlooked. In the Greek Septuagint, that is, the Greek version of the Old Testament, these waters used for purification were called ‘baptismoi’, from which we get the English word ‘baptism’ (cf. Numbers 19: 9, 13, 18-19). These waters were used to purify oneself, to wash oneself clean of all impurity. Why would the Christians borrow the word ‘baptism’ from the Jewish purification waters if they didn’t already believe that baptism truly did purify one from sin? There must necessarily be a connection between the Jewish waters of purification and the waters of baptism. Otherwise, it would be inexplicable why the Christians would adopt the word ‘baptism’ for that ritual.

Let’s look at the rest of the passage. John makes the point that there were six stone jars. If the number six was insignificant, then John would have left out that needless detail. So it must be admitted that because of its inspiration by the Holy Spirit, it must be significant. The significance is this: the number six is often used to symbolize imperfection. Wine, when taken symbolically, was used to denote perfection (cf. Joel 3:18). When Jesus changes water into wine that is being held by the six stone jars, He is teaching us that He has changed the imperfect waters of the Jewish purification rites into the perfect waters of Baptism, waters that wash not only the exterior, but also the interior. This is in accordance with what St. Peter tells us in Acts 22:16: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Notice the connection between washing in the waters of baptism and the washing away of sin. God gave us the imperfect waters in the beginning, that is, in the Old Testament (the waters of the ritual purification). He gave us the perfect waters later, under the New Covenant (the waters of Baptism). Consider what the steward of the feast said to the bridegroom (keep in mind that Jesus is the true bridegroom): “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” One can also see that Jesus pours the perfect and saving waters of Baptism into His imperfect servants.

Notice from the above Scripture citations, both John 1 and John 2 deal explicitly with Baptism, but it doesn’t stop there. John 3 takes it even further.

John 3: 3-6: “(3)Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ (4) Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ (5) Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Here we see no explicit use of the word ‘baptism’, but the context indicates a clear reference to it. John 1, John 2, and John 3:22 all make explicit references to Baptism and John 3:3-6 is stuck right in the middle of all of this. It would be unreasonable to interpret Jesus’ words any other way. When He says that the way one is “born anew” or “born again” is through water and Spirit, this is clearly a reference to Baptism. Through Baptism, we are born again, that is, we are made new creatures in Christ.

Paul makes explicit his understanding on the effects of Baptism:

Romans 6:3,4: “(3)Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (4)We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (emphasis mine).”

The plain face of the text indicates that baptism indeed does something for us. We are united to Christ in His death through baptism so that we might rise to newness of life with Him. If baptism unites us to Christ, then logically it must be asserted that baptism is responsible for incorporating us into the Body of Christ. It was Christ’s Body that died and Christ’s Body that was raised. How can we be immersed (for that is what baptism means) in His death and raised with Him if we are NOT a part of His mystical Body? Obviously, being immersed in His death and raised with Him must necessarily refer to our being united to His Body, and as St. Paul teaches, it is baptism that is responsible for this.

Romans 6: 6-8: “(6)We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. (7)For he who has died is freed from sin. (8)But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”

This passage is in reference to baptism as it immediately follows the passage quoted above, that is, verses 3 and 4 of the same chapter. Verse 3 of chapter 6 teaches that we are baptized (immersed) into His death. What is the nature of this immersion into His death? Paul explains in verse 6 that our old self is crucified with Him. Through this immersion into His death we are freed from slavery to sin, for our sin is crucified with Him. Thus the Catholic teaching that original sin and all personal sins are washed away through baptism.

To build a little more on the concept of being incorporated into the Body of Christ through baptism, it is necessary to quote from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13: “(12)For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (13) For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

Paul begins by describing the nature of the relationship between the members of the Body of Christ. Though we are many, we are one is His Body. But how did this unity come about? How is it that all of us have come to unity in His Body? Paul’s answer: “We were all baptized into one body.” This unity that is brought about by baptism lays to rest all artificial separation of men, and being baptized into His Body allows us to drink of the Spirit! Beautiful!

In speaking to the Galatians, Paul teaches that in Baptism, the Christian assumes the identity of Christ, we belong to Him, and we become heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:27-29: “(27)For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (28) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (29) And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

The same idea is present here as in 1 Corinthians 12. The difference here is that Paul reveals a little more about the effects of baptism. He teaches that we have put on Christ. Another translation states that we are “clothed with Christ”. But what does it mean to be clothed with Christ? We must first look at the significance of the symbolism of being clothed. What do clothes do for us? They cover us. They protect us. They even identify us, particularly when one wears a uniform. If I see a man wearing a police uniform, I rightly identify him as a policeman. Our clothes are to some degree an external expression of our identity. For Paul to say that through baptism we are clothed with Christ is profound. This means that through baptism we take on the very identity of Christ Himself. Because part of Christ’s identity is that of being God’s Son, then we, too, become sons of God through Baptism. We become part of God’s immediate family. Because Jesus is a descendent of Abraham, then we, too, become Abraham’s offspring. And all of this is due to baptism!

Paul brings us even deeper into the meaning and effects of baptism in his letter to the Colossians.

Colossians 2: 11-15: “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; (12) and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (13) And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, (14)having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (15) He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.”

Here again we see Paul teaching that by baptism, we are buried with Him that we might be raised with Him. He then teaches that we who were dead in our trespasses have been made alive with Him and our trespasses have been forgiven. The phrase “dead in trespasses” seems an awful lot like the phrase “enslaved to sin” used in Roman 6:6. In Romans 6, Paul teaches us that by baptism we are freed from sin, so longer enslaved. In the same way, to be made alive again, no longer dead in trespasses, must necessarily be brought about the same way, for Paul is talking about the same thing in both cases. Referring again to Romans 6:6, Paul teaches that through baptism, our old self was crucified, that is, nailed to the cross, in order that our sinful bodies might be destroyed. Paul makes a similar allusion in Colossians 2:14 when he teaches that our trespasses and our obligation to the law due to those trespasses have been nailed to the cross. In other words, our old self was crucified. Again, the similarity in language indicates that Paul is speaking about the same thing in both cases – baptism. Therefore, through baptism we are made alive in Christ, our trespasses are forgiven, and our old selves are nailed to the cross.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Baptism Now Saves You (Part II)

Protestant Objection #2:

"We get baptized because Jesus got baptized. We do not believe that it effects anything in the soul with regard to salvation. It’s a matter of obedience to the example that Jesus set for us, and that’s all it is."

Catholic Answer:

Why would Jesus set an example of doing something if that something did absolutely nothing for us? For something that actually does nothing for our souls, Jesus, Paul, and Peter sure made a big deal about it.

And doing something just because Jesus did it and for no other reason is fallacious reasoning at the core. There are many things Jesus did that Protestants don’t feel the need to do, so why feel the need to be baptized just because Jesus was baptized? Jesus preached in Jerusalem, but I don’t see very many Protestant pastors convincing their congregations that they, too, must preach in Jerusalem as a matter of obedience to the example that Jesus set for us. Jesus was circumcised, but I don’t see many Protestant women getting in line. He turned water into wine at Cana, but most Baptists would have no such thing at their weddings. Besides, if people really wanted to follow the example that Jesus set for us in regard to Baptism, then anyone who desired Baptism would be required to wait until they’re 30 years old, which is generally the accepted age of Jesus when He was baptized. Those older than 30 are out of luck. Anyone older or younger than 30 would simply be disobedient to the example of Jesus if they even attempted an immersion into the saving waters.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Baptism Now Saves You (Part I)

My next few posts will constitute an apologetic for the sacrament of Baptism and what the Catholic Church teaches in regard to it. I will deal with four Protestant objections, objections that were given to me while discussing this with a Protestant friend of mine. I'm fully aware that the answers I provide are far from exhaustive, but I thought it best to keep it simple here.

Protestant Objection #1:

"Baptism is not necessary for salvation, because baptism does not save a person. Faith in Jesus Christ saves, and that is all that’s needed."

Catholic Answer #1:

1 Peter 3:20-21: “…when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. (21) Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.”

If Peter, being an apostle, knew that Baptism did NOT save a person, why would he write such a thing?! If baptism does NOT save a person, then Peter was either mistaken or he was being extremely irresponsible in his writing. An appeal to the context of this verse doesn’t make the classic Protestant belief any more tenable. The context is about salvation and the fact that Christ died for us. In no way would the context change the interpretation of verse 21 that baptism truly does save us.

By saying that baptism saves a person is NOT to say that Baptism alone saves a person. There must necessarily be an interior desire for salvation. Then and only then(at least for the adult believer; Catholic belief about infant baptism will be taken up later) can Baptism save. We can’t force a person into the waters of Baptism and expect that the effects of Baptism would take hold of the person. The person must, in a sense, take hold of the effects of Baptism by his belief and desire for salvation. This has been the constant teaching of the Catholic Church since the beginning. Granted there are those who get focused on the external act to an extreme, the extreme being that they mistakenly come to the belief that merely the act itself brings about salvation, as though God is simply a machine that can be manipulated. Say the magic words and out comes salvation!

Answer #2:

Acts 8:36-39: “And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip.”

This passage is very telling with regard to the question about the necessity of baptism. After accepting the gospel as preached by Philip the deacon, the eunuch becomes emphatic about being baptized when he sees water. This begs the question: why would the eunuch have felt the need to be baptized if Philip had not already told him about the necessity of it? If baptism was not necessary for salvation, then why would the eunuch make a fuss of it? And why was Philip caught up by the Spirit and taken away from the eunuch immediately after the eunuch’s baptism? It seems as though the Spirit was waiting until after the eunuch was baptized because that marked the point at which the eunuch obtained salvation. He no longer needed Philip, for at the moment he was baptized, salvation was gained. If he was saved when he accepted Jesus due to Philip’s preaching and not due to baptism, then why didn’t the Spirit take Philip at that point? Why did he wait until after the eunuch was baptized? These are all, of course, both speculative and rhetorical questions.

Monday, July 6, 2009

More Caravaggio

I included a work of Caravaggio's in one of my earlier posts, and now I find myself being drawn more and more to his work. Here are a few for those not familiar with him:

This is probably an easy challenge, but can any readers identify the events being portrayed in these works of art?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day...for whom?

Many have now forgotten that July 4th, the day that we celebrate as the one on which we gained freedom from tyranny and the right to self-determination, is intimately connected also with the loss of states’ rights to self-determination. It is the date of the Battle of Gettysburg, the battle that turned the tide against the Southern effort at freedom and self-determination. I’ve included a number of quotes below to help put things into perspective for those who have uncritically swallowed whole everything written in our high-school history books. These quotes come from the following website:

"My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not to either save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some of the slaves and leaving others alone I would also do that." - Lincoln to Horace Greeley of the NY Tribune August 22, 1862.

Secretary of State William Steward said about the Emancipation Proclamation: "We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free."

Secession to protect slavery made no sense at all, even though some Southerners said so, because slavery was secured by the Constitution, by the Supreme Court and even by Abe Lincoln's public promises that he had neither plans nor desire to interfere with it. The war was actually a tariff war - Lincoln trying to hang on to millions of dollars per year in tariffs on Southern goods. In his first inaugural Lincoln promised a military invasion of any state that failed to collect tariffs for the federal government - that he would in his own words, "hold, occupy and possess" said tariffs by "using force against or among the people."

After the 1828 tariff law, the South almost seceded. In 1840, the South paid 84% of the tariffs, rising to 87% in 1860. They paid 83% of the $13 million federal fishing bounties paid to New England fishermen, and also paid $35 million to Northern shipping interests which had a monopoly on shipping from Southern ports. The South, in effect, was paying tribute to the North. The Republican platform of 1860 called for higher tariffs; that was implemented by the new Congress in the Morill tariff of March 1861, signed by President Buchanan before Lincoln took the oath of office. It imposed the highest tariffs in US history, with over a 50% duty on iron products and 25% on clothing; rates averaged 47%. Note the close proximity of this tariff to the start of the war on April 12. Cause and effect.

As the North American Review (Boston, October 1862) put it: "Slavery is not the cause of the rebellion ....Slavery is the pretext on which the leaders of the rebellion rely, 'to fire the Southern Heart' and through which the greatest degree of unanimity can be produced....Mr. Calhoun, after finding that the South could not be brought into sufficient unanimity by a clamor about the tariff, selected slavery as the better subject for agitation". (Source for this section - When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Succession, by Charles Adams)
Note on the Gettysburg Address by H.L. Mencken

"The Gettysburg speech was at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history...the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous. But let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it. Put it into the cold words of everyday. The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination – that government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves." --THE SMART SET, May 1920

The United States is a voluntary association created by the states and states have and had every right to secede. Lincoln was wrong. He did not have the authority, either Constitutional or moral, to make war on the South. The Declaration of Independence itself provides for secession - "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government..."

"If tyranny and despotism justified the Revolution of 1776, then we do not see why it would not justify the secession of 5 millions of Southrons from the federal union in 1861." -- NY Tribune 12/17/1860

To determine the moral right in this matter, ask yourself this simple question: "Would any colony have agreed to join the Union if it had known it would have to fight to get out?" Not a single one would have.

"Opposing secession changes the nature of government from a voluntary one, in which the people are sovereigns, to a despotism where one part of the people are slaves." -- NY Journal of Commerce 1/12/1861

Jefferson Davis in his inaugural address stated that, "the American idea [is] that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established." Similarly President James Buchanan in his annual message to Congress in 1860 said, "The fact is that our Union rests upon public opinion and can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens...If it can not live in the affections of its people, it must die."

Horace Greeley wrote "We hope never to live in a republic whereof one section is pinned to the residue by bayonets" (11/9/1860).

George Mason University Professor Walter Williams argues that Lincoln's defeat of the South meant the abrogation of the Tenth Amendment - that the concentration of imperial power in Washington was an inevitable result of the war. His analogy is that if you tell a wife she cannot divorce under any circumstances, then her husband can treat her any way he wants. The federal government can treat states any way they want and they want to reduce them to subjugated vassal extensions. As we shall see below, the war was death to the Constitution of the United States in many ways.

Founding Father Alexander Hamilton argued at the Constitutional Convention, "To coerce the states is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised...What picture does this idea present to our view? A complying state at war with a non-complying state: Congress marching the troops of one state into the bosom of another? Here is a nation at war with itself. Can a reasonable man be well disposed toward a government which makes war and carnage the only means of supporting itself -a government that can only exist by the sword?"

For more, please visit the following site that provides many parallels between the Founding Father’s reasons for declaring independence from England and the difficult situation of the South:

Friday, July 3, 2009

Interesting article about Cardinal Newman

Below is the link to an interesting article regarding Cardinal Newman and his contribution to the Church. I know a few readers here that will appreciate this.

Flesh and Blood: A New Covenant (Part II)

The answer to these questions is found in John 6. In verse 51, Jesus Himself connects the reception of His life with the reception of the manna in Exodus. This “bread from heaven”, as it was called, was received unto the life of their bodies. The bread that He offers to them is His “flesh for the life of the world”. Keeping in mind what was read in Leviticus, it should come as no surprise that Jesus uses words (“flesh” and “life”) evocative of this Old Testament passage. When taken in context with Leviticus, one may legitimately wonder, then, if the reception of this abundant life that He promises is somehow connected to the shedding of blood and its consumption. Again, Jesus offers an affirmative answer to this. In verse 53-55, He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” The key difference between what Jesus says here and what the Father commanded in Leviticus is that the former approves of the consumption of blood while the latter forbids it. We see a seemingly apparent contradiction. Can it be resolved? The inquiring mind wants to know.

A more careful reading of Leviticus teaches us not only a culinary lesson in sanitation but also a spiritual one. We learn that when it comes to the soul, not just any life will do. We are humans, not animals; therefore, the life of the animal is unworthy of us. The prohibition against the consumption of blood specified the blood of animals when in Lev 17:13, He specifically refers to “beasts and birds”. Jesus is no beast. Furthermore, we learn to avoid devaluation of our dignity at all times while availing ourselves of the elevation of our nature by the spiritual and corporeal infusion of His life-giving blood into ours.

Only HIS life will do. Jesus wants to give His life to us. His life is in His blood. Because He is the eternal God, His life is eternal life. The consumption of blood means the infusion of the life it carries within it. Need I say more?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Name that Artist

I'm just curious if any of the readers can name the artist responsible for the "Sacrifice of Isaac" work in the post below. He's done many other great, Catholic works of art.

Flesh and Blood: A New Covenant (Part I)

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood,” (Leviticus 17:11). This verse is sandwiched between a prohibition of blood consumption with very heavy consequences for those that would defy it. “If any man of the house of Israel or of the strangers that sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people.” Thankfully this prohibition was lifted under the new covenant, but what was its meaning anyway? Was this purely a matter of sanitation, or does it, like many other examples in the Old Testament, have typological value?

To answer the above, it should be read in a fuller context:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life…For the life of every creature is the blood of it; therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off,” (Leviticus 17:11-14).

The image of Calvary is inescapable. The image of the Eucharistic liturgy is equally inescapable for those of us who have entered into it. While reading it, one might make the mistake that the Father is actually talking about the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ own bloodletting for the atonement of sin. Fortunately this is no mistake. Our Father is one who keeps His Word, so to speak. He did not lie when He taught us that the life of the flesh is in the blood. Such a reality is true throughout the ages, even into ours. This fact makes Eucharistic communion all the more weighty.

Consider what Jesus said to us about His desire for our lives: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep,” (John 10:10). Notice the connection between His giving of abundant life and the laying down of His own life. Life in abundance for us is dependent upon the sacrifice of His body, His flesh and blood. We know how He gave it, but how do we receive it in its fullness? I say ‘fullness’ here because there are those that would completely spiritualize the gifts of God as though God did not become incarnate, did not eat, did not suffer bodily torment. If he is willing to undergo corporeal and material sacrifice, why would anyone immediately assume that His promise of abundant life is completely relegated to the purely spiritual? It simply doesn’t follow, yet the question remains: If we assume that there is a corporeal dimension to His sharing of life, what form does it take, and how do we receive it?

My next post will attempt to answer the questions above.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Christian Credo in a World of Faciendum

The question of the place of belief within a culture dominated by the notion of self-validation via its ability to produce, progress, and make that which is ‘makable’ is one that may be more relevant today than at any other time. It is an issue taken up by Pope Benedict in his book Introduction to Christianity written before his elevation to the throne of St. Peter.

When the defining criteria for culture devolves from the credo and the essens (belief and knowledge of being) to the faciendum (faith only in the future of what can be made), the reduction of the human person to the status of object seems to be a natural consequence, and its effect on the place of belief in such a world is equally detrimental. The reduction of the human person and the alienation of belief are not unrelated events. Rather they represent a symbiotic relationship, although the ‘bios’ of ‘symbiotic’ does seem to be a mischaracterization of the dynamic of such a relationship when one considers that ‘life’ is almost never the priority of that system.

The revolution that has taken place is the dethronement of ultimate causes and, thus, the rejection of the absolute of intrinsic value and dignity. This has been replaced by the exalting of the scientific mindset in which the greatest possible good is to make and to continue to make with the goal of constant progress – better bodies, better sex, more money, etc. In short, narcissism, perversion, and greed become preferable to the transcendent and metaphysical reality of the nature of things. When these become the new virtues of a society, the old virtues are cast off as relics of the past unable to answer the more pressing needs of humanity which can only be answered by the things we see, touch, and make. That which is measurable can be used for greater and ever more evolved factums. That which is immeasurable can be used for nothing and must therefore be discarded as unnecessary. It is seen as a hindrance to the never-ending roll of the progress-ball. Belief, therefore, becomes a laughing matter if not something to be vehemently scoffed at.

When credo begins to demand that the world of faciendum acknowledge its claims regarding the intrinsic value of man, it is seen not as a voice of reason, but as a clown unable to remove its makeup even in the ‘real world’, unable to make itself relevant in a culture that is ‘all grown up’. What is necessary is a reevaluation of the method by which our credo is presented. Tough questions must be asked and honestly answered. Why is that which is most relevant, that is, the intrinsic dignity of man based on his being an image of God, still seen as irrelevant? Confronting the culture on its own terms, I believe, is the only way to present a credible apologetic for belief. It must be the goal of Christianity to clearly demonstrate the transforming effects of belief through clear and rational argument, effects that would certainly not go unnoticed in a world obsessed with constant progress. In this regard, Christianity and the modern world are in constant competition, as both see the need for constant progress towards perfection.